Cartagena Touring

David & Valerie Allen
Wed 9 Dec 2009 15:39
10:24.30 N   75:32.56 W

Wednesday, December 9, 2009.

Over the past few days we have been getting acquainted with this amazing city.

On our first morning walk, we planned to "walk the wall", but got sidetracked a bit and found ourselves at el castillo San Felipe.  We waited until it opened, purchased tickets and climbed to the top and wandered through its labyrinthine tunnels.  These passages formed an efficient means of moving men and munitions to various guns and also served as a way to block off tunnels from invading enemies.  Some of the tunnels are at and below sea level, making provisioning easier.  The most effective attacker was the British Admiral Edward Vernon, who was accompanied by George Washington's brother, who later named his estate, Mount Vernon in the admiral's honour.

Dave ensuring the safety of  castillo San Felipe

After this excursion, we finally managed to obtain a map of Cartagena, which makes finding our way about the Old City a little easier.

Another morning we finally walked the wall and got tantalizing glimpses into the courtyards and narrow streets.  That evening as we were about to enter through the Clock Tower Gate, we met up with a parade of beautifully attired dance groups from around the world, smiling and dancing up a storm.  Of course we had left the camera on board!

One morning in the square in front of the aduana it seemed as if we were back in Hong Kong on a Sunday morning.  Dozens of young women were setting out blankets and picnics for the day and carrying coolers and cakes to share with their friends!

The city really comes to life at night.  All the shops are open, people are milling about or sitting on the sidewalks. "No, gracias" becomes your mantra as vendors are peripatetic and not shy about approaching you.  Delicious aromas from every cuisine imaginable entice you to the restaurants, cafes and street food carts.  Christmas lights and ornaments abound (except when you want to find some lights to decorate your boat!).

The local people like to enjoy life- and they do!!!  Dinner is unavailable before 7:00 p.m. and even then, you would find yourself the only occupied table in a restaurant.  Music is everywhere!  Yesterday, when we toured the city areas with Alex, he pointed out that no matter how impoverished the family, it will own a ghetto blaster (and probably a cell phone as well)!  Tour and party boats zip through the harbour and anchorage until well past midnight (even with children aboard) blaring out music to the laughter and cheers of all on board.  On Sunday a local marina held a lighted boat parade (loosely defined) until almost 4:00 a.m.  Fireworks have been fired off on three occasions in the past week.  And yet, when one goes out walking around 6:30 a.m., everyone seems to be out getting their exercise before work!  People must work until lunchtime and then sleep all afternoon in the heat of the day in order to keep up this pace!

On the weekend there was a grand sailing regatta.  We had front row seats as the starting line was right behind us and the participants wove their way among the anchored boats before the race.

This ketch was one of the last to finish the race, but she certainly looked lovely.

As I mentioned previously, ten of us hired Alex and his wonderful airconditioned bus to take a tour of the city yesterday.  It was a great day for it as it was a national holiday for the Immaculate Conception and there was basically no traffic on the roads.  (Dave was even happier because very few shops were open, so he saved money!)  We toured most of the areas of Cartagena- from the luxurious hotel district of Bocagrande, to the industrial area around the open air market to the barrios where the poorest of the population (about half of the inhabitants) live, to a fishing village with so many seafood restaurants it reminded us of Lamma Island in Hong Kong and finally to the poorer Getsemani region of the Historic Section and the upscale region of the Old City.

Getsemani region of the Historic Area.

Dave paying court to the "lady of the City".  One is supposed to touch whatever parts one desires, and you can see what are the most well-worn parts!

Alex was an excellent guide- knowledgeable, personable and a fluent English speaker.He works part time as an English teacher at a local American based school specializing in tourism studies, acts as a campaigner for improvements in housing and the supplying of schools to the children in the barrios and is planning to conduct volunteer English lessons with these children.  His son, Christian is following in his father's footsteps.

Our tour loose in the emerald district.

We had a wonderful outing- highly recommended- and completed the day with lunch in a restaurant located in an old mansion (lovely cross-ventilation from the elaborately barred windows!) supposedly serving typical local foods.   We didn't know what was on the menu, but ordered anyway.  Unfortunately, the kitchen was mostly out of the local dished and kept offering us alternatives.  We kept saying "si" and then just took whatever was available!  Tasty food, great company and a lot of fun!

Although we have not been successful yet in our quest for exterior Christmas lights (we should have been here a month ago, I suspect), we DO have our little tree set up on the table belowdecks.  Our Nativity decorations are in the corner and the stockings have been hung.  It is beginning to feel a bit like Christmas.  Also, we have purchased our tickets for the cruisers' Christmas potluck.  Now I just have to prepare cauliflower au gratin for fifteen people!

As I write this diary entry, Antonio is free-diving under ANGEL scraping off the barnacles that have developed in the week since we arrived-  this "soup" in which we sit is very nutrient rich!  I am so thankful I don't have to do the job!