Cartagena, El Totumo Mud Volcano
18.03.2011 - 19.03.2011
South America here we are! I slept for most of the flight from Panama. I sat down in my seat and was out within minutes. I woke up some time later with a searing pain in my ear and looked out the window to see we were descending to Cartagena.
From the airport to the hostel the first thing I noticed was the policemen stood along the coastal road. Every 50m there was a man stationed, most with rifles. We've seen a significant police and army presence in the last few months but this was on another level. The bus had to keep swerving as the road was partially covered in sand; the tiny wall between the road and the beach wasn't really doing much against the wind. As we turned inland we passed a large fort with old cannons sticking out of the battlements, remnants of the defences from the days when pirates tried to raid the town.
I liked Cartagena; its narrow little streets, pretty architecture (mostly) and bustling people but it was spoiled a bit by the extent of the tourism scene. It was nice to experience for a day or two but I was glad to step down a tourist notch when we left for Santa Marta...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
I think only a few posts ago I said I wasn't going to be climbing any more volcanoes on this trip. Well, I might have already blown that, sort of. Our second day in Colombia we went to a mud volcano and I suppose I technically had to climb the whopping 20m or so up to the top to wallow in a mud bath with twenty-odd other gringos. A bit of a surreal experience. The way it's organised you feel a little bit like your on a conveyor belt - thrown in by one man, covered in mud by another giving you a rough massage you're not sure you really want (you pay for the pleasure), shoved into the middle of everyone else to slip and slide, bump and bash your way about, laughing and joking with a load of strangers along the way. You're not sure if you're enjoying yourself or not, you think you are but it's all a bit weird! The mud feels very odd, a feeling of weightlessness is the best way I can describe it. You're suspended in the mud rather than swimming or floating in it. Trying to move anywhere without the aid of something to push off is impossible.
Climbing/dragging yourself out of the mud, another guy helps get the excess mud off you before you careful climb down the steps (as every thing's now very slippery) to the nearby lake, where a woman leads you into the water to wash the mud off. I'm sure some men would love the idea of this but as any man who's been to the mud volcano near Cartagena will tell you it's anything but that kind of experience - scrubbing your head, shoving her fingers in your ears, rubbing your skin to death (again you pay for the pleasure) - and when she's finished with your body she demands your clothes off you (she literally took my bikini top off before I knew what was happening!) to wash them before flinging them back at you and wading out of the water to go find some other poor muddy soul to assault/help leaving you to put your dignity back together.
If that wasn't traumatising enough, something in the lake gave me an allergic reaction! My legs were on fire for the next 15-20 minutes until I got dry and it eventually wore off.
I'm not sure if you'll believe me but after all this I still thought it was great fun though and I'd recommend it to anyone as a must do in northern Colombia; you've got to give it a go!