Tuesday, 14 June 2011

'Pon the Caribbean Coast: Cartagena


Cartagena de Indias, more commonly known as Cartagena is a large, Caribbean, beach resort city located to the north of the Caribben coast in Colombia. It is the capital city of the Bolivar department, a VERY popular tourist destination and the fifth largest city in Colombia. Cartagena was the third stop on our tour and in my opinion, the BEST town on the Caribbean coast. This is what happened!

For the second time that week, I found myself on a corner in Santa Marta at 3AM waiting for a bus. I was in a better mood that morning having slept more than four hours but that didn't stop me from sleeping on the way to Cartagena. I got up somewhere on the outskirts of Cartagena and the first thing I saw was the biggest mangrove on the face of the earth; it seemed to go on for miles and miles. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure that it was a mangrove because it just looked like a huge river that had trees growing out of it- gosh, my third form Geography teacher would be proud. Surprisingly, there were people living on the dry parts of the mangrove/ river with trees in it. I could see smoke coming out of their small, wooden houses while their drying clothes billowed in the wind and their small boats sat moored in the brackish water. It was a truly humbling sight to see. There was so much more water, trees and mountains to see as we got closer to Cartagena and it was nice being able to experience more of God's creations and appreciate just how awesome he is.

El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was the landmark that greeted us when we entered Cartagena. The magnificent castle was constructed by the Spaniards during colonial times and served as a fort. The castle sat atop a hill and looked simply marvellous with its colonial architecture and the Colombian flag perched on top, blowing in the Caribbean breeze. The bus parked at the bottom of the hill and the tour guide told us that we had ten minutes to "look around". I was kind of upset because I REALLY wanted an opportunity to climb up to the castle to see it's beauty up close and personal but alas, we were on a tour and the world does not revolve around me. Sadly, I had to settle for marvelling at its historical significance from afar. Two women could be seen setting up their stalls in the hopes of selling their souvenirs to tourists. By the time I found something that I wanted, bargained with the woman and purchased the souvenir at a reduced price, it was time to go. Once again, we had to wait for 300 who wanted to take photos of EVERYTHING. Now don't get me wrong, taking photos is all good and what not but within 300 there are ten family units, each with their own camera meaning that we had to wait for each unit to take about six pictures of the same thing; that's NOT annoying AT ALL! After what seemed like an eternity, 300 returned to the bus and we were on our way.

It was during this leg of the trip that I noticed that there was something wrong on the bus. Someone decided to use the toilet and when they opened the toilet door, the strangest, most disgusting, public bathroom scent greeted me. I was momentarily confused by the smell but more so by the fact that the drivers had NOT cleaned the bathroom the day before. Forty five people on a bus, most of them having used the toilet the day before during our DAY LONG trip to LG and they thought it wise to NOT clean the toilet that we were supposed to use for another DAY LONG trip. Like, really? According to my friend, "Some people logic just different!" Our next stop and possibly the COOLEST tourist destination in Cartagena was the actual place where the aristocracy lived and entertained during colonial times. From the outside, it looked both terrifying and somewhat regal with its towering walls meant to keep out the lower classes back in the day. My first thought when I entered was, "Doh shit me up!" Every building was so well preserved even after all that time, I felt like I had teleported back in time and as I looked around I could imagine the women walking around with their little fans, laughing haughtily while the men sat, smoking tobacco, figuring out the best way to take over the world. They had everything they needed; a church, a square with a statue, a nice garden area, shops, a look out and even, cannons in case of an early morning invasion from the French. We were also very lucky to witness the Good Friday procession that was happening in the square close to the church. Good times, good times!

Owing to the fact that I was immersed in culture all morning, I didn't realise that I was hungry until we arrived at the restaurant where we were going to have breakfast. Breakfast wasn't a grand affair this time around but it tasted great. Breakfast... check. Culture... check. It was beach time! The beach of choice was Bocagrande (Big Mouth), a fitting name since the beach seemed to go on for miles on either side. I had heard that the beaches in Cartagena were to die for but quite frankly, Bocagrande was normal and looked like any old beach in Mayaro. When I asked the tour guide why this was so he let me know that the nicest parts of Bocagrande were exclusive for the tourists that visited the area and were very expensive. I should have guessed, it happens all over the world. We rented a tent and almost immediately, this water baby was in the ocean; the water was warm and shallow while the waves were fantastic. The locals all looked like relatives or friends from Trinidad and for a few hours I felt like I was home although I was soaking up the sun on another continent. Overall, it was a good day in Cartagena and the inevitable started to sink in, we were going back to Bogotá the following day.

Later on that night, we decided to take advantage of our last night in Santa Marta and hit the town. The tour guide had organized a Champeta band (Google it!) to play for us on the beach and then, we would go to a club. At first, I was annoyed about going to the beach to hear the band play for reasons that are way too long to describe in this blog post. However, once they started playing and I got absorbed in the culture, I really started to enjoy the ambience so much so that I started to dance. The band played for about 30 minutes and then, it was time to go to the club. I had a feeling that one or two people in particular were going to annoy the hell out of me because: 1) they seemed like sloppy drunks and 2) they were "outta timing" with some of the things that they said when they were sober. Until they proved me right, I decided to enjoy myself because when was I going to a handsome, 21 year old language student in Santa Marta again? I danced, mingled, sang, drank, posed for pictures, took photos and flirted with a woman twice my age. Sadly, my premonition would soon come true as the bill came and we noticed that we had drank more than $100.000 pesos in drinks. My money was dwindling so I drank one beer for $2.500 pesos, which I gave to them to help pay the bill. My notion was to pay for what I consumed and that's exactly what I did. The others didn't agree with my notion and wanted to divide the bill between the eleven of us so as to find out how much everyone should pay. I let them know that I had had ONE beer, I didn't partake in the two bottles of Aguadiente (puncheon) nor the eleven Club Colombia beers nor the sparkling, bottled water so I had NO intention of paying for what I did not consume! I was even more annoyed by how they started to argue over the bill amongst themselves while the owner and workers at the bar looked on, pissed because they wanted to leave and had to endure, "Dawn of the Jackasses" (coming soon to a theatre near you). I felt embarrassed as well because I came there with those jackasses. I was fed up, sleepy and ready to go so I was relieved when they sorted out their business and were ready to leave like the drunken messes they were. However, one guy wasn't done annoying me, he decided that it was his place to walk next to me and tell me about my flaws as though he was Dr. Phil or something. Urgh, I was ready to explode but I didn't because he was drunk and it was partially his fault that he was acting like a nanny- hole. I walked off and went about my way, reaching the hostel wanting nothing more than to go to bed. Sigh!

All in all, 'twas an AMAZING day in Cartagena. Next- Santa Marta 2!