We’re back – After a year and a half we are back in Latin America and the familiarity of it all feels amazing! It feels great to be thrown back in…to hear Spanish music blaring loudly on every corner, be in the chaotic markets, hear food vendors yelling out into the streets, and experience the unrelenting heat.
This time we are in Colombia! We’ve been here for 2 weeks, but feels like we have lived and learned a year’s worth.
I arrived here a few days before Christina to get a lay of the land. We both flew into Cartagena which is a beautiful city mixed with energy, style, heat and history. Upon arrival it was easy to see the difference between Colombia and other Latin American countries we have travelled. Overall Colombians are more gregarious, energetic, stylish and enthusiastic. Their attitude is very contagious and I quickly bought a fedora to fit in (or stick out).
Walking around the walled city of Cartagena on any night of the week you can find tons of people occupying the streets, entertaining and socializing until the early morning. The attire all day and all night is semi formal and everyone looks like they are dressed to impress. Even in the scolding 90 degree heat of the city during the daytime, it is hard to find a Colombian man without at least slacks and a button down shirt on and a Colombian woman without an hour’s worth of makeup on her face.
As a tourist destination, Cartagena has its fair share of hawkers. Every block you walk on there’s someone trying to sell you something, but not in an aggressive way. Most of the time you just end up engaging in a conversation with a very friendly person. I think in general their gregarious personality makes them good at talking you into things without you even knowing it. For example, the first day I was here a man started talking to me in the square and before I knew it I was in a jewelry store with 10 other Colombians asking about the price of emeralds. I quickly realized how ridiculous the thought of buying jewelry was and walked out of the store.
The walled city of Cartagena itself is beautiful. It quickly became one of Christina and my favorite colonial cities. You can spend days on end walking around the streets looking at its amazing architecture and historical sites.
In the short time we were in Cartagena we learned a few important things about Colombian history:
- Before the Spanish arrived there were several tribes of people that inhabited the land with very peaceful and progressive cultures (one of them is the Kogi which I will get to in the next post. We learned about them while camping in the jungles of the Sierra Nevadas)
- The native people of coastal Colombia had rich deposits of gold which they used for making just about everything (i.e. jewelry, pots, armor, hunting materials)
- Cartagena was the main slave port of South America from the 1500s-1800s
- Many of the slaves shipped to Cartagena brought with them an African/Caribbean culture of spiritual dance, and vodoo-like traditions, which the Catholic Spanish perceived as devil worship. From the 1500s-1800s the Spanish Church developed some pretty disgusting ways to punish and torture these “devil worshipers”. We visited the museum where the punishments took place (a lot of the torture devices are still blood stained from hundreds of years ago).
- The Spanish conquistadors were assholes, but i guess relatively speaking the same could be said for most of the conquistadors and colonists at this time.
- Colombia is more expensive than other Latin America countries we have visited. A lot of the prices are comparable to the U.S. but most every price is negotiable. That being said, the increase in price is well worth this amazing experience!
- Most Spanish Colonial cities would be perfectly protected from a zombie apocalypse. They are always built in tight rows with impenetrable walls. Usually, the houses have huge courtyards inside the walls which would offer sufficient accommodations while waiting for the zombies to move to another city.
- Colombia has the biggest middle class out of any other Latin America country. One cool outcome of this is that there is not much of an economic divide between foreigners and locals. A lot of the time you end up in restaurants, hostels, and engaging in activities that are largely populated with locals. This makes it easier to immerse ourselves in the culture.
- Rich Latin Americans travel with a lot of stuff. It in not uncommon to see every other person on an International flight travel with at least 6 or 7 bags each.
- Like many countries outside the US, it is very easy and cheap to get prescription medications. For example, when I got here I developed a skin allergy, which I have had many times before. I knew exactly what medicine I needed to cure it so I went to the pharmacists and received it on the spot. $7 and a few days later I am allergy-free.
- On a similar note, when Christina wanted to get ear drops for her ear infection we made the mistake of going to a tiny shack of a drug store in a market where one of the two guys in street clothes running the store took a quick look in Christina’s ear, blew in it, and then said “No hay infeccion” and tried to send her on her way. I guess there are pros and cons to every system…
- The 5 food groups of Colombia are: Sugar, Beans, Rice, Bread and more Sugar. Needless to say, Christina is in heaven.
- Three important thing we always try to do while traveling is learn, understand, and adapt to the culture. This seems to be our travel recipe for success.
After a few days in Cartagena we took a 4 hour bus ride to the city of Santa Marta. This city is a great jumping off point for the trips to Tayrona National Park and Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City). Santa Marta feels like the surface of the Sun in August so after a couple days in the heat we decide to go to Minca, a small village in the low lying mountains nearby. We spent the mornings on jungle walks to waterfalls and coffee farms and the afternoon lounging in hammocks.
In between all of my incoherent jabber I hope this first blog expresses what a great experience we are having. Colombia is incredible to us and we have only touched the surface.
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