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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: 11.2508, -74.2061
The vibe in Cartagena changed drastically today - it's normally full of street vendors but all sorts of extra vendors popped out of the woodwork, with guys even walking down the street with display cases full of high-end sunglasses and watches. You can also bet that the price of everything went up today, as well - this is what happens when cruise ships come in! Glad that we had already enjoyed Cartagena on a relatively quiet day.
We only had a few hours in Cartagena before leaving for Santa Marta - lucky for us the manager at the Hotel Lee, Luis, suggested we consider a minibus booked through a tour operator. They checked for us and the price ended up being 42,000 pesos each with pick up from the hotel, which ended up being cheaper than doing it via public buses that cost 35,000 each, when you factor in the additional 20,000 pesos on top for a taxi to the bus terminal.
It's a great example of the incredible service at the Hotel Lee, from Luis all the way down to the receptionists and the kid who cleans the floors. Sure, it's a business so it's what they need to do
House of Bling ...
... thick steel doors house the Museum del Oro's golden treasures.
- but you genuinely get the feeling that they go above and beyond because they want to, because it's in their nature, and because they are good people. Kudos to them all!
First impressions of Santa Marta weren't that great, mostly because it's a completely different type of city from Cartagena, more of a concrete jungle-type of place. Despite that fact, it's very popular with Colombian tourists, so hotels are pricey but seemingly offering little value - because of that, we decided that if we were going to pay a lot for a substandard room, we'd be willing to pay a little more to get something nice, and ended up at this beautiful little boutique hotel, La Casa del Farol. Up to this point, our accommodations have ranged included a boutique hostel, backpacker hotels, simple hotels, and now the high end - as much as I'm a proponent of traveling cheaply to both save money and connect better with the local culture, I think we could get used to such luxury!
The primary mission upon arrival in Santa Marta was simple - get me some clean clothes! Having expected, but not finding any laundry facilities at the hotel in Cartagena, nor
... the creepy Chinese girl found me again at the museum, this time leering at me from behind this glass display case while making obscene gestures with her tongue. She ran away before the security guard could apprehend her.
any laundromat that could provide a quick turnaround given the New Year's day closure, I've been stretching my clothes as much as possible, since I'm too lazy to do any by hand. A lack of clean clothes wouldn't be a problem in the Zona Cafetera, with its cooler temperatures - but here in the hot Caribbean? Let's just say I'm not spring fresh!
Staying at a lovely boutique hotel does have one drawback - expensive laundry! I don't deem my tattered backpacker rags to be worthy of dry cleaning, so I ventured off in search of something cheaper. The receptionist pointed out an area of Santa Marta that we should avoid, not only because there isn't anything for a tourist to see there, but because it's just a little bit dodgy. So of course the only laundromat listed in the guidebook happens to be right in the middle of it all!
Though it turned out to be better than was suggested, it was an unsettling neighbourhood, filled with dark corners, empty lots, the odd person shouting at another, even a man throwing a beer bottle at a woman across the street, which shattered at her feet. Even with policemen on a
few corners it had a sketchy vibe to it, definitely not the place you want to linger, especially as an obvious tourist.
Being a spoiled Canadian used to picture-perfect neighbourhoods with neatly-manicured lawns and shiny new SUVs parked in front of mini-McMansions, it's easy to occasionally assume that a neighbourhood not matching the North American ideal can't have anything worth sticking around for. You can forget that any neighbourhood, whether pretty or not, still houses normal people not entirely different from yourself.
I found the laundromat and quickly darted through the door, hoping to quickly drop off my dirty laundry and be on my way, before it got too late. But a funny thing happened - I ended up chatting with the owners of the laundromat, the nicest Colombian couple, for a good fifteen or twenty minutes.
It was like having a private tour guide provide an overview of the region, getting suggestions on places to visit on my next trip to Colombia, a brief rundown on the differences between the areas surrounding Cartagena and Santa Marta, even a quick summary of the people of the area, and some insight into some of the social problems found in the La
It was the most random, but also the nicest conversation you could have in a Colombian laundromat! In fact, when I went back the following night to pick up my laundry, B was a bit worried as I was gone for so long, this time immersed in a conversation about la comida costeña, the cuisine of the Colombian coastal regions, concluding with a lesson on how to prepare the perfect plantains.
Apparently, there's a whole science to it - ripe plantains have certain uses, while unripe ones require completely different techniques. Stuck with some unripe bananas? They can be substituted for certain plantain applications as well! Even the seemingly simple patacones require careful preparation and technique, something which they offered to serve me when I one day return to Colombia.
I have no idea how or when I'll make it happen, but I'd already decided a while ago that Colombia was one day worth returning to. I thought it would be to further explore the Zona Cafetera or La Guajira but instead, I think I'll be back to sample what are sure to be some kick-ass homemade patacones!
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