Adios Sea Level!

Alright folks, Colombia is going down! Forget simply retrieving our home from one of millions of containers floating around the multitude of ports. Never mind the obnoxious humidity, blistering heat, and complimentary lack of wind. No, no no no, we must bathe in the mud volcano before we even attempt to deal with anything serious. I mean, imagine a human stew with a complimentary dude rub. Or how about a native stripping you naked in a river faster than you can say “where’d my top go” or “so much mud…” Well, all of that and more can be yours on a simple outing from the hostel in Cartagena. For a mere $17 US you can have one of the most interesting, bizarre, novel experiences of your life. Plus, how often does one get the opportunity to get inside an actual volcano?!?! It goes a little something like this:

  1. Climb the stairs, enter the mud volcano, get rubbed down (by a dude). Not sure if I’ll ever be able to forget the guy saying, “Relax, relax. Welcome to Colombia.”
  2. Exit mud volcano, head to river, get stripped faster than you can say “whoa” by a mama and vigorously washed.
  3. Buy overpriced beer and wait for staff to collect tips from you for said services.

If you miss this, you really need to ask yourself what you’re doing wandering around Colombia.

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Now that the mud has done its thing (and the holiday is over) I set off to retrieve the van… solo. This is a owner/driver only thing. They’re very strict about names and paper work, etc, so Niccole who typically knows every inch and stamp of a border crossing is hanging at the hostel while I leave at 7am wearing jeans and shoes in the 80% humidity for a day of bureaucratic torture!

And that it was. Never mind the errors on their part that required me taking taxis back and forth to different parts of town to correct the mistakes for them… imagine wearing jeans, shoes, a shirt, a helmet, and a large vest over the shirt while inside a metal shipping container sitting, of course, in direct sun. Hell. Tortuous hell. If there were really a hell (other than this scenario), there would be a special place reserved in it for the author of this retched situation.

Oh please let our van actually be inside...
Oh please let our van actually be inside…
Yahtzee!!!
Yahtzee!!!
Plenty of room
Plenty of room
Tight fit!
Tight fit!

I’m a veteran of suffering though! And sure enough, who prevails and resumes possession of a certain house on wheels??? Yep, you guessed it, this guy!

Success!
Success!

I was certainly stoked. It even had most of our possessions in it! Seriously, the entire time I was locking stuff up and putting stuff in the back and chaining the door shut I asked myself, how could they possibly rob cars all of the time and still stay in business? I left a pair of crappy binoculars we had yet to even look through once on the trip on the dash board as a test. Yep, gone. Everything important (and locked up) remained.

Now all that remains is the small task of driving through insane traffic, in a nonsensical network of busy, unlabeled, mayhem-laced streets… with no brakes. Fortunately, I almost caused only one major car accident and was able, after several hours of driving around completely lost on never ending one way streets heading absolutely and inevitably in the wrong direction, to stumble across what has to be one of best and coolest shops I’ve ever witnessed. I barely noticed being the butt of his buddy’s jokes as the man tore down and repaired the issue faster than I’ve ever seen anyone work quite possibly in my entire life. The slave had rusted and cracked right in half!

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No prob, van recovered from container, brakes repaired, day of hell over! Only one final bout of being completely lost in a large, complex city and I was back at the hostel planning a cerveza reunion with a happy wife… who made friends deftly with a hilarious, but moody local.

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We decided to enjoy the hostel life for a few more days while we planned our next moves, got the van back in order, and obtained obligatory national insurance. In the process, we got to check out Cartagena a bit. Cool town. Getting offered coke literally hundreds of times over our stay not withstanding, we really enjoyed our stay there despite the heat.

Hostels really do excel at providing important information to their visitors.
Hostels really do excel at providing important information to their visitors.
Cool hostel art
Cool hostel art
Mas
Mas
Out buddy hanging ten
Out buddy hanging ten

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But whether we missed the van or not, the van missed us, and we found ourselves back in the cockpit of the craggin’ wagon, on a new continent, contemplating how long and far we had come. It was a memorable exodus. We decided to head to Santa Marta where there is a stunning national park to visit. One night there was all we needed after the heat of months in Central America to bail on the park and high tail it to the mountains!

Boondock 1
Boondock 1

Driving in Colombia is weird. First off, toll roads only. It doesn’t matter how long you wait in traffic or what happens along the way, you must pay. Beyond that, most of the roads are single lanes, but semis vastly out number normal vehicles. Imagine passing 20 or 30 semis in that magical, double-yellow space reserved for impatient, foreign drivers… only to get stopped at at least 50% of the police checkpoints they have – of which there are multitudes. We sit chatting with the friendly police and shaking hands while every single one of those semis drive past us to be passed again in the near, twisted future.

Boondock 2
Boondock 2

But we prevail in three HUGE days of driving and after two nights of legit Colombian boon docking, we are greeted by a site for sore eyes. Sore, humid, hot eyes to be exact. Elevation and altitude… MOUNTAINS!!!!

Shot on a narrow mountain road while driving!
Shot on a narrow mountain road while driving!

And here we sit, in San Gil, plotting our rock climbing endeavors. We sniped a spot in centro the first night, but opted (after negotiation) to get a wifi, pool, electric spot for tonight.

Poolside!
Poolside!
Giant, muddy rivers
Giant, muddy rivers
FACE!
FACE!

Gotta love multi-course meals for $4 US. Life is good, though we’ve lived in a van for half a year now… Yep, count’m… 180 days! 8 countries, a million shitty beers, and thousands of miles of driving. We can feel it for sure. But still, the team pushes on. Climbing heals this duo in a way mud-volcano-dude-rubdowns can’t even touch, and tomorrow we get back to our roots!

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