First Impressions of Cartagena

First Impressions of Cartagena

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Beyond Friendly, Great Food, Insane Heat…and Boobies

Three weeks ago today we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, our new home for the first part of 2018.

I wanted to share my first impressions, especially for those of you who may be most familiar with Cartagena from the movie Romancing the Stone (complete with imagery of narcos and running from them in the jungle). That movie was actually shot in Mexico, by the way, but that’s for another day…

First, the Heat

We were worried about this before we arrived and it turns out we were right. It runs 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit most days, but actually feels closer to 100 degrees with humidity.

A little considered impact of this heat: we have not yet worked out how to buy ice cream and get it home from the grocery store (no joke). One day we naively believed we’d solved this dilemma by purchasing ice cream bars in the pharmacy in the lobby of our building. Only to find they had melted before we completed the elevator ride up to our apartment.

Saying that, our new apartment is located on the 24th floor facing the ocean and has such an amazing through breeze that we don’t use the air conditioning at all during our day at work. Plus, at night it’s much cooler. In the evenings walking into town is delightful. No jacket required.

The Walls

The first thing that strikes you wandering this city are the walls around the old town. Cartagena is one of the world’s best known fortified cities and the massive walls and turrets make for some great photo opportunities and an amazing place to watch the sunset. Watching the sun dip below the horizon over the ocean is one of the city residents’ favorite activities. For some bars to catch a sunset from the wall, don’t miss my post, Best Bars in Cartagena to Watch the Sunset.

However, we’ve also realized the walls are a royal pain in the ass! If you want to exit the old city by foot to get to our apartment building (very close on the other side), there is only a small tunnel on our side that closes at night (that’s me in it in the photo). If a taxi wants to exit from the grocery store to our place below is a view of the tortured route it has to take.

So the walls are beautiful, historic, but today sometimes rather impractical! Hard not to see the irony that they built this fortification in the 1600s to keep out the invasion of Brits like me. And today it’s still kind of working.


Our Taxi’s Route home (forgive the crude drawing).

Beyond Friendly

They say Colombians know how to enjoy life and our real first experience of this city has been searching for an apartment. We expected this to be challenging, but the reality is we felt like the whole city wanted to help us. From our first taxi driver, to a friend we made online in the expat forum on facebook who took us around apartments just to be helpful, to the person serving breakfast in our hotel who actually found us our place, EVERYONE was searching for an apartment that met Honey and my requirements (enough space for 2 separate offices).


As we wander, it’s hard to miss the smiles on the street. Although we look like gringos, we feel welcomed and safe.

We asked a few people what the impression of Americans (and Brits) is here, and the answer was refreshing. Somewhat paraphrased:

“We’re just so happy to have visitors from abroad coming again that we really want them to enjoy their time here”. That’s certainly been our impression so far, and the result is that we found a great place to live and work!  Here’s the view from my new favorite new reading spot.

A Few More Snapshots

I’m sure I’ll write in future posts about the money ($300 US dollars makes you a millionaire in Colombian pesos) and the language (very different to Mexican words and accent).

For now, let me leave you with a few more shots of this colorful and friendly Caribbean city, which is a unique juxtaposition of old and new. Think Miami Beach meets New Orleans meets city walls that are uniquely Cartagenan!


Oh right, the Boobies..

See, I knew you’d keep scrolling down (smile). I had heard that Columbia was one of the world’s plastic surgery capitals and yes there are a lot of ridiculously beautiful women here wearing very little clothes (especially in the tourist areas).

I’m afraid no photos on this one, so you’ll just have to believe me the outfits are rather similar to what you’d see at the Burning Man festival in terms of level of covering up body parts (or rather not). Seeing as I refuse to get all stalkerish and take photos you’ll have to put up with this google link if you want more.

Till next time!


What to do in San Miguel de Allende

What to do in San Miguel de Allende

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For those of you considering a visit, here’s my favorite list as a local, of what to do in San Miguel de Allende. A run down of recommended must-not-miss experiences.

This is in addition to my favorite activity which will always be hanging in the Best Rooftop Bars in San Miguel de Allende!

Bask in the Colors

This might be my favorite part of San Miguel. Just wander the town and enjoy the colors and seasons. It seems like every day is a festival here and often you’ll come across some random parade. Sometimes even the locals don’t know why today is a party.

Cañada de la Virgen Pyramids

Yes pyramids, in Northern Mexio. Archaeologists didn’t count this area as within the zone where they would find pyramids and yet just recently… tada! We took the tour with Albert Coffee with one of our guests and I thoroughly recommend it.

Murals and Street Art

This is a part of San Miguel that many miss, but in the last seven years the neighborhood of Guadalupe has come to life with amazing murals covering the sides of houses and warehouses, some by world famous artists who come to San Miguel just to paint. You can start at Via Organica cafe and wander from there, but the absolute best way to see and understand the murals is a tour by Muros en Blanco given by Colleen Sorenson, who has been one of the biggest proponents of supporting street art in San Miguel (ten years ago it was forbidden).

Horseback Riding through the Cactus

Just amazing to see the seasons change from flowering cactus to waterlogged rivers to dry again. There are lots of outfitters around town, but we’ve been loyal to Beth of Leisurely Country Horseback Riding who runs a great half day ride up to the top of a mountain ridge with friendly local guides and horses.

Hot Springs

A fabulous way to relax and refresh after spending a few days wandering the city. There are several hot spring pools just outside of town (a cheap ten to fifteen minute taxi ride). La Gruta, Escondido Place, Los Senderos being the ones we’ve enjoyed. This picture is Los Senderos.

Doors and Door Knockers

A bit like the colors, if you wander around Centro you’ll come across the most fascinating doors and door knockers. There’s a reason that Doors of San Miguel gives you hundreds of results on google images!

Bug Watching

If you follow my blog you may have seen my post admitting to a VW Beetle Obsession. I finally got a photo of the gringo who drives around town in a car piled high with plush toys that changes by season. For Easter the car was piled high with bunnies and eggs. Valentines brought pink bears and hearts, and this photo has red, green and white for Mexican independence day in September. Below are a few more of my favorite shots from the last months including a bug on top of a bug?

Rent a Car and Get out of Town

As if the items above weren’t enough to keep you occupied for a week or two (add in walking tours, museums, great dining and rooftop bars), there also the option to rent a car and get out of town. We visited Queretero (quaint downtown), Guanajuato (colorful and fun), and the Sierra Gorda mountains and Huasteca Potosina (need a few days for this trip but amazing waterfalls and very different food). Bajigo rents car for a reasonable price per day, all insurance included. To finish, here’s two shots of gorgeous Guanajuato.
Of Hope and Hummingbirds

Of Hope and Hummingbirds

Tales from the Querying Trenches

One of my favorite activities (or lack of activity) in San Miguel is to watch the hummingbirds in our garden. Lately, as I’m deep into book querying (that’s when you search for an agent), I’m increasingly drawn to these tiny flying frenzies, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

My life as a writer is more peaceful than my previous corporate life, even if full of micro disappointments, as writer’s lives tend to be. So why relate to a bird that lives every day on the knife-edge of oblivion?

I’ll be lying in the hammock, immersed in a book when I hear that familiar machine gun volley of chirps and a bright azure spark will be hovering by the feeder, its wings thrumming, guzzling sugar water as if its life depended on it. Which, in fact, it does.

I believe that daily frenzied struggle, with no option to quit, is why these birds have me captivated.

As I wait to hear back from agents on my book, attempting to strike a precarious balance between optimism and despair, I’m increasingly drawn to the avian equivalent of the little engine that could. 

You see, evolution dealt these little critters a hard blow. Originally derived from swifts (you can see the similarities when they dive), hummingbirds lost more and more weight as generations went by. They developed a unique figure-of-eight wing flap, all to better to hover next to flowers. But this helicopter-style flight (they can fly horizontally and upside down) takes a huge toll on their metabolism.

Flapping one’s wings at up to 80 strokes a second requires their tiny heart to beat over 1200 times a minute. With a frighteningly fast metabolism to power all that activity, they must find and consume more than half their body weight in sugar every day, just to survive. 

Which means every time a hummingbird stops eating, they risk dying. At night, to avoid a scenario where their bodies stop functioning for lack of sugar, they go into a state of torpor, aka short term hibernation (where their metabolic rate drops by 95% and heart drops to only 50 instead of 1200 beats a minute).

The fact is that very morning a hummingbird risks being too weak to kick-start its own heart and never waking up again.

So why do hummingbirds speak to me as a writer?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘write or die’, but it’s not as if I believe that to be true.

For me, writing is a privilege I’m afforded because I’m not living on a knife edge, unable to pay the rent this month (although it helps to pay rent at Mexico rates!).

However, this lack of struggle (not writing for survival) also increases the temptation to quit, or at least to stop believing. When an agent doesn’t appreciate my ‘”voice” or doesn’t “connect with my characters”, it’s all too easy to fall into the self-pity trap of thinking perhaps I’m not cut out for this writer thing?

And then there’s writer jealousy. You know that habit of comparing oneself to other writers that pokes in uninvited and asks questions like “Why did she get an agent before me?” or “Did you see how much more beautiful her writing is than yours?”.

Even while writing this blog post I discovered an essay from a writer who passed away, which talks of hummingbirds with more eloquence than I ever could. This happens to me rather often. My style and voice are commercial and I pine after literary writing, despite knowing that particular style isn’t my gift to share with the world.

I’m going to pause and quote some of that amazing essay by Brian Doyle, because part of my journey is learning to appreciate the work of others who have different talents and I just adored his writing.

“Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms… Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

From The American Scholar: Joyas Voladoras (Flying Jewels)

Beautiful, right?

I’ve finally realized what appeals is hummingbirds’ very audacity to believe in their right to exist.

For me, hummingbirds represent an invitation to gratitude. Most nights I go to bed without fear of not waking up tomorrow. Without fear that if I stop fighting, I won’t survive and neither will my family. That’s a privilege most on this planet don’t have. And for this I am grateful.

Will I find a publisher for my first book? I sure hope so, but regardless I continue to learn and evolve as a writer. Watching their frenzied fight is a reminder that I have a gift to give, whether others yet recognize it or not.

As Doyle points out in the article above, we only have so many heart beats in this life.  I’ve chosen to use mine writing.

I’m also proud to be part of an amazing community of writers through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association who support each other on this great journey of creativity – including coping with rejection. And for this I could not be more grateful.

From now on, every time I see a hummingbird, I’ll consider it a call to touch base with that gratitude.

San Miguel – The Best City in the World?

San Miguel – The Best City in the World?

Yes, According to Time Magazine!


Time magazine just published an article declaring San Miguel de Allende, where I currently live, the Best City in the World to Travel to. And who am I to disagree? It’s certainly a writer’s paradise, with some great rooftop bars.

Their video has some shots out and about in this gorgeous city and also features Quince, one of my favorite of the rooftops.If you’re planning a visit, don’t miss my post with a roundup and map of the Best Rooftop Bars in San Miguel.

If you’re looking for a fun activity that’s not in this video I recommend Bug Spotting.

Bugs of San Miguel

Bugs of San Miguel

I’ll admit it, in the last month in San Miguel I’ve become a little obsessed with bugs.

VW bugs. Not bugs of the cucaracha variety, although we have plenty of those too (I’m told plastic drain covers and bounce dryer sheets are the answer).

The VW bugs in San Miguel just look so adorable against the colorful buildings.

Here’s a few shots to see if you agree?

Notes on a Changing United Kingdom

Notes on a Changing United Kingdom

Twenty years ago, I left the UK to move to California. I’m proud of my heritage and until last week, I believed I was still connected to my home country.

However, in this last trip I noticed several things have changed…

When I lived in Scotland, pies used to look like this. That’s a mince pie for those who aren’t familiar (and there’s nothing posh about it).


Now the London pubs offer a ‘pie sampler’, complete with matching craft ales.

Once upon a lifetime ago, my grandfather used to work for the company that made black London cabs. Back when they only came in one color. Now cabs are pretty in pink?


When I first moved to the States friends would ask me to stuff my suitcase full of Reese’s peanut butter cups.

Now there’s a whole American section in the supermarket, including Kraft Mac n’ Cheese and Twinkies.


Hard Milkshake sign

From what I remember milkshakes used to be something you fed to kids. Now they come in hardshakes (alcoholic)!





Baked beans in microwaveable container


When I was a student, you needed a tin opener and a saucepan to heat your baked beans. Now they come in handy ready-to microwave containers.



Bender in a bun


The Wimpy of my childhood now serves something called a “Bender in a bun”? I’ll let you form your own thoughts on this one.

To me, most of these are improvements (especially the hard milkshake).

And luckily, not everything has changed…


Brits still have the best sense of humor, even after Brexit. This board was at a local farm shop where they are running a mock tracker for the upcoming election.

Potatoes are still a national staple, especially baked with fillings for lunch (something I miss stateside).

I can still stuff my suitcase with good old fashioned Scottish Irn Bru. If you’re not familiar, besides its unique taste, Irn Bru is also the world’s best hangover cure.

The scenery is just as luscious. This photo is Richmond, London.

And you can still find an excellent Sunday Roast dinner (with Yorkshire pudding) in most pubs!