Returning to the land of golden arepas and Vallenato music during a January festivo weekend meant time to walk around colorful San Diego, in the center of Cartagena de Indias. Although most places were closed up tight, tourists continued to fill the streets, mixing among the locals and non-natives who have relocated to this brilliant city on the Caribbean Sea.
Most new employment for foreigners in Colombia requires a visit to Migracíon, either to request or renew a cedula extranjera, Colombia’s national photo ID. Nearly every Colombian can recite their cedula number at notice, and for some non-citizens, it is a privilege to carry this card.
The Migración building is located in Pie de la Popa, a barrio named for an old monastery on a hill overlooking Cartagena. Pie de la Popa is moderately safe during the day, making the short walk from the bus stop somewhat enjoyable. Located near a beautiful church, Ermita de la Candelaria, the historic Migración building is a divine example of classic Cartagena design.
Painted rich colonial gold with white trim, the inside of the Migracíon building features carved wood transoms over the windows, and swinging gate-like panels of stained glass in front of huge mahogany office doors. Muted hues of gray, burgundy and gold accent the patterned tile floor, while exquisite dark wood chandeliers provide visitors places to stare as they wait to have their Take-a-Ticket number called.
Searching for housing on a new teacher’s salary and as a foreigner has been like a double shot of reality served neat. Upon arrival to Cartagena, a living situation arranged in December via Airbnb.com proved to be an exalting challenge.
Enhanced by the lack of wifi in the home, being told by locals that the price, agreed offline before arrival, for 10 days in a jail cell-sized room was nearly the same as a month in a regular-sized room with wifi burned like Aguardiente on an empty stomach.
With faith in humankind proving a foolish choice, agreeing without AirBnB involved was a bitter lesson learned. To all Airbnb users, please proceed with caution when dealing with anyone wanting to bargain offsite. You forfeit your right to a refund once you have paid and are unable to write an honest review about the host, should the need ever arise. In this case, cash in hand once taken, was clearly non-negotiable, resulting in 10 days of living comfortably, but with mild regrets.
Tumble Dry Low
Despite the lamentable details of the OffBnB apartment, it wasn’t as bad as my first place in Barranquilla, and it was pretty, with a notable modern convenience: una lavadora. As with most countries, clothes washing machines vary from portable simple tubs to elaborate front-loaders. This one, a small Haceb model is very simple: hose water comes in, the clothes are efficiently washed, and the hose water drains out. The best part however, is the centrifuga, which spins the wet clothes wildly with a whirring mechanism, wringing all the water out. After several months last year hand-washing everything from tangas to towels, waiting hours for things to dry, this salad-spinner like device was a welcomed site.
Lavadoras aside, the search to find suitable housing with restricted resources in a limited time meant scrambling: walking around, knocking on doors, calling random ads from community boards and perusing the advertisement website OXL . Most days, the search resulted in dodgy-sounding room-and-board situations, or houses with stinky pets and questionable boarders, all of which began to seem promising as the date to vacate the costly mistake location neared rapidly.
Fortunately, February 1st presented a mes-de-mes room with a private bath, and the jail cell door sprung open. A high-rise apartment with a view ten floors up of the beach at Bocagrande, the “big mouth” of Cartagena, and 24 hour reception/security is where a suitcase, backpack and computer bag have temporarily settled.
In contrast to its strict rule of no visitors, the high-rise has a small shimmering pool on the roof, which is great for relaxing and planning the next move. As the search for a cute little apartaestudio or new shared housing (with visitation rights) continues, it’s nice to be among shopping, restaurants and within walking distance of my loyal Colombian boyfriend’s place, Juan Valdez Café.