Cartagena - The Cultural Capital of Colombia
Trip Start May 22, 2010
42Trip End Sep 21, 2010
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Where I stayed
Media Luna Hostel
Cartagena is one of the oldest and nicest cities in Latin America, dating back about 500 years. On arrival, we made our way to hostel choice number one; the behemoth Media Luna hostel in the Getsemani district, which is essentially the entertainment district. We were well and truly on the traveller trail now. The rooms here were a lowly US$11 per night but it was a bit of a comfort shock
Unfortunately, I don't have much positive to say about the Media Luna hostel. It was one of the worst hostels we stayed in our entire trip. As we were staying with the guys it was a communal decision and we had to be reasonable and accept that some people have less disposable cash for their trip than Ciaran and I. We met some great people but there were many gripes;
- there was no real security access to the hostel (someone can walk straight in off the street) or locks on the doors,
- no air-conditioning,
- the floors were covered with whitewash which got all over our clothes,
- the internet connection was fairly hit and miss,
- the staff were rude, one such incident involving a guy on reception resulted in him storming into our room middle of the night to tell us to be quiet and then waiting outside our door to make sure it stayed that way
- the showers are few and cold,
- most of the residents, who are generally either English or Israeli, spend the day sitting around watching tv and not much else.
It wasn't exactly what I came travelling to experience, with most of these guys "sun-holiday" types with no Spanish and even less interest in learning. Oh, there was a pool, which was hilarious and I’d be pretty embarrassed to even advertise a pool here. It’s about 4 metres long and takes no more than 10 people - standing room only!!!
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa started while we were in Cartagena. We watched the opening ceremony the first Friday in the Media Luna cafe, which included a performance and new World Cup song by Shakira, a true heroine in Colombia. As a football fanatic I always look forward to the summer international tournaments (be it World Cup or Euros) and with the time difference it meant we could watch the games early in the morning (5 hours behind) without it unduly messing up our day. Of the six days we spent in Cartagena, we spent most mornings watching the football, particularly the more attractive games on the schedule, before seeing the city, doing activities or just drinking by the pool for the rest of the day. However, the first round of matches were particularly poor and by all accounts, was one of the lowest scoring tournaments on record. The first France game vs Uruguay brought back tough memories of the previous November in Paris... :( But the bar cheered Uruguay raucously to a 0-0 draw all the same. The highlight of the early group games was the England - USA game, which surprised the world as Americans took a point off the English in a 1-1 draw
Foodwise, we tried to get out and try different places but more often than not, our ambitions with trying Colombian cuisine were thwarted by hangovers and trying to satisfy the diversity of tastes within our enlarged group, which grew bigger by Harry's altogether brief arrival from Taganga and Julie's friend, Louise, an interesting girl who spent three months travelling in Africa. We eventually settled most nights for a new, authentic, family-run restaurant, in the red light district of all places! Stange sort of place, only open a month and a half so business was slow, which belied the fantastic food served up. It was puzzling when we ordered wine, as they had to go to the off-licence to get it! There was numerous works from a Bogotan artist who only paints paintings of fat women – strange penchant to have. Later in the week we headed into the old town for dinner, found a nice enough place with some traditional music and dancing going on nearby. Unfortunately, street traders go around trying to sell you all kinds of rubbish while you’re eating your dinner outside under the umbrellas
The social scene was hectic throughout. Many nights were spent drinking in the hostel bar, sometimes with our own covert supply of cheap alcohol, or on the hostel rooftop terrace. One such night, our last in Cartagena, was spent in the company of some 30 other travellers on the rooftop terrace drinking, talking, entertaining, singing........ aside from that, the furthest afield we went was a local salsa bar (and not even inside - we just listened to the music as the cover charge was exhorbitant!) and a nearby disco, where I recall dancing barefoot for several hours with a Kiwi guy and American girl. The city, whilst nice and quaint, has a dark side and we were reluctant to move too far out of our comfort zone. Although Colombia has come on leaps and bounds, it's still Colombia and some attitudes take a little longer to change.
Peter left us on the Saturday, bound for Panama by boat with some people he didn't know but who turned out to be good fun. We tried to give him a big send off with a slap-up dinner and drinks in the Hard Rock in the old town of Cartagena
In terms of other activities, Cartagena offered many opportunities to us, most of which we didn't take. At the weekend, I found a local park and went for a few runs in the midday heat to try and cleanse the system from the hectic socialising that we were doing with our new friends. Always good to do but I'm sure, somewhat surprising to my fellow travellers and local Colombians alike. Many other activities we attempted were thwarted by the frequent, short thunderstorms and bad luck like public holidays. One afternoon I went for a stroll and did some shopping in the old town. I have never been one for European style old towns like Prague or Budapest, but Cartagena was reasonably nice to walk around. I would compare it to Templebar but obviously, much bigger. I ate from street stalls, including some stalls sending varieties of unusual local sweets and chocolates and tried to take it all in between some sudden thunderstorms
On the Monday, we went down to the docks to book a trip to a volcano. It cost us 25k pesos each, which is about €10, which was not bad as it was 45 mins away in a minibus. The place was hilarious and worth the entry alone for what followed. It was more of a manmade marmite mound than a volcano. At the top of the 15m high “volcano” was a mudbath – the sole purpose of our trip! After much arguing over the price at the entry booth, which centred around whether or 25k pesos did or did not include our entry to the mudbaths, we paid the extra money and climbed the steps to the mudbath, where some young lads massaged us with the mud. Yes, young boys. It’s supposed to be really therapeutic but I was glad when the lads moved onto the women, who received the glut of their attention thenceforth. The mud was fun, because as much as you try, you can’t actually sink below your chest. Spent an hour or so in the mudm before getting out and heading for the nearby lagoon to wash off. The lagoon was full of elderly women in the water with bowls to wash you off, stripping you naked in the water to clean your clothes for you
Our final night in Cartagena, Monday, really encapsulated our six days here. We didn’t even leave the hostel, spent the entire night drinking to excess and got to bed far too late, a bad idea as our flight to Medellin in central Colombia necessitated us leaving the hostel at 7am. Still drunk and cranky we packed our stuff, said goodbye to Julie, Fiachra and Harry before making our way to the airport. Sad to leave more friends but Cartagena served to be a good omen for the remainder for the trip in terms of meeting friendly and outgoing people. Cartagena was but a small piece of Colombia, but very impressed thus far!
[Ciaran] The five amigos become two again, sad to say goodbye to pedro and of course my new adoptive parents Julie and Fi, great fun wish they were travelling on with us
This wasn’t washing for the faint hearted this was hard core, gentle was not the word.
There was fingers in the ears with frighting aggression, I presume this was nessescary cos there’s still mud falling off me. Anyho roll Medellin or Medijean as I’m told constantly still struggling with the Spainish but I becoming quality at saying Gratius after Owen has finished having a full blown conversation in Spainish.