It’s dark, I’m exhausted, I have a ticket for a bus leaving from a city whose name I have forgotten, and I’ve just lost my travelling companion. Welcome to Columbia!
It had all started so well. We’d entered the country via Tulcan Ipiales on the border with Ecuador and took a jam packed rickety old bus north to Cali armed with boundless energy and high spirits following three weeks of sublime surfing in Estero de Platano.
About an hour into Columbia things started to go wrong. First I tried in vain to reach the bottle of water in my backpack. Big mistake. No sooner had I shifted an inch than I felt a sharp digging pain in my ribs otherwise known as bus crush. To say we were packed like sardines doesn’t do that bus justice. This discomfort would last for several hours.
Next the bus began spluttering. It would move backwards, forwards, jerk, jerk, bounce, bounce, as I peered nervously out into the FARC controlled jungle hoping that the old girl would pull through. Call me unadventurous, but I’ve never been one for being detained by Narco Marxist Guerrillas in the jungle.
Finally, when we pulled into our destination bleary eyed and aching, I made a beeline for the toilets. When I emerged from the washroom, which was a cesspit to end all cesspits, I looked around. Where in the bejesus was Craig?
He’d been there only moments earlier. I’d left him with our bags and a couple of fellow travellers from the bus. They’d seemed nice enough. Surely the Swedish girls hadn’t kidnapped my mate. I’d heard warnings about this kind of women, but I thought they usually came armed with seductive Latin tans, short red dresses, and spiked drinks, not cargo shorts, Scandinavian accents, and baseball caps.
I was relieved to hear my name being called from across the road where Craig was beckoning me to a waiting car. The Swedish girls had made arrangements to stay in a local hotel for the night and asked if we wanted to share a cab and try our luck at the hotel. Why they didn’t tell me this before I went to the toilet, and save me a heart attack, I don’t know. But we would soon be en route to a surf spot we’d heard good things about, so things were looking up.
En route to El Valle
One of my favourite expressions in life is that everything is relative. It is a comfort when things are going wrong and a great leveler when things are going good. So it was with the journey to El Valle.
After spending the night in Cali (in rooms separate from the girls) Craig and I took a coach north to Medellin. Previously home to the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, the city has an unwarranted reputation for danger. Whilst we took precautions, we didn’t feel overtly threatened or out of place in the many bars we visited.
That said, we did attract the attention of a couple of particularly beautiful girls in a club called Mangos. It is said that there is more silicone running around Columbia than nearly any other place on Earth, but whether or not that applied to the lovely Diana and Mari I will never know.
In a less than chivalrous moment towards the end of a great night, a drunken Craig asked Mari if there were any ‘conditions’ attached to what we expected to come next. Non-plussed, Mari asked Craig to elaborate. In doing so, Craig ruined our chances to stay in what I imagine would have been the two most comfortable beds in all of Columbia, with the company of two beautiful ladies. No, they were not prostitutes!
Nice going Craig.
Flying to the coast
After the hard road travel of the preceding three days it was nice to take a plane the next morning to Bahia Solano on the Pacific Coast despite having the whisky blues and a nagging annoyance with my companion.
With its sleepy demeanour and the sounds of Vallanato music drifting in the humid fug, the town was quite a contrast to the bustling streets of Cali and Medellin. This peaceful backdrop was juxtaposed, however, by a large garrison of troops stationed there to protect the locals from the FARC. They were reassuring and menacing in equal parts.
Our main goal was to surf in El Valle. We were not particularly bothered about exploring because we would be back in a few days, so we spent the night forgetting about the previous night’s indiscretions over some cold beers and laughs in the local beach bar.
Finally in El Valle
After a backside bruising minibus ride, arriving in El Valle the next morning was like entering the Garden of Eden. The colorful Jungle foliage, the volcanic structures, and black sand beach all made the previous few days of travel totally worth it.
So eager was I to get in the water that I discarded my t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and bag at Craig’s feet, much to his consternation, and ran headlong into the blue of the Pacific like a man in remission from drug therapy. Passing locals no doubt muttered, “El Gringo es loco” as I flailed my arms in my crazed race to the sea, but I didn’t care. I was home.
Time to get surfing!
We walked along the sea front and looked at the beautiful El Almejal Eco Lodge before settling on the less glamorous, but budget friendly, Hotel Valle ($4 a night). It was clean enough and all we needed was a place to crash at the end of each day, so it suited us fine.
The clerk told us that if we wanted to surf we should walk down the beach until we found a shack with surfboards outside. We did so and met a bunch of guys from Cali who shaped boards and hired them out to the few travellers who ventured there. They told us about all the local breaks, the conditions, and the best times to head out. I was really starting to fall in love with the place—and that was before we even went surfing!
Surf conditions set to stoked
The break was everything we’d been waiting for. It broke and barreled both left and right for a good distance (100m or so) and was fast and powerful. We were both in our element and loving the lack of lineup as we rode wave after wave all the way into the shore with its palm trees and lush greenery. Come dusk I literally had to be pulled out of the water. “Don’t worry.” I consoled myself. “You’ll be back tomorrow.”
The next morning we woke up early paddled out in to an even bigger swell and hit the surf hard. The low barrels were long enough for a decent ride and the short boards we’d hired were ideal for the conditions. We were in our element as we paddled out time and again and the waves continued to grow into more and more impressive sets.
I shanked a few, but these were better than we’d expected. The previous afternoon we’d had to pump the boards towards the end, but not today. My internal choir was singing “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hal-leigh-lu-jah,” as I sat back looking over this idyll.
Once again I was sorry to leave the water, but early nightfall forced us in. We ate a dinner of fresh fish and hot chilli sauce at the hotel and relaxed, looking out over the distant ocean. We had finally surfed El Valle. We would end up staying a week before heading north to the Arrecifes in Tayrona National Park, but for now we were truly in paradise except for one small problemà: the town was dry. Beer delivery had been delayed.
As I said everything is relative, even in paradise.
About The Author, Josh Aggars
Josh writes about beach life, surfing, travel and more. His passion for surfing takes him to amazing places around the World and comes through in his regular articles as he explores all aspects of the sport. He sells flip flops to help fund his travels and supplements that with his surf writing blog.