My delicious arepa
I woke up pretty early this morning by a rooster singing (no kidding) and I got ready for breakfast. The lady cooked a very tasty arepa (Colombian and Venezuelan bread) stuffed with egg. The drink was something I had never had before. It looked like milk, but its taste was fruity and refreshing. I learned that it was a juice made of Guanabana blended with ice. Totally fresh! I asked the guy from the hostel how could I go to Cartagena downtown and he said the best and cheaper would be for me to take a bus. I wasn’t sure, as I would be carrying my laptop, but I asked the British tourists and they had done the same and said it was ok. They gave me precise instructions on when to go down from the bus.
I had to find the statue of the Indian Catalina, a few blocks from the first sight of the city wall.
A colorful neighborhood and a guapa walking by
In the bus I experienced the most intimate expressions of Cartagenian life in her most impoverished people. I have been in buses lots of times before, but I had never been in a bus this poor and driving in a place this poor. It took a few minutes to leave the slums and arrive to the city. The city walls of Cartagena looked impressive at first sight. I immediately found the Indian Catalina statue and stepped out of the bus.
I was in the city already, but I still had the feeling of being in a ghetto, especially by walking among all those fruit sellers by the busy streets. I did not want to look as a tourist, but as I was walking the streets heading downtown, street vendors started calling me: “Mexico, come over here!”, “Hey Mexico, andele, manito I got something to show you”.
I was like “How the hell could they guess I am from Mexico?” Then I looked at my CORONA T-shirt. Lol. Too good I didn’t want to look as a tourist!
I finally arrived to the first interesting point. It was Plaza de la Paz and there was a small tourist information spot over there. I asked the girl for a map and information on the tours, and she immediately tried to hook me into one. They offered a walking tour for about 15 dollars, and I declined as I could do that myself. Then she offered another one on a coach, but it was about 30 dollars... I thought it was too much, especially being on a budget as I am. I thanked her for the map and walked towards the Cathedral. I have plenty of experience in Latin American cities, and the heart of the city is always the Cathedral.
From there I would decide where to go. After the Cathedral, I found the Plaza de Bolivar, a very green and moisturized (because of the water of the fountains) square where I sat for a while. The Museum of the Inquisition was across the street and I decided to pay it a visit.
Me with Colombian flag and cannon
After that, I decided to look what I really came to Cartagena to see, the city walls. I was instructed by a man in the street that they were just a couple of blocks away from where I was, so I got there quickly. The sight was impressive! Now I really felt in Cartagena. That area of the city is really outstanding. 11 kilometers of wall built to protect the city from the evil pirates. The view from that place of the old city, the business district and the sea were astonishing.
Obviously, it wasn’t long before a vendor struck me.
He said hi and I defensively said I didn’t need anything (as I had been refusing countless other vendors before in that very morning), but he kept on talking saying it wouldn’t cost me anything. I did not believe him but I let him speak. He said he was the “official” tour guide of the Cartagena walls. I couldn’t but roll my eyes to that, lol. Then he asked me if I was from Spain and I said no. He asked me where I was from and I said Mexico, and he started talking to me with the annoying Mexico City accent. I said “well, I am not from Mexico City, but from Chihuahua” and he said “oh yes, we have had many people from there too” but he kept on talking to me in the same “chilango” accent, and calling me “manito” and “güey”. He may have noticed I did not approve and he asked “don’t you guys say ‘güey’ in Chihuahua?” And I said “yes, we do say it” (trying to show with my face that he could stop talking in “Mexican”, hehe).
Me by the sea
He did a quite good description of the wall and the history behind, so I did not regret hiring him. He also helped me take some pictures of me that I couldn’t have done by myself. In the end he did try to sell me something, but I said I would just give him something for the tour. I gave him 15,000 pesos (about 7.5 dollars), but I thought they were well worth it.
Wall, cannons and skycrappers
I kept on walking through other city landmarks mentioned in the map and then it started to rain. I thought it was a good moment to look for a place to have lunch and I found a place that looked authentic enough and cheap enough by Plaza San Martin. I ordered whatever was on their menu of the day and I had a vegetarian crepe. OMG it was so delicious!!! They served it with lemonade prepared in a similar way to the Guanabana juice I had in the morning.
It was a delicious food for only about 5 dollars.
Lovely Colombian lady
By this moment the pain due to my kidney stent was killing me because of so much walking, so I sat by Plaza San Martin for a bit. I tried to resume my walking but I could only get as far as the Convent of Saint Dominic and I decided I was not going to push too hard, I had seen what I wanted to see of Cartagena by then. I walked to the bus station and headed back to my slum. I got there pretty early and after a shower and resting a bit I relaxed a bit in the pool and the hammock nearby. To end the day, I watched the final game of the Colombian soccer tournament with the guys from the hostel. It had been a very complete and awesome Cartagenian day! I had upgraded from the slums to the historical quarters of the city.
Tomorrow I will visit the resort area and I am sure things will change dramatically.
All I can say is that Cartagena really makes me feel I am in the Caribbean. Not just the city walls, the tropical weather, the fruit vending and the afro-american women dressed in colorful costumes, but also the Haitian-like life of the slums and the feeling of being in what was once a fortress against piracy –and evil.