Mud wrestling in a fairy tale of a walled city
Mud wrestling, fairy tale setting in a walled city, eating like a princess in a UNESCO World Heritage site, how can you not fall in love......in the time of cholera? Well the first impression was not a good one although how can this poor city win with the very high expectations I had? Upon first glance from the bus station 45 minutes outside of the center it was a dirty, crowded and hot first impression. I rarely mention personal romantic relationships in my writing but I will make this one exception: Cartagena is where I had planned to travel with the man I thought was the one, so clearly this fairy tale idea in this fairy tale of a city requires a different ending. After Jackie and I checked into our mega hostel, we were ever so grateful for the air con if not the party vibe. We immediately set out for sunset on the wall then found a restaurant with a set meal for cheap in a plaza, eating alfresco in this humid city. Nights are the best time to explore the city...within the touristy walled city that is, the time I ventured out to Getsemani, a neighboring barrio, I didn't feel safe but I digress. However, this night was all good and yet again I ran into a traveler for the third and this would not even be the final time, you would think I was a stalker. Yep, it's Scott again and this time Jackie got to meet him. So we talked and explored the city a bit more from his perspective. On the last full day with Jackie we explored the city until we melted, stopping to take pics of the colonial architecture along the streets. So colorful and culturally preserved, this was just as I imagined it to be. This part did not disappoint and as many days as I stayed in the city, it remained charming to me. We merely walked along the outside of the walled city seeing the watch tower and just taking it all in. Didn't do much during the heat of the day but ate well...street food, arepas con huevos, a fried dough ball with potatoes and egg, Jackie was in street food heaven. This was after an American guy from Florida invited us to his bar for 2 for 1 mojitos, a total Cubano feel with many people smoking Cuban cigars, lotsa Cuban influence here in the Caribbean. He went so far as setting up a table for us outside commenting on our legs, bring on the sleaze..... It's the time you've all been waiting for.....two girls mud wrestling! Our windy bus ride took us 45 minutes outside of Cartagena to what looked like a termite mound, this thing that's not made just for tourists even if it might appear this way....it's truly a mud volcano. Lots of people were lined up at the top of a large set of stairs watching others already in the mud glob, all waiting expectantly for our turns. We handed over our cameras, wearing only our bikinis and flip flops, ditching the latter at the top. Watching others and even kids go in and the kids did not like it, who would've thunk? I would have loved to be allowed to get so dirty as a kid. Surreal to be floating in the filth but it didn't feel at all unclean, it was cooling with the consistency of cream, apparently also with health benefits, the explanation of how this is possible went over my Spanglish head but who cares? I was floating in mud! At first, I had not planned to allow the men to massage me with the mud but as everyone else was doing it and it wasn't creepy, plus I was not about to miss out and besides, this may be the most action I get this trip. So after being patted down and covered from head to toe with the gray metallicish sheen and the "masseurs" parking you after the rub down, wow. The strangest part was when you try to move you immediately lose your "footing" and when someone touches you, it's all over, you end up apologizing in a number of languages for bumping into others and when your legs won't stay down everyone around you convulses in laughter, a true adult playground. So after probably half an hour of bathing in the Schtuff, it was time to get out of the slippery goo. At the top after climbing the ladder and managing not to fall down although my bikini bottoms wanted to with the weight of the mud, a man awaits to wash you down. After retying my bikini strings and slowly making my way down the slippery stairs ever so slowly holding on for dear life as the mud between my toes made for a treacherous climb down to destination "clean," this term is used loosely as it must have taken a good three or four showers before the rest of the mud was completely washed off of me. But the first wash off was the most memorable. Remember when I mentioned how grateful I was for getting a wax completo? Yeah well, anyone who was interested enough to see after the rough wash down by a bossy woman yelling come here and get naked! What?!?!? Yeah, no warning of stripping off my bottoms to get rid of the mud and bowls and bowls of water rushing over my head with no time to breathe in between. I kinda felt taken advantage of in a very public sort of way, at least everyone was in the same boat and really how else can you rid yourself of the body covering anyway? This I tried to tell myself. After a few more showers we loaded back into the van, all of us talking of the strange experience. It wasn't an impressive volcano by any stretch but so glad I did it...until the nauseating bus ride to a village by the sea for lunch. I made a beeline for the shore to get fresh air while admiring a kite surfer and then finally, getting to try arroz de coco, the famed coconut rice, so delish and not being able to stomach even fish, I ate plantains and lentils and drank 7-up gearing up for the short drive that was left. Survived the mud float! Jackie just had a few hours before her flight back to Bogota and then home so we found a cheap place for a pedi/mani and this was very much needed as this might gross you out but I lost a toenail in that mud bath. The more interesting story goes I won the world championship mud wrestling match, losing only my toenail. So now a fake nail is protecting my nailbed with some fun beachy, coral polish! Ahhh, it was a fun, adventure filled two weeks with Jackie! To keep from being sad losing my travel partner, I took a walk along the wall for sunset and was reminded of how surreal and beautiful this place is. Without getting too sappy, it renewed my faith in beauty and having such high expectations of a place. All of which I shed at that moment. And then, the best part of traveling occurred at a moment I most needed it, I ran into a girl I knew from Bogota, truly a small world. Later that night, I was reunited with Dayna yet again for our last stretch of traveling together. As I wasn't able to access the Internet and didn't have a phone, I had to resort to the old-fashioned way of communicating: stalking, ha. I took the chance she'd be at her hostel and she was so we grabbed a quick bite and decided we would leave for Mompox in 2 days. As we parted ways, walking through Getsemani at night made me nervous but I stuck to the crowded road and somehow found my way back to my party hostel (where I didn't sleep worth a damn as the communal party area was right outside my room and I kinda felt lame going to bed before midnight. This is not my usual but there must have been a residual effect from trying to adjust to Jackie's early to bed and early to rise hours, ha, at least that's what I tell myself instead of being the dreaded party pooper...ha, where did my party self go?) Anyway, I woke up early and not hearing from Dayna after we parted ways in the not so safe neighborhood, I overreacted and had my hostel call hers to make sure she arrived home safely, waking her up in the process. Oh dear, this side of my nurturing self can be so paranoid. We spent a lazy day in the city, spending time in a bookstore with illy espresso, air con and wifi. We took off exploring in the middle of the day to the fancy neighborhood, Bocagrande, with the only city beach but we had other aspirations: finding the best restaurant in Cartagena according to trip advisor, a healthy sandwich/salad/health juice place was good but such a hot walk to get there. Shopped a bit and recovered in the cold air con at the hostel, met some more cool peeps and headed to bed early...yet again. Seriously, where'd li'l miss night owl go?? Got to meet up with this amazing free spirit of a girl I met briefly in Palomino and really liked. She told me about her amazing experiences in Minca, which I'm not going to share here....you're going to have to ask me about it. Was great to hear her stories since our last meeting, the traveling world is really so small. We had a bad meal and desperately wanted to talk of otter things but were unable to, super vague but truly must respect the privacy. Much too short of time with this super cool chica. It was an early bus to mompox for which I will share in a different post. No hay problema, Cartagena, I did return and didn't complain about the heat as much after (barely) surviving Mompox's swampy climate. Much happier this go around back in Cartagena, a good hostel makes all the difference. Casa Nativa was my new pad with the friendliest host yet, checked in entirely in spanish, maybe there's hope yet for fluency. And then we slept pretty much all day before heading out for sunset along the wall, glamming it up at a loungy outdoor venue with a DJ spinning Ibiza like tunes to the tourists drinking their spendy cocktails. But why not have a tropical sunset drink while watching a phenomenal tropical sunset, yo? Then on to dinner at La Cevicheria, making the list of top 5 meals ever! The ceviche so fresh and yummy but the pealla....yeah, the most flavorful, amazingness and this coming from the girl who could live without rice. Rephrase. Now I can't live without it. I returned the next night with 3 American dudes, thanks for the tip, Anthony Bourdain. No!! My last night with Dayna before she leaves me for Brazil, we had every intention of making it a rager but we can't handle our liquor anymore, at least not after the cocktail on an empty stomach and then gorging ourselves on the meal and trying michelada, this version is lime juice and beer in a salt rimmed glass and we didn't even stop there. We just had to try the best gelato in Cartagena so you know we were out for the count shortly thereafter. Next day we returned to the bookstore, ate lunch at a super hip place serving the best limonada de coca yet at the right price. That's a coconut lemonade served super chilled, hello brain freeze/best liquid dessert yet. The most refreshing thing in this hot and humid city. And there we were joined by a fellow American, who has left the rat race of investment banking making himself location independent, consulting from afar and paragliding/having the time of his life in the process. I've heard people like this exist, unless he had us all going. I don't think so after further conversation but who knows, interesting lifestyle if nothing else. But on to Dayna. We hung out by the wall before she left, reminiscing about our crazy adventures over the past month. Cool girl, que buen viaje! The next day, the first on my own was pretty much a lost day. I journaled, grateful for reflection time and merely enjoying the beauty of extended travel, especially now that I'm on my own again, the pros and cons that go along with that. This easy going day consisted only of lunch at the same La Malata restaurant, a visit to the smaller but much less crowded gold museum, the bookstore for a cappuccino, dinner at El Bistro for a glass of wine and a much coveted salad and time to write. That's all folks. The next day, I woke up early vowing today's the day I will suck it up and brave the aggressive beach vendors to see Playa Blanca, the best beach near Cartagena. I was fully prepared to do it the cheap way, walk to the boat ramp and haggle for the best price but I got talked into the whole tour bit complete with transportation and a set lunch but the stress-free price meant only allowed 2 hours on the beach and despite the vendors constantly in your face, this is exactly what a great beach should be, warm, gorgeous turquoise water and white sand, as the name implies. Hung out with a Swiss couple and just took it in.....pics to follow. The bumpy 45 minute ride back was so flipping fun, got soaked and somehow managed to keep my lunch. If I were to do it again though, I'd stay in a hammock right on the beach and bliss out once the vendors went home for the day.....another visit for sure. Some of the best moments of Cartagena were spent just walking throughout the walled city, taking in the architecture and visiting the museums. The sanctuary of San Pedro Claver was such a place. As was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's house. Yes, he still lives and right by the sea and has been known to walk along the street in the afternoon, near to Hotel Santa Clara, where his book Of Love and other demons begins. I promise I didn't stalk him....too much. Nah, I'll get to my obsession of Gabo's works in another post from his hometown. All in all, Cartagena, you did not disappoint.