Expanding my waistline in Taganga

After cramming more exercise into five days than I have in my entire life, I just wanted to lay my butt down on a beach and eat lots of food for a couple of days – so that’s exactly what I did. We got back to Santa Marta on the Friday night, I slept like a baby until the hostel cleaner woke me up, got myself down to Juan Valdez for a breakfast of brownie frappe and carrot cake, dusted my bikini off and took myself down to Taganga, a beach town 10 minutes away from Santa Marta. A few of the people I’d met at Carnaval were also planning on going to Taganga for a couple of days so I got myself a maracuya smoothie, pulled out the iPod and planted myself firmly on the grey sand to wait for Tano, Naim and Diva. Tano is Colombian-born but from Louisiana, which meant I could have a conversation that involved more than just ‘hello, how are you’, and he was visiting his family in Barranquilla for a couple of weeks, Naim is his cousin who can actually speak more English than he let on, and Diva (Diva Name, what an awesome name) is his sweet girlfriend.

A degree of sunburn later Tano and Naim turned up with the sole intention of burning to a crisp as quickly and painfully as possible. A plan I was sure I could join them in. So we got some lunch, and went on a mission to find a hostel. In the end we found a hostel that managed a house nearby, and seeing as there was going to be four of us we went for it, for the same price as a dorm bed. We spent the rest of the day cuddling puppies, playing in the sea, trying to avoid sea slugs and eating something from every single street stall. It was not the worst day ever. Later, Diva turned up, we got even more food (hot dogs with pineapple sauce, inspired), wandered down the beach saving sea slugs that had washed up on the sand and put in a group effort to remove a puppy tick from my boob…

The next day we hopped on a boat to a neighbouring beach, which was so much nicer and had the clearest sea I’ve ever seen (see: multiple pictures of feet on flickr account chicadelondres).

From there we got kayaks out to some reefs, managed to paddle out into open waters in search of a beach that the kayak guy had mapped out for us with his finger in the sand (turned out his map wasn’t very good, we ended up in open seas and almost hit by a speedboat), quickly backtracked, lost a snorkel over the edge, checked out the fish with the remaining broken snorkels and then had an argument with the kayak guy about how long we‘d been out. Famished, we headed to the nearest restaurant for some muy rico pescado and another smoothie. After that we resumed the very important task of burning to a crisp (mission successful by the way).

A short boat trip back and we were in the house eating delicious pasta cooked by Diva (the leftovers of which we fed to a stray dog who didn’t actually want it…), followed by a few cocktails made by Naim, which led to amusing antics, including reading out the rude phrases in the Lonely Planet phrasebook (me in Spanish, Naim in English). I was then forced entirely against my will to tell stories in Spanish, and for some reason I ended up telling the story of the Chelsea Smile, (Naim managed to recite all the Chelsea players perfectly, well, I guess he did), then I told the story of how Rage Against The Machine beat The X Factor to Christmas No. 1. Possibly the most random stories I could choose to tell… Then Naim told the story of how a family was shot in the house we were in a few weeks ago. He was joking, but I didn’t know this till after everyone else cos the story was told in Spanish… Then I proceeded to teach Tano how to say ‘burger’ in a British accent (he couldn’t and it was pretty amusing, but I guess you had to be there). It was like a child’s first words.

The next day we had to move on, so after stuffing ourselves with delicious dough, potato and cheese-based street food we got in a taxi to Santa Marta where they were getting a bus back to Barranquilla and I had to make plans for my next move. We ended up back in Juan Valdez for more delicious frappes, I booked my flight to Medellin, Tano showed us his trick of spitting water out of his lip ring hole and Naim and Diva (I discovered today) nabbed my camera and took random pictures of the café, including one of me booking said flight – but sadly not one of the lip-ring-hole fountain…

Unfortunately I had to say goodbye to them and was suddenly alone for only the second time on my entire trip. I then spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a hostel for the night as my flight was the next day. Treated myself to a chocolate cake as a consolation for all the stress. I love Juan Valdez almost as much as Crepes and Waffles (which, incidentally, I visited today). I found a hotel with okay prices but a bad write up in the Lonely Planet. But when I got there I managed to cement the niggling feeling that the Lonely Planet had no idea what it was talking about. The place was gorgeous, had a pool, a cat, a cage of birds, free breakfast, the fastest internet I’ve seen in Latin America and most importantly, lots of quiet – basically all the opposite of its write-up.

Well, peace and quiet apart from when I got stuck with a weird Colombian guy with very little and badly pronounced English who was intent on pointing things out, saying what it was in English (just about), getting me to say it, then repeating me over and over again but entirely wrong. I finally managed to escape when his wife phoned him.

I spent the next day writing the blog, eating papas con carne and watermelon and emailing a bunch of people about homestays in Medellin. When I was at Bogota airport waiting for my connection a couple of hours later I got an email from Juan at Medellin Homestays who offered to pick me up at the airport and let me start then homestay that night! It got too late though and I didn’t have credit on my phone so I just went to a hostel. A girl I was sat next to on the plane was visiting family in Medellin, and her sister drove me to a nice hostel that I imagine would be awful if there had been any other people staying there… The guy showed me all the rooms – a dorm for $10 or a private room for $30 – the dorm was empty, which was a first – amazing! It’s funny the small things that make you so happy when travelling. A dorm to yourself is like winning the lottery.

The next morning I met up with Juan, the guy who runs Medellin Homestays and he took me to meet my new family. They’re really sweet and have absolutely no English, which is great practice and slightly frustrating at the same time. I’ve had four hours of Spanish lessons in the house so far and hope to be able to understand them by the time I leave. It’s so hard! The homestay programme is great though, it’s $340 for seven days of homestay and five days of lessons (10 hours), plus three meals a day (although I’m getting more like five – they give me a bowl of fruit in the morning and a bowl of Coco Pops in the evening [which Jessica literally just handed to me as I was writing this]) and there is internet, they do your laundry etc. Really brilliant homestay setup, and such a nice family. Typically Latin and typical of Medellin too, the routines they have, the jobs they do and the social scene they participate in. It’s great to be part of it even though I can’t join in the rapid and animated conversations they have. There is the mum Marta, her 19-year-old daughter Jessica who is married and eight months pregnant and who lives next door, her 27-year-old daughter-in-law Arianna and her little two-year-old son Samuel (who learned to say my name and shouts it all the time, and who I have face-pulling contests with when his mum‘s not looking, plus just now invented a new game with him which he finds hilarious – he points at me and goes ‘pop!’ and I fake die, he loves it so much) and then there’s the step dad who laughs at my jokes. Then there is the massive group of friends and extended family who are always round (especially when the mum is baking bunuelos…) as well as a bunch of other little kids who are always here playing with Samuel. I’m only the second homestay person they’ve had in this house, so it’s an experience for them too, having a British person in the house, and I’m trying to teach them a few words and how to pronounce things in English, which I think gives them some perspective on how hard it is for me to learn their language! It’s really fun to be able to teach them some things too as well as them teaching me.

It was also quite amusing that the first thing they asked me when I met them was “Is your hair colour natural?” Groups of kids also say “hello” and “goodbye” to me on the streets then giggle amongst themselves, it feels so weird being this big blonde person in a suburb that never sees tourists!

The mum has a job that comes with a little story I want to tell first. Basically, when I was with Tano, Naim and Diva in Taganga and we were eating buneulos from a street stall I asked Tano to ask the lady who makes them and where. She just said someone makes them at home and sells them to her. Well I’m staying with a lady who makes those delicious dough balls! We had a little feast last night, eating them straight out of the fryer, Samuel eating them straight off the floor.

I’ve spent my mornings here having one-on-one Spanish lessons with a teacher called Jorge then heading out doing various things in town. I’m staying in a suburb about a 20-minute bus ride from the centre.

On my first day Jessica took me to see the sculptures, then to the Botanical Garden. On my second day I got the TuriBus, which takes you to the sights in town (nothing spectacular unfortunately), but there was an English girl from Surrey so we chatted for a bit – it was nice to talk to someone without painfully trying to construct a simple sentence. Then when I got home I told the family I spoke in English and they slapped my wrists and sent me to bed early to think about what I’d done.

Today [well I’m uploading this later so no longer today…] I went to Crepes and Waffles where I had an amazing maracuya crepe and a chocolate cone (I‘ve eaten more ice cream in Colombia than I have in my whole life), then went on the Metrocable, part of the normal Metro, but it goes above all the slums up into the mountains with a great view of the city.

Every evening I’ve been having Google Translator conversations with Jessica, which is good for my Spanish because I can see how sentences are constructed and also good because it means we can say anything we want and understand each other.

I’m only a few nights into my homestay but I really like it, the people are nice, it’s a great way to practise Spanish, the food is delicious and I have my own bathroom – always nice!

This weekend I’m not having any Spanish classes, as I’m going to visit Gautape tomorrow [now yesterday, new blog to come soon], a two-hour bus ride away where you can climb a big rock and see all the lakes below. Sunday we’re all going to the stadium, where there are swimming pools etc. Right now I’m sitting here listening to the rain on the windows (feels like home) and Samuel shouting my name down the corridor. More news to come soon!