Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Our first Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia

After only a few days in Cartagena the three of us and our roommate John packed a bag with a few items to stay overnight and headed on a buss to Barranquilla to experience one of the largest and most colorful Carnival celebrations in the world.  Once there, we did experience a few mishaps since we did not have a room reserved for 4 and John's initial reservation turned us away, but we did find a really nice, and yet inexpensive, hotel to stay which ended up being right in the middle of the action.

The first night was filled with dancing in the street until the wee morning hours.  John and I spent the night roaming and dancing....and probably drank 20+ beers each.  We realized at some point that we totally scored with our hotel because it was right by the street party...literally 50 ft away, so John and I could walk inside and use the bathrooms whenever we wanted.  The rest of the street partyiers would pay to use a 5 gallon bucket inside of a refrigerator box.

The next morning we woke to music...Latin music being played by a band right in our hotel lobby at around 8:30am....and loudly.  Pretty cool, but also a bit obnoxious if you stayed out until 4am.

Soon we took a couple mile walk through the city until we found the location of the parade.  There we posted up and watched the main Carnival parade of 2015.  Before checking out the pictures below, take a quick read to learn more about the history of Barranquilla's Carnival that I pulled from Wikipedia:

Barranquilla's Carnival (Spanish: Carnaval de Barranquilla) is Colombia's most important folklorecelebration, and one of the biggest carnival in the world. The carnival has traditions that date back to the 19th century. Forty days before Holy Week, Barranquilla decks itself out to receive national and foreign tourists, and join together with the city's inhabitants to enjoy four days of intense festivities. During the carnival Barranquilla's normal activities are paralyzed because the city gets busy with street dances, musical and masquerade parades. Barranquilla's Carnival includes dances like the Spanish paloteo, African congo and indigenous mico y micas. Many styles of Colombian music are also performed, most prominently cumbia, and instruments include drums and wind ensembles. The Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed Cultural Masterpiece of the Nation by Colombia's National Congress in 2002.[1] Also theUNESCO, in Paris on November 7, 2003, declared it as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and it was during Olga Lucia Rodriquez Carnival Queen year.
The Carnival starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday with the Battle of the Flowers (La Batalla de Flores), which is considered one of the main activities. Then, The Great Parade (La Gran Parada) on Sunday and Monday is marked by an Orchestra Festival with Caribbean and Latin bands. Tuesday signals the end of the carnival, announced by the burial of Joselito Carnaval, who is mourned by everyone.
Barranquilla's Carnival slogan is: Who lives it, is who enjoys it (Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza).

 One fun tradition is that they sell boxes of cornmeal and cans of foam...both to attack other spectators with.  Here you can see this guy and gal have both been hit with a handful of corn meal.

The cans of foam will spray  10-15ft.  Of course Avy wanted one.  The best part is that no matter who you spray, no one gets upset.  It was easily well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit so the foam would actually cool you down for a few minutes.

Spraying people with foam was a good way to meet people and have some sadistic fun at the same time.  


After the parade was over we debated staying another night, but decided to head home simply to save money, as we knew it would really be just another repeat night of partying in the streets.

That being said, if you ever get the chance to experience Carnival in Colombia...take that chance!  It was wonderful.  Don't be worried about safety, the police there do not mess around and they are there to ensure that foreigners are not be hassled or harmed.  However, do be aware that petty crime, such as pick pocketing is common, so be smart.  At night, if someone sprays you in the face with foam, hang on to your bag!  Chances are they may be working with a friend that will unzip your bag and reach inside while you wipe the foam off your please, leave most of your money and passport in your hotel room.  All hotels have guards at the front, so no one but hotel guests are getting in.

Other than that, enjoy the great time, dancing, music, street food...and everything else Carnival has to offer!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A quick tour of El Laguito, Cartagena, Colombia

The city of Cartagena is quite large, but in actuality it is composed of a few different neighborhoods.

There is the outskirts of the city where typically only locals live. This is where you would find many neighborhoods that wouldn't be suited for a visitor to walk around at night.

In the middle of the city and located beach side is the old city, El Centro, which is walled in, a remnant of Spanish occupation.  It is beautiful and fully safe any time of the day.  I will post more about this not-to-miss location in a later post.

Then there is La Boquilla, which is an up and coming location and home to most of the kite schools in Cartagena.  Typically the water is choppy, and I found the wind to be lighter and somewhat holey at times.  On the bright side, the beach is gigantic with a long take out for beginning kiteboarders.

The last location is Boca Grande and it tends to be a place devoted to tourists and the wealthier elite of the city.  It is extremely safe, even in the middle of the night, so walking around is not an issue.  Of course, most things cost a bit more here, but there are local spots that are hidden gems and will be less expensive than the average of the area.  We especially loved eating at Riquisimo.  Get their filet mignon for roughly $10 usd.

Boca Grande has a lake in one portion of it known as El Laguito, and an entire end of Boca Grande is referred to as Laguito because of it.  This is where we stayed, and it is central to what I believe is the best kiteboarding location in Cartagena.  We stayed for two months in Edificio Laura, which was $1200 usd for a 2 bed room apartment, so with a roommate rent was $600 per room.  This is where all the beautiful pictures of sunsets, as well as the following pictures of the kite spots were taken from.  Right from the balcony of our apartment. 

Laguito has two basic spots for kiteboarding. A flat water spot and a wave spot. Also, you can choose to ride way, way out into the ocean if you prefer.

The first spot is the flat water location, due to a long rock pier that runs into the ocean and blocks the waves.  It's fairly shallow as well making it great for wakestyle practice and progression.  Its downside is that there is no take out downwind...the next stop is Tierra Bomba, an island about 5 miles away.  No worries though, if in trouble a jetski or fishing boat will rescue the kiter and gear for aproximately $10 usd.

Here are some pictures that Becky took of me riding.  She was standing on our balcony at the time.  I am a little downwind of the flat water spot so that her and my little girl Avy could easily watch me.

And here is a picture of my little princess watching daddy kite from our balcony.  The rock peer is directly behind the middle of the white building, so you can't see it or the best of the flat water.

To the other side of the rock pier that creates the flat water, the waves come in unobstructed, so on a daily basis there is a decent swell perfect for beginning wave riders.  Many of the locals are really quite good on a surf board, and all of them are friendly and easy going.  Don't be scared to join them, whether you are a strapless pro or a beginner..

The other great part of kiting El Laguito is that there is typically no more than 10-15 riders on the water at any given time.  That being said, the flat water spot is fairly small and can feel crowded with 10 or more guys trying to take advantage of it.  Throw in a few beginners mowing the lawn, and getting a decent setup for a trick can be frustrating.

One thing to note is that most of the locals either have school, work, or simply don't like to get any darker, so if visiting, try to kite around 12pm or 1pm when the sun is high and hot.  If you do, you will get a good 2 to 4 hours of kiting solo, as most of them wait until a little later in the afternoon and then ride until sunset.

January through April are the best months to kite and get wind in Cartagena.  It blows pretty much every day.  We arrived on Feb 9th, and it was 7m-10m every day for 87 days straight.

Here is a video of Armando Sierra (one of Colombia's top kiters) ripping in El Laguito.  Th video is quite old, but you can see the conditions of flat water that are available.

Oh, and I can't leave you without a classic sunset picture taken from our balcony on the 4th night we were there.

Friday, May 22, 2015

What happened to Colombia?

Cartagena map courtesy Google maps

Certainly for anyone that has ever followed my blog, you may very well have asked yourself the title of this blog: "What happened to Colombia?".  Or maybe, "What happened to Ryan?"

Well, on February 8th the three of us left for Cartagena, Colombia.  We spent three months there, and while I would like to blame my blogging inactivity on spotty internet, the blame lies with me.

Sure, for the first few weeks it was simply nice to unplug and kite as much as possible, but that is still no excuse for not following through with blog updates.  The fact is, living in Colombia was amazing and every day I was piling up new experiences like a hoarder piling up new possessions in his house, but like a hoarder, the more experiences I had the greater the "clean up job" was going to be...or in the case of this blog, the more things I had to write about the greater the anxiety about writing it all down grew.  And then the longer I went without writing, the more it seemed like a daunting task to catch back up.

Instead, I took the easy but less fulfilling route of posting a pic or two to Facebook periodically.

Last night I decided to do something about it.  So, much like cleaning up a really messy room, rather than be daunted by the whole room at once, I am simply going to pick a corner or a task and work my way free of it....

So.....Cartagena.....gorgeous city, wonderful people, amazing wind....truly a magical place.

For those that are kiteboarders or those that want to visit Colombia, we arrived February 9th.  Jet Blue flies direct, so if coming from the States, this is probably the most convenient and inexpensive way to get there.

And the wind, definitely did not disappoint.  In fact, it blew for 87 straight days after my arrival.  10m most days, but a good handful of 7m days.  More about that later.

When we arrived, my buddy John, who would be our roommate for a little over one month, had located a apartment in El Laguito.  While the downside was that we had a decent sized hike to our kite spot every day, I will never forget the view we had.

The first night there we missed the sunset because we were out eating dinner at the time.  However, here are some pictures from the second night we were there.  We got to experience sunsets like this for three months straight.  Pretty Epic.  Almost on a nightly basis the four of us would gather on our deck, bathed in golden light, and watch the sun until it had dropped below the horizon.

So, my plan is to write a small bit again tomorrow.  Expect more sunset pictures as we go along as well...we took a few of them.  ;)