When we got off of the boat from the San Blas islands we felt like we were taking Cartagena by storm, with our new team. Saddling up at Friends to Be hostel, all the boys and Meg had a room to themselves prime for continuing the shenanigans. After much needed showers and wifi time, we took our wobbly sea legs to the streets of Cartagena. Seriously, when you are in a confined space after 5 days at sea, your body thinks that you are continuously 5 beers deep. Our hostel was located just outside the walled city in a little neighborhood called Getsemaní, where graffiti decorated the walls and hopscotches the narrow streets.
Plaza de la Trinidad was where Cartagena’s vagabond street musicians, bracelet-braiding argentines, party-hunting Australians, and well-dressed Colombian travelers alike met to exchange cultures and drinks. Grabbing a seat on the curb with a 2 litre of Aguila you paid tribute to why travelers travel. Overhearing conversations in every language, warmhearted sing-a-longs, smells of local cuisines and fried foods, break dancing crews hitting the streets hard (even Michael Jackson occasionally), gifts exchanging hands for friends at home all happening under a slightly dimmed plaza. Bars and other promoted social gathering events are a incomparable to the blithe feeling of camaraderie that you get when you are a part of a plaza fiesta.
We all went out to dinner that night to reclaim our passports, one last meal as a family. Captain Carmello and Chef Francia, introduced us to our first Colombian salsa bar where the Aguila flowed and English Rosie promptly fell in love with the beautiful Colombian bartender. The boys and Meg were quickly introduced to Colombian nightlife where rum is cheap and the dim clubs bump until the morning light.
Walking the streets of the old walled city is an incredible view into the past. Bougainvillea and vines hang from the balconies of beautiful colonial buildings and Colombian flags arch proudly over narrow streets. Also lining the streets are hundred of vendors proclaiming “A la orden” as you pass. We eventually learned this means something similar to “At your service” and is WIDELY used by vendors all over the country. We sidewalk shopped taking in authentic paintings and handmade jewelry and some not so authentic light sabers and other made-in-china toys. We found a line of locals streaming out of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and found empanadas as big as our faces full of caramelized onions and it quickly became our go-to lunch spot.
Bellies full we meandered the streets looking for the tattoo parlor. A few hours later and we were rocking matching Colombian tattoos! …just kidding moms. But we were spectators to Jak, Orbit, and Andy getting their first tattoos to commemorate their roadie in norma, the van, from Maine to Panama. I figured there are already plenty of pics of your bums on the internet, boys, so what’s one more. We even ran into the tattoo artist the night before at the bar, but he was off the sauce by mid-day when the ink hit the bum.
Walking the wall for sunsets is a must do. With your eyes gazing over the Caribbean sea, the sun slips behind the crashing waves on the jetties protecting the city. Take the money shot picture with the Colombian flag in the background as the sun goes down will surely get you a spot in the family photo album.
We learned fast what Colombian culture is. The Colombians live a life of fulfillment and giving. There is no time to be shy or timid. If you want to have an Arepa with a million calories on it, go for it. If you want to wear a bathing suit that doesn’t quite fit properly but you feel good in it, beautiful. If you want to try to dance salsa even though you are tone deaf, who cares. Walking in the streets of Cartagena the Caribbean onda is palpable, good vibes that bounce from one person to another. Old men laugh sharing sugary coffee and apparently very funny stories on the sidewalks. The colors, the flowers, the sunshine, the arepas, the dancing, the PEOPLE, everything about Cartagena encourages joy. We get why so many people fall in love with Colombia and come back from their travels a changed person.
Gracias, Cartagena – nos vemos pronto!