With all our extra time in Cartagena, we planned out what we thought would be our ideal route through Colombia. Heading North out of town around rush hour we didn’t aim to get far, just far enough to escape the noise and city lights. We set our GPS on Volcan de Lodo El Totumo. The name directly translates to “Totumo, Volcano of Mud” because this particular volcano is full of it, and, the locals believe it has healing properties. Arriving just after dark with no one around except for a bunch of yappy dogs, we set up camp on the hill above and crashed early, waking up to the site of this little volcano standing only 15 meters tall.
While we made a quick breakfast, Wyatt ran about sniffing and playing with Ben’s dog, Chica, until we heard a “sploosh” from the other side of the van. There he was, the first in for a mud bath and consequent bucket-clean.
We climbed up the rickety wooden steps with big, uncertain and excited smiles on our faces, eager to hop in before the tour buses showed up, when there’d be more skin in there than mud! Once inside, we discovered its unexpected flotation properties: we couldn’t touch the bottom and could not submerge ourselves, no matter how hard we tried! When our legs were beneath us, in a standing position, the mud would be just above our hips and when we lay back we floated on the surface with absolutely no effort. We leapt off the edge, plunging in and felt the heat of the mud in the depths, only to come catapulting back to the surface as if gravity no longer existed. It was definitely a feeling of weightlessness that we’d never before experienced! It was as if we were in a warm mud tub on the moon!
After (what we thought was) a thorough cleaning of bucket bath and shower we hit the road up the mountain to Minca, a small touristy town with good hiking and (we heard) great coffee. Following a quick loop we saw that it was no place for overlanders, with nowhere wild to set up for the night, so we took off to the next pin on our map: a cliffside camp with a view, just 7km, as the crow flies, up the mountain! The dirt road got rough fast and we had to kick it into 4×4 to navigate through deep, rutted out mud and over nastily protruding rocks. Our bash plates took a beating! Over the next couple hours (yeah, hours), it got rougher still and even muddier. Then, just as darkness crept in, we arrived to find the sky lit up and the lights of Santa Marta flickering below! Oh the glory of overlanding!
In the morning we awoke to the blaring sound of our 4:30am alarm and were fast to hit the snooze. We could feel the cold air creeping in the van and, snuggled within the warmth of our sleeping bags, seriously considered aborting our plans to finish the climb to the top of the mountain on foot to catch sunrise. But, arriving at the summit, flashlights still in hand, to see the soft yellow early morning rays casting across the valley to the snow capped mountain range running parallel to the one we were standing on was incredible. Palm trees clung to the mountainside offering us spectacular silhouettes against the mountain vista. Clouds rolled in and out with the cold breeze and we took a hundred shots of the same frame as the sky changed colours before us.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing at our cliffside camp as people came and went on foot, moto or bicycle to see the view. Many of them struck up conversations with us, some staying a while to share some food and card games. The friendliness and openness of the Colombians we met this day blew us away.
The drive down the mountain the next day was nearly as grueling as going up with a couple pit stops to trail fix various mechanical components that had taken too much abuse. But, while Ben and I were busy inspecting the underside of our rigs, Penny found some of that amazing Minca coffee we’d heard about. It really was the best coffee we’d had to date, local beans from just outside of town. Even in some of the world’s best coffee-producing regions, you’d be surprised, it can be next to impossible to find. By now we were coasting down the mountain, running on fumes since we left the campsite and unsure if we could make it to the next station. It was apparent we weren’t the first to have this issue when a local showed us his dark storage closet, shelves full of recycled bottles filled with fuel.
We finally reached the bottom, a few hours later than expected, both rigs still in operable condition and found a wild beach camp for the night where we cheers’d over our wild day and a few cold ones.