Locked Down and Out (Week 4 in Cartagena, Colombia)

Locked Down and Out (Week 4 in Cartagena, Colombia)

When we returned to Cartagena after spending a few days on the coast in Palomino, we could immediately see that it wasn’t the place that we had left. For starters, many people were wearing face masks. And we were beginning to get the occasional glances from the locals as if to say they were perplexed as to what we were still doing there. It felt like we were walking into some kind of apocalypse utopia. Nothing made sense anymore – since when did Cartagena start worrying about Coronavirus?? – a few days ago the most pressing issue of my day had been in trying to ignore the sleazy yellow taxi drivers who overcharged and who didn’t know where they were going.

At what point did things change to such a degree where the Cartagena taxi drivers didn’t feel it necessary to beep or holla at you as you walked down the street anymore? And since when was it the norm for shops to be closed in busy and bustling Getsemani? – something wasn’t right…

The city felt strange. Like as if it was a completely different place. It was hard to believe that we’d only been away for a few days. Though Cartagena was very different in comparison to Palomino and it’s laid back beach lifestyle, this was something different. There was an energy in the air that I couldn’t place. It just FELT different to me.

And not in a good way.

We had been starting to feel at home in Cartagena. We loved the historic city with it’s maze of crumbling, colourful streets, colonial architecture and incredible salsa music floating out of restaurants, bars and cafes and we had found a way to deal with the annoying taxi drivers too: Ignore them and never use their service.

Moreover, we were still discovering new places in the city, including some great rooftops bars and restaurants, so we weren’t completely done here yet. But a different type of energy and erratic behaviour had started to emerge here in Cartagena and we were right in the thick of it.

The day after we arrived back from Palomino we went to a local cafe as usual to get some coffee, chill out, do some work etc when a table of loud Americans arrived and promptly started bellowing at their usual far too loud volume. They seemed completely unaware of the inconsiderate conversation level in which I was forced to listen to them bleat on about their entire life story and about the emerging dilemma that they (and we too) were now faced with with regards to the increasingly escalating Coronavirus situation.

Frankly, they were so annoying that I was eager to leave the cafe and go somewhere else but many of the shops, including the other cafe that we liked to frequent in the beautiful mall La Serrezuela was suddenly and mysteriously closed. There had been no note on the door to say why it was closed or for how long for but we figured that it definitely had something to do with the nightmare that was Covid 19. Alas, despite the Americans annoying antics, they began having a conversation in Span-glish with a waiter that peaked our interest: it was concerning the increasingly serious Covid 19 pandemic that had now arrived in Cartagena. According to him (and we were blatantly ear wigging at this point), ALL shops, restaurants, bars and infact everyone in Cartagena, most especially in the centre of town (where we were staying) was to quarantine themselves at home from 18:00 onwards until 4:00 am the following morning, effective immediately.

Cartagena was going to be on lockdown.

Not even the UK was on lockdown and they had waaaay more cases then Colombia. This meant that we had precisely 3 hours to get any supplies we needed including food and drinks, before we were required to be off of the streets and at home. We were strictly forbidden to come out after that time and the Colombian government was actually deploying the army and the police to enforce the lockdown, the consequences of which as a foreigner I didn’t wish to even contemplate!

After the loud Americans left the cafe, I asked the waiter in my Span-glish whether what we had overheard was true: did we really have to quarantine ourselves from 18:00 today? “Si” he replied with a very grave look on his face. Then he proceeded to elaborate on the new radical restrictions in place in Cartagena. Not only did we have to stay at home from 18:00 until 04:00 am the next day but at the weekend the city would be in 48 hour lockdown with nobody allowed to leave at all during that period.

I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing but I had already seen that things had changed in the city. People were taking it very seriously – probably because their health system really COULDN’T cope with an overload of cases, and especially not foreigners who had potentially brought it over there in the firstplace. The waiter was going around thoroughly disinfecting every table that was vacated and the intensity of the chemicals was beginning to tickle the back of my throat.

As I looked out of the window I saw that most people had masks on their faces (the effectiveness of which had been called into question by people in the medical profession many times but people were obviously too panicked to listen), and people had already started to look at someone suspiciously if they coughed. And for us, as Brits here travelling in Colombia, well just put it this way, we weren’t their favourite people right now as it was a European who brought it over and infected a local with it in the firstplace. But they still had only 2 cases. I was very surprised to see Colombia acting so swiftly and decisively.

The last days of freedom

Whilst they had deployed the army after having 2 cases of Coronavirus in their bustling tourist city, the UK were still allowing people to largely go about their business as normal, schools hadn’t closed and though people had been arguing over toilet roll in the shopping isles, most of the workforce was still going to work, using the public transport and generally being quite normal. But not here in Cartagena. Cartagena wasn’t joking. They had closed their borders to tourists entering and now they were implementing contagion limitation by imposing a mandatory quarantine.

I was already worried about being away from home due to the fact that my Mum was in the “vulnerable” group of people and my Grandad had recently been admitted to hospital after complaining of a persistent cough (one of the symptoms of the virus). And the worst thing was that the hospital was clearly so overwhelmed with the number of people that they were treating for Coronavirus and other existing medical problems that they had discharged my elderly, Dementia having Grandad without even testing him for the virus when they told us they did!

I was sick with worry thinking that as they had announced a few days ago, this virus was coming and we had to just ride the peak and build up “herd immunity” but I thought to myself who are these people you are sacrificing in your non-action to build up this immunity of which you speak? – because I most certainly DO NOT agree to sacrifice my Grandad to satisfy your death numbers. I’m sorry.

Aside from my Mum who had been told by myself, my brothers and sister that she wasn’t to leave the house, my Aunts and Uncles who were also in bad health were now having to step in in place of my Nan who was clearly being put at risk for having my Grandad back at the house with her where he could then potentially infect her. None of them couldn’t risk catching the virus either! I was feeling very anxious reading all of the many messages going back and fourth from my family back in the UK and abroad about my Grandad’s deteriorating health, especially after the hospital discharged him (which they SHOULD NOT have done as he was apparently being treated in isolation), and now his health seems to have taken a bit of a downturn, with my Grandad complaining of having a high temperature and his stomach hurting.

What on earth did they do to him in there? And why didn’t they do the Coronavirus test that they said they did??

I understand that the NHS are under stress but my Grandad is in the “vulnerable group” that they keep banging on about. Shouldn’t they be taking extra special care of him whilst we are approaching this “peak” that Boris has mentioned so many times? If they can’t even look after my poorly Grandad now then they are most certainly not ready for the waves and waves of patients heading their way in the coming weeks, possibly months.

It was time to go home now. The end of our travels had been definitively ruined (though not shortened thank goodness), however now we were looking at more then an unsavoury end to our epic travels, we were looking at real and very worrying concerns, namely the health and safety of our families who we were too far away from to help. It was one thing choosing to be away quite another to be trapped in a foreign country with no way of getting home, and things were changing so swiftly that that was coming more and more likely with every passing day. It was time to go home.

Once we had collected our supplies we made our way back to our apartment. I didn’t mind being quarantined really. My concern had always been the state of the “panic buying” upon our return to the UK and the general low level atmosphere that was certain to follow. I had no problem with staying at home reading, writing, talking to friends and family, cooking, watching Netflix and cuddling my cats Frankie and Sansa, no problem at all. And being here was perhaps even better as I could at least enjoy the weather, which really was pretty glorious, go to the beach, sit outside with a cocktail and listen to great music in the restaurants and cafes that were still open during the day. But the issue wasn’t that I was keen to get home because I preferred to be there, I didn’t, my concern was about what would happen if they closed the airports and I COULDN’T get back even if I wanted to, making it excruciating to not be able to be there for my family if/when I needed to be.

Thankfully we had a balcony in our apartment so we were able to sit out there and at least watch the world NOT going by. After a few hours it became abundantly clear that the Colombian people had listened to the demands of their government and kept themselves at home – the streets were completely empty apart from the occasional police car and army truck going by to enforce the ban.

Crazy times. A couple of hours later whilst we were getting the latest update from Boris’ daily address on BBC about the pandemic, our power suddenly cut off. This wasn’t too unusual as Colombia had the occasional powercut but it generally only lasted for a couple of minutes, alas after 10 minutes of no lights, phones, TV or even the coffee machine and with the strict instructions from the authorities to stay inside, we NEEDED to have this situation resolved.

We went outside on our balcony and we could clearly see that this outage was only in our building as other buildings had their lights on. But as we sat there waiting for the power to go back on again a disconcerting feeling came over me as I could see that there was literally nobody on the streets. Not even on their balcony’s. It was deadly quiet, with no sounds at all apart from the occasional police car and ambulance going by. We decided after 15-20 minutes of waiting that we would go downstairs to the concierge and ask him when the power was likely to be back up and running again. He told us around an hour but as we went back upstairs to our apartment to await the power returning Josh announced with a panicked expression on his face that he couldn’t find the keys to our apartment.

Never, not in 6 months of travel had he ever misplaced or left his keys at home. He’d never even done it in the UK. But true enough, after a frantic search of his trouser pockets he announced that he did not have them. They were in our apartment!

Now we are in a situation that was already pretty unique in it’s utter awfulness, but we have an additional mounting disaster. I tried not to panic as in my mind I reasoned that the concierge downstairs MUST surely have a spare key to our apartment or a master keys to get entry into any apartment in the building but when we explained our situation to him he told us that he didn’t have a spare key, and furthermore he then reiterated the fact that we were unable to leave the building because of the lockdown situation that was now in effect. We told him we knew about the lockdown but currently we couldn’t get into our apartment!

After a period of expressing our utter horror once we fully realised the impact of the situation, Josh spurred into life trying to get hold of the manager for the apartment who he hoped would have a spare key. The batteries on both of our phones were low, we were getting hungry, we didn’t have our passports on us should we need them and our language skills were limited, but thankfully after spending some time trying to get hold of him, finally we managed to and communicated our dilemma to him. His English was limited but he understood after some explaining that we were unable to get into the apartment, we didn’t have wifi because the power was down in the building and the city was currently on lockdown and we were told that we couldn’t leave the apartment. He reiterated what we just told him about the city being on lockdown by the military and police and asked us if the concierge had a car and could drop us to him to collect the keys? – what a ridiculous thing to suggest! The concierge had barely been useful when we asked him when the power would be back up and running let alone asking him to leave his work post to drive some British tourists through a lockdown zone where we were very likely to be stopped by the authorities asking us where we thought we were going to collect a set of keys! I don’t think so somehow.

Even though we couldn’t physically get to him it was a relief at least to find out that he actually HAD a key, otherwise another option that Josh had been seriously considering was busting the door in! If we didn’t get the key from this guy tonight during the lockdown it would mean that we would have to wait until 04:00 am the following morning before venturing outside the apartment. This would mean that we would be unable to eat, drink or go to the toilet until we returned home and we would have no choice but to sleep in the wholly uninspiring reception until we were allowed to leave but the batteries on our phones would definitely be dead by then. No thanks.

After some pondering we finally made the decision to take our chances and leave the comfort of our apartment building and go and get the keys from this guy. The concierge was of no help whatsoever so we were essentially on our own. We looked outside to see if maybe we could get one of these low level scam artist Cartagena taxi drivers but for the first time since we’d stepped foot in this city they were nowhere to be seen and nowhere to be heard! The streets were completely deserted. With nobody allowed out of their houses the taxi drivers were more then probably taking the night off.

We were in a bit of a pickle. With no taxi’s we were looking at walking, and when we looked at the map to see where the guys house was we could see that it was right in the middle of the centre of Cartagena: the place we were expressly forbidden. Undoubtedly if there was going to be any area that was locked down by armed police denying entrance it was the entrance to the walled city: exactly where we needed to go!

We downloaded a local taxi app and tried to call a taxi (which required you to bid on a driver) but it wouldn’t work. The app said that it was trying to find a driver but no drivers picked up the job (funnily enough).

We really didn’t know what to do, we were out of options and my anxiety was steadily rising faced with this completely crazy and out of the ordinary situation that we were experiencing in this foreign country. We couldn’t walk there as weren’t allowed on the street and I didn’t know whether they would just fine us on the spot if they saw us or lock us up! We couldn’t get a taxi as there was nobody on the streets and this guy couldn’t bring the keys to us as he wasn’t allowed out either.

What on earth were we to do?!

Finally after some time waiting with no idea which decision to make for the best we saw a Colombian traveller laden with luggage rushing off to jump into a taxi outside to go to the airport so Josh stopped her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind if her taxi took a short diversion and dropped us off at the entrance to the walled city so that we could go and collect the keys to our apartment?

Thankfully she was very nice, could speak English well and allowed us to jump in the taxi with her. Then when we arrived at the entrance where as expected there were police and army officers carrying guns barring entry to all people, she jumped out, explained our situation to them and asked them if they could let us in and they did. We thanked her profusely, gave her some money towards her taxi and ran down the dark and eerily empty streets towards this mans house as the authorities had given us only 5 minutes to be in and out! Goodness only knows what would happen to us after that time.

My heart was beating loudly in my mouth. I was terrified that if we came across anymore officers we wouldn’t be able to explain to them our reasons for breaching the curfew. Anything could happen to us. I was also furiously angry, not at Josh as I knew that he didn’t do it on purpose, but I was angry at the situation we had found ourselves in. One that was already unique in it’s severity and it’s swiftness of implementation and I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen now, tonight, tomorrow or the day after with this rapidly escalating global pandemic. And the consequences for me, Josh and our friends and family. For the world!

Though we had come to the end of our travels anyway, I could have never imagined in a million years that something this devastating would happen to change our world so completely. As of that moment not only didn’t I know whether or not I was going to be promptly locked up by Colombian police, but I didn’t even know whether we would be able to get on the flight/s that were due to take us home as everything was changing so dramatically from day to day, with flights being cancelled left, right and centre and countries imposing border closures preventing people from coming in or leaving. I felt as if I was in some kind of computer simulation and none of it was really real. Back in the UK, people were continuing to panic buy, and boxing each other other the head with the last toilet roll. Did I really want to go back into that? – I wasn’t so sure.

And here, things were changing too. There was nobody on the street! Nobody. Just Josh and I running down the dark empty streets, our holiday flip flops echoing against the stone walls. It was insane, utterly insane. I was imagining at any moment the sirens that I heard wailing in the city were making their way to us to find out why 2 Brits were on the run in their city like thiefs in the night!

The horror of the situation was beginning to take it’s toll on me. I was exhausted from thinking of how to get around this particular dilemma and prepared for the Colombian police to take shots at me from above. I saw faces of shocked locals through their windows peeking out, wondering what on earth we were doing running through their streets in a lockdown. I understood their horror. I too was horrified and felt sick to my stomach when considering the consequences of what would happen to us should we get caught. I daren’t even consider the return journey!

Eventually, we made it to the mans house in one piece. Thankfully he was in and we were able to pick up the keys without being picked up by the police. We returned the way we came, showed the police the keys that we had collected and slunk off down the darkened streets of this deserted silent city to return home.

On our way home it was even more scary as we had nowhere to hide. We saw police patrolling the streets, their sirens bleating out a warning to people even THINKING about venturing outside: us. Thankfully we made it home to home sweet quarantine.

Week 3 in Palomino, Colombia

Week 3 in Palomino, Colombia


Rudely awoken by our alarm clock going off at 04:30 am, we felt pretty rubbish. But we couldn’t complain too much as the reason for our early rising was so that we could catch our early transfer for our road trip to Palomino.

Palomino is a small village on Colombia’s Northern Caribbean coast. Relatively unknown to the rest of the world apart from to the most ardent and determined travelers, it has for the most part escaped the tourism buzz in other parts of the Caribbean but it is nontheless a destination that has an abundance of nature, hot, sunny weather and pristine Caribbean beaches. Infact we ourselves hadn’t heard about Palomino until we arrived in Bahia, Brazil – from a friend of a friend we met there who had just returned from Cartagena (which she hated), and the city Santa Marta and Palomino (which she loved). She described it as being like Trancoso was about 10 years ago which we took to mean that it had a natural charm, a simple, laid back glamour and a strong connection to nature and the local culture. And after experiencing 2 weeks of Cartagena (and really liking it), we couldn’t wait to experience the place she compared to magical Trancoso before it became the best address in Brazil. We were sold.

The only way to get to Palomino was either via a taxi (which cost around £90-£120 one way), or by a tour bus which cost around £23. Taking the bus option was obviously a no brainer. The whole journey was due to take around 5 and a half hours in total which meant that after leaving Cartagena at around 5:45 am in the morning we would get there around lunchtime.

The journey to Palomino wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated mostly due to the fact that the van had a powerful air conditioning system and the seats were surprisingly comfortable. The view of the Colombian streets outside of my cushy, air conditioned, curtained windows was something very different though. As I had been shocked beyond words in Medellin by the sight and scale of the barrios, and the drug addiction, prostitution, destitution and homelessness that resided there, I was again being reminded in the most dramatic way that Colombia was still a second world country. Despite the impressiveness of Colombians cities like Cali, Bogota and Medellin, most of the Colombian population was still living below the poverty line and I’d seen this for myself in the time that we spent in Medellin. I will never forget the day we went to Botero Square, on the way encountering the worst levels of poverty and displacement that I ever remember seeing.

As I looked out of the window, the thing that hit me most after seeing all of the people with their clothes in tatters coming out of buildings that looked more like abandoned shells then homes, was the very apparent recycling problem. I had read somewhere that Colombia had a big problem with waste disposal, with rubbish being strewn everywhere on the roadside, piles of offensive odour producing waste, a variety of unwanted food, mixed with domestic, industrial and commercial combined in one big ugly health and safety hazard heap. Besides the fact that it was extremely unsightly and nausea inducing because of the vile smell it omitted, it also attracted vermin such as rats and mice. But it was clear from looking outside that this was a serious problem here. People were literally living on top of piles of rubbish!

Women with young children in tow walked casually between piles of unidentified rubbish heaps as if it was the norm. Despite my window being closed I could SMELL it from a mile away and I was disgusted to find that people were being forced to live like this. As we drove on, I became increasingly more shocked to discover the scale of the problem, this was definitely something that I was not prepared for. The level of pollution and quite frankly, destitution of the majority of the people living here, was not something you saw on the glossy magazines promoting romantic, salsa music and rum filled vacations in Cartagena. Far from it. What I was seeing here was more akin to the type of poverty that I would expect to see in a third world, not here in Colombia. My sympathy and deep sense of helplessness hit me like a tonne of bricks. I couldn’t look anymore. I closed my curtains to the scenes before me. My guilt pondered the unfairness of a world that makes survival so hard for some just because they happen to be born in certain places.

We stopped off twice for toilet and refreshment breaks and before we knew it we had arrived. At the bus depot that was. We hailed a passing tuk tuk (who also looked as if his vehicle was on it’s last legs), and off we went. Our hotel was located down a long and narrow, stony road amongst dense foliage. In some ways, as Josh and I clung on for dear life with our rucksacks in tow it was exciting, reminding me of our adventures in Bali, but at the same time the mans tuk tuk was so old and worn down and couldn’t seem to go much beyond 10 miles an hour that we concluded that even after being exhausted from 6 hours of travel it may have been quicker to walk!

Alas he got us there in one piece, and without us tumbling out of this very precariously constructed vehicle.

Arriving at our beachfront hotel which was built amongst generous grounds featuring a beautiful landscaped garden filled with coconut trees, plants and flowers, with 2 sizeable pools, a restaurant, games hut and individually designed beach huts facing the sea I felt a world away from Cartagena. And when we were greeted by the friendly check-in staff whose name was Juan, and taken to our stunning seaview beach property it only got better. More like a hut then a villa, our spacious accommodation had huge windows on all sides, giving us a 360 degree view of the surrounding property, including the paradisaical looking grounds with their tall coconut trees and tropical flowers, an incredible view of the Caribbean sea, the Sierra Nevada Mountains which could be seen in the distance and a generously sized wraparound balcony. It had been decorated in varnished dark wood with a playful nautical theme. Lots of books in multiple languages were stacked on the shelf above, perfect for cosy nights in listening to the sound of the roaring sea. It was very spacious, but it also had a homely feeling. When I had looked for somewhere to stay in Palomino I had immediately been drawn to the property for it’s clever use of it’s grounds, which meant that it felt as though you had the whole place to yourself even if there were others staying at the hotel. It was perfect for some real r & r which after crazy Cartagena we really appreciated.

The beautiful and tranquil grounds of our hotel in Palomino

Home away from Home 

Swing time 

We dumped our bags and went to explore the grounds. Our first stop was lunch at the restaurant. We had breakfast included but not lunch or dinner so we figured that after more then half a day of travelling it would be best to have lunch there at the hotel restaurant rather then go out searching for something to eat and then go out for dinner afterwards. It seemed as though we were the only ones at the hotel.  Juan actually asked us if we would be having lunch there so that he could inform the kitchen! What kind of place is this that asks whether we know whether we want to eat there or not when the restaurant should be open regardless?

I had to remind myself that we were in Palomino, a small, relatively unknown beach town in Santa Marta and not in tourist-centric Cartagena or even Medellin. The chilled out, small town vibes that we had come here for unfortunately meant that facilities weren’t as readily available as we were used to. I guess I would have to start getting used to it.

Lunch was a terrible disaster. We thought that the safest option in this deserted hotel and restaurant would be to order something simple. Something that didn’t require incompetent cooking techniques, so we went for a Tuna Salad, but when the salad came it looked like something that a dog would reject. It looked like it had been dead for longer then it had been alive – dry with a questionable looking hue. I figured that being right beside the sea surely their tuna MUST be fresh so I tried not to look at it too much, left out the burgundy looking pieces of fish and just ate the rest, but Josh wasn’t so convinced. He said it was the worst looking piece of tuna he’d ever been given and that they shouldn’t have served it at all looking like that. I agreed but said that perhaps that’s what tuna looked like in these here parts, afterall the tuna that we’d had in Brazil in my humble opinion was far worse. Now THAT tuna tasted like dogs food mixed with sick. Bloody awful!

Needless to say we left the restaurant hungry. Had we of been equipped to communicate our horror about the standard of the food we would have done so. As it was we were just eager to get the heck out of there!

The grounds of the hotel really were a picture to behold. With so many areas for rest and relaxation including a large thatched roof hut with hammocks and beach recliners, we were literally spoilt for choice. After checking out the impressive games hut, which had a full sized pool table in it complete with a cue rack we made our way towards Palomino Village via the beach. The sand was a peculiar mixture of black and dark grey sand, not my favourite, but the sand was soft and the beach was wild and beautiful. Not many people were on it which was surprising since Palomino Beach was one of the best beaches in Santa Marta. But as we walked down towards the town which we were told was approximately a 15 minute walk the idyllic calm of this beach, with it’s ferocious waves and picturesque beachy good looks, started to change. We started noticing a smattering of people sunbathing on the beach. But these were no normal beach goers: these were “traveller types”.

No, I’m not referring to the Gypsy (aka Romani) community, I’m referring to the types of people that frequent hostels. The ones that go EVERYWHERE with a backpack on, even when their back in their respective countries. I’m talking about the type of people who secrete an odour as they go, one of musty unwashed-ness. This is in part due to their limited washing options, in part because they’re nearly always on the move and in part because, well frankly, washing isn’t a big part of their priorities. Unfortunately, washing for me is very high on my priority list. I wash only do it because I need to do it but also because I very much enjoy being, feeling and SMELLING clean. That doesn’t just go for washing my body but also my clothes and it is why I was so elated when our luxurious apartment in Medellin had such an big and powerful washing machine. I was in cleanliness heaven!

But these people, when I looked closely, were not the cleanliness-coveting types. These were the types of people who just wanted to sit on a beach, preferably one that was quiet, smoke a spliff, preferably somewhere they were allowed, strum a guitar, preferably with a group of friends, stay in a hostel, preferably somewhere cheap, and live their lives simply. A little too simply? – Well, I thought so. Especially when from looking at the state of them I had determined that essentially they were unemployed. Who else sits on the beach, smelling as though they hadn’t washed themselves or their hair for days, eating food from the unbelievably cheap beach sellers for months on end, living in hostels that cost a pound a day? – these people were clearly trying to eek it out for as long as humanely possible before they had to return to their “normal” lives! And some of them had no intention of returning at all, preferring to sit around smelling like the great unwashed, selling cotton bracelets to anyone who had the misfortune to buy them in order to pay their hostel way.

I couldn’t yet see how in any way this place was comparable to Trancoso. Sure, it had a small, laid back feel, and the nature was breathtaking, but the standard that Trancoso was clearly at was far beyond what this place was presenting. For starters they didn’t have smelly people, they certainly had hippie-types, but that was something different. There are hippies and then there are travellers who smell. Those kinds of people look like travellers even when they’re not travelling!

I could also clearly see as we walked on that we were staying at the best resort. All of the other places that we passed were essentially hostels. Though some of them did look better then others (and we passed one that was actually in the process of conducting a wedding), it was still a pretty low standard overall. And at each one we passed was the same type of person that we saw lounging about on the beach which made me worry about what we were walking into. Juan had told us that the centre of the village was only a 15 minute walk but we hadn’t seen any signage for it on the beach so we walked for about 30 minutes until we came to a lake. The lake was otherwordly beautiful, reminding me a little of Nativo’s Beach as it contrasted with the blue of the Caribbean sea that was on the other side of it. We were unable to cross there so we realised that we must have passed the turn off and turned around to go back the same way we came. We had previously passed a restaurant where there were lots of locals trying to encourage us to go in there so we figured that we would ask them where the village was.

As we figured, there was no signage whatsoever but one of the locals told us that we had to walk through the restaurant and keep walking. The narrow roads got increasingly quieter and more rural as we went, and soon there were no tourists, smelly or otherwise on the trial at all. We began to wonder whether we were even going the right way but we couldn’t see any other route to take so we continued walking. Soon we came upon a large and imposing looking army base, with an armed guard with a huge gun “on look out”. It seemed odd for an army base to be in this small, quiet village and as there was noone else about it made us feel a little uneasy but we went up to him and asked him just to be sure if we were going in the right direction to get to the centre of town and he told us that yes, so we continued walking.

After passing the scary looking army base, we came into a residential area, where I got to see firsthand just how bad the poverty was in this place. Filled with homes made up of a few bricks with metal roofs and no windows, trying not to look inside but unable to stop myself seeing the solitary dirty mattresses laying on the floor. And the children with ripped up, dirty clothing living within, I didn’t have any idea where we were but it wasn’t somewhere that I wished to remain for too much longer. I felt very uncomfortable just being there. I didn’t belong there and I didn’t wish to see the awful ways in which people were forced to live. It was heartbreaking.

After being forced to walk through this very poor residential area we suddenly came out to a busy main road. We hadn’t a clue where we were or what we were looking for exactly and we didn’t have a map with us so we were looking for some sign of life, restaurants, cafes (or tourists!), but there was nothing but cars, motorbikes and lorries whisking by and annoying Colombians posted up underneath trees across the road on their mopeds shouting out at us. It was a little too Cartagena-esk for my liking. We were definitely NOT in Palomino Village.

Frustrated and annoyed after walking around aimlessly for an hour, we went to the nearest shop to get a drink and rethink our next move. Soon thereafter, after being hassled by the customary moped local, Josh pointed out some gringo’s (it was abundantly clear who gringo’s were in this town as almost every one of them had a backpack on!). They were coming from the road to the side of us, before arriving on the main road (which had nothing to offer whatsoever), and consequently turning back around to go back the way that they came. Josh announced that that road, because of the fact that it was gringolinered to capacity, must be the centre! So we promptly left to follow them down what it was soon becoming clear was the only road that was set up to receive us.

In stark contrast to the busy high road we’d just come from and certainly from the sad looking residential one was an oasis, where “traveller types” including a group of 6 women with matching side head shavings, dreds and baggy “festival” trousers stood around talking and laughing, and where small businesses, including restaurants, cafes, bars, hostels and tour offices lined the narrow stony streets. Tuk tuks whisked two and from taking tourists with their customary gigantic backpacks in tow to their awaiting hostels and the tie-dye, hammock swinging, unwashed odour producing, backpack carrying, guitar strumming that was here in abundance confirmed my worst fear: this was traveller territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood why this place had been compared to Trancoso. It was small, it was intimate, and it was very laid back. This wasn’t a place for mass tourism, large fancy shopping malls or designer shops and there was an abundance of natural beauty in the area including the beaches, lakes and mountains that surrounded it. People that were here had rejected resort hotel luxury in exchange for something a little more rustic (no, much more rustic), and they wanted a judgement free, nature filled environment with which to do it. Also, the place was very cheap which allowed them to live a simple life free from the material trappings of the societies that they came from.

But what was their excuse for not washing regularly? What was their reason for not washing their clothes? And why did they all look exactly the same? Did being a traveller mean that you needed to dress the same, live the same, smell the same? – did being a traveller mean that you were required to walk around spending each and everyday counting your pennies, dictating your standard of living along the way?

I respected the peace and tranquility that came from removing yourself from the fast pace of modern life and an anxiety ridden society. The sense of simple pleasure that can come from being surrounded by that which is natural, away from tubes, trains, shopping centres and the constant demands of media engagement. But I was not a traveller, I was travelling, and that was very different. It meant that I did not look for the cheapest possible accomodation going, in the most rundown of locations, room sharing with randoms or in places that were intended to be “social” in nature. It meant that I looked for clean, boutique hotels or if possible a private apartment where I didn’t have to discuss with Hannah from Sweden or Nate from Perth in Australia which countries I had come from or where I was going to. I had no desire to gloat about the last hike I done, or which street food I had been sampling lately. It was not in my interest to know where the best surfing spots were or where I could find the best place to get a “travel tattoo”. I had no desire to take an overnight bus through a country for 16 hours to get to my next destination, and I demanded space – which meant large “organised fun” activities were not on the cards.

Despite my dismay at the apparent “free and easy” way in which the people here were living, including the locals, who looked as though they hadn’t seen a shower in weeks, this was where we were going to be spending a few days. We were going to have to relax into it (to a point), and the first step in doing that was to get some proper food.

Soon we came across a restaurant that was serving Lebanese shawarma’s so we ordered some and sat down at one of the outside tables. From there we were able to see people coming and going and get a real feel for the place with no judgement. Though most people were quite young and almost all wore backpacks, it didn’t seem to be that these guys were in any particular hurry. They looked very relaxed in this chilled out environment, protected by the craziness of the outside world. Infact, this small village town on the Caribbean coast seemed completely unaware of the pending pandemic that was soon to be headed their way. We were too.

The shawarma was quite a disappointment. It arrived late and was warm when it was given to me aswell as being dry and flavourless – a far cry from Brixton’s Lebanese restaurant that we had been frequenting before we left the UK. This worried me because the women who served it to us seemed to be pretty chuffed with herself as she gave it to us.

Was this a sign of things to come?

After our early dinner we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel, checking out all of the local restaurants, cafes and bars as we went. The village was quaint and undeveloped like Trancoso was in some ways but it was lacking the glamour, it was lacking the infrastructure, it was lacking the standards and quite frankly it was lacking the cleanliness. The clientele who were here were not the same as the ones in Brazil. Trancoso was very expensive, possibly the most expensive part of Brazil. Only the most wealthy could afford to go there. They were not rejecting society, they were selecting the best parts of it. In contrast, the people here were the types who had rejected society completely. They were not here to seek peace and tranquility in and of itself (though it certainly did provide that and lots of untouched nature too), they were trying to escape capitalist societies and modern life. They weren’t seeking luxury, or bohemia, they were here for cheapness, plain and simple.

BUT to be fair to our British friend who told us about this place when we met her in Bahia, she DID say that it was similar to Bahia in some ways but about 10 years behind. Though I hadn’t been there 10 years ago I’d bet that it was many years more. We were fast learning about what our simple living threshold was and finding that this was perhaps a little too low for us.

The people who surrounded us were not weird. WE were the weird ones. We had come into their environment expecting it to be different. Instead it was full of hippie types wearing baggy tie-dye trousers, with body odour and bad teeth smelling as though they were a couple of days too late for a shower. This was a backpackers paradise but it wasn’t a paradise.

Now that we had assessed what we were dealing with we decided to stay near our resort which by far was the best one in the area from what we could see and afforded us not just a great deal of privacy due to it’s low occupancy but a real sense of what this place was meant to be about: the surrounding nature. After returning from dinner via the beach as that was the only way to get to and from the village without taking a tuk tuk which took far longer and was not readily available I realised that being amongst all of these questionably unclean people had made ME feel dirty so I rushed in to have a shower.

What I was NOT expecting was for the water to be STONE COLD. Perhaps you think that because I was in a hot country then I might be partial to taking cold showers? WRONG. I don’t think I have ever taken a cold shower before, not intentionally anyway. The water situation in our Medellin apartment was pretty shit – it was intermittent which meant that once the boiler ran out of hot water (which was annoyingly frequent), then we would have to make do with having the remainder of our shower with cold water. But the water wasn’t stone cold like it was here. And I was so desperate to have a nice hot shower after our long commute, my encounter with the great unwashed and after walking along the beach in this surprisingly humid climate. But in order to do that it meant that I had to hold my breath and prepare myself to be iced in order to get clean. I know they say that showering in cold water is refreshing but I can assure you it wasn’t!

Languishing on Palomino Beach 

The following day after having a restless sleep due to the to the fact that I couldn’t block out the sounds of the wildlife outside our door for love nor money, I lay awake listening to the sounds of the creatures of the great outdoors making a surprisingly loud amount of noise, including the resident dogs who for some reason felt it necessary to bark at us warningly upon our return to our apartment.  Indeed at one point I was worried that they might even go for us thinking that we were “intruders”. In addition it seemed we had a resident red squirrel living on our porch, I saw his fluffy little face popping out inquisitively and in the early hours of the morning we heard him borrowing (loudly) into the porch roof where he had clearly built his home. He was very sweet but he was a little too loud for my liking. Alas, red squirrels are a rare occurrence back in the UK because the grey squirrels have killed them all off so I decided that rather then get frustrated I would try to block out the noise and enjoy seeing his fluffy little red tail knowing that I wouldn’t see any again once I left Colombia.

We spent the day chilling out at our hotel, enjoying the lovely pool area, sunbathing and even playing a game of pool in the games room. It was pretty perfect as it still seemed as though we were the only ones at there. Judging by the types of people who were in Palomino it was clear to us that this kind of hotel was a rarity in this location and if we didn’t have hot water that meant that all of these hostels didn’t either, which would explain why the people were walking around so unkempt.

That evening we went out for dinner and found nice looking restaurant (one of only 3 according to our tastes). The food was okay, we had a meat and chicken platter and they gave us enough meat and chicken to last us a good couple of weeks. The meat was pretty tough. A common theme here it would seem! But the restaurant had a lovely ambience and nice decor. It’s that outside eating that I love so much and that I will greatly miss when we’re back in miserable, grey UK. There was a musician there (if you can even call him that), an acoustic musician who thought it would be a good idea to sing popular American songs in his forced gravelly voice. I personally didn’t wish to hear American songs and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just stick to their own music, which from the sounds of it was far superior to what he was coming out with, but no, we had to sit there and enjoy his mediocre voice singing mediocre tunes. Not great. Unfortunately, the guy felt the need to move closer to our table so that we had no escape!

There were a few activities that we wanted to do whilst we were in Palomino such as River Tubing, a very popular sport here in Palomino and visiting some waterfalls nearby. We went to a local tour office and booked the River Tubing first not knowing how we’d feel about doing both when we still wanted to enjoy a few beach lazy days. The guy there had a few options and after some consideration we went ahead and booked a tour that including a motorbike ride through the jungle to the start of the hike, then an hour’s hike to the start of the Palomino River Tube location, and then 2 hours of floating down the river, some leisurely parts, some fast moving and a little more adrenalin increasing, all the way down to the beach. We thought that it was a perfect activity in order to experience some of Palomino’s most beautiful nature that wasn’t accessible on foot, and to try out an activity that was very popular here.

Many of the local businesses were closed and we couldn’t really work out their opening times, in addition the area seemed to be more then a little broken down and on more then one occasion I thought that a restaurant was in the process of being constructed only to find that it was infact open for business which just meant to me that this place was deliberately doing this extremely low level offering to it’s consumers. There were stray (extremely dirty looking) dogs roaming about the place, children with dirt smeared on their faces, their clothes in tatters running up and down the street, backpackers walking as if their bags were forcing them to walk with a hunch, owners of cafes and restaurants looking as if they hadn’t seen a proper meal (or a wash) in quite sometime, and hippie cloth wearing individuals selling cotton bracelets.

All of this on the one road which had been designated (safe) for tourists to venture on. Just the fact that we were strictly told where we could and could not go in this village was a bit of a problem for Josh and I. Also what I didn’t like was the fact that because there was no other route to take unless we wanted to do a 15-20 minute tour on one of those rickety tuk tuks which seemed as though they were on their last legs, meant we had to walk on the beach in the dark (because of course they didn’t have proper lighting here either). That in and of itself wasn’t a problem – it was the crabs scurrying to and from in the pitch black that I didn’t like! Eww.

We found a great little cafe/restaurant the following day playing Spanish reggae music. I’d never heard Spanish reggae before and it came as a bit of a pleasant surprise. I managed to Shazam one of the songs that was playing and found some music from a group called Las Cafres – reggae music via Colombia from Argentina. It was really good. I made sure I put them on my Youtube favourites list.

The one good thing about Palomino (and Colombia in general really) was the lack of creepy crawlies roaming about. Though since arriving in Palomino I had been bitten a few times by mosquitoes it was NOTHING like what I had experienced in Bahia, and that was despite having a heavy duty mosquito net on my bed and closing all windows and doors promptly at 5:00 pm every night. Here, I had only been bitten a few times and I had hardly seen any horrible crawling things at all, either here, in Cartagena or in Medellin. In Bahia we were UNDER SIEGE from a growing (and very hideous looking) variety of creepy crawlies that found their way into our villa and scurried around on the street. Bloody horrible!

The following day was our river tubing tour on the Palomino River. We got up early and were picked up by 2 motorbikes who proceeded to take us to the starting point of the hike. The motorbike journey was perilous and it took all of my energy to hold on as these bikes were navigating their way through extremely steep and rocky jungle via barely there pathways and that was just to get to the starting point!

When we arrived I saw that I had cut my finger pretty deeply no doubt whilst I was holding on for dear life on the back of the death bike. I didn’t have time to moan about it to Josh because as soon as I jumped off the bike, we were ever so briefly introduced to the extremely young looking Colombian tour guide (who couldn’t speak one word of English), who would be taking us on the tour and so consequently was in charge of our lives. Looking at his baby face that hadn’t yet matured enough to produce any facial hair didn’t reassure me that I would be safe.

It was another extremely humid day, just our luck it was definitely the hottest one since we’d arrived in Palomino, and the climb up the mountain was much knackering then I had anticipated. After 15 minutes of a fast paced climb up the steep incline of the mountain where we had to constantly watch where we were putting our feet, I was already out of breath. And since this young Colombian man couldn’t communicate with us it was even more testing since I was sure it was a longer walk then we had been told it would be. We stopped twice to catch our breath and I think he thought that we would use that as an opportunity to take some pictures but it wasn’t pictures I was interested in it was the start of the tubing trail as I really was done with this trekking lark! It was far too hot, and he was moving at a very inconsiderate pace for us tourists.

Sunset on Palomino Beach

Along the way we had to stand on a precariously rocky ledge in order for a mountain horse to pass. Thankfully, this guy at least understood that I, as the weaker sex (a woman), could not possibly be expected to carry the huge rubber tube that I would be using to float down the river on aswell as hike. So he made Josh carry his own, and he carried both his and mine which to me which unbelievably impressive considering how cumbersome the thing was and how tiring it was just carrying my body up the mountain let alone a gigantic blown up rubber tube. When we booked it they called this part of the tour the “Eco Walk” but since the guy couldn’t speak English he didn’t bother trying to give us any pointers about what we were looking at as we went so it was pretty dull really. Eventually we arrived at the lake, which was beautiful, green and wide and which gave me an immediate sense of peace just looking at it. I had imagined that there would be many other people, locals and tourists alike doing this tour but there was nobody else there just us so I was very happy to know that we would be able to enjoy this experience thoroughly.

I wasn’t sure whether I was brave enough to use my iPhone 8 whilst I was tubing down the river as even though Apple claimed that it was waterproof up to 5 metres I wasn’t entirely sure that I believed them. Either way I had to put my plastic bag with both mine and Josh’s sandals plus the clothes that we were wearing on my lap. I lowered myself down onto the tube which felt surprisingly comfortable, and then away we went. Lucky for me the young guy wasn’t just in charge of directing us on which way to go but he actually used his foot to keep my tube close to him the entire time which allowed me to relax and enjoy the ride – I didn’t even have to paddle! lol.

Josh however was left to his own devices but he didn’t mind as it was so much fun! It started off fast, the tire bumping and whooshing over lots of rocks that were just loitering beneath the water, and then gently floated for what seemed like ages though dense forest on either side. There was nobody else there but us and it was wonderfully peaceful. We passed by a tree full of monkeys, indigenous people who were using the clear waters to bathe and a herd of cows being guided through the lake. It was tranquil, the sounds of nature echoing throughout the lake, and no sight or sound of humans anywhere. Though it was enjoyable, and there were many exciting moments where I thought for a moment that I might plunge into it (it wasn’t really that deep but it was very fast moving and had a strong current in some places), most of it was more of a gentle meandering down, and after awhile it did start to become a tad bit boring, lol. After over an hour of gentle meandering I was very ready for the tour to come to an end, but it went on, and on, and on, and on! Beginning to feel restless eventually I felt compelled to ask our guide how much longer it would be and I was told around 20 minutes but 20 minutes certainly felt like 40 so by the end of it I was truly done!

Hiking up to the starting point of the tubing tour

Getting ready to take the plunge!

Leggy Josh

Dinner that night was at one of the 3 acceptable choices of restaurant that we’d found in Palomino. It was a seafood restaurant that had live music. Though the musician was a local (another dirty looking fellow it has to be said), he made blues music, which he played with his harmonica, sang with his voice and strummed on his guitar. He was very talented. Unfortunately though, Palomino is a small town and no sooner had we started to tap our feet along with his music did we see the guy from the restaurant the other night, the one whose music was shit and who couldn’t sing for toffee come trawling into the restaurant with the obvious hopes of scoring a gig there! Oh heeeell no!

Freshly Caught Seafood: Oh what delight!

Afterwards we jumped into a local tuk tuk which took us home. The journey which walking took around 10 minutes along the beach took the guy almost 30 minutes because his tuk tuk was so old and busted that it struggled to get beyond 10 miles an hour and wobbled and shook all the while. I felt really sorry for the man as clearly this was the way that he made his living and I could see that he was just doing the best that he could with what he had. What an injustice that some people can’t even afford to buy the equipment they need to do their work. Infact just while I was pondering on the sadness of his situation the tuk tuk did infact break down, and the man didn’t even have a phone with a light to look underneath the vehicle to fix it so he had to use ours. Considering we had essentially being avoiding the taxi drivers of Cartagena due to their continual dastardly ways, the fact that this man had to go through so much just to get what worked out to be less then what those lowly Cartagena taxi drivers were charging seemed to be a bit of a crime.

The following morning I searched high and low for the hair band that the Dutch friend that I made in Brazil gave to me but I couldn’t find it. It seemed hard to believe that I had managed to lose it since I remembered that I had been wearing it whilst we were on our tubing trip, and I don’t generally lose things, alas it was gone. We checked out the pool area just incase and turned the bedroom upside down to try and find it but it wasn’t there. I was extremely upset. Not only because it was such a great hairband that kept my hair in one piece with a great brown colour that camouflaged perfectly against my hair colour, but it had been given to me by a very special friend, a friend who gave it to me in Brazil on NYE. So it was very upsetting.

I had been talking with a friend back home casually about the Coronavirus situation, which had been rapidly escalating back in the UK recently with people snatching the last packs of toilet tissue out of other people’s hands, clearing the shelves of food and supplies and generally exhibiting very nasty and selfish behaviour. Josh and I had began to talk about how relieved we were that we would be free of it and would soon be on our very luxurious cruise around the Caribbean.

Before we’d come away we had planned every detail about how our travels would go and that was the piece de resistance! A cruise around the Caribbean with my favourite cruise line and on her newest ship which I had been dying to go on ever since I’d heard about her. But just as I relayed to my friend our plans to leave Cartagena to fly to Miami in order to pick up our cruise, news started coming in about their being problems with certain cruise lines, and after what seemed like a matter of hours the seriousness of the situation dramatically increased and then suddenly we were being told that our cruise had been cancelled with immediate effect and as a matter of fact so had all cruises worldwide for the next 30 days due to the Coronavirus.

What on earth is going on?

This was a massive blow to us not only because we had been so looking forward to it but also because we had specifically coincided the flights we had booked so that we could go to Miami FOR the cruise!

But that was only the start of our worries. Soon we were being told that Europe was now the epicentre of the disease which was spreading like wildfire throughout not just Italy now but France, Germany and Spain also and many countries were beginning to close their borders to slow the spread of the virus. All except the UK of course because we always like to be different!

This put our plans into a bit of turmoil as we soon heard that the US had suspended travel to and from Europe with immediate affect but of course the UK was exempt from such draconian measures as he likes Boris (why else not?), alas that statement was soon retracted as the UK doubled their infection rates within just 24 hours. Now the UK had been added to the list.

Would we get caught out trying to get home in time before the ban was introduced to people returning to the UK? Would we be able to change our flights with no penalisation due to the extreme nature of all of these border closures, airport bans, flight and cruise cancellations and extreme uncertainty? – it was hard to know!

Also of course, I worry about my family. I need to get home now to be near them, just incase. My Mum is at risk as she has a lung disease so is considered to be a vulnerable person, and then there’s my Dad, who had treatment for Cancer just last year, My Nan and Grandad who are in poor health anyway and elderly, and then there’s Josh’s parents who are the same.

I can’t afford to get caught up in between countries with no way to get home right now. Even though I can’t be with them I need to at least be near them. This is scary times we’re living in. With no real answers being given, no clear ones anyway. Are we really sure we know what we are dealing with?  because I don’t understand why if children are carriers, schools aren’t being closed with immediate affect, or why if it’s not airbourne and is infact contracted via contact, concrete floors are being sprayed. Who touches the floor??

I feel like either the government, doctors and scientists don’t really know/understand what’s going on or they know and aren’t telling us. Could it be biological warfare? – though I don’t know who the perpetrator would be since the virus is affecting everyone around the world. These are crazy times we’re living in with no end in sight.

Shit is getting realer then real and here in Colombia, though there has been no sign of any immediate changes to peoples day to day lives, and certainly no empty shelves or panic buying we have now just heard that Colombia has just reported their first 2 cases of Coronavirus so we will see how this country will react to such news or indeed whether we will get caught in the middle of it.

After hearing that my Grandad had taken ill, with a high temperature and cough (the symptoms of the Coronavirus), I was ready to leave this place. We were due to go back home to our apartment in Cartagena for a few days before our flight to Miami (which we hadn’t yet decided whether or not we were going to cancel). But before we went back to the village for a coffee and some lunch. There was a sign for a cafe which we’d seen called Maria Malata which we’d been meaning to go to (or Josh had anyway, I couldn’t actually see the place because it was around a corner so I worried a little how “safe” it was), but we walked straight in.

The first thing that struck me was just how dirty it was.

What kind of place is this?! I demanded to know. The place was filthy, with broken down brick a brack, dirty tables and chairs, flys buzzing around the place, and including what it looked like they were trying to promote as some kind of horrible looking art installation. Before we’d had a chance to turn around and go back the way we came, a dirty looking man, with straggly, greasy hair which was hanging down over his eyes preventing us from seeing him properly, with mud smeared all over his clothes, busted up trainers and blackened teeth approached us with 2 ripped up, flimsy looking menu’s asking us what we’d like to eat. I was speechless with horror to look around and see that this establishment, with it’s hideous and unwashed looking patron was serving anything at all let alone food!

But I could see the great unwashed clientele that was clearly having themselves a good ole time frequenting this establishment, completely oblivious to the pieces of food stuck in the bar mans long moustache, mangy dogs scratching their flea bitten bodies to death, the whiff of a frowsy body that passed them or the sweaty waiter with yellow and black rotten teeth that stood before them. In short: This was their domain, not mine. So as to not be offensive to them, even though my skin was positively crawling and I felt as though if I hadn’t caught Covid 19 by then then this was surely where I would, we ordered 2 cappuccino’s then got the hell outta there!

Bloody awful. AWFUL I tell you!

I think if you’re happy to live an extremely lowly existence with no luxuries to speak of, and bathe in stone cold water but be amongst nature and a beautiful beach then Palomino is for you, but if not, if you need a certain standard to live by and in, certain luxuries, a certain level of cleanliness and access to decent food then stay well away. Perhaps they are on track to become a little more developed as time goes on but I’m sorry to say, they have a VERY long way to go.


Week 2 in Cartagena, Colombia

Week 2 in Cartagena, Colombia

The weather here has been simply glorious. Sunny with clear blue skies and gentle to strong winds depending on where you are located, we have really experienced what living on the Caribbean coast really feels like and we like it!

Unbeknownst to us, we had actually arrived in Cartagena’s cooler season, the ideal time to visit because of the year round humidity in the historic city, which according to the people who lived here, made Cartagena almost too intense to bare. Infact we had been warned of the heat and humidity of Cartagena, but we had found the weather to be much milder in comparison to Bahia in Brazil. Still it was hot, very hot, hovering steadily in the early to mid thirties everyday, so I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly get much hotter then it was but I was very relieved that it seemed as if we had come at the perfect time!

We had booked a trip to one the nearby beaches, Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca was touted as the best of Cartagena’s beaches due to the sand which was very white, and the sea which was very blue – much more like the type of typical Caribbean beach that I was hoping to see! The tour included transportation to the beach (you could go by boat or by sea but we opted for the road option because of the reports of the boat being small and fragile looking, and the sea’s being rough). We were then going to be taken to Nena Beach, said to be the best beach resort on Playa Blanca and it included a beach cabana there for the day with a welcome cocktail, beach towels, lunch and drinks. There were other, cheaper options available but we wanted to get the most out of our experience, and since we didn’t plan to do endless trips to the beaches in Cartagena due to the fact that we were going to be seeing even better beaches once we got to the Caribbean islands on our upcoming cruise, we thought that it made sense to visit the best one on offer.

In addition, after some 2 months of joining us on our travels, my sister had booked her ongoing trip to one of the ABC islands: Curacao, and would be leaving us in the next couple of days to spend the remainder of her time there before she went back to the UK. Living as a threesome, or #thethreeamigos as we’d affectionately called our group of three, had been lots of fun. The bond between my sister and I is a given but thankfully Josh and my sister also get on like a house on fire, which has made the 2 months that we’ve spent together in Colombia pretty easy.

We lived together in our beautiful Medellin apartment for 6 weeks and then since moving to Cartagena we have spent the 2 weeks that she has been here checking out the area and going out and doing activities together. For Josh and I, travelling is a way of life for us and our passion, but we also enjoy sharing our experiences with our loved ones and we’ve had a great time with my sister in South America.

Since we were staying in an apartment (that none of the local taxi drivers seemed to be capable enough to find), we told the tour guide to collect us all from my sisters hotel instead. We were told that we needed to be there ready for collection before 8:00 am in the morning, which for me now that I was used to rising late every morning, was truly painful. But despite being there on time, we all sat there like numpty’s waiting for this guy to collect us way past the time that he said we would be arriving as nobody showed up. Eventually after waiting for over 30 minutes we made contact with the company and they told us that he would be there very soon. Soon thereafter, a guy wearing a green t-shirt who had been standing in the lobby for awhile saying nothing to no one, approached us and asked Josh if he was awaiting collection to Playa Blanca. Well of course he was you fool! Honestly.

We jumped into the mini-van and then a couple of stops later we transferred into a large mini-van which was already patiently waiting for us to join them, no doubt who had been delayed because this man didn’t have enough common sense to announce that he had arrived at our hotel! The journey was relatively short, just under an hour, and on the way we passed by 2 of the areas that we had yet to visit: Manga, which had been touted as a very nice area despite it being very far away from the city walls, and Bocogrande, the more modernised part of Cartagena.

But what had appealed to me most about the city was the very things that these “modernised” areas didn’t have – an abundance of historic buildings. Sure, they were crumbling, many of them needed repainting, and quite a number of them needed rebuilding, but the architectural beauty and historical value of these buildings was exactly what made the city so appealing. Without them, Cartagena was just another city trying to fit in. I didn’t particularly like the look of the buildings in those areas – they looked modern but already dated, much like our apartment – they had probably at one point been quite stylish but modern architecture oftentimes doesn’t age well and this I was seeing being played out many times here in Colombia, as in Medellin they had had the same problem leaving them with no legacy buildings to decorate their streets.

The iconic city walls at night 

When we arrived at Playa Blanca, gringo’d up to the nines with traveller backpacks in tow, we trawled through the clearly desperately poor town where the locals stared openly at us as we walked by, passed the multiple sellers of unwanted tourist-centric tatt, through the dust filled dirt roads which smelt like a mixture of rotting food, open drains and feces. Following us, a group of locals, clearly with the intentions of following us to see where we went so that they could proceed to offer their services (whatever they may be). I had previously been warned about the fact that I would be encountering an abundance of beach sellers at this beach resort, who very much like hyena’s waiting to pounce upon any tourist that ventured through their area were very insistent and would continue bothering you until you gave in.

At this point in time I found it hard to imagine that this place, with it’s bad odours, piles of rubbish that had just been dumped on the floor in the car park, and broken pieces of glass and brick a brack, could possibly have the beautiful beach that it had been described as having, but once we got through the sad looking town and car park area and down onto the beach I could finally see what people had been talking about. The sea was even better then expected: clean with an eye-catching light powdery blue colour which against the white sand looked very inviting.

And though the beach did have lots of beach clubs, restaurants and hotels alongside it, our beach resort Nena Beach, with it’s beachy bohemian good looks, decorated with wood in white and light natural colours with lots of comfortable looking private cabanas was most definitely the best of the lot. All in all, I was quite surprised how undeveloped this beach was as it was clearly very popular, but then I was still being surprised with Colombia, in particular with how underdeveloped the most expensive city in Colombia was (Cartagena) versus Medellin, which was much more developed in comparison.

Dinner cocktails at Candé Cochina 

Beach Scammers

Not long after we’d locked our personal items away in the accompanying wooden chest that came with our cabana and been given a welcome cocktail, did two “beach sellers” approach my sister and I before I’d even gotten the chance to swig said cocktail, did they begin their tirade of sales spiel to try to convince us to try their beach massage services. I wasn’t in the least bit interested, but Josh and my sister were so they proceeded to prepare themselves for their 30 minute full body massages and then before I knew it another masseuse was upon me proclaiming the benefit of her massages and telling me that I was very stiff. Well yes I am very stiff because I’ve literally just arrived to the beach after an hours drive in a cramped mini-van and here you are harassing me before I’ve even had a chance to breathe! I haven’t had a chance to do the relaxation that I came to the beach for!

Unfortunately, this woman wouldn’t go away. As I’ve mentioned before, these people are very pushy and determined, and they can talk for Britain. No matter how many times you say “No Gracias” they just relentlessly bang on until you surrender. But I didn’t want a bloody massage from this woman because I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied at the end of it. I had been spoiled in Thailand, with having the best massage in the world (Thai Massage) from the women who do it the best, and having massages in Thailand is like a social activity, it’s as casual as you going to get your nails or hair done – men and women alike simply stroll into one of the many massage parlors on the highstreet, at breakfast lunch or dinner or even all three and get not only the cheapest massage you’ll ever get but the very best.

So having this predatory Colombian woman provide a massage on the beach, which I knew wasn’t going to rival that experience seemed pretty pointless to me, alas this woman was clearly so desperate to have me change my mind that she offered to give me a “demonstration”.

I didn’t want that either but she started massaging anyway. About 20 minutes in it occurred to me that this woman might be trying her bits, and continue massaging in the hope that at some point she could guilt me into paying for her services because she had been doing it for such a long time. In addition to the massage which was below par as expected, the woman kept on banging on to her masseuse mates who were massaging people near by. She simply wouldn’t shut up!

Any chance for relaxation was ended swiftly as she talked and cackled her way through her “professional work”, slathering on lots of watery feeling oil with no scent whatsoever as she went. The fact that this was supposed to be a professional enterprise on the beach was laughable. This woman was having a laugh! The massage felt like she was simply giving me a rub down, it was a tickle NOT a massage, infact I would have been surprised if she had any masseuse qualifications whatsoever.

Alas after 40 minutes of oily rubdowns it was clear to me that despite the incessant talking that i’d had to endure, and despite no skill being shown whatsoever in the task of massaging, and far too much low grade oil running down my back, I knew that this woman was expecting payment. When it eventually ended after about an hour, at pretty much the same time as did my sisters and Josh’s, all three masseuses were put their hands out demanding payment for the full hour. We’d all been duped. They as masseuse should have stopped massaging once the 30 minutes was up as was requested but they knew that we would have no idea when 30 minutes was up so they went on until they could fleece us for the full hours fee. What bitches!

Arguing with them in Spanish wasn’t an option and in some ways unfortunately I wasn’t in the least bit surprised with their shady antics. The Colombian people of Cartagena had unfortunately been exhibiting some very shady behaviours in our encounters with them since we’d arrived I was afraid to say.

Needless to say after that encounter, I didn’t feel in the least bit relaxed.

Lunch was delicious though, a combination of locally caught fresh fish (that had been fried as the Colombians love frying things!), with coconut rice, plantain and salad (a staple Colombian meal really). But the fish I’d never tasted before and it reminded me very much of fried chicken, lol.

Beach sellers were a big (and very annoying) problem. Of course I know that in many parts of the world this is very much a thing on the beach but Colombians, particularly those in Cartagena, are noisy people. They talk loudly, talk to you even when you are clearly not interested in hearing what they have to say, talk at you, after you and goodness knows what about, and they bother you incessantly. These beach sellers were no different and coupled with the fact that we were all still seething from the encounter with the scam artist massage ladies on the beach, and the strong smell of petrol fumes coming from the many jet ski’s that were zooming through the sea close to us, it was becoming increasingly harder to relax.

So we went for a walk but that wasn’t very relaxing either as people were playing music at full blast through their very distorted speakers and talking loud enough to be heard on the neighbouring island. All I wanted was a bit of peace and quiet on a beautiful Caribbean beach but I was being treated to something else entirely. Eventually things quietened down a bit and I was able to have a snooze on my very comfortable cabana bed and go for a swim in the inviting sea. Unfortunately on my first attempt I lost my sunglasses as I ducked down to avoid being blasted in the face by on oncoming wave and they were consequently ripped off my face in one swift motion and none of us could find them after that.

I hadn’t really enjoyed being in the sea anyway as there were very big rocks on the sea bed and despite the light blue colour of the water, you couldn’t actually see your feet (perhaps because of the chemicals from the jet ski’s?) and thus I was tripping over the rocks, almost stubbing my toes. No, the best place for me was actually back in the safety and comfort of Nena Beach, where I could at least sit on one of the wooden swings at the front of the raised restaurant looking out at what looked very beautiful but also had a few undesirables lurking within.

I had enjoyed myself at Playa Blanca but had no plans to come back due to the annoying beach sellers and the intense smell of petrol fumes that permeated the air almost making me gag.

Beach Loveliness on Playa Blanca 

Relaxavous for two 

Nena Beach Club 

There are infact no mosquitoes or cockroaches in Cartagena. I know, I’m as surprised as you are but honestly I haven’t seen any cockroaches (though I have seen a couple of beetles), and I haven’t been bitten by any mosquitoes. In Medellin it was the same but here I assumed that it would be different because of the climate, which is extremely hot and humid, alas I am pleased to say that we have had the pleasure of being able to leave our windows and sliding doors to our balcony open all hours of the day and throughout the night because of our confidence that there are no lurking beasts here to venture in.

I have been especially happy that I haven’t had any mosquito bites to attend to as I am allergic to mosquito bites and it can be get pretty bad for me, and was particularly bad in Brazil. I’m sure this won’t last forever though, as we have booked a couple of days in Palomino, which is also on the coast of Colombia and I’ve been reliably informed that they definitely DO have mossies. But for now I’m revelling in my good fortune!

My sister has now left Colombia and flown to Curacao, a little island in the Caribbean. We got to spend lots of quality time together in Colombia so I’m not sad she’s gone and of course I will see her again when I (unfortunately) return to the UK! 😦

My sisters last night with us in Colombia 


Honk Honk!

These people are crazy, that’s all I can say. I do not know what on earth is wrong with them but their low down behaviour and scam artist tactics is so predictable that it’s become the norm. I hate using the local taxi service here because of this but as my sister lives 10 minutes away from us and the walk from ours to hers is through a very undesirable area (aka stab alley territory), we thought it would be safer for us all if after a night out we all jumped into a taxi from the old town and then went via ours to drop us off first before driving onto hers, however these taxi drivers seem determined to try and scam us, with every trip home, the same distance and to exactly the same addresses (which are basically walking distance), charging us wildly differing prices for the trip. They have no metres in their cars so it is is very easy for them to do this, and the worst thing is that they do not even know where they are going!

They charge obscene prices for going a few metres down the road, and sometimes do not even give back change, or in the case of my sister, give her the wrong (lower value) note back as change. They are thieves! Plain and simple. It pains me to say this as I do not wish to think of the Colombian people in this way but unfortunately each trip of them has shown that this kind of low down culture permeates as they all do it!

They overcharge, give you back the wrong change – all whilst clearly knowing that we are tourists and can’t really speak the language so they are clearly doing it on purpose which is disgusting! And if you thought they would redeem themselves with knowing where they are going then think again because they haven’t got a clue! They are asking us (tourists) for directions! – They don’t use sat navs (I don’t think they’ve even heard of a sat nav) and they don’t use maps either, they just expect you to direct them to where you want to go and then overcharge you for the privilege!

The last straw was when my sister took a taxi to the airport. Sick to the back teeth of using their crooked service she used the app Cabbify to book a taxi instead but then one of the “local” taxi’s turned up! So even when you try in earnest NOT to use them you fail as they are signed up to this app too. Bloody buzzards. Anyway she had prepaid the journey as the app (much like Uber though Uber is now banned in Colombia) is connected to her credit card, but when the driver arrived at the airport he demanded payment from her!

She paid because she was in a rush and didn’t in that moment remember to check her account to show him that she had infact already paid plus she didn’t want to have to try and argue with this abominable man in Spanish but it turns out that of course she had already paid and he would have known that. These people are shoddy beyond belief!!

The bus drivers and taxi drivers honk their horns at you as you walk down the street, motor cyclists beep, locals shout out of their car windows, cyclists ring their bells, men driving the horse carriages yell – it’s all too much honky honk lark if you ask me!

In addition to the questionable taxi behaviours (which it seems as though anyone can qualify to do so long as they can afford to buy the car!), the honking of car and motorbike horns on the road in general is VERY frequent and VERY noisy. They honk their horns so often for no apparent reason that I’m genuinely worried that I’ve come so disensitised to it that if anyone honks their horn at me in the UK I won’t react and possibly cause an accident!

It also seems as though the men here are on heat, with the most filthy kind of lustful looks cast my way that I’ve seen outside of Italy. Shameful. Disrespectful (as they can clearly see that I’m with Josh but they don’t care), and they are very vocal about their approval too. The level of the men here I’m afraid to say is very low. I doubt very much that they have anything of substance to say judging by the way that they behave and it’s such a shame because I still think that Cartagena is a very beautiful and romantic place. It has such a character about it. The way the light hits the walled city, and sunsets at Cafe Del Mar is really something to behold. And there are so many places we continue to discover.

Places that you wouldn’t expect, hidden away in the maze of roads in the walled city, behind iron gates and heavy intricate wooden doors. And then there’s the music, so good it makes your heart sing and your feet move. The feeling of being in Colombia is strong and is what I love so much about this place. It is authentic, with beautiful colonial buildings, salsa music drifting out of the flower filled balcony’s littering the old town, such energy and fun. But it’s also very dirty and more rundown then I would reasonably expect a UNESCO heritage city to be, extremely busy, the taxi drivers are crooks, and it’s quite sleazy and very hassley with a distinct air of desperation and aggression coming from many of the street sellers who hang around on the street corner. So, not all perfect!

Windswept on the wall 

The Coronavirus virus has been spreading rapidly in all parts of the world, including in South America, where there has now been one death in Brazil. Now the prediction of how bad things are going to be as time goes on seems much more certain and as a result people have began to panic. According to the news, shelves have started to empty back in the UK with people walloping other shoppers over the head with the last packs of toilet roll no less! It’s things like this that make human beings, already predisposed to selfish behaviours, even more so, and their nasty, selfish reactions to this crisis has already began to show.

This is despite the UK being far behind in comparison to the rest of Europe and Italy in particular which has been suffering badly with the pandemic, quarantining whole villages and closing schools. And who knows whether the same will happen in the UK? – All I know is I’m glad to be out of it.

At present, South America is far behind in comparison when it comes to Covid 19 cases. Colombia doesn’t appear to even be aware that there’s a worldwide pandemic going on and infact they don’t even have the sanitiser gel that the World Health Authority have been telling people they need to be using, infact I don’t even think they even know what hand sanitiser is! So we are without any anti-bacterial gel or wipes out here but then at the same time I’m not worried about catching it here anyway. When we leave here to go to Miami now, that might be a different matter!

And of course there’s always the possibility that we will be quarantined on our cruise ship like the other 2 cases that I’ve heard of. But even Amazon is low on stocks for the gel and the ones that are available have been hiked up to 10 times the price. Josh and I have seriously considered making our own with a mixture of 60% + alcohol and Aloe Vera Gel – or failing that we’ve even thought about using Sexual Lubricant since that has alot of Glycerin in it, another ingredient that can be used! lol

Vera at the Tcherassi Spa and Hotel

We had previously passed the Tcherassi Spa and Hotel on one of our strolls around the city. It had immediately stood out because of it’s mysterious air and beautiful smell wafting out of it. You entered through a beautiful latticed iron wrought gate and gigantic wooden door and beyond that was a light and airy courtyard with a running waterfall and glorious looking pool set against a living plant wall. The owner of the restaurant Silvia Tcherassi, is a highly regarded Colombian fashion designer and this hotel, her very first one in the city where she was born, is regarded as being one of the very best in the world according to Condé Nast Traveller. Naturally, I just had to go!

We booked a table in their Italian restaurant Vera and I wore my fancy Havaianas as I didn’t think I could face walking the streets of Cartagena in heels but I brought my heels in another bag just incase as I knew that it was a very fancy establishment. Thankfully they were okay with my footwear and showed us straight away to a table overlooking the pool area in the gorgeous courtyard. I loved the lovely stone walled courtyard, filled with greenery and flowers. There are so many of them in Cartagena and it’s something that only places with a reliable amount of sunny days can pull off. The floors were cream marble of the highest quality, the furniture was rattan, suiting the tropical Caribbean environment perfectly.

Beside the long pool was the stunning plant wall which clearly was being pampered very well indeed to keep it looking so immaculate. White walls all around, open in the middle to allow the sky in, the intimate tables with their immaculate white table clothes looked very elegant against the beautiful exposed brick arches they were underneath. A simple cream rose decorated each table. Design wise this was very us. Both Josh and I thought it was gorgeous. Unsurprisingly being that this hotel was the namesake of a designer, the decor had been very well thought out and it’s simple but classic elegance was very romantic.

The service matched in professionalism and warmth and the food came out promptly and was both delicious and creatively presented. There was a live salsa band there too, where we were sitting it was a little awkward to see them as one of the beautiful stone pillars was right in front of our table but they sounded fantastic so I found it hard to eat without jiggling about in my seat. We would most definitely return with no hesitation!

Tcherassi Spa and Hotel

Beautiful interiors at Vera Restaurant 

Sated 🙂

The following day we dined at Alma, one of Cartagena’s fanciest seafood restaurants (with a price to match!). The food was very good but unfortunately the restaurant was full of loud Americans who can’t seem to keep their conversation level to just their table -they have to advertise their whole life story for the whole restaurant to hear!

Tomorrow we’re off to the beach resort of Palomino for 5 days 🙂

Art on a plate at Alma Restaurant 

Week 1 in Cartagena, Colombia

Week 1 in Cartagena, Colombia

We were warned by a friend of a friend in Brazil to avoid staying in Cartagena for longer then a few days.

We were told that it was too busy, that there wasn’t enough to see or do, and it was far too hot. Far too hot?! Considering that at the time we were sitting there sweating our lives away in the most humid place that either of us had ever been to (Bahia, Brazil), I couldn’t possibly imagine being any hotter. I wondered how could it be, that Cartagena, on the beautiful Caribbean coast of Colombia (which had already provided a few unexpected surprises during my travels), could be so poorly rated by a fellow Brit? But how could I ignore advice coming from someone who had chosen the beautiful Bahia as her home??

It didn’t take long for Josh and I to decide to ignore her advice. Afterall we had already booked our Airbnb accomodation for the entirety of our stay in Cartagena and the cancellation policy was quite harsh.

Also, Josh and I didn’t take her advice and shortcut our trip to Cartagena partly because we didn’t appreciate being preached to about where we should and shouldn’t go especially when we didn’t know this woman from Adam – we’d only just met. No. We would bare her “advice” in mind but we were going to travel the only way we know how: #slowtravel. We weren’t looking for a “quick Cartagena fix” we wanted to get to know Cartagena properly – it’s good bits and it’s bad.

Cartagena was only a 45 minute flight away from Medellin. My sister was booked on a seperate flight to Josh and I but had a hotel booked just 10 minutes away from our apartment. Being that I hadn’t done much if any research on Cartagena beforehand I didn’t know much about the area where our apartment was located – just that it was on the seafront, and was walking distance to the historical UNESCO world heritage site of Cartagena Old Town – with it’s iconic crumbling ancient walls that surrounded it’s secrets and beautiful Spanish colonial architecture within.

I’d heard that the city beaches of Cartagena were nothing to write home about but as our last apartment in Medellin had been in the middle of a busy city with a view of the majestic mountains but no beach I thought that it would be a nice contrast for us to have our next place on the beachfront with a view of the Caribbean sea and the sounds and smells that went along with it.

The first thing that hit me when we touched down in Cartagena was the heat. Nowhere near as humid as I was expecting but quite a few degrees hotter then Medellin, it was a welcome change of climate and I loved the fact that I could now see palm trees swaying gently in the breeze.

As expected, both the beach and our apartment wasn’t anything special, for starters our apartment was very small and though it clearly at one time had been quite stylish it seemed to be in a bit of a state of disrepair and lacked the comfort factor that our Medellin apartment provided. A decor update was way overdue! But it was in a great location being walking distance from the old town and in addition to us having a seaview, we also had access to a pool (which was very much appreciated in this heat) and 2 bikes to use that came along with the apartment rental.


Our new “bijoux” but centrally located seaview apartment in Cartagena 

The wind coming off the ocean was so strong that we couldn’t leave the windows or sliding doors to our balcony open. The beach promenade was certainly not very inspiring – with cloudy, murky, grey-ish water, rough waves and a dark hard sand beach right next to a busy 4 lane road  – I had no intention of luxuriating myself upon it. Despite this though, I was glad to be in this new place that was so very different from the place that we had just come from in so many ways. After unpacking and somewhat acclimatising to the intense heat of Cartagena in comparison to the fresh spring like feeling of Medellin, we met up with my sister and went in search for food and whatever else the city had to offer.

The first thing that I noticed when we started walking down the main road towards the walls of the old city was how dusty it was everywhere. Plumes of sand blew onto the road and into our faces, gathering at the pavements making it tricky to walk across without getting it into my sandals. Endless traffic went to and from at high speed, blasting out plumes of visible pollution into the air, and unlike the relatively calm and organised nature of Medellin, there was distinct sense of urgency and aggression in the air from these people – men yelled across the street at us, streets sellers pushed their unwanted drinks in our faces demanding that we buy them, people packed in like sardines on dusty old buses staring out the window at us, men wolf whistled, taxi’s slowed right down beeping at us and blocking us from crossing the road offering their services (which we did not need), and drivers in cars with blacked out windows heckled us. I did not understand a word that these people were saying but I felt the intention: we had already been identified as being non-Colombian.

For the very first time since arriving in Colombia I felt on edge. How could somewhere so close to Medellin feel so very different?

Cartagena was noisy. VERY noisy. And that was just on the highstreet – we hadn’t even made it to the ancient walls yet..

Soon we could see the towering walls in front of us, 4km long of intimidating looking stone built in 1796 after an attack on the fortress by Sir Francis Drake. Worn out and blackened by time it made a stark contrast to the clearly very modernised city life that went on behind it. We entered the city via one of the walls arches, being beeped by the local taxi drivers all the while.

An assault on the senses ensued as we began walking around the maze of streets within the city walls. Not pedestrianised as I had imagined it would be, the streets were very much alive, with lots of tourists (mostly Colombians) bustling around, coming out of cafe’s, restaurants and shops, loud salsa music blaring out of the bars, horses pulling along carriages with excited looking passengers coupled with a throng of local yellow taxi’s clogging up the roads doing their customary harassment by beeping their horns and yelling out of their windows, groups of young Colombian boys proceeding to follow us down the street free style rapping a song at us in exchange for a few peso’s, and lots and lots of street sellers bellowing in Spanish at anyone who cared to listen what they had for sale.

Amongst this, streets that were classically beautiful, if more then a little grubby with the distinct smell of drains, the Spanish Colonial Architecture that had earned this Caribbean city it’s UNESCO heritage status stood out. This was a place of extreme contrast, and though I had to adjust my breathing to reflect the fact that these streets didn’t smell like the colourful flowers that decorated them, I could feel that there was something very special going on here.

The following day we decided to follow the list of recommended places to see in Cartagena that had been given to us by our Airbnb host. Though we were not especially impressed with the standard of our accommodation (particularly when we compared it to the incredible penthouse apartment we’d just come from in Medellin), the list that our host had given us was very comprehensive, perhaps the most comprehensive recommendation we’d received by an Airbnb host!

So we took our time and walked around the city, stopping off at plaza’s, tiny cobbled streets filled with bijoux cafes, hidden restaurants, hotels and private mansions and all the while I was thinking what an enchanting place this was. There was such character in this city – beautiful architecture delighted me at every turn in the pastel and rainbow hued colours of the Caribbean, coupled with the sounds of a very busy Latin city, salsa music playing everywhere. My heart jumped when I saw all of the grand architecture decorated with eye wateringly beautiful flowers that cascaded down the intricately carved wooden doors and across the hanging balcony’s. For the people who lived here, perhaps this was nothing new to them, but for me, seeing these architectural marvels across the clear blue skies, feeling the history of the place with every step I took, seeing the people that represented this diverse Latin city, and hearing all of the incredible music that got my body moving, I felt that finally, I had really arrived in Colombia.

An oil painters dream 

















When I had been in Medellin I had felt that it was generally a very interesting, safe, modern city. Though I had heard many stories of how Medellin had been turned around from the days of the drug cartels that littered it’s past, I didn’t expect it to feel quite so grown up. Certainly, for one seeking a good life with reliably good weather, it was a hit.  But for me, it was lacking something. Not quite so stark as Florianopolis was in it’s quest for being thoroughly European despite it being in culturally rich Brazil. But I had found the people there came as a bit of a surprise. Medellin felt to me like it was a little too well behaved to be a Colombian city. But here in Cartagena, finally I had found what it was I was searching for.

A riot of colour and noise everywhere, the Colombian people were the diverse mix of skin tones and ethnicities that I had imagined that they were, the city was a little rough around the edges, many of the buildings were faded and crumbling, many more a safety hazard boarded up and unloved, and the people were very aggressive, shouting at you from up close and far away, the men extremely sleazy, licking their lips at you as you walked by, whistling their lips irrespective of the fact that I was walking with Josh and slowing down in their cars to get a good look at my sister and I, taxi drivers annoying with their constantly honking horns, reggeaton and salsa music being blasted confidently from every other shop on the highstreet.

This was certainly no picnic. But despite all of this, Cartagena Old Town had an undeniable charm and old romance about it. It was dirty yes, but it was also very sensual, with secrets doors to secret places all over the city. Wrought iron gates led through to plant and flower filled courtyards with sunlight streaming down on it, against a backdrop of exposed brick and brightly coloured flowers. The icons of Colombia, the Afro Colombian women who sashayed down the street with bowls of fruit on their heads wearing colourful dresses in the colours of the Colombian Flag (women who are also known as Palenqueras) so beautiful and distinctive.


Learning how to balance a bowl of fruit on my head “Palenqueras” style!


A secret door leads to secret discoverys!

And then I came across La Serrezuela..

Is this the most beautiful shopping mall in South America?

Not really one to get excited about going clothes shopping (though I certainly do enjoy getting new things particularly if it’s through the convenience of online shopping), I initially thought that this incredible building in front of me was a hotel or something. But after spotting some people sitting in what looked like a fancy coffee shop, we ventured in to discover more.

Well, I was simply blown away when I realised that this stunning piece of architecture was not a high end hotel at all but infact a glamorous shopping mall. Originally a bull ring, this UNESCO heritage building had been built around the existing round bull ring structure to create a very unique building that included the circular ring in a spacious, light and airy marble filled shopping mall, complete with individually designed boutique shops over 3 floors – the ring part which was resplendent in dark wood included theatre style seating for special entertainment events, and on the roof top was bars and a restaurant section where you could get everything from Sushi to Peruvian to Steaks or French Bistro. In addition to this, the entire mall smelt incredible. Just being in there was a delight. Infact after having sushi at the amazing sushi restaurant on the top floor whilst overlooking the hustle and bustle of the city below I found it hard to remember having ever being in a mall quite this glamorous.  From the outside it was beautiful but inside it was even better as you were able to get the detail and the sheer scale of this architectural marvel.

In my personal opinion La Serrezuela was the most beautiful shopping mall that I had ever seen. Sorry Westfield!


The very sophisticated shopping mall La Serrezuela in the heart of Cartagena Old Town

La Serrezuela at night 




Minding my business in one of La Serrezuela’s many luxurious shops 

On our list of recommendations we had been told about Cafe Del Mar: The ultimate chilled our bar located on top of the old city walls (which you could walk the length of with no restrictions). We were told to get there early for drinks so that we could catch the sunset.

Thankfully we made it just in time as the place was completely packed with tourists and locals alike, waiting patiently with cocktails in hand at the perfect place to watch the sunset and meet friends for drinks. We got talking to a couple from Peru who were on holiday in Colombia, on our table also a couple from Biarritz in France and people from other parts of Colombia, a real mix. The Pina Colada went perfectly with the chilled out vibes of the house music playing in the background whilst the Colombian flag fluttered in the wind against the backdrop of the Caribbean sea and a soul stirringly beautiful sunset.

Chilled Cartagena Nights at Cafe Del Mar


We found a great lunch stop the following day: Pezetarian, so named because it only served food for Pescatarians, which was fine by me! Being that we were by the sea, it seemed apt that we should eat seafood and the quality of the food was no less then what I had been experiencing in all of the restaurants in Cartagena so far. I don’t know why I had been worried about the quality of the food in Colombia but according to many blogs I had read about, the food wasn’t anything to write home about. But I had found that both here in Cartagena and in Medellin too, the food was infact very good. It certainly may be true that the Colombian food itself wasn’t anything that special, much like Brazilian cuisine it tended to be based around a few basic ingredients: corn, rice, fish and plantain, and it definitely wasn’t spicey but unlike what we had experienced in many of the Brazilian restaurants, the standard and the creativity of the dishes available was impressive. They had especially cottoned onto the fact that Peruvian cuisine is world class, and we were able to get Peruvian food pretty much everywhere.

I had booked a fancy restaurant for us to go to that evening. Candè had been recommended as the best place to get an authentic Colombian-Caribbean experience. From the reviews it sounded as though the food was pretty good but it was the incredible colonial Caribbean decor and live entertainment that I was especially interested in. We were greeted by hostesses wearing smart black dresses with matching headwraps in a glowing foyer with high ceilings, wicker chairs and hanging lanterns with checked black and white marble floors. I could already hear the music: Distinctly Caribbean with a reggae-calypso vibe. The staff, who rushed around carrying intricate looking plates of food in the maze like dining room, were very smartly dressed, the women in smart black and white outfits and matching shoes and the men wearing white shirts with kravats and matching suspender belts. Initially we were put in a back room (which was beautiful), but Josh asked us to be moved to the main dining room and then we were promptly taken to a table right at the front of the restaurant where there was a stage set up for the band who was due to come and play. Immediately I was impressed with the impeccable decor of this restaurant. The lighting was incredible, casting a warming glow from the abundance of lamps and hanging lights that littered the restaurant. Above us on the high ceiling we could see right through to a level above with intimate seating surrounding the colonial style white stone pillared structure.

In the middle of the room stood a centuries old tree with a commanding look bursting up and out of the rooftop, exotic plants scattered throughout giving the space a distinctly tropical feeling. After a short dance routine by a couple wearing traditional Caribbean clothing then came the band who were just brilliant. Playing a succession of very catchy salsa songs, they played along whilst food was served from the impeccably dressed staff. The restaurant had an immense amount of carefully crafted ambience and reminded me that I was definitely in the Caribbean now!


Lobster Bisque with a Caribbean Twist!



The Coronavirus is now very much a thing. Though it had initially been shrugged off as just media hype there have been so many cases of people catching, spreading (and being killed by) the virus both inside and outside of Asia now that it seems that finally governments have started to take notice. I had said a few weeks ago that it seemed as though the virus was everywhere accept for South America but now with the first case being announced in Brazil, this is a thing of the past. I am not especially alarmed but obviously I do not wish to catch it or have the inconvenience of being quarantined anywhere because of it. Our Caribbean cruise is still booked for the end of March and I have been getting regular updates from the cruise line as the situation changes (and it has been rapidly changing, in particular for Italian citizens who have been the worst hit in the whole of Europe). I do have a trip planned to Tuscany in August which I am mildly concerned about but for now I am much more concerned about my cruise not going ahead, or even worse being quarantined on the ship because of an outbreak. Now THAT would be bloody awful. Returning to the UK early is not something I wish to even consider and I certainly do not wish to be stuck in the UK for the foreseeable future when I return because of this virus business because that is not how I choose to spend my time!


I pimped my Brazilian Havaianas in Colombia 🙂

Getsemani Walking Tour

Getsemani (or Jetsetmani as it’s also affectionately known) is Cartagena’s Medellin. Once a poor neighbourhood and predominantly black as that’s where most of the descents of slaves could afford to build their homes, it is now very much Cartagena’s up and coming boho hang out, decorated with graffiti art on the crumbling walls which tell the story of the cities history on it’s artisan bakeries and boutique b&b scruffy but narrow art littered streets. This is where the real people of Colombia live, a stark contrast to the centre of town which is full of commercial businesses, shops and hotels, but that is changing.

Nowadays due to the gentrification of the area and tourism, a recent phenomena in this part of town, the people who previously lived here for generations are being pushed out: they can’t afford the rent. It is a sad but in some ways necessary evil for a city that wishes to attract new business and money but oftentimes forgets the people and culture that gives a place it’s unique appeal. Our guide explained a little more to us about the history of the city, including the slavery that built the historic buildings and walls that we now admire. Though of course I knew much of this history already hearing him say it came as a stark and sad reminder to me of all of the nations in the world who have benefited and enriched themselves through the blood, sweat and tears of Africa.

He also said something that I will never forget: that the reason why the Spaniards insisted on using African slaves as opposed to the Native Indians who were already here when they arrived was because they were strong. The native people died too easily or they ran off. What a curse hard work, strength and determination was in those days.

Getsemani felt very different from the old town, for starters there seemed to be much less tourism here and it was more residential but our guide assured us that despite the police presence that we could see currently occupying the main square due to a recent spike in drunkenness, drugs and prostitution in the area, it was very safe. Infact, he said, it was his favourite area to go on a night out and he recommended a few places for us to try. It was still very early so there wasn’t many people about but I was starting to see the rustic charm of this place. It was effortlessly cool. Soon we came upon a local fruit seller so we stopped to taste a strange looking fruit which looked like a giant edamame bean but tasted nothing like it. It was a little sweet and had a furry white texture – you were only meant to suck the juice from the bean and then throw it away. I hardly saw the point in the odd little fruit at all as it didn’t really taste of anything. Afterwards he took us to one of the local shops to try the local beer which was very refreshing in the intensity of the mid-day sun.

Fruits of the Caribbean

Then onto the point of our trip here: the art.

We hadn’t done the graffiti tour in Medellin partly because I had already learned much about the history of the city, including the developments of it’s more poorer parts of town: i.e the barrios. In addition, I personally had no desire to traipse about in the poor part of the city marvelling at what how much it had progressed simply due to the addition of a few new pieces of artwork. But Getsemani was different. Here in Jetsetmani, the whole story of Cartagena was told through the artwork, and indeed, this specific part of Colombia was the exact spot where the declaration of Cartagena’s independence from Spanish rule was announced so it held immense historic and cultural value to the whole of Colombia.  I was really looking forward to seeing this story being told by way of the walls of Getsemani.

The first thing that struck me was the scale of the art. Some pieces were HUGE, taking up the entire side of a high-rise building in some cases, and always with a striking use of colour. Secondly, was the purposeful use of making black women the focal point. Street after street showcasing and celebrating the most beautiful visage of black women in this exotic Caribbean environment. I was simply speechless by the amount of detail, the use of techniques and colours to bring these pieces of artwork to life. And proud to see black women being honoured in this meaningful way. This was afterall, their neighourhood. They had been brought here to work, rear their families and been instrumental in making it the vibrant, diverse and colourful place it now was. Of course they should be celebrated!

I was getting giddy from all of the incredible artwork I was seeing in this small but mighty neighbourhood. It was absolutely fascinating to be able to get a little glimpse into this unique little place. On the way to leave Getsemani I popped into one of the art shops that was advertising it’s incredible artwork on the pavement outside where I came across a beautiful piece of art that I surely would have purchased if I had the room in my overflowing suitcase to host it! It was truly stunning. I had seen similar pieces being sold in Cartagena Old Town but nothing quite as arresting as this. The colours were perfect.

Our walking tour through Getsemani had definitely been an eye-opener. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from the tour but it was infinity better then my expectations.


Discovering the neighbourhood of Getsemani on a Walking Tour 




Getsemani’s resident “sleepy” muse 

The piece of art that stole my heart 










My second fav

Look at the scale!

Horse Carriage Ride

One of the things that we were determined to do whilst in Cartagena was take one of their horse drawn carriage rides. We could see that they were being offered on the quaint little historic streets and it looked very appealing. The only thing was choosing a horse that looked like it was being looked after as I could think of nothing worse then taking pleasure from one of these beautiful animals transporting me around when he was malnourished or looked as if he was depressed. No, I’m not a horse whisperer and I can’t claim to understand “horse body language” all I knew was that if I felt uneasy when looking at the horse I did not want to ride on him – for instance I didn’t like it when they put blinkers over their eyes so that they could only see straight ahead and I also didn’t like it when the horses head was down as that indicated to me that they were not happy. I sometimes I wish that I weren’t so afraid of horses as I really do love them. I think that they are absolutely beautiful animals and I’d love to stroke one but I fear that it would buck me so I daren’t try, lol.

Eventually we did find one – a grey and white horse with a red leather halter and lead and his eye blinkers were minimal allowing him to see out of the side, also his head was all the way up – he even glanced at me as if to check who he was going to be transported. Unfortunately our leisurely ride through the streets of Cartagena how I had imagined it would be didn’t really materialise as the traffic was utterly horrendous. Yes, there was a horse traffic jam in the heart of town! Our driver eventually got out of the carriage and left us in the care of the horse (or the horse in the care of us who knows?) and he was gone ages! We guessed that he went to go and see what the hold up was but after waiting around 15 minutes we finally gave up. We didn’t have allnight afterall. We figured that the horse would simply wait until his owner got back but if you ever see a wild grey and white horse roaming the streets of Cartagena then you will know why! lol


Sister Squad 




We were overdue a night out so we decided to check out Alquimico, one of the rooftop bars that our Airbnb host had recommended to us. We were all dressed pretty casually as we were just passing by which I regretted once we got there and realised how people dressed to come to this really popular place! It was free and quick to get in though we had to queue to get onto the rooftop which seemed to be a bit of a hit. Unfortunately though the rooftop wasn’t much to write home about – there was nowhere to sit, it was packed full of GUYS (I know, makes a change doesn’t it?) and people were chain smoking. I was expecting it to be a great place to get some fresh air but it turned out to be too noisy as the large groups of guys (who surely must have been on some kind of stag do), were bloody noisy, and the air was certainly not fresh as people were smoking at all point of the rooftop and the smoke was starting to give me a headache.

So we went back downstairs where we stayed for awhile drinking cocktails in the beautifully designed building – which looked like it was once used for something very grand indeed. Cartagena was still revealing surprises at every turn!


Very cool decor in this grand old building which now houses the rooftop bar Alquimico



I don’t know what it is with these people (something in the water perhaps?) – that makes them so very aggressive. When Josh and I identified Colombia as a country where we wanted to spend an extended amount of time, it was other people’s description of how friendly the people were that had been a big highlight for us. We had no interest in going somewhere (like Italy for instance!), where people were unnecessarily unfriendly, judgemental or angry for no reason and thankfully we’d had nothing but good experiences so far in Thailand, Bali and Brazil and the people of Medellin, Colombia had been very nice also, but for some reason the people of Cartagena were very different. It wasn’t that they weren’t friendly (they were), they were just very, ah, aggressive!

To be sure, it’s mainly the men, and since I do not have the foggiest idea what on earth they are yelling out to me as I walked on by you could be forgiven for thinking that I got the wrong end of the stick. But I know vibes, I know intention and I sense that these people are simply low level. Colombians stare. I have come to get used to it. But unlike the (somewhat) polite but nosey behaviour exhibited by the Medellin residents when we were doing our walking tours, these guys do not wait to hear what’s been said, see what you’re doing or find out what you want, they just verbally accost you on sight.

For people who are perhaps not used to the very forward way that Latin Americans communicate this kind of agrressive behaviour could very easily be too much. Touts are annoying yes, but I’m not talking about street touts, I’m talking about regular people who you pass by on the street and despite them clearly seeing that we are tourists (or perhaps because we are tourists), they are desperate to get your attention and will talk about you as you pass, stare openly at you as you walk by, yell at you from across the road and if they are driving (taxi or resident alike), they will beep their horn and shout out of their cars relentlessly until they get your attention. And this is when Josh is right there! They simply do not care and they are shameless in their pursuit. It feels intimidating and is very unpleasant and this is in the old town, the place where we are told is the safest place for tourists to go!

What on earth do the guys outside the city walls do?!

But no doubt about it, it is infact the yellow taxi drivers who are the worst. You know, the guys who are supposed to represent this town and care for the many tourists that visit it? – oh yes them. Well they are bloody awful I tell you. AWFUL. There are taxi’s EVERYWHERE in this city – far too many in my honest opinion, perhaps that’s why they carry on in the despicable way that they do. And they roam the streets beeping their horn at you as if to beg YOU to use their service not the other way around (which by the way is pretty rubbish since for the most part they do not even know where they are going and overcharge if they can get away with it!). Then they slow down so much that you literally cannot cross the road. They have a habit of rolling down their windows and shouting out at you when you are not even looking for a bloody taxi – you are simply walking down the street TRYING IN EARNEST to enjoy the pleasant summers day in peace! And to make matters even worse, on the rare occasion that you actually do need a taxi (out of pure desperation I have to add), then they are nowhere to be seen!

They drive past you when you put your hand out for one (as is customary in literally every country that I have ever visited who have a city taxi service) and you can’t even see inside the car to see the drivers face or see if it’s free or not as the cars are completely blacked out front to back. Utterly ridiculous!

The slowing down whilst I’m trying to cross the road, blocking my pathway and almost causing an accident is definitely the worst thing about the taxi’s – it’s as if they are TRYING to piss you off. Oh and there are motortaxi’s too doing the same thing. Well congratulations guys, you will NEVER get a fare from me.


Soloio – part cafe part clothes shop

San Felipe Castle

We visited San Felipe Castle too which was pretty impressive with it’s gigantic stone fortress and hidden underground chambers but it was much less impressive then I thought that it would be. We managed to walk around the entire thing in less then an hour (dark and dingy underground tunnels included)

My sister is due to be leaving us in the next couple of days to go to her intended Caribbean island. She hasn’t booked anything yet but is considering going to Curacao since it’s pretty close and there seems to be more there to do then on the other ABC islands. Before she leaves we are all taking a trip to a PROPER BEACH (since Cartagena does have local beaches but they’re not all that), Playa Blanca, which is described as being the most beautiful beach in the whole of Cartagena. Oh joy!

San Felipe Castle

Colombian Coffee Culture at Cafe Quindio