Colombia 2014 Post 9

Colombia 2014 Post 9 – Feb 24 – March 2, 2014

Cartagena, Barranquilla

(Deni) Cartagena was a real treat. We wandered through the old city, visited the huge fort, spent time with friends on their saiboat, and took a cruise to some islands. The city is fascinating and a pleasure to explore, except when the cruise ships hit port. Then there are hoards of people being herded through town, gazing at various points of interest. Now, I don’t want to offend anyone here. If you’ve taken tons of cruises and just love it, well, good on you. It’s just not my thing. I guess I don’t play well with others. We did get in a bit of beach time since our condo was just over a block from the white sand beach. It’s warm here with a solid breeze in the afternoon and evening keeping the temperature from being too extreme.

I’ve mentioned before how terrifying bus trips can be in Colombia with buses careening around blind curves, passing other vehicles, and just assuming that the way is clear. Well, Cartagena has the rest of Colombia beat when it comes to bus terror. There are numerous private bus companies in town – all driving the same routes. So, you hail a bus; it screeches to a stop; the conductor gets out and shoves you in. Off you go. But, while loading you, a bus from another company got ahead of your bus, so now the two buses race each other to the next customer. This is all happening in heavy traffic – other buses, taxis, cars, motor scooters, and pedestrians trying top cross the streets. It’s really very frightening.

Yesterday we took a bus to Barranquilla for Carnival – the second biggest carnival celebration in South America after Rio. We made it in time for the big parade – the first of three continuing through Monday. It was an experience for sure. Thousands of people were crowded along the parade route – the Rose Parade on steroids. It was surreal – floats would come by with someone famous to Colombians singing or dancing. The float would stop, the performer would perform, the crowd would go wild, and we wouldn’t have a clue. We paid a few dollars for chairs under an awning – but, although the awning kept off the sun, it also obscured the view. Eventually, the folks in our area got disgusted and disassembled the awning. Big improvement.

The people around us were very sweet, and kept warning us to protect our valuables. We tried, but, when we tried to leave the area there was such a crush of people that it became hard to remain upright, let alone protect yourself. Bottom line – Coop was targeted by three or four very organized thieves. They jostled him, grabbed here and there, and, before he knew it, he’d been relieved of his passport, credit card, cell phone, and some money. Luckily, he was not hurt.

We got back to our hotel and notified Visa right away. The thieves had already tried to charge on our card, the transaction was refused, and by the time we called, we’d been issued a new card! How’s that for efficiency?

Wish I could say the same for efficiency of the police (although they were very nice.) We walked to the nearest police station and told them we wanted to file a robbery report. Much confusion ensued. No one there knew how to take a robbery report!!! So, we waited for a couple of policemen to come along and they put us in the back of the police car (cage and no door handles – the whole thing) and drove us to a bigger police station. We couldn’t file a report there either for some reason, so the cops put us back in their car and drove back to the first station, explained whatever the problem was to the other cops, and dumped us back on the first set of confused officers. Then there were many, many phone calls, whispered conversations, and worried looks. We waited another hour and a half until two more officers came and stuffed us into their car – same scenario – back seat, cage, no handles. We drove around for about 15 minutes. The driver stopped twice and asked for directions!! We finally came to a small building in a park. There were a couple people sitting in front of the building. Our cops consulted with them, and, finally, a nice gentleman took us into a very bare room with a couple of desks, one of which had a typewriter sitting on it – yes, a typewriter, not a computer. He pulled the elusive form out of a drawer and, wonder of wonders, filled out our robbery report. Now, the only things that this mysterious form would allow was the reporting of the stollen cell and passport. This was not a form for anything else, no sir! But it’s necessary for a temporary passport. We then piled back into the cop car and they delivered us to our hotel. Yes, right to our door. The experience was weird, but the officers were very sweet and really wanted to help these crazy tourists. They just didn’t seem to know how. Anyway, we now have to take the report to another office on Monday and they will issue something that allows Coop to stay in Columbia without his passport. Also on Monday, we have to contact the US embassy in Bogata to get a replacement passport in process so the US will let him come home.

(Bob) I shouldn’t have been carrying my passport. I had no idea the crowd would be so huge. As Deni said, it wasn’t the Rose Parade. Barranquilla goes pretty nuts for Carnaval. Last night there were parades down some of the side streets after the big parade. The bars were full and loud. Speaking of loud, the speakers on all of the floats were jacked up to top volume plus the crowd was going crazy with some of the singing celebraties. The sound was at times deafening. Today’s parade is playing on the TV in the background as we write this. The volume coming over the TV isn’t even close to what is like in person. The cleanup crews were out in force after the parade. The piles of confetti and trash were huge. So they had a big job. We’re not attending the parade reprises today and tomorrow. Once in that kind of crazy crowd is enough. This evening there are some plays in one of the large parks. We’ll see how that goes with jokes in Spanish that we don’t get. We’ve also got a couple of museums to go to. Everything was closed up today, Sunday, for Carnaval. The city should be back in full swing tomorrow.

We’ll give a final report at the end of the week before we leave Colombia. More then.

Bob and Deni

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