Today we were off to Totumo, a mud volcano about 40 minutes from Cartagena. I’ve seen pictures and heard stories of how awkward the volcano experience is but had to have the experience first hand. We could have taken a tour which would have cost us approximately 50,000 pesos per person yet we opted to take a cab instead. The cab cost us 150,000 pesos, which would’ve been the same amount as the tour as we had three people in our group. The cab ride didn’t include lunch or the entrance fee, yet it was worth it not to be crammed in a tour bus. We were also able to get to the volcano early, before it got too busy and could take it at our own pace.
The drive to the volcano was an experience in itself. On the ride, we witnessed the intense poverty outside of the city. The houses were thrown together from scrap metal and ply wood, the peoples clothes and bodies were washed in the muddy rivers that ran between the homes. Men and women alike stood as the side of the highway waiting to jump on a motorcycle taxi, a poor man’s taxi.
As we drove, the scenery became more and more mountainous. We knew that we were getting close to our destination. We pulled up the long driveway and saw what appeared to be a giant ant hill. We got out of our cab and left our clothes with the driver. We knew they would be safe there because we weren’t paying our driver until we were back from our excursion. It’s not like he would leave without being paid.
We stripped to our bathing suits, paid the 10,000 peso entrance fees and made our way to the steep stairs leading to Totumo. The view from the volcano was beautiful. The volcano itself, not so much. The lake spanned in the distance, hazy on this hot day. The walk up wasn’t bad, beside it being a little steep. The walk up was quick yet when we got to the top of the ant hill, we waited awhileto be submerged into mud. The mud was a long way down in the pit. I watched as people entered and exited the mud on the mud covered ladder. They went in dry and clean and came out as mud monsters. Before going into the pit, I handed my camera off to the camera man, who I had to trust to capture the experience and to not run off with my camera. He seemed trustworthy and even was able to tell apart each camera he held to its corresponding owner.
Alas, it was my turn. I lowered myself down the ladder, into the mud. I tried not to make a splash as I was pulled down into the mud by one of the assistants. The second my body was in the mud, I was useless. I could barely move a limb or gain my balance. I was pulled to the side by a guy giving massages. I kept saying that I didn’t want a massage but I got one anyways. Soon enough, I looked over and my parents were dragged beside me, floating and being massaged. I tried to keep my head out of the mud as I giggled through the experience. I couldn’t relax for this massage.
Finally after my protests, the guy stopped massaging me and slid me across the pool of mud. Assistants pushed me and helped me into a standing position next to random people. I was pushed up against a few other people who spoke English so I was able to vocalize the weirdness of the experience while trying to keep my balance in the mud. Once my parents were done being massages, I shimmied my way through the mud, other people in the mud helped by pulling and pushing me to where I wanted to be. Finally, I felt relaxed in the mud. The mud was cool enough but the sun warmed up the surface. I continued to rub mud on my face and shoulders, not wanting it to dry. I basked in the mud, laughing about the situation with those around me. In the moment, it was a wonderful experience. That is until they started allowing more and more people into the mud without having anyone leave. It got overcrowded and I had to get out. We wadded toward where the ladder was but there was no workers to assist us. They had all left the mud to get tips from the people who were leaving on a tour bus. We had no way out, the mud would weigh us down too much. After much protest by another group and us, we were finally able to get out. There was luckily still a massage guy in the mud. He helped get the mud off us so we could climb the ladder. My bathing suit was barely on me at this point, it was heavy on me from the mud. I tried to hold onto it with one hand while climbing the ladder with the other. My hands shook as I pulled myself up the ladder, it was so slippery that I was sure I would fall. The massage guy wanted to get to the tour bus too so he yelled “gringo go, gringo go!” to my dad from the back, trying to rush us up the ladder.
When I finally escaped from the mud pit, I noticed that the camera guy was nowhere to be found. I didn’t think that he stole my camera but I thought that he might’ve given it to the tour group on accident. I waddled, covered in mud down the steep steps as fast as I could, not wanting to slip. When I made it to the bottom, I found the camera guy, with my camera still strapped around his neck. He snapped my picture and all was good. We were then told to go to the spot where we would be cleaned. I had read that there was a beach where you could swim and clean yourself. But a drought had dried up most of the lake and it was too far in the distance. Instead, we sat on stools where women would dump water on us. I scrubbed the mud away as the woman dumped buckets of water over my head and body. She would move my bathing suit top and bottom as she scrubbed every crevice of my body clean of mud. Even though she scrubbed thoroughly, I still had some mud on me. We patted dry, retrieved our shoes and headed back to where our cab driver was waiting.
We had read that everyone would ask for tips of about 1,000 pesos each. They however were demanding 10,000 pesos each for services we did not request and some I even told I did not want. Yet, they were relentless. I made sure to tip the camera man to get my camera back. He was the okay with what I gave him. Everyone else swarmed us for more. They must’ve not gotten good tips from the tour bus that left so they were trying to make up for it with us. Our cab driver motioned us to get in the cab and we bottled out of there. In a way, I feel bad not giving them more, but those were not services we intended on paying for and we certainly did not plan for them to be so much. They should make the entrance fee higher to include that already.
Once we got back to the hotel, I made a bee line for the shower to get the remaining mud off of me. We had dinner plans in the old city, which gave us enough time to relax by the pool. After some needed relaxation, we took a cab to the old city. The cab dropped us off by the marina and clock tower. This is our first time by the clock tower. We only saw it in passing on our horse drawn carriage ride. This was quite the entrance to the city. We walked underneath the clock tower than strolled through the square, looking at all the stands selling Colombian sweats. We made our way over to the wall, stopping to examine every door we saw. The doors in Cartagena are one of my favorite parts about this city.
We wanted to spend the evening walking along the wall. We were set to meet for dinner at 7:00 p.m., giving us an hour to walk along the wall. It was a hot day but the breeze from the Caribbean felt nice as we walked along the old wall of the city. It’s hard to believe that these romantic walls were once a defense mechanism and that the cannons once did plunder. Everything was perfect on this wall, there was a cool breeze and a view of the Caribbean, the old city and Bocogrande beyond the walls. We left to give ourselves enough time to meet at 7:00 p.m. for dinner. Dinner first started with a few drinks on the roof top of the Bastion. We didn’t end up leaving for dinner until almost 9:00 p.m.. At this point, I was starving. I was not used to dinner time in Colombia.