Sunday, 17 July 2011

Arrival in Colombia: Cartagena de Indias

After relaxing in Cusco for another couple of days after the trek to Machu Picchu, Stu and I flew back to Lima for just one night back at the volunteer flat before catching our flight to Colombia. We had decided to skip straight to the Caribbean coast for the final month of our trip, and it was certainly a big change! Getting off the plane was like stepping into a wall of humidity and heat - which was actually just what we were looking for after spending the last couple of months wrapped up against the cold. On the way to our hostel it started raining - heavy, tropical rain. We´d barely slept the night before and were exhausted, so it was a bit of a downer at first. But once the sun came out the next day we really started to enjoy Cartagena. Cartagena de Indias (the city´s full name) is an old colonial city, and the walled old section is beautiful - plazas, balconies covered in bougainvillea, horse-drawn carts and stalls selling mango slices. We were staying just outside the colonial centre in a slightly down-an-out neighbourhood called Getsemani, which is where all the cheap hostels are - it wasn´t too shady, but it certainly didn´t have the charm of the centre. There were street parties blasting vallenato music in the alley outside our hostel most nights! Although one nice thing about our hostel was that we made friends with fellow guest Richie, from Ireland, and convinced him to come trekking with us the following week!

Cartagena in the rain:
Most of our time in Cartagena was spent wandering about the city and enjoying the warm weather and views from the fort walls along the sea. We also tried local Colombian food straight away, and it is delicious - much nicer than Peruvian food in my opinion. Think beans, rice, fried plantains, veggies, arepas (cornflour patties), and meaty things for Stu such as spiced minced beef and fresh fish from the Caribbean of course. Colombia also boasts amazing tropical fruits and delicious super-sweet sweets in the same vein as Indian sweets, which I love. Just inside the walled colonial centre is an alley called El Portal de los Dulces, which is a sweet market with loads of stalls selling sweets predominantly made from coconut, nuts, or arequipe (a milky caramel substance which is much the same thing as dulce de leche in Argentina and manjar blanco in Peru). Yum!

View of a typical plaza from the city walls:

Another visit we made was to the Palacio de la Inquisicion, which is a museum that documents the history of the city, and in particular the effect of the Spanish Inquisition there. There was a display of some grisly torture instruments, but most of them had a sign next to them saying that these weren´t actually ever used in Cartagena (the Inquisition seems to have been at its most brutal back in Europe). The whole museum was in a beautiful old colonial palace, which was worth a look in itself.

You can really tell you are in the Caribbean here: the people, the music, the heat, the sea all give it a really different feel to the previous places we´ve been. Here we are with a couple of local women selling fruit from the baskets on their heads:

Cartagena was fun, but after a couple of days we had enough of the city and decided to head along the coast to the village of Taganga...

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