Hmm, let’s see: February temperature in Budapest: 36 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature in Cartagena, Colombia: 89 degrees Fahrenheit. No real difficulty in choosing then, is there? None for me, at any rate. Yep, time to exit the wool-hat-and-scarf winter of Hungary and enter the sunny, warm, beach-going climes of South America.
After so many years of traveling and visiting new and exotic places, it’s gotten harder and harder for me to find interesting new places to visit, winter or summer. It is both wonderful and terrible to have to admit I have visited almost every place on earth I have ever wanted to see, from my earliest days as a reader of worldwide adventures; I’m now at 65 countries and counting. Plus, of course, I’ve also been to many, many more sights and sites I never imagined I ever would or could visit, places like: Lenin’s tomb in Red Square, Moscow; the Forbidden City and Mao Tse Tung’s tomb in Beijing, China; Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands; the Hypogeum in Malta; Newgrange in Ireland; Gobekli Tepe and Ephesus in Turkey; a tiger sanctuary in Thailand; Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa; the small Lithuanian town where my paternal grandmother was born.
Lots and lots of amazing, fascinating, incredible places, so many on my previously long, long list of places to visit, so many more added as I went along. And so, finally, I am almost out of new places to visit, at least, places that interest me and that I want to see and explore. There are many apparently fantastic places that I could visit in the world, but most of them have never made my list, probably because they just plain don’t interest me. At any rate, I’ll keep reducing my list by seeing those places I do want to see and will just have to deal with what else there is to see in the world when I cross off the final destination from my list.
Until then, I’m down to second-tier cities as yet uncrowded and unfound by the tourist hordes. And so, checking out warm inviting places to visit in the dead of winter, I came upon Cartagena, on the northwest coast of Colombia, South America. South America is one of those continents that really doesn’t do a lot for me. The closest I’ve ever come was a visit to Panama in the mid-1990s, one of the very few places on earth I did not like. I hear it’s changed a lot and is much better now, but back then it was just not a good place to be.
And South America? Everyone I know who has been to Macchu Picchu raved about it, but it leaves me cold. Rio de Janeiro – Americans need a visa to visit, which means more hoops to jump through and more money to be paid out in entry fees; Buenos Aires – eh. But Cartagena appeared on a 2016 list of interesting second-tier cities that deserve a look-see, and it’s warm and sunny, so why not. I left my winter clothes behind and caught the big bird for exotic climes.
(NB: During the time I was waiting to visit, the Zika virus appeared in South America and especially in Colombia as a possible deterrent to travelers, especially pregnant women. Intrepid adventurer that I am, however, I did not let it deter me.)
A mid-morning flight to Frankfurt, a brief layover, then a nearly 12-hour flight to Bogota, Colombia, where I had a three-hour layover. It was lucky I did, as I needed to change some money for my necessary taxi ride to the hotel once I arrived in Cartagena at 1 AM, when the cash exchanges probably weren’t open (actually, it turned out they were open, but I didn’t know that). I felt like a rich man afterwards, as the exchange rate is 3,450 Colombian pesos to one dollar; yep, to one dollar. Which means one hundred dollars equals 345,000 pesos. I changed 200 US dollars and ended up with just under three-quarters of a million pesos. Cool.
I also cleared Passport Control in Bogota and transferred to Avianca Airlines for the short domestic flight to my final destination. Naturally, my departure gate was the very last one in the Bogota airport, as far away from my arrival gate as possible and still be in Colombia. At least my plane was on time and I arrived in Cartagena in the wee hours of February 18. As always a touch apprehensive, I exuded a small amount of perspiration until I saw my bag lying happily on the baggage carousel; made it again.
Exiting the small Cartagenian airport was no problem and I went right to the taxi window outside the baggage claim area and got my voucher for the ride to my hotel: 10,500 pesos, or about $3 US. Excellent. I may have finally found a place that’s cheaper than Budapest. My taxi driver, Roberto “Rocket Man” Cardenas, whipped me through the deserted Cartagena streets and down the promenade next to the sea and through the Old Town walls and got me the approximately two miles to my hotel in about five minutes. During the daytime one can probably walk from the airport to the Old Town.
We found my hotel, the Casa Alejandria, with no problem and I checked in quickly with the night manager, unpacked in my air-conditioned, windowless room and crashed for the remainder of the night. Due to my travel naps, however, I was up and ready to hit the streets by 8 AM. I was out of my cool room and immediately walked into the heat and humidity of a Caribbean morning. I was in tank top and shorts and sandals, and I was still sweating; it was a far cry from winter in Budapest – thank goodness! I was looking forward to sweating off a few pounds.
I used the early morning hours, when most shops were still closed, to wander the streets, looking for the Tourist Information Booth (abandoned) on the Plaza de la Aduana, the main square in town, just behind the Clock Tower. I found a small snack stand already open and had my first empanada of the week. I also found the University of Cartagena and went looking for their student store, but they didn’t have one so, Morgan, no Uni t-shirt for you this time. Sorry.
I was still hungry an hour or so later so I stopped at another snack place and had a chorizo paisa con caramelized onions along with an Agua Panela, an amazingly refreshing drink of mixed juices; it was sort of brownish-colored, but tasted wonderful. I found that Cartagena had a Hop On hop Off bus tour of the city and environs, so signed up for the two-day special deal: 45,000 pesos ($13 US; I was getting to like Cartagena more all the time).
I rode the bus for about 90 minutes, checking out all the sights I would come back to the following day – or maybe even that afternoon. The big fortress, San Felipe, the commercial area of Bocagrande, the sea promenade, the new swinging Getsemanni area. They all looked like interesting places to explore on foot. I could hardly wait.
When the bus returned to its starting point near the Clock Tower, I was ready for a cold beer and lunch, so I stopped at The Clock Pub for both. A draft of Club Columbiana beer and a Tower Dog (giant hot dog with cheese and bacon and a side of fires) hit the spot. I also made immediate friends with the lone bartender at the time, Katarina, a lovely, dark-haired young Columbian woman with a ready smile and a friendly welcoming attitude. This English-themed pub would be my base during my visit, as it was one of the liveliest places in town and one where the staff and customers all spoke English. (NB: Cartagena is one of those places that wants tourists – cruise ships dock here regularly – but doesn’t want to have to cater to them to any great extent; as such, very, very few people here speak English. In addition, there are very, very few signs in English in addition to Spanish, so visitors better have at least Survival Spanish to get by.)
I thought a brief nap might be in order to catch up on my lost sleep, so returned to the hotel around 2 PM – and slept until 9 PM! Damn! I didn’t think I was that tired. Anyway, I leaped – OK, rolled – out of bed, showered (again) and headed out to see what Cartagenian nightlife had to offer. First stop – yep, you guessed it, The Clock Pub. I could find out where to go from there. I got there just as the band was shifting into High Gear and had more of that surprisingly good Columbian beer over the next couple of hours. I sat at the bar among the tourists in their fake Panama hats and shorts and just enjoyed the night and the music.
A light breakfast the following morning at Le Petit café: huevos rancheros with hot chocolate. The rancheros was good, the chocolate was not. I waited for the HOHO bus, which its schedule said was due around 9:30 AM, so I would get to the fortress San Felipe de Barajas around 10 AM and have more than an hour to wander around before the next HOHO bus showed up. Well, my best laid plans once again went aglay, as the bus was more than 30 minutes late, which meant my fortress time would be considerably shortened, unless I wanted to hang around there for the nearly three-hour lunch break taken by the HOHO drivers. Cartagena takes its siesta time seriously.
Anyway, after paying the 17,000 peso entry fee (about $5 US), I climbed the steep ramps up to the fortress proper. It was hot and a rather long way for my old legs, but I made it sweating and panting and breathing heavily. And, as it turned out, one hour was more than enough to see the fortress. The parts open to the public only required about 30 minutes or so to check out: the walls with cannon slits, the watchtowers, the very few inner chambers. The tourists weren’t exactly clamoring to get in this major sight, so I was able to get around easily and quickly. And quite honestly, it wasn’t all that great. Big, imposing, made entirely from local coral, it is also quite bland and dull. Nothing to see, really. Not worth the entry fee. But one of the city’s must-see attractions, so I saw it.
I caught the next HOHO bus to the Bocagrande commercial area of New Cartagena, lots of tall office buildings and beaches and businesses along the peninsula leading south from the Old Town area. Since it was around lunchtime, I found a seaside Palenquera and settled in at a terrace table overlooking the beachfront promenade. My waitress, Lisette, brought me beer and food, some sort of meat and veggies. She spoke no English, and my rudimentary Spanish just wasn’t quite making the grade. But we somehow managed to work out what I wanted – and what I was going to get.
I chatted with a couple of Americans at the next table, then took off for a stroll down the beach and through the shops along the promenade. It was quiet that day and the much-vaunted hustlers were apparently all at lunch during my amble. No one hustling me to buy their fake Panama hats or crummy little tourist bracelets of woven cloth or surreptitiously showing me small packets of white powder or green leaf. Not the furtive atmosphere I was informed existed throughout Cartagena. I was obviously misinformed, or else I looked so much like a clean-cut Americano that it wasn’t worth their time to hustle me. Damn! Anyway, it was hop on the HOHO bus back to the Clock Tower and my hotel for a cleanup and quick rest.
As in pretty much all of the seaside and oceanside towns I have been to throughout the world, one of the high points of each day is gathering along the water’s edge to watch the sunset, and Cartagena was no exception. I walked down the street my hotel was on all the way west to the old city walls, and there found a ramp up to the top of the wall, where there was a good-sized outdoor café called, appropriately enough, the Café del Mar. It was doing a bustling business this close to sunset, and I decided it was time for some Cartagenian rum, so indulged in a Planter’s Punch, which hit the spot. It was quite windy up there on the wall and there was a low cloud bank out at sea, so I never did get to see the actual sunset with its vaunted green flash, but the rum dulled my disappointment enough so that I really didn’t miss much at all. The sunset gathering on Mykonos was actually a lot better.
Dinner time, and I made my way back down the wonderful and colorful side streets to the Cevicheria Trattoria Donde Wippy, a big fancy name for a quaint little place serving the city’s specialty, ceviche. Ceviche is a mixed seafood dish that apparently originated in the coastal regions of South America. It’s usually made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, like lemon or lime, and spiced with ají, or chili peppers. Mine was served cold, as is the custom and, while not a large serving, was just enough to satisfy my craving for seafood and wine.
By the way, Dear Readers, although very, very few Cartagenians speak English, I seemed to be getting by OK so far with my long-ago high school Spanish. Plus, of course, all those years in southern California and New Mexico. At least I could still order a cerveza and a hamburgesa con frites without appearing as a total borrachon. Mr. Heckle, my Spanish teacher lo those many years ago, would have been pleased at what I’d retained --- and disappointed at what I’d forgotten. However, even if I was fluent I doubt I would have been able to follow the local machine-gun-rapid Spanish of the natives.
Then it was over to The Clock Pub again for some nighttime beer and music. As is almost always the case when I visit foreign bars, I struck up a conversation with two guys next to me, American expat Sean and his Ecuadorean business partner Damien. Sean was feeling no pain by this time and he and Damien soon took off to see if any of the local Ladies of Negotiable Virtue might take their fancy – and, presumably, their money. When they left, their conversational place was taken by a young man from Brazil on my left who was also just passing through for a few days. He was having a great time and informed me that during his walk on the beach that day he was offered marijuana, cocaine, girls and guns. Well, Hell! All I was offered was a fake Panama hat.
He took off for more exotic climes and was replaced by John from Florida. We chatted for a while and rounded out the evening with one or two tequilas, I forget which. Since I woke up in my hotel room bed the following morning, I presume I made it back OK and without being accosted on the street by muggers. I didn’t have any money left anyway and my old watch wouldn’t attract even a hungry child.
Saturday was my day to walk the walls of the old town, starting at, I was informed by my guide book, the Clock Tower. So I had an early-morning snack-stand empanada, reserved my beach cruise for the following day at the dockside and went in search of the steps or ramps up to the wall. It took me a while to find them, as there was no apparent entry area near the Clock Tower, but I finally got up to where I wanted to go and began my circumlocution of the old town wall.
There was no shade up there and it was already nearing 90 degrees F, so I made it, oh, say, about 100 meters and decided that was enough wall-walking for the day. I descended and sought shade in one of the little side streets and found the Gokela snack shop where I treated myself to a roast beef wrap and lemonade with lots of ice. My tank top was soaked with sweat and I needed to cool off. I wandered away the afternoon in town, doing more shopping, having lunch and more lemonade at The Clock Pub, where I had a chance to talk with Katarina, as it wasn’t very busy, bought and wrote and mailed my post cards (wonder if they’ll actually get to their destinations?) and generally continued soaking in the atmosphere of Cartagena.
I tried the Café del Mar again to see the sunset, but again there was that darn cloud bank, so after one beer I went back to town looking for a light dinner. I found the Monalisa bar and stopped for a beer and to order some food, one of their light snacks consisting of some chorizo sausages, fries and a small salad. Should have taken about 4 minutes to prepare, especially as I was the only one in the place. After 20 minutes of no food, several queries and no explanations, I polished off the last sip of beer and walked out. They will not get a good rating on Trip Advisor.
I headed for a safe haven where I knew the food would be good and would be served in a timely manner: the Hard Rock Café. I usually don’t go to these when I find one, but this night I just wanted things to go easier. I had a pulled pork sandwich and a couple of local beers and decided to call it a night. It has been my experience that a bad night is almost always followed by a good one, so I looked forward to tomorrow.
I was picked up at my hotel the next morning around 9 AM by a minibus driver and our small group of ten or so were off to see the Volcan Totumo, or Mud Volcano. I’d heard good things about this experience and was looking forward to seeing what it was. After a traffic blockage and detour, we finally got to the site around 11 AM or so. It was a high dirt mound in the middle of nowhere, really, nowhere. The dirt mound was barren and about 50 feet high, with a long staircase leading to the top, which was fenced off with stout wooden poles. We all went into one of the nearby buildings and shed our outer clothes, retaining our flip flops – except for me, as I hadn’t known to bring any. Good research on my part.
I walked barefoot across a small gravel and dirt parking area to the base of the staircase and climbed to the top with the other members of our group. Once there, I peered down over the inner fencing into a central interior space filled to about 40 feet with mud. Real, gooey, slimy, chocolate-colored, oozing mud. It looked great. I climbed down the inside wooden ladder and stepped into the mud. Remember, everyone was wearing only bathing suits, no shoes. And we were ready to get down and dirty (pun intended).
I slipped into the thin, silk-like mud and lay on my back while a young man gave me a mud massage. The only area of my body not covered in mud was my face, and I remedied that quickly by smearing mud on my forehead, cheeks, chin, etc; only my eyes and mouth were clear. It was like being five years old again and finding a great mud puddle in your back yard after a spring rain and diving in for all you’re worth. I was surprised to find I could float easily and effortlessly in the mud, sort of like floating in a much thicker Dead Sea. The mud was actually pretty cool in temperature and very soothing. It’s supposed to have therapeutic properties and be filled with lots of good chemicals and other healthy ingredients.
We were allowed to soak and frolic for about 15 minutes or so, then advised to climb out another mud-soaked and very slippery wood ladder. Took me a while, but I finally made it. Then it was down the outside steps to the parking lot, where we were told we had to go down by the river to rinse off. Well, the river was a small stream far off in the distance, but I could see other group members about 40 yards away being rinsed off by attendants. Not having any flip flops, I gingerly started toward them.
One of the snack shop owners had obviously been through this before and offered me a pair of her flip flops to make my journey easier, for which I thanked her profusely (and later tipped her 5000 pesos). I got down to the rinsing area and a nice elderly woman named Ilsa proceeded to dip a pan into a large barrel of water and then over me, over and over and over again, including down inside my bathing suit, until I was reasonably free of mud. I feared the residue under my fingernails would take at least a week and 17 showers to remove.
At last, more or less free of mud, I walked back up to the changing building and got my regular clothes back on. While we waited for the rest of our group, I had two cold beers and basked in the sun like an old dog. We then motored to a very small, poor village (hamlet? Wide spot in the road?) and had lunch under a large thatched-roof open-air terrace. Lunch was a whole fried fish that I think even the village cat had refused, with water and juice and some nice corn cakes. Two more beers helped settle everything nicely.
Upon my return to Cartagena, I headed for the shower as quickly as possible, healthy mud or no healthy mud. My shower floor was grey when I finished, despite the ministrations of Ilsa, and I have no doubts the housekeeper picked up my towel the next morning with a certain reluctance. But at least I was once again fairly clean. A brief nap readied me for the night.
I was in the mood for something fantastic for dinner that night (must have been all that healthy mud), so I wandered around looking for the steakhouse I had spotted earlier. Naturally, I forgot what street it was on but continued scouring the neighborhood until I happened on a place called Quebracho, with a large figure of a bull in front. Hmmm, could be good. I checked out the menu and sure enough, it fit the bill. In I went.
The restaurant was atmospheric to a fault, dimly-lighted and with real tablecloths and cloth napkins and heavy silverware. The headwaiter and my young lady waiter both spoke English – a real treat. They were both helpful in aiding my choices for the evening. I started with a beautiful frozen margarita, perfectly made. Aaaahhh. There were some bread and cracker snacks with yummy cheese spreads and I also ordered an appetizer of something called Argentine Pies, small sort of fried dim sum filled with various meat and chicken and veggie stuffings. Plus dipping sauce, of course. Yum.
And the main course, a really imposing hunk of tenderloin beef with a side of veggies. A glass of red wine topped it off. It’s good to be at the top of the food chain. No limoncello in Colombia, but a nice after-dinner Sambuca hit the spot. I’ve paid a lot more for a lot worse meals in many places in the world. And the price? For all of the above, 120,000 pesos. Sounds like a lot, right? Remember the exchange rate? So, total cost in US dollars was $35 – which included tip! I like Cartagena.
Since I had a 6 AM wakeup the next morning, I decided a short stroll back to my hotel would do me for the night and turned in early.
Aaarrgghh!! Up at 6 AM to be at the docks at 7:30 to buy my ticket for the day cruise to Isla Rosario and Playa Blanca. The cruise finally left around 9:15; why do they tell us to be there so darn early? I was buckled into my (rather small) life vest along with the 49 other tourists out for a day on the water and at the beach. We were in a smallish speedboat, with a center aisle and rows of two seats on each side, with room in the bow and stern for a few more. I was in the bow, natch. The morning ride to the beaches was relaxing and uneventful, as we stopped along the way to check out some of the other island sights and even a reef or two. Our Captain gave us a running commentary, all in Spanish, of course, so I just enjoyed the ride.
We dropped off one batch of people at Playa Blanca and then proceeded on to the Oceanario Park on Isla Rosario, sort of like a cut-rate Marineland. If you’ve never been to a Marine Park before, or seen a dolphin show, it’s probably pretty good, but for those of us who have been going since we were kids, well, it was rather basic. Nice, but basic. We stayed in the area for an hour or so, then headed back to Playa Blanca for a couple of hours of beach time.
After lunch at the beach (included in the price), we had time to swim and sunbathe and relax. The sea was warm and inviting, but the tide was strong and heavy and it was difficult to just float near the shore. Farther out, of course, you’d soon be swept away to Panama. But it was a nice relaxing day at the beach. When we got ourselves on our boat again and life-jacketed, our Captain told everyone it would be best if we put all of our electronics, cameras, phones, watches, etc., in our bags and had them stored in the bow storage area, as rough seas were expected on the way back. Well, let me tell you…..
Cap stored our stuff, told us to hold on to something, started the boat and away we went. The sea was angry that day, my friends. High swells and deep troughs, and we hit every one of them. During the first half of our voyage home, we were up and down and in and out of a whole lot of interesting seascapes. Water swept over the bows, in heavy rain volume at first, then in wave after wave as we all got soaked, almost as if we’d been immersed in the water. It was definitely an E Ticket! (Disneyland reference).
It was so rough, in fact (although several of us had a ball!), that the woman next to me pulled out her plastic-bag-wrapped camera, shoved the camera back in her backpack and used the plastic bag as a barf bag. Yep, sick right next to me. How do I get so lucky? It was so rough that 2/3 of the way home we had to change boats because apparently Cap had broken ours. Cool. A perfect ending to an otherwise lazy day.
My hotel’s day manager was somewhat surprised to see me drag in, wet from cap to sandals, but with a big grin on my face. When he asked me how my day was, I just said, “Rock and roll!” After all that swaying and sliding and swooping, I only wanted something light for dinner, so decided on another ceviche at the Café Leon. Good enough to see me through until my two margaritas at the Clock Pub, where I chatted briefly with Katarina before heading off to the Land of Nod.
Tuesday, and my last full day and night in Cartagena. Nothing major planned for the day, so I headed out for breakfast at Prispri, a really nice little coffee shop near the Plaza Bolivar, where I was able to get some huevos rancheros and one of those great refreshing drinks. On the way there who should I run into but Damien from The Clock Pub, who greeted me like an old buddy. Amazing how that works, isn’t it? I pretty much killed the day checking out the sights and sites I hadn’t already seen, including walking around the newer Getsemanni area across the canal from the Old Town. I stopped by The Clock Pub again to have an afternoon margarita and to maybe see Katarina one more time, but she was off that day. The margarita was good, however.
For my last supper in Cartagena I chose Montesucro, another great steak place occupying a balcony overlooking the tree-filled Plaza Bolivar. The Plaza was alight that night, as I guess it is every night, with the sound of drums and flutes and other instruments accompanying a troup of various types of dancers. I couldn’t quite see the dancers through the trees, but the music was an interesting accompaniment for my dinner. I had a caipirinha and ordered an appetizer of fried plantains stuffed with pico de gallo, accompanied by guacamole and sour cream dips. Mmmm. For the main course I chose the Lomo Manchego, a sirloin steak stuffed with manchego cheese, just because it sounded good. And it was.
The hostess at Montesucro was kind enough to give me a free entry card to a nearby salsa club, Tucandula, which I immediately renamed Tucandoit. It was located on the Plaza de la Aduana, across from The Clock Pub – but then, wasn’t everything? Anyway, my last night, what the heck, I’d brave the hookers and hustlers and see what a real Cartagenian salsa club had to offer. I got there around 9 PM or so and the place wasn’t offering much; in fact, I was the only customer. I ordered a mango margarita and settled in at the bar to see what would happen. Not much, and after one more mango margarita I was ready to leave around 10:30 and call it an early night. As I got off my barstool ready to signal for my bill, a trio of young ladies walked in, dressed to salsa the night away. As it was so dim in the place I didn’t realize it until they walked by me that the last one of the three was --- Katarina! Wow! What a coincidence! I’d have to hang around a while now, just to see where the night might go.
SALSA NIGHT AT TUCANDOIT
(Very Abridged Version)
I said Hi to Katarina and she was as surprised as I was to find me there. She joined me at the bar and I bought her a drink and we chatted for a while, but then the music picked up and it was hard to talk and be heard so she asked me if I knew how to salsa. Well! I’d taken my last salsa class at the Budapest Tanc Centrum in 2000 and had strutted what little stuff I had in Seville and Barcelona, so I said, sure, let’s try it.
Our styles weren’t quite the same, but I managed to not actually fall on the floor, so guess I did OK. After a couple of rounds, she suggested we adjourn to the other bar downstairs for another drink, so of course I went along. I was salsa’ed out by then and ready for a drink and a rest. The downstairs bar was obviously for serious chatters, as it was even more dimly lighted than upstairs. Kati found us a quiet, rather dark corner booth and slid in next to me where she….
Our chatting got quieter after that and we even managed to….
Her drink was almost gone when she leaned forward and….
Time seemed to slow down then as we….
Finally she said she should return to her friends so she gave me….
We said a fond farewell and I weaved happily back to my hotel and crashed.
Wednesday was my real last day in Cartagena, as my plane left at 6:30 the following morning, which meant I had to be at the airport around 4:30, so up at 3:30 or so to get ready. I needed my beauty rest and would undoubtedly make this a really early night. Another great breakfast at Prispri of their special omelet and juice with dollar pancakes. The day was really hot and humid, sunny and bright, temp must have been hovering around 95 F. It reminded me of New Orleans in August, where you couldn’t walk down the street without popping into a store every few doors just to get cool. I decided to do the same and popped into the Gold Museum, not specifically to see the exhibits, but mainly just to feel the cool air conditioning. I did a repeat performance as often as possible during the day.
Lunch was a mazucado plate at a little tiny eatery called Sierva Maria, and it was like nothing I’d ever had before. My order was called La Mazorca Desgranada and was a mixture of shredded beef, papitas, salsa and other stuff I still can’t identify. But it was delicious. I think it cost me $3 US. While I was eating, two guys with whom I’d shared a table at breakfast came in and we chatted a while. Turned out they were originally from Cuba, now living in Miami. I opted for air con shops during the afternoon and a nice long shower before dinner. My last meal in Cartagena was a light dinner of fried shrimp at a local mid-level restaurant called Café Chippy Chippy (really!) and, with a frozen pina colada, hit the spot. I was in bed by 10 PM.
Thursday really early morning, February 25, up at 3 AM, taxi to the airport at 4, quick and easy check-in with Copa Airlines, ready to go through passport control which, unfortunately, didn’t open until 5 AM. Sigh. Who schedules these things? Anyway, got through there and went to the security inspection station, where a guard took my passport and exit papers and set them aside. Then a young woman commenced to tear my shoulder carry-on bag apart. She took out everything, smelled the plastic bag contents, popped the top on my meds, looked in every pocket and crevice and gave me the most detailed inspection I’d had since Kathmandu.
Afterward, I had to see another guard about my passport. This one asked me a few questions based on a form he had with my name on it (!), then put me through one of these x-ray machines, I guess to be sure I wasn’t smuggling a bag of cocaine I’d swallowed. Fortunately it didn’t show up so I was free to go. We took off on time and got to Panama City OK, although my connecting gate was once again at the opposite end of the airport from my arrival gate. Then it was a five-hour flight to Washington, DC, where I figured my three-hour layover would be plenty of time to do whatever I wanted, maybe some airport shopping. Silly me.
Once again, doing the Airport Dance in the US was the worst part of the trip. Never again will I fly to or through a US airport when I have checked a bag. This time I was a transit passenger, not even stopping in the US, and STILL those TSA scumbags broke into my suitcase and rummaged around. Then in Frankfurt when I checked into the Lufthansa Transit Desk I was given the wrong boarding pass and still had to suffer through my nine-hour layover. Big and Long Sigh.
Anyway, got home OK and had a fun time in Cartagena. Recommended for a long weekend trip for the snowbirds in the US and Canada. Y’all enjoy the remaining weeks of winter and watch this space for my nextploits. TTFN.
POST SCRIPT: A few Comments about Cartagena and Colombia
1. People seemed generally happy and most were smiling
2. Very, very few people speak any English at all, so bone up on your Spanish before you go.
3. Most signs, including menus, are in Spanish only. See #2 above.
4. Not a sign of a Zika mosquito anywhere. Think the media has overreacted again?
5. There are no foreign restaurants in Cartagena that I could find: Indian, Chinese, Thai, etc.
6. Colombians include corn in many of their dishes.
7. The street hustlers are everywhere, but are not generally intrusive.
8. Of all the many dangers I was warned about – drugs, pickpockets, muggers, etc. – I saw exactly: NONE!
9. Be prepared for heat and humidity and, on many days, winds.