Halfway between Cartagena and Barranquilla on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, El Volcan del Totumo is a 20-meter high “volcano” that is popular for the chance to enjoy an all-over mud bath. Stripping naked to wash it all off in the Cienaga de Totumo lagoon next to it is all part of the fun.
Cartagena – Been There

Take a nice bath – in mud

Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Cartagena – Been There Take a nice bath – in mud

From Cartagena, I take a wobbly motorbike to the Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, where rickety wooden stairs lead to its low peak.

Mina Holland
Mina Holland Food Writer

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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An unfinished allegorical float carrying a mermaid during the construction in the Carnival workroom, Barranquilla, Colombia.

A mermaid waits for finishing touches on an allegorical float in the workshops for Barranquilla’s four-day carnival, recognized by Unesco as one of the world’s best. Barranquilla was founded around 1629 and its historic center was declared a national monument in 1959. The carnival fuses European, African, and Indian cultures, combining Spanish Catholic festivities, native Indian ceremonies and the musical heritage of African slaves into a spectacular event. Photo by Jan Sochor / Alamy

Jan Sochor

Jan Sochor

Agency
Alamy

A mermaid waits for finishing touches on an allegorical float in the workshops for Barranquilla’s four-day carnival, recognized by Unesco as one of the world’s best. Barranquilla was founded around 1629 and its historic center was declared a national monument in 1959. The carnival fuses European, African, and Indian cultures, combining Spanish Catholic festivities, native Indian ceremonies and the musical heritage of African slaves into a spectacular event.

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