After our relaxing beach sojourn, onto Cartagena a true colonial gem, lovely old buildings and great cafe culture. All the dire warnings about Colombia have been entirely unfounded the people couldn’t be friendlier or the hospitality more welcoming.
Colombians are genuinely pleased to see more visitors and recognise the opportunities, in education, sport and travel, for ordinary people compared to the previous oppressive crime dominated regime. I would encourage anyone to visit; you will get a warm welcome.
We started our visit to Cartagena with a walking tour of the old city with an experienced local guide who was both informative and entertaining. The rest of the time was spent in our usual routine of mooching and taking photos interspersed with great food and drink.
Wine is not great in this part of South America, Argentine and Chile being the wine growers, the rum cocktails on the other hand are fantastic. Cube Libre and Mohito’s, freehand poured with little room for the mixer. Some of the group had found a little restaurant called “El Balcon” owned by an English girl and her Colombian partner. We had a great lunch with Lisa, Vanessa and Geoff. So good we went back for dinner with Geoff, Colin and Jane.
The next night, along with some others decided to push the boat out and we went to one of the nicest hotels for cocktails and then a very nice Argentinean steak restaurant.The girls were very exited when the hotel toilets had hand cream, generally they were happy with either a toilet seat or a door that closed!
One of the minor, but interesting things about Cartagena is the stunning array of door knockers you come across mooching around.
All in all a very pleasant couple of days and then onward to Medellin, a city changed beyond all recognition in the past twenty years since the height of Pablo Escobar’s domination of theOne of the city, region and country.
We were due to be bush camping but it got late and dark so we started to look for a hotel but no joy giving up when asked to pay $25 a tent to camp in Hotel grounds with no facilities. A couple of kilometres up the road we found a building site and the family let us stop for free, we gave them a very welcome 50,000 pesos ($25) for their trouble. They were fascinated by the truck and the way we were able to set up camp and cook.
No facilities of course and Geoff taking what he thinks is a discrete leak in the morning turns around to see the whole family standing on their balcony watching us. One embarrassed Australian.
The family filmed us taking down the tents and then there was a mutual exchange of photos all very friendly and typical of our experience with Colombians. The only downside being Karen falling heavily when tripping over a guy rope amongst the closely packed tents, a few bruises but thankfully no serious damage.
Medellin, there are lots to see and do in this city of 2.4 million and we had a truck based tour with a guide of some of the main sites, including the amazing sculptures of Fernando Botero, a native of Medillin now in his eighties and still working, he has a unique style of oversized figures and animals, quite stunning.
It was an interesting and unusual tour as it avoided the normal buildings and concentrated on the culture of the city. All the utilities are publicly owned and the company headquarters are in Medellin in the so called “intelligent building” which according to the female guide is so named because only women are employed there…….
Joke over, the reality being it’s highly re-configurable and eco friendly. The company have built a public park in the grounds where the concentration is on relaxation, particularly through reflexology. So you walk barefoot over stones, grass and sand and then negotiate a maze with eyes closed and across some stones (eyes firmly open) and then to a series of pools where the guides instruct how to properly wash and massage your feet. It was great fun.
The city has a metro system to shame anything in Europe, clean, fast and cheap. The $1 fare included the integrated cable car system where you can ride over the district that was previously the most notorious gang area.
We ended up at the botanical gardens for a lunch of tamale, corn bread filled with meat and wrapped in banana leaves. I had also found out that one of the local teams was home and we headed over there, with Terry and Leslie, to see if we could get tickets.
There were touts aplenty but outside of the secure area not sure they would be valid to get in. The police search area was asking for tickets before allowing locals through but happy to let the gringos go to the ticket office. We did meet a guy who spoke good English who had 4 tickets and he was quite open about he was asking 10% above the asking price but as this amounted to 80p we weren’t bothered.
Also his mate accompanied us in and we didn’t part with any cash until inside, seats were great, the stadium full of Nacionaal supporters and there didn’t seem to be any away fans until we realised there were about 25 above and the left of us outnumbered by police by about 3 to 1. Still they gave it their all and went down fighting 2-1 but to be fair the one was as a result of some comedy goal keeping from the home goalie.
The atmosphere was fantastic, the drumming, dancing and flag waving continued from minute one to 90. We have never experienced a sustained atmosphere like it at a game anywhere. Brilliant. Leslie’s first game was certainly memorable!
We left a few minutes early to avoid the crowd leaving, just in time to see the away supporters being loaded into a truck for a safe getaway, the area cordoned off but again the gringos allowed through. Football day made complete by Liverpool’s away victory over Aston Villa.
A taxi back and an interesting search for somewhere to eat as our Hotel not located in the most salubrious area, next street over being full of ”ladies of the night”, so taxis to the door advisable. The previous night we had eaten at a Mexican, we went back to the same area but it was closed (Easter Sunday) but we found a bar with a grill and an English speaking chef, Karen, Terry and Leslie had grilled salmon and I had the baby beef – delicious.
Taxi home to bed for early departure to coffee plantation.
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