Archive | September, 2012

September 29, 2012

29 Sep

I’m happy to report that after 5 days in Colombia, I’ve come back to the States as a human being and not as a drug mule with condoms full of cocaine plugging up all my holes down south.  Although there may be condoms full of something else plugging up all my holes down south.

I’ve been back for a few days now, and I am still puzzled and completely perplexed over my trip there.  I had been dying to go to Colombia for at least 2 years now, and I found the perfect opportunity to do so completely on a whim when my childhood friend and sole Japanese friend S called me up a few weeks ago and told me she had been having the most dramatic 4 weeks of her life.  First, she broke up with her boyfriend of 3 years that she was considering getting engaged to because he turned out to be an emotional void; one week later, her older brother got engaged; one week later, she closed a deal on her house; one week later, she quit her job.  She was in desperate need of a vacation, and who better to ask to accompany her than low-budget traveler me who will pretty much say yes to anything containing the phrase “South America,” including such phrases as, “Do you want to get raped in South America.”

We started looking around for cheap places we could go within the next month, and I happened to stumble upon the most amazing deal on Kayak: $300 for a roundtrip ticket to Cartagena, Colombia.  O.M.G.  I can’t even go home to Dallas for $300, not that I ever would.  I booked it right away without really thinking, and our Colombian adventure was about to begin.

All I really wanted out of this trip was a nice, relaxing beach vacation and some good authentic food.  Conveniently enough, I had 5 friends who had just recently also gone to Cartagena, so I got plenty of recs from them on where I should eat and drink and tan.  I also did my own Google machine research looking up pictures of Cartagena and reading up but not really reading up on travel guides since I never really follow those.

I arrived all excited to brush up on my tan that had been fading fast with our New York summer turning to winter overnight.  S had already been there for a week before me taking Spanish lessons from what seemed like her Latin lover, and so I knew she would have some solid recs on where to go as well.

Honestly, I arrived, and I just didn’t get what all the hype was about.  The 5 friends I talked to who had recently gone to Cartagena RAVED about it, as if it were the next Rio de Janeiro.  Cartagena was nice, but nowhere as interesting or impressive as I had expected or hoped given people’s rave reviews.  There are at least 4 other countries that are definitely 10X better than Colombia within the same continent.

Why didn’t I love Cartagena?  Three big reasons:

1. There is not really a beach.  I’m not sure what other people consider to be a beach, but THIS is a beach.

Rio

Rio

This is NOT a beach.

Cocoliso

Cocoliso

I was there for 5 days and only tanned for 2 of them, and I barely turned a shade darker when my goal was to come back a different race.  First, there are definitely no acceptable beaches right in Cartagena.  Second, if you want to go to a slightly prettier place, you go to the islands, where there still weren’t any real beaches and where we paid $200 to go and stay the night.

2. There isn’t really much to do there.  There isn’t that much to see, the bars aren’t really open during the day so it’s not like people day drink, and clubs don’t open until like midnight.  So what did we do during the daytime?  Nothing.  Literally nothing.  We literally checked the time every hour and were unpleasantly amazed at how slowly time went by there.

3. It was literally a million degrees and ridiculously humid.  The only other place I’ve ever been to that has been more disgusting is Houston.  I have seriously never sweated through so many dresses in so few days.  Hence, we spent most of our days hiding from the heat at Juan Valdez coffee shop, which became our new best friend.  Yes.  I flew all the way to South America and took precious vacation days to hang out at a coffee shop and drink iced coffee for 3 hours during the day because neither of us wanted to go outside and there were no other indoor activities to be found in this city.

Here’s how our week panned out:

DAY 1: WEDNESDAY

Arrived in the early afternoon to stay at a cute hotel/hostel in Bocagrande; had a huge lunch special of fish soup, grilled fish, rice and plantains for $4.

Lunch

Lunch

Then proceeded to go out to the “beach,” which I found to be one of the ugliest beaches I’ve seen other than the ones I’ve seen up here in the Northeast, tanned for a few hours, dipped in the very warm water, took a leak in the very warm water; then had a huge dinner special of fish soup, grilled fish, rice and plantains for $4.  Apparently that’s what everyone eats here for every single meal.  It was pretty good fish (thank god no snake fish) with huge portions for just $4 USD.

Dinner

Dinner

We tried to go out after dinner only to find that every place we wanted to go to was closed.  Is this South America or isn’t this South America?!?!

DAY 2: THURSDAY

Tried to go to the islands only to find out that you can’t really get on the boats for an overnight stay at the islands without a reservation at least one day in advance.  My reaction in this order: 1) annoyance at the lady who told me that, 2) frustration at Lonely Planet for not specifying that, 4) anger at Google for not saying anything about that, 5) rage at S that she hadn’t fucking figured that out after being here a week with an in-house tutor.  UGGGGHHHH what the fuck do we do now?!?!  There was only one solution.  We decided to switch hotels and upgrade to one with a pool, and tanned by the pool literally the entire day.  Yes.  I flew all the way to South America to lie by a pool.

Whatever.  We got over it and decided to book an overnight trip to the islands for Fri/Sat and went out for sunset drinks at Café del Mar followed by dinner at Cevicheria, both activities which came highly recommended as absolute “must-do’s” by every one of my 5 friends who had been to Cartagena.

Cafe del Mar

Cafe del Mar

Cevicheria

Cevicheria

Was it great?  Yes.  Was it to die for?  Not really.  Despite our lukewarm feelings about Café del Mar, S and I continued to frequent the ocean side bar every day for the rest of our trip.  Because there wasn’t anything else to do.

Probably the biggest highlight of our trip was our Thursday night outing to Havana, a salsa club, which we went to because S looooooves salsa dancing.  I’d rather shoot someone in the foot than be pushed around an actual dance club that doesn’t involve drugs and techno.  But once again, we ended up going to Havana every night because there wasn’t anything else to do.  We quickly made friends with a local bartender because we also went to the same bar across the street every single day to pregame – they had really great mojitos using brown sugar, but they were only good because the bartender meticulously spent 25 minutes (literally – we were timing) to make the drink.  I have never seen a bartender so very carefully hand pick out every single ice cube that went into my glass.  I felt special in a way.  But then 2 seconds later I was annoyed.

When we got to Havana, every person in the room’s eyes flew to us because 1) we were the only Asians in the entire country, and 2) we were the only girls in the entire club.  This would have been my absolute dream if everyone in the room weren’t foreign.  We immediately get accosted by people left and right, including some old Australian dude who offered us shots of aguardiente, which people buy bottles of and just take shots of all night – solid.  It’s like Colombian ouzo mixed with tequila.  S happily took the shot until 2 seconds later she realized it could have very well been laced with drugs and she would wake up to find out that her organs had been trafficked.  I – with my paranoia having heightened over the past few years as I run into more and more bad karma in life – was wary of the shot to begin with and refused to take it until the guy had also drunk from the same bottle.  In fact, let me just order my own shot, thanks.  Supposedly with this Australian guy was a young couple about our age who seemed fun at first until we realized the girl was literally on crack and was working with her “boyfriend” to try to kidnap us away to their “hotel” that was “just down the street” for “after-party drinks.”  It was a win not to get raped that night, and that’s the first and last time I’ll ever say that.

The rest of the night becomes blurry as we took more and more aguardiente shots, but before I knew it, it was 3am and I had to pull S away from all these old Colombian dudes as we had a 7am boat ride the next morning.

DAY 3: FRIDAY

The alarm rang on Friday morning, and I literally wanted to die.  The last thing I wanted to do was go on an hour-long boat ride to hang out at some faraway islands.  I dragged myself out of bed, threw up bile into our lovely hotel sink, threw up bile again, then pulled myself together to pack my stuff and go.

The boat ride was not a happy ride.  We were on a speed boat and had the bumpiest ride ever, which did no good for my stomach.  S was in the same boat (pun intended).

We arrive to island Cocoliso, and it’s pretty cool and really beautiful – except there is the tiniest strip of “beach” I’d ever seen in my life.  We had picked this island because everyone said this was the island with the “most beach,” other than Playa Blanca, where you can’t really stay overnight.  I think everyone was just blatantly lying to us this entire trip.

I guess this island trip was a pretty good deal except for the fact that we paid $200, but it did include all meals.  And after being there for about 2 hours, S and I realized that there weren’t really that many other people on this island.  In fact, the same help who had carried our stuff to our room was the same help who was our waiter for lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch – whereas we observed that the only other table at lunch was being serviced by a different waiter.  Did we have our own private butler?  I’m pretty sure this guy was there solely serving us the entire trip.  It gets better.  Apparently everyone takes daytrips and no one actually stays overnight, so when nightfall came, S and I were – I kid you not – literally THE only 2 people left on the entire island of Cocoliso, other than the help.  We literally had the entire island to ourselves.  This would have been much more awesome had I been there with the rugby team instead of with my girl friend S.  So much gang bang could have been had all over the island and no one would have even known.  Instead, S and I had a very non-romantic night consisting of me having bowel issues the entire night from the steak I had eaten for dinner and chugging shitloads of Pepto.

DAY 4: SATURDAY

We spent Saturday morning and afternoon by ourselves on the island with our own private butler serving us food and drinks, and then left on a calmer boat ride later that afternoon.  Saturday night was a repeat of Thurs night: dinner, pre-drinks at the bar where we were now considered regulars, dancing at Havana – this time sans fear of getting drugged or raped because the demographic at this club on Sat night was a good 30 years older than it was on Thurs night.  I was shocked these people could still even dance.  I was bored after an hour and decided to go back to the $10 hostel that we had switched to, where the door didn’t have a proper lock, the windows didn’t lock, there was a lizard crawling up the walls, and I felt like I might get kidnapped any minute.   I slept with my eyes wide open in terror and told S the next morning that I had to make a very anti-poverexic move and switch to a nicer hotel.

DAY 5: SUNDAY

We were back downtown for Sunday, where it was a million degrees and humid outside, and S and I both wanted to die.  After walking around town for an hour, we couldn’t take it anymore and found our safe haven at Juan Valdez, where we sprawled out on the chairs and sipped iced coffee for the next 3 hours as we tried to think up what we could do for the rest of the day as we awaited the bars to open.  Not having figured out anything else to do, we proceeded to spend the next 2 hours at El Gallinero, our new favorite place with the cutest chicken décor and really good arepas and carimañolas.

Arepa

Arepa

Once it was dinner time—which is apparently 7pm in Cartagena since we tried to go to quite a few restaurants right at 6pm since we were starving, only to find that no restaurant was open “that early”—we went to El Gallinero’s sister restaurant Mila, where they also had really cute chicken décor and had amazing fruit shakes and desserts (and salmon).

Salmon with Corozo Reduction

Salmon with Corozo Reduction

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse

# # #

I left Cartagena feeling relatively relaxed from my vacation but still perplexed as to what exactly I did for the past 5 days.  I think S felt the same.  While I was glad I finally went and can now check off another South American country off my list, I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back… I guess until I have another need for my own butler on my own private island out in the Caribbean.

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