#SoloTravel: Making Couchsurfing Friends in Cartagena, Colombia!

#SoloTravel: Making Couchsurfing Friends in Cartagena, Colombia!

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.

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Hi, new friends I just met an hour ago!

Continue reading “#SoloTravel: Making Couchsurfing Friends in Cartagena, Colombia!”

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How to Integrate in Your Community While Teaching Abroad

It’s tough being the new kid in town, especially when you’re teaching abroad. You no longer have your best friends on speed dial to join your Game of Thrones binge watching sessions, so you have to start from scratch. If only there was friendship speed dating in every corner of the world. For now, you’ve got to go forth, where plenty of teachers have gone before, and integrate into your community. Read my latest Go Abroad post here!

Nicaraguan Food vs. Mexican Food

The Food: Before moving to Nicaragua, I assumed the food would be similar to Mexican food: spicy, vibrant, diverse, and drenched in salsa. Nope. Before I complain about the vast difference in cuisine, I’ll be straight up- There’s so much less variety in foods because Nicaragua is the poorest Latin American country. That being said, people are grateful just to have full bellies.

After having made Cochinita Pibil, pork baked in achiote and banana leaves for 3 hours!
After making Cochinita Pibil, pork baked in achiote and banana leaves for 3 hours!

Now, I appreciate Mexican food more than ever. That’s why when I came home from visiting Boston in April, I filled my suitcase with snazzy Mexican hot sauces like Cholula and Tapatio (wrapped rightly in my “new” clothes from Goodwill), corn tortillas (they just don’t taste the same here), and raw pinto beans. Beans, of all things, you ask? Yes, beans. Red and black beans just aren’t the same as brown pinto beans, which are different from the white, Nicaraguan pinto beans.

Salsa Verde. Photo by threepointskitchen.com.
Salsa Verde. Photo by threepointskitchen.com.

I also miss my mom’s fresh, green salsa verde. They sell salsa verde in the can here, but it’s not the same. Growing up, I hated when my mom would ask me to peel those green tomatillos because of how sticky they would make my hands. While I scrubbed them in the sink, she would boil the tomatillos and mix them in a blender with cilantro, lime, and salt. Before we even poured the salsa out of the blender, we would dip Santitas tortilla chips in for various “taste tests”, our hands cupped underneath our chins, savoring the smell and taste of cilantro. Now, I would give anything to peel those sticky, green tomatillos with her.

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Chancho con yuca (Pork with yuca) is my favorite Nica food.

When has a particular dish made you think of when you were a kid?