Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Long Road Home

As you might expect, the actual travel portion of travel isn't always fun. The only truely frightening moment was when we were passing through Colombia migration, yes. that's right. Migration. They filter  you before you leave the country. We'd already gotten our tax exemption certificate and droped off our suitcases. For some reason my brand new Canadian passport with it's Colombia entry and tax exemption stamps wasn't good. After an extremely stressful 10 minutes during which I planned my life in Colombia and tried to remember where I'd put the Canadian embassy emergency contact numbers.... I got my third Colombia stamp in my passport with no questions and no discussion. The secondary screening was weird - just at the gate there was a scrum of passengers and uniformed officers. We had to undergo more security screening including an unexpected and sudden pat down by a female military officer. it was quite comforting to step onto the aircraft and were greeted and seated.

Our night flight was uneventful. Arriving in Toronto was a bit strained but smooth. Not even any questions about visitng farms, bringing back seeds or souvenirs. I'm very glad we broke our journey in Vancouver beacause we are both very jet lagged.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Zebra Coffee Shop

After all the souvenir shopping our dogs were barking so we slumped into a couple seats at the Zebra coffee shop. I recommend it to anyone coming to Cartagena. The cafe con leche were lovely lattes. Plus the people watching was excellent.

Souvenir Shopping

As most tourists do, we like to return with something to remember the journey. Lately we've tried to limit ourselves to comestibles like liquor, spices and perfume. But, i just can't resist the lure of the tacky trade.

I just love bags- especially multi-media bags!

This, this was not tacky. Mompox a small community nearish to Cartegana is well known for its silver filigree work, and this piece was highly covetable. Also very expensive.

The shops just went on and on...

Sarah's Blue Period

I was married in a periwinkle blue silk dress. I've got a thing for blue. There is a blue here that I deeply love. it isn't just one blue, its blue with blue with blue, with a little bit of other colours under it.

Street Food & Lunch

I'm a foodie so it should come as no surprise that I try lots of food stuffs that I see other people trying. Today was no exception.
This was the coconut guy by our hotel. First you drink the coconut water, then you hand the coconut back and he hacks it in half with a machete and scoops out the fresh squidgy coconut meat for you.

We liked it so much we got some coconut water for later. It comes in little baggies almost impossible to get out.

We turned around and followed the lady with the beautiful dress... ahem... and she was stopping to get some shave ice. How lovely!

I had a tamarind shave ice and Chris had a coca shave ice. Delish.

We decided we'd try Getsemini for lunch, and when we smelled and then spied what was on offer at this restaurant we dove in with gusto.

That is a kilo of langostinos drenched in butter and garlic after we'd had our way with them. Oh, and some shrimp rice, coconut rice, fried plantain and salad to round things out.

Cartagena People

Like many tourist towns there is a lot on view here. Some of it seems specifically for the tourists (t-shirts, jewelery, horse drawn carriages). Other parts of the street life seem geared at the locals. Last night we watched a waiter from a very high end restaurant walk out into a square that our bar over looked and buy an ice cream sandwich from one of the vendors.

After all the walking we asked for a restaurant recommendation from Edgar our guide. I'm so glad we did! This restaurant was great, local food made right by the ladies in the open kitchen. Plus the cute waiter made excellent pina coladas.

Whenever we travel and stumble across a barbershop Chris gets a hair cut. The hair cut isn't the point, its about the experience. This barbershop was right beside our luncheon restaurant. Each of the men in the chairs had a lovely lady observing and ordering just the right cut. And, just in case you might need her, in the corner of the shop was a notary who advertised everything from baptismal to wedding certificates.

Cartegana Architecture

Our guide for the morning, Edgar, was wonderful. He answered all my questions thoughtfully. I have never had a personal tour guide before. Having Edgar tour us around added enormously to our enjoyment and understanding of this town.

I am unable to do justice to the lovely streets and alleys, but the gist of it is this. By fiat only the rich could have houses more than one story until after the colony declared Independence. Then the 'republican' style included multi-story homes with beautiful balconies, humongous doors and servants or slave quarters.

Cartagena Walking Tour - Coconut Thirst

After walking for a few hours we were understanably thirsty. I'd been wanting to try the coconut water for a while and with a captive guide and translator I was able to make my demands!

It was delicious and refreshing. Enough to keep going to the next historical stop on the itinerary.

Cartegana Walking Tour - the Fort

We walked right through Getsemini (yes, named after the hill in Jerusalem) and up to the fort that formerly protected Cartegena from and landward invasion. The town was protected from the sea side by its defensive walls, coral reef and cannons. The military engineering of the fort and it's surroundings remains impressive. Each aspect of the fort was designed with defensibility in mind. At the time (1640-1720's) Cartegena was the key to the Spanish treasure chest, a town with a lot of money in gold and jewels. The French did succeed in taking the fort and town once, the English failed miserably. Pirates, corsairs and buccaneers were constant threats.

This is the lower cistern which would fill with water during the rainy season and see the garrison through any siege. Both the City of Cartegena and the fort were designed to withstand multi day sieges. Only after more than a 6 month siege was Cartegena taken back by the Spanish after the colony declared Independence in 1811. For that, the city was awarded the moniker "Heroica".

We are discussing the range of the cannons which would have fired from the part of the fort to protect the town.

Each part of the fort could be defended or destroyed if taken, by the cannon emplacements on the apex of the hill. If the top of the fort was taken, the retreating solders would light the stores of gunpowder buried in the tunnels under the hill and blow the whole lot to smithereens. The fort was never taken after the final outer battlements were built.

Cartegena Walking Tour Getsemini

We started our old town Cartegena walking tour at the old gates of the city, 3 arches now occupied by book and craft sellers. We processed across to Getsemini, the former 'low class' portion of old town Cartegana. Homes there now sell for $400,000 US.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cartegena - Anthony Bourdain Strikes!

Yesterday we endured the interminable drive from the wonderful eco lodge to our downtown Old Town Cartegena hotel. Last time I managed to sleep through most of it, this time I was awake. Cattle ranching seems to be a common occupation. At each check point, of which there were many less this drive, folks would appear hawking everything from coca cola, to cookies, to apparently themselves. How else to explain the ladies who had nothing?

After our arrival and long awaited bathroom break, we wandered out into the town. Eventually we found ourselves hungry for more than fruit snacks. I tried twice to find the euro bistro recommended by our oracle (Lonely Planet) but failed miserably. We then wandered around seeking out that rarest of species, a restaurant that wasn't empty, wasn't full, yet had good food at good prices. What we found was La Cervicheria. Somewhere deep in my hind brain I must have remembered this place. After we were seated and received our menus I was greeted by a screen shot from the Anthony Bourdain travel and food show which caused our journey to Colombia. "As seen on TV"! And the food was good.


After three days of blustering from the change of the moon (so the locals tell us) the winds died down after lunch and the sea calmed enough that I could see through it. Ah Ha! I can go swimming again. In point of fact what I really enjoy is snorkeling, which for me means hanging face down in the warm water breathing through a snorkel, looking through a mask at the amazing sea life. Today’s highlights; two (yes, two) eels, one blue with white spots making it stand out a bit from it’s rocky home, the other a beautiful intense green, which caused it to completely blend in with it’s weed surrounded home (it wasn’t until it poked it’s toothy snout out at me that I even knew it was there); a puffer fish (a beige and red camo patterned it’s skin and I swear algae was growing on it); a sea urchin; a conch looking thingy the size of my fist; a small ray; and last but not least a sea slug which moved surprisingly quickly. My only sacrifice was the skin on the palms of my hands which due to constant immersion has begun to flake off a bit. Small price to pay really. Part of what makes snorkeling so enjoyable here is the diversity and density of the sea life. If you just hang out in the water, you’ll see something. It also helps that the water is warm, pretty much skin temperature so you never feel at all chilled. The water and sea life are a big attraction to this part of the world. This is the third time I’ve swum in the Caribbean and I think I’m going to keep coming back whenever I can. I only wish that I could have taken photos of all the sea life to attach to this post. I must add at this juncture that Chris took all the photos and was only inspired to do so when I was wearing my thong bikini - not for publication. Chris strenuously objects to this point!


In Spanish as well as Italian, jellyfish travel under the much more descriptive moniker of ‘medusa’. Her headful of spiteful, poisonous snakes strikes me as a very apt way to name a jellyfish. We’ve been hear for almost a week now. In the first 3 days the water was smooth, with gentle waves and the snorkelling right off the beach was great. With the change of the moon, the weather and so the state of the water changed. The sea is choppy and the sand has been stirred up so much that there really isn’t much to be seen. I still love swimming in the ocean and spend as much time as possible in the ocean floating, swimming, lounging. Yesterday after some hammock time I was hot and in need of a float. Christopher had conquered his own hammock suffering it to support him and his computer so he could work and hang. I mention this because when I came screaming up out of the water running along the beach towards him it excuses what felt like a rather slow reaction time. As soon as I hit the medusa I knew it. I never saw a thing, I was just starting a slow breast stroke out into the waves when; “WHAM!” intense stinging on my face, back and right arm. Having had a few medusa run ins as a child swimming in the Atlantic I was familiar with the sensation, but oh, this was much worse. Chris came to my rescue at the freshwater shower peeling pieces of tentacle off me. The stinging went on. Happily the gardener and odd jobs man was within shouting distance and took me over to the kitchen where he ordered vinegar and warm water. I was very dubious about the warm water, but it did help. For the first few hours where I’d been stung was a very angry red spreading out from raise white welts. Happily it wasn’t the kind of medusa than can kill with its sting. Apparently there is one around here that necessitates a visit to the hospital. The day after I have only small red lines where Chris pulled the tentacles off me. As I write this I am looking longingly out at the beautiful Caribbean waters and thinking about swimming in the pool. The gardener said if you can’t see through the water, don’t swim in it. Good advice I think that I will take.  The next day at the tide mark we found the carcasses of a few of the little blighters. No wonder I didn’t spot them. Not only are they small, but they are also completely transparent, with just a slight blue tinge to the tentacles. In the first photo you see the side of my shoe for scale.

Island of Garbage

On our way back from the snorkel tour we swung past this very strange sight. A tiny island covered in multi-story houses. The residents say they live there because there’s no mosquitos. With beautiful carribean waters all around, and two other islands near by they can escape their self imposed urban exile fairly easily. The island has electricity, satellite TV, a school and reportedly, a restaurant. The islands residents are expanding their domain by adding garbage to the edges of the island. If you’ve seen Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, you have a pretty good idea of the concept. It is like some imaginative future fiction story to see an island as populated as a urban high rise out in the middle of a chain of palm lined islets. I suspect you, dear reader, are wondering as we did where the drinking water comes from and where the effluvia goes… I think the fresh water comes by boat in large plastic containers as I spied a few boats with what looked like water jugs aboard. The other matter… I’ll leave to your imagination.