It’s two in the morning and I’m sleeping in a tent on Playa Blanca, an isolated beach that’s a three-hour boat ride from of Cartagena, Colombia. I’m roused awake by loud rustling outside of our tent.
“Hunnie! Hunnie!” I whisper, shaking beau awake. “It’s the FARC,” I hiss, assuming he had led me into rebel territory and now my favorite band of Marxist rebels was going to kidnap me for ransom.
In a classic example of chivalry, beau grumbled and rolled over, so I quietly peeked out of the tent. Thankfully, the rustling turned out to be a few hapless wild cows—not armed guerillas—who were stumbling through the cut palm fronds used to make the island huts.
I sprung awake three hours later at 5 a.m. to a horrifying smell (which, based off my new midnight friends, I now assume was cow urine). The smell, combined with some local island cuisine the night before, caused me to spring awake, leap out of the tent, fall into the sand, and vomit. And I continued to vomit, for 15 hours, every time I moved.
I was hot, smelly, and dirty. I’ve never used the restroom outside, much less slept in a tent or lost my lunch in the sand, but, somehow, here I was on my relaxing, tropical vacation in pure misery stuck on a predominantly deserted island. (I guess that’s what happens when you let your boyfriend do the planning.) Between bouts of nausea, I was determined to negotiate myself off the island—and I was not waiting for the 3 p.m. leisurely tourist boat ride to do it.
In comes Herman, a lovely Colombian man with a two-person moto. Herman squished himself, beau, me, and our duffel bag onto his scooter and we embarked on an hour-long joyride through the unpaved, rocky, pot-holed roads of rural Colombia, passing impoverished towns, cows, sheep, pigs, and armed Colombian troops along the way. I did my very best to enjoy the scenery while trying desperately not to become ill and having loads of dirt blow into my face and teeth.
Eventually, Herman pulled over and led us to a river, and I thought to myself, “You have got to be kidding me.” But, no biggie, we just hopped in a wooden canoe and a toothless man ferried us across. After a 30-minute stroll through a pueblito, we located a taxi, and another hour later I was nestled in the bed of a four-star hotel in Cartagena, where I remained for 24 hours, watching the Disney channel in Spanish.
What does this have to do with brunch, you say? Well, just before this adventure, I did find a brunch spot in Cartagena, and it was phenomenal.
We stumbled upon Café Milla, an upscale boutique café and bakery, in the streets of Cartagena before our little beach excursion. Then, we went back twice more, because it’s the only cuisine our very weak stomachs could stand. (Beau eventually met a similar fate—must have been the fish.)
Cartagena, Colombia, is a charismatic old city with beautiful, brightly colored buildings, cobblestone streets, Spanish colonial architecture, and friendly, vivacious residents.
You could spend weeks wandering the city’s winding streets, buying fruit from the corner stands, and salsa dancing until the sun comes up. The traditional tropical cuisine is rice, plantain chips, and plenty of seafood and ceviches.
Café Milla, nestled on the corner of Calle de la Iglesia and Calle de la Estrella, offers an upscale European twist on traditional Colombian cuisine. Its pastries are beautiful, rich and delicious—cupcakes, flan, rich chocolate cakes with gold-flaked icing, croissants, churros and more. The salads are huge—big enough for three people—and filled with fresh fruits and veggies.
The beverage selection is amazing—coffees and teas are presented in a stunning fashion. They also have tropical Colombian beverages like a mango slushie and a coconut-lime concoction that is pure heaven.
Beyond café fare, Milla serves lunch and dinner. On one of our visits, for lunch, beau had a mouth-watering steak served with a creamy white rice, sun-dried tomatoes, and a sweet balsamic reduction. Meanwhile, I opted for a variation of a Caprese salad (I know, I know, Italian in Colombia) with a similar amazing sweet-yet-tart balsamic dressing.
Best of all, they have brunch. I opted for the Colombian version of pancakes—served with sour cream and dulce de leche—and syrup, if you must. The pancakes were light, fluffy, and perfect (but you may not want to trust me as I hadn’t eaten anything in 36 hours).
If you’re ever in Cartagena, (and you should go, it’s an amazing city), be sure to stop by Café Milla for the best pastries in the city, a delicious dinner, or brunch.
Cra. 4 #35-76
Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
+57 5 6644607