So after the fuck up that was Salento, Emma and I had flown north to Cartagena and were back to travelling logistically. At first I did my best to admire Cartagena, it really is a beautiful place and I’d say the best city to aimlessly stroll around in South America, but the temperature rise was insane. We’d had fairly grey weather in the middle of the country, but in the north you are nearly in the Caribbean, and it’s hardly surprising that during my time up here I once again became a sunburnt mess.
While we enjoyed the cafes, the cobbled streets and the colourful buildings Cartagena throws up, one day was particularly bad. From the port we took an overcrowding boat out into the surrounding waters to see the nearby Rosario Islands and go to what was supposed to be a lovely beach known as Playa Blanca. What a waste of time. The islands were totally uninteresting, and the beach was the tackiest I’ve ever been to. I wasn’t even that bothered about spending time at the beach while we were in Cartagena, the beautiful surroundings of the city are the main draw here, but now having to share my travelling desires, beach orientated Emma had been insisting. In fairness she too found the whole thing underwhelming, and we at least had the rest of the Caribbean Coast to find a good beach. Back onto the boat we got as everyone flooded back in trying to return to Cartagena. The scene must have looked chaotic. Amongst all the madness Emma was lifted on to the boat by a rather muscly man who resembled Lewis Hamilton and loved spending as little time as he could without a shirt on. Needless to say this improved her mood, I remained miserable at the day’s events.
Following Cartagena we took a five-hour bus further up the coast to Santa Marta. We made Santa Marta a brief stop, which in hindsight was a good decision. It’s a bit of a shithole, and a hot shithole at that. I remember thinking I’ve come a long way since shithole numero uno on this trip, Paraguay. Santa Marta brought little cheer. It was here I watched my beloved Liverpool fall short in the Europa League final, and amidst my own post-match reflection I’m sure Emma was delighted to have come all this way to be in my company. I was not cheerful. Though where we were going next was the perfect place to forget those troubles.
We headed further along the coast to Tayrona National Park where jungle-lined beaches awaited. Before that though we had to hike through the actual jungle lining the beaches, and if I was a nightmare to be around after Liverpool had lost that massive game, yes, Emma and jungle was not a good combination. There was a moment where she was walking ahead of me, and to just give me a moment to check it was the right direction I wanted her to stop. I called her name, as one would when you want to get someone’s attention. In return I got “WHAT WHAT WHAT IS IT?” On edge to say the least. So happy you’ve joined me on my travels Emma, I thought, pretending I hadn’t noticed the weird looks from people in front. If that was what happened when I simply said her name, I kindly decided not to bother with the snake jokes.
We reached our destination a couple of hours later with little fuss in the end, and what a place we’d come to. I quickly forgot about Liverpool and was in awe of the surroundings. This was definitely an improvement on our previous beach experience, it had beach orientated Emma’s approval, it was mesmerising, and on a campsite by the sea we slept in hammocks. Emma said the place reminded her of the community Leonardo Di Caprio finds in The Beach. I disagreed, but there were some parallels. We weren’t exactly that remote, but in fairness being an amateur at sleeping in a hammock far from reminds you of home comforts. Still, this was my favourite spot we went to in Colombia.
After resting back in Santa Marta we ventured north again, past Tayrona this time to the small coastal town Palomino. Emma had the most trouble pronouncing this one, she mixed the endings like many do with Liverpool’s Brazilian duo Coutinho and Firmino. Fortunately for her, I’m unaware of any footballer by the name of Palominho. From the spot in the town we were dropped off, we had to walk for 15 minutes to our hostel, and for some reason it destroyed us. In the heat we arrived dripping in sweat and breathless. “Tayrona?” the guy behind the desk asked. “No, the main road,” I replied. Despite that it was a nice spot to stop in for a couple of days, a little less secluded than Tayrona, but just as easy on the eye. At this stage we were racing along the coast.
The final excursion was to Punta Gallinas, the most northern point in South America. We spent three days in a car to get there and back from Palomino and it was certainly worth it. As we drove further and further north I found it hard not to reflect on how much of the continent I’ve managed to cover during my time here, but at the same time how much more there is that I haven’t. Further and further we drove into what seemed like nothingness. It’s desert up here, and people do live here, though life seems like an incredible struggle. Our journey became less of a tourist excursion and more of a humanitarian aid run as we stopped to give food and water to many of the locals, lots of whom were children. Before this we had unknowingly refilled our water bottles with the water meant for these poor people in need, though let’s not judge. There was a moment when I gave water and sweets to a little girl of about seven, and seeing her face light up at the prospect was a small rewarding feeling. That said, I lost count of the number of stops we made, and the number of times I could have said this. I hadn’t forgotten where we were trying to go.
Eventually we’d made it. It was so far north we couldn’t go any further. Lying here are sand dunes and even more secluded beaches than Tayrona has to offer, Emma certainly pleased with the standard of the beach, and there I had another moment of reflection to think what a crazily random part of the world we were now in. I’d like to go to Cape Horn someday, the most southern point in South America, but for now Bariloche would have to suffice as the furthest south I’d ventured on the continent. Still, I was now more than 3700 miles from Bariloche, I’d come a long way from the day I got stuck on the side of a mountain there.
Following that we’d come to the end. We made our way back to Palomino and then again to Santa Marta for flights, Emma would be travelling back to England, and I would be making my way into Brazil to see the Amazon. I enjoyed my time travelling with Emma. I definitely got a lot more out of Colombia than I would have done if I’d remained solo, I’d have been far lazier and seen less, though now I was back to travelling on my own. I was flying down to Leticia, right at the bottom of Colombia bordering Peru and Brazil, so I planned to walk into Brazil, and then fly into Manaus, to be in the perfect place for an Amazon experience. So my last stop in Colombia was Leticia, or Southampton legend Matt ‘Le Tissier’, as Emma called it.