Published: April 5th 2012April 5th 2012
Night view of Puerta del Reloj
Day 173 Sunday 1st
Oh joy another long bus journey we got up at 6.00am and got ready, paid the bill and asked reception to book a taxi. We were soon on our way to the bus terminal or as Scott says Boos terminal, once there we grabbed some breakfast and tried to find which gate our bus was leaving from. For some reason our bus company did not appear on any of the departure screens, but yesterday the lady who sold the tickets had pointed in the general direction so we joined a line to get onto the platforms on that side. This was the right line and we were soon on the bus, but unlike Argentina they do not seem to leave at the exact time and our bus drivers were having fun playing practical jokes on other bus drivers. This fun and games seemed to have mellowed the drivers out and meant that their driving was more sedate than the usual trips we have had here.
The buses in Colombia are very good but seemed to want to block your view out the windows with heavy tinting only leaving about 30cm at the
View from our hotel
bottom to look out. When you are trying to look out you need to slouch down to get the clear view or you get a distorted look at the countryside which did give me motion sickness after a while. I think they do not want you seeing the oncoming traffic when the bus is on the wrong side of the road hence causing you to scream and distract the driver. We had our first stop at 10.30am which seemed a little early for lunch and I was worried that this would be the only one for the whole 12hours (12 hours was the time on their website). The countryside was again beautiful and we could see coffee plantations, the roads were narrow and on the bends we would have to stop as two large vehicles could not pass at the same time. At one stage of the journey we were stopped for ages and then only moved slowly stopping and starting while the traffic took turns getting through different sections. We started to worry this would add to the trip, but thought it must happen everyday so it should be factored into the timing of the trip. After about an
View of Catedral
hour and a half we were moving freely and whizzing through lots of towns and smaller villages with some of the houses built so close to the road I wonder how often their have unexpected guests with their vehicles in their dining rooms.
There were two stops to pickup and drop off people, but not long enough for a break. By 5.00pm we had thought we would be going all the way through to Cartagena without a lunch stop. When the bus finally pulled into a roadside café at 6.00pm all the locals cheered and when I stood up my legs were wobbly and Scott said he was swaying when he stood up. The meals at these cafes vary but here we got roast chicken with rice and beans that was pretty good. Back on the bus we thought we should only have about 2 – 2.5 hours to go so tried to settle and watch a movie “Paul” a comedy it was dubbed in Spanish, but must have translated well because soon everyone was laughing. We pulled into another bus terminal at 8.15pm and when we checked map we realised it was still a long way to Cartagena
174km to be exact.
We finally arrived at Cartagena bus terminal at 11.15pm (making it a 15 hour bus journey) exhausted but we still had 7km to go to get to the old city where we were staying. Brought some water as it is not drinkable on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia and got a taxi, which only took 30 minutes and we were finally at the hotel. This hotel is very nice and it should be as it is expensive for us anyway. The room is large with a huge bed that Scott does not hang over and a balcony onto the street, as we fell asleep we could hear the clip clopping of the horse drawn carriages still going up and down the street.
Day 174 Monday 2nd
Woke up in our lovely room about 8.30am and went down to breakfast which is at a large communal dining table. The breakfast is good here (except the coffee) and we spoke to two other couples who had also arrived yesterday. We left the hotel late about 11.00am and the weather was very hot and steamy, we headed to the city walls
Streets of Cartagena
that overlook the Caribbean Sea and across the bay to the new city. From here we wandered the narrow streets which are so picturesque with old colonial buildings and balconies covered in colourful bougainvillea. This place is magical to walk around and just beautiful to be in, there are lots of horse drawn carriages in the streets. I am worried it is way too hot for them to be taking tourists around all day and hope that they are well looked after, it does appear that South Americans are kind to their animals. The streets here are extremely clean and there is no rubbish anywhere in the old city and a constant army of cleaners going past to keep it that way. The only downside is the stream of large tourist groups everywhere, but even this can’t spoil this place, well not yet.
We retreated to our room later in the afternoon to rest as we are still a little tired from yesterday’s bus journey. By 5.30pm we were ready to see more of the city and check out somewhere to eat, on our earlier walk we saw lots of restaurants but the prices were expensive for these two
Plaza De Los Coche
cheapskates. As we passed through Plaza los Coche there were a group of colourful dancer and musicians, we stopped at a street café for a drink and to take in the people passing by. As the sunset I keep thinking I was on a movie set the place is just so pretty and colourful, this is not to say that it would be without it problems. Even the street vendors are not too pushy and once you have said no they smile and move on. We then went looking for dinner and found a small pasta restaurant and unfortunately I chose Pesto pasta the second dodgy vegetarian pasta dish I have had, oh well you get that and we will just have to find somewhere different tomorrow.
Day 175 Tuesday 3rd
Very slow start to the day and we did not get out of the hotel till 10.45am just before the midday sun. It is very hot here the weather report is saying “30 Celsius but the real feel is 43 Celsius”, it is very humid and Scott is melting. Today we walked around the Old Town again and went to
Tourist fulled streets
Iglesia de Santa Domingo built in 1552, but mass was happening so we decided go back later. The next stop was the Palacio de la Inquisicion which was the seat of the Punishment Tribunal of the Holy Office. About 800 people were condemned to death mainly for magic, witchcraft and blasphemy. It is now a museum showing examples of torture methods and some pottery and paintings. We then walked onto the Naval Museum which was closed the sign on the door seemed to indicate that this was due on the Summit of the Amercias meeting here next week which Obama will be attending but we are not sure we only know the door was locked. We continued to walk around looking out for a restaurant for dinner but most are very expensive so we will probably go to the one on the corner near our hotel that was recommended by some other guests.
We went back to the hotel for a couple of hours and freshened up before going to the café at Plaza Los Coches for more people watching. We then tried the restaurant near our hotel and had pasta again, but no pesto this time. On the
Puerta Del Reloj
way home from the restaurant we went for a wander around the town which is even more pretty at night. Along the way we bumped into one of the many touts in the town who pester tourists to change money. He started with the usual “change dollars, good rate 2000 pesos”, as you know that the official rate is about 1700-1800 you just know he has a fixed calculator, fake notes or some other trick to come out in front. Once the guy picked our accent he went onto “Aussie, goooodaayy mate, I have been to Newcastle, 2 hours from Sydney, throw a prawn on the barbie” all done with the worst attempt at an Australian accent. We were polite but kept walking so he then offered other services for us “I have good bar, maybe you want beer, maybe a little weed, or perhaps cocaine?” Wow our first offer of drugs in Colombia. At this point I should mention that the town is crawling with police and anywhere you stand in town you can spot at least a dozen of them in any given direction. The Lonely Planet claims that there are 2000 police on patrol in town and
Another picture another street
I think because of the meeting here next week that number has doubled, even our hotel has a permanent copper sitting in the foyer 24 hours. As the guy offered the drugs his voice fell to a whisper because there were police only about twenty metres away. The thought ran through my head how this was a possible way to spice up the blog, writing about my time in the legal and penal system of Colombia but you know what I think I will keep it boring (sorry everyone) so we knocked back his offer and walked back to the hotel.
Day 176 Wednesday 4th
Another stinking hot day…damn. Today we thought we would spend the morning arranging our exit from town on Friday, but being Easter we thought it might be a serious problem. Easter is huge here in South America and getting a bus can be a problem so we knew we would have to pre book, but the bus terminal is 7 kms out of town making it a time and money consuming exercise to buy them. Thankfully we enquired with the woman at the front desk of the hotel
Iglesia De Santo Domingo
and she was able to arrange a mini bus for us for Friday morning to take us to Santa Marta, the only problem is how crowded it might be. Once that was booked we returned to our room to book accommodation as both Cartagena and Santa Marta are the two biggest holiday spots in Colombia and it is difficult and extremely expensive in these towns at this time of year……bad planning on my behalf. Managed to book a place at Santa Marta for a King’s ransom but at least we have somewhere to stay.
Once we had all this sorted we hit the road and decided to head out to the Spanish fort of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajes. The town of Cartagena from its founding in 1533 was an important storehouse of plundered goods awaiting transport back to Spain in Galleons, and as such became a prime target for pirates and buccaneers. In the 16th
century the town withstood 5 sieges with the most famous being from Sir Francis Drake. In response to these attacks the Spanish ended up turning the entire town into a huge fortress and most of the towns walls still stand today. “The
old Town” which is contained within these walls is a UNESCO heritage site and is a tourist delight and is hands down the most picture perfect town we have stayed in South America. Despite hordes of tourists the town hasn’t lost any of its charm and it is a joy to walk around. The Old town fortress of Cartagena is basically an island although part of that is because of a man made moat and just inland from here was a small hill that was also converted into a massive fort from 1657 onwards, and this is the fort of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajes (quite a mouth full).
To get there it was a 20 minute walk that took us through the less touristy/polished end of town which is where a lot more of the locals live, but it was a great walk except for the heat. At the fort we got badgered endlessly by drink sellers and would be guides. So far in Colombia the street hawkers have been really good humoured, passive and friendly, the same cannot be said for the guides at the historical sites. When you knock these guys back they get really
agro and the one at the fort started screaming at us that without him we will “know nothing of the history”, if he was trying to win us over he failed miserably. We ended up spending about 90 minutes walking up and down the fort ramparts including through several interconnecting tunnels. We did discover some areas where they wouldn’t let us into because we were not part of a tour group, which is absolute bulls#it, but we saw enough of it to be happy. It is a massive piece of colonial engineering but unfortunately doesn’t contain anything other than a handful of rusty cannons. Probably the most interesting thing was seeing how the walls contained large pieces of coral that had been used in lieu of bricks.
On the walk back to our hotel we stopped at a café for a sandwich and to have a break from the heat and the woman running it seemed rather amused to have a pair of gringos dropping in. By the time we got back to the hotel I was a dripping mess and appreciated the time to cool down in front of the aircon. Late in the afternoon we headed back
Roof of Catedral
down to the lovely bar area called Los Coches and had a beer at a roof top bar that had great views over the city and was a nice spot to watch the night approaching. Afterwards we grabbed a slice of pizza and the restaurant next door.
There are more photos below