Sunday, June 7, 2015

Cartagena, Colombia

Be honest with me. Did you think that the country was spelled Colombia or Columbia? Because I had no idea there was a Colombia with two O's. And my spelling skills are usually on point.

 22 May - 28 May 2015
.day 1.  
This trip to Colombia was my Valentine's Day present this year from my amazing boyfriend and it was a dream! We flew in to Cartagena about noon and caught a six dollar cab to the Hotel Stil where we had a beautiful view of the city from the ninth floor. It cost $42 a night and was a great deal for the price. But... no hot water. And that goes for anywhere you stay. It was a temperature cool at best. Luckily, it's a very hot place so you don't mind as much. One tip, make sure you stay INSIDE the Walled City when booking a hotel/hostel. It was much nicer and cleaner and felt safer.
As is our preferred way of travel, we had a list of things we wanted to see but no set plans, so after a quick COLD rinse we headed out to explore the taste of Colombia. Much to our chagrin, most of the locals spoke less English than we did Spanish! We knew camarones meant shrimp, and let me tell you, all the sea food in that place was phenomenal, even for street food. And the streets and buildings were simply gorgeous.

Once we fed our bellies, we caught a $20 dollar cab to 2. La Popa Monastery. Our cab driver assured us it was still open. We got there at 17:30 and it was definitely closed.  Typically it is $5  USD a person to get in. We were still allowed to walk around inside the gates and see the gorgeous views for free and luckily the chapel was still open as well, but we didn't get to see the grounds. We were quite satisfied with the view, though!

We decided to try to hit the castle that night, too, but it had just closed as well. We leisurely walked around the outside instead and happened upon a Sunday local baseball game. This was one of B's favorite parts of the trip! It was a very passionate, heated game. After almost every play there was a near brawl as some of the onlookers fought over the validity of the calls. We were definitely the only Caucasians present but the locals seemed to love that we were there enjoying their fun, although we couldn't understand any of the Spanish they tried speaking to us.

After that we found ourselves in an interesting predicament. We were outside the walled city, out of pesos, and couldn't find an ATM that would process a card without a chip, which most American cards do not. As it was our first day in the city, we weren't oriented enough to know exactly where the hotel was, although I could tell the general direction. Luckily, B finally convinced a cab driver to take US dollars to take us back to the Hotel Stil. Whew!

That night, after more wandering around to find an ATM that didn't require a chip in the card, we discovered the delicious restaurant La Licciola for a good price. And they had English translations so we knew what we were ordering! We ate there three other times that week, we loved it so much.

 The exchange rate right now is 2,600 pesos to a US dollar.

Chicken with capers, cherry tomatoes, shaded in white wine - 16,000 pesos = $6.15

Beef fillet in red wine sauce - 20,000 pesos = $7.69

 And that was the more expensive of our meals in Colombia.

 .day 2.
More cold showers, then we found breakfast at La Vainas. No English menus, no English speakers. They looked at us like we were aliens as we attempted to speak in our broken Spanish. We finally managed to get some eggs and ham. I'm not sure that our Spanish was really THAT horrible... but seriously, few locals understood us the whole time.

After that, we decided to plan out our agenda for the week! And then something incredible happened. B really had to go to the bathroom. He snuck into the bar of the Hostel Mamallena while I walked in to check things out. I started talking to the owner about the deals offered through their hostel to La Playa Blanca and the Mud Volcano because they were the lowest prices I'd seen so far. Basically, I was trying to stall while B went to pee. When B came out, we all talked and the owner Stuart ended up inviting us to his own personal day and a half vacation down to Rincon del Mar, a tiny secluded beach town two hours away that no one knows about. Um, yes please! He said to go kill a couple hours then come back to the hostel and we would head down.

3. Cathedral de San Pedro Claver was huge and beautiful and very hard to get a full picture of. We got too distracted by the fruit outside to take a tour of it, though.

These ladies also walk through the streets with baskets of fruit on their head! So cool! I couldn't find anyone that would let me try to balance their baskets. They must not know balancing things on my head is one of my 3 talents.

This is the 4. Monumento India Catalina. This woman acted as interpreter when the Spanish conquered Colombia!

We then met up with Stuart, his girlfriend Lilia, his employee Deebs, and his Swiss Shepherd Suki and headed down to Rincon del Mar! Suki got tired of sitting in the back after a while and squished herself in at our feet.

Finding Rincon del Mar without a local would have been a joke on our own, not that we would have ever even heard of it without Stuart. I saw no signs the whole time and part of the road was on hard dirt, the other on the most potholed roads I've ever been on. But two hours later....

We made it just at the end of the sunset! This was taken right outside the hostel we stayed in, which is pictured below.

Our room was the one right there on the corner facing the beach. And that night for dinner, the restaurant right beside our hostel made us food in the back of their own house. It was a dark picture so it's all grainy now but still kind of neat.

Best shrimp I've ever tasted. My mouth is watering just remembering it.  We sat outside in lawn chairs talking and eating and listening to the waves not but 15 feet away. Walked around the tiny town with dirt roads and people stared at Stuart and B and me for being the only Caucasian people around.

. day 3.

We finally exercised! B did some early morning laps in the Atlantic and I ran up and down the beach several times barefoot. I felt like a flamingo in the North Pole. The locals were pulling their boats out to go fishing to earn their living and there I was on vacation, spending my energy on fitness rather than survival. To be honest, though, the impression I got was that most of the poor around weren't the hardest workers. I've never been in a country with so much sitting around during the day. Maybe they just do all their work in the morning. Maybe it's just their culture. Or maybe Maybelline. Hard to say.

I took a picture so I could translate this later... It's something along the lines of Before being men, women or children, we are all people struggling for equality and good treatment.

 After that, it was time for our THREE HOUR horseback ride. And that was a crazy adventure! B was the first to get a horse and that horse was having a really bad day. As soon as it got passed the gate, it took off like a lightning bolt down a road. These roads were not huge and if B hadn't had any prior experience riding he would for sure have flown off and broken some bones. The horse tore through the town like his tail was on fire with the townspeople jumping out of the way left and right. Finally, one of them ran out and stopped the horse. B promptly switched horses.

My horse was amazing! She never wanted to stop running. It was so hot and sunny outside we had to buy ponchos before we went and she still wanted to run the whole time.

I didn't get lot of pictures on the beach because my horse wouldn't stop running for more than 30 seconds at a time as soon as she got on the sand. I had to keep reigning her in.  Unfortunately, Lilia's mule had the same idea but was much less obedient. That mule took off running and even when a stone jetty jutted out yards in front of them, he did not slow in the slightest. The guide was busy trying to handle the psycho horse Brandon had initially been on.... so Lilia jumped off her horse into the ocean! I was so impressed! 

Had to have that amazing shrimp one more time before we left!

Finally, we piled in the car all smelly and headed back home. That was our last night at Hotel Stil then we booked the rest of our trip to stay at Hostel Mamallena.

.day 4.

It's such a fun an active, social hostel. We met friends from all over the world. That morning we booked a tour through the hostel to go to the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo! Can I just tell you... make sure you pee before you go. We were the first ones to be picked up and by the time we actually set out on the road I had to go so badly. It got to a point where I was crying! I wasn't even embarrassed but when the tour girl told me she wouldn't pull the bus over so I could pee in the bushes, something snapped. Luckily, no one even noticed I peed on the bus into my makeup wipe bag with B holding up a towel to cover me. And those roads are bumpy!  Needless to say, we made sure not to sit in those same seats on the way back.

The tour company keeps all your stuff in a safe location and stays with it while you climb the stairs to the top of the volcano. Since we were not the first ones up the steps we decided to walk around and eat an arepa con huevo! I don't eat fried food much but the egg part was delicious. When the line was gone, we hiked up and then down the ladder into the mud. Once in the mud, the locals massaged our bodies! The mud goes down about 40 feet and you float right at the top. The guy that took our phone didn't always take the clearest of pictures.

After getting out, you walk down to the water and the women wash you in the sea. My gal took my top right off and rinsed it out! The whole thing was a really fun experience, I just wish  just wish we would have stayed in the volcano longer! And let the mud dry fully before washing off so that it would've been REALLY good for our skin.

After that, we all piled back on the bus and headed to a beach on our way back to the city for lunch, of which we felt inclined to share much of the scraps with the dogs and cats watching us eat.

It was delicious! The rest of the day we walked around the walled city and the Wall itself, checking out the plazas and getting these cool matching anklets. B got rasta and I got the colors of the Colombian flag.

That night, B started to feel really sick. I ended up grabbing take out at our favorite La Licciola and bringing it back to the hostel. We planned for me to go alone to Playa Blanca the next morning if he wasn't feeling better.

.day 5.

B was feeling a little better and I was feeling awful. It was much too risky to chance another bus trip with the little bug we'd caught so we ended up staying pretty close to the hostel all day. My friend Gina from Oregon that we met at the hostel did go to Playa Blanca and said it was very pretty but ridiculously crowded, so we didn't feel too sad about missing it.

That evening, we felt well enough to go explore the San Felipe de Barajas Castle! We rented an audio tour which was $4 a person and the castle itself was $17 to get in. I liked the audio tour but we didn't have enough time to listen to the full hour tour because we went at 4:30 and it closed at 6, which cut our time for taking pictures very short, and it would've been a pretty cool castle to take pictures of, too! It had lots of tunnels to explore. I wish we had gone half an hour earlier. It is much too hot to go during the day, by the way, so be sure to go in the evening.

We caught this picture from atop the castle right as the sun started going down. Such a beautiful view.

Besides Playa Blanca, we saw everything we wanted to see and tasted everything we wanted to taste and more. We ended up staying a couple more days taking it easy on our stomach bugs then headed back on our beloved JetBlue to the U.S.!