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Showing posts from May, 2013

Wrapping things up in Colombia & Venezuela

On my final night in Cartagena i went out for dinner and then to a La Casa del Habano cigar shop/bar in Gethsemani. It was fairly quiet when i arrived but i had a decent chat with the Manager who showed me bundles of tobacco to be rolled into Colombian cigars.

The smoking situation is Cartagena has been better than in Bogota. You still technically smoke inside, but with the weather being so beautifully tropical, there is no shortage of patios to smoke on; plus, you can smoke in cigar shops and there are at least three in the old city. There are lots of "Cuban" cigars being sold on the streets here and they are all fakes.  There are real Cubans for sale in the shops, but they are very expensive - as much as in Canada.

Here's a few more Cartagena pictures from my final day:

The next morning i flew back to Bogota and sent many hours walking around, doing a bit of shopping and finally killing time in doors when it got too cold and wet to be comfortable outside. That night i …

Mercado Bazurto

This morning, after breakfast i hailed a taxi to Mercado Bazurto - a large market well outside Cartagena's centro historico where locals sell all manner of food and household items and operate shops and eateries. It is not a common tourist destination i am told and it has a reputation for being very dangerous. I don't know how well deserved that reputation is, but to be on the safe side, i left my bag at the hotel and took just enough cash to get there and back, plus a bit extra, and my camera (and a few cigarillos).

The taxi driver dropped me off at the most chaotic, labrynthine, dirty market i have ever been to. There were roads for vehicles, unpaved and soggy with mud and bits of rotting vegetable matter and scraps of fish and meat, all of which the birds and dogs were fighting over. Other than the main roads were dark passageways, covered mostly by tarps and lined with ramshackle wooden stalls. Everywhere people were descaling and gutting freshly caught fish, cutting up va…

Cock Fight

Yesterday morning, before it got too hot, i went for a walk around the walls of the old city. The walls are fairly high and thick and hold numerous cannons, pointed out at sea. The walk is quite pleasant and offers great views into the streets below.

After my walk i hung out at the hostel in the hammock for a bit and ran some errands and had dinner with an Australian girl and then i headed to one of the squares where i was meeting someone who had promised to take me to a cock fight.
This all started the day i arrived when i met this guy, a local, and we were chatting about what i was going to see and i asked him if her knew where i could see a cock fight. (I had originally wanted to see a bull fight but they only happen in January and February.) The man said, you hav no idea who you are talking to--i have 48 chickens for fighting. And so he said to meet his at 6:00 on friday and we would go.

On the face of it, this seemed like an exercise in poor judgment on my part. I was going to g…

Playa Blanca

Cartagena is on the Caribbean, so it is not surprising that it is surrounded by beautiful beaches. The ones right here in Caragena are fine, but the farther out you go, the more pristine and beautiful they become. About an hour away by speed boat is a beach called Playa Blanca: a stretch of powdery white sand along turquoise sea with palm trees and various places renting hammocks and grass huts for the night. I am not much of a beach person, but this sounded quite idyllic, so i decided to go.

There are 3 ways to get to Playa Blanca: take a tour (which involves also going to an aquaraium and has less than favorable reviews and costs about $50,000 pesos or more), take a 3 hour bus ride and then convince someone to take you to the beach the last half an hour by motorbike, or convince someone to take you in a private boat.

I was not going to spend hours on a bus and did not relish the idea of a tour, so i opted for the private boat. I went just outside of the old city to the market at abo…

Cartagena Squares after Dark

My hostel here in Cartagena is very good, in the sense that there is a good group of people here. The common areas are very comfortable and there are small pools (one with fish) and some hammocks. Yesterday late in the afternoon, i came back to rest and hang out for a bit before going out for dinner. I had a pleasant time chatting and listening to everyone's travel stories.

After that i went out and had dinner at an outdoor pizzaria on a busy square situated beneath a cathedral. It was the perfect spot for my first dinner. The square was filled with tourists and locals and wandering musicians. The only minor downside, is that every 5 minutes someone came up wanting to sell me something: jewelry, paitintings, (fake) cuban cigars, etc. Eventually they left me alone, but it took awhile for them to figure out i was not a buyer. But it was delightful to sit there and smoke and eat dinner and watch everything unfold.

After dinner i walked back to the Gethsemani neighborhood and to the P…

A Man and his Donkey

Yesterday afternoon in Cartagena, i felt like taking a break from my walking, so i sat down at an outdoor cafe to have a cigar and coffee. A guy that had stopped me on the street to sell me jewelry earlier wandered over and i said he could sit down. (At this point he understood that i would not be a customer.)  His english was very good and we chatted for about an hour about various things.

The conversation started off normally enough: he told me about his 4 children, his job, his enduring love of the Toronto Blue Jays, etc. Then he told me a story about how when he was 16 he left the farm he lived on and came to Cartagena for the summer to work renting jetskis to tourists and it was while doing this at 16 that he had sex with a 35 year old woman visiting from Boston. I asked him if it had been his 'first time' and he hesitated and then told me that it was his first time with a woman but that in the area he is from (rural farmland), boys and young men always have their first …

Arrival in Cartagena

Greetings from Cartagena. I arrived at about 11am on a flight from Bogota (1.5 hours). I took a short taxi ride into the old city and checked in to my hostel: La Casa de Chicheria.

The part of Cartagena i am staying in is the old city, which is the historic part, which is separated from the sea and the new city by thick, stone walls. The old city, is stunning. Colorful two-story buildings with balconies spilling forth flowering vines and plants. The city is dotted with lovely squares with large, stone churches and palm trees. Everywhere are fruit vendors and sellers of jewelry and souveniers. On the squares are restaurants with tables perfect for people watching and enjoying a coffee and cigar. It is quite stunning.

Cartagena is very different from Bogota. First of all, it is tropical.  It has been raining today, but the air is warm and thick with humidity and parrots call out from the trees. Cartagena is also much more touristy than Bogota. There are souvenier shops and hawkers of ev…

Smoking Cigars in Bogota

The smoking situation in Bogota is the only this that has been disappointing. It seems that it is illegal to smoke indoors and the law is followed. Despite the lovely courtyards at my hostel which are technically outdoors, they are also smoke free. There is also virtaully so outdoor eateries, cafes or patios here - probably due to the rainy and generally cold climate. This means that my ciagr smoking has been done walking, sitting on steps of churches, or convincing a cafe or bar owner to bring a chair outside. It is not the end of thr world, but i would have liked more options. I look forward to seeing what the sitaution is in Cartagena.

Also, i am very glad i brought lots of my own cigars, as i have seen no where selling them and no one smoking them.

Still, it is easier to smoke in public here than in Vancouver, so i am not complaining.

Rainy Afternoon in Bogota

This afternoon, after my trip to El Mercado del Paloquemao i set out from the hostel and walked up to the Museum of Modern Art. On my way i stopped for lunch at cute and charming little restaurant filled with plants and bric-a-brac.

I managed to explain the vegetarian situationa and received bean & barley soup, rice, beans, plantains, salad, potatoes, and lemonade for $3.  The Modern Art Museum was small and the art was mostly only ok, but there were a few good photographs and paintings.  It wouldn't call it a 'must see' but it was decent and admission was only $1. (Generally, of all of the churches and museums i have visited, all of the churches were free and this was the only museum that charged.)  I then walked farther north to the Museo Nationales, which had a good selection of Colombian prehistoric artifacts right up to 20thC paintings. None of the descriptions were in English, so it made for a quick walk through, but it was a good museum.

When i left it had start…

Mercado de Paloquemao

This morning i set out immediately after breakfast to the Mercado de Palequemao, a giant market selling fuits, vegetables, meats, fish, flowers, and other random food items. I walked from my hotel which was a fairly long walk. I stuck to the main streets so i would not get lost, which meant that the streets i walked down were busy, loud, crowded, and not particularly attractive. That being said, i really enjoyed the walk as it provided a good view of non-touristy Bogota.

Finally reaching the market i was overwhelmed by the selection of produce.

This might be the best market ever in that regard. They had everything i could imagine and things i could not have dreamed of. It was so colorful and loud and everything looked so delicous. As i had already eaten about 6 different fruits for breakfast, i ate only one thing: mangosteens. I have been wanting to try them for a wile and bought one. It is, and i am not exaggerating, the best fruit i have ever tasted. It defies description, but it is…

To the Salt Mines

Yesterday was a full day. After another modest breakfast (seriously, i love this hostel, but the breakfasts are monastic in their simplicity), i walked to the closest Transmilenio line.

TheTransmilenio is Bogota's answer to the subway. Apparently after about 20 years of doing plans and studies on constructing a subway to link the various barrios of the sprawling city, they decided to scarp that idea and instead built the Transmilenio: a network of busses that run on dedicated lanes as set times and stop at dedicated stops. Like a subway, you buy a ticket and enter through a turnstyle to enter the platforms. Like a subway, there are maps with routes listed. It is a really good system and is cheap (about 90c), but the difficult part is i found the routes on the maps very difficult to decipher. It must have taken me 20 minutes just to figure out which one to take. Anyway, they operate on the every man for himself philosophy, which i like; at the stops people push on and off with self…