The Cartagena Journals: Zumba and a Chiva Bus

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Live from the Miami Airport! I’m headed to Cartagena, Colombia, but doctor’s orders prevent me from having any fun. No drinking, swimming, or sex. I’m pretty sure that mud volcano is off limits as well. I’m not complaining about being unable to visit that mud volcano, though, because I never really wanted to do it anyway. It just seemed disgusting and a cesspool of bacteria with everyone’s bodily fluids. Still, how am I supposed to be on holiday without liquor? I think I might just take my chances after a few days.


My flight arrived three hours late, so I didn’t have any time to get acclimated to the city. I went directly to my Airbnb in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, settled into my room, got money out of the ATM around the corner, and accepted an invite to Zumba in the park with my Airbnb host. When we arrived to Plaza Trinidad in Getsemani for Zumba, it was filled with locals and tourists. I hadn’t taken a Zumba class since college, and I was certain my moves weren’t up to par, but I was going to try anyway. I made it through three songs before I decided the moves were getting a bit too advanced for me. I gave up and watched the regulars do their thing for nearly two hours. Once it ended, I took the short walk back to my Airbnb and got some rest for the next day.


I had lots of plans for Monday, but I failed to realize that today was a national holiday in Colombia – Sagrado Corazón. Many businesses were closed as a result, and the day was also slow because there was a hard rain during the night and into the morning. I strolled around the city aimlessly through the morning, and the only activity I could find to kill time during the day was the hop on hop off bus. My first hop off spot was in the Bocagrande neighborhood of Cartagena, where I stopped for lunch right across the street from the beach at Restaurante Palenqueras. It was my first meal in Cartagena, and delectable.

Restaurante Palenqueras

I noticed a problem during my lunch – I don’t know how to relax and let the time pass me by. This may always be an issue for me as a U.S. native. I am accustomed to “attentive” waitstaff constantly checking on our table and asking if we need anything. It’s not unusual for the waitress to come with the bill before we’re even finished eating and basically rushing us out of the building. Here in Cartagena, I had to flag someone down to place my order, order more drinks, and get the bill. I was constantly looking at my watch as if I had something pressing to do after lunch. I just don’t know how to absorb and enjoy the environment around me. This has been a problem for me in nearly every city that I’ve visited outside the U.S. In Cairo, I was at an outdoor restaurant when it was getting dark and cold, and the owner begged me to stay for another hour. It’s something that I should work on.

Once lunch was over, I got back on the bus and headed to the Old City of Cartagena. This is the most picturesque area of the city. As I admired the balconies on each street, I passed a grocery store where the smell of freshly baked bread stopped me in my tracks. I bought fresh bread, ham, cheese, fruit, and water for breakfast and snack time. Once I got back to my Airbnb, my plan was to hang around my room for the rest of the evening. Instead, I got a message that said someone was picking me up at 7:30 pm for a chiva party bus tour unbeknownst to me. There wasn’t anything else for me to do, so I went with the plan. I relaxed for a while and showered again. I was showering 2-3 times a day in Cartagena because the humidity had me soaking wet. I didn’t know what people with weaves and wigs were doing to keep their real hair from smelling like a wet mop because I was soaking wet after walking one block. It was just that humid. It didn’t help that it rained today and was overcast for most of the day.

Alex Rocha’s beautiful daughter, Karen, picked me up and took me to the bus location. Alex can be considered the unofficial mayor of Cartagena, and had been recommended countless times by various people who had previously visited the city. When I learned that I was finally going to Cartagena after three years of putting it off, he was one of the first people I contacted to Experience the Real Cartagena. His tour company now includes assistance from his children.

We reached to colorful chiva bus and it was already nearly full. Just imagine 20 black people on a bus drinking rum, listening to Drake and Cardi B. There was a band on the bus as well. I didn’t notice other buses with a live band, so that was cool. We stopped at the front of one of the castillo’s to listen to music, watch a dance performance, and dance on our own. I met a few ladies from my favorite travel community, so that was a pleasant surprise. One of the guide’s mom made empanadas and arepas from scratch for all of us, and they were warm and delicious. We stopped at one of the Cartagena signs before ending at a nightclub in Getsemani. Overall, that was a night of “What happens in Cartagena stays in Cartagena.” We were all on our worst behavior, but that is what one should do on vacation. Right?

Some of the group decided to leave the nightclub and head to Mezcal Cafe near the Clock Tower. There was supposed to be hip hop music and a better experience, but I chose to walk the two blocks back to my Airbnb instead. My feet were hurting, and part of me wished I had a man to rub my feet. There were a lot of couples on the chiva party bus, and I found myself for the first time longing for that kind of thing. While everyone was dancing, I wished I had someone to travel internationally with and grind on – someone I could have the time of my life with as well. Then my ex called me and I remembered the single life is the best life.

Read more about my visit to Cartagena by clicking the links below:
The Cartagena Journals: Salsa Lessons and Yellow Fever Vaccines
The Cartagena Journals: Playa Blanca
The Cartagena Journals: Street Art and the Real Cartagena

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