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It’s hard not to fall in love with Cartagena, especially when views like this greet you every time you walk outside.

The view from our apartment building's balcony.

Even before we left, the city had taken on a charm that others in South America hadn’t yet. When I was getting together our South American flights prior to our departure from New York, the woman at American Airlines asked in a generous Southern accent, “Cartagena!? Why would you want to go there? Have you been watching Romancing the Stone?” We hadn’t but we quickly got it up on Netflix just for kicks.

And once we arrived in Cartagena, I started to research how much it would cost to fly direct from New York because I wanted to tell our friends they had to visit. It’s one of those cities where you just want to sit at the cute cafes all day, drinking frosty drinks and people watching. We stayed in a studio apartment inside the old, walled city that we found through airbnb.com. It was perfect – and by perfect I mean the right location, big enough with a kitchenette, and a killer air-conditioning unit.

The wall that surrounds the old city looking out to the Caribbean Sea.

It’s also right on the coast of the Caribbean, which gives the town its seaside resort feel. A wall designed to protect this port town surrounds the old city adding to its appeal. Inside the walled city are narrow, winding roads and old colonial buildings with balconies and plants spilling out the windows and doors. On many of the doors, there were beautiful, decorative door knockers.

For a slideshow of the Cartagena door knockers, please visit randombutbeautiful.com.

We went to a few museums in Cartagena, one church and old fort. But my favorite place in the city was the rooftop bar at the Small Luxury Hotel where we could get drinks and watch the sunset over the ocean.

Our favorite spot in Cartagena

Then there was the mud volcano. The legend of Volcan de Lodo El Totumo says that this particular volcano used to spew hot ash and lava but then a priest sprinkled holy water into its mouth and it turned into mud – a soft, cool, and allegedly healing mud as a matter of fact. The whole operation feels like a few locals got together and said, “Hey, we have this hill with a hole. Why don’t we fill it with the mud and charge tourists to bathe in it.” But all cynicism aside, who doesn’t want to commemorate their trip with a picture of themselves covered mud?

~ Molly

(No hairy spiders in this post.)

Industrious Ants

There are a couple of other critter characters we’d like to introduce you to that we met in South America. The first is the leafcutter ant. According to Wikipedia (so you know it’s true), leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on earth next to humans. Another article on Mother Nature Network explains how scientists are even studying these ants to find solutions to complicated people problems like finding new forms of clean energy.

I was fascinated hypnotized by the ants because they were just so darn productive. Check out this video of the industrious little suckers:

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We first ran into leafcutter ants in Paraty, Brazil. Simon, the owner of our pousada, told us when a colony decides to goes after a particular tree that tree is toast. We saw them again in Rio and followed them up a street and all the way around a corner to a park where they disappeared behind a fence. I shot footage of the ants in this video both in the Amazon and at Tayrona National Park in Columbia. In Tayrona, colonies of these ants striped the jungle trail to the beach. As we hiked along, whoever was in front would yell back, “Ants!” as a warning for the other not to step on our friends.

Big-Beaked Bird with an Even Bigger Personality

We met our share of birds in South America. (Remember Tina, the macaw parrot that lived at the guesthouse in Buenos Aires?) Juanito, the toucan who lived at Otorongo Expeditions’ lodge in the Amazon, just cemented our impression that many birds have big personalities.

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When I brought the camera out, Juanito was mostly subdude. But I was able to capture a few moments where he chased the staff around the property. My favorite Juanito staple though was when he would hop up the stairs to the lodge common room and stare at us through the screen and attempt to peck his way in while we were having breakfast. He had an entitled determination that didn’t quite fit his small stature but was pure comedy.

~ Molly

Having spent 3 months in South America, we had come across a veritable menagerie of animals. I thought it would be a good idea to share my favorite combinations of interesting creatures & interesting photographs.

Here are the top 10:

#10. Amazon Tree Frog

Nellu Mazilu, Amazon, tree frog

A cute little Amazonian tree frog, which secretes a neurotoxin when threatened.

#9. Amazon Stick Insect

Nellu Mazilu, Amazon, stick insect

I nearly walked past this little creature, mistaking it for a branch.

#8. Colombian Leaf Insect

Nellu Mazilu

I thought I had leaves stuck in the insect net of my hammock at El Cabo in Tayrona Park….. it wasn’t.

#7. Tarantulas (many of them)

Nellu Mazilu, tarantula,

The Amazon was full of them. This photo was the best of the lot, showing a tarantula hiding/guarding it’s nest in a palm tree hole.

#6. Butterflies….also many.

Nellu Mazilu, butterfly

One of many butterflies, but was the only one who stayed still long enough for a photo. I wish I could remember what kind it is….

#5. Giant Amazonian Moth

Nellu Mazilu, moth

Encountered a couple of giant moths feeding on some stale fruit during one of our night treks.

#4. Tractor Millipede

Nellu Mazilu

It’s fun watching them crawl all over you. No really.. it is.

#3) Weevil

Nellu Mazilu, weevils

Weevils wobble, but they don’t fall down. This one did….

#2. Spiders…. so, so many of them.

Nellu Mazilu, spider

Upside-down transparent, orange daddy long-legs?

#1) Praying Mantis

Nellu Mazilu, praying mantis

What’s more bad-ass than a mantis up close??

Click here to see all the candidates for the top 10.