Unfortunately, we have had some difficulties with internet and fell a little behind again. So, get ready for a series of shorter posts.
45 hours after leaving San Blas, we arrived in Cartagena. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see solid ground. Julia definitely hasn’t. Colombia is very different from the countries we previously visited in Central America. The first thing to know about Colombia is that it’s huge (the second thing to know is that there is no “u” in “Colombia”). Cartagena is home to a little over a million people which makes it small by Colombian standards, but don’t let that fool you, Cartagena is a world class city.
Upon arrival, everyone from our boat split up to find hostels. Julia and I settled on a pretty standard hostel called Mamallena that was conveniently situated in Old Town and just down the street from the famed Cafe Havana. Then we passed out in our beds, which (thankfully!) were firmly planted to the floor.
When we finally woke up and began exploring the city, we were dazzled by the clean, bright colonial architecture of Cartagena. We had perfect weather while in Cartagena and the hot Caribbean sun seemed to emphasize the contrast of the color on the street.
As luck would have it, many of our boat mates were in nearby hostels and we were able to explore Cartagena together. We sauntered through old town and sampled a variety of delicious fresh fruits being sold on the street.
Boutique shops line the streets of Old Town chalk full of designer goods. Generally speaking, none of these stores have backpackers as their target audience. As a result, we spent most of our first day sitting in plazas and hanging out with our friends from Luka.
During the next couple days, we managed to see a few more sights like the walls of the city and even visited the Inquisition Museum, a museum full of torture devices from the days of the Spanish Inquisition.
For one lunch, we splurged for ceviche at a restaurant cleverly named “La Cevicheria” made famous by Anthony Bourdain in his show No Reservations. Julia and I split a portion of the Pulpo Ceviche that Julia described as “the best ceviche (she’s) ever had.” Even though there was a hoard of obnoxious American tourists, we have to recommend that, if you are ever in Cartagena, you don’t pass this place up.
At night, Cartagena undergoes a transformation. As the sun sets, the street lamps turn on and cast their yellow light over the city. The small plazas around town quietly come alive with food vendors who make and sell a variety of street foods like:
Then the locals trickle in. They bring soccer balls, wine and beer and hang out in the pleasant Caribbean air until late. Hanging out with a beer or a glass of wine at Plaza Trinidad became a nightly activity for Julia and me. It was also a great place to run into our friends from Luka.
On one of our days in Cartagena, we decided to visit the somewhat famous “El Totumo” of Santa Catalina. A few of us from the boat piled into a bus and rode out to what looked like a giant anthill a few miles outside of the city. Once there, we climbed the slippery steps to the top where we found this:
The mud is heated by geothermal energy and is great for your skin, or so I’m told. The first steps into the mud were very strange. Our friend Jane described the way the mud feels as “warm custard.” That picture suggests that we’re standing on a ledge. This is not the case. The mud is so dense that you can’t physically sink below your shoulders. You also can’t swim in mud like you can in water. To get from one side to the other, you need to push off something (whether that be a person or a wall is totally up to you).
Once you do get out, you walk down a deathtrap set of stairs with slippery mud plastered all over them. Then you head to a river full of local women happy to help you de-mud (for a fee). The women are extremely thorough and, unless you protest vehemently, they will attempt to remove all of your clothes. If for no other reason, the weird factor alone justified our trip to the Mud Volcano. Afterwards, my skin was silky smooth too.
Up next: Santa Marta.