Cartagena – Day/Night 1

After a somewhat fitful night’s sleep, I awoke to the sound of the sea crashing against the beach and sunlight streaming through what I had assumed were blackout curtains – apparently not.


In the light of day, I could now fully see my surroundings, and it became clear my choices for lunch within walking distance were limited at best.  My host had suggested a place around the corner that was supposedly very cheap but good.  This was necessary as I only had about $12 USD left in cash and nary a bank nor ATM anywhere close.  The breeze I had so welcomed the night before was basically gone and in its place was hot, humid air.  I found the restaurant but it was so hot plus the fact that the only thing was a seafood stew, not exactly what I wanted in such heat, so I decided to try elsewhere.  Fortunately, further down the block was a Ibis Hotel, a mid-tier chain geared towards budget conscious travelers.  My general distaste for hotel food was quickly abated by the fact that they had a) A/C and b) took credit cards so I could save what little cash I had left.

As it turned out, I had stumbled into the midst of some sort of promo event for a new resort and spa that was to be opened soon further down the coast.  This included the requisite “booth babes” who there were to look pretty and take pictures with various prospective investors/clients.


Since I wasn’t sure as to the quality of the food, I decided to play it safe with a simple filet of beef along with some grilled vegetables and coconut rice.  This turned out be quite tasty, especially the coconut rice.


After lunch, I took a quick walk through the rest of my surrounding area to get the lay of the land.  I found a small bodega where I picked up some basic goods and headed back to the apartment.  Since Colombia doesn’t have daylight savings time, it was dark by 6:30PM.  I decided to take advantage of the slightly cooler weather by taking my siesta on my deck.


The plan for the evening was to go to the famous La Vitrola restaurant inside the old walled city.  Normally almost impossible to get a reservation, I had my host contact them and say I would be willing to sit at the bar, which seemed to do the trick.  After a pretty short cab ride down the shore and through a small porthole which was one of the entrances to the walled city, La Vitrola beckoned.

Known for being a favorite of celebs, athletes and even the president of Colombia, LaVitrola was like stepping into another world and era.  Inspired by pre-Castro Cuba, including an Afro Cuban band at the front of the restaurant, it felt like I was stepping into some sort of private club, all the more given that I was clearly the only gringo there.



I took my seat at the handsomely appointed bar and opted for, what else? a mojito.  Their version was a bit different in that the bartender finished it off with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters.



Other signal La Vitrola catered to a VIP crowd was the casual placement of Johnnie Walker Blue amongst other various liquors.

I sipped on my mojito as the band started another set, perfectly content staying there but as it turned out, a table had opened up for me since I was going to eat dinner.  I was escorted to the other end of the restaurant and given their one server who sort of spoke English.  Perhaps because I was still answering everything in Spanish, she gave up that pretense quickly and I was able to get my order in, at least I hoped.

The only word I didn’t really know was what turned out to be grouper.  As I love that fish, I decided to get their grouper carpaccio.  A few minutes later, another server told me that wasn’t available now but they had a smoked version instead.


The fish was beautifully smoked and tender, with the accompanying sliced avocado, olives and diced pineapple providing a nice contrast.  After finishing it, I opted for a glass of Carmenere from Chile to go with my main course.


As soon as I located it on the menu, I knew my main course had to be the lobster ravioli with a lobster bisque sauce.  This was a ridiculously indulgent dish but oh so tasty!

After that, I knew there was no way I could possibly have a dessert so instead I thought a nice apertif would do the trick.  I was curious about their rum collection and asked who turned out to be the general manager which he preferred.  He suggested the Zapaca 23 year old rum from Guatemala.  It was indeed an excellent choice.


Since I had apparently pleased the GM with my selection of beverage, he escorted me back into the main room and got a seat right next to the band.


At the end of their set, I got up to leave and asked one of the servers where I could find the nearest bank or ATM.  As it turned out, another server was heading that way and offered to lead me there.  She was a tiny little thing and the fellow servers laughed when they saw our height disparity.  We parted ways once she got to a plaza where there was indeed a bank, at last!  After getting some much needed pesos and enjoying my rum buzz, I strolled around the plaza and the surrounding area.

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After about 30 minutes of wandering, I came across a much larger square and a massive clock tower, which I had read is used a central meeting spot for the old city.


Finally my feet had enough and headed back to the apartment, full of great food, drink and general happiness, excited for whatever was to come over the next few days.



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