Learning the hard way that hammocks and second degree sunburn don’t mix

My latest destination

And so I left my Amazonian home and winged my way to Santa Marta, at the opposite end of Colombia. The Leticia-Bogota leg was particularly enjoyable, with the plane swinging wildly from side to side, made even better by the fact that the day before I had read a book describing a fatal plane crash that began precisely the same way.

Having read a taxi to the hostel where I was heading should cost approximately 20,000 pesos, I put my game face on and strode out to the taxi stand to get a a good price. The first guy offered me 22,000, which I firmly refused. Down the queue I went, with every single driver insisting on 23,000. In the end, I gave up after nine drivers in a row refused to bend. Massive bargaining fail.

I reunited with Helen and Bea at La Brisa Loca, the most gringo hostel I’ve ever been in (I don´t think I spoke Spanish once during our two nights there). They were still in recovery mode from their gruelling 5 day trek to the Lost City, Colombia´s Machu Piccu, which is at the top of a very, very steep hill. It was a quiet night in anticipation for our journey to Tayrona National Park the next day. If you want to read all about Bea and Helen´s adventures in the Lost City, read their hilarious blog here – http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/beatrice_helen/1/1314825265/tpod.html

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The Lost City is no longer lost – Helen and Bea found it

Tayrona is in the north of Colombia and is a national park with heaps of beaches. We took a hot and sticky bus to El Zaino where the park entrance is and then enjoyed a process we’ve all become well accustomed to in our time in South America – waiting for nothing in particular. The line to pay was huge and each transaction took an age and a half. When we returned to the park entrance 2 days later on our way out, it made me laugh to see a dozen or so people sitting around undergoing the exact same wait. It only took roughly the same time equivalent to the Glacier Age had passed before we finally possessed our tickets.

Having decided to stay at Arrecifes, the cheapest  camping site, we started our 1 hour hike – making sure to carefully avoid the horse droppings all over the path. Arriving after a sweaty walk, we hammocked up and headed straight for the beach. One glorious swim later, we were very content with our current place in life. A glamorous dinner of crackers with tomatoes and cheese spread followed, thanks to the exorbitant price of food in the park. We are very classy ladies though, so we glammed it up with plastic cups, Coke and some boxed rum we had sneaked in. A delightful night’s sleep in our hammocks followed, which I found comfortable and refreshing. The tables were to turn the next night…

Our beds for the night

The next day was decided to be a beach day and we walked an hour or so over to La Piscina, a lovely beach. At one point, all three of us lazed in the water with sun on our faces and crystal clear waters below us. We took a moment to ponder what everyone was doing right at that moment and then very smugly laughed about how our lives were so much better in that instant. Whilst Helen and Bea chose to spend the majority of the day in the shade reading, I – a water baby from way back – spent the entire day frolicking in the sea, floating, diving and jumping. Throughout this I kept up a steady commentary, informing Helen and Bea of their non water lameness. Oh how I paid for this smugness.

Within one hour of returning to our camping grounds at the end of the day, we could all tell my skin was turning lobster red. I was emitting so much heat from my back, backside and legs I was convinced I was 2 sparks away from bursting into flames. By nightfall, I was radioactive red hot and in severe pain, unable to sit down and DREADING the night ahead of me. All my previous enjoyment of sleeping in a hammock disappeared, replaced by agony and the sensation that my skin was about to explode. Every single body twitch or move resulted in waves of throbbing pain and it was a horrible, horrible night. Take it from me – don’t let your joy at swimming in the Caribbean sea make you forget the fact that the Caribbean sun is burning at all times.

The next day, we hiked back, which was a real joy for me considering my buttocks were roasted red and each time I took a step I shuddered in pain. Never. Again. On our bus back (again, another amazing experience riding on a bumpy bus with sunburn that bad) we were entertained by a Bolivian pipe blower and one of the thousands of hippies transversing South America and his harmonica (the sheer amount of dreadlocked, parachute pants, bracelet weaving hippies making their way up and down South America defies belief). I spent the afternoon coming to the horrifying realisation I could not sit down and that the sensation of being on fire was to be a permanent friend for the next few days. If you think I’m being over dramatic about this, around 1.5 weeks later all the burned skin erupted into white blisters, which according to Google is a sign of 2nd degree burns. I’ve been stupid enough to get sunburned heaps in my life, but NEVER this bad. 3 weeks on, my entire body was shedding the dead skin in a most attractive manner.

Sadly, Santa Marta will forever be associated with raging pain for me. When we returned to La Brisa Loca for 1 night I was in bed by 9pm, lying on my stomach trying my hardest not to move a muscle. Apart from the never ending, burning heat of my skin trying to cope with what I had done to it and the miserable hindsight of the benefits of reading in the shade, it was a great adventure and I would recommend hammocks as sleeping place of choice to anyone with skin not fried to death by sunlight.