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May 19, 2014 / Andee Frizzell

Volcano El Totumo

mudThe El Totumo Volcano is a mud volcano located 50 kms (32 miles) from Cartagena. The volcano sits on the shore of the Cienaga de Totumo (a swamp) and stands 15 meters high (50 feet). The volcano’s depth is calculated to be 2.300 meters deep.  The volcano wasn’t what I had expected, thanks to the Knowledge Networks series on volcanoes; I thought I had a pretty accurate picture of what a volcano looks like. I didn’t.

This volcano looked more like something Demi Moore had on the potter’s wheel in the icon scene from Ghost, only a great deal bigger. Two rickety ladders were attached to the sides of the mud cone to enable tourists to climb to the mouth of the volcano.

I had arrived with a tour bus consisting of 9 native Spanish speakers, Vanessa our enthusiastic tour guide and a driver, who seemed to have a sixth sense for the dimensions in which our huge bus could be maneuvered through traffic at break neck speed.

Vanessa would speak Spanish for about fifteen minutes then turn to me smiling, translating only; “So be careful.”  I missed the translation of the cautions to ‘be aware of’ but taking one look at the condition of the ladders, the only means of assent, by reasonable deduction, I assume, she was referencing those.

Clad only in a bikini, clutching the handrail for a false sense of security, I made the perilous journey skyward. The view from the top was spectacular. The lime green swamp cut through the desert like tundra, resembling a shiny emerald snake.

As I gazed over the mouth of the volcano, I saw about 10 people floating on their backs marinating in what appeared to be chocolate milk. Everyone was blissfully enjoying mud massages (legs, back and neck) administrated by the mud masseuses that floated alongside them.

The climb down into the volcano was much more treacherous then it at first appeared. The walls of the mud volcano were held in place with what can only be described as ‘tooth pick sized’ planks and the steps were caked in slippery mud. This did not instill in me a sense of safety and not for the first time since arriving in Colombia did I mentally picture a headline stating, ‘Canadian Killed.’

Succumbing to curiosity though, I leapt from the ladder, feet first and jumped in. The sensation or sensations were instantly contradictory to what my mind was associating them to.

The mud was warm, like bath water, and was thin in consistency yet silky like milk, if milk had sprigs of grass in it. But I was held afloat. I stood perfectly still, holding onto nothing, standing on nothing and felt the weightlessness my body had taken on. It was amazing.

After laying back and getting a pat down massage (described as a pat down massage because it was exactly how I’d imagine a police pat down to feel like) rough pressure placed on targeted areas, with little to no enthusiasm for the action, I was set free to explore.

I stood motionless, letting this new and strange sensation filter into my memory when I noticed people around the edges, holding tightly to the support tooth picks, as if clutching these twigs prevented them from sinking to the bottom. Some beliefs are so strong, that even faced with evidence to the contrary; many people reinforced their belief with unconscious action.

I immersed myself, hoping to extract the medicinal promises the mud claimed to contain; minerals for detoxifying the body (too many cervezas) and more youthful looking skin and after an hour, I headed down to the creek (lagoon) to de-mud.

After a short walk down to the shoreline, I was ushered into the water by very an enthusiastic elderly lady from the village. Armed with a yellow plastic bowl, she pushed me down into a squat position and proceeded to toss pails of water, vigorously, over my head and thrusting her fingers into my ears. Somehow she managed to remove my swimsuit without my help and began rinsing it out, while I sat in the water, buck-naked, shielded only by the waters lime green colour.

To the humour of everyone but me, at that exact moment, a cow emerged into the water from a nearby bush. Two thoughts ran simultaneously through my mind.

The first, if that cow shits, swimsuit or not, I’m getting the hell out of this water and the second, that’s the skinniest cow I have ever seen.

I’m not sure what we feed cows back in Canada, but I’m thinking random tests for performance enhancing drugs might be in order if this is how a cow looks naturally. The cow, perhaps, feeling stage fright from my stare, decided not to relieve itself and headed back into the bushes.

My bathing suit was returned to me and I headed back up the hill to the bar for a cerveza.

A celebratory beverage for once again, not becoming a tourist death statistic.



Leave a Comment
  1. slamaina / May 19 2014 10:45 pm

    We need photos!!!

  2. arcticgoddess / May 20 2014 11:33 pm

    And? So? Does your skin feel any different? Do you now feel like a native Columbian? Have you met any drug lords? 😉

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