We traveled four hours west along the Caribbean coastline towards a sleepy little beach town called Santa Marta. We watched the scenery change from lush, tropical terrain to a more semi-arid region marked by large cacti and sand dunes. We drove across massive bridges overlooking multiple colossal barges tied together and anchored to the trunks of coconut trees. Our van dodged goats trotting down the side of the highway, who were partially tended to by locals resting on half buried car tires serving as chairs. Our driver often halted at the command of children stretching rope made of plastic bags across the highway. They waved hand painted styrofoam stop signs in hopes of collecting road taxes while selling cheese puffs, potato chips, yuca balls, and bread rolls. More advanced hustles forced traffic to slow and traverse tires cut width wise and flattened so the tread served as speed bumps. The makeshift roadblocks were trumped by the imposingly official and soundly built cement and brick highway toll centers manned by an abundance of national police officers and toll booth clerks. As we waited in line to pay the toll, men wearing umbrella hats to combat the sun’s rays sold mobile phone chargers, deodorant, cola, and energy drinks.
We gradually snaked our way along the coastline until the striking black sand beach, cradled by the stunning Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, came into view, and our highway amusings came to an end. Santa Marta is the oldest existing city in Colombia as it was the first city settled by the Spanish in 1525. It is also the birthplace of two famous Colombian soccer players; Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama and Radamel Falcao.
Santa Marta was a breath of fresh air compared to the sweltering festival in Cartagena. Everything seemed to have a much more relaxed pace, which was exactly what we were seeking. The town and the people were beautiful. Each morning we ate breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, toast, and guava juice before walking a few blocks down clean, calm roads to the black sand beach. On the weekend the beaches were full of locals enjoying their time with family and indulging in treats sold by the many colorful vendors working their way along the boardwalk.
On our second day in the Santa Marta, we took a 15 minute bus ride (which cost $.60) to the adjoining fishing village, Taganga. We wound through the lush mountainside and were rewarded with a pristine beach and a spectacular view of our surroundings. We enjoyed a long swim through the crystal waters to a bright yellow buoy, before relaxing on the busy beach. It didn’t take Ryan long to get a soccer game going with an ever expanding group of local kids. After his competitive juices were diminished, we hung out in the warm shallow waters, learning as much as we could about the local children’s families and life experiences. Before we made our way back to the bus, a mother of one of the kids requested a group photo.