Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Making mud pies.
When trying to decide on activities we have two criteria. 1. Do they highlight the place we’re visiting? 2. Are they unique? For example caving in Belize was unique because we’d never done anything like it before but it was also representative of the place we were visiting. San blas wasn’t just a beach it was an opportunity to experience the indigenous culture. Today we were definitely going to do something unique but would it be cool? We were going to visit Volcán de Lodo El Totumo. Yes another volcano. But not just any volcano but a mud volcano. And we were paying $20 each to go sit in the mud and make mud pies with a tour group. This was one of those things that would either be super cool or totally stupid. I hoped it would end up in the super cool column.
(Just a little digression: the one cool thing so far – our new hostel room, we paid an extra $5 and upgraded to an air conditioned room, much needed in Cartagena. And not only was it cooler but it was also cleaner and comfier. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, erm, blogging)
We could have done the trip ourselves but it sounded a bit complicated and a lot like our hot springs experience (and we all know how that didn’t turn out so well). The good thing was Geoff and Matt would be there so we’d be in good company even if it didn’t turn out well. So after a quick breakfast around the corner at the Black Cat, we went to catch out 8am tour bus. It didn’t arrive until 8:30 and then drove around the corner to another hostel where we were placed on another bus (really, they sent a bus to drive us one block!) which was already full with 20 others including Geoff and Matt. Then it was off down the highway towards Barranquilla. I’m sure it was a scenic drive but I nodded off and didn’t come too until we hit the gravel road leading to the volcano. Beside the road, there were small pools of bubbling mud pointed out by the tour guide as she described the minerals in the mud that give it its healing power. It looked more like a wet cement than magical mud and the volcano looked like a giant mud pie (actually a giant zit comes to mind but that's kinda gross isn't it).
Before we could climb the steps, the tour guide let us know about all the hidden costs and how to avoid them. 1) Only the bath/change rooms marked with the tour company name are free. 2) There is a man who will take our camera to take pictures of us in the mud For a fee. 3) There is another man who will offer us a mud massage. This is not free so if we don’t want it say no, often. 4) Afterwards, we can wash the mud off in the lagoon. There are women there who will help us and wash our clothes. Their services aren’t free either so if we don’t want it, we have to say no, often, and repeatedly. Suddenly this little side trip was getting potentially pricey.
We avoided the first fee by whipping off our clothes in front of the bus. Don’t worry our bathing suits were on underneath. At the bottom of the rickety steps up the volcano we deposited our sandals in the sack the tour guide held open and then carefully climbed up. At the top, I watched everyone in front drop slowly into the grey mud and struggle to stay upright and then struggle to shake off the masseuses. The volcano opening was smaller than I expected more like a large hot tub and there were at least 20 of us that had to fit in their. Hmm, I guess we were going to get to know our tour mates very well. Adrian climbed in first. He squealed like a pig in erm, mud and then squealed some more when the masseuse began slathering him with the mud. Adrian soon snapped out of it and began declining the massage but it was too late, the massage had started. The masseuse continued for a bit and then slid Adrian across the surface and into those crowded at one end. The objective seemed to be how many people they could cram into the little mud bath.
Now it was my turn. I handed our camera to the willing cameraman and tentatively stepped in. The mud was surprisingly cool to the touch but not cold. It was smooth but there were mysterious lumps suspended in it. It was also super thick and dense and once I managed to get upright (floating standing up rather than floating on my back) there was incredible pressure from the goop that pushed me up, making it impossible to get my shoulders under the surface. It was the strangest feeling in the world that caused most of us to laugh out of the uncanny nature of it all. And indeed we were so close together we bumped invisible body parts. But no one cared. One brave and strong guy actually managed to get his head under. He looked like the blue guy from the Watchmen when he resurfaced and soon discovered that the thick mud clung to his eyes, ears, lips and nose. And it was almost impossible to clear away.
Up on the deck, the camerman now had about 30 cameras dangling from his arm (one for each person crammed in the volcano) but he somehow remembered which one belonged to each of us. He snapped pictures of the right grey blobs with the right camera. Meanwhile we went slipping and sliding in the mud. But the excuse was that it was good for the skin. At one point my legs popped up from under me and it was impossible to get them back down. I had to get Adrian to push them back under the surface. And I wasn’t the only one – legs popped up left and right and someone or some people was/were always there to push them under.
Eventually when the next tour bus pulled up and we were pushed and ordered out of the mud. But getting out of the mud was a lot harder than getting in. Not only were the rungs of the ladder slippery but we were now all carrying an extra 25 pounds of mud on us. Just a bit of a struggle. Once we made it up to the platform, another stranger was there, scraping off as much mud as he could. After being squeezed into the volcano up against 30 people we didn’t know, another stranger running his hands down our bodies seemed perfectly fine. Navigating down the stairs (photo above) and to the laguna was another matter. Our shoes were waiting for us at the bottom but I decided to leave them there and hop over the hot baked mud to the water. I didn’t want to get the shoes dirty but scorched my feet in return. Jumping into the water was just the relief they needed but I hesitated. The laguna was an unappetizing shade of green but the burn on my soles was enough to convince me cholera (just kidding mom) would be less painful. I jumped into the water and began to scrub the mud off my skin and bathing suit. Immediately a hoard of local woman began pouring buckets of icky water over my head and offering their services. I tried to decline particularly since their services required taking off my bathing suit to scrub it – I’m really not much of an exhibitionist. Adrian however agreed to let it all out as the women attended to him. It was much easier to get the grey mud off the skin and out of the suits than I expected and the women’s services weren’t really necessary unless you were enjoying it, as Adrian seemed to.
Back to our normal flesh colour (although certain to be finding mud in weird spots for the next few days I’m sure) I changed back into my clothes and joined the rest of the group as we ate watermelon provided by the tour guide. Then it was time to settle up with all the tips for the cameraman, Adrian’s masseuse and washer women. With a lighter wallets we piled onto the bus and headed to Manzanillo for lunch. The town was a tiny town somewhere between Cartagena and the volcano but it was right on the sea. So while we waited for lunch to be served Geoff, Matt, Adrian and a bunch of others ran into the water. While those of us who had changed back into our street clothes sat on the beach and watched. Luckily the restaurant was right on the water so when lunch was served up we didn’t have far to go.
Over the tasty meal (included in the $17 tour), the Brits, including Adrian, were happy to discover Colombiana was on the menu. No it wasn’t cocaine but an orange-coloured pop that reminded them of Irn Bru, Scotland’s bubble gum flavoured beverage of choice after alcohol. Their enthusiasm convinced some of the Europeans to order it as well, only to discover that it was more of an acquired taste and switching over to bottled water. So much for cross-cultural exchanges.
Back in Cartagena we went our separate ways. I waved goodbye to Geoff but didn’t say it. After all, I’m sure we’ll cross paths somewhere else in this big old world. Adrian and I decided to try our luck with Colombian street food. Armed with Geoff recos from the night before (but also cautious remembering his endorsement of Irn Bru) we walked the main street around the corner from the hostel. Our first stop was for arepas– these are Colombia’s national dish of a fried corn flour fritters filled with a fresh sour/cream cheese. Unfortunately, they weren’t to our taste. But our second stop was the skewer man, as suggested by Geoff. The man was barbequing skewers of meat and veg topped with potatoes. Meat and potatoes, Adrian was in heaven. We went searching for something else to try but nothing sounded or looked as tempting as the skewers (Hot dogs? Burgers? Street ceviche? Fried chicken?) so we found ourselves back for another round of skewers. All that food for less than $5 and probably the most tasty meal we’ve had in a long time. With satisfied tummies (thanks to the street meat) and super soft skin (thanks to the mud volcano) we went to bed in our beautifully air conditioned room.