Published: December 10th 2010November 14th 2010
On my own again….but only for a short time. I couch surfed in Cali with a wonderful family who did everything but call me hija (well actually they may have done that too!) Ivan and his sister Irene took the liberty to treat me to a wonderful dinner at Carne y Maduros, an excellent restaurant where I ate more than my fair share of maduros (ripe bananas cooked and flavored). After dinner we went out with a few friends to a typical salsa bar where I saw couples who had never danced together move sensually and gracefully around the dance floor. And yes, I even gave it a go and the result was just as expected…painfully embarrassing yet fun. Their friends were nice enough to ignore the fact that I have completely no rhythm and even seemed unaffected by my trampling of their feet. As if we didn't have enough maduros at dinner, the following afternoon, Nuria, who NEVER cooks, showed me how to make all sorts of foods from bananas…tajadas, moneditas, patacones, the list goes on and on. It was really cool to see the sights as part of a family and relax in that kind of atmosphere for a
few days. They took me in with open arms and by the end of the time; even the dogs had accepted me.
With lots of motherly advice about safety I flew out to Cartagena, unprepared (and oblivious) to the scene I was about to encounter. I actually felt a little scared in the cab as I was delivered to my hostel. The sheer number of people in the streets, most of who seemed to be consuming copious amounts of alcohol tested my nerves. Turns out it was day 4 of a 5 day celebration intertwining Independence and the crowning of Miss Colombia. I ventured out with Irca, a German girl and soon found myself being sprayed in the face with esfuma (a non-burning shaving cream) and covered in blue painting by cackling children. We escaped the madness by climbing a balcony and from there I was finally able to see the colorful dresses of the passing parade. The festivities continued on into the night and were compounded by a torrential downpour. For me, Cartagena was not the jewel that everyone describes. Sure it has its beautiful colonial side, but just across the street are young girls selling their bodies. I know equality does not exist everywhere in the world, but seeing the stark contrast of the lives of tourists and those just trying to make ends meet really make you view the city in a different light. Obviously a lot of money is coming in from the large wave of tourism, but it is definitely not felt by all. This was even more evident on the bus ride to Santa Marta. While flooding has been all too common throughout Colombia in recent times, the fact that there were whole towns with people living in their water-filled houses just showed the extent of the inequality...they couldn't even be displace by the water because they had nowhere else to go.
On a more upbeat note I met Luis, a high-end purse salesman from Mexico. We hung out in town for about 4 days together and were both gypped into what I deem may have been one of the biggest tourist scams around...Playa Blanca. The tour was actually recommended by a few other travelers so we bought tickets. In the end we wound up being on the boat for about 5 hours and the beach for 1.5.... and even the beach was full of trash and lots of sellers...basically don't do it!!!