Thursday, April 18, 2013

Colombia para una boda!

*Update: I completely forgot to document the attack of the jellyfish.  That is now modified in the San Andres section!

Map of itinerary here:

Hello all,

Just finished a great 1.5 week trip to... Colombia!  This is my second trip here, but this time we came with a lot of people - for Julie and Alvaro's wedding!

I've known Julie since university when we were in the same sorority at UCLA.  I met Alvaro a few years ago and I have to say they are the coolest couple! They always have fun things to do, know where to get great food, and have great taste in music.  Plus they are well traveled.  Such an international and well rounded couple would choose Colombia for their destination wedding! Obviously : ) and we friends and loved ones are totally down to attend! : ) : )

So, there was quite a group of us headed down to South America.  I decided to join Natalie, Eugene and Pam down in Bogota and we spent several days there, then on to Cartagena where we met with many many other people!

So in Bogota, everyone was such troopers as we all flew in Saturday and were out partying till the small hours of the morning, at a famous club called Andres Carne del Res.  It's a restaurant/club and it is pretty ridiculous.  The original is in Chia, which is about a 30-40 minute ride away, but since we all came in Saturday we opted to the smaller one which is in Zona Rosa in Bogota.  Still awesome fun and there was aguardiente, tequila, a lot of food and several birthdays, including mine! (Mine was the previous Thursday).

Other notables in Bogota included a trip up the furnicular to the famous church at the top of the mountain called Cerro de Monserratte, which, because it was Semana Santa (Easter Week, aka Pascua), was extremely busy with tourists to attend the church there, who were also fascinated with Pam's unusual haircut + tattoo.

So, in a bizarre turn of tables, Pam had no fewer than 7 tourists ask to take a photo with her.  We were a little confused. lol.

Next, we did explore a few things such eat a lot of empanadas, drink booze at a brewing company, I discovered aji picante (recipe here) and we ended up at a totally bizarre steak house called Jugueteria, which means toy store.  When the lady told me to look for the toys, I thought she meant a store next door.

This is Eugene looking at old toys from the USSR days. 

Very interesting, and the food was pretty good!
And Eugene discovered a urinal in the bathroom that looks like a coffin, where Natalie then proceeded to sneak in and take a picture with it. haha.


After this, we went looking for a chocolate completo, which is... hot chocolate... with bread and butter (and marmalade)... and cheese.  Cheese IN the hot chocolate. I've had it before but we found a place and Pam proceeded to eat her second dinner as the tamale was HUGE! These are not like mexican tamales, they are in a different leaf and the filling is more of a corn flour than a corn meal.  I liked the tamale so much I ended up eating half of it.  Natalie and Eugene were a combination of impressed/appalled that we could eat so much after eating a giant steak.

After a few days in Bogota we flew over to Cartagena, which is very opposite.  Bogota is at an altitude and contrary to popular belief, is not hot and steamy. It is like SF weather, which means its cooler most of the year.  Cartagena de Indias, on the other hand, is humid and hot. It's the type of heat where I really want to sit in air conditioning.   Our group plus several others had reserved this awesome vacation rental in the walled city of Cartagena which is a must do if you go there, and it was HUGE and had its own mini pool, a hot tub, a roof terrace and a live in maid.  We even got a private chef for one day, amazing. So we ended up drinking and having a nice time!

While we did a few things such as drink a lot of boozy coffee - obviously Colombian coffee is fantastic and they let you put all sorts of stuff in them like amaretto, whisky, Bailey's... my kind of coffee : ) Julie and Alvaro were thoughtful enough to organize outings for the large group of people coming in for the wedding. One of these was dinner in Plaza Santo Domingo and then an outing around town in an absolutely rowdy Chiva bus, ending in Getsemani, which is the bar area of Cartagena.  Lots of fun!

This picture was near the bar at the top of the walled city, and that's Taline : )

Next we had an outing to a beach island about an hour from Cartagena called Playa Blanca.  Unfortunately we went on a holiday (it was Good Friday) and the place was SWARMING with people. Positively swarming.  I've been to this beach before and I assure you it was NOT like that when I went.  Not too many pictures from beach day, as our group was so large we got split up. 


Finally, the wedding! We were in a historical boutique hotel called Casa Pombo.

 Gorgeous :)

The wedding was adorable and after there were Colombian dancers and we paraded around all around the city, which a lot of bystanders gawking at us!

Reception was the Museum of Modern Art,

and then we moved onto the top of the walled city by the clock tower for the dinner and dancing!

The food and the view were phenomenal!

  And of course there was a lot of drinking and partying : )

Finally to top it off, there were fireworks!

And it still wasn't over!  We had some hora loca where all these dancers came out, at this point I was pretty much pooped out and fell asleep for an hour and I think we all finally ended it at 2 or 3 am.


The next day, a lot of people were leaving, and I said goodbye to the group and headed out to Isla San Andres, a Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua, for some scuba diving.

At first glance I was not impressed with San Andres.  I arrived on Sunday, which was Easter, and when I got to the beach it was FILLED with people.  SO MANY PEOPLE.  And there are so many shops selling things imported from Miami as it is a tax free zone.  It was honestly pretty messy and I was hoping for a more tranquil experience. 

I have to admit that I was rather turned off initially and then proceeded to spend the next day diving and not exploring as much as I should have, but had a great time diving.
Diving in San Andres is really nice and I had a good time with the dive shop I chose, except that in hindsight I wish I had chosen my alternate company, mostly because in two days of diving I ended up diving the same site twice.  It's ok though but normally a good dive shop will try to ensure you don't do the same one twice in one trip.

The reef was quite nice, I saw THE biggest eel ever during this dive, it looked like it could literally bite my head off!  Also my guide and I were double tasking by spearfishing lionfish, and we caught like 8 in one dive! Talk about sea monsters.  A FYI, lionfish are currently overpopulating the reefs in the Caribbean and they are usually the only fish allowed to be caught in national parks such as Honduras.  They are also apparently good for sushi but I've never had it. And no, I was not doing any spearfishing myself.  Like anyone's going to trust me with an underwater spear :)  I did notice a LOT of trash and some reef dying during these dives and for this reason, I do not recommend San Andres for diving until they try to clean up their reef a bit more.  If you want similar reef, go to Roatan in Honduras, their reef is a national park and no fishing or trash is allowed.

Update: I forgot about the asshole jellyfish that I decided to run into and of course regretted it.  I was swimming around while diving when I feel a burning pain run up my arm and neck.  I rub it a bit and get out of the water later, and then find out it is either a) fire coral or b) jellyfish.  We find another one later on and I realize that its not an "actual" jellyfish per se, but is a siphonophore, which is related to it as jellyfish are types of siphonophores.  This one I had to google later when I got home and we think it is a grand siphonophore (and also closely related to the Man o War, which is not a jellyfish either.

The photo above is not actually of the sucker that got me, but an example. Mine was like about 6-8 inches long. But you can see the little pink stinger tentacley things which proceeded to create a lovely starburst type pattern all over my arm and neck.  I learned a few things from this.  Mostly about how to treat jellyfish stings. A little fact about jellyfish injuries 101: Peeing on it does not help. And NO, NO ONE PEED ON ME.  I have a little more dignity than that. Anyway what you are SUPPOSED to do is a) scrape off the remaining stingers from your skin using a razor, credit cart, anything and then b) rinse with cool to room temp SALT water.

What you are NOT supposed to do, which is what I did, is scratch incessantly at the area (releasing the stinger toxins), and then take a shower with hot FRESH water (also releasing the toxins), so by the end of the evening I looked like a mess.  Photos a couple of days later looked like this (I couldn't get this photo to turn right side up so I gave up)

Finally, I met some really nice people in the hostel while I was there, including a group of Argentines, who were patient enough to let me practice my Spanish with them and practice English with me.  Of course I was too stupid to remember to take pictures of them. Super nice people though.

I just thought this was funny... they have "Salsa China" and "Salsa Negra" right next to each other and they have a black lady on it, I still have no idea what this sauce is for but it looked pretty awesome : )

And of course because I eat random street food everywhere, I had this awesome fish/seafood soup and it cost me like $2.

A couple days of laying around, tanning, and then I headed back to Americaland!
This was my second trip to Colombia and all in all, I recommend taking a trip here.  I still have not been to Medellin or Cali, but there are plenty of places to explore, culture to absorb, food to eat and it is no more dangerous than any large city.  There's a lot of history and I generally think Colombians are very easy going and easy to talk to.  I plan to make a trip back and explore more cities next time!

Next up... Hawaii! (For the 20th time : )

Get to Elite faster with United - 50% more United Qualifying miles

United must me noticing I'm not flying with them, because I got an email the other day saying I can get 50% more qualifying miles when I fly with them.

To make things clear, this NOT for bonus miles you can redeem.  It is to gain elite status for the airline.

Let's say it takes 25,000 miles to get to Gold with United... I have to fly that many miles to attain status.  But if I make 50% more miles, I only have to fly 16,666 miles to get to the same thing.  ONLY. lol.

Anyway, if you are thisclose to getting to the next status, this might be the boost you need. We are still the first half of the year and it might help. 

The deal can be found here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

If you think solo traveling is daunting...

This is an excellent post on the bare basics. Do your research!

New posts on Colombia and Hawaii to be up soon!

How to Plan Your First Solo Trip