After sorting a few bits and pieces out in Santa Marta (including getting a guy to make me a new cable for my laptop from scratch!), I headed down to Cartagena. I took the easy option of the Mar Sol 'door-to-door' bus which picks you up from one hostel and drops you off at another in Cartagena (cost: $CP37,000/US$15/£10.50) - the 4 hour journey passed pretty quickly as I anticipated arriving at one of the world's most awe-inspiring cities. I wasn't disappointed - as the bus drew into the city along the coastal beach road, I had my first glimpse of the famous wall which surrounds the old town - it really is an amazing sight to see it as intact as it is (given, for example that the Roman-built wall that used to surround my home town of Colchester has only a few crumbling blocks left as reminders!).
A cheeky little bit of modern art!
I was dropped at the Media Luna Art Hostel, which is in the Getsemani area - this is the backpacker area, a bit rundown generally, but some nice hostels and old buildings have been restored. I checked and dumped my stuff, before grabbing the last few hours of the day to go out for a walk. Its quite touristy in the old town, lots of people selling you tacky souvenirs and the odd con-man trying to pretend he's been robbed and asking for money to get back to his hotel (an age old scam!). Had perfect weather (although it was swealtering at around 36 degrees), so got some good snaps of the narrow little roads and colourful houses, churches, museums and buildings before heading back to chill out.
The Media Luna has a great bar upstairs (and an even better roof terrace which has fantastic views of the whole city), so had a few Aguilas in the evening with Sara and Bella (London).
They had booked to go on the mud volcano tour the next day, so I thought I would join in the fun and games with them.
Up at 7.30am to get out for breaky at El Gato Negro before booking the mud volcano tour to Volcan de Lodo El Totumo through Casa Viena hostel ($CP35,000/£10 including lunch). As is typical in South America, they ask you to be ready at a certain time (8.30am here), but then spend the next hour faffing around picking people up, getting breakfast, generally just arsing around, so we didn't end up leaving Cartagena until 9.30am. It's only an hour or so to the volcano and got chatting to Izzy, Harley and Rod (Perth, Aus) on the way. We quickly got changed into swimming stuff and then made our way up the steps to the top.
The guys there help you get in and when you think you're going to sink....you float! There's so much pressure bubbling under that you're always on top - a really weird, bizarre feeling!! Then they slide you into the massage positions and get to work - actually, its not so much of a massage, but a rub down...they could use a little help on their technique! The pool isn't very big, so filled up quickly as more people arrived, up to the point were we literally could not move....so then it was time t get out. We walked back down the hill and down to the lake for the next part of the experience - the wash down! The locals get to work stripping you down and gave us a very thorough clean up, everywhere!! ha ha.
I had a quick look round the Castillo de San Felipe when I got back which had some decent views of the city (entrance $CP14,000) and then we all met up for drinks in the evening.
View of the old town from Castillo de San Felipe
We started in the bar at the hostel and then took a few bottles of 'Ron' (rum) up to the roof terrace to carry on the party. Klaus, the crazy German, got everyone going and in the party spirit and the couple of locals he'd met (German, Andre and Heidi) - it started to get a bit messy, so we decided to hit a club (as you do) - Andre recommended Fragma, which was down near the city walls - was cool getting down with the locals, although not knowing salsa was a definite disadvantage with the girls I have to say...must perfect that quickly!!
Was a little bit fragile after the night before, so all I could manage to do was to crawl out of bed to see the Man U v Arsenal game on TV in Scooters bar. Luckily (from a guilt point of view) it pissed it down all day, so I couldn't have done much anyway! They apparently haven't installed a drainage system in Cartagena and soon the streets were completely flooded, and not looking too clean.
Chilling at Cafe del Mar
..nice. It was so bad we couldn't leave (damn), so when my body was ready for a beer it was soon an afternoon taken care of. Andre and German invited us to a house party at their flat in the evening, so with more ron
in hand, we taxied it over there and made a little party in Andre's tiny 1-bedroom flat. Good fun for a few hours and then we decided to hit Cafe del Mar
before it closed - what a cool bar that is (some people say its better than the version in Ibiza...I can't comment as I haven't been) - chilled out house tunes and brilliant views and vibe. Harley did the burger run for us, so all in all a satisfying night, completed by accosting some soldiers on the way home to let us have our pictures taken with them - they were only too keen...now you wouldn't get that back home.
The house party at Andre's - crazy!
I didn't feel too bad, so got up pretty early and finished my sightseeing round the old town, completing the walk of the walls. When I got back to the hostel after lunchtime, the others had just about dragged themselves out of bed and we headed down to Bocagrande to the beach. the beaches in Cartagena aren't spectacular, but its nice to chill out for a few hours down there - and the locals agreed as the beaches were rammed! We were celebrating Karen's last night before she flew off to the UK, so in the evening we treated ourselves to a meal at the Argentinian Steak house - what a good choice that was - the best meal I've had since I've been away, for sure. Pepper steak...mmmmm! It wasn't cheap (about $CP60,000/£17) each with drinks, but well worth it.
The lake for washing off
Everyone just wanted to food to last forever - its a complete change to the £2 almuerzos
(set lunches) which get a bit monotonous after a while, even if they are cheap. A few glasses of red wine later and I was ready for bed.