Street Meat Heaven in Santa Marta

After experiencing the luxury of Isla Baru compliments of my wonderful boyfriend, I knew it was my turn to treat him. So I booked us a private room with AC at a top rated hostel!!

The hostel was in Santa Marta, a four bus ride north of Cartagena and also on the coast. The hostel was great; full service bar, rooftop terrace, and plenty of backpackers.

We got into Santa Marta late (compliments of my Cartagena meltdown) so after we settled in (throwing my pack on the floor), and drank our welcome drink, we went out for dinner.

No more luxury dinner. It was street meat time. Side note: I think opening a chippendales-esc show named Street Meat would make millions.

We walked a few blocks and found street meat heaven. Vendors making fresh delicious food that smelled like foodie joy.

If these vendors were going to get a letter rating from the US health department, and D- would be generous.

All of the scraps (including raw meat) were thrown onto the floor. Some smoked cigarettes while they cooked. The perishable food was kept in ice chests, but I would be surprised if there was actual ice in them.

Before I turn your stomach, what these vendors lacked in health codes, they more than made up for in deliciousness.

We ate Colombian style Carne asada fries; fries with chicharon, lettuce, cheese, a mysterious white sauce, and angel tears for extra flavor. I also got a juice from a juice stand man where I told him which main fruits I wanted (pineapple papaya and orange). He then blended the fresh fruit with ice and made me the most incredible smoothie which he gave to me in a Tupperware with a straw. I think it cost 85 cents.

Then obviously there we dessert empanadas because they were only 60 cents. Later that night, a beggar asked us for money and alex offered him an empanada (which I think meant more to him than a few colombian pesos given his excitement level when buying them) and the man declined because he was “thirsty” (for crack). Which is unfortunately a huge problem in Colombia given the white gold industry. Despite being gorgeous and safe, Colombia is still a poor nation and the impoverished population is much to big.

The good news (selfish news) was that the empanadas were delicious for breakfast the next morning.

After our healthy breakfast (including apples!) we headed to Parque Tayrona, a national park about an hour north of Santa Marta. Ever since Alex and I decided to travel to Colombia, we have been emailing back and forth a picture from the park. The picture is from Cabo San Juan, one of the last accessible by foot beaches in the park. Tayrona is huge, but most of it is jungle with no accessible trails. From the main entrance, we hiked about two hours until Cabo San Luis, passing beautiful beaches slog the way. The hike was great; especially the parts that were just walking on the hot sand. The park is known for these giant boulders on the sand. I’m not sure how they got there (and haven’t looked it up) but my theory – ancient aliens.

We spent a few wonderful hours enjoying Cabo San Luis. Palm trees to lay under and cool refreshing water to swim in. In order to get back to Santa Marta, we could either hike back to the main entrance and then take a bus to Santa Marta, or take a boat that would take us almost entirely to Santa Marta. Call us lazy, but we just got to see even more of the park by taking the boat. And we almost lost our lives in the Perfect Storm sized waves.

The boat was about 35 ft long with Bench style seats around the perimeter. You know the ride is going to be serious when the boat captain and his helpers were all wearing life vests and holding on. The ride was crazy. So many stomach dropping waves. But the views…unreal. It was a true rugged beauty; dark water crashing violently against black jagged rock. So cool. And alex and I were thoroughly entertained by the girl who was clearly seasick. I think we were both secretly wishing she would throw up for pure selfish entertainment reasons.

We flew out the next day where we spent our last night in Bogota before I hopped on a plane to Peru and alex grabbed one back to the states.

I’ll end my Colombian blogs on this note; just because the water is safe to drink in Bogota doesn’t mean it’s safe to drink in Santa Marta. I’ll skip the details.

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Traveler mode

365 days ago (as of July 15), Alex and I went our first official date. That night, I got emotional and cried. Then in December, when I met up with him and his friends in Vegas, I thought that 3:00 am on the strip would be the perfect time to ask, “Am I your girlfriend?” I’m pretty sure I’ve offered to cook meals at least once a week and have followed through half a dozen times. Perfect dating material right??

I guess I convinced him somehow because for our year anniversary of our first date, he took me to an island resort on Isla Baru, about an hour off the coast of Cartagena.

We arrived on boat with a half dozen other couples. We pulled up to our resort, Sport Baru, and it was set up like a classic beach paradise. Hibiscus flowers decorated the tables. Lounge chairs with perfectly folded towels sat on the white sand beach. Hammocks were hanging all around. Kayaks were pulled on shore ready to be used. And just like out of some fancy movie, we were greeted with delicious fresh drinks.

It was almost like a luxury field trip. After hearing the run through of the resort (which we understood 60% of), we were dismissed. Most of the people we came with were only staying for the day so they hit the beautiful private beach. We went to check out our room; complete with a private balcony and hammock overlooking the Carribean.

At 11:30, we were promptly taken to another private beach by boat with the rest of the group. This beach was even more beautiful. Blue green water, white sand, palm trees. We enjoyed the warm water and soft sand before heading back to our island for a lunch of freshly grilled fish. Then we got free time! We laid out, went swimming, and took a kayak to another island to watch the sunset.

Once the couples that came for the day left, I realized Alex and I were one of three couple staying the night at the resort. There was a young German couple, and an older Colombian couple. The Colombians had the same short round body and both wore bright yellow tanktops. They did cool things like wear sneakers on lounge chairs. I liked them.

The next morning, we made sure to get a couples massage to rid our bodies of the undue stress we faced from staying at a resort.

Before you give up on this blog and go barf because it’s so obnoxiously adorable, I’ll fast forward to “the incident”.

We took a private boat back because we wanted to catch a 2.00 pm bus to Santa Marta. We were low on cash so when we made it back to Cartagena, we decided alex would stay with the bags and boat driver and I would go find an ATM.

If I had been in traveler mode, I would have paid attention to the cross streets of the dock. But I had a fresh flower in my hair and oil on my body from a massage. I couldn’t be weighed down with such nonesense.

Finding an ATM took forever and I ended up getting turned around. I was also on the verge of peeing my pants. (or bathing suit and skirt in this case). No one would let me use their bathroom and I was also lost and frustrated. So I just took off my skirt and peed in the really clean, gasoline free dock water. I’m so respectable.

At this point, I convinced myself things were looking up. I had made it back to the water and had an empty bladder. But as it turned out, I was walking the wrong direction. I ended up hailing a cab and asked him to take me to the dock. (there are about 500 little did I know) He ended up taking me to where you buy the tickets…back in Cartagena proper and nowhere near the dock. I hopped out when I realized we were definitely going the wrong way. All I had on me were huge bills from the ATM and when he said he didn’t have change, I was so frustrated that I just left without change meaning I took a $2.50 cab ride for $28. Damn.

Since I was back in the main area of Cartagena, I found the hotel we stayed at two nights before because they set up the initial boat ride. Surely they would know which specific dock I needed to find.

The helpful concierge man remembered me and looked up the correct dock. While he did this, he kindly asked me about our stay on Isla Baru. I smiled and said it was wonderful, of course, but all I could really think about was how I was lost and covered in pee/dirty dock water.

He set me up in a cab who of course didn’t take me to the right place. I was close enough to where I quickly found alex, who was clearly nervous about where I had been for an hour but trying to play it cool.

I immediately sat down and cried until I could gain my composure to go to the bus station.

We ended up having to take a later bus but it worked out.

For the whole week, Alex and I have been playfully arguing over who is the better traveler. In all the stress of the incident and facing the embarrassment of being outed as the worse traveler, I convienty left out the peeing in the ocean part, and I told alex I fell in. So alex, I lied. Whoops. Yes, you win at who is the better traveler.

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Rum & Romance in Cartagena

After a day and a half of struggling to keep my breath in Bogota, Alex and I flew to Cartagena, a beach town on the Carribean Coast. The city was much smaller than Bogota (which has more people than LA). The old city of Cartagena is surrounded by walls built in the 1500s (didnt double check this date…not sorry). The walls were built to keep out pirates. Fricking pirates kept raiding the city so they just built walls around it. Thats technology. The entrance to the walled city is a beautiful yellow clock tower, which loooks like something out of a fairytale. Once within the walled city, the streets are narrow and many of the buildings adorn their little terrces with flowers. Bars, restaurants, shops, and plazas fill the streets.

Our hotel was located right outside the walled city in an area called Gestemani. Its considered a little more laid back and less touristy, and I thought the location was perfect. It was only a 4 minute walk to the entrance of the walled city, AND it was the red light districts….YES, HOOKERS!!!

After melting in the 95 degree humid sun (and taking a much needed siesta), I ate the best hot dog of my life before we headed to Cafe Havana. (Side note: Want to feel really pretty in a tight LBD??…Definitely eat a huge hotdog and drink four beers). Anyways, Cafe Havana is located in the Gestemani part of town, and it is a bar/club playing live music. We read about it on the web and in my guide book. A lot of times guidebooks will reommend a bar and say something like `Great spot full of locals, cheap drinks, and fantastic local music`. Then you get there and all of a sudden youre drinking an $9 watered down mojito with a bunch of other tourists bobbing your head to Rihanna. Luckily, this was not the case at Cafe Havana.

Instead, the club was packed full of people of all ages, from 17 to 87. Everyone was dancing to the incredible live band, and ice cold drinks were flowing like it was 95 degrees outside (wait, it was). Despite drinking our fair share of the most delicious mojitos, everyone else was completely drinking us under the table. The preferred drink of choice: a BOTTLE of rum.

Besides the top notch drinkers, Cafe Havana was filled with dancers cut out for So You Think You Can Dance. Dont worry, I kept up. I sipped my drink slowly and swayed my hips awkwardly like I owned the place.

The next day we asked our hotel concierge for some recommendations around Cartagena. He took us to the rooftop pool to show us a birdseye view ad pointed to all different parts of the city. He pointed to a peninsula, and said, `That is Bocagrande. I wouldnt recommend it unless you like beaches, dancing, and parties.` So thats exactly where we went.

Bocagrande was a 5 minute cab away from our hotel. Once we arrived, we found beautiful beaches full of a few tourists, plenty of locals, and even more street vendors. We rented a couple chairs, a table, and a beach umbrella from one of the vendors. He was our main man. If we wanted beers, he brought them. When I wanted the best pina colada on earth, he brought that. And when we got hungry, he brought us delicious arepas (grilled corn patties filled with queo or pollo…kind of like El Savadorian papusas). Besides our main man, there were people selling everything, from massages to oysters. Yes, we had both. No, not at the same time.

After bronzing our bodies to perfection (All Alex had to do was stay under the umbrella) and swimming in the Carribean, we headed back to the walled city for a delicious seafood dinner…BEST CEVICHE IN THE WORLD. And I am a ceviche enthusiast so thats a serious claim.

Our two nights in Cartagena were wonderful. The city had such a romantic ambiance. The old buldings, narrow streets, and cozy cafes seemed designed for couples to stroll hand in hand through. Just when I thought our trip couldnt get more picture perfect, we departed for Isla Baru the next day….

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Bogota; the capital of lawless, dangerous Colombia

I guess I could perpetuate the stereotype that Colombia is unsafe to visit. It would definitely keep this country free from the huge wave of tourism that will certainly occur when people realize that Colombia is beautiful, safe, and so much fun. So yeah…it was super sketchy. Stay away. Bad Colombia.

Then there is another part of me that is angry with the endless fear mongering perpetuated by news stations looking for a good story or by people who havent bothered to look up the news about Colombia since the 80s. What everyone is missing out on is a beautifully diverse country full of kind people, mouthwatering food and drinks, and a gorgeous landscape; mountains, beaches, islands, etc.

My Colombian adventure is one I have been sharing with Alex, my wonderful boyfriend. I should cite him for coming up with the phrase “a dangerous lawless people”. We like to say that to each other whenever someone is kind and helpful… About every two minutes.

We both flew into Bogota around the same time so we met there before taxiing to our hotel. We stayed in the northern, trendy part of town, Zona Rosa. After staying in hostels for three weeks, I almost peed myself when I saw the gorgeous hotel suite. Luckily, there were two full bathrooms with lots of toilet paper to accommodate me.

The area near our hotel reminded me a little bit of the east coast. Tall trees and beautiful brick buildings. Then, like many Latin American counties, so much public space. Parks and benches and outdoor restaurants where people congregate and enjoy one another’s company.

We went to an upscale area of town for dinner, Parque de la 93. The area is basically a block of nice restaurants located around a park. Yes, I got pampered and I loved it. We drank unbelievably delicious cocktails, pisco sour for me and a capairinah for Alex. We followed the drinks with a fresh, muy Rico seafood dinner. The girl rocking hairy legs and eating ramen… I don’t know where she went because she was quickly replaced by a clean, soft, high heel and make up wearing woman.

After dinner, we headed to Zona T for drinks aka mojito madness. We got 3×1 drinks, which just made me think they should be 1/3 of the price but I dont set the rules. The bars of Zona T were filled with young (19-25) Colombians. They were fashion forward, affluent, and had a very European look to them. One thing Alex pointed out, which I most definitely agree with, is that a young middle class is a great sign for a nation. It shows the next generation moving up. Or they might have had rich parents, but we didn’t really get that sense too much.

We spent the next day in Bogota discovering La Candalaria, the colonial part of town. This area had beautifully perserved old buildings in all different colors that wove up and down narrow streets towards the Andes mountains. Bogota is at an elevation of around 8,000 feet cradled in between the gorgeous, cloud swept Andes. Neither of us claimed that the elevation affected us but I was very out of breath and light headed…then again, Alex walks 20 mph so I had to jog to keep up.

It actually rained all day which was a nice mix up from sweaty Costa Rica and Panama. Some of the highlights of the day were going to the museo del oro, seeing a llama wearing converse, and eating a sit-down three course lunch for $3.81 a piece (I paid…cuz I’m so generous).

And I can’t forget the greatest thing I’ve seen in Colombia so far…people renting cell phones. A man with a cart stands with a sign saying “200 pesos a minuto”. So a person goes up and gets handed a cell phone (connected by a chain!!) to place their call. It’s amazing.

Next stop…Cartagena!

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Panama: Where the people are cool and the buses are freezing

Im downstairs in the hostel with my cleanest clothes on, freshly shaved legs, and a hot cup of coffee. I am really stunned how three weeks have already passed. Time to say goodbye to Evi and Central America and start the next phase of my trip: Boyfriend lovin in Colombia.

Here is my quick wrap up of Panama. We walked across the border from Costa Rica to Panama, just a nice bridge with broken wooden planks across it. I wouldve been scared except I watched our guide, who was approximately 8 feet tall and resembled Hagrid, cross just fine. He might have been a wizard though.

Our first stop in Panama was Bocas del Toro where we stayed on Isla Bastimiento near Red Frog Beach. The main island of Bocas is Isla Colon, where the famous Bocas Town is located. Our island was a quick 10 min water taxi away. Bocas Town is known as a party city. Not partying in Bocas would be like going to Ibiza and not partying… Unfortunately for me, I have done both of those things. We ended up with crappy weather and a water taxi into Bocas town in a lightening storm didnt sound too appealing. We opted for lots of jungle adventrues and kayacking.

Our next stop in Panama was Panama City, just a 10 hour night bus away. The bus left at 7:00 pm and arrived in Panama City at 4:00 am. Our hostel didnt open until 8:00. We slept in the bus terminal. We looked and felt homeless.

After catching up on some much needed sleep, we explored the giant metropolitan town. I didnt have any expectations of Panama City…I didnt even know where it was on the map until we got on the bus. I wasnt expecting a metropolis. Panama City is filled with huge skycrapers, lots of industry, and people everywhere. Given the significance of the canal to international trade, it makes sense.

Panama City has been great. It is wonderfully cheap. I bought a six pack of Panamanian beer for $2.32 and an ice cream cone for 50 cents. What else could I need??

My favorite part of Panama City is probably the bus system. They are old US School Buses. These arent your average orange school buses. They are insanely decorated. Neon lights, crazy paint jobs, spoilers on the back. Some of them are themed. We ended up on a Jesus themed one…Complete with a man preaching the word of god. Exactly what I wanted to hear crammed next to 5000 of my closest friends sharing sweat and recycled air. The best part of the buses: they are only 25 cents!!

Even the taxis are cheap. They dont have meters, which I typically take as an indicator that I am about to get ripped off. Instead, they are ´name your price´. You get in, go to your destination, and hand the taxi drvier whatever amount you think is appropriate. Sometimes they haggle, but normally not.

One of the highlights of Panama City was our night on the town. We got all done up…put on tank tops, flip flops, brushed our hair, and maybe even used chapstick. When we arrived to the bars and clubs area, we were the only women without stilletos, tight dressed, and full hair and make up. Im pretty sure our blonde hair, despite being dirty, was the only reason we got in. We were the only Americans, and some of the only foreigners. It was a nice mix up from the tourist impacted Costa Rica. We tried to pretend like we intended to wear our less than stylish outfits and made friends with some sweet Panamanian girls who kindly informed us of the open bar we were at. Score.

I guess I should have started with the low-lights to end on a happy note, but whatevr. Deal with it. Apparently, Panama just discovered Air Conditioning. Everywhere inside is FREEZING: Our overnight bus to Panama City was roughly 20 degrees. I had to get my thick hiking socks, jeans, fleece, rain jacket, and almost every clothes item I wore out of my bag…and I was still cold.

The hostels have freezing AC too…unadjustable AC. Then there was our trip home from El Valle. We took a day trip to El Valle, a mountainy jungle town 2.5 hours outside of PC. It reminded us a lot of La Fortuna. We ended up getting caught in a tropical downpour before getting on the bus. We were soaking wet. We then got on the bus where it was 20 degrees again. They wouldnt turn the AC off. I think we cried. I am pretty sure I experienced hell.

In conclusion, loved panama. Hated the AC. Off to Colombia!!

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Reggae Jams Puerto Viejo Style

After Manuel Antonio, we got on our 4:30 am bus back to San Jose, where we trasnferred onto Puerto Viejo. This town is on the carribean coast, just a few miles north of the border with Panama. Pulling into Puerto Viejo after an exhausting 11 hr day of travel was like arriving in an entirely new country. Puerto Viejo has a strong Afro-Carribean influence. Lots of reggae music, rasta colors, and indulgence in herbs.

Puerto Viejo is very laid back. Maybe it has something to do with the herbs. When we went to grab some Carribean style gallo pinto from an organic vegetarian joint, we waited about 45 minutes for our food. We were the only people in the restaurant without food. It was delicious. Im pretty sure they made everything from scratch. There might have even been a garden in the back where they had to wait for our rice to finish growing. It didnt really bug us since we have adopted the motto ´We have nowhere to be until July 11´, which is when we fly out of Panama. This helps us deal with our disdain of inefficient use of time.

We explored the tiny city, and there were signs everywhere for live music and happy hour. Given the fantastic reggae playing in every store, we were excited to listen to some live music.

The music wasnt exaclty what we expected. It was a band of 4 middle aged white people and a token Afro-Carribean drummer. If youve seen ´Get Him to the Greek´, I was reminded of this scene…

Despite their image problem, they were at least going to play some reggae, right? WRONG ASSUMPTION. Instead, they chose Joan Osburne´s hit,´What if God was one of Us?´ Not exactly on page with the Rastafari I and I, but who am I to judge? Maybe one of them was God…like a stranger on a bus. Evi and I held back our laughter and tried to focus on our delicious rum drinks and the Carribiean Sea in front of us. The rum was just strong enough and the sunset was just beautiful enough to distract us.

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Shit no one asks about but secretly wants to know

Whenever I read travel blogs or talk to friends who have travelled, I always want answers to the untalked about questions. When was the last time you shaved your legs? Is there toilet paper? On a scale of freshly washed baby to creepy man on the SD trolley, how bad do you smell? Sometimes the answers to these questions are far more interesting than someone’s super profound opinion on the Mona Lisa. Yeah, its small. She has no eyebrows. Any other genius revelation you would like to share with me today…

So if youre looking for new information on my love for the jungle or the Pura Vida lifestyle, wait for the next blog. Right now, lets get real.

Even though Ive showered most days, I still feel dirty…and look dirty. Since we’ve made our way to the beaches, its gotten better. But not much. Its hot and sweaty here. The hikes are extra muddy. My feet have permanent dirt stains. I cant even imagine what the nail salon people would whisper to each other if I tried to get a pedicure right now.

No, I havent shaved my legs once since Ive been here. Theyre far beyond the stage of prickly cactus and onto soft fur. Im hoping it protects me from mosquito bites (no luck so far).

As far as soap, I am using this ultra hippy stuff called Dr Bronners. Its an all-in-one soap for your face, body, hair, and even clothes. Its organic, biodegradable, and smells like lavender scented dread locks. The main ingredients are coconut oil and olive oil. You might be thinking, wow thats sounds really hydrating. It is, but not in a good way. My hair looks wet. All the time. Its so pretty. I finally caved and bought 2-in-1 shampoo. Talk about luxury!!

There are positives to my hygiene regimen. At home, I am all about lotion all over my body every day. I single handedly keep Curel Extra Moisturizing Body Lotion in business. Then theres also face wash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, face moisurizer, makeup primer, etc., etc. The only beauty products I use now are soap, sunscreen, and bug spray. I havent gotten one pimple since Ive been here. Screw you fancy acne face wash. Also, my skin feels extra soft. Well, minus my wrinkly grandma hands. Those are lost cause with or without lotion.

Now lets talk about my sexy outfits and gear. Tevas, the sandals that strap all around your feet, are the most amazing invention ever. I try to wear them as much as possible. The have shock absorption! Most backpackers wear them and the ones without are fools. Tevas with leg hair is probably the ultimate seduction tactic. Everyone wants me.

I wear the same clothes most days, cargo shorts and tanks. And then there is my green and blue dress. The strap broke so I cut it into a skirt. Oh, and I have these realllly realllly sexy hiker underwear that are moisture wicking and sexual. It does great things for the shape of my butt. The only bra I have here, besides two sports bras, is my creepy lounge bra. If you have not heard about my obsession with my lounge bra, we arent really friends. Basically, I stole this pink cotton bra from Angie when she was in 8th grade. I wear it around the house. All the time. Best backpacker bra ever.

One great piece of advice I was given was to carry toilet paper because some places dont have any. This advice would be perfect if I managed to take the TP out of my giant pack in the hostel and put it into my day pack. Stranded in the jungle in Monteverde, it was just me and the V-Z index page of my Costa Rica travel book.

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