Friday April 3rd was such an exciting day for me. I hadn't seen my parents in months, and they were flying all the way to Bogota to visit me! We had a great time just hanging out together, talking, eating, and of course seeing the sites. I miss them so much.
Here is a synopsis of their visit.
Friday April 3rd: My parents flight wasn't scheduled to land until 9pm, and in reality it was an hour late. So it was pretty late when they got in. My friend from the school, Olga, came with me to pick them up which was super nice of her. She calmed me down a bit, since I was getting a bit worried that they were so late. But finally I saw them through the window and flagged them down. My mom's first words to me were, "Your hair is so long!" "Yeah, Mom, I know." My parents experienced their first nausea inducing Colombian taxi ride on the way to my apartment, and we basically got home and went to bed. It was nice to finally show them where I've been living for so many months, and I think they really liked my apartment. Some country differences confused them, such as throwing toilet paper in the trash can rather than the toilet, but they put up with it.
Saturday April 4th: We woke up early (and bought motion sickness medicine before our next taxi ride) and decided to head downtown just so they could get to know the main part of the city before we left for the coast the next day. Cata, the daughter of my landlords, is one of my best friends here and we invited her to come with us too. This was helpful as she knows more about the city than I do. This day was basically a replay of my trip downtown in January. We hit up the Gold Museum first where my parents were impressed with what else but gold, then we toured the cathedrals, and the main plaza with the government buildings. We also toured the Botero museum (which I haven't been to in more than a year). Botero is Colombia's most famous sculptor and painter due to his easily-recognized and unmistakable fat people. Besides the tour of the city, we also had to stop to eat. Our first meal was a little Italian restaurant downtown and our second was a famous hamburger chain around here. We didn't really eat typical Colombian food until Cartagena which my parents found a little humorous.
Sunday April 5th: After eating a breakfast of cereal at home, we headed to tour the school where I teach. When we arrived, the security guide wouldn't let us in right away because he didn't have clearance to do so, but we eventually got in after he called the sisters who run the school. We then grabbed a taxi to the airport to go to Cartagena. The flight was uneventful (I had two seats to myself : )) but we immediately knew we were in a different city as soon as we stepped off the plane. Instead of the chilliness of the mountains, we were greeted by green palms and hot air. Yay! Because we arrived in the afternoon, we basically just went to our hotel, went to church for Palm Sunday, had dinner, and walked around the walls of the city. Cartagena's old part of the city is surrounded by imposing stone walls that during the times of colonizing once protected it from other ships looking to profit from the city. The wall still holds cannons as well, and the tunnels under one part of the wall that used to be dungeons are now used as arts and crafts markets. We had dinner at a great restuarant called La Casa De Socorro which officially started my role as translator. My dad and I had huge whole red snappers and my mom had rice mixed with seafood. After tasting my fresh pineapple juice, my parents had a hard time not ordering the fresh juice that Colombia offers. We did have a few beers throughout the week too!
The first two pictures are the hotel, the middle are various shots of the city and the walls, and the final two are the restaurant we ate at the first night.
Monday April 5th: Most people, when I told them I was going to Cartagena, told me not to miss the Rosary Islands or Las Islas de Rosario. Although this day made me more frustrated with my level of Spanish than any other day, I still really enjoyed the beauty of the islands and the clear blue ocean. We left really early in the morning after a home-cooked breakfast by our hotel. When we arrived tons of tourist booths and their employees barked at us to choose their tour. We made our way over to one booth and paid for our trip which included an hour long speedboat ride both to the island and back, lunch, the (not-included although I didn't know that) options to snorkel or visit an aquarium, a pool, and a trip to another beach called La Playa Blanca (which I didn't know about either). Obviously my Spanish is not perfect, but we got by : ) Anyways, everything sounded great so we boarded the boat and enjoyed the ride to the island. We all definitely wanted to snorkel, so with a group of about 12 or 15 other people we took the boat back to a coral reef that our guides knew about. The water was beautifully clear and turquoise. I loved it. We saw some really colorful fish, and my dad and I both saw an octupus. Unfortunately we don't have pictures of this due to only having a non-waterproof digital camera. It was really cool though. When we got back, we decided to skip the aquarium and just hang out on the island by the pool. The islands are really weird because each tourist company I was talking about earlier each has its own little section of one of the 5 or so public islands of the 27 total islands. Ours had a few open buildings (gazebo type things) a pool, a waterslide, and a restaurant that served a buffet of typical coastal food. We were under the impression that there were actually people living on these islands but since it's not a private island there are not. Interesting. After eating a lunch of whole fish, coconut rice and salad, we hung out for a bit before heading to the white sand beach. At this point, I was very frustrated because I didn't understand much of what was going on, and obviously my parents didn't, but fortunately I got over this and enjoyed the beach and swam a bit in the ocean with Dad. The beach was the end of our trip to the islands so we then headed back on the boat to the mainland. Luckily we had dramamine with us because the water was so choppy and we got soaked!! We laughed a lot during that ride though.
Tuesday April 6th: After a tiring day at the Islands, we let ourselves go to bed at 9 and we woke up late too. We decided to head over to the Castle of Saint Philip (El Castillo de San Felipe) because like the Islands it was supposedly a must see in Cartagena. The castle from far away did not look too big, but as we got closer and closer it loomed bigger and bigger. Although named a castle it's actually more of a military fort with cannons, tunnels, and watch towers hidden all over it. We decided to hire a tour guide to take us around the castle and were glad we did when he gave us a lot of information we probably would not have known. He did speak English which was a nice break for me. We went through some claustrophobic tunnels and enjoyed the view of the city from the top. Towards the end of the tour, I heard my name called and looked over to see a student that I tutor after school named Aldo Fernando and his parents Aldo and Monica. It was nice to see them and they even invited us to spend the day with them. We accepted and went with them to the Church of Saint Peter Claver who baptized 300,000 slaves in Cartagena and whose body/skeleton is in the altar of the church. We also had an English speaking guide here although his English was so slurred I ended up translating anyways. We then went to the Palace of the Inquisition which had tons of grotesque torture devices displayed to explain the inquisition (the "English" guide here was also questionable). After that and after a coconut lemonade (delicious!) we ran into Aldo Sr.'s friend who worked for the mayor of Cartagena. He took us out to the patio of the Mayor's building which was actually another part of the wall surrounding the city. From here we got some great views of the city's famous clock tower.
Wednesday April 7th: This was our day to travel back to Bogota so we didn't end up doing much in Cartagena this day. We were also pretty tired when we got back to Bogota (and depressed about the change in weather!) and just decided to hang out at Bogota Beer Company - BBC - to have a few drinks and appetizers. It was actually one of my favorite nights with my parents as we just talked and enjoyed each other's company. Our appetizers were also very Colombian and they loved them which was cool. We had meat and potato empanadas, chorizo sausage, ribs, shish kebabs and potatoes. And we shared one light, one amber, and one dark beer. It was a fun night.
Thursday April 8th: Thursday was a much busier day than Wednesday. We started the day with a friend from the school named Rodrigo who took us to Jardin Botanico (Bogota's botanical garden). It was huge, much bigger than I thought it would be, and showcased most of Colombia's different climates including the one in Bogota and even the Amazon. Colombia's national tree, a type of palm, was also a large part of the botanical garden as you could see them from wherever you were standing since they were so tall. After the garden, Rodrigo took us to Bogota's famous Surtifruver, essentially a supermarket for fruits, where we enjoyed natural fruit juice, sandwiches, and dessert. We also bought some typical Colombian fruits to share at my apartment. Finally, that night since it was still sunny we decided to make a quick trip to Monserrate. Monserrate is a part of Bogota's mountain range with a cathedral on top. You have to take either a cable car or a train up and down and we took the cable car. Unfortunately we only had about an hour at the top, but nevertheless the views were incredible and the next day rained so I was happy. Besides the cathedral, the top of the mountain also holds religious type craft markets, two restaurants, and the stations of the cross.
Friday April 9th: On Good Friday, in Bogota, almost everything is closed...except the cathedrals and churches. We found this out the hard way more than once on Friday. First we decided to go back downtown to the main plaza this day. Although there was no traffic by my house, there were hordes of people downtown and the lines to get into the cathedrals were horrendous. Then we were supposed to meet my friends from the school Ines and Claudia for lunch at Crepes and Waffles, which turned out to be closed. Instead we headed over to a mall and ate at a delicious pasta restaurant in the mall's food court. It was nice for my parents to meet some of my friends here and we had a good time. Since Good Friday is such a big day here we decided to head over to a church to at least go through the Stations of the Cross. It was nice to see so many people at church, and we even participated in the procession through the neighborhood.
Saturday April 10th: Our constant refrain on this day was "Our last day..." said with sad faces : ( haha. We did have a really good last day though. I knew my parents couldn't leave Colombia without visiting the Salt Cathedral in the nearby town of Zipaquira, so we took a small bus there. The Cathedral draws tons of tourists and is huge. Basically, the Cathedral is housed 180 meters below ground inside an abandoned part of a salt mine. The mine elsewhere is still in use, but they decided to turn part of it into stations of the cross, a huge cathedral, and smaller chapels. The tour is constantly being expanded as they are continually building new parts. There is now a theater which shows a 3-D movie about salt-mining and a new exit which I incidentally didn't know about (I brought my parents all the way back to the beginning after my mom asked me why there were no people around and we had to go all the way back to the end of the tour to find the exit tunnel...oops : )) After commenting on all the stray dogs, and fruitlessly searching for our bus back and eventually finding it, we headed back to Bogota. My friend Alex and her family were in Argentina for the week but came back on Saturday so they invited us to dinner with them. They were tired of eating meat, so invited us for fish at a restaraunt called 80 sillas (80 seats). The ceviche, fish, and dessert were fabulous...my mom commented that it was her favorite meal the whole week. A big thanks to Alex's family!!
Whew, that is officially the longest post ever!! Well, my parents left on Sunday leaving me a little lonelier, but so thankful for their visit. I'm very happy I was able to share this time of my life with them, and I hope they are too. Despite my frustrations with Spanish and at times my dad's frustrations with me : ) we had a wonderful time and it passed way too fast. Love you Mom and Dad!!