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Travel: Colombia - Cartagena & Rosario Island Nov. 8- 14/2015

Date: Nov. 8th/2015 Place : CARTAGENA



As if playing a joke (a cruel one) on us, the skies had cleared out, on this departure day, and a whimsically smilly-face sun greeted us this glorious morning.


The stay at the Sonesta hotel, in Pereria, though short, was great and the breakfast served, was the best, we had, so far, during our stay in Colombia. Our friend - Itzik - also recommended - "Sazagua Boutique Hotel" in Pereira, which offers a spa, massages plus a great restaurant.

Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to sample that place on this trip. As we were getting closer to the airport, we suddenly realized, that strangely, the airport's entrance was distancing away from us, and the taxi ride got prolonged beyond the 20 minutes indicated at the hotel..

My heart started palpitating, when driven trough a narrow widening half paved road of some slams neighborhood, boarding on the outskirts of the airport,.

Run down shabby, one story houses, begging urgent face-lift, and runny-nosed kids, unsupervised, roamed around the streets.


My over-active imagination, fulled by given warning at home, started manufacturing in my head, horror scenarios of possibly being hijacked, or getting robbed.


The highly sensitized instinct of mine geared onto flickering RED alert mode, which compelled me to sprint out of the car, especially as we could not comprehend the driver's reply to our alarmed inquiry, on where the hell was he going..


David's sensibilities kept me in on bay... Eventually the word "Bicekleta" rung a bell.. A bicycle race diverted the traffic, from the airport's main entrance, that Sunday morning, so the taxi driver, had to take a detour, and veered off the main road.


All ended well and we made it on time to our flight. Yet this incident made me aware of how it is unavoidable to view life incidents via the blinders of our cultural biases, especially when feeling vulnerable under unfamiliar and lingual limitations.

Cartagena In contrast to the above incident, a special complimentary pick up car was waiting for us at the Cartagena airport, thanks to a Cartegenien guy, named Gidion, whom David incidentally befriended, and charmed at the Pereira's Hacienda.

He, also readily provided tips, upon David's inquiry, on the best restaurants in town. Gidion,with no connection to the biblical general, nor to any Jewish decent, is a prominent Colombian Tour Operator, life loving, hospitable and generous creature, who we were blessed to encounter. In addition to the greeting car, a tropical hummed heat welcomed us upon landing, which was a dramatic change from the comfortable cool but wet weather, we experienced at our precious destinations. The "Sofital Santa Clara" hotel, we checked in, later this afternoon, by the San Domingo square, is wonderful.

It is a jewel of 17th century colonial architecture which is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Gabriel Garcia Marquez used this convent as the setting for one of his novels, “Of Love and Other Demons”.

Like the "Pesteno Convento De Carmo" in Salvador -Brazil, and the "Belmond Hotel Monosterio" in Custco - Peru were we stayed on previous trips, the Cartagena's "Sofitel Santa Clara" is located in the heart of the old city, in the interior of a former convent.

Walking throw out the narrow straight streets of this walled old town, with its enchanting squares, colorful colonial architecture, and flowered balconies, reminded us very much on a smaller scale, the Spanish town of Sivlle. I recommend an eve visit to the open-air balcony on the top floor of the "Movich" hotel where along with having a sip at the bar, or a meal at its recommended restaurant, one gets to enjoy, for free, the spectacular panoramic views of the old city and the ocean .

For an ultimate Carteganian coffee experience try " Cafe San Albert" (Diagonal a la Cathedral Calle Santos de Piedra, After an intense negotiation David talked the waiter at this Cafe into specially making for him, and adding into their exclusive coffee menu, also an "Ice Cafe Parfait" which is a cold espreso blended with crushed ice - Italian style. And if you like it, like me, in a Polish version- decaffeinated, with milk, sugar and Ice cream, you get an Israeli style Cold Coffee - Cafe Kar... We had an early light dinner at a place called "Peru Mar" . restaurant

It was good but not great (1, Santo Domingo #33, Cartagena, Bolívar (4) 6551980) after which we called the day short as the flights and tropical heat knocked us out, so after a short dip at the hotel pool, we went to bed. Our English speaking Pereria guide - Carlos- lined up few other guides in Cratagena, so we had a proper guided tour here as well. We managed to get Julio to take us tomorrow, however I am listing all the names of the English speaking guides recommended to us, as one never knows who can be available when needed.. In Cartegena certified English speaking Guide VERONICA ESTOR DE ZUBIRIA, veronicaestor@gmail.com Her Mobile number is: 300 803 3806 Home number is: 646 9132 ++++ Julio's jctous@yahoo.com CEL 321 794 8351 ++++ Lorena de Socorro Anaya Guerrero Her Mobil number is: 315 745 6219, E-mail: gabymarysofia@hotmail.com


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Date : Nov 9th/2015

Place: CARTAGENA



We had best ever, yet, breakfast this morning, in the beautiful flowery open court yard of at the Sofital .



Our middle size room is nice, not too great, but overlooking the beautiful pool setting . The hotel  is packed full for the Miss Colombia pageant , and it took David several phone calls from the U.S. to get a room because the websites had NADA. 


Julio Tous - the Cartagena upbeat cheerful guide showed up at 10:00am to take us for the city tour. His family came originally from Toulouse- France via Spain, and then to Columbia. He is an History teacher who lived and taught also in the  US, so his English, was the best we so far heard in this country.

We lucked out having him showing us the town for 4 hours.




First, he negotiated a good taxi rate as to get us to the "de la Popa" monastery, which was found in the 1,600  and is situated at the top of the hill, from which the views of the city and port are spectacular.

He told us that the movie "Romancing the stone" with Michel Douglas was filmed here.


Some History

Cartagena or Cartagena de Indias is a modern port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and a capital of Boliva State.

The city was founded  in 1533, and named after Cartagena, Spain

During the colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a center of political and economic activity due to the presence of royalty and wealthy viceroys.


At its core is the walled Old Town, with 16th-century plazas, cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings.




With a tropical climate, the city is a popular beach destination.

The town's population is very different then that of Bogota's and Pereira's

A mix of 2 million African slaves who were shipped and sold here, at the trade market, and the remains of local Karibe tribe Indians, Caribbean people and Spaniards, had produced darker skinned hybrid.


Jewish present is missing in Cartagena, and is elsewhere..

"Barranquilla" - 2 Hour drive North of Cartagena is the capital of Colombia’s Atlántico State. It is a larger more modern bustling seaport town, where many Jews arrived and found a refuge, after the Spanish expulsion and later from Europe at the 20thc. It is the third largest, striving  prominent  Jewish community in Colombia which unfortunately we will miss visiting.


Julio the guide, also mentioned that the famous Colombian singer "Shakira" born and raised in Barranquilla, is of  Lebanese Jewish decent as is the  "Shuster" family, the owner of the largest upscale "Olimpica " supermarket chain in Colombia.



Coming down the hill top, we continued to "Castillo de San Fellipe Brajas" a massive Spanish castle/ Fort built in 1657. The castle is located on the Hill of San Lázaro in a strategic location, dominating approaches to the city by land or sea.




Then we returned to the walled old city. to the Plaza de Bolívar (Bolívar's Square)


Near by there is the Caribbean Emerald museum/shop - a tourist trap,

Cl. 5 #2-51, Cartagena, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolíva +57 5 6654625



and you can't miss the Palace of Inquisition.



The palace, an 18thc building, was for 200 years the seat of the Holy Office of the Inquisition . Abolished around 1770, it currently serves as a museum, allegedly showcasing the torture equipment used, as well as other historical artifacts.


It has been described as "one of the finer buildings" in Cartagena. and "best examples of late colonial, civil architecture"


Entrance to the Palace


Torquemada the inquisitor has been known to be the worst one.


In reality, few months ago all the inquisition's torture devices vanished from the museum, and the museum's staff and guides have no idea to where they we're taken. That mystery leaves the museum only with the bear minimum building's walls with writing on them, along with  disappointed visitors.


Julio also walked David through any restaurants worth snooping, and David enjoyed reading the menus, while I enjoyed walking through the charming courts yards  observing the refurbish architecturally gems, including that of  the gorgeous

Realies Shateau "ANADANA" Boutique Hotel, known for its pricey " Carmen"restaurant. The luxury boutique hotel "BASTION"  was also refurbished by the architects: Cohen and Rosenbaum.


After being "marinated" half the day in the hummed hot weather, we found a consoling relief, licking a fantastic ice-Cream I recommend at:

Gelataria. Pardiso

Centro Historico. 660- 4945 Edif. Pombo Calle de la Estrella con Calle del cuartel, esquina



Cooling off away from the mid-day heat and streets, at the hotel's pool rejuvinated us so later in the evening, we manged to enjoy dinner with live music, for the day's finale at a highly recommended sea food Restaurant:

"La Vitrola" 310 650 9946



My dear friend Liki , who visited Cartagena few years ago email- added the following:


<<There are fabulous sun sets and they can be seen from a famous spot  right outside the wall on to the ocean.  Everyone will tell you where it is , because I, of course , don't remember the name of the place.

You are staying in the Grand Dame of all hotels in  Cartagena. 

 We loved that place (Sofitel) , although could not stay there as it was fully booked. 

 Maybe , like for Gabriel Garcia Marques , there is a book in the make for you there....

 

What is  lovely in the old city, is the small streets, the people who sit along the sides, and the feel of it.  In a couple of hours you will be done "touring" , so no "do" the area.

 There is no need to get outside of the old city as it is not beautiful nor interesting.

 The only reason, if you insist, is to meet the Chabbad Rabbi who lives by his tiny congregation.  

 We had a masseuse come to the room , she  came with her bed and it was very pampering not having to rush out after a relaxing massage.  At the hotel, they have a whole list of folks who provide this service. If you have time, do yourself a favor. >


I took Liki's advise into heart, and spent over an hour, texting and on the phone, communicating/negotiating with an external masseuse, who was recommended by Julio the guide (as the hotel's spa rates are outrageous).

That process, despite the assistance in Spanish by a pool guy, had totally stressed me out, thus definitely justifies a relaxing massage , I hope to enjoy, tomorrow, if Carmen - the masseuse,  had comprehended what we tried to convey and would show up at the hour requested..


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Date Nov 10th/2015

Place: CARTAGENA


A late morning, with no pre -panned activities, was a nice day relief.

We lingered over breakfast, taking in both the beauty of the place, and the delicious food, too much for our own good..


Later we ventured outside of the old walled city, and strolled down, among the many push-cart vendors, selling colorful tropical fruits  passing the local Cartageneans.


The ugliness outside the walls diminished the experience,so we veered back to the more esthetic scenery within the walls.


Visiting again the popular Plaza Sato Domingo with its picturesque restaurants and viewing "Gertruids" Botero's sculpture donated by the maestro in 2006 was enchanting.




Hanging out around the Plaza and its charming buildings covered with flowery vines

off their balconies, was much more appealing to us.


It was a good day for having an over-due haircuts, so we found a very understated hair salon, just off San Diego square, where 2 competent guys operated simultaneously, both on David and me for ridiculous price, and both did a super job.


Despite all the bizarre  stress evoking negotiations - texting back and forth  also with Julio's assistance, nothing came out of getting an external  masseuse to the room...

yet, my stress subsided, and I felt a big relief  just knowing I will not have liaisons of any kind, with any of the 3 masseuses  whom David so diligently tried to solicit... in vain.. and who caused us so much nuisance..


We also missed on the famous Cartagena sunsets , since on each of the days we stayed, the looming clouds and crawling haze covering the sky, in the late hours of the afternoons, obstructed this coveted nature scenery.


We hanged out by the hotel's pool, cooling off and swimming extra laps with the intention of shading off the unnecessary, breakfast wight gains...


David had set his heart on a steak, so we had an early dinner at a recommended Steak House, run by a French manger from Normandy,  another casualty of falling in love with a Colombian "spider woman"..


Since eating a steak, later in the day, does not agree with me any longer, the green/tomato/ avocado/palm heart- Salad I had, was the best I had gotten so far.  David  enjoyed his steak as well.

The place is:

QUEBRACH - Parrila Argentina Restaurante Bar

2-69, Cl. 33, Cartagena, Bolívar         664-1300  664-1190



Other recommended Cratagena restaurants:


Goverandor (Goveroner)

Carmem


Tomorrow we are off, for few days to Island del ROSARIO  an hour sailing off the Cartagena's shore, offering an attractive Caribbean beach .




Date: Nov 11/2015

Place ROSARIO ISLAND



A taxi picked us up, from the hotel, early morning, driving us via an upscale neighborhood, outside the Cartagena walled old city, where  architecturally spacious, gorgeous well maintained villas, popped up on both sides of the road, going toward Marina Santa Cruise by Cartagena large commercial harbor.



Taxis here don't operate by meters, only use some allegedly fix tariff rates, which subjugate, out of the area Colombians and foreign accent tourists, to constant exhausting negotiations.

The sky was gray, cloudy and a bit windy this very humid day.

I had wished it would not be rain to welcome us, upon arrival on the Island.


David had stocked up on water bottles and on his favorite Serrano Spanish Jamon and other munchies, he could get his hands on, as if we we were leaving for Robinson Cruzo- like Island.

After we experienced the "milking" economic culture of the hotel, it was a smart decision,  in high sight, to stock up on food.


Majagua (like the hotel we bo0ked) was the name of the middle size Taxi  speed - boat which cross us over, to the Island, with some 20 other passengers,




From on the water the Cratagena horse-shoe visible sky line of white tall high rises of the newer part of the city, reminded us a small scaled Miami Beach.




An over an hour ride on the choppy, at times also splashing water. didn't agree with the breakfast I had earlier this morning at the hotel, especially when the speeding boat had flown up in air, then free fell and banged the wavy water enacting an experience similar to an airplane, through an air pocket or Disney's "Mad Mr Tod Ride...."


I was glad to walk again on dry land of this tropical Island, one in a chain of other 27 which are considered, today, a protected ecological reservation park.

At least 15 of the Islands belong to private owners, who supposedly inherited those properties from their colonial era ancestors.

2 of such mini private Islands with their visible white painted large villas and speed boats, are located across from the beach we stayed on.



And the weather which greeted us, though still was cloudy, had behaved, and kept dry and friendly.


We checked into:

Hotel San Pedro De MAJAGUA an attractive Caribbean beach hotel

57 (5) 650 44 60  - 650 4465


We are staying at a comfortable but modest ground level, air conditioned +TV  beach front suite . The ocean and the bed chairs situated on the short narrow sandy beach strip under the shaded round thatched roof huts can be all observed from the room's large glass window.



The Island del Rosario,

Is also referred to as Corales Islas del Rosario, an archipelago located off the coast of Colombia, approximately 100km from Cartagena.


The natural landscapes made of volcanic eruptions mixed with an off - white coral formations, the crystal clear waters , a tropical vegetation of palm tree variety, and huge Ficus trees (on steroids...) growing elaborated external hanging roots, make it unique ecosystem.

Nesting within the tall broad spread branches are darling small green parrots and other cheerpy noisy birds, while below on ground under the branches, visitors enjoy cool shaded relief from the heat.  


Development of the Island is kept to bear minimum, as to preserve the environment and its natural feel.. So think  basic, plain and rustic, not plush and luxurious.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving are the typical activities in the Islands.The water protected by the Island's natural bay, is calm and conducive for safe swimming.



David wasted no time and sailed off in one of the boats which took the island's guests for a 2 hours afternoon diving and snorkeling activities, further away off shore, while I stayed on the beach enjoying writing and reading.

Shortly and suddenly David appeared next to me, while I went in for a dip at the beach's close to shore marked area.

Apparently, David ditched the boat carrying mainly divers,and swam/snorkeled, alone, all the way back to shore, since in David mind, the boat ride was not not far into the ocean as he wished..  but too short distance from the shore..


On the beach we struck a conversation with an upbeat. couple from Miami.

Another mixed cultural/ethnic love story..

This time Gary - a Jewish MD, originally from Detroit, who fall for Diana - an original Colombian who embraced Judaism and raises the couple's 2 young kids within the Jewish school system and tradition.

 They took the day ride from Cartagena for a swim and snorkeling and  returned back with the only boat ride a day at 3:00pm.


We also met Emilio and Juliana - a yapi Colombian couple both lawyers visiting from Bogota, who have been dating for the past 6 years....  he is 28 years old and thinks he is still very young she, who is 2 years older feels definitely ready for the leap of faith..

 We enjoyed conversing with them in English and they were happy to share info on their favorite restaurants of North Bogota.


There are hardly any other choices for decent eating on this Island so we had dinner at the hotel's restaurant.

I got all "lobsterd out" by the biggest Island lobster, David thoroughly pre-checked and reserved for me. It was truly divine. David had an Octopus dish and we shared a large salad.


There is not much to do in the evening here at night, a fact guaranteeing an early rise and marine activities during tomorrow,




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Date: Nov 12/2015

Place ROSARIO IL


I sensed in the middle of the night, that in addition to sharing my bed with David, some "friendly" tropical creatures were in the bed, as well, crawling up and  downs my legs and arms, also hovering above, enjoying this exploration, even more than David.


I had to use lots of spraying to chase a way such an unexpected "fondness" showered on me . I was also wondering if the small lizard peeking, indifferently, at me from the shower ceiling, that morning, was one of the uncalled night's visitors..

 

For a change.. a glorious morning with clear blue sky and smiling sun, no wind and turquoise calm water, welcomed us when we ventured out.

The Island looked so much more beautiful with these bright friendly colors.


There are few guests and hardly any other visitors at our corner of the Island, so it is so calm and peaceful at the side of the beach we stayed.

We avoided the the other beach clearance of the hotel, where a Spanish, not to my liking, music was blasting our ear drums.


We had great swim this morning at the perfect tempters sea water, and later , after a tough negotiation, hired a motor boat with a roof top (as I can'nt afford being BBQ in the sun) driven by a local simpatico driver.

Christian was his name, about 35, a father of 3 who makes a living of taking tourists around, on his boat, or of fishing. when being tourists free..

He took us for snorkeling off shore at the coral reef and around the island.

The reef is nice but not spectacular. I have seen marine species much more versatile and colorful in other parts of the world


Christian the boat driver can be reached /booked on his cell # +57 (310) 743 5779


.

We had encountered big gray beak Pelicans and Frigates dancing/ hovering above the water then gaining speed and diving into the water fetching out the "catch of the day" fish clutched in their strong beaks


Cruising through the tranquil water mangrove lagoons, we got a bit ruffled, when we passed by the now deserted compound, at a prime location by the water, of the infamous Pablo Escobar  - a notorious Colombian drug lord,  who was known as

"The King of Cocaine".

He was the wealthiest criminal in history, who, at the height of his career, supplied about 80% of the cocaine that smuggled into the US


We took a break at the Coculiso Island Resort on the other side of the Island.  

    

The grounds area of Cuculiso hotel are so much more nicer then the one we are staying at, and it has a pool and more attractive common areas, not to mention more affordable rates. However because of its degraded food quality, and mainly catering  to a day tourist  who arrive to enjoy the beach for few hours and return the same day, it is less valued then the San Pedro.


On the way back, Christian dropped us at Manuel's place for, yet another, but more affordable freshest ever, lobster feast lunch.

Manuel, is a house keeper and a cook at a private villa, next to the hotel, that belongs to some family in Bogota who most of the time is absent, Manuel supplements his income by catching lobsters and offering them to the tourists while making rounds in his dinky boat,  between the marked beaches.

So we went to where he guards the villa, picked up the most promising monsters, and he grilled them for us. They were mucho mucho delicious.


Sitting by the water on spoiling launch sofas, at late afternoon time when the wind picks up its tempo and refresh the air, is the closest to nirvana we got so far..


Manuel - the Island's free lance provider of lobsters/fish off the boat -  after sensing our craving for fresh affordable sea food, made sure to find us again, today, on the beach, and grilled for us 2 Red Snappers and another lobster, he got fresh right off the sea, for lunch.

So we made the boat ride back on a full stomach, and luckily the sea was much calmer, and the ride pleasant.




Date: Nov 13/2015

Place :BACK to CARTAGENA


We made the best of our Island stay enjoying the swimming, but....

here are the reasons we will not go back, nor recommend others to stay overnight.


After spending 3 nights at the truly wonderful Cartagena- St Clara Sofitel,

the "tourist trap treatment" at the St Pedro- Rosario Island, exhausted our patience, and we had enough of this bear basic type hotel, with un-kept " grounds lacking charm.


The tiny shadowed beach strip was not clean - debris , bottles , plastics ....  were floating in the water ,one meter from the chairs . The horrible music volume which management refused to lower , and constant pestering of the vendors on the hotel beach, spoiled our stay.

The hotel's staff twas unfriendly, the included breakfast was of the cheapest kind, and prices for any extras were just unproportinally charged  on whim.

At best the st Pedro is a chill-out place of one day station, not worth the stay nor aggravations.


Thus we left the St Pedro with a bad aftertaste, one day earlier, returning back to the Cartagena Sofitel, were the esthetic, service, attractions and gastronomic choices were much more to our liking...


Emilio and Juliana (the young lawyers from Bogota) returned with us on the boat, and since Emilio family's vacation home is right on San Diego Square by the Sofital, we offered them a taxi ride with us, back to the Square.


They invited us to see their place , and I was excited to visit a private home of a local resident of this old preserved town.


We were thrilled to be back at the Cartagena Sofitel, and even thriller to have another cone of the Paradiso Ice-cream, to sweeten the bad after-taste visit in the Island.


When we shared our impressions with the Sofitel's staff, we were told that we would have, most probably,  enjoy much better a stay at:


Agua Azul Beach Resort Boutique Hotel - a place at a charming private Barú, island


Well.... too late now for us , another chance .. go to Baru Island, instead..



Tomorrow we will depart Cartagena and will fly back to Bogota.


**************************************


Date: Nov 14/2015

Place: Cartagena Back to Bogota



The CNN horrible news of the Paris massacres shook us up upon awaking.

An historical turning point labeled as the beginning of WWIII by world leaders.


The French philosopher Bernard Henri Levy interviewed on the news, had a straight message to Obama - "It is not the time to lead from behind' he said," it is a war on our  Western civilization that must be won"


Though the weather was nice and sunny, heavy dark clouds had set to roost in our hearts.



Juliana came to get us from the hotel in mid-day to Emilio family's 3 story house, built in the ~ 1600, off San Diego charming square.


The house, not a free standing, but part of an elongated complex, was pained dark pink in the exterior.  It has tall wooden ceilings, heavy Spanish dark living room furniture, and is very narrow inside. A spiral steps leads to the upper bedroom floors, and to a small roof balcony with grand views.


The small square patio which serves as the center of the house near the kitchen and dinning room, on the first floor, had a wadding small pool.


The house walls carried paintings of contemporary nationally known Colombians artists, whom I never heard of, before , but whose paintings I really liked .

Here are the names of the 2 painters if interested



JORGE ELÍAS TRIANA and more


Dario Ortiz


It was so kind of Juliana and Emilio to invite us over and show this old house in the midst of the old walled colonial city, especially as at least 9 of Emilio's house guests friends came over to visit this weekend. They all partied last night and went to sleep at 4:00am , so few were still in their beds , when we tip-toed through their rooms on our visit tour of the house.


We hanged out by the hotel pool until departing on our flight back to Bogota later this afternoon.