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Monday, March 17, 2014

Santa Marta, Tayrona, & Costeno Beach...

So after spending several days in Cartagena, I made my way northeast up Santa Marta.  The coastal ride on HWY 90 was beautiful and inspiring.  Shortly after leaving Cartagena the natural beauty of Colombia started to present itself.  There are literally hundreds of beaches all the way up the Caribbean coast with many more palms than people.  Santa Marta itself leaves a bit to be desired in my opinion.  Some of the streets in the older sections of town are nice, but the remainder is an unattractive maze of strip malls, roads that are in a constant state of disrepair, and beaches that are fairly uninviting.  Most utilize Santa Marta as a stopping off point during travels elsewhere.  

I originally planned to spend a couple of nights in Santa Marta at Dreamer Hostel, which is just a bit outside of town.  When I arrived, Jeffrey (RideForPeace) was there working on his bike.  I had just split with him, Sheldon (RideForSmiles), and the boys in Cartagena and we didn't plan to meet, so it was a pleasant surprise.  With a name like 'Dreamer', one would think the hostel would be a nice place to relax and catch up on rest.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for some) that was NOT the case.  Don't get me wrong, the parties at the hostel were fun, but the several nights I was there wore me the F out.  Not to mention the side trips we would make to Taganga to sample some local Latin nightlife.  Somewhere along the way I met a new Vietnamese/Canadian friend named Vylan.  She and I got along well during our stay at Dreamer and eventually decided to make our grand escape further up the coast to Costeno Beach Surf Camp.  

Costeno is heaven…  The beach that it sits on just east of Parque Tayrona doesn't even have a name (Costeno is just the name of the hotel/surf camp).  That said, my attempts stopping in small towns along the way asking "donde esta Playa Costeno?" were all failures.  I ended up blowing by the sign and riding up the coast for about 45mins farther than I should, but with absolutely no complaints.  The road leading to Tayrona and then winding up the coast is stunning.  At some points you have lush jungle covered mountains on your right, deserted white sand beaches with emerald water on your left, and snow covered glaciers in the background.  It really was spectacular.  After realizing that I had gone too far, I backtracked and eventually found the marked turnoff that I missed earlier.  

The place was opened three years ago by a cool Canadian cat named Brian.  He searched for property for some time and eventually came across this place.  What started out as a surf camp with several boards and a tent has since blossomed and become more popular, and for good reason.  The first two nights Vylan and I shared a beach hut, which was amazing.  My bed was about 20 steps away from the ocean, which made sleeping quite easy.  After the first two nights I ended up moving into a hammock in a covered area to save a bit of money, which was quite nice as well.  This place is really special…  the sounds of the surf, wildlife chirping and chatting away, beautiful views all around, and general pleasantness makes lazing around from hammock to hammock all day very, very easy.  I've been to countless beaches/coasts during my travels and costeno, along with the surrounding area, is definitely one of my favorites of all time.  I can't remember seeing an area with as much undeveloped pristine beach area.  You can walk for miles in any direction and not see another soul.  Unreal.  

At night Costeno lights up.  Actually let me correct that, every OTHER night Costeno lights up.  The first day we arrived everyone was lazily lounging around drinking a ton of water.  I commented to someone how relaxed everyone seemed and everyone quickly told me that was because there was a massive party the night before on the beach.  Sure enough that night was relatively quiet, but the following night was another big party on the beach.  That pattern continued during my stay.  There were around 30 - 40 people there at any given time and everyone seemed to have a very similar outlook and personality.  That made for fantastic evenings filled with great music, conversation, dancing, fires on the beach, general rowdiness, and loads (LOAAADS) of rum. 

So with a slightly heavy heart, I left Costeno today.  Not too heavy however…  Nina, my dear German girlfriend from the boat, is working in Bogota for a month so I'm going to meet her there for a few days to spend some time exploring the city.  Today I made the 360+ mile highway trek from Costeno to Bucaramanga.  That meant backtracking on HWY 90 for a bit, then taking HWY 45 south all the way down, which was winding and beautiful the majority of the route.  The closer you get to Bucaramanga, the elevation starts to increase and the temps drop slightly.  I'll spend a brief night here and then want to see San Gil.  After exploring San Gil and the surrounding winding paved/dirt roads, I'll make my way down to Bogota.  San Gil is supposedly the adventure sports capital of Colombia, and an epically stunning location.  I'm looking forward to riding all around the area en route to the big city.  I'm also really looking forward to getting to Bogota to spend more time with Nina.  Even with the severe lack of internet here on the coast, she and I have been keeping in contact.  

On a random motorcycle side note, I failed to source SOAT (insurance) in Cartagena.  I thought I would just get it at my convenience.  Yesterday I took a day trip back into Santa Marta and drove around for what seemed like hours, popping in place after place, and found that they would only sell one year.  I'm not sure if it's that I'm cheap, or dumb (maybe a combo of both), but I refuse to spend the $300 USD for a year of insurance when I'm only in Colombia for a month or so.  So, for those thinking of doing a similar trip, I'll be the guinea pig and will let everyone know how it goes.  I've heard mixed stories of people with and without it.  Some good, some bad.  I do have a State Farm insurance card from back home that shows an expiration of Nov 2014, so if I get asked I will just claim that it's valid worldwide.  Hopefully a bit of Spanish, combined with a blend of friendliness and gringo stupidity, and I'll be ok.  Cross your fingers…  

That's it for now.  I need to get caught up on e-mail, finances, and other chores after being off the grid for a week.  For those who've asked, I'm happy, healthy, and very content at present.  Looking forward to slipping the helmet back on tomorrow morning to continue the adventure.  

Ciao for now, 

~ D

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