A local encounter I’ll never forget

Female vendors in Cartagena

The style of the following story is a little different because it was submitted for a travel writing contest. I didn’t make the shortlist, but it was a good exercise.


My sister and I entered the walled city of Cartagena ready to begin our new adventure.  The air, a salty mix of scents, was ripe with possibility. First, we considered taking a carriage ride to view vibrantly-colored colonial homes now converted to lucrative vacation rentals. Then, we thought about looking for one of the mystical street performers who levitated in mid-air, seemingly defying gravity by supporting his entire body weight with one hand. At the very least, we knew we’d find an eatery where we could sample the region’s rich fusion cuisine that pays homage to its African, Arabic and Spanish heritage.

Walled City, Cartagena

Ultimately, we opted to play it by air, for we trusted the charismatic city to spontaneously spill her secrets.  Plus, we envisioned an expressive storytelling, similar to the non-verbal volumes spoken by the Afro-Caribbean women in bright, traditional costumes who effortlessly balanced fruit bowls atop their heads while sashaying gracefully, hips undulating in visual rhythm.Afro-Colombian women

Suddenly, there they were. A group of six, well-dressed seniors sitting on nondescript plastic chairs in a loosely clustered semi-circle amidst the cacophony of sounds produced by the never-ending square activity. Neither the clicking heels of tourists navigating the concrete sidewalks, the animated tones of vendors hawking wares of every size and shape, nor the excited holiday chatter spilling from the open doors of multiple bars, restaurants and cafés was enough to obliterate their presence. Their quiet camaraderie was a magnetic force that dragged me forcibly into their orbit. Authentci experience in Colombia

I approached the group and asked to take their picture.

“Sí, con mucho gusto,” they replied, and insisted I be in it. My sister snapped the photo enthusiastically. Then, as I murmured thank you and prepared to walk away, one gentleman with a 70 year-old twinkle in his eye invited us to sit and chat. A sure sign of a charmer still in his heyday.

We complied, lingered awhile, and proceeded to share tidbits of our respective cultures. The endearing grandfathers had been friends since high school, and they met from 7-9 p.m. on weekdays to banter about current events, sports and life in general.  As they regaled us with stories about their youth, early careers and families, I became increasingly impressed with the depth and longevity of their friendship.  In that moment, I realized we can make and maintain meaningful connections anywhere. We just need to open up ourselves to the experience.


Do you have an authentic and spontaneous local encounter you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it. Please use the comments section below.

Three impressive ruins close to Playa del Carmen

Are you planning a trip to Mexico anytime soon? Well, if you’re headed in the direction of the popular Riviera Maya strip and are planning to stay somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula and the coastal town of Playa Del Carmen, there are three ruins you absolutely must see. Grab a pen and note pad to write these names down right now. They are: Coba, Tulum and Chichén Itzá.


Of the three ruins mentioned, Coba dates back the furthest in history and is estimated to have been built and first inhabited between 50 BC and 100 AD. Although much of it still isn’t excavated, its intricate system of ceremonial roads and multiple pyramids (including the tallest in the Yucatan – Ixmoja – at 138 feet), is an impressive archeological find nonetheless. Coba Ruins_Mexico

Tips: This site doesn’t attract as many visitors as Chichen Itza or Tulum, so you can  still climb some of the structures which gives you a totally unique experience. [I ran out of time and didn’t get the money shot on top of Ixmoja.] Coba is home to more than 6500 structures, so schedule at least 2.5 hours to explore the grounds by foot. If you are traveling with seniors or someone who can’t walk for long distances, you can rent a bicycle for him/her, or pay for a Mayan Taxi (a bike with three wheels and a seat up front) for an hour-long tour. That makes it easy!


Tulum, largely believed to be the best preserved coastal Mayan site in Central America, is where the locals and the Spanish conquerors first met. (We won’t talk about how that encounter ended). This enclave served as an integral trading port for the Mayans, and it sits atop a spectacular cliff that overlooks a dramatic beachscape. Tulum ruins, Mexico

Swimming or getting your feet wet in the warm, turquoise water is a must! You can’t miss the focal point – the pyramid El Castillo – that juts out majestically against the blue skyline. Before you leave, look out for the Temple of Frescoes which was used as an observatory for the sun. View from the cliff at Tulum

Tip: Pack a swimsuit and a change of clothing so you can take a dip in the warm Caribbean water lapping against the shoreline below the ruins.


Chichén Itzá, which means source of enchanted waters, is the feather in Mexico’s cap.  Listed as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, its Kukulkan Pyramid is an imposing sight to behold. I learned there were 365 steps in total around all four sides. Chichen Itza, Mexico

Due to it being one of the most photographed sites in the region, if you’re like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn there are other imposing and historically significant structures in the sprawling complex. The differing styles of architecture cover almost a 1000 years of Mayan urban industry.  Plan to view the pyramid, the ball court, and a sacred cenote with a ghastly history of human sacrifice. Ruins at Chichen Itza

Tips: This attraction is one of the most visited sites in Mexico, so plan to arrive early (8 a.m.) to avoid the crowds.  Also, take a hat and wear comfortable walking shoes.

I hope you enjoy visiting all three sites as much as I did!


You can read more about my Mexican adventures here.