Being ones to linger in places we feel at home in, the fact we are leaving on Thursday is a difficult concept, as we haven’t done this area justice yet. The Rally was only ever going to give us a taste of Colombia and we knew that, hence our desire to get here earlier. There is so much to see within walking distance and both buses and taxis are a very economical way to get around. Taxis within the city only cost 1.20 pounds and the bright yellow cars are everywhere just waiting to be flagged down.
At least we did a 4 hour city tour yesterday, costing 40 pounds for both of us. Being in the Rally helps keep costs down as there were 10 of us in the air-conditioned bus and they only needed 6 to run it. Santa Marta is the oldest city in Colombia and the Sierra Nevada has the highest mountain next to the sea in the world. There is 19% unemployment and the Spanish left Santa Marta because they couldn’t control the city, being surrounded by so many mountains. You can tell I was listening can’t you!
We first visited the Cathedral with many statues and a plaque to Simon Bolivar, their liberator, who is commemorated everywhere. He fell sick and stayed in the nearby building, now an interesting museum, full of gold exhibits and good information displays in English and Spanish. How the ancient people had the technology to heat the gold to the required high temperatures and knew to add copper, is not known and as some of the ornaments looked like aliens, you do wonder if some of the more outlandish theories are true.
From 200 AD different cultures lived in the mountains and have left beautiful jewellery, urns symbolising the womb for keeping the bones of their ancestors and artefacts important to their lives. Animals figure highly in this, with the Tairona having little ornaments with the body of a frog and head of a cat. From 900-1600 AD the Tairona lived in Colombia and were very organised. The entire population attended lengthy political and religious ceremonies on the terraces and chewed roasted cocoa leaves to stay alert. All the population had jewellery and pottery, not just the higher classes. Much of their history has been lost though, as they didn’t write.
Colombia is vast and has desert in the north and rainforests with abundant fauna and flora, including jaguar and small cayman. The Lost City was discovered in the 1970s but it is a 5 day trek and we don’t have time to see it. Gran Colombia (1819-1831) was made up of Venezuela, Equador, Colombia, Panama plus parts of Brazil, Guyana and Peru but was broken up and the town is full of history, great to see.
Indigenous groups still live as they used to. The Wiwa wear a white hat representing the snow of the mountain tops and keep their hair long to symbolise the rivers. They are intelligent and apparently know their rights, so claim free education and healthcare and know the law is on their side. The Kogui don’t go to school and don’t want to mix with modern society. The women have to walk barefoot behind the men and marry young. They sleep on the floor and only have sex outside, as they want to connect with nature to increase their fertility. They have their own medicines and live very remotely.
Colombia and Venezuela share a very long border but it is currently closed in an attempt by Colombia to cut down on contraband. Petrol is bought at 1$ a litre in Venezuela and sold for 20$ here and we saw the signalling bottles on the roadside, of red or yellow liquid showing where you can buy smuggled petrol.
We stopped at the viewpoint over the lovely bay of Taganga, lovely except for the fact our friends were anchored there a couple of months ago when they were robbed at gunpoint at 0230. Not so lovely to us now. Our final stop was at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a park and historic house where Simon Bolivar died. The modern monument to him is beautiful and he is clearly held in great esteem here, despite dying in 1830. Driving past the ghetto area on the outskirts of the city where life is very tough without running water and other basics and seeing the rest of the city with the modern glass skyscrapers is a sobering experience.
We decided to adopt the siesta yesterday with our late nights and early mornings kicking in. It is such a pleasant temperature after 1700 and the town is lively and fun to be out in. Last night I lost count of how many people came with us to Saute for more mojitos and to enjoy the band. Beer is 60 pence, mojitos are 2.40 and our evening of snacks and too many drinks cost us 10 pounds each. Another midnight bed time and I dragged Rob out at 0800 to find the market before he had had his ritual coffee. Grumpy doesn’t really cover it ☺
Fortunately we did find excellent coffee by the marina and met a lovely couple from Hartlepool visiting Santa Marta for the day on their cruise around the western and northern Caribbean. Next was a trip to the modern and inexpensive supermarket just a 2 minute walk from the marina. Wherever I read that Colombia doesn’t import foreign goods is totally wrong. You can get the usual brands here, Kellogg’s cereals, French jams, European meats, cheeses, wine and baguettes. So no need to panic buy before you get here.
I am still enjoying finding all the beautiful architecture and momuments in town but sad we haven’t got time to really explore the mountainous region. We have an airlock in the generator to fix before we leave but can sort out the cable between the radio and cockpit mic another time. We have just 3 whole days left, are playing dominoes later, have a Rally meeting on Tuesday and need an early night on Wednesday for our dawn start to the next stop, the anchorage at Puerto Valero. That route takes us past the entrance to the Rio Magdalena and we need to take care of debris this huge river flows out into the sea, sometimes up to 10 miles offshore and it can carry logs and dead cattle. We now only have Monday night free to taste the nightlife again and that is all but it means we really do need to come back here.