A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: piratejax

A journey to the top of nowhere

The magic of Cabo de la Vela

The wind is blowing at a thousand knots; if I let go of the rocks I’m afraid I’ll be whisked away across the vast blue sea. The sun is shining, yet its warmth is lost by the wind. I am standing on a huge rock overlooking the magnificent Caribbean Sea, to my right wild desert and eventually the northernmost point of South America (Punta Gallinas) and to my right is the northern coastline of Colombia with its untamed majesty of beauty. Behind me is a landscape seemingly inhabitable, filled with cacti, dust, dryness and emptiness. Villages are far and few between and the life is a mixture of hard work, quietness and the following of hundreds of year old traditions.


I arrived in Cabo de la Vela one sunny afternoon not too long ago, after an 8 hour journey. The village is situated in La Guajira Peninsula, which is in the northeast of Colombia, bordering Venezuela. It is less than a one horse town, (maybe just a small donkey), but it has so much to offer culturally and naturally. This coastal paradise sits right on the Caribbean Sea, with a vat of dry nothingness surrounding it. In the evenings I sat and watched the fisherman bring in their catch or gazed out at the infinite sea with the golden orange sun slowly disappearing. The stars at night hypnotized my tiny incomprehensible brain and it is easy to get lost in the glow of ancient history.






On one of my evening strolls, I met a young woman, named Sharaya. She was wearing the traditional long dress with colourful designs and her face was adorned with a brown strip of paint that went from the middle of her forehead to her nose which then split into two and encircled her cheeks. She told me the secrets of her tribe, the Wayuu, who are descendents from the Amazonian jungle and have been living in La Guajira for hundreds of years. )They are Colombia and Venezuela’s biggest indigenous family). Her tale started out with a proud declaration that it’s the women, and not the men, who are in charge and that all girls go through a ritual to prepare them for this. Once a girl starts menstruating, she is taken away and lives in seclusion for up to three years. During this time she is taught the traditions of the tribe, how to weave, cook and be with her future husband. This ritual is important as the tribe aspires for mature women, full of wisdom and who will fulfill the roles of leadership, shamanism or politicians of the tribe.

An interesting fact is that this tribe was never subjugated by the Spanish colonizers; the Wayuu held their territory and were in a state of war with Spaniards in the 16th century. They were unique in being the only Indians to learn how to use firearms and ride horses, and in 1769 they put their skills to use and started a revolt against the Spaniards in the area. The rebels weren’t unified with each other; so a separate fight resulted between the two Indians groups. The arrival of Spanish reinforcement ended the clash. In modern times, the tribe has been caught in the middle of the conflicts between Colombian army, FARC and right-wing paramilitaries; a situation which has forced many Wayuu to move to Venezuela.

Sharaya proudly showed me her recent weaving work- a beautiful “mochilla” and exquisite hammock. The weaving that the girls learn is part of a tradition that has been performed for generations and each bag/hammock has a unique, intricate pattern representing the elements in their lives: nature, the sun, the stars and the planets.


The more I conversed with Sharaya, the more I became fascinated with this tribe and started to ask deeper questions. The Wayuu place their faith in a mythical universe; with a central figure called Mareiwa, who is the creator and founder of the tribe. Several other deities represent procreation, life, the seasons, hunting, evil, illness, death etc. They strongly believe that life doesn’t end with death, but that a relationship continues with the bones of the dead. Two years after a body is buried, the body is exhumed and the bones incinerated and placed into ceramics which are then buried again in the clan’s cemetery.

Passing my quiet evening with Sharaya, as well as strolling around the village, observing; brought to my attention that the Wayuu may be “backwards” compared to the West, but what they (and like so many other Indigenous tribes) have right is prioritizing the importance of traditions, rituals and genuine craftsmanship.
Western culture has lost, and is losing the sense of community and humanity; replacing it with superficial virtual relationships, meager imaginations and clouded minds. I arrived in Cabo de la Vela with a heavy mind, fogged up spirit and complicated living; but I left feeling illuminated with the serenity and simple existence of the people there.


To experience the magic of La Guajira is quite simple. From Santa Marta, go to main bus station and get on a bus heading for Maicao, and get off at Cuatro Vias (about 5 hours). From here, hop in a shared taxi to Uribia. The taxi will drop you off in the market where you can negotiate your way onto the back of a jeep that will take you a bumpy ride to Cabo de la Vela (about 2 hours). Getting back is similar, with a 4am start and the jeep will usually take you all the way to Cuatro Vias. A round trip will cost around 70,000 COP.

Accommodation is basic. To string your own hammock will cost just 3000 COP, and to rent one costs 7000COP.


Food is based on rice and meat (mainly fish, goat or chicken). A plate of rice, salad and meat should set you back about 20,000 COP (in low season). If you are vegetarian I would advise bringing some of your own food with you, as there is no alternative to meat.

There are many different opinions about Cabo de la Vela, but the adventure will depend on your perspective, attitude and whether or not you are willing to just let go of all modern living, and go back to simple living.


Posted by piratejax 08:52 Archived in Colombia Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains beaches trees boats village food_seafood_fish_eating Comments (0)

Carnaval de Barranquilla

Who lives it, is who enjoys it (Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza).

When you think of the word “carnival”, which words pop into your head? Rio, samba, music, colours, feathers, people, loud, drunks, dancing and just utter madness? To the Carnival of Barranquilla, I would need to add words like incredible, diverse, artistic cultural expression, salsa, Africa, drums and just plain fun! It’s no doubt that The Carnival of Barranquilla is one of the most colourful festivals in the world. And it is Colombia’s way of expressing its music, art, dance, rhythms, races, legends and colours. But did you know that the symbol of the carnival is a dick face? Yes, a dick face, called Marimonda


I was intrigued to why this symbol was used, so I did some research and found this. In the early 20th century (after the Carnival had grown in fame) an ordinary man from Barranquilla decided to create a character to ridicule and embarrass the high society and their expensive fancy clothes. He wore pants and a patched jacket on backwards and made a mask with a long nose, large eyes and a tongue which is always sticking out to demonstrate his feelings for the rich, the government etc and his lack of concern for them. A tie was added to further mock and reject the upper class. Nowadays the image has changed and Marimonda now represents a jock, “cocksucker cock” (hence the dick face association). Basically the image is a mixture of a primate and an elephant and symbolizes the spirit of the man who just wants to enjoy his life and not give a damn about rules of the law.


We spent just one day at the actual street carnival and the experience was one of the most colourful and energizing experiences of my life!
On the Saturday we made our way to the main street and my friends, with their special powers of persuasion, managed to get us in for a good price and a good spot. We socialized with the locals around us and this made the experience even more real and special; as we were sharing an important celebration with the people from this city (and not silly foreigners who just want to get smashed), who shared with us their jokes, stories of the carnival, and their energy, rhythm and love for this festival.


The first Carnival of Barranquilla took place during the 19th Century, and from then on the carnival has become a worldwide attended event, with foreigners joining in on the avid festivities. The festival always takes place forty days before Holy Week (four days before Ash Wednesday) and is a fusion of Colombia’s age -old traditions, folklore, artistic expression, African dance and instruments and the passion that every single Colombian possesses. You will see the most extravagant costumes, dances and acrobatics and live music. You will feel the streets bursting with animation, colours and sounds. But the most important, is the coming together of people from all walks of life, cultures, languages and races with the sole intention of having a good time, singing some songs and celebrating the stories of Colombia’s heritage and traditions.


The Queen of the Carnival is chosen weeks before and she is in charge of coordinating the festival. On different days you can enjoy different themed parades: The Flower parade, The Great Parade, The Orchestra Festival and the carnival ends with the burial of a character called Joselito Carvajal (who represents the joy of the celebrations), who died from drinking and partying too much during the carnival. He is mourned, but is resurrected the following year.

When the sun hit us straight in our eyes, we decided to move and found a really sweet spot: sitting right on the street! The people (in the stands who had paid a fortune, hahaha) behind us shouted at us and told us to move-jealousy makes you nasty!) We had direct and personal contact with the carnival; the dancers, the musicians, the music, the nonstop energy and happy faces. I got body paint on my clothes, I hugged people and I really felt the beat and spirit of the participants.


After 8 hours of standing, shouting, screaming, clapping, singing, eating and drinking, we wearily walked back home. Tired, but bursting with the colourful energy still throbbing through our blood…

Next: Rio Carnival ;-P

Posted by piratejax 08:34 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Feliz Navidad

The first of many Christmas's in Colombia...

So I am finally on holiday! The last term was really hectic and busy with Christmas things, preparing exams, marking, inserting grades etc. But last week I finally was able to run away from school and get some peace and quiet! On Saturday I flew to Cali to experience some more Colombian culture. Cali is in the south of Colombia near to the Pacific Ocean and is THE salsa capital of the world. I was met by my dear friend, Adriana (I know Adri from Santa Marta). Since I arrived I’ve experienced nothing but typical awesome Colombian hospitality and generosity!

Some geography for you :-)


The first night we went out in an area called San Antonio; an old colonial section of the city, complete with small narrow streets, beautifully restored windows, balconies and old wooden doors. Adri and I stopped off at a quaint café called Macondo for their famous coffee with maracuya (passion fruit) or lulo (ummm…lulo). Hmmm, it was delicious! Thick and creamy like a milkshake with the sweet, tangy taste of the maracuya/lulo….Recommended! We slowly sipped the creamy heaven while watching a lively jazz band. Later we went out dancing at an eclectic bar called Mikasa. Really nice place with good music and awesome vibe!



Sunday I spent shopping at an outlet centre. I haven’t been around that many people since the underground in Seoul! And this time I wasn’t the tallest person around. After a few hours and with an impending low blood sugar attack, I gave up. Later Adri, her brother and I went to a rock festival. It was really cool to see Colombian rockers! I’m usually around colourful beach folk and hippies. The black, metal studs, long hair (beautiful! I wonder what shampoo they use?) and doc martens was a nice change from shorts and slops I’m used to. The night was complete with me peeing behind a car (the toilets were locked, what could I do?) and thinking to myself “oh yeah baby, this is what rock n’ roll is all
about” ;-)

On Monday we traveled to Buga (a small city north of Cali, where Adriana grew up) where I spent Christmas. I met Adriana’s entire family: uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents. They did their best to make me feel welcomed but I did miss my family incredibly! There were so hospitable and kind to me, but I think sometimes too much hospitality can be dangerous: your guests either spend their time in the toilet, or are so lazy from eating too much! ;-)

My first breakfast: I sat down and looked down at my plate. Oh no! Not eggs again! (I had already had 5 eggs in the last 28 hours). And now there were two staring up at me! And a thick piece of cheese and an arepa and a bread roll. What am I going to do? I tried looking for a place to stash the food. The dustbin was too far away and throwing a fried egg from 3m….well, I was never a good shooter in netball. Maybe I could stick it in my pocket? No wait: damn pocketless-skirt! Hide it under the table? No, maybe someone would see me and what if someone stepped in it? After a couple of minutes of internal debating and thinking of the starving children in Africa, I put my head down and wolfed it all down. Hoping that the faster I ate the less effect it would have on me. I had an after-breakfast siesta….

Arepas (Made from corn flour and can be found all over Colombia and are made differently in different regions: with or without cheese, small and thick, big and flat etc)


Some typical Colombian Christmas sweets


Lunch arrived (just 2 hours after this debacle) and I was getting a bit worried “what if it’s eggs again? I don’t think my body could take anymore”… But thank heavens and thank the absolute kindness of her grandmother; she had specially bought me some “soya fillets” :-), but then overfed me with two of them… Despite the bulge in my stomach, I was in high spirits at the thoughtfulness of the family and their effort to make me feel welcomed! :-)


Before the Christmas dinner we said some prayers and sang some carols. Then at about 11pm we ate (rice, salad and meat/soya fillet). After this they opened their presents and the aguadiente started flowing ;-P. Adri’s grandfather was always there, with shot glass filled with the “firewater”. We danced and I went to bed at 3am. On Christmas day we chilled, more presents were opened and more food was eaten. Later in the afternoon we drove to Calima, which is a beautiful lake with mountains surrounding it. It’s a popular place for kite/wind surfing and jet skiing. We chilled (literally!) by the lake before going to drink hot “agua panela” (sweet sugar drink) and eat “arepa choclos”.


Arepa choclos


I am now back in Cali and tomorrow I will go to Popayan (a city 2 hours south from here), but I will back on Thursday to enjoy “La Feria de Cali”, which is a huge salsa festival! And I am ready to show off my salsa skills…Bring it on!!!! ;-)

Posted by piratejax 08:01 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

The Big Bad City Called Bogota…

…No, I’m just kidding

Since the moment I arrived in Colombia I heard completely mixed feelings and opinions about Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Some people told me it was a “big ugly, dangerous, busy and really cold city”. Others had a warmer attitude towards the capital and said words like “rich in culture, more opportunities, and friendly interesting people, beautiful, colonial and exciting”.

During my frantic-yet-chilled (the Caribbean has this effect on me: my mind is all frantic and overheating with thoughts and then I look outside and chill out) job search, I had to accept the reality that I might have to work in Bogota and since I had opposing views on the city, I listened to those who told me it was just a big ugly city. Thank goodness the heavens were my side and I found a job here in Santa Marta, but the wonder of what Bogota could be like had me planning…

During the first days of school the first thing I did was find out when the holidays were (I’m a terrible worker, no?) and I booked some really cheap flight tickets to Bogota. My accommodation was already sorted: I have a good friend, Ana who lives in Bogota, but who lived in Santa Marta for a few a months this year and through mutual friends we became language exchange partners, meeting almost every day to talk. Ana needed to take care of her mom the week I was there, so I stayed there as well.

Ana and Me


Juan (Ana’s husband), Ana and me at “Wok”- the best Asian restaurant outside of Asia!


Felica- Ana and Juan’s amazing boxer :-)


I arrived on a semi-sunny Saturday; filled with excitement and marveling in what will transpire during my week in Bogota. Ana was busy teaching yoga, so I took a taxi from the airport to her mom’s house. I was met by the helper (who cooked and cleaned the whole time I was there- no dishes! woohoo!) and I had a chat (all in Spanish) with Ana’s mom. They live in nice, green area (Nicolas de Federman) and there are some parks nearby and at night it’s deafeningly quiet! I am used to sleeping with my windows open and hearing vallenato until 4am or someone screaming “tinto tinto” or boys playing soccer until late at night.

That first night I went with Juan and Ana to a friend’s birthday-house-party. Wow, I had forgotten what these kinds of gatherings were like. The crowd, of about 20, was of the “artsy-fartsy-bohemian-type” (as quoted by the host); so skinny jeans and big (Asian-like) glasses. The music they played was amazing; a mix of funky-electronic-old-school and I must admit it was a nice change to reggaeton. I ate A LOT of cake: Ana made an amazing chocolate cake and another girl made a chocolate-fudge tart… hmmmm, I still have taste-memories…. It took a while for me (or for them) to warm up to each other and soon I was chatting to some of them- in Spanish and the odd English. And again I was mistaken to be a Cachaca, jajaja:-) (Cachaco(a)’s is the name for people who come from Bogota, like Costenos are the name for people from the Caribbean coast).
We partied until 5am and revived ourselves with toasted cheese sandwiches.

On Monday Ana took me shopping, and yes I’ll admit it was fun. I had a longish list so we started to tick things off. ..
Cachaco’s generally are fashion conscious and dress really well. Of course I saw punks, metal heads, skinheads (was nice to see some shaved heads- in Santa Marta it’s only because of balding), and the usual hippies. I really enjoyed dressing for the weather: I borrowed a jacket and scarf from a friend and it was a nice to wear jeans/tights without sweating. And another thing I THROUGHLY enjoyed was the 2 hot showers I took everyday- I have never been that clean (yes, I am sure my mom is proud of me, hahah ;-)) It had been about 7 months since I had a hot shower and the body does tend to forget what hot water feels like, but we got reacquainted very quickly and in the most delightful way.

Super clean me, hahahah :-)

On Tuesday I spent the day at a friend’s house. I met Diego when he lived temporarily in Santa Marta for a few months this year. It was cool to hang out, chat, cook and walk around his really quiet neighbourhood (which reminded me so much of Ostrava, Czech Republic). It was good to see another area of Bogota; to broaden my perspective of the city. I also had the opportunity to use the “Transmilenio”- Bogota’s bus system. I was really impressed with its punctuality, cleanliness and safety, and it runs until 10:30/11pm.

On Wednesday Ana took me to “Hipermar” and for those who know about my obsession with Asian food; well this was heaven coming from Santa Marta where the only Asian option is a bottle of soya sauce made in Colombia! Hipermar is a Japan restaurant/supermarket, and thank goodness the Japanese and Koreans have similar cuisine because I was able to find so many wonderful luxuries that captivated my heart (I mean stomach)- roasted seaweed, sesame seed oil, noodles, real chilli powder, rice paper, shitake mushrooms and miso paste. I went Asian-mad! ;-) (I made miso noodle soup the other night and it was better than I’d ever made before!)

The next day I did my tourist-thing and spent the day up at Monserrate and later walked around La Candelaria with Diego. Monserrate (which sits at 3152m) is the famous mountain located to the east of Bogota- helping those who have a predisposition to be deficient in navigational skills to be able to orientate themselves. (Similar to Table Mountain in Cape Town for Cape Townians-hahaha ;-P ). The church at the top was built in the 17th century and is a popular pilgrim site.

Monserrate from Ana and Juan’s apartment.


You can walk up (takes about 1.5 hours) or take a cable car or funicular. I opted for the funicular up and cable car down (now, don’t think I was being lazy, it’s dangerous (muggings) to walk up when it’s not busy).

With the altitude being so high I struggled to breathe when I walked up the meager flight of stairs from the funicular’s arrival area to the main area. (Bogota is 2625m above sea level and I did suffer a little from altitude sickness when I first arrived). The view of Bogota wasn’t that great- it was a bit hazy, but I got a good enough idea of the size city. (According to Wikipedia Johannesburg and Bogota are almost similar in size: Joburg- 1,645 km2 and Bogota: 1,587 km²…the similarities between Colombia and South Africa continue to amaze me! :-) )


La Candelaria is situated downtown and is the original, historical Bogota, so the streets are colonial, narrow and mystical-like; you walk on old cobbled pathways with artistic painted walls passing all sorts of people from normal students to the why-did-you-have-to-pierce- and tattoo-yourself-that-much-kind-of-people. But I like it! ;-)
There are many museums, libraries, small café’s, international restaurants, universities and churches.

A haunted street in La Candelaria


First church in Bogota

The Foundation of Quevedo- the possible foundation site of Bogota

We also visited the Botero Museum (Botero is a famous artist and sculptor from Colombia). I am not a fan of his art, but the museum houses some of Botero’s personal art collection, so there is Picasso and Monet and other artists I can’t remember now, but had interesting art.

The Plaza de Bolivar, located in the heart of the historical centre was one of the most surprising things I saw in Bogota: I didn’t expect it at all! I felt like I was in Europe or in Warsaw, to be more exact. It is so unlike anything place I have seen so far in Colombia. But I guess since I only really know Santa Marta- Colombia will continue to surprise me.


National Capitol - the seat of the Colombian Congress

Primary Cathedral of Bogota which was built between 1807 and 1823, and next to it is the Holy Chapel which was built at the end of the 17th century.

On Friday we went to Plaza de Paloquemado (a big wholesale market where you can find almost anything) and I again went crazy for things I hadn’t seen for months- for eg. dried cranberries and wholewheat and rye flour (I want to make bread). I also bought good and cheap vegetarian food such as nuts and seeds.

Never knew they were so many different types of potatoes!

For the remainder of my time there I went to the movies, went out partying with Diego and his friends to a real cozy little place in an area called Chapinero. A reggae band played and later the music was a mix of European electronic/pop but also some Colombian artists. A great night out! And on my last day I went with Juan and a friend to Suesca (a small town about 1.5 hours north of Bogota). Our plan was to do a bit of walking, but while we were having lunch the heavens opened up and we had to leave—not without a fight though. Juan’s car (an old school beetle) wouldn’t start so we grabbed some men and we all pushed, in the pouring rain, through soggy grass and eventually it started. A different kind of adventure….

So, maybe you are thinking “what does she actually think of Bogota?”
Yes, the streets can be absolutely terrible- with potholes (no, I can’t even call it a “pothole”; it’s more like a “huge gapping opening” in the middle of the street. Even on the on the highways there are holes! I think even Zimbabwe has less potholes than Bogota, haha! ;-))
And yes it can be cold and rainy. But when the sun shines the day is perfect- not too hot and not too cold. And at night the temperature drops (but not too much) allowing one to snuggle deep into the layers of blankets and for sweet, warm dreams to permeate ones head.


Yes there are big ugly buildings, but at the same time there are some areas where you feel like you are in England- with small red-bricked houses.


There were times when I felt like I was back in Joburg- amazingly and comfortingly similar buildings, streets and good energy.

So finally, Bogota is an amazing, safe (I felt safer here than in Joburg) modern, cultured, exciting, interesting and fun place to visit. And doing ordinary admin things (great remedy for any homesickness) with Ana also helped me feel like I was home in SA, or at least it felt like I wasn’t just travelling or passing through Colombia. Instead I am living my “real life” here - some of you travelers will understand what I mean by this…

But speaking of homesickness, I’ve only ever felt it once here; and only a shudder of it. I go to spinning classes twice a week and my friend (who is the instructor) sometimes plays the “waka waka” song. It’s the perfect mix between my homeland and the country I now call home, and every time I hear that song my heart jumps and I do miss home, but just a little bit, because I am brought back to a contented reality when Spanish words fill my head :-)

The week away gave me a chance to step back and see my life in Santa Marta from a new and different perspective and to examine in which areas I need to focus on to keep me going in the right direction (I have a new goal! ;-)). One thing I know for sure, in my soul, is that Santa Marta is the place for me, now. I like Bogota, (Joburg as well) - but big cities are not for me; I get lost in them (with or without a mountain).

I could never get lost in Santa Marta; even blindfolded I could find my way to the sea…


Posted by piratejax 14:11 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

My city....

....sunny Santa Marta

Just some photos of where I live, the marina and the Bay of Santa Marta :-)


Posted by piratejax 08:12 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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