Inocentes (+1) in Cartagena

4 Oct

Cartagena de las Indias, that old colonial outpost, was a magical place filled with bougainvillead balconies, horse drawn carriages, and some of the most well preserved, charming and colorful classical architecture we’ve seen thus far. It was hot and humid, packed with people trying to sell us everything from sunglasses to boat trips to cocaine and…well, did I mention it was HOT?

But first, let’s talk about the bus ride.

Billed as a ~13 hour bus ride from Medellín to Cartagena, we left the house at around 545/6AM and hailed a cab to the bus station. Our bus departed at around 630AM, which was really 715AM CRT (Colombian Real Time). The bus was big, air conditioned and comfortable. The landscapes were varied, from high and chilly mountain passes to hot and humid swamps. It was interesting, though we slept much of the ride. Overall, the ride took 15 hours, and we arrived closer to 11PM somehow exhausted from the ride and looking forward to getting to our hostel.

The next morning, we walked around the walled city and enjoyed the views from atop the barricade. When the heat of the day set in, we grabbed some fresh juice from a local shop and sat in the shade of the Plaza Bolívar. Later, we grabbed our bathing suits and headed over to the “fancy pants” part of town, Bocagrande, where we took our first dip in the absolutely bath-water-warm Caribbean.

We were also introduced to the biggest pest on Colombia’s Caribbean beaches: the ubiquitous vendors. Anything you want, from massages to sunglasses, hats, sarongs, hair braids, fruit, music, ceviche or beer will be offered to you. If you express a remote interest in one, three more vendors will flock to you trying to sell their wares. It’s a bit annoying to tell the same people to shoo, but when you want a beer or if your sunglasses break, you’re thankful they’re around. And, ultimately, it’s hard to get totally annoyed with them, as their livelihood is earned through selling things to tourists.

The next day, we took a boat ride to Playa Blanca on the nearby island of Barú. This is a popular day trip from Cartagena, leaving at 9AM (945 CRT) and speeding across the ocean to the white sand beaches and coral reefs of the Islas de Rosario. Playa Blanca is one of the most popular, with gentle, crystal clear waters and hot, white sand…and, of course, the ubiquitous Colombian vendors.

We bought some jewelry, rented snorkel gear from some of the snorkel vendors, and one of the beer sellers set up his cooler directly in front of Brian, checking in with him every 10 minutes. Greg got his first taste of Coco Loco (a coconut hacked open and filled with booze) and has not shut up about Coco Locos since. Brian also got roped into a massage after a woman promised to only give him a “demonstration” and after 10 minutes eventually had another woman massaging his feet while she worked on his back.  Needless to say, nothing is free in Colombia, and she was a straight-up business woman after the massage ended (no more “your eyes are like the ocean, so blue!” comments).

At the end of the day, we were exhausted and a bit burned by the sun. We had dinner in a weird fast food place where one of the patrons told Brian and Greg he was very similar to “Tony Montana” and could get them anything they needed, “….anything”. It’s unfortunate that tourists still seem to support the drug trade fueling the decades-long civil war in this country, and it left a bad taste in our mouths at the end of the night, but a few beers and a bus ride later we would be on our way up the coast to Santa Marta and new adventures.

There was something magical about drinking a beer and hearing horse-drawn carriages clop up the narrow streets. Maybe we’ll have a chance to go back…

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One Response to “Inocentes (+1) in Cartagena”

  1. Lea Anthony October 5, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    Sounds beautiful. We honeymooned in Playa Blanca, Mexico. Cannot wait to see the jewelry you bought. Coco Loco?
    Love and kisses to all, Mom

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