Palomino Beach – deepening my relationship with nature

11 Nov

It starts with green, every shade: jungle, emerald, yellow, sea and grass.  The leaves shimmer with green and the Palms sway.  The sea reflects back both blue and green and they blend into each other.  This is the scenery that is waiting to welcome us, as we, Jenny, Christy and I, bus to the Northern Coast of Colombia.

Catching buses can be a special Colombian challenge.  One stands beside a road and hopes that a bus will pass.  When one does, a Walnut man leans out a window to shout destinations.  The bus never fully stops, while  bags and people are thrown on.

The three of us receive special Gringa treatment and are charged double the other passengers.  Despite our arguments, we’re forced to pay.

But, it’s hard to stay angry when faced with such scenery and the knowledge that each minute brings us closer to the beach.

When we arrive we’re encouraged to take motos to the hostel.  Christy hops on one, but Jenny and I decide to walk.

Ten minutes later we find out that we’re going in the wrong direction.  We’re told to take a turn down some road and walk through town.

The road has no name so we guess and we’re rewarded with Palomino’s residential district: small shacks with thatched roofs and groups of gawking children.  (Later I find out that there’s only enough teachers to have school three days a week; that’s why so many children are free.)

It’s clear that we still have no real idea of where we’re going so a kind local woman, on incredible platforms sandals (and purple mascara), happily navigates the rocks and shows us the road that leads to the beach.

That’s where all the hostels sit and many are empty.  The beaches of Palomino are calling the tourists.  What was once a forgotten place is now becoming a destination.

The locals are worried.  This what I hear when a thunderstorm traps a new friend and I at a hostel down the road.

It’s not really a hostel, but a place to stay for those who are interested in Yoga and living with the land.  While I prefer the pools of our hostel (aptly named the Dreamer), I cannot resist the daily Yoga classes.  Marta, the owner, is a serious Yogi who is interested in the community; it’s why she left her life in Toronto to root back down to her roots as soon as she could.

She owns an adorable puppy who falls asleep in my arms, making it impossible for me to leave.  As I cradle the cutest thing I have ever seen, I realize that I am overhearing a passionate discussion on how to best mange the influx of tourists and maintain the integrity of the community.  I learn that the politicians could care less and Marta is leading the way for local involvement.

Since I am not a local, I know it’s time to silently leave, and so I do – celebrations await.

It’s Halloween, but half the hostel doesn’t care as they’re not American.  Sadly, the only costume I can put together is an “American flag,” though I’m fooling no one.  My red dress with stars and blue bandanna makes me look like a confused version of Rosie the Riveter.

Fire-dancers come, perform tricks and ask for money.  Afterward, I sit at an exclusively Spanish-speaking table and entertain my new friends with stories from my trip. We sit and drink terrible Colombian wine until sun exhaustion drags us all into bed.

Though, before we all go our separate ways the entire hostel decides to go tubing down an unnamed river.

All 22 of us rent large, black rubber tires, hop on the back of motos, grip onto our driver with one hand, hold our tube in the other and roll up to the beginning of what will be another unfortunate hiking experience for me.

We’re told it’s a 20 minute walk to the mouth of the river.  This is a lie.  It is at least twice as long, over rocks, mud and uneven ground. Indigenous people pass us leading donkeys and each time they do we all have to scramble to the side of the brush.

Laura, my new Colombian friend who is just as tiny as me, ends up carrying my tube because I am too busy clutching my mud-slick sandals and crawling on all fours.

Again, I see a donkey, and I yell, “Fuck that fucking donkey!!”

Of course, right behind the donkey is an indigenous woman dressed entirely in a white sheet, and of course I know we are really intruding on her land.  Ashamed, I apologize and tell the woman, “really I love donkeys,” as if this makes sense.

Eventually the frigid river appears and all 22 of us plop down our tubes and hop on.  Most link feet, drink beer and float on.  A few get flung around, frantically kick and stay sober.

While beer wasn’t my goal, neither was continued frustration.  However, in time I equalize  and look up to see that I am surrounded by majestic trees; that I am floating down a jungle river on a tube, so really, what’s my problem?

As I catch up with the others I hear one man yell, “I am a Wizard,” and I see that he has found a big stick, or as he fondly named it, his Wizard staff.

This is how I know most others have finished their beer.

The Wizard continues to wonder about many things in life, such as, “Why do tattoos have meaning?” and “Why do we have to get off our tubes before we hit the ocean?”

Luckily, for all of us, the Wizard’s girlfriend saves him from getting swept away and we begin the long walk back down the white beach, carrying black tubes, wondering just how long we can really stay.

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