Reflections on Cartagena

“This was an incredible trip. The location was a combination of rich history, beauty, kind people, and wonderful weather. Having the opportunity to meet, engage with, and learn from people who live in Cartagena was invaluable. Participating in activities like salsa lessons, cooking classes, and snorkeling was both fun and educational.”  – Rachel LeBlanc

It has already been a month since our givecation to Cartagena, Colombia with Adventures in Voluntourism, but when people ask me how I’m doing I immediately respond with, “I just came back from Cartagena, and it was amazing!” I could not have asked for a better first international trip experience or for better humans to join me on this journey.

We began our travel on Thursday, February 22, 2018 when we arrived to Cartagena in the afternoon. We met as a group at our accommodations for our trip – a historic private home built in the late 1500s. Wow! The architecture was absolutely amazing. After settling in, we departed for a walking tour of the city and learned about Cartagena’s unique history. We ended the night with a private group dinner at a local restaurant where we enjoyed traditional Colombia fare.

The next morning we were up bright and early and excited for our day of volunteering! Christina Kuntz, founder of Domino Volunteers, met us at our accommodations and escorted us to a local park where we met other volunteers from a local university. We joined with them on a bus ride to a small village outside of the city called Villa Gloria. Just getting there was quite an experience, as we took a beach path!

Villa Gloria is a recently-formed community located on the beach north of Cartagena, made up of displaced families. The town has no formal infrastructure and is without public services of the kind that we take for granted. There is no running water – people use wheelbarrows to transport buckets of water from the next town over. There is no trash removal service, meaning there is no established place for trash disposal.

We worked alongside the children and community leaders of Villa Gloria and university volunteers – as well as local police – to collect trash from the streets, from outside of people’s homes, and from the public areas where the children play. By the end of our morning, we collected enough trash to more than fill a giant construction dumpster. We had plenty to reflect on during our drive back to our accommodations but also felt filled with hope seeing how the community came together and the promise for the future of the children who live there.

“Volunteering in Villa Gloria was the most meaningful experience by far. It was an incredible chance to contribute our time, smiles, and open hearts to a community of beautiful people – and to show a generation of children that they matter. It also felt important because of the children’s and community leaders’ participation.  We were not doing FOR them, we were doing WITH them. The difference is what leads to real change.” – Rachel LeBlanc

That evening was a chance for us to relax and enjoy the city of Cartagena. Some of us participated in a private salsa lesson, while others went shopping. Although dinner that evening was “on your own” to allow people to have time to themselves, our group decided to meet up, get to know each other better, and reflect on the experience so far.

Saturday was “our” day, after engaging in service the day before. That morning we walked to the local marina to be met by a boat and the team at Paraiso Dive Cartagena. We enjoyed an hour boat ride – along with Domino the Dive Dog – to the Coral Reef National Park, where we spent the morning snorkeling in the bluest waters with the most vibrant reefs I’ve ever seen! Then we spent the afternoon at the Blue Apple Resort, where we had lunch, lounged by the pool and beach, and learned about Paraiso Dive’s efforts to educate young people about the importance of protecting the ocean and water environment.

We took the boat back to the city just in time to change and get ready for a night out, including a cooking class focused on sustainability and local foods with Chef Maria Delgado at Caffe Lunatico and evening relaxation at a local bar that had a true Colombian feel (where some enjoyed sampling the popular local drink, aguardiente).

For breakfast Sunday morning we walked to Stepping Stone Café, whose mission is to fight inequality through social enterprise by creasing education and employment, upskilling disadvantaged youth and giving them the skills, confidence and the “stepping stone” needed to progress their future. Their goal is to provide youth with practical opportunities and skills to gain future employment. And breakfast was outstanding!

Our time in Cartagena ended with some last-minute shopping to make sure everyone came home with gifts for loved ones and keepsakes for ourselves. And, of course, more shopping was to be had at the airport while we waited for our flight out. We returned home tired but fulfilled after an amazing shared experience among new friends.

“Thank you for an incredible experience. The motivation to continue to empower our youth to wherever this path may lead us is my greatest blessing from this wonderful journey.” – Tiffany Bader

Huge thanks to Hank Henley / Hank Henley Photography for the amazing pictures during our trip! View more photos from our trip HERE.