Palomino Dons

Palomino is a bit of a strange place.

It seems pretty relaxed to all intents and purposes.

As with much of Colombia, it is set out in a grid pattern much like some of the great human inhabitancies; New York, Barcelona, Milton Keynes, The list goes on.

The whole place seems to be somewhat of an afterthought. The focus of the town is a main road which runs parallel to the coast between the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Caribbean ocean. The shops along the main road make it feel as though the place started out as a trucker’s refuge/refreshment stop and things went from there.

The main access to the beach runs directly perpendicular to the main road and is roughly a mile long. It is flanked for almost its entirety by a combination of traditional huts which have been repurposed as little shops, restaurants, bars and hostels. The focus all the way to the beach is tourists and the deep swell of music takes over as soon as the sun starts to creep towards the horizon.

My hostel was the other side of the main road, up toward the mountains in the mildly smarter part of town. As each evening, I wandered down to the beach for a quick beer, I was disappointed by the lack of people in any of these bars. The music volume to customer ratio seemed to be somewhat skewed. I guess the marketing strategy aligned with ‘the person who shouts loudest wins’ doesn’t always ring true.

Luckily, there were a few bars that were out of earshot and having a beer on the beach as the sun went down each night definitely allowed for that relaxation I’d been craving.

Romantic images acknowledged, Palomino doesn’t seem to be the best place to be a local. Other than obvious of having to deal with hordes of harem pant wearing westerners, the statistics associated with the place are particularly striking.

One that sticks in my mind is one of child mortality. Something like 30% of the children born in the area die of water-borne diseases. This seems to accentuate the dangers tourism can bring to an extent if it is not supported correctly.

The water on the Caribbean coast is largely undrinkable and if you wish to drink anything, it is advisable that you buy a plastic pillow full of water. That, I’ll admit sounds a touch strange but, it is fairly common, instead of bottles, to buy water in these plastic sacks. I guess this saves on the cost of production etc. so that saving is passed on to the consumers.

I bought one of these sacks and discovered very quickly that they are not re-sealable. You basically cut the corner off and decant it. I obviously only had one bottle so ended up having to leave the water sack in the corner of my room, leaning precariously against the wall. It fell over once and the water seeped through into the dining area below but it didn’t do any damage so it was fine.

The hostel I stayed in was pretty cool. A chap called Juan had left Bogota in search of pastures new (and warm). He had settled there and had bought a paddock large enough for a house for him to live in, a hostel with twelve rooms and a workshop. He did the majority of the building work himself which is pretty impressive considering the size/intricacy of the place.

There were fruit trees of all sorts on the land around the hostel so that basically provided for the majority of my breakfasts.

With the local flora came some pretty impressive fauna. (Don’t worry, this is not the opening to some lewd joke). While sat in a hammock in one of the communal areas of the hostel, I became aware of something moving around. Long story (involving me thinking I was going mad as I could hear a faint buzzing but not seeing it’s source,) short, I realised that there was a small bird bath behind me where a number of humming birds were feeding. They are considered as we would consider pigeons in the UK. Apparently there are jaguars a little way into the mountains too but luckily I didn’t cross any of those.

I did go for a little wander into the Sierra Nevada during my stay. I met a Canadian guy who was staying in the same hostel as me (didn’t have a lip covering but he seemed a decent enough chap). He explained the he had spoken to a few locals who seemed to suggest that there was an indigenous village roughly an hour into the jungle. Obviously the fact that I hadn’t read about it in any of the tourist literature made it an attractive proposition when he suggested we get up at 5am and stroll out to try and find it.

We had walked for the best part of an hour along a rough track and although we had left around sunrise, the heat was ridiculous. The humidity level was similarly troublesome. A thin film of sweat covered my entire body, we considered turning back.

Our discussion was interrupted by someone else walking the path. Dressed all in white with a pair of old wellies and not a sign of effort anywhere upon him, a young indigenous lad approached down the path from the direction we were heading. We greeted him in Spanish and asked how far it was to the village. He replied with an answer that it was no more than ten minutes further. He strode off down towards Palomino and we resumed our walk.

45 minutes later we arrived at the settlement and were greeted by what seemed to be the majority of the village. They seemed more interested in us than we were in them but we asked a few important questions like “how much contact do you have with the town (Palomino)?” and “how do you keep your clothes so white?”. The latter question may seem like a joke but it is pretty remarkable. The Kogi tribe wear only white and their clothes almost never look dirty. That village was right next to the river so they used that water to wash with. It must be quite an intensive process.

The following day I decided to take a walk along the beach before lunch. The beach is about 5 kilometres end to end and is flanked at each end by rivers. There is a path which takes you from the eastern side of the town down the river to the beach and a path from the beach to the centre of the town about a kilometre along the beach. my intention was to nip out and walk that short KM down the beach before heading back to the hostel for lunch.

It was cloudy when I left the hostel and I intended to be back by 12pm so I didn’t bother with sun cream.  Now I am still to this day not 100% sure as to how I missed the turning, but I did and 4km of beating midday sun later I began to see my mistake. Now it was a nice walk so I can’t complain too much but to say I got sunburnt would be a massive understatement. I’m talking blisters on my shoulder kind of sunburn.

I still bear the outline of my vest.

I actually ended up having to stay in Palomino for about 3 days more than I had planned to do so as the next part of my trip was to be the Ciudad Perdida Trek. It was too painful to wear my rucksack so I had to hold out until I was able again.

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