Last known location: London, England

Fun Times and Rubbish Airlines

Our final South American stop was in the historic city of Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Founded in the 16th century, the city was one of the main Spanish ports for exporting their plundered gold – this also caused it to become a major target for pirates (including Francis Drake), and this in turn led to the Spaniards turning it into something of a fortress. Much of huge city walls remain today, and most of the old city within is relatively unchanged from it’s state of 300 hundred years ago – making Cartagena a popular tourist destination and a regular stop for Caribbean cruise ships.

We only had a couple of days to explore before we jetted off to the States, and we spent the first of these looking round the old city. It certainly didn’t disappoint, and the squares, churches and flower-covered buildings were beautiful. By this point we were becoming immune to these kinds of charms, 10-a-penny as they are in South America, but even we were impressed, so it must have been good! We also had a look around the remains of a huge fort on a hill above the town, and walked a large section of the city walls, stopping regularly for cold drinks. To say the heat and humidity were extreme would be an understatement – during the course of the day we twice had to retreat to the air-conditioned sanctuary of the hotel for a cool down, and in my case a change of t-shirt as well! We also attempted to visit a museum about the Spanish Inquisition, but not for the first time in recent weeks we were thwarted by an unexpected closure – this time it was for the filming of some biblical epic, complete with live animals and Jesus look-a-likes!

That evening we decided it was time for a nice meal and a bit of a party to celebrate the end of our South American adventure. We started with a delicious Argentine meal at Parilla Quebracho (steak and Malbec all round), and followed that up with a few beers at a couple of Salsa bars with balconies overlooking the town. We finished the night at Cafe Havana, a local favourite that had a live Salsa band and plenty of Cuban rum flowing till the early hours!

The one thing we couldn’t miss during our brief stop on Caribbean was a dip in the warm waters, so the next morning we set off for the beach of Bocagrande, a newer part of town with new high rise flats and hotels lining the beach. We rented one of the many slightly odd little shelters, complete with two plastic chairs, and within seconds of sitting down we were surrounded by hawkers. Not less than a minute after arriving Gem was refusing and then eating fresh crab and lime, and we were both having unsolicited foot massages! Once we’d settled in we were eventually left alone and enjoyed a pleasant and relaxing afternoon. Whilst it wasn’t quite the tropical paradise you might imagine, the warm waters were a good way to escape the heat!

The next morning we were woken early by a huge thunderstorm – the rain was torrential and the storm seemed to be directly overhead. As well as flooding the streets it also caused a power cut meaning we had to pack pretty much in the dark! We made it to the airport a couple of hours before our flight, sure that this would be plenty of time – but we hadn’t banked on Spirit Airlines!

Joining the long queue for check-in, we were approached by a member of staff asking to see our passports and our ESTA – the pre-approval required for tourists to enter the US. We’d completed this online earlier in the week, but you don’t normally need to show it to your airline, so we hadn’t bothered to print it. The woman was quite insistent however, so we had to find somewhere in the airport with a printer – a woman in a phone shop was good enough to help us, and we then returned to the back of the queue.

We finally made it to the desk, and the first of 3 check-in stages (why make things easy when you can make things difficult!). We were then asked to present our passports and ESTAs, which we duly did, and we were then asked to present written confirmation of our flights details for leaving the US. Having not really planned that far ahead we hadn’t booked one, so we reached a bit of an impasse! The woman was adamant that it was airline policy, and that we wouldn’t be allowed to board the flight without it, and check-in was now due to close in 20 minutes, so we were in a bit of a pickle! I left Gem arguing in Spanish with the supervisor whilst I legged it out of the terminal to try and find an internet cafe. I then franticly booked a flight from New York to London and ran back to the airport, several hundred pounds poorer.

We returned to the desk, the only people left to check-in, and the woman was finally satisfied, much to our relief! We still had to get through two more check-in stages, three security searches and two immigration checks before we at last boarded the plane – there had been a huge drugs bust at the port in Cartagena a few days earlier, which might explain the heightened security. Needless to say we were running late by this stage, but we were just glad to on our way – it had looked unlikely at one stage!

The flight itself was under 3 hours to Fort Lauderdale in Florida where we had to transfer. Everything was much smoother there and after a burger for dinner (suitably American) we were onto the 5 hour flight to Vegas. But for some slightly unnerving turbulence it all went fine and we’d made it to the States for next stage of our trip – no thanks to Spirit Airways!

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