Monday, August 19, 2013

I Nearly Pooped My Panties

We had a radical change of scenery after flying from Pereira (coffee region) to Cartagena (Caribbean coast). I bought our plane tickets about a month ago through Viva Colombia. It's actually the same price to fly as it is to take a long, bumpy bus, so I recommend it for travelers who want to visit several regions in the country. If you do choose to fly with Viva Colombia, get ready to run! They don't assign seats so there is a mad rush to get to the plane if you want to sit next to the people you are traveling with. 

I think our chain of unlucky events began when we went through security and the guard found my Leatherman in Jarrod's backpack. (His beer and my bottle of water made it through no problem though). We were sad to part ways with our only knife/bottle opener/scissors, but eventually we got over it and went to the cramped room where passengers wait until the plane is ready. 

When the announcement is made to begin boarding, everyone jumps up at the same time and rushes out to the plane like school children racing to get the best swing. There is no line, no order; just survival of the fittest to get there first. 

The hour plane ride was very lively; everyone was so excited to go to Cartagena! We were also excited...until we arrived to our hostel. 
We booked ahead at Mama Waldy Hostel because it was recommended to us by our host the previous night. Since we've had such good luck with recommendations thus far, we were surprised to arrive at a place that was more like a messy college house rather than a paid accommodation. I've never stayed in such a filthy place before. The next morning we found a cleaner, air conditioned hostel that was classy with a rooftop patio and breakfast included. Ironically we paid the same price as our previous frat house. 

Happy with our new sleeping quarters, we hit the town to explore. Cartagena is a colonial city founded in 1533. The old town is enclosed in a big rock wall, which reminded us of Lucca, Italy. There is some cool architecture to be found, but I had a hard time finding anywhere to stop and appreciate it. The streets are jam -packed with cars and motorcycles flying by and the narrow sidewalks are just as cramped with pedestrians and vendors. It's an obstacle course everywhere you go. Additionally, we were fighting the coastal heat. The humidity makes it so
muggy that your face will sweat just sitting. 

We finally had enough and found a little beach that we could walk to. It's not much of a beach but the water looked refreshing. As soon as we sat down we were accosted by a group of black women who insisted on massaging us even though we firmly said no about 20 times. I think our mistake was that the first time we said no we politely smiled at them. That was their cue to swarm in. Before I knew it I was in a chair with a pregnant woman massaging my legs with soap and water. Jarrod had three working on him and they had already managed to unbutton his shirt. It was only when they realized that we did not bring money with us that the harassment ceased and we could jump in the water to cool ourselves from the heat. 

On the way back to the hostel we saw a group of men pulling a long rope from the water. They were pulling in fish in a big net! We jumped in to help, which seemed to amuse them just as muh as it did us. After about 20 minutes more of hard tugging, we eventually pulled in the net and a boatload of fish of all different shapes and sizes. What fun!

We read that the only way to see the nice beaches in the area is to take a boat. We signed up to take a big, air conditioned boat with 3 floors to an island and another beach that doesn't have road access. Our "luxury" boat was actually the ride from hell. Per Colombian style, we were packed in like sardines and the boat sounded like it would break at a moments notice. The air conditioning actually did break (because the electricity went down) and the boat went so unbelievably slow that there was never a big enough breeze to cool anyone off. Kids were crying and passengers had unamused faces. It ended up taking 3 hours each way to get to the islands. The islands were ok but definitely not worth the long trip to get there. 

The rest of our time on the coast was a blur for me, because after our day on the boat, I became violently ill and could not eat anything without running to the bathroom. Painful stomach cramps and dehydration exhausted me to near immobilization. The heat seemed to make matters worse and we decided that we needed to get to the mountains where the air is cooler. 

Our bad luck continued when it came time to take buses. First, our 3 hour bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta became 5 when our bus driver illegally took the indirect route to try and pick up more passengers. Second, our 12 hour overnight bus ride from Santa Marta to San Gil actually took 16. It was so packed full that we had to argue our way into getting seats and several people slept in the isle. Third, in order to catch our crowded overnight bus we first had to take a mini bus to another "bus station" in a sketchy town. The other "bus station" was actually just a ticket window and a couple of seats on the side of a busy road that we didn't feel safe exploring. We had to wait here for 3 hours. 

As we sat contemplating our bad luck and how much we detested the coast, my bowels suddenly screamed at me that I needed a bathroom, NOW! I desperately scanned my surroundings and spotted a door with a padlock next to the bus ticket window. That had to be it. The man behind the ticket window was fast asleep so I pounded on the window to wake him and asked for the key. He slowly started moving and I told him with more certainty to please hurry; "it's urgent!" Of course that didn't motivate him to move any faster. My stomach was churning. Oh god, here it comes! Jarrod watched me in horror. I sat back down and droplets of sweat began to form on my forehead. I can't believe this is really happening: I'm going to poop my panties! Jarrod went to check on what was taking the man so long. Finally, he sauntered out with the key. When he unlocked the door I nearly pushed him out of the way to get by and drop my drawers. Hallelujah! I made it! 
It was the most disgusting bathroom I have ever used: dark (which was probably a good thing), stinky, no running water...but at least it wasn't my panties.

Before getting on the crowded overnight bus I vomited on the side of the road. "Hopefully that was the last of this demon." I wasn't sure, but what choice did I have?
To the mountains we go!

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