PANAMA CITY TO CARTAGENA COLUMBIA

Despite my lack of sleep I managed to stay awake after breakfast and the help of 3 Cappuccinos.  While I was waiting at the gate, I asked a gentleman if he was going to Cartagena and will the electric be the same as in Panama City.  He misunderstood me and said it was 220V or I misunderstood him.  Either way, I felt I now needed an adapter.  Frantically I started going through the Duty Free Digital shops trying to find one.  Finally there was an adapter but it was $130 and have two I paid $50 each for at home (of course).  I thought it best to wait until I arrived and find out for sure.
The plane was supposed to leave at 10:30 but 10:30 came and went without anyone from
Aries-Aero at the desk.  I checked the departures and all the planes, except mine,had left
already.  It was still listed and the Gate was the same so I started asking people if they were
also taking the flight.  They were but were at a loss as to why no one was there.  Eventually a
Clerk showed and apologized for the delay.  All 10 of us boarded another two prop puddle
jumper and headed for Columbia.
The seat wouldn’t recline and I couldn’t sleep so spent my time playing Sudoku when the
steward came by with a meal for us!  I was impressed.  The flight was only about an hour and
a half.  The plane appeared to be landing on the water when all of a sudden the tarmac came
up.  
The Airport reminded me of Panama City Airport.  The city looked like one big sprawl as we
were coming in.  I went through customs but when I came out there were no cabs, cars, or
buses.  The area was empty! I thought the strike had spread to Columbia but it turned out they
don’t allow anyone near the airport without security calling them in.   
Security was calling a cab for me when I realized I needed some Pesos.  The guard watched
my bag while I ran back in and changed $10 for 18000 Colombian Pesos.  The taxi picked me
up we left the Airport.  We turned the corner and there was Cartagena.
  It was identical to Panama City.  Huge hi-rises and hotels along the waterfront.  
My hotel was on the other side of the city along a Peninsula with a row of Hotels.  I was told
the ride would be $5 but when I gave him 10,000 Pesos he balked and asked for more.  I think
I paid him 15,000 Pesos and decided I better find out what the exchange rate was before I left
the hotel.  
Pietro Italian Hotel


The clerk asked me to pay for the first night and I stupidly gave her the Credit Card and told
her I wanted to pay for all four nights.  555,000 Pesos…or $292.  
The room was large, old and run down.  Everything worked O.K. and I even had a small
reading lamp that had a 75W bulb!  It was torn and crooked but worked.  There was the
paintings or copies of paintings that were streets of the old city I was to visit.  A plastic flower
arrangement covered in dust and faded with time. 
The water went down the sink clockwise so I knew I was in South America.
I was unpacking when someone knocked on my door.  I left the chain lock on and peeked out.  It was a waitress with three drinks for me.  I never ordered that and refused.  Then the phone rang to tell me that it was complimentary lime aide to thank me.  She returned and I tipped her because I felt guilty shutting the door in her face.
The streets were dark and poorly lit when I headed out to explore the nearby neighborhood. I
stopped into a Hotel next door to see how much there rooms were.  They had everything my
hotel had except Internet access and a restaurant.   It was $25 a night which was over $50
cheaper.  I could have saved $200 which would have subsidized my return plane fare!
       There were a lot of hawkers trying to get you to buy emeralds.  Quite a few street beggars
and people that just have nothing. Though I find Cartagena a little better than Panama City,
the Barrios are BAD.  I took a cab to Viejo Centro.  The old city of Cartagena.
Old Cartagena


       I felt safe there because of all the tourist and police everywhere. It was beautiful and the
most of the restaurants were high dollar and high class. Except for almost getting run over by
a horse drawn carriage, I had no other mishaps.  The temperature here is cooler than Panama
with a lot less humidity.  Panama has to have special dehumidified Salt shakers or they give
you a miniature bowl with salt you pinch on your food.     
        There was a main square with lots of outdoor seating and different restaurants.

View from my table
  Every waiter wanted you at their table and pretty girls tried to get you to sit down.  I finally
gave in under the pain of hunger and had a really delicious Chicken and Mushroom pizza with
a jug of the house wine.  It was good and should have been for $30.  
I walked around a little but decided to take a taxi back to the hotel and catch up on my Puddle
Jumper Lag.
          The next morning I got on the Internet and finally got Mom’s taxes completed.  Now to
get them printed so I can fax them when I return to Panama. The hotel provides for a
breakfast buffet but by 9am it’s looking pretty beat up.  The coffee urn was never plugged in
and though they made it fresh it was cold by the time I arrived.  The fruit salad was picked
over little pieces floating in juice at the bottom of the bowl.  A cook actually prepares some
scrambled eggs for me to go with my watered down juice and cold coffee.  
        Two o’clock rolled around and Mary’s Tours picked me up for a City tour.  We drove to the
top of a mountain in a Chiva. 
Check out the Painting
It’s an open air bus painted with all kinds of scenes and colors.  They are decorated with bells
and whistles and very Festive.   The MC
Our Guide
spoke in English and Spanish as we were full with people from the US, Chile, Colombia, and
parts of South America.  We stopped to see the Old Shoes.

Comfortable Old Shoes
I sat with Paul and his beautiful Spanish girlfriend. 

Marianna and Paul
He was from San Francisco and I think she was Colombian.  They were traveling around and
leaving for some Island Beach resort.  He spoke fluent Spanish and was very congenial , as was
she.  
       The driver showed us around our neighborhood then drove into the city along the water
then up this narrow mountain road
Tin Shack…Million Dollar
Dreams
to a convent overlooking the City. 
We did a tour of the Convent,
that was built in 1604 then headed back
pilgrimage to the convent
for a tour of this fort built by the Spanish. 
That was quite a hike
and they took us through narrow long, dark tunnels
This is dark , as there is no
light…my flash illuminated it.
up to the parapets. 
We would stop along the way for a brief lecture and for David to rest. One of the lectures was
about the fact that Cartagena has mostly salt water and very little fresh water.  That is why, he
warned us, we should NOT drink the tap water.  Now I find out!  Maybe I’ve survived because
I only drink it with Rum?  The hotel coffee will kill me first.  They make a large pot with a
pound of coffee, then when its empty they just pour some more hot water over the grinds.  The
first pot is Killer the the second is next to Killer!
      We then headed into the Craft Shops at the Old City but never got to see much before a
mandatory stop at the Emerald Cutting factory. I noticed a colorfully dressed Black woman
with this basket on her head.  I called Paul over to ask her what she was selling.  It turned out
to be different types of coconut candies. One made with molasses another with a nut topping,
all very sweet.  I took a photo of her basket and she wanted money.
She is keeping the flies away from the candy
  If I had taken a photo of her, I would have given her money.  I said, “If I took a photo of our
bus, was I supposed to give the driver money?”  They really try to get your money, anyway they
can.
    When we arrived at the Emerald factory, I kept chiding Paul that he could get a better deal
on emeralds for Marianna if he bought them my the dozen.  He kept shoeing me away?  We all
got to pick a number and one of our lucky women won an emerald.  After much oohing and
ahhhing everyone started breaking out their Credit Card to appease there wives and we entered
the SHOW room. 
    I ran out the door and headed for the beach before it got dark. 
We were close enough to my hotel and I did want to take a few photos. On the way to the beach
I noticed a young women wearing a leg prosthesis exposed and crutches trying to find anything
of any value on the ground.  She yelled over to get my attention but she already had it.  I gave
her a dollar and she thanked me.  Such a big shot I am.  Me complaining about a mosquito bite
that I thought could be Dengue and a toothache that eventually went away after taking
Ibuprofen like candy. 
    When I was returning to the room I noticed an Internet Station and asked about printing
from the computer.  They directed me down the street and at another location I found a man
that said he could do that.  I vowed to return and went back to the room to freshen up for
dinner.
    I ate at Pietro’s in the Hotel and order a Fillet Mignon. It was not a Fillet but was a good 12 oz
steak that came with Fresh French Fries on the side and sat in the middle of a beautiful hand
painted plate with salad on the left with green pepper and salad on the right with red pepper so
Pietro got his Italian Red, White, and Green in the order of the Italian flag.  A nice touch I
thought.  I do think his prices are closer to Roma than Cartagena but the whole meal with wine
and tip was $25.  That was better than the Pizza I had the night before. My waiter was trying to
practice his English and I my Spanish.  I will eat here again.


A little aside about Colombia.


Colombia


The problem with Colombia is everyone has an army. You have the mine owners with their
separate armies, the cocaine dealers with their armies, the rebels on the right and the left with
their armies and of course, the Colombian government with their army. Alliances between
these disparate groups shift like sand in an hourglass.
The rebels are only in it for the money. They have no real agenda and will extort money from
the miners, cocaine dealers or locals. Occasionally, they will enter a town and rape and murder
just because they can. The Colombian Government will eventually arrive but will not chase the
rebels into the jungle.
The cocaine dealers contended this war was hurting their business and needed to stop. It’s kind
of scary when the drug dealers have more sense than the mine owners. Anyway, the drug
cartels attempted to broker a peace but all sides could not agree. Finally, a few years ago, the
Archbishop and all sides reached a peace settlement and the area is now relatively quiet
compared to the Emerald War days. Security still rules this dangerous place.


Emerald Congress
During the conference, Victor Carranza, Colombia’s emerald czar, was arrested by the
Colombian military. He was charged with organizing a right-wing death squad. Carranza, 63,
owner of the Muzo and Cosquez emerald mines, was the main organizer of the event. More
than 600 emerald miners and 200 gemologists attended. Due to the present recession in
Colombian emeralds, the Colombian gem dealers agreed only to treat their emeralds with
cedar-wood oil or Gematrat. This agreement will expire after the GIA publishes its long
awaited research report on emerald treatments.
Emerald Production Today
The vast majority of emeralds today are from the Muzo and Cosquez mines. Both of these
mines are known for their green-yellow colors. Cosquez now accounts for 60-85% of today’s
production. Most of this production is cut into squarish emerald cuts.
Most of the production at Muzo is taking place in underground shafts. Miners use pickaxes
and drills and load the black shale onto ore carts, then haul it to the surface for cleaning and
sorting.
There are several open tunnels at Cosquez. The material where emerald is found is gray shale.
The tunnels are filled with 1/2 foot of water and the ceiling is so low you have to crouch.
Collapses are common.
Chivor is the other main mining district in Colombia. In 1996, a Canadian company, Chivor
Emerald Corporation, Ltd. bought an 80% stake in the mine. The new company uses
computers and modern mining methods to search for rough emerald. Its software plots
mining moves with three-dimensional diagrams. They have only found about $250,000 worth
of stones so far. These stones tend to be longer emerald cuts and green-blue in color. The one
advantage to these stones is that they are cleaner than the goods from Muzo and Cosquez and
sometimes do not require oiling.
Nearly Half of Colombians Want To Leave
According to recent poll by Reuters, nearly half of all Colombians would like to start a new life
abroad because of rampant violence and the deteriorating job situation at home. The
telephone survey showed 45 percent of those questioned would like to leave the country and
more than 33 percent said the United States would be their first choice of destinations.
Among those who said they would like to leave Colombia, 38 percent said they would do so
for “economic and professional reasons”. Colombia’s National Statistics Department said
urban unemployment had reached 14.5 percent, the worst level in 10 years. About 33 percent
said they would leave the country to escape insecurity and violence. Colombia is one of the
most violent countries in Latin America with more than 25,000 homicides and 1,800
kidnappings last year. It also has the oldest and largest guerrilla forces in the hemisphere and
US officials and Western diplomats estimate the rebels now have De facto control of at least
40 percent of the country. Three-quarters of those polled said the overall situation in Colombia
was getting worse, with only 7 percent saying it was improving.
    Where are the safe places?
    How much risk is there for expats?
    The Secretary of State has designated three Colombian groups, the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the United Self-Defense
Forces of Colombia (AUC), as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. These groups have carried out
bombings and other attacks in and around major urban areas, including against civilian
targets.. Terrorist groups have also targeted critical infrastructure (water, oil, gas, electricity),
public recreational areas, and modes of transportation.
During the past two years, incidence of kidnapping and other violent crime has decreased
markedly in most urban centers, including Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena.
    Petty crime is prevalent in cities, especially in the vicinity of hotels and airports. Theft of
hand luggage and travel documents at airports is common, particularly at El Dorado
International Airport in Bogota.
    Violence occurs frequently in bars and nightclubs. Taking illegal taxis, which are sometimes
characterized by a driver and a companion and irregular markings, is dangerous. Travelers should not get into a taxi that already has one or more passengers. Travel by bus is risky. Attempts at extortion and kidnappings on rural buses are not unusual. In general, travel by road in rural areas is dangerous because of the kidnapping threat and activity by organized criminal groups. In no case should Americans travel by rural road at night.
    Criminals sometimes use the drug “scopolamine” to incapacitate tourists in order to rob them. The drug is administered in drinks (in bars), through cigarettes and gum (in taxis), and in powder form (tourists are approached by someone asking directions, with the drug concealed in a piece of paper, and the perpetrator blows the powder into the victim’s face). The drug renders the person disoriented and can cause prolonged unconsciousness and serious medical problems.
Another common scam is an approach to an obvious tourist by an alleged “policeman,” who says he wants to “check” the foreigner’s money for counterfeit U.S. dollars. The person gives the criminal money, receives a receipt, and the “policeman” disappears.



    Tomorrow I take a Chiva Rumba tour of the bars and the dance places in the City. That little
bit about scopolamine was told to me by a Panamanian.  If you take a lady home or go to her
place, she often requests you lick or suck her nipples…scopolamine will put you out for two
hours while she steals you blind and throws you out in the street or leaves you.   St
Christopher protect me!
    It pays to rise early.  I did get first pick of the buffet this morning and had a great breakfast..
.except for the coffee.  Today was time to print the taxes out.  I arrived at the Internet Station
to discover their printer was broke!  There is a conspiracy to ruin my vacation.  The clerk
recommended another place down the street and guess what?  I printed everything perfect and
was out in an hour.  It did cost me $14 but I didn’t care.  I wanted to return to fax the
documents to the States but that was asking too much.  Their international connection was
down.  I don’t have a number to fax to yet.  Time is running out as Mom has to have all this
into the assessor by March 1…less than two weeks.  I was returning to the hotel when I noticed
The “Juan Valdez Cafe”. 
There is a Juan Valdez…or someone with brilliant marketing skills.  I deposited my papers in
a safe place and took off to have lunch in the Old City.


    It was one photo opportunity after another.  The Old City is truly a World Heritage Site. 
To stay within the wall, you need to be one of the World’s millionaires or a Drug Lord. 
      My camera almost burned up from taking some many photos so fast.  


    
Fish Market
I did find a local joint for a light lunch and after deciding against the soup a sandwich with
lime aide sounded good.  I noticed the waiter go outside the restaurant and return with my
lime aide.  It was fresh and good.  It was quite a while before I realized everyone was getting
served except me.  They were all eating the soup.  The waiter caught my look and then ran
outside again returning from next door with my sandwich. 
It appears they contract with the vendors to provide certain items on the menu then pick them
up and serve their customers with the items.  No labor costs and the restaurant just charges
you more for eating at a table verses standing outside on the street.  It’s a win win. 


       I don’t know what my sandwich was but it looked like a Freshly baked Sub Roll and that was
all I recognized.  The filling was like a sloppy Joe but chunks of an unidentifiable meat, some
sauce, peppers, onions and lettuce.  I ate it and said a prayer. 
    Juan Valdez was called so I returned to have a Latte.  He wasn’t there but the Manager took
care of me.  There are hundreds of these in Colombia and as far as Armenia.  Three or four are
located in the U.S. on the East Coast.  I thought a Siesta was in order before my night out on the
town in the Chiva Rumba.
    It is now 8:45 p.m. and I’ve seen 4 Chivas pass but none stop.  I’m ready to give up this idea of
a 62 year old traveling on a bus with a bunch of drunks visiting Discos when the man shows up
for me. I saw this on PBS one evening and it looked like fun. Well it is if you Speak Spanish.
Now I get aboard with all Spanish speaking people.   
      Our lady Host for the night started out by standing up in her seat and wiggling her ass to the
beat then called on all the women, row by row to do the same. Show us your asses! I was
enjoying the spontaneity when she announced all the men now have to do the same starting with
me. I haven’t even finished my first Rum and Coke when it was my turn.  I understood that! We
all had a good laugh.
    Later the “Tony Cummins”
M/C started berating me while he was trying to get everyone to do Ole Ole Ole…and I was
looking out the open door trying to take a photo.  He pointed out that I was thee only Gringo on
the bus and please excuse me.  I turned to see everyone looking at me and laughing and I though
t how it was when Tony did the same to people that didn’t understand the English language at
the Dubliner.  I laughed with them.  Those of you that don´t know Tony, I´m sorry but I can´t
describe him, you have to witness him.
    Later I met another Gringo that spoke Spanish.  His name was David and he lived in Miami. 

David from Miami…notice the cross.
He had been all over Central and South America as well as Spain.  He helped me out a lot.  I was
definitely in the Minority…thought everyone was very friendly and helpful….filling my drink
again and again.  On an empty stomach I was feeling the punch.


    We did a brief tour around the area then pulled up beside another Chivas along the way. 
Who could yell loudest,etc.  Then we stopped in Old Cartagena for a walk about and the band
joined us.
Band on Break
After that we ended up at a Disco on the Ocean when the other David got ripped off by the
waiter and left.  It was a tourist trap. I met a couple from Santiago, Chile that had been on the
previous tour with me of the City.  We talked on the beach for a while in broken Spanglish.
Then I joined the crowd but wanted to dance.  No solo Senoritas so I took a cab back. 


     It was only 11:30 pm so I went down the street to a local bar. Stopping at the corner bar, I
asked for a Rum and Coke and got a beer. Better brush up on my pronunciation.  There I met
Peter and Thomas from Stuttgart. 
David, Thomas and Chef Peter
      Peter turned out to be a Chef, want to be Restaurant owner, that was opening his own
place when he returned to Germany. Thomas worked on computers and each year the two of
them plan an extended vacation somewhere in the world. They have traveled extensively in
South and Central America. I bid them good night and returned to my room.


        I don’t think I would return to Colombia unless I came with someone the next time. 
        It took a while to recover from the Rumba Tour. I had breakfast, I think, then returned to
bed until 1pm.
        The Internet connection wasn’t working so I couldn’t call Mom or get any emails. I went
to four Internet stations hoping to at least check my email and book a room in Panama. All
were closed and it appeared the Main Internet Provider for the country of Colombia was down.
    Walking along the street, I noticed a lot of the vendors carry their wares in a basket they
balance on their head. They all had great posture. I was looking for David, the man I met on
the Chiva to see if he wanted to have dinner. Finally I went to a street Café for a Colombian
dinner that turned out to be a breakfast.
    The Platter consisted of a big hunk of bacon. Like 4 slices but not sliced and cooked well.
There was a Chorizo, Rice, Hilago (well done liver ground into a powder that resembled grey
awdust) Beans, Tomato, Onions, Avocado, Fried Banana, all topped with a Fried Egg. I ate it
all and it was pretty good!
        I returned to the hotel to see if the Internet was up and running? It was not. On the way
downstairs, I saw David coming up with a beautiful Colombian lady. He left the Disco last
night a little pissed off because the waitress short changed him and went into town. After a
few more drinks, he fell into a hole on the dimly lit street but made it home. I had dinner so
asked if he wanted to join me for a beer? He said he may be over in a while but judging by the
looks of his lady, I doubt it.
    I returned to the same corner café for a beer and ran into David from Oklahoma and another
guy from Northern California. Both only met the day before but spoke
 some Spanish and share a love for the local women scene.  David lived in Cuba for 3 years,
Brazil for almost a year, Peru for a while and Columbia is his favorite.  He has been to Cali,
Bogota, Medillen, and Cartagena.  He spends about 3 months a year in the US.  The other man
leaves Northern California for 6 months a year when the weather is cold. He has been all over
Central America and parts of South America.  He loves the women too but treats them with
more respect then the loudmouth Oklahoman who was rude and arrogant.  He yelled at the


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