Cartagena

Cartagena was my last stop on a two and a half week Colombia vacation. The laid back Caribbean coast city was the perfect place to end the trip, even though I wished it didn’t have to end at all. Apparently, this city inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ writing and as soon as I set foot in Cartagena I understood why. Magical is not an overly dramatic way to describe it. The architecture, the yellow-lit streets at night, the heat, the breeze off the ocean, seafood, freshly squeezed fruit juice, street vendors selling papaya and mangoes, all contribute to the magic of Cartagena. Not even the packs of tourists could ruin this mood.

I kept most of my days unstructured, knowing the climate would slow me down and force me to relax. I booked a day trip to the Islas del Rosario, tiny islands off the coast of Cartagena where we arrived by motorboat. I waded in blue waters, dipped into the pool, and ate an amazing lunch of fish, rice, yuca fries, and cocadas for dessert.

My other days were full of eating, drinking, and aimless walking around the Centro Histórico taking photos. I took full advantage of the exchange rate and treated myself to a spa trip and a four course meal at an upscale restaurant called Carmen. I was set on seeing Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ home and it didn’t disappoint, even just from the outside.

One night, I met up with Kasia, a German traveler who I met at the Nueva Lengua Spanish school in Bogotá. We went to Cafe Havana and danced to a live salsa band until the place closed. I also went dancing on my own to Quiebracanto, a bar right next to my hotel. Unfortunately, those are the only two salsa nights I had since the heat wiped me out on a daily basis.

On my last night in Cartagena, I was like a kid who didn’t want to go home after playing outside all day. With no particular plans, I wandered the streets until I got tired and found a restaurant that looked like it had good seafood. I had a comforting meal of rice with shrimp and plantains and of course some fresh fruit juice. With only two other people in the restaurant, the waiter and I talked throughout the meal and his friendliness made me even more sad to leave. After dinner, I wandered a bit more then finally gave in and returned to my hotel to prepare for an early flight the next morning.

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Traveling Alone

In Bogotá I was thankful I was traveling alone. Now, being in Medellín and feeling a bit depressed, I realize I wasn’t really alone. I took Spanish classes and went with other students to cafes, lunches, and activities organized by the language school. Although I was only there for a week, I miss the camaraderie of both the students and the school staff. I did plenty of things alone- I went to Monserrate and had a very peaceful and re-energizing experience. I visited the Gold Museum and sat in cafes by myself. But I also had the option of spending time with others and having shared experiences. The day before I left, a group students and staff hiked to the Chorrera Waterfall, an excursion I specifically stayed another day to take. I probably seemed antisocial (story of my life), but in hindsight I would not have preferred the hike alone.

One thing I’ve realized more clearly as I’ve gotten older is that I do crave closeness, sometimes to an unhealthy degree when it comes to relationships with men who don’t really care about my well-being. As a child with social anxiety disorder, I was controlled by fear. As a teenager and young adult, I began to claim my isolation as a choice I was making, though that “choice” was in response to circumstances mostly beyond my control. Now, as I near my third decade, I wonder how far I’ve really come in dealing with these root issues that fuel depression. Even though I spent only one week in Bogotá, it’s normal to grow attached to people as you share new experiences in a new place together. My challenge is to not spiral downwards and let that cloud of sadness stop me from fully enjoying the rest of my time in Colombia.

I’m not the biggest fan of Medellín for a few reasons- the stifling city heat, less friendly people than in Bogotá, the fact that it’s dirtier, and I felt sick for the past couple of days, but mainly I’ve been missing Bogotá and the people I met there. So I’ve been in a less than great mood. I stayed in bed until about 2 pm today (with the exception of getting up briefly to eat the hotel breakfast which is included) and around noon decided to start writing out my feelings while lying in bed. I ended up feeling slightly better. I looked out the window to see that it was a clear, sunny day, and the cute café across the street from my hotel was bustling. So I threw myself together, grabbed my laptop, and here I am writing this blog. As a treat to myself, I made a reservation for one at an upscale restaurant within Medellín’s botanical garden for tonight. Tomorrow afternoon, I head to Cartagena.

 

7 Days in Bogota

I really didn’t expect to like Bogotá this much. I fell in love with the city and its people, the many handsome men included. Here are the highlights and a photo gallery.

Comedor: This was a volunteering trip organized by Nueva Lengua Spanish School. A group of us went to a Catholic soup kitchen for children in a neighborhood in the hills of Bogotá, which are the poorest areas. For a lot of the kids, this is the only meal they get all day. As in every traditional Colombian meal, they get soup, a main dish which includes meat and rice, and fresh fruit juice. We handed out dishes to the kids, making sure they ate everything and everyone got one serving of each. When the kids were gone, we sat down and ate the same meal for lunch, looked at the view from the rooftop (not safe enough to walk the streets) and went home. I wasn’t planning to participate in this excursion because I didn’t feel like being around swarms of children, but I’m glad I changed my mind last minute.

Monserrate y el Museo de Oro: I rode the cable car to the top of Monserrate, a mountain that is one of Bogota’s main tourist attractions. The view is amazing. It overlooks the entire city and has a church, walking paths, a restaurant, and a cafe. There was a thunderstorm that day so it was very cloudy, but it didn’t hurt the view one bit. I’m glad I came here alone since I was able to take my time and relax. It ended up being a very calming and spiritual experience for me. When I finally decided to leave, I headed to the Gold Museum in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá. This is the biggest collection of pre-Hispanic gold work in the world and I enjoyed it just as much as I expected, given how much I’m interested in the topic. I also got some second tattoo design ideas.

Catedral de Sal, Zipaquirá: The First Wonder of Colombia is an underground Catholic church built inside a salt mine in Zipaquirá, a couple of hours outside of Bogotá. Another student and I took the Transmilenio (city buses that operate like metro with dedicated street lanes) and then a ~40 minute bus ride after our morning classes were over. The salt mine was impressive. I can’t imagine the amount of time, effort, and artistic talent it took to create the carvings, let alone the natural beauty of the mine. My favorite part was definitely the mirror pool.

Cascada la Chorrera: This was officially my first waterfall trip. Located high in the mountains that provide Bogotá’s backdrop in a town called Choachi, the ride up the mountain alone was beautiful. Nothing but farms, cows, chickens, and dogs that, unlike in the city, looked happy to be there. The hike made me feel like my lungs were going to explode, but it was worth the effort. We first came to a small waterfall and stream, then after more sweating and heavy breathing we arrived at the main waterfall, Chorrera. Not for people afraid of heights, we climbed over moss-covered rocks to take pictures, look at the fantastic view, and feel the ridiculously fresh water. (The water was the best I have ever tasted.) With a burst of energy from the fresh water, we hiked some more and then had a typical Colombian lunch of soup and a main meat dish with fresh fruit juice. In this case, the juice was tomate de árbol (tree tomato). After lunch, it turns out there was another waterfall. This one was bigger than the first, but smaller than the second and had a little cave behind the waterfall that you could venture into. I just stuck my feet in because the water was freezing, but this was probably my favorite Colombia experience so far.

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