Since my last post, not toooooo much has transpired here in Barranquilla. Work has been a tad bit more stressful what with the 2o12 CLIL Symposium fast approaching and our curriculum development project (CDP) at work moving a long…
Milo and Sophie (the cats) are doing well. We finally got our door man to building a plastic cover-like wall for our balcony so we can let the cats spend time outside without worrying they’ll jump through the spaces between the bars. And, it has been a 100% success. Milo has converted himself into a 70% outdoor cat and 30% indoor cat. He loves sunbathing and people watching. Sophie likes to occasionally pop her head outside, but in general doesn’t like the heat, so she prefers to sit at the door and look outside, but not actually be outside.
There was a puente (3 day weekend) last weekend, and Ele and I decided to visit a small town we’d read about in Lonely Planet and heard about from some of my co-workers at UniNorte. Palomino is about a 3.5hour trip from Barranquilla and sits just past the department-line of Magdalena & la Guajira, in la Guajira, and at the base of the Sierra Nevada. If you know me and Ele, you know that our favorite beaches are in la Guajira. La Guajira is the northern most of the 32 Colombian departments and probably the least known department. Many Colombians are “afraid” of visiting la Guajira because of it’s stereotype of being a harsh, rough, desert-like department full of indigenous groups (principally the Wayuu) and far removed from the rest of Colombia. I agree that la Guajira is removed from and very different from the rest of Colombia in many ways, but it is a beautiful department, full of breath-taking landscapes, virgin and unconquered beaches, and beautiful indigenous communities still very much connected to mother nature. That being said, we like to visit la Guajira when we get the chance.
To get to Palomino, we first took a bus from Barranquilla to Santa Marta, and then a buseta (very small, no a/c, cheap) bus to Palomino. Once in Palomino, we had to catch mototaxis (motorcycle that serve as a one-person taxi) from the town to the beach area where our hostal was located. I have never in my life rode on a motorcycle, and was definitely nervous about taking a mototaxi to our hostal. But, before I knew it, Ele and I were on the backs of motorcycles, leaving the town behind and heading to our weekend beach getaway. The entire ride from town to our hostal was about 5 minutes, and was nothing scary or nerve-racking, thank goodness!
After doing a lot of searching and investigating online, we decided to stay at la Finca Escondida. It’s a fairly new and medium-sized hostal run by a young German lady named Mara, and administered by a Bogotana named Johana (who offers guided tours of la Sierra Nevada, trips to indigenous communities, tube rides down the river, etc…). The hostal is fantastic. There were several accommodation options: camping, hammocks, dorm, private room no balcony, and private room with balcony. Ele and I opted for a private room with balcony, and were glad we did. Not that the hammocks, dorms, and private rooms with no balcony weren’t nice, but having a balcony with a private hammock was wonderful. We definitely got our money’s worth out of our balcony. The hostal also has a restaurant on site, so we never had to go far to get food and drinks–AND, if we ever wanted something not on the menu, we called a mototaxi for delivery service.
So, after getting settled in, changed into our bathing suits, and unpacked, we headed down to the beach area of the hostal. After only a few minutes of being outside, it started to rain, so we had a coffee in the hostal’s restaurant, had some time in the hammock, and then when it stopped raining, we decided to enjoy the beach. Since it had rained the water wasn’t clear, and the waves were quite strong. Even so, we enjoyed a good half hour of swimming, and then sat on the beach for some good conversation.
Taking advantage of having ALL day Sunday to enjoy Palomino, we decided to take the advice of Johana and walk to where the San Juan River empties into the Caribbean–about an hour’s walk from the hostal. However, after about 45 minutes of walking, our feet were burning, we were drenched in sweat, and our water was almost out… we could not yet see the river, so we decided to turn around and head back to the hostal. Once our hostal was in sight we decided to cool off in the ocean before heading up for lunch. Little did we know this was a very bad idea.
walking on the beach
We had found a spot that looked relatively calm, and quickly dove into the cool and refreshing water. However, after a few minutes in the water Ele realized she was being pulled away from the shore and further into the ocean. Trying to help her get back to where I was, I, too, was pulled into this weird, but strong, undertow. Quickly realizing that we were no unable to swim towards the shore, and that every effort we made to swim was halted by the force pulling us, we entered into a panic. My first reaction was to yell for help–I soon realized that on this deserted virgin beach, no one was going to hear me. Ele was hysterical, and I saw her floating further and further away from me, yet I was unable to reach her or help her. Calming myself for a moment, I made a split-second decision to try and get myself out and get help; at that point, it was clear that if one of us didn’t get out and get help we were both either going to carried out further, or worse. I am not sure exactly how I was able to get out, but I do know that it had to do with staying inside the waves, and not swimming against the undertow. Eventually, a wave pushed me onto shore where I was able to see just how far out Ele had been carried. After lots of panicked screaming I got her attention and was able to calm her enough to try and help her. After several minutes of me screaming panicked instructions, Ele was able to get inside the waves. As soon as she was close enough, I grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the water. Crying from relief, we both collapsed on the beach, exhausted.
After a good thirty minutes, we finally mustered the strength to walk up to our hostal. Upon arriving, Ele was still in shock and shaken up. The hostal staff gave her some herbal tea and helped calm her before we headed to shower…
Even though it was a very traumatic event, we both learned some valuable lessons:
- Never swim where no one can see you.
- Always ask before swimming in unfamiliar areas (there are lots of beaches in Colombia unsafe for swimming).
- Don’t swim when you are already physically exhausted.
- And, above all, respect mother nature…
Although we didn’t get back in the ocean, we did enjoy the rest of our time in Palomino. We spent Sunday afternoon in our hammock and watched the afternoon showers pass over, before having a delicious dinner of red snapper, and a night of star gazing on the beach (even though it was a bit cloudy for star gazing).
And, on Monday, our last day in Palomino, we had an early breakfast and spent the rest of our time sitting on the beach, admiring the view, and soaking up the incredible scenery around us. After a quick shower, we said goodbye to Palomino, took a mototaxi back into town, and jumped on a bus back to Barranquilla.
Sierra Nevada in the background
What a trip!