Immediately after checking into my hostel in Cartagena , I ran out into the street to track down the nearest arepa cart.
It took my approximately 35 seconds to find one. I ordered one with cheese and chorizo and right before I took my first bite, I told her “Esta es mi primera arepa en Colombia”. She laughed and clapped as I chowed down. It was delicious and cost $4.000 COP (or $1.36 USD).
In my short time in Cartagena (Oct 20 – 23), I kept this theme up by eating all the street food I could find. In addition to getting to try a lot of new foods, it’s a great way to keep costs down in contrast to eating in restaurants. And when you buy from the street vendors and not from the supermarkets you can ensure that your money is not going right back in to the globalization machine. You will get ripped off in comparison to locals but it’s part of the charm. And depending on where you’re coming from (The United States in my case), you can likely afford the higher prices. I did learn pretty quickly not to accept the first price offered though. When asked for $3.000 in exchange for a mango with lime and salt, offer $1.500 and expect to pay $2.000.
On my first full day, in a very “me” moment, I had my heart set on a particularly tasty looking beef empanada on my walk back from the gold museum one day. Unfortunately, I only had a $50.000 note on me and after watching the vendor run around to a few different shops trying to break the bill, I said “lo siento!” and took the bill back. I walked around the corner and tried myself to break the bill with no luck. Then I saw a little bar on the corner serving mojitos. Perfect. I’ll have a mojito. “Esta abierto? Tiene mojitos?” I asked while at the same time pointing to the sign with mojitos written on it. I enjoyed my drink at a table near the park and listened to a couple local street performers try to hustle a German couple by showing off their freestyle skills. When I finished my drink I waved to the waitress to indicate that I was ready to pay the bill. When she came back out she handed me another mojito. Oops. Use your words, not everyone understands the nuances of your waving. I only spent a split second contemplating trying to explain that I didn’t ask for another before I decided that of course I wanted another. It was after all my first full day in Colombia.
After my second mojito I waved again and made sure to say “Puedo pagar?” She smiled and went back inside and came out with my bill and a third mojito. Oh boy. I tried as best I could to explain in broken Spanish that I didn’t want (or rather need, since they were delcious) a third mojito at 2PM. But then she referred to the sign I pointed to when I asked for a mojito which read: “3×2 MOJITOS”. Oops. 3 for the price of 2. In retrospect everything is fairly obvious. She showed me on the bill that I was only charged for 2 and the 3rd was free. So either pay for 2 and leave after 2. Or pay for 2 and drink this one that was already made and sitting in front of me in the Cartegena sun.
After paying I skipped my way back towards the empendada vendor with 3 mojitos now sloshing around in my head. “Holllaaaa amigo!” I said. “Senor cinquenta!” he smiled back. I gave him the COP$2.000 I now had in change and tipped and extra 500 pesos for having to run around looking to break my bill earlier. It may have been the appetite that I built up sucking down mojitos but I think the empendada was absolutely worth coming all this way for.