Special blog post by Jeff!
We departed Panama City in high spirits only to have those spirits slightly dampened by a rather hellacious travel day to Cartagena. I won’t dwell on this day, but would like to note that traveling through the Bogota, Colombia airport is a hellacious and inefficient experience; the management team there stands to benefit greatly from some overpriced operational consulting. Once we were on the ground in Cartagena, things started looking up again, beginning with a pleasant Uber ride (which we learned is not legal in Colombia) to our hotel in the old city neighborhood of Getsemani. Casa La Sierpe is a boutique hotel with 3 rooms that let out into a small courtyard – it’s a great little spot, though the lack of windows in the rooms got to me after a few days.
Our first evening in this coastal Caribbean city we spent wandering the streets of the old city, which date back to the mid 1500s, and playing Rummy 500 over 2 for 1 cocktails at an establishment near our hotel. In the AM, we met our new friend Illiana, who oversees our little hotel and prepares breakfast each morning. It was good to get an insider perspective on the city, and seeing as she didn’t speak a word of English, also great Spanish practice each day. Then the real action started…
After exploring Getsemani (the old city’s official name) for a couple of hours, we decided to make our way to El Castillo de San Felipe, one of the largest tourist attractions in Cartagena. As we were about to round the corner to the entrance, two men on a motorcycle came racing past us and grabbed Norah’s purse. Being the amateur thieves that they were, they did not recognize that she came with the purse since she was wearing it across her body. Away she went being dragged for several feet behind the motorcycle until one of the men fell off the motorcycle and Norah was able to grab her purse back. At this point we heard yelling from folks around us and noticed a number of locals beginning to chase after the thieves as they sped away empty-handed. While Norah was a little shaken up and had a few minor scratches, she handled it like a champ, and we were soon back on track to El Castillo. (Note: the men were apprehended shortly after the incident, and one was shot in the leg during the process. See Norah’s post on A Robbery Attempt in Cartagena for more details).
Back to El Castillo… Built by the Spaniards beginning in the 1530s, the castle was built in a strategic position that would allow it to protect Cartagena from threats by land and sea. For 16th century military architecture, it is quite impressive; particularly the tunnel systems built throughout the castle. That evening we enjoyed a delicious meal as well as some live music in the old city, then retreated home to bed.
Our second full day in Colombia was fairly low key and uneventful. We’ve become accustomed to a relatively consistent routine of email, writing, reading, etc. each morning and did not break with tradition on this day. In the afternoon, we bit the bullet and took an infamous city bus tour, which is something I consistently vowed to never do each time I saw one of those buses around DC. But we enjoyed ourselves and it was admittedly a good way to cover a lot of ground in one afternoon. Highlight: Convent de la Popa, which towers high above the city and offers great views.
As an added bonus, we met some new Brazilian friends to hang with on the trip. Having said this, we did bail on the tour a little early to partake in happy hour at a cool open air bar near the Cartagena Cathedral. After a day in that heat, Coronas never tasted so good. For dinner that night, we went to Las Indias Boutique Gourmet where we were the only patrons for much of the evening. The service, ambiance, and food we’re delicious and we enjoyed chatting at length with the owner over several glasses of wine. Yet again, we seemed to make the minor mistake of having one too many before a travel day. Next stop, Bogota!