We arrived at the first official stop of our honeymoon adventure last Thursday morning excited, bleary-eyed and with a depleted supply of tissues. As we approached the immigration counter to get our passports stamped, Drew and I made the unspoken and unanimous decision to begin Operation: Spanish Language Revival immediately.
We greeted the immigration officer with a “buenos días” and then proceeded to white-knuckle it through a series of extremely basic questions about our travel plans. At one point, the officer – who seemed as charmed as he was amused by two sickly gringos doing their best to hold their own with him – asked us about our professions. We paused, considering how to explain that we recently quit our jobs and are thoroughly unemployed (in that split second I somehow also entertained explaining to him the word “funemployed”). Instead, we mumbled out “planeadores urbanos” – stealing a proud shared grin for pulling that term out of absolutely nowhere and getting an affirming nod from our new best friend, the Immigration Officer.
I just looked up Planeador Urbano to write this blog post, and am proud to share that, as it turns out, we are on record as two Urban Gliders (as in, engine-less planes) currently backpacking around the country, with no known date of exit. Whoops. (The term is actually “planificador urbano.”)
Cartagena de Indias welcomed us warmly. In fact, it was less than 10 seconds on the sidewalk outside the airport before we were both drenched in quantities of sweat previously unknown to humankind. We spent the next three days seeking refuge from the heat, recovering from the journey and our lingering illness, exploring both the Old City of Cartagena – a UNESCO designated world heritage site – and beyond, and of course, eating and drinking everything we could get our hands on.
In the food and beverage department, some favorite local specialities include:
- Jugos naturales – fresh juices. Blended drinks with either milk or water and unique Colombian fruits. One we tried in the Bazurto Market had tomates de arbol and lulo, both tart fruits that were balanced out with several generous servings of cane sugar.
- On many more than one occasion we also enjoyed this sweet lime drink that is carted around by street vendors. It is prepared in a big glass container with tons of ice (and sugar) and slowly melts throughout the day. I regret never following through on my desire to request skipping the standard serving cup and just fill my water bottle with this deliciousness.
- Arepas (above) – a Colombian must. We picked up our first one fresh out of the fryer near the western wall of the Old City about an hour after landing. They’re about 1/3 corn, 1/3 filling (egg, cheese, meat, whatever) and 1/3 grease. Mmm.
- Ceviche – even though this is really a food of Peruvian origin, it’s all over Cartagena. The fishing profession is big here, and the result is a myriad of delicious uncooked seafood dishes, as well as plenty of cooked seafood dishes. The latter is usually served with coconut rice, fried plantains, and salad.
Probably our favorite two culinary experiences were on either end of the hipster spectrum. One day we took the bus (more on the bus from Drew soon) a few miles outside the Old City to the aforementioned Bazurto Market, which is a loud, fascinating, terrific open air market where you can buy everything from a washing machine to bananas, charcoal to baby chicks with dyed-blue feathers (actually maybe this is pretty hipster? Anyway.).
We bought some mandarins, a guava, two passion fruits and one of something else we still haven’t confirmed the name of (see brown/yellow oval shaped fruit above – we think maybe Níspero – any ideas??), and then sat down on a piece of concrete amidst the chaos to munch on our haul. Bazurto is characterized to most tourists as “dangerous and dirty” so we were blessedly relieved from the throngs that are a constant within the Old City and also somewhat of a spectacle to all the locals. They laughed, we shrugged and laughed, too.
The other best food thing that happened was actually more of a drink thing that happened. At the recommendation of some foodie friends (thanks, Aditi and Ben!) we stopped in to Alquímico, a local cocktail bar that prepares its own liquor infusions made from – yes, you guessed it – the many wild and wonderful local Colombian fruits. We planned to have a quick drink and then keep going towards some more ceviche, but ended up spending almost three hours at the bar with Steven, our bartender from Medellín and next new best friend (sorry, Immigration Officer).
Steven shared with us the origin of each of the infusions and liquors, warned me about the salt made from ants that was rimming my cocktail (so tasty), upon learning we were recently married advised Drew on the phrase “Happy Wife, Happy Life” (sometimes, a concept is so good and accurate it traverses all languages and cultures 😉 ), and prepared his signature cocktail – a mango-infused rum, tequila, ancho and lime concoction – for us on the house. He also shared some pro-tips for Medellín that we’re looking forward to putting into practice in a couple of weeks.
Beyond the food and drink, Cartagena was visually quite wonderful and had an amazing urban park full of iguanas, tiny monkeys and a sloth (perezoso, which also means “lazy” in Spanish, just like “sloth” has the other meaning in English) just chilling in the trees that we loved. It was really neat to see some homages to Fernando Botero (who is Colombian but actually from Medellin) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who spent time in Cartagena and set Love in the Time of Cholera, and other novels here) around the city, as well.
The mosquitos are coming out and it’s time for dinner, so I’ll leave you with these photos, until next time!