A small, unassuming man stood front and center a crowd of Cartagenan men as we lugged our bags past customs into the moist Colombian air; he carried a sign: "Bienvenidos MR. MORGAN GRICE!"
His name was Juan, and as he heaved our bags to his black BMW, despite our protestations, he chuckled, abashed at his endearing poster faux pas. I'm a lady, sir, beneath the grime and filth and navy-blue cap you see before you!
Once inside the car, Juan was zooming down the road, honking his horn each time he passed a fellow driver. As we stared outside the window, shocked at the stream of camo-wearing men holding automatic rifles, we began to divulge our embarrassing faux pas.
"Umm, necesitamos, err ... necesitamos," began Margaret Sands*, my travel companion, glancing at me nervously, "necesitamos un ... banco?"
"Una ... maquina para el dinero??" I blurted out.
Neither of us had brought a single dollar -- well, I had $1, which would almost cover the cab, and old Margs had some change and maybe some old lint shoved in her pockets. We hadn't been too prudent in our days-worth of traveling. Opting to eat in Houston Intercontinental's finest Pappadeaux restaurant for our last "fatty, American meal," we forewent an ATM. Panamanian balboas took a backseat to a chance to sit and sip on a Panamanian beer.
Poor Juan had no idea what we crazy American girls were saying. We kept bumbling as he looked at us curiously in his rearview mirror.
"Ummm, I mean, well ... no tienen, no ... no tenemos ... dolares?? Necesitamos ... get? How do you say get again???" one would stammer.
Panicking and preparing for Poor Juan to leave us by the side of the road, the other would take a stab, "Dinero?!?!? Dolares?!? Pesos!!"
What were we asking him?? Did he have money? Did he take dollars? What are pesos???? It was confusing for all involved.
It went on for many minutes, our collective frustration with each other and ourselves mounting.
"Ahhhh, ustedes necesitan dinero?" he said finally, sweetly and slowly, never prepared to abandon us -- not Poor Juan -- as he rubbed his fingers together in the universal sign for money.
And so our travels began.
Heroic Juan whisked us to our travel destination, a Castle -- Casa Castel, actually -- an amazing bed & breakfast where we were served mango juice with fresh strawberries upon arriving by Pedro (or, Peter, as he Anglicizes it).
The place, it was amazing. With a pool in the living room, the roof had a huge cutout in it that had us wondering how rain doesn't just pour out into the rest of the beautiful abode -- perhaps it never rains in Cartagena, we pondered simultaneously. Our room was bigger than our apartments, the family/staff so helpful that we clutched our things a bit tighter, as no one's this nice back home, and they had cable and Wi-Fi, allowing us to feed our addictions. It was paradise.
We only stayed for one night (this past Thursday), before being picked up by a pock-mark faced Colombian military man who took us to the nicest apartment old Margs and I have ever called our own (for a month).
But more on that later.
This is on the roof of the Castle where we were served our jamon y queso omelettes con fruta y cafe y jugo ... by a lovely lady, as we listened to a Colombian child's birthday party nearby.
The in-house living room pool that Sands desperately wanted to wade into ... if only it weren't an in-house living room pool, where we'd expose our skins to the unsuspecting staff members who might be scarred.
More roof-top breakfast palace.
Ahh, and of course, since we started planning this trip, idyllic visions of Scarface have danced in my head ...
*Name has been changed to protect the weak.