Week 3 in Palomino, Colombia

Week 3 in Palomino, Colombia


Rudely awoken by our alarm clock going off at 04:30 am, we felt pretty rubbish. But we couldn’t complain too much as the reason for our early rising was so that we could catch our early transfer for our road trip to Palomino.

Palomino is a small village on Colombia’s Northern Caribbean coast. Relatively unknown to the rest of the world apart from to the most ardent and determined travelers, it has for the most part escaped the tourism buzz in other parts of the Caribbean but it is nontheless a destination that has an abundance of nature, hot, sunny weather and pristine Caribbean beaches. Infact we ourselves hadn’t heard about Palomino until we arrived in Bahia, Brazil – from a friend of a friend we met there who had just returned from Cartagena (which she hated), and the city Santa Marta and Palomino (which she loved). She described it as being like Trancoso was about 10 years ago which we took to mean that it had a natural charm, a simple, laid back glamour and a strong connection to nature and the local culture. And after experiencing 2 weeks of Cartagena (and really liking it), we couldn’t wait to experience the place she compared to magical Trancoso before it became the best address in Brazil. We were sold.

The only way to get to Palomino was either via a taxi (which cost around £90-£120 one way), or by a tour bus which cost around £23. Taking the bus option was obviously a no brainer. The whole journey was due to take around 5 and a half hours in total which meant that after leaving Cartagena at around 5:45 am in the morning we would get there around lunchtime.

The journey to Palomino wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated mostly due to the fact that the van had a powerful air conditioning system and the seats were surprisingly comfortable. The view of the Colombian streets outside of my cushy, air conditioned, curtained windows was something very different though. As I had been shocked beyond words in Medellin by the sight and scale of the barrios, and the drug addiction, prostitution, destitution and homelessness that resided there, I was again being reminded in the most dramatic way that Colombia was still a second world country. Despite the impressiveness of Colombians cities like Cali, Bogota and Medellin, most of the Colombian population was still living below the poverty line and I’d seen this for myself in the time that we spent in Medellin. I will never forget the day we went to Botero Square, on the way encountering the worst levels of poverty and displacement that I ever remember seeing.

As I looked out of the window, the thing that hit me most after seeing all of the people with their clothes in tatters coming out of buildings that looked more like abandoned shells then homes, was the very apparent recycling problem. I had read somewhere that Colombia had a big problem with waste disposal, with rubbish being strewn everywhere on the roadside, piles of offensive odour producing waste, a variety of unwanted food, mixed with domestic, industrial and commercial combined in one big ugly health and safety hazard heap. Besides the fact that it was extremely unsightly and nausea inducing because of the vile smell it omitted, it also attracted vermin such as rats and mice. But it was clear from looking outside that this was a serious problem here. People were literally living on top of piles of rubbish!

Women with young children in tow walked casually between piles of unidentified rubbish heaps as if it was the norm. Despite my window being closed I could SMELL it from a mile away and I was disgusted to find that people were being forced to live like this. As we drove on, I became increasingly more shocked to discover the scale of the problem, this was definitely something that I was not prepared for. The level of pollution and quite frankly, destitution of the majority of the people living here, was not something you saw on the glossy magazines promoting romantic, salsa music and rum filled vacations in Cartagena. Far from it. What I was seeing here was more akin to the type of poverty that I would expect to see in a third world, not here in Colombia. My sympathy and deep sense of helplessness hit me like a tonne of bricks. I couldn’t look anymore. I closed my curtains to the scenes before me. My guilt pondered the unfairness of a world that makes survival so hard for some just because they happen to be born in certain places.

We stopped off twice for toilet and refreshment breaks and before we knew it we had arrived. At the bus depot that was. We hailed a passing tuk tuk (who also looked as if his vehicle was on it’s last legs), and off we went. Our hotel was located down a long and narrow, stony road amongst dense foliage. In some ways, as Josh and I clung on for dear life with our rucksacks in tow it was exciting, reminding me of our adventures in Bali, but at the same time the mans tuk tuk was so old and worn down and couldn’t seem to go much beyond 10 miles an hour that we concluded that even after being exhausted from 6 hours of travel it may have been quicker to walk!

Alas he got us there in one piece, and without us tumbling out of this very precariously constructed vehicle.

Arriving at our beachfront hotel which was built amongst generous grounds featuring a beautiful landscaped garden filled with coconut trees, plants and flowers, with 2 sizeable pools, a restaurant, games hut and individually designed beach huts facing the sea I felt a world away from Cartagena. And when we were greeted by the friendly check-in staff whose name was Juan, and taken to our stunning seaview beach property it only got better. More like a hut then a villa, our spacious accommodation had huge windows on all sides, giving us a 360 degree view of the surrounding property, including the paradisaical looking grounds with their tall coconut trees and tropical flowers, an incredible view of the Caribbean sea, the Sierra Nevada Mountains which could be seen in the distance and a generously sized wraparound balcony. It had been decorated in varnished dark wood with a playful nautical theme. Lots of books in multiple languages were stacked on the shelf above, perfect for cosy nights in listening to the sound of the roaring sea. It was very spacious, but it also had a homely feeling. When I had looked for somewhere to stay in Palomino I had immediately been drawn to the property for it’s clever use of it’s grounds, which meant that it felt as though you had the whole place to yourself even if there were others staying at the hotel. It was perfect for some real r & r which after crazy Cartagena we really appreciated.

The beautiful and tranquil grounds of our hotel in Palomino

Home away from Home 

Swing time 

We dumped our bags and went to explore the grounds. Our first stop was lunch at the restaurant. We had breakfast included but not lunch or dinner so we figured that after more then half a day of travelling it would be best to have lunch there at the hotel restaurant rather then go out searching for something to eat and then go out for dinner afterwards. It seemed as though we were the only ones at the hotel.  Juan actually asked us if we would be having lunch there so that he could inform the kitchen! What kind of place is this that asks whether we know whether we want to eat there or not when the restaurant should be open regardless?

I had to remind myself that we were in Palomino, a small, relatively unknown beach town in Santa Marta and not in tourist-centric Cartagena or even Medellin. The chilled out, small town vibes that we had come here for unfortunately meant that facilities weren’t as readily available as we were used to. I guess I would have to start getting used to it.

Lunch was a terrible disaster. We thought that the safest option in this deserted hotel and restaurant would be to order something simple. Something that didn’t require incompetent cooking techniques, so we went for a Tuna Salad, but when the salad came it looked like something that a dog would reject. It looked like it had been dead for longer then it had been alive – dry with a questionable looking hue. I figured that being right beside the sea surely their tuna MUST be fresh so I tried not to look at it too much, left out the burgundy looking pieces of fish and just ate the rest, but Josh wasn’t so convinced. He said it was the worst looking piece of tuna he’d ever been given and that they shouldn’t have served it at all looking like that. I agreed but said that perhaps that’s what tuna looked like in these here parts, afterall the tuna that we’d had in Brazil in my humble opinion was far worse. Now THAT tuna tasted like dogs food mixed with sick. Bloody awful!

Needless to say we left the restaurant hungry. Had we of been equipped to communicate our horror about the standard of the food we would have done so. As it was we were just eager to get the heck out of there!

The grounds of the hotel really were a picture to behold. With so many areas for rest and relaxation including a large thatched roof hut with hammocks and beach recliners, we were literally spoilt for choice. After checking out the impressive games hut, which had a full sized pool table in it complete with a cue rack we made our way towards Palomino Village via the beach. The sand was a peculiar mixture of black and dark grey sand, not my favourite, but the sand was soft and the beach was wild and beautiful. Not many people were on it which was surprising since Palomino Beach was one of the best beaches in Santa Marta. But as we walked down towards the town which we were told was approximately a 15 minute walk the idyllic calm of this beach, with it’s ferocious waves and picturesque beachy good looks, started to change. We started noticing a smattering of people sunbathing on the beach. But these were no normal beach goers: these were “traveller types”.

No, I’m not referring to the Gypsy (aka Romani) community, I’m referring to the types of people that frequent hostels. The ones that go EVERYWHERE with a backpack on, even when their back in their respective countries. I’m talking about the type of people who secrete an odour as they go, one of musty unwashed-ness. This is in part due to their limited washing options, in part because they’re nearly always on the move and in part because, well frankly, washing isn’t a big part of their priorities. Unfortunately, washing for me is very high on my priority list. I wash only do it because I need to do it but also because I very much enjoy being, feeling and SMELLING clean. That doesn’t just go for washing my body but also my clothes and it is why I was so elated when our luxurious apartment in Medellin had such an big and powerful washing machine. I was in cleanliness heaven!

But these people, when I looked closely, were not the cleanliness-coveting types. These were the types of people who just wanted to sit on a beach, preferably one that was quiet, smoke a spliff, preferably somewhere they were allowed, strum a guitar, preferably with a group of friends, stay in a hostel, preferably somewhere cheap, and live their lives simply. A little too simply? – Well, I thought so. Especially when from looking at the state of them I had determined that essentially they were unemployed. Who else sits on the beach, smelling as though they hadn’t washed themselves or their hair for days, eating food from the unbelievably cheap beach sellers for months on end, living in hostels that cost a pound a day? – these people were clearly trying to eek it out for as long as humanely possible before they had to return to their “normal” lives! And some of them had no intention of returning at all, preferring to sit around smelling like the great unwashed, selling cotton bracelets to anyone who had the misfortune to buy them in order to pay their hostel way.

I couldn’t yet see how in any way this place was comparable to Trancoso. Sure, it had a small, laid back feel, and the nature was breathtaking, but the standard that Trancoso was clearly at was far beyond what this place was presenting. For starters they didn’t have smelly people, they certainly had hippie-types, but that was something different. There are hippies and then there are travellers who smell. Those kinds of people look like travellers even when they’re not travelling!

I could also clearly see as we walked on that we were staying at the best resort. All of the other places that we passed were essentially hostels. Though some of them did look better then others (and we passed one that was actually in the process of conducting a wedding), it was still a pretty low standard overall. And at each one we passed was the same type of person that we saw lounging about on the beach which made me worry about what we were walking into. Juan had told us that the centre of the village was only a 15 minute walk but we hadn’t seen any signage for it on the beach so we walked for about 30 minutes until we came to a lake. The lake was otherwordly beautiful, reminding me a little of Nativo’s Beach as it contrasted with the blue of the Caribbean sea that was on the other side of it. We were unable to cross there so we realised that we must have passed the turn off and turned around to go back the same way we came. We had previously passed a restaurant where there were lots of locals trying to encourage us to go in there so we figured that we would ask them where the village was.

As we figured, there was no signage whatsoever but one of the locals told us that we had to walk through the restaurant and keep walking. The narrow roads got increasingly quieter and more rural as we went, and soon there were no tourists, smelly or otherwise on the trial at all. We began to wonder whether we were even going the right way but we couldn’t see any other route to take so we continued walking. Soon we came upon a large and imposing looking army base, with an armed guard with a huge gun “on look out”. It seemed odd for an army base to be in this small, quiet village and as there was noone else about it made us feel a little uneasy but we went up to him and asked him just to be sure if we were going in the right direction to get to the centre of town and he told us that yes, so we continued walking.

After passing the scary looking army base, we came into a residential area, where I got to see firsthand just how bad the poverty was in this place. Filled with homes made up of a few bricks with metal roofs and no windows, trying not to look inside but unable to stop myself seeing the solitary dirty mattresses laying on the floor. And the children with ripped up, dirty clothing living within, I didn’t have any idea where we were but it wasn’t somewhere that I wished to remain for too much longer. I felt very uncomfortable just being there. I didn’t belong there and I didn’t wish to see the awful ways in which people were forced to live. It was heartbreaking.

After being forced to walk through this very poor residential area we suddenly came out to a busy main road. We hadn’t a clue where we were or what we were looking for exactly and we didn’t have a map with us so we were looking for some sign of life, restaurants, cafes (or tourists!), but there was nothing but cars, motorbikes and lorries whisking by and annoying Colombians posted up underneath trees across the road on their mopeds shouting out at us. It was a little too Cartagena-esk for my liking. We were definitely NOT in Palomino Village.

Frustrated and annoyed after walking around aimlessly for an hour, we went to the nearest shop to get a drink and rethink our next move. Soon thereafter, after being hassled by the customary moped local, Josh pointed out some gringo’s (it was abundantly clear who gringo’s were in this town as almost every one of them had a backpack on!). They were coming from the road to the side of us, before arriving on the main road (which had nothing to offer whatsoever), and consequently turning back around to go back the way that they came. Josh announced that that road, because of the fact that it was gringolinered to capacity, must be the centre! So we promptly left to follow them down what it was soon becoming clear was the only road that was set up to receive us.

In stark contrast to the busy high road we’d just come from and certainly from the sad looking residential one was an oasis, where “traveller types” including a group of 6 women with matching side head shavings, dreds and baggy “festival” trousers stood around talking and laughing, and where small businesses, including restaurants, cafes, bars, hostels and tour offices lined the narrow stony streets. Tuk tuks whisked two and from taking tourists with their customary gigantic backpacks in tow to their awaiting hostels and the tie-dye, hammock swinging, unwashed odour producing, backpack carrying, guitar strumming that was here in abundance confirmed my worst fear: this was traveller territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood why this place had been compared to Trancoso. It was small, it was intimate, and it was very laid back. This wasn’t a place for mass tourism, large fancy shopping malls or designer shops and there was an abundance of natural beauty in the area including the beaches, lakes and mountains that surrounded it. People that were here had rejected resort hotel luxury in exchange for something a little more rustic (no, much more rustic), and they wanted a judgement free, nature filled environment with which to do it. Also, the place was very cheap which allowed them to live a simple life free from the material trappings of the societies that they came from.

But what was their excuse for not washing regularly? What was their reason for not washing their clothes? And why did they all look exactly the same? Did being a traveller mean that you needed to dress the same, live the same, smell the same? – did being a traveller mean that you were required to walk around spending each and everyday counting your pennies, dictating your standard of living along the way?

I respected the peace and tranquility that came from removing yourself from the fast pace of modern life and an anxiety ridden society. The sense of simple pleasure that can come from being surrounded by that which is natural, away from tubes, trains, shopping centres and the constant demands of media engagement. But I was not a traveller, I was travelling, and that was very different. It meant that I did not look for the cheapest possible accomodation going, in the most rundown of locations, room sharing with randoms or in places that were intended to be “social” in nature. It meant that I looked for clean, boutique hotels or if possible a private apartment where I didn’t have to discuss with Hannah from Sweden or Nate from Perth in Australia which countries I had come from or where I was going to. I had no desire to gloat about the last hike I done, or which street food I had been sampling lately. It was not in my interest to know where the best surfing spots were or where I could find the best place to get a “travel tattoo”. I had no desire to take an overnight bus through a country for 16 hours to get to my next destination, and I demanded space – which meant large “organised fun” activities were not on the cards.

Despite my dismay at the apparent “free and easy” way in which the people here were living, including the locals, who looked as though they hadn’t seen a shower in weeks, this was where we were going to be spending a few days. We were going to have to relax into it (to a point), and the first step in doing that was to get some proper food.

Soon we came across a restaurant that was serving Lebanese shawarma’s so we ordered some and sat down at one of the outside tables. From there we were able to see people coming and going and get a real feel for the place with no judgement. Though most people were quite young and almost all wore backpacks, it didn’t seem to be that these guys were in any particular hurry. They looked very relaxed in this chilled out environment, protected by the craziness of the outside world. Infact, this small village town on the Caribbean coast seemed completely unaware of the pending pandemic that was soon to be headed their way. We were too.

The shawarma was quite a disappointment. It arrived late and was warm when it was given to me aswell as being dry and flavourless – a far cry from Brixton’s Lebanese restaurant that we had been frequenting before we left the UK. This worried me because the women who served it to us seemed to be pretty chuffed with herself as she gave it to us.

Was this a sign of things to come?

After our early dinner we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel, checking out all of the local restaurants, cafes and bars as we went. The village was quaint and undeveloped like Trancoso was in some ways but it was lacking the glamour, it was lacking the infrastructure, it was lacking the standards and quite frankly it was lacking the cleanliness. The clientele who were here were not the same as the ones in Brazil. Trancoso was very expensive, possibly the most expensive part of Brazil. Only the most wealthy could afford to go there. They were not rejecting society, they were selecting the best parts of it. In contrast, the people here were the types who had rejected society completely. They were not here to seek peace and tranquility in and of itself (though it certainly did provide that and lots of untouched nature too), they were trying to escape capitalist societies and modern life. They weren’t seeking luxury, or bohemia, they were here for cheapness, plain and simple.

BUT to be fair to our British friend who told us about this place when we met her in Bahia, she DID say that it was similar to Bahia in some ways but about 10 years behind. Though I hadn’t been there 10 years ago I’d bet that it was many years more. We were fast learning about what our simple living threshold was and finding that this was perhaps a little too low for us.

The people who surrounded us were not weird. WE were the weird ones. We had come into their environment expecting it to be different. Instead it was full of hippie types wearing baggy tie-dye trousers, with body odour and bad teeth smelling as though they were a couple of days too late for a shower. This was a backpackers paradise but it wasn’t a paradise.

Now that we had assessed what we were dealing with we decided to stay near our resort which by far was the best one in the area from what we could see and afforded us not just a great deal of privacy due to it’s low occupancy but a real sense of what this place was meant to be about: the surrounding nature. After returning from dinner via the beach as that was the only way to get to and from the village without taking a tuk tuk which took far longer and was not readily available I realised that being amongst all of these questionably unclean people had made ME feel dirty so I rushed in to have a shower.

What I was NOT expecting was for the water to be STONE COLD. Perhaps you think that because I was in a hot country then I might be partial to taking cold showers? WRONG. I don’t think I have ever taken a cold shower before, not intentionally anyway. The water situation in our Medellin apartment was pretty shit – it was intermittent which meant that once the boiler ran out of hot water (which was annoyingly frequent), then we would have to make do with having the remainder of our shower with cold water. But the water wasn’t stone cold like it was here. And I was so desperate to have a nice hot shower after our long commute, my encounter with the great unwashed and after walking along the beach in this surprisingly humid climate. But in order to do that it meant that I had to hold my breath and prepare myself to be iced in order to get clean. I know they say that showering in cold water is refreshing but I can assure you it wasn’t!

Languishing on Palomino Beach 

The following day after having a restless sleep due to the to the fact that I couldn’t block out the sounds of the wildlife outside our door for love nor money, I lay awake listening to the sounds of the creatures of the great outdoors making a surprisingly loud amount of noise, including the resident dogs who for some reason felt it necessary to bark at us warningly upon our return to our apartment.  Indeed at one point I was worried that they might even go for us thinking that we were “intruders”. In addition it seemed we had a resident red squirrel living on our porch, I saw his fluffy little face popping out inquisitively and in the early hours of the morning we heard him borrowing (loudly) into the porch roof where he had clearly built his home. He was very sweet but he was a little too loud for my liking. Alas, red squirrels are a rare occurrence back in the UK because the grey squirrels have killed them all off so I decided that rather then get frustrated I would try to block out the noise and enjoy seeing his fluffy little red tail knowing that I wouldn’t see any again once I left Colombia.

We spent the day chilling out at our hotel, enjoying the lovely pool area, sunbathing and even playing a game of pool in the games room. It was pretty perfect as it still seemed as though we were the only ones at there. Judging by the types of people who were in Palomino it was clear to us that this kind of hotel was a rarity in this location and if we didn’t have hot water that meant that all of these hostels didn’t either, which would explain why the people were walking around so unkempt.

That evening we went out for dinner and found nice looking restaurant (one of only 3 according to our tastes). The food was okay, we had a meat and chicken platter and they gave us enough meat and chicken to last us a good couple of weeks. The meat was pretty tough. A common theme here it would seem! But the restaurant had a lovely ambience and nice decor. It’s that outside eating that I love so much and that I will greatly miss when we’re back in miserable, grey UK. There was a musician there (if you can even call him that), an acoustic musician who thought it would be a good idea to sing popular American songs in his forced gravelly voice. I personally didn’t wish to hear American songs and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just stick to their own music, which from the sounds of it was far superior to what he was coming out with, but no, we had to sit there and enjoy his mediocre voice singing mediocre tunes. Not great. Unfortunately, the guy felt the need to move closer to our table so that we had no escape!

There were a few activities that we wanted to do whilst we were in Palomino such as River Tubing, a very popular sport here in Palomino and visiting some waterfalls nearby. We went to a local tour office and booked the River Tubing first not knowing how we’d feel about doing both when we still wanted to enjoy a few beach lazy days. The guy there had a few options and after some consideration we went ahead and booked a tour that including a motorbike ride through the jungle to the start of the hike, then an hour’s hike to the start of the Palomino River Tube location, and then 2 hours of floating down the river, some leisurely parts, some fast moving and a little more adrenalin increasing, all the way down to the beach. We thought that it was a perfect activity in order to experience some of Palomino’s most beautiful nature that wasn’t accessible on foot, and to try out an activity that was very popular here.

Many of the local businesses were closed and we couldn’t really work out their opening times, in addition the area seemed to be more then a little broken down and on more then one occasion I thought that a restaurant was in the process of being constructed only to find that it was infact open for business which just meant to me that this place was deliberately doing this extremely low level offering to it’s consumers. There were stray (extremely dirty looking) dogs roaming about the place, children with dirt smeared on their faces, their clothes in tatters running up and down the street, backpackers walking as if their bags were forcing them to walk with a hunch, owners of cafes and restaurants looking as if they hadn’t seen a proper meal (or a wash) in quite sometime, and hippie cloth wearing individuals selling cotton bracelets.

All of this on the one road which had been designated (safe) for tourists to venture on. Just the fact that we were strictly told where we could and could not go in this village was a bit of a problem for Josh and I. Also what I didn’t like was the fact that because there was no other route to take unless we wanted to do a 15-20 minute tour on one of those rickety tuk tuks which seemed as though they were on their last legs, meant we had to walk on the beach in the dark (because of course they didn’t have proper lighting here either). That in and of itself wasn’t a problem – it was the crabs scurrying to and from in the pitch black that I didn’t like! Eww.

We found a great little cafe/restaurant the following day playing Spanish reggae music. I’d never heard Spanish reggae before and it came as a bit of a pleasant surprise. I managed to Shazam one of the songs that was playing and found some music from a group called Las Cafres – reggae music via Colombia from Argentina. It was really good. I made sure I put them on my Youtube favourites list.

The one good thing about Palomino (and Colombia in general really) was the lack of creepy crawlies roaming about. Though since arriving in Palomino I had been bitten a few times by mosquitoes it was NOTHING like what I had experienced in Bahia, and that was despite having a heavy duty mosquito net on my bed and closing all windows and doors promptly at 5:00 pm every night. Here, I had only been bitten a few times and I had hardly seen any horrible crawling things at all, either here, in Cartagena or in Medellin. In Bahia we were UNDER SIEGE from a growing (and very hideous looking) variety of creepy crawlies that found their way into our villa and scurried around on the street. Bloody horrible!

The following day was our river tubing tour on the Palomino River. We got up early and were picked up by 2 motorbikes who proceeded to take us to the starting point of the hike. The motorbike journey was perilous and it took all of my energy to hold on as these bikes were navigating their way through extremely steep and rocky jungle via barely there pathways and that was just to get to the starting point!

When we arrived I saw that I had cut my finger pretty deeply no doubt whilst I was holding on for dear life on the back of the death bike. I didn’t have time to moan about it to Josh because as soon as I jumped off the bike, we were ever so briefly introduced to the extremely young looking Colombian tour guide (who couldn’t speak one word of English), who would be taking us on the tour and so consequently was in charge of our lives. Looking at his baby face that hadn’t yet matured enough to produce any facial hair didn’t reassure me that I would be safe.

It was another extremely humid day, just our luck it was definitely the hottest one since we’d arrived in Palomino, and the climb up the mountain was much knackering then I had anticipated. After 15 minutes of a fast paced climb up the steep incline of the mountain where we had to constantly watch where we were putting our feet, I was already out of breath. And since this young Colombian man couldn’t communicate with us it was even more testing since I was sure it was a longer walk then we had been told it would be. We stopped twice to catch our breath and I think he thought that we would use that as an opportunity to take some pictures but it wasn’t pictures I was interested in it was the start of the tubing trail as I really was done with this trekking lark! It was far too hot, and he was moving at a very inconsiderate pace for us tourists.

Sunset on Palomino Beach

Along the way we had to stand on a precariously rocky ledge in order for a mountain horse to pass. Thankfully, this guy at least understood that I, as the weaker sex (a woman), could not possibly be expected to carry the huge rubber tube that I would be using to float down the river on aswell as hike. So he made Josh carry his own, and he carried both his and mine which to me which unbelievably impressive considering how cumbersome the thing was and how tiring it was just carrying my body up the mountain let alone a gigantic blown up rubber tube. When we booked it they called this part of the tour the “Eco Walk” but since the guy couldn’t speak English he didn’t bother trying to give us any pointers about what we were looking at as we went so it was pretty dull really. Eventually we arrived at the lake, which was beautiful, green and wide and which gave me an immediate sense of peace just looking at it. I had imagined that there would be many other people, locals and tourists alike doing this tour but there was nobody else there just us so I was very happy to know that we would be able to enjoy this experience thoroughly.

I wasn’t sure whether I was brave enough to use my iPhone 8 whilst I was tubing down the river as even though Apple claimed that it was waterproof up to 5 metres I wasn’t entirely sure that I believed them. Either way I had to put my plastic bag with both mine and Josh’s sandals plus the clothes that we were wearing on my lap. I lowered myself down onto the tube which felt surprisingly comfortable, and then away we went. Lucky for me the young guy wasn’t just in charge of directing us on which way to go but he actually used his foot to keep my tube close to him the entire time which allowed me to relax and enjoy the ride – I didn’t even have to paddle! lol.

Josh however was left to his own devices but he didn’t mind as it was so much fun! It started off fast, the tire bumping and whooshing over lots of rocks that were just loitering beneath the water, and then gently floated for what seemed like ages though dense forest on either side. There was nobody else there but us and it was wonderfully peaceful. We passed by a tree full of monkeys, indigenous people who were using the clear waters to bathe and a herd of cows being guided through the lake. It was tranquil, the sounds of nature echoing throughout the lake, and no sight or sound of humans anywhere. Though it was enjoyable, and there were many exciting moments where I thought for a moment that I might plunge into it (it wasn’t really that deep but it was very fast moving and had a strong current in some places), most of it was more of a gentle meandering down, and after awhile it did start to become a tad bit boring, lol. After over an hour of gentle meandering I was very ready for the tour to come to an end, but it went on, and on, and on, and on! Beginning to feel restless eventually I felt compelled to ask our guide how much longer it would be and I was told around 20 minutes but 20 minutes certainly felt like 40 so by the end of it I was truly done!

Hiking up to the starting point of the tubing tour

Getting ready to take the plunge!

Leggy Josh

Dinner that night was at one of the 3 acceptable choices of restaurant that we’d found in Palomino. It was a seafood restaurant that had live music. Though the musician was a local (another dirty looking fellow it has to be said), he made blues music, which he played with his harmonica, sang with his voice and strummed on his guitar. He was very talented. Unfortunately though, Palomino is a small town and no sooner had we started to tap our feet along with his music did we see the guy from the restaurant the other night, the one whose music was shit and who couldn’t sing for toffee come trawling into the restaurant with the obvious hopes of scoring a gig there! Oh heeeell no!

Freshly Caught Seafood: Oh what delight!

Afterwards we jumped into a local tuk tuk which took us home. The journey which walking took around 10 minutes along the beach took the guy almost 30 minutes because his tuk tuk was so old and busted that it struggled to get beyond 10 miles an hour and wobbled and shook all the while. I felt really sorry for the man as clearly this was the way that he made his living and I could see that he was just doing the best that he could with what he had. What an injustice that some people can’t even afford to buy the equipment they need to do their work. Infact just while I was pondering on the sadness of his situation the tuk tuk did infact break down, and the man didn’t even have a phone with a light to look underneath the vehicle to fix it so he had to use ours. Considering we had essentially being avoiding the taxi drivers of Cartagena due to their continual dastardly ways, the fact that this man had to go through so much just to get what worked out to be less then what those lowly Cartagena taxi drivers were charging seemed to be a bit of a crime.

The following morning I searched high and low for the hair band that the Dutch friend that I made in Brazil gave to me but I couldn’t find it. It seemed hard to believe that I had managed to lose it since I remembered that I had been wearing it whilst we were on our tubing trip, and I don’t generally lose things, alas it was gone. We checked out the pool area just incase and turned the bedroom upside down to try and find it but it wasn’t there. I was extremely upset. Not only because it was such a great hairband that kept my hair in one piece with a great brown colour that camouflaged perfectly against my hair colour, but it had been given to me by a very special friend, a friend who gave it to me in Brazil on NYE. So it was very upsetting.

I had been talking with a friend back home casually about the Coronavirus situation, which had been rapidly escalating back in the UK recently with people snatching the last packs of toilet tissue out of other people’s hands, clearing the shelves of food and supplies and generally exhibiting very nasty and selfish behaviour. Josh and I had began to talk about how relieved we were that we would be free of it and would soon be on our very luxurious cruise around the Caribbean.

Before we’d come away we had planned every detail about how our travels would go and that was the piece de resistance! A cruise around the Caribbean with my favourite cruise line and on her newest ship which I had been dying to go on ever since I’d heard about her. But just as I relayed to my friend our plans to leave Cartagena to fly to Miami in order to pick up our cruise, news started coming in about their being problems with certain cruise lines, and after what seemed like a matter of hours the seriousness of the situation dramatically increased and then suddenly we were being told that our cruise had been cancelled with immediate effect and as a matter of fact so had all cruises worldwide for the next 30 days due to the Coronavirus.

What on earth is going on?

This was a massive blow to us not only because we had been so looking forward to it but also because we had specifically coincided the flights we had booked so that we could go to Miami FOR the cruise!

But that was only the start of our worries. Soon we were being told that Europe was now the epicentre of the disease which was spreading like wildfire throughout not just Italy now but France, Germany and Spain also and many countries were beginning to close their borders to slow the spread of the virus. All except the UK of course because we always like to be different!

This put our plans into a bit of turmoil as we soon heard that the US had suspended travel to and from Europe with immediate affect but of course the UK was exempt from such draconian measures as he likes Boris (why else not?), alas that statement was soon retracted as the UK doubled their infection rates within just 24 hours. Now the UK had been added to the list.

Would we get caught out trying to get home in time before the ban was introduced to people returning to the UK? Would we be able to change our flights with no penalisation due to the extreme nature of all of these border closures, airport bans, flight and cruise cancellations and extreme uncertainty? – it was hard to know!

Also of course, I worry about my family. I need to get home now to be near them, just incase. My Mum is at risk as she has a lung disease so is considered to be a vulnerable person, and then there’s my Dad, who had treatment for Cancer just last year, My Nan and Grandad who are in poor health anyway and elderly, and then there’s Josh’s parents who are the same.

I can’t afford to get caught up in between countries with no way to get home right now. Even though I can’t be with them I need to at least be near them. This is scary times we’re living in. With no real answers being given, no clear ones anyway. Are we really sure we know what we are dealing with?  because I don’t understand why if children are carriers, schools aren’t being closed with immediate affect, or why if it’s not airbourne and is infact contracted via contact, concrete floors are being sprayed. Who touches the floor??

I feel like either the government, doctors and scientists don’t really know/understand what’s going on or they know and aren’t telling us. Could it be biological warfare? – though I don’t know who the perpetrator would be since the virus is affecting everyone around the world. These are crazy times we’re living in with no end in sight.

Shit is getting realer then real and here in Colombia, though there has been no sign of any immediate changes to peoples day to day lives, and certainly no empty shelves or panic buying we have now just heard that Colombia has just reported their first 2 cases of Coronavirus so we will see how this country will react to such news or indeed whether we will get caught in the middle of it.

After hearing that my Grandad had taken ill, with a high temperature and cough (the symptoms of the Coronavirus), I was ready to leave this place. We were due to go back home to our apartment in Cartagena for a few days before our flight to Miami (which we hadn’t yet decided whether or not we were going to cancel). But before we went back to the village for a coffee and some lunch. There was a sign for a cafe which we’d seen called Maria Malata which we’d been meaning to go to (or Josh had anyway, I couldn’t actually see the place because it was around a corner so I worried a little how “safe” it was), but we walked straight in.

The first thing that struck me was just how dirty it was.

What kind of place is this?! I demanded to know. The place was filthy, with broken down brick a brack, dirty tables and chairs, flys buzzing around the place, and including what it looked like they were trying to promote as some kind of horrible looking art installation. Before we’d had a chance to turn around and go back the way we came, a dirty looking man, with straggly, greasy hair which was hanging down over his eyes preventing us from seeing him properly, with mud smeared all over his clothes, busted up trainers and blackened teeth approached us with 2 ripped up, flimsy looking menu’s asking us what we’d like to eat. I was speechless with horror to look around and see that this establishment, with it’s hideous and unwashed looking patron was serving anything at all let alone food!

But I could see the great unwashed clientele that was clearly having themselves a good ole time frequenting this establishment, completely oblivious to the pieces of food stuck in the bar mans long moustache, mangy dogs scratching their flea bitten bodies to death, the whiff of a frowsy body that passed them or the sweaty waiter with yellow and black rotten teeth that stood before them. In short: This was their domain, not mine. So as to not be offensive to them, even though my skin was positively crawling and I felt as though if I hadn’t caught Covid 19 by then then this was surely where I would, we ordered 2 cappuccino’s then got the hell outta there!

Bloody awful. AWFUL I tell you!

I think if you’re happy to live an extremely lowly existence with no luxuries to speak of, and bathe in stone cold water but be amongst nature and a beautiful beach then Palomino is for you, but if not, if you need a certain standard to live by and in, certain luxuries, a certain level of cleanliness and access to decent food then stay well away. Perhaps they are on track to become a little more developed as time goes on but I’m sorry to say, they have a VERY long way to go.


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