Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Flora, Fauna, and Pachamama

The night before my roomates and I left for Santa Marta, we were all sitting around the kitchen table when a giant, winged thing came buzzing into the room and landed on the fridge. Naturally the three extranjeras screamed and shot into the hallway while Maria sat unconcerned.
Me: Oh my lord! Maria, that thing is the size of a truck! What on earth is that?
Maria: A cricket.
Me: That is NOT a cricket.
Maria: Yes it is. We have smaller ones, and that size, and bigger ones, too.
Me: Ummmm...like in the place we're going this weekend?
Maria: Yes, we have a beautiful array of flora and fauna in this country.

Needless to say, the thought of crickets roughly the size of Panama did not exactly thrill me. We were headed to Santa Marta, which is about a 4 hour busride from Cartagena, and is the hub for two very cool places: Tyrona, site of a huge national park; and Taganga, an old fishermen's village now playing host to juice stands, hostels, and flotillas of tourists.

We left at the very reasonable hour of 4:30AM on Saturday morning. After a few delays with buses (shocking, really), we rolled into Santa Marta just in time to meet Julia's two friends from Bogota. One was French and one was Australian, and they'd brought along a Colombian friend. One of my roomates is Czech and the other is Polish, so all together we definitely made an international crew.

We immediately set off to the park, grabbing provisions on the way. We had to walk for 45 minutes once inside the park to get to our camping ground. For $4, we rented a hammock for the night. Sleeping arrangements made, we traipsed off to the beach and spent the rest of the day riding the waves and watching the sunset.

One of my absolute favorite things about traveling is hostel life. I love sitting down at a big communal table, eating freshly made food after a long day, and meeting new people. While at our campsite, I started talking to a Colombian, who was very knowledgable about the park's history. We decided to take a walk to the beach and go see the jungle at night. We had to walk past another campsite to get to the beach, but I was really hesitant to keep going because an incredible sound grew louder and louder as we approached, and I thought we were about to walk into a troop of howler monkeys. We then realized that they were not in fact monkeys but rather...frogs...? No problem. We leaped across the stream, over to the beach, and out under the clearest stars I've ever seen. Amazing. Aldé then proceeded to tell me about the history of Tyrona Park, and about how it used to be the garden for the Koguis, the indigenous people who inhabited the mountains before the Spanish came. Some of their cities were so well hidden that the Spanish never found them. In 1998, the Koguis allowed a BBC film crew to document their culture and spread a message to their "little brothers", aka us. The message was that the Koguis had noticed rain patterns already starting to shift in the mountains; if the little brothers did not learn to be more in harmony with the earth, great disasters would come to pass. You can watch the movie online here.

Aldé also told me that the Koguis were very concerned with maintaining the balance of male and female elements. Women were apparently already in tune with Pachamama, or Mother Earth, but men had to work harder at it and spend time in the forest trying to understand nature. I have to say that with my bare toes in the sand and salt still in my hair, I felt pretty in touch with Pachamama and the state of the world.

The next day was a little bit more intense. The Frenchman and Colombian girl had gone their separate way, so Julia, Anezka, Ross and I set out for Pueblito, one of the well-preserved ancient cities of the Koguis that the Spanish never discovered.

Julia (Poland), Me (US), Anezka (Czech Republic), Ross (Australia)

It was 45 minutes from our campsite to the next beach, then a two-hour hike mostly uphill to reach Pueblito. It was 85 degrees with 85% humidity and I was soaked by the end. Another two hours downhill led us back to the water and...a nude beach! Surprise! We walked back to camp, appreciating everything and everyone in his/her/its natural state.

When we got back to camp, it turned out that we could not in fact take a bus from there to the front entrance of the park (Conflicting travel information? You don't say). It was ONLY another hour and a half walk back, so after 6.5 hours of walking, we stumbled back to the entrance and on a bus for Taganga. Note: I was stumbling, but it seems everyone else was just fine. I thought I was in shape, but these Europeans and Australians just seem to leap over things. I swear, they are built with springs in their knees.

We spent Saturday night and most of Sunday in Taganga. It was another day at the beach, and quite lovely. Then we caught a taxi and buses back to Cartagena, and rolled back into our room around 11:30. Whew. One very busy but incredible weekend - two days in the park really wasn't enough, and hopefully I'll get to go back before November.