Enjoying the Caribbean rainy season

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South America » Colombia » Cartagena
December 3rd 2013
Published: December 4th 2013
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This far we had to come to find real heat, sun and beach life in South America, but here we are, in Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It’s the rainy season still, but you really couldn’t tell, as the sky has been mostly bright blue with beaming sun, and day temperatures in the 30s and night temperatures in the high 20s. We’re just back from a day trip to the beach on Isla de Encanta, where we spent several hours laying on beach chairs, occasionally swimming, and ordering overpriced mojitos (the price of which we didn’t bother to check beforehand). Isla de Encanta is part of the Islas de Rosario island group, which probably doesn’t have the finest beaches on the continent or even in the country, but it made a nice day trip on the sea, and a relaxing beach day nevertheless. We chose Encanta, because it’s basically a hotel resort, meaning there weren’t the hordes of persistent vendors many people were complaining about on Tripadvisor regarding some of the other Rosario islands. Btw, the beginning of the trip was interesting; we went to the tour operator’s office on agreed time at 8am, but as we knew the bus would be touring the nearby hotels for about an hour before actually starting the trip, we told them we would go to a Juan Valdez chain café to wait and that they would pick us from there, fine. We were then waiting at the café and starting to get a bit nervous as the bus didn´t seem to show up. Then suddenly a mysterious hat vendor appeared calling our names, we followed him, and were lead to the tour bus, after which he disappeared. What the guy’s connection to the tour was remained a mystery..I guess the tour guide had called his friend the hat vendor to go and get those two tourists who just had to go to the café instead of staying on the bus…

We are staying in a seemingly fancy part of the city called Bocagrande, with a great airbnb host called John. Around here most of the buildings are new white sky scrapers with fancy balconies, probably most of them hotels, but also apartment blocks for the wealthy locals. This place actually reminds us a lot of Miami beach with all these fancy buildings, but also expensive boutiques, restaurants and even plastic surgery clinics. We are also just few blocks away from the city beaches, which are plenty, but some of them less than great. We did spend two days on those beaches, first was just okay, but for the second city beach day we walked a bit further to find a wider strip of sand with bigger waves, rented sun chairs, bought cold beers, and yes, then it was quite nice 😊

Cartagena has one of the pretties and also largest old towns we have ever seen. It might not be THE prettiest in the world, but it is easily the most beautiful we have seen during this trip. The old town is also surrounded by an 11km long stone wall. We spent two days walking around the wall and the old town, and just saw cute building after another – again one of the places where you could takes photos where ever you turn your eyes. John told us that twenty years ago the old town was still in poor condition, and mostly a residential area for the poor. Huge development has happened since then, as nowadays most of the houses are beautifully restored and freshly painted in bright colors.

During our days in Cartagena we had our anniversary and went to celebrate it to a nice fine dining restaurant. We ordered starters and main courses of seafood, as well as a bottle of wine and to top it off, espressos for dessert– guess how much we ended up paying for all that? - Nothing, apart from the tip! This is actually slightly embarrassing, but at the same time there was a Norwegian group of business men at the restaurant, who, after we had eaten and were sitting next to the bar escaping the rain, started talking to us, coming to our table on and off (under quite heavy influence of alcohol). We were already surprised when a new bottle of wine appeared in front of us, obviously ordered by one of the men, but even more baffled we were when we tried to pay our bill and the waiter said the Norwegians already paid for it. I had heard them say earlier that our bill would be theirs, but I assumed they referred only to the new wine, not the whole meal.. Well, they were, after all, staying in a hotel where the cheapest rooms cost 350USD a night, so I guess our modest dinner bill was just peanuts to them.

Probably the most bizarre thing in Cartagena was the trip to Totuma mud volcano; bathing in the crater of a mud volcano is really something else. Okay, the term mud volcano probably makes you think of a big volcano mountain, but in reality the mud volcano looked more like a huge anthill. It was high enough that you had to climb stairs to reach the top, though. Being a popular tourist sight, we had to queue for a while to get into the crater, and once we did, we were immediately grabbed by the masseurs who work in the crater for tips. The mud was very funny, it was not that thick, but anyway you just floated in it like a cork. The crater is dozens of meters deep, but sinking would be next to impossible, as even if you tried really hard to get downwards, you could only just about get your upper back to sink in. You also felt weightless in a way, and couldn’t fully control the movements of your body in the mud, which was quite interesting in the crowded bath. So, first we floated on our backs and stomachs while being massaged, and that was quite ticklish, then we sat or stood or floated in the mud a while longer before it was time to get out. There are three types of services provided by locals in order to earn some money, first few guys will take you camera and photograph you while you bathe, then there are the massagers inside the crater, and last you will be bathed by local women in the lagoon next to the volcano to wash off the mud. Especially the last bit was described on many Tripadvisor reviews as awkward, but we didn’t really feel that way, it was a very effective way to get cleaned up, and you were squatting in the not-so-bright water, so no one could see you anyway, not even when the women took off your swimming suit 😊

As I’m writing to finish this blog entry, it’s our last hours in the city as we are getting ready to fly to Bogotá. I have high expectations for the flight, as our flight from Medellin to Cartagena with the Colombian airline Avianca was great – never before have we gotten such a new plane with private entertainment screen, plenty of leg room, coffee service and especially smooth ride for an hour long flight costing less than a bus ticket.

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