Way back before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the travel community, there was a group of international travelers who all found themselves in the same jungle at the same time. The place was Tayrona National Park in the north of Colombia, at a small hostel called Journey. Over the holidays, the travelers became a close-knit family, watching movies on old mattresses and killing flying cockroaches with brooms.
I had arrived in Colombia in mid-December, coming straight from snowy and cold Chicago. When I left the airport in Cartagena, I was smacked with the humid ocean breeze and sighed happily to be back in my endless travel summer. A quick taxi ride later I dropped my bags at the hostel and went to explore the colorful city. Music was around every corner as well as the steamy, delicious aroma of arepas. I stopped back at the hostel and met my dormmates: an eccentric older American and two VERY hungover Irish lads. Convincing them that some soup may help beat the blues, we all set out for some delicious seafood dinner that night. The next day I left for my volunteering gig I had lined up, working reception/kitchen at a hostel in the jungle just outside the Tayrona National Park. Eight hours of bus travel later (relatively small travel times compared to Asia) I arrived at the hostel sure of two things: it was way easier to travel in a country where you can actually speak the language and….I felt ~funky~. Knowing the signs of food poisoning (Thanks Costa Rica! Thank Laos! Thanks South Korea!), I had a lovely, welcoming night of hell.
I ended up only eating white rice for almost a full week but was able to start work. The work was fun and simple, four hours a day either working in the kitchens or at the front desk. The hostel itself was a small hostel situated up a huge hill. Although sometimes arduous to reach the bar at the top, the views were worth it. Once I could enjoy it, the food was amazing. We had a huge hostel-wide family dinner each night and relaxing vibes with hammocks at the bar. The volunteer group was diverse: two Americans, one Pole, one French, one British, one German, and one gal from New Zealand. We helped each other out with our work and spent 24/7 together, not much else to do in an isolated jungle! Days off were spent exploring the national park or at the local beach. We drank coconuts, danced next to phytoplankton in the sea, went monkey-watching, and spent hours swinging in the hammocks.
One of the best parts of the hostel was its remoteness and small size, all the guests that came there became part of our ‘jungle fam’ and we were always sad to see them go, especially ones that stayed a long time. Being there over Christmas and New Year’s we had a lot of long-term guests and also huge parties! Working the bar wasn’t a hardship when paradise was this enjoyable. A memorable day was when I hiked to the top of the mountain with some of my co-volunteers. It was basically a vertical climb and we just fell our way all the way down. The path we took went past a hornet’s nest, an area where you covered your whole body with your clothes and sprinted through to escape detection. When we got to the bottom we realized we had also accidentally walked through a tick nest. I tore several full-grown ticks off my body and then spent the next two hours picking off baby ticks with tweezers. Traumatized, I went to work in the kitchens still shaking from my war experience with the bugs. While recounting my harrowing experience to the local staff, they howled with laughter at my reactions.
Near the end of my stay, we went for salsa night at a local beach hostel. We walked along the beach to get there and the sea was full of phytoplankton. This is a sight that never gets old and it seemed to take my attention a little too much because I ended up tripping on a hidden log on the beach. With a bleeding foot, I went to the bathroom to wash it off and fell hard on my tailbone. You can’t make this stuff up! The foot becomes a six-month saga which will be explained at a later date. I remember that the bartender at the salsa party poured tequila over it and I still managed to dance my heart out even though I regretted it the morning after. Thus was the end of our month in paradise. Although I was literally living in a picturesque scenery it was made so much more wonderful from all of the wonderful people with me, the experiences we had, and the happiness that emanated from the hostel.