29th December 2015 – 4th January 2016
So we’re in Colombia. Country number 8 of the trip (9 if you count the couple of hours drive through Honduras) and a whole new continent. Central America was beautiful, interesting, and varied; the south has a tough act to follow.
We spent our first Colombian night in Capurgana, where the San Blas speedboat tour ends. This is a miniscule town in the middle of nowhere, but was still pretty booked up hostel-wise and we were lucky to find somewhere. We didn’t explore the town all that much as we had too much admin to do, but it was pretty cool. No cars but instead horses and carts (one of which had a bunch of garden chairs strapped to the cart to make the ‘bus’). We had cocktails on the beach in the evening, dinner with our San Blas tour group (that classic Colombian dish of lasagna) and a few of us stayed for another drink and attempted to go dancing but unfortunately the salsa bar was totally empty so we just went to bed. The bed was the most uncomfortable thing I think I have ever slept on, and this was after 5 nights of hammocks…
The horrible journey
The next day is pretty up there with our most stressful travel days. We were told that the journey should be pretty straightforward – a boat across the bay to Necocli, then we’d easily be able to barter ourselves a colectivo taxi the other side (there were 10 of us travelling together by this point).
Anyway, the seas are still pretty rough at the moment, and as we squished onto yet another speedboat we were in for two hours of backbreaking bumps once again. It was pretty relentless and thoughts of getting out and swimming became dangerously tempting. In Necocli we were told there would be tons of buses/colectivos at the dock taking people on to Cartagena but there was nothing except a man promising us a good price for a bus arriving in ‘5 to 7 minutes’. He kept quoting this time to us despite the fact that we were still waiting about 2 hours later. When we finally got on a bus we were under the impression it was a private bus for us given what we’d paid for it (just over $20 each). Nope, just ripped off for a public bus. Oops. It was an unpleasant 8 hours of travel, with either ice cold air conditioning or the boiling hot alternative of having it off, so we were glad to get off in Cartagena.
Not that this was the end of it. Because of our San Blas trip’s delay, 6 of the 10 of us didn’t have reservations for places to stay and had now turned up in a bus terminal way out of town. So many places were full for new year, and we were literally willing to just sleep on the floor of a common area. Luckily after a lot of door knocking, Rav and I found ourselves a comfortable (if a little grimy) room in a hotel. Even more luckily, once we got on the wifi we found out the others had somehow managed to find a 6 bed private room, so we could move to that the next day. A thankfully good end to a thoroughly not good day.
I loved Cartagena. It’s a massive city, and like most colonial cities had its skyscraper filled new town and a lively, pretty old town. We were staying on the outskirts of the walled old town in the Gethsemani neighbourhood, an ex red light district which is now packed with backpacker hostels and restaurants (and still the odd brothel). It had a very trendy sort of feel to it, and although our hostel was basic at best, it was definitely in a great location.
It’s a popular choice for rich South Americans to head to party over the holidays, and being there for new year was great. Unlike most countries over here it is legal in Colombia to drink in the streets, which meant there always seemed to be something going on outside and you could just buy a beer from a street cart and wander round the city. Loads of the San Blas tour group were in town as well, and somehow we all managed to meet up at midnight and see in 2016 together. Travelling as a group is a bit of a novelty but we’ve been enjoying it, nice to have a bit of variety.
We spent a good few nights in Cartagena and went out on a couple of them (resulting in spending a good couple of days being pretty lazy and eating pizza in bed). The rest of the time we spent shopping, wandering, and just seeing the sights.
A great place to see the city is from the Castillo de San Felipe, a big fortress up on a hill with 360 degree views of the whole of Cartagena. You do get a great birds eye view, and though the city itself doesn’t look especially stunning (it’s really just like any other big city), the castle itself is pretty cool, with turrets and a network of little connecting tunnels inside to explore.
Colombia has a great feeling about it. I’d write something more insightful right now but it’s so hard to put into words what is great that I need more time to think about it, so for now I’ll make do with this short overview again, for my own memory if nothing else. But I’m back on a travelling high, and looking forward to spending a few more weeks here in this fab country.