Magical Cartagena For Christmas

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For the second year in a row my sister and I traveled south of the border for Christmas and spent the holidays together overseas, this year we ventured to Cartagena Colombia for a week. We wandered and wondered our way through the dreamlike and beautiful colonial streets of the old walled city, we swam in turquoise waters, we basked in the magic of a city I have always dreamed of visiting.

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Our holiday excursions have become a new and memorable way to celebrate the holidays together all while deeply imbued with the memory of our mother. Christmas growing up was a special holiday in our house with dozens and dozens of guests, with pots of coffee, eggs, bagels, and more cookies then one could possibly eat, at the holiday’s very beating center was our mother in her slippers and her generous smile. To say the least a traditional Christmas together has seemed hard to contemplate these last 7 years but the last 2 years being together in a warm and foreign destination has felt like the best way to make a tradition of our own or at the very least a stepping stone from one deep tradition to the next. And to say our mother’s memory is with us is an understatement, especially in Cartagena we both kept saying to each other “mom would love this!” We could see our mom sitting with us in the cool shade of Plaza de Bolívar, we could hear her exclaim how beautiful the colorful houses with draping bougainvillea are, and we could feel her smile as we soaked in the hot sun.

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Cartagena is called the crown jewel of the caribbean and for good reason the stunning colors of the houses, the cobblestone streets that wind and keep you gasping at the beauty around each corner, the hot air that is refreshingly cooled by sea breezes. We spent our first day getting lost along the streets and wandering from Plaza to Plaza eating Paletas and then walking along the old wall that stretches between the old city and the ocean. We soaked in our small rooftop pool and ate fish and coconut rice as we sipped coconut lemonades. For the record next summer I will be making coconut lemonades all summer because where has this been all of my life?!

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We spent the next few days on a small Island in the Rosario Islands about an hour boat ride from the city. We stayed at a wonderful small eco hotel that felt more like staying with the most gracious hosts in their home. We swam in turquoise waters right off of any number of docks, we kayaked amid different islands with the sun kissing our shoulders and the warm water gently rocking us, we napped and read in hammocks, and one night we even went swimming with bioluminescent plankton in an enchanted lagoon. The days were long and slow and beautifully rich in nature. We enjoyed one of our favorite nightly pass times watching sunsets with no distractions or rush.

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We came back to Cartagena in time for Christmas in the city with Zumba in Plaza de La Trinidad and a walking street food tour on our last day. Our days were filled walking from the Getsemaní district and looking at murals to the old town and back again. We spent our time wandering and taking pictures, sitting in Plazas and drinking fresh coconuts in front of brightly painted houses.

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But this would also only be part of the story. Travel is one of my favorite things but it is not always the easiest thing, I have suffered my share of traveler tummies and achy muscles from too much walking on trips from Vietnam to Spain and in between. But after a particularly harrowing boat trip back to Cartagena on Christmas eve I was struck with one of my worst illnesses yet. Between a brutal stomach bug and body that felt like it had been hurled across the ocean (my sister got off of the boat looking like she had taken a full shower in her clothes) we moved slowly stopping often to sit on benches and just look around us at the beauty while I caught my breath. I moved slowly but also saw how kindly my sister could take care of me.

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It would also be hard to ignore the greater context in which we took this trip as we approached a new year and one that seems rather strange at first glance. As I walked through the unfamiliar streets of a new country it was hard to not think about travel and what travel might be like in the new year. I have always considered myself first and foremost a citizen of the world and I understand that in 2017 how the world might see people from America may change. I have traveled to 31 countries, that number sounds hard to believe and truly fortunate; along those trips I have talked to people my own age in Cambodia about Pol Pot, in Panama about Noriega, I have talked to people my parents age in East Germany about living with half of their family on one side of the wall and the other half on the other side, I have talked about Snowden and the Holocaust with friends from Germany, France, and England, I have been humbled, enlightened and at times flat out yelled at because of where I am from. I have always learned from the exchange and it has always broadened my view and my understanding about my own country and the world.

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I thought a lot in Columbia about travel and what it means to me and what it might look like in the years ahead. I also thought a lot about how much travel gives me and about the exchanges it brings into a life. I thought about considering myself an ambassador for the United States that I believe in (if not the one in the news). An ambassador for an America that believes in acceptance, inclusion, hope, curiosity for other people and cultures, a country that is trying to move towards love and peace. Because at the end of the day wherever I travel that is the message I wish to carry with me and leave with the people I meet.

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Helpful Cartagena Travel Links:

Casa La Fe – Hotel

Les Lezards – B&B in Getsemaní

La Mulata – Restaurant

Demente – Restaurant

La Cevicheria – Restaurant

Cafe Del Mar – Drinks and Restaurant

La Paletteria – Palletas

 

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01 2017

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