I started my trip in Cartagena in Colombia today after a 17 hour long trip from the UK, it was a pretty easy trip apart from the 4am start and I even got to visit Bogota airport as a preview for my pick up of Errol there in 14 days time. The most surprising thing about Bogota airport is that it is not at all surprising, the duty free looks like any duty free in the world, the marble floors and spotless bathrooms mix easily with designer shops and could be in any smart modern place in the world, sometimes the biggest learning is how we are all converging onto a common platform and the days of flying into a dusty windswept strip with tin huts (which I can remember in Belfast my home city not so long ago) are mostly gone.
The first order of business when I arrived in Cartagena, apart from finding my hostel, was to deliver critical items to a desperate Land Rover Overland Crew in the form of two bottles of Marmite (and a crankshsaft damping pully to restore their dead engine to health). Debbie and Gary had got in touch just before I left the UK and asked me to be a mule for their critical supplies, us overlanders stick together so I was happy to oblige even though the pully weighed about 4kg. They had travelled in to Cartagena to meet me at the hostel and were very pleased to see the pully as they had lost a few weeks on the engine repairs already.
My ample payment for the good deed was a very nice Sea Bass dinner and a lot of tips for my trip from their time in Colombia already, once I get my car out of the port we will probably reconnect on the beach about 5 hours north of here, I am hoping Gary can help me get the box on the roof which is a tough task solo.
So last night was really perfect from a trip starting perspective, there is always a bit of nervousness when landing solo in a strange country with a strange language so meeting some friendly faces makes a big difference and the offer of dinner kept me up to a reasonable hour to help with the jet lag!
Today I was a tourist, I am staying in a nice hostel with my own room, A/C and a shower pure luxury by my normal tour standards but welcome in the humid 32oC heat. Cartagena is a lovely little city and I can walk from here to the ancient walled city in about 10min were there is a good deal to see including some very intact city walls given the towns history as the regions most important colonial port.
The city, like most old walled cities, is small and hence very easy to walk around it is mostly pedestrianised or has only taxi traffic, unlike Venice or Dubrovnik it is not overrun with tourists and cruise liners although it is for sure principally a tourist spot.
There are still little flashes of the past in the form of nice old cars and houses that have not been converted to the standard tourist spots, in some ways I am glad to have come here first as its all very new and hence interesting to me – with the bonus of being able to practice my Spanish at least until the waiting staff give up and speak to me in English as one lady did today saying “I think you want the cheezecake sir, correct” in perfect English!
The benefit of the tourist influx is that there is a good choice of air conditioned or outdoor cafes to cool down after walking in the 32oC heat and high humidity, I have to wash my shirts through after each trip out as I am dripping with sweat once I walk back to the hotel.
A highlight of the day was a lunch in one of the better restaurants in the town which specialises in fish and prawn ceviche one of my favourite dishes in the world and this version of it was top class as well as being pretty.
One of the great contrasts is the pretty old city up against the skyscrapers of the modern hotels and office blocks of the nearby new city. It seems that the march of modernisation is inevitable and these old towns, curious interesting and pretty as they are, increasingly function as visitor attractions rather than living cities. Notable exceptions from this general rule are cities like Istanbul or Fez which still retain significant elements of a working town mixed in with the tourist attractions.
So my nice day as a tourist is complete and I am back in the lounge of the hostel writing my blog and chatting to some other travellers, which is the reason I prefer hostels to hotels when I am travelling on my own, in this case I have a room for security as I cannot leave my valuable in Nelson which is my more normal pattern.
Tomorrow first thing starts the process of getting Nelson out of the ship, and then the container and then the port, each step requiring paperwork, payments and patience in abundance. With some luck that should all be done in a few days and I will be properly on my way.