Monday, 28 March 2016

Oh Cartagena, You Had Me At "Ceviche"!

There is a time in everyone's life when a decision needs to be made on a whim. On a whim and based on the "me first" kind of philosophy. Sprinkled with a bit of carelessness - the good kind - just to prevent overthinking. Carelessness that simply must include some form of hedonism.
Sounds interesting?
Well, let me tell you about my most recent "Hell YES!" decision I am sure to revel in for the rest of my life!

Next thing I know: I'm in Colombia!
Towards the end of this winter - the weirdest winter of wars and worries - my phone rang and I heard a: "Would you travel to Cartagena with me?!"
As one of my best friends rattled on with her contagious zest and elaborate plans listing fast approaching dates I got lost for a second. My young life flashed in front of me: I was 15 and back in my favourite geography class. South America. A strategically important port. Chocolate. Coffee. And of course, narco mafia, cocaine. Pablo Escobar. Thank you movie/TV stereotypes! The soundtrack playing in my subliminal cortex: Romancing The Stone!

There was no time to Google anything. Just pack the cabin luggage, grab my passport, kiss the kids and get ready to experience the very essence of the word: AVENTURAS!

Fav coffee place
I don't know what made me fall in love with Cartagena the most, but here it all is and not in any particular order. In fact, it was more like a tsunami - everything hitting me at the same time - the warmth, the tastes, the smells, the sights, the sounds making me feel enchanted from SEGUNDO UNO! 
 - Caribbean Sea breeze that hugs you as soon as you step out of the Rafael Nùñez International Airport whispering: "Life Is Good"
 - Coffee - thick and powerful, nutty with the hint of caramel that removed in a single sip all remnants of our red-eye flight tiredness; Se Volvió Prispri - a little, elegant, home-made, cool piece of heaven
 - Cobblestone streets - close to 500 years of history polished into the stones lining town squares and corners. From the Inquisition (the Museum of Inquisition serves as a somber reminder of atrocities done in the name of the cross - too bad CNN wasn't around to report on it) to Inspiration - street-art, performers, entertainers, ladies selling fruit in traditional costumes and an explosion of colours at street vendor offerings
Colombian tote bags
 - Spanish colonial architecture - colourful facades, balconies adorned with cascades of bougainvillea, magnificent entrances and door knockers that totally deserve to be in their own coffee-table book
Breakfast is ready!
- Fruits - mango, maracuyá, papaya, pitahaya, passion fruit, pineapple, guava and guanoabana and my all-fruits-favourite lulo. How to describe the divinity of exotic flavours? Simple: you bite into a banana and at once understand that is how God intended it to taste. Not how we get to buy it in North America - yanked off the tree while still seriously green then shocked into hibernation by cruel, unnatural cold in some giant cargo crate only to be stunned by the neon lights of the mega-grocery-store, presented to us in a pale-shy-yellow... Blasphemy!
 - People - with learning English still being considered a privilege reserved mostly for well-to-do families it is amazing to experience how easy it is to connect with people while knowing only a few Spanish words (note to self: learn Spanish!). Thank you Google translate App! There is something so unbelievably easy and generous in the collective demeanour of Colombians. They simply love life. They get it. Minutes are not rushed. Meals are not gobbled. Steps are taken in a leisurely way.
Fernando Botero at Plaza de Santo Domingo
- Celebration of the feminine curvature - imagine a place where Spanx is a mythical term. Where tight clothes are welcome, busts carried with pride and behinds ready to move at the first beat of salsa. And although South America is notorious for their ultra-high plastic surgery rates (the unspoken rule is: nose-job for sweet 15 and silicones for coming out of age), I have never seen more beautiful women of all ages wearing whatever they God-damn-well please without a care what the fashion police is saying is a faux-pas for their age group.

New friends!
 - Book-lover's & writer's playground - I have finally discovered the ultimate happy place: ábaco libros y cafe - a small corner coffee-shop and independent bookstore that is as enchanted as the books that stack far up to the ceiling. It didn't matter that most books are in Spanish although there indeed is an English shelf. Just browsing the spines, recognizing the writers and titles, and smelling the print felt like home. Sipping coffee. People watching. Meeting new glorious friends. HERMOSA!

Cartagena was also a home of South America's most famous writer and one of the greatest Colombians.
Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez. The Nobel Prize for Literature laureate was a journalist, short-story writer, novelist and screen-writer who studied at Cartagena's local university and made home within the old city walls.

Mmmm... Arepa con queso
- Street foods - from freshest fruit juices squeezed right before your eyes, to calorie-loaded-yet-oh-so-worthy empanadas to my all time favourite arepa con queso. There was this street vendor just on the side of the park at Plaza Bolivar (if you follow the Amazing Race - this was the pit stop of the first leg contestants ran in Cartagena that aired this month). No matter what kind of self control my gal-pal and I resolved to follow, just seeing the crispy golden tops made us line-up, morning after morning, patiently waiting to spend the fifteen-thousand pesos the best way possible. 75 cents!

- And now that I've opened the Pandora's box of all Foods irresistible, here it is:

Devil's shrimps and Mango octopus ceviche
In the Cartagena restaurant Olympics there would have been two winners: Cuzco which is likely one of my best dining experiences ever - the food and the company! And then there is La Cervicheria where the entire menu is fresh sea-food that has been cured in lemon and lime juice, sprinkled with aji (chili peppers) and garnished with cilantro and red onion and spices. The varieties are endless and delicious and refreshing and light and totally guilt free!
Ultimate favorite: Ceviche
There is also Montesacro - where delicious foods and full bodied wines are served on the terrace overlooking Plaza Bolivar while the band plays bossanova seducing you into thinking life should always come at +26 C and a best friend laughing out loud with you.
Seafood coconut curry
The winner of Cartagena's desserts... and we explored decadent stuff like coconut crème brûlée and the likes (aka coconut dulce de leche) is...

Everything at La Paletteria
...and I am not even an ice-cream person!!! Tamarind and kiwi-like lulo are absolute must-tries!

Tough battle between the best beverage - alcohol free and kid-proof!
Mango-2-go @ Mila Vargas, the Queen of brunch
Coconut-lime smoothie (for Juan with mint!)

All this and I haven't even touched on the Argentinian steak-house or many non-food experiences such as Castillo de San Felipe, the origin and faith of the natives, Convento de la Popa, historical term: vomito negro - I am sure to use not as a medical diagnosis but a character description; the dark muds of the near-by volcano, the pink sands of unspoiled beaches and coral-reefs of Rosario islands. The Havana club with authentic jazz or the cool of finest linen fashion the Clinton's have already discovered. Witnessing the full moon during the horse-carriage ride through the narrow cobblestone streets. Experiencing Colombian authentic chocolate making process from start to finish making my own truffles to go at museum of chocolate. Dear TripAdvisor, I owe you so many 5-star reviews!
A 5-star experience with dear friends @ CHOCO museo
And one last thing... Cartagena is way more than a sophisticated, safe and sizzling travel destination. For me personally, it is the port into the new world and the new era. The one where my fort withstood the attacks and my ships earned their smooth sailing with my flag proudly waving in the wind. Which brings me to my friend Vesna. The commandant, the confidante and the fellow conspirator of all things fun. Because the truth is, although I loved every second of my Colombian adventure, the best part of it all was experiencing it with a kindred spirit, an extraordinary woman, mother, sister, daughter, friend, fashion-expert, home-chef, vine-connaiseur. Fifteen hour flight there + 7 days + 15 hour flight back of the best friendship, pure and uninterrupted joy! 

Flight there: well hello Houston, TX of all places, HA, HA!

Flight back: #cantstoplaughing
My favourite word I learned in Spanish is the word for 'jewelry' - as in emeralds, gold. After all the yellow half of the Colombian flag represents natural resources.
And although I always preferred Swarovski-like bling rather then the real thing which I have to be responsible for, this word is now my absolute favourite and I am using it to describe my 2016 - my friendship, my trip, my life: 


  1. LOVE THAT BOOKSTORE. And everything else!

    1. Oh Kerry, the ábaco bookstore is so YOU that it deserves to make it to your destination travel list! <3