If you've ever read anything by Gabriel García Márquez, Cartagena is just how you'd picture the places in his stories to be: hot, sultry, and charming as can be. For starters, there's the colonial, sometimes crumbling Spanish buildings crammed into narrow, winding streets, all painted vibrant shades of blues, greens, purples, whites and pinks. Then there's the sounds of salsa and champata emanating from the buildings, mixed with the cries of children playing, the shouts of fruit vendors, and the occasional car honking its horn as it tries to make its way through the mix of tourists and locals meandering by. It's sultry but relaxed, vibrant but not overwhelming. It is the perfect place to start one's vacation.
Which is what this is for me. Unlike my epic four-month odyssey through Southeast Asia, this is just a little short-and-sweet trip. Something closer to a vacation than hardcore "travelling" per se. And quite frankly, after my four-months travelling solo around SE Asia, it's what I have the energy for. That trip was completely worth it, but when I got back, I was so tired from the go-go-go-ness of it, that I relished the opportunity to work again. And in typical Jenne-fashion, I had freelance work lined up and ready to go before returning and found myself back in advertising life within 2 days of touching down at SFO.
In the fall, as I cherished the joys of routine and seeing familiar faces and places, I began to wonder if I should take advantage of freelance life and plan another trip, but for some reason, I couldn't pull the trigger. Initially, I had hoped to travel right after Christmas and take advantage of the lull in advertising work during the holidays, but we had (secret) plans to surprise my mom with her brothers and sisters on her birthday, which also happens to be New Year's Day. I looked into overland trips through Patagonia and Ethiopia for some time in January but the dates weren't quite right. I then began to fantasize about a trip to Colombia to study Spanish but couldn't motivate to work out the details. It just didn't feel right. Plus, I didn't want to be totally on my own again. (Four months in SE Asia was hard after a while, although I definitely met tons of cool people and made friends along the way.)
Finally, in December, I met my friend Adele for dinner one night. I knew she was planning to do something similar to what I'd done several months earlier (quit her job, travel for a while) and as we began catching up over some delicious Indian curry, she said, "Do you want to come to Colombia with me in March?" Do I!? Yes!!! Por supuesto!
I took this immediately as a sign that this was how I was meant to go. And now, we are finally here! All checked in to our lovely hotel in Getsémani in the old walled city of Cartagena, savoring our free time until our Spanish class begins Monday morning. We got in midday yesterday and had a menu del día at a nearby restaurant (Las Indias), then came back to the hotel to nap before heading out to wander around the city, including grabbing drinks at the famous Café del Mar, a bar perched on the edge of the walled fort that surrounds old Cartagena looking out at the Caribbean, enjoying some local beers and the warm breezes coming off the ocean. After, we had a very delicious dinner (including some very good octopus) at a restaurant neither of us know the name of! Today after taking care of some logistics at the hotel in the morning, we went for lunch at a local café, then took a cab to a beach at nearby Boca Grande and spent the afternoon watching local kids and couples play in the waves, then checked out the Castillo de San Felipe, a fort built by the Spanish that was its only "impregnable" fort built outside of Spain and is filled internally with dozens of narrow tunnels designed to transmit sound so that any intruder could be heard coming. (Adele kindly indulged my desire to nerd out on history for a few hours!) Tomorrow we'll be heading to the Gente del Mar near Playa Blanca for a day of relaxation before we spend a week in intensive Spanish classes — four hours a day of Spanish, followed by an hour and a half of dance class in the afternoon!
It's funny to be travelling again "so soon" after my last big trip; I only got back from my big trip seven months ago. Since then, I've done some little weekend getaways (Portland, LA, NYC) and a slightly longer weekend trip to Miami, but for the most part, I've been enjoying being at home, hanging out with my friends, taking loads of classes like a crazy person (this past winter I was doing improv, Spanish and swing dancing), and trying to relish the beautiful mountains and countryside we have such incredible access to living in San Francisco. Whether it's hiking on Mt Tam or driving around Sonoma, I'm always so grateful to call that special corner of the world home. Four months hot and sweaty and alone in SE Asia drove that point home — literally.
But the world is a big one. And as much as I love sinking into the comforts of home (my gorgeous apartment, for one thing) and actually love what I do for a living, it's such a blessing to be able to get back out into the world and see a bit more of how it works and plays. And so while this might not be a gigantic, multi-month undertaking, I'm excited to be here and see a bit of what this new corner of the world has to offer. So then, hola, Colombia. ¡Vamos a comenzar!