Having arrived in Cartagena at around 10pm on a Saturday night, we found accommodation to be limited, very limited. So limited in fact we’re pretty sure our first hotel must have been a brothel/sexual rendevous spot, made obvious by the dog box size, lack of windows (and thus breathable air) and the used condom later found under the bed.
If it weren’t for the fact we’re used to living in a glorified tin can (sorry Porkchop, we miss you!) we’d probably have found this room suffocating. May we suggest booking ahead? Having to suffice with Hotel Maroel as the option within walking distance of the main strip of Getsemani, we dumped the backpacks, hung up our still salt water soaked clothes and escaped from our cupboard to the streets for the low down.
Want weed? Coke? Women? A 24hr lesbian strip club? Not five steps out the front door and it’s all up in our face. Never mind that Sarah’s in Matt’s tow, you’ll still be offered girls, girls, girls. This became the theme for the rest of the evening as we made it to Parroquia Santisima Trinidad, a square that hosts nightly shows of various busking entertainment. Needing to sit down somewhere and enjoy a cold beer after surviving the boats from Panama and not wanting the party scene of Media Luna Hostel or the ritz and glitz of Havana Club, we slink into a cozy booth in a quiet bar at Hostel Mamallena.
With the bar closing up only one beer in and with us not ready to be stuffed into the sardine can with our damp clothes for the night, we opted for another cheeky one at the aforementioned square. With most of the bars in the up and coming area of Getsemani begining to either close or charge cover fees, the business savvy locals take the opportunity to sell alcohol anyway they can.
Get here early enough and you’ll see them prepping their old beat up polystyrene eskies with ice and beers of all shapes and sizes to fuel the thirsty crowd that flocks here. Taking a seat on the steps, we were soon accosted by fat old man slurring his words and waving his extra long pinky fingernail in our face, putting his arm around Matt’s neck so hard he was choking him and demanding that we all go back to his house for cocaine. Struggling to release himself from his drunken grasp, we eventually escape, much to the amusement of the young locals behind us who’d been filming the whole thing and laughing their arses off.
The next day was spent wandering the streets of old town Cartagena, admiring the local street art scene, of which there’s loads, and taking in the impressive walls of the Dutch designed Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fort. Located on San Lazaro hill, it was begun in 1536 and is the largest Spanish fort in the Americas. Back in the days the Spaniards would plunder their gold and gems from the indigenous and send it up here before shipping it back home to Europe. More gold made Cartagena a prime target for pirates, yet apparently this joint was so well designed even the English gave up after a 90 day seige, and the fort was never successfully penetrated.
Once stop we’d wanted to make whilst in Cartagena was to the Volcan del Totumo, a small mud belching volcano about 6okm away. There were two options presented to us, the first being an organised tour shuttling people in and out like a converyor belt, or we could make our own way out there and enjoy the place at our leisure, saving a few pesos while we were at it. Obviously we chose option 2, but failing to realise it was Sunday things didn’t exactly go as planned.
Making our way to the bus stop easily, we discovered the bus we wanted wasn’t running, so we had to take another bus instead. Not a big deal. This just meant the mototaxi ride at the end of it would be around 25km rather than 2km, a rather daunting ordeal when you’re crammed between a Colombian pensioner and a 90kg Australian on a bike built for one person, as Sarah was. But obviously we lived to soak up the mud, and here’s some pictures to prove it.
Let’s get things straight, this place is more like an adolescent pimple than a volcano, so if you’re expecting Mount Vesuvius you’ll be sorely disappointed. If on the other hand you’re looking for a unique experience where you can ‘stand’ bobbing in a bottomless pit of oozing soothing mud, this is the place for you.
Entry is only a couple of dollars, plus $1 for the guy who takes your camera (it’s safe, he wants your money not your camera), $1 if some creepy old local guy gives you a massage and you’re too introverted to tell him to keep him to keep his hands to himself (no, putting his hand on your breasts is NOT a normal massage) and $1 for the lovely local ladies who will strip you naked and clean the mud out of your…never mind, you’ll find out.
The mud is so insanely buoyant we watched one guy push his mate right under before he came flying back up uncontrollably and smashed his head right into his mates chin. Sure enough after wading in to be washed off, Sarah’s bikini was tugged off and Matt was being forced to be
A great day out doing something pretty unique, but time to walk the 2km back to Santa Catalina to try and catch what was hopefully the last bus back to Cartagena…as long as it was running! As it was we never had to find out, as waltzing along the highway in the afternoon heat a car pulled up beside us with our two chin smacking mates from the mud pit, and we were ceremoniously offered some bananas and a free air conditioned lift back to town.
So all in all our DIY trip had in fact saved us money and kept us away from the tour pack. Our advise if you’re going to go it alone, is to arrive around midday when the morning pack has evacuated, leaving only one afternoon tour group and some locals.
Back in town we eventually scored some free dorm beds so we packed our shoebox and shuffled our packs over to Las Tortugas for our last night. A small homey place off the main strip of Getsemani, the young owners of this relatively new hostel are friendly and helpful, and we happened to arrive on the night of their one year anniversary, so a party of sorts was taking place. Joining in the festivities we made new friends and sang and danced the night away.
Cartagena’s a very photographic town, so if you enjoyed these pics there’s more on our Flickr page.