colombia's oldest surviving city

You may be wondering what we did in Santa Marta for a week. We relaxed in the calm, comfortable space of the hotel we stayed in and wandered around the town by foot. It was in Santa Marta that we answered the “what kind of trip is this?” question.

Click image for more photos from Santa Marta. We did not feel comfortable taking out our cameras most of the time in Santa Marta, so we don't have many photos to share, sadly. As you might guess, the Caribbean coast is hot and humid--so keep that in mind when you see us in photos ;)

Click image for more photos from Santa Marta. We did not feel comfortable taking out our cameras most of the time in Santa Marta, so we don't have many photos to share, sadly. As you might guess, the Caribbean coast is hot and humid--so keep that in mind when you see us in photos ;)

There are plenty of touristy things one can do around Santa Marta but they all come at a cost. Most tourists who visit Santa Marta pay to be taken to a clean, pretty beach not reachable by foot, pay to take a 6-day guided trek to see the Lost City, or a number of other amazing adventures. 

At a cafe the second morning in Santa Marta, John and I grappled with the long term purpose of this journey and recognized that this is not a vacation. We never intended it to be. Our goal is not to go big, then have to go home early. As John drank his pour over coffee and I enjoyed my pot of tea, we talked about slowing down, planting roots for longer periods of time instead of trying to see or do everything. Its hard to do, since there is so much to see, embrace, be awe-stricken by. But we're both being called to slow down, maybe even reduce the number of countries in South America, and enjoy each landing spot for longer stretches. 

We're going to be strategic about what significant bucket list items we want to invest in over the year. The Lost City just didn't make the cut. 

We left Santa Marta on the 4th after a weeklong stay and returned yesterday for a two-day stop over before heading South. When we arrived back in Santa Marta we were struck by how comfortable we felt and how the town looked softer, cleaner and more peaceful than when we left. We’ve been trying to figure out if the shift is due to the beginning of holy season or due to a shifted perspective on our part. Probably both.

Today, the last day before we leave Northern Colombia, we stepped into the Caribbean Ocean for the first time. It sounds odd to say but the beaches in Cartagena and Santa Marta aren’t the kind of beaches where tourists hang out. In fact, until today (the first Sunday we’ve been in Santa Marta) the beach was totally empty of people and it didn’t seem wise to hang out in places not even the locals hang out. But today, the beach was full of families, music and life. Santa Marta is a port town, so the beach isn’t the most beautiful we’ve seen. But the smiles on all the kiddos and parents faces created a beautiful context for us about the way the town ebbs and flows. Beautiful and mysterious.

While in Santa Marta we had some highlights, in addition to the epiphany of realizing what we want for the year and our travels. We saw great music a couple nights at a pub owned by a Canadian and his Colombian girlfriend. And we spent time getting to know the hearts of a few people who work at the hotel, and even though we can’t dive deeply into conversation, the warmth is felt both ways.

The hotel felt more like home than a hotel. When we returned yesterday, we were greeted with open arms and kisses by Cali, the hotel manager, who welcomed us back to “our room.” We also discovered that our little kitten friend, who I’d named Esperanza but learned her official name is Luchita, is thriving. It has been heartwarming to see this little being go from barely there to a round belly, fuzzy fur and a spunky attitude. And our beloved Rosa, a remarkably funny and bright young woman who works here, spent time with us trading English for Spanish. When we said our goodbyes tonight, Rosa made us feel a twinge of loss. She said she didn't want us to go. A happy sorrow, bittersweet loss you can only have when you open your heart to someone.

Of course, great food has been easy to come by in Santa Marta—nearly every meal is a culinary event for our palettes. We also grew our grasp of Spanish while here. The downside was mainly for me, as I have been dinner for mysterious biting critters—waking up every morning with countless new bites. In fact, as I typed this, with my hands in front of me, a new welt has risen without any indication of the cause. We don’t have a net over our bed here but hadn’t thought we needed one because it is fairly cool and we see NO bugs. I didn’t grow sick from the bites last week (other than a slight case of losing my mind from itching) so the bites I gained last night and, no doubt, will gain tonight don’t worry me.

We’re very glad we made a detour to come to Santa Marta. It is an interesting spot in the world. We will miss our new friends Rosa, Cali and her daughter Abril and, of course, Luchita.

"Santa Marta was founded in July 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas and is the oldest European settlement in South America. Prior the the Spanish arrivals, the area near Santa Marta was colonized by the Tayronas, ancestors to today's local indigenous communities of the Koguis and the Arhuacos." - off2colombia.com