I’m back from my vacation in Colombia! It was awesome. And I will gleefully divulge the most surprising piece of awesome right away because I’ve been dying to tell y’all about it:
One morning, BFF Nicole, my college roommate and travel companion, ran into the hotel dining room where I was downing arepas and freshly squozed mango juice and said, “You have to come outside RIGHT NOW!” She dragged me out to the sidewalk and there I beheld the husband of our Secretary of State, rolling with his posse of Secret Service and a couple Colombian dignitary-types.
(Yeah, after multiple attempts by multiple Harpies, we could not get that photo to load right-side up in WordPress. We were forced to conclude that in the presence of so many fetching young women, Bill was simply determined to remain horizontal. He couldn’t resist our charms. Just turn your laptops sideways to admire.)
I waved, and called out “Hi Mr. President!” He immediately came over to the curb to shake my hand. It probably helped that I was wearing a thin tank top and short skirt. Bill asked me where I was from and I said “New York. I’ve voted for you and your wife many times!” (Although not in the 2008 Democratic primary, but I didn’t want to spoil the moment). He was all “Gee thanks, great to meetcha!” So yeah, I grew up in DC, I live in New York but I had to go to Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, to meet Bill Clinton.
Anyway, aside from random presidential sightings, we spent a good couple days taking in the gorgeousness of Cartagena’s colonial architecture, like this:
and going for a culturally enlightening field trip to the Cartagena Museum, housed in the former Palace of the Inquisition. (It’s okay if you hear Monty Python in your head when you read the word Inquisition. I do). The ‘Sala de Brujas’ featured many of the instruments of torture used in witch-hunting, including this one:
The accompanying placard described how the pincers would be heated until red hot and applied to the breasts of women: “accused of heresy, blasphemy, adultery, erotic white magic, performing abortions or to mark women as single mothers.” [shudder] It was followed by a lengthy explanation of how the Cartagena Inquisition was really much nicer than the regular Spanish Inquisition insomuch as they didn’t torture nearly as many people and only wound up burning five heretics total in a couple hundred years. Oh, and the Cartagena Inquisition wants to you know that they totally didn’t persecute the indigenous people at all. (Presumably the military and civil authorities had that part covered already.) Moral relativism FTW!
And while we’re on the topic of women–because, hell, we’re always on the topic of women here at Harpyness–I can tell you that I found Colombia to be surprisingly and delightfully woman-friendly. If, like me, you occasionally approach foreign travel with a sense of fear and loathing, dreading the inevitable barrage of unwelcome attention from the local menz, have no fear. Aside from Cartagena’s hawkers, who are constantly trying to press ticky-tacky souvenirs on every tourist in sight, I was not harrassed even once in any of the three cities I visited in Colombia, or in the countryside. Quite the contrary–literally every single person we met, male or female, was outgoing, kind, friendly and helpful to me and BFF Nicole. No one ever followed me, propositioned me, or tried to touch me, not even so much as a hiss or whistle. When we found ourselves in a real jam because of a shady travel agent–who, to be fair, was French and not Colombian–it was a couple of locals in Barranquilla and their cell phone who helped save our asses. (NB: Do not ever use the services of Aventure Colombia and its incompetent director Mathieu). I can’t say enough about what lovely, outgoing people Colombians are. The only danger was that they might talk me to death because the Colombians are as chatty a bunch as I’ve met in a long time. After a week there, my brain was almost completely fried from the non-stop torrent of conversation. I speak fluent Spanish but solid eight hour stretches of conversing or interpreting left me exhausted at the end of each day.
And no wonder they’re nice people–they have beaches that look like this:
And beautiful inland rivers and jungle that looks like this:
So if I sound like the Colombian Chamber of Commerce, well, I can’t help it. It’s a magnificent country, and has been unfairly maligned for way too long. Y’all should go. N SRIO (that’s Spanish LOLCat for SRSLY).
Oh, and one last plug: if you do find yourself in Cartagena, please head immediately to Cocina de Carmela on the NE corner of Parque Fernandez de Madrid. It’s a delicious fine dining establishment with regional specialities that’s run entirely by women, from the owner and head chef to the servers. They are real pros in the restaurant business and do Cartagena proud.