Cartagena! The beginning of our journey in South America! We had arrived at the airport after a quick one-hour flight from Panama City. By that time Brutus was already cruising the Caribbean waters on his 3 weeks solo journey on a RoRo vessel to Colombia. We were happy to embark on a backpacking journey to discover Colombia’s northern region staying at hostels and boutique B&B’s. We were looking forward to enjoying the Caribbean coastline with its Spanish colonial heritage and the happy-go-lucky atmosphere.
When we landed we were welcomed at the airport by Lavy, an old friend of mine from the time we were both working in the USA. We knew each other for over 12 years, and coincidently, the first time we met was also at an airport, in San Francisco. That was when I arrived in the USA for a work and study program, and Lavy was living the American dream. A lot has happened since then, but Lavy remained the same reliable and kind friend I knew. It was so great to see him once again, and I was looking forward to catching up with all his stories.
Soon enough I discovered that Lavy has developed himself as a seasoned hospitality entrepreneur with interest in boutique hostels, cafes, restaurants and beach clubs in Cartagena and Medellin. Maloka, one of his hostels in Cartagena became our new home for the time we stayed there. The accommodation was a considerable upgrade of what we had experienced in Panama City. It was in an old colonial building which was completely refurbished. It had an internal patio and a café on the ground floor. Everything was arranged by Lavy himself. The property was always full and had very good recommendations on trip advisor. We got ourselves a private suite with nice artwork on the walls, a very clean private bathroom and an excellent breakfast included in the discounted rate we received from my friend. Overall it had a very good vibe. We were so happy to have that comfort for the rest of our stay in Cartagena. It gave us the peace of mind needed.
Soon after we checked in we departed for a long walk with Lavy through the famous old town of Cartagena. We admired a beautiful sightseeing to the colorful Spanish colonial houses, charming old markets, cobblestone streets, catholic churches, art galleries, boutique hotels, exquisite restaurants, happy hour bars and traditional coffee shops. We were welcomed by a lively atmosphere with artists and dancers filling the markets and exhibiting the spirited culture of Colombia.
I was impressed with those local ladies wearing their traditional colorful dresses and the easiness with which they were caring the tropical fruit baskets on top of their heads. It was exactly the image I had in mind for that part of the world. Although the ladies were wearing the attire mostly to get paid for a picture by tourists, it still felt like an authentic view of the local culture.
By sunset Lavy took us to a perfect spot to watch the sun go down: on the top of the city walls.
Cartagena's walls were built to protect the town from pirate raids, which were an annoying side-effect of being a prosperous port city on the Caribbean Coast of South America. Today the walls enclose a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial city, providing a flawless platform to enjoy the nightfall. We decided for a cocktail at the popular Café del Mar bar, listening to live lounge music and watching a vibrant social scene over a spectacular golden sunset laying down on the Caribbean Sea.
The next days we chose to take it easy in Cartagena. The pregnancy started making me feel more tired than usual. I was not in the mood to do much, except my routine exercises, eating well, sleeping well and spending some time writing. Our rough ride through Central America’s heat and the frequent border crossings had added to the overall tiredness. We just needed some time to rest, recover and recharge. So that’s what we did for the next week in Cartagena, with a special attention to discovering the many good restaurants.
By then I must confess I was tired of the Latin American food and could do with something different. I had my share of rice, beans and plantain, which are part of most meals. I was really craving for some sourdough bread, quality pastries and perhaps some good Italian pasta.
Probably at that point I had reached some sort of travel saturation. I had limited interest in making any extra efforts to discover new things although Cartagena was spectacular and Lavy was an amazing host. Being for so long on the road, seeing and experiencing so many new things, I probably got to a level when anything new, even if it was insightful or interesting, made me more tired. I needed a break from the break, and we were in the right place for it. With our comfortable room at Lavy’s Maloka Hostel and his company we managed through this phase.
The small walks we took in the nearby neighborhoods of El Centro, San Diego and hippy artsy Getsemani allowed us to listen to more traditional live music and watch talented dancers enchanting people with their shaky sparkly moves. Residents offered all sorts of tasty street foods from their verandas. The afternoon runs over the city walls cherishing the glorious sunset in Cartagena was an everyday delight and made our days more pleasant in Cartagena.
Lavy was nice enough to invite us for a Sunday trip to Baru Island together with his cute little daughter Adara. The island is famous for its turquoise Caribbean waters and white-sand beaches. It is located only 40 km from Cartagena, and it is connected to the land though a bridge, thus easily accessible by car.
When we got there, we faced two realities: one was the gorgeous nature of the island, and the other was of the poor living conditions the locals were in. It was sad to see the misery they were coping with. From the parking lot to the beach we had to go through so much rubbish like we hardly seen before. When we reached the seafront, the beach was beautiful, but it was also packed with many people, a lot of them trying to make a living selling all sorts of stuff. The crowds, the noise and the selling harassment initially made us feel uncomfortable.
But it was Sunday, and it was a beach trip with friends so we tried to relax and enjoy the beautiful nature surrounding us in the company of our good friend and his sweet Adara.
When we entered the water, we chilled out. It had a pleasant temperature and there were no waves. We were floating above the salty calm sea. From time to time some jet skis and banana boats would approach slightly too close to make an impression and attract more clients. It was unpleasant, somehow risky, but that was the way the place was set. There was action going on everywhere. It was so different from the isolated beaches Brutus would take us to.
JP and Lavi refreshed themselves with the traditional pina colada and I must confess it was the best pina colada I ever tasted. It came inside a pineapple and it carried the natural flavor of the fruit juice. Pity I couldn’t have a full one for myself, but I was still happy sipping from JP’s. For lunch we ordered a grilled fish with guess what? Coconut rice and plantain. For desert we requested a few more pina coladas 😊.
The National Aviary of Colombia
After lunch we went for our last deep into the Caribbean Sea before heading towards the National Aviary of Colombia to see all those tropical birds we did not get the chance to see in the wild, like the Scarlet Macaw parrot.
At that point in the day we didn’t have a lot of expectations and were letting things flow. We were following Lavy’s recommendations and to our surprise that was when we really got impressed. The aviary was well organized and signaled. We received an explanatory map of the location and the type of birds we would encounter; we saw an impressive bird show and admired a collection of resident and international tropical species.
We’ve identified huge green-yellow parrots, the scarlet macaw, pink flamingos, eagles, owls, condors, lovely colored toucans and all sorts of other colored tropical birds. We walked through the park amazed by the beauty surrounding us.
When we were informed about the bird show I thought it would be something cruel to watch. But in fact, it was a nice introduction to the species they have in the park. Each of them would fly from one side of the auditorium to another. The moderator would explain us the characteristics and origin of each bird while they were flying through. It was fun, enjoyable and we learnt new things.
The sunset was approaching and the mosquitos started their attack looking for blood. I was afraid of Zika so we rushed back to the car happy for what we had seen and happy to go back to our hostel to rest.
The following day we would finally depart to Santa Marta where we would be welcoming back our dear and missed Brutus.
Cartagena with its beautiful walls and perfectly preserved Spanish colonial old town was an ideal place to rest and start our South American journey. We were experiencing mixed feelings on our time off from Brutus, and although we had a private bathroom and all comfort, we missed our privacy and our own little place in the world within Brutus. We had a couple of more months to complete our sabbatical year, a short time to cover so many exciting places and embrace new cultures on the way. We wanted to be in the best shape to appreciate and make the most of it. Cartagena and Lavy helped us to recover and regain the energy needed to move on until the end of the Americas. Thank you!