Thursday, July 06, 2006

Where's Waldo?

We'll, I'm back. A lot's happened since I last posted, so I'll try to give the short version. The good news is, I should be able to post more regularly from here on. We're in our new apartment, my desk arrives on Saturday, and for the first time since moving to Colombia, I'll have an ideal set up for writing, researching, or surfing the web. You might think that a good environment doesn't matter, but trust me, it does.

Anyway, Cartagena was nice. I definitely enjoyed myself, but we both agreed, the Hilton totally sucks. It wasn't our choice to stay there, the conference organizers chose the site, but we don't ever want to go back. The fact that it has 5 stars just demonstrates the faults in the "star" system. It's an old, poorly situated, gringo hotel in the middle of a caribbean resort town. In short, that hotel deserves no more than 3 stars (except that they obviously reward hotels with stars based on the prices, not the quality).

The one shining thing about the Hilton is the pool, or should I say, pools. It definitely has a great pool area. Of course, shockingly, the pool bar doesn't have stools to sit in (when you're in the water), so that's a bit odd and unacceptable, but I really can't find room to complain. There's a water slide, 3 diferent levels of poolage, and several hot tubs (that weren't hot since it was about a trillion degrees outside and they didn't want to kill anyone).

But that's where the qualities of the Hilton start and stop. The beach...iy, yi, yi...where to begin. Well, it's small, that's for sure. In fact, given the number of guests, there's no way that the beach could come close to accomodating the capacity of the hotel. Not by a long shot. But also, the Hotel is situated at the very end of the beach (western end) and on the cusp of an inlet. So, the reality is, even if the beach was nice, it's in a terrible place - it's not scenic, the water isn't the best, and you can't go out very far.

Equally surprising was the restaurant. I say "restaurant" because I never could find the pizza joint and the only other restaurant was an insanely overpriced steak place - which just boggles the mind. Who the hell goes to the caribbean to eat a giant steak? Costeno food is awesome - coconut rice, whole fried fish, ceviches, etc. Why would I ever think of eating steak, unless I'd so gorged myself on seafood that I needed a change. Apparently, everyone else thought that as well, since the fancy restaurant had nary a soul every time I walked by.

At any rate, the restaurant we frequented wasn't bad, it just didn't have much in the way of Colombian food or Costeno food. I guess it shouldn't surprise since it's the Hilton, but still. Gringo food is great, when prepared by gringos. But a restaurant should play to it's strengths and serve food appropriate to the region. Especially since I could count the number of gringos in the hotel on no more than 2 hands.

Finally, the hotel quite far from the Old City (Ciudad Antigua) meaning that it's quite inconvienant to go back and forth. This is ok if you're staying at a truly 5-star resort like Las Americas, but it's terrible if you're at the Hilton.

Of course, the solution to these problems was found in eating outside of the hotel. We had dinner one night a nice restaurant set up within a weak stone throw from the hotel's private "beach". It obviously caters to dissatisfied Hilton guests as the food was classicly costal, incredibly delicious (garlic fish, mmm), and Fing cheap. On another night, we went into the Old City and had a lovely meal in one of the main plazas, whilst (I teach the Queen's English, for F's sake) being regailed by various types of indigenous dance and music. Now that was a quality experience.

So in the end, Cartagena was just as nice as it was the first time, but the hotel left a lot to be desired. I think the clear lesson here is, when going to Cartagena, either stay inside the Old City (Santa Clara) or stay at Las Americas. All other options are not worth considering.

Anyway, after coming back from Cartagena, we had a busy week of preparing to move, capped off with Diana taking a 1-night trip to Cali for a meeting with some doctors. Last Saturday we moved to the 116 (the hotel that my wedding guests stayed at was at the 100 and the 15 - not far from where we live now). It was the easiest and most pleasurable move I've ever made. Part of that was because we really didn't have that much stuff. All of our furniture is being delivered this Saturday, so aside from clothes and wedding gifts, we really only had a bed, two small tables, a TV, and a fridge.

But, the move was really easy as well because Colombia is a service country, so we just hired people to help us. Our empleada (maid) packed up our kitchen stuff (some dishes and food), her son helped us disassemble the bed, and the movers came and moved everything for us. So you really can't ask for much better.

We spent the rest of the 3rd 3-day weekend in a row cleaning, shopping, and organizing. It was a grand old time and we'll be totally happy when our new furniture arrives. I'll be sure to take pictures of the apartment and post them in this space. From our windows, on a good day, you can see Mount Serrate.

Ok, that's about it from this end for the moment. I have future posts planned about driving in Bogota, teaching english, listening to the radio, and, of course, politics. But those will have to wait. I have to do some studying.


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