Sunday, 29 June 2014

Tayrona National Park

We're awake early (of course!) so with a 6am bumper breakfast to fuel us up, we pack a few things into day packs and stuff the rest into a locker at Drop Bear (we'll be back for that tomorrow) and head out at 6:30am to begin our journey to Tayrona National Park. The bus turns out to be easier than expected to find, and somehow we've made it to the park entrance before it opens at 8am.

Everything you read about Tayrona says that food options in the park are limited and expensive, so take in your own food and water if you can. The night before we prep'd our sandwiches, and my bag is mostly filled with the food and snacks to last the duration of our stay here. We'd also heard that the bag checks are beyond thorough, you can't take alcohol into the park, and any plastic bags would be confiscated. Maybe we were just too early for the checks, but we strolled through without so much as a glance from any park personnel with our plastic bag carrying our water supply.

To say that we "strolled" might be a bit generous - my legs are paying for the exertions of the last few days, and my ankles are reluctant to flex in any direction so walking is a little tricky at first and CPs blisters and calves are making themselves known, and as we begin the 4km walk to the first village, I'm wondering if we shouldn't have had a day of recuperation back at the hostel first...

We make our way along the paths, stopping to take in the scenery and millipedes (CP) and rest (RD), and soon enough we arrive at Arricefes, the first village of note and home to a few different campgrounds, bars and restaurants - although that might be overstating them a little, they sell cooked meals at least. We pause to eat one of our soggy sandwiches, with breakfast already a distant memory.

As we stumble along the little pathways looking for La Piscina, one of the few beaches here that you can safely swim in without fear of riptides and vicious currents that have apparently claimed over 100 swimmers in recent years, we instead find ourselves at another big draw for Tayrona - the Lonely Planet favourite, Panaderia Vere.

Here a little old lady produces freshly baked bread rolls every morning, stuffed with chocolate, dulce de leche, or cheese - they are huge, delicious, and only COP 3,000 (£1). We're too late for the chocolate loaves (calling them pan au chocolat wouldn't do them justice) so opt for the dulce de leche. As soon as they are brought out to our table, it's clear ordering one each was a mistake, and sharing one would have been more than enough. They're still warm from the oven and the hot caramel oozes all the way through - amazeballs!

Next we planned to head back to the first village, Arricefes, as we'd been told there was a bar there that would be showing the Colombia game at 11am. We take a fortuitous wrong turn on the way there and find ourselves at Don Pedros, which is also showing the game but on a big projector screen, and we take front row seats with the growing crowd of locals. Pedro turns out to be a miserable bastard, even more so when I trouble him for two overpriced cervezas (although at $2 a can, it's cheap by normal standards, just double Colombian standards) but he does at least manage a little jig when Colombia score, twice, and then win to secure their place in the next round. Less than 24 hours later, both Australia and England will secure their places on an early flight home.

If you're not there to hike to the sacred sites (and we are most definitely not!) then the best thing to do in Tayrona is to be a beach bum. Perfect! We make our way round the coast stopping for swims and relaxing in the sun along the way.

On the way we hone our animal spotting skills, and find a baby capuchin high up in a tree, many ant highways (CP had to start referring to some of them as ant autobahns they were so big), hundreds of lizards, and very occasionally some weird cat-pig-anteater combos, yet to be correctly identified. We mostly saw their butts disappearing through the trees as they are flighty little critters, scampering off as soon as they hear or see you approaching.

This time we really do find La Piscina, and although it's busier than our little isolated beach round the corner, it's a little piece of paradise with more than enough room for the few people that are there.

The last beach you can easily walk to is Cabo de San Juan, and this is by far the busiest area of Tayrona. The camping ground here is massive with a cool campsite party vibe, but almost twice as expensive as the less busy places. The main draw for us here though is the possibility of camping in the little lookout point on top of the rock, and with sunset approaching we head up there and claim our hammocks. The reception isn't open when we head up there but with half the hammocks available we're happy that we've claimed them and sit back to watch the sunset.

By 6pm, it's filling up, and we discover that the reception has been opened, and someone has been allocated "our" hammocks - I run down to claim 2 of the remaining ones but it's too late, they've been reserved. Bollocks. We now have to run back up to grab our bags, and hightail it back to one of the other campsites we had clocked during the day that had mosquito nets over the hammocks, as this one was only worth it if we could be up on the rock. It's a solid half hour very fast walk back, and that includes me having to occasionally jog to keep pace with CP setting the pace (making her laugh each time she hears me start up my catch up jog), but at least darkness falling has brought out a lot more of the cat-pig animals and instead of just spotting a butt running away, we now get to see them playing everywhere.

We make it to our (new) chosen campground and there's time for a very brief dip in the ocean to cool down after half running to get there before dark. This does mean braving one of the "no swimming" beaches though, and a local observes with interest as we go out to waist deep, dunk ourselves and then walk back out. Drying off, the same local approaches and after opening with a friendly "amigo..." warns us again of the danger of the currents, explaining that even knee deep can be enough to see you washed away... the views around the nearby natural lagoon are awesome:

Dinner is the remaining soggy sandwiches, which having been made 24 hours ago and bounced around in my backpack for the day, are now best served by dumping them into a bowl and eating them with a spoon. We treat ourselves to a plate of hot chips to supplement our soggy sandwiches...oh yeah!

Our new campsite has three major selling points - it's half the price, the hammocks come with mosquito nets, but most importantly it's right next door to the Panaderia, so after packing our kit up in the morning we head there for breakfast at 7am and get to try the chocolate loaves... oh... my... god! Marginally smaller than the dulce de leche we had yesterday, but it doesn't matter, they are a taste sensation.

We have a few hours until we have to make our way back to Drop Bear, and we spend the rest of the morning alternating between sunning ourselves on the beach and splashing about in the water (the safe sections) to cool down. It's a tough life but someone has to do it.

As we're on our way out of the park, we bump into Roberto (Ciudad Perdida trek) coming the other way - proof once more that we're all on the same basic route, just with different timetables. This is evident again later when we arrive at the bus station to find Alex and Ross (also from Ciudad Perdida) queuing to board the same bus as us.

We manage to share a taxi with two girls (who we had met the night before at the lookout point hammocks and who had stayed at the hut on the point (they said they got a bit of sleep but it was freezing cold... which made us feel slightly better after not being able to secure our hammocks there), all the way back to the hostel instead of catching two buses, and for the princely sum of $5.25 each. Our driver had a slight death wish and after almost hitting two pedestrians and a massive truck, we were safely deposited back to Drop Bear.

There's chance for us to finally try out the COP 6,000 executive lunch at the locals favourite next door to our hostel - for $3 you get a big bowl of soup, a decent main of steak, rice, beans, and fried banana, and a much needed ice cold juice. We can see why Colombians get a bit of a belly on them if they eat this size of meal for lunch every day. It's not unhealthy but a shitload of carbs and a distinct lack of vegetables. It served its purpose though and we feel human again.

One last swim in the pool at Drop Bear, thank Gabe again for his hospitality, and we're off into a taxi to the bus station - ahead of us a 16 hour overnight trip to Medellin...

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