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Crashing Cars on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia
Asi es la vida...
Ever since I first hit the road, I’ve had a thing for shitholes — aka small, undeveloped towns in the middle of some developing Latin American country.
But when I say “shithole” here, I say it as a term of endearment.
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I love these type of places, cities, towns. Why? Because small shithole towns are where real adventures can be had.
So when a handful of buddies and I decided to rent a nice penthouse in Medellin, Colombia — I hatched a plan to head off to the middle of nowhere for a true adventure.
An adventure in Monteria, Colombia.
Somehow I managed to convince a few fellow degenerates to join me on the three-day jaunt.
After a few wonderful weeks in Medellin, we hailed an Uber off to the airport and the great unknown. Off to the coast of Colombia.
And unsurprisingly, the trip started off on the right foot…
Our resident ‘subnormal’ Andy decided, for some odd reason, that he didn’t need to bring his passport to the airport in Medellin.
That he didn’t need to bring his passport to a domestic flight in an international country.
Of course, we get to the check-in counter and they’re like, “No, gringo. We’re not letting your pasty ass on the plane without a passport.”
Andy might have his slower moments, but the dude is a damn good time. Scotty, my other buddy who joined us on the trip, and me both wanted the dude to make it.
So after a quick session of telling Andy how autistic he was, we hatched a plan to have another bro who was staying at the penthouse come bring Andy’s passport to the airport.
The issue was the flight was taking off in one hour. It takes 35 minutes to get to the airport from our penthouse. It was gonna be close but Andy might make the flight.
Luckily, the dude made it just in the nick of time. He showed up at the gate and we boarded within five minutes.
Less than 45 minutes later, we had landed and were hailing a taxi to the bustling metropolis known as Monteria, Colombia.
On the Road Again
Here’s the thing…
We didn’t have many a plan when heading to Monteria. Rough ideas of what we wanted to do? Maybe. Set in stone plans? Nah.
And I’ve found that’s the best way to do it. Trying to do too much in one quick trip and you lose the spontaneity of it all. You lose that adventurous aspect of it.
So we strolled into town that first night, found our marginally average, but ideally located hotel, and proceeded to try “ride out” and meet women to the best of our abilities. But ain’t sh*t going on in Monteria, Colombia on a Wednesday evening. Thus, the night was called early — with an idea to wake up early the following day, get some work done, and then explore.
Our only plan was to rent a car on Thursday and ride out to find some ocean on Friday.
Now, before we dig into what really went down here, I gotta tell you a little bit about the coast of Colombia.
First, it’s hot. Hotter than hades. ‘Real’ temperatures, not that bullsh*t Celsius, reaching over 100 degrees on a consistent basis.
It’s humid. You start sweating the moment you step out of the door and into that sweltering costeño sun.
Oh, and costeños speak Spanish in a way that’s damn hard to understand for Colombians not from the coast — much less gringos like us. Even if you’ve been studying Spanish, you’re gonna struggle to understand many a costeños' accent.
Lastly, the culture is just a bit different. It’s rough around the edges. Aggressive at times, yet slow paced at others.
I cannot confirm or deny that last part.
I can only report what people from the other parts of Colombia say about the coast.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed my time on the Colombian coast. Hell, it’s why I had to come check out Monteria while I was in Medellin.
So Thursday afternoon, we set out to start exploring the city a bit. First thing on the agenda, find a rental car to ride out in on Friday. The only spot to do just that appears to be the biggest mall in town.
We get to the local rent-a-car spot and to our befuddlement, the guy working the desk speaks damn good English — in Monteria, Colombia! Turns out the dude, Javier, had lived in the USA for a few years when he was younger and still remembered all the English he learned, even though he never used it in Monteria.
We start chatting a bit and fill out all the forms to rent a car the following morning. Tell ole’ Javier we’ll be there right when he opens up at 8 a.m. the following morning.
But we didn’t show up early the following morning.
Because after touring the malecon of the river in Monteria, called Avenida Primera, we proceeded to get plastered with a group of six girls we’d met and go to the only ladies’ night in the city — conveniently a 30-second walk from our average hotel.
There's always good times to be had in Colombia.
Friday morning rolls around and we're moving slowly, but we manage to drag ourselves out of bed and to the mall to get the car.
Javier greets us with his near-perfect English once again and comments that he didn't think we were coming. We tell him of our adventures partying the night away on a Thursday in Monteria, Colombia.
He laughs — while commenting that it's his birthday this weekend and he's going to do a little partying himself.
We tell him plans need to be made to go out together, if he's up for it. Gringos like a good party every now and then.
Ya tu sabes.
So we exchange contact info, grab the car keys, and hit the wide open roads of coastal Colombia.
What Happens Outside Monteria, Stays Outside Monteria
Little did we know that being on the roads of coastal Colombia was a mix of Mario Kart mixed with Grand Theft Auto.
Except with real human lives at stake…
Driving in the “city” of Monteria was more than fine, but once you get outside the city things get a little different. And by different, I mean white-knuckling the living daylights out of the wheel type of driving.
There's potholes everywhere. Big ones. A full lane wide and deep enough to tweak any suspension.
Laws are nothing but mere afterthoughts for the majority of drivers. Speed limits on the coast? Those aren't even suggestions.
Driving 2-4X the speed limit was common.
There's hundreds of motorcycles around every turn. Like 20 motos for every car on the road. A maze of moving motorcycles.
Oh, and passing is done 4-5 cars/bikes at a time. Ain't no such thing as taking turns here.
But after an hour and a half of attempting not to run over and murder human beings on motorbikes with little regard for their own lives, we finally make it to the beach.
San Bernardo del Viento, Colombia.
We'd gotten a brochure about this place from a tour guide in the city while strolling around. It looked beautiful. Clear Caribbean water mixed with mangroves — ideal for fishing.
The reality was a little bit less appealing.
We strolled up to a locked gate about 100 meters from the beach. Middle of nowhere. Butt f*ck Egypt. Err, Colombia. Not a soul in sight.
I crawl through a couple fences hoping not to stroll onto FARC land and find a bullet in the back of my skull — only to find a little old lady chilling with her dog on a long-lost resort.
“Hola, senora. Como vas? Estas abierto?”
She shoots me a look. An easily distinguishable look of, “Who the fook' are you and why are you here, gringo?”
We chat a bit and she starts to warm up. She claims the “resort” she's working at now is private property and closed, but next door is a place for rent.
She says we can park the car and have a hammock and a place to shower for $50 mil pesos. About $14 bucks. That works.
I walk back to the car, we get parked, pay the nice old lady, and head down to the beach.
But the beach isn't exactly like the photos:
The sand isn't white, the water isn't clear, and the waves aren't surf-able. All things we were told we'd find in the luxurious “resort” town of San Bernardo del Viento, Colombia.
We take a dip and unwind for a bit. The white-knuckle driving had me needing some time away from the car and even though this certainly wasn't what we'd expected from our Caribbean escape, it would have to suffice for now.
After a half hour of frolicking in the sea, we decide to try and find a better slice of paradise. I see a youngin' strolling along the beach and ask him which way the best beach in the area is. He points in one direction and we take his word for it.
Off that away it is. Back in the car. More white-knuckling.
A couple minutes later we find a paved road that looks to go towards the ocean. It looks promising. We take it.
A few minutes later and we come across a small port. A few shitty boats. Some random dude in a motorbike chasing us and talking something something about, “Tourismo!”
I roll down the window.
He yells, “Isla Fuerte?”
I reply, “Isla que?”
Uhhh, yeah. Sounds interesting. Anything sounds better than the brown beach and waters we were just at…
“Es cerca? Es linda? Cuantos minutos en una lancha? Cuanto cuesta por persona?”
I throw some questions at him.
He's got all the answers:
It's a 20 minutes in a boat, beautiful Caribbean waters, and $14 bucks per person to get there and back.
“Ummm, vamos! Donde podemos estacionar?”
Dude motions to follow him and we drive a 30-seconds to some barn in some back alley of town. He gets off his bike and unlocks the door to his shanty barn, parking garage combo.
That's not gonna work. Thoughts of our rental being gone before we ever got back raced through my mind. Of a back-alley Colombian “chop-shop” dismembering my rental and leaving us stranded.
How many gringos has he gotten with the parking scam?!
I yelled out, “NO!” while waging my finger.
A minute later we found an “official” parking in a lot in front of the little boat + port area. Much better. They even had a sign on the door offering their parking spaces and the prices were published — a rarity in Latin America tourist spots.
Ole' dude is in my ear for the next few minutes as we make our way to the boat. I know he's a hustler. I've seen his type before.
Today is an adventure. We hop on the boat and off we go.
Isla Fuerte, Colombia
Just 20 minutes later and it's like we're on a whole different planet. Crystal clear blue waters and white sand greet us as we hop off the boat at Isla Fuerte, Colombia.
Former drug trafficking island turned tourism hot spot. Err, maybe not a hot spot. More like just a spot.
But a true Caribbean paradise…
Upon arrival, another hustler takes to us and offers some food. Having not had a lick of food outside a couple shitty mall empanadas, we don't even look for other options.
$7 bucks for a big plate of fresh fish, coconut rice, salad, and tostones.
We eat some food and unwind for a minute. All while enjoying the stunning sight of Caribbean waters before us. The day was starting to look up.
With our bellies full, we take a quick walk on the island and find our boat driver to take us on a tour and check if the surf spot is hitting today.
Marveling at how stunning the island actually is while cruising around on the boat, I'm quickly struck by how awesome the spot could be.
For a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean, the place has everything you'd need. Fresh seafood, perfect water, and a whole hell of a lot to do.
Well, if you like the ocean and being in it.
Isla Fuerte offers:
Enough to find the needy.
And the best part?
Isa Fuerte isn't too touristy just yet. It's chill. Undiscovered. Laid back. Caribbean. Not filled with gringos in every crack and crevice. In one word…
The surf spot wasn't hitting, so we ask the driver to take us to a hostel we saw along the way that looks like it had a bar overlooking the ocean.
La Playita Hostel.
We stroll up to the spot after getting off the boat and take in the vibes. It's chill. There's a bar, a volleyball court, some rooms, and maybe even some WiFi. I didn't check, but the guy at the bar was scrolling Instagram — so one can assume.
We order a few drinks, grab some snorkeling gear, and head out into the ocean. A few hours of swimming around, snorkeling, and shooting the sh*t. Before we decide it's time to make our way back to Monteria for the evening.
Then we swim in, pay our bill, have a quick chat with the owner of the hostel, hop back on the boat to cross the Caribbean and get back to mainland Colombia.
I won't lie though.
I want to go back to that little hostel in Isla Fuerte. The place is pure paradise. One of the absolute best places I've ever come across to unwind for a weekend or a week.
This is a hidden gem if there ever was one:
Crashing Cars on the Coast of Colombia
Back on the mainland and we're famished once again.
Two hours swimming in the ocean as the sun beats down will do that to you. We roll to the corner store and grab some ice cream and an energy drink.
Back in the car. Ice cream being consumed. About to exit the parking “garage” and Scotty pipes up:
“We should finish this ice cream before getting back on the road with all those motos.”
I wasn't interested in waiting a few more minutes to hit the road, as driving in small town Colombia at dark wasn't something I fancied.
We back out and proceed to exit the little parking garage.
The opening is tight, as this thing is made more for motos than for 4X4 SUVs – but there's about 3-4 inches on each side for us to get out.
I'm eyeing the left side, while ole' hustler buddy is making hand signs and telling me to keep coming on the right. It's looking tight as hell, but he keeps telling me to keep going.
Then it happens…
The right side of the car rips into the wall of the parking area.
Well, f*ck. I thought I could keep going there, buddy. Those hand signs didn't exactly do the trick.
We get out and assess the damage.
A decent chunk of the right side panel of our SUV is damaged. Damaged because I ran into a wall. Not a car. Not a moto with a human on it.
The whole town comes out to see what the stupid gringo just did. At least a dozen people are pointing at the wall and the damage with perplexed looks on their faces.
For shame, Jake. For shame.
We purchased “protection total” from our buddy Javier at the rent-a-car place.
The drive back to the rental car place was fairly uneventful. I white-knuckled it the whole way back, attempting not to crash again, or kill anyone on a motorbike.
Even though it was getting dark, I managed to get us to the rent-a-car place at the mall without further incident.
We came up with what one could only call a “white lie” to tell Javier.
The dude was cool.
Crashing into a wall wasn't.
Plus, we didn't know if “protection total” would account for stupid gringos driving into parking garage walls.
So we dropped off the keys anxd told Javier about the crash with a little “white-lie” sprinkled in. He handled some paperwork, made a 20-minute phone call, and told us we were all good.
Even made me feel a little less stupid by dropping some statistic that around half of the foreigners renting cars on the coast of Colombia end of having some type of accident.
Which I believed, because the roads were more like war-zones than what you'd expect driving around back home.
We shake hands and confirm plans to go out later in the evening — in just a few short hours.
Fast-forward that few short hours…
Andy and Scotty are having the first beer of the night with Javier.
I'm nursing a sunburn when I get a text from Scotty:
Puede ser, Javier. Puede ser.