Vern: Our two days in the walled city of Cartagena were very relaxed. In the mornings we hit the beach, in the afternoon we wandered through the winding streets of the beautifully preserved Old Town, and in the evening, while enjoying the dish of the day, we were waited on by Tiger Woods. Or at least a young man who looked uncannily like him.
The temperature stayed at 30-degrees celsius and dropped only marginally lower at night. The beach, outside of the Old Town, stretches out in front of a strip of high-rise hotels and is compared to Miami. The sand sizzles and the sea is luke warm all year round. The beach was empty - all the rental-umbrellas and loungers were laid out but unused, which confirmed that it was the quiet season. There were nonetheless a lot of hawkers on the beach peddling massages, sunglasses, clothes and an inventive wooden contraption: a painting on a block of wood which cleverly folded into a small square bowl for coffee-table nicknacks. As politely as possible we shoo-ed them all away. Though the masseuses were the most invasive and much like traffic-light windshield-washers, they would squirt moisturising cream on to us while we were trying to ignore them and start kneading our backs while we yelped "No, no, nooo!" Only once we'd rolled off our towels and out of their reach would they accept that it was not going to be a sale and they'd walk away defeated while we scraped off the cement formed by moisturiser mixed with beach-sand.
Licking ice-creams and walking from plaza to plaza via sneaky little streets within the 13km of centuries-old stone walls was the perfect way to spend the balmy evenings. The colonial buildings are painted bright colours and most sport bougainvillaea covered wooden balconies. One evening we treated ourselves to an expensive beer at Cafe del Mar, a chilled bar on the wall with fancy lighting, mood music and views both into the old town and out to sea.
Cartagena is the place that Colombia's tourist office wants the world to know about, and is therefore full of upscale restaurants and bars (and, oddly emerald stores). Unfortunately we are not upscale. The Financial Director of this expedition, a Ms A. Bryson Hughes can attest to this, and even show you the books if you'd like. So the more fancy-pants a place is, the harder we have to hunt for a place which serves a 'menu of the day' (a bargain fixed priced meal which draws in locals). But we prevailed once again and ate twice at a little family run cafeteria where the golfer lookalike served us while his mum, who looked half-asleep, grilled delicious chicken and steak in the kitchen. And the cherry on top: we covered all our food in a mysterious creamy white-wine sauce which was sitting on the table in a ketchup bottle. Or maybe it was really old mayonnaise which hadn't seen the inside of a refrigerator in weeks, who's to know - it was nonetheless a treat.
We were quite enjoying the Caribbean coast and so after two peaceful days we left Cartagena, headed north-east, on a series of buses to the Parque Nacional Tayrona which a Spaniard in Salento couldn't say enough good stuff about. Could we could get even more relaxed, and contribute even less to society? You'll have to wait and see...