Adam writes on 2014-03-06:
I am writing from Hostal Finca Escondida near Palomino, Colombia. We are on the Caribbean coast, and not too far from Santa Marta.
Finca Escondida is a very nice spot. We found it via an internet search as is boasts camping amongst other amenities. We are finding the cost of travel living in Colombia more expensive than most of the Central American countries we travelled through, so camping is a welcome relief to our budget. Finca Escondida, nor the other handful of accommodations “on the strip”, are not obvious to find but there is a fair amount of tourism here. For the backpackers, they are basically dropped off by the bus in this very small town, and are most likely relying on a couple of maps painted on brick walls showing where the hostels are, or they take a “moto-taxi”.
While the main road is a little ways from the shore, one would have absolutely no idea that these amenities were right here. To get to the beach you have to choose any number of small dirt (sandy) roads (tracks) and meander your way through a grid pattern until you find the beach. Since we came to Palomino via the east, there were no signs indicating anything in the way of a beach in the vicinity, even though the internet promised signs pointing the way. One pass through the town without seeing signs, we turned around and immediately the signs and maps became evident. Apparently once one approached from the west, we found the hostel pretty easily, but it is about a 30 minute walk “into town” to buy provisions.
The restaurant here is a little pricey. This isn’t really a surprise. I would hardly call the town “stocked”. One can buy the basics but there isn’t really a supermarket. You aren’t even going to necessarily find much more than very common fruits and vegetables here (common for the area, that is, but quite exotic for back home). In this sense, the restaurant has to be carting in supplies from somewhere, which seem to be delivered by wheelbarrow, as we have not seen cars or trucks coming into the hostel. Backpackers coming in generally take a “moto-taxi” – i.e. their backpack goes over the handlebars, and they get on the back of the motorcycle.
In terms of the restaurant, we ordered fried fish for dinner the first night. When we are getting planted somewhere, the first night we often just “press the easy button”. We haven’t gotten organized yet, found the places to buy food more cheaply, and are tired. The fish wasn’t bad, but it was kind of small and overcooked. Coming in at US$20 for two people, it wasn’t really worth the money and a bit disappointing. Breakfast can be had much cheaper so we usually eat the breakfast, then walk into “town” for a bigger lunch, and bring some stuff back for dinner. Last night it was a sausage pasta with an onion and tomato sauce with avocado on the side. Tonight it will be a macaroni and tuna salad. No decent avocados to be found today. Cocktails here – besides the happy hour selection – are about US$5.00 each, which while a little cheaper than Canada, it is probably on par with US prices (a little high for our budget), so we just grab some beer from “town” as well.
The grounds, themselves, are quite lovely [note: there is a chicken near my foot as I write], with palm trees and mango trees, decent bathrooms and showers, and all of the buildings covered with palm fronds roofing. We can almost see the ocean from our tent, and can certainly hear it. I would say that it is one of the nicest looking beaches we have seen to-date. The ocean itself is warm, full of big waves and signs on the shore that you can be dragged out to sea to your death, but we have found wading in the waves very enjoyable – I would say “swimming” would be difficult and unpleasant. We liked it enough to stay a couple of days.
The temperatures here are warm. It is fine to swim during the full sun, but we didn’t much feel like sitting on the beach for any amount of time until milder sun in the afternoon. We are not using the fly on our tent, and only our silk sleeping bag liners and it is still quite warm in the late evening. It eventually “cools” off a bit, but not enough to even consider getting underneath a sleeping bag. We have had no lack of sun, and have had the opportunity to enjoy it, which isn’t always the case on the bikes.
Since we left Aquachica, we have had a lot of sun. We are seeing temperatures just shy of 40 degrees Celsius while riding the bikes and we drink a lot of water. Colombia is a country of “road work” and we have scarcely has a day which we didn’t have at least one stop of 15 minutes or so. During this time, our bike thermometers that measure the ambient temperatures of our bikes are hitting 50 degrees Celsius. While this isn’t reflective of the actual temperature outside, it does reflect the temperature around the engine of a motorcycle which we are sitting on top of; let’s just say that it is hot!
Our stop prior to Palomino was in a city called Valledupar. This city was suggested to us by our new friend, David, who we met in the hotel in Aguachica. He indicated that it would be a great party on Saturday night and while we had intended on getting there on a Saturday night, it didn’t work out that way and we rode in on a Sunday. It also seemed to make sense as a mid-way stop before we reached Santa Marta and possibly Tayrona National Park. Needless to say, we were not completely enamored with it. There was nothing wrong with it, but being tagged as the “greenest city” in Colombia, we were both felt that there was a little lacking in this statement as all we really saw was a lot of mango trees. The central square was sort of typical. Nice but not unique (although it did have quite an interesting statue). Upon arrival at the Hostal Provincia, we hit the Exito supermarket. While it was a very well stocked supermarket rivalling those in North America, the lines through the cashiers were painfully slow – why not operate all cash registers during rush hour?? – and errands cut into our evening.
Hostal Provincia was a bit of a strange place. It had easy to access secure parking on the rear, and quite a nice private room with a comfortable bed and A/C, although a little more than we would have liked to have paid. I think that it might be a part of this “boutique hostel” wave that seems to be taking over Colombia. A few things surprised us. For one, there was no mention of coffee in the AM, nor any guidance to how to go around making it. One basically had to look around for coffee, then the utensils, etc. This was a first. Also, while we were specifically invited to use the kitchen, and it looked like a normal hostel kitchen, in the AM a staff member was basically lined up to get breakfast going for herself and another staff member. While there weren’t many guests staying here, and they were not lining up for the kitchen, I felt more pressured to get finished with the kitchen than other hostels which didn’t seem right. Paying guests should probably come first. The vibe seemed to be that of a husband and wife who had bought a hostel, then moved in with the idea that they could make some money and pay off their home while having strangers stay there, yet not quite knowing exactly what they were getting into.
The riding in general, while not particularly challenging, is scenic enough and varies a lot. For quite some time, we rode through what resembles, and what I would imagine riding through African savannahs would look like. While we know that we are in Colombia, we almost expect to see lions or elephants lazing under the shade in the afternoon heat. Quite a surprise to our eyes. Cactus have shown up again, and at times almost desert conditions, and then dropping down into valleys, things become green and lush without warning. And back into to palm trees again.
Another thing to note that while gas is expensive in central Colombia, say around Bogota, it is dirt cheap up here. We have gone passed a number of strips where people were selling gas out of barrels amongst defunct gas stations. I don’t know for certain, but I am imagining the the local gas stations must have been put out of business by people carting in cheap gas from Venezuela, as we were riding very close to the border. In Bogota, I am sure we were paying close to COP8.000 (or US4.00) per gallon. We are now seeing gas for COP6.000, COP5.000, and even COP4.000 – so unless I am mistaken, this means a gallon of gas can be had for about US$2.00. Yes! We will be filling up our 8.5 gallon / 32litre gas tanks often.
Palomino photos are here.
Valledupar photos are here.