Cartagena is a town until now I had only heard of as a place in music, a place full of romantic charm and history, but not a place I could travel to in reality. That all changed when Cartagena was the first stop in my first (and not last!) visit to Colombia.
Cartagena sits squarely on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and has a rich history interlaced with Spanish colonization, piracy, independence, and seafaring. It is often referred to as the “Jewel of the Caribbean Coast” in Colombia, and the historic architecture all over the area beckons anyone interested in taking a trip back in time.
The trip, or at the very least this portion of the trip, was the result of business, though not my own. I was traveling with my mother and our purpose in Cartagena was the ACODAL annual conference, a national gathering of water workers, researchers, and policymakers in Colombia. My mother is a national board member of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), an international organization that facilitates water treatment policy and infrastructure in the United States and beyond. Board members like mom attend conferences like this in every state and select countries across the world, to serve as an advisory and collaborative liaison across state and national boundaries. In summary, my mom is kind of a big deal in the global conversation about water treatment, and I am pretty gosh darn proud about that.
The conference had covered the entire cost of travel for my mom, from airline to lodging to the meals she ate. The conference also agreed to cover half the cost of any immediate family she chose to join her, seeing as it’s a pretty long way from Charlotte, NC. We both saw how perfect a chance this would be for me to join her, both at the conference and meeting our family in Bogotá after, and so off we went for South America!
Accompanied by my super adventuring Momma, we landed in Cartagena with relatively little issue. A quick pass through customs and soon enough we were on our way to Hotel de Las Americas, our high-class accommodations for the trip. Arriving on a quiet evening in the hotel, we found ourselves wandering around in amazement of the various features of the resort. Beach access, top class restaurants and bars, and FIVE different pools, including one on the roof? Paradise is pretty much the only word to describe it.
After meeting some conference people, we grabbed a quick bite at the rooftop restaurant, a place so fancy it was one of the few places in the world I couldn’t wear my trusty chaco sandals (and I tried). We dined on local octopus and corvina, both of which were so perfectly blended with seasonings and spices I didn’t know where the taste of the food ended and the spices began.
The next morning was work day for both of us, as mom was off to her conference and I was to do some remote “working” on my computer. I picked the perfect venue though: poolside on the 10th floor of the hotel.
With the afternoon to ourselves, mom and I set out for the center of Cartagena: the Old Town.
Tucked within impressive colonial-age stonewalls, the Old Town is full of old buildings from throughout Cartagena’s rich history, providing all kinds of incredible photography down every back alley and street corner. Even more impressively so, amongst these old buildings stood multiple massively sized churches, full of history and an incredibly powerful spiritual energy.
An afternoon of touristing complete, mom and I were back in time for the opening ceremonies of the conference, which provided me a great chance to sit and listen to a lot of spanish to see what I could understand. While the language itself seemed to overall make sense, most of the technical terms used at a water treatment conference, however, were more difficult to understand. The ceremony ended with some incredible traditional Colombian dances, making it easy to understand just one reason Colombians are so proud of their heritage and history.
The next day Mom was able to get an entire day for the two of us to explore Cartagena, so over breakfast we decided we would take the opportunity to climb Castillo San Felipe, a heavily fortified hillside that guided the Old Town during the days of Cartagena’s independence.
The fortress was incredible, it seemed as if the people of the time had managed to transform an entire hillside into an impressive fortress of stone.
The strategic placement and height of the fortress also offered us the added benefit of a view of the Old Town and the modern city.
After some shopping in the Old Town, we returned to the room to prepare for dinner with other WEF and WERF (“Water Environment Research Foundation”, a close partner with WEF) representatives. I started to realize that my nausea from earlier in the day may have not just been from the Caribbean heat. Before long I found myself sitting in the bathroom, arriving at the agonizing realization that maybe that salmon I had enjoyed at breakfast wasn’t quite so appetizing.
One of the WERF representatives, Leila, caught wind of my predicament and was kind enough to pick up some medicine for my mother to get to me. This was just one of many kind gestures by Leila, who more than took care of my mom and myself, so a big thank you to her for our entire experience in Cartagena.
After a night of battling my own digestive system, I found myself relatively recovered the next morning, or at least I made myself recovered enough, because this was the morning my mom would be presenting at the conference. Nothing was going to stop me from seeing my mom kill it in a conference in Colombia.
Unsurprisingly, she absolutely nailed it, with two presentations, panel discussions, and even a panel on women in the industry! This is one proud son.
Our final night was filled with celebrating with everyone else from WEF/WERF, swimming, eating, dancing, not to mention a taste of some amazing Colombian rum. A big thank you to everyone in WEF/WERF who, in addition to be awesome people, made for a great final night in Cartagena.
NEXT: Colombia gets personal, with family, family, and a whole lot more family in Bogota!