There is a tired concept followed by a number of backpackers these days: the desire to do the ‘non-tourist’ thing. Yes, it’s a bit of a paradox, trying to avoid being something you clearly are. Very often those looking to go to the ‘non-tourist’ place end up so much out of the way that there is little, if anything, to do or see in said place. Or worse, they arrive in a location that is famous for one rather big attraction, for example Cuzco in Peru, the gateway to the ancient city of Machu Picchu, yet decide not to see the main ‘draw’ because it’s too ‘touristy’.
Sometimes, if you’ve been on the go for a relatively long period of time, it is nice just to take a break from the main tourist drag. To rock-up in a place that gets very few outsiders. If that is what you are looking for, a good rule-of-thumb is to pick out a location that is not mentioned on Lonely Planet – the ‘bible’ for nomads. Or opt for a spot that gets a very negative write-up in the guidebooks. This is where we found ourselves staying recently – a footnote of those in transit, not more than a entry stamp in your passport, a gun runners sanctuary, and perched on Colombia’s northern gulf. Turbo.
It’s where you’ll find yourself if you’re either coming from or going to the remote, car-free beach resort of Capurganá, a choppy three-hour speed boat journey up the coast, just a short hop from Panama. If you follow Lonely Planet’s lead, you won’t stay in Turbo – in and out of the place as fast as you can is the advice you’ll get from that publication. Indeed, the actions of the locals seem to back this up. It’s one of the few places where on your arrival, by land or sea, you’ll instantly have the natives approaching you asking what part of the country you want to go to next. It nearly feels like you’re not allowed to stay. So I decided to ride it out like a migraine. Why not? Lets be the only tourist in town, to paraphrase the sketch show ‘Little Britain.’
Now considering my own home base isn’t exactly a big tourist spot, maybe I have a natural affiliation with similar settings. Because, on the face of it, there is very little to do in Turbo. Yes, it’s a busy hub, even without the steady flow of passers-by. But it’s quite dirty – the hiving port doubling up as the local rubbish tip, replete with the accompanying smells. The nearest beach is a good twenty minute bus drive away, so there’s not even a nice place to cool-down and relax within walking distance.
Yet, in terms of what I wanted, it didn’t disappoint. Of course when you have no expectations, even the slightest plus-point means you’re up in the deal. So what does it have? Well, if you are looking for a break from fellow backpackers, you’ll get it here, especially at night once the coming-and-going of speed boats and buses ceases. Once the locals realise you’re actually staying for more than a couple of hours, they’ll stop pestering you for a ticket to your next destination. And amazingly, unlike more well-trodden places, they won’t harass you for anything else. You’ll be left in peace. On top of all this – and importantly so considering we’re all watching our pennies these days – there’s value to be had in the place. An en suite private room with t.v in a hotel overlooking the semi-attractive main square (about the nicest thing in the town) for less than $20,000 pesos – as good a price you’ll find anywhere in Colombia.
Equally just as important, we managed to find a bar that sold bottles of the very agreeable local ‘Aguila’ and ‘Pilsen’ for $1,300 Colombian Pesos – a price so far unmatched on my travels here. Considering not many tourists decide to stay, you get a more genuine taste of things – a flavour perhaps of the untapped Colombian backwaters, that flow into the Urabá Gulf. Throw in what was a lively enough night-life along with friendly, helpful locals and you’ve got a pretty decent mix. Indeed the perfect stop to engage in a bit of ‘non-tourist’ living. Better just keep it to yourself though.