Carnaval! Guns and Machetes in Barranquilla, Colombia
People say its not about the destination, its about the journey, and that is someone's way of saying, stay patient, enjoy every moment, however, sometimes bus rides can take it out of you. Yet, never has that saying rang so true than those bus rides through the jungle in Northern Colombia. They can be incredible. Something so simple, but we were in the happiest state of mind ever. Taylor and I were sharing headphones at the back of the bus, and we started talking about the plan when we arrived in Santa Marta. Bus to Cartagena, and then down to Medellin. We started talking about the bad timing of our schedule and when Carnaval was happening.
We then looked at each other and started saying … “why aren't we going to Carnival?...” We didn't want to spend more days in towns we had already seen and wait for Carnaval but we couldn't really miss it could we?! We looked at each other and said, hell, Cartagena is amazing, sure we have seen it but lets go back there for a couple days, get prepared, look at places in Barranquilla, and head there for Carnaval!
Upon arriving in Santa Marta, and even back in Cartagena, we had spent time looking online for hostels in Barranquilla. Nada. Well … unless you wanted to pay 50 dollars a person for a hostel dorm! We decided to head up a few days early and just try our luck with finding a place. Just before leaving, Taylor managed to “find” a place online, and put down a few bucks to hold a room. We Googled around and didn't seem to see anything online about this place … but the site and photos looked legitimate so we would check it out.
Beautiful church in Barranquilla, Colombia
Arriving in Barranquilla, we hopped in taxi which zipped us around to the address. We slowed and were cruising around the neighbourhood looking for the “hostel.” We came upon the address but it said nothing of the hostel. We knocked on the door… again… again …buzzer. Nothing. Finally a young man came to the door, we explained in broken Spanish and with our “confirmation” in hand, our situation. Looking very confused he invited us in to a pretty run down building, and basically after speaking with other people living there, explained that it used to be a hostel but hasn't been for at least a year. Its now basically student housing now, but in traditional Colombia fashion, the guy told us to wait, and five minutes later had fashioned us a couple paper thin mattresses on the floor of a room with its own bathroom and said we could stay there for free!
Pointing at my luxury mattress!
We were so appreciative and told him we would try and find somewhere else but sincerely appreciated him doing that for us. As we were leaving out the front gate, trying to figure out the lock, we heard a big metallic SMASH and turned around to see a guy holding a machete. First thought? Well .. its been a good life. After a couple seconds of him and his friend staring at us, straight faced, they both started laughing, put down the machete and came to open the gate for us. After we nervously laughed it off with them, and walked down and waited for a taxi, we looked back up to see him using the same machete to trim the edges of the lawn. Creepy sense of humour if you ask me.
After taking the taxi to a number of very questionable places which all had no vacancy, we stopped at a place called Hotel Horizonte. A completely basic, red brick, single story building and probably the most dodgy, strange smelling, cheap place we could imagine.Perfect! We were happy to find it because it was only 8 dollars a night each. When we entered the room, I understood why. A big bed, that was like a hammock, touching a small cot which you basically had to step over to step up into the bathroom, with a plastic door with a huge piece of it missing. But it had a HUGE padlock on the door, a tv and a fan! Felt like something out of Dumb and Dumber when Taylor flopped onto his cot, and it basically folded up on top of him, and I jumped on my bed and a big *poof* of dust came out from the mattress, or quilt, I still have no idea.
Our budget room in Barranquilla, Colombia
The next couple days before Carnival began, we went out to find another place to stay (which we actually managed, just around the corner) and to get decked out, and look as ridiculous as possible. Also managed that!
Day before Carnival I figured I would get in a good long workout before the next couple days of just fun. Left the hotel and proceeded to walk and ask everyone for a “gimnasio” and finally was pointed up the road and stumbled across BODYTECH! Great, fully equipped gym, with a very distracting Zumba class in the afternoon. Dont forget, Barranquilla is where Sofia Vergara is from …
Morning of the 1st day of Carnaval! Taylor and I woke up, and after a quick bite to eat, we returned to the rooms, laid a towel down on the floor, and crushed a quick cross training workout
A good saying is “everything in moderation … including moderation” and knowing the festivities of Carnaval in Barranquilla, I had primed my body for a few beers over these couple days!
Last exercise for a few days but felt good to get a well earned sweat on, instead of letting the humidity do it for us. We then met up with 2 girls from Chile, who we had met in Taganga, and dressed up as silly as possible, and headed in a taxi to the center.
Hanging out with the warm Colombian locals in Carnaval clothing
The city was absolute madness! Hoards of people walking on and off the streets as this party takes precedence over traffic. We simply stepped into the flow of people and went where it would take us. Within the first few minutes of being in the center, we bumped into our friends from Bristol who we had met at the hostel in Cartagena. After some reminiscing, we all linked up and headed to watch the parade pass by.
If you are planning on attending Carnaval, I would highly suggest not taking any nice, delicate clothing or anything that has sentimental value. Reason being, and I am not sure where this tradition grew from, but along with people with coolers full of beer, you have vendors with tray full of foam cans. Pressurized cans full of soap suds. It is common place for their to be fun foam fights and the occasional person (my friend Taylor) who gets carried away and attacks anyone in sight. The foam must be water based as it comes out very easily and doesnt sting the eyes, however, expect to be covered whether you like it or not. Its part of Carnaval in Barranquilla, embrace it!
Taylor getting carried away with the Carnaval Part foam!
After hours of wandering the streets, we returned back to the basketball arena in the center of town to reunite with some friends. Lining the sides of the streets are small vendors and places where you can buy almost anything, and I came to realize this in a very frightening way. As I was walking along a few of the shops, I noticed a guy with his hands in the front pockets of his jacket, and he was looking at me mumbling something. As I didnt think much of it, I stepped to walk past him, simply thinking he was ushering me into his store, I noticed that he was holding something and pointing it at me. I looked down and to my amazement, I saw the outline of a handgun! For an instant, I was completely stunned, thinking of the smartest thing to do, and obviously my face showed my distress because the gentleman started laughing, pulled out the "gun" and showed me. It was a very real looking gun, except for the fact that it was shaped like a males genitalia! After we both had a good laugh, I couldnt help but think to myself "Yes, Colombians are some of the nicest people ever, but what a twister sense of humour!" What an incredible day.
Colombia is filled with warm, welcoming people, Barranquilla no exception
There was a point in this day, when Taylor and I looked at each, covered in foam, smiles on our faces, with some great new friends walking the streets of Barranquilla, Colombia during Carnaval, and we didnt need to say it, but we both were thinking back to that decision point on the bus coming home from Palomino, where we just said No Regrets and made the decision to make Carnaval happen.
So incredibly happy we did.
Myself and Taylor enjoying Carnaval in Barranquilla, Colombia