As I lower myself gingerly into the molten ooze, a pair of hands pushes me down further. But rather than sink into the mud never to return, I pop straight back up again like a cork.
It’s not every day you get to slop about in a mud-filled volcano, but Volcán El Totumo, a mud volcano outside Cartagena in Colombia offers just that. This mucky mountain draws visitors throughout the day, some choosing to hop on a local bus, and others opting for the faster but pricier tour bus.
Complete strangers rub shoulders in this bath for hours – it’s great fun. I opt for a massage and lie back in the ooze while a nice man rubs my aching back. It’s very messy and the photos are hilarious (don’t worry; another guy is on hand to take everyone’s photos on their cameras for them).
Once my massage is over, I’m pushed like a submarine into the middle of the pool. Feeling utterly relaxed, I lie there for a moment. It’s very easy to float, too easy in fact. When I try to sit back up again my legs refuse to tuck underneath my body. Another mud bather kindly pushes my knees down, and I stand up tall to feel the full effects.
About 20 meters high, this almost bottomless pit sinks down for 2,000m. But don’t worry, there’s no way of reaching the bottom. Rather than having to tread water, I just float there, suspending in gross goo. There are bits in the mud, and it starts to dry and crack around my face. I try and remind myself that rich women in Manhattan probably spend thousands of dollars on this treatment, but I can’t help but feel a bit icky.
It’s time to go, and as I yank myself out of the mud, another pair of hands gives me a rub down. This process is equally hilarious; one man’s swimming trunks completely slip off as the guy helps him get out. Still giggling and completely covered head to toe in gunk, I pick my way down to dry land.
Like every travellers’ point of interest the world over, this little volcano has brought enterprising families and salesmen to its perimeters. Little kids offer to wash your flip flops for you and a man is selling – wait for it – bottled mud.
But the place isn’t completely overrun just yet, and instead of showers at the end of the afternoon, we’re led to the lake. I sit myself down in the water and start to rub my arms, but before I have time to protest a bucket of water is tipped over my head.
A freakishly strong lady is washing me like a naughty kid. Sloshing water over me and rubbing me a little too hard, she is determined to get this shit off. I shriek as a knowing hand slides under my back strap and whisks of my bikini. Having stolen my top, she starts scrubbing it ferociously. Once again I have uncontrollable giggles, and by the time she claims my bikini bottoms I’m completely helpless. Hearing the other shouts and giggles doesn’t help.
Within minutes, we’re released back into society, still snorting with laughter and a little spaced out. I feel giddy, relaxed and dazed all at the same time. It’s been a funny sort of day.
A tour bus from your hotel to the volcano starts from 35,000COP including lunch. A massage, photos on your camera, and a rigorous wash costs an additional 3,000COP each. Do not give to beggars or kids (not even sweets – they rot their teeth). The volcano is about 45minutes away from Cartagena on private transport. The local bus takes a lot longer but is much cheaper. Bring a swimsuit and towel with you.