25 - COLOMBIA
27/03/04 - 30/03/04
So Colombia. We'd had to buy a case to take all our gear on the plane and the first stop was an army search. They were very interested in all R's gadgets and the satellite phone came under particular scrutiny. We thought at first they were saying we would have to leave it with them and pick it up when we left the country, but they just wanted to make sure we didn't sell it there. They don't want the FARC getting hold of that kind of thing I think.
I then freaked a bit as I had Dan's FMLA (Revolutionaries in El Salvador) hat in the case. He didn't want to ride through Colombia with it as the army there wouldn't take it too well. Luckily I'd stuffed it up the sleeve of my jacket and it wasn't spotted. We hadn't thought there would be a military search at Cartagena Airport.
We took a cab into town, the road curved round between the city walls and the sea. This was really somewhere quite different. We managed to land in the nice part of town, Dan didn't and moved to join us the next day.
We wandered along the walls and in through the plaza's ate crepes and drank beer. It's not such a scary place.
The streets are narrow and open into small squares and grand plaza's. Beautiful churches, colorful buildings and blue, blue sky.
That evening we ate in the Plaza de Santo Domingo. An amazingly lively place with cafe tables as far as you could see, dancer's and kids selling anything and everything. We were heading for a cafe on the far side but were waylaid by a waitress with the most amazing boobs and low cut top. Surprisingly we followed her and R & Dan had terrible trouble deciding what to eat. We then some how ordered Tequila instead of beer but it got the evening off to a good start.
The whole place was a feast for the senses, but mostly the eyes! Colombian women are just gorgeous, they know it and they show it off. I knew I couldn't spend long in this country without getting seriously depressed.
We were besieged by musicians, kids selling cigarettes, jewelry and pictures. Men selling cigars, flowers and sunglasses. There was a fire juggler, a man precariously balancing his son on the top of a six foot pole and a white poodle in a dress.
One guy had an amazing hat with a wire rim he could twist in to any shape. He had a ten minute routine doing impressions of Napoleon, Mickey Mouse, John Wayne and many more. Over the next couple of days he seemed to find us wherever we were. Even in the darkest corner of the darkest bar where we had thought we were safe from everyone.
Dan & R being electrocuted!
The most bizarre thing was the electricity game. Dan had done this before so couldn't resist introducing us to it. Basically you hold an electrical conductor in one hand, hold hands with a second person and get electrocuted. The object to be the last one to let go. Dan won. Twice. It feels like the bones in your forearms are clanking together. Too weird.
Over the next couple of days we visited a fort, the Naval Museum and the Monastery of San Pedro Claver, who was a pretty cool guy. Basically started the movement to abolish slavery. The guide we had there was great, he hijacked us as we went in but he was lovely, about 90 and knew so much stuff. They have the skeleton of the old guy in a glass coffin, under the alter, bit creepy but there you go. I couldn't quite get him to explain why they dug him up after he was made a Saint. He just kept saying because he was a great man. Surely that means he should be left in peace. But what do I know?
Cartagena is slightly edgy, but only really after dark. We had lots of kids begging and following us but never had any trouble. I wouldn't like to be there by myself though, I was of course walking round with a big bloke on either side most of the time.
Having said this though we would meet up with Dan in the evening and hear a different side. While we were in the fort he had been stopped from walking along the sea road by the army, who were stopping and searching cars. Jeeps and guns everywhere. While we were visiting the Monastery, he thinks he got shot at and was hissed at in the street.
We just seem to wander through saying "hello birds, hello trees, hello sky" in our fluffy way and missing the guns.
On our last evening we went back to the Plaza Del Boobs. I ended up buying two woven bracelets just because we all fell in love with the two little guys selling them. The first one, Lombardo had a completely new tactic. He was insufferably cute, crept up beside me and whispered in my ear. Just saying hello and asking me my name. He worked round all of us and kept taking bracelets off his cardboard tube and on to our arms. In the end I succumbed. A bit later there was another. He was either very new to this or a very good actor. His name was Santiago. A man who seemed to be the boss was encouraging him to talk to us. He just squirmed around, grinned and giggled but wouldn't speak. This went on for about ten minutes, in the end I asked him if I could have a look, his face lit up, "Si, si," he said as he shot over. Just had to buy something from him too.
The bars seemed to close too early that evening. We found a cab and asked him to please find beer. We went out of the old town and along the spit of land where all the resort hotels are. Dan in the front gassing to the driver in his usual way, checking out where we were going, don't think the cabbie had any idea really, "Is it safe down here" Dan carries on, "no paramilitarios?" and roars with laughter.
At this point the cabbie comes to a sudden halt outside an off license with tables on the pavement. "Cerveza" he says and looks quite relieved as we pile out.
It was great, cheap beer and really friendly bunch of guys just lurking.
Next afternoon we said goodbye to Dan, flew to Bogotá and then on to Quito, Ecuador.
Cartagena looked beautiful as we flew out, all lit up as night was falling. It's a strange place, the poverty is very apparent but it really is a Cruise ship town which masks a lot. Not really a true reflection of Colombia.
So apart from an hour in Bogotá airport that was it for our Colombian adventure. Bogotá looked endless from the plane, we watched it slowly disappear and asked it to be kind to our friend Dan and show him a good time.
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