Being adopted by colombian family, timid adventurer, dance all night

Dear friends and family,

I still haven’t ridden my bike here yet as I’m acclimating myself to the heat and culture and language.

I took the free walking tour of Cartagena sponsored by my hostel. There was couple from Washington 

DC, but everyone else was from Netherlands, Germany, France, UK, New Zealand and a family from the south of Colombia.

This is a really old city founded in the 1500’s by the white people who slaughtered the indigenous Indians who lived here prior. There’s a few Indians left who live in or near the Tayrona National Park, where I intend to bicycle through.

The old town of Cartagena is filled with stone buildings, mostly coral that was mined on the coast. The upper floors are typically of wood and have overhanging balconies over the street below. It is a major tourist trap, filled with restaurants, street vendors, souvenir shops and even high end boutiques.

Immediately after the tour a German woman and the Colombian family announced they planned on seeing the Castile, the largest in Colombia and asked if anyone else wanted to join them. I did and off we went to find it. Was not hard to find as it is huge, sticks out like a sore thumb. I was told it was built by the Spaniards to repel the British who wanted to lay claim to this gold rich land. Hard to figure out building something that takes 200 years to repel present invaders. Could they imagine that the British would wait a couple of hundred years for them to be ready to repel them?

Wanting to treat the American to Colombian kindness the family kind of adopted me. They made sure I had plenty of treats and hydration, and kept my white skin out of the sun as much as possible. Dad educated me on his way of hydration by filling his camelback with beer. He assured me it was much better than water! Should be interesting when I try it while bicycling, but you know, when in Rome…

As we made our way up the steep ramps to get to the top of the Castle, I got to practice my Spanish with the daughter of the family who was sixteen years old and said she wanted to know English well and wanted to practice. We were both learning so fast that I nicknamed her “Google translate” she was so good. It was a fun way to learn. They invited me to stay with them if I bike near the small town near Bogota. Nice kindness. 

Once we took our pictures from the top, the family had heard that there was another way down, through a series of tunnels and we could stay out of the sun and explore the interior that way.

Turned out the tunnels were about six foot tall and about four feet wide with a very slippery tile floor. I kept slipping on the tiles as i was wearing my very thin (very light and packable on a bike) sandals. I couldn’t stand up straight and every time I started to slip had to squeeze both sides of the walls to stay in place. I was last, behind the whole family. There were lights about every 10 feet to see our way. 

After about twenty minutes going down it got steeper and steeper and more and more slippery. I was looking forward to seeing the light of the bottom opening and getting out of here and standing up straight and still. I heard the youngest daughter say something about “cerrado “ which means closed. She laughed as she turned on her phone to look for another exit. 

Nope, it was a locked door. Locked from the outside. That meant that we would have to turn around and retrace our steps UP the steep tunnel, slipping as I went, while pinching the sides to keep from falling down. We all managed to get our heads around turning up hill and started on our way.

Then the lights went out!

I have to admit that I was with a Colombian family on their vacation who seemed to know their way around and none of this should have intimidated an ol’ ( is that a better way to not say old?) explorer like me should have been comfortable with this, BUT not quite. 

Then the lights came back on and we soon reached the upper entrance. This time there was a guard there. We asked him if he knew the door on the bottom was locked and answered “Si” and laughed. 

When walking around the old town of Cartagena I must have looked like i needed something because I often heard local boys say under their breath, but within earshot that they have the best cocaine and weed in Colombia. Why target me? Yes, a gringo, but really?

In Cartagena and in other big cities of Colombia the bars and clubs seem to get really going by about midnight and often last through the entire night. This is what I heard as I certainly couldn’t stay up that late and would not want to be partying all night anyway. I wonder how they do it?

When I was spending time a number of years ago in Venezuela, I got invited to go to a dance club by a restaurant owner that befriended me. He said he would pick my up to go out at 11 PM at the marina where I lived on the boat. I was pretty sure that he said “eleven”, so I took a nap in the afternoon so I had some chance of staying awake. 

Turns out it was a pretty fancy dance club. Many young women wanted to dance with the big gringo until they saw that I couldn’t salsa so I was pretty useless to them. I watched, I drank, and I tried a few times to get the salsa, but I was a slow learner. After a few hours of this I was getting pretty tired and my host showed no sign of settling down to leave. How would I ever stay awake to keep this up?

When I went to the men’s room to pee, I heard the big inhalation’s of the snorting first and then noticed on the sink the biggest lines of cocaine I ever saw (not saying much for me), but almost every man that entered took a long snort in each nostril on his way out. Of course I tried it, after all if i fell asleep I’m a lot to carry to get home. Well, I have to say the evening went easier after that and I am sure that my learning curve got lots better, or at least I am sure I thought so!

Sending love,


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5 thoughts on “Being adopted by colombian family, timid adventurer, dance all night”

  1. Very nice reportage, Charlie. Makes me fondly remember my time in Cartagena, about 40 years ago. Very few North Americans were there visiting then as well, but the Colombians made a point of showing me that the bad rap Colombia had at that time was not entirely deserving!

  2. Yes, I remember how lovely Cartagena was when we were there on our cruise. And the sloths in the trees. Great trip so far.

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