I was really looking forward to the two Colombian ports on our ship’s itinerary. I have been to Venezuela before but not to Colombia. We debated the best way to spend a day in each Cartagena, the capital city and in the oldest city in Colombia: Santa Marta.
Rather than spend time in a bus with a whole group of people, we just wanted to walk at our own pace around the old city center. We could take a taxi to get there. I figured out, online, that it would only cost about $7.- to go by taxi from the dock into the centre. But what if we got stuck in crazy traffic on the way back? So, in the end, we settled on booking transportation from the cruise dock to the old town by catamaran. It was 15 minutes and pretty much guaranteed no delays. Turned out to be a good choice.
We sailed by the old St Felippe Fort and arrived right next to the historic city walls. We really enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets, along pastel coloured houses with the most gorgeous wooden balconies. Of course Cartagena reminded us of Spain but the solid teak balconies with cascading bougainvilleas were even more gorgeous than those of the old country. Bright yellow churches, green pubs and pink shops leaned against each other until they made way for the rough stones of the ancient city wall. We climbed to the top and looked out, the way the cannons pointed, over the sea. I enjoyed walking along the many little vendor stands shaded by a large portico, selling unusual fruits, cookies, candied, coffee and chocolate. We crossed squares and discovered alleys.
We found a tiny little pub, in an alley, with beer and mango smoothies. And wifi! We even found a post office to mail home the mandatory postcards for our grandsons. The post office did not take US dollars so we made a quick stop at a money exchange and got a few Colombian pesos to buy stamps.
It’s interesting how each place has its own unique flavour. Even though all these ports are Caribbean with a similar history, their sights and sounds are all unique. Each has its own music. We heard drums, bongo’s and all sorts of instruments the names of which I don’t know. In Cartagena many women wear colourful head bands and long flowing dresses with baskets of fruit in their head. But mostly for tourists who will pay them for photos. One kissed me and hugged me, but I still had to pay if I wanted to take her photo…
We strolled back, through the old city gate, to where our catamaran was waiting. On the pier side was a lovely tiny zoo with exotic birds, Amazonian ant eaters and monkeys. And it was hot. Must have been well into the 30’s as we walked along the quay back to our ship.
In Santa Marta, the next day, we booked a hike to a nature reserve. A bus took us from the pier, through the city, and into the hills. Santa Marta reminded us very much of Cambodia with similar roadside stands, lots of motorbikes, dogs sleeping along dusty roads, and tidy kids walking to school.
As we left the city behind, and eventually the squatters’ huts in the hills, the landscape was cacti and palm trees. Those gave way to major banana plantations. We passed an important National Park which closes one month of the year to allow indigenous people privacy as they celebrate religious ceremonies. And finally we arrived at a nature reserve where we tracked across a dry river bed and through a forest of towering palms, ficus and bamboo.
We heard birds, some distant monkeys calling, and saw one big spider… And lots of flowering plants that are house plants in Europe or North America but flourish here in the wild, including hibiscus. Butterflies and hummingbirds darted in and out of the sunshine.
Along the path were 2 or 3 little stands, crudely made of branches and planks. At one we bought fried bananas stuffed with cheese and papaya. As soon as we ate them, we were surrounded by dogs. I don’t know where they came from so quickly and they dissipated again after we ate.
At the end of the trail we reached a pretty waterfall that tumbled out of the jungle and
into one large pool. I had a lovely refreshing swim here. Kees waited in the shade under some trees. Suddenly there was a tremendous crash! Another man jumped out of the way. Turned out that a very large iguana had been lazing on a branch above his head and fell out of the tree!