My experience of Colombia really began when I got on the plane in Panama City. After chasing an ambulance through gridlocked traffic to get to the airport, the plane left early, arrived 15 before schedule, we got off the plane the moment it touched down, walked through a manicured garden, showed passports and were free. I was in Panama and Colombia within the same hour. Then my taxi in Cartagena took me alongside the beach with the old town on one side and the skyscrapers of the new town ahead, a stark contrast that was absolutely gorgeous.
When I got to the hostel I settled down in the lobby with my laptop planning a quiet night, as it was already about 11pm. Then my new roomie (of 3) walked past and invited me out to the plaza, the main square. I went with him and met all my roomies, then we went back to the hostel, I presumed to sleep. The 3 guys and their friend then proceeded to snort cocaine off the back of their Lonely Planet in the dorm room while I sat there really awkward. “We’re so sorry you got this room,” they told me as they rubbed the plastic bag over their lips. They went back out, I went to bed. They left the next morning.
The next day I just wandered around town until a Colombian guy who lives in New Jersey started talking to me, so we hung out for a bit and he showed me the sights. I made my excuses and went back to the hostel and spent the evening chatting to an American girl travelling with a weird guy from Ecuador.
The next day I had booked to get a boat trip round the stunning Rosario Islands, ending with a stint on a white-sand beach with clear-blue water. They didn’t mention the fact that we would be waiting around for hours and only having 1 hour on the beach.
Fortunately on the return trip I met an awesome Colombian girl Laura who has bright red hair and a perfect English accent. She studied in Bristol, now lives in Brussels and is here being a tourist in her country. She told me about where she was staying in Cartagena (I was in a dump) and I didn’t need telling twice. The place we’re in is gorgeous and the same price, love it. Here we are below. I’d been taking malaria medicine, which made my face go red and blotchy. I’m not this horrendous to look at in real life, I swear.
So anyway, we went out for dinner in a cerviche restaurant (raw fish in lime juice) and had the most delicious seafood, then met up with her friends, Gloria and Lina, who are journalists covering the local film festival. We ended up in a salsa bar trying a bottle of the local liquor (no me gusta) and I almost fell asleep at the table, so ducked out early and went to bed.
Next morning Laura and I went to Crepes and Waffles, a Colombian restaurant chain that has an incredible ice-cream menu, so for breakfast I had icecream banoffee pie and straight after had lunch of a spinach and ricotta crepe. We vowed to return that night to make our way through the rest of the menu.
We then went wandering and bumped into a guy Laura had met the night before after I left, called David. A weird guy, he kind of followed us round, and at one point told Laura he had something to show her, so took her (I tagged along) into an internet café and proceeded to take her through all his facebook photos, pausing a little too long on the one of him topless and the one of him as a baby. Very strange guy, but the facebook thing has now become a running joke for us girls, which keeps up happy.
So anyway, last night we decided to go back to Crepes and Waffles for some coffee ice-cream. When we came out of the restaurant at about 10pm we wandered into the film festival to check it out. A guy approached us saying he had made a film and would we like to watch it at the festival in two days? He then told us the plot – some deep, historical drama that later sees a parrot travel in time… We said we had a friend to meet and started walking.
He kept following us, then suddenly loads of people started coming up to him on the street and getting their photo taken with him. We asked him what his deal was, as we already knew he was the son of a famous painter, Obregón, but thought that was a weird thing to be so popular for. “I’m an actor, I was in Collateral Damage, I fought in a minefield with Arnie. Let’s go for a drink.” Erm, ok.
So we headed off to a plaza where we ordered drinks from an extremely eager to please waitress and chatted while people kept coming up to meet him. What a bizarre night. Then a little dude in a weird native Indian outfit walked past, and our actor buddy said he was from the Amazon, and called him over. A bizarre night already, we chatted to the Amazonian guy who was wearing a dress made out of tree and an eagle’s foot around his neck. He said he’d travelled 7 days by boat, bus and car just so he could see the sea. I tried to imagine this guy in his tree dress and eagle foot splashing around in the sea… Then he told us that his father had been eaten by an anaconda. I found this so hilarious. What an absurd night.
Then we went for a wander round town with Rodrigo the actor and his sound engineer, went past his painter father’s house and ended up in another plaza where a group of locals were hanging out playing guitar. The sound engineer David wanted to play, so we joined them and played guitar and sang loudly, until another fan of Rodrigo’s walked past – the US Ambassador! Feeling a little too much like groupies, we made our excuses and headed to a reggaeton/salsa bar where we had a dance and chatted to some friendly Colombians before I headed home without the others – it was 3am and I had a Spanish lesson at 9am… Craziest night of my life and I wasn’t even drinking, just so bizarre. It seems like anything can – and does – happen in Cartagena.
So today I had my morning Spanish lesson, then Laura and I went into the new town for coffee, proper Colombian coffee, it was so good. By the way I now like coffee, black with cane sugar, so good. Haven’t had a cup of tea in ages. Think I’m converting! We didn’t do much, just wandered around trying to find a car hire place for our road trip to the Santander region, got offered a street hair braider’s sister’s car, politely refused, then had a posh lunch with Laura’s girlfriends. Later, we needed to go to some mall way out of town to buy tickets for the parades at Carnival (next week), so we got in a taxi, which we nicknamed the party taxi – the driver played reggaeton and braked and swerved with the beat. Then we got to the mall and they said the place to get tickets is the mall in the old town, opposite our hostel…… The driver came into both malls with us to hang out, then on the way back told us he had a Pet Shop Boys CD at home. So we swung by his place and sang West End Girls all the way home, braking and swerving, braking and swerving though horrendously terrifying traffic. I had to ask Laura how to say “I’m gonna puke” in Spanish just in case – “Voy a vomitar” in case you were wondering. Somehow we’re like a magnet to crazy situations in Cartagena, possibly due to being a redhead and a blonde wandering around Colombia. We must have our faces on at least 20 camera phones by now. We’ve been told “I love you” more times than we can remember and both apparently have several Colombian boyfriends. We enjoyed comparing Colombian men to our shy European boys who would die before they say they like you, such a contrast – I can safely say we prefer the shy type!
Anyway tonight we went out for stool pizza (literally eating pizza off a stool sitting on a wall) and Laura stayed out with her friend while I came back here to write this, god knows it’s overdue. I still have to write up Panama, so much has happened, but that may have to be another time.
Tomorrow we plan to get a bus to Bucaramanga (road trip is off after hearing stories) where we will go to the national parks and San Gil, adventure sports capital, to try white water rafting, zip lining over a canyon, trekking glaciers and snow-capped mountains. Then it’s back north to Baranquilla for Carnival, second biggest after Rio. Then on to Santa Marta where we’ll trek to the Lost City (6 days) then I’ll be on my way to the Amazon! Can’t wait!