Fancy Bathing Inside A Volcano? Go To Colombia!
If somebody offered you the chance to bathe in the crater of a volcano, would you take it?
Considering volcano craters are usually bubbling with searing hot lava, I imagine not, but I’ve been standing in line to do exactly that for the past twenty minutes.
The queue ahead of me is made up of tourists to Colombia. We line an ascending wooden staircase with wobbly handrails, and the crowd chatters animatedly while waiting to experience one of the country’s most novel activities.
As the peak of the ‘El Totumo Volcano’ moves closer, those at the front of the line disappear one-by-one, dropping into the hole at its core. I chat with a group of backpackers I met on the bus journey out from Cartagena. All of us hop from foot to foot as the sun-exposed steps scald our bare feet.
As my turn approaches, I make it onto the small, square platform at the volcano peak, and I’m rewarded with gorgeous panoramic views of the surrounding Santa Catalina countryside. From my new position I can see directly into the volcano crater – it’s a bizarre sight!
Swimwear-clad bodies wade in the small pit, which is filled with dark, slick, gurgling… mud. That’s right, at the heart of this unique volcano is a natural, and supposedly healing, mud bath.
I take the hand of an attendant as I lower myself onto the entry ladder, my feet slipping slightly on mud residue. Giggles and the odd squeal come from the tourists already inside the spa, and as I submerge my body into the surprisingly cold basin, I understand why.
The sensation is completely surreal. The mud feels dense but also buoyant, and it takes a lot of self-control to resist the instinct to swim when I find I can’t touch the floor. I make an awkward attempt to move closer to scaffolding that holds up the edges of the makeshift spa. As I navigate sideways though, the force of the mud tips me off balance and I find myself floating on my back, staring up at the curious faces of those next in line.
“Need a hand?” a girl next to me offers. She pushes my legs downwards before I can respond, tipping my body upright. My own giggles join the hum of the dozen or so other bathers, erupting loudly each time a new person plunges into the mass and upsets the balance for everybody. We have to work as a team to remain upright, conscious that every movement we make could affect the person next to us. Who knew a mud bath could be so unifying.
Eventually, I make my way to the exit ladder, bouncing from person to person like a pinball. It takes all my upper body strength to haul myself upwards, raining mud onto those below.
There’s an awkward ceremony before I can tackle the staircase leading down from the volcano summit, in which an attendant uses his bare hands to wipe me down. He squeezes from my thighs down to my ankles as though he were icing a mud cake. Despite the man’s help, it’s going to take a lot more to remove the mud from… well, everywhere.
Directed by a couple of local vendors, I follow a footpath from the volcano to a nearby lake to wash off properly. As I dunk my head into the fresh water and scrub at my hair, a huge splash of liquid flies into my face.
The culprit, a smiling Colombian lady, stands in front of me, an empty bucket in her hands. She’s come to help. Before I can politely object, her hands are in my hair, pulling aside my bikini top, and circling inside my earholes. Realising she’s intent on doing a very thorough job, I resign myself to sitting in the shallow pool and marvelling at another day of momentous travel in Colombia. It’s one that will top the ‘most memorable’ list, that’s for sure!
What’s the weirdest activity you’ve ever done whilst travelling? Have you been to the El Totumo Volcano too? Let me know about it in the comments below! If you enjoyed this story consider signing up to receive more as they go live 😊