“Joan Wilder..? THE Joan Wilder..?” Adventures in Cartagena and homeward bound!

London Travel Blog

 › entry 31 of 31 › view all entries
Phew, our last bus ride of the whole adventure ( we had booked a flight back to Bogota after this jaunt as we had very little time and thought we would treat ourselves !) and what a sucky bus ride it was. The bus was ok, but the combination of knackered suspension with pot holes road kept us up all night and even gave H a bruised leg ! Also, the ‘direct’ bus we had booked, was about as direct as a pensioner with Alzheimer’s and after a bus change and more delays we finally arrived in one piece at another ‘out of town’ bus terminal at stupid o clock ( for the last time ☺. )
AS this was near the end of the trip it was time for a little luxury, and thanks to a points scheme, I had enough points for two nights at the Hilton Hotel in Cartagena.. Hosah !! We grabbed the first taxi at the bus stop, an incredibly beat up old Renault clio, no windows, very little interior, pouring out black smoke, but with a very chirpy driver. So as H best put it we ‘rocked up’ to the Hilton in style. To their credit, they did not bat an eyelid at two stinky scruffy backpackers checking in, and ten minutes later we were in our luxurious room , overlooking the pools and the sea, taking a very long, very hot shower !
This little slice of Luxury after a long time of staying in dumps ( especially in Venezuela !!) or in ‘trendy’ backpacker hostals where comfort was secondary to getting pissed and ‘partying’ was wonderful. OK it was a bland corporate hotel and we could have been anywhere in the world, but the clean fluffy towels ( we had started to think all towels were threadbare by their very nature!), hot running water, shower with water pressure and no bare electric wires etc really brought it home what luxuries the modern world has to offer.
Of course it was not all roses, H&I had argued in the lobby about whether to have the room with the ocean view or the city view, but if this was the extent of our problems.. well….
So after a thorough clean.. ( and damn it if most of my ‘tan’ didn’t come off in the bath !) we hit the pool complex, three immaculate interlinked pools, with waterfalls, waterslide etc and a beautiful view of the ocean !( the place even had its own private beach, but we were enjoying the pool too much !) H went off for an extra treat, a facial in the hotel Spa, and came back cursing the place. Apparently facials in Columbia are a little different to those in the UK and from what I could make out , we had just shelled out 60 bucks for a large Columbian lady to rasp H’s face with some grade 80 sandpaper! But the next day she was ‘glowing’ and had been singing its praises ever since, go figure !
Anyhoo, hunger and thirst soon proliferated into our ideal world, and looking at the menu in the hotel I soon realised we would need to sort something out as everything was astronomically expensive ( well , actuall it was not so bad, for a 5 star hotel at least, but we were not used too it of course) and H was getting a bit fed up with me going on that we could get a nights accommodation for the price of a cocktail, so we needed a plan.
The plan, as it turns out, was very simple. Just opposite the hotel was a mini market, with all the stuff we needed. Crisps, bread, beer etc and for a 5th of the price of the hotel. Winner. So we sat on our balcony scoffing crisp sarnies, drinking cheap tinnies and enjoying 5 star luxury for a fraction of the cost ( ok, we are cheapskates ! – I’ve got no excuse) For dinner we found a pizza place only 5 minutes walk away which was a godsend as the hotel was full by this point of conventioneers who had descended upon all the restaurants and bars in the hotel itself.
The next day was the same, but substitiute crisp sandwiches for choripan and a lot more time in the pool and that was about it. My highlight of the day was getting stopped by the Hilton security guard as I snuck back in with my cheap beers, who had finally realised that a scruffy backpacker types might not the type they want in the Hilton, but I showed my card key with smug satisfaction, and he was actually really nice, no no big drama ! In the evening, we decided to get suited and booted ( as best we could) and head off into town for tea. We grabbed a taxi ( hang the costs) and hit cartagena old town for a very nice ( if a little pricey) dinner in one of the Plazas. The old town itself was really pretty and totally touristified. There are police and tourists and touts everywhere and it had a very safe feeling, a lot like its Mediterranean counterparts. With lots of westerners in floaty dresses promenading along between cafes buying trinket after trinket from ‘terribly interesting’ hippy types.
The next day ( boo hoo) we had top leave the comfort of the Hilton ( at the very last minute , after spending all morning in the pool of course) and caught a taxi back into town to rejoin the great unwashed. We had been recommended an ‘art’ hostal, that we tried to check into, but it was amazingly expencive ( it also had a pool, but we saw it was about 5foot wide and full of scruffy oiks, so thought it was not worth bothering) so w found another just round the corner with a passable double room and friendly staff. As it turns out the art hostal was actually really rough, with one toilet between 10 and no running water ( at that time) but it was the biggest party hostel in town (again, the only partying done is in the hotels as it seems everyone is too scared or too cheap to actually go out) so I was glad we didn’t stay there.
After seeing the beautiful old town the night before, we were now in what I would call the ‘rougher’ part of town, and more reminiscent of where we have stayed before. The lady at the desk assured us it was safe and the only trouble we would have in the area was people trying to sell us drugs, so we were not overly concerned. W then spent the afternoon touring the town, walking along the old colonial walls and admiring the architecture. In truth I was looking for the wall where Michael Douglas dived off at the end of ‘Romancing the Stone’ but we did not find it ( as all the walls had a road under them, and he would have really hurt himself !) We then followed the tourist tradition of very expensive cocktails at the ‘café del mar’ to watch the sun set over the ocean, which I must admit, was fantastic.. but if I were to do it again, I would have just bought a cheap beer and sat on the wall 5m down from the restaurant as the locals did !
Evening came and with it the usual search for a decent restaurant that was not massively overpriced or empty and suited what we both wanted. I have found this to be one of the things we seem to have spent a lot of time doing, aimlessly wandering around town as neither of us want to make a decision and finally getting grumpy as we have walked for 5km and still not eaten as the perfect little place has not presented itself ! Well this night was looking to follow said pattern, until by a brilliant stroke of luck we found an excellent restaurant (El Bistro) , great décor and wonderful food, including an amazingly tasty Beef Bhuna !! yay ! The only down side was that the beer was more expensive than at the Hilton, but the food was a good price so it all balanced out to be an excellent evening out.
Last Day in Cartagena and we had decided to leave the town for a day trip. Just outside of the town was a ‘mud volcano’ where you could bathe in the volcanic mud ( that was apparently good for your skin) . So we were up and out early ( which was not a problem as it was so hot, this was the only place we have stayed where the cold water shower was not cold enough) . An hour later we had arrived at the volcano, a ( to be honest) unimpressive 20m high cone of mud surrounded by rickety shacks with a very unstable looking staircase. So we all stripped off ( there were about 10 of us on the trip) and climbed ungainly up the rickety ladder to the top. You cant take anything up there with you, and there is a helpful chap on hand for all your needs. So after handing the camera to the camera chap, H was the first one into the mud, where two ‘masseurs’ were waiting to ply their trade. It was amazing stuff, so think and viscous that it was impossible to swim or even move about much and the masseurs were responsible not only for massaging you, but also for scooting you around the pool. It was like swimming in chocolate. I tried to stand upright at one point (which I managed with difficulty) hoping to find the bottom of the pool, until I was told it was over 2km deep ! eeep. But so viscous that we remained buoyant at the top ! There was a moment or two of silence when an air bubble glooped up through the mud, some chuckled thinking it was a fart, but I was more concerned it was a massive air pocket about to suck us down to oblivion.. but it wasn’t.. it was probably just a fart !
After massage and baking in the sun for a while, it was time to get out ( no mean feat) and caked in mud we staggered down the volcano to the sulphurous stinking lagoon where an army of rough handed local washer women were waiting to scrub us down. This in itself was the oddest part of the trip as we all sat there naked in the foot or so of stinking water ( as the women also cleaned out swim suits) being roughly manhandled by strangers. It was not the type of ‘skinny dipping with total strangers’ that I had envisaged, but a great end to our time in Cartagena!
The next morning we jumped a flight back to Bogota, happy in the knowledge that we may have spent a bit of extra cash, but at least we were not sat on another bus for 24hrs. Only 2 hrs later we were back in Bogota and heading back to the Platypus. Our last day and a half in Bogota was spent shopping, shopping and more shopping. Picking up all the presents and keepsakes we had forgotten to buy during the rest of the trip and lamenting the fact we were now paying 5 times what we would have paid had we bought the same thing three countries ago !
Our last night in south America was spent in our room, cooking for ourselves and having an early night, not the booze and coke fuelled major party that I’m sure we would have done had we been 10 years younger, but for us , it was all we wanted.
Our last day in south America was mostly spent in the airport. We were lucky in that we got an exemption from paying the departure tax and 6 doughnuts later were on a flight back to Costa Rica and the same hostal we started the whole trip from. The hostal had not changed much, but our opinions really had. On entering the room I was amazed at the luxury and actually asked H if she thought it had been decorated since we were last here. The contrast between what we thought when we first arrived and what we now thought after staying in some of south Americas finest shit holes was incredible.
Again not a lot happened that last night in San Jose, the Hostal was pretty empty and we were not really in the mood to chat with the one or two 18 year old Americans that we did meet. I don’t know if we were just tired, depressed at the thought of it all being over or just not wanting to listen to more traveller tales from self obsessed teenagers who have more energy than sense ( ooh old and bitter man) but we kept to our room, repacked and got an early night ready for the long flight home the next day.
Costa Rica airport was a bit odd, as I think we were the only non Americans there. We also had to pay the 52 dollars departure tax ( thanks for the heads up trailfinders !!) for the pleasure of staying one night in the country ( the ‘US cash cow’ as I liked to call it). I wont bore you with the flight details, all went ok, but given the choice, we would not fly Delta again. I got into trouble with US customs again in Atlanta, for some reason they just don’t seem to like me ! But we made it back to Blighty on time (early, truth be known) and had no problems picking up our bags and getting out to H’s waiting mum in record time !
So that was it, home, all done and dusted ! We were lucky in that the UK weather when we arrived was brilliant, hot and sunny ! this was especially lucky as we had no idea where our UK clothes were and were still living in our travel clothes. H didn’t get her shoes back for another two weeks, so was still living in flip flops, not a problem on a Caribbean beach, but a bit odd on a rainy Tuesday in Essex !
I wont try to summarise our feelings about the trip, whether it was a good idea to quit our jobs and run off round the world during a global financial crisis. I would need to be a much better writer to condense all the emotions we felt into words that would get across even a tenth of what I would like to say… so I wont bother. Instead , lets have some STATS !!!!!

Total Number of days away : 212
Number of countries visited : 10
Number of border crossings : 19
Most expensive country (average) per day : Brazil
Cheapest country (average) per day : Venezuela
Number of different beds slept in : 75
Number of nights slept on a bus : 18
Number of nights slept on a boat : 16
Number of nights slept in a tent : 15
Approx hours spent on a plane : 50
Approx hours spent on a bus : too many to count !
Approx number of Photos taken : 5500
Total distance travelled :

So that’s it, back to reality, currently living in the north of England.. ooh its grim up north !! and looking for a job (slowly.. 3 weeks on and have only just finished visiting friends and relatives and weddings etc…). Not too easy a task in today’s financial climate, but if we can manage to get around the whole south American continent without any major mishap, I’m sure we can manage to cope in the ‘real world’. I will try to come back to this blog and include some reviews of the hostels we stayed in, just in case anyone reads this and plans to go to the same places as us !
Then perhaps this epistle will become a little more useful, and a little less like literal masturbation.
So adios, auf Wiedersehen, Caio, Toodle pip and goodbye. Unless something major changes and we win the lottery to start travelling anew, now is the time to settle down a bit. So we are off for Yorkshire pudding and a pint of John Smiths !
From both of us, thanks for reading and let me know if you want any more stats !!

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40,341 km (25,067 miles) traveled
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photo by: ulysses