The shipping saga continues in Cartagena. This is a picture of our van being driven out of the shipping container at Portuaria Sociedad in Cartagena, a place I became very familiar with. Since I am the owner on paper, I had the honor of doing the legwork for three days. My days started at 8am when I hailed a cab to the port. I would go back to the family for lunch from 12-2, because everything shuts down for lunch here. After lunch I went back to the port for more waiting around and the days would end around 5pm. Then I’d go “home” and go to town with my family. It was like going to work!
Cartagena is sensory overload. It is a very fun city. You would think that with so much mystique and romance in its reputation, it would be a city where you’d get lost and emerge in a fairytale. But it is not. It is a bustling city full of visual stimulation, noise, smells, and heat. Restaurants abound. Tourists flood the streets. Cool bars, drinks, music, food, horse drawn carriages, souvenirs, tempt the tourist wallets from all corners. It is a very consumer driven. I was expecting to see some historical or cultural attractions. Maybe about the old Cartagena in Love in the Time of Cholera or something related to its Afro-Colombian history. I am sure there are some around but you would have to look hard to find it. Nevertheless, the city is just visually beautiful, with narrow cobblestone streets, hanging balconies, colorful facades, dripping bougainvillea, and of course, the wall and fortresses that make this city famous. It is definitely a fun place to spend a few days.
We expected that the shipping process would be long so we rented a nice place on Airbnb. Simon and the kids had a place to hang during the day while I tried to get our van out from the port. We really enjoyed the apartment. Look at how cute it is….
The apartment was in the best part of old town and faced Plaza Bolivar. It was an easy walk across the street to entertain the kids with pigeons and icecream. Within a short walk, there are many nice restaurants. Cartagena is absolutely a foodie paradise. We have been lazy with the pictures but every meal we had was good and memorable. We went to El Bistro where they serve only the day’s specials for lunch. Simon had a grilled seabass and I had a pasta with stewed beef. We chose that restaurant because it looked kid-friendly and were so surprised by the serious food and good prices. At La Cocina de Pepina and I had possibly the best seafood soup in their Sopa Caribe and excellent roasted pork ribs. I took Ty out for a date night at a Spanish restaurant to see flamenco dancing. Very fun night where Ty clapped to the dancing and I enjoyed a grilled octopus and seafood paella. For take-out we had excellent prosciutto and arugula pizza. We ate at San Pedro, a pretty touristy and pricey place and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, salmon ravioli in cream sauce; I almost licked the plate.
Restaurants in Cartagena are very expensive by Colombian standards. We never chose the “best” restaurants because our kids (nor we) are fine dining proof. Our dishes ranged from 15000-45000 pesos each, or $5-15. Most of them are around 20000-25000 pesos, about $7-10. Definitely expensive for road trip budget but we needed to keep our sanity during the van import process. For regular tourists, the city is probably still a great deal for the food, service and ambiance. And if we wanted something quick and cheap for lunch, our favorite was buying boxed lunches from the street vendors who showed up toting stacks of styrofoam boxes only from 12-1pm at the plaza. The boxes were labelled pescado, chuleta, pollo, lengua….each one came with the meat of choice, rice, salad and a slow cooked soup! For 3000-5000 pesos. That’s $1.1-$1.8 each!
After Cartagena, our next destination was Medellin. Medellin was one of the world’s deadliest cities a few decades ago but now it’s become the new trendy city everyone needs to see. The Wall Street Journal named it Innovative City of the Year in 2013.
I was secretly dreading the 12 hour drive from Cartagena to Medellin not knowing how the kids would behave. We haven’t driven much after we got to Panama City almost 3 weeks ago. The drive ended up definitely long and took 2 days. But it was not unpleasant. The boys behaved superbly and the scenery was interesting. The first couple hours we drove through bleak villages and barren landscapes which got us a little worried. Then we hit the green mountains. The many shades of green dotted with cattle and horses. Small hillside towns with brick homes always anchored by a pretty church. We marveled at how professional and friendly the police check points were. The soldiers stationed here and there always gave us the thumbs up and made us feel safer instead of being intimidating. As the miles went on, our hearts just opened up to Colombia.
Every meal on the road was good and cost just around 20,000 pesos ($7) for ALL of us including drinks. The first stop was at a restaurant called La Piscina where there were private wading pools next to each table. The pools were actually clean and the food good and cheap. It was the best rest stop, period. We overnighted in a small town and the private cabana with 2 beds and A/C was $20! Everything was so much cheaper than Central America! Cheaper than Guatemala! And the food, better. The people, friendlier. The towns, prettier. We drove by a stretch of mountains that had continuous natural waterfalls and springs. The locals tapped into the water and offered car wash for the big rigs. Abundance of water spraying everywhere and 18-wheelers line the shoulder. It was a fun sight to see. What a beautiful stretch of the country.