Take the most abundant Colonial architecture we've seen to date. Add some Caribbean flair in the form of walls plastered with brilliant colors and bright flowers hanging out of every window. Put it all within 13km of centuries-old stone walls. Throw in some soft lighting and scores of cobble stone streets. What you've got is a recipe for one of the most romantic and beautiful city settings in South America.
But, wait! Have every cab honk at every gringo they see to try and get their attention. Also insert harassing vendors on every street corner to tell you that, of course, they have the BEST prices in town, for whatever is needed. Double the prices of accommodations and food. And remove the overwhelmingly friendly people that have charmed us throughout the rest of Colombia - replace them with money hungry vendors who equate white skin with big dollars.
Now, you have Cartagena. These tourists believe that tourism has ruined everything.
It is really such a shame. We booked for three nights in this port city, half expecting to be wooed into staying longer. And while our walks through the beautiful old streets were unlike any other, all of the harassment and extortionist prices were enough to turn us off. Three nights turned out to be a-plenty.
Rain doesn't help matters. It's our own fault for choosing to travel Colombia in their wettest month of the year, but I guess we couldn't dodge spring rains forever! Today was meant to be beachside, but with the threat of rain, we decided to stick closer to home and just rock it poolside. Poolside ended up being bedside in the shelter of our room for most of the day, as the thick grey clouds and rain were relentless.
Our highlight of this stay turned out to be yesterday's visit just outside the city, to nearby Volcan De Lodo El Totumo. It is the smallest volcano we have seen (only 15m high), and instead of spewing ash and lava, it is solely a crater full of mud!
The mud has the consistency of thick cream and is said to be medicinal for the skin. We stripped down to our swimming suits and went for a "swim" - really more of a float, as it is nearly impossible to actually move around without someone to pull or push you. There was no bottom for our feet to touch (the depth of the crater is over a couple of hundred meters), but the buoyancy of the mud is such that we couldn't even get our shoulders under (without someone pushing down awfully hard!)
This unique "spa treatment" included a weird rubdown by some random locals that was kind of creepy, but couldn't really be avoided as the untrained masseuses grabbed us as soon as we were in. After being pushed over to the side, we enjoyed playing in the mud - dumping more on each others head and making designs in it. Wasn't so much fun when Pete got a mouthful of it (funny for me, notsomuch for him).
After about fifteen minutes we were getting pushed out as a bunch of cruise-ship-people arrived and the line-up started to crawl down the stairs. It took a few minutes to make our way over to the stairs and climb up slippery steps, at which point were directed down a path to a nearby lagoon for a bath.
Now, THIS, was weird. We were each lead by a lady into the water to a point where when we sat down, just our shoulders emerged. The ladies immediately started dousing us with the funky lagoon water (eww, had my mouth open for the first few seconds), and then they said the only English I am sure they knew: "Take it off! Take it off!"
That's right, we all stripped down to our birthday suits so that the mud could be more thoroughly washed from our suits. More water doused on us and then we each had to carefully get redressed under the water so as to keep our private bits submerged! One poor old cruise ship guy had quite a hard time getting his shorts on. I unfortunately did not avert my eyes in time.
Chalk this up to one of the weirdest, and most unique experiences on this trip! Interesting, creepy, and FUN all rolled into one. And (not surprisingly), we are still finding mud in places where mud shouldn't be.
BEST CONVERSATION we've had in a long time..
It goes like this (the abbreviated version, anyways).
British dude we just met (Ben): Did you get to watch the Olympics while you've been traveling?
Us: Yes, some, while we were in Peru. We had a friend who played on the women's curling team so we tried to watch what we could.
Ben: Curling? I LOVE curling! I couldn't get enough of it during the Olympics! It looks like so much fun!
Us: Yeah, it is a lot of fun! Pete is a former Canadian champion.
Ben: YOU curl? Really? Omigod. This is the best day. This is the best day on all of my travels so far!
Me: Dude, you just STARTED traveling. You will have much better days, trust me.
Pete: Do you want my autograph?