The Cartagena Journals: Salsa Lessons and Yellow Fever Vaccines

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When I woke up Tuesday morning, my plan for the day was to eat more. I hadn’t been eating enough food and drinking enough fluids since I’d been in Cartagena. I made a sandwich with the groceries I purchased the day before and drank a cup of tea before departing my Airbnb for the first stop on my itinerary – the health department for a free yellow fever vaccine. The yellow fever vaccine was required for a lot of the countries on my top 10 list, including Brazil, Rwanda, and Ghana. The U.S. was charging nearly $300 for the vaccine, and I refused to allow Big Pharma to profit off me with that exorbitant markup. In many Central and South American countries, the cost of the vaccine is minimal.

I headed straight to the Departamento Administrativo Distrital de Salud (DADIS) around the corner from my Airbnb. In broken Spanish, I told the woman at the front desk I was there for a yellow fever vaccine, and she asked for my passport. She wrote my passport information on a form, handed me a number, and told me to take a seat. There were a handful of people already in the small waiting area, and I sat waiting about an hour before my number was called.

I went into an exam room with three nurses. One asked if I was allergic to anything, how old I was, and where I was staying. For people with limited Spanish, there was a cheat sheet with the English translation. Meanwhile, another nurse had already put the vaccine in the needle, wiped an area of my arm with alcohol, and stuck me. The vaccine was manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, the same manufacturer of the yellow fever vaccine in the U.S., and the shot wasn’t painful at all. The nurse confirmed the vaccine was good for life, gave me the yellow fever card along with a white slip, and sent me on my way. I gave the slip to the woman at the front desk, and I was done. The entire process was simple and free. I walked out of the health department grinning while thinking about all of the countries I could visit since I now had a yellow fever card. This might have been the highlight of my trip.

I took a short break, then walked to Crazy Salsa for a salsa lesson. Crazy Salsa came at the recommendation of a friend who had spent a week there learning champeta. My plan was to learn to salsa in case some fine Afro-Colombian man approached me to dance. I needed to be confident in my skills if I was going to whisked away into the land of love with tall, dark, and handsome man. Our class learned six types of salsa moves as well as two turns in the one-hour class. My dance partner for the day was a redhead from Vancouver, and he gave me the sexy eye the entire time we danced. He was tall and slender with decent dance skills, but he wasn’t a strong lead.

When the class ended, a woman in the group kept mentioning how good I was as a dancer and couldn’t believe it was my first time. I am one of the most rhythmless people in my family, so I didn’t know what she was seeing. I guess my West African roots were undeniable that day because the instructor and I were the only melanated people in the room.

All of that dancing meant I needed a shower and hydration, so I walked back to my Airbnb to refresh and refuel. My Airbnb host laughed at me when she saw my huge piece of luggage when I arrived on the first day, but I was glad I brought everything in it. I needed all of that extra deodorant, soap, lotion, clothes, and hair products because I was showering and going through more wardrobe changes than Beyonce on tour. Even as a Louisiana resident, the humidity in Cartagena was unmatched. Simply standing outside in the shade would cause the sweat to trickle down my back.

Feeling fresh and ready, I went searching for food. Stefano’s Bistro was few blocks away, and where I decided to get lunch. I ordered bolognese because I knew I would eventually get tired of eating the traditional meal of fish, rice, and plantains.


By the time I was finished with lunch, I realized I didn’t have much else to do that day and nothing planned for the next day. I walked to my Airbnb host’s home to get her assistance on what I could do Wednesday We decided on a day trip to Playa Blanca, and I paid the 50,000 COP for the trip. She told me I needed to be at the meeting spot to catch the bus around 7:45 am. I whined because I hadn’t slept late since I had been in the city. What kind of vacation was this? Alex messaged a few hours later to see if I wanted to go to Playa Blanca. Too bad I already paid for a trip because I was certain it would be a good time if some of the same people from last night’s chiva party bus tour would be there.

My Airbnb host and I chatted for a while before I headed to a free walking tour in the Old City. This was the tour that came with the hop on hop off bus, and it was uneventful. I was the only non-Spanish speaker, so I had one guide all to myself. He was pleased to describe all of the sites to me, and discuss the history of the area.

There is a dark history about all of the Americas, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn about the Spanish invasion of Cartagena. Those hideous walls that surround the city were put in place after being robbed by pirates so many times. Why did pirates love Cartagena so much? Word on the street was there was lots of gold here. Where did the gold come from? The Spanish dug up the graves of the natives and discovered they were buried with all of their riches. They took the gold from the dead and prospered from it. How disgusting and vile must one be to steal from a dead person? We didn’t delve deeply into the slave trade, but I already knew Cartagena was once one of the main slave trading ports. The tour ended at an expensive emerald museum, and I tipped the guide and headed out to explore more of the neighborhood on my own before finding my way to a late night dinner at Novo Kebab Grill in the Old City.

This was the day I began drooling over the men of Cartagena. The way some of these Afro-Colombian men were designed didn’t make sense. God was just out there creating art, and my eyes enjoyed every single visual. My mouth watered at the sight of their sun-kissed skin, deep eyes, and mischievous grin.

Despite the weather, I was enjoying Cartagena. There was street harassment, but I strutted down the streets unbothered most of the time. The street vendors accepted my “no thanks” to their offers, and moved on to the next potential customer without being aggressive. After being the center of attention in Egypt a couple of months ago, I liked that I could partially blend in with the locals.

Read more about my visit to Cartagena by clicking the links below:
The Cartagena Journals: Zumba and a Chiva Bus
The Cartagena Journals: Playa Blanca
The Cartagena Journals: Street Art and the Real Cartagena

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