September 4th 2014
Something about air conditioned rooms here; they can never seem to get the temperature right. The night before last, the room was freezing, then last night, some idiot had set it to 29 degrees and it had been blowing hot air all night. It was cooler outside than inside the room.
Today we decided to go to ‘Volcan de Lodo El Totumo’; a natural mud volcano just outside Cartagena. Once again the staff at this hostel proved useless. We asked the guy last night to leave a note for the morning staff to book us a morning tour. Charnie got up to inquire this morning and they had seen the note and chosen not to do anything about it.
There was about 12 people in our tour – from seeing it leave other days I think the afternoon session is generally busier. In the 1 hour it took to get there the tour leader explained in both Spanish and English some things about the volcano. She was clearly struggling with the English translations though because for every 4 things she said in Spanish and elaborated on, there were only 1 or 2 short English sentences.
Overall her instructions weren’t clear at all and when we arrived everyone kind of just shuffled around with confused looks on their faces. Once we got ready and stored our things in a locker, we made our way up what looked like a massive ant hill with 2 sets of stairs leading to the top. Luckily we were the first people up here so there was no one in the mud pool yet. I climbed down the ladder first. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but it definitely wasn’t this. The “volcano” looked like a large man-made mud pile that had been used up so much, the mud pool was half way down on the inside. They had tried to reinforce the sides of the “volcano” by attaching wooden stakes around the sides but even those weren’t stable at all. The ladder was a bit slippery and on the last few steps the guy already in the pool went to hold my legs as I stepped down. No, he wasn’t stabilising me, he was starting a massage. Something the tour guide had mentioned was that there are some optional extras we can pay for while we are here. One of those optional extras is a mud pool massage. Once I was in the pool I found I could float. Not sure exactly why but theres something in there that forces your body to float. So as soon as I got in I was lying on the surface of the mud and I was pushed towards the opposite side of the pool. Another guy that was in there suddenly starts giving me a massage while I’m just lying there. It all happens so quickly it’s not really possible to not get this “optional extra”. It was just like a normal body massage except when you turn over to lie on your stomach, it feels weird cos I wasn’t sure what to do with my arms – usually they’re by your side or under ur face.
After my massage, I was again pushed (and as a result floated across) to the back of the pool. While all this was happening more and more people are making their way down the ladder. It’s like sardines in a can…see how many foreigners they can fit in this tiny space. Especially due to the floating problem, there were limbs going everywhere. You were able to be in a complete standing position, but if you moved your legs ever so slightly, your whole body would end up on the surface. It was hilarious. Eventually we’d had enough and it was getting super crowded so we wanted to get out. Charnie went first. As she started taking steps up the ladder, one of the massage guys starting feeling her up and of course seeing her surprised expression left the left of us in a fit of giggles. Took a few seconds to realise he was using his hands to scrap excess mud off her body which makes sense but some warning would have been nice. So I wasn’t caught by surprise when the same thing happened to me on the way up. The up ladder was incredibly slippery and didn’t feel all that stable either. I could totally envision myself falling to my death in a tiny pool of mud.
We walked down the other set of stairs and started walking along the gravel to get to our shoes that were at the bottom of the other staircase. We had gotten about half way across when some guys yelled at us to stop and started bringing all the shoes across to the down stairs. So then we had to walk the half way back, over the painful rocks (yes, I have delicate feet) back to collect our shoes. Apparently this was another “optional extra” that we would have to pay for later. We wondered around lost and confused for a few minutes trying to work out where the showers were when eventually a guy pointed us in a direction. By then, a few more of the group had come out of the pool and we all wondered in that direction, still not know where we were going.
As we walked past some of the shacks beside the path, local women gradually emerged and joined our group. They were all holding plastic bowls. It occurred to me that they were going to wash us in the lake….another “optional extra”. The lake was frothing at the sides, was a disgusting lime green colour, had things floating in it and was strangely warm. It was gross. I did not want to get in. I waddled into the water and tried to get as far away as possible from the women; surely I can wash myself? Not a chance. One of the ladies zeroed in on me and wouldn’t let me get away. She made me sit in the water and started furiously pouring water on me and scrubbing me down with her hands. Privacy and personal space don’t seem to mean much to people here; she had her hands literally all over me, even under my bathers and in my ears. Turns out she actually did a really good job! I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of mud left on me after that interesting experience. Looking around, it was so strange to see people being bathed – all I could think about was the cartoon Mulan where she’s getting prepared by 2 ladies in a bathtub…that’s what we all looked like.
We walked back up the hill to where we first got ready and turns our there are real showers there. I feel deceived. Then as we were waiting for everyone to get ready, all these people that gave us services start sticking their arms through the bars in the windows to demand payment. They must have been told specifically not to come in so they looked like vampires trying to get to us through the windows. In the end, we ended up having to fork out 3,000 pesos for each “optional extra” we received: the boy taking photos with my camera, the guy who moved our shoes, the massage and the body wash – On top of the price we had already paid for the tour.
All in all, a very interesting day. I’m glad I had someone with me to laugh about how ridiculous the whole thing was.