If you are just joining us, please be sure to read Part 1. Here we are discussing my trip to Colombia. We’ve just gotten into the city from the airport.
One of the other girls had found a walking tour with a company called “Beyond Colombia.” They offer free walking tours of Cartagena in English and Spanish. The next English tour was at 4pm. From my hotel I mapped the location to the big statue of Camellón de los Mártires Square. Lucky for me, it wasn’t that far away, literally across the park. I wrote down how to get there and planned it in my head. Then I ventured out. I don’t like to hold my map or phone (screams Tourist) so I memorized how to get there and acted like I was a local.
Tip #7: A walking tour is a great idea for the first day in a new location. It helps you get your bearings and connects you with other people that speak your language.
The tour was nice; we went to the Clock Tower, learned about the Inquisition, saw Bolero’s statue, and were generally acquainted with the area. My tour guide wasn’t the best with leaving time for pictures, but we managed to get some in. There were probably about 20 people on the tour. My group of three expanded to five by the end of the tour; we met two more ladies – one from Australia and one from Canada. After the tour we all went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. We even saw a live wedding proposal (she said yes) while eating.
So then there’s that moment after dinner where you don’t necessarily want to leave, but you want to continue talking. We walked around town some more, got some gelato, and enjoyed the beautiful weather! Some of the ladies wanted to party, so they continued. I decided to head back to my hotel, get some rest, and prepare for tomorrow to meet my friends!
Remember how I mentioned that the bride had set up a group chat (using WhatsApp)? So I put in the chat that I was already in Cartagena if anyone needed anything or had any questions about getting from the airport. A friend of a friend of a friend was in the chat and asked to hang out the next day while she waited for her Hostel to be ready. She was basically a stranger, but made it to the bride’s WhatsApp, so I knew she was good peoples. She would be arriving in Colombia around 8:30am, and to my hotel around 9am.
I didn’t realize how tired I was. I rested my eyes for what seemed like 10 minutes and the next thing I knew it was the next day. I looked at my watch and it was around 7:30 or 8am. I wanted to hurry up and shower so that I’d be ready to meet this girl I didn’t know (who I hoped was cool and not Cray Cray). I normally shower at night, but because I was so tired I had crashed. So now I need to take a shower and freshen up. Pay very close attention to this next paragraph.
I was playing with the shower handles and trying to figure out how to turn the hot water on. Every country is different and I had that on top of everything being in spanish. F stands for frio (cold) and C for caliente (hot). I didn’t notice any letters on the shower, just one handle. So I figured it was a mixed valve where you just turn the water on and it will be warm. I tried all kinds of combinations. It’s one of those things where you say to yourself – I’m smart, I don’t need to call the front desk to help me use the shower. Psssh. After about 10 minutes of playing with the handle I couldn’t get any hot water. I REFUSED to ask for help, so I got back on the bed and opened up my phone. I googled “shower in Cartagena,” my hotel reviews, and eventually I came across the info that left my mouth gaping: SOME HOTELS IN CARTAGENA DO NOT OFFER HOT WATER. Whattttttt?!?!?! I didn’t even think that was a thing.
Tip #8: Check that your hotel offers HOT water, if that is something you would like.
This explains it. I guess with the warm weather they didn’t need to provide hot water. In.ter.est.ing. This would also explain the cheaper rate – because I wondered how this hotel was so low in price and so close to the Clock Tower area. Ugh. Ok, grumbled for a little. Laughed at myself a lot. And took a quick cold shower. Stranger would be here any moment. I made the bed, and packed up my stuff. I wanted to have breakfast and venture outside before checkout at 12pm.
Stranger hadn’t yet arrived so I went down to the hotel lobby to check out their breakfast scene. It was really unclear if it was free or not. I asked the front desk and they told me it was $12 but I didn’t see hotel guests paying or any waiters asking people for room numbers. (Keep in mind that all of my conversations are happening in Spanish, so there may be some errors in what I thought was communicated). Anyway, I was hungry and I didn’t want to have to wait for Stranger to get there. So I made my way inside the dining room and looked around to understand how things worked. There was no one to ask me where I wanted to sit and it looked like people just picked what they wanted and sat anywhere. I moseyed on over to the food, grabbed a plate, and grabbed some food. I was very happy to see arepas (corn cakes), one of my favorite Colombian foods. They had the typical breakfast foods as well (pancakes, eggs, etc). So now the moment of truth: I had my plate, where to sit?
Looking around I saw: family, family, empty tables, friends, guy by himself, empty table. Now, I could sit by myself, but what’s the fun in that?!?! So I ventured over to the table with one person, and asked if anyone was sitting in the seat far across the table. He said no. I sat down and started eating. We ended up talking, and I moved over (because it made no sense to talk from 4 feet away at a table by ourselves). We ended up clicking. He was traveling alone from Argentina. He spoke English too, so that was a plus. We spoke in Spanish as well. It was a great way for me to practice. By the time Stranger arrived, we had immersed ourselves in conversation.
*Alright, I’m going to have to give people names because this will become confusing. Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy. Guy at table will now be Diego. And we’ll call Stranger Tejal.
Tejal spoke Spanish as well, so that was super convenient and we all conversed en español. Tejal had just had a super long day of traveling so wanted to rest. Diego and I decided to sight see for a bit and then I would come back to check out and move to the other hotel (that had hot water, yes!).
Diego and I ventured to the Clock Tower area and looked for something cool to do or see. We ended up going to the Naval Museum. I was really impressed with Diego’s patience with my Spanish. I tried to read as much as I could, but some words I just didn’t know. He was very helpful in translating. The museum is interesting and shows how Colombia became the country it is today. The museum outlined all of the different origins of the Colombian people including Spain and Jamaica.
Ok, I semi-glossed over the fact that I’m frolicking around town with a complete stranger. So let’s back it up a second. You really have to observe people to assess what your instincts are telling you. Yes, this guy is a complete stranger, but I know a couple of things about him from our short conversation. At the very least, I knew where he was staying and it was broad daylight. Besides that fact, I had someone expecting me back. Tejal knew what time I’d be back, the hotel had a checkout time, and the other hotel was expecting me to check-in. So there were some safeguards in the event that he was not as safe as I imagined. Also, from our interactions, I could tell he was a good guy. His phone was dying so I let him borrow my charger, but it was basically in my possession as we mapped out where to go. Usually if someone is trusting you a bit, they might be ok to trust a little as well.
Tip #9: Trust your instincts. Listen and observe the people around you so that you can assess your situation.
I had to leave Diego to make it back in time, so we parted. I wasn’t sure I would see him again, but we had each others phone number since we both had a couple more days in Cartagena. I checked out of the hotel and Tejal and I made our way to the other hotel. If you remember from Part 1, I had accidentally booked my flight a day early, so I had stayed in this hotel for one night before switching to my main reservation. We dragged our luggage the couple of blocks to the other hotel and we were united with the Bride and Groom, Coraline and Adhi, respectfully.
The rest of the day was spent catching up with people as they came in from the US, managing to get a quick nap in, and then roaming around with the people just arriving. We were able to visit Coraline’s family, who were not too far from where we were staying. There was a bag I really wanted to get, so I shopped around and haggled at the market to get this authentic, hand-made, Colombian bag. called una mochila. I did end up meeting with Diego again and another person that I met on the walking tour. After all this excitement, we were tired. The next day we had our group adventure to the beach!
Read more in Part 3. The adventure continues . ..