AdventureColombiaSightseeingSouth America

11/24: Giving Thanks for Life’s Adventures

Happy Thanksgiving Day!
To celebrate Thanksgiving, we had a lovely breakfast at the hotel, during which Ji drank too much coffee and therefore had to pee every 5 minutes for the rest of the day. (That was an exaggeration, obviously)

City Tour With Marelvy Pena
We took a morning tour with Marelvy Pena, a wonderful guide we found on Trip Advisor. Here’s our tour via pics:

Ji’s future husband’s house (never mind that he’s old)
High tide in Cartagena – when the ocean overflows

A woman from San Basilio de Palenque

Gorgeous architecture (colonial vs republican)

The Clock Tower

Where the bridge to Cartagena used to be

Occupy Calle del Candilejo – these people were protesting, because the one road in their town was washed out by rain and they’d like a new road. How’s that for perspective?

We went into a restoration project – funded by Spain – that teaches students the right way to restore historical buildings. It was an old convent whose name I can’t remember, but there was a room with a gorgeous gallery of photos featuring local women who had overcome struggles. Really beautiful. We also went into the luxurious Santa Teresa Hotel to see how it looked when it was a convent, and that’s when we had our one and only celebrity sighting: Nina Garcia from Project Runway with her husband and one of her sons. (Without makeup, Ji wanted to point out)

Convento de la Popa
According to Lonely Planet: “On a 150m-high hill, the highest point in the city, about 2km beyond Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is this convent. Its name literally means the Convent of the Stern, after the hill’s apparent similarity to a ship’s back end, but it’s actually the Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, founded by the Augustine fathers in 1607. Initially it was just a small wooden chapel, which was replaced by a stouter construction when the hill was fortified two centuries later, just before Pablo Morillo’s siege.”

It provided a gorgeous view of all of Cartagena, and a really great place to walk around with Marelvy. We also learned a new word; “cabron” – that’s the not-nice way to call a man a goat. We’ll tuck that away for future reference.

Ji, Heidi, and Cartagena

Beautiful doorway




Statue at La Popa

Castillo de San Felipe
We stopped by the Castillo de San Felipe for some photos, but we didn’t tour around because Marelvy had arranged for us to return that night with her daughter, Sheila, to see a special dance performance. So I got out of the air-conditioned car to snap some photos.

Castillo de San Felipe


Castillo de San Felipe

Emerald Shopping
Because we mentioned that we’d like to shop for emeralds, Marelvy and her driver took us to a special Emerald Museum. A lovely woman took us on a tour around their historical area that showed mining history, methods, and the different types of emeralds in different areas of the world. Emeralds naturally form in cylindrical octagonal shape, and 65% of world’s emeralds are from Colombia. Then she took us to their shop.

Emerald veins in walls

Emerald crystal

Emerald shopping

Ji’s new ring

Heidi’s new necklace

Espiritu Santo Restaurant
To complete our tour, Marelvy dropped us off at a restaurant loved by the locals called Espirtu Santo. We were the only non-Cartagenians there, and definitely the only English-speakers. We orderd the pechuga (chicken breast) asada y limonada. Muy delicioso!

Heidi at lunch
Pechuga asada

Chairs at Espiritu Santo

Ji and the table

To treat ourselves, we shared chocolate gelato at Gelateria Paradiso – a charming little ice cream place just a block away.

Gelato-filled self-portrait

By this time it was too hot to walk around, so we opted for a siesta instead. Since our night was going to be a long, food-free night, we opted for an early dinner at a local pizza spot Ji wanted to try. It was filled with art-encrusted furniture. We ordered two slices of margarita pizza, and Ji – while trying to ask for hot peppers – reminded herself that picante is the word for “hot”.

Table mural



The door to the hotel, which the workers would peek through whenever we rang the doorbell

Me, demonstrating the peephole

Keys to the door at the hotel

Performance at Castillo de San Felipe
Marilvy’s daughter, Sheila, is part of a dance troupe in Cartagena that had a private performance this night at the Castillo de San Felipe. The private event was a corporate banquet for BBVA that included cocktails, dinner, and a performance by young folk singers as well as Sheila’s dance troupe. We snuck in with the performers at 6:30 to help them set up and to wait for their performance time. It was a gorgeous night with occasional rain, and we really enjoyed being on the top of the roof with these fun kids. The dancers unpacked their dozens of bags of costumes and props and spread them out all over the top level of the Castillo. Then they hung out for the few hours it would take for them to finally get on stage. Sheila speaks english flawlessly (her father’s American) but her fellow dancers don’t know english as well. There was one boy – Rafael – who spoke excellent French so we put my six years of French classes to the test.

Cartagena at night

The Castillo at night

Heidi at the Castillo

Gorgeous lightning views from the fort (and my first shot of lightning!)

Sheila, made up for the performance

Sheila and friends


Dancers, waiting and waiting for their cue to go on

Dancers; waiting

It was dark, and as Sheila unpacked her gear she’d say, “Can you take a picture of this so I can see what color it is?”

Sheila and colors


Sheila and costumes

BBVA Guests begin to arrive (and have to walk all the way up!). They were all dressed in whites.



Costumes and dancers

Costume-covered canon

Castillo de San Felipe at Night

Ji and Sheila

The folk group singers performing (in the rain) for the BBVA guests. These kids were SO talented.


The lovely girls

When it was time for the dancers to go on (this was about 10:30, four hours after we got there), Ji and I snuck downstairs and around the back of the party so we could perch on the wall and watch the performance. They were supposed to do ten routines but because of the rain and the dinner delay the director cut it down to six. They were truly amazing – both the dancers and the choreography and their lifts and their gorgeous costumes.

That’s Sheila being lifted in full split

After it was over, we raced back upstairs to say good-bye but it was so chaotic and dark that we couldn’t find Sheila to say thank you. We headed out to get a taxi (it was WAY past our bedtime!) and sent a heart-felt note to Marelvy instead.  What an experience.  Something we’ll never have the chance to do again: hang out in an almost-600-year-old fort while watching a private performance of wonderful young dancers.  It was a great way to spend Thanksgiving night.