When my parents told me they were coming to Colombia to visit, I was a little hesitant to play tour guide. I love my family but our vacations tend to turn into ridiculous, unplanned roller coasters of a trip, which I had become acquired to but wasn’t sure would be the best situation to throw my boyfriend of 6 months into. But, having not seen them for 8 months, we were due for a visit. So Jules and I arrived at the Cartagena airport to meet my dad, mom and brother, who, in true Williams fashion, hadn’t so much as booked a hotel for the night. After emotional hellos and excited introductions, we grabbed the bags and headed into town in a roomy air-conditioned van (a luxury jules and I had not experienced in our entire time in south America). With my mother haphazardly filming every conversation from there onward, we began to fill my family in on our adventures of volunteering and traveling.
When we arrived in cartagenas old town, we managed to check ourselves in for the night at a 3 story private residence complete with pool, washer and dryer and rooftop jaccuzi. Compared to our jail cell like hostel room from the previous night, this felt like the Ritz. The next few days we spent exploring Cartagena which meant sleeping in, lazing away the hot afternoons in our air-conditioned mini mansion and adventuring through the city at night in search of Colombia’s most delicious foods. During our three days in the city we crashed a restaurant opening (who can turn down free paninis and wine?), got yelled at by Cartagenas famous fruit ladies (apparently they have a one photo per fruit plate policy?) and got hustled on the street by an ex San Diego padres player. Although cartagena is gorgeous, with it’s endless maze of colonial style streets, we were all pretty ready to move on to our next destination.
After brief pitstop at volcano Totuno, which looked more like a giant anthill than a volcano, we spent the night in Santa Marta. Jules, my brother and I drank beers on the street and watched the local crackheads come out of the woodwork. We spent the next morning stocking up on supplies, including bribing the hotel staff to buy us black market alcohol because it was election day and the stores are prohibited to sell it. My brother went with Jules and I to grab some last minute produce at the market and after getting lost we found my parents on the corner of the bus stop our bags everywhere, beer bottles smashed and getting hurried onto the already overcrowded bus. On the way to our next destination, they filled us in on their story of getting into a fight with the taxi drivers over the fare and standing their ground until the drivers took off. I hoped that this would be the last time we’d get hustled.
Our next stop, Parque Tayrona, was beautiful. Thanks to my parents generosity we stayed in ecohuts overlooking the beach, Jules and I had our own, while my family shared another. We were greeted at reception with coconut cocktails and enjoyed 3 nights of easy living in our luxurious cabanas. Breakfast was included and available as room service so Jules and I lounged in our pjs, eating pancakes and fresh squeezed juice in our king size bed. Luckily we only stayed a few days because I could have gotten used to the royal treatment.
Our last destination was the gorgeous island of San Andreas. This carribean island is actually closest to Nicaragua, only 80 km off the coast but is governed by Colombia. It’s a popular vacation spot for colombians and the north beach, where we stayed, was often overcrowded with kids splashing around the water and their parents lazily watching them from the beach. We ended up renting a couple of motorbikes and a golf cart and cruised around the island. Seriously, passanger seat of a golf cart, feet up, cold cerveza in hand is the best way to tour an island. We spent the next few days driving the road that followed the coast, stopping off at the quieter spots to enjoy the warm carribean water to ourselves. On our last day on the island, the electricity was shut off on the north side for maintanence so all the locals gathered for a beautiful day on the westside.
The next day we said our final farewells as my parents left for the airport to their next destination, panama. And just like that Jules and I were on our own again. After a couple of weeks of living the high life, we quickly readjusted to a peasants budget. Having spent the previous 4 nights in a beach bungalow, our first night back on the road we slept in an airport to avoid having to pay for a hostel for the night. Not the most comfortable but definitely an adventure. And although it was nice to live in luxury for a bit, and amazing to see my family, the challenge and creativity that backpacking creates is more our style.