“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu
We had an hour or so of down time in between seeing Casa Azul and an afternoon excursion. For our afternoon excursion, we drove to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, which is a mud volcano located in Santa Catalina, Bolívar, in the northern part of the country. The mud volcano is forty-five feet high, so it’s a small hill to walk up upon arriving. However, the volcano is 6,000 deep, but the catch is that the mud is three times more dense than one’s body density, so even though the volcano is so deep, you float in the mud.
Volcán de Lodo El Totumo has been around for between fifty to sixty years. Some individuals were claiming that the mud had healing powers, and since there was so much violence in the area, the government gave the land to locals and had the locals test the mud to see what was in it. Results showed that the mud contains sulfur and various other minerals, and it is said that the mud has helped people with different types of cancer, people with acne, and that it helps soften skin too. And if you’re concerned about the cleanliness of the volcano (as we were), there is constant circulation inside the volcano, so the mud used by a few individuals changes every few minutes with the circulation.
Companies wanted to buy the land and build hotels and restaurants in the area to increase tourism and bring in more money, but the community said no because it’s their land and they take great pride in it. The land in the area is all very natural, and only locals or relatives of locals are allowed to work here.
When we arrived to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we were quite skeptical about what we got ourselves into. We climbed up a small hill with steep steps and a wooden railing on the side that we held onto for dear life. Once we got to the top of the volcano, we looked down and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had to climb down a small, and also steep ladder into the volcano, where we drenched ourselves with mud. From there, a local who works at the volcano took us and moved us to the corner. While in the corner, we were passed off to another individual who works here, and received a mud massage, alongside fifteen other individuals who can fit into this mud bath at the same time. After our five-minute massage, we were passed off to a different corner of the mud bath, where we had ten to fifteen minutes to float and relax, while continuing to cover ourselves with mud.
Once we got out and climbed down the hill, we were told to walk to the lake behind the volcano. When we got to the lake, local women held our hands and walked us into the lake. From there, we were instructed to remove our bathing suit (while under the water), as the local women scrubbed the mud out of our clothing. They also helped get the mud out of our hair and from behind our ears. Once we redressed under the water, and returned to the bus to leave, I noticed just how clean my bathing suit now was, and was extremely impressed with the abilities of these women!
To say that this was quite the experience is an understatement, but it just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Although we were iffy about getting into the mud volcano at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we ended up having a blast, and knowing that we were able to help support a local, hard-working community and participate in something they take much pride in, was great, too. Besides, we came out with a fun story to share with others!
Upon waking up in the morning, we began our day by heading out to La Boquilla, a fisherman village in Cartagena where individuals from class zero and class one live (the two lowest socioeconomic classes in the city). La Boquilla is considered to be a fisherman village because the main activity for locals here is fishing. Fishing is so great in this area because the ocean is connected to the swamp, so local fisherman are able to catch fish from both areas of water. If you were to go to the village at 5:30am, you could purchase caught fish that are still alive, swim in the local water, and go prepare your freshly caught lunch.
There is a lot of construction taking place around La Boquilla, especially the building of hotels, so the locals have worked out a deal with the government. The deal is that hotels building around La Boquilla must employ 20 percent of their staff from the area. In addition, the must either feed these individuals once a month, or educate them in order to help give back to this community.
La Boquilla is known for having the biggest natural reserve in Cartagena. Mangroves here grow up and down, similar to the path of a circle. This is because when the mangrove grows downwards, it creates a new mangrove tree that continuously repeats the process. You can also tell the color of the mangrove by looking at the bottom of the trunk. The colors can be black, red, or white.
Something interesting about La Boquilla is the fact that numerous members of the community come together to raise money for one another and for their neighborhood. This is evident in the fact that some members make the canoes by hand, others row the canoes when tourists come to town, and a select few are in charge of organizing visits from tour groups in Cartagena. These canoe rides, offered on what is called a bote canoa chalupa (or small canoe boat), are a main source of income to the locals in La Boquilla, and they take great pride in the work that they collectively do.