Cartagena: Round 2

Sunday marked the point of 8 weeks done, only 5 remaining – which is kind of hard to believe now! I can remember thinking “1 week here, 12 left” in Nicaragua, which seems like ages ago while also seeming like yesterday. Rhea and I decided that there needs to be a word for that feeling, because it seems to be so common while traveling! I’m now in my penultimate country, Ecuador, and am feeling excited to go home to all my normal comforts, but at the same time sad that this wonderful adventure will be coming to and end (again, we need a word for this).

I guess I shouldn’t start the sappy “trip is coming to an end” rant yet – I still have five wonderful weeks!

After leaving Tamesis and eating mondongo in Medellin, Stephanie and I flew to Cartagena. It’s funny arriving somewhere familiar to me with someone who has never been there before – I’m sure she was very excited and, while I was also excited, it felt almost like a coming home for me! This is the first place on the trip that I’ve come back to and actually spent more time in – although there are plenty of places I wish I could. We got settled in our hotel and then went out exploring old town – see my post Cartagena: Round 1 if you’ve forgotten what it’s like. Task #1 was finding my favorite arepas con queso (which are much different here than in the rest of the country).

We discovered, upon arrival in Cartagena, that we arrived just in time for the beginning of an international film festival! Woohoo! There were a lot of foreigners around for it, some of whom looked quite fancy and important. We ended up going to one movie, and you’re free to judge me because it was American… we saw “Black Swan” because it was conveniently located, timed, and I’ve been wanting to see it! $4 movie, again – I saw more movies in Colombia than I have at home lately.

Our first full day in Cartagena started with a 3.5 hour walking tour of the city – mostly learning things like the history of Cartagena and it’s independence from Spain, going to the Naval Museum, going to an emerald shop/museum (and BUYING emeralds?! I never thought I would, but something came over me and I actually bought a ring!), and going to the fort. Our guide, “Duran Duran,” was very knowledgeable and spoke 1/2 in Spanish and 1/2 in English. Overall, he was very informative!

We spent the afternoon (after taking a siesta during the hot part of the day) walking around the old town and shopping in the bovedas. That night we went to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Getsemani (our neighborhood right outside of Old Town), El Coroncoro, which was very good, but SO warm inside! I’m still a fan of Colombian set meals, because they always include a delicious soup AND juice!

On Saturday we went to Las Islas Rosarios – a group of islands off the coast to the NW. It was perhaps one of the laziest days ever. We were shuttled over in a large speedboat with a bunch of other tourists, some of whom were actually going to spend the night on the island. They took us over to their hotel, which looked very nice, and let us loose to enjoy the beach, scuba, snorkel, bike – they had a number of activities to do, but all of the cost an arm and a leg so we just ended up relaxing on the beach. They also fed us lunch, which was AMAZING, although slightly small. I’ve been eating enough for three people lately, so the lunch of delicious sea bass and coconut rice was basically just a teaser. I promptly found more food when we returned to Cartagena.

Our final day in Cartagena we wanted to go scuba diving, but the prices for diving in Cartagena were ridiculous – so instead we went to the mud volcano! This volcano apparently has a crater 2,000 deep, full of mud. Tourists pay to go, get in the crater, cover themselves in mud, get massaged, and then rinse of in the lagoon. The entire experience was pretty hilarious, but I think totally worth it.

The mud is really smooth and feels like pudding, and feels really strange to get into because it makes you super buoyant! There is nothing to stand on, but you float with no problem – even if you’re sticking your feet straight down. If you look at my pictures you can see people who look like they’re sitting on a ledge or something, but they’re really just floating!

We got in, got covered in mud, and then got the sketchiest massages (for $1.50) ever, before descending and going into the lagoon to rinse off. For another $1.50 you can pay the women in the lagoon to wash you off (which is an experience in itself!). They help get the mud out of your hair, your ears, off your back – and then they take off your swimsuit and get it out of your swimsuit as well. There isn’t really a distinguished area for men and women so if you’re not okay with nudity, I don’t suggest you pay for a rinse!

Upon our return to Cartagena, we took REAL showers and then ventured out into Old Town again for our last night in the city. We returned to the bovedas to by a few last minute things, walked around some more, then went back to our hotel to pack and get ready. That night was practically sleepless due to a large group (24) of people who arrived around midnight and proceeded to yell, thump, and slam doors for the next 6 hours. It was ridiculous. Needless to say, I was tired and somewhat perturbed in the morning. I headed to the airport around 8 am and spent most of the day in the Bogota airport (which is actually quite nice).

While I was in the Bogota airport a man came up to me and started chatting, which turned out to be a pretty good experience! He was very patient with my Spanish, and even offered some friendly corrections. He, Roy, is Chinese but has been living in South America for at least 20 years. He was an ambassador for a long time but is now a journalist living in Bogota, and his wife lives in Venezuela. He is the first person I have met in Colombia who has less than charming things to say about the people, the food, and the country in general. I definitely took what he said with a grain of salt, but I was interested that he was a much bigger fan of Venezuela than of Colombia – and even said the food in Colombia is awful! He lived in Peru for a few years and said that the food there is fantastic – so considering I loved the food in Colombia, I’ll probably be over the moon about food in Peru! Roy took me to lunch, and then to the international security line, gave me all of his info and invited me back to Colombia to visit. It was a rather interesting experience, but a good way to pass the time!

Overall, I loved Colombia. I need more time to see it, as I really didn’t see very much of the country (it’s a BIG country!). Three things really stuck out to me about Colombian people:

1) They are very proud of their land, culture, and people – and want visitors to have the best experience possible. Frequently on a tour or activity, our guide would ask “Are you enjoying this?” after a very short time, and really seemed invested in our answer!

2) Colombians are ACTIVE! All over the country (especially in the hilly mountains) we saw a multitude of cyclists and runners – a lot of whom looked really quite serious. It made me feel lazy…

3) They are all interested in my marital status – and feel the need to probe when I tell them I’m not married. Seriously, various people (both men and women) asked me where my husband was, and when I told them I wasn’t married but had a boyfriend at home in Colorado they would give a range of reactions from shocked that I wasn’t married yet, to supportive of the fact that I’m traveling without him because (according to them) as soon as I get married I will have no life. That was the basic gist of it. I found all of this rather entertaining.

I highly recommend Colombia as a place to visit – there is something to do for everyone, the land is beautiful, the history is fascinating, and the people are charming. If I wanted to see it all, I think I’d need 6-8 weeks… but I guess that will have to wait for another time.

I’ve been in a bit of funk the last few days – I think I’m finally feeling a bit homesick! I’m still very grateful to be here, and thoroughly enjoying my experience, but I’m definitely missing my people, my bed, my foods, my grocery store – the normal conveniences of home! I’ve been frequently utilizing my #1 tool for not feeling homesick: listening to T-Pain and Taylor Swift. Yep. Not together (although they do have a great duet), but listening to music from home is very comforting!

Quito has thus far been mildly entertaining, and Aunt Mary arrived a few hours ago with my sweatpants and jeans (which I am now smiling about and wearing – not at the same time). Tomorrow we explore the old town here in Quito, and then I think we’ll head South! I have a feeling I won’t be around the internet quite as much during the next week – so be patient with me!

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