Cartagena, Columbia. People said we were crazy and at first, I believed them. I had read some stories myself. It was that time of year when everyone was planning for their April vacation getaway. Most people were going away to the Bahamas, Virgin Islands or some other tropical place like that while others went to visit family and I was going to a country and city where drugs were reportedly an issue. I wasn't going to be alone. My immediate family, my aunt and Nana were as well on this adventurous and slightly crazy journey.
Our family, however, was into doing things people considered risky. We had traveled before and would almost always find ourselves in a place where no one spoke English and we would have to converse with a modified version of charades. This vacation, then, was nothing new to the family other than the added thrill factor of it being a "drug city". Columbia, especially at the time, was frequently in the news tagged with drug lords, drug cartels, and rising violence. We were all nervous but excited at the same time. When it was finally time to leave we thought we were ready and after a few flights, endless customs checks and hours later, we began our vacation.
Since our party was larger than normal, we had to ride in a minivan. The minivan itself was kind of scary. It was smelly and old, the doors were all falling apart and the seats sunk when you sat in them. We drove a while before coming to the little hotel we were staying at. The hotel itself was really cool, with only three rooms. Our family, not being the type that can sit poolside all day, wanted to explore. Roaming the streets in a completely foreign town where hardly anybody speaks English was scary enough but when you add in the fact that any of these people might be involved with the stories you read in the papers, and the scary factor is doubled.
The streets were narrow, wide, irregularly sloping and crowded. I don't think there was one street where there was not one person in sight. There were people walking up and down the streets with wagons full of fresh mango, papaya, and other fruits, there were people selling waters, soda and ice cream. There were policemen around every corner and even up in crow's nests. It was scary at first, but the more that we walked around, the more that Cartagena started to look like a familiar city with music and a lively atmosphere.
The first night was scary. Soon, though, even night became familiar with little things like dinner outside with people playing music to you and offering you hats and bracelets made this foreign city seem like home. There was even a dance show one night and there was always an endless supply of music.
What struck me the most on our trip was that the waiters tried really hard to speak English. It made me aware that, while we were in a foreign country and were afraid, the native people were also afraid because we represented something they didn't know or understand but they took the risk and spoke English and helped us when we needed it. When I realized that both sides of the situation were experiencing the same kind of fear, I began to feel like we all had something in common and I was less afraid. I was able to get over my fears and the trip ended up being great and we even made some friends. I would love to be able to go back again!
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