Taganga, Colombia

Of all the places we’ve been so far, I have to say that Colombia hosts the worst drivers—which is saying a lot since there has been some stiff competition for the title. Someone told us that there are no required driver training courses, so most locals (especially the cab drivers it seemed,) literally do not know how to drive. They swerve through traffic regardless of signs or lanes, barely avoiding scooters, pedestrians and oncoming cars. Like Guatemala, the sound of the car horn is ubiquitous in Colombia and is translated to a slew of varied intentions: hello, move over, you’re pretty, thank you, goodbye, etc. Each trip felt like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!

Several of our friends from the sailboat headed to the small fishing town, Taganga, directly after Cartagena. Taganga is only 15 minutes by taxi from Santa Marta, so it was cheap and easy—although somewhat scary—to get over there for a visit. The journeys to and from Taganga were most alarming as the route winds up and down the edge of a steep mountain and tiny cars stuffed over capacity carelessly zoom past each other on the narrow two-lane road. Kyle, Meghan and I were at least somewhat used to the risky moves, but Doug was visibly agitated by the perilous maneuvering, scolding the drivers in English regardless of the blatant language barrier. There is nothing you can do to control the situation, so all you can do is let go and trust in the system. I think Doug learned to embrace the risk by the end of his vacation, but it was pretty funny to watch him freak out in the beginning!

IMG_5992Regardless of the scary drive, our day trips to Taganga were a lot of fun. The main area is a backpacker’s haven, with typical displays of homemade jewelry, street food carts and doppelgängers of the scraggly chillers we’ve consistently encountered throughout our journey thus far.  There were many modest set-plate lunch spots where you could handpick your own fresh fish for the cook to prepare in the style of your choosing.

Our friends were staying at a hostel a bit up the road, which from the outside didn’t look like much, but felt like an upscale hotel once you passed through the entryway. It was nice to relax by the swimming pool and play billiards in the shade with our buddies. As the day started to fade, a few of us went up to the roof and witnessed a spectacular array of shockingly bright colors as the fiery sun slipped below the horizon. The view was impossible to capture with a camera but it was a brilliant moment to share with each other.

IMG_5998That night we organized a private fishing trip for the next morning and returned to Taganga at 8AM to find several disheveled Colombians loading gear into a rusty motorboat on the beach. Without knowing what to expect, we had packed snacks, beers, cameras, and towels—definitely setting the bar too high, we just didn’t know it yet. The weather was beautiful as we climbed aboard the tiny boat and kicked back for what we expected to be a leisurely cruise.

The two fishermen guides spoke no English at all and weren’t taking any extra measures to make us feel comfortable. Within ten minutes of our voyage we looked ahead and realized we were heading straight into a churning vortex of angry water. We stared at each other in disbelief and each gripped our fishing lines with one hand and the side of the boat with the other. Before we could even voice our concerns, giant waves crashed around us, threatening to flip our tiny vessel. We were instantly soaked in salt water, our snack bag was sopping wet and several pairs of sunglasses flew overboard. Just as I began to think our guides were actually insane, multiple lines snapped taut and foot-long tuna fish rained into our boat from every direction. It was all we could do to wrench the hooks out of their mouths, toss them on the floor and get our lines back into the water for more—all the while trying to balance and keep from capsizing as warm fish blood pooled in the bottom of the boat and splashed all over our legs.

The image of our friend Mark standing at the back of the boat, drenched from head to toe, protecting our backpacks like a mother hen will be forever engrained into my mind. What a trooper! We relearned an important lesson: never take anything fishing that you don’t want to get wet (duh!)

IMG_6018After a few rounds in the gauntlet we relocated to a much calmer area where we were able to relax our clenched muscles and use drop lines to catch smaller fish. We also got to anchor the boat in a hidden cove and snorkel for an hour or so. We saw many squid, puffer fish, needlefish and the usual brightly colored suspects.

We gave most of our catch to the fishermen, but we kept a few to cook up. That fish fed us for two days! First, we brought it all back to the hostel in Taganga and prepared a feast for all our friends. Meghan made a soy ginger pineapple marinade for the large tuna and coconut rice from scratch, along with a big salad, plantains, and other little treats. It was a bit melancholy because it was to be our last foreseeable night with our good friends Steph, Olivia, and Mark. It’s amazing how close we grew over the few weeks we spent together in Colombia—it seriously felt as if we’d all known each other for years! I am confident that we’ll all keep in touch and most likely meet up again somewhere in South America soon!.

Posted on by Erica Duncan in Colombia

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