Appreciating Cartagena

Today we were treated to a morning concert. Our lovely neighbor decided at 6:45 a.m. that it would be best to shower with his ballads blasting from the speakers and singing at the top of his lungs. We. did. not. care. for. it. If you can’t tell, our temper for loud people, whether their voices, guitars, or speakers, is getting smaller by the day.  And today that fuse might have blown. You see we were now in a hotel (OK, its mayyyyybe 2 stars max but still) and we were expecting a better experience than we’ve had at our recent hostels, mostly on the noise front. But, here we were… with Mr. Colombian Idol next door… at our wits end. So, Lynn put on some clothes and started knocking on the door. No response except for the continuation of the serenade with a version of Aladdin’s I Can Show You the World in Spanish… 5 minutes later, a little more ticked off… Doug shouted “Shut the (bad word) up!” Again, no response. Next, Lynn returned to the door and gave it a really good bang. Well… that is when she turned into a pretty horrible person because it turns out that it was the wrong door. Yep… that happened. “Por favor, la musica” was returned with a very harried and annoyed women who essentially indicated that it was not her. There was a lot of apologizing and no more action on our part because we had turned into those horrible neighbors. Thankfully, Mr. Colombian Idol left at 7:30 a.m. so we were free to attempt sleep again, though that didn’t go so well either.

By 9 a.m. we were heading out the door ready to start our day of getting to know Cartagena. We had another free tour scheduled for 10 a.m. so we spent the hour making our way over to the old town and roaming through the very quaint colonial streets. We already knew we were going to like this town just based on the burst of colors that could be found everywhere. There were yellow, orange, white, and maroon colonial homes accented by purple bougainvilleas and other greenery all paired with adorable wooden patios. But we were also confused because we seemed to be the only ones on the streets besides the various fruit and souvenir vendors. Everyone must have partied very hard last night.

Hello, old town!
Hello, old town!
Sculptures replicating the life around Cartagena
Sculptures replicating the life around Cartagena
Quiet Cartagena
Quiet Cartagena
Fruit ready to be sliced and sold to the masses.
Fruit ready to be sliced and sold to the masses.

At 10 we met up with our tour and guide, Imera, to start. She did a fairly nice job walking us through the founding of the city as a major Spanish port for the rest of South America and its subsequent need to fortify to avoid threats from Britain and France (and pirates) due to their supply of gold, silver, emeralds, and other precious goods. We were then led through the town to see a number of squares and parks (squares are the same elevation as the road whereas parks are not) where we learned more about some influential characters. One important one to not was Jesuit priest, Pedro Clavar, who came to Cartagena to help the slaves that were being transported to the continent through its port. Because of his work, the Jesuit order in the city serves at the center for human rights for all of Colombia. We saw, or in the words of our guide “appreciated”, some churches, more adorable streets, gold and pottery crafts made by the indigenous people, and, unexpectedly, a dedication to the country’s beauty queens before it ended 2 hours later. It wasn’t the best tour, but it did the trick.

Very wealthy people come to Cartagena, like American's Dennis Washington who owns this yacht. Yeah, we didn't know who he was either.
Very wealthy people come to Cartagena, like America’s Dennis Washington who owns this yacht. Yeah, we didn’t know who he was either.
Balconies everywhere!
Balconies everywhere! And now people too!
We had a brief stop for some breakdancing.
We had a brief stop for some breakdancing.
Ms. Colombias over the years.
Ms. Colombias over the years.
Pretty stained glass
Pretty church stained glass.
We like bright things.
We like bright things.

By this point it was noon and we had yet to eat anything substantial so lunch it was. We found a Colombian restaurant with the help of TripAdvisor and ordered two delicious arepas. Thus far, no complaints regarding Colombia’s cuisine. It also helps there there are fresh squeezed fruit juices everywhere for a little over $1 USD.

Lynn's beef arepa with guacamole and plantains.
Lynn’s beef arepa with guacamole and plantains.
Doug's arepa with spicy shrimp and avocado.
Doug’s arepa with spicy shrimp and avocado.

Next we took off to tour the fortress that city’s just outside the old city’s walls, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. We opted for an audio tour because otherwise it would just be a giant concrete structure on a hill. And thankfully we did because we learned a lot. The fortress was slowly added to over time, but the initial construction, started in 1536, was built from the top down on Lazarus Hill. When it was expanded, great care was taken to ensure that its many sections could be defended individually in the event that one was taken by the enemy. Only 3 battles were fought here, once with France, once with the British (including some Americans), and finally with Spain for independence (made up of Venezuelans). We don’t know if you can really count that last one because rather than fight to the death, Spain chose to block the port from any shipments and the vast majority of the city died of starvation. What a way to go.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
It's madness with all the vendors and selfie sticks.
It’s madness with all the vendors and selfie sticks.
They used these vertical cannons as winches to get things up the incline.
They used these vertical cannons as winches to get things up the incline.
Wide shot of downtown Cartagena to the left and old town to the right.
Wide shot of downtown Cartagena to the left and old town to the right.
Cannons being cannons.
Cannons being cannons.
Doug modeling his audio guide.
Doug modeling his audio guide.
There were a ton of tunnels here, some of which are flooded or pitch black. Some are even unknown. You could explore them at your leisure but needed to tell a guard that you were going. Probably so they could expect to find your bones later. We stuck to the ones that were on our handy dandy map.
There were a ton of tunnels here, some of which are flooded or pitch black. Some are even unknown. You could explore them at your leisure but needed to tell a guard that you were going. Probably so they could expect to find your bones later. We stuck to the ones that were on our handy dandy map.
The fortress from the east.
The fortress from the east.

Well, we had pretty much done what was intended for the day so we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around old town again (sometimes getting lost attempting to find that really good happy hour deal that we saw an hour ago) before we agreed that it was time for dinner. In our wandering we had attempted to check out another restaurant recommended by TripAdvisor but learned when they opened at 7 p.m. that their 8 tables were booked for the rest of the night. Instead we used our handy dandy app once again to find a seafood restaurant just down the street. We were the only ones there during the entire duration of our meal, which made us a bit wary but in the end the food was very good and we were very stuffed (as usual). On our walk back to our hotel we couldn’t help but comment on how adorable this city is (At least the old part where we are. We can’t yet speak for the modern part) especially with the lantern-lit streets and bright colors everywhere.

This statue is a tribute to the poet Luis Carlos Lopez. We don't yet know who he is but there was a 20+ person line to wait to take a picture with these old shoes.
This statue is a tribute to the poet Luis Carlos Lopez. We don’t yet know who he is but there was a 20+ person line to wait to take a picture with these old shoes.
At the beginning of our morning tour we asked our guide what the concert was this evening (we had seen speakers and lighting being set up on the top of the old town's walls). Her response, "Oh it's not a concert. It's a wedding." There are apparently a ton of foreigners who get married here in very lavish weddings. We waited around this one so Lynn could gawk at the bride's dress. It was quite stunning.
At the beginning of our morning tour we asked our guide what the concert was this evening (we had seen speakers and lighting being set up on the top of the old town’s walls). Her response, “Oh it’s not a concert. It’s a wedding.” There are apparently a ton of foreigners who get married here in very lavish weddings. We waited around this one so Lynn could gawk at the bride’s dress. It was quite stunning.
Sun setting over Plaza Santa Teresa
Sun setting over Plaza Santa Teresa
We spent some of that time walking the entirety of the old town's walls.
We spent some of that time walking the entirety of the old town’s walls.
Sea bass sancocho for Lynn
Sea bass sancocho for Lynn
Fried fish for Doug
Grilled snapper for Doug

Daily Walking Mileage: 15.4

Fun Facts:

  • Despite being born in Spain, Pedro Clavar was Colombia’s first saint and it sounds like it was well deserved.
  • Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela share the same colors on their flag. This is due to the fact that they were all a part of Gran Colombia, in the era of Simon Bolivar, before it dissolved in 1831.
  • We are pretty sure that the street our hotel sits on serves at the center of body commerce, if you get my drift. ::wink wink nudge nudge::

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