I met my friend Andres while attending UW-Stevens Point. As an international student from Colombia, Andres insisted that we visit his hometown Barrancabermeja, a steamy refinery town in arguably the hottest city in Colombia. Barrancabermeja frequently reached temperatures often topping 100F with no relief from wind (which is non-existent). It is home to the largest oil refinery in Colombia and produces generations of engineers. Many of the people I have met have some association with EcoPetrol. Andres took us into his home a month after dropping us off at the north terminal in Bogota to begin our travels.
In the middle of our long 3-week stay, we decided to go to Santa Marta, a beautiful tourist destination at the northern tip of the country. Andres brought his uncle Jon and his friend Rafa along and the five of us left in the middle of the night. The car ride was nauseating and even with Andres’s questionable driving, it still took at least 10 hours. When we arrived, we went up on the 17th floor to our rented apartment. With a little negotiating, Andres and Rafa were able to bring the price of our stay way down. You would not believe how much we spent for our two nights. I can not recall the actual amount, but the price equivalent in the States would be that of a run-down motel. It overlooked the beach and surrounding scenery. Donna, Rafa, and I were anxious to go to the beach, but Andres and Jon crashed from a combination of exhaustion and effects from the energy drinks.
I tend to shy away from resort-like atmospheres, but Santa Marta was a god-send from life in Barrancabermeja. The weather was beautiful, similar temperatures to Barranca, but with a mild wind and a refreshingly cool sea. For the amount of people that soak up the sun in Santa Marta, the beach was remarkably clean and the water was a beautiful turquoise color. I lost track of what all happened during those three days, but that was the beauty of the city…I could relax from exploring. My mind is like a nervous itch, unable to just sit on the beach and take a break from taking photographs. Although this resort city is not one of my more engaging journals, it does have historical significance in Colombia.
Santa Marta was the first city that the conquistadors settled in Colombia. Founded in 1525, Santa Marta served as a harbor for the Spanish. The city was so frequently attacked by the internal and external forces between 1543 and 1779 that Santa Marta never really established itself to its full potential. Pirates from England and France declared war on the harbor roughly 46 times, not to mention rebellions from the Tayronas indigenous. As a likely consequence, Santa Marta is far removed from its colonial past and prides itself as a popular destination for family holidays and its soft white Caribbean beaches. Arguably the only memorable date, Simon Bolivar, the liberator of six Latin American countries, spent his last days in Santa Marta.
We spent nights on the beach in lawn chairs playing “cultura chupistica”, a drinking game where you call off names, brands, etc that fit into specific categories. If someone took too long to answer or repeated a previously mentioned answer, they had to drink. Turns out, I'm awful at it, but it was interesting what companies come to mind in Colombia in comparison to the United States. There were musicians and performers on the beach every night entertaining tourists for tips. A drunk man kept announcing “Donde esta la playa” (Where is the beach?”) while in fact sitting on the beach. It became a run-on joke from our time there.
The following morning, we took a short boat ride away is Playa Blanca, a somewhat exclusive beach that allowed us to escape the crowds. We rented a cabana for some shade and ordered fresh fish and drinks from the lone restaurant at the foot on the beach. They had a small television with the Brazil vs Germany quarterfinal game. I will never forget the experience of me running to and from the beach to watch the goals. Germany scored 7 goals, all within 2-5 minutes apart from each other. By the time I returned to the water, people would cheer and bells would ring and I would come running back to the restaurant for the replay. Brazil knocked out Colombia so many people were glad to see Brazil struggle. I had my picture taken with a python around my neck and I’m terrified of snakes.
Our final day was bleak for neither of us wanted to leave. Before I left, I bought Cuban cigars for my Dad as a souvenir (which was later snuck through customs). Our trip back was miserable. We stopped at Aracataca, birthplace of Colombia’s most famous writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez to watch a soccer game. That game went into overtime and put us behind schedule considerably. Somewhere along the way, I woke up from restless nap to realize that we were still driving after 10 hours. Andres accidentally took the wrong route which added a few hours to the already agonizing drive back.
A few days later, I booked a flight for Donna to return to Wisconsin. Andres’s father generously paid for her first connecting flight to Bogota. In return, Donna painted them a picture of Santa Marta. I remember clearly how miserable I felt after Donna left. My dog Ali also passed away shortly after the trip, saying goodbye through Skype surrounded by mourning family. These events made me realize that I needed a fresh start and embark elsewhere for the first time by myself. I accepted a one-month volunteer position at the Buddha Hostel in Medellin and thanked Andres and his family for everything.