After a 16-hour bus ride from Medellin, we finally arrived in Cartagena at midnight. We didn’t mind the all day and night bus ride too much though. It gave us plenty of time to catch up on our sleep after a fun last night out in Medellin partying with new friends (one of them being Dr. Stu Price from the Hangover; aka Darren). Our group had accidentally stumbled across a bottle of the Colombian liquor called Aguardiente. Our South America guidebook wasn’t lying about it giving a hangover that makes you “lose the will to live.” On a previous long bus ride, the driver took a videotape of all of the passengers before departure. It seemed really ominous and made me think the bus was going to be hijacked. They didn’t videotape us on this ride though.
We kept hearing that Cartagena was the “gem of Colombia” so our expectations for the city were high. We did like the old fortress city with its old buildings, stone walls, and cannons dating back to the 1500’s. The beautiful balconies overflowed with flowers and plants. It reminded us of a Latin American New Orleans. Unfortunately, it’s hard to appreciate the surroundings with all of the trash and the mobs of people constantly asking to buy things. The temperature was well into the 90’s and humid but the bordering Caribbean Sea provided a cooling breeze. Don’t go to Cartagena for the beaches though. They are typical city beaches with lots of trash and people.
Bryan and I stayed at El Viajero Hostel, which was so far our favorite on this trip. The place was nicely decorated with an open-air courtyard in the center. Every night there were different social activities. The employees rolled out a bar and the courtyard turned into a chill bar and dance club, even offering salsa lessons. We also really appreciated the high-powered AC in the rooms at night.
One of the popular tours in the area was to go to the mud volcano. Locals of course claimed that the volcanic mud had health benefits for the skin. The volcano was something different to do and a good time if you had fun people on your tour (which we did). Everyone climbed to the top of the volcano and submerged themselves in the thick, gooey mud. The Colombian men held our camera and took pictures for 3,000 COP ($1.50 USD) and others gave quick massages for the same price. It was definitely a strange sensation to float through the mud. The best description I heard was that it felt like being in a giant chocolate malt. After floating around for a bit, we walked down to the lake to rinse off. There were several Colombian women waiting with bowls to help wash us off for another $1.50. We said “No Gracias” despite their persistent offers. I really did not want to pay a stranger to wash me and take off my bathing suit. Bryan said he would have if the women had looked a little better.
The best part of the tour was definitely the people we met. They were from the Wales, Holland, Ireland, and Germany. We exchanged emails with one of the couples and met the group for drinks that evening. It was interesting to hear their perspectives from traveling through the U.S. The couple had flown from Wales to Chicago, traveled some through the U.S., and all the way down to South America. Driving through the States in their rental Dodge Charger sporting an American flag bandana had been one of the highlights of their trip. Pat would have been proud! We swapped travel stories and drank cheap cervezas until 2:30 a.m., before catching our next bus at 9 a.m. We’re headed a little further up the Caribbean coast to Taganga, which is best known for it’s extremely cheap scuba diving!