Colombia | Sandflies

After New Year’s Eve in Medellin, I decided to stop being a melancholy germ and get on with having a nice time. To recharge myself socially I booked an AirBnB for four nights, and enjoyed the calm and quiet and the luxury of my own space, my own bathroom, and a big bed I could lie on in my pants and vape endlessly. Four days of this and I was ready to hit the road again.

I took a bus north, to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast. It was a bastard long journey, 18 hours, but the night passed without incident, and mercifully without a dozen Colombians watching memes on full volume sans headphones until 3am, which is generally par for the course.

I arrived all sweaty and awful in Santa Marta. I took a yellow taxi from the bus station to the town centre, from where I hopped in a minivan to Minca. I didn’t know what Minca was, but Maud told me it was good.


Minca, I would discover, is a cute little mountain town high up in the hills, surrounded by coffee and cacao farms. I had breakfast in a cafe on a rooftop and chatted to the friendly Colombian girl working up there, with a backdrop of green mountains and festoons and low clouds. Then I hiked up a small hill and found my hostel – or least, I found the gate. Beyond it was a long, steep roading leading up into the jungle. The mosquitos were fierce, and a sign on the gate read: please use the phone in the hut

There was a little hut beside the gate, and inside I found an old black rotary phone with a crank on the side. I picked up the receiver, turned the crank, and the phone rang. Finally a voice answered.

“Hola? Something something something Daniel.”

“Si! Soy Daniel.”

“Como? Soy Daniel.”


“Do you speak English, amigo?”

“I do.”

“Okay. Wait there, I’ll be down in five minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later a man road down the hill on a motorcycle. His name was Daniel. He was Swiss, and the owner of the hostel, Finca Bolivar. He checked me into my dorm – a beautiful, clean space in a jungle cabin on stilts overlooking a sun-dappled river. I was thrilled because the bathroom had a hairdryer. I’ve not used a hairdryer in months – my translucent-thin hair is always flat and limp. I took a shower and gave myself a beautiful bouffant quiff, which instantly wilted due to the humidity, and then passed the afternoon doing absolutely nothing because I was tired and happy to be in nature again.

I watched the sunset with a French girl I met and we talked about her travels in Argentina. I thought she was super cool at first, until I realised she’d not asked a question about my own life in an hour and she seemed to zone out instantly whenever I tried to tell her any of my own travel stories. In the evening I cooked tuna pasta and read the Hobbit.


Next day I went out with an Israeli guy I met, Asef, who was very intelligent and insightful. I enjoyed talking to him a lot. We had breakfast together and then hiked up to San Rafael, a coffee farm. There, while sipping a free coffee, we spoke to a 50-something guy from Namibia. We talked about books and writers and travel, and he told us he was travelling with his daughter, who had previously volunteered at San Rafael. He’d climbed Kilimanjaro a couple of years before, and in two days he was planning to go into the jungle for a father-daughter ayahuasca ritual.

Asef and I did the coffee tour, then spent a few sweaty hours exploring the coffee plantation. Coffee grows best on hillsides, apparently, which meant it was a steep climb. We watched a couple of Colombian workers scaling the hill like mountain goats, picking coffee beans off the trees. Our guide, a French girl volunteering at the farm, gave us a huge amount of information about the whole process, but I didn’t concentrate so well because… I just never concentrate well.

At the end we drank more coffee and hot chocolate, then Asef did a coffee face mask thing but I didn’t bother because it looked messy. The evening was chill: cooking back at the hostel, reading the Hobbit, sleeping soundly. Everybody else gets eaten alive by sandflies and mosquitoes in Minca, but they always leave me alone for some reason. Perhaps I simply have disgusting blood.

It felt good to be out of Medellin, away from streets filled with poverty and partying. Minca was the first time in Colombia I’d felt properly free and relaxed – not stressed over trying to meet a friend who cancelled our plans, not lonely due to the festive season, not wrestling FOMO because everybody else was binge drinking and I don’t want to join in. I was just present, just me, in my little hammock surrounded by trees, listening to birds and watching blue butterflies hop through the summer air.


Next day I’d planned on a hike: some six hour trek into the mountains to see waterfalls and little towns. After chatting to a few people in the hostel, however, I made the decision to hike in two day’s time at Tayrona national park. Two giant hikes in three days felt like too much effort, so I sacked off my day plan and spent the afternoon drawing a pretty tree, lying in a hammock on the dorm’s terrace by the creek. After so long in Medellin, it was bliss to be away from the constant boom of reggaeton and the seedy sway of the alcoholics that populate Laureles. In the evening I bumped into two old friends: Allessio and Ariane, from Paris – they looked after me in Salento when I was food poisoned and shitting like a lunatic.

We went for a coffee and a brownie. It was strange to see them again; it’d been almost three weeks, but it felt like days. Since I’d last seen them they’d been all over the country. Cali for the feria in late December, plus a bunch of cute little towns I’d never heard of. They had the best NYE ever: a street party where everybody was spraying one another with shaving foam, for some reason. Then they asked me how my New Year’s Eve was, and I tried to make it sound good and funny but failed and it just sounded harrowing, and I watched their smiles turn to frowns of concern as I detailed my gurning shitting cocaine ordeal.

I met them again the next morning for breakfast in Minca. They’re incredibly sweet people – calm, kind, intelligent, generous. They gave me great advice for Tayrona, showing me a secret entrance with no tourists and giving me tips on what to bring. I thanked them once again – twice now they’ve saved my trip from disaster. Just a lovely, lovely couple.

And then I hopped on a bus and sped away out of there – back to Santa Marta and on to Tayrona Park.

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