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South America » Colombia » Cartagena
December 5th 2019
Published: January 14th 2020
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Old Colonial buildingOld Colonial buildingOld Colonial building

Some of the colonial houses in the centre are still not refurbished and converted in hotels or restaurant, I like to take pictures of them.
Now it’s time to go back to the sea side and there is a reason to do it, the reason it’s called Cartagena, and because this reason is far from Bogota’ we took a flight there. Arriving at the airport we had a thermal shock, from the “cold” city of Bogota (also called “La Nevera” by some Colombian people) to the humid tropical 33 degrees - all in 60 minutes. The sensation is similar to landing in Rome in the summer from London, the first couple of breaths when you step out of the plane is feeling that you can’t actually breathe at all, but then just after you feel a warm heat inside your chest that in my case make me feel happy. Daria is functioning better with the heat so she got happy and excited. She doesn’t like the fridge.

Arrived to the city we realised how different it is to Bogota...In Cartagena it’s easy to see the influence of the northern Caribbean influences, more Jamaican looking people around, many tall skinny people we couldn’t see in the capital. The colours are brighter, the sun is stronger and also the stink gets amplified
Old Colonial StyleOld Colonial StyleOld Colonial Style

I would love Cartagena even more if the streets would be like in this picture, scruffy, calm and with the sign of the old colonisation that make us understand the past in which the city was rich and sophisticated
by the sun, of the decomposition of the organic and of the pollution of the motorbikes, taxis and buses. But the noise is the same or even worse with the constant use of the clacksons (beep beep) it’s heavily used, similar to the already mentioned Naples. One thing I learned in life till now (and I am ready to have the right experience to change it) is that if someone have a dodgy face, it’s a dodgy person. I know it sounds a bit extreme and not very politically correct but till now it worked for me, so I continue to judge people from their facial expressions. So in Cartagena I can tell you there are dodgy people around.

The centre of the city has beautiful buildings that remind me of photos I have seen of Havana Cuba. Very nice Colonial houses with wooden carved balconies and tall decorated windows, some of them still not been renovated that catch my interest, and most of the renovated ones are hotels, souvenirs shops, restaurants and other business related with the tourism, in the centre feels a bit to be in a busy artificial city. It’s busy because all the
walk on the wild sidewalk on the wild sidewalk on the wild side

The difference between the nicely refurbished buildings versus the scruffy not refurbished ones, I prefer the wild side. This picture depicts Cartagena quite well, with the vendors and the splendid architectures.
tourists are inside the old city walls so if your work is with the tourism industry at any level (for example selling the green mangos we love) you have to be in the centre and compete with the others that sell the fruits in the streets. And how you do it? Screaming louder than the others and try to approach every person that have a look of a tourist and screaming the list of things that you have to offer also seems to be a good way to do it.

My friend Guillermo sells biodynamic fruit and veg at the Sunday Brixton Farmers market. He’s the best seller of the farm, why? Many reasons, but one important is because he screams better and louder than the other shy sellers. In Cartagena they scream if they have the time to think of what to say, but if you pass in front of them in a moment that they are not focused on the job they just scream at you “A la orden“ literally, “I am ready to receive your orders”.

Another shock factor of Cartagena is the fact that at night, after dark, the beautiful
Outside the centreOutside the centreOutside the centre

Busy roads, colourful derelict buildings and many people around. Intense.
colonial centre turns seedy and dodgy (dodgy faces everywhere) trying to sell you drugs, or in the case of Venezuelan immigrants - following you down the street as they come up with a rap that’s tailored to you and then asking for money for their song. Some of them were actually quite good and made rhymes about me being Italian and Daria’s pretty pink lips. (I didn’t give them anything...) On the female side, at night the prostitutes come out to the main square. Some Colombian women dress very provocatively so we found ourselves playing the game “is she...or isn’t she?” (a prostitute)...if you went to the square after 9pm then 99% were definitely there for money and some old fat white gringos were there taking their pick. It was all very unsavoury and sad.

Because the sea side in Cartagena is not that nice we decided to take a tour to one of the closer Caribbean beaches that we saw advertised everywhere. There is this one called Playa Blanca that sounded good to us - 1 hour from the town, we thought it would be enough to get out of the city crowds, pollution and vendors
El SombreroEl SombreroEl Sombrero

This is a street ceviche place that has been recommended to us, you can choose the size of the plastic cup you want, different types and costs. Than you eat it seated on plastic chairs that create an half circle in front of the big sombrero roof. Amazing street food!
screaming. We were so wrong!

Playa Blanca beach is a white sand Caribbean beach; a place that could be very nice and a destination where tourists and locals could enjoy the crystal sea water and relax on the white sand. I had a go in the water with my goggles (my essential travel kit got justified once again) and between all the colourful fishes and small corals I also spotted a shoe size box blow fish, he was hidden below a rock and when he saw me looking at him with his huge roundy eyes, he moved from that rock to another one, slowly, so I could admire him swimming too.

The peace was short lived. Once we arrived on the beach we were assaulted by locals trying to get us on their beach beds and screaming all the menu of the “restaurant” and all the drinks we could get for them and so on. One girl tried to explain to us that the end of the beach wasn’t safe and that we should stay where her cousin has a nice spot to have food, drinks, beach beds, shade and so on. We tried
The Russian BarThe Russian BarThe Russian Bar

This is a bar completely decorated with a lot of old CCCP paraphernalia from soviet army stuff to matryoshkas. We had to take a pic of Daria!
to get rid of her and the others like her but it wasn’t easy. In the end, we found a spot where some nice hippies had set up a little campsite, that was clear of vendors and beach bars. Before we were advised about another guy that the police won’t allow you to go that far, but it was just another way to want to us to keep us close to their selling. After a lot of walking we were happy to have found a trunk tree where to sit and relax close to the silent hippies and where to rest on the shadow of a skinny tree and eat our rice and prawns we had with us in the tupperware (another travel kit essential). This is where I had my little swim with the blow fish.

The beach was crowded so we could think that in the water could be a good way to escape the mess of people, mainly vendors but no, in the water wasn’t t safe at all, guys with jet skis were going around screaming at people to come on board with them or rent their jets to have fun. There were
Old cartOld cartOld cart

Some street vendors, in particular the one selling fruits and the green mangos have old carts to bring around their products, some of them are scruffy as I like, this one was momentarily left alone on the street, I had the chance to take the picture. Very Caribbean!
no safe swimming spots since boats could go whereever they wanted - no rules, no security buoys, and to add to the discomfort of the situation, the smell and fumes of the engine was the cherry on the cake. Being on a pristine beach with that stink stressed me out - it was so grotesque that it made the situation ridiculous. We also saw two guys trying to bring a crate of beers with their motorbike on the beach. The bike kept stopping every two metres because the wheels would get stuck in the sand, yet they countinued giving it more gas and more stinky fumes from the exhaust pipe. The guys weren’t aware of the discomfort they were creating for the people on the beach, they were too busy trying to deliver their beers, anyway nobody looked molested by them, just us, the “Martians”.

On our way back to the busses we realised that from the morning a lot of other people arrived on the beach, so many tourist buses now parked. The beach was definitely overcrowded by then, and so we were happy to go back. A northern European guy, we don’t know exactly where
Playa BlancaPlaya BlancaPlaya Blanca

We are good to take picture in the right moment and place to make places even more beautiful and peaceful of what they really are. Here no jet skis passing and no fat Americans with piñacoladas on the shore. It was the most remote and so quiet place of the beach were I went to have a little snorkel and meet the big eye blow fish.
from, was telling an American man how this guy tried to inflate his lunch bill asking him for 1 million Pesos (250£) and how in the end he managed to reduce it to “just” 300,000 Pesos (70£). It didn’t happen to us because we were already alerted by our friend Juan Camilo, he told us to ask always, no matter what, the price before to ordering literally anything.

After coming back to our hotel that was located in a street that strangely was very quiet and specially at night, we went out for dinner to a ceviche restaurant that also Juan Camilo recommended, great food, we stuffed our faces and we went there again too, we easily learned our way there: arrive to the little square where everybody hang out then pass the bridge to exit the old city and at the third prostitute turn right on the main square where the Venezuelan rapper will sing to you for some coins, then turn left and after two “a la orden” screamers you’ll find the place to your right, you can’t miss it! On the way back you just have to do the route the opposite way back but just remember the that the two “a la orden” will become “tell me what drugs you want, I have everything” and that the prostitutes now became 5 and 1 of them is seriously under age. That’s Cartagena for you!


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