I took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. The route is basically northeast along the coast and took about 6 hours end to end.
Having read all the guidebooks (I use the terms “read” and “all” in the loosest sense possible here) I followed the advice to the letter.
“When on a bus in South America, one must take every precaution to ensure you are not robbed by other travellers”
“You must keep all valuables you own on you at all times, this includes trips to the toilet and even if the bus is completely empty.”
“If you have a rucksack/bag, you must keep this on your lap at all times. Not under your seat. Not in the luggage rack provided.”
“You must take thermal clothing with you on every bus as the air-con can sometimes be turned on which will cause you to be cold.”
So, just to illustrate this for you; there I am with everything moderately valuable in my rucksack. My rucksack is on my lap and I am on high alert.
I’ve already planned how I would deal with any attempt by any of the potentially light fingered aggressors (sorry, “my fellow passengers”) to relieve me of any of my possessions.
I am wearing (for the first time since leaving Bogota) a pair of thick socks, a long pair of trousers, a jumper and a coat.
I bet you are sat there thinking “what a sensible Simon, I wish I was so well prepared and forward thinking as he is”.
Don’t worry, as is seemingly a talent of mine, I will soon put those feelings of inadequacy you must be experiencing to bed.
The bus itself was a minibus. I sat at the back. The other three passengers sat in the front three rows. No one came within 2 metres of me or my belongings for the entire trip. All but one of the other passengers got off at the first stop outside Cartagena. The air-con was working but it wasn’t set to particularly cold at all and within five minutes I had to take off all the items of clothing I could without giving the driver too much of a show in his rear view mirror. All of my shorts etc. were in my other bag in the hold of the bus so I had to stay in my warm clothes until I found my hostel.
I arrived at said hostel bathed in sweat. It must have looked like I was in training for the Marathon Des Sables. Not my finest hour.
I wasn’t a massive fan of Santa Marta. I’ve nothing in particular against the place it just didn’t have the right “je ne sais quoi” (I apologise for the vague cliché but I refuse to use the word “vibe” in this blog… outside of the above…).
This may have had something to do with the hostel I stayed at. Again no real issues, however… On first entry to the room I noticed that the mattress had a waterproof cover on it. The sort of cover that made sleeping a very noisy and sweaty experience.
Number two issue which again wasn’t really an issue but was a touch strange was that people seemed to check in and check out at strange times. Check in at 12 noon, check out at 1pm and the such. The guests were mostly couples of similar demographics; middle aged to older gentlemen with younger, slightly scantily clad women.
Now, I am no prude per say however, walking down the corridors felt like I was taking a tour through the Tower of London when it was actually a functioning prison/torture chamber. On every occasion I went to leave my room, I was greeted by a cacophony of shrieks and calls to rival that of dawn in the rainforest.
I will let you draw your own conclusions about the nature of the majority of guests’ stays however I believe they were offering a service on the side to the inhabitants of Santa Marta, if you know what I mean.
In order to make a little money on the side, I believe those who run the hostel decided to diversify and offer entirely confidential, fast and affordable cosmetic dental work. This is the only possible explanation I can fathom. The screaming, the short “appointments”, the young ladies eating breakfast alone in the mornings (perhaps after the anaesthetic wore off?).
Feel free to comment below if you feel I could be mistaken in any of my posts.
Moving swiftly on from Santa Marta, I headed to Palomino in order to sit on a beach and think about nothing for a while.