Up, up and away, we departed North America, bound for a new continent! Into the whipped cream clouds above Cartagena de Indias, Colombia we descended in the airplane. Stepping out into South America, we took an exhilarated breath of humid Caribbean sea air, and headed into the next chapter of Our Open Road…
Taxi bound with container buddies Ben & Pegah, we bobbed and weaved into the walled old town, went to our separate hostels and settled in.
Immediately we freshened up and set out into the ambient light of the late afternoon, eager to explore the enchanted city. The streets were bustling with horse-drawn carriages, honking taxis, and pedestrians of African, Carib, and European descent.
With a slow and melodic air, a trumpeter played “Yesterday” by the Beetles, which drifted thru the warm sea air with a haunting beauty.
From atop the walls of the city, the sun dropped into the Caribbean, gracing us onlookers with a cantaloupe colored display. Caribbean Colombia is the land of famed author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the pioneer of magic realism. In this colonial city painted melting sherbet colors, it is easy to feel the magic. In Simon Bolivar square we joined the curious throngs to watch the teenage street dancers put on a riveting display. A semi-circle of 8 multi-generational musicians played instruments both homemade and recognizable- djembe drums, plunger-flute, tambourine, metal shaker tube filled with beans.
Illustrating in movement traditional life on a cane farm, the shirtless guys in white pants wore wide straw hats while barefoot ladies twirled their heavily draped skirts. A few dances later, they shimmied down to brightly colored African inspired spandex outfits. Firing like machine guns, they shimmied and shook all that their mamma’s gave them.
Street food nearly disappeared in Central America, and Adam was happy to see Colombia does not shy away from some street meat. There were also plenty of vegetarian street treats for Emily & Colette to enjoy.
An old building being renovated is carefully deconstructed as everything new and old finds a home in this city.
Adjacent to the walled border of ‘old town’ is Getsemani, the barrio where we stayed at a no-frills hostel. Their only indulgence was the amazing caracim tiles that floored the buildings. We spent 11 days in Cartagena, awaiting the arrival of the cargo ship. We have yet to display the amazing currencies that we have seen, but have vowed to be better documentarians in this area. Below, some Colombian pesos and coins- it’s easy to be a MIL-ionaire here! Especially charmed that the 50MIL note is portrait orientation, a rarely seen composition in currency.
Days passed with ease in our new life-without-van…
Cartagena de Indias ia a Spanish colonial city founded in 1533 largely in part from the gold plundered from native Sinú tombs. As a major port, the city was attacked again and again by pirates and corsairs (government funded pirates) working for the French, English, and Basque. The Spanish sunk the equivalent of 3 trillion dollars into building the walls, forts and general protection of the city.
The Spanish Inquisition began when Islamic and Jewish converts to Catholicism were questioned about their knowledge of the orthodox rules. It quickly spiraled into darker paths. “Witchcraft” (including midwifery and using herbal wisdom), blasphemy (any statement that could be viewed as questionable), bigamy, sodomy and freemasonry were amongst the possible offenses that would bring about extreme methods of torture to inspire repentance. The biggest offense however was information- books, pamphlets and the distribution of any counter-monarchy/ Catholic ideas were punished with the most fervor- how else would the elite maintain their reign if not by suppressing the masses. We visited the Plaza de la Inquisition and viewed some of the torture devices.
A vice for wrists and forearms.
Emily has her head the wrong direction, but the plaque for this device described how first the jaw would be crushed, then the ocular sockets, then the cranium. Gnarly.
Clearly, Colette is not repentant.
Wonder where she learned that from…
The metal arc at the front held the head to the wooden beam, while the metal spire would be drilled into the back of the skull.
If ‘eye of dried toad’ and ‘feather of sparrow’ are in your recipes, you may well regret those ingredients.
The stunning colonial compound underwent a complete restoration, the coats of fresh white paint not diminishing the weight of past tortures incurred within these walls. African slaves were forced to work in sugar-cane plantations, gold and emerald mines, textile factories and cattle farms from the early 1500’s. Afro-Colombians represented 3 of every 5 soldiers in Simon Bolivar’s army that fought for independence from Spain.
Friday night we headed over for dinner at Ben & Pegah’s place. We SO miss our friends+family back ‘home’ and a meal shared with friends reminds us something fierce of this. Big hugs & shout outs to our tribe in LALA- we miss you & love you!! It is so nice to have road buddies in which we can share the frustration of waiting for the van, the humor in this ‘first world problem’ and have a roaring good time doing it! After dinner we headed over to the square for public drinking- beers bought at the bodega are opened without question and a bottle of rum is delivered with plastic shot glasses. A lively crowd of locals and international tourists gathered to watch a Chilean troupe perform circus tricks- sword juggling, unicycling and general clowning around.
Adam & Colette split off for a father daughter night which allowed Emily to join PegahBon at Cafe Havana for salsa dancing. Clad in matching bright polyester floral shirts + white pants, the live 12 piece band, started warming the crowd at 11:45pm. A sliver of dance floor was wedged between the stage and bar where the trio salsa’ed into the wee hours. The low-pro exterior has no reflection of the jubilant interior, which was draped with flags and boasted bright artworks packed salon style.
Out on the streets, Adam & Colette wandered about the friendly town.
A narrow alley had the most striking and beautiful use of plastic bags, which were draped from building to building dancing in the pale moonlight.
Live music friday for all! Experiencing same same but different, Papa + babe discovered a cultural center where a band was playing.
As the night grooved on to the salsa beat, Emily said to B+P “I’m gonna go guys, salsa dancing without my man just isn’t the same.” She stepped outside, and found Adam- with Colette asleep on his back- just arriving at the entrance, also coming to look for her… synchronicity at its sweetest.Sunday, Jan 27th our darling Colette celebrated her 2nd birthday! We slept in, then Adam shaved… the time had come to say ADIOS to the cave-man beard.
At Gato Negro we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, which does in fact have a black cat as the name states. Colette indulged with a nutella and banana crepe and also had a spoon full of sugar as a side dish. “Hey, it’s her birthday” we said to each other, and let her continue to lick the cane crystals off the spoon. Later in the afternoon we headed to Plaza de la Trinidad just ½ block from our hotel, where Colette spent nearly every prior afternoon playing with local kids. We enjoyed dulce de leche cake with blackberry sauce, but Colette seemed most stoked on eating the wax of the candle. When asked how old she is, Colette now replies “too old.” She ran probably 100 laps around the square chasing balloons or the big kids playing soccer, playing tag, and the like. A true toddler moment occurred when birthday girl flung her foot into her cake… it did not go over too well.
One day passed into another, as we were told the vehicle would be arriving Monday night, then Tuesday, then Wednesday, and so on. Friday we processed what paperwork we could, and returned to track the vessel from Panama… it was indeed still in Colon, just offshore.
Subtle is not the favored charm of Cartagena… bold, bright, and patterned are the preferred details for both bus and personal adornment!
These Caribbean-fresh kids threw down some rhymes for Adam & I, then gleefully postured for their portraits.
After 10 taxi rides, multiple visits for stamps from the Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionale (tax & customs office), multiple banks which hold the most astounding hours (ahem 9am-noon then 2pm-4pm and one branch that was ONLY from 2pm-5pm), 2 offices for insurance, waiting and jumping through various hoops at the actual port… the time had finally come to get the van! Hooray!
Oh yeah, except Colette wasn’t allowed in the port, and Adam’s shoes were deemed “unacceptable”… so while Emily & Colette waited in the office, Adam had to borrow Ben’s shoes to get into the container, as the Westy was parked behind the Landy… but Emily was listed on the paperwork, not Adam, so when he went to get into the container, they asked if he was Emily or Ben-ha-meen, he said no he was Emily’s husband, and he was wearing Ben’s boots! They shook their heads confusedly, and waved him in… Adam retrieved his own boots from the van, and returned Ben his boots… then we got the van!
Stoked to have our home on wheels back, we hit the road directly from the port headed north on the coast.
We grinned widely at each other… it was good to be back on the road. Dusk hit as we arrived to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, a 15 meter high mud filled volcano on the edge of a lake. Behind the dozen crude buildings set up surrounding the volcano was this “pasture.” We set up camp and watched the moon rise over the silhouetted mud-cano.
Sunrise over the Cienega del Totumo illuminated the vast expanse of still fresh water and a few fisherman casting their first nets of the day .
Let me start by saying I, Emily, have been to a mudbath at a spa before. THIS is nothing like that. Swimsuit-clad, we summited the perfectly conical volcano, and stood peering over, down into the mud. Holding on for dear life to the slippery ladder with a wiggly toddler on one hip, we descended towards the mud “with magical healing powers.” Giggling uncontrollably, we eased our way into the tepid mud. There is no stranger sensation. The mud was thick like pannacota or perhaps wet cement, the thought of which was disarming as there was no “bottom” to be found in the jiggly muck…
Adam, channeling his inner beast, leapt off the top ropes for some major splash points!
Colette was in the “splash zone” and Adam surfaced from the leap looking like the true Encino Man!We bathed off the thick sticky mud in the lake, feeling cleaner than ever, and made our way down the dusty trail.