From Cartagena, I take a wobbly motorbike to the Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, where rickety wooden stairs lead to its low peak.
I look down into a mud volcano full of bathing backpackers, a living cauldron of black sludge made of rotting vegetation forced upwards by volcanic heat. I plunge in, wallowing happily like a pig in mud, and basking in the sun as it dries and cracks on my face. Then it’s time to walk down the mud-slippery steps again to the lake next to the volcano to rinse off. A smiling helper whips off my swimsuit along with the mud and my British reserve. I am one hot mess but all I can do is laugh as I am pulled out of the water. Colombia has caught me in its net.
I know, however, that when I return home these will not be the sort of stories of Colombia my friends will expect. The wonders of its cities and landscapes merge with the strange stories its inhabitants love to tell, driven by their mixed heritage of slaves and pirates, conquistadors and native people. Reality can be hard to separate from myth in Colombia and, indeed, many outsiders seem to believe the myth before the reality.
As the late Gabriel García Márquez said in his Nobel acceptance speech: “We have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friend, is the crux of our solitude.”
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