25 - 30 October 2013
I finally got my camera back on the day of my departure from San Francisco- better late than never! Flew out an hour late at 22.00 and landed in Cartagena at 12.30 the next day after transiting in JFT, New York. Walking from the plane into the terminal, I was met by hot and very humid weather – even worse than Florida. Endless long immigration line but very friendly officer once I finally got there. It's not allowed to bring food into the country but after eating for 15 minutes and being the only person left in the terminal, the customs officer got impatient and told me I could take my lunch through.... got some cash and then the local bus into Cartagena....
Before I left the US a guy in Cartagena had offered to host me but despite 2 mails he didn't provide an address (only phone number), so I didn't trust him to be serious on hosting me which turned out to be a good decision since it never meterialised. Instead I found a hostel located just outside the wall of the old city – nothing fancy but cheap especially when I paid many nigths days in advance. As always on transportation I didn't get much sleep, so I was pretty tired and went to bed early evening. I slept really well that first night but the rest of my sleep there was more troubled – people getting in and out of the room at odd hours and especially noisy construction work at the roof just above the room starting at 6am. Also it wasn't a very social hostel – I talked to different people while eating at the roof, but it never came to more than exchange of superficial information. I used to like hostels a lot when travellling, but recent years they haven't appealed to me as they once did – maybe I'm getting old...?!
Cartagena was established in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia and quickly blossomed as the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and as the major northern gateway to South America. It's importance was not least due to being the storehouse of all the stolen treasures that were shipped back to Spain as such it also became a main target for piracy. In the 16th century it was attacked 5 times and every time with big losses – particularly in 1586 when Francis Drake captured the town a collected a huge ranson of 10 million pesos for not leveling the place. As a consequence the Spaniards constructed a series of forts and a 13k wall around the city – most notoriously successful in 1741 when 2,500 poorly trained troops defended the town from an attack of 25,000 British soldiers on 186 ships. Cartagena was one of the first cities to proclaim independence from Spain in 1810 but paid dearly for it when Spanish troops re-took the town in 1815 after a 5 months siege where 6,000 inhabitants died of disease and starvation. Independence had to wait until 1821 when Simon Bolivar liberated Cartagena. Since then Cartagena has prospered and experienced immigration from all over the world especially the middle east.
Every day I walked the streets of the old town in Cartagena – it's not very big (maybe 1-1½ square kilometres) but the architecture and many old - and well preserved - houses make it very interesting. And even though I passed the same places countless times it was never the same experience – different light, different people, etc. Cartagena is a pretty touristic place but October is off season, so it didn't fell too bad walking around town. Walking on the wall provided good views and I also visited the greatest and strongest fort ever build in a Spanish colony – the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Certainly big but not very interesting – the best part was the views of the surroundings.
I really enjoyed sitting at the plazas observing local life unfold – especially late in the day when the plazas came to life as late afternoon became evening and the temperature dropped. People of all generations gathered - kids playing ball (or plastic bottle), woman exchanging the last gossip, old men having a smoke, street vendors, food stalls, haircutter's, etc. I love the Spanish culture because it's so much about people instead of money and status. Though I'm sometimes still challenged by the many, long lines and very slow progress everywhere e.g. at ATM's, banks, post offices and not least in supermarkets where the cashier always talks to everybody and sometimes disappears for 5 minutes or more without an explanation.... And talking bout ATM's it's quite annoying they only dispose what corresponds to EUR 120/USD 160 – less than half of my visa maximum but with a full fee of EUR 4/UDS 5 per tranaction (I haven't experienced this since Chile some years ago where it was a measure to reduce kidnappings).
Cartagena is expected to be wet in October and it was - the weather was changing quickly from sunshine to thunderstorm/heavy rain and back. But it's only rain and in these temperatures everything dries quickly – during the rain I took refuge under roofs with the locals enjoying a beer while waiting for the rain to stop....
As I have walked the city so many times the pictures are not depicted in chronological order but like walking the town one end to the other despite the day or time of day.