So I have mentioned that for almost 4 weeks I am staying with a Colombian family in Cartagena. They live in an apartment in a middle class barrio called Campestre. I stayed with them for 2 nights in their old place, but they have since moved to a bigger and better place a few blocks away.
This is by no means the lap of luxury. Part of my plan in coming here to volunteer was immersion, and living with a family was better for that than living with other foreigners or by myself. This is a simple home with enough amenities but not everything we are accustomed to having. I realize everyday here how spoiled we are and how little we actually do need to get by. I am not saying I am thriving in this environment! I have some internal struggles being the spoiled brat I am. But it’s going OK so far, and the people are so great it helps a lot! Still, there have been a few times I’ve dreamed of checking in to a hotel for a night – with AC of course, including a search I did on hotwire a few hours ago!
Cartagena is a city with a rich history and a lot of sights to see. Since I only have my weekends to be a tourist, I did a city tour yesterday to maximize time. The city tour was going to hit at least two of the Cartagena must sees.
I booked the 65000 peso (approx $28 CDN) tour through a hostel in the old town, El Viajero. I met the tour guide at the clock tower at 130 pm. The plan was to see a couple of the big sights and get a ride around the city to boot.
I didn’t know until the morning of the tour that the barrio was going to have a party that day. It turned out to be a good time to leave though because the sound system was blaring from 10am and was still going when I got home and then some! I wore ear plugs from 10a-12noon when I left for the tour.
So this is the Caribbean and nothing moves fast. About 12 of us loaded into the bus and waited. Then we drove around for a bit and returned to the clock tower to pick up some latecomers. Then we drove around some more and picked up other tourists. Most of those were in Bocagrande, a big tourist section on the beach. Bocagrande has a lot of big hotels and fast food restaurants and I am glad I got to see it on the ride because it confirmed what I thought: I don’t need to hang out there.
The bus was pretty full by then and our 1:30 tour got started at around 2:15pm. This was actually very good because we beat the other groups to every stop!
Our guide was a pretty flamboyant guy who I am not kidding got something to eat everywhere we went! He was entertaining if extremely loud on the sound system. That seems to be the Colombian way. The tour was conducted entirely in Spanish and the majority of the group was from Colombia with a couple from Argentina and Brazil. I think I got the gist of the tour plus I had my Lonely Planet so read about each place before we arrived.
Monumento del Zapatos Viejos– old shoes.we stopped for 15 minutes so people could take photos sitting in these shoes. I read that this was a tribute to the famous poet, Luis Carlos Lopez. Meh. Definitely not a must see.
2. Convento de la Popa– an old convent at the top of a hill with gorgeous views over the city. The drive up was interesting with the bus zooming around corners past people’s homes. People live all along the road up the hill in pretty rough conditions. The convent was quite pretty and included a chapel and some interesting artifacts like old maps and money from around the world, even Canada, which the guide pointed out so I could look at my country’s money. Leaving La Popa was a challenge because all the other busses were there or arriving. It took a while to get out but we made it. I took some nice shots of the views. It was a little cloudy but still everything was visible.
3. Castillo de San Felipe – pretty cool place created by the Spanish to defend the city and protect all their gold and jewels in the 1600s. A little bit of climbing involved but not too hard and you’re rewarded with some pretty views here too. The highlight of this spot is all the tunnels you can walk up, down and over the castillo. The Spanish did a good job because the sound carries really well throughout so they always had the drop on anyone trying to attack or escape via the tunnels.
4. Plaza San Diego– a perfect example of exiting through the gift shop. Not to demean the story behind this place which I am glad I learned yesterday. This part of the old city was where they used to hold slave auctions. Many of the shops and the people selling fruit are representative of this heritage It’s a beautiful plaza on the edge of the old city and the gift shops weren’t bad either. On a Sunday, there were many people flying kites in the area.
Back on the bus and the guide was going to head back to Bocagrande so after seeing the house of the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which you can’t visit because his sister lives there), I hopped off for good. The tour ended around 5:30 so about 4 hours from the supposed start time, but really more like 3 of actual touring. I was ready for una cerveza.
The tour was worth it for getting to and into the 2 key attractions even if it did take a while. Despite my lack of fluency I saw a lot, learned a lot and got some photos.
UPDATE: Got some good wifi at the Juan Valdez Cafe – how Colombian! Photos uploaded
So 4 days of working in the heat requires a fun weekend. As I am in the Caribbean, it makes sense to go diving. I found a well-reviewed dive shop, Diving Planet, and booked a two-dive day.
The majority of the reefs around here are around the Rosario Islands, which are approximately a 30 minute boat ride from the mainland. Far enough that it feels like the natural 4 it is.
I wouldn’t say the diving was the best or most fish filled I have experienced. It was among the most relaxing which was enjoyable. The water temperature was 26C so no need for wet suits. Super easy diving without! And fast for getting ready for dives. Besides being a super comfortable temperature, there was no current at all so we were able to take it nice and easy.
Most of the people who booked for the trip were snorkelers or learning to dive. This was great because only 3 of us dove with the dive master. And the other two were a couple from NYC- only the guy was originally from Toronto. Gotta love those small world moments. Super nice people too.
One of the things I like about diving is I can do it on my own and the other divers are usually friendly. At the very least they’ll talk to you about their travels and other dives. Today I also met a couple from Illinois and a man from Argentina whose daughter is moving to Toronto in December. Fun day!
Even if I didn’t see a lot of fish, the visit to the islands was worth it. They are national park land but you can stay there in a choice of hotels and all inclusives. Our lunch stop after the dive was one of those called Cocoliso. The trip over was combined with another group doing a tour so there was a Spanish language history lesson that I only half heard. I was busy trying not to drop my phone as I photographed some beautiful scenery!
Sadly, I can’t get a strong enough connection today to upload my photos. You will just have to believe me that it was a beautiful day in every way. I am a little disappointed that I can’t make this blog as good as I wanted but that’s part of the experience too.
Maybe tomorrow I can find some powerful wifi somewhere but it’s not happening today and I need to roll with it! My new mantra. Hasta mañana!
It’s been a little crazy the last 2 days because my host family just moved. Yes, I know! I got to their place on Monday night, stayed two nights and then was moved to another family’s house to stay while the first family moved. It sounds complicated. Maybe it is.
So Wednesday night I stayed with the volunteer coordinator, Libary, and her family. Then last night we were told the new place my family moved to still didn’t have ac so could I stay another night? Roll with it Melinda!
This is my new mantra to myself. Part of my reason for coming here was to hopefully change some things about myself, even a little. One of those is my lack of patience. Another is my need to be in control. So here we go! I tend to like having a plan and sticking to it. haha. Roll with it. This isn’t that bad.
So I am now in the new house but it doesn’t have wifi. So short post now via my phone and my local data plan. I also can’t take a shower because my towel is at Libary’s house with some of my other things since I stayed there for 2 nights.
To focus on tbe positive here!
1. The negative is really not that bad! I always had a place to sleep!
2. Shout outs to Libary. This 23 year old works 2 jobs and is amazing. Good thing I am the only volunteer she is coordinating this week because it’s been busy for her for sure!
3. Finally, I got to the institution today and the children ran and hugged me so hard we all almost fell over. Great reception and easy to roll with that.
So I mentioned yesterday that the bus rides in Cartagena are an experience. They are certainly affordable. Every bus costs 2,000 pesos, which translates to approximately 65 US cents, or 84 Canadian cents. Pretty cheap. But, is it worth it? It depends.
I took 3 buses on different routes yesterday. 2 of them I would take again in a heartbeat, the other, probably not.
First bus – from my home to the foundation (work). My home is in the “Campestre” barrio or neighborhood. I love that they are called barrios, it makes me feel like I’m in the L.A. of Sanford & Son or something. So retro sounding. But really it’s just a Spanish word for neighborhood.
Anyway, the Campestre barrio is inland – it’s a middle class area kind of far from the tourist parts of town (on the map above, that’s the area along the ocean from Bocagrande – sort of like the South Beach – to Getsemani and beyond to Old Town).
My bus ride today (which I successfully completed on my own) was really easy. I catch the bus at the corner 2 blocks down the street and take it about 20 minutes and walk about 5 minutes from the stop. All for 84 cents. I will do that every morning. No problem.
2. The second bus took me from the stop near work to the old city. I will definitely take this bus again. It took about 15 minutes, had some great views along the way, and stopped right outside the old city, which is GORGEOUS! That’s for several other posts. As you can see in the map below, the foundation is pretty near to the ocean.
So there will likely be a lot of days where I head from work into the walled city for a walk, beer or any excuse I can think of!
3. The last bus was painful. It was oppressively hot – because the buses have no AC – and standing room only. This is the bus from the Old City to the barrio. It took an hour and the driver was insane. He was racing around corners and braking and starting with crazy frequency. I thought I was going to vomit. I do get car sick so this was not for me. THEN, I find out from the person who took me on this rotten journey that a taxi is only 12,000 – 14,000 pesos. I’m like why am I getting sick when I could have spent FIVE DOLLARS!?! Anyway, never again with that bus. The cabs have Air con. Win.
I did take a taxi home from work today, simply because no one has shown me where my end stop is. It was fine and only 8,000 pesos. Compared to Toronto, the taxis here are CHEAP!
I have also been warned to be very careful on the buses. Don’t flash money (duh) and don’t take out my cell phone at all. That’s a bit of an inconvenience but I get it and certainly don’t want to lose my mobile.
Traffic here is insane. I had speculated about trying to find a bicycle to use, but it’s very uncommon with the heat. Plus the fact there are so many motorbikes going on sidewalks and around traffic I do worry about safety. Apparently many of those motorbikes are used as taxis and they do circumvent traffic pretty well. My Colombian mother, Marcela, and I discussed that this morning and she does not want me to try it. I think my U.S. mother might agree. But everybody says if you’re in a rush, it’s a good idea. And cheaper than a real taxi. But we’ve already established that real taxis are dirt cheap and there are a couple of buses I will keep taking. I’ll let you know if I ride one of those motorbikes. Just don’t tell Marcela.
Today was my first day volunteering. I am going to be spending my weekdays at “the institute” a division of an organization called Granitos De Paz, which is a free day care for parents who need it so they can work to support their families. So today I got to spend the day playing with 2 year olds. 26 of them. In Spanish. Yea, I am tired!
First I had to take the bus. The buses here are not like back home. First off, no AC! Second, they are super cheap. Like 65 cents US. And third, the ones I’ve been on (3 today) all play loud pop or dance music and have disco styling. I felt like royalty in the tassel curtained bus! I would have loved AC though, but I think that’s just going to be my lament for the month!
Check out my morning bus today:
I had a guide for the bus ride so it was uneventful, but tomorrow I ride alone, so wait for that! Fingers crossed.
The institute was great. I spent the day assisting one teacher. She has a class of 26 x 2 year olds so yea, I think I helped some. These kids are adorable and full of life.
The most interesting part of the day was lunch. Tables upon tables of kids (not just our classroom) trying to eat some kind of broth, pasta and meat, all in separate compartments on their plates. And then, the adults, trying to shovel the food into them so they got some nourishment instead of spilling everywhere. I quickly pitched in to help feed the slow dawdlers. OMG The place was a MESS!! No food fight, but it looked like it! The kids had so much food on them, that we then had to take them to a huge sink to wash them. Not just their hands, their arms, faces, and necks. And then, when we brought them back to the classroom, all their shirts came off! Then it was naptime. Isn’t napping the best?
Not everyone slept, but there was a period of mostly silence so who can complain?
Other things I did today:
Visited the Old Walled City and Bocagrande – photos and more to come! Will be back there many times. The bus there was easy. The bus back less so (see 2)
Took two more buses one of which was driven by a crazy person racing another bus to pick up all the riders until everyone on the bus yelled at him. I need gravol from now on for bus rides
Visited a scuba shop – may go diving this weekend. Will probably go diving this weekend
It was a long eventful day but I am in Cartagena now!
I took an uber pool in Toronto at 530am thinking no one would share the ride at that hour on a holiday Monday. Wrong! I ended up with two drunk girls who hadn’t gone to bed yet and were hilarious and woke me up for my flights. They got dropped off in Mississauga and I got to the airport with plenty of time for my flight. Gotta love the people you meet in uber pools.
Those who’ve travelled with me know I like to pack light. This is a long trip, though: I’ll be gone for 5 1/2 weeks and I want to have workout clothes, working clothes, beach clothes and going out clothes! Plus shoes! You ladies know what I mean.