Couchsurfing in Barranquilla and an unexpected detour into rural Colombia

beach tolu


After quickly passing through Medellín (and promising myself I´d spend more time there in the future) I started my way up towards the Carribean coast of Colombia. Initially I just wanted to spend a day or so in Barranquilla or Cartagena on the way up to the Guajira Peninsula on the far northeast side of the country, but instead I sent out a few Couchsurfing requests and was invited to stay in Barranquilla. More than a few people responded, but the first was David (aka Jose aka Josh), a university student in Barranquilla. If you were to ask me why I love Colombia so much, I would definitely have to cite David and his family and their incredible hospitality and warmth towards a tired traveler. David (who freely switched between Spanish, French

, English, and Chinese), his mom Magaly, and his two brothers Ricardo and Carlos took me in as one of their own. When David got back to me on CS he said I could only stay for a few nights since they were leaving for a family trip to the small town of Toluviejo about 4 hrs to the southwest to visit family, but the day after arriving the family invited me to join them and said I wouldn´t have to worry about housing or food. Realizing this meant sacrificing the trip to the Guajira (I was planning to get to Panama the next week), a supposedly beautiful stretch of land wholly controlled by indigenous tribes, I was a bit on the fence until they ganged up on me and convinced me there wasn´t a whole lot to see in the Guajira and I should just come along. I eventually acquiesced, and I am damn glad that I did.

After a few nights of meeting some of David´s friends in Barranquilla and starting the Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations in which being "holy" isn´t necessarily on people´s minds, we took off to the village of Toluviejo, which lies a little inland from the coast and is tied in with the massive livestock industry in the area. It´s the sort of place where, when a group of us were hitchhiking (pedir chance) into town from the family´s small ranch, the first car that could take us all stopped without even giving it a second thought. Meeting all of the family was a pleasure and they took the tag-along gringo happily and in stride. They took me along to see the annual Catholic procession commemorating Jesus´s carrying of the cross, in the region a reason to party all night (I´m not Catholic, but stripping down to our underwear and jumping in the Carribean sea at 4am was a bit weird-feeling when momentarily juxtaposed in my mind with images from Passion of the Christ).

Part of the family´s mission was to have me try all of the most popular coastal Colombian food, a mission in which I was fully complicit. After only shallowly diving into Colombian food and being left with a lackluster impression, the Epicurian delights that passed my tongue will leave me hungry for Colombian food long after I´m gone. From sanchocho to ajiaco to grilled sierra fish to patacones to arroz con coco to chincurria to arepas con huevo to mondongos to sweet ñami, pineapple, payaya spreads, and beyond, the meals were astounding, and the rich variety of fruits and juices left me in several food comas with a few acute cases of the itis. The outrageous food also didn´t help the horseback riding on the family´s finca or trampsing around in caves, but lounging around on the nearby beach made it all better.

Oh, and I don´t feel like trying to fit this in anywhere so it´s just going right here: Colombian coastal Spanish is incredibly hard to make out and I swear it is a different dialect. I wish anyone learning Spanish the best of luck trying to understand even half of a conversation in the region if visiting. That said, it is so rich with colloquialisms and slang that I wish I had more time to take it all in.

Pictures are below.

David and a tower of Costeña bottles, relaxing after arriving in Tolu.
Trying (and failing) at dancing fandango.
They made me hop on the raspado (snow cone) machine and whip up a few during the parade.
Magaly, my CS host´s wonderful mother, and sisters.
Hopping in the warm Carribean for a swim circa 4am.
Guayabana, an amazingly delicious fruit in the area.
A typical public transport in the area. Packed.
One of the drinks of choice in the area, Colombian-made aguardiente.
Sweet spreads made from fruits and ñami, a tuber similar to yuca. So delicious.
The fruit of the wama tree, incredibly delicious. The wama tree is one of the rare fruit trees that doesn´t let it´s fruit fall when ripe, and the local saying that someone is más duro que un arbol de wama comes from this tree´s quality.
Guayaba on the family´s farm.
And no bus trip would be complete without a breakdown. The bus stopped and the driver had to take a look, and eventually got it working again.
David and his mom.
A candle-beared leading the way for the Jesus float.
And then the float came, with people carrying it on the shoulders and violently moving back and forth across the street. It went in the 3-steps-forward-2-steps-back pattern.
A beautiful beach near where the family lived. We had lunch and soaked up the sun until sunset.
Their grandparents raised chickens for cockfighting. If you can make it out, the legs are plucked of the feathers for a fight.
Ricky in the caves.
Emerging from the caves, sweaty and dirty but happy.
On the family farm.
David and a tower of Costeña bottles, relaxing after arriving in Tolu.
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0 #1 Roumayne 2011-11-13 00:18
I was looking for a nice place to stay in Barranquilla next February 2012. And I read your message on the Internet. I'm traveling with my boyfriend next year trough south America. We would like to meet some nice people and maybe you could help us.
We live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Hope to hear some words from you. Thanks!
Regards Roumayne Schepers

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