Tag Archives: Barranquilla

Hot on the floor

Around 8pm, I arrived at the ‘hostel’ (meaning a completely empty house) that the Bowen brothers were staying at in Barranquilla. I was relieved to learn they had organised a ‘bed’ (meaning a blow up air mattress) for me, for a very low price. All hostels / rooms had apparently been booked out ages ago & at double their normal going rate.

It meant that if I decided I couldn’t / didn’t want to pull an all-nighter – I didn’t have to. (*small sigh of relief*) It also meant I had a place to stash my daypack (infinitely more ideal than lugging it around all night, hoping all my shit wouldn’t get stolen.)

The Bowen brothers had linked up with some fun Irish & Aussie girls we had met while staying at Captain Jack’s in Portabello, Panama. As soon as I walked in the door, they gave me a big warm welcome, a shot of Aguardiente (the local firewater) & a *hero* … and that, my friends, basically set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

We caught up, talked a lot of shit, and laughed ourselves silly over several bottles of the surprisingly smooth anise-flavoured liquor. Evidently, I had missed an epic first day – stacks of colourful costumes in the multitudes of parades; oodles of live music & dancing; masses of foam / mud / flour wars; and shedloads of your ‘run-of-the-mill’ Carnaval debauchery. They had been going for days and weren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

We eventually decided to get in amongst it. Our hostel manager – a slightly effeminate, tubby Colombian, who fancied himself as an entrepreneur, hotel owner and a real ladies’ man – had taken it upon himself to play host to our lil crew (he had misguided designs on one of our girls).

He took us to the nightclub strip where of course, he knew the owner of this place and that place and could get us in for free everywhere (I suspect we could have gotten in for free, irrespective of his ‘connections’).

There were dozens of discotheques competing in a ‘my sound system is bigger than yours’ competition. In Latin America, speakers are strategically placed outside a club (as well as inside). The intention is to create what we marketers call ‘salience’. There was just this ridiculous cacophony of noise: latino pop, 80s house, old school salsa, trashy techno, and of course the omnipresent J-Lo vs Pitball: “Nyah, nyha, nyah, nyah, nyah … Hot on the floor.”

People were spilling their drinks out on the streets, local musos were crowd gathering with impromptu jam sessions in between randomly ‘parked’ cars … and everywhere raucous street vendors were pushing all manner of Carnaval necessities: gum, water, beer, meat on sticks. It was absolute anarchy. We cruised up & down the calle, checking out a few different scenes, and having a boogie in each. A bit of a Carnvial bar crawl, if you like.

Sometime after midnight, we escaped the bedlam & headed ‘home’… there was a massive street party underway right around the corner. Hundreds of people were dancing their arses off to the thumping sounds of an excellent salsa band with some 16 odd musos squished up on a tiny stage. And it was going OFF. We danced. And danced. And danced. Somewhere in the middle of the carnage, I got picked up by a rather gorgeous Carib boy (who am I to say no to broad shoulders, pretty dreads and a smile that goes on forever?) Around 4am I hit a wall, bid farewell to the young Jesse, got me some meat on a stick (not a euphemism) and ambled off to my airbed.

I woke up a few hours later to a blinding light lasering into the ‘living’ room and well into the recesses of my eyes. All a bit unnecessary, I thought. I assessed the damage around me. Bodies everywhere in varying degrees of decay. People were covered in mud & all manner of Carnaval debris. The place resembled a clean crack den. I was feeling extraordinarily average.

Marcus eventually woke up & took me downtown to get some brekky beers & a feed. We then went on a mission for some tacky Carnaval souvenirs. He bought some godawful fluoro Carnaval t-shirts, while I bought a pretty glittery elephant’s mask which is looking to become one of my most prized possessions.

I decided to stay one more night. We eased our way back into it with some afternoon beers and whatnot. Before you knew it, night had fallen and we were debating the merits of catching a cab across town to see a concert or schlepping our sorry butts back around the corner where another big band was giving the neighbourhood a lashing. We opted for the latter. I didn’t have another epic night in me, and crying old, told the boys I couldn’t go on. Being sometime between 1 & 2am they gave me permission to go home. They weren’t that far behind me truth be told (but to be fair, they were on Day 4).

I woke up fresh as a daisy the next morning (resplendent in my pretty sparkly elephants mask!) having had a solid night’s sleep in the middle of a 4-carriage highway that was the living room in that godforsaken crack den.

I needed a decent breakfast (as opposed to just beers) and so went to the local supermarket to get a big fat watermelon, proper unsweetened non-reconstituted orange juice (a rarity in Latin America) some veges & eggs.

A few hours later, we had made arrangements to our subsequent destinations. Barranquilla had certainly shown us a good time but it was no place to have a hangover.

I waved the boys off in a taxi… they were headed up to Tayrona National Park. And I eventually climbed into the air-conditioned comfort of a posh collectivo going back to Cartagena, where I had 24 hours to make myself nice for Scott.

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The times they are a changing

Tuesday 7 February: It was a grey kind of morning, and a dense Darien jungle inundated the teeny fishing village of Sapzurro (pop. 1000) where we dropped anchor in South American waters for the first time. I was absolutely hankering to get on land.

Deb arranged a ‘launch’ (panga / speedboat) with one of the locals to transport us from Ilean to Capurgana (pop. 2000). Both of these villages, because of their proximity to the border – are rich with sailing legends: stories of pirates from Panama, criminals from Colombia, and the wine & wenches who drained them all of their wealth.

Passports stamped, we checked in as a group into the Hotel Los Delphines – rather fitting, given our welcome to country by the beautiful critters. We were all desperate for showers, cold beers & food in varying orders and so went our separate ways for a bit. For the rest of the day we ambled about, bumping into each other by street food vendors, in the pool hall, and down by the sea.

Capurgana is a sweet lil place that reminded me a bit of Little Corn: no cars, no ATM, and town power for only ½ the day – if that. And subsequently, very unreliable WiFi connection.

It’s incredible how reliant we’ve become on the internet. I remember travelling through Europe in ‘98 and carrying traveller’s cheques – now I do my banking electronically. I made arrangements to meet new friends by the Trevi Fountain at a specific time – now I Facebook them. I wrote old-fashioned letters (and faxes!) to communicate with loved ones – now I email them (although I still send postcards!) I collected mail at the next town’s ‘poste restante’ – now I have no idea where I’m going to be from one day to the next. And I made reverse charge calls to my folks from public phone booths (using coins!) – whereas now I Skype them. Oh, the times they are a changing.

I would have stayed longer in Capurgena, along with Pinky & Shannon, except I really needed cash. I needed to touch base with Scott – who was on his way! And I had promised to let my poor old Pa know I had made the crossing safely. I needed to get back to civilisation.

So at 7 the next morning, I was standing on one very disorganised dock, an unwilling participant in yet another brilliant Latin American System. This is how best practice for a Latin American System goes: The more useless paperwork – the better. The more power the bossman thinks they wield – the better. The more other ‘officials’ standing around watching the bossman – the better. And last but not least the more waiting you (as the paying customer) have to do – the better.

It was another back-breaking, tongue-biting, teeth-smashing ride of about 2.5 hrs to Turbo. I didn’t think too much of it when the engine kept cutting out. Men over here can fix anything. But when we ran out of gas in the middle of fucking nowhere, I started to feel a little uneasy. But Whaddya Know! – out of nowhere, a boat with extra fuel appears and topped us up. Like John, the owner of the bar on Little Corn said to me, once – they know how to make you feel grateful for small things.

Turbo was just as the LP described it: a place to get the hell out of, as quickly as possible. It’s a hectic, noisy, filthy place that smelt absolutely putrid and was teeming with touts, sleazes, conmen and beggars. The people from our sailing trip (sans Pinky & Shannon) split into two parties at this point. The lads & Constance were headed for Medellin. While I was headed for Cartagena – along with the delightfully kooky German, Nils and the sour Swiss fellow, who was getting on my nerves.

We got herded to an expensive collectivo where we joined some travellers we had met on the San Blas islands. I chatted with a young Californian girl who looked just like Buffy. The bus took us to a place called Monterria where we ate shit food & got herded into another expensive collectivo, destined for Cartagena.

After midnight, we arrived into Getsemani – the red light district in the old part of town – where a fuck-off street party was in full flight. I checked into the nearest available hostel with Buffy & her crew, right outside where all the action was. An hour later, I literally fell into my bed – which was smack bang in the middle of an awful crowded dorm room on the street-side of the hostel. I dreamt I was trapped inside a sound system that night.

The next day, I moved to the much more resort-y style Media Luna right next door. Into a lovely uncrowded back room. I had a personal admin day by the pool and got an early night.

Shannon came found me the following morning. She & Pinky had arrived late the night before. He had bailed to hook up with a girl he’d arranged to meet here. Shannon was leaving on the 13th, so she & I spent the next 3 days hanging out, having heart-to-hearts, eating lots of g-o-o-d food, chatting with locals, and having lots of great big belly laughs.

Shannon’s a bit of a rarity. She’s only just 25 but such an old soul in many ways. She’s a bit of a dag, which I think makes her incredibly cool. She’s well-travelled and well-read and as such, has lots of interesting things to say. But she’s also a very good listener. Those who she chooses to shine her light on, light right back up at her. It’s a lovely thing to behold.

She reminds me a bit of an amazing woman I used to know called Annie. An angel sent to save my stupid teenage ass, and who ended up having a massive influence on the person I became.

That night we partied with Buffy & her crew. We sampled some of the *local fare* and did a bit of bar hopping, winding up at a cool lil dig with live music & lots of dancing. Next day, we ate a delicious 3-course meal in a beautiful European bistro. I flirted with the cute waiter with gorgeous skin, and a big shiny smile.

We also took a tour to the volcanic mud baths … the whole experience was a bit “different” to what we had both been anticipating (ie, how many tourists can you fit into 5 square metres & sketchy masseurs trying to cop a feel). I got mud in my punani. As my mate Dave would declare, “Now, you don’t get to say that everyday.”

We topped it all off with a wonderful last night of wine & cheese (blue & swiss!) night in the Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages) and a chat with a talented Brazilian artisan whose work we had both fallen in love with. I just kinda moped about the day she left, and then cheered myself up by researching a plan of sorts for when Scott comes. Not long now!

I met a sweet man from San Diego and made plans to go to Playa Blanca with him. It’s supposed to be the best beach near Cartagena and is the weekend playground of many Colombians. And it was just lovely (not quite San Blas, but lovely all the same) … more pristine white sands, more turquoise waters.

We met up with a couple of other solo travellers, and scored ourselves hammocks for $3 / nite. The only downsides to Playa Blanca were getting harassed by hawkers, and the exorbitant prices of meals. But there is nothing like the sound of waves to put you to sleep, and waking up right on the beach will never lose its charm for me.

I ran into Guy and Marcus (the sound English brothers who were on our yacht) and we hung out on the beach for the day, which was a bit of a bonus!

I had started coming down with an intense sore throat thing and was feeling a bit achy in my glands, and didn’t really fancy sleeping out in the open for another night. So I cut my trip short to come back to Cartagena.

I’ve been back two days now and have just been chilling out, drinking lots of water and getting some rest. Re-charging for the Carnival in Barranquilla. Apparently it’s the second biggest in the world, after Rio de Janiero in Brasil.

I’ve decided to go for just one night. I don’t have accommodation sorted (standard). So I’m going to pull an all-nighter. The first in a long time. I’m a bit scared. But also super excited. Plus I have sparkly blue nails! All I need now is some feathers, and I’m good to go.