Taming the Mopeds in Cartagena

I may have mentioned before that my sister calls the ideas that race around her brain mopeds. I have a lot of thoughts, she says. Me too, girl. Me too. 

I’m currently drinking my first cup of Colombian coffee here in Cartagena and taking a moment to breathe. To say I’m a bit overwhelmed and at loose ends would be accurate. I had a harder time mentally preparing for this trip than I did for Asia, mostly because my personal and professional situations are completely different than they were a year ago.

When I left for Singapore, I had nothing specific drawing me home (although, unlike now, I had a return ticket before I even left). This time, I have a job and a life, both spread out across various cities. I am not completely free of responsibility. This doesn’t represent some momentous turning point. I’m traveling just because I can and want to. I’m very lucky to be in such a position, I know. But I feel a bit like that lack of purpose, a carryover from the last month at home during which I had nothing substantive to fill my time, is keeping me from really letting go. It’s completely contradictory and ridiculous, but there it is. As a result, I really didn’t do much research on how to maximize my time, and as a result of that, I left less excited about the whole thing.

I’m working on it, though. Meeting other cool travelers is the best way to figure out what to see and do, and now that I have a few ideas and a sense of timing and direction, I feel better. I do think I’ll try to stay put in a few places for more than three nights, and I’ll do some formal Spanish lessons, and that’ll help too. But all I really want in this moment is to sit on a beach and work on my tan and read and nap. Foreshadowing, you see.

But, y’all, for now I’m in Cartagena. It’s so very hot here, the extreme opposite of the winter storm blasting New York that I just barely missed. In fact, if I’d left JFK even a few hours later, I might not have made it here yesterday. Or today. Or probably even tomorrow. I should add that what should have been a very smooth trip did hit a slight bump: JetBlue flies direct from JFK to Cartagena, but about 20 minutes after we took off, the captain announced that we’d experienced a mechanical failure and would be stopping at the JetBlue terminal in Orlando to wait for another plane to take us on to Colombia. So that added some time to my journey — and MCO is a really unpleasant place to be when every single flight is delayed by at least two hours — but I made it here, and JetBlue was kind enough to give us a small fare credit for our trouble. Other airlines could learn a few things.

In any case, I arrived later in the day than expected and hadn’t slept much, so I only managed to walk a few blocks of the Old City and hang out with some other travelers in my hostel and then pass out. Today I went for a run and did a walking tour and got my bearings a bit, and by tomorrow I think I’ll have more to say about it all (and better pictures).

There are quite a few American travelers here, which is kind of nice, but unlike in Asia, the common language in hostels and among foreigners is Spanish, not English. I’ve only met two people so far who spoke no Spanish at all. I know a huge part of the reason I’m here is to improve my dormant language skills, but it’s still intimidating when everyone¬†addresses you first in Spanish and you have to ask them to slow down or repeat or switch to English (literally no one in Asia will ever assume you speak the local language). But I remember more than I give myself credit for, and I’m motivated to get better. Such is the nature of language learning!

I didn’t write much about my time in Melaka, Malaysia, but it is a whole lot like Cartagena. Both cities were and are important ports with long histories of trade, cultural development, and incredibly beautiful architecture. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites. And both have been completely overrun by commercialism (Hard Rock Cafe, ugh). The streets are crowded with tourists, many of them Colombians on “winter” holiday. But that’s OK. It’s beautiful and very walkable and definitely worth a few days. I’m looking forward to rallying earlier tomorrow before it’s too hot and too sunny and too crowded to really explore. Until then, here’s a first look.






[Please excuse any "meh" images. I just got a kickass new camera that is 1,000 times smarter than I am, and I still don't have a good grasp of all the awesome features.]


  1. Skip I took 6 years of Spanish and that's all I know Joslin says:

    Cerveza = beer.

    That is all. You are welcome. One less obstacle in your way now.

  2. Te amo! Disfrutate!

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