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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Welcome to Colombia! (Cartagena)

COLOMBIA | Monday, 31 October 2011 | Views [1753] | Comments [2]

After asking around a few different hostels on a street in Cartagena (and viewing the rooms this time) we settled for the cheapest we could find for a private room. Air conditioning cost double so we had to settle with a mere fan. At least here we had our own bathroom and the bed was relatively comfy.


Cartagena used to be a very busy port where slaves were sold and where the Spanish hid their treasure that they took out of Mexico until they could get it back to Europe. Because of this, the place was under attack from pirates many times and the city was fortified. We explored the old town which had tiny streets with beautiful colored buildings and balconies and we walked around some of the city’s wall. Not all of this area is beautiful however; there are many parts that are dirty and broken down. Out of the old town is an area that is built up with white high rise apartments and hotels with an unimpressive beach bordering it. This area looks rather out of place for my vision of Colombia! It was so hot as we walked around that my clothes were sticking to me and it made it hard to take in the beauty and enjoy it. Later on in the evening I enjoyed sitting on our hostel balcony and watching the sun go down and the streets buzzing with activity.


In Mexico I didn’t really feel like I stuck out at all. Their economy relies almost completely on tourism (and petrol), so the tourist trade is well established and we were welcome everywhere. In Colombia when we first arrived I felt like we stuck out like a sore thumb. In Cartagena people are dark skinned so it seemed like we glowed. This is becoming a tourist hub for sure, it has boomed so quickly, but still, when you walk the streets, the people who don’t belong there are very easy to see. I also have the worst sense of direction EVER, so getting lost in those little streets at first made me a little overwhelmed. Thank god for Andrew being on to it!! I also couldn’t get past the dangerous stigma Colombia’s reputation had created. I know it’s much safer now and only a small percentage of tourists have problems but I couldn’t help but feeling a little anxious. By the next day however, I had relaxed.


Our second day consisted of cruising around the Islas de Rujeres on a boat. Some of these little islands are so small; a house occupies the entire land space of the island. We also had time on Playa Blanca which is a nice tropical beach with palm trees and very warm water. Unfortunately the weather was very overcast so everything looked dull, and there were nonstop people trying to sell things getting in our face. When its food and drink related, it can be convenient, but when its constant and their pushy and it’s something you don’t want nor need, it can be downright aggravating.

We met an Australian couple on the boat and instantly clicked. (The four of us were the only people on the boat where English is our first language.) We spent the whole day chatting, mainly about our travels. They are doing a similar trip to us but in a shorter time frame. Unfortunately our paths won’t be crossing again although we are going to many of the same places but we will keep in touch.


The following day was an incredible day!! I think it wins the award for the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in my life!! We bathed in a mud volcano! The Volcano is around 15 metres tall with stairs built on to the side. When you walk up and climb into the mud you are so buoyant that you float. It’s impossible to be pushed under. These men lay you down completely flat, cover you head to toe in mud so that only your eyes are visible and they massage you. The mud is warm, thick and gooey with the occasional large thermal bubble rising up from below. It is the weirdest feeling ever but so so cool!!! Afterwards we walked down to a lagoon where women washed you. I got grabbed by a lady who pulled my bikini off quick smart! I didn’t have a choice in the matter, it was quite amusing. Luckily the water was dark and murky so I could keep a modicum of modesty!


(It’s interesting that I enjoyed this experience as I have discovered I am a bit of a princess when it comes to feeling clean. I hate being sweaty and salty from the beach and the sun (& overnight buses), yet tropical holidays are always the first holiday I dream about. I especially hate my hair being dirty. I wish I had that sexy beach hair look that a lot of girls manage, but unfortunately I am not one of the lucky ones!  Don’t get me wrong though, I am not one of these girls that spend hours on her hair, I spend 10 seconds on my hair in the morning… I just like it being clean.)


During this unique experience we met a kiwi couple that got me thinking about the different kinds of travellers out there. They were the diehard travellers, the ones who have no plan and no guide book and just meet locals and stay with them randomly along the way, live in hammocks on the beach or dorm rooms or in the bush for long periods of time etc I am super envious but I just couldn’t do it! They spent a month doing a Spanish course in Argentina and spoke confidant and clear Spanish which have benefitted their experiences. I haven’t felt like I’ve improved my Spanish much at all unfortunately, I only know very basic things and have trouble understanding responses that are longer than a few words. I don’t know how people get by with absolutely no Spanish but people do. We also met an American guy who got attacked in a taxi in Honduras. He was badly beaten up, stabbed and robbed. Yet he went back to the same place 4 times afterwards as he loves the country!! Stories like that freak me out, I’ve heard so many horror stories about taxis, police framing you, armed robbers breaking into hostels – it’s all very very off putting, and I have to force myself to not become paranoid.


Colombia has been and in some parts still is, very dangerous. They have had a very violent past, especially once they had gained their independence from Spain. Colombia used to be joined to Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela but the government couldn’t control such a large area so they split in 1830. Two political parties were formed that were fierce rivals. In the 19th century there were 8 civil wars and constant anti-government insurrections. In 1899 there was one of the worst of the civil wars that left over 100,000 people dead. In 1948 it broke out again leaving 300,000 people dead. Guerillas began to gain some very dangerous independence after this.  Today, some guerilla groups are their own political party, others have their own rules and at least 35% of the country obeys them instead of the government. These groups are in charge of most of the wealth that comes through the country from the production of cocaine. 80% of the world’s cocaine is made in Colombia and smuggled through into Mexico. The government constantly spray over areas in Colombia to kill the coca plants but unfortunately in doing this, are killing hundreds of indigenous people’s crops and damaging the forest. Guerillas have taken up growing the trees in National Parks so that they won’t be sprayed.


The divide between the wealthy and the poor in Colombia are enormous. 10% of the wealthiest people control 45% of the country’s wealth (earning 80 times more money than the poorest 10%). Around 60% of the population live in poverty. Most members of the upper tier know someone who have been assassinated, kidnapped, robbed or held for ransom. In Colombia the population is 43 million people. That’s mind boggling when I think that NZ has only a mere 4.5!!!


Today we got a shuttle van from our hostel to our next hostel in Santa Marta four hours away. Colombia’s elections were on today so the streets were chaotic. They always are, as there seems to be no rules, but today police were trying to keep control of intersections and no one was paying attention to them! They just create extra lanes wherever they want to go, even if it’s clear there’s not another lane there. Unfortunately the weather here is over cast and has been raining, yet still warm, so our future plans are looking dubious. Sleeping in a hammock on the beach isn’t very appealing without blue skies. Fingers crossed for it to clear up….




We really liked your post and decided to feature it on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that other travellers can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

  Kate Hoffman Nov 17, 2011 9:17 AM


what was this vlcano called id like to add it on to my list :-)

  amberwez Dec 28, 2011 6:48 AM

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