Notes from Cartagena: Blooper Reel

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!

43 thoughts on “Notes from Cartagena: Blooper Reel

  1. My favorite place so far is Pattaya, Thailand. We used to own a condo on the beach and were going to retire there but I just can’t handle the long flights any more. We do have to make one more trip to close our bank account and when we do go we would like to visit Bangkok and Phuket. Italy has been on my list of places I want to visit forever, Venice is on the top of the list and Spain would be Barcelona.

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    1. Wow, fascinating, Queen! What a dream retirement destination–though I completely understand the pull toward home. Italy in particular is on my list also.

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    2. Romancing the Stone was filmed in Mexico, not Cartagena. Born in Cartagena, the minute I started watching the movie, I knew it was not CTG. I later read that it was indeed filmed in Mexico.

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      1. Mochi, thank you for this! You know, I did get a different feel from the CTG setting in the movie, which I watched before my trip. I put that down to Hollywood sets/long-ago release, etc. The cupolas seemed familiar, as did the walls in the climactic showdown scene. I just went down the rabbit hole re: filming facts and trivia when I went to find out more (Mexico, yes, and…Utah? The river, I think.). Colombia has gone through a lot of changes since 1984, and it definitely made sense for them to choose to film elsewhere at the time. But the beauty and spirit of the country remain the same, for sure. Gracias again.

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  2. Wonderful pics, Lisa. Thanks for sharing. The top spot on my bucket list is Ireland. I’m of Irish descent and have wanted to go there my whole life.

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    1. Ireland: a brilliant choice, J.C.! I hope to get back there someday soon. When you go, you will understand why writing is in your blood. You should do a summer trip and a winter trip also, for full effect. Hey, maybe we should organize a writers “retreat” and field trip there. Slainte!

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    1. Aw, thank you, Kaye! I am living for vicarious visits myself these days. Has anyone been following author Julie Moffett’s Egyptian adventure on FB? Next best thing to being there.

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    1. Me, too, Dru! And living in NY really helps with the verbal comprehension. I was surprised to find I understood more than I expected, and it was easier once I got over the fear of making mistakes. When I speak Spanish, though, I sometimes toss in French words by mistake. Google Translate got me out of a few jams, lol.

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  3. Thanks for your post, Lisa. I’ve had a somewhat negative view of Columbia because of the presence of drug cartels, but I’m glad to know I was mistaken.
    Probably #1 on my bucket list is a Sherlock Holmes tour of London and the UK. I want to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street, Bart’s, where the dynamic duo met for the first time, dine at Simpson’s on the Strand, and have a soft drink at the Sherlock Holmes pub. I want to find Jabez Wilson’s shop, the house where Mr. Hatherly lost his thumb, and the little cottage on the Sussex Downs with its abandoned beehives. And I want to go to Dartmoor and track the hound while riding Silver Blaze!

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    1. A very detailed UK itinerary, Tom–love it! Be sure to share your trip with us Chicks when you go. All of us (and so many of our reader friends, of course!) are Sherlock fans. I understand your worries about safety–the past dies hard, and it is not a far-off past. I have to say, due to all of our family events, we stayed in Cartagena–and, more specifically, within the Old City except for one trip outside to Playa Blanca. Our hotel recommended a driver for us, who also accompanied us to the beach. We did this more for logistical reasons than safety, but that arrangement did allow an enjoyable day. In my view, one must be careful wherever one goes, anywhere in the world.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your pics and your travel notes, Lisa! I definitely don’t consider it a punishment. 🙂 The warmest of wishes to the happy couple! (All those beautiful, lush roses at the reception!) The turtle is super cute, and I want to see that dress you got at a (hopefully soon) conference.

    As for me, one of the top places I’ve visited is Rome. So historical and with excellent food. (This was also pre-kids, so very relaxing as well.)

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    1. Thanks, Jen! I will be swanning around in that dress for sure. (It’s all in the attitude, right?) And so nice you went to Rome. You should return with Dru!

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  5. Looks like a fabulous trip! I’m jealous. Then again, I’m jealous of just about any trip right now.

    A friend of mine is talking about heading to Thailand soon, and I so want to go with him. But the logistics or trying to get out of work to do that just don’t make it feasible, unfortunately.

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    1. *Evil non-work voice*: Go to Thailand, Mark. Go to Thaiiiiland…But seriously, hope you get to take a nice break soon, Mark. You deserve one! I should add that the logistics seemed daunting for us, too–the fact that it was my son’s wedding celebration definitely spurred us into action. It was definitely worth the extra details.

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  6. I would have indeed loved all the horses–and the clipity-clop on the asphalt streets. And yes, that bracelet does appear to be real lava (says the lava expert in Hawai’i)–very nice! I often pick up ocean-rounded lava balls like that around these parts. As for my dream vacation? Paris. Toujours Paris.

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  7. So happy that you were able to appraise my lava bracelet, Leslie! A Chick of many talents. You asked about the wedding menu earlier, and my appetizer choice was my fave food in Cartagena. It was…a cold chicken and potato salad: round (as if cut by a cookie cutter) layers of pureed chicken stacked between layers of mashed potato, with a dab of mayo (or something white) on top and a tiny flash of green dill on top. Yumyumyumyum. #IrishGirl

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  8. Lisa, it looks like a great trip and a wonderful family occasion — congrats to the happy couple! The church is beautiful! And Chicks who write about murder might feel a certain affinity with baby vultures!

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  9. Lisa, I loved seeing your pics! I’m impressed by your Spanish skillz, because I have none. I was surprised in France though, when I could understand and make others understand me with my rudimentary high school French. I guess stuff does sink in!

    I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit, but I think my most unusual trip was to Iceland before the tourists descended upon it. As an example of how very uncrowded it was, when we landed at the airport, we couldn’t find passport control and actually left the airport and had to come back in to find it! We wanted that darn passport stamp!

    I’m so glad everything went well for the wedding. I know you were worried, but now you have cool stories about vultures and Poe in Spanish. What could top that??

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    1. Iceland would be a dream destination for me also, Becky. (Maybe a stop on my return trip to Ireland?) I was hooked after watching the detective TV series (in Icelandic, with subtitles) Trapped. I also would love to see the Northern Lights up close (well, closer). I should probably have mentioned, too, that Poe’s M. Dupin (the book I bought on my trip) figures into Cynthia’s just-pubbed HOW TO BOOK A MURDER, the first book in her new Starlit Bookshop series.

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      1. From what I’ve heard since, you won’t get to wander around an almost deserted Reykjavik airport begging officials to stamp your passport. We just barely saw some dancing Northern Lights when we were there. On my bucket list is a stay at one of the glass-roofed igloo hotels in Finland to watch the Northern Lights. Wanna come??

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    2. Yes, please sign me up for Finland! There’s a TV commercial airing right now (I have no idea what they’re selling) that shows a family oohing and ahhing at the Northern Lights in one of those igloo things. Heck, we should do a whole Scandinavian tour!

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    1. Thanks muchly, Cynthia! I mentioned in one of the comments above that M. Dupin figures in HOW TO BOOK A MURDER. Reading now!

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  10. Lisa, this is MAGICAL, and I’m including that insectile doorknocker(?) and those alarmingly large vultures. What an amazing adventure!

    I absolutely love the Romancing the Stone references and am so delighted that the happy couple has started their marriage avec la vie en rose(s). (Sorry about the lack of Spanish.) I had no idea about the abundance of roses or the omnipresence of horses. Thanks for sharing this with your signature love and wit! Betty would have loved it. ❤

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  11. Aw, thanks, Kathy!! Now “insectile” is my new favorite word. And yes, so many of the old doors had very cool, ornate doorknockers/pulls. I have vowed to take better care of the roses in our garden at home this summer.

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