Semana Santa means Holy Week and pretty much everyone is off work for at least part of the week here in South America. Our school was closed for the entire week before Easter plus the Monday after Easter for another Catholic holiday. 10 of us decided to take advantage of the long week off to go visit a different part of the country. Alan, my fiance, and Whitney's brother, Dan, flew in from the US to visit and came along on the trip.
Day 1 and 2: We loaded up at 5am on Saturday morning to start our long drive towards the coast of Colombia. To get there and keep it cheap, we rented a van and driver for the entire trip. The first day we drove 12 hrs (it should have only been 8 but road construction caused us to go 3 hours out of the way...T.I.C) and so we arrived in Medellin about 12am. We had been warned about driving after dark because of FARC and the dangers of 9 Americans who look very white getting stopped. Fortunately that didnt happen. We stayed in the Seminary school dorms that night in Medellin and woke up at 7 the next morning to start the 2nd day of driving to the coast. This should have only taken us 9 hrs but again took 12 hrs and we arrived in Cartagena at 1am.
Day 3: Cartagena was incredible. We had arranged to rent an apartment of someone who has relatives at ECA (the school where we all work). She gave us a great deal and all 10 of us had this huge apartment with 4 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms to ourselves (and the live in housekeeper) for the next 2 days. We were only 2 blocks from the beach and the apartment was in the nicer part of town.
The first day we lounged around and recooperated from the long hours in the van. We relaxed on the beach for the first part of the day and tasted the shrimp (ceviche) with salsa that they walk around selling to the beach visitors. The beach is not as relaxing as it is in the U.S. because many people make their living off of selling their jewelery, food, massages, hair braids, etc. by hassling the tourists. You can't go a minute without someone walking up to you asking you to buy stuff.
That afternoon we all went back to the apartment to shower and then went to the "Old City" of Cartagena. Cartagena was once a spanish fort and the city was surrounded on all sides by a large wall. This is now the "old city". It was very beautiful and had a cool spanish/italian feel to it. A group of us walked around and took a tour of the Castillo de San Felipe (the castle) which is right outside of the city. Then we headed back inside the city walls and walked around. Alan and I split up from the group and had dinner in a courtyard. It was an nice unexpected romantic evening! We headed back to the apartment and others joined us after taking a carrage ride through the city.
Day 4 (Cartagena):
We left early in the A.M. for a boat tour to the Islas de Rosario (islands). Like most purchases in Colombia, we had to negotiate our ticket prices until we found the best deal. For lunch and a full day of the boat ride and island trips we spent about $25.00 per person which is so cheap compared to what something like that would cost in the US.
We had about a 1 1/2 hour boat ride to the first island. Many passangers got sick along the way...pretty gross. On the first island Alan and I walked through the outdoor aquarium. It wasnt anything too extravagant but it was nice and there wasnt much else to do on the tiny island. Katherine ran into our neighbor (in Bogota)'s cousin and she was staying with the owner of the island so she showed us around a bit.
Next stop was Playa Blanca where we were served our lunch of fish with its head attached. The beach was small but nice and not too crowded. We hung out there for an hour or so before heading back to Cartagena. We were pretty impressed with these beaches. The water was so clear and everything was so beautiful. We definitely got a great deal for what we paid.
On the way back, the waves were pretty large and since we were on the front of the boat we were getting soaked and again, people were getting sea sick.
That night we were exhausted but got up enough energy to go eat at Hard Rock Cafe in Cartagena's old city. I had forgotten how delicious american food is! I can't wait to go home and eat this stuff again!
Day 5: Driving again.
On Wednesday we began driving to our next destination. The trip took us 4 hrs but we didnt arrive in Santa Marta until 4pm because our van driver picked us up 2 hrs behind schedule. When we arrived, we went to the house of a previous principal of ECA who is now a missionary in Santa Marta. He had offered for us to stay at his church for free during our time in Santa Marta which was really nice and cut cost incredibly. We had a late lunch with his family, then settled down at the church. That evening we went to a part of the city called El Rodadero, which is the more touristy high class area.
Taganga- another section of beach around Santa Marta. This is a small bay where everyone parks there boats. From here we took a boat to another nearby bay. We layed around there most of the day and then headed back and had dinner. This day was a difficult one for me due to issues with the van driver and insults from the colombians against us americans. It was nice that it was a relaxing day but I was definitely longing to be back in my familiar culture.
Day 5: Parque Tayrona
In Santa Marta there is a national park surrounding the Sierra Nevada. Within that park you can hike to the beaches and to the Lost City. We did the easy- one day trip of walking the coastal part. The beaches were gorgeous, however, it was a bit crowded for a national park due to the holiday.
Day 6: We left Santa Marta at 4am and drove the entire 18 hrs (this time we actually did it around our estimate) all the way back to Bogota, getting back at 1am. It was good to be back and we still had 2 full days left to rest and get ready for school to begin on Tuesday.