Cartagena – You stole our hearts!
We arrived in Colombia at a really interesting time. As mentioned here, we arrived the day that Colombia’s President signed a peace deal with the FARC rebels. Colombians voted on it October 2 and rejected the deal but more on that later!
Cartagena has a history of being a hotbed of political activity and with the recent referendum there were a ton of signs and even more police in the city. Cartagena has a very interesting military history especially the “walled city” where we spent most of our time. There are four neighborhoods within the walls; Centro, Getsemani, Matuna, and San Diego. El Centro is traditionally (and still) the very rich part of Cartagena. There are beautiful stores, restaurants and hotels here. You can’t miss the entrance to El Centro with the massive clock tower announcing it’s entryway. Prices here are on par with Canadian prices. We stayed in Getsemani, which is like the Wolseley of Cartagena. A neighbourhood that used to be defined by crime, has been reinvigorated with a very bohemian vibe. After our first night at Mamallena’s Hostel we switched over to an Air BnB a few blocks away. It was owned by a Venezuelan woman named Anya, who was possibly one of the bests hosts we’ve had! She actually sat down with us and explained where to go and what to do – also giving her explanation as to why she was voting NO in the upcoming referendum.
Day 3-4 It Was Inevitable
Our first two days were a bit of a bust because Kik got super sick with a stomach bug. After 48 hours of trying to tough it out, we decided that with the risks of Malaria and Dengue fever we should find a doctor. Originally we were directed to the emergency room but after seeing the line and Clair being adamant that we didn’t need to be in an emergency room we were directed to a private hospital in BocaGrande (another neighbourhood in Cartagena that is dotted by skyscrapers apparently financed through the drug trade). Kik got hooked up to an IV and prescribed some killer antibiotics to kick the bug. As a side note, as the nurse removed the IV she sprayed Kik’s blood all over the floor, wall, and his leg. Clair nearly fainted, pffft…what a wuss. The whole ordeal cost us about $120 CAD, which will be covered by our insurance. The medical care was really good, but obviously we were at a private hospital available only to those who could pay.
Kik’s ordeal wasn’t over yet. The next morning he woke up with a very weird rash on his legs an arms. It was like a perfect line of bug bites that had blistered. At first we panicked and thought he had bed bugs (although Clair didn’t have a mark) but after scouring our room, clothes, and bags we didn’t see a thing. It’s possible something bit him while in San Blas. He continued to not feel his best but he soldiered on. We checked out a local coffee shop Cafe del Mural which we totally recommend! Even Kik liked his coffee (which was ice cream).
Day 5 – Oh Yeah…I Do See It…I Think
One of the ways that people protest in Cartagena is through street art, with artists coming here from all over the world to paint on the hundred year old walls. We decided to take a free 2-hour street art tour that is offered. They run it everyday at 10Am and meet in La Plaza de la Trinidad which was right by our house (and has AWESOME street food). The tour was amazing. It was run by a Belgium guy who had been living in Cartagena for nearly a year. The stories and meaning behind the art was really interesting and also a great way to navigate your way around the city. Make sure to tip at the end and bring a bottle of water!
Day 6 – Move Out Of The Way Jet Dog
With Kik feeling slightly better we walked around Cartagena and checked out all the restaurants and shops that Anya had suggested. We basically ate and drank our way through Cartagena. One of our favorite restaurants was El Coron Coro, it was super cheap and really good! Get the fried chicken. That night we met up with most of the crew from our San Blas trip and went to a night club in town. Being the respectable adults we are we went home at 2AM and ate street food in Plaza de la Trinidad. Kik got a hot dog that literally had everything known to man on it including dirt from the ground.
Day 7 – Dodging A Bullet
We woke up slightly hungover but knew this was our last chance to go check out the fortress that had been built outside the walled city. It was pretty impressive, but with us being hungover I’m not sure we took full advantage of it. First time Kik got to use his International Teacher’s card though!
That night Hurricane Matthew decided to make his appearance. We’re not sure if nothing rattles Colombians or what but really no one cared that the strongest hurricane since 2007 was within 100 miles from the coast of Cartagena, except Clair who was being a total psycho (Clair – I totally was). Our last night was spent in our concrete home. The next morning we flew out to Medellin. We flew VivaColombia for $60 pp. Pro tip: Print your board pass the night BEFORE. We tried to print it the morning of and you are no longer able to do that, so we had to pay an extra $20 to print it at the airport! We were slightly delayed as Colombia caught the tail-end of the hurricane causing a massive amount of rain. Finally we arrived safe and sound in Medellin! We hopped on a bus ($4 CAD pp) and about an hour later arrived in the neighbourhood of El Poblado. This is the hip area of town, where you want to be! We tried to stay at Casa Kiwi (the most popular hostel in town) but it was full so we ended up in Hostel Casa Provenza ($30 CND private room w bathroom and bunk beds). We had lunch at a local burger shop, which we will never do again because Clair could not get them to understand that she wanted her burger fully cooked. No pink.
Medellin has been one of the most developed and clean cities we have been to so far (hot showers even). Obviously you walk off the gringo path and you will see the other side to this country. Also, you start to understand how Colombians feel about Pablo Escobar and the cocaine trade that still affects them today. Medellin is beautiful and we can’t wait to tell you all about it!
P.S. Watching Narcos while in Medellin is the best.