The late great legend Betty White once said that, in her day, “seeing pictures of people’s vacations was considered a punishment.” (She was referring to Facebook.) Well, dang. One cannot argue with Betty White. But if it’s okay, I thought I’d share a few random photos (with authorly commentary) from my incredible adventure last month in Cartagena, Colombia.
In my last Chicks post, I aired a few highly irrational, completely ridiculous fears re: my upcoming travel and life in general. I am happy to report that my son’s wedding was beautiful, and it was a fabulous experience for all. I learned a lot, about a gorgeous country, its people and myself. Possibly also some passable Spanish. I can’t include everything here (note Betty White, above), but here are a few outtakes from your faithful international correspondent:
First, about those fears referenced in my Dec. post: As far as I know, no asteroids crashed into our plane on the way to Cartagena. Or else I was so busy watching Elf on the little seat-back TV screen I didn’t notice. I am also pleased to say that I saw zero bugs. Oh wait, there was one (Kathy Valenti, this is for you):
No crocodiles either. I only encountered two species of potentially dangerous creatures. Look very carefully at this photo of our lovely hotel rooftop pool. See those dark shapes at the top of the main cupola and towers? Those are not, in fact, church crosses. They are vultures. They swoop through the sky on occasion, and four of them visited our pool. The ones at the tower were tending to their young. (Baby vultures are known as “Chicks,” by the way. And vultures are generally monogamous. Isn’t that sweet?) The view and warm water were lovely, especially at midnight.
Leslie, these creatures are for you: The 4 Million Horses of the Apocalypse. Hoofbeats sound day and night, carrying tourists through the narrow, ancient streets of the Walled City. There are more horses than cars, I think. They are faster than the cars, too. Outside the old city, though, these small but very strong horses pull heavy boards and concrete. I didn’t get a photo of any horses, and I did not venture into a carriage myself (I took my chances on foot and just one harrowing taxi ride). But I have to say, I miss the clippety-clop, clippety-clop of hooves now. Really.
I also don’t have photos of any street vendors, but they were everywhere. Some will follow you for blocks, especially the rappers, if you do not give them a firm “no.” (Or in my case, a wimpy, “No gracias. Por favor, no gracias.”) The vendors have a few tricks, though. They call out American celebrity names to get your attention. My son was Leonardo DiCaprio. My husband was Rocky Balboa. (They were both secretly pleased, I think.)
A few words on Joan Wilder (the heroine of Romancing the Stone, 1984, set partly in Cartagena): Sad to say, no mystery fans said, “Lisa Q. Mathews? THE Lisa Q. Mathews? Ah well. But one vendor did call “Joan Wilder” to me—because I posed for a photo outside a place where they sold emeralds. (Note the sign wording way above my head.) I did buy one Joan Wilder-approved, off-the-shoulder dress that I may wear to some future writers conference banquet. And my husband surprised me with an emerald-ish necklace for Christmas. It is beautiful.
My only other purchases, other than a huge, magenta sunhat was a carved turtle (the vendor at the beach claimed his grandfather had taught the art of carving to him—the grandfather seemed to have many, many beloved grandchildren, but that’s okay) and a “lava rock” bracelet. Now, I don’t know if these beads are really made from lava. But the vendor set it on fire with a lighter to show me how well it held up. I was quite fascinated.
I did have one instance of complete tourista stupidity where I almost followed some guy down an alley to nowhere during an international Ironman race where they closed down the streets. He claimed it was a “shortcut,” but it actually held a creepy museum I would have had to pay “admission” for, had I done so. Luckily, I was tipped off by a concerned local, and after that I put on my New Yorker face.
My Spanish was terrible, of course, but we got by. On my first night I ordered an extra mojito by mistake. (Or did I?) No worries. By the end of our stay, I was joking with the locals. Or maybe they just found my attempts to converse hilarious.
Did you know that Colombia exports more than a billion roses a year? Some of the roses in your garden may even have originated there. Here’s a pic of my husband and son-in-law at the reception with So. Many. Roses. Gorgeous.
The food was amazing—not quite as spicy as I’d expected, and there is a very heavy Caribbean influence (Cartagena being on the Caribbean coast). Of course, that means a LOT of seafood, and all the seafood lovers were in cevice (raw fish/shrimp, etc.) heaven. My kids and I are allergic, so we went with other delicious alternatives. Note: veggie cevice does not mean no fish oil:
For all you coffee lovers, one cannot do much better than Colombian coffee. However, you’d better be prepared to wait in line for it for a very, very long time at the various take-out coffee places. As in, more than an hour. I got around that slight inconvenience with a daily morning trip to a sweet bakery. Sinatra music accompanied the pastries, so I occasionally thought I was in Brooklyn or Little Italy.
Naturally, I quickly zeroed in on the bookstore. It was so beautiful—and in addition to books (a great mystery section, by the way!) and strong A/C, it offered beer, wine, coffee, and frosted chocolate cake. I’m including a photo of my book purchase—and yes, I plan to read it in Spanish! May take me a while, though).
So I could go on (and on), but Betty has cued the warning music. I will post photos of the happy couple to social media once they have been properly curated. A lifetime of happiness to our beloved bride and groom, and exciting future travels to all of us—get with the program, 2022!
And gracias, Cartagena! We truly miss you. See you again soon.
Readers, if you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go—or what is your favorite place you’ve ever visited? Let us know in the comments section below!