Celebrating Small Victories in Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia

After a small glitch, we’ve finally arrived in beautiful Cartagena in the late afternoon. Not without some small apprehensions.

See, Jack and I don’t speak much Spanish. We each took a semester of Spanish in college – so we get the general gist of how the language works and know how to craft rudimentary sentences. Only in present tense of course.

Then I’ve also been trying to teach myself Spanish, mostly by singing along to songs. Unfortunately even though I now know how to declare my undying love to women (thank you, Enrique Iglesias) and how to start a class revolution (thank you, Manu Chao) – I’m still incapable of communicating simple things such as, ‘Where can I buy feminine napkins’, and ‘Eh, I ordered fish and there’s this beef looking thing in my soup.’

Cartagena: Beautiful and Unexpected

View from Hotel Marlin, Cartagena
The view from our hostel terrace

Two unexpected things about Cartagena we quickly discovered were how much prettier it is in person, how hot it gets during the day, and how little English is spoken around here. Ok, three unexpected things, I guess.

So, let’s just say that Jack and I couldn’t help but giving each other high-five at the end of our first day in Cartagena because somehow, in one day, we’ve managed to:

Bargain with our taxi driver and got ourselves to our hostel – even though I had a brain freeze and forgot the Spanish word for ‘eight’ and had to resort to counting out loud.

Order food – the unexpected beef soup (while ordering fish – we don’t eat red meat) was a true story. I then made an acute observation to the owner that, ‘No hay pescado on mi sopa’ (there is no fish in my soup). We later learned that when ordering a set lunch or ‘la comida corrientes’ it includes a bowl of soup (that might not necessarily contain your choice of meat) as an appetizer.

Found out where we could get a ‘tinto’ (a Colombian coffee). Apparently almost everywhere


Made friends and carried a 10 minute conversation with a very nice Venezuelan couple. Albeit a one-sided one. They did the talking, we did the, ‘Si, si’.

Celebrating small victories

Enjoying the atmosphere of Cartagena Old Town on our hostel terrace

At the end of the day, we celebrated the fact that we survived our first day by sharing a can of Alguila while sitting on our hostel terrace and watching the night life of Cartagena Old Town.

Small victories indeed, but we’re feeling on top of the world right now 🙂

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39 Replies to “Celebrating Small Victories in Cartagena”

  1. I'm planning a trip to Cartagena and a few other coastal cities with my family in December and have been having trouble finding decent lodgings. What hostel did you stay in? The terrace picture is beautiful. Would you recommend that particular hostel?

  2. Hello Marcela…

    I'm headin to Cartagena for a wedding and bringing my Girlfriend a week earlier for her birthday to the city. What is your opinion about me renting a car and driving to Tayrona. It appears to be a rather easy drive but I cant seem to get a opinion on the safety and ease of the trip.

    Thanks in advance for the help. :o)


  3. Cartagena is an excellent destination and not so expensive, either. Most Americans think it a dangerous place, but frankly, Mexico City and many other places people go without thinking twice are much more dangerous. I found the people to be wonderfully open and kind and the city to be gorgeous. Great article!

  4. Hi Jack n Jill!

    Not sure if my last comment went through, so here it is again:

    I'm sooo glad you're enjoying my country!! In Cartagena you'll find little treasures outside the tourist trail… if you have the chance have lunch at Bistro (Calle de los Ayos 446 ) …excellent food at very nice prices! Also if you need any help or advice about traveling through Colombia, send me an e-mail…that's what I live for!



    1. Hi Marcela, thanks so much for your kind offer. We'll tak you up on it, as a matter of fact, I'm going to shoot you an email right now. Cheers.

  5. Love the photo of you smiling on the balcony! Congratulations on finally making it! Looking forward to following along.

  6. Aw, such great victories! Sounds like a lot of fun! Speaking of "feminine napkins," how did that go for you? Were they easy to find? It's these kinds of minute day-to-day necessities that I think about while I'm planning our RTW trip. 🙂

    1. Well, here's the thing — the small tiendas have them, but they're often manned by… well, men. And the prude inside of me was awkward asking for them, you know. Everything is behind the counter so you can't grab them yourself so you have to ask the guys to get them for you.

      Luckily, we found a supermercado nearby and they always have them there. Phew.

  7. I've had plenty of those one sided conversations as well. I'm always amazed at how long they can continue sometimes! I'm thinking any minute this person is going to realize I have no idea what they're saying. But it doesn't happen! You have a new best friend and all you had to say was "si". 🙂

    1. Yup. I love it. They were such a nice couple. Although sometimes I wonder if they were telling me something important like, I don't know, the restaurant next door is giving free food or something like that 🙂

  8. Congratulations on finally making it to South America!
    Don't worry, you'll start picking up a lot of Spanish in no time.
    Now… let the adventure begin!

  9. Woohoo congrats on your 1st day. Looks like you did do alot & oh I love the pic of the houses across from your hostel. I love love love love love bright colors.

  10. Well see, we thought the soup was 'it'. And since we ordered fish, we were expecting to see fish as part of the meal, ya? We thought maybe they heard us wrong. We later learned that the soup was only an appetizer and the main dish was still coming.

  11. Great to hear you are having some small victories!! And agreed with Ayngelina that the Spanish does get easier when you go South, until of course Argentina, lol. Take care and safe travels.

    1. We're heading away from the coast soon so we'll let you guys know how it goes. It's amazing we've managed to get by so far. I guess body language really helps.

  12. Hi,

    Good luck in South America. If you come to Argentina I'm more than willing to give you some advice.
    Just in case…eight = ocho!

    1. You're absolutely right. We celebrate our little victories every day, however insignificant they seem (we just like to find any excuse to sit on the terrace with beers in hand, lol)

  13. I want to be on that terrace in a sundress right now! We landed from Hawaii today to find the Bay Area cold and windy and just 52 degrees. So, in other words, just any ol' day of the year here =/

    1. Ah, the grass is always green on the other side. We're not much of a hot weather person and wish it were cooler here. It's been close to 90's for the past 3 days.

  14. Ah, the high-five over small language victories (that are actually huge). We know that well! It will get easier and more words will start coming back to you, I'm sure. Glad to hear you made it there safely =)

  15. Lol! You guys are too cute! Congrats on arriving, enjoying, and practicing your spanish (even if it does involve 10 si's) 🙂
    Can't wait to explore the north in July! Looking forward to reading about your additional adventures as you head south!

    1. Thanks, Alisha. We've been enjoying our Spanish mis communications as well. Next challenge is navigating the Colombian bus system we head south. It should be interesting.

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