Thursday, March 28, 2019

Santa Cruz de Mompox to Sincelejo

Garmin Info and Ride Maps

Mompox to Magangue
Magangue to San Pedro
San Pedro to Sincelejo

Santa Cruz de Mompox, main plaza

My driver, not especially happy with
how much room the trike is using
My 2 week stay in Cartagena was outstanding. I studied Spanish 4 hours a day, explored the city and neighboring islands and did many extra curricular activities with students or my lovely housemate, Aisha. Cartagena will always have a special place in my heart. I love where I lived, Yahara, the house mom and especially the 3 ladies, Luz, Isabel and Beatrice, that worked in the house everyday. With the help of my house mom, Yahara, a truck was scheduled to pick me up with Myrtle and my gear. A small pickup arrived at 4 am on Sunday morning. Brutally early but I was grateful for the ride. Originally, I had planned to ride to Santa Cruz de Mompox. In fact, Yahara had spent a good deal of time with me going over maps and making sure I had a safe place to spend each of the 4 nights it would take to ride there. But, after putting in so much work, I learned from my friend AnneMarie, who recently made the trip by bus from Cartagena, that the road is currently under construction. She explained that the shoulders of the road are being redone. The road is a busy 2 lane road with lots of traffic that was now extra narrow. This was no place for a trike. Getting a ride was right thing to do.

A trike is under a mountain of luggage and cargo
I can't remember the driver's name but, even though Yahara had explained about my trike, when he saw the trike he wasn't very happy. But he loaded Myrtle up and that's all I cared about. Lucky for me, I was his 1st passenger. This meant the truck bed was empty and I could sit in the front seat. He ended up stopping for 3 more passengers as well as making a few cargo pickups. This worked out great because everyone's gear could fit on and around the trike. The logistics of this trip couldn't have been better.

My hotel
It was dark when we left Cartagena for the 7 hour drive. We only made one stop for breakfast. I paid for the driver's meal, a whopping $2.50 with tip, hoping to cheer him up. It worked. Suddenly, his attitude improved immensely.  When we arrived at Santa Cruz de Mompox I decided to stay at the same hotel my German friend, AnneMarie, had stayed at. I got very lucky again when I was his last stop. This meant the truck bed was empty and we didn't need to remove everyone's luggage to get to the trike. 

Locals playing a fierce game of cards

Santa Cruz de Mompox at sunset

The Hotel Villa de Mompox is 2 blocks out of the busiest area and is very quiet. Once I got settled in my room, I could tell how tired I was. Not only because I awoke this morning around 3 am but also because my time in Cartagena was so busy. The area where my homestay was is in was very, very noisy area called Getsemaní. The house was directly across from Plaza de la Trinidad which is probably the busiest plaza in all of Cartagena. All day and night there was music, buskers, food cart sellers and sometimes hundred of people singing and dancing. It was 'the place' to simply hang out and drink beer in Cartagena. Even with ear plugs I had trouble sleeping. After 2 weeks, I was exhausted.

Santa Cruz de Mompox is a pueblo blanco

Santa Cruz de Mompox at night

Beautiful Santa Cruz de Mompox
Santa Cruz de Mompox is a very sweet pueblo blanco where most of the buildings are painted white with red tile roofs. The town is on the Rio Magdelena, one of the biggest rivers in Colombia. The town is historic and quaint. It is also an UNESCO Heritage city. There are many, very beautiful churches and they were all busy. On Thursday night, some of the churches were so busy people were spilling out into the street listening to the services. It was also incredibly hot. This was the 1st town I had been in so far on my trip that was too hot. Many days it was 100 degrees and some days temps rose to 103. While I was in Mompox I spent a lot of time in my room. I took a mountain of photos and video while I was in Cartagena but I was too busy, at the time, to go through it all. It took days to go through. There is so much I'm not exactly sure what to do with it. Certainly I'll have to make more than one video, at some point. My week in Mompox was spent mostly recovering from my time in Cartagena, organizing photos and video and escaping the heat. 

Cathedral Santa Barbara

River boat colors

Our river boat - the blue one.

Young boy waving in the setting sun
Santa Cruz de Mompox is quite small and it doesn't take more than an afternoon to walk through. There's not a lot to do but there are 2 boat trips offered, each in another direction. The 1st trip I went on, I boarded a small covered canoe type boat that steered down the river for 20 minutes and then docked. There were probably 10 people aboard and we all got off to take motorbikes to another river and continue on in another boat. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed the experience a lot.

Taking a motor bike from one river to another

On the 1st boat tour

Street life, Santa Cruz de Mompox

Santa Cruz de Mompox on the Rio Magdalena

Sunset on the river cruise
The next boat trip was a sunset cruise on a larger boat. This boat had rocking chairs to sit in, there was music and a disco ball provided colored lights. The boat also served beer and wine. I met a fun group of ladies from Barranquilla and Santa Marta. They were dancing to the salsa music and having a great time. This boat just went up the river and then at sunset turned around. I love taking boat trips and had a great time.

Tranquillo river cruise

Fun ladies from Barranquilla and Santa Marta on the river cruise

Mompox cathedral at night

I kept looking at the weather apps hoping for a break in the high temps. The heat was unbearable and much too high for cycling. Luckily, the heat wave broke. The temps came down to the lower 90's which is still very hot but temperatures that I can handle. After a week in Santa Cruz de Mompox, I was finally able to get packed up. It was a good week and, for the most part, I got caught up on sleep and organizing my photos and video. 

Leaving Santa Cruz de Mompox

Video from Santa Cruz de Mompox to Magangué

The ride out of Mompox through the narrow streets was fun. I had to go around so many vendors riding trike carts, cars and motos while people were yelling out enthusiastic comments. Soon I was on quieter roads going through ranch land. Wow was it hot. Luckily, I didn't have far to go. Today I was taking a ferry from La Bodega to Magangué. La Bodega is only about 20 miles from Santa Cruz de Mompox. But, in this heat, 20 miles was far enough.

Cow eating in the trash

Barber on the ferry
The ferry was a fun experience. There are many lanchas, small covered canoe type boats, that go up and down the Rio Magdalena all day. You pick a boat and wait for it to fill up. These boats will take the small scooters type motorcycles and I'm sure would take the trike as well. These boats are covered offering shade for the hour long cruise down the river and are probably faster than the bigger ferry. The big drawback is there is only a plank of wood to get on and off these boats. If this was the only option they would make it work but I felt more comfortable taking the real ferry because it has an actual road for boarding. I don't know what the cost is for the smaller lanchas but the big ferry is free. I arrived just as they allowed boarding. There was a long line of trucks lining the road. One by one the ferry loaded up. Each truck had the turn around on the ferry to make getting off at the other end easier. 

canoe with fishing net
While I was waiting and watching the ferry load, a man who sells water and cokes came over offering to get me a plate of food from one of the road side restaurants. I asked if I could have just meat with a salad. Sure, no problem. I gave him $10,000 pesos (about $3) and he came back with a plate of delicious chicken with a salad and a bottle of water. I never even got out of the trike. 

River traffic

A woman driving a smaller truck full of appliances came over and offered to show me where to sit out of the sun. We walked to the back of the ferry and boarded a tug boat that would be maneuvering the ferry down the river. It felt good to be out of the sun. 

Rio Magdelena

The ferry ride was about an hour long. I love boats and really enjoy slow cruises down any river. Aside from watching the river traffic there was a guy giving haircuts at the back of the ferry in the shade on a truck. This barber had been very helpful to me guiding Myrtle to a safe spot and making sure she was secure for the ride. He also helped me board the tugboat which was a bit precarious. 

Lots of watermelon
The ferry actually goes to a town called Yeti and I still needed to ride 3 miles to Magangué after debarking. This was on a lovely tree lined road. The town of Magangué wasn't at all what I was expecting. A few people had recommended this town and I was surprised that it wasn't touristic. It was another busy, gritty, dirty, noisy town where everyone is hustling for a buck. I really think I misunderstood the name people were saying and they were actually suggesting a completely different town, haha! There is something about towns like this that I really enjoy. To me, even though they are louder than I wish, these towns feel authentic. Because it's not a touristic town, I'm not bombarded incessantly to buy stuff I don't need. Mostly, I really enjoy seeing how people live and there is a lot of life in these towns.

Secure parking in a space next to the stairs

It's always interesting to see the hotels that get recommended on Google. The ratings don't have anything to do with the quality of the hotel, only the hotels that people use and rate the most. A highly rated hotel can be a 5-star but mostly they are more moderate hotels where people find value. The hotels in Magangué were less than moderate in terms of aesthetics. The first and highest rated (4.4 out of 5) hotel was on the 2nd floor with only a narrow stairway to the reception desk. This wouldn't work because getting Myrtle up and down the stairs would be too difficult. Sometimes there isn't a choice but since this town offered many hotels options, I went to the 2nd highest rated hotel (4.3 out of 5). Hotel Magangué Plaza had a space next the stairs up to reception that was a perfect fit for Myrtle. I locked her to the bannister and got checked in for $13, not including breakfast. I was worried about the noise level since my balcony overlooked a busy street but I actually slept well. In the morning, the owner offered to order me breakfast. In 10 minutes I had a plate of scrambled eggs, 1/2 avocado and 2 thick slices of cheese with a huge cup of coffee for $5,000 pesos ($1.65). Amazing!

Main cathedral, Magangué
I got packed up and did a quick spin around the area along the Rio Magdelena. I stopped to fly my drone in front of the main Cathedral St. Francis de Assisi and along the river. There were so many small lanchas busy loading and unloading people and cargo. It was so interesting to watch. Then I pushed on riding through town following the throng of scooters. At a light, sitting in the middle of the pack, I reached over and shook the hand of scooter driver. After that, everyone wanted to shake my hand. It was hilarious and very fun. As I continued on, posse of scooters developed that followed me for quite a while. They were having a great time. Eventually, I made my way out of town and into the country side. Wow was it hot, hot hot! Not far out of town the road surface turned into awful chip seal. This is the type of road surface that is very rough and feels like it grabs your tires making it more difficult to ride. I stopped a couple of times to see if I had a flat tire because I was going so slowly. The surface was so rough that everything on the trike was vibrating.  I also had to stop to tighten my fenders. This road surface is hard on the trike and very frustrating to ride on. The landscape was quite barren which is very different for most of Colombia I've visited. As I crested a hill, I decided to fly the drone to get a better view of the area. The trike drew the attention of 3 young boys from a shack of a house. They were very shy and I had to coax them repeatedly to come over. One boy was riding a small burro. It's really fun for the kids to see the view from the screen of the drone while I'm flying. I'm sure they have never seen what the area around them looks like. They assured me San Pedro, my destination, was very close.

Video for ride Magangué to San Pedro

Young boys loved the drone

Fast traffic
By the time I arrived in San Pedro I felt like had fought a battle for every mile. I was exhausted from riding the horrible cheap seal and the heat. I checked into the highest rated hotel which was on the main highway for $9.50. This hotel offered what I call an 'authentic experience'. Authentic experiences are where things are not the most comfortable but I get to experience another aspect of Colombian life. This hotel was family owned and they are building it as they get extra money. It looks like this project has been going on for at least 10 years. The trouble with these types of hotels is the owners need to make the money go as far as it can. They don't always know what they are doing or hire qualified people. You can almost see where the infusions of cash start and stop. Tile and can be mismatched because they buy only what they need and the cheapest they can find. The mattress in my room was on a platform made of concrete. Luckily, the mattress was comfortable. The bathroom shower didn't have a shower head or a shower curtain but I did get a toilet seat. The hotel was set away from the street and the rooms faced a courtyard where chickens roamed freely and cats lazed around. There was a open air palm frond covered palapa where the family had a television playing very loudly. Myrtle had a space in front of my room surrounded by potted plants to rest for the night. In front of the hotel was a simple restaurant where I ordered dinner. For many months now, since leaving Bucaramanga, I have been following the Ketogenic diet and I'm surprised how easy it is to follow here in Colombia. I tell everyone before I order that I can't have any sugar, rice, potatoes, bread, arepa or fruit. Right away, most people ask if I'm diabetic. They really understand what diabetes is. I'm not diabetic but I always say yes because it assures that they take my request more seriously.

It's watermelon season

Very flat straight and rough road
In the morning, I had a good breakfast of eggs, cheese and avocado with coffee, again, for $5,000 pesos. This area is remarkably cheap.  And then I pushed on. After 15 miles, the road surface changed to a newer paved road on my way up a particularly big hill. Wow, what a feeling. The road was so much smoother. The shaking stopped and the ride was much quieter. The joy of cycling was back. I crested and flew down the quieter road with a big grin on my face. I was so happy about the smoother surface I didn't even notice how how it was. And it was hot! Today I was going to the bigger city of Sincelejo. The road into Sincelejo was on a toll road and there was a fantastic separated bike lane for about 8 miles into town. This was so nice. It also rained on this ride. This was the 1st time on this tour that I had ridden in the rain. The rain felt great and it didn't last long. Soon it was hot and even more humid.

Policia at a check point asked me to pull over to get a picture

Dad and son on burro

Bike Lane into Sincelejo

Video for ride from San Pedro to Sincelejo
I looked on Google to see about a hotel. The reviews were interesting. Most of the hotels are in the 'historic' area with good reviews. But most of the reviews also talked about the area being very noisy with bars and music all night long. This is something I'd like to avoid. I kept looking and found a hotel that was a bit further out of 'el centro'. This hotel had a 4.3 rating and almost 500 reviews which is a lot. With that many reviews I knew this hotel would be great value. The Hotel Arawak was much bigger and has a parking garage with lots of security cameras. I locked Myrtle to stair bannister and with the help of hotel staff took the elevator to the 4th room. My room had a balcony and everything in it was newer than most of rooms I've stayed in. This room was a step above and the price, $30 including breakfast, reflected that as well. I like bigger towns and got checked in for 3 nights to explore and rest.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

2 weeks in Cartagena

With Yahara, house mom
First off, I have to say studying Spanish is a great way to travel.  This is my 4th time studying Spanish in a foreign country. This is also a fun way to take a break while traveling. Typically, I study Spanish in a place I would like to visit for an extended time and then go online to see what school options are available. Sometimes I strike out. For instance, I tried to find a school when I was in Santa Marta but nothing was available. In Cartagena, there are a few schools. I picked Centro Catalina simply because I liked the physical location of the school and it was also the highest rated on Google. There are many things to like about studying Spanish through a school in a foreign country.  For me, the biggest plus is they take care of all logistical issues. When I arrive in a big city, sometimes it's hard to know where to stay. Almost all language schools offer accommodation placement. If I were flying to Cartagena, they would have an airport transport service taking me directly to my accommodation. Typically, there are 3 options for accommodation. Placement with a family or homestay, in a shared hostal room or to rent an apartment. The 1st time I studied Spanish while traveling was in Mexico.  My Spanish was practically non-existent and staying with a family felt like communicating was going to be too hard for me. On that visit, I asked for private accommodation and this worked out really well for me.  This time, I felt like my Spanish is good enough for basic conversation and staying with a family will give me the opportunity to practice. It is also fun to meet and live with local people. I asked to be put with a family within a 20 minute walk of the school. Since I was only going to be in Cartagena for 2 weeks, I wasn't too picky about the accommodation specifics. I asked for a room with a private bathroom but also said sharing a bathroom would be ok. With most home stays you can also request meals with the family. I specified food requirements (for instance, I'm not eating any sugar at the moment) and asked only for breakfast to keep my days free for sightseeing and doing things with other students. During my 1st month in Colombia, I studied Spanish in Bogotá where I stayed with a family and it was a fantastic experience.

One of the my teachers, Miguel, and student, Anna
Taking a break in the school courtyard

My classmates

School Entrance

Ruun, adding a Myrtle the Turtle
sticker to his guitar

Studying at a language school also helps to give my days structure. For me, it gives me an additional reason, besides being a tourist, to be in a city or country. I really like this. In fact, this is one of the reasons I really like cycle touring. For sure I'm a tourist but I'm here to cycle not just to stare at everything. For me, I need a bigger reason to travel. I can't just travel to look at stuff. (This is true even at home. I can't go on a bike ride just to go on a bike ride. I need to be going somewhere to do something. It can something simple like stopping at a store to look at something but there always needs to be purpose for the ride.) At language schools, there are people from all over the world. Since I mostly travel alone, it's a nice break for me to be more social. At this school, most of the students were from Switzerland but there were also people from Germany, US, Canada, Netherlands and India. Students were young and old. I later learned that the school is owned by a Swiss couple. Most Spanish schools offer outside activities and excursions. Here in Colombia, dancing is a big part of the culture. The school offers salsa and other dancing style classes. They usually have a movie night, cooking classes and walks to explore the city. There are also often cultural exchanges between students and locals where you meet in a cafe or bar for an hour. One half hour is spent conversing in Spanish and the other half hour is spent speaking English to give locals a chance to practice. The bigger schools also offer excursions to nearby area attractions. In Mexico, I visited the monarch butterflies, historical sites and tequila factories. Here in Colombia, I went on a boat island tour and they organized a trip to Carnaval in Barranquilla as well as neighboring beach towns. Usually, studying a language in a foreign country is also very affordable. I paid $1000 for 10 days of classes, 4 hours per day with 2 weeks of accommodation that included breakfast and laundry. There are cheaper countries to study, for instance Guatemala, but this works out to $72/day for fairly intensive study with accommodation. In the US, that's the equivalent price of a lower level hotel room per day.

Out for coffee with school buddies

After dinner with school friends

My sweet Swiss housemate, Aisha

My room

I loved where I lived in Cartagena. This was a very unique living situation. The house was very old, cramped and my room was crazy small with no windows or even a door that locked. The bathroom was shared with Yahara, the owner, and another young Swiss gal also studying at the school. Since the walls in my room didn't go all the way to the ceiling there was no privacy, not even to make phone calls. My room was next to the bathroom, where the door didn't lock or even close completely. The cold water shower was in a very deep tub that was difficult for me to get in and out of. The house was also directly across from one of the busiest plazas in Cartagena - Plaza de la Trinidad. Every night until the wee hours there was loud music and partying. The whole situation was completely nuts and, yet, I absolutely loved it.

Homestay entryway

Dining room and courtyard

Andrea, little Julietta and Yahara
Everyday, the house activity was totally fascinating.  I would sit at the dining room table intending to work on homework, photos or videos and would get nothing done because there was so much happening in the house. Except for the living room, every space in the house is quite small. There are 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining area, bathroom, kitchen, entry way and courtyard where laundry hangs to dry. Every room is small but my room was the smallest. There are 3 women who come everyday to take care of the house; Estelle, Isa and Beatrice. They arrive early, long before I get up. These woman were fantastic. They are always upbeat with a ready smile. But since the house is small with only 3 people living in it, I never understood why 3 women were needed to take care of it - every day. And they worked until about 3 in the afternoon, a full day. 

At about 7 am, Alejandro, Yahara's 93 year old father, was dropped off. He always sat in a rocking chair in the front entrance with the door open to the street watching all the activity outside.  At 8 am, breakfast was served and I was joined by the other student, 20 year old Aisha from Switzerland. She was a gem. We laughed a lot and got along very well. Her Spanish was more basic than mine and I think it was nice for her to have someone else in the house that spoke English.  After breakfast, Aisha and I would walk to school together and then after 4 hours of classes we would walk back to the house. Since Aisha was having lunch served at the house I decided to join her. After lunch, I would try to get some work done. But there were so many people coming and going I was always too distracted. People would knock at the door to quickly drop things off or pick things up. Fruit and vegetable vendors would yell through the open front door asking if Yahara needed anything. One time a wedding photographer needed extra room for his shots and finished his job well inside the entryway shooting through the open door. Sometimes people, just off the street, would see all the art work on the entryway walls and walk in thinking the house was a gallery space. Grandpa Alejandro, was very friendly and would talk to everyone as if he knew them. The people were always really nice and quite embarrassed once they learned this was a private home.  Yahara is a lovely, generous woman and someone from her family was always coming over to chat and enjoy a glass of wine. It was obvious that everyone really loves each other. It seemed like Yahara's house was family central. Her daughter, Andrea, lives very close and would come over most afternoons. Yahara would often take care of her grand daughter, Julietta, when Andrea had appointments.  Yahara is over 70 and still works at a magazine. 

Big cathedral in the walled city

Night Zumba in Plaza de la Trinidad outside the house

There was always a lot going on inside the house and then there was always a lot going on outside the house. The house is across from Plaza de la Trinidad. This is a plaza, with a grand church, famous as the beginning spot of a revolution. I think it is busiest plaza in Cartagena. People are constantly busking in the plaza. There was all kinds of music being played at all hours. Sometimes there were big musical groups that also included drumming and dancing. There were always lots of food vendors cooking away all night long. Every Sunday, after evening mass, there is a giant Zumba class with hundreds of people attending. This class is famous and it was fun to watch.  But with so much going on, it was impossible for me to get any work done. The only way I could sleep at night was with ear plugs. On my next trip, I'm bringing noise cancelling headphones! Like Asia, Latin America is loud.

Opening of an international film festival

Yara's house is in an area called Getsemaní. It is old and historic just outside the more touristic walled city. This is where the servants of the royal family and people who worked inside the walled city lived. The houses are small with wide entries and a courtyard where the horses and burros were kept. It is also very colorful and lively. Yahara's house is painted a brilliant blue on the outside and the inside has dark purple doors with orange and yellow walls. There are lots of paintings and plants which gives the house an artistic feeling and lots of good energy.

Street art

Umbrella street

2 weeks went by very quickly. The 1st weekend was Carnaval in Barranquilla, which hosts the 2nd biggest Carnaval in the world. Many students from the school went. For me, the trip sounded a bit too much. So many people were going from Cartagena that even getting a bus ticket to Barranquilla was difficult. At this point, finding a hotel room at a reasonable price in a safe neighborhood would be all but impossible. I'm sure that seeing Carnaval is special but Barranquilla has a terrible reputation for being a dangerous place. Robberies are common especially during big events. It was recommended to leave anything of value, including your phone behind in Cartagena. I'm not great with big crowds and didn't like the idea of worrying about my safety. I decided to stay in Cartagena. This turned out to be a good decision because a very nice German women, Annamarie who I met in Santa Marta, arrived for the weekend and we palled around. Conveniently, she stayed at a hotel just around the corner from where I was living. 

Power kids

Colorful cartagena street

With Annamarie

On my 1st Sunday in Cartagena, we went on a boat trip to some of the neighboring islands together. A van picked us up from her hotel and dropped us at the dock. We paid $25 for the van transport, the boat ride visiting three islands including some snorkling and then had lunch at our final destination. It was a beautiful day and fantastic to be on the water. Since it was Sunday, there were lots of people. It's interesting that there is lots of tourism in Colombia but not that many foreigners. Most of the tourists here are Colombian. On this boat, which probably held 50 people, there were only 2 others not from Colombia. We made a number of stops to drop people off and pick others up and everyone was Colombian. 

Playa blanca

Day of beach and snorkling

Playa Blanca from the air
I had an interesting experience at our snorkling stop. There wasn't an easy way to get in or out of the boat. The boat 1st stopped on the sand. We left all our belongings in the boat and then 3 guys helped me down to the sand. I found this to be very scary. We were given snorkling masks that I was sure hadn't been cleaned. We went out into the water and there were lots of colorful fish. Like fish you would see in a home aquarium. The current was quite strong and we were slowly pulled out farther from the beach. One of the tour guides had food for the fish and then there were schools of fish to look at in the water. I actually got a few little bites on my fingers. These fish are used to being fed. The boat was anchored out in the water so we didn't have to fight the current back to the beach. Just as we all grouped next to the boat to get back on, a woman in the boat leaned over and threw up very close to us. I couldn't believe it. I yelled for her to go to the other side. Good grief! There wasn't a ladder to get back on the boat. We each put a foot on a piece of rope that was tied off and then 2 guys heaved us up one by one. 

Isla Baru

Video of my camera mishap story 

At our final stop, we had a simple lunch. I asked for grilled chicken with a salad. It was a
Rickety stairs I fell off of
lot of food and delicious. After lunch, we had about 1.5 hours to enjoy the beach before the boat would pick us up for the return trip to Cartagena.  I walked up and down the beach, flew my drone and enjoyed watching all the activity. This beach is on Isla Baru and called Playa Blanca. It was packed with people. The water was warm and lots of families were enjoying the gentle waves. I took a nice walk along the water. Even though it was quite windy, I flew my drone a bit and then headed back to where the boat would pick us up. I found everyone waiting, standing around. We all stood there for a long time. The boat was late. In the sand, at the water's edge, I saw the set of rickety wooden stairs used to board the boat. I decided to sit on the stairs to wait.  While I was sitting on the stairs, a much bigger wave came and, suddenly, the stairs were no longer anchored in the sand. They started to float. Since I was on the top step, the balance was off and the stairs fell backwards. I probably fell 4 feet into the water. It all happened so fast. Many people rushed to my aid to help me up and make sure I wasn't hurt.  Aside from a small bit of sand rash on my butt where I landed, I was fine. Unfortunately, everything got wet with salt water. I was wearing a hip pack with my Samsung S8+ smartphone, Removu K1 video camera and my Panasonic ZS200 point and shoot camera. I was also carrying a backpack with my drone and ipad mini 4 inside. Luckily, my Ortlieb backpack is waterproof and the drone was fine. But everything in the hip pack got drenched. I immediately turned my phone off and took the batteries out of the K1 and ZS200 wiping them down with a towel. What a crazy thing to have happen!

Island house

The wind had really picked up since the morning journey out of Cartagena and the 45
My cameras after spending a day in rice
minute return ride was very bumpy. Once back at the house, I used alcohol to wipe down the Removu K1, ZS200 and the charging port of my S8+. After that, I buried them all in a large bowl of rice to try and draw out the salt water. The S8+ is advertised as waterproof but I never believed it. In fact, the phone is waterproof and came back to life quickly. The Removu K1 briefly came back to life after 2 days but, unfortunately, only for one hour. Perhaps it was a last gasp but once it died a 2nd time, it never came back. The ZS200 was completely unresponsive. So, this quick dip in the sea ended up costing me 2 cameras. That was a huge loss. Especially losing the K1 which has served me so well and made shooting video very simple for over a year.  It has been so easy to hand hold the K1, talking into the camera or shooting the landscape while cycling. The 4k footage has been very clear and the built in gimbal guaranteed smooth and stable results. It also has an external microphone jack that has allowed me to use a lavalier mic for crisper audio. In the past, I had dabbled in video but these 2 issues, shaky footage and excessive wind noise, were always stumbling points. The K1 gave me the confidence to try making videos again and even start a Youtube channel. If I wanted to continue to do video I was going to have to figure out another way. 

Papa sloth in a local park

Baby sloth

Joe Arroyo, very famous Cartagena composer

Lady selling a pudding thing on her head

My other decision was what to do with these cameras. Was there any way to salvage them? I went to the 2 biggest camera stores in Cartagena. It was shocking how poor these stores were. They had so little stock and everything was old. There was a lot of cheap Chinese brands that I was unfamiliar with. No one even knew what a gimbal was and they had no technicians available to fix the cameras. Cartagena is such a photogenic city, I was surprised it didn't have a thriving photography community. I guess people simply don't have money for cameras. 

Getsemani street

I have many knowledgeable photography friends and, almost unanimously, they said salt
Colorful Getsemani
water is the worst thing for cameras and electronics in general. Even if I could get the salt water out and somehow bring the cameras back to life, these cameras would never be the same. They will always cause me problems. My friends encouraged me to let the cameras go and start fresh. I had another week in Cartagena and everyday I checked to see if there was any changes or signs of life in the cameras. But there was nothing. On my last night, I asked Yahara if she wanted to take them. We both couldn't stand the idea of simply throwing them in the trash even though that is probably where they belong and will end up.  It was painful to lose these cameras and leave them behind. 

Flower vendor passing by the house

Fruit vendor outside the house

Puerto del Reloj
What's also crazy is that even though I lost 2 cameras I still had 2 cameras. I still had my S8+ which actually takes surprisingly good video and photos. I also brought with me a very small Sony helmet cam. This camera is so small the batteries are also very small. I brought it to use while riding if it was raining. I've had this camera for probably 4 years and because of the short battery life haven't used it much. I also tend to bob my head a bit while riding and the footage kind of makes me sea sick. But, these are both viable cameras. The bigger issue was how to keep the cameras steady and get decent sound while riding. Perhaps I'll have to rethink how I use the cameras. 

Cheerful fruit vendor

Cart pusher

House cat, Luna
When I was looking for a camera shop to, hopefully, fix the K1 and ZS200, I thought I saw a GoPro Hero 7 Black in a window. At the time I wasn't thinking about buying a replacement camera and didn't ask anything about it. This is a camera I was planning on purchasing when I returned home after the tour. I've watched many reviews of the Hero 7 Black on Youtube and everyone raves about the quality and especially the image stabilization. Why not buy it now? And so I did. The camera cost $40 more here than in the US and there are no accessories available. Not even extra batteries. I do have an external battery pack that I can use for charging while on the road if I need. 

With Carlos, school manager

In the meantime, I was studying Spanish. I think it was good for me to be in Spanish classes even though I didn't learn what I was hoping to. My idea was to get more comfortable with the 2 most basic conjugations of past tense verbs. We touched on this my last 2 days but not enough to get me where I was hoping to get to. But really, at my level, I need practice speaking with people that can explain, correct and give me more vocabulary and rudimentary grammar.  It was all fine and I really enjoyed my classes, teachers and meeting the other students. My classes had anywhere from 4 to 9 people depending on the day. Almost everyday Aisha, my housemate, and I went out to dinner with other students. Aisha is only 20 years old and I was surprised she invited me, someone old enough to be her grandma, to go out together. We really had fun and I will miss laughing with her.  

Cart haulers waiting for work

Red Squirrel in Centenario park

I think it is natural to always want to be getting further ahead when learning something. Learning a language requires a great deal of patience. For me, it is like learning a musical instrument. Progress is slow. It takes years and years of daily practice to get to a place where it flows. Even though I am in a Spanish speaking country I don't speak Spanish as much as you would guess. I'm traveling alone and, aside from saying hello, really only interact with locals when I need something. I spend a lot of time by myself. Most of my socializing is actually online through my blog, videos and social media. This is true even at home. I'm not an especially social person who seeks out other people. I like being with people but I also like my own company too. Every day, I walk around and say hello to everyone but I don't really have conversations with people very much.  I think if I travelled with someone else we could practice speaking Spanish together but, otherwise, most of my conversations are still in English. I suspect my experience is very common with solo travelers.

Punta Arena fisherman

View of Cartagena from Tierra Bomba Isla

Cartagena from the boat to Tierra Bomba

On my last day in Cartagena I took a boat trip to the closest island, Tierra Bomba. It cost as much to take a taxi to where the boats dock as it cost to take the boat to the island. $3 each way for the 15 minute trip. The view of Cartegena from the island is amazing. This was my 1st time using the new GoPro Hero 7 Black. I was very impressed with how it handled the boat ride. The footage came out very smooth and there wasn't much wind noise either. Maybe this will be a good purchase. I walked along the beach passed lots of hotels and hostels until I couldn't go any farther. It was such a beautiful day and the beach was lovely. The wind was blowing quite fiercely but I still flew the drone for a bit not going far down wind. Coming back into this headwind was going to be a tough ask for this little drone. I first flew into the wind to make sure I could get it back. The return trip by boat was bumpy. The bottom of the boat kept slamming into the waves. It was loud but also fun.

Basket seller

Love these ladies, Estelle, Isa and Beatrice
 who work in the house

This had been an action packed 2 weeks in Cartagena. I met a lot of wonderful people and saw very cool stuff. Yahara and her family were lovely. Living in her house was a fabulous experience and one I will always remember. I also hope to meet my buddy Aisha again. We need to laugh more. 

My next big destination in Colombia is Santa Cruz de Mompox. It is considered the oldest city in Colombia and one I have been looking forward to visiting. For me, it will be a 4 day ride and with Yahara's substantial help I plotted a route. But then, Annamarie, my German friend who had already made the journey by bus, emailed saying the road to Santa Cruz de Mompox was under construction and she didn't think it would be safe for me to cycle. The shoulders on both sides of the highway were being redone and the lanes were very narrow with lots of traffic. With this information, I changed my plans and decided to get a ride. Again with Yahara's help, she arranged for a small truck to pick me up on Sunday morning. The truck would arrive at 4 am - ouch! 

House street

So long Cartagena and I hope to return one day.

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