Our flight to Cartagena was early, too early. We had to leave the airport at 5:45 a.m. , meaning that we had to wake up at 3:00 a.m.. It was rough. By the time we got to our layover in JFK, I was exhausted and ready for bed even though it wasn’t even 8:00 a.m. yet. I tried to relax as much as I could on the plane so I would be ready for a days worth of exploring upon arrival. Knowing that it would be hot in Cartagena, I decided to change into shorts on the plane ride. And I’m glad that I did. We made our landing on what seemed like a narrow strip of land over the ocean and departed the plane via an outdoor ramp. At this point, we were hit in the face by the heat like a ton of bricks. We tried to make our way through the labyrinth of outdoor terminals as fast as we could to escape the humidity. This was a difficult task seeing as most of the airport was outside. We made it through security and got our passports stamped. It was my parents first passport stamp and my first full page in mine. It was a momentous day. As we were about to go through customs, a man approached us, asking if we were the Hammerschmidt family. After a little confusion, we discovered that he was there to assist the driver who was picking us up. He even had a sign reading our long last name. He whisked us away and we somehow bypassed getting our bags checked.
On our way from the airport to Bocogrande, where our hotel was, I was surprised to see how close everything was. We got a glimpse on the old city on our way. It was no more than 10 minutes from Bocogrande. The old city looked unreal with the sky rises looming in the distance. We arrived at the Hampton by Hilton Cartagena and unintentionally overpaid our cab driver. We paid $10 USD, which is a rip off by Colombian standards but considered a fair deal by American. We would have sort out our Colombian pesos in the hotel.
After checking into our hotel, we headed directly to Boutique Gabriel to get my dad fitted for a tuxedo rental. We were in Cartagena for a wedding and were told it would be much cheaper to rent it in Colombia. Turns out we went to the tuxedo shop during siesta. How could I forget about the Spanish and their siestas? While the tailor took his siesta, we decided to grab lunch from a cafe we saw by our hotel. We had nothing to off off besides the inviting outdoor seating but Resaurante Gamelis was calling my name. We weren’t sure what to order at first. My Spanish was a little rusty and all I could make out was the words chicken and beef on the menu. We ended up pointing to a plate of food a man was eating and ordered three. I was delighted to see a plate of chicken, rice and beans. The meal also came with apple juice all for only 9,000 Colombian Peso. Thats equivalent to about $3 USD. We could have also had soup included but it was far too hot for soup. The was god but pretty plain so I seasoned mine with some hot sauce that was on the table. The apple juice was my favorite part of the meal. It had a honey undertone and was sweet and refreshing on this hot day.
We still had some time before the tuxedo shop reopened so we took the short walk to the beach. The beach in Bocogrande is only about a 30 second walk from our hotel. From up close, the beach was nothing special. The water looked average but the beach itself was a little dirty and close to the road. We were only there for a short while and had people try to sell us oysters from dirty buckets. They offered to let us try them but we knew it was just as scam. Though the beach itself wasn’t too great, the water looked so inviting with the sun scorching down on us. I wanted nothing more than to jump in but I settled with dipping my feet in.
At 3:00 p.m. the shop reopened and we were able to go to get his tuxedo. We were wrong to think it was hot outside because it was a sauna in here. The second we walked through the door, we were melting. It was quit the experience trying to communicate what we wanted. We brought a copy of the wedding invite so that they would know that he needed something black tie appropriate. We got through the fitting with hand gestures and my few words of Spanish. Somehow we ended up with a tux rental to be picked up on the Friday before the wedding.
We then made our way to the old city, Cento Historic, the Old Walled City of Cartagena. The cab ran for 6,000 pesos and brought us to the wall. We entered through a small passage in the old wall, that was created to defend this port city from pirates in the 16th century. The tunnel seemed to be a tight fit as it was clearly not created for cars. Rather it was intended for horse and carriages.
Once we passed through the walls, everything was so beautiful. I was especially mesmerized by the doors and the colorful walls. Each house was its own lively shade with a big door and a big, decorative knocker. The walls were lively but the city was quiet at this time. Everyone must still be taking their siesta or hiding from the hot afternoon sun.
We walked around the city for awhile, kind of in a daze after the day of traveling. We found ourselves in the Plaza de Santo Domingo with the fat lady statue, La Gordita. There seemed to be a lot of restaurants in this square, how fitting for La Gordita to lay, chubby and nude amongst all the dining people.
It was too hot to do much of anything so we found a bar in an alleyway and got ourself refreshing Colombian beers. Not long after weaving through the streets, we found a bar with a sign for cervasas. That’s one word in Spanish I know. I ordered myself an Aguila Light. It was a basic lager and was extremely refreshing. Even though the beer offered us with refreshments and the alleyway offered us shade, we still continued to sweat. Nothing would help us cool down.
In order to get a lay of the land we opted to take a horse and carriage ride. It was a much more relaxing way to see the city than walking in the heat. The ride only cost of 50,000 pesos and took us around the city for 30 minutes. It was so worth it. We saw just about every square in Cartagena on the ride. The pitter-patter of the horses hooves against the cobble stone streets was so relaxing. The streets, with more carriages than cars took us back to a simpler time. It was a slow passed, relaxing tour of the old city. We saw all of the main sites including Torre del Roloj , the famous clock tower and Teatro Heredia, where my cousin’s wedding would be.
After our carriage ride, we walked until we found something to eat. Maybe we were just exhausted, but we could only find a stand selling Arepa filled with queso. It sounded cheesy and delicious. Arepa is a ground maize dough and the queso was chunky, not like the queso i’m used to. It tasted good at first. However after a couple bites, it became too salty and dry. This was not something I would be eating again.
To end our first night in Colombia, we watched a dance performance in Simon Bolivar Square. It was amazing to see. The dancers all wore vibrant colors and moved their hips at a rate that I didn’t even know was humanly possible. I watched in awe as these girls moved with such confidence through the square. Dinner wasn’t too good but at least we got a show. When one performance would finish, you would see the performers do a quick change and come back on for another song. I’m not sure how they had the energy to do that. I can barely walk around in this heat, I certainly couldn’t dance.