Unmastery — 15 December 2023

Narayan Subramoniam
5 min readDec 15, 2023

Hola Colombia

Hi, hello, hola. I’m writing this in the ground floor of a hostel in Cartagena, Colombia. My friend and I came here just yesterday but time continues to spread wide when travelling, and especially so in this beautiful port city.

I’ll cover the journey so far with a sprinkling of details and then finish off with how the first term of the masters came to a spicy close.

I took a small risk by travelling with just my school backpack for two weeks:

Yup, we do get the regional newspaper delivered every weekend

I packed my laptop, a few pairs of innerwear, and some electronics. There’s tons of pack lists out there so you can imagine I took the average of that. The one thing I forgot is a lock for hostels in locker. But it was comforting to know that that was the one thing I ended up forgetting and not my passport. Katherine and I took the red eye to Bogota, where my bag (pictured above) was absolutely manhandled by airport security. The agent groped my bag in ways that made me want to phone someone. I still don’t have a clue why I was flagged¹: the two books I brought? a solid waxen candle (the agent looked at this perplexed, ripped open the seal, and whiffed a power sniff. I’m happy to say that he was overwhelmed by the smell)? Who knows.

You can see the manhandler in the white shirt and black vest just behind my cap. True evil.

I fell in and out of sleep on the flight but did manage to have a short convo with a Venezuelan next to me. He was extremely positive about Colombia, which was interesting considering the accounts of discrimination towards Venezuelans because of the huge influx of refugees into Colombia. The Bogota airport had all the usual fixings + empanadas at a reasonable price. However, we didn’t leave the airport because our next stop was: Cartagena.

But first, why Colombia?

The four-faced clock tower on the walls of Cartagena

Katherine and I wanted to do a travel trip together for a couple years now. COVID, our respective exchange terms, and bigger group travels made us push it further away. But she’s moving away soon and we figured, hey why not now? We knew we wanted to go somewhere Spanish speaking, somewhere in the Americas. I had already ‘done’ Mexico (in the sense that she has not seen the 1% I have, and we’d likely have to repeat that 1%) so we opened a map and scanned cheap flights a bit more south. Enter Colombia. There’s the utterly fantastic Parts Unknown episode on Colombia hosted by Anthony Bourdain that helped raise awareness. There’s also Katherine’s friend Juan who lives in Bogota that helped sweeten the deal. Yes, there’s quite a history when it comes to Colombia but our bet was that that’s exactly what it is: a historical perception. Of course, we have to be sensible and all but maybe that’s all you need to have a good time here.

And my is Cartagena a good time (knock on wood)

Cartagena’s got: easy ways to get around the city, be-A-yootiful streets to walk in, great food all around, and you’re never more than 15 minutes away from a beach. It’s also got sweltering heat and a sizable gentrification problem.

Tips on where to stay: the Getsemani neighbourhood has many hostels with English speaking tourists. Some of the most recommended restaurants (like Cocina de Pepina) are also in that area. We didn’t end up staying in that area and opted to stay at Casa Movida Hostel that is perhaps the fanciest hostel I’ve stayed in a while.

The view from the castle on the hill

Food: Espiritu Santu was great for the price. Cocina de pepina was bougie at a Toronto burrito price. Casa de san cocorro was bougie but also great. All places listed have at least one veggie option.

Any other tips: The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is an absolute must-visit. One of my favourite city lookout points, but the company might have been a factor as well. Do a free walking tour.

The two of us are heading to an island tour tomorrow, and then flying to Medellin. I would’ve preferred a bus (for some natural altitude acclimation) but the route goes through some dicey areas and sometimes requires transfers so plane it is. We are e x c i t e d.

Life before Colombia

Some orange juice pasta — it’s a family recipe somewhere

The first term of the Masters wrapped up. I submitted a gargantuan 5000 word paper titled ‘The relevance of decolonial Indigenous geographies on food sovereignty pathways in Northwest Territories, Canada” on the last day of class and called it a term. I do feel smarter in a more tangible way doing this master’s: I can write ‘academically’ at a higher rate, I’ve measurably read more papers that has changed how I think about what’s important to have less hungry people in the world. The most important lesson is that I really, really, don’t know shit about the world. Some of the geographer talks were great eye-openers in this regard. If I could wrap up the academics in 3 highlights, unordered:

The Road Ahead

Another day in Cartagena, 3 days in Medellin, a few days in a national park, then the remainder (3–4 days) in Bogota to celebrate a multi-cultural Christmas. All back on the 26th, just in time to see y’all again.

This biweek’s article is a quite odd piece about web design that might interest the design-inclined among y’all: https://frankchimero.com/blog/2015/the-webs-grain/

This biweek’s quote is from Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. A dreadfully beautiful work of art. I couldn’t steal myself away from it.

“The world may be mean, but people don’t have to be, not if they refuse.”

Till the 28th :)


  1. Well, y’know, there’s always racism.