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Losing Our Way Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing. --------------------------------------------------------- Arundhati Roy (Indian author, advocate, activist)

Journey to the Coast (ive)

USA | Thursday, 22 January 2009 | Views [1342] | Comments [2]

Cartagena City Walls

Cartagena City Walls

On Wednesday 1/14, we packed our bags and left our home-base at the Hotel Aragon in Bogota, destination: Armenia. From there we planned to go to a small weekender town called Solento. The bus ride from Bogota to Armenia was beautiful – gorgeous rolling mountains that got more and more lush as the journey went on. Toward the end of the eight hour ride to Armenia, they began showing the American movie “Evan Almighty” with Spanish dubbing. Miral and I got frustrated with ourselves as we kept finding ourselves drawn to watching the movie. “Well, I've never seen it!” All this gorgeous once-in-a-lifetime scenery passing us by and we are watching this silly movie about a guy who thinks he's Noah. They don't call it a boob tube for nothing. And powerful it is.

We made it to Armenia and from there took a Collectivo to Solento. We were excited that we were first on the Colectivo and secured prime seating in the front with a windhsield view to help Miral keep her motion sickness under control. As the van filled up, though, we realized that our huge backpacks were taking up an extra seat and every seat was needed. We eventually put our bags in the aisle – the other passangers were not pleased with us – even though another guy got on carrying a giant sack of potatoes! We pulled into Solento and and one of the passengers keenly aware of our backpacks asked if we were going to La Plantacion – the main backpacker hostel in the town. In fact, we were. She gave us directions and we walked a few blocks to this somewhat sprawling former banana plantation. The place had a lot of character – and was populated mainly by English speakers. A few Aussies and a bunch of Americans. We spoke with Megan from San Francisco for a few minutes and when we mentioned we were planning to hike through Valle de Cocora the next day. She invited us to join her and her friends who had the same plan. Miral and I spent the evening wandering around the town, which had a very New Hope or Woodstock feel to it, Latin American style, with lots of funky souvenirs and art pieces. We found a restaurant and after an extended broken Spanglish dialgue with our extremely friendly waiter, we dined on trucha (trout) smothered in queso (cheese) that was served with a gigantic fried plantain chip and several sauces -- and we sipped our first cerveza (Club Colombia) of the trip.

The next day we met up with the other plantacion guests to head to La Plaza to catch the jeeps to take us to Valle de Cocora. The group included Megan and, from where she had been volunteering in Ecuador, a photo-crazy Aussie guy and an American-Aussie couple from the Bay Area. Miral spoke to the wife about the experiences of couples on the road while they sat in the front seat of the jeep. The back of the jeep was filled with much more random conversation. Also in the group back there were two American college-age guys – one pretty quiet and one pretty outspoken guy from Rye, New York. He told pretty tall tales of odd things he'd seen on his travels since he began in Argentina and repeatedly discussed his plan to travel the coast all the way back up to Seattle. Maybe. Or maybe not. It was a nice group to spend the day with – and the scenery on the hike was beautiful. We hiked through the open grassy valley floor and then uphill through lush and dense forest with some beautiful rushing rivers. Miral commented how much the scenery remindded her of the Olympic Peninsula back home (home?). We made our way to a nature preserve, where we rested and snacked on Chocolate y Queso (hot chocolate and cheese). There were several hummingbird feeders on the front porch and hummingbirds fluttering around everywhere. We continued to climb to a hilltop overlooking the valley, which had wafting clouds that reminded me of the Cascades back, err, in Washington.  From there we dropped back down to the valley floor. The down hill climb was through massive groves of gigantic wax palm trees. They gave the whole place a surreal prehistoric feeling. Unlike any place I'd been before. If there was any drawback to the hike, it was the need to wear pretty uncomfortable rented rubber golashes because of the amount of mud and horse manure on the trail.

We grabbed a snack at a restaurant while we waited for our jeep driver to return and then made our way back to Salento. Miral and I split off from the rest and climbed the large staircase in town known as Alto de la Cruz until we reached the hilltop with a large cross and a beautiful view. We climbed down and wandered store to store – in part looking for a new day bag for Miral to replace the one that had ripped that day – and also just checking out what was for sale. In the midst of it the skies opened and a torrential downpour began. We found our way to a pretty bohemian looking bar and sipped a beer to ride out the storm. I also tried my first chicha – local alcohol made from fermented fruit juice, It was served in a cool half-shell, but it basically tasted like rancid citrus juice and didn't pack much of a punch – so my guess is it will be my last chicha.

The next day we hopped the Collectivo back to Armenia with a plan to travel the 7 hour bus ride from Armenia to Medallin. I started feeling a little motion sickness on the Collectivo – which matured into full-on dizzy-nausea by the time we were being driven in revs and spurts through the incredibly windy mountain passes toward Medallin. Luckily Miral felt fine on this trip and took care of everything we needed – which she really has been doing much of the trip anyway. As opposed to my tentativeness, she dives right into conversing in a language she is still just getting the basics of – getting nothing but admiration from the locals for her effort, even amidst the chuckles as they figure out what she is trying to say. She is able to get any question answered – even if it takes a little while. It's funny how the contrast in our styles is the same as it in the States – but its magnified here. It's pretty inspiring to watch her. We made it to our hostel in Medallin and went across the street to Exito, the Colombian version of Wal-Mart, to get some groceries for dinner. For some reason, the lingering nausea from the drive had me craving ice cream and I downed two McDonald's ice cream cones (a place I'd never buy from in the States...) before our dinner of scrambled eggs and veggies that Miral cooked up at the hostel. I still wasn't feeling 100% the next day and, having gathered little of a feel for Medallin, was dreading the 14 hour bus ride to Cartagena. I decided to give the Bonine a try. I felt great the entire trip – in part because I literally slept the whole time. That stuff knocks you out! We pulled into Cartagena about 9pm and since the Metrocars that take you from the bus station to the town had stopped running, we cabbed it to our hostel.

On the drive in we began to get some sense of the city, as we drove with beautiful sea views on one side and the walls of the city on the other. Appartently, Cartagena was the city from which the Spaniards shipped back to Spain their spoils from conquering the peoples of South America, so they protected it well from attacks by pirates and other countries. Except for the poor part of town (Getsemani), the whole historic part of the city is surrounded by walls. We felt good from all of the bus sleeping and decided to go wander the town a little. We were immediately struck by all of the beautiful architecture – a mix of incredibly well preserved Spanish colonial architecture and post-independence Republican buildlings. Nearly all of the buildings have high balconies, which overlooking the narrow streets below gave the place a feel that reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Like The Quarter, you don't need to be in Cartagena more than 5minutes to know you are in a really unique place. It was about midnight and even though it was Saturday night, many places were starting to close down. We wandered through an area of extremely high end clothing stores that gave the place an added South Beach, Miami, feeling. We went out to the city wall, where a bar atop the wall was hopping with a band playing pretty cheesy Latin dance music. We sat in a large plaza and sipped a drink, but by 1am, the waitress was literally taking down the table and chairs from under us and we knew it was time to call it a night. The next day we'd be meeting up with the crew from Melissa and Scott's wedding, which would be our focus for the coming week or so.









Enjoyed Colombia-sounds beautiful (except for the long bus rides. Judy usually eats,or drinks, something very salty when she gets car/plane sick and it really helps her). If you have the chance (and money) try to get to see the Galapogos Islands-it was AMAZING..

  Marty and Judy Jan 24, 2009 7:17 AM


Ola Ivan and Miral. Love to you both. Glad you are having a wonderous time-

  casey fortenberry Jan 28, 2009 5:19 PM

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