...and yet more Pamana and


April 30th

Subject: Rick steals quarters from panhandlers
Current Location - Panama City, Panama
Local Currency - Balboa (B$1 = US$1) (uses US bills and coins)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - 90ish & muggy. Hot. Real hot.
Song defining this leg of the trip - Lifetime Party - Cecilio and Kapono

So I finally left Bocas after 3 weeks. Thats the longest I stayed in one place on my trip so far. My last night in the city, I walked around and actually began to think I was going to miss this place. I had somewhat of a routine set up now. I was a regular at my cafe for lunch and the lady behind the counter knew me and smiled when I came in. But alas it was time to leave.

I couldnt find anyone to buy my surfboard, so I decided to take it with me on the chance I might be able to use it on the pacific side of Panama, which would take a fair bit of effort to get to, according to the maps I had. But I needed a way to carry it, I had no bag. Well, I had bought a hammock to use at the hotel, so I got some string and rope, tied the hammock around the board, tied the ends together with rope, put the rope over my shoulder, and viola - instant board bag. It worked. It looked ghet-to, but it worked. As I was testing out my new contraption, a girl at the hotel asked me what I was doing that for, and I told her I was traveling with it because I couldnt find anyone to buy it. She made an offer and the worlds coolest board bag never even got to make its maiden voyage.

Unfortunately, the waves really died out while I was in Bocas. I only really got to use the board a few times, and the waves werent even rthat great. Part of the reason I wanted to take the board to the pacific side, but in the end, it was too much trouble, and the last minute offer swayed me out of it.

Someone had told me that flights to Panama City from Bocas were only $50, and half that if you had a student ID, which I do. Thery also told me that flights to David, where I wanted to go were $30. Assuming the 50% discount still applied, I figured I would take a $15 plane ride rather than the $3 ferry and $8 bus. I dont really know why I ended up deciding that, I just did. I had done the entire Central America leg overland, and now I was taking a plane just to avoid a short 4 hour trip. Well, it turend out there was no 50% discount, but I took the flight anyway. On top of that, each passenger gets a 25lb bag limit, which the guy told me I was over. No big deal, I cant be that much over. How about 28 pounds over. Thats a whopping 53 pounds that I have been lugging through central america, not including the 5 pound day pack. Crikeys.

Anyway, despite feeling like a cheater for getting on a plane, I loved the trip. I got to see bocas from the air, and after studying property maps for 3 weeks, I knew each island, down to the little ones, even the one I was going to get. It looked cool.

45 minutes later, I was in David, and then took the 45 minute ride to Boquete. Boquete is a cool little mountain town near the border of Costa Rica. Its a lot cooler temperature wise, which is nice after being in Bocas. It actually reminded me of a Panamanian Aspen. I checked in to a random pension (all cheaper hotels here in Central America are called either pensions, hostals, or hospedajes) and went to email some friends from Bocas, Lisa and Jasmine, who I planned to meet up with. Turned out they were in the room right across from me, same pension.

We grabbed a bite to eat, and I told them about my extra charges with the 53lb bag. They were dumbfounded. They told me we would go back to the hotel and go through every single thing I had and they would tell me what to send home. So, the evening was spent going through Ricks belongings, and getting rid of about 10lbs of stuff.

The next day in Boquete was spent taking a tour of a Coffee plantation. Panama makes some of the worlds best coffee, ranking #3 worldwide. The plantatiom that we visited was incredible. It took 3 hours and went over every phase from planting to packaging. The factory was built in 1913, and in 1970 they were still using the same original equipment which was powered off a water wheel. The only reason they changed in 1970 was because the water stopped, and they had to find a new way to get power, and took it as a good time to re-do the whole place.

After the coffee plant tour, we decided to hike out to the hotsprings in the area. The hotsrpings were about a 30 minute taxi ride, followed by an hour hike. It was pouring rain when we went, but that actually made it more interesting. Hiking through a rainforest-like area while its raining is sort of cool. The hotsprings were neat as well, and we stayed for a couple hours.

The next day we made the trek to Panama City...by bus let me add. :-) I really like Panama City. Of all the major cities I have seen in Central America, its my favorite. Its clean, its modern, and its fun. I think Panama city is ideally suited to visitors of my age for one simple reason: we grew up with Frogger. Frogger, for those who dont know, was a video game in the early 80's where the point of the game was to direct a frog across 16 lanes of traffic to the other side. Same goes here. There are 4 lane streets with no traffic lights, meaning there is no where that the traffic stops. You just pick a point along the street, try to gauge where there is a gap at each lane and run for it. Sometimes you can cross two lanes, stand in the middle of the road while cars drive by at 35mph inches from you, and wait to cross the next two.

Another crazy thing about Panama City, at least in the district that I am in, is that they seem to be trying to make it look like Times Square, NYC. Huge signs have gone up all along the road. One of them was a globe that had to be 10-12 feet in diameter with the words "ELECTRONICS WORLD" orbiting the globe. I figured this would be a good place to see if they could fix my computer, but I couldnt find it. I asked the lady behind the counter of a small kiosk-sized place selling walkmans and cell phones where Electronics World was. She looked surprised that I would ask and informed me this was Electronics World. The sign was bigger than the store. I found several places that were just the same.

I checked in to the hostel here in Panama City (the only one in the whole city). The hostel is pretty cool. Abdiel, the owner, bought a penthouse apartment built in the 60s, and turned it in to a hostel. Its interesting, seeing all the signs of opulescense left over, like the pink marble bathroom with a biday (sp?). Definitely the first hostel I have been in with one of those. And it has a great view too. However, the elevator broke the other day, and a penthouse apartment becomes that much less cool when you have to take the stairs to the top.

Anyway, a few of us from the hostel went out my first night to walk around the old town part of Panama city, despite the fact that as it was Sunday most places would be closed. As we reached a park overlooking the bay and the city, I gazed and it really felt like I had reached the end of Central America. My mind flashed back to crossing the border at Tijuana, and what a long strange trip it had been.

My next day was spent doing errands, and meeting up later with Lisa and Jasmine for drinks on the Causeway. The Causeway is a long highway that stretches over the bay, and joins up a couple small islands that have bars and resturants on them. We stayed for a few beers, then caught a taxi to head home. This is when things get strange.

Jasmine sits in the front, I sit in the back and so does Lisa. We get to a red light. Its hot, so all windows are open wide. This guy who looks like he is completely strung out on some sort of drugs, comes up to the rear window on Lisa's side of the car shaking his McDonalds cup with some change in it, obviously wanting us to put in more change. Lisa, being polite, simply says no. He looks at me, being a smart ass, I say "no thanks, i'm not thirsty". I said it real patronizingly. I guess it was the part of me that was sick of being begged off of for months on end, now had a little jab at the panhandler. He kept shaking the cup, thinking I didn't understand, but I just kept telling him I wasnt thirsty, but thank you oh so much for offering. So he pulls out a quarter to show me thats what he wants, when lo and behold he drops it. In the car. He reaches inside the door reaching around on the floor, practically under Lisas feet trying to find it. Light goes green. Cab starts to go. You have never seen a look of sheer teror and panic as you have on the face of a panhandler realizing that HIS quarter is about to drive off. Realizing that the driver of the cab knows nothing about the immense severity of this situation, he runs and flings himself on the hood, one hand clenched on a wiper, the other chenched on the drivers door, drugged out face pressed firmly against the front windsheild screaming various pleas at full volume, along with little bits of spittle. The driver, unphased, keeps driving. If we cross the intersection to the other side, we get on the freeway. The panhandler is screaming that he wants his quarter, the cab driver not knowing that he dropped one, thinking he just wants OUR quarter, is telling him to get off, or hang on at 60mph, slowly inching across the intersection, heading for the freeway, panhandler screaming, people looking on. I'm just sitting in the back watching this surreal drama play out in front of me, knowing that in some twisted way, I actually caused it. What would happen if we drove on the freeway, and he fell off? Worse yet, what if he didnt fall off? The image of a taxi driving down the freeway at full speed with a screaming panhandler attached firmly to the hood went through my mind. I could only laugh. So I decide to give him a new quarter to end this situation. I reach in my pocket and can only find a 50c piece. Fine. Let him make a quarter on the deal. We're stopped now mid-intersection, and traffic behind is angry and honking. The panhandler slithers off the hood like a snake making sure to keep two hands on the car in the event we try to drive off and fool him. He slithers over and I hand him the 50c piece. Then he says "ok, now I want to find MY quarter" and puts the top half of his body in through the window and begins to reach over me, trying to see if he can find it. I push his sweaty head back out from whence it came and said "GET OUT!"

I got back to the hostel and a group of us decided to go out to celebrate the last night of the guys from Norway. These were the guys I had met in Bocas who had sailed around the world. Their 21-month adventure was ending the next morning, so we had to go out and celebrate.

While waiting to go out, the movie "Blow" was playing in the living room. This is the movie where Johnny Depp plays a guy who gets involved in trafficking. I watched the scene where he is in Columbia, and after a few minutes, realized that I had grown so used to seeing people with machine guns, that that part of the scene didnt register with me until several minutes in to it. I can actually remember watching that movie in LA, seeing the same scene, and thinking that those guys were added for effect. Now, I realize machine guns are just a way of life down here. In fact, the other day while shopping, a black sport bike pulled up to one of the shopping centers. It was a high-powered sportbike, painted completely black, except for the "Policia National de Panama" logos on it, two guys in army greens riding it, with bulletproof vests on the outside of their uniforms, and full-face black motorcycle helmets with the glass piece tinted with silver-mirror tint. They had full size machine guns, and a small aresenal on their belts. They looked like some futuristic cop from the movie The Terminator, and I was about to run out of harms way thinking they had been called in to this mall to fight someone or something, possibly a visitor from the future here to steal some cell phones. Nope, just going to work, guarding the mall.

Anyway, our night out was a blast. It started at a hookah bar for drinks, which is an indian style resturant where you can order a hookah, which is an indian smoking device. The device is filled with flavored coals which have a fruity aroma to them. It is then smoked through the device and out a tube which is passed around the table. If it was supposed to make you feel lightheaded or anything else, it didnt. It was just supposed to taste good, and used as a social thing as it is in India. So we enjoyed our hookah and beers and headed out to the next place.

The next place was a karaoke bar. I figured it would be kind of dead. No, quite the contrary. It was jammed to the walls. And the people singing...looked like they were on star search. There was a monitor with the words, like most karaoke places have, but it was clear it wasnt needed. These people werent looking at the monitors, they were looking around the audience, singing like real performers, and sounding like professional recording stars. This was not amature night. A couple hours of karaoke gave way to some good DJing, and we stayed until about 4am.

The next day while I nursed a wicked hangover (I cant remember the last time I drank like that, it must have bee....wait I can, it was 2 weeks ago. Nevermind) I went to see about my laptop. Turns out it can be fixed and would be done that afternoon.

I took the rest of the day to do some shopping with a guy named David from the hostel. We went out looking for a new backpack for me, but were unsucessful. However, I found a really cool patch for my bag that said "Policia Natoinal de Panama". I wanted it. The guy said he wasnt allowed to sell it to civilians. I pleaded, telling him it would never be shown in this country. I would sew it on after I left. He said he could only sell it to policemen, but if I wanted to find a policeman and have him come in and buy it for me, I could. Of course, if forgot about that... I'm in the land of payoffs, anything is possible! I searched around for a policeman to bribe to buy me a patch, but couldnt find one. I am thinking of going back for another try.

We caught a bus back to the hostel. I have to give the award for the best busses in Central America to Panama City, hands down. The busses here are painted incredibly, most of them airbrushed with amazing designs. Like the rest of Central America, Jesus is the theme for the paintings. However, unlike the rest of Central America, it is not required that Jesus be the theme. On one bus, there was a mural of someone resembling Xena, the warrior princess, on the hood, on another bus a picture of Hulk Hogan flexing a bicep on the back door, with his name painted below, as if there was any doubt who that bicep belonged to. The rest of the bus is then decorated in glitter tape, and other various stickers, and the use of an excessive amount of lights is encouraged. These cone shaped lights about 3 inches round and 4 inches tall adorn the entire sides of some busses, some have 6 on the hood, or a few around the door, and some more here and there. And they dont stop on the outside. The bus that David and I got in to to come home, was more like stepping in to a disco rather than a bus. Red diamond pattern vinyl lined the inside of the bus, even on the ceiling. Furry animals stuck to all parts of the windows and rails. Railings painted or covered in colored tape. All sorts of different colored lights inside. This was classic! I had to take a photo. When the flash went off, the already festive crowd, got even more so, and turned around to see who took the picture. One of the girls in the front said "no, the picture needs to have ME in it". I said Ok, and got out the camera. She turned around, sat practically on the drivers shoulder and I took the photo. The photos came out good, but the flash sort of kills the atmosphere, as it lights everything up.

I spent last night working on my photos, which I hope to upload today.

I have also got a plan for where to go next. Its a surprise.

Take care,


May 4th

Subject: Seņor Ixchel, meet Seņor Juan Valdez
Current Location - Cartagena, Colombia
Local Currency - Peso (2800p = $1us)
Language - Spanish
Temperature - 90ish & muggy. Hot. Really really hot.
Song defining this leg of the trip - Three Strange Days - School of Fish

Man, this city is so amazing, so sexy, so everything, that I want to write about it now, but I shant. I will go in chronological order. :)

Which takes us back to Panama City. Panama City being as big as it was, I decided to use it as a place to get a few things that I might need, and of course a few that I might not. Shopping in Panama City is a bit strange for tourists. Other Central American countries are like this, but Panama was the worst: As a tourist walking in, you are instantly locked in the cross-hairs of the storepeople. They make no secret of the fact they are following you. In fact, they walk less than one pace behind you. If you stop and pick something up, they grab it from you, and ask what size you need. Even if you are simply browsing, and felt the need to feel the material. After a little while, I started having fun with this and would litterally run around the store, get about 10 feet ahead of them, then crouch behind a rack of clothes and keep running in a squatted positon only to pop up somewhere else, have them come towards me and we would repeat the drill. I'd like to say that they found it as funny as I did, but they didnt. They didnt seem to be annoyed with it either. It was their job to follow me by a foot, and they were simply going to do it. I was just trying to point out how silly that was, but they didn't get it. And they had the "overhead cams" on their side. Most stores in the US and the rest of the world have small tinted bubbles on the cieling, which contain security cameras. These cameras are then operated by people in a room, looking for shoplifters. Well, in Panama City, these cams are simply replaced by people atop ladders. They stand above the store floor and just watch the people.

The other crazy thing about Panama City stores, is that you can walk down a street with 30 stores, and only find 2 types of stores. 15 stores are selling the identical clothes, the other 15 are selling the identical electrical items. You can even find 2 of the exact same store on the same block, same name and floor layout and all.

My second to last day in Panama, I decided to head out and see the canal museum and canal. I expected to just see the canal, gaze in awe for a couple minutes, then leave. But instead I stayed for 2 hours, watching the Miraflores locks move these huge ships up and down 54 feet in the span of 20 short minutes. The locks were built back 1913 with the rest of the canal, back when no ships were that big. Today, boat builders use the lock size as a limit to the largest a ship can be built, knowing that any larger would prohibit them from passing the canal. So, you have these enormous locks, filled with a ship that is litterally a foot to the wall on either side, and just about reaches end to end. Computer controlled trains with cables to the ship ensure that the boat moves along evenly, not banging off the walls. The observation area is only a few meters away, so you're standing the shadows of these monsterous ships, and watching them lower right in front of you. Yeah, I was impressed.

I had planned on taking care of some other errands my last day there, but that happened to be May 1. This is the day the rest of the world celebrates Labor day, and everything is closed. I guess we Americans just like to be difficult, and had to pick another day.

Later on that night, we found the hatch to the roof of the building of the hostel open, and decided to go up to check it out. It was amazing. We had a 360 degree view of the city, and from what I could see, we looked to be in the exact center. I celebrated my last night in Central America on the rooftop of a hostel in a high-rise, overlooking the city of Panama City. I wouldnt have had it any other way. I had one of those moments when all the conversation becomes background static, and you stare out at all around you and just smile feeling blessed to be alive to enjoy a moment like this.

After a hour long fiasco trying to mail my package the next day, I headed out for the airport. Gal, an Isralie guy also headed to Cartagena and I shared a taxi with another person headed to the airport. Gal had found a direct flight, whereas mine had a 4 hour layover in Bogota. I hate layovers.

I guess I should elaborate on what made me decide to come to Colombia. Flights to Europe were $900, flights to Australia were $2600, and flights to Quito, Equador were $260. For an extra $30 I could stop by Cartagena. So that had a lot to do with it. But I also dont know if I will get to come back to this part of the planet anytime soon. Who knows where I will end up when this crazy adventure is all over. I was here and close now, and knew that if I skipped South America entirely, I would regret it, even moreso than if I raced through it. Which is the plan. Cross the continent in a short 2 months, and be in Europe in time for Running of the Bulls (July 6) and a freinds wedding in Italy (July 13th).

But why Colombia? Isnt it dangerous? Maybe a little, but with an extra measure of caution, its reasonably safe. By the time I had gotten to Panama, I had met a couple people who had been here, and said it was fine, provided you keep your wits about you. I think that gave it even more of a mystique to me, and made me want to see it even more. Colombia also brings a different breed of traveler. Its hard to pin down the difference, but in a word, I guess you could say travelers here are just a bit more intense.

When I was boarding my flight, the check-in attendant asked me "How is your last name pronounced, Mr Ixchel?". Excuse me? Turns out, when I handed my student ID to the lady at the travel agent so she could copy my name, she thought my last name was the name of the school where I studied Spanish, Ixchel, and my first name being Rickertjames. Seņor Rickertjames Ixchel. Normally, even the slightest spelling error on a ticket in the US will cause a posse of rent-a-cops and airport officials to come running to rectify the situation. Here its no problem. I would have given my drivers licence to the lady at the travel agency, but I destroyed it while using it to scrape surfboard wax off my board in Bocas, which I thougth was a rather piognant statement, using what was once my defining piece of identification to scrape surfboard wax.

Anyhoot.... my layover in Bogota turned out to be a bit of a blessing. Because my flight from Panama was international, and my flight to Cartagena was domestic, I had to change terminals, and effectively exit the airport and pass customs. However, my bag transferred directly. That meant I was outside the airport without the burden of my backpack, free to wander. Right on.

I struck up a deal with a cabbie to take me around the city for 3 hours. You cant get much of a feel for a city in 3 hours. Its about the same as looking at a series of postcards. But Bogota is an amazing, beautiful and modern city. The presidential palaces are in the center of the city, unchanged for 200 some years, and same with the churches, nessled right in with the skyscrapers. A horse drawn wagon is a perfectly acceptable means of getting around the city streets, amid busses and motorcycles in a city about as congested as New York city. The motorcyclists on the other hand, all have death wishes. They weave through traffic without the slightest care in the world, and often share a lane with a car or bus, just millimeters from it. Their only saving grace is that they are all required to wear orange vests with their licence place number sewed on it in reflective tape.

I got in to Cartagena at 7:30 at night. I never like getting in to cities at night, its just a little disorientating. I don't think I was mentally prepared for it either. Part of me just assumed that it would be just like one of any number of cities I visited in Central America. It wasnt. The streets were filled with people, and the traffic just drives right through them slowly, ocassionaly nudging someone. Its like a little party in the streets, but without the festiveness, if that makes sense.

I got to my hotel, settled in, and met up with Gal. We ended up heading out to a boxing match he had heard about earlier in the day. It was part of the Central American games. Basically, the same athletes these countries send to the olympics, they send to these games, as its just as (if not more) important to them. To be the best athlete against their rival neighboring countries. Basically, countries from Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and for some reason Canada are invited. Canada is a little north to be considered Central American, isnt it? Anyway, the matches were amazing. Some really good competition.

Afterwards, we headed out to a bar down by the waterfront, outside the wall. The city of Cartagena is basically divided by the city outside the wall, and inside the wall. Back in the days when the Spanish occupied Colombia, they used Cartagena as a port to transport gems from the new world back to Spain, and as such, a protective wall was built around the city in the 1500s. After the city was attacked and plundered, the wall was made even bigger. Its an amazing thing to behold. An entire city surrounded by a massive wall about 10 stories tall, probably 100 meters thick, and lined with cannons and massive elaborate watchtowers. Eventually, as the city grew, and things calmed down, the city grew outside the wall too.

We didnt stay at the bar long, as Friday isnt really the night people go out in Cartagena, as much as Saturday is.

I spent Saturday walking around the city with some friends. In the afternoon, I headed back to my hotel and after a quick nap to beat the afternoon heat, I headed out to grab a bite to eat. My friends were at another hotel, so I just headed down my street, and went in to the first place I saw. I grabbed a table near the door and waited for my food. All of a sudden, I heard angry shouting in the street. I looked out, and there were two men having an argument. Everyone was watching, and so was I. One guy takes out a knife, and starts waiving it at the guy in a taunting manner. The other guy just kept shouting at him, despite the fact he was one knife short of being this guys equal, possibly because he had what appeared to be the crowd behind him. Things kept getting heated. There is something slightly unnerving about being the only tourist around in a situation like this. As a caucasion, one really sticks out here. To the point where I am stared at most places I go. I am usually with other people, so I feel somewhat safe. But now, what went from just a half a block walk to the eatery nearest my hotel was now putting me in front of a fight on the streets of Cartagena, clearly out of my place. The thought of actually running back to the hotel at that moment did cross my mind, but I really dont think there was much danger at all, and might have drawn some unessary attention to the scaredy-cat tourist guy sprinting off. In fact, the lady sitting just outside the resturant selling lottery tickets didnt really even pay the situation that much mind. As the guy with the knife walked off, he gave me a second look, but just the way everyone else here does. I pretended to be as uninterested as the rest of the folks around. But it did send a small squirt of adrenaline to the old ticker. :)

That night, I met up with Gal, some other friends and a local guy we had met named Carlos. Carlos knew of a bar having a party which he thought would be pretty good. And it was. This bar was atop the wall. Possibly one of the most amazing settings I have ever seen for a bar. High above the old city, on the corner of the wall, facing the Atlantic Ocean. You sit there with your drinks, leaning on a cannon which has been there for 300 some years, while the DJ puts on his show from the DJ booth inside one of the old watchtowers above the dance floor. It was amazing. The party was put on by a group called CreamUK. Cream is probably one of the most well known clubs/promoters in the world. Most of their clubs are in the UK and Ibiza, Spain. However, in this outdoor club atop the historic wall of Cartagena, they have some of the best DJs in the world. In fact, one of my favorite DJs ever, Paul Van Dyk, is coming in July. We headed to an afterparty once the place shut down, but by 4:30am, we were all ready to call it a night.

Which takes us to today. Carlos is coming by at some point, and we're going to head out to the beach. My flight leaves for Quito on Tuesday, but I really wish I had longer here. This city is so amazing, so exotic, I really wish I could stay.

I also have to recind my award for the best busses, from Panama, now to Colombia. Columbia has the most incredible busses, but its the parties inside them that really does it. About 10% of the busses you see, will have something that really does resemble a disco inside it. Strobe lights, mirrors, faux fur, disco balls, fuzzy animals, LOTS of dancing lights, and blaring music. Usually, the outsides are similarly adorned, with lots of flashing lights. It looks like a ride at a fair, you know the ones painted with specled paint and having a lightbulb on every possible surface. Yeah, thats about it.

Ok, I have really been on far too long. Hope all is well with you,


May 8th

Subject: Mas Espaņol, por favor.
Current Location - Quito, Equador (Quito starts on next webpage)
Local Currency - Dollar ($1e = $1us) Uses US bills
Language - Spanish
Temperature - 70ish & cool.
Song defining this leg of the trip - All Star - Smashmouth

Ahh, Cartagena. Where else is the big bushy moustace so in style. Where else can men go to a club wearing an all white cotton outfit, shirt unbuttoned, white shoes to match, and be really cool. Yeah, there was something magical about that city.

I ended up heading out to one of the beaches in Cartagena with Carlos, Gal and a couple other guys from the hostel. Carlos was one of the nicer people I had met on my travels. He loved to talk about his country, he loved to show you interesting things, introduce you to all of his friends. To say that he would give you the shirt off if his back is not a lie. I mentioned at one point that I liked the shirt he was wearing, and he said he'd be happy to trade it for any shirt I wanted, as it would be easy for him to get another one.

And the rest of the crew I met were great people. It was nice to meet a bunch of males to head out with. I have enjoyed meeting and traveling with everyone that I went through Central America with, but for the most part, they were females or couples. Its good to get together with a good group of guys for some serious king-kong style chest pounding and crude joke swapping. :)

The entire time I was in Cartagena, I saw a total of 8 westerners. 6 I knew, the other 2 I passed on the street and heard them speaking english. The majority of the people who travel there know good spanish, and because there are so few travelers, none of the locals really speak much english, except for Carlos who teaches it. So, through meeting his friends, and hanging with travelers speaking Spanish, my Spanish improved more in 4 days in Cartagena, than I'd say it did in the average month in Central America where the safety of English speaking hostels never forced me to learn. It was sort of like a drug. I started really thirsting for more. I told Carlos that I now planned to study at least another week while in Ecuador. Quito is as jam-packed with language schools as Antigua was. Carlos offered to teach me for a day if I wanted to come to his school, but it never worked out.

There is a bit of a catch 22 when it comes to visiting a place like Cartagena for the budget traveler. Its not really the kind of city you want to walk alone in, so you want to meet people. The people you want to meet are backpackers. Backpackers are budget travelers. Budget hotels are always smack in the worst part of town. So, in order to get the safety of a group, you need to place yourself in the bad part of town.

I went shopping in the old part of town (the good part) and was looking for a patch to sew on to my bag. I have one in every country so far. As much as I could gather, there was only one shop that sold patches. I found it, and sure enough, they sold patches. American flags, American military badges, American FD or PD badges. Nothing that had anything to do with Colombia. Nothing.

Gal and I went out to a bar in the old city my last night there. Being a tourist makes you a bit of an attraction, and meeting people is inevitable. For the fist time since learing Spanish, I had someone I was talking to tell me that my Spanish was good. I thought about all the times I told someone their English was good, and they denied it, just as I did, but I remembered how it made them smile, as it just made me.

I really thought about changing my flight to stay longer. In the end, I knew I needed to get going, and the cost to change the flight was about the cost of the flight.

Colombia propbably has the strictest airport security I have ever seen. My checked luggage was searched piece by piece, as was everyones. No fuss about the underwear this time. After that, there were 4 separate checkpoints you had to pass.

Mail Home Home