Disclaimer: this all happened a little over a week ago. Now that the “WOOOO-I’M-IN-COLOMBIA” feeling is slightly more under control, I’m going to try to keep a more regular update schedule to this blog. We’ll see how that goes…
THURSDAY – 20 October
I chose Cartagena to fly into because it was much cheaper to get there from New York and then make my way by local transport to Medellin for a Spanish school. So I decided I’d enjoy my newfound freedom for the first few weeks on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia before starting any projects again.
However, after landing, checking into my hostel in the walled city, and getting my first arepa, it became very clear how little Spanish I knew and how little of a plan I actually had. First, I did what I always do in any new city. I walked. I walked with no clear direction of where I was going until I felt like I was headed towards and unsafe part of town. Then I changed direction and kept walking. I tried to figure out what the locals were eating and how they ordered and I did the same. I found some free museums and spent some time wandering around in them. Then I found a coffee shop to plop down and read. On the flight over, I spoke with the girl next to me at length about Colombia. She’s from Barranquilla but living in Florida. After we landed she surprised me by giving me her book that started out conversation. “Once Minutos” by Paulo Coehlo (in Spanish from the original Portuguese). I’m about 3 chapters in now and it’s become my goal to finish reading it by the time I’m done in Colombia. I also brought “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez but I’m finding his style of writing even more difficult for my level of Spanish. That book will come second.
Even though I was tired, I kept wandering to try more foods and see more parts of the city. At around 11, while standing on the wall, I was rewarded with a 10 minute fireworks show for I still don’t know what. My entry into the country?
FRIDAY – 21 OCTOBER
On my second day, I took the free (with $15.000 tip) Street Art Tour of the city which left from Plaza de Trinidad in Getsemani. There were about 25 of us and it was led by a Belgian who had been living in Colombia for the past 3 years. Really fantastic tour and a great way to get some context for the streets that I had walked along in the previous day. I exchanged numbers with two Americans who were having their last night in Cartagena together and we made plans to meet later that night. I spent the rest of the day walking along the wall around the city to see as much as I could before heading back to the hostel to take a nap that I had needed for about a week (sleeping on floors + officiating a best friend’s wedding + nerves about travel + said travel).
When I woke up, I had the address where to meet the girls. Cafe del Mar. I realized it was exactly where I was the previous night for the fireworks. After a shower, I headed over to meet them. However, on the walk up the steps, the power cut out for that entire part of the city. The area had about 70 tables so without WiFi, I did my best to see if I could find them. I asked the waitresses “Estoy buscando de mis amiga. Ellas son chicas americanas.” No luck. Just as I crossed back into the part of the city that had power I found a little bookstore/cafe (Abaco Libros y Cafe) where I got an espresso and learned about cafe tinto. Works for me. After all, I did come here to meet Colombians and learn more about coffee. But after doing that for a bit and eating some street meat for dinner, I went back to the hostel to play cards with my Dutch and Bangladeshi friends. Happy to find two more people who know how to play Shithead.
SATURDAY – 22 OCTOBER
In the morning I went up to El Castillo de San Felipe for a last view of the city. A little pricey ($25.000) for what it was and my request for a student discount ($10.500) did not work. Curs’d beard that makes me look nothing like my 18 year old self on my student ID. After heading back down, I found my way into a coffee shop named San Alberto; chosen primarily because I saw a Chemex from the window. I had my cup of coffee upstairs, read my book, and starting making some arrangements on my phone for my next stop, Taganga.
When I came back downstairs, most of the people had cleared out so I started speaking with Daniela who made my coffee. She introduced me to another customer, Michael, who was also from the States and to her co-worker, Alma. After a bit of chatting, the baristas asked both of us to come back in the evening when they get off work so we could go out in the city together. From there, Michael and I did our own walking around the city which included some more free museum visits, tracking down the ashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and discovering how much in common we had (at a minimum, our obsession with coffee). Later that night, before meeting the girls, we had some fancy cocktails an watched the sun set on the roof of one of the swankier hotels in Cartagena and then made our way down to a local spot for beers until we were ready to burst. We made a final stop into the Chocolate Museum where Michael already had a tour and got free samples of allllll the chocolate liquors. I like pre-gaming in Cartagena.
As planned, we met the girls at nine just outside of San Alberto. We made our way around the city, sharing wine out of plastic cups, watching a Michael Jackson impersonator, and talking about everything from politics to teaching slang words in our respective languages. A great last night in the city.