A Travellerspoint blog


Final day in Colombia

sunny 32 °C

What an amazing week. We finally managed to get some sleep last night (in bed well before midnight for the win) thus, all of us were up at the crack of dawn (given proximity to the equator daylight is 6-6 Daylight Colombia pretty much all year around). Our final day here we spent leisurely strolling the streets of Cartagena. While that activity sounds lovely and it was fun, beautiful and lovely it was also hot, f'ing hot (the french is appropriate trust me). I don't know if I have ever felt heat & humidity like this, I didn't know I could sweat that much and even with 60 on (diligently reapplied) I burnt (we all have varying degrees of colour but a couple of us where wearing 8 so we don't feel bad for them!). Ren and I made a quick pit stop at a local Casino to borrow the Baños and felt compelled to plug a slot machine as payment, we didn't understand the game or really how to bet so our 5 mm pesos went quickly with no payoff.


The cub decided to sun bathe and take advantage of the rooftop patio and a good book while cougars melted off some calories exploring. We wandered out of the old city into what felt like more 'real' Cartagena, found a mall (I was in search for a soccer jersey for a certain someone) and wandered through the shops (AC was a highlight attraction as was seeing what the locals shop at). We strolled among the city streets, mostly people watching, until the mornings coffee (Iced, and while I don't normally embrace an ice cap when it is 27 degrees at 7am it seems appropriate) and empanada wore off and we found a quaint patio and some cold drinks paired with another ceviche and ensalada. My margarita kicked me in the ass (I am gong to blame the heat) so I sauntered home for an afternoon siesta while the other ladies continued exploring. We are now all showered and smell clean (for a nano second until we go outside again) and are off to hit Café del Mar for a pre-dinner cocktail.

(Cindy got photobombed, no idea why?)

Tomorrow we begin our journey home with a mid-morning flight from Cartagena to Bogotá, 1.5 hour layover (which some may think is too short given we need to clear exit customs) and then on to Toronto. We overnight in Toronto and should be home if all goes well by noon Monday. We are hopping that none of our flights exhibit the smoke like cloud that our flight into Cartagena did (we are told it was condensation and given the temperature difference and humidity versus Bogotá I believe that).


I am hoping on the flight from Bogotá to Toronto I can get our guest writers to put down their final reflections and thoughts. Mine are pretty simple, the country is amazing and I can't wait to come back and explore more. Did you know they have ruins here as old as Macchu Picchu? The one-time Tayrona capital, Ciudad Perdida, built between the 11th and 14th centuries. Ever heard of San Agustín? A collection of 500 life-sized ancient sculpted statues of enigmatic origin dotting the surrounding countryside? Bet you have never heard about Tierradentro, an elaborate underground tombs scooped out by an unknown people. Don't feel bad neither did I (Thank you Lonley Planet). The country is still mostly void of the hordes of tourists you might find elsewhere, likely due to the misconception regarding one's safety here. Colombians are friendly and warm (thank you to all of you who hosted us). The food is incredible, simple, fresh, flavourful and healthy. There are numerous activities (remember this is one of the most eco-diverse countries in the world) and it is still relatively untravelled by most.


I need to add, that these ladies made this trip unforgettable and I feel truly blessed to have them in my life. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to travel and experience all that we have done with these smart, funny and beautiful ladies. There is nothing like girlfriends.

Until next time,

Posted by imalazyj 14:34 Archived in Colombia

Cougars N A Cub in Cartagena

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

sunny 32 °C

Cindy left off with our 5 am Tuesday night which did indeed make for a very slow start to Wednesday. Jess the little energizer bunny she is got up at 8:45 am to head off to a coffee tour (I was also booked but couldn't drag my sorry ass out of bed). The reminder of us went to the gym in the late am (late, late am) and then we met Jess in the afternoon at the Museo Historico de la Policia, where we toured the former headquarters of Bogotá’s police force and learned about cocaine-kingpin Pablo Escobar’s demise (neutralized as our guide described it) in 1993.

Our evening was another amazing Colombia meal (with a super annoying (loud and actually not good) piano player playing mostly Billy Joel) with Cindy's friend Frenado at Restaurante NN. I tapped out early and the remainder of the tribe headed out for a couple more drinks. The result was the next morning I actually got up early and went for a short and slow run (altitude here is a killer) before our 11 am flight to Cartagena.


We landed in Cartagena and were immediately hit with a wave of humidity and heat (30 degrees and & 75%+ is hard on these white Canadian girls).
Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. By the sea is the walled Old Town (which is where our Airbnb is within), founded in the 16th century, with squares, cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings within the walls. Outside the walls is sprawling metropolis of tall condos, the entire population of the city is estimated at 1.2 mm.


Hangry had set in by the time we got to the Airbnb (another great win) and settled so off we went to source food (and maybe a bottle or two of Rose). We stumbled upon a free walking tour which started at 4 pm which we thought would be a great way to see the old city and get our bearings. Turns out Cartagena is a young, party destination. The 3 cougars substantially brought up the average age of the group. It was interesting (at least to us) that they were two other Canadians one from Saskatchewan and one from Nova Scotia. The other cubs were mostly American or European. We lasted about 45 minutes before the guide busted us for not really getting into the "groove" of his tour style (maybe it was the heat, but it took him a very, very long time to tell us not much). Embarrassed we shrunk off and did our walking tour of the old city (it is actually not that big).

Beside the beautiful architecture and colourful building what we did notice (not sure how one says this politically correctly nowadays so if I offended anyone I am sorry) is the different ethnicity of the people. Cartagena was strategically located between the Magdalena and Sinú rivers and became the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, establishing its importance by the early 1540s. During the colonial era it was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for the import of African Slaves http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/07/04/cartagena-colombia-spanish-americas-biggest-slave-port/. The latter definitely has influenced the people that are live in this area today.

We managed to find an amazing seafood restaurant (as did a stag of 12 American boys) which made for an entertaining evening. We capped the night off with a night cap (bottle of vodka, don't judge we took most of it home for today's activities) at Café del Mar, situated on the historic walls, Baluarte Santo Domingo, the westernmost point of Cartagena's 17th century fortifications, (conveniently directly across from our condo).

Sleep is not something we have accomplished a lot of this trip, today was another early(ish) start with a 9 am meeting with our boat captain we had arranged to take us to the he Islas del Rosario for the day. The Islas del Rosario, also referred to as Corales Islas del Rosario, is an archipelago located off the coast of Colombia, approximately 100 kilometres from Cartagena (thank you Wikipedia). The Spanish here is a bit less formal so communication was a bit of challenge during the day. We opted to try to go with the flow (as much as OCD, A type women can) and had an incredible day (with a couple minor hiccups which included running out of money so we had to hit a "money machine" to pay for the day).


Regardless the 3 cougars and the cub had a pretty magnificent day in our private speed boat (we saw the "commoners" stuffed in theirs and thank goodness the princesses opted to pay up for private) ripping across the ocean to various locations to swim in the very warm Caribbean ocean, eat fresh food grilled on a beach, drinking our vodka (sourced from the night before) and trying to avoid 3rd degree burns from the incredible sun here. Cartagena is the perfect conclusion to our time here in Colombia, all of us are going to leave wishing for more. What an incredible country. I can't wait to come back already.

Tomorrow is our last full day and we haven't landed on what our activities will be, maybe some R'n'R on our rooftop patio. I am sure we will make the most of it.

Until next time,

Posted by imalazyj 16:46 Archived in Colombia

Colombia: Then & Now

Guest appearance by Cindy Gray

I’m pleased to make this guest appearance and share some ‘before and after’ perspectives on Colombia. After having been down 10+ times between 2009 and 2013, Bogotá, Cartagena and Medellin are among my favorite destinations in the world. With its elegant blending of old and new worlds, warm and helpful people, unique culture, delicious gastronomy and fascinating history, Colombia has always felt like home to me. (It doesn’t hurt that Colombians know how to party).

For me, this trip has offered many contrasts with earlier visits – primarily around safety. On my first visit in 2009, my hired driver shadowed me for safety (I couldn’t cross the street to grab a coffee in broad daylight without him), and machine gun-toting military and police personnel with bomb-sniffing dogs were everywhere. I was cautioned about staying safe (use hired drivers not taxis, don’t go out alone, avoid wearing flashy jewellery, don’t pull out your phone in public, keep the windows rolled up when riding in a vehicle, hold onto your belongings tightly at all times, etc.). I was also stunned by the beautiful and well-dressed people (particularly the women), a reflection of Bogotá’s somewhat formal society.

Today, the visible presence of military / police personnel around Bogotá is a fraction of what it used to be and things feel far more ‘relaxed’. We have always felt completely safe – whether alone or in a group, day or night, and even with phones out looking like tourists. In addition, Colombia’s demographics are evolving. With almost no immigration due to its violent history, Colombia’s ethnic diversity is visibly absent. Bogotá is one of the world’s few big cities without a Chinatown, but with the improved safety and peace agreement with the FARC, this is changing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to see this country with my closest friends and share my previous experiences against our current environment.

On Tuesday, we booked a private driver and guide (Diana from 5Bogotá makes a repeat appearance). We stopped for freshly made corn arepas and aguapanela (a sickly sweet coffee-esque drink made from unrefined sugarcane juice – blech) in Calera to get us started. We then made our way to the small town of "Guatativa la Nueva" ("The New Guatavita"), just 2 hours away from Bogotá, and one of the most popular day tour destinations out of the city. The town was built in the 1960s to relocate the inhabitants of the original Guatavita that flooded during construction of the Tomine reservoir, which itself was created to generate electric power and increase water supply for Bogotá. Guatavita was re-built as a Spanish colonial town replica with houses featuring white facades, rustic stucco, clay tiles and simple wooden doors and windows. While in the town, we showcased Geri and Jess’ uncanny ability to devour bocadillos (tiny bananas); friends on Instagram or Facebook can check out that video for solid entertainment.

Lake Guatavita is a small body of water in a forest-fringed crater that was a sacred site to the Muisca people, who cast elaborate gold offerings into its depths, inspiring the legend of El Dorado and several ill-fated attempts to drain the lake. Unfortunately, after a VERY bumpy ~45 minute drive up, we discovered Laguna Guatavita was closed that day with no notice, the best explanation for which was “lots of places will be closed since it’s Tuesday after a holiday Monday.” No entiendo ???

We then headed to the Salt Cathedral (‘Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá) with a pit stop for lunch at a ‘drive-in’ meat restaurant in Zipaquirá, where we downed cold beer and shared a hubcap-sized platter of various meats, potatoes and plantains, resulting in a meat coma.


At the Salt Cathedral, we discovered more than just interesting geology - it is a fully functioning Catholic church built into a former salt mine situated ~200 metres underground. The tour includes walking through the mine tunnels past 14 small chapels representing the sufferings of Christ, along with suggestions that we ‘lick the walls’ (after our bocadillo clinic, what could go wrong?). Further amusement as Renata had to crawl into the eerily-lit, salt-carved replica of Michelangelo's "Creation of Man" scene from the Sistine Chapel to retrieve her camera case. More snickers at the guy from Colorado who was very confused to hear we’re from Calgary, since “I thought you said you’re Canadian”….. Prior to returning to surface, we took in an underwhelming, Vegas Freemont Street-style light show to conclude the tour.

Picture Renata crawling around on this to retrieve a camera case.

Back in Bogotá, we ventured out for dinner with several of my Colombian friends at Central Cevecheria. On the invite list were two Fernandos, two Alejandras, and one Diana. We are starting to wonder if there are only a handful of available names for use in this country….


After stuffing ourselves with several types of ceviche, grilled seafood and savoury rice along with multiple bottles of Carmenere, 3 of the less mature bitches decided it was a good idea to hit an Irish Pub for ‘one last nightcap’. As one might expect, one turned into more, and we ended up back at the condo, drinking wine, eating popcorn and talking until 5am, which did not bode well for Wednesday’s morning coffee tour or planned gym workout. We battled through and began our last day in Bogotá before heading onto the much warmer and balmy Cartagena. Hasta luego…..

Posted by imalazyj 17:15 Archived in Colombia

There is no need for Proof of Life

Musings, boring, the entertaining posts are to follow.

semi-overcast 16 °C

After spending the last few full days in Bogota my biggest takeaway is our perception that Colombia is not safe is not founded or true anymore (And, stop watching Narcos, it is not real, a highly dramatized "American" spin on what really happened). The country has made significant headway in the last 15 years to rectify the crime and violence that has historically plagued it. Keep in mind these are my thoughts and observations from being here for a mere 4 days but I would encourage anyone who has ever had inkling of wanting to visit this country to make the journey. I have never once felt unsafe and the people are wonderful, friendly and helpful. There are ample fun activities and the food is amazing.

No one will argue, this country used to be one of the most dangerous places in the world. Even the locals tell terrifying stories of the crime and violence they have endured. One cited the topography of the country as a contributor to the violence. The three branches of the Andes crossing Colombia from the south to the north create a dramatic mix sceneries from high mountains, large highland plateaus, deep canyons to wide valleys, making it one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world (also the reason it can grow the diverse crops it does). The issue is these extreme differences make the distribution & access to social programs difficult. The isolation creates feelings of exclusion and fosters opportunities for people to profit from the drug and arms trade that occurs in these remote regions. As the turf war grew in the remote regions amongst the guerrillas the farmers were displaced to the larger cities where they had no basic amenities (food, shelter) and also turned to crime to survive.

Couple the social differences with the country's continued suspected corruption and you have a perfect storm. While the country is making great strides forward corruption still remains a concern. Citizens feel leaders in the government stay in power too long and serve their own interest firsts rather than those of the people. Public and private social programs (health and medical) continue to starved of resources as reflected by the recent 6 week teacher strike that just ended this week. There are several other public instances in the media reflecting biased actions of politicians but as social media makes news unfiltered and instant it is becoming harder for these occurrences to be ignored.

One of the biggest changes has been the recent peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People's Army (FARC–EP) FARC. The largest and most organized of the guerrilla groups. The civil war with them has been one of the longest in the world, lasting over 15 years. Negotiations for peace began in September 2012 in Havana, Cuba and a final agreement to end the conflict was announced on August 24, 2016. However, a referendum to ratify the deal on October 2, 2016 was unsuccessful after 50.2% of voters voted against the agreement with 49.8% voting in favor. The main sticky points were that FARC wanted to remain a political party and sought immunity from its past war crimes.

The Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace deal on November 24, 2016 and sent it to Congress for ratification instead of conducting a second referendum. Both houses of Congress ratified the revised peace accord on November 29-30, 2016, thus marking an end to the conflict. FARC is responding and handing in their arms (it is estimated 60% compliance so far) but unfortunately that is leaving room for others to take their place in the arms and drug trade. So the problem is lessening but in no way disappearing.

One of the most interesting things I heard during the past few days was we were told that 15 years ago Medellín, Colombia (capital of Colombia’s mountainous Antioquia province) was the most dangerous city in the world. But instead of throwing more violence at the problem, the government took a novel approach to solving the problem they fought it with education. Built schools in the remote areas and taught the children. Delivering eduction and social programs significantly changed the next generation and is bringing a new era of peace. Perhaps the Eastern World should take note?

In addition to the peace talks, on January 30, 2017, Colombia implemented a New Code of Police and Coexistence (5 things to know about Colombia's new police code) aimed at enforcing low-level offenses and encouraging citizens to report small infractions. President Juan Manuel Santos characterized the changes as a modernization of the 1970 code that gives Colombian society an improved “manual for coexistence.”

Like any new code there are several concerns giving a police force of 180,000 more power, including the ability to enter one's home without a warrant. Such concerns are exacerbated by the fact that trust is low for the national police force in many communities. The evolution of the Code was deemed necessary due to the evident transformation of social realities, behavior and penalties for offenders that have changed so dramatically over a period of half a century. It remains to be seen how it works in reality.

Anyways, I will stop rambling, the country has been a pleasant surprise (more than pleasant it has been amazing) and just a quip, for everyone who thought we were crazy to come here it should be noted there has been far more violence in Europe this month.

Until next time,

  1. bitchesinbogota

Note to journal - Plan Colombia, the name of a United States foreign aid, military and diplomatic initiative aimed at combating Colombian drug cartels and left-wing insurgent groups in Colombia. The goal was increase the price of cocaine to decrease how much went into USA . This program was in operation for 11 years and fostered corruption in military groups. One of the measures of success were how many dead bodies were found, interesting statistic. Homeless or random innocents were captured, dressed in enemies clothes and killed to be used as body count. It is estimated 20-25,000 people went missing during this period. The Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Colombia was Minister of Defence during this era. We were told (I have not verified this) that a similar Plan Mexico is in place today.

Posted by imalazyj 16:21 Archived in Colombia

"Like Commonfolk?!" - The Day We Survived Public Tours

Guest appearance by Jessica Meagan

Yesterday, Colombia celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi. The actual day was Thursday, June 15 but Colombians like to observe holidays on Mondays. They apparently just like holidays in general - Colombia observes 18 public holidays, second only to India at 21. The next two Mondays are also holidays. These people know how to live.

The #bitchesinbogota shook off our beer / wine / vodka hangovers, and headed down to Parque de los Periodistas (Journalists' Park) for the highly-recommended Bogotá Graffiti Tour. The tour company began in 2011 when an Aussie and a Canadian decided they wanted to share Bogotá's unique and prolific art scene with the world; they got drunk a few times, picked their favourite walls, and the rest is history. This tour is now frequently the highest-rated activity in Bogotá; after doing it, we know why. There was some initial apprehension: the bitches had to mingle with other tourists. We all share an aversion to public tours; our lack of patience and general dislike for others makes tours insufferable; however, we sucked it up given the strong recommendations. And we are SO glad we did.

There's no way I can do this tour justice - you should just come to Bogotá, and experience it for yourself. But I will try and hit the high points.

In 2011, a 16 year old artist named Diego Felipe Becerra was shot and killed by police while painting at night. His death and the subsequent cover-up (the various trials are ongoing, even today) sparked outrage in the community and empowered artists. The government slowly began relaxing its approach to graffiti; however, the efforts were inconsistent. Enter, of all people, Justin Bieber. After a 2013 performance in Bogotá, Biebs received a police escort to tag a wall. Understandably, the artists who had been on the receiving end of fines and police brutality for years lost their collective shit. They organized a 24-hour "graffiti marathon", which received strong support from the local neighbourhood.

Until recently, the police / government and the graffiti artists have enjoyed relative, albeit uneasy, peace. Graffiti has been legalized in some areas of Bogotá, and there have been many city-sanctioned collaborations with artists. Unfortunately, the recently elected mayor of Bogotá is less supportive of graffiti than his predecessors. Enrique Peñalosa Londoño was mayor from 1998-2000, and was re-elected in 2016. His government is undertaking an effort to restore the historic La Candelaria district to reflect its Colonial roots, which doesn't include graffiti. Within the last couple of weeks, the government has painted over a number of walls in the district. Our guide pointed out the two major flaws with this approach - first, the government is essentially creating a blank canvas for graffiti artists, and cutting down the costs significantly by handling all the prep work. Second, the government likes to share the location of these blank canvases on social media, making it easier for artists to plan retaliation projects. So it sounds like the next few years should be interesting for Colombia's famed street art.

Our guide, Jay, was excellent - he used the art as a springboard for providing fascinating insight into the socioeconomic and political influences of Colombia. To recap it all here would take too long. Instead, I recommend just booking a trip to see it for yourself.

Here are a few of my favourite pieces:

This is a collaboration between four artists: Dj Lu + Toxicómano + Lesivo + Guache. Dj Lu is a fine arts graduate who keeps his identity secret as he's concerned his politically-motivated pieces will jeopardize his "day job" as an architect and a professor. Toxicómano is actually a collective defined as a "group of antisocial scientists in a fight against stupidity, ignorance, morality and faith through healthy visual attacks." Lesivo is one of the community's most controversial figures; his work is often removed also immediately due to the polarizing messages. Guache is one of Bogotá's most famous artists; he often explores indigenous themes in his work. Together, these four artists created a beautiful piece that represents many facets of Colombia's socioeconomic issues: corruption, greed, irresponsible tourism, unsustainable resource extraction...the list goes on.


Deela Roca is incredible. One of her pieces was on a wall the government painted over; everything was white-washed except for her art. I hope they just couldn't bear to cover it up.



Kiptoe is an American artist who, while on a South American tour, made a repeat visit to Bogotá because he fell in love with a Colombian girl. He dedicated a mural to her - "Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo." / "Until we meet again." Turns out I'm a sucker for romantic gestures.


After the tour, we trotted up the street for a bike tour of Bogotá. We were certain we would be "over" the public tour thing after the graffiti tour, so we opted to pay an extra 10,000 pesos (~$6) per person for a private tour. Imagine our surprise when we showed up for a tour with 30 of our closest friends...


Our faces when we don't get to go private.

One benefit of being in a large group - strength in numbers. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no right-of-way in Bogotá. However, while one tourist doesn't pose much threat to traffic, a horde of clueless people on bikes is reason to yield.

We started in the Plaza de Bolívar, which is at the heart of the city. The square is surrounded by historical buildings: the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol, the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá, and the Liévano Palace, seat of the mayor of Bogotá. Then we rode to the Paloquemao market, where we sampled a number of local fruits and vegetables, to varying degrees of enjoyment. As expected, the produce is incredible here - full of flavour.

Still super thrilled with being part of the general population.

After the markets, we got back on the bikes. Our guide turned to us, and stressed the importance of staying together, and not stopping to take photos over the next few blocks. We were slightly confused, until we realized we were riding though Bogotá's 'red light district.' To go from avocados to prostitution is quite the jump, but we rolled with it (literally - we had no choice). We got to witness an older white man in a Mercedes propositioning a very young girl, multiple drug deals, and quite a few people taking naps in the street.

Adjacent to the red light district is the Cafe de la Fonda coffee factory, which walked through the roasting process and offered coffee for sale. Geri and I are actually doing a very robust coffee tour later this week, so expect more details then. The tour also included a trip through the La Merced neighbourhood, which features very European architecture, and the Símon Bolívar park, which is a large greenspace with sports and entertainment complexes.


We were also introduced to tejo - a 'sport' involving throwing rocks at gunpowder. Think of it as cornhole with explosions. Adopting this would certainly change the dynamic of quite a few tailgate parties.


Overall, the bike tour was okay. We had the benefit of socioeconomic / political context from the graffiti tour, which helped. We would have appreciated more explanation on the tour, but that's difficult to provide in such a large group.

We really crammed in the activities yesterday, as we left the bike tour and immediately went to Doña Elsa's house for some authentic Colombian cooking. We also booked the cooking tour through Bogotá Bike Tours. We obviously needed to source some vino tinto, which Mike from Bogotá Bike Tours both found and purchased, as a "sorry" for the bike tour mix-up. Thanks Mike!

Elsa is a wonderful lady who guided us through the preparation of ajiaco, a traditional soup typically made with chicken, three varieties of potatoes, and the Galinsoga parviflora herb, commonly referred to in Colombia as guasca. Cindy and I got a little overzealous, and ended up grating a variety of potato that was supposed to be cubed. But other than that minor incident, the food was delicious and Elsa was incredibly accommodating.


No night in Bogotá is complete without a couple more bottles of wine. But the bitches took it easy, as today was another big day of activities - something I will let Cindy recap for you next time.

Posted by imalazyj 20:16 Archived in Colombia

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