Apparently, Colombia is not the place for a single female traveller. Bogota is the kidnapping capital of the world right? Very high chance of you getting mugged, shot or murdered here, and there are drugs EVERYWHERE. Right OK, thanks for the advice, really appreciated, off I go to Colombia, dollars stuffed into the hidden pockets in my bra again, ATM card in the sole of my shoe, jewellery off, guess I will find out for myself...
From Manaus, I flew into Colombia via a brief stop in Panama City. I had now travelled nearly full circle around South America (with a little detour in the middle down to Antarctica). A few months back I had arrived in Quito for festival time and here I was now back at altitude in the Andes, the capital of Colombia, Bogota.
Back at 8000 feet above sea level and having just come from the Brazilian Amazon, I really felt the cold here and really appreciated the hot water bottles supplied at my hostel. I went for a single room this time, I keep mixing up my preferred style of living arrangements. Arriving real late, nearly midnight, my first impressions of Colombia were of hordes of homeless guys rummaging through rubbish bins, very sad. 'Your door is locked miss?' the taxi driver asked me. Don't worry, it already was. My mood soon changed when I reached the hostel, a beautiful, atmospheric, colonial place with a garden oasis of hummingbirds and a kitchen full of interesting travellers, including a guy randomly from my home town, Canterbury, who cooked dinner for me!! HOW BIZARRE!!
Anyway, just a couple of days in Bogota this time but I was planning on returning after a little expedition to the Colombian Caribbean coast, top my tan up on the beach before I return to Inglaterra.
I had just made this up as I went along really. Only just decided to go to Colombia based on the cheap airfare from Bogota back to Europe and arrived with no idea where to go. I did toy with going South to the coffee plantations and mountains but no, the beach was calling me, so after getting some advice from some other travellers in Bogota booked a flight North to Cartagena de Indias, a UNESCO heritage walled colonial city in the Caribbean. Sounds nice? Well, yes it was, it was stunning.
Ahhhhhh back to the lovely warmth and humidity of sea level but with a Caribbean breeze. Blissssssss... Cartagena provides an important and historic port of entry point into the South American continent, famous as the main site for exporting gold and coffee but notorious for the smuggling of cocaine.
The solid fortresses and walls surrounding the historic part of the city are a reminder of a lively past involving Spanish galleons, and plunder by real pirates of the Caribbean. Ooooarrrrrr!! My taxi driver from Cartagena airport had trouble finding my guest house but I enjoyed my bonus tour of the colourful back streets of Cartagena. Bright colonial architecture, if slightly faded, Havana-style. Strong floral scent in the air, street vendors selling exotic snacks and boys playing football in every little courtyard. Beautiful. I stayed in the historic area of Getsemani just outside the walled part of the city. Outside of my colonial-style room was a tree-full of ripe mangos. A relaxed, sociable guesthouse where I met Barbara and Dirk. Barbara was a medical doctor from Germany and was in South America studying alternative medicine and publishing a book on shamanism.
Interesting girl, if a little intense, we hit it off immediately like we had known each other for years. Barbara commented on how happy I seemed, at ease with myself and full of adventure. She was pretty close to the mark, I felt great. Still amazed at how easily you can find genuine friendship while on the road. You never travel alone unless you want to.
I spent a few days here just enjoying walking the streets in the historic centre and discovering Colombian street food. I had never heard of Arepas before, a kind of hot doughy pancake filled with melted cheese. Little old men would cook these on a skillet for you fresh on the streets for about 30p. They love their sweets here too. I became reacquainted with 'dolce de leche', like the caramel you use in a banoffee pie in England, put in every dessert in Argentina.
Here in Colombia, it was called Arequipe, best off the street vendors filled in a waffle and topped with fresh coconut mmm mmmm. The weather here was just perfect for strolling the historic streets through the many little courtyards, churches, cobbled streets with horses and carts to take the tourists sightseeing. Older guys sitting around playing chess with their mates in one of the many little parks, smoking big cigars. I spoke to some locals who made me feel really welcome, explained what the different street foods were and then invited me back to their houses to teach me dance, to cook me dinner or to meet their families. Loved it. Oh and the random dancing in the streets I would stumble upon. Brightly coloured costumes and acrobatic moves, Latin South America with a Caribbean flare. Then back to Getsemani to catch a live acoustic band with Barbara and Dirk.
I could have stayed here in the romance of Cartagena for a couple of weeks but had already booked myself on a bus to travel further East along the coast.