Cartagena Update

David & Valerie Allen
Wed 16 Dec 2009 18:02
10:24.30 N   75:32.56 W

Wednesday, December 16, 2009.

Just a few little anecdotes about events in Cartagena this week.

It's beginning to look a lot more like Christmas up north.  The streets in the Old City are crammed with little stalls and busy shoppers.  There are even carts devoted entirely to Christmas lights and decorations.  As we walked through the streets yesterday on a quest for new bath and beach towels at EXITO (the local equivalent of Wal-Mart) I experienced a eureka! moment.  In a shop window was a coil of green rope lights!  We quickly purchased two to make up our mast Christmas tree (complete with an illuminated "angel", of course).  Unfortunately, one rope doesn't work.  Dave is attempting to fix it now, and, if that doesn't work, we will try to be creative in using the single strip.

One day, while exploring the Old City during lunch hour(when everything was closed), we were ambling along when Alex, our guide recognized us and gave us a tour of the Centro Cartagena American School, where he works full time (tours are his secondary job).  We even climbed up to the roof terrace to admire a view not too many tourists get to see.  What a lovely spot in the late afternoon!

Viewing the city from the rooftop with Alex.

Looking into the neighbours' courtyard.

We spent that day touring the Maritime Museum and the next day exploring the Museum of the Inquisition and the Gold Museum with Karen and Ralph.

The Maritime Museum has some lovely mock-ups pf the development of Cartagena's defense system.  Some explain the events in various major battles as well.  I was surprised to learn that originally the CENTRO district was an island connected by a bridge to GETSEMANI.  Later fill was added to make it part of the mainland.  I also learned that the reason Vernon abandoned his siege of Cartagena when he was so close to success was because of the increasing illness of his crew from tropical diseases.

The Inquisition Museum was a bit disappointing.  Cartagena was the centre for the Inquisition in the New World in the time of the Spaniards.  There are some interesting historical exhibits on the upper floors.  The building itself is gorgeous- a fine example of the noble houses in Centro and beautifully maintained.  I could have spent hours ensconced in the garden courtyard.

The Gold Museum was a small treasure.  The first surprise was the cost of admission- FREE!  There were stunning artifacts from the pre-Spanish era and a good description of how the villages and their crafts developed along the major river systems.  Vast irrigation systems were designed and built to aid in agriculture along the flood plains.  Homes were built on raft-like structures and  in times of flood, people just resettled to accommodate them.  Today flooding is a major problem where homes are now in fixed locations!  I have always admired the black and white woven "cowboy" hats produced locally.  Apparently each weaving pattern tells a story particular to the area in which it was manufactured.

After all this culture, the four of us really enjoyed lunch at El Bistro.  This is a lovely little restaurant where mostly local people gather for delicious food, fantastic fresh-baked baguettes and an enjoyable atmosphere surrounded by eclectic artwork.  We highly recommend it!

El Bistro restaurant near Santo Domingo Plaza

This city is full of pleasant surprises.  One of them was the beautiful street of flower shops with the owners of the shops and stalls busily creating floral arrangements wherever they could find a place to sit!

Karen admiring the craftsmanship.

Yes, they ARE real!

Another surprise occurred when the two of us decided to get a haircut.  I don't think Dave has ever been in a shop where the hairdressers all wore pink pantsuits before!  We each had our hair cut and washed- for a grand total of $7.00!!!

There was an unsettling incident of a boat being broken into this week. One catamaran, despite warnings on the cruisers' daily radio net of thefts at Christmas time, had left a hatch open while the owner was ashore in the early evening.  He returned to find his boat lighter by a few articles- computer, cell phone, radio, camera, etc.  The thieves had employed his own hammer to try to open his safe.  We haven't heard yet if the police have managed to find the thieves or his possessions.

Dave felt a bit like a thief the other day.  He was in the dinghy going to Club Nautico when he noticed a wooden dugout (the vessel of choice of all the local fishermen) drifting along trailing its painter.  He proceeded to tow it to the dock in order to secure it, when up popped the owner wearing a mask and snorkel!

Surprisingly, despite thefts- with dinghies being a prime target- two general announcements in the past day have come over the radio announcing that a dinghy was drifting by a boat and would the owners please come claim them!  Whatever happened to "lock it or lose it"???

Because we had not made the association- because of varying reports- we thought there had been two break-ins on consecutive days (AND we had not heard about the open hatch).  With all the "stuff" on board for our circumnavigation and because of the diminishing time frame left before we join the rally (thereby making replacement of parts and items unrealistic), we were very nervous about leaving the boat in the evenings.  Accordingly, Dave decided to stay aboard while many of the rest of us went to the ballet at the Cultural Centre on Sunday.It was a shame, because it was a magical evening!!

The performance was presented by a local dance academy, Los Cisnes.  The children, ranging from about 4 to 14 years of age, put on a recital to remember.  No interminable waits for children to be ushered in between acts,  there were 44 acts running continuously for three hours.  The dancers were very accomplished and one in particular was brilliant.  Even the tiniest dancers knew their routines and were right on their marks every time.  The costumes were incredible.  Seeing that each child had at least 4 costumes, each with matching shoes and all of the older children had toe shoes as well, I suspect that this is not a school for the disadvantaged!

The grand finale.