“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.” -Mother Teresa
“Why not go out on a limb? Isn’t that where the fruit is?” -Frank Scully
Upon waking up in the morning, we drove directly to the airport as we made our way to Cartagena, Colombia. On our way, we were told that Bogotá has one percent of all the gyms in the world. As a health conscious city, Bogotá also has what is called Ciclovía every Sunday. From 7am-2pm, many of the streets are closed for people to do exercise such as biking, walking, or running. As we drove to the airport, we saw countless individuals bicycling and running along the streets. It was fascinating to see the government support such a great idea.
After a short flight to Cartagená, it was time for us to learn more about the city as we drove to our hotel. Hotel Carribe, the hotel we stayed at was built between 1945-1950, and was the first hotel built in Cartagena. More recently, it is famously known for a scandal involving President Obama’s secret service. Before President Obama arrived to Cartagena a short while ago, his secret service (who were staying at Hotel Carribe) were caught fighting with prostitutes regarding their costs.
Cartagena has been said to have the third most important port in all of South America after Brazil and Chile. Tourism is the next biggest source of income in Cartagena after the port. In one cruise alone which docked just a few weeks before our arrival, between $400,000-$500,000 was made in emerald sales alone. Restaurants and hotels also bring in a fair share of money from tourists as well, but emerald sales are a big hit with the tourists as well.
One of the entrances into Cartagena is named Boca Grande because of how big it is. Walls throughout the city once protected Cartagena from pirates due to a significant amount of pirate attacks years ago to steal treasure and merchandise.
November 11th is Cartagena’s Independence Day, and that whole week consists of parties throughout the city. Even the government approved of the partying by offering fifty cent beers throughout the city.
After learning a few interesting facts about the city, we arrived at the hotel to drop off our belongings. As we arrived, we were greeted with fruit cocktails before the start of our city tour.
After passing through the Museo Botero, we walked through the city and came across an obleas cart. Obleas are thin wafers that can be filled with jam, fruits, cheese, condensed milk, dulce de leche, or arequipe. I remember buying packages of this years ago in Guatemala, so naturally I ordered one to try it out here in Colombia. I ordered this one with condensed milk and jam, and it was delicious to say the least.
After taking a quick snack break, our tour continued at the Museo del Oro, Bogotá’s Gold Museum. Upon entering the museum, we were told that it contains somewhere around 53,000-55,000 pieces including metals and artifacts, with 32,000 of the pieces being pre-historic gold artifacts. This museum is also said to be the largest in South America, or at least that’s what our tour guide told us. The way that some of the artifacts have been displayed on shadows represents the ways in which various tribes once wore the golden pieces. Additionally, pictured below, you can see large emeralds, which are known to be very valuable in Colombia. Something I found very interesting was that the room containing these emeralds was secured in a vault and guarded by security, whereas all of the other rooms in the museum did not have such strict security.
Also found below is the Muisca Raft, also called the El Dorado Raft. In a certain ritual, the Muisca chief jumped into the lake along with gold and emeralds as offerings. This golden raft with people on it is a replica of what is believed to have been the raft with the Muisca chief and others before the offering. Since the offering, countless people have tried to dive into Lake Guativita to find the golden pieces, but since the lake is so deep, no one has had such luck. The last exhibit we came across in the museum displayed 3,200 pieces that had been found upon digging up old tombs.
An interesting fact about the city of Bogotá is that the founder of Bogotá came searching for El Dorado, the city of gold, but he instead found the city of Bogotá. Ironically, the gold museum is located next to where his house originally was.
As we drove off to our next stop, we were told that Justin Bieber visited Colombia a few years ago, and decided to graffiti some of the walls here in Bogotá. Surprisingly, he had a police escort surrounding him, and was allowed to graffiti the walls. Local graffiti artists ended up complaining to the government in protest of not being allowed to graffiti the walls, and the government ended up changing the rules. Since then, local graffiti artists are now allowed to graffiti throughout the city only with permission of buildings if the graffiti consists of approved art.
This morning we left the Cloud Forest of Monteverde, and headed back towards San José to spend our last full day in Costa Rica. The scenery that we came across during the drive was breathtaking and we couldn’t have asked for better weather! We even managed to spot monkeys in the trees on the side of the road as well as some interesting looking birds too. We stopped at a local snack and smoothie shop, where we had the opportunity to sample some typical Costa Rican treats, but we were more interested in the smoothies since the fruit here is so fresh and delicious.
Pictured below is also a sign that says, “Pura Vida,” which is a saying you’ll hear a lot throughout the country! The exact translation in English is “pure life,” but the phrase is also used for purposes of saying, “Take it easy,” “Enjoy life,” “All good,” “Purity in life,” “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and even “This is life!” “Pura vida means that no matter what your current situation is, life for someone else can always be less fortunate than your own. So you need to consider that maybe…just maybe, your situation isn’t all that bad and that no matter how little or how much you have in life, we are all here together and life is short” which is why we should live it ‘pura vida style’ (http://www.bestcostaricantours.com).
We stopped for a quick meal in San José, but more noteworthy was our dinner at a local restaurant, which is all pictured below. The food surely didn’t disappoint, and neither did the view in the late afternoon! When we woke up the following morning, we had some free time to spend walking around the city before having to make our way over to the airport. Our first stop was at the Museos del Banco Central which has an enormous collection of over 1,600 Pre-Columbian golden artifacts, dating back to AD 500. It was definitely an interesting sight, but we didn’t stay in the museum too long because there was still more we wanted to see in the city.
We walked around the center of San José for a little while until we made our way over to the National Theater of Costa Rica. The theater was built in 1897 in an attempt to show off the economic improvements of the country, all thanks to the blooming success of coffee exportation. With Italian marble, glass and wood brought in from France, and spacious seating, who could complain?
Today we had a full day to spend in Arenal, so we took an optional Caño Negro boat tour with our group. The Caño Negro is a wildlife refuge where one can take group tours along the Río Frio, or cold river that slowly progresses into the Caño Negro Lake. Since the tour leaves from Los Chiles, which is less than two and a half miles from the Nicaraguan border, every passenger must bring a copy of their passport because you the tour starts beside a checkpoint along the Nicaraguan border. We were given the opportunity to take pictures by the Nicaraguan border, but that was as far up as the boat would go before returning to shore. We encountered a boat that was headed to Costa Rica from Nicaragua, and we were told that often times people from Nicaragua will travel to Costa Rica by boat for work and return home later in the evening since.
After the Caño Negro boat tour, we were provided lunch in a local restaurant and returned back to Arenal from there. We made a quick stop for fruit flavored ice cream because everything involving fruit in Costa Rica is absolutely delicious. As we walked off the bus and headed towards the ice cream shop, we noticed large green iguanas sitting around outside. The iguanas pictured below are so large that we sat next to them just to compare! If you find one on a tree branch, don’t be surprised if you see it jump to a different branch. They’re a lot more mobile than they look!
We made it back to Arenal where we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around at leisure and came across more beautiful views of the Arenal Volcano just before the sun started to set. We had another traditional Costa Rican dinner before turning in for the night, and if you couldn’t tell by the pictures, the food hasn’t disappointed!