The Grand Finale

Day Seven

As per the title, yes, this is the final day of our trip out here in Colombia. We have a long day ahead. From Santa Marta, we must drive back to the city of Cartagena as that is where our plane departs. Much like the drive to Santa Marta, the drive back was long (although we managed to shave off one hour), the drive was beautiful, and the drive was relaxing. We made a few stops here and there.

Our first stop was at a beautiful beach town of Rodadero. Although we could not stop and walk along the beach, we managed to drive by slow enough to enjoy the beautiful view of this new town. Parking was impossible to find, which was the main reason we didn’t stop. Instead, we admired from a distance and continued along our journey back to Cartagena.

Our second stop along the way was the beautiful Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. La Quinta is a gorgeous estate famous for being the place of death of Simon Bolivar. Simon Bolivar was a Venezuelan military and political leader famously known for the establishment of many countries, including Colombia, from the Spanish rule. Part of this estate is also a museum of modern art.

Our third and final stop along the journey was to the well-known Volcan Del Totumo. This particular volcano is mostly visited by tourists staying near Cartagena, but also has many Colombian locals that visit it. The Volcano is in fact still active and contains mud baths that are said to have “healing” properties. Back in the day, the volcano was known to spew lava and ash but was turned into mud by the work of a priest who claimed the volcano was the sign of the devil.

We finally made it back to Cartagena, oh how I’ve missed this beautiful city. We went back to our hotel, showered, and were off yet again to the beautiful Historic Downtown. We stopped at a very high-class (very touristic) restaurant to celebrate a grand day (Happy Birthday Mom!). For starters, we ordered a delicious muscles plate with a white wine sauce and my mother had an octopus a la Colombiana. For our main course, a delicious grilled fish topped with equally tasty shrimp. As for myself, an incredibly savoury beef Wellington. For dessert, a dark chocolate cake on the outside, with delicious hot creamy fudge on the inside, with a side of vanilla ice cream. Of course, we also treated ourselves to some cocktails (we’re celebrating, give me a break).

As we finished our meal and made our way out of the restaurant, my mother and I took one last walk around the Historic Downtown. We said our goodbyes to the beautiful city of Cartagena. Although goodbyes are hard, we know it’s not forever. Next Trip: Medellin.

Hasta La Proxima

 

The Freedom of Nude Beaches

Day Six

Another bright and early morning for the traveling duo. We woke up at an unreasonable 7:45 am, ate a very delicious breakfast of tropical fruit, and made our way out to the beautiful Parque Tayrona. The trip there was smooth sailing. Like the Colombians say sigue derechito derechito (just go straight). The National Park was about one hour from where we were staying in Santa Marta. The route was through the mountains. Curve after curve, mountain after mountain, pueblo after pueblo. The Pueblo’s (neighborhoods) were small, homey, and gorgeous. Every house was painted a different color, there were fruit stands every 100 meters, and they even had little kiosks selling shark oil (what that is, we have no idea). At every neighborhood center, there was a large speed bump that practically forced you to stop. Once stopped, a group of 5 Colombians would approach your vehicle to sell you something. Whether it was a selfie stick, some corn on the cob, a few bottles of water, or a car wash service, it was interesting to see a day in the life of an average Colombian del pueblo. To us, it was nothing more than a vendor trying to earn some extra money, but to them, this was their livelihood. They were trying to make ends meat. It was quite a culture shock.

We eventually made it to the beautiful Parque Tayrona. The beach was quite far from where we had parked the car, so we opted to be taken by horseback (by foot would have taken 2 hours just to get there). The lift up to the beach was beautiful and scenic. The vegetation was to die for. All kinds of bird species had flown out and sang us their beautiful songs. Some parts of the route even looked like it was taken right out of the grand canyon. With towering boulders to each side, it was a surprise the horses could even make it through. There were stretches of flat land in which the horses could gallop freely (my butt was not happy, ouch!). After about an hour on horseback, we finally arrived at the beautiful beach area. It wasn’t just any beach, however. Before you actually made it to the beach, there was a patch of land filled with tents. Either you could bring your own tent, or the national park provided one that you could rent out for a few nights. It seemed the national park was actually a tourist “hotel” of sorts. If tents aren’t really your style, they also offered hammocks for you to rent and hang up wherever your heart desired.

The beach itself was gorgeous, the water was transparent, the sand was coarse but comfortable. It was also incredibly crowded. It became obvious that this particular park was strictly for tourists, as no Colombian visitor was seen. The crowd was young, what seemed like people in their mid-twenties that were out vacationing and backpacking throughout Colombia to pass the summer. Since the beach was so crowded, my mother and I decided to walk to another beach, just 10 minutes from the main park. To our surprise, very few people chose to venture out to the other beaches, which provided an opportunity for visitors to strip. Yes. That’s right. We were at the nude part of the beach. Let me tell you something about nude beaches. They are awesome. The freedom of not having to cover up or the ability to even out your tan, it was worth it. Of course, there were the odd stragglers that would walk by, but they were naked too. No room for judgment at a nude beach.

After a few hours of relaxing at the beach, it was starting to get late and the horses were desperate to get back. We hopped back on the saddles and ventured back to the entrance of the national park. In a desperate attempt to get back to the entrance for a refreshing drink of water, the horses raced back like their life depended on it. Fun for us, but not for our butts.

We made it back to the car and enjoyed the last view of the beautiful scenery back to Santa Marta. We arrived at the hotel, enjoyed a delicious dinner, and packed our luggage for the second last time.

The Real Colombia

Day Five

Today is the day we are free. No longer held back by work and conferences, our vacation truly begins. Bright and early this Sunday morning (I’m talking 7:00 am), we ventured out into the real Colombia. We rented a car from the airport and made our way towards sunny Santa Marta. The drive was long, four hours total. The journey was stressful, to say the least. Many Colombians throughout have given us pointers about driving to Santa Marta:

  1. Drive during the day, be sure not to be out during the night
  2. Don’t drive down any unpaved roads
  3. The trip to Santa Marta is one straight highway

Since we left incredibly early in the morning (I’m talking 8:00 am), the first pointer was followed to a tee. With the car, we rented a GPS, since our phones don’t work (data usage would have been expensive). On our way to Santa Marta, there is a beautiful tourist attraction, an active volcano on the coast of Santa Catalina. They call it El Volcan de Lodo el Totumo. Since it was en route, we decided to head towards it on our journey to Santa Marta (mistake number one). For some reason, the designated route to the volcano was not exactly a paved highway. By the first 20 minutes of being on the road, my mother and I found ourselves on a very flooded, pot-hole ridden, dirt road that was located on the outskirts of town. In all honesty, it was quite nerve-wracking. Although we’ve been told by every person we’ve met that the people of Colombia are incredibly nice and humble people, you can’t help but feel a little cautious considering their history (also consider living your entire life in too-nice-to-handle Canada). We seemed a little out of place and quickly turned the car around, made it back on the paved highway and completely disregarded the volcano.

The rest of the trip towards Santa Marta went straight and smoothly. No really, they weren’t kidding about the trip being one straight highway adjacent to the coast. The landscape was incredible. Even once passed the beautiful sight of the ocean shoreline, we were graced with the view of the neighborhoods. Most of these neighborhoods reminded me of back home (and by back home I mean Argentina, not Canada). The houses were small, attached to one another, gated by small fences, and were only just a few steps from the sidewalk. At every intersection, there a vendor selling fruits from their carts. It was a beautiful sight, different from your typical resort-stay lifestyle.

We arrived at the beautiful city of Santa Marta after four long and stressful hours of driving the streets of Colombia. After checking into the hotel, leaving our luggage behind, and cleaning ourselves up, we went out for lunch. Just around the corner of the hotel, we found a small little patio restaurant to enjoy a delicious meal. My mother chose a shrimp platter (as per usual) and I chose a chicken rice dish. Both platters came with a salad and fries. As we sat there devouring our meals, a little boy, not older than 7 years of age, approached our table. What I witnessed at this very moment, will live with me for the rest of my life.

This little boy was a child of the streets. Although standing right beside me, so close we were in contact, I did not exist to the little boy. The only thing that mattered in that moment, to that little boy, was the plate of food in front of us. The large plate of golden, crunchy, salty-smelling fries. The rest of the world was at a standstill while this little boy looked at this plate of fries. I had finished with my portion of the meal and decided to give the boy what his heart so longed for: food. With desperation motivating every inch of his body, he reached without hesitation and grabbed as many fries as his tiny hands could carry. He looked up at me, for the first time in this entire encounter, with a look of relief and hope. Perhaps, with my help, this young boy can sleep with food in his belly.

The Country of Emeralds

Day Four

Like every other day on this trip, we woke up to a gorgeous, sunny morning. With no time to waste, we woke up from our slumber and made our way to breakfast. Devouring the delicious Colombian delicacies, we finished and made our way straight to the city. Today is a day of museums and shopping.

Our first stop in our busy morning was to Cartagenas largest Emerald Museum. This museum was like any other I have been to (and I’ve been around). The museum started in, what I can only describe to be like, a workshop. A small room with a station at every wall and corner. Each station (eight in total) had a particular job in Emerald processing. One station was in charge of cleaning the emerald stone, another station was responsible for the molding of gold or silver jewelry pieces, another station was responsible for the engravement, the roles were endless. Before our very eyes, we witnessed, from start to finish, the process of creating the perfect piece of emerald jewelry. It was remarkable, to say the least.

As we moved throughout the Emerald museum, the wonderful tour guide taught us not only of the history of many pieces of jewelry but also to spot pure stones over tainted counterparts. There are three particular characteristics of Emerald to look out for when choosing the perfect stone. First, you have your color. The classic, rich, deep green Emerald is the purest. However, depending on preference, many people may opt for a pale, grassy green that typically denotes low-quality rock. Second, is the clarity. The highest quality of Emerald stone is those with little to no cuts or fractures, an otherwise totally flush rock. There are, however, instances in which Carbon seeps its way through the cracks of the Emerald rock, creating what looks like a green marble design. This does typically characterize lower quality rocks but is becoming more and more popular for their unique look. Lastly, you have shine. Emeralds with high gloss and sparkle are of much greater quality and purity than dull parallels. For a quick tip, the darker the green, the less fractured the stone, and the brighter the shine, the greater quality of Emerald.

After the Emerald museum tour was finished, we found our way to the real fun stuff. The actual jeweler. A room full of endless combinations of color, clarity, and shine, as well as your choice of gold, white gold, and silver accents. You also had your choice of cut. Round, oval, triangular, classic Emerald, heart, pear, cushioned. Anything you could think of, they had it. Lined with diamonds, crystal, Emeralds of varying colors (from exposure to gases) like pinks, purples, blues, the possibilities were truly endless. You even had the choice of an unprocessed, raw Emerald rock.

After spending most of our time at the Emerald museum, we made our way back to the Historic Town to visit El Museo Del Oro (The Museum of Gold). There was much to learn about the numerous artifacts available on display. From beautiful nose jewelry and earrings to fish hooks and statues. You could walk out of the museum believing that back in the day, the only material the Colombians had was gold. Incredibly unique as they were, no two pieces of jewelry or tools were the same as the molds were creating and destroyed for each individual piece.

The last stop on our morning journey through the Historic Town was a library. With my mothers’ conference coming to an end and three days of pure beach lounging ahead of us, she needed some literature. They had anything and everything, from your hot-off-the-press celebrity magazines to your educational college textbooks. One particular topic, very specific to Colombia’s history, I could not find. Many of the history books sold at the library had to do with the natives and their gold. It’s almost as if Colombian people were trying to erase one particular man from their memories. In this particular library, not a single book dedicated to the narcotraficantes, more specifically, Pablo Escobar. Although a little confused, due to the fact that Colombia has a very dark history with cocaine, I’m not entirely surprised. After the history and the bloodshed, Colombians everywhere are trying to forget about the horrendous acts of those times. So much so, they are willing to erase it from their history books.

 

Lounging and Pirate Ship Cruises

Day Three

As the sun slowly rose over the horizon, rays of light made their way into the hotel room through the sheer curtains. The room lit up with a beautiful warm light and another hot Cartagena day began. Unfortunately for my mother, her day consisted of meetings, lectures, and networking. She left shortly after breakfast, leaving me to enjoy the warmth of the sun all by my lonesome (as someone who occasionally enjoys solidarity, this was more of a blessing than a curse). I made my way to the very large, open pool, claimed myself a lounger and laid to enjoy the heat of the sun in its entirety. No sun block? No problem (but some regrets). Needless to say, by the end of my sun tanning day, I was as red as a lobster (I say as I smile through the pain). After a long day of educating the mind of young Doctors, my mother joined me on my much-needed day of relaxation. We migrated from the pool to the beach to enjoy, without surprise, the gorgeous waves of the Caribbean Sea. The water was a perfect temperature. Luke warm. Not too warm in addition to the already hot summer day but enough to cool the body from the humid air that surrounds us.

Not long after arriving at the beach, we retired back to our hotel room to prepare for a surprise dinner out, courtesy of the Latin-American Community of Doctors (my mother is kind of a big deal). We decided to have fun with our outfits and dress up for a night out to town. My mother wore a gorgeous black pencil skirt with beautiful beige stitching on the outer leg and paired it with an equally gorgeous, sheer, lacy black shirt (talk about stunning). I, on the other hand, opted for a gorgeous green, form-fitting asymmetrical dress and paired it with a beautiful pair of skin-colored velvet heels. We made our way to the lobby to catch our bus to dinner. Little did we know the surprise that awaited us.

Yo ho, all together, hoist the colors high.

Heave ho, thieves and beggars, never shall we die.

Aside from being the greatest opening to a movie in cinematic history, this song resembles the lives of pirates lost by the Brethren Court. Although totally fictional, the pirate ship my mother and I cruised in was not. Arriving at a beautiful marina, not one person could take their eyes off the star of the night. The incredibly authentic pirate ship that was docked on the pier. Straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, the ship had the main deck to which we entered and upper desks at both the bow and stern. Complete with original sails, cannons (although no longer operational), cannon balls, and steering wheel, it was hard not to tell the rest of the tourists to walk the plank. Entertainment included a Colombian cover band followed by a comedic ventriloquist performance. Although no formal dinner was in order, waiters walked around with delicious platters of Colombian “finger food” for tourists to munch on. The pirate ship ride lasted a whole three hours before we returned back to the marina and the journey ended. Although not what we expected from the dinner invitation, it was a lovely surprise.

 

Dinner in Historic Downtown

Day Two

Another day of sun awaits me in the hot and humid city of Cartagena. With the intention of making this trip the most relaxing vacation, I didn’t even consider setting an alarm to wake me up. Even if I sleep all day, the sun sets at 6:00 leaving me with plenty of time to lounge on the beach. However, by the luck of the draw, we managed to wake up in time for a delicious continental breakfast. With our stomachs full and ready for digestion, we made our way to the beautiful beach just steps from our hotel room. We grabbed a pair of loungers, placed them under a beach umbrella and laid in the sun, soaking up every possible ray of sunshine. That only lasted about ten minutes. Let me tell you about the weather. Hot is an understatement. Now combine that with incredibly humid and you’ve got yourself a steam room (or in this case city). Without having stepped foot in the water, we were already soaked (call it humidity, call it sweat). To cool off, we made our way through the fiery heat of the sand and into the equally warm water of the Caribbean Sea. That’s right, it was warm, like walking into a hot tub. Although unable to cool off, the water was gorgeous and the waves were calm. It was bliss. The sounds of the waves crashing against the shoreline, the feeling of cool, smooth sand in between your toes, the heat of the sun on your head while the rest of your body remains cool submerged under water, and the unforgettable taste of salt in your mouth.

After hours of swimming and the need to get out of burning 2:00 pm sun, we made our way back to the hotel for a Colombian style lunch. Delicious ham and cheese empanadas, rice cooked in a pan with shrimp and scallops, and of course for the Canadian in me, a side of pasta drizzled in a Colombian style cheese sauce.

After lunch, we explored the many pools the hotel has to offer, one of which has a gorgeous open view of the beach. Much more cooling than the Sea, the pool was refreshing. A hot day with a high of 34 degrees, the cold water of the pool was a necessity. Eventually however, we found ourselves back at the giant, open beach. Taking advantage of the space, a group of Colombian boys set up nets outlined by coconuts and played a game of beach futbol (soccer). Skins vs. Jerseys. Watching them kick around the ball reminded me of my brothers. Any opportunity and they were out playing a game of footy.

As the day became night, we decided to visit the Old Historic Town once more. We jumped in a cab and made our way downtown. The fare was 15000 pesos (relax now, that’s only about $4). The town was much more active at night, they called it the Mykonos of Colombia (Mykonos is the party island of Greece). Around every corner and plaza, you could hear a slightly different variation of music. There were groups of four with varying guitars, singing for the tourists as they enjoyed dinner. There were solo artists playing either the saxophone, drums, or the accordion. Other Colombian teenagers walked around with stereos, performing freestyle rap verses for incoming tourists. The night was alive, everywhere you walked there was something new to enjoy.

We continued walking throughout the Historic Town, admiring the stores and architecture. Two things stood out the most. Every house in town was marked by a very special object, what is referred to in Spanish as a llamador. A llamador is a door knocker and every house had its own variation of design, style, shape, and color. Some of them resembled animals like koi fish, while others resembled the faces of Greek gods like Poseidon. Historically appealing, these artifacts are one of many sites that attracts the eyes of tourists. Another show stealer common in all of Colombia, is the high supply of emeralds. Between every store and restaurant, a magnificent jeweler is stationed with an endless supply of rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and other accessories plated in gold and silver. Whether you’re looking for your classic deep, rich green or decide to opt for a lighter grassy green with processed emeralds as well as raw mined emerald rocks, any design you could think of, a jeweler is bound to have it. To this day, Colombia has the largest share of production of emeralds in the world, followed by Zambia.

Towards the finale of our night, we decided to stop for a light dinner before we retired back to the hotel. We stopped at a gorgeous restaurant called Harry’s. My mother ordered a delicious shrimp cocktail that came with cubed avocado and mango pieces. I, on the other hand, ordered a Jamon Serrano appetizer. Little did I know the appetizer was a giant plate of dry-cured Spanish ham served in thin slices, very characteristic of latino culture.

My Trip to Colombia

Day One

Here I am in nothing but a towel, sitting in a giant purple and yellow hammock on the balcony of my hotel room. Swaying from one side to another, listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore line. Birds chirping as they fly overhead, pelicans diving into the water making a splash as they scavenge the water for food. It’s 31 degrees Celsius on a beautiful Thursday afternoon. The sun is scorching hot. So hot, that you can feel the sizzling sand burning off the skin on the soles of your feet. So hot, that you cannot even bear sitting in the sun to bronze your skin. Welcome to August in Cartagena.

We arrived yesterday (August 16th) at midday. With so much to explore, we dropped off our luggage in the hotel room, changed into summer clothes, and immediately made our way to town. Cartagena is a beautiful city in Colombia, located on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. Just a few steps from the Sea, the beautiful Historic Downtown is hidden behind a giant wall that encloses the beautiful cobblestone streets and colonial style architecture. Built in the 1600’s, the wall was built to protect the city from attacks made by enemies of the crown and aggressive pirates. In the Colonial Period, Cartagena was one of the largest Ports of America, with many boats traveling to Spain with fabulous treasures and riches.

Once inside the ferocious walls, the Old Town is of magnificent beauty. The architecture reminds me of Italy. Each building has a beautiful balcony overlooking the cobblestone street, decorated with flowers and vines of all colors and sizes. At each corner, a man or woman stands behind a cart with many exotic varieties of fruit. Mango, papaya, star fruit, sold and cut into cubes for you to take along your journey throughout the city. Other vendors walk around with carts of fresh lemonade and bottles of water. Kiosks were also posted at every corner selling typical Colombian accessories. The Sombrero Vueltiao is a traditional Colombian Hat made out of caña flecha, which is a special type of Cane that grows in the area. The name Vueltiao (Spanish for “turn”) comes from the way the hat is made. The more Cane fibers braided together and the greater the bending flexibility, the higher the quality of the hat.

As we made our way throughout the town, we reached a beautiful church Convento de Santo Domingo. Located in the center of a small plaza, the church is one of the most important tourist sites in Town. The church was originally established in the 16th century as the Convento de San Daniel until it was expropriated by the Friars of the Dominican order in the 19th century. It has since been used as a seminary, college, and Institute of the fine arts until its recent restoration.

As the night went on, we could hear the sound of drums being played in the distance. We followed the noise of the music until we found ourselves in a beautiful park outside the Museum of Inquisition. At the center of the park were two men banging old African Drums, another man playing a clarinet, and a group of 8 Colombian dancers. The women wore bright colorful flowy outfits that they used in addition to their dance as a prop. They danced around to the music with their fellow male dancers. Once one choreographed number was performed, within seconds they changed into beautiful new outfits, just as colorful as the last, and performed another dance.

After a long day of exploring the Old Historic Downtown, we made our way back to the Hotel room to relax on the hammock and rest for the next full day ahead.