Thursday, April 30, 2015

Muddy-ing it up in Cartagena, Columbia

My two strongest memories of Cartagena, Columbia will be mud and super colorful architecture.  I have thoroughly enjoyed our two days here. This place is great.

But by far the most memorable experience from Cartagena was bathing in the Volcan de Totumo.  As usual, we had to no idea what to expect, but off we set as there were bonus points attached. While it does not beat the shark dive in Fiji for best scavenge of the year, this outing was definitely a close runner-up. Talk about a weird day. We arrived at this remote village (no electricity, maybe 10 homes) and discovered that they have made an entire industry out of the fact that volcanic mud pools in this weird ant-hill looking mound in the center of the village.

First you go up the very rickedy wooden stairs on the side and climb down a ladder into a pool of mud the consistency of chocolate syrup.  Not sure what is the chemical make-up but you float in it with no effort.  Yet none of the weird smells you'd expert, like the Dead Sea. Just muddy gunkiness and the illusion that you are in zero gravity.

After a quick massage, you are sat upright - suspended - in the mud with a dozen or so of your closest friends.  It has a sort of stuck-in-the-grossiness-of-life feel about it, but is also unsettlingly interesting as well.  It's like a bad dream where you are the  ingredients for a chocolate fondue scene.

Then out of the mud pool for a quick dry-off

After which you are led - by hand - by the older women of the village into a brackish pond at the end of the path.

They proceed to dump water over your head with a bucket, scrub you up and down and in-between and even have you remove all of your clothes so they can rinse out your swimsuit.  Yes, we were literally skinny dipping in a mangrove inlet with village people today.  Travel, you got to love it.

We are staying in the old, historic walled city of Cartagena.  Every building is painted a different color.  It's like a paint box exploded on the streets.

It looks like what I imagine Cuba is like (although I have never been there so I could be dead wrong).  This architecture speaks to my soul.

This year, the trip itinerary included a Seven Seas experience... where we had to swim in different oceans / seas around the world.  So, today, Rainey took a turn in the Caribbean Sea (because he always takes the hit on the swimming challenges, while I eat the yucky food).  And yes, that is my hunky Booth at 55 years old !!!

We even did the touristy carriage ride around town, because there were points for it.

We ate at a great restaurant in San Pedro square. Great because the food was good AND because it was air conditioned and Cartagena is 105 degrees in the shade.

Observation:  this is the first tourist town I have ever been to where literally NO-ONE speaks English.  The Catagena historic district is jammed with tourists, but they are all from South America (probably related to the do-not-go-to-Columbia-or-you-will-be-kidnapped-by-the-FARC-or-hooked-on-drugs scary stories that have routinely circulated in the U.S.).  So there are no Americans here.  Because of that, you cannot order coffee or even buy fruit from a sidewalk vendor without help (for me that's using my sons Ben or Jordan as translators as they both speak Spanish) as not a single service provider speaks a lick of English.  It's so unusual. Even in the most remote parts of Vietnam or Thailand, if there are tourists... there is some English.

We leave tomorrow for Miami, Florida: the last leg of the trip.  We will have one day of scavenging in Miami on Saturday and then the Farewell dinner on Saturday night.  We'll be home in Houston late on Sunday night. It's been awesome to share this adventure with my boys (who both seem to have a true affection for remarkably goofy looking hats).

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