Arriving in Barranquilla a day before one of several interviews in recent weeks provided a nice evening with friends in the Olaya neighborhood before a much-awaited adventure to nearby Santa Marta. A relatively safe barrio, where mango trees shade the wide streets and neighbors greet each other warmly, Parque Olaya is a favorable location to enjoy the evening breezes of Colombia’s fourth largest city.
The next day, following the interview, a walk to nearby independent health food store, EcoSiente, revealed some tasty organic and natural products, including a dairy and egg-free bread made with chia seeds, and several gluten-free pastas. The friendly staff answered questions about the sources of the products, while the owner smiled about his “import business,” showing off a few select items from Trader Joe’s.
One of the great things about Barranquilla is it’s proximity to other cities, especially on the coast. It’s easy to travel one to three hours north or south and be in very different terrain. For this weekend, bus transport to Santa Marta from barrio Simon Bolivár saved both time and money. Here, the buses do not leave from the station, and occasionally there is a discount as they try to fill all the seats. The only downside is they sometimes do not check ID’s, making the passage a bit less secure.
An evening one-way ride on Berlinas to local favorite El Rodadero meant waking the next morning to sunshine and the sound of the sea. After a delicious coffee breakfast with Juan Valdez, a 20-minute bus ride on the local SiTP Urbano provided fast and inexpensive passage into the historic city of Santa Marta, where a second ride to nearby Taganga meant a picturesque view along the cliffs approaching the tiny fishing village.
Once in Taganga, a short walk through the village and to the right of the small beach led to a winding path up and around a jagged, white rocked cliff, filled with tree branches, desert-like bushes, and unfortunately, plenty of plastic waste and trash.
A few trash cans along the path might prevent people from so much disrespect to the earth, but who knows. In some areas, the garbage was so thick it resembled snow and ash on the ground; focusing upward and away from the trash, the view of Taganga was spectacular and clear.
Rounding the point of the largest cliff, the descent began towards the cove of Playa Grande, a pretty hidden beach perhaps misnamed because it’s actually small. Again the view was breathtaking with clear water lapping on soft sand, and not too crowded, probably due to its secluded location.
After a quick walk down, Playa Grande provided a great day of sunning, sleeping and snorkeling as tourist boats came in and out of the shoreline, dropping off passengers and delivering supplies to beachfront restaurants.
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Snorkeling in the sea of Playa Grande was more like being in a lake, with the water having a greenish cast, and the bottom offering mossy rocks and large branches. Huge schools of fat goldfish, long silver minnows and striped flat fish swam near the mountain-meeting edge, while long, spotted grouper-looking varieties darted between colorful angel fish near the cliffs.
In the evening, following an enchanting sunset, the little town of Taganga had started to come alive; music could be heard well into the cliffs during the afternoon return hike. Once back in the village, locals were setting up for hungry tourists and travelers, opening their kiosks and restaurants to offer the day’s catch of fish, arepas and empanadas, and of course, chilled Colombian cervezas. Catching the night buses back to Santa Marta and Rodadero, with a sidetrack through nearby Gaira, the busy vehicles rocked their passengers into a calm as the coast prepared for sleep.
Sunday morning in Playa Rodadero brought a light but satisfying breakfast of delicious fritos, fresh fruit, juice and steamy, sugary tinto, all enjoyed on the beach boardwalk, watching families arrive for the day. After sitting in the sun and listening to live Vallenato music, a typical fish lunch at La Equina Paisa was a savory choice before boarding the bus for a five-hour journey back to Cartagena. A smiling waitress served chilled limonada and hot seafood soup along with a plate of golden mojarra frita, steamed yucca, rice and salad, all for the reasonable price of $13,000 COP.
As the weekend ended, and the ride back to Cartagena via Barranquilla began, a wave of gratitude was felt for safe journeys, new adventures, and the privilege to call the Caribbean coast of Colombia home. While the heat is often unbearable, the cost of living higher than in other parts of the country, and the influx of tourists at times overwhelming, the trade off of sunny beaches, delicious regional cuisine and friendly locals makes all seem worthwhile.