One of the things that has fascinated me about Colombia is the variety of landscapes throughout the country; it reminds me of one of the reasons I like California so much. The transition from Parque Tayrona to Minca is a perfect example.
I started my morning eating breakfast on the beach, hiked 2 hours through jungle terrain in already humid heat (at 8-10am), and after a few transportation adventures I was up in the cool mountains overlooking forest by noon. It was a complete change in environment in less than half a day, and a welcomed one considering the temperature and humidity drop in the hills. Since I did this trip I’ve been asked which of these locations I prefer, Parque Tayrona or Minca, and I honestly can’t say. They’re so very different and both wonderful in their own ways. If I had to choose though, I have always been more of a mountain than a beach person, so Minca might get the slight edge here. Just barely.
When I left the park I knew I had a lot of transportation ahead of me: to get to Minca, I had to get a shuttle out of the park, back on the bus an hour to Santa Marta, get dropped off somewhere on the highway before entering the city to find a mototaxi to take me to Minca, and get another mototaxi from there up to Casa Elemento, the hostel I was staying in that is another 30ish minute ride up the mountain above Minca. While waiting for the shuttle, resting after I more or less ranwalked the path out, luck decided to help me out.
My hostel in Taganga had offered to send a cab to come pick me up at the Santa Marta airport, and in a moment of laziness I accepted and was picked up by Edgardo. Edgardo was very nice, despite the language barrier (like pretty much all Colombians, even if you don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English, they will still try to have a conversation with you), and he happened to be at the parking lot in Tayrona where the shuttle picks up just when I got there. I have no idea why. He recognized me and said hi, and asked if I was going back to Taganga; I told him no Minca, and he offered to take me there for double what public transportation would cost. I politely declined and he was on his way out when he rolled down his window and offered to take me and the couple behind me to exactly where we wanted to go in Santa Marta for COP10,000 per person, only 2,000 more than public transportation and this way I was dropped off at the mototaxi stand and them at their hostel. The three of us talked it over for a second, the first time I’d even talked to these people since we weren’t together at all, and we all decided it was a great deal. Colombians, always impressing with their friendliness.
At the mototaxi stand Edgardo made sure I got a good deal and a driver that would take me directly to Casa Elemento. The road to get there is continuously uphill, incredibly bumpy and took over an hour. But riding up on the back of a random motorbike made this an adventure. Even though it’s still a little strange sitting so close to someone you don’t know and entrusting them with your life on a mountain road, it’s a much more fun way to go than regular car. (The way back down I hiked with a few new hostel friends and it took about 2 hours. Empanadas have never tasted so good as when we reached Minca at the end of that trek.)
Casa Elemento – how do I describe this place? Recommended initially by Spencer, and then later by so many more travelers, it’s a place whose popularity is owed to word of mouth, which means a lot in the travel world. It’s disconnected from modern life, it doesn’t have wifi and probably never will, power outages are likely and the shower is never warm, and your only agenda is to lay on a tube in the small pool, go adventuring in the next door jungle, or relax on the world’s largest hammock. Yes, world’s largest hammock. This 16’x16′ net fits 10 people and is suspended out from the hill so you really feel like you’re floating above the trees. From here you can see down to Minca and all the way to Santa Marta on the coast; a magical scene as the sun sets and the cities light up.
Casa Elemento is run by 4 owners and a group of volunteers who do everything from tend bar to cook meals and clean, living in tents or a treehouse on the property. When I arrived a volunteer asked me if I’d like a drink, and after my long hot morning of travel nothing sounded better than a shandy (don’t ask my why, this was the first thing that came to mind) but all they had was pineapple juice, so I poured my beer into the juice and had a new Colombian version – I have to say, it was a pretty tasty concoction. After relaxing for a bit I joined Craig and Nikki, two volunteers, and two other guests for a fruit foraging expedition. This sounded like a relaxing walk but I should have known better when they grabbed the machetes; it turned into an hour and a half jungle hike/canyoning trek. It was awesome. We walked out from the hostel and adventured around the surrounding forest, climbing up and down muddy slopes and rocks and through thick grasses. We were successful in picking limes, weird bumpy lemons, and some unfortunately sour oranges; we were not so lucky with avocados – they grow there too but we couldn’t find any. The lemons and limes made for some great drinks later in the night though. In addition to all the readily accessible fruit in the area, Casa Elemento also grows coffee right on the property. This was the best coffee I’ve had so far. Andrew, an owner, was joking with me that their coffee doesn’t have a carbon footprint just a human one.
When we got back the hostel had filled up significantly, so I took my rum and lemon juice drink out to the hammock and watch the sunset with the other guests. We all had a family style dinner, spaghetti bolognese, and hung out at the bar until the morning hours. The next day was more lounging and reading until we decided to walk down and get back to civilization (aka Taganga for one more night, so only sort of civilization).
The vibe at Casa Elemento was so chill it was another place I was tempted to stay longer. This is actually how most of the volunteers end up there; they heard about it and came for a visit, and just decided to stay for a while. It is a relaxed, unencumbered lifestyle where most of your time is spent hiking or just hanging out. My parting words to everyone working there were: “See you in March!” So if after this trip is over you hear I’ve gone back to Colombia, come visit me at Casa Elemento. I’ll make you a Colombian shandy or rum and freshly foraged lemon juice.