After a long hiatus, I’m feeling inspired to start blogging again. Unfortunately for you, that means you have to bear with me for a few catch up posts! Think all the way back to Thanksgiving, because that’s how far back we’re going…
When I returned to the US last spring, I had grandiose visions of how I would spend Thanksgiving after three years of celebrating abroad. But, somewhere along the way, I realized that my expectations for the holiday and how I would celebrate were a little too high. Rather than adjust them, I decided to leave the country. One of my good friends was available to travel the same week, and after weighing a couple of destinations, we decided on Colombia. I have friends from Vevey who are living there now, and I really wanted to catch up with them in their new home. Plus, they’re American, so I knew they would want to celebrate!
You might remember that I stopped in Panama City for a day and a half on my way to Colombia. I met up with my friend in the airport in Panama City, and we headed to Cartagena. When I visited Colombia in April 2014, I learned about Cartagena. Everyone told me I had to visit there the next time I came to Colombia. It’s an old colonial city that was founded by the Spanish, and it sits on the Caribbean coast.
When we landed, it was POURING down rain. Not quite the welcome you want when arriving in a tropical destination. The weather forecast for our entire week in Colombia was looking pretty wet, but even so, it was really disappointing to arrive to so much rain. It was actually raining so hard that they held us on the plane for about 30 minutes after landing. We had to walk down the stairs to deplane, and they decided it was unsafe. I’ve never been held hostage upon arrival at a destination. I guess there’s a first time for everything.
We stayed at an adorable boutique hotel in the Old Town called Bantu Hotel by Faranda Boutique. It was hacienda-style, and there were several toucans who lived in the lobby! Interesting fact: they eat a lot of papaya, and therefore, they have orange poop!
It stormed all night, but I’m happy to report that it didn’t rain again until the end of the week! We were prepared for terrible weather every day, so this was such a wonderful surprise! We even saw the sun a few days!!
The streets of Cartagena are full of character – especially in the old town. Lots of colorful buildings and beautiful flowers.
While most of the day was spent roaming through the streets and plazas in Old Town, we made it a point to visit a couple of things. San Felipe de Barajas Castle is a huge fort built in 1536 to protect against pirates and then the Spanish. It is impressive.
We had lunch at Le Cevicheria, which was DELICIOUS! One of their ceviches had coconut and lime, which are some of my favorite flavors, and they had a coconut lemonade that was SO GOOD! I ordered that drink every time I saw it on a menu throughout the week.
These ladies sold fruit and other sweet treats in the street. Aren’t their dresses amazing?!
Around sunset, we went to Café del Mar – a bar located on top of the city wall overlooking the water, the city skyline, and the sunset.
The next day, we took a boat ride out to Playa Blanca, which came highly recommended. We sat in the back of the boat on the way out, and we were SOAKED. There’s no dock at the beach, so you literally jump off the front of the boat while it’s bobbing in the water. Some local guys stood beneath the front of the boat to try and catch you when you jumped off. Somehow I managed not to face plant or break my leg, so I think that counts as a successful dismount! While the beach is several kilometers long, it not very wide. We picked some beach chairs near where our boat dropped us and camped out for the day. It’s really primitive, but we had a delicious lunch of fresh fish, and I benefited from a day of sitting still in a chair reading and napping. We learned that you have to (almost literally) fight off the vendors trying to sell items for purchase or massages. They are pretty aggressive. But, with a view like this, who can really complain?
We were determined to sit in the front of the boat on the return trip to see if we could avoid getting wet. But, of course, everyone was thinking the same thing. Boarding the boat was hilarious, because there wasn’t a dock – just a ladder hanging off the side of the boat into the water. The boat was still bobbing in the water, and 50-100 people were scrambling to get to the ladder. It was madness! In situations like that, I always think there should be a warning before you buy a ticket! WARNING: must be brave enough to jump off the front of the boat upon arrival and to throw a few elbows at an aggressive crowd upon departure!
I didn’t capture the names of all of the other restaurants we tried, but I can tell you that I ate seafood for every meal. Our final meal was at El Boliche Cebicheria, which was really good!
And somewhere along the way we had homemade popsicles! It was so hard to choose a flavor!!
[Strolling around at night was almost as beautiful as during the day]
After our time in Cartagena, we flew to Medellin. You may associate Medellin with Pablo Escobar. (If you live under a rock like me and have never heard of him, I highly recommend the book, “Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw” by Mark Bowden. I read it in early 2016, and it blew my mind! I know I was still young in his hey day, but how did I miss ever hearing anything about him?!) Other than the friends we visited in Bogotá, I literally didn’t know any other Americans who had been to Medellin. I didn’t know what to expect. I have to say that I was really pleasantly surprised.
Aside from Uber drivers having a hard time finding a destination, the city was great. It’s tucked into a valley surrounded by mountains. They call it “The City of Eternal Spring” because of the mild weather year round. There’s a lot of hills throughout the city and a lot of tall buildings, so the skyline is awesome. We stayed in an apartment on the 26th floor of a building. Our huge terrace gave us great views of the city. We sat out there watching the sunset both evenings.
This is the city where we starting meeting up with other friends. My travel buddy had a Colombian roommate a few years ago who was in Medellin at this same time visiting his cousin. We met up with him and spent a lot of Medellin time together. Even though we only had a short time in this city. We opted to spend a day in the countryside. The landscape was gorgeous – so many green hills and loads of flowers! I had no idea that the US imports so many flowers from Colombia!
We started the day with breakfast at Restaurante Sancho Paisa Las Palmas. Arapas are a really traditional breakfast item in Colombia. They’re prepared all kinds of different ways. We had a number of variations while we were there. On this particular morning, I had an arapa that was made of cornmeal and had a big piece of cheese on top. I also had guava juice (which I was introduced to on a flight between Geneva and Cairo, naturally) and a hot chocolate that was basically served in a handle-less mug big enough to be a soup bowl!
Our drive and a couple of stops afforded really lovely views…
Then we headed to El Penon de Guatape. My Colombian friend told me to “please go” to this site. It’s a monolithic formation – basically, a really large rock. And of course, we climbed the 740 stairs to the top to see the landscape surrounding it. It’s a man-made lake, but I thought it was beautiful!
After our climb to the top, we went to the town of Guatape to walk around and have some lunch. The buildings are so colorful!
We had a really traditional meal for lunch, which was delicious, but HUGE. Lots of meat, rice, and beans.
We couldn’t leave Medellin without seeing the city center. We asked our driver to take us to Plaza Botero before dropping us off at our apartment. He warned us that going downtown was like driving into a zombie apocalypse. Slightly dramatic, but also slightly accurate. There are SO MANY people – on foot, in cars, on motorcyles or bikes. And it’s much, much dirtier than the area where we stayed. We got out of the car to walk around a couple of blocks and to see the Botero statues, but otherwise, took it all in from inside the car.
I would’ve liked one more day in Medellin to do a walking tour, go to the botanical gardens, etc. Next time…
On the morning of Thanksgiving, we flew to Bogotá. My friends were the ultimate hosts during our stay. They spoiled us rotten the whole visit and put on a huge spread for Thanksgiving, which is impressive when living in another country. I brought French’s fried onions to top the green bean casserole, but otherwise, they found all of the key ingredients. A few of their friends came over to celebrate with us. One of whom was absolutely hilarious! I laughed until I cried.
They have such a great view of the city from the terrace. It was so relaxing to sit outside enjoying it in the mornings.
We went to visit the Salt Cathedral outside of the city. It is built in a salt mine a long ways underground. My takeaway was that the mine wasn’t getting enough visitors on its own, so they built the cathedral inside to attract more people. It’s hard to take pictures in a mine, so I only captured one. Everything was made of salt!
A visit to Bogotá is not complete without a trip to Andres Carne de Res. I visited the location in the city when I was there in April 2014, but this was a totally different experience. Even more extreme, more eccentric, and much bigger. Similar to the other location, there was live music, dancing, crazy décor, and good food. And we were given sashes acknowledging that we were visitors.
And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one night, we met up with another friend of mine from Vevey later in the evening! She and I planned we would rendezvous in Cartagena when she left Switzerland in 2015, and while she couldn’t join us there, I’m thrilled I got to see her!
In my typical fashion, I only packed a carry-on. Because the weather forecast called for rain every single day, I packed rain boots in that carry-on (which took up A LOT of space!). But because we lucked out with beautiful weather every day, I let my guard down and didn’t take the rain warning seriously on our day in Bogotá. I went into a day in the city wearing Toms. When I tell you that it was monsooning, I am not exaggerating. POURING RAIN, LIGHTENING, THUNDER. It was nuts! And I wasn’t wearing my rain boots. When will I learn?!?!?
[Took the funicular to the top of Mount Monserrate]
[Caught in the crazy storm while trying to take the Graffiti Tour. After hiding out indoors for about 20 minutes waiting for the storm to pass, we opted to bail on the tour. Such a bummer.]
[Traditional soup for lunch at El Mejor Ajiaco del Mundo. And of course, more guava juice!]
[Museo Botero was really cool. I didn’t know this artist, but he’s one of the most famous Colombian artists. His paintings and sculptures are all “plump.” I found myself chuckling at a number of the pieces throughout the museum. They were so whimsical and silly.]
We had some delicious homemade Colombian food while staying with my friends, and I got to enjoy a Sunday with them at church and at the weekly flea market in the neighborhood below their place. It was so wonderful to get caught up and to get a glimpse into their new life in Colombia.
One final photo before departure… Until next time!