After all this boatwork, and getting extremely burned out by the deck work, which involved very uncomfortable living conditions on Tire-Bouchon, we had decided to go on some land exploration of Colombia in-land. After spending a month in the country, we'd earned to see more of it than just the city of Cartagena, and very likely when we'd leave with the boat, we'd have to get going for good. Deterred by the high agent fee to check in any new city with the boat, as well as the high price of the marina in Santa-Marta, a touristic city a little further north on the Caribbean coast, we had decided to explore it by bus. But rather than another town, what interested us around Santa-Marta was the surrounding mountains which we had heard good things about. Our guidebook mentioned the little village of Minca, praised for its cooler temperature (a huge plus for us baking in the hot climate of Cartagena with our windows close due to fiberglass work at the time of reading!) and natural beauty. We would go to Minca, and relax for a few days in a comfortable hotel!
On Monday, September 12th, we left the marina for the bus terminal in Cartagena to embark on a 6 hour journey to Santa-Marta trading our sails for our backpacks.
The city of Santa-Marta where we only planned to spend 24 hours, seduced our hearts more than we anticipated. We had planned to have some time to enjoy it in daylight on the day of our arrival, then the following morning and take off for Minca. However, the bus arrived at night and my preferred hotel in Minca sold out unexpectedly for the night we were hoping to arrive, we decided to postpone and give Santa-Marta a full day. We must admit that our host helped with us liking the city by indicating a super lovely park with small streets very lively at night for us to get diner on our arrival night. He made a point in explaining which streets were safe to take to reach it, and his unbeatable room for less than $10 ended up convincing us. Both nights we enjoyed the Parco de los Novios, its dancers and nice atmosphere and during our day, we visited the very interesting Museo del Oro (Gold museum) in the old Casa de la Aduana (House of Customs). More than ancient gold artifacts, the museum detailed the whole history of the region as well as the traditions of indigenous people living in that specific part of Colombia. They are trying to preserve their customs even nowdays.
First morning in Minca
We eventually took off for Minca after two nights in Santa-Marta. Jepes, the friendly driver who had taken us from the bus terminal to downtown on our day of arrival, drove us all the way to Minca for a very reasonable price and was still as friendly. Upon arrival, the green was striking. Jepes left us at the beginning of the dirt road which led to our hotel. The day was starting with an unexpected hike, with our backpacks. After 10-15 minutes, we reached the Sweat Harmony Hotel, where we could leave our bags and were recommended a hike to some waterfalls while we wait for the time of checking for our room to be ready. The hostess explained that it was raining every afternoon in Minca so it was better to do such activites in the morning. She indicated us the shortcut to town that I had read about online which is a rope bridge about the rio (river). Adventure had begun!
We didn't make it in time to the waterfall before the rain. Yet we pushed through and climed the last steep slope up to the falls in a trail that started to turn into a river. Once arrived to the top, we discovered there was a fee for the waterfall, damn! We decided to come back another day to enjoy it properly before the rain (the hotel lady had also mentioned it could become dangerous to swim there in case of rain, so we were careful. The next day we discovered it would have been pretty safe, but anyway). And that's where the adventure really begun!!
Our hostess had mentioned a motorbike service - there are motorbikes everywhere in Colombia and they all take passengers - to drive us to the falls before the rain, but we hadn't found it and had just kept on walking. The Minca Moto station was right before the uphill to the waterfall on that side. So naturally, since it was still raining, we decided to go down with a bike instead of on foot. Jaime, who would end up being my driver, gave us the price and asked if we wanted to go now. I replied with a face meant to be "you're the driver, you tell me" and a hesitant "yeah". He looked at his colleague, who seemed onboard and they geared up for the rain. We did the same and tucked our phones in our bags under our rain jacket, which sadly means we have no photo to share of this adventure. Because, yes, it was an adventure! The little rivers we crossed by foot had grown and the bike just went through. The muddy trail seemed difficult, but our drivers were experts and it was a fun but endless ride. On one of the rivers, our engine got flooded but I learned that if you just try enough times to restart it, it does restart! That was already pretty much what my approach is with engine problems...
We arrived to the village in no time, a huge smile on our faces! And happy to finally get some food. Remember, we had already done two hikes and a bike ride on our first morning and we were definitely ready for some food.
After making it back to the hotel, we discovered the lovely room we had rented for three nights and relaxed in the hot tub, in the middle of the forest. We cherished the hot water shower, a perk in Colombia! That property was really the perfect place to do what we had come to do: rest and relax after the exhausting boat work. The accommodations were set on a hill overlooking the Rio and the lush mountain. Our room had a little balcony with all this open nature to taking in. In the afternoon when the sky is gray and the rain falls, in the early morning when the birds wake up and the sun shines. So much peace, to think, reflect on our lives, shut down our brains or write. All the opposite of a busy boatyard where a buzzer rings 8AM for the workers to start their day of sanding and other noisy and dust generating jobs.
Everyday, we took it all in, hiking, spending time at the hotel or doing Minca specific attractions. We went back to the waterfalls for a swim and discovered the under the scene of the 'Insta influencers' world as two couples took pictures of themselves endlessly, apparently oblivious that other folks might also want to enjoy the surrounding. We went to a chocolate tour which ended up in a chocolate-coffee-honey face mask and was by no means as good as the coffee tour we went to in Costa Rica - it was way cheaper so I guess you get what you pay for! The motorbike up the hill was quite epic though, I even ended up having to push my biker out of a particularly muddy patch for us to reach the top. We were relieved not to ride that road back and to put in our daily hour of hiking.
The bird tour we took the next and last day made up for the semi disappointing chocolate tour. We woke up at 5, hiked our bridge to the town, were given a pair of binoculars and a guide, and with two other couples, we went on a three hour hike in search of toucans... Or at least, that was my unofficial goal: I wanted to see a toucan, those birds with a huge beak and flashy colors. And... we did!! We saw the animal with its yellow beak far out on a tree. I could only spot one of the spieces but people who appeared more gifted than I was spotted at least two different ones. Yalçın who was originally skeptical and almost missed the bird tour liked the whole experience as well and turned out quite cool at transferring his sealife spotting skill to bird watching.
Sadly, after three nights, it was already time to head back to our sea based life. As our slip neighbors had told us, Minca was quite a special place and it will remain dear in our hearts.