I can hardly believe that we have been down here one month already! "Time flies" seems incredibly apt right now. We have been in Cartagena (with the exception of a quick break in Rincon Del Mar) for four weeks. Cartagena as you may have gathered from our posts, is a huge sprawling metropolitan city. It is street to sidewalk to house, the epitome of concrete jungle, with people everywhere. This is NOT our "thing". In general we avoid big cities during our travels at all costs. So why did we choose Cartagena and how did we actually stay for an entire month? I will openly admit that by the end of our first week here Shane and I were both seriously considering tucking tail and jumping ship. We were annoyed with the constant barrage of "playa blanca?" "sombrero?", "weed?". I was anxious about the traffic, honking, and general disregard for safety. We were bored with walking in circles for exercise with nothing to look at but buildings and traffic. We haven't gotten a sound nights sleep since we have arrived and that is with wearing earplugs! The list can go on. Sure there are some cool things to see and do, but for us a few days here would have sufficed.
What kept us here though was something we weren't anticipating. It was people. More specifically our Spanish teachers, who I would like to think of at this point as friends. The original idea of us spending our first month in one place was so that we could take Spanish lessons. We wanted to jump start our learning so that we had a foundation for traveling on our own afterwards. In theory we would learn the basics then build our conversational Spanish on the go. Cartagena had several schools and Colombian dialect tends to be slower than countries further south. Figure in the ridiculously cheap flight (~$150/person one way to get to South America compared to $600+ for other countries) and it seemed like the perfect fit. When I booked our apartment on Air BnB, I asked the owner for recommendations as to which school to use. It just so happens that Nayma, the owner, speaks 3 languages, has traveled the world, and used to teach English lessons before moving here. We were able to get private one on one tutoring with her for the same cost as classroom lessons at one of the schools. We got 4 two hour private lessons a week plus a cooking class with her and to our surprise her friend, Mario, for $150/week. It was a no brainer.
Nayma made us feel at home from the start. She gave us a tour of the city, helped us get Shane's phone set up for Colombian calls and data, and recommended a list of killer restaurants to try. Mario was with us more often than not and the lessons would vary from the nitty gritty of hammering vocab and reading children's books for two hours straight, to cooking lessons from Mario with instructions only in Spanish (FYI my Italian grandmother would be proud of him - there is no such thing as measuring, timing, or any other quantitative measuring in his recipes), or wandering the city making conversational Spanish with them and various vendors for practice. It really helped to fill our days and gave us just enough structure that we felt productive with our time. We kicked some butt and got considerably more comfortable with our Spanish in our month here (I was super excited when I was able to book a transportation reservation on the phone the other day completely in Spanish). But its not the lessons themselves that I'm going to look back on and cherish. Its going to be walking the wall at sunset with them, sharing disgustingly sweet desserts at the Festival de Dulce, joking with them about Nayma's driving, and helping them bottle beer at the bar. Seeing them almost everyday lent itself to comfortable conversation and familiarity that only comes with friendship.
We were lucky enough to have two of our friends, Frank and Caroline, visit us during our stay here. That week went by faster than any other week here and we saw/experienced more than we did the entire month we have been here. It gave us a reason to go check out the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas Fort that is literally walking distance from our apartment. We finally made it out to the beach (Nayma had been trying to convince us to go since our first week here). And Franks adamant requests to sample the street food, which Shane & I had been hesitant about, turned out to be the amazingly delicious and cheap (the burgers and meat on a stick are mind blowing)! Tomorrow we head to Santa Marta for our 4 day hike to La Ciudad Perdida aka The Lost City. Once again we have a good friend, Chris, sitting on a plane heading this way as I type to join us on this adventure. I'm positive that our experience will be all the richer having him there to share the journey with.
Its kind of interesting how friendship can change your entire experience of a situation. Shane and I went to Alaska on a cruise by ourselves. It was one of the most beautiful places either of us have ever been and while clearly we enjoy each others company (11 happy years worth) it just wasn't as enjoyable as the cruises we have taken with friends. Even though the places those cruises went didn't come close to comparing to Alaska, gorgeous photos just don't equate to awesome memories. I know personally that having coworkers as friends can make even the most mundane job tolerable. Packing the house up for a move is way less stressful when your friends are there to assist and to ask the questions like "you're really going to box up an entire file cabinet worth of coupons???". It is in the shared laughs, the mutual support, and all the little things. Friends can be with us for a month or for our lives but time isn't really the ultimate factor. Friendship means the memories last.