Wednesday 01st July 2015
I took off with Qantas from Brisbane domestic airport to Sydney at 8.25am. I had flown Tiger Airways, Jetstar and Virgin Australia, the three other airlines flying in Australia, but not with Qantas yet! They are known to be the most expensive airline to fly with. I found the customer service really good. The man at the counter took his time to explain me about all connections, the woman at the x’ray apologised three times that she had to rescan my bag and the batteries separately although she really didn´t have to, and I was greeted with a ´´Welcome Miss Leroy´´ when I boarded. Nice one! Shouldn´t all airlines welcome each passenger like this?! Would be great hey! Here was Brisbane from the sky.
Bye bye Brisbane, see you again in 7 months! I arrived in Sydney at 10am and went to Gate 15 to board the airtrain which took me to the international terminal. If you ever need, the United counter is the most extreme right, after Qantas. There I just presented the luggage ticket Qantas had issued me so the woman could just check it somehow, and she gave me the boarding pass for United. Then I went to the x’ray, and right after the x´ray was the TRS, alias Tourism Refund Scheme. I had most of my receipts from the 2 last months of things bought in stores for more than 300AUD in the same store. The woman gave me a form to fill on which there was the possibility to enter for 3 shops. I needed to enter the ABN, the name of object, the price and date of purchase and total price for all purchases. The form was really small and ultimately she told me to just put all receipts in the envelop and she would post that. I didn´t have to show any of the items. It was feasible to do it in such a short time, but there is actually an app apparently that you can use to pre enter the details before to get there so even better. If you ever need to buy something from the pharmacy in the Sydney international terminal, there is one right in front of Gate 30. And then I was off in the United plane at 10am for 13 hours from Sydney to San Francisco. Bye’bye Australia! From the plane, there was a beautiful sunset with awesome colours that lingered around for quite a while.
Then I got to San Francisco on the same day 01st July at 8.35am. My next plane was with Jetblue at 11.32pm. I picked up my luggage and went to the SFO International Terminal in which Jetblue is located to do the check’in. They told me I could only drop the luggage 6 hours before the flight or after the flight, but not earlier. They issued me the boarding tickets though for the flight to Fort Lauderdale and then Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena. Out of curiosity, I went to see how much luggage storage was in the only place doing it called ´Travel Agency´and they were charging 35 dollars for the day! I was really glad I had booked an airbnb for the day! So I went to the BART and got a ticket for Colma. Now the machine issuing the tickets was very funny. You entered a note or a credit card and the price started at 20 dollars and then you had to check the price for where you were going on the board and then click on buttons to substract or add several times 1 dollars or 5 cents in order to get to the price and then press the main button to issue the ticket. Took me a while to figure it out! Three stops later and I was in Colma and had printed the map from the station to my airbnb hosts. I walked about 10 to 15 minutes and got to their house. I quite liked this suburbial atmosphere with the hills in the background, it was interesting and there were very interesting old cars and cool houses.
It was a very nice retired Taiwanese couple Nancy and Chi and their son Henk who was studying at Berkeley and flying the next night to Mexico to go learn Spanish for 6 weeks. I arrived around 11am I think and had some chat with them then got a shower and Nancy by that time had made some really awesome authentic Chinese food which was delicious and I ate with them. Then Henk gave me the keys and explained me how to close the house. Then I went for a nap for 1h30 while they went out to go do some errands. Feeling a bit better, I walked to the station again and there I asked a woman how to get to the Coit tower. Her name was Maria and her parents were from Mexico and she was super friendly. We started chatting and I explained I didn´t know the area and was on my way to South America and she told me she had seen Macchu Picchu 27 years ago! She gave me awesome explanations and gave me 2 train tickets and even 2 dollars in 1 dollar notes to use for the bus! Then I was off to Montgomery station in the centre. Of course I missed the stop and finished in West Oakland, on the other side of the river. So I took the train back again, and actually it was interesting to see West Oakland as that´s where they receive all Chinese containers and ship some too.
So I finally got off at Montgomerry and of course I walked in the wrong direction. I couldn´t bother turning back by the time I realised that so I walked to the pier and then walked along the river. Then up the stairs to the Coit tower. Here is the tower afar before I climb the stairs.
Made it to the Coit tower. I was actually lucky to get in as they were closing the counter 5 minutes after. I was the last visitor of the day in the lift with a family of 4 Indian people, the parents visiting their 2 sons living in San Francisco. From the tower, the view was really beautiful. I had been to San Francisco for a few days 9 years before, when I used to live in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a year, but I had totally forgotten that most of San Francisco is quite flat actually and very white. Very pretty city.
After taking in the view from the top, I walked through the streets towards the wharf. There I booked a ticket to go on a boat from 7pm to 8pm to Golden Gate Bridge and back. I just had time to walk into Pier 39 and buy some of the delicious Ghiradelli chocolates made in San Francisco.
A mother in the store was in a total panic mode because she had lost from sight her 5’year old boy and everyone started looking for him. Lucky a woman brought him back after 10 minutes and the mother couldn´t help thanking her and crying and her little boy crying too, what a moment! I boarded the boat and it was super windy and getting cold, I was glad to have in my backpack some layers to put on! The boat ride was awesome. What was incredible was to see hundreds of pelicans flying left and right of the boat constantly. And they were grey pelicans! In Australia, I have only seen white ones. I don´t remember seeing grey ones before actually.
And we made it to the Golden Gate Bridge. I remember having that fascination for this bridge 9 years ago too and even having struggled to get there to walk on it but seeing it from the river was actually much better than being on it.
On the way back we went around Alcatraz. Alcatraz means pelican in Spanish. Originally the name came from the fact that there were many pelicans on this big rock. It was used as a prison from 1933 to 1963.
Right off the boat, I jumped in a taxi to get as fast as possible to Montgomery. The taxi ride was just 12 dollars. There I actually had to wait 17 minutes for the next train to Colma, annoying. Back in Colma around 9pm, I walked very quickly to the house of Nancy, Chi and Henk and just had time there to pack the bags again and say good´bye. They were really kind and Henk gave me a lift to Colma train station. I got onto the BART of 9.35pm to the airport. There I got confused between what was on my ticket saying Terminal 1 and what they said about Jetblue, and walked around for a quite a while until I found the Jetblue counter. I did the baggage drop. There I looked at the total weight of both bags and it said 24 kilos. No way. I thought I had taken 20. This is way too much. What the hell did I put in my bags! Then I walked quite a while again to go to the x’ray thingy. I was glad I had arrived not too short in time! There they were closing the food counter and I got the last chicken salad. I was sitting and eating it when a small boy came and told me “Hey look, it is our plane behind you!” So I turned around and indeed there was our plane, and actually it made a nice photo with the window reflection.
In the plane, I sat next to a teenager and his dad. They were from San Francisco and going to Fort Lauderdale to see the parents of the dad to catch’up for 5 days. We took off at 11.32pm and were landing at 5.34am which was 3 hours more in Florida, so 8.34am there. Jetblue was distributing some masks for the eyes but no blanket and I was glad I had ¨borrowed¨ the blanket from United! The seatback screens had 42 channels of crap American TV shows with more advertising than anything. Outside of the window, there was beautiful lightning in the clouds and the full moon was shining. Later on, the sunrise colours were amazing again. Love sunrises from the sky!
I slept most of the time. Got to Fort Lauderdale at 8.34am. I was glad to have 4 hours lay-over actually. Got some brekky at Jumbo Juice with a nice juice and enjoyed it while recharging the phone and using the WiFi. I started reading about all the possible scams in Cartagena and of course started to freak out a bit. Here is an article about the 25 scams to avoid. Great. http://www.caribenet.com/cartagena/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=90 I also got some rice and chicken and ate half of it and spared the rest for the evening. Then boarded the plane. It was a 3h30 flight and by that time I was so exhausted I just slept most of the way with my jetblue eye mask on and my United blanket. And there I was, in Cartagena, Colombia. I picked up my backpack. And here started the fear a bit. Oh my g…I was in Colombia! Surely there would be 100 of people in the terminal just waiting to rob me. And what about withdrawing money without getting distracted by people who would rob the card, the money and the bags too at the same time hey. But no, nothing of that happened. It was very safe. I had read on a blog that there was a taxi booth where to tell the destination and they gave a ticket price for the taxi. I couldn´t see it in the international terminal so I walked around and asked in my poor crappy inexistant Spanish where the counter was. I can´t speak but as Spanish is close to French, I am lucky that I can understand a bit better. A woman explained to go to the end of the domestic terminal where I would see the sign Taxi Taxi outside, and there it was. Showed the address of the hotel I had booked and the woman gave me a taxi receipt for 10,000 COP to pay. Then I walked to the taxi man. They are yellow cars. The taxi driver offered me twice to put the big backpack in the trunk but I heard so many stories that no, thanks, I insisted to have it with me on the back seat. Let´s start having good habits from the start hey, for the one day where the taxi I get in will not be as trustable. And here we were, off to Cartagena centre. I didn´t take my camera out a single time during the trip, just too scared. I noticed two things with that taxi driver though. The first was that he didn´t wear his seatbelt. The second that he had put dark paper on the windows everywhere and was not wearing sunglasses. Interesting. He dropped me at the hotel Él Viajero in Calle Porvenir that I had found in the Lonely Planet and in which I had booked a single room for 4 nights. I gave him a note of 20,000 COP and he gave me back a 10,000 COP note. I looked at it and it didn´t have some of the grey silver doted line the 20,000 COP note has, so I thought it was a fake and told him. Welcome to Paranoia land, when you read too much about the bad stuff before you go. He grabbed the note, turned on the light, and showed me the watermark on the note. I apologised a lot and got out of the taxi. With the 2 bags. Nothing stolen yet. Then walked into the restaurant, realised that was the wrong door and went out, walked on the left to the stairs up and to the reception. Met Astrid from the hotel I had been in touch with by email. She said no worries, here is your key, go have a shower and come later for the passport thing. They had put the air conditioning on, and it was great as Cartagena is currently 32 to 34 degrees temperature and hot and humid. Yummy. That´s exactly the weather time around January – February that I hate the most in Brisbane. Why the hell did I pick up this destination again? Nevermind. So I went to the room. Switched automatically to the routine traveller mode, plugged in the stuff to recharge, washed my clothes with soap and hanged them and had a shower. Then I went downstairs and paid for the 4 nights. I was disappointed because most rooms seemed empty and I had hoped to meet some fellow travellers hanging around downstairs at the tables or something, but no one there. I was tired and a bit paranoid. Just stayed in the room and decided to have the rest of the rice and snacks I had saved from the Jetblue flight. Fell asleep around 9pm. Here I was in Cartagena, Colombia for my first day. And sorry, no photo. Too scared that first afternoon! I know that what you are all waiting for is to know more about Colombia itself and Cartagena, but I stupidly didn´t take with me my notebook computer. That would have been much easier. I tell you what, blogging from an internet cafe is bloody slow and annoying. Luckily I got there at 3.30pm today Saturday, they said they were closing at 4pm but it is now 5.40pm and still not closing. I like that Latin America sense of punctuality when it is in this way! Unfortunately they are closed tomorrow Sunday and then I am off to Santa Marta on Monday so not sure when I will be able to post the next article about Cartagena and the rest. At some point I guess…Well at least off to post this first post! Oh and my keyboard is weird so apologies if the punctuation looks a bit funny sometimes, can´t figure out where some of the characters are…!