Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from travel blogger Dani Blanchette.
Have you ever immersed your body in a vat of thick, chocolate pudding? Have you ever been crammed into a closet with a gaggle of almost naked strangers? Have you ever voluntarily let random foreigners rub your nether-regions in front of a tour group?
Well, welcome to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo, where all this can happen … and more.
Volcán de Lodo El Totumo is Cartagena, Colombia’s famous mud volcano. Upon arriving we pulled up to what looks like an overgrown anthill with a rickety, home-made wooden staircase up one side. Unless you have a car, the only real way to reach this volcano is by tour (usually from Cartagena), so all at once, you and a few dozen of your not-so-close friends all strip down to their skivvies and climb the 15 meters up to the mouth of the volcano.
As you come over the top lip, you suddenly look down into what appears to be a hideous form of group torture: a pit filled with helpless bodies grabbing and clawing each other to stay afloat in this virtually bottomless mud pit.
As you wait in line, you are thinking to yourself, “Why am I doing this? Can I still back out?,” but, realizing you just PAID for such humiliation, you succumb to the fact that you are cheap and will stick out and get your full money’s worth. Even though, at this point, you could easily just watch, you know you wont. You are also acutely aware that you will also be paying the 3 mil (about $1.75) each to get your photo taken, to get massaged by strange burly men, and to get ‘washed’ by random women, which happens somewhere around here.
As you make your way around the top ledge of the volcano, which “safely” keeps you from falling off the outside by a flimsy rail made by haphazardly nailed together two-by-fours, and doesn’t have anything holding you back from cannon-balling onto fellow mud submerged victims below, you keep thinking that this is possibly the strangest situation you have ever put yourself into, yet you can’t wait to feel the thick mud squishing between your toes, while realizing that you are about to get mud in various nether regions that you usually take pride in their cleanliness
And now you are there.
You loom over the edge of another shabby-looking, handmade, wooden ladder plunging about six feet down into this pit of body parts, and take a deep breath. You hand your camera to a random local boy, who is adorned with a variety of other’s cameras and say either of two words: “photo” or “video.” The only redeeming thing is that this strange person seems to know how to use every style camera; from $20 disposable to $5000 DSLR, known to man. You wonder if you will ever see your precious piece of gear again (because you know each camera is worth way more than the 3 mil ($1.75) this kid will make, as you say “Photo, por favor,” and take that first apprehensive step down the ladder.
One, two three, four, and you overreach the last step, just to hurry up and get that first feeling of the sticky, oozy warm mud on your toes.
It is weird.
There is no other word that describes this better. Weird is actually an understatement. You take another step onto an unseen rung below the mud, then search for the next step – which is distinctly missing. Do you jump in? No. You are aware that this pit plummets to the center of the earth, and you still cling to the sides of the ladder as you move your foot in vain looking for something solid to stand on, something solid which doesn’t exist.
A local man helps ease your confused body into the mud. You sit in it. Everyone does. You can’t bring yourself to let go of the ladder until you are positive you wont sink to your doom. Once you get in a semi-sitting position, the thick mud cushions your body and you kind of float. A few people liken this to the Dead Sea, a place I have never been, so these words of reassurance are meaningless to me.
You are now sitting in the mud, a single toe still refusing to leave the safety of the submerged ladder rung, when this local who has helped eased you into the buoyant pit, grabs your leg, and thrusts you back towards the mud covered massage men behind you. One of the men grabs you and spins you to the side. Another then pulls you towards the back wall, where you are now looking at others leering over the side, hoping they don’t slip on the uneven ledge above and land on your head, and starts throwing mud on your body.
There is no niceness in this.
Within seconds you have become one of the many unidentifiable mud creatures, and now have some strange guy rubbing his mud covered mitts all over your barely clothed body. There is no shame. Every sexual part of you is being rubbed down in a very non-sensual way. Yet it feels good. The warm mud covering your entirety feels like bathing in a vat of pudding. Slightly egg-smelling pudding. You are holding your head up until this mud massage genie forces it back so you are planking on your back, floating in the viscous dirty liquid. After a minute, he not-so-nicely flips you over and you suddenly have to raise you head again so you don’t suffocate on the mud.
You feel like a human mud-pie. A human mud-pie who is not only voluntarily letting — but paying — a man to rub his hand all over you buttocks, a man who seems to take more time and joy in the women. He really has rubbed your butt quite a bit, you keep thinking.
After another minute of strangely relaxing-feeling molestation, you get flipped back over, and after a final feel-up of your frontal parts, you get pushed off into the horde of mud people. There is no room to lay flat, and as your feet hit someone, they instinctively push your legs down, so not to kick them in the face, and suddenly, without warning, you are standing.
Standing is a relative word.
You are more floating in what you are convinced is a watery form of quicksand. You can feel small harder chunks of mud floating in the liquid below your feet, but there is no bottom to stand on. This is one of the coolest feelings ever. You look down towards where your feet should be and suddenly you are flailing your arms, grasping for any body part you can grab, because you start to face plant. Quickly you realize that wherever you look, your body tries to go. A man behind you grabs your hair to pull up your head as you grab the shoulder (OK, side boob) of a middle aged women. Another women behind you also starts to face-plant, and grabs someone else’s neck, while kicking her feet into your stomach. You nervously start introducing yourself to these new-found friends of yours, and everyone is laughing at how ridiculous this is.
You see a girl with a clean face and feel the need to stop her to rub some mud on her forehead. Some one else puts some mud behind your ear for you. A random foot pops up between you and a guy you are talking with. “I’m in between some dudes legs now,” he exclaims, as you start playing ‘This Little Piggy’ with the toes. This mud pit is akin to a group orgy, and you are really hoping no one decided to relieve themselves in it.
After five to 15 minutes, you think you want to get out and back to the world of personal space. Plus people slip-climbing up the exit ladder (which is covered in a mix of dry mud coated with fresh wet mud), are being cleaned at the top by another local, and the mud coming off their body keeps plopping down into the pit and flinging mud on your face. Mud you quickly realize you can wipe off because every inch of your being is also covered in mud. You just want to get to the washing.
You full-body grab the exit ladder and with extreme effort, somehow make it to the top. Without warning, though you saw this coming, a man wraps his hands around your extreme upper thighs and squeezes down to clear away as much excess mud as possible. He reaches for your upper chest to ‘help’ clean that area, but you pull away, wrap your whole arm on a rail, and slowly side step your way down a slippery, mud-made staircase. By the third step, most of the mud on the bottom of your feet has scraped off and you can stop bear-hugging the wooden rail. At the bottom you find your camera man, who you lost, and he agrees to follow you down a hill to where this supposed shower is.
It is not a shower.
It is a lake filled with entering mud people, and exiting humanoids. It is a distinctly dirty lake, whose tide is brownish-gray, and whose bottom is muddy-rocky feeling. You don’t get far into the shallow waters before a women (age anywhere from ‘your-pretty-sure-they’re-not-legal’ to ‘how-are-they-not-dead-yet’) grabs your wrist and pushes you into a sitting position by the top of your head.
Before you can figure out whats going on, water pours down your face and this women is grabbing, rubbing and drowning you with buckets of water. Buckets and buckets of dirty, mud-saturated water rain down upon you. You are trying so hard to time your breaths in the half-seconds you get before the next bucket pours down upon you, you don’t realize that this women has stuck her hand under your bikini top and pushed it to the side. You are now in a lake with the same group of newly felt up friends saying, “Nice to meet you. Here’s my boobies.”
For us girls, the women assume you have zero shame or problem with their water-wrinkled fingers sliding violently in, out, and around inside of your bikini bottoms as they ‘clean’ you with the muddied water. You are also trying to ‘clean’ yourself to hurry-up this situation, in hopes they stop, but they don’t, so you finally give up and just let them do their thing. Remember, you are paying for this, too.
And for the men, don’t be surprised when the ladies reach down under the dirty waves and rip your bottoms off of you. Some try to clean you, some let you do it yourself, some rip your bottoms off then walk away with them to beat the mud out, leaving you crouching and reaching in vain for your confiscated shorts (they don’t go far with them and give them back after however long it takes them to feel they are clean).
This is all done so un-sexy and viciously, that people are standing up only to have whatever stranger is in front of them pointing to whatever body parts are now exposed to the world. Everyone gets to know each other, real intimately, on this trip, minus any carnal desire.
It’s very Group-Sexual-Assaultish.
At the end of the day, you are about $35 poorer, have been inside a live volcano, been lewdly massaged in the most non-arousing way ever, grabbed by and flashed complete strangers, and paid to get completely molested in the ‘dirtiest’ (literally) possible ways ever.
All in all, I say it was a great day.
Getting there: Volcán de Lodo El Totumo is reached through tours sold in just about every hotel and hostel in Cartagena. You can now get to Cartagena, from the USA, to experience your own mud molesting, with JetBlue Airways.