Volcan Del Totumo boasts medicinal uses
Caked in mud, I feel like a swamp monster. Here I am, just 40 minutes outside Cartagena at Volcan Del Totumo, slopping around in gooey grey clay.
At first, Colombia’s famous mud volcano is not what one would expect. Driving up to the site, the thing looked more like a giant termite hill than it did a popular tourist attraction. Tourists scrambled up and down a rickety ladder, like little ants working hard to feed their queen. I followed their lead. Once at the top, the mud pit was the size of a 12-person Jacuzzi. Not the big bad volcano I’d imaged, but it sure did look inviting.
Slithering around in mud as thick as chocolate pudding, I feel buoyant. The experience reminds me of swimming in the Dead Sea — that feeling of weightlessness, bobbing helplessly in the water like a wine cork.
I spread out in the mud like a starfish. A male masseuse, who offers massages for the equivalent of $5, grabs one of my legs. He gives me a cursory rub down, as if he’s seasoning a pork roast.
The mud’s medicinal properties are detoxifying, keeping the skin soft and the body free from arthritis. Best part is, it’s 100 per cent natural and much cheaper than a high-end spa. As granules of rock exfoliate my skin, I focus on the meditative blub blub sound of the mud and zone out to the chit chatter of Latin American tourists.
After a half an hour of stewing, I feel fried. Between the blazing sun and the drying effects of the warm mud, I feel completely dehydrated. Woozy, I scramble out of the pit and make my way carefully down the death-trap staircase to the lagoon for a quick rinse.
Dripping dirt, I’m approached by a team of women armed with buckets and washcloths. For a few thousand pesos, they will help visitors clean those hard to reach places. I follow one woman into stagnant water for my cleansing ritual; a baptism with a bucket of brown liquid. Swallowing this water would likely mean a week of toilet time (battling dysentery is not on my list of things to do while in Colombia) so I close my mouth tightly.
She dumps another bucket on my head and starts undoing my bikini. I protest. With cameras rolling, this is a side of Julia television viewers don’t need to see. “Oh no no senora,” I plead. “Si senorita,” says the expert washer as she rips at my clothes. It’s a bit of a bikini battle but, in the end, I maintain my swimsuit’s sovereignty.
Though my skin looks fabulous, my brand new bikini doesn’t. Colours muted by grey volcanic goo, the bright pink and orange stripes now look dull and old. In hindsight, I should have just embraced nudity and let her do her thing. Skin so fresh, bikini not so clean, I say goodbye to Volcan Del Totumo, hop on the bus and head back to beautiful Cartagena.
Watch Julia’s adventures in Colombia tonight on Word Travels, airing every Wednesday on OLN at 10 p.m.