Cartagena and Bocogrande | Oct 23-25
Cartagena Travel Blog› entry 3 of 8 › view all entries
October 23rd, 2009 – by: kiwicarol
After arriving at the Hotel San Pietro in Bocagrande (approx. US$70 p/night), we dropped our bags in our room and went out searching for a place to exchange money and to find food to satisfy a pair of vegetarians... a delicious first-time experience of whole fried fish (we made a concession due to lack of options!) and patacones (a kind of fried plantain fritter) had my belly satisfied and my taste-buds excited. We opted for a post-meal stroll along the beach to watch the sunset and find someone to give my leftovers to. It didn't take long for the vendors to spot the newbies and soon we were surrounded by a swarm of people aggressively pushing oysters, coconuts, crab legs and handicrafts in our faces. As Fernando extricated me from the grip of an overly-zealous would-be masseur, I made a mental note of Lesson Number Two: don't abandon City Cynicism entirely.
It took us a few days to realize that, although our hotel was lovely, clean, quaint and very friendly, the location in Bocagrande was unnecessarily far from any activities you'd do in Cartagena. The neighborhood of Bocagrande is like many outer-city neighborhoods, with run-down streets and ordinary shops and restaurants. Every morning and evening we would cab our way out of Bocagrande into the old city, where just walking around the narrow streets with balconies spilling with flowers, seeing all the colourful fruit vendors mixed in with people living on the street, conspired to make us think of ourselves as professional photographers a.k.a National Geographic-style. For three days our cameras continually snapped as we'd turn a corner and encounter yet another pretty street or gnarly door.
In between shooting award-winning photos of doors, we decided to explore the city on foot and on day one we took ourselves to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas - a self-guided tour with the highlights being amazing views and the many tunnels to explore; and visited Convento de la Popa - a winding drive through a poor and sketchy neighborhood, to a church at one of the highest points in the city, with even more wonderful views. The trip to la Popa came recommended as the 'must see' attraction, by every local we spoke with - however, we probably spent less than 25 minutes looking at the small chapel and pretty courtyard before heading back to the city. Our second day was spent relaxing on Isla del Pirata - a tiny, beautiful, secluded island, approx. 45mins by boat from the port, where we snorkeled, sunbathed and hung out with Izaac, a delightfully energetic 71-year old Russian Jewish man who has spent the past few years traveling to every country he can think of, and who was determined to teach us a few words in Russian.
It's not necessary to organize any of these excursions in advance of arrival. However, had I not had a Spanish-speaking companion, I most certainly would have gotten lost at least once or twice trying to find the Castillo, would not have had the benefit of discussing which Isla would best suit my wants, and I would have spent a lot longer gathering information with my Language Barrier and City Cynicism preventing me from trusting anyone I spoke with! I was simultaneously grateful to Fernando and his Warm Heart for taking on the burden of being solely responsible for gathering information, and furious at myself for not being able to participate in the conversations.
By night we wandered around the city taking artistic night-time photos of doors; eating outside in the Plaza Santa Domingo while watching the musicians serenade diners; and always paying a visit to what became our favourite chill-out bar - Cafe del Mar.
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