Podcast: Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

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Click on the play button above to listen to the Podcast we made from Cartagena in Colombia – our favourite city in Latin America so far. In this podcast we discuss finding accommodation in Cartagena, we record the sounds of the old town at night, and finish off with a discussion sitting on top of Castillo San Filipe – the largest Spanish fort built in the Americas.

Cartagena, Colombia

Founded by the Spanish in 1533, Cartagena is Colombia’s and possibly Latin America’s finest Colonial city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shortly after it was founded it became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast, and was used to store gold and other treasure plundered from the Indians before it was transported back to Spain.

Due to the riches stored within its walls, Cartagena quickly became a target, and was on the receiving end of countless pirate attacks and five full scale sieges in the 16th century alone. The most famous siege (although not the largest) was led by Sir Francis Drake in 1586.

After a while, fed up with all the attacks, the Spanish decided enough was enough, and made Cartagena virtually impregnable by building huge 12 km-long walls around the centre, and a series of forts & castles at strategic positions around the city.

Cartagena old town is a living museum of 16th and 17th century Spanish architecture, and it would easily be possible to spend a week or two here exploring the streets, admiring the beautiful colonial buildings, and soaking in the street life created by buskers, acrobats, dancers and artisans selling their wares. Not to mention the pristine Caribbean beaches, islands & national parks within a day’s reach of Cartagena.

Cartagena is easily my favourite city in 3 months’ travel through Central America, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone heading to South America. Forget the security worries associated with Colombia, ironically Colombia is the country I have felt safest so far on my travels through Spain, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

If you have any questions, please feel free to post them below as comments.

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Mompos, Colombia

Overland from Colombia to Venezuela

Overland from Colombia to Venezuela
Overland from Colombia to Venezuela

We ignored all warnings and decided to cross the border between Colombia and Venezuela overland.

We had been staying for a few days in the lovely little village Mompos in Colombia. To get out of this city we had to take a “jeep”. We thought that sounded reasonable enough…until we realised that we were 18 people plus heavy luggage travelling with one car. The result: The car broke into two…several time. As you can see on the picture in which we are, again, stranded in the middle of nowhere.

We finally reached Buracamanga after 9 instead of 6 hours and obviously lost our onwards bus. Lucky we got the next overnight bus to Cucuta in Venezuela and it all went smooth from there…except Thomas being covered in dust from top to toe…having been a gentleman and sat in the back of the car the whole way 馃檪

Momp贸s, Colombia

Momp贸s was founded by the Spanish in 1537 on the banks of the Rio Magdalena, and quickly became an important port through which goods passed from Cartagena to the interior of the Colombian colony. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Momp贸s is a charming town and well worth a visit despite the hassle getting there & away.

Mompos, Colombia

When the Spanish diverted their trade route to the other branch of the Rio Magdalena at the end of the 19th century, Momp贸s declined in importance and what you find today is a town where time seems to have stood still.

Momp贸s lies 230km southeast of Cartagena, and the journey there involved a series of boats, buses & taxis taking most of the day.

Famous for its locally made rocking chairs (in evidence all around town from about 5 pm when the locals emerge to sit out on their porches), Momp贸s has developed its own unique form of architecture.

The town has a beautifully laid-back riverside atmosphere (as the Lonely Planet describes it: "It may feel more like Mississippi"聺), making Momp贸s one of those places ideal for ambling around not doing very much at all. Which is how I spent my time.

Getting away from Momp贸s was troublesome to say the least. I ended up in the back of a pick-up sucking in dust for 4 hours, on unsealed roads. It broke down twice, and one night bus and 36 hours later, I arrived in Merida, Venezuela.

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More photos of Momp脧艗s, Colombia

Video: Packing for Latin America娄what not to bring!

This video shows a classic example of how NOT to pack for a big trip. It is unfortunately my packing for Latin America (I am sad to say) and it is way too much stuff to bring. Judge for yourself by watching the video comments are most welcome 馃檪

As I am already traveling with this huge monster of a bag, I can say one thing for sure "something has GOT to GO"聺. I have travelled for years and years and am used to not bringing very much. I usually travel with about 12 kg, which is a good amount for a woman my size (I weigh about 58 kg). But this time I have brought 18 kg plus my small bag which weighs another 4kg. This means I am almost carrying HALF my own bodyweight now that is STUPID! However, it can be quite difficult to pack for a trip in which you will be spending time in both hot and cold countries (from -5 to +40). Furthermore, as you can see, I travel with a lot of equipment for video making and a lot of women’s stuff such as two electrical shavers, extra face creams, shampoo etc. But seriously..I NEED to empty out things from my bag in the very near future :-).

So there you go – don’t pack like me!

Packing list for South & Central America

Tina and I have just left for Guatemala in Central America. It’s the start of a trip starting in Guatemala and taking in some of the countries in Central America and South America over the next year (or so). You can see what I packed below.

Packing list for South America and Latin America

I thought I’d publish a list of what I packed for the trip. This list is also a lesson in how not to travel light! At the start of our trip, we’re intending to study Spanish for some time, both in Guatemala and probably Ecuador – for this reason I’ve packed some extra books. Also, as we’ve bought one way tickets, I’ve brought ‘a bit extra’ in case we end up living and working in Latin America. My bags are now so heavy (22.6KG for the main bag, 6 KG for the small bag), I feel like a pack horse. Here’s the list:

Clothes
1 Berghaus Gore-tex waterproof raincoat
1 pair Northface Terrainius Gore-Tex shoes
1 pair Billabong shorts
1 pair of board shorts / swimming shorts
1 O’Neil fleece (thick)
1 North Face fleece (thin)
5 t-shirts
1 vest top
1 pair jeans
1 pair cotton chino style trousers
6 pairs underwear
5 pairs socks
1 pair flip-flops
1 sun hat
1 beach towel
1 pair hot-pants style swimming trunks
Swimming goggles
2 pairs sunglasses (+ 1 case)

Electronics
Sony Vaio laptop computer + power supply
Canon Eos 20D digital camera + recharger + case
Canon Powershot G9 digital camera + recharger + case
Apple iPod 40G + charger
Iriver IFP 899 MP3 recorder/player + external lapel mics (for Podcasting)
Mini Sony Walkman speakers
1 LED head-torch (+ 2 spare Lithium batteries)
1 mini wind-up torch
160 GB external drive
1 Nokia mobile phone + charger
4 spare memory cards
4 spare Panasonic batteries for Iriver MP3 player
3 travel plug adaptors

Miscellaneous items
Roll-top waterproof bag
Box Earthoria Business cards
5 CD-ROMs in case with important software
2 pens
Camera cleaning tissues and blower
1 sleeping bag (comfortable to about 6 degrees C)
1 cotton sleeping sheet
1 extra light trek towel
4 pairs of ear plugs
1 eye mask
1 large padlock and keys (for room doors)
2 mini padlocks and keys for rucksack
Rucksack wire net security mesh protector
Rucksack waterproof rain cover
1 Money Belt
1 Leather wallet
1 Swiss Army pen-knife
1 small key-ring thermometer

Books
Spanish Dictionary
Spanish Verb Tables
3 x Novels
Footprint South American Handbook 2009
Canon G9 Canon User Guide
A4 pad of paper

Toiletries & medical supplies
1 toiletries bag
2 bottles insect repellant with DEET
2 small deodorant bottles
1 Gillette Mach 3 razor
8 spare razor blades
1 small shaving foam canister
1 extra small shaving oil canister
40 plasters
Nivea Factor 30 sun lotion
1 comb
Radox shower gel
Travel size shampoo bottle
Mini pocket tissues
Migraleve migraine relief tablets
20 Aspirin tablets
20 Ibuprofen tablets
1 tube Antihistamine cream
1 small bottle Iodine
1 packet water purification tablets
6 weeks of Nicotine replacement therapy patches