Santa Marta, Colombia - I always wanted to be Kathleen Turner in the movie Romancing The Stone. Falling down a large mudslide looked like fun. Now, just like that film's characters, I'm on an adventure in Colombia - land of emeralds and drug problems, walled cities, fortresses, colonial buildings and lush countryside.
I'm eager to explore more of this fascinating place, and locals suggest a trip to Tayrona National Park on the Venezuelan border. The park has unspoiled beaches, beautiful mountain ranges and more than 114 square miles of Caribbean beach.
I've made my way to the town of Santa Marta, from which buses to Tayrona depart daily, and check in to one of the two budget hotels. A not very reassuring sign on the wall reads, "Thieves. Watch your wallet." I hide my personal possessions under the pillow and fall asleep. Next morning, I buy a ticket from the hotel receptionist for the painted wooden bus outside.
Wearing only my bathing suit and running shoes, I jump on board. The only other passenger on the two-hour ride is Robert from England, who's going to write a piece about Colombia.
At Tayrona, we learn that the only bus back to Santa Marta today is the one we've just gotten off - and it's returning now. The driver doesn't seem to get my broken Spanish and finger pictures; he drives off, leaving us stranded.
As we walk toward the park, we're stopped by Colombian police who search us for drugs and weapons, then wave us on.
Robert and I agree to meet at 4 pm, when the park closes. I take in the warm sun and crystal-clear water. A giant seems to have played tic-tac-toe with perfectly placed large boulders in the water. It's so tranquil here, it's almost magical.
Many Colombians and tourists come here on vacation to hike or dive. I find out you can sleep in hammocks in the park or rent a cabana, so I'm disappointed when it's time to go.
A very sunburned Robert and I try to figure out how to get back to Santa Marta. We're worried we'll be stuck here, but two Colombians in a yellow jeep show up out of nowhere and offer us a ride.
In choppy sign language, the driver indicates he'll take us back to the hotel for $4. I write $4 in the sand with a stick and we all shake hands.
An hour into the drive, the jeep's engine starts smoking and the man in the back seat (who's sporting a machete on his belt) jumps out. The driver tells us the jeep has broken down and we now have to pay $40 each.
I refuse and hope he isn't going to try to search me, because I have a $50 bill in my left running shoe. Robert suggests I pay something and he pay something. We give the driver our change.
A taxi shows up and the driver motions us to get in with him. When the cab arrives at our hotel, he doesn't ask for more money, and that's that.
Starving after our eventful day, Robert and I find a little local restaurant for a dinner of red snapper with rice and cold beer.
I ask Robert if he got his story.
He says if he were Michael Douglas, he'd have fought off the Colombian police, stolen the jeep and picked up the tab at the restaurant.