Colombia has treasures to rival the Seven Wonders of the World. Yep, unbeknownst to the rest of the globe, Colombia is home to two kinds of volcanoes: lava ones and mud ones…. Or at least that’s what our tour guide told us on our trip to one of the “mud volcanoes.” Other backpackers had told us about this weird volcano thing outside of Cartagena (you basically play around in a mud bath–of course it had gained the attention of young travelers) so we squeezed it into our last day in the city.
That morning we tackled the adventure of getting me a yellow fever vaccination at a free clinic (this was the real reason we stayed in Cartagena as long as we did) and then at 1:30 we piled into a bus with our tour guide, a young British girl, and a Norwegian guy. Buses in Colombia are a whole story in themselves and this trip took about two hours, the duration of which our tour guide, er, “prepared” us for our upcoming experience.
Our guide Valerie was probably in her early thirties, pretty, pregnant, and fluent in several languages. She promised that she would be the highlight of our trip and she did not disappoint. Valerie spent a brief portion of the drive describing the volcano before she launched into a lecture on the fate of the poor Colombians who live and work near the volcano. She told us these simple people needed our love, sympathy, and (most importantly) financial support. She laid it on thick, to a point I think most Colombians’ pride would have actually been offended. Valerie concluded by telling us exactly how we could change the world: we would pay the strange men for giving us massages, the old women for bathing us, and the young boys for moving our sandals for us. To make the giving easy, every service costs 3,000 pesos (about $1.50).
She told us how once we stepped into the volcano we would not be able to control our bodies… but lucky for us, the Colombian men who give massages still could, even though there was no gravity in this particular spot on earth–whew! Her scientific facts continued with her description of our impending molestation; Justin asked her how the volcano came to be and she simply answered, “God made it.” We were skeptical of her promises that we could safely sit in the volcano’s crater (in spite of its obvious magical properties) and kept trying to get information about its geomorphology, but were told only a list of measurements about how wide, long, and deep it was… and how if there had been gravity in this particular spot then we would’ve ended up in China.
Our premonitions proved accurate and we weren’t very surprised to discover the “volcano” was like a weird molehill with sandbags holding up the sides. We weren’t very surprised to learn that we still had control of our bodies. Most of all, we weren’t very surprised that all the services we were provided were unnecessary. After getting rubbed down by a couple of dudes and floating around for a bit, we slimed out of the mud and trudged to a lagoon to be “washed like babies.” Women grabbed us and stripped us down (yeah, all the way down) as they poured water on our heads, stuck fingers in our ears, and tried to de-mud our swimsuits.
Finally we were allowed back to the showers to get dressed (without help, thank God) and to settle our bill with the various poor locals (who of course did not have change). Overall, the mud not-volcano was entertaining, but the real value of the adventure for us was the perspective of exploitation on every level. Though harmless and relatively cheap, the volcano game was the ultimate tourist trap… and Valerie was indeed the best part.