6 Jul 07 – Cartagena
Greetings from Cartagena, Colombia! This is the first picture I took there. It reminded me of an airport in an Hawaiian island where my dad, brother, and I went island hopping.
El Castillo del San Felipe. This picture was taken on the same day, right next to the hostal I was staying at.
Cartagena is easily the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to.
Main Cities I’ve been to so far.
Europe: Paris (which I think is somewhat overrated, plus if you think about it, the Eiffel tower IS quite ugly), Vienna (now my second favorite city), Frankfurt, Prague. Asia: Seoul, Kuwait City. Africa: Djibouti, Nairobi, Mombassa. Central America: Atitlan, Leon, Tegucigalpa, Panama City. Canada: Montreal (my third favorite city) and Vancouver. United States: Seattle, Chicago, Twin Cities Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Baltimore, Washington DC, New York… I think that’s all the main cities I’ve been to.
I ate this meal for $2.75. I should mention that backpacking is much easier than driving. And staying at Cartagena for 4 days without a car really confirmed that fact. You don’t have to look around for a hotel with a parking lot. You don’t have to try and drive and do your navigation at the same time, the bus takes you to the center of where you need to go. Which means you stay at hostals near where all the other gringos that speak English stay at, which also makes it safer. You don’t have to worry about the bus failing on you; simply take the next bus en route if it breaks down. You don’t have to stop and pay for gas AFTER finding a place that actually accepts credit cards and, in my case, have Diesel. You can quit anywhere you want and fly back anytime you want. So the moral of this story is, if you want to travel, backpacking just might be the way to go in these countries. And I mention that with this picture because it reminded me of backpackers I saw in this restaurant acting like typical tourists with total disregard for the people here.
7 Jul 07 – Cartagena
Avenida Venezuela in Cartagena. This is the street that made me think, ‘I think Cartagena may have done it right.’ I think you’ll agree. See below for some examples.
Universidad de Cartagena. One building does it all, and it definitely stands out.
This is what it looks like inside. By the way, I don’t like Microsoft all too much. Keep in mind that the T-Shirts I am wearing are going to South America with me because I wanted to bring clothing that I wouldn’t mind throwing or giving away before flying back.
This is the view from the other side. I wouldn’t mind just chilling here, although it was pretty hot.
This is the inside view of the wall that surrounds the ‘Old City’, or the central district of Cartagena. The arch on the left is for outside vehicles to drive in.
I don’t know what this monument is for, but I haven’t seen anything like it. I really like this shot.
This is the outer view of the wall, with the street that runs all around the city.
Inside the wall itself. The walls are thick as hell. I could see how cannonballs could have literally bounced right off them. This part was converted into a museum, and the arch to the left leads to…
…this view. If you’re wondering why they have center platforms surrounded by water, it’s to demonstrate how this was originally a well. The museum tells you that the strategy to defending the city was to simply outlast the attackers. There are walls and fortresses, of course, but they also relied on the enemy’s vulnerability to yellow fever and malaria. They referred to the defenders of the city ‘as the blood wall,’ which I thought was pretty cool.
Some busts of famous people. But it’s more to illustrate how I need to be somewhat creative in taking pictures of myself while traveling alone.
So to prove I’ve been there, I set up a camera on top of one of the monuments to take this picture of me standing next to a bust.
On top of a wall, this time facing the hotel resorts that run down the bay called Bocagrande.
Plaza de Santo Domingo. The place to go to chill and have a cup of coffee. This is also the place where I got approached by some dude that lived in Huntington Beach for a while but is now back living full time in Cartagena. He talked to me in great English for a bit and I thought he was just trying to be friendly. I wasn’t thinking too much of him or anyone else for that matter after Colon, Panama. But later, he asks, “hey, do you want to smoke some pot? How about a cock fight?” I kindly refuse and tell him I got other things to do and not enough time.
Plaza de Bolivar. I liked this plaza because it was quiet and more solitary than the other bigger parks.
Palacio de la Inquisicion. Full arsenal of torture equipments are in display.
This is another timed picture where I set the camera up on top of a stone well, which is why it’s so lopsided. For some reason, it was actually kind of scary taking a picture with this masked mannequin.
THE CATHEDRAL of Cartagena.
This church is especially interesting, even though I don’t like visiting all the churches because there’s just so many. But this is the Church of San Pedro Claver. According to Footprint’s, this church was dedicated to San Pedro Claver, “a monk known as the Slave of the Slaves, begging from door to door for money to give to the black slaves brought to the city.”
And this is where the slave market used to be, between the wall and the building on the left. It’s called Plaza de los Coches.
Torre del Reloj. Apparently, it’s pretty famous and picturesque, but I had never seen it or heard of it before.
Paseo de los Martires, “flanked by the busts of nine patriots executed in the square on 24 February 1816 by the royalist Morillo when he retook the city.”
8 Jul 07 – Cartagena
Cartagena, at least the ‘Old City’ part of it, is definitely trying hard to improve the economy. Sadly, though, sights like this are hard to find in the rest of Cartagena, much less the rest of Colombia or Central America for that matter.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, “the largest Spanish fort built in the Americas. Construction began in 1656 and finished by 1741. (Footprint’s)” Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries a few shots after this picture. My battery charger was in my car. But it didn’t really bother me. The fortress wasn’t meant to be beautiful, just a big block meant to fend off attackers.
Centro Internacional de Convenciones to the left, Paseo de los Martires in the middle with Torre del Reloj on the far side, and and entrance to Parque del Centenario to the right.
“I did my ‘cultural’ experience of the day today. I rode on a taxi. A motorcycle taxi! So taxis around here are both on motorcycles and automobiles. Motorcycles are cheaper. The drivers carry around an extra helmet for you to wear, and you ride shotgun on the back, going fast enough to be scary sometimes. But it felt very much like being on a fast bike with bigger wheels. The difference was that I wasn’t driving and I didn’t know how fast they were going to turn and go over bumps. He started driving real fast after meeting a friend of his who needed a ride to the airport. He wanted to drop me off as fast as he can! I was only 5 blocks away, but damn, what a ride. I think I’ll do it again soon.” I did it again the next morning, going about 6 miles for less than 2 dollars.
WHY THE HELL IS THE SERIAL NUMBER DIFFERENT FROM THE BILL OF LADING DOCUMENT!? I go barging into the Seaboard Marine office in Cartagena, mad as hell because the security stickers on my container have been breached and the locking seal had been cut and replaced with a new lock with a different serial number. I’m not sure why, but coming face to face with this attendant calmed my nerves.
It turns out that sometimes on the Panama side, they get the police to inspect the containers. And since everything’s written there in paper, it takes a while for the paper trail to catch up, so Seaboard Marine wasn’t notified. So my car was fine.
“Colombians are absolutely remarkable. They’re the friendliest people I’ve met since I’ve traveled through Mexico. On top of that, Colombian women are absolutely gorgeous. During the drive, I thought about all the crazy people on Jihad and all going on suicide missions, all for a promise of going to heaven with their 69 virgins or whatever. To me, they’re even more foolish now. I’d rather just say ‘screw you, I’ll just go to Colombia.’ On top of that, they’re for the most part very, very friendly. Beauty and amicable personality? Definitely a virtue hard to dig up in America.”
10 Jul 07 – Cartagena to Medellin
Of course, no solo international driving adventure is complete without picking up a hitchhiker. Here’s Andre.
“I had gone a little past Sincelejo when I saw this guy with hair that resembled a Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons. At first I thought he was trying to cross the highway, but then I noticed he’s trying to hitch a ride! Well, what better place to pick up a hitchhiker than in Colombia!? I thought he looked as though he may speak some English, but alas, no. He spoke clearly and slowly for me, though, and I asked him where he’s going. Medellin, he says, he’s got family there. I say I don’t think I’ll go all the way, but hop in.
His name’s Andre, and he makes and sells bracelets for a living. He loves to travel, so that’s all he does: hitching a ride all over South America and make and sell bracelets. He’s 30 years old, and he’s been doing it for 15 years! Yes, do the math and you’ll be amazed, too! He grew up in Medellin, and since his traveling days have been to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. He doesn’t have a passport, and says that Ecuador is a tough border for him to pass. He needs to walk across the border…
I’m Californian, so I’m not used to the hot and humid weather down here. I turn on the air conditioner, but it becomes utterly clear that Andre is not liking it. He puts on a sweater and starts shivering. He left Cartagena on Monday (the day before Tuesday when this happened), and he’s had a fever ever since. He starts coughing and I realize that I could get sick as well, which is a big risk to take. So I turn on the heater, and for the last 3 hours of the trip, have the heater on full power while Andre is coughing away every 5 minutes or so, and my window partially down. All of which is a bad combination. I had been driving for a long time, and the heater combined with the calm nightly breeze of Colombian mountains alerts me to my level of fatigue.
It’s getting dark and I tell Andre that I might stop in a local motel soon because it is probably more dangerous at night. I meant both as a driving condition as well as the safety issue that is prominent in Colombia. He says no, it’s only really dangerous after 11-12 PM. I ask him, are you sure? And I change my plans, again. I disobey the Golden Rule #1 of International Driving again: DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT.
But what could go wrong? I had a Colombian hitchhiker as a passenger, and I was heading into the mountains going from 2000 feet to 9000 feet in less than 4 hours. Besides the darkness, the lack of street lights or lane reflectors, the reluctance of Latin Americans to turn off their high beams, the crushing rain, ominous lightening, invisible potholes, lanes that collapsed down the mountains, trucks that are either going 15 miles an hour or being fixed literally in the middle of the road, fatigue from what would become a full 18 hour day with 12 hours of driving, the degree of elevation of the roads at 8000 feet that would make San Francisco proud, and the illusive fog limiting visibility to less than 20 meters at times, I had nothing to worry about.
But I made it. It was one of the top 3 hardest drives I’ve ever done, but thanks to the hitchhiker’s knowledge of the roads, I made it without having to look at the map. I had cut a full day’s worth of traveling thanks to him. I bought him some water and dinner.
As a hitchhiker, though, he doesn’t have a lot of money. So he asks me if I can’t help him find a place for the night, something about his mother not knowing he’s coming or something. So I say ok. I’m reluctant, but hell, how many people do you know that’s picked up a hitchhiker AND slept in the same room as him? So after looking around for a place to sleep in Medellin (which nearly took an hour due to all of them being booked up by 11PM), we find a hotel.
I start regretting this move almost immediately. Hell, he could simply take my keys in the middle of the night or while I’m taking a shower and just leave with everything I’ve got. So I don’t take a shower, promising to take one in the morning and immediately fall asleep. I wake up twice in the middle of the night, pulses rapidly increasing and I’m in full alert. I check my bag under the bed and the key on the countertop. I suppose I should have slept with the keys in my hands. I hear him ruffling in his sheets, thinking he might be waiting for his moment. But the morning calms all my fears.
Andre’s 31st birthday is next week, and he was planning on spending it with his family in Medellin. But this morning he says to me that he wants to keep going with me. He has the chance to go to Pasto, Colombia where I’ll be by tomorrow and head over to Ecuador as he was planning on going to visit his sister and keep up his hitchhiking journey. But he’s obviously sick and I’ve already paid for a bigger room because of him and had already gotten him some water and food as well. Plus, what would I tell the cops at the checkpoints? A Korean dude with an American passport traveling with a Colombian hitchhiker didn’t make a lot of sense. I tell him I can’t because I like to drive alone, and he completely understands. He comes with me, though, for breakfast and helps me find the nearest ATM and gas station. He even gets me to the entrance of the highway. He quickly says it was great meeting me, thanks for being so kind, and that he has horrible memory and won’t remember my name, and jumps out of the car. I can’t blame him. Who would, after 15 years of hitchhiking?”
“I need to use the restroom, and he knows just the place. A tiny restaurant located right next to the bridge. I run out of the car, and a waitress quickly steps out. I ask her for the restroom, and she looks amazed and stunned. I must look really different to her (and everyone else around here for that matter), because she totally didn’t hear a single thing I said and starts asking me questions about where I’m from, what nationality I am, why I’m traveling and why I’m traveling alone. I managed to ask for the restroom again, and later took her picture as well. But I’m not happy about how the picture turned out. You can rarely capture the face of pure joy in someone’s face, and hers was one that I hadn’t seen in a grown up in a long time.
I give her a hug, not really in complete understanding of the culture here. She’s short enough that she ends up pecking me on my neck. This was one of the rare moments during this trip where I truly regretted not having command with Spanish. She expresses regret that I don’t understand nor speak Spanish very well. She wasn’t concerned about money or time. She was just happy to have met someone. I leave the empty restaurant as quickly as I found it, wondering what could have been.
But soon after I drive out of the restaurant, I realize that she had asked me for my name but I never asked for hers. So I make a U-Turn in the middle of a 2 lane highway. She comes running outside, thinking something went wrong. Andre explains to her I just wanted to ask her for her name. Her face lights up again and she goes back inside, and writes me her name and phone number. I write mine down as well as my email address, but she doesn’t know how to use the internet and I don’t have a Colombian cell phone.” Sigh.