My Spanish is terrible at the best of times.
But, of course, it fails me most when I’m trying to talk to an official through a thick pane of glass.
I wobbled onto the tip of my toes, peered over the glass panel and asked the immigration officer to repeat his question.
“How tall are you?”
“One metre eighty three,” I replied, trying to look stern.
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Where are you going?”
“You want a Colombian boyfriend?”
“No, thank you. Too much sweet talk.”
“Hahahaha. You want to call me when you get back to Bogota?”
I looked over my shoulder at more than a hundred passengers waiting grumpily behind me and wondered if this man would ever stamp my passport.
Welcome to Colombia.
Naturally I was travelling without any Colombian currency (I wish I was organised) and, of course, the Cartagena airport cash point wasn’t in the mood to dispense any money.
I hunted frantically through my pockets and managed to scrape together ten American dollars.
A cab driver agreed to drive me to the tourists’ district, Getsemani, for seven dollars and all seemed well.
Except, when we arrived, he decided he didn’t want dollars.
Oh no. He wanted pesos.
His car blocked the narrow cobbled street for several minutes while we screamed at one another – my side of the conversation limited to “It’s not my fault” and “I say I only have dollars” – before the gentleman in the car behind helpfully intervened.
The taxi driver was dispatched with my seven dollars flung through his window.
Still, things improved once I managed to locate cash and a cheap but charming hostel.
Now, I’m not a very good judge of character but I soon realised the only person in my dormitory, a 29-year-old Canadian girl, wasn’t my type.
(She later described her drug problems to me in great detail and, when it was time for her to leave, the poor girl admitted she couldn’t pack her rucksac without a line of cocaine)
I slipped out to eat on my own and ended up in a salsa club until the early hours with a Belgian cyclist, an American documentary filmmaker and a Parisian businessman.
I met them for breakfast the next day and life in Cartagena began to roll along easily.
I met an Israeli girl, Michal, and we spent the day at the city’s mud volcano – Volcan Totumo – rolling around in thick mud before being scrubbed down in a lake.
The following day we sailed for a few hours to the nearby island of Baru, where we slept in hammocks on a beach appropriately named Playa Blanca.
It was beautiful and exactly how a beach on the Caribbean Sea should be – all white sands and pale green waters with guys selling coconuts and necklaces made from shells.
Even the night in the hammock was unbelievably comfortable. Once I learnt the art of sleeping diagonally I fell asleep and didn’t move for 10 hours.
When I awoke, I was still cocooned in my mosquito net with my camera and iPod balanced lightly on my chest.
The rest of the time I wandered around inside Cartagena’s old city walls, admiring the narrow streets and the yellow paint gently peeling from the churches and clock tower.
The nights out were entertaining too – even the expensive and extremely brief visit to trendy Café del Mar, overlooking the ocean on one of the old city walls.
Time slid by and it was a week before I realised I really needed to keep travelling.
I had intended to visit nearby Santa Marta but I met some Israeli lads heading south to the city of Medellin.
With the promise of Medellin’s popular flower festival currently underway, it didn’t take much for me to agree to join them.