For the final weekend trip in the July chapter in Colombia, I went to the Caribbean coastal town of Palomino. Since we had to fly there, this trip was relatively more expensive than our previous weekend trips, and so only 6 of us went on this trip. But the smaller group did help us to be more mobile, and to share some wonderful memories together, especially those made while riding inner-tubes down a river, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Palomino sits on the border of the Sierra Nevada National Park (no, there isn’t some portal to California, Colombia has their own Sierra Nevada). Officially it’s called “Parque Nacional Natural Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.”
For being the second most famous Sierra Nevada, there’s some surprising facts about this region. The national park sits right off the coast, and just 26 miles away is the mountain Pico Cristóbal Colón, which is not only the highest peak in all of Colombia, but it’s also the 5th most prominent mountain peak in the world; it has over 30% more prominence than Mt. Rainier.
The park houses a forest that is considered the world’s most irreplaceable nature reserve. This is due to a high concentration of endangered species. The Sierra Nevada is a relatively small region, but since it quickly goes from a coastal climate to the highest peak in Colombia, there is a wide variety of mammals and plantlife. But this concentration has made many species vulnerable to external impact. Climate change is always a looming issue, but a more direct human threat is deforestation and the drug trade has also deeply affected this region.
It is crazy for having a notable natural reserve, home to indigineous people, and a prominent mountain peak, Sierra Nevada is not technically part of the Andes Mountain Range, nor part of the Amazon Rainforest.
Anyways, back to Palomino.
When we first checked into our hotel, we quickly changed into our swimsuits and set out for the beach, which was a 10 minute walk away. We walked around and had dinner at a beachfront restaurant, when we noticed how unique the beach seemed to everyone. There was a nice soft sandy beach, but it didn’t stretch out that far. When the tide was in, there was just a narrow strip of beach and then you hit the tree line. It was seriously as if someone created this beach on the SIMS, because with the treeline so close, these restaurants were able to be positioned right on the water. Even when the tide was out, it only took us 15 seconds to walk from our table to getting smacked by a wave.
When we went back to our hotel later on that night, we decided to hang out in the pool for a bit, but for some reason all the pool lights were off; in fact, all the lights were off. It seemed pretty odd, and we asked the front desk if we could turn on the lights, which he just said they’ll turn on in about an hour. So we all just swam in the pool while in the dark for an hour or so, but the lights never came back on. Eventually, we decided we were hungry again and set out for some late night pizza, which ended up not being a far trip since next door was a pizzeria (and it was well worth it; it was unanimously annointed the best pizza ever, and we went back the next day to cement that claim). It was a dimly lit outdoor restaurant, where they only had candles on our table for light. That was when it hit me: they’re out of power! This whole village is out of power! Sure enough, a few minutes later, the lights turned on in the restaurant and all down the street.
I later learned that only about half of Palomino has electricity, but it is very unreliable and they experience power outages on a daily basis. Many places have generators to keep things operational during these power outages, which during the day, you know when the power is out because down the entire street everyone has a generator loudly growling. Since it’s not cost-effective to use the generator during the night, you’re pretty much screwed if it goes out when you’re trying to sleep. We quickly discovered this when the power went out at midnight, all our fans were off, and the coastal humidity is quite unbearable, which meant I couldn’t go back to sleep. I had planned on going for a morning beach run, but the power never went back on until 7:30 AM! I just sat in my bed saying I’m not going to get up until I can enjoy the breeze from the fan… Then when the fan came on, I said I waited this long to have it, I might as well enjoy it, and sat around for another hour.
Floating the River.
We spent most of the weekend relaxing in various bodies of water. First was the ocean, then it was the pool, but then we discovered that there was a river nearby that flows into the ocean and we could rent innertubes to float down to the ocean.
We found a vendor who was able to give us a good deal, and he then rallied his little biker gang to transport all of us to the river with us riding on the back while we hold onto our inner-tubes. I’ve ridden on the back of motorcycles before, but I’ve never ridden without a helmet while in my swimming shorts, and holding an inner-tube as we trek through a dirt trail to a riverbank.
The ride down was such a peaceful experience; not only did they tie all our inner-tubes together, but we had our own personal guide who navigated us through any of the rapids we encountered. Which was nice, as we were too busy enjoying our smuggled Aguila beers and Aguardiente.
I know rivers flow into the ocean, but I had never seen it in person before. Since it wasn’t that big of a river, you could stand right in the middle of the river as it connects to the ocean water and it was such a strange experience. You can feel the push of the cool river water beneath you; pulling you into the ocean waters. Then from the opposite direction, the surface would rise as a wave would crash into your torso with salty warm water. You could even see what was river water and what was ocean water, because when the wave would come through, the whole surface would become cloudy, but the river water would then push that back into the ocean and everything would be clear again.
Overall, it was an incredible weekend. That is if we ignore the sleepless nights and the fear of getting malaria or yellow fever.