Day 1 - I had the day to myself in Cartagena since my family wasn't arriving until close to midnight. I explored the old city a bit but mostly just relaxed at the hotel (after a 24 commute from Aruba - Panama City - Bogota - Cartagena). I passed out in the main room of the hotel and woke up to my family standing over me :) It sounded like they had a rough day with American Airlines and Becca's bag had been lost along the way. Luckily, the rough start was in no way a bad omen of things to come.
Day 2 - We spent the morning with a little relaxation around the hotel (expect for me, Becca and mom who tried to deal with American Airlines and Becca's missing bag)
. In the afternoon we went into the Old City and walked around. Cartagena was the main port city for South America for many years. It is also the city that Love in the Time of Cholera is set in. The Old City is absolutely spectacular - completely surrounded by barrack looking walls, the buildings have been restored in their beautiful colonial architecture. The cobblestone streets weave through dozens of beautiful churches, plazas, parques and colonial balconies. Horses and buggies take people to and from colonial mansions to outdoor restaurants and markets. It is impossible not to love this city, or to feel like you are doing a little bit of time traveling.
Day 3 - We took a boat ride to see the Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca. Overall the day was a bit of a mess but a bit comedic if nothing else. First, out boat was suppose to leave at 9am but by 9:45 we still had not seen our boat or been informed of when it might be leaving. This wouldn't have been a big deal if it wasn't 95 degrees outside and if we weren't a family that gets really cranky in the heat. But we probably each lost 2-4 pounds of water weight? Luckily no one passed out and we finally got on the boat (which looked nothing like the boat they showed us in the advertisement) and off we were to the Rosario Islands - right? Well not really. Instead of being much of tour, it was more of a commuter boat
. Although there was a 'tour guide' who spoke only in Spanish at 238428 miles an hour and in a really difficult Caribbean accent. We got to a stop on Rosario Island where Dana and my mom got off (both pretty sea sick) and the rest of us went out to go snorkeling. The snorkeling was pretty cool besides for the fact that Becca's face mask didn't work and we all got stung by little (non-lethal) jellyfish. Success? The next stop was Playa Blanca on the Island of Banu. We had heard that this was one of the most beautiful beaches in the area and it may have been were there not 2,000 crammed on to a tiny beach. Getting off the boat for the beach, the guy helping me off pulled me a little too hard and my whole purse fell into the water. And it was death to yet another camera. And that was a pretty short life - only 1 week!! So clearly I was in a good mood as we got handed our lunch (a whole dead fish and fried patano). Luckily my family doesn't eat fish and so we spent the next 2 hours looking for 10 feet of sand and turning down the 100 locals who wouldn't stop offering us mango and messages. On the way back (when our boat also left 45min late) we got into a boat race with another tour. We won (the other boat broke down at one point) but I think my dad (or at least his back) lost. Somehow everyone was a really good sport during this mess of a day and we all just decided the next day would be spent in front of the pool, avoiding any interaction with Colombia logistics.
Day 4 - Literally baked ourselves on the roof of our hotel. I honestly don't know if I have ever been so hot in my entire life. I wish I had a picture of my dad reading his book in the pool because it was literally to hot to even sit outside. But it was relaxing and nice to read and not try to make our way around anywhere. We then went into the city at night (which was incredibly beautiful) and had a
Day 5 & 6 - We spent both of these days reading on the beach in front of our hotel. Hilly met up with a friend from NYC and her Colombian friend. Becca constantly worried about getting burned. And Dana did get burned. I tried to do some Spanish practice (since being the translator was a little challenging on the coast) and just relax with a book. Both nights we went into the Old City at night for dinner and just to walk around. The city is so alive at night - it was wonderful :) [I am intentionally leaving out the saga of trying to track down Becca's bag throughout all of this but needless to say it never got to Cartagena. Becca was a very good sport. And airport workers proved to be just as frustrating in Colombia as they are in the US. Lesson learned - carry on whenever possible.]
Day 7 - We left Cartagena around 10am and flew back to Bogota
. After fighting with American Airlines in Bogota for about an hour, I was finally able to get Becca's bag from the dungeon that is American Airlines 'luggage office'. Then we drove to Villa de Layva, which is a colonial town about 3 hours outside of Bogota. Villa de Layva was actually declared a National Monument and has some of the oldest preserved architecture in the country. It was absolutely magnificent and we all instantly knew that we were not going to want to leave after only two days. We spent our first day there just walking around the town and getting a feel for everything. It was much warmer than we thought it was going to be (a nice surprise) and so we walked around for a few hours before we found a wonderful restaurant hidden in a beautiful interior courtyard. It was an early night as every adjusted to the altitude change and the long day of travel (for some it was a stressful bus ride through the Andes haha).
Day 8 - We spent the first part of the day exploring more the town, just walking around aimlessly and finding cute little shops, beautiful art work and old colonial buildings. At 2pm we met up with a driver who took us around to see some of the famous sights in the area. The first place we went was Casa Tarracota which was a house made completely out of adobe clay. It was incredible both structurally and athletically. Then went to an ancient 'astrological sight' which were ruins from a pre-Inca civilization
. Unfortunately all of the information was in Spanish so I could translate a lot but it made everything a little less exciting. Next we ended up at a vineyard (thanks to Hilly's Spanish in the front seat). While we turned down the tour, it was a gorgeous setting and our driver was able to buy a bottle of wine. Que bueno! Next we went to go see a Dinosaur fossil which was old. Yeah, that's all I got - it looked fake and we couldn't even really figure out what it was. BUT then we went to this gorgeous Monastery which was also built with a lot of fossils in the foundation (because where Villa de Layva is used to be under water millions of years ago). Before we left the monastery we also got to see a beautifully clear rainbow arched over the Andes mountains...and it just doesn't get much better than that :)
Day 9 - [I promise to finish the rest of the trip soon but it's getting late an I'm exhausted...so, to be continued.....]
A few days ago the Bressler family completed the best family vacation ever. Colombia proved not only to be extremely safe for travel (that's why you have to look past US travel advisories!!) but completely enchanting for everyone. I am going to try to remember everything we did....