We arrived in South America! After three years of island hopping, we made landfall in Colombia. Our first reaction was “Woah, this place is huge!” The city of Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, was founded in 1525 by the Spanish, and is the second oldest non-indigenous city in South America. It is a contrast of gleaming high-rise buildings and historic areas filled with parks, markets, art, and lively crowds. A veritable playground awaited us right outside the marina gates.
As we normally do in a new place, we set out to try local food. We were not disappointed. You can’t walk a block without meeting a street vendor selling green mangoes dusted with salt and sprinkled with lime juice, hot churros, empanadas, meats on sticks, ceviche, frozen fruit pops, coffee, and fresh squeezed tropical juices
It was not just play that first week. We both needed routine medical and dental check-ups, and this is the place to do it. Healthcare in Colombia is accessible, high quality, and astoundingly affordable. Lab work, x-rays, and mammograms were equally inexpensive, and we got the results in person the same day or the next. After a lot of prodding, pricking, and squeezing, we received a clean bill of health. We also got a full check-up and cleaning by the friendliest dentist you could ever meet. He decided that since we were guests in his country, he would be our personal travel consultant. He gave us his list of personal favorite restaurants and attractions, and told us to reach out to him anytime we had questions.
A couple of weeks after arriving, we set out on a bus ride to Cartagena. Quite unlike the movie Romancing the Stone, the ride was uneventful, lacking live chickens, and nobody tried to kill us. I think Kimberly was a bit disappointed in the civility of it all.
Both of us have always wanted to visit Cartagena, and our timing could not have been better. The city was celebrating the anniversary of their independence with parades, street parties, a beauty pageant, and general revelry. Kimberly booked us an apartment inside the historic walled city within walking distance of all the festivities.
We had only been in Cartagena for three hours when Kimberly started crying in the street. Really crying. Wet face and heavy breathing crying. She was overwhelmed by the scenery, the food, the music, the architecture. Just steps away from our apartment, we stumbled upon a parade with bands, dancers, and revelers adorned in vivid costumes and traditional garb – so much like New Orleans. It was a dazzling display of beauty and creativity that lasted over an hour. We were home!
After the parade I had to dissuade Kimberly from rushing to a realtor and making an offer on a house. I distracted her like a pro by suggesting we go get cocktails on one of the many balconies overlooking the streets. It worked! Well, at least for now.
The rest of the week continued with more parades, music playing in the streets, eating and drinking way more than usual, and getting sprayed with foam. Yeah, that’s a thing here during festivals. We got caught up in the merriment and just rolled with it. While Kimberly’s Spanish is improving daily, I had failed to teach her how to say “please don’t shoot me in the face with foam!”
The day after the independence festival was over, the city changed. We strode along quiet, empty streets. We got to enjoy museums and parks almost alone. Imagine Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, in the French Quarter.
For dinner, I joked with Kimberly that I would rent out an entire fancy restaurant, just like in a romantic 80s movie. It came true; for the duration of our two-hour meal, we were the only people in the place. We had the entire kitchen staff and four servers at our beck and call. Damn, if only I could play the saxophone, we would have been in retro heaven.
Our week of play was up so fast. We returned to ¡Pura Vida! with a long list of boat chores that had to be done before our next “vacation” to Bogota and Cuzco, Peru. But that’s a story for the next blog.