Published: April 22nd 2012April 21st 2012
View from Cafe Del Mar at Sunset
Day 187 Sunday 15th
Both woke up with hangovers cursing Tibo for pouring so much beer down our throats, not that we needed to be encouraged. It was so great catching up with him last night but drinking so much on an empty stomach and after our long trek just about killed us. I still have no idea how we stayed awake till midnight talking when we were so shattered. We somehow fell out of bed and got out to breakfast hoping that magically it would make us feel better, and it did marginally. Today was always pencilled in as a recover day and after last night it wasn’t going to be any other way. After our small feed we handed over our two large bags of wet smelly clothes to the hotel cleaner to have them cleaned and I apologised to him as I did, holding my nose. Spent a bit of time cleaning our boots which were a complete muddy, dusty mess from the trek.
We spent a bit of time trying to sort out the mess in our room, before heading for a short walk down to the sea front and to get
some money out. We had planned on getting a sandwich at Lulo Café but being Sunday they were closed and so settled for a burger at a greasy spoon café instead. Had a couple of beers too just to take the sting out of our headaches. Santa Marta is a very interesting town filled with beautiful decaying colonial buildings, it has a lovely seaside café/bar strip and a vibrant restaurant and bar area. Unfortunately the town also has large areas that are very seedy and you do need to keep your wits about you and choose the streets you walk down especially at night. We never saw or experienced anything worse than being propositioned by prostitutes and coming across homeless people but the place does feel a bit edgier than other towns we have visited.
After lunch we got some money out and headed back to our room to do some blogging and to rest. Late in the afternoon we skyped back home to our Mums which we regretted we hadn’t done the day before when we first got back…sorry Mum’s. Headed out for dinner and thankfully found something open as most things were closed, (strangely more things were
Plaza Santo Domingo
open last Easter Sunday than tonight). With dinner complete we crashed back into our room.
Day 188 Monday 16th
Would have loved to have slept in today but we are moving on so we were springing out of bed at 7.30, which coming to think of it, when compared to our old working lives was technically a sleep in. It was only a short trip back to Cartagena today so we weren’t in any huge rush but we still wanted to be on the road before midday. After breakfast we got stuck into packing our bags, which is made worse by the fact that we have picked up another pair of sandals each. I still cannot believe how good the zippers are on our bags and how we actually get them to close and they hold. We have resolved to try and start investigating sending a box home as it we really are carrying too much at the moment. The day pack we had bought for the trek may have been an option for carrying stuff except it was torn to pieces, with nearly every seam broken and we were lucky we didn’t
View of Donde Fidel
lose anything on the final day, so it went straight into the bin.
With our bags packed we checked out and thankfully the woman on the front desk today could speak a bit of English so we enquired about getting the bus to Cartagena and she told us we had two options. One was going out to the bus terminal and picking up a bus for about 20,000 pesos each all she could arrange a pickup which would cost 60,000 pesos each. The bus terminal option was by far the cheapest but it would also cost us probably an additional 20,000 – 30,000 pesos in Taxis while the dearer would pick us up at the door and drop us off at the door of the hotel in Cartagena. Shelley’s knee was still giving her a bit of grief from the hike so we splurged on a point to point pick up. The receptionist made the booking for us and we then had to wait for nearly an hour but they finally arrived at 11.30. Our vehicle today was a tarago sized minivan that could only hold about 9 passengers and was so small our backpacks had to be tied
Dancers in Plaza Los Coches
to the roof. The driver thankfully understood Shelley when she asked for the door seat, while I was relegated to the back. Luckily for both of us it wasn’t a full van and so we had a bit of room. Instead of being driven all the way to Cartagena we stopped at the town of Barranquilla after driving for only an hour and had to change to another minivan. Our first driver was able to explain to the new driver about Shelley’s claustrophobia and so she was able to snag the door seat again. These vans not only transport people but also goods as well and so before we got out of town our driver had to run around picking up all sorts of stuff including 4 huge drums of paint.
The area along the Caribbean coast is dotted with lots of large residential developments, some of which are eerily deserted or stopped mid construction. Along the road we passed several army check points none of which we had to stop at but the army guys would always show a thumbs up to the passing vehicles, which is their way of saying “don’t worry, we’re here the roads are
Dancers getting ready
safe”. Before getting to Cartagena our driver dropped off some of the passengers and goods and we gave him the address of our hotel. As I may have explained before, we always write the address down as it saves a lot of confusion with our aussie accents and bad Spanish. Our driver managed to drop us at our doorstep without any problems at all, which had us amazed at how good these guys are at remembering the streets in several towns at once.
We are staying at the Hotel Casa Real, which I think the name has been shortened from Hotel Casa Real Dump. Cartagena is extremely expensive if you want to stay in the old town and so I guess it is inevitable if you try to save a couple of dollars you get crap. We are paying nearly $90 a night for a room I would reckon is worth about $30. Straight up we discovered our safe didn’t work but the woman running the place did hand over to us another small one, which was light and small enough to slip into a handbag. Obviously she couldn’t see the uselessness of a safe that could be stolen,
The sun setting
but we could. The WiFi didn’t work our bed sheets looked dirty and strangely we had all the pillows on the bed changed while we waited and there was a strong smell of mould. On top of this the bathroom was so small and badly arranged that I have to stand in the shower to pee…but you get that sometimes.
The room is crap but the town is great so it just means we need to get out more and so we went out for the afternoon and got some beers at our old street café called Donde Fidel followed by pizza…it feels so good to be back in Cartagena.
Day 189 Tuesday 17th
Awoke to the sounds of a parrot in the morning not the distant noisy racket of the parrots telling us we were deep in the jungle again, but just a talking one saying “hola” over and over again. The Hotel has a poor lonesome parrot in a cage outside our room and the poor guy must have been feeling lonely at 6 in the morning and decided to get us out of bed. When we saw the poor
Our backpacks on top of the boat
guy yesterday we contemplated trying to “accidently” releasing him but when we got up and left the room we discovered that he is actually free to fly in and out. He was sitting on top of his cage eating bread and corn and had a good chat to us in Spanish, which only made us feel like idiots that a bird knew more Spanish than us.
Our room is well below average at this hotel but the breakfast was great and it was so nice to once again get warm fresh toast, which is possibly the rarest commodity in the whole of South America. We have two days in Cartagena, and they are more rest days than anything else as we have seen most things here and so there was nothing to rush out and see, so we had a slow start to the day and then headed out to wander around town looking for a DHL or Fed Ex office. Didn’t find either but managed to discover some streets we hadn’t seen before. The afternoon heat soon had us retreating back to our air conditioner till about 5 when we were able to venture out again. Wandered the
Shelley in the boat waiting
short distance down to the city walls where we had a couple of cocktails at Café Del Mar while we watched the sun slowly set into the Caribbean. The drinks are expensive but it was worth it for the view and the vibe. Had dinner at an overpriced restaurant further down the road before walking home.
Day 190 Wednesday 18th
We had a bit of a sleep in before heading down to the souvenir shops to see if we could see anything small enough to fit in our backpacks. Ended up at one of the corners of the city walls where some ex-prison cells have been turned into a tourist trap collection of shops. The majority of the goods are same, same, like shot glasses, coasters, t-shirts, paintings. The nice stuff like handmade glass vases, handbags and timber boxes are impractical to haul with us and very expensive. Ended up getting cornered by a guy flogging t-shirts out the front and although I wasn’t sure if I wanted one or not, after he dropped the price from 25 pesos to 15 pesos ($8) I couldn’t resist. The thing with cheap souvenir t-shirts is
Other boats at the port
they don’t last and the ones we picked up in Cusco to do the Inca trail are now just about had it.
We wandered the streets once more till the heat had us stopping in the shade of an umbrella at a café in Santa Domingo Plaza. It was great to stop for a sandwich and do some people watching. Made it back to our room and started a bit of packing, before heading out in the late afternoon when things were cooler. Before leaving the hotel we spoke to the woman at the front desk about checking out early in the morning and she confirmed this was okay, but of course it wasn’t too be. We had blown so much money last night with cocktails so to equalize it a bit we headed down to Donde Fidel for the last time and had a couple of beers before moving onto some cheap pizza.
Day 191 Thursday 19th
Today is going to be an adventure to get to Mompox and we are not sure how it will all fall into place so we are up at 5.00am so we have plenty of
Iglesia de Santa Barbara
time. We grabbed our bags and went to reception to pay the bill and found the man asleep on the couch nothing that unusual, he woke up as we walked to the desk. We explained we were checking out and gave him our credit card and from here it went downhill as he could not get the machine to work we patiently waited as this is also not unusual in Colombia, but soon he realised he could not fix it and went for help. The next thing there was two of them pulling apart the hotel server plugging and unplugging different things and asking me to try my card and it just would not connect. By now we were concerned as we were hoping to get a direct bus to Mompox instead of different connections and we had heard varying reports that it left between 6.30 – 8.30 am or maybe not at all. By 6.00am it looked unlikely we would get this bus if it existed and then he asked us to pay cash which was starting to make us angry as it meant that we would have to walk up to the Plaza to get it out so
Street one block from the Main Street
we said NO. After another 10 minutes we decided to get the cash hoping we could finally leave this dump, so off we ran to the plaza about 5 blocks away. Back at the hotel we handed the cash over and asked for a receipt to which he huffed and puffed slamming drawers and cupboard doors mumbling under his breath which did not help our mood because it was now 6.30am and we should have left about an hour ago and this idiot was carrying on like it was our fault. He walked off and got his sidekick and they both started slamming things and then he said he would mail it, I just laughed and said NO and pointed to the computer and printer. Next thing both had disappeared and we could hear them screaming and yelling so much so the cook left the kitchen area. When one finally reappeared I demanded to see the “Jefe” (boss), as I was not going to leave $450,000 pesos (AUS$245) with these clowns and have no receipt of payment and find later our credit card had been hit and we have no proof of payment. They made a call and the manager
Life by the river
a nice lady we had spoken to turned up at 7.30am with a laptop and within 5 minutes we had a receipt. During this time the two clowns where putting a large adhesive clear poster of the city on a window which they did not even bother to clean first and had pulled the backing completely off and place it on, meaning it was bubbled and you could see the dirty smudges that were on the window, complete idiots.
To her credit the lady apologised to us and booked a taxi to the bus terminal at their cost so finally at 7.45am (after being stuffed around for over 2 hours) we were on our way and trying to chill out before trying to work out our plans for the day. At the bus station everyone is vying for your business so we tried Brasilia Expresso one of the big companies first and they did not go direct to Mompox, but did go to a town where we could get connects from Magangue but not till the afternoon. Luckily another minivan company representative was standing listening and he said they had one leaving this morning, so we checked out the
The plaza where we have dinner
van only one other person and it was leaving in 10 minutes (South American time). We got the tickets and our bags were put on the roof this time with a tarp over them and we were on the road by 8.45am with only 2 other men and the driver so we had plenty of room. The trip to Magangue took over 3.5 hours with a few stops e.g. petrol/toilet break/food and a few parcels being delivered.
When we arrived at Magangue which is a very rustic town two locals assisted us with our bags and showed us the way to river to get the chalupa (river boat) to the next stage of the journey for a small fee. We did not mind paying as it spread the money around and they did jump on top of the van and get the bags down and took us directly to the river (which is not far). We brought our tickets and got onto the chalupa, see attached picture, and waited for it to fill up before we could leave, not again our backpacks were on the roof hopefully tied on well. While waiting they started to lift a lady in
a wheelchair down the mud embankment to get to the boats I was concerned this would not end well. To their credit they got her to the boat with no mud on her newly bandaged leg and then struggled to lift her from the wheelchair into the boat. We were by now all settled and the boat was full and they realised that she was on the wrong boat and had to be lifted out and onto another one, if her leg did not hurt before all this it must be killing her now that she has been manhandled twice on and off the boat. The river trip only took about 20 minutes to get to the next small river port and again a local grabbed our bags before we could get out and was running up to the taxis. Here we were told 20,000 pesos to take us to Mompox and just to take a seat, we of course had a wait for a few more passengers – no problem. While waiting a woman appeared and wrote down the price was going to be 48,000 pesos, who knows who all these different people are but they all get a
View of building near the riverfront
slice of the pie, but we both said no way and grabbed our backpacks off the roof of the taxi. This decisive action worked to our benefit even though we had no idea what we were doing as it is about a 45 minute drive, but another taxi driver said he would do it for 20,000 (AUS$11.00). We jumped into his taxi and were joined by two others and were soon heading down the dusty road to Mompox and arrived with us and our backpacks full of dust.
The town of Mompox is located on the Rio Magdalena and was founded in 1540, making it one of the earliest of towns in South America. Over the centuries it developed into a very important river port and a hub of trade for the entire region. In 1810 it was one of the first towns to proclaim its independence from Spain, and the great South American liberator Simon Bolivar spent time here. Unfortunately/fortunately for this grand and historic town, trade routes shifted and it slowly disappeared into obscurity, until now. Because the town is still filled with fabulous colonial buildings and has a great laid back vibe it has popped up
A local hanging up on the riverfront
on the tourist trail. Again unfortunately/fortunately for the town it is a bit of an effort to get to and the town is a long way from getting a Hilton or having the guys from “Getaway” camped here.
The hotel we chose is meant to have English speaking staff which after the long day we have had would be nice not trying to think of the Spanish we know to communicate, but no English and the price has gone up a lot. The room is simple but nice and there is a fan, also an air-conditioner but you have to pay an extra 20,000 a night to get the control so you can use it, so the fan will do even though the temperature is 36 degrees with a real feel according to the bureau of 44 degrees.
It was 4 in the afternoon when after settling in we walked out the door to check the town out and get a bite to eat as we have had nothing all day. The town is full of colonial buildings and churches but nowhere to eat. We walked around and around and finally found a choice of a bakery or
a café in a hostel. The café was the go for a ham, cheese and salad roll which turned out to be very nice and freshly made. With more energy we continued to walk around and this town is a mix of beautiful colonial buildings and rustic streets, but people are friendly. Another thing that is lacking is large bottles of water so we will be going through quite a few small ones, in towns where we can’t drink the water we try to buy 5 or 6 litre bottles but here there are only 600ml ones. We stopped at a local bar to have a beer and unwind and the bottles of beer are 250ml so I will not be getting drunk on a beer here. We went back to the hotel for a while and headed back out about 7.30pm to Plaza Santo Domingo where we had seen street food stalls setting up hoping we could get dinner. By now the plaza was full of people and the stalls were in full swing, Scott could not decide what he wanted and was about to walk away because there were no tables at the one I wanted, so I
walked over and magically they got a table for us. The next decision was what to eat as there is no menus but walking in I noticed chicken and beef on the BBQ and this was being put on plates that had potato and salad so that looked good to me. The meal was good and everything was fresh and a bargain at 22,000 pesos for two meals and two drinks and great atmosphere.
Day 192 Friday 20th
This hotel charges extra for breakfast so we went to the local bakery for something to eat and pointed to platters of food just cooked we ordered two empanadas which we knew and two golden looking balls that we hoped contained rice and meat, but looked a bit smooth so it was pot luck. The golden balls were like a large gem scone/donut but full of salt and would have been nice if the salt was reduced by 99%, but the empanadas were nice. Walked back to the hotel and collected our hats, cameras and water for another walk around the town. We started by passing the Iglesia de Santa Barbara a church
Iglesia Santa Barbara at night
near our hotel which was built in 1630 and has an octagonal baroque style bell tower which has lions heads on it, very unusual. We continued along the riverfront and all the beautiful old buildings, it is strange that there are no restaurants or bars facing the river, only hardware and general stores. This town is not huge and has a population of about 62,000 so the main areas do not take long to walk around, but one of the stops was the Cementerio Municipal with its whitewashed graves and statues.
Friday night and Mompox is a rocking, well there is rocking that is rocking chairs everywhere, this town is famous for its rocking chairs and everyone here has embraced it. In the late afternoon the locals move their rocking chairs onto the footpath and chat and although there is a lot of elderly people in town this practice is not restricted to them. Being Friday night we thought we would hit the town and party, well the first place was the bar from yesterday which was full of men playing pool. On the TV was a Rugby Union game and a young boy about 8 years old was
Main Street at 9.30pm on Friday Night
glued to it, when he saw us he started to talk to us maybe he was asking what is this strange ball and don’t they know they can’t touch the ball with their hands, but with the blaring music we could not pick up any of the conversation. After a beer we decided to go back to the small plaza near the Iglesia de Santo Domingo for dinner it was still a bit early so we sat and waited for them to finish setting up and at 7.00pm it was filling out. We ordered a steak tonight as we are getting the hang of this no menu business, the waitress has taken us under her wing and took me over and showed me all the choices. This is definitely the best spot to have dinner during the day you would not even know this happens as everything is packed up each night and re-setup in the late afternoon. After a great meal we headed to the only other bar/disco we have seen in town called La Barra which Lonely Planet describes as “this new spot is the nicest spot in town – it seems too stylish for Mompox” hmmm not sure about this. It is dark and made up of little rooms but in LPs defence it seems to have moved from its original spot and left the style behind. We were the only customers and the lady running the place was lovely, but it was not happening we thought it was just too early, but I am not sure so at 9.30pm we left. On the streets they had rolled up the sidewalk and it was so quiet walking back to the hotel we checked with each other that it was Friday, maybe Saturday night is the big night here? It is nice to see a small town that is so laid back and does not seem to be affected by tourism and just does what it has always done.