Cartagena: Rosario Islands

Our first cruise to the Rosario Islands got cancelled. Today is our rescheduled catamaran cruise. The weather is perfect for sailing today.

Our destination is the Rosario Islands off of Cartagena.

Once on the boat we find a comfortable and shaded spot to hang out for our departure. We don’t need lots of sun exposure so it is enough to just have a good view of the water.

Once everyone has boarded we slowly head out to open waters. Funky music plays at a very enjoyable level. The music is mostly island music. The cruise is relaxing so far.

Once we are further out the blue-green colors are more noticeable. I can even see the reef below.

There are two stops and both have snorkeling. I didn’t try the snorkeling because the gear costs extra and the reefs didn’t look too amazing (I snorkeled in Great Barrier Reef and this couldn’t compare). I am happy just swimming around the boat. I thought it was cool to swim under the boat, something I’ve never done before.

There are people in small boats selling food and drinks at the stops. One guy cuts open coconuts and mixes a myriad of liquids from bottles from the floor of his boat. I reluctantly order this Coco Loco thinking it could end badly but fortunately I only have a happy buzz and don’t get sick afterwards. It is a unique experience watching someone make the drinks on a small dinky boat. I only regret being cheap and not buying lobster from the lobster guy. I’ve read it is supposed to be amazing.

The second stop is close enough to swim to a small beach for those that have some sort of swimming fitness. I saw some getting picked up and dropped off there on jet skis so you may be able to pay someone for that if you are not a strong swimmer. It is challenging swimming back due to the current.

The next couple pictures are taken with M’s go pro.

Our boat out there.

We swim back to the boat and they are serving some great seafood paella for lunch.

Seafood Paella

Beverage purchases are credit only. Many people only brought cash on the boat. I like not having to deal with cash but I only wish we could have paid for it all at the end instead of having to take the card out each time we wanted to order something.

As we head back we enjoy cruising to island music. We feel good, always a sign of a good day at sea. Luckily we didn’t die from our boat booze.

While back in town we stop to have an early dinner at Marzola Parrilla Argentina, an Argentinian restaurant that has some fun décor.

We end up once again at Cuba 1940 where we catch live music.

We head back to our favorite La Cevichería to order the curry shrimp once more and a dessert.

Guava melt with cheese, mint and mandarin juice

There is great people watching from our outside table.

LOL

There are many street performers right near where we eat. We catch “Michael Jackson” for a little while. He is a good impersonator.

Michael Jackson hopping onto a carriage

One very fun thing to watch is the street rappers of Cartagena. A guy will target a sometimes unsuspecting tourist and start following them and rapping along with music (they expect tips for the performance). I spent time trying to avoid these guys but later on M and I teased each other that we would get one of these guys to rap for the other. It is fun to watch when you aren’t the target.

We end up outside a champeta music bar (champeta is a style of island music of Colombia – combination of Colombian chalupa and Afro-Cuban percussive music). The club looks like fun and we almost go in but instead listen outside for a little bit. It is late and we are tired.

We love our time in Cartagena but we are off to Medellin tomorrow.

Cartagena is not a long plane ride from Florida. I’ll probably head back here sometime for a long weekend with friends.

Cartagena: Getsemani

It is M’s first full day in Cartagena with me. We have booked a cruise to the Rosario Islands. We could have traveled directly to an island to do a day of relaxing on the beach but from reviews it doesn’t seem like a relaxing option due to beach vendors constantly bothering you.

There are a couple different choices for a day cruise ranging from packed-like-sardines in a speedboat to a luxury yacht cruise. The speedboat option seems like it could be fun but we both agree we would prefer the more laid back (though more expensive) catamaran tour.

There is an early start of 8:00 for our tour. We leave early to ensure we arrive in time.

Morning walk to our boat tour

One we arrive we wait at the marina for quite a while.

Finally our boat arrives. It is a lovely sight to see.

After arrival we still wait to board. Eventually the staff announces that they are cancelling the cruise for the day due to strong winds at sea. We are disappointed.

Luckily we can reschedule in a couple days. There is already a line of people waiting for refunds to be processed or to book another day. They let us onto the boat to wait in comfort which is great because we get to use the very clean bathroom downstairs. M has a great idea of getting cheap morning beers from one of the vendors on the dock. It didn’t take much for her to talk me into one as well. We sip our beers while we wait our turn to rebook.

We have rebooked and the day is still early. We have a free day we did not plan for. We head from the marina area and decide to explore town a bit, stopping first in a nearby museum.

The museum we stop at is the Museo Naval del Caribe, the Museum of the Colombian Navy.

All the exhibits are in Spanish but we understand enough to get an idea of the history. The exhibits are heavy on the military and the sea. We had some playtime in a submarine for a bit.

Side Note: M and I combined have a pretty good grasp on Spanish. We seem to fill in each others gaps well. What she doesn’t remember I remember and vice-versa. It gives me a bit more confidence.

After the museum we decide to check out the funky neighborhood of Getsemani. Fortunately it is in walking distance so no taxi is necessary.

We pass through some more charming streets on the way and stop for arepas.

Narrow walkways

We stop at Quero Arepa for an arepa snack.

Sloth at Parque Del Centenario

We walk past Parque Del Centenario where it is said you can see monkeys but we instead find a sloth on a tree. He is snacking on some tree fruits. Some people are trying to feed him and pet him but we respectfully keep our distance.

Getsemani

We have arrived in Getsemani. The neighborhood of Getsemani is funky and colorful. We originally considered staying in his neighborhood but opted to be closer to the tourist sites. If I am ever to return I am definitely staying in Getsemani. I really like the vibe.

I see lots of street art in many different cities but it never seems to get old.

Flags hang from above, in this case flags from different countries.

We watch an artist at work.

Today is about walking, eating and drinking. We stop to try local fried foods at a hipster restaurant.

Cháchara restaurant
empanada sampler

We stop for food once again, this time to split a small pizza.

We end up down a narrow and colorful street shaded by colorful umbrellas.

We are almost out of Getsemani but not before we stop at a corner bar that sells sushi and beer. We order only beer.

Once back in the tourist area we climb the fortification walls to catch the sunset.

After dark I get to try the Russian themed bar near the apartment. We decided to test our luck and have a Moscow Mule at the KGB Bar. Back in the USSR!

Keeping the theme of Soviet area relics we head next to my happy place at Cuba 1940. We don’t stay for the band tonight but we will be back.

As we walk back to the apartment we peak into a service at a beautiful church.

Even though things did not go as planned our day ended up pretty great.

Tomorrow we head on a trip a little out of town to see the pink sea. Hopefully it is the perfect pink color.

Milford Sound

Today I am going on a day cruise of the famous Milford Sound in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fiord – a slither of sea between high cliffs. The weather today is beautiful as can be but I am told it is hard to have a bad cruise….even if it is raining the resulting waterfalls are magical. I take lots of photos but unfortunately they don’t do justice. It is impossible to capture what I see, feel, and think while I am there.

In the morning I head down to the car park at Milford Sound area where the day cruises launch. There is a self pay machine for parking. There is free parking but further away so today I just pay. As I pay I am attacked by sandflies. There is a little shop in the visitors center where I pick up some bug spray. I hope it helps.

I have a little while before my cruise begins so I walk along the water. The views are amazing just from the short alone.

I head down to the pier to board for the cruise. Today’s cruise is a two and half hour cruise. It seems pretty short so I hope it is worth the overnight trip down here. Many come down here from Queenstown by coach for just a short day cruise. It seems like a super long day.

My cruise boat

As the cruise starts we are already are greeted with a nearby waterfall.

As we head further and further the views keep getting better.

I admire the sides of the cliffs.

We catch some seals in the sun. I am loving the colors on these rocks as well.

We start to see all the waterfalls along the sides. It is beautiful. Apparently when it rains you will see even more. I’ve been told it is magical.

The boat cruises up to the cliff and the waterfall pours onto the boat and into glasses. They let us taste the fresh waterfall water.

More waterfalls

We reach the end of the fiord. Beyond this point is the vast sea. We turn around at this point and head back.

We arrive back at the port. I walk around a bit more to take some more pictures before I head off to Queenstown.

Same view as earlier but brighter now!

I am not sure the pictures capture the feeling of the cruise but perhaps this short video will….

My drive to Queenstown has many stops so I’ll post more on that later.

Melbourne Australia

View from my rental apartment

I have arrived in Melbourne Australia – a city I am really digging. The temperature is perfect and the vibe reminds me of a low-rise New York city. I think I could possibly live here some day.

I arrive at the airport and take the skybus to Southern Cross station. I take an uber from there to my airbnb.

Melbourne Airbnb

I plan to stay in Melbourne for a full week including Christmas so I wanted to get a hometown feel instead of staying in a hotel or hostel. I chose the funky neighborhood of Collingwood to stay in an Airbnb studio. The owner is an Australian artist now based out of the UK. Her specialty is imaginative collages. You can find her artwork at Collagism. Her artwork and interesting sense of style can be seen in the apartment.

I love having a “home” for the week. There are some poor neglected plants on the porch that I nurse the week I am there, giving me some sort of normalcy during my travels. Collingwood is a funky but sleepy neighborhood, I think it probably got hit by a recession in the area since it seems many places have closed nearby. There are still enough places in the neighborhood to keep me satisfied and it is nice to not stay in the middle of a tourist district. Collingwood is in walking distance to some town highlights and once I figure out the trams it isn’t hard to get to where all the important sites are.

I head out to meet with another travel buddy whom I met on my Jordan tour in September. Melbourne is her hometown and she has some spare time before the holidays to meet with me tonight. We met at a lively café on the river for a snack and and a cocktail. She has to work tomorrow so we don’t stay out late.

Once again I am very thankful once again I get to meet so many great people during my travels.

After walking my friend to the train I wander around town looking at holiday lights. The Christmas holiday is in two days so Melbourne is full of color.

When it is time to head back I couldn’t quite figure out tram in the evening so just took UBER back. Luckily by the next day I had it figured out.

I am loving the nighttime view from my apartment.

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve. If the holiday is anything like in the USA then most things will be shutdown tomorrow. I head to the grocery store to stock up on goodies for tomorrow – including Meredith Dairy Goat Feta which I am addicted to.

Coincidently a friend from high school is in Melbourne at the same time as I. She is stopping in Melbourne to meet some of her clients before she heads off to her honeymoon in Fiji. I meet up with her and her lovely husband for a day of fun. (Interestingly enough we both lived in NYC at the same time for about 4 years and for some reason we were never able to meet up. It took traveling to Australia to see each other again!)

We meet up for brunch. So many times I dine alone and most of the time I don’t mind being on my own but it is very nice to have company, especially around the holidays.

Then we head off to our river cruise down the Yarra River.

I almost wear this to my river cruise today. My apartment has fun props.
Cruise boat

We stand up in the back. There is clearance for us to stand under most bridges but at least one makes us duck down.

Our cruise drops us off at Williamstown where we explore a little bit. Williamstown is Melbourne’s first port settlement. There are stores and cafes. We settle on a outdoor seating area and chat for a while. When it is the scheduled time for our return trip we head back to the port to catch the return journey.

The fun isn’t over when we return to Melbourne city. We decide to try it out at a roof top bar for a little while. We don’t stay too long though. Each one of us seems to want to get back to our lodging for the rest of the evening (something typical for us 40 somethings). Besides it has been a long day!

This is the kind of joint we are at
Rooftop cocktails

Finally figured out the tram system and I wander back to my apartment just in time for this glorious sunset.

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have no plans. I plan to eat and relax all day long….

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Disclaimer: All pictures on this post are taken by me except the underwater photos which are taken by the boat photographer. Photo credit: Down Under Dive @ Great Barrier Reef

I lost a day in Cairns when my flight to Australia is cancelled. Luckily I am able to reschedule my great barrier reef cruise to my last day. Visiting the great barrier reef is a bucket list item. The way we destroy our planet there probably isn’t much time to still see the reef in all its glory. During my sabbatical planning I almost passed up this opportunity because it is supposed to be stinger season and a bad time to go (jelly fish are supposed to be abundant). On top of the stinger the weather is questionable in December. Luckily the cruise, Down Under Cruise and Dive, has stinger suits to borrow to prevent stings by jellyfish and it happens to be a lovely day at the reef. I really couldn’t have picked a better day to go. Lucky me!

Growing up near water I never had a urge to scuba dive (like surfing) but for some reason during my travels it is something I really wanted to tackle. Due to health issues it is a questionable activity for me at this time and since I don’t really have time to clear it with my doctor I decide to play it safe and snorkel instead. Note: When I return the USA my doctor tells me that scuba diving would be ok for me – DARN. MAYBE NEXT TIME.

Don’t get me wrong, snorkling at the Great Barrier Reef is amazing, but there is so much more to see at the deeper lengths (Clownfish for one).

our boat

As the cruise starts we go in the dining area inside to get instructions and a safety spiel. We will stop at two reefs and have a lunch buffet in between.

Inside the boat

We get fitted for the equipment and I take the optional stinger suit just in case. We are assigned a cubbie hole to hold our borrowed equipment.

It is a little more complicated for the scuba divers. I unfortunately did not scuba dive this time.

We have a little time to enjoy the cruise before we get to our first stop.

Stop 1 Saxon Reef

We are almost at our first reef to explore. I put on my stinger suit and get my equipment ready. I am not sure what to expect down below.

The water looks amazingly clear. I jump in.

There is a roped area that we are supposed to stay inside. Also there is a flotation device in the middle if you need to rest. Once I stick my head in the water I find I don’t need the flotation device. I spend my time floating face down marveling at all I see. Saxon Reef is full of vivid and beautiful corals. I don’t spring for the underwater camera nor could I find the photographer to get a photo of me this time around. Below is a selection of some of the shots from the photographer that are included in the pictures I purchase on board.

Below is more examples of corals I see. I do notice some bleaching of the corals but I am amazed of how good the corals do look. I see very beautiful colors. I mostly keep my head face down in the water only bobbing up when the lifeguards give the whistle to do a safety check on us. I am notoriously bad at hearing the safety guards but only once I am whistled at for getting too close to the outer barrier.

We return to the boat to eat lunch and travel to our next location.

I get a little of everything on the buffet

I relax a bit on the top deck.

Stop 2 Hastings reef

Even though there don’t seem to be any jellyfish out I wear the stinger suit once more just to be safe.

I really notice the reef decline at Hastings reef. Parts of it are vivid in color and beautiful but a large part of it looks dead. I can see lots of coral bleaching. I also notice bright purple and bright yellow coral. I see white coral with blue eye tentacles, many striped fish, and polka dot fish. Bright blue and purple fish. The fish come right up to me.

Example below of bleached and dull reef.

These are neat. Also look at that rainbow fish!

I finally find the underwater photographer to get some photos taken.

When I return to the boat I order a celebratory beer for the trip back.

We arrive back at the pier.

The pier is not too far from my hostel so I decide to walk back. In my walk I see mud flats and do some birdwatching.

Outdoor water recreation area

I stop at an outdoor restaurant on the waterfront. It is here that I realize there could be a communication issue in this country even though I technically speak the language. I order fries (chips) and ask for ketchup with my fries. The server has no idea what I am asking for. I finally realize that ketchup is tomato sauce in Australia. Something to put in my memory banks for the next few weeks.

Dessert I order

Today has been a great day. I love my great barrier experience and would love to come back again and scuba dive so I can see the fish at deeper lengths.

My visit to Cairns is short and tomorrow I head to Melbourne to start my adventures down south. I am excited to see things in other parts of the country.