El Totumo looks like a man made tourist trap — “come climb the world’s biggest anthill and take a mud bath at the top!”
But it is in fact, a completely natural, very real volcano and its super freaking cool.
Despite its popularity among visitors to Cartagena, I was hesitant to visit El Totumo. Couldn’t I just go roll around in the street and get just as dirty for free? But at a very affordable $40,000 COP, the mud volcano finally made its way into my itinerary.
To my surprise, the mud volcano is a wonderfully bizarre experience — a blend of fascinating nature meets awkward encounters.
I happen to be an expert and reveler in the field of awkward encounters, but in the event that social discomfort is not your forte, you might benefit from a breakdown of how the excursion will play out…
El Totumo lies about an hour outside of Cartagena. Grab the window seat of your shuttle bus and watch the walled city fade as a “Wild West meets Caribbean” vibe takes over the roads and cacti pop up across sand dunes.
When you arrive at the El Totumo, you’ll be instructed to strip down to your bathing suit and leave everything in a group locker. A “photographer” will take your camera — chill and trust him. He’ll be holding on to a dozen or so and will somehow manage to take pictures of everyone and return the equipment, safe and sound.
After everyone strips, you’ll climb the stairs to the opening of the volcano, and very… VERY carefully climb down a ladder into the mud. (I was kind of hoping to see someone slip and splash into the pool but wasn’t so lucky.)
The mud is the consistency of brownie batter — thick, lumpy, and silky, all at once. Don’t eat it though, it tastes terrible. You’ll experience a surprising buoyancy as you slide through the surface, completely incapable of sinking lower than your shoulders. Lift your knees up to your chest and you might find your arms flailing and your body tipping backwards like a capsizing bath boat.
A man will then grab your bouncing torso and move your body like he’s parking a jet ski. Then he will start rubbing his hands down your limbs — quickly and without any pressure. This can’t possibly be the optional massage they told you would cost $5,000 COP — but oh yes, it is. The most awkward, pointless “massage” you’ll ever pay for — but you will pay.
Then you’ll be instructed to flip over and float on your stomach, your face popping in and out of mud as you try not to swallow any and he continues the rub down.
Eventually you’ll be allowed to bob away from your masseuse and delight in your attempts to sink deeper as your toes reach for a floor that doesn’t exist. Get your face in there, splash around — its feels so weird and nice.
Your turn will end and you’ll climb out. A boy at the top of the stairs will squeegee off the excess with his hands. That means, yet again — hand all over you without warning. After this startling encounter, head down the volcano to the lake below.
Here you will find a group of women, waiting to pluck the tie off your bikini like well-practiced man whores. You can try to run away from them, but they’re pretty fast and you’re weighed down by a thick layer of heavy mud. Give in. Squat down low in the water to cover your unmentionables, and let them scrub the mud out of your swimsuit.
When they’re done scrubbing your suit, they’ll scrub you. After a little bit of second base and a finger or two in the ear, you’ll be clean and re-clothed.
Time to exit the lake and go find your stuff. Don’t worry — its still there.
Now all of the hands that touched you over the course of the last hour will magically reappear while you have one foot in your shorts, demanding payment for the massage, pictures, and bath.
Accept the fact that these people now know more about your “sillouhette” than the TSA agents behind the full body scanner. Pay them and leave. Get yourself a beer and marvel at the fact that the man with a dozen cameras actually took some good shots, and conveniently missed the many moments of groping.
Recommend the experience to a friend, but don’t tell them any of this. Its more fun that way.
(My apologies for ruining all the mystery for you…)
What’s the most awkward experience you’ve run into on your travels? Let’s get weird, I wanna hear them all!