Traveling isn’t always perfect. Eventually, something will happen that will make you rethink the whole reason you’re doing this thing and have you desperately craving the comfort of your own bed and the closeness of a Chipotle. In my case, however, Chipotle would have only exacerbated the problem. After ten days of travel, and finally outside the main cities, I came down with the dreaded stomach bug.
Stomach bugs are a fairly common ordeal that travelers undertake. In India it even has its own name, the Delhi Belly. Perhaps it’s the constant exploration of food that back in the states would be lucky to pass even the most lenient of health inspector tests. But you’re traveling, its alright, it doesn’t matter than your buying food from a horse drawn cart located feet next to an active construction site; it’s all part of the adventure. Perhaps it’s the constant drinking and partying and staying up till the sun rises days in a row that play a part in disrupting the body’s normal order of operations. I refuse to believe that however; if there was evidence that a week straight of partying was somehow bad for you then someone would have told me by now.
And sometimes its just bad luck. In Barcelona, while my whole hostel was digesting a delicious paella that was cooked up just for us, I was emptying my dinner into the baño faster than the Eurorail en route to Paris. Somehow, I must have gotten that one mussel cooked into the dish that wasn’t quite up to snuff, and instead of filling me deliciousness it emptied me of my soul for a solid twelve hours, my friends offering me words of encouragement from the bedroom as I slept draped over the toilet. And the worst of it, I had been talking to some very cute Scottish girls moments before I had to excuse myself and frantically rush to the closest bathroom. I returned with a gurgle of apology before racing off again, the girls chuckling in the background.
Anyway, back to Colombia, where after my first calm night in Cartagena, I awoke refreshed and ready to start the next leg of my journey. I hopped onto a coach bus with Cooper, the South Carolinian Chicagoan I had met the previous night. We were both heading to Taganga and decided to travel north together. The ride was uneventful, the hustle and bustle of Cartagena soon being replaced by smaller towns and eventually the scrub brush of the coast, little tufts of green spread across the sands touching the Caribbean. We stared out the window and watched the grass speed by, working our way through podcasts and Spotify playlists to pass the time.
Around four in the afternoon we reached Taganga. With a population of around 5,000 people and reaching nearly 1 square kilometer in size, the little fishing village was a polar opposite of Cartagena. From Santa Marta, the closest large city, it was only a twenty-minute taxi ride over the edge of the mountain until the road spills out on the other side onto the coast line. The town is situated in a fan of rock butted up against the coast, a few roads connecting the stone buildings together and all ending out near the beach. Fishing boats dotted the water, bopping up against the setting sun. The roads weren’t really roads of course, but rather large dirt pits with mountains of rock sticking out occasionally into the air. I’d seen hiking trails in the middle of forests better maintained, and our bus didn’t even try to take us all the way to the hostel. He waved us away with a good luck and sped off to smoother lanes.
I was staying at Divanga B and B, a lovely little place with hammocks, a pool, and a blasting A.C. The temperature was somewhere near near the boiling point of titanium, so the artificial frozen air was a lovely blessing. Cooper and I decided to get some food and went to BabaGanoush, a very typical tourist orientated restaurant with English menus and Western dishes overlooking the bay. After a week of fried empenadas I was especially excited for my fresh seafood pasta, and its here I fear my troubles began. The dish had some interesting looking bits of fish, but at the time I was so hungry I couldn’t even begin to care. We scarfed down our food, enjoyed the setting sun, and departed the restaurant.
We walked back to the hostel along the beach, strolling past restaurants, bars, and a cavalcade of vendors selling us sunglasses, hats, and copious amounts of weed. The vendors have it down to a science. They offer you their product, you decline. They ask where you’re from. You say America. They say no way, I’m from Jamaica, Queens! No joke, apparently half the population of Queens lives in northern Colombia. I say well isn’t that neat. They ask what I need. They tell me they have weed, coke, whatever I need. I say no thank you. They shrug and walk away. Repeat roughly forty times an hour. With tourism comes an unrelenting flow of tourists, and behind that comes the forces of capitalism. It was refreshing in Myanmar, for example, to not be offered products left and right, since tourism was such a brand new thing that the vendor system hadn’t fully reached them yet. You could walk down the street and simply talk to people rather than fend off offers of drugs and kitschy bottle openers.
Nevertheless, we returned to the hostel and began drinking on the rooftop bar. We met a fellow gang of travelers, a few Germans named Nina and Alexandra, a Kiwi named George, an Israeli named Shahar, and a Dutchman named Ramon who I accidently called Jamon all night. That means I called my new friend Ham for most of the evening, but he was so polite he didn’t even bother to correct me. What a gentleman. I taught the crew some American drinking games like Horse Racing and Ride the Bus, and we all collaborated on a new international set of rules for Ring of Fire (Kings Cup, Circle of Death, what have you). The night progressed to a bar next to a church, then a bar overlooking the bay, and finally the Mirador, a massive hostel/club perched high on top of the cliffs overlooking the city. After a twenty-minute walk and a ten-minute stair climb, we reached the bar and clinked drinks as the sparkling lights of Taganga twinkled against the mountainside far below us. The moon was out in full force, illuminating the bay and the surrounding jungle. It was a breathtaking view, one that pictures can’t really capture fully (or at least ones that I can take, see below).
We drank and danced to the Latin music, meeting new friends from Colombia and beyond. Most of the crowd were locals from Santa Marta, and for the night we were pretty much the only Westerners around. It was a lovely evening, and around three Cooper and I returned to the hostel, incredibly excited to see what the next day had to offer.
And that’s when it began. Sometime in the morning, my stomach began exploding with pains, tendrils of heat bouncing around my insides and feeling as if a particularly malicious centipede armed with knives instead of feet was running around my gut. That feeling would then be followed by a terrible urge to evacuate the bowels, and I’d rush to the bathroom and usually crack my head on the incredibly low door frame. Cooper came into the room at some point, along with the Germans, and discovered me curled up on my bed in the fetal position, Mozart’s funeral music playing softly as I sobbed into a pillow. O.K it wasn’t that bad, but it certainly felt like it at the time.
Cooper and I had planned on visiting Tayrona National Park that day and maybe staying the night at Cabo San Juan, a beach studded with tents and hammocks to rent and enjoy the Caribbean nights in a jungle paradise. Instead, I spent the day watching YouTube videos on my phone on my bed, punctuated by trips to the bathroom and one attempt to buy water that almost ended with me collapsed in the hot dusty road begging for the sweet mercy of death. I attempted to eat some chicken salad, but after a few bites my stomach roared its disapproval and I had to stop. It was a miserable day, but that’s the price you pay sometimes. Was it the seafood pasta? Was it the water? Was it the week of partying? Most likely it was a combination of all three.
Taganga has much to offer, be it lounging by the beaches, taking some PADI Dive classes offered by the hostel, or boating into the beautiful National Park. I recommend people check it out, just maybe go for the chicken instead of the fish. Luckily, by the time night had fallen, I was feeling marginally better, and able to go out to dinner with our new group of friends that had checked into the hostel, including Jan the Dutchman, Marco the Dutchman, another pair of Dutch girls, the Germans, Michael the Irishman, Cooper and myself. We went to Pachamama, a delicious tapas bar located a few blocks from the beach. My appetite somewhat back, I ordered a salad and ended up devouring it all. Jan and I helped everyone finish off their plates, and for the first time that day I felt somewhat normal again. It was a good group of folks; it was a shame I was leaving them the next day for the mountain town of Minca. That’s another tricky part of travel. You end up meeting some great people, if only for a night. In real life, you could easily see yourself becoming good friends, but when traveling, you get only a glimpse, just a flash before its all gone and changed. That’s just part of the game, and now if I’m ever in Holland again, I’ll have roughly six thousand new people to visit. Colombia is just chocked full of Dutch people.
One more note about Taganga. On the night coming home from Mirador, George, Jamon, and the German girls were nearly mugged by a local man with a knife. They were walking home around four in the morning, down the steep street back into town, when a man approached them from outside a shadowy alley and tried to steal their wallets. George and Jamon picked up rocks and threatened the man. He pulled out a knife. Instead of running or giving him their things, they threw the rocks and continued a barrage of fire until the man gave up and ran away.
The locals of Taganga are known for being somewhat sour to the influx of tourists into their city. Many see their little fishing village, one of the oldest remaining settlements in Colombia, as separate from the tourism game. However, in the last twenty or so years, Taganga has become fully integrated into the Gringo Trail, the established hot spots for tourists in South America. With that attention, and its closeness to Tayrona and excellent diving, Taganga was put into a spotlight that many of its locals would prefer would shut off, and allow them to live their lives in peace. I do understand that; tourism is a tight rope walk of trying to be polite in a society that’s not yours but also exploring and traveling and having fun. Sometimes those two clash and a situation like a mugging can happen.
I’ve luckily never been in that situation, and if I was I’m not sure how I would react. Cooper and I got lucky, if we had waited half an hour and left with the rest of them, we would have been put directly in the middle of that. I’d like to think I’d resist, but under pressure who knows what I’d do. In the end, I went to sleep for my second night in Taganga relatively unscathed, my stomach somewhat settled and my mind at ease. The next night would be spent on top of a mountain, where it would be twenty degrees cooler and the hostel featured what it calls “the worlds largest hammock.” After a week spent with cities, sickness, and blasting heat, I was ready for my hillside retreat. And this time I’ll be ordering the chicken.
Sneak Peek for Next Weeks Episode: Nelson the Dog!!!