Tubing in Palomino

I keep hearing about Palomino. It seems to be the destination on everyone´s lips at the moment. A beach paradise to get away from the crowds and party town of Taganga. When I was first in Santa Marta in 2011 I didn´t hear anything about it, but it is quickly earning a reputation amongst the backpackers and travel crowd as a must visit.

After walking an hour through the jungle, we're happy to get to the relaxing, floating part of our adventure.
After walking an hour through the jungle, we’re happy to get to the relaxing, floating part of our adventure.

With a day off work and mi novio away, it was the perfect time to visit with mi amiga, a Spanish friend who also lives in Santa Marta. We decided we were both up for a little relaxation that wasn´t just lying on the beach, so we took up the option to go tubing on the Palomino River.

There´s really not much to tubing. You jump in the river with an inflated inner tube and float downstream. It´s gentle, calming and a complete de-stress; that is if you don´t get lost on your way to the river, almost lose your tube to the current, scrape your butt on rocks in the shallows or get toppled over backwards by an overhanging branch.

Our relaxing trip turned into somewhat of an adventure with plenty of laughs and excitement thrown in amongst the peace we were looking for.

We hired our pneumaticos, the tubes, from Eco Andes on the highway next to the ferreteria (hardware store) and got a lift to the normal starting point of Mamasanta. We were told of a second jumping off point that was a 30 minute walk from Mamasanta over a hill and to a small stream where we needed to turn right to get to the river. That sounded like a good plan to us as we would get to enjoy more of the river. We were asked if we needed a guide and we looked at each other with a “surely we can´t get lost floating downstream on a river” look and declined the offer.

This way to the river
This way to the river

With our pneumaticos slung over our left shoulder, to avoid puncturing them on spiny plants located on the right, we started the uphill climb on a narrow trail and were soon puffing and sweating.We conveniently took a breather at a place where you can see all the way out to the turquoise and azure of the Palomino shoreline.

As we descended the other side of the hill there were storybook views of  a bend in the river with a wisp of smoke escaping the chimney of a thatched roof hut tucked in the elbow. That was where we were supposed to kick off on the pneumaticos.

Doesn't this view just make you want to run away to the jungle?
Doesn’t this view just make you want to run away to the jungle?

We arrived at the stream and crossed it. I remembered we were told to cross the stream but completely forgot the next direction, turn right. So we followed the trail up another hill as that´s where two Argentinian guys – who somehow managed to zip past us after we left them back in Palomino to walk to the river whilst we had a  head start with 15 minute jeep ride to Mamasanta – were heading.

About two-thirds of the way up the hill mi amiga looked at her watch and calculated that we should have been there by now. Conveniently a guide appeared coming over the hill and the Argentinians a few paces in front stopped to ask for directions. The guide said we´d missed the point which was were we planned to go, but that we could keep going and get to another launch point, we just had to turn right where a trickle of water crosses the trail and 20m later find the river.

Mi amiga urged me to press on. Her flip flops were not ideal trekking shoes and she felt the way down would be more treacherous than continuing on. The Argentinians ran off and we continued along the path, luckily finding the right trickle of water to lead us to the river after an hour solid of walking from Mamasanta.

We finally found the river and this little sandy push-off point
We finally found the river and this little sandy push-off point

We were excited to reach the river, put down our pnuematicos and get to the relaxing part but up ahead we saw an island in the middle and the white wavy water that identifies rapids on both sides. First up, we figured out the logistics, how to carry our few, but important, belongings, slathered on some sunscreen despite the cloudy sky and improvised my scarf/tie as a rope to keep us floating together down the river.

We decided on our plan of attack for the rapids, which was complete avoidance. We eased our way into the oh-so-difficult art of tube floating by making our way to the island where we got off and skirted around the right side of the rapids. Unfortunately these weren´t the only rapids, there were more hiding on the other side of the island. Being two big chickens afraid of these really weeny rapids, we continued the tough going to walk around the rapids. I say tough going because it is difficult to walk in water with rocky bottoms and currents that want to sweep your shoes off your feet.

We were almost all the way across the top of the rapid to a little sandbar where we could launch off when we saw a family of 6 and a guide floating down the river towards us. They had taken the left hand side of the rapids and were riding them. I looked at my friend in open-mouthed incredulity. The two thoughts that raced into my head were, why are we so afraid of teeny little rapids and now we have to share our peaceful journey with this family.

This may not look so scary to you, but when you are 2 minutes into your 2 plus hour float down a river in a rubber tube, no one judges you for erring on the side of caution.
This may not look so scary to you, but when you are 2 minutes into your 2 plus hour float down a river in a rubber tube, no one judges you for erring on the side of caution.

Once finally back on our tubes we got to take in the beautiful scenery of steep, green mountains, rocky river bottoms and clear water. It did truly feel like peace on water with small interruptions of excitement for the rapids (which we now chose to ride instead of avoid). That was until we got to a rock blocking our path at the beginning of a rapid. I don´t quite remember exactly why we jumped out of our tubes into the shallow water instead of riding around it, perhaps it was a fear of piercing a pneumatico on a sharp rock.

Now Tubing 101 tells you that the tube is essential to the activity, and Understanding Rivers 101 tells you that rivers flow with a current. So by way of logic if you let go of your tube, the river will take it away and there will be no tubing and a big problem of how the heck you will get out of there. When we got out of our tubes mi amiga thought she´d lost one of her belongings and was looking around to see how it could have fallen out of her knotted sarong. Meanwhile, the river stole her pneumatico and took off with it. When I, also distracted by mi amiga´s lost item, realised that the tube was escaping I thrust my tube at her, jumped over the rock in the river and bounded on the uneven rocky bottom after it, hurling myself at the black tube, eventually coming up spluttering holding the pneumatico up in one hand and my bundle of soaked possessions in the other. Mi amiga stood in the middle of the river doubled over in stitches of laughter, but I´d saved her ride.

A river so still it shows beautiful reflections.
A river so still it shows beautiful reflections. Don’t trust this view. Up ahead are rapids.

After about half an hour we arrived at the point where we were originally aiming to leave from and continued the float, navigating more river hazards of rocks and snags but with smaller rapids. The mountains started getting smaller and the river wider. The current also picked up a bit and formed a nice path, albeit one that took us closer to the steep riverbanks, rock walls and overhanging vegetation. This is where I took a most wonderful backsplat into the water.

We came quickly to a thick overhanging tree branch at head height. I pushed mi amiga in her tube to be further away from the branch and raised my feet while leaning forward to get a kick off and push the branch out of the way. It turns out the branch wasn´t as yielding as I´d expected and instead both the river and its strong current ganged up against me with the branch. Instead of bouncing off the branch, the force of the impact flipped me backwards into the river and out of my tube. When I surfaced I had hold of my pneumatico and still had my cap perched on my head and my sunglasses on my face. Phew!

Calling a short time-out, I recomposed myself on the river bank, coughed up some water and opened my waterproof sack to find my camera still functioning. Thank goodness for drysacs!

With most of the excitement behind us, we managed to float the rest of the way without further accidents. As the clouds refused to let the sun shine for the whole day and with a breeze stirring up, we started to get cold. It´s quite unusual to get chattering teeth around these parts, so we decided that instead of floating all the way to the sea, we would get out at the bridge where the Troncal Caribe highway crosses the river and where a bunch of little kids were doing their laundry on the riverbank by pounding their clothes with a stick. Our rewarding day of peace and relaxation had turned into quite the adventure!

I can´t recommend highly enough tubing on the Palomino River. It is a fantastic break from the beach and takes you into a serene and beautiful part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I´m sure ´ll be back again with mi novio and D for more river antics, but perhaps slightly more prepared next time.

In relax mode after passing the scary rapids. In the distance behind us are the family of 6 who left us in their rippling wake.
Tubing on the Palomino River

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Want to go tubing in Palomino?

What´s there: Palomino is a small village near the beach and where the Palomino River meets the sea. The tubing adventure involves walking in forest and floating down the river in amongst verdant mountains.

How to get there: From Santa Marta the buses leave from the market on the corner of Calle 11 and Carrera 11 every half hour or so and are clearly marked. The same bus also goes to Parque Tayrona. The bus costs COP$8000 and takes around 2 hours. To catch a bus back you can flag down any bus on the highway.

Difficulty: From Mamasanta (the nearest start point) it is easy. If you chose to start further upstream, you just need to be prepared for walking on a hilly trail. At all times be aware of rocks and submerged trees in the river which could puncture your tube.

Time: Depending on your start point and finish point tubing will take between 2 – 4 hours. It took us 4 hours from when we started walking from Mamasanta to when we arrived to the bridge in Palomino.

What to take: Sunscreen, t-shirt, sunglasses, hat (there´s the potential to come back lobster-red if you don´t), bathing suit, bottle of water, sandals – preferably the type that strap onto your feet, a cord or something to use to keep you all floating together, camera,  a waterproof bag. We also took sarongs which instantly became wet at the river but were good for keeping belongings tied together and for covering up because walking along the highway in a bikini is not advised.

Where to stay: If you want to stay in Palomino there are a number of accommodation options. I like the friendly new Dreamer on the Beach.

I feel relaxed again just looking at this photo at Dreamer on the Beach
I feel relaxed again just looking at this photo at Dreamer on the Beach

Oh what a night in Kansas City

I have found so much fun in Kansas City and tonight was almost too much excitement to bear.

We went out to dinner, tapas at a cute little Spanish restaurant called La Bodega with Hiker Buddy Brian and his friend (my new friend) Hillary and then cruised around KC in The Mustang with the top down singing songs that included some Australian music by ACDC and Jet.

Then we hit the nightlife of the Power and Light District and I was told I had to ride the mechanical bull. I had always wanted to ride a mechanical bull, but never really had the opportunity, or the guts to do it when the opportunity was nearby. But, when in the Midwest at a bar that caters to the country music loving crowd and has a mechanical bull as its centrepiece, you are in the right place to take that bull ride.

And so I did.

I got off that bull jubilant and with quivering legs from gripping it so tightly. Not even watching the “professional” girls and guys working at the bar leap upon the bull and expertly ride it without holding on with their hands could take away from me the fact that I totally nailed that bull ride.

A night of firsts

On the yellow bus
Excited to be on the yellow school bus

Kansas City got really exciting tonight as I filled the evening with a number of firsts, starting with my first visit to Chipotle to pick up a burrito for dinner.

Chipotle is a chain of Subway-like Mexican that has taken America by storm. I’ve heard so many people ooh over it, but had never ventured in until Hiker Buddy Brian and I popped in for a quick bite before heading to another first, a professional soccer game.

We then drove to the game in Hiker Buddy Brian’s black Mustang convertible, my first ride in a convertible. That was quite exciting and I felt super cool as we drove at 70 miles an hour on the freeway with the wind blowing wisps of hair around my face and with me playing my fingers in the wind.

The brand new Sporting Kansas City soccer stadium is right next door to Kansas Speedway, so we ended up parking in the speedway parking lot fairly far away from the stadium. I started to get giggles of excitement as I saw those iconic yellow school buses in the lot and I predicted that they would shuttle us to the stadium. I could scarcely contain my excitement as that prediction came true and I was soon climbing aboard one with the awe and wonder of a small child. Whilst they cannot hold a candle to the school buses kids in Australia travel on, and are historic relics that somehow keep plying the bus routes with the bare minimum of fittings, I was completely enthralled in the experience and emerged hot and perspiring but jubilant.

According to Hiker Buddy Brian, scalping is de rigour and an accepted practice in America. As we didn’t have tickets for the game, which had already started, I was looking forward to that first experience too, but there were no scalpers and we had to do a lap around the stadium to get to the box office.

Watching Sporting Kansas City
Excited to be at my first professional soccer match

Inside, we found vacant seats close enough to our allocated seats down the end closest to the Sporting Kansas City supporters who were cheering loudly and bringing a crazy, festive atmosphere to the ground. I couldn’t help but smile and be in a good mood.

Shortly after sitting down, we saw Kansas City score the very first goal in the newly built stadium. They’d only played one previous game in the venue which was a draw at nil all.  Confetti burst out from behind the goals, the crowd jumped to their feet and cheered as loud as their voices would allow them. It was so much fun.

I bought a bag of peanuts in their shells at half time, because the cashier had a little sticker on front of the register saying “Would you like peanuts with that?”. I wasn’t sure what to do with the shells as it is a messy process and I’d never eaten them at a special event. Hiker Buddy Brian told me to throw them on the ground. My littering sensibilities struggled with this. I looked at him and said “Really?” and he was like “Yeah, of course, they come through and clean everything up afterwards.” I was still hesitant. If I didn’t throw the shells on the ground, it would be easier for them to clean up, but the only other place I could put them was back in the bag with the ones I still had to shell and eat. I tentatively tossed one on the ground under the seat in front of me and felt desperately naughty. I then countered with the argument “why would you want to throw them on the ground and make a mess at your feet”. But with little other choice and hankering for salty peanuts, I threw the shells on the ground, kicking them under the seat in front of me so as to avoid getting the shells and skins between my toes.

It was so much fun. A night of calculating firsts and then to top it all off, from the safety of the apartment, we watched an amazing thunderstorm sweep across the city with flashes of light, cracking lightning bolts and some claps of thunder that made you feel as if you’d been cuffed behind the ear.

And she gets her payback

View of the Grand Canyon's North Rim
Pretty spectacular view of the Grand Canyon's North Rim

Unfortunately that wasn’t me. It was the Grand Canyon getting her payback for me saying I was underwhelmed by her after my rafting tour.

You see, no one ever told me it snows at the Grand Canyon. I have never seen any photos with snow in them. So I never expected to have my views of the canyon from the North Rim snowed in.

Perhaps the moral of this is if you diss nature’s beauty, nature will hide it from you.

Tougher than I think

Ridgetop to Angel's Landing
The rocky ridgetop path to Angel's Landing

I started out on the hike slash climb to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah not sure if I would make it.

It was rated as difficult in my guidebook and on the trail map from the park and I’m not at my fittest, nor am I very good at climbing things like this 1000ft height to get to the top. They also wrote that many people don’t go all the way because the narrow path with steep drop offs puts them off. I was surprised at how easy it was.

Okay, so it wasn’t a cinch, but the huffing and puffing up to the overlook point wasn’t a killer either. The steep switchbacks were punishing, but nothing that a few stops and gulps of water couldn’t fix.

View into Zion Canyon
The canyon from Angel's Landing

I then continued along the rocky ridgetop to the very top. At least three times along the way, it could have been the end of the trail as there were amazing views from everywhere along the ridge. One older lady commented that I was like a mountain goat, which I only fully appreciated after I got to the top with a fairly nimble stride. I think it’s just because I like scrambling over rocks and picking a path.

At the top I was rewarded by amazing views over two sides of the canyon.

Even with the stop to eat my lunch in a scenic spot with squirrels trying to get into my backpack, it was well under the 4 hour round trip suggested in the guidebook.

So now I’m going to take those times and descriptions with a grain of salt, because I must say, this trail made me feel like a hardcore hiker.

Leaving Las Vegas

MGM Lions
Lions at play and eat

Not quite today, but today was the day to soak up the last of Vegas – for this trip at least.

In addition to the partying that was sure to happen being a Saturday night, I wanted to see the MGM Lions. I’m not normally a zoo person, but this is just one of the many free activities on hand in Las Vegas, so I wanted to see the real ones, and the big bronze one out front of the casino.

So I took a couple of kiwis and a Swedish rocker chick down to the Strip to see them too. We watched them for a little while as they pulled apart some food and licked each other clean, despite the voiceover guy saying they had had a bath that morning. It seems they didn’t like their human bath better than their feline bath.

MGM has about 36 lions which are all paraded out, in pairs, on different days. They were cute, if a little bored with being in a humidified glass enclosure. Taking full advantage of the lion’s cuteness, MGM had a giftshop with windows to the enclosure so people could take home their very own Simba.

Good intentions gone astray

View from Charleston St
Red Rock Canyon from Charleston St

I was super keen to go hiking in Red Rock Canyon, about 20 miles out of Vegas, so taking Anja along with me for the ride, we set off.

As I drove along the road the heat of the day started seeping into my sleep-deprived self and sapping my energy. At the visitor centre we both realised that the scenic drive was about all we’d be good for today. I gave in to the lethargy and we drove the 13 mile circuit instead, only stopping for photos before getting back into air conditioned Esmeralda. I can’t imagine that anyone actually does any of the hikes in summer, it was so bakingly hot.

The Red Rock Canyon certainly lives up to its name with magnificent deep red colouring, so the drive was worth it though, and I didn’t feel cheated by giving in and not even doing one little hike. I guess that’s what Vegas does to you. It keeps you out all hours and then tells you all day that the best thing to do in Vegas is party, sleep and relax.