I am getting a bit ahead of myself as I haven’t introduced you to Cartagena yet, but I have built up this topic and I can’t have you waiting around forever for it.
Outside of Cartagena is a volcano that is visited only by tourists. Locals may work there, but they never go in, unless it is to go in with the tourists. It is a MUD volcano and these are naturally occurring formations that dot the coast of Colombia. Cartagena is host to this volcano and busloads of tourists are loaded up several times a day to risk life and limb on the rickety stairs and to be dunked in the volcanic ash mud. It is sold as healthy and rejuvenating to the skin, but, honestly, what it is is gross and better experienced than thought about.
Our trip began at 2 in the afternoon with an hour long bus ride to the volcano site. The bus stopped at every youth hostel and Lonely Planet hotel in Cartagena until it was full up and we were headed out of town. German, French, Canadian and American tourists filled the bus and the air of excitement was palpable. A volcano? Of MUD? How exotic! How Exciting! And then we arrive…
That is the volcano of mud behind Keegan. We have been instructed to take off all jewelry and hand over the camera to the locals working this venue. We do with trepidation as we know that our valuables could walk away at any moment, but we needn’t have worried. These folks get paid (by us) for holding these things and taking the pictures. The remainder of the pictures posted here were taken by our personal photographer at the volcano of mud.
This is the last picture of Michael pre-mud bath. Here he is assuring the attendant that he doesn’t need help and is not so keen on the massage that has been offered.
Michael has been dunked and prepared for his close-up. Then he will be shoved over to the massage section. The mud/ash is very dense and you float on the surface. It is thick and smells like ash. (yes, that was ash. With an “h”)
These guys hang out in the mud all day and “massage” it into the tourists. It is more like being frosted than massaged and they are careful avoid sensitive areas, but I couldn’t help but think that they hang out in there all day rubbing mud into group after group of muddy tourists. Since you float on the mud, you are just kind of pushed towards the next massage guy and then pushed out of the way to float for the remainder of your time in the mud. This affords you plenty of time to think about what you have gotten yourself into.
Now it’s my turn and Michael is helping out with the massage. That look was frozen on my face in all pictures from this event. I am caught between hilarity, incredulity and revulsion. I later moved to surrender. Never quite acceptance, but surrender, nonetheless.
Keegan, on the other hand, LOVED it! If he could have ducked under, he would have. From this picture, it looks like he may have. He swam, floated, crawled and didn’t want to get out. He was the last one of our group to leave the mud and only left because the locals working the volcano insisted upon it.
This is our family portrait from the mud…
You can see how pleased Keegan is with the whole thing and Michael and I have on our game faces. You can also see the “massage” happening in the background and the size and scope of the group soak in the mud. I forgot to mention that the mud is not warm, rather it is ambient temperature and it is very dense, fully supporting your body weight although it is purported to be 200 feet deep.
The end of this event is not photographed, but ends the day perfectly. After climbing down the rickety steps covered in slippery slimy mud you are escorted into the water by a local washer woman. She then proceeds to wash the mud from your body in the nearby lake. She pulls off your suit whether you want her to or not and rinses it out in the water while you try to clean up the parts that were, until that time, covered. The lake bottom is deep in volcanic mud and your toes ooze through the mud as a final reminder of your time in the volcano. There is already another group in the volcano as they entered immediately after we vacated.
We then return to the area of the bus where a table of freshly cut watermelon awaits us. The massage guys, camera guys, washer women and other helpers come up and ask for their fee. 300 colons (about $1) are requested for each service rendered. They know exactly who they helped and approach you fully knowing that you will pay them. We were briefed in the bus about the services and the fees and were told that we could refuse, though the locals didn’t seem to know this and did not understand the English word “no”, although it is exactly the same as the Spanish word, “no”.
When asked if they ever got in the volcano for a soak they laughed and said no. It seems it is only the gringoes, and the crazy ones at that, who are fool enough to pay money to travel to a mountain of mud, climb up and into the mountain of mud, soak in the mud and then wash the mud off in the lake before traveling back to the cleanliness and comfort of their hotels.
Life lesson: Do your research and think these things through. If it sounds kind of gross when you hear about it, it’s probably really gross when you step (sink) into it.