A Day in Santa Marta

27th July 2015

With an incredibly heavy heart I left the wonderfully colourful Cartagena at 5am for Santa Marta.

Watching the sunrise through the window of the MarSol minibus, passing the industrial town of Barranquilla, fishing villages and glimpsing the Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal mountains in the world, I eventually reached Santa Marta at around 11am.

Checking into the Aluna Casa y Cafe, in the town centre, I had spicy eggs and a lulo for breakfast and checked out the local tourist map to try and get my bearings.  Again, the town was pretty much on a grid system.

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My room was quite small and very hot but it had a fan and its own bathroom and cost less than £20 for the night so no real complaints from me.

Even though I was really tired, I forced myself to go out and have a look around the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.

The high street is really busy, packed with the usual variety of shops, market stalls and supermarkets.

A bustling enterprise on the side streets is that of older men seated behind desks as though they were in an office, helping people (for a fee) that can’t read, write, add up, or those that need a lawyer or accountant.  As I popped into a pharmacy to buy the highest deet mosquito repellent I could in preparation for my next stop, I was asked if I needed a lawyer by one of these men – hopefully not! 🙂

As is usual for me, I explored straight away.  Through the Parque de los Novios (Park for Lovers) which is a brick tiled plaza with seats under trees to hide from the afternoon sun, down to the Catedral de Santa Marta, a beautifully white, simple looking church that is supposedly the oldest in the country and is where Simon Bolivar is buried.  From there I went to the Parque Simon Bolivar which covers a couple of blocks to the sea, similar to the Lovers Park.

Reaching the Monument Rodrigo Bastidas (explorer and founder of Santa Marta), I looked across the not so nice shore line to a lighthouse atop a picturesque small island at the entrance of Santa Marta Bay, watching kids having fun playing in the murky water by the port.

Walking along the Parque Camellon Rodrigo de Bastidas (the promenade), I passed fantastic statues of Tairona people, the indigenous people of Colombia who the Spanish almost wiped out through disease and enslavement during their invasion. Their descendants, the Kogi, Arhuaco and Assario, now live in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in their own society.

As I neared the marina, my mood got worse and worse.  I was hot, tired and grumpy.  I wanted a nice beach, with a breeze so I could take a dip and have a snooze.  I decided to go back to Aluna and try and have a sleep.

When I got back to the land of wifi, my Spanish teacher had been in touch and said her brother would meet up with me later that evening and show me around.  I really couldn’t be bothered as I was depressed about leaving everyone in Cartagena but it would be better to meet him than be on my own, and luckily he spoke English so I wouldn’t have to struggle with my pidgin Spanish.

I couldn’t find the brother.  I waited for 30 minutes at the cafe where I thought we were supposed to meet (there was no wifi and I had no signal on my phone), so I went to watch the heavenly sunset over the harbour lighthouse.

Walking to Parque de los Novios wondering if the brother was in the vicinity and trying to decide where I would have dinner, I heard my name being called and there he was. He was very good looking and very charming, what more can a girl ask for on an evening out?

The weather changes in the evening.  The breeze starts up and it’s no longer uncomfortable. From a windless 40 degrees during the day (no wonder I was grumpy) it went down to the late 20s.

What were sleepy plazas come to life – bars, restaurants and cafes take on a vitality and locals, like locals all over the world, come out to play.

Spending the evening chatting and drinking mojitos, it was time to get some food.  There are lots of restaurants to choose from down on Carrera 1C by the beach but venturing inland slightly, we found Carrera 3 is the place to eat.

There were a wealth of restaurants to choose from down this narrow street and we opted for Lulo Cafe Bar. What a find!

I had the best arepa I think I’ll ever have – the Lulo Marinara which is ceviche de camarones with aguacate and mango (avocado, shrimp and mango).  It was so fresh and tasty and there was masses of it. My absolute kind of dinner!

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People watching from this spot is a must. So many people venture through Carrera 3 but you do have to hang on to your belongings as you get a few beggars and, of course, the customary jewellery sellers. The beggars are generally those people addicted to cocaine. For a very small sum they can feed their habit so like beggars all over the world, buy them food or a drink but don’t give them money.

Sadly it was time to say goodbye to the brother.  I’m so pleased I did bother to go out. We had a magical evening where the conversation never failed, and got on really well.  What a great evening with a great guy.

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