The most beautiful places on earth are often the most difficult to get to. That’s definitely something I’ve learnt on my travels. Stories of these places of magical beauty are paralleled only by the stories of how travellers got there. Full of sweat, tears, and in this case, incredibly sore calf muscles. Tayrona National Park is no exception.
The morning of July 6 I woke up to a mosquito net followed by bare feet on wooden stairs, bare feet in sand, palm trees, and dark coloured ocean waves. Roughly in that order.
We left Playa Costeno on the back of three separate motorbikes and sped off down a dirt track, through pot holes, sand and finally, asphalt toward Tayrona National Park. While I’d love to paint a picture of the wind blowing in my hair, deep feelings of freedom and the answers to all of life’s questions being thrown at me from various angles… I cannot. I was the one holding on for dear life to the waist of a thin, middle aged, Colombian man in a sweaty yellow t-shirt. My brothers however, were the ones roaring freedom and having the time of their lives.
Parque Tayrona is an extremely gorgeous and extremely popular national park in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, only about 35km from Santa Marta. A trip to Colombia is not complete without a sweaty hike through the Jurasic park landscape and a few nights sleeping in hammocks on the beach in the middle of remote… nowhere. A motorbike ride to the entrance was a great way to start the journey.
Our mototaxi’s drove straight past the security check point, stopped only for us to pay for our tickets, and continued down to a drop off point past the entrance. We then started off our hike, taking the path right which would soon lead out onto the beach. I had learnt from my experience here two years ago that the path left, through the jungle, is not a great way to go.
There are various places you can stay in the national park, we were heading for Cabo San Juan, which is about a two hour hike through the jungle and along the beach to get to. We started off through the jungle (the first hike I’ve even done in flip-flops), and after about half an hour made it out to the beach, via a lookout where we found an ice cream man who gave us advice of sticking to the beach as much as possible to save on time and mosquitos.
His advice seemed to do the job. We hiked for another hour and a half through blazing heat and soft heavy sand, diverting into the jungle at times. It was all worth it when we finally made it to Cabo San Juan, which on initial observations is pretty much a clearing next to the most swimmable area of water, surrounded by tents, hammocks, and a littering of palm trees. We even managed to snag three hammocks in the most sought after location, high up on a hill overlooking the ocean.
I’ve never jumped in the ocean so quickly in my life. We literally dropped our bags and dove into the water, the heat and sweat was instantly gone under a wave and I surfaced on the other side a different and person.
We spent the day on the beach. We made friends with the people who would be sleeping in hammocks up on the hill with us and had a relaxing afternoon walking barefoot in the sand, diving into the waves, and not caring about much more.
In the evening the guys around the camp ground had a soccer match and we shared dinner with a few Americans, two English girls, and a Swiss guy we’d met earlier in the day. As it got late into the night we ventured up the hill and found our hammocks for the night. We had heard it could get cold up there in comparison to the hammocks down in the camp ground which got roasting hot, so we took all the clothes we had up with us and fumbled our way into our hammocks.
The initial laughter as each hammock bumped into the other causing a domino effect eventually quietened to sleep, and the wind picked up force. I was laying in my hammock feeling the breeze turn into a ferocious wind when I first heard the words… very dimly at first but as I focused in on it I could clearly make out the softly spoken voice…
“…and it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind…”
Yes, it was Anthony. He was softly serenading us with the perfect Elton John tune for the experience… I joined in and eventually the three of us broke into laughter. I had forgotten about my older brothers humour, that he manages to somehow pull out seamlessly, quietly, and with precision timing.
I woke up in the morning wearing socks, long trousers, a long sleeve top, and a jacket with a sheet firmly tucked in over my head (which may or may not have come with me from the hostel in Santa Marta), and with vague recollections of being thrown around like a palm tree in a hurricane. As I pulled the sheet away from my face and hazily opened my eyes, I peered out at ocean… ocean, jungle, and a cliff edge that gave the most spectacular view in the soft morning light. The breezy night was definitely worth this.
We said our goodbyes and hiked back to the park entrance early that day to avoid having to walk with the full heat of the sun upon us. We arrived back in Santa Marta before midday. I looked and smelt disgusting, had a nice collection of mosquito and sand fly bites, and my matted, salty, blonde hair was in competition with the stray dogs in the street. So after the shower to end all showers (and breaking my hair brush in an attempt to fix the neglect of the past two days) we headed off for Cartagena, hoping to make it before dark…