Arriving in Cartagena, Colombia

August 18, 2015

The night before our flight we stayed with Sylvie’s college friend, Ben, who lived in Brooklyn.  We woke up early, around 5:45, in order to give us enough time to catch an Uber and make our 8:25 flight at JFK.  To our surprise, to say the least, the Uber app was not working.  I panicked a little, but Sylvie kept a cool head and called for a taxi.  We had to wait an additional 15 minutes and were cutting it close, but what other option did we have.  Luckily it took less than 30 minutes to get to JFK, thanks to some questionably legal stunts performed by our driver.

The flight went off without a hitch—Sylvie benefited from her “sleep aids” and stash of chocolate.  I started watching the movie “Airplane”, which I say when I was a child.  I was shocked to see that JetBlue now offers free inflight Wi-Fi.

We arrived in Cartagena, Colombia as scheduled and waited close to an hour to go through immigration.  Customs was less than 10 seconds.  While in line we chatted with a young couple that was here for 10 days.  They flew in form Boston.  The guy was a year older and had just graduated from Yale; the girl was still in school there.  We learned that we were going to the same hotel so we decided to split a cab.

The guy’s parents were Argentine and he spoke fluent Spanish, which came in handy when we had to get a cab.  I thought I would be ok getting around South America knowing limited Spanish but from the looks of things it seems as though I’m going to need to learn Spanish (I know what you’re thinking right now Mom).  We changed $10 USD at the airport—they didn’t have ATMs so we got ripped off.  We had no choice, as we needed currency for the cab fare.  Their exchange rate was 2,600 to the USD, while the fair exchange rate is just over 3,000 to the USD.

We negotiated the taxi rate down to 18,000 Colombian Pesos ($6 USD).  Once we got dropped off at Casa Villa Colonial I tried to check in, but realized for the second time that learning Spanish would most likely be vital to my happiness here in South America.  I found out that there was no reservation for me at this hotel.  Shit!  With a little problem solving we realized that we were booked at a ‘sister’ hotel which was called “Hotel” Villa Colonial.  We got a little lost trying to find our actual hotel, but were checked in and unpacking within 30 minutes.

There was a sheet at the front desk that read, “G Adventures tour members to meet in hotel lobby at 6:00pm for info session.”  Sylvie and I got lost walking around Cartagena for a few hours.  We later discovered that the area we explored was called Getsemani…or what Sylvie likes to say, “Gets a mani”, as in a manicure.  Sylvie and I stuck out like two nonparells in a bag of chocolate chips.  We were a little hungry and stopped of an open-air bakery.  What we thought we were ordering was a calzone ended up being a very delicious sweet roll…a pastry that seems to be very popular here.  The lovely roll cost us only 700 pesos (remember that 3,000 Colombian pesos = 1 USD).  After our $0.23 lunch we continued walking and found ourselves passing through outdoor shopping stalls, a park, and finally down to a harbor, which was across from Old Town.  On our way back we stopped for an apple and orange.  Sylvie claims that the orange was the “best [she’s] ever eaten”.  She was also afraid to try my apple because of catching Eboli. No, not Ebola and not Ecoli, but Eboli.  I’ll take my chances!

We take our first steps in South America. Sylvie shares her joy for fruit!

Sylvie in front of Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia

We took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel through a different part of town and spent an hour or so showering, unpacking, and relaxing, before meeting our group.

We filled out the proper paperwork, were given an overview of the trip and introduced ourselves.  We are a group of 14; a couple from New Zealand, a couple from the UK, a girl and a guy from London, a guy from Scottland, a guy from Australia, a guy from Berlin, a guy from Canada, and a girl from the Netherlands.  Our tour guide, Carmen, is from Bogota.

We went out for a short walk with our group and ended up going out for a very prolonged dinner.  The term “Colombian Minute” makes a “Mexican Minute” seem like seconds.  After 2+ hours we finally paid our bill.  Sylvie and I split a dish because the waiter convinced us that our dish was very large.  Sylvie and I were still hungry. Most dishes seemed to be accompanied with coconut rice and plantains.  We each had a Colombian beer, which reminded me a lot of a Negro Medelo.

We walked with the group for a bit afterwards and I took out 400,000 pesos at an ATM in Old Town.  Sylvie and I left the larger group and went with Christine (from London) to sit down and listen to some music while we enjoyed a cold beer.  We retired for evening at 10:30 after talking about our trips.  Christine is traveling alone for 8 months and also started her trip today.

August 18, 2015

This morning we decided to take a tour to a nearby beach island (possibly called Playa del Rosario?).  For under$40 USD we got, a ride to two beaches (one to snorkel and another to lay out) and an included lunch.  The boat ride was a bit long and probably made the entire trip not worth it, but we still enjoyed ourselves.  Lunch consisted of fried red snapper, plantains, ride, and a salad.  Sylvie actually ate the fish!

Sylvie picking at her fish in disgust as she had no other choices for lunch

Sylvie admitting that she actually enjoyed eating the fish!

Afterwards we did a bit of shopping for supplies (water, wine, fruit) and went to the terrace to relax.  We met with Christine and shared a pineapple and talked about our days.  Sylvie and I were planning having a relaxing night (bottle of wine, pizza, and watching a movie on the roof of our hotel).  The view of the moon setting over the Old City cathedral was absolutely stunning!

I fell asleep watching Spanish “South Park” and Spanish “1,000 Ways to Die”.

P.S.  I ended up leaving my 3 long-sleeved shirts behind in Cleveland, but my lovely father has agreed to mail them to my hotel in Quito, which I’ll be able to pick up in 2 weeks time.  Thanks dad!