Whenever I plan my travels, for some reason South and Central America always seem to elude my thoughts. Maybe it’s because they’re so close to the good ol’ U.S of A, that I have a tendency to neglect them since I feel like I can go anytime. On the other hand, because they’re so much closer than the other continents, when I found out I had a two week break from work, and flights to Cartagena were only about $250 from Ft. Lauderdale I was down for a return to South America. And I was also able to talk my travel averse little sister (MuiMui henceforth) into joining me. Unfortunately, MuiMui , the one with a “real job” had to work, so she won’t be able to join me until Saturday, meaning I’m here for three days on my own as the dreaded solo female traveler.
Arriving early (thank you Spirit Airlines – not a phrase you’ll hear often) I walked into the incredible humidity of Cartagena. My travel pants were starting to cling to me like a needy ex and I had my usual post arrival jitters about getting myself to my hostel without getting robbery rate taxi fare – or actually getting robbed and dropped off in the middle of nowhere. As I was herded into a taxi, I timidly asked my driver “Hablas ingles?” (Do you speak English) to which he responded “Mas o menos” (more or less?) and then proceeded to speak to me solely in Spanish. Ah, the delicate balance between trying to speak the local language, and then getting blindsided into a full conversation in Spanish about tourism in Cartagena, the cooler weather in Medellin and how the people of Medellin are great lovers. Or he could’ve been saying “I have been driving for 14 hours straight and I haven’t slept in three days and I am wired on schnapps, benzedrine, and those little chocolate covered peanuts. El Viajero Hostel? Yes, i know it well. I stabbed a woman in a bar in El Viajero. But i am going nowhere near El Viajero. El Viajero!!”
On the other hand, since I humored him in Spanish, his original quote of 24000 pesos somehow came to 12000 pesos by the time we arrived at the hostel.
Not having eaten anything but a cup of noodles on the plane, I was pretty hungry by the time I checked in and decided to head out in search of food. When I grabbed a city map from the reception I was told where I would be able to find restaurants, and also that a free walking tour would be starting in 45 minutes. Not having anything better to do, or friends to make plans with I figured I’d walk over and check it out. Obviously, I got lost on the way there, but fortunately ran into the tourist information booth.
Me: Hablas ingles?
Girl: Yes. Where are you from?
Me: New York…(expecting the follow up question of: “Oh but you look Asian”)
Girl: Oh, but you look Colombian!
Me: (say whaaaaatttt?!?!) umm thanks?
That’s a first. Sorry mom. Maybe I do need to cut back on the tanning. I got my directions and hurried over to the meeting point just as the tour was just starting. As per usual, the group was a mix of foreigners and an eager to please (and get a big tip) tour guide. The tour started with Edgar asking us all where we were from – and him promising he would tell us the capital of each of our countries, or the capital of our state if we were from the States. After nailing New York, Australia, Kenya, Sweden and various other fairly known capitals, someone stated they were from Nebraska to which he responded “Lincoln” without hesitating and awaited confirmation. Fist bump and respect, dude. The “Nebraskan” as it turned out was your normal dickhead from New York, and had no clue what the capital of Nebraska was.
The historical tour covered a lot of ground both physically and verbally. We walked around a good portion of the fortressed Old Town and learned a whole lot about the history of Cartagena from conquistadors, to inquisitions to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Botero. Edgar, also learned every single one of our names in the two hour span. I can’t even remember the names of half my guests on the boat, and there are only six of them and I live with them for a week. Point being, it was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had, and I tipped him appropriately. Got that people who employ people in the service industry, TIP APPROPRIATELY.
Aside from taking the tour to see some of the city I also had some ulterior motives. It being the first day of my trip I didn’t want to spend the whole day by myself in the hostel, so I hoped I would meet some cool people on the tour. I spoke to a really nice couple from Oz, but couples usually aren’t as big on getting wastey-face. There was a good looking Swiss dude that I saw every girl try to hit on during the tour which was pretty funny to watch, but the Swiss can be a bit stiff so I didn’t think that looked like much fun. There was also a group of three guys from a hostel who looked like they wanted a beer through the entire tour. I think I needed to make friends.
When the tour ended I asked them to be my friends. No literally, I walked up to them and said “Are you guys going for a beer? I have no friends, so is it cool if I come crash your plans?” Politely, they invited me along. Their plan was to head up to Cafe del Mar, THE place to go to watch the sunset. As we walked towards the bar, one of the guys, who was from Colombia pointed out we could just go to the vendor with a cooler and buy beers from him and sit on the wall next to the bar for a quarter of the price, and the same view. Sold. And of course beers are best bought in rounds so during the course of the sunset we each bought a round as we all struggled to keep pace with the Belgian. (Traveler Tip: Drinking beers with Belgians is a challenge you will never win. All beers are weak sauce compared to what they’re drinking at home.)
After four beers at a Belgian pace, we decided to head back to their hostel for a nap and more drinking. Along the way, we stopped for some street food outside of Plaza Santo Domingo, one of the more touristy places to eat. Except while the plaza restaurants were filled with Fat Americans in khakis, t-shirts and white tube socks, the cart was conducting business solely in Spanish with locals. Our newly acquired Colombian friend ordered us each an arepa de huevo which was absolutely delicious. There was also an amazing local sauce they put on top of it which after much struggling I was told consisted of garlic, chopped onions, dill and something like a creme fraiche. So good. And super filling – plus I was already filled with beer and didn’t have much more room for actual nourishment. We also drank juices out of a bag.
When we started approaching the guys’ hostel, they informed me that there was usually security that would be scanning my wrist for the hostel’s identifying wrist band – which i did not have. I turned my hostel’s band inside out and just walked in at a New York pace, following the German to their dorm while the guard tried to stop me in Spanish. Somehow the other two pacified him, and I was safe enough that he wouldn’t be manhunting for me in the dorms. The two Europeans took our safe arrival to mean nap time, and the Colombian and I hung out making plans for the night. Oh and he also told me I looked Colombian. Especially with my sunglasses on. #AsianAssimilation
We agreed that the plan for the night would be to get a bottle of the infamous aguardiente, the local Colombian drink that is the #1 thing my friend listed on a thirteen page email of recommendations. Little did I know what that would imply for the rest of the night.
Half an hour later when the Belgian sleepy head woke up, the two guys headed down to the store to pick up the supplies. When they returned, they had a large bag full of beer, water, Red Bull, plastic shot glasses and Aguardiente. Not really remembering what Aguardiente is I stupidly took a sniff of it before drinking it. Licorice. Fuck. I may be dating a Dane but licorice never has been and never will be my thing. Ugh. Gross.
Round one of shots was upon us. I took a sip of the first one, and it went down surprisingly well. It was like Sambuca but weaker in licorice taste and stronger in the post shot burn. We were told that each department in Colombia produced its own version of the fire water but the one we were drinking, Aguardiente Antioqueno, is widely accepted as the best kind. So nice to have someone somewhat local helping out the gringos.
Except the part where playing with the locals meant we have to to play by Colombian rules of not leaving the room until the entire bottle was finished, plus the beers. FML.
By the fifth round of shots I was still doing surprisingly well – and keeping up with the boys drink for drink. When the sixth round came around, I tried to be responsible, and started asking for a reduced portion. Some round after that I tried to tap out saying I would be vomiting if I kept going. They gave me a bottle of water and told me to start chasing my shots. I saw another round coming and excused myself to the bathroom, and thought maybe taking a drunk shower would sober me up. When I came back ten minutes later I was no more sober – and soaking wet because I didn’t have a towel so I just threw my clothes back on. Another round came. And another. Clearly I started losing track. Some girls came back in the room and I told them that they had to try some of this delicious Aguardiente. They were hesitant but after two-thirds of a bottle, a bunch of beers, and a week of reading the Wolf of Wall Street, I was ready to sell them this pen.
“It’s really good! It’s like a Sambuca but lighter and more pleasant with less burn. It’s basically the number one tourist attraction in Colombia. It would be like going to Greece and not drinking Ouzo. This will make your night so much better, and you need this!”
AKA I need you to drink this so this damn bottle empties and I’m off the hook.
They bought the pen.
Then the pen broke as the Colombian said we should all do a round of shots together. I took a small sip. Chased it with a giant gulp of water My mouth started sweating and tasting acidic.
The girls left. There was a quarter of a bottle left. More shots were poured. I said no way. They poured one anyway. I looked at the plastic shot glass like a loaded gun. I wanted it out of my hands as soon as possible. The Europeans did their shot. I kept looking at mine. The Colombian hadn’t done his yet and was looking at me. I took the shot. I swallowed. I made a face.
I bit the inside of my cheeks. My face scrunched up.
“For fuck’s sake,” I said bouncing up towards bathroom where I locked myself in a stall.
I started neatly throwing up into the toilet bowl. And then couldn’t stop. For about as many rounds as we did shots. I heard the German knocking on the door. “Are you okay in there?” “Fuck you guys,” was the only response I could muster.
A few minutes, and several mouthwashes later I was back in the room feeling better.
“Did you throw up?”
“I told you guys…”
“How are you feeling?”
I mean, all the alcohol was purged from my system so I had to be good to go right?
Two shots later, and the bottle was finally done and we were ready to go to the club. Except it was 1:30 in the morning and I had been up for almost 20 hours. Reluctantly I headed over to the club with the guys when we realized we would have to wait in line to get in. They ordered a round of beers. I ordered a taxi home, and never made it to the club.
You win this round Colombian, German, Belgian and Aguardiente. But I’ll get you next time.