Slow Season Stay in Rincon del Mar, Colombia
The muddy Madgelena River is the natural medium that connects the isolated city of Mompos to the modern day, ultra shady port town of Magangué. After boarding an overstuffed chalupa, we were once again passengers on its murky surface. The crisp wind was sweet relief. There is nothing better than the feeling of buzzing down a wide, windy river in Colombia with your eyes closed and fresh air traveling through your nose. You could be anywhere in the world in your mind when you eliminate all visual stimulation and shift attention to your other senses. Moments of bliss can appear out of the simplest of pleasures, and they are generally readily available at any given moment to minds that pay heed. Simplicity is an idea that our souls tend to resonate with. This is especially true when you sweep off the complexities of life that can collect like dust bunnies in a vacant bedroom. The simplistic bubble of the riverboat ride popped the moment we arrive back in Magangué, getting harassed up and down by touts trying to fill their vans, cars, buses, etc. After getting prices that were all across the board, we hopped into a hot bus and drove away from the Madgelena once again. Then we stopped randomly just moments after leaving, and naturally waited until the bus filled up roughly 15 minutes later.
Our destination was Rincon Del Mar. Our traveling Dutch friend Roger was heading there from Mucura via fisherman’s boat and grabbed our interest with his description prior to leaving. Once again we found ourselves solving the mystery of local transportation to yet another destination that guidebooks haven’t found yet. Just minutes before our first leg was about to end we witnessed a real life street fight inches outside of our bus windows. A loud bang against the side of the bus was followed by lots of commotion. Desperate looking men appeared to be fighting over something trivial. The older man looked to be in his late 50’s and had a sharp metal object in his hand. The younger man appeared to be the aggressor; moments later he was bleeding. A crowd of people circled around the two men but did nothing but look. All of this happened at a regular bus stop. It was a stark reminder for us all. If an assault were to take place, we should be prepared for zero help at all from strangers.
A few bus and van connections later, we were getting dropped off at a gas station in San Onofre and being told that the cheapest way to get to our destination was to ride tandem on a motorcycle. While this may sound adventurous, it also means that you are riding on an old motorcycle meant for 1 person with you and all of your gear on your back, of course. We bartered a taxi down to the same price a local told us it would cost for individual motorcycles and took off down the unpaved, muddy, and only road towards the isolated beach town of Rincon del Mar.
45 minutes of swerving, bumping, jumping, gasping, and laughing later, a small town appeared before us. We drove straight towards the beach down the stretch of sand while brightly colored wooden houses slowly made reflections on our windows. The town appeared abandoned, emitting a general silence that grabs your attention like the whistle on an approaching train. We took a spin around to see if the one hotel we found had competition, but all other restaurants and hotels seemed to be closed for the season. Later I would find out that fruit was non-existent. This would be followed by a panic attack.
There was one other family staying at our empty seaside hotel coined “El Rincon del Mar“. They were a German couple that had traveled this part of the world for the first time 20 years prior. The passion they had for adventure was still with them, even with their 15 year old who seemed like he was bored out of his mind in tow. The wife engaged me in a little travel talk and eventually brought out her map of Colombia and details of their adventures, complete with tips and anecdotes. We jotted down some notes in our books of their versions of “must see” places with delight. There were also a few pet parrots that made copious amounts of noise in the early morning, thus creating a natural alarm clock that you hate more than a man-made alarm clock. If only birds came with an off button or snooze option.
There are a long list of pro’s and con’s to visiting seasonal places in the off-season. One huge con is that all of the restaurants close up shop and are non-existent until the high season kicks off. There was literally only 1 place to eat in Rincon del Mar while we were there, and it was the overpriced restaurant attached to our hotel. Even corner stores didn’t have any real choice of creative, imaginative do-it-yourself catering at affordable prices. I can’t plunk down almost 3 dollars for a can of tuna fish ever (golden rule #23). A stroll up the deserted street during the heat of the mid day sun would bring you down a dusty road with kids wandering around here or there trying to drum up excitement. There were about 4 tiendas, all of which had the exact same goods. One sold bananas. During the day people seemed to hide from the sun, only to bring out their chairs after it slipped down into the water. They all seemed to sit in the dark, unlit street and make small conversation with passers by. There was also a small public school that consisted of little more than some tables and chairs facing a chalkboard right on the shore of the beach. I don’t think I would have been able to focus in school under those circumstances. There was such a beautiful scene 180 degrees from the chalkboard that would no doubt be the ultimate distraction for me.
Around the same time every day fishermen would appear on the horizon. They were easily recognizable because they looked like single-manned pirate ships, complete with a large black sail made out of thick, plastic contractor bags. While swimming I could sometimes pick out 7 or 8 in the distance slowly getting blown towards land. Upon arrival they would unload their catch to sell, trade, or eat. I wanted to go out on a mission with a fisherman but never worked up the courage to ask. These people survived on fishing and whatever tourism brought during the busier time of year. Other than that, there didn’t seem like much going on here to keep minds occupied.
After poking and prodding, we found a person who led us to someone’s house that agreed to whip up big, delicious meals for us. A man led us between two buildings down a long corridor towards the water. A doorway in the wooden fence led us into a woman’s outdoor kitchen. With the promise of returning for a 4-top, we made plans to return later that evening. That night we devoured grilled chicken and steak meals just steps from the water. This was added in the “delicious moment” category in our World of Wanderlust manuscript.
In the late afternoon, neighborhood kids and teens of Rincon del Mar would hone their soccer skills on the sandy playing field. These pick up games appeared to be the only organized event that happened here. Two referees would sit on top of painted 55-gallon steel drums on either end of the field to make the determination if goals were legitimate or not. A short stroll past the field brought us rows of boats and fishing nets that had been used undoubtedly thousands of times. Large, private houses appeared the further we walked away from town down the empty stretch of endless beach. Another gorgeous Caribbean sunset settled into it’s slumber to the west while the cool breeze blew through our hair.
When it was time to go we all realized that there we had not seen one taxi in our entire stay in Rincon del Mar. In fact, we hadn’t even spotted another vehicle. Transportation back to San Onofre was organized by flagging down anyone with a motorcycle and asking them to help find more. With our large backpacks in tow, we each hopped onto a motorcycle and became acquainted with the strangers that would drive us into town, roughly 20 minutes away. The road disappeared as we left Rincon and immediately became thick, slippery mud thanks to the thunderstorm the previous night. With potholes and puddles of unknown depths strewn about, our drivers hugged the edges of the road where it appeared that the path was most defined. Coming to stops proved to be harrowing as the weight of our bodies tested our random drivers’ strength and balance in the frictionless goop. Eventually asphalt came back into our lives and we were left roadside, waiting for the next bus to Cartagena. The trip felt dangerous, unknown, and caused sudden increases in heart rates, but proved to be memorable once again.
Have you ever felt the rewards of going off the tourist trail and further into unknown places on your trips? Please feel free to share!