These are my thoughts as I stood on the wooden steps of the 15 metre El Totumo mud volcano in Colombia. Every year, thousands of willing tourists queue up on rickety stairs to slide into this “natural wonder. As I watch the group in front of me slipping around in brown viscose liquid, I ponder my life so far that had led me to this point. Why had I exclaimed gleefully (and slightly swayed by champagne) on my fortieth birthday that I was going to live life to the full and try things I had never tried before? Why had I not limited this to trying a new curry at the local restaurant in North London or putting ice in my cider? Even a tandem parachute jump has its merits. Instead, here I am, standing in my oldest bikini (the recommendation is to wear something you will never need to wear again) at the northernmost tip of Colombia, wondering what excuse I can give to get me out of this situation and back on the white sand beaches of Cartagena with a pina colada in hand.
But time shows no sympathy and I am soon at the edge of the mud crater, looking into a sludgy hell. I politely let all those behind me pass but, eventually, there is no alternative. Calling on my innermost resources, I step into the crater. My dignity immediately bubbles away through the quagmire as I slip on top of a complete stranger, trying to find my horizontal equilibrium. How can I describe it? Like swimming through custard? Like wrestling in gooey gloop? From above, we must look like a human broth, ready to be served to a famished volcano god.
I must admit, I am not instantly enchanted. I certainly regret paying the on –site photographer to take photographs of me looking like some zombie tourist, coated in grey slime. There comes a time however when you give yourself over to an experience and let the rules of your previous life disappear. Before long I am giggling and mud-diving with all the others, delighting in the novelty and absurdity of the experience. When I finally slither out (and I DO slither) I am not even faintly perturbed by the experience of paying three dollars to have local women wrestling off my bikini and scrubbing me down in a nearby lagoon . Old fashioned British reservations melt into the Colombian heat and I embrace the moment.
So would I recommend bathing in the El Totumo mud volcano in the second happiest nation in the world? Let’s just say, I am glad I took part and was not “a stick in the mud”.
About the Author: Fran Conley. I am a teacher and traveller, sometimes at the same time! I live in North London, U.K and have a husband, two wonderful children and numerous animals.
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