Within five minutes of stepping foot in Taganga, I'd been offered something to smoke, not once, not twice, but three times. Of course, having long hair and a beard means I'm an immediate target for the local drug dealers wherever I roam, but still, I think this is a record for this particular trip. And it sums up Taganga pretty well, for this is a massively popular stop on the Gringo Trail for backpackers who come to relax in the sun and party at night, all, of course, fuelled by plenty of t'ganja.
But it's really, really hot at the moment, and I'm not sure we picked the best time to visit, because it's not only hot, but it's incredibly dry. Colombia is about to see the weather break into the second rainy season, and you can feel the build-up as you swelter your way from shelter to shade to shelter again. The wind picks up in the afternoon and it blows hard and dry, and while Cartagena and Santa Marta manage to channel this desiccating tornado down pleasant streets and into the trees that line the plazas, Taganga chooses to funnel the wind down the mountains and straight into town, where it blows up clouds of hot, dry dust that choke the seafront and line everything in a fine, sticky powder.
This wouldn't be a problem if Taganga was a pretty fishing village, but it's more than a pretty fishing village; it's a pretty ruined fishing village. Set on a pleasantly curving bay that looks west into the Caribbean Sea with some wonderfully pretty hills on either side, Taganga has a nice little beach at the southern end of the bay, and an unremitting homage to concrete in the middle and northern parts. Someone obviously thought that it would be attractive to built a concrete waterfront dotted with concrete kiosks and concrete steps down to the beach, but when the sun can melt plastic and the wind blows in clouds of dust, concrete is not your friend, and the result is that Taganga is hot, dry and as colourless as a sepia photograph of a brown paper bag.
The northern end of the bay is peppered with lots of atmospherically rotting fishing boats, but the concrete kiosks in this part of town are untouched by commercial aspirations and seem to do nothing other than provide shelter to a motley crew of beggars and dogs. Things do improve nearer the centre of the waterfront where some of the kiosks sell food and beer, and by the time you reach the beach the party scene is set, with a string of monster nightclubs overlooking the sea and setting the tone for the wee hours. But the food prices on the waterfront are the same as the prices in the plazas in Santa Marta, and at this time of year it's an unrelenting place to watch the sun go down; our beer bottles blew over, the wind was so strong, and if I hadn't remembered to bring my biker's head scarf, I'd have been in all sorts of trouble.
So in the end we took shelter in a taxi back to Santa Marta, and figured we'd leave Taganga to the dealers and backpackers. The beach is pleasant and the sea is much cleaner than it is in industrial Santa Marta, but that concrete waterfront is a bit too much like a pizza stone for my taste. No wonder everyone here sleeps all day and only comes out at night...