April 2, 2014 – April 4, 2014
After departing from Cartagena, we made our way to Barranquilla to visit Krista’s friends Luis and Lorena. We took a shared van service for the 130 km trip at a cost of COP $21,000 or about US $10.50 each. We thought Barranquilla was a very nice modern city, though not a very touristic city. It is instead a blossoming business center with new building and road construction projects going on just about everywhere you look. Many tourists avoid the city as there is not much to do there unless you have business in the city. However we were fortunate enough to be staying for a couple days with Luis and Lorena who were able to give us a personal tour of the city and a new perspective on Colombia. We also learned that Barranquilla is known for its food, something many travelers would miss without a personal tour guide.
Our hosts immediately drove us on a sightseeing tour through Barranquilla’s various and varied regions. From colonial neighborhoods, where the buildings are protected, to modern neighborhoods filled with new construction on huge condominium towers, and modern malls. They were sure to point out the house Shakira stays at when she is visiting her hometown of Barranquilla, and where she went to school as a child.
Luis took us to the Museo del Caribe, a museum about the Caribbean region of Colombia’s people and history. However all of the exhibits were in Spanish, luckily Luis was more than happy to translate.
Luis also took us on a tour of the coast line were we stopped at the Castillo de Salgar, set on a cliff overlooking the ocean offering great views. We also stopped a local beach nearby in Puerto Colombia which is near a location of a new planned mega port.
We were also treated to some of the local food. Barranquilla is known for its love of bread. With bread shops everywhere we stopped in one for a local treat and coffee. The bread here is not just bread though it is often stuffed with various meats, cheese, veggies, or fruits and sweets. One Colombian dish we were introduced too was arepas con huevo, which is more or less a pancake that is deep fried enough to hold it together and then slit open and a whole egg poured carefully inside, the pancake is then deep fried again until the egg is fully cooked and bread shell is crispy. Another local treat we were shown is cucayo – clumps of buttery fried rice, cooked until crispy, and the taste is similar to popcorn. This treat can only be found in and around the city of Barranquilla, and shops making this dish often fight over who makes the best, said Luis.
Another benefit to having our Colombian tour guides for which we are very thankful, was local insight about the political changes in the country. Particularly giving us an insight on how Colombia is a country on the mend from the internal violence, which peaked in the 1990’s. The people of Colombia have seized their country back from the grips of terror and drug cartels. The “bad times” or “dark ages” as Lorena calls them – just 12 years ago – are finally over. A time when travel through the country even for native Colombians was a dangerous undertaking. Traveling even from one town to the next was a big deal, Lorena explained. But Colombians refused to live in terror and hide in their homes, if traveling to the next town was dangerous then they would band together in caravans to travel together in relative safety. As many as 20-50 cars of people who wanted to travel to a destination would gather together and make the trip.
Colombians were determined to live their jovial lives unafraid, even during the dark ages international surveys of the overall happiness of its citizens showed Colombians were amongst the happiest people on earth said Luis. Though much progress has been made there are still some reminders of the turbulent past, occasionally on street corners soldiers can be seen in full uniform carrying automatic rifles. And though we did not see any we were told that on the rooftops of some buildings, particularly near or on government buildings, snipers can be seen keeping a vigilant eye on the streets below. A disturbing sight for some, especially their friends from neighboring countries. The country has made huge pushes towards security and all of this is to keep the people safe, Lorena told us. Luis also explained that the motorcyclists which can be seen zooming around all over the country have a license plate number on both their bikes and the back of their helmets. In the past stolen motorcycles were commonly used in hit jobs. Now with license numbers on their helmets it is easier for police to notice and check to see if the bike may be stolen. Also if an assassin abandons a bike they will have identifying numbers on their helmets as well. Driving a motorcycle without a matching license number on both the bike and helmet carries big penalties in Colombia.
With the turbulent dark ages appearing to be a thing of the past, a window has opened for new economic growth. Foreign investors are starting to come into Colombia, and a country once isolated from the rest of the modern world is now enjoying most of the same conveniences of the rest of the world. For those holding off on including Colombia in their travel plans for lack of a Starbucks, you will be happy to hear that two branches are finally coming to Bogota and Medellin.
The population of Barranquilla is exploding as well with, by Luis’ estimate nearly 800,000 in the last ten years. Dozens of new condominium towers are popping up everywhere. The city’s streets are crowded, particularly at rush hour and dotted with new road expansion projects everywhere in various states of completion. To assist with the traffic problems the city has put curfew limitations on drivers during rush hour on certain days of the week based on the last number on their license plate. Luis and Lorena travel extensively throughout South America and remarked that every time they return home to Barranquilla it has changed dramatically, with new homes and businesses being built all around and the streets expanded and changed to accommodate the influx of new people and traffic.
We would like to thank Luis and Lorena for their generous hospitality, and taking the time to show us around their city! We learned more about Colombia and gained much better insight on the country’s past and future than most tourists will ever receive. Thanks again and we look forward to hosting you in Seattle in the future!