The modern high-rise district of Cartagena has a bit of a promenade to walk along next to the shore. This probably isn’t classed as one of the better Caribbean beaches. There’s not a huge amount of beach and what’s there is hardly golden sands. If you want to visit some more serene beaches you apparently need to get a boat out to the nearby islands. Even on an overcast Monday morning it was quite crowded.When it began to rain I headed back to the old town.

I bumped into German Tomas from the tour at the weekend. He was staying for another week in Cartagena and wanted to know if I wanted to do something today. I didn’t really fancy going to beaches, which was fortunate due to how the weather turned out. He suggested the mud volcano, supposedly one of the top local attractions. I wasn’t aware of it was but agreed. It only cost about £12 and was an opportunity to spend an afternoon out of the city. It turned out to be one of the strangest experiences, not only of this trip but probably my life.

We were collected by a minibus containing a wide range of demographics; families, older couples and backpackers. The volcano was about 45 minutes away. I was expecting some sort of picturesque location with maybe some hot springs and the like. The guide explained the setup. Allegedly the volcanic mud is excellent for the skin and you could receive an optional massage before then being washed off in a lagoon. It’s not exactly my cup of tea but I suppose it’s a cultural experience. That turned out to be an understatement. When we arrived at the volcano my immediate thoughts (along with a couple of other people seemingly unaware of exactly what they’d signed up for) were, is that it? It wasn’t anything like the volcanoes I’d seen in Costa Rica or Peru. This volcano was a mound that’s perhaps 50 feet high. To get to the summit you climbed some rickety wooden steps. Here was essentially a pit of mud, maybe ten feet square. My first thoughts were that I won’t be getting in there. However most other people seemed to be wallowing in it enthusiastically. I decided that I’d look like an idiot to have travelled here only to stand at the side pulling faces so I went in as little as possible. It became immediately apparent that it would be impossible to stay anything resembling clean. Some bloke then collared me for the so-called optional massage. I was sitting bolt upright while I was getting rubbed by a big Colombia fella and all that I could think of was falling and my head going under, catching some sort of disease and being ill for Easter Island later in the week! The masseuse kept telling me to relax but i don’t think I that have ever been so tense in my life. I think I was moaning like Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad. There was a photo of me while all this was going on and I don’t think I have ever seen a worse picture of me. Obviously it was immediately deleted. I genuinely couldn’t decide whether this was a bone fide spa experience or if someone was having a good laugh at the tourists expense! One of the girls on the bus, a spa regular, seemed to thing that it felt good on the skin. If that was the case, the masseuses who are stuck in that pit all day, must be the most exfoliated people in the world! Even after dragging yourself out of the pool, the surreal experience was still not over. After not slipping down the wooden stairs, you were directed to the lagoon to get washed. Or the local lake as it turned out to be. Here for a small donation an older local lady poured about ten buckets of water over my head (despite not having any mud there). While I was slightly disoriented from attempting not to drown, I definitely felt a finger down my ear at one point, to presumably clean it out. Looking at the TripAdvisor reviews it would seem that plenty of others also felt that the trip was something truly bizarre!

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A gloomy looking Cartagena beach
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Even gloomier and raining
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The “volcano”
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