From Taganga we caught a local bus to the main highway and then another larger bus to Palomino. When we spotted the larger bus parked on the side of the highway there was only two or three people on board. They swiftly threw our packs under the bus and took our money for the tickets. We inquired about when it would depart opting to sit at a small tienda across the highway and drink a beer rather than wait on the sweaty and moldy smelling bus. They said approximately one hour but what they meant to say was ‘when the bus is full we’ll leave.’ Believing we had lots of time we abandoned our bags and the bus for the shade across the four lane highway. Not 5 minutes later as we were cheersing our good decision the bus (and our bags) started pulling away. Jesse gave a loud whistle at the bus as I threw too much change at the owner of the tienda before we dashed across and down the highway despite honking horns and angry drivers. Luckily the bus slowed enough for us to jump on as the attendant hanging out the door grabbed us by the shirts and practically hauled us up into the bus. At least we had a couple of cold beers for the sweaty bus ride.
If you blink you might miss Palomino on the highway. Most of the infrastructure is set back about a kilometre on the beach where a few hotels, camping grounds and beach bars sit. We hauled our bags to a campground we’d read about before arriving and were greeted warmly and told to set up our tent wherever we like. We chose a spot back from the beach and under a star fruit tree hoping for some shade in the blistering sun.
We stayed two nights and quickly realized camping at sea level on the Caribbean isn’t as romantic as it sounds. Our tent turned into a little sauna and we sweated our way fitfully through the nights. However the beach was awesome and we spent the day swimming in the ocean and floating in the river that fed into the it. The river and ocean was separated by a skinny sandbar so you had your choice of salt or fresh water, or the tumultuous whirlpool where the river met the ocean waves.
For dinner we walked the kilometre into town on a dark dirt road with just the stars lighting our way. In the distance we could see snow peaked mountains which was hard to imagine considering the temperature where we walked. In town we bought fries smothered in cheese, mayonnaise, hotdogs and a number of other horrible things for you. We sat in plastic chairs at a local bar sharing large Aguila beers (the beers here are about twice as large and half as strong as the ones back home) and tried to talk over the blasting Colombian pop music. For breakfast we picked fresh oranges, star fruit and coconuts from the campground.
We caught another local bus to the entrance of Parque Tayrona. The bus was pretty empty when we got on so we got decent seats in the middle of the bus. The bus driver seemed to arbitrarily choose who to pick up from the side of the road and who to bypass and we spent the next hour passing luggage, bed frames, groceries and babies over our heads until there were at least three to every seat and the aisles were packed with people and their things.
After paying the park fee and watching a required conservation film in spanish we opted not to take the crowded van to the park and hiked instead. Big mistake – the campground we wanted to get to was 8km away. It would have been a beautiful hike with lookout points, jungle trails and small beaches along the way except that we were carrying about 50lbs between us and 6 litres of drinkable water.
What we arrived to was tent city – rows and rows of tents set up in a field just off the beach and half as many hammocks that were home for those who didn’t have a tent. Even though it was the busiest time of year the setting more than made up for the crowds and we joined the masses in enjoying the beach for a few days.
Getting back to Taganga proved to be just as interesting as getting there. We opted for the boat this time and held on tight as we tried to conquer the giant breaking waves ’til we got past the break. The next hour we dipped and dove between 10ft waves that threatened to capsize our boat. Apparently this wasn’t the captains first time nor his most challenging as he seemed unfazed getting us to shore without loosing any passengers. We hadn’t quite found our sea legs and stumbled back to our hostel to enjoy the a/c and pool one last day before starting our motorbike adventures through Colombia.