Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cartagena

Alyssa and I took our first in country flight from Medellín to Cartagena. If you don't already know... Alyssa and I are rather stingy, especially when it comes to flights. We have packed incredibly light to avoid having to purchase checked or even carry on bags. Though we weren't sure how strict Colombia's airport security would be. Instead of shedding our groceries, shampoo, and conditioner in Guatapé we decided to risk it. Though I did give a beer to the lady cleaning the restrooms, she looked like she could use it.

I pride myself on being efficient when going through security. I take my belt off, I double check my pockets, and unlace my shoes to make the entire process easier on everyone involved... I do all of this while waiting in line to go through security. In the States there is ALWAYS a long line waiting for security, though this was not the case in Colombia. I wasn't prepared. I was still wearing a belt. my computer was inside my pack, I didn't even attempt to take off my shoes, and I had coins in all of my pockets. Of course the machine beeped as I walked through, I hadn't even had time to properly think about all of the things I had forgotten to take off.

Of course the agent pulls out his wand to figure out why I'm setting off the machine. He begins asking me questions (in Spanish), "Are you wearing a belt?". I answered that I was, though he didn't wait for me to show him he took my word and moved on. "What do you have in your pockets?" This prompted an impromptu English lesson as my first answer was "change" he repeated this new word. I then said "coins" again he repeated it. Finally I remembered my Spanish and told him I had money. He nodded and asked me to turn around. Finally he asks me, "Do you speak Spanish?", which struck me as an odd time to ask since all of his questions and directions had been in Spanish... I told him that I do speak a little Spanish and figured he was about to give me detailed instructions to go back through the machine. Instead he said, "You are very beautiful." Silly me... he didn't want to give me instructions, he just wanted to make sure that I would understand his compliment.

We landed in Cartagena amid a massive downpour. We were quite lucky that we arrived at our hostel when we did because the road outside our hostel very quickly became a river! We sat on the balcony of our hostel watching as taxis tried to make it through until we worked up the courage to head out into the rain to find some dinner.

Looking down from our hostel

Blurry but an idea of how deep the water was in some places



A quick passage about Cartagena from the book I'm currently reading, The Fruit Palace by Charles Nicholl:

Cartagena de Indias - the Carthage of the New World - was founded and fortified in the early 16th century, the chief port on the Spanish Main for the shipment of plundered gold and jewels back to Spain. Sir Frances Drake came to sack the city in 1586. They paid him 10 million pesos to spare them from the torch - the receipt he signed can still be seen in the Palace of the Inquisition. The town is ringed by 7 miles of wall, in some places up to 50 feet thick. It is said that the walls were built with a mortar mixed with bulls' blood. 

Inside the old town everything is very tall, narrow and close. It is beautiful, but sombre and inquisitorial: dirty white walls, deep eaves, cobbled streets, huge wooden doors studded with iron nails. 

Alyssa and I enjoyed walking down the narrow streets, popping into small restaurants and cafés. Our favorite by far was a cafe and bookstore, because who doesn't love drinking coffee or a beer while perusing a book?

Favorite cafe/bookstore

If I haven't said it before, staying in Hostels is without a doubt the way to go. The lodging is cheap, the common areas often have hammocks and a "take a book/ leave a book" bookshelf, you can buy groceries and cook your own food, and you get local information from the people in the hostel as well as the locals working. One of our favorite people in The Roof hostel, where we're staying, gave us the lowdown on how to get to one of the more popular beaches in Cartagena without needing to join the hordes of tourists on the boats. 

Playa Blanca (white beach) was about 1 1/2 away from Cartagena overland. We took a local bus into a very tiny dirt road village where multiple motorcycle drivers fought over Alyssa and I as soon as we hopped off the bus. It was an interesting dynamic between the moto drivers, they all charge the same price with no haggling so they all have an equal chance to get business. Though they were speaking such fast Spanish that I struggled to understand what everyone was saying, eventually one of the drivers took my hand and led me over to his motorcycle. Much to the dismay of the other drivers, in fact Alyssa's driver talked to him about this unfair move multiple times on our journey. I wasn't able to understand all of it but he clearly felt that my business had been unfairly stolen from another driver. 

Alyssa and I knew we would need to ride on a moto to get from the small town to Playa Blanca but we had figured it would be a 10 minute ride or so. Something that we could easily walk on the way home. We weren't expecting a 25-30 minute ride! The ride started off down an extremely muddy and rough road and then moved onto a highway. It was exhilarating. And don't worry parents...we both had helmets(most of the time)!

The beach did not disappoint! When we first arrived the beach was virtually empty and we had our pick of where we would like to post up. There were a lot of locals tying to get us to buy their wares, though after Thailand and Cambodia Alyssa and I appreciated that when we said 'no' they promptly moved on. A few others at our hostel commented that they struggled with getting hassled so often by the locals... I guess it's all perspective. 





My name is Katie.. and I like to read


The beach was basically empty except for a few other tourists and many many locals selling their wares







After a couple hours the hordes of tourists began arriving on the boats









Beautiful day!




The next day Alyssa and I signed up for a Volcano Mud Bath tour. We weren't sure what to expect but we figured that it was something we probably shouldn't pass up. And good thing we didn't! It was an absolute blast. Alyssa kept comparing the mud to being in space, indeed it felt as though we were weightless. I often needed help to get my legs below the surface of the mud. 


Getting into the mud

They had us all lay on our backs so they could give us massages


Floating was effortless











At one point they guy taking pictures starting taking pictures of the cows...

Alyssa and I are the ones without hats... 

Our last full day in Cartagena Alyssa and I went to one of the beaches closer to Catagena, Bocagrande (big mouth). I do not have any pictures because Alyssa and I brought only what we needed and wouldn't mind getting stolen so that we could both swim in the water at the same time. That morning a guy from Azerbaijan had all of his clothes, money, keys, and shoes stolen from the beach while he was swimming, when he related the story to the woman working at the desk she said, "Welcome to Colombia!" We were smart about it and didn't have any of our stuff stolen! 

Street/hostel cat

Overall our time in Cartagena was a much needed vacation. It was without a doubt the most relaxing time Alyssa and I have had while traveling together.