Exactly 2 years ago…
“Cumpleaños feliz, cumpleaños feliz, te deseamos a ti….” The Spanish birthday song blasted over the speakers in the club.
“It’s my birthday today!” I shouted over the loud music into Juan’s* ear, my Colombian friend.
“I don’t believe you!” he yelled back.
I took my phone out from his breast pocket and showed him the soft copy of my passport to prove that I was not lying.
“Ah, Feliz cumpleaños!” he wished.
“Gracias!” And we continued dancing to my favourite music of all time, reggaeton.
It was my birthday weekend, it happened to coincide with a long weekend in Colombia. It was all fated for me to get out of Bucaramanga for the weekend. Chancing upon an airfare promotion online, I promptly booked a return flight to Cartagena with the perfect excuse as a birthday gift to myself.
What can be better than welcoming a new birth year in the club dancing with a Colombian? The thing I envy about Colombians is their natural talent of rhythmic moves they possess, the perfect sways to the music. They make great teachers and are often patient while guiding me into the different dance moves, making dancing with time very comfortable for me.
As we were dancing or should I say grinding to the reggaeton music, I could feel that his face was slowly nearing mine.
“Uh-uh,” I cooed while I wagged my index finger and placed it on his lips, and mine, curled into a coy smile.
No doubt I was high from the alcohol, I was still in a sober state of mind. I just wasn’t vibing for a kiss. All I wanted was the accompany of a friend, Latino music, groove to the beat and have fun.
He understood and nodded his head. We continued to dance through the night with no awkwardness between us.
A few hours later, we were both exhausted and decided to call it a night. I tried to book an Uber back to my friends’ apartment to crash for the night but to no avail. With no other options, I hailed a cab from the street.
I hugged Juan goodbye before I hopped into the cab. That was the last I saw of him.
After I got on to the cab, I was still grinning ear to ear – from the effect of alcohol.
When the taxi approached the apartment building, I had the sudden realisation that I f***ed up. Not only did I fail to notice that the driver had not switched on his meter, I had not negotiated on the price before boarding.
So when we arrived, I asked him how much was the ride.
“8,000 pesos, Senorita,” he said. That was equivalent to SGD$4.
“No, no. Too expensive.” I retaliated.
“Not expensive at all!”
“But the last time I took a taxi from the city centre back here was only 5,000 pesos! Señor, 8,000 pesos is expensive.” I reasoned.
Well, technically it was an Uber I took the previous time for the same distance. To be fair, taxis actually cost slightly more for short-distant rides as compared to Uber. I just dislike being taken advantage of just because I am a foreigner.
“Señorita, ok, how about 6,000 pesos and a kiss?”
“No kiss. You don’t need a kiss. Just 6,000 pesos without a kiss.”
“Yes, señorita. That is 6,000 pesos and a kiss.”
The quiet street was illuminated with warm orange lights from the street lamps. It did not feel like a dangerous situation or did I feel uncomfortable in any way.
Besides, I had the time to play the game because I was not in a hurry. Not forgetting, I am also a very stubborn person.
What amused me was that he was trying his luck to get a kiss from me. Honey, my kiss would cost more than 2,000 pesos (SGD$1). It’s priceless!
That went on for about 5 minutes before he finally gave up and accepted my offer of 6,000 pesos (SGD$3).
When he was returning my change, he tried to hold my hand and made a feeble attempt to draw me close, still hoping that I would have a last-minute change of mind to kiss him. I quickly took my money from his hands, thanked him and got out of the taxi.
The most awesome morning view
Before I flew to Cartagena, I was prepared to crash on the sofa of my friends’ apartment because I only needed a place to sleep for the night before continuing with my journey.
After Isa learnt that I would be spending a night at their apartment, she offered to share her bed with me instead of letting me sleep on the uncomfortable-looking sofa.
That night after I returned, I climbed into bed and fell asleep as soon as I closed my eyes.
The next thing I knew, my alarm went off noisily, demanding my conscious attention. I sat up from the bed, rubbing my blurry eyes.
What greeted me was the horizon of the Caribbean coast and majestic waves I could see from the window. The spectacular view left me in awe as I momentary forgot about my tiredness.
I got out of bed quickly and was ready to start my day because I knew I was in for a day of fun!
Totumo Volcano Tour
Leaving the apartment, I arrived at the clock tower within the old city wall. It is a landmark of its own.
At daylight, it is a popular spot for people from various agencies selling tours to travellers. At night, it is bustling with a different kind of activities, prostitutes soliciting businesses.
Ever since I read out about the Totumo volcano, an active mud volcano which is an attraction of its own located 50km away from Cartagena, I was intrigued. What could be a better way for the unique experience on my birthday?
After meeting up with Sheetall, we started looking for agents and negotiated a reasonable price for the half-day tour to Totumo volcano that morning.
It did not take us long to decide on one. After making the payment, we followed the lady to a van parked nearby. When they had gathered enough people, we were on our way to the muddy adventure!
Lunch was part of our tour program. We had to write our name, nationality and choice of lunch on a piece of paper. When I received the clipboard from the person in front of me, my eyes brightened up as I saw “Singapur” written under the nationality!
“Singaporean?” I asked the Asian in front of me.
I was thrilled because he was the second Singaporean I met in Colombia. Besides, meeting Singaporeans on the other side of the world bring comfort.
Upon arriving at the volcano, we changed into our bathing suits or clothes that we didn’t mind getting dirty in a changing area nearby. Then, we had to join a queue to climb up a flight of wooden stairs which would lead us to the top of the volcano under the scorching sun.
When we were finally on top, awaiting our turns, I was both nervous and excited. I suddenly remembered my inability to swim and started worrying if I would stupidly drown myself in the mud volcano. My fear of bottomless pit is real!
When it was my turn, I slowly descended myself in the pool of mud, trying to overcome my fear. The mud was smooth against my skin. It was as a bizarre sensation. Neither was I sinking nor was able to move around gracefully. My fear was invalid because mud is denser than me.
I navigated around the small area, trying to take in the strange sensation, moving my limbs while trying to keep my hair mud-free.
In the mud volcano, the local “masseurs” also offer quick massage services for a small amount of money. I politely declined for I do not want a man-stranger to be touching me all over.
After spending several minutes in the mud, I was ready to get out of the volcano. A man stood at the exit point where he scooped the excess mud from my body and limbs so that I do not walk away dripping mud all over.
Then, he directed me to a lagoon just 100 metres nearby where the local women awaited.
One of them was assigned to clean me up. The woman used a plastic container to scoop up the water from the lagoon and splashed on me. She rubbed on my skin and even went to the extent of making sure I was mud-free inside my bathing suit.
After she seemed satisfied with her “work”, I returned to the changing room to change into my clean clothes.
Then after, we were driven to an establishment by the beach for some lunch before it was time to head back to Cartagena.
Onwards to Santa Marta
Upon returning to Cartagena, I bid Sheetall and my new friend goodbye. I had to make my way to the bus terminal to catch the bus to Santa Marta.
After 3.5 months in Colombia, I was ready to embark on my first solo travel in the country. I travelled with friends most of the time as I wanted to make memories with them. This time, it was time to go alone.
From Cartagena to Santa Marta was a 4 hours bus ride. By the time I arrived in Santa Marta, it was about 8.30 pm. Although it was already nightfall and I generally hate to find my way around a new city at night. In times like this, I relied on my sixth sense.
It seemed like a pretty quiet and safe place. I navigated my way to my hostel for the evening, along the quiet but well-lit streets. My hostel was nothing fancy, just a simple hostel amongst the residential area.
Evening in Santa Marta
After I settled into my hostel, my stomach was growling. I was ready to walk about 20 minutes to the downtown centre to grab some dinner.
The walk was a quiet one with occasional passing vehicles. The vibrancy of a city was getting more noticeable when I could start seeing more shops, restaurants and people.
I walked up and down the streets, undecided what to have for dinner. Eventually, I settled for a pizza restaurant, a personal-sized pizza and beer. Although the pizza was not great, the Club Colombia, however, was my consolation.
After dinner, the only thing left to do was to make my birthday come to a full circle. I had to go dancing in a club, I went straight into Bar La Puerta, a club recommended by Bernard.
Apart from the regular Latino music of reggaeton, salsa and merengue, etc.. The club also plays champeta. It is a genre of Latino coastal music with African influence.
As I entered the bar, it did not take me long to start dancing to the rhythm. I was truly embracing the moment. Soon after, someone came forward to dance with me.
In all honesty, I wasn’t in the mood to make friends because all I wanted was to dance till my birthday was officially over.
“Where are your friends?” My dance partner asked.
“Back at the hotel, they are too tired to come along,” I replied, unwilling to entertain a conversation.
While we were dancing, I was constantly checking the time on my watch. Once the clock struck 12, the party was over.
I gave myself a couple more minutes, at least until the song finished.
“Sorry! I had to leave. My friends are waiting for me.” I told him as I excused myself and slipped out of the club.
Then I walked 12 minutes back to the hostel where my roommate, a fellow traveller was still awake. We quickly made some plans for the next day before I climbed into bed with complete satisfaction on how the day turned out.
It was my best birthday ever!
* Name was changed to protect the identity of the person.