Thursday, June 7, 2012

¿hablas inglés?

Sure, I went out once in Medellín, but I was traveling for almost three weeks; I was desperate to mingle with a younger crowd again by the time the following weekend came around. Luckily, Cartagena is one of Colombia's most attractive cities for visitors. It's obvious: the restored streets of the Old City are refreshingly safe with fabulous restaurants, boutiques, entertainment options, and hotels around every corner. And if that's not all, the 400-year-old stone walls that encircle it are all intact and easy to climb, thus encouraging romantic views of the ocean.
With that said, tourist circles aren't necessarily easy to infiltrate; they're usually made up of family members, or couples, or groups of one or the other or both. Backpacking crowds on the other hand...
So, when we passed a group of five foreigners walking back from dinner one night, I decided to be proactive in my quest. I assured my grandmother I would simply walk back to the restaurant to chat with them. If they appeared nice and normal, I'd ask them what they were doing that night and see if I could join them in their plans. She was nervous for me but understood, and so she wished me luck and sent me on my way. I went back down the street, saw them sitting at an outdoor table... and walked straight past. Talking to strangers is kind of scary! Especially when they're a group of five good looking guys. Oh, did I not mention that? Well, in addition to knowing backpackers are friendlier than tourists, I've also found I am more well received by guys than I am girls. Unfortunate, but true. 

"¿Hablan inglés?," I asked. 

"Yes," they replied in varying accents.

I then proceeded to ask them what there is to do for fun here, being that I'm approaching the nightlife scene solo and am only in Cartagena for a short time. They admitted to hardly being experts but invited me to join them that night. I did. And it ended up being my most fun night--with those my own age, that is.

Sounds risky, does it? It was, but not in the ways you're imagining. To begin with, as I said earlier, the Old City of Cartagena is safe and secure and tourist police, in particular, are plentiful. Secondly, I approached a table of strangers in a public setting at a time when there were plenty of people out and about. Thirdly, I am trained in self-defense and had my cousin's cellphone to use if I stumbled into a compromising situation. And finally, I'm thoroughly familiar with the hostel scene. I've discovered, time and time again, that people who choose to travel this way are interesting, fun, and well-versed in the lifestyle of quickly making friends and appreciating new places. In addition to the original five guys I met (from Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, and the U.S.A., none of whom knew each other longer than a couple of days), I met a teacher from Holland, two artists from Germany, a former Israeli soldier, a scientist from New Zealand, and two grad students from Oklahoma that might very well know my best friend's friends. I wasn't carrying anything valuable, I was a few blocks away from the apartment, and I was open to making unforgettable memories with an awesome group of people. I'm just so glad I had the nerve to approach 'em.


Penny for your thoughts...