Rollin' in the Pesos!

Trip Start Apr 07, 2013
Trip End Apr 21, 2013

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Flag of Colombia  , Bolivar,
Monday, April 8, 2013

We woke up this morning with high hopes. Our hostel was advertising a free pancake breakfast included in the rate, and we had visions of fresh fruit, delicious Colombian coffee, and of course pancakes. Not even close. There are probably forty or fifty people staying here, and there was one girl on one stove making one pancake at a time. Literally. The coffee was pretty bad, but as it turns out that really isn't their fault; our guidebook told us most of the good stuff gets exported out of the country. Curse you Starbucks! And so we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally we were next in line. Another American couple was waiting behind us when a pierced up hippy casually cut the line to talk to our gourmet chef. The four of us registered this clear display of aggression and responded in typical introverted fashion: say nothing and stare daggers into the back of his head. Three or four minutes passed, and the would-be pancake thief finally relented, walking away empty handed. Success! Feeling empowered, we ate our breakfast and took in some of the artwork around the hostel. Strange but beautiful. It's the kind of stuff I think Juan Claudio would paint :) The hostel owners have a green parrot, a cat that reminds us so much of Dublin we're plotting to steal her, and a very cool dog. Ever heard of a Swiss Shepherd? Google it; they're awesome.

Everyone said we should try the juices here and Juan Claudio gave us a list of some fruits that you just can't get in the States. We took our list of must have fruits to a nearby juice stand for an après breakfast beverage. The wooden chairs and tables were completely covered in writing, sketches and signatures so we had plenty to keep us entertained while our fruit was cut and pressed (we'll be making a return trip with a sharpie to join in the fun). I got guanabana and Brittany got zapote. Ever heard of them? Me neither. They were both delicious and we were pleasantly surprised to realize we had no convenient way to describe it. Neither of them tasted like anything we've had before. How often do you discover a new taste?

Thirst quenched and stomachs full we stepped back into the heat and trekked to the Old Town. Brittany convinced me to visit the ATM just one last time before we tried calling the credit union. The two of us squeezed into the tiny booth and followed the prompts. We waited with bated breath for the "processing" screen to disappear, and a few hundred thousand pesos popped out! We still have no idea why it didn't work yesterday, but holy cow are we relieved that it's working now. The currency is so different here that we got to see (likely for the only time in our lives) a bank balance of nearly $2,000,000. Unfortunately, a coke costs $2,000 so we'll be burning through it pretty fast :)

We still didn't have any idea of what we should do or see so we pulled out the guidebook and read up on the town under some trees. The gold museum sounded interesting and it's free, so that topped the list. Thus began a hot, sweaty, and fruitless search of over an hour. Finally we stumbled across a tourist information kiosk and were helped by another exceedingly friendly Colombian. It turns out that we had been circling the place the entire time but it just didn't matter how close we were; it was closed on Mondays. What's open and nearby? The Inquisition Museum! Any time you hear the word "inquisition" you know you're in for a good time...

The museum is in a centuries old building that has been very carefully restored. The second level was dedicated to showing the before and after pictures, explaining how difficult it was just to figure out how to repair things. It took many years of expert craftsman labor to complete, and the end result is spectacular. The other floors were dedicated to less pleasant things. The first floor had various rooms filled with instruments of torture. Morbid, but (if you're a guy) very interesting. Who actually sat down and thought this stuff up? One of the rooms was all about witches hunted down by the church. There was a plaque (one of the very few signs in English) that described all the questions an accused witch was asked. How are you able to fly? Why did the Devil choose you? Which demons were at your wedding? Crazy stuff. There was even a large metal scale used to weigh people as a means of proving their heresy. All that room needed was a TV with a constant loop of Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail, "She's a witch!!!!" The second floor explained the history of the slave trade in Cartagena. More pleasant information!

We wandered through some plazas in search of lunch and found another balcony view. I guess we're both a little taller than the average Colombian because the chairs and table made us feel like giants. We were right next to the School of Fine Arts, and there were street vendors everywhere. Things were pretty quiet while I de-boned the whole fried fish on my plate (if you order fish you will get exactly what you asked for) but then school let out. It seemed like they released the kids in stages, from oldest to youngest. No matter their age, they ALL swarmed the vendors. I suddenly understood why they had been camping out there; a steady line of 15 people occupied each of them as they frantically handed out ice creams and juices to meet demand. It looked good, but I'm already intimidated by the language. Trying to order with 14 hungry Colombians waiting for me to get out of the way would just be torture (for me AND for them).

When 2PM rolled around we decided it was time for a siesta and walked back to the hostel. Brittany pointed out the recently installed wheelchair access ramps. They basically just chipped out sections of steps, leaving a solid 30 to 45 degree grade. The only wheelchair making it over these things is made by Jeep! We settled in for a one hour nap, but Brittany wasn't feeling very good so one hour turned into four. By the time we decided to get out of bed Brittany got worse and wound up with her face in the toilet for ten minutes. She says she feels fine now. We both ALWAYS get sick on our trips (mostly due to a complete disregard for food safety warnings). At least she got it out of the way early...I still have to wait in suspense for my bug to bite.

Once Brittany felt up to it we hit the streets for some cheap grub and ended up with a surprisingly good pizza. Throw in some glass-bottle sodas (somehow always a thousand times better than what we can get at home) and we were flying high for a total of $14,000 COP! I'm still always pleasantly surprised by how rare English is in the restaurants. It makes the experience all the more authentic and is putting some fire under my butt to learn a little Spanish.

We're going to visit the main fortress tomorrow and then go to a meeting at the local Kingdom Hall in the evening. Google maps says it's only a one hour ten minute walk. Brittany said no :)
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