The arrival felt surreal.
It wasn’t that hot sticky weather — I had a lot of that growing up in Hawaii and living in Florida. But after my plane left the Sunshine State then 2 ½ hours later made its final descent into Cartagena, I got that tingly feeling you get when you suspect something good is going to happen.
This was five years ago last week, and it turned out to be something great, one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.
Paisas often ask me why I live in Medellín. The answer is always the same: the people, the weather, the cost of living.
But there’s another layer to it. I never would have made a vacation to Medellín last May and fallen in love with the city if I had not taken that 2007 trip to Cartagena first.
So let’s look at it this way: my vacation to Medellín is the original story; my move here is the sequel; and the Cartagena vacation is the prequel.
This is how it goes…
The year 2006 was coming to an end, a year in which I traveled to Germany during the World Cup with a brief visit to Amsterdam.
The majority of my trip was spent in Cologne and I decided after that, after soaking in the friendly culture and the energy of the world’s most popular sport, I would make another trip out of the United States the next year.
I knew it would probably be to South America. It sat atop my list with Europe, of the continents I wanted to visit. But where to go?
Peru always intrigued me. Almost everyone I know wants to go to Machu Picchu, or has been there and told me nothing but good things about it.
Or I could do Argentina. Or Chile maybe, maybe Brazil. Yeah, Brazil. Wait, no, not Brazil. I didn’t have the money to go when I really wanted to go, during Carnaval.
Chile and Argentina were too expensive too. That left Peru. Until I talked to my good friend David Plazas.
I told David that I wanted to make my first trip to South America this year, that I was thinking about Peru, maybe finally making a walk among the famous ruins west of Cusco.
“What about Colombia?” he said.
I dismissed it from my mind. “I’m not sure I should go there,” I said and he looked at me like I never learned to read. David’s father is from a small Colombian town called Isa, about 150 miles northeast of Bogotá.
Most of the country is quite safe now, he assured me, then he pulled out some pictures of a trip to Cartagena.
He showed me pictures on the beach, at the fortress overlooking the city built in the battle for independence, of the colonial architecture in the Old Town area still surrounded by cannon-dotted walls also used in the freedom fight — an abundance of beauty and history that I wanted to capture in photographs, my own photographs.
“I’m going to Colombia!” I told him.
I saw everything he saw, experienced almost everything he experienced. I say almost with regards to the experience part because no two trips to one city are exactly alike. (Just ask the U.S. Secret Service!)
For example, David still lives in Fort Myers. His success as a journalist means the footprints he leaves there don’t require dirt on his shoes or sand under his feet.
For me that little city on Florida’s Gulf Coast is just a long footnote or a short story in my life, the most important part being that Fort Myers served as the starting line for an adventure that is only five years in the making.