Day 1: Meeting new friends for my first Couchsurfing experience in Cartagena, Colombia.
I had traveled solo to Cartagena, Colombia, and I’d spent a day wandering the streets of the walled city. I’d also posted on the Couchsurfing facebook group to ask if anyone wanted to meet up. Couchsurfing is so much more than finding a place to crash for free. It’s a site for meeting and/or staying with locals all over the world, and it’s a great way to meet people while traveling solo. A woman my age named Angie, who was visiting from Madellin, responded to my facebook post and invited me to a nearby beach, La Playa Blanca on Isla Baru, with her and her friends.
Since I hadn’t couchsurfed with anyone in seven years, I knew that I just needed to be vulnerable and eager to learn about my new friends. In the morning of my beach trip, I met up with Angie, who is originally from the coast. She lives in Medellin and was visiting Cartagena. She wore the prettiest, most colorful sundress and then I met her friend Marticela (Marti), who is also a Caribeña living in Medellin. She was taking care of her parents’ house for the week. Marticela’s cousin and friend joined.
On the car ride to the beach, I was sitting in the backseat, surrounded by strangers who were basically asking me “So…who are you?” I explained that I was volunteering as an English teacher in Nicaragua, but that my interests have shifted from education to the women’s travel industry. Having a social media presence helped me show them about my passion for travel through my blog and instagram.
They asked me what I thought about Colombia, and I shared that I wanted to come back even though I hadn’t even left yet. There was so much to see and do. I told them that a lot of my friends made stereotypical cocaine reference before I came here. Heck, I even made a cocaine reference to a Colombian classmate of mine in college. I was ignorant of the fact that making a reference like this is insulting to someone whose country has suffered so much and is now recovering from its violent past.
“Oh, you didn’t know? It’s going to be a big drug fest at the beach,” they joked. We laughed and stopped for the most delicious gas station breakfast: beef empanadas with salsa. We drank tinto (coffee) from our small styrofoam cups, loaded up on snacks, and pressed on.
We got to the beach early and it wasn’t so crowded. We paid to rent an umbrella and some beach chairs and I slathered on my sunscreen. Vendors sold anything from seashell necklaces, to Club Colombia beer, to coconut oil all stopped by. I jumped in the water, and a jet ski pulled a team of bouncing kids on a banana boat. All I could think of was Jaws. Just as I had harbored ridiculous images of the impending drug cartel war I’d imagined I’d experience in Colombia, I was irrationally thinking about sharks.
After swimming in the tranquil, light blue Caribbean, I came back to my new friends. We drank Club Clasica (which we tried to make sure had been sitting in a fridge that was at least turned on this morning) and got to know each other. I learned that Angie had experience hosting other couchsurfers before and that she enjoyed meeting foreigners.
“Do you have a partner?” Angie asked me. I liked hearing this instead of “Do you have a boyfriend?” because it makes the question less loaded with heteronormative assumptions about me being straight. I shared that I’d been single for a year and that I missed the comforts of a relationship, but that I was enjoying myself. I was sitting on a gorgeous beach with wonderful people who made me feel welcome. Angie and Marti also shared that they were single. Marti was 35 and has two kids, but I hope I look as fit as she does at her age!
Once our time at the beach ended and we wiped the sand off our feet, we stopped for lunch at Pasacaballos, a town with the most bare bones, white walled little eatery. What the place lacked in ambiance, it made up for in the food. It was diviiiiine. And the laxative effect that coconuts have didn’t kick in, gracias a dios. It was a perfect end to a beautiful beach day.
On the drive back to Cartagena, we started talking about our plans tonight. It was Thursday, and I’d learned that Colombians call Thursday “Juernes” (Juernes + Viernes, or Thursday + Friday) “Do they call Thursday Juernes, here, too? I learned about that word in Medellin.”
Marti laughed at me and said “Wow, you’ve even learned about Juernes. Yup, we call it that here, too!” I took a taxi back home and knocked out. The sun over the past two days had taken all of the energy I had, so I missed out on a night of dancing in the street with Angie and Marti. They said that one of Marti’s cousins had hooked them up with some speakers and that they spent the night dancing.
Day 2: Balconeando y Cartageneando with my new Colombian Couchsurfing friends.
I was supposed to fly out to Bogota on this day, but Marti invited me to stay at her place for the night with Angie. I packed my things, thanked my lovely Airbnb host, Libi, for lending me the keys to her apartment, and she helped me find a taxi to Marti’s. I was glad I’d only packed a small suitcase and a backpack. I slowly began to fill it with clothes I was buying in Colombia. Shopping while traveling isn’t really my thing, but the quality of the clothes for the price was too good to pass up.
Marti and Angie didn’t really have a plan for the day, so I asked them what kinds of beers they liked. I bought some Coronas for Marti and Club Clasicas and Rojas for Angie and myself. We spent the entire afternoon sitting on the front porch and getting to know each other while Vallenato music blasted from the speakers. In Nicaragua I’d only heard Carlos Vives songs, but Marti wasn’t playing his music. These songs were still joyous, but they had less of a pop influence.
Marti and Angie taught me all about Colombian slang and had me try the local food, like buñuelos de maíz, queso costeño, and bollos de coco.
They asked me what it was like being gay in Nicaragua, and I shared with them that at times I felt like it didn’t matter, but at other times it absolutely did to me. I told them that I enjoyed hanging out with them that I even missed out on the biggest Lesbian-themed LGBT pride night in Bogotá just to be with them! I’d queer it up later in Bogotá, anyway (Theatrón, Bogotá’s immense gay club with five floors and countless rooms for every genre is a gift from God).
We turned the music up and these women taught me that on the Caribbean coast, they turn nouns into verbs by adding “ando.” “Estamos Cartageneando y balconeando,” Marti told me. I loved how assured she was when she said that. It appeared as if we weren’t doing anything, but we made a beautiful moment out of our last day together. The heat was much too strong to go out and do anything, but the cold beers and warm company made all of the sweating worth it.
I learned so much from Marti and Angie, and I also learned that after day drinking, it’s not physically possible for me to stay awake while dancing. We went out later that night to go dancing, and even though I’d taken a power nap, I didn’t last long. I impressed Angie with my “zombie dancing skills” which she even alluded to on the couchsurfing reference she left me. Aye, it is possible to dance while half asleep.
Couchsurfing in Cartagena, Colombia was a highlight of my solo trip because I didn’t feel so sola. I found friends who I’d only spent two days with, but with whom I was comfortable enough to fall asleep in front of at the club. Now that’s friendship.
Gracias, Marti y Angie por llenar el mundo con tus buenas energias y por enseñarme la verdadera definicion de “Cartagenear”. Un abrazo!