During my trip to Colombia, I was able to visit Cartagena de Indias. It was a last minute trip that I am ecstatic to have had the opportunity to take. I am also very lucky to have awesome family members that welcomed me into their home for a week and became my tour guides, as it was my first time ever visiting the coast of Colombia. The longer I spend traveling in this country, the more I fall in love with it. From the mountains of Medellin to the coffee plantation of el Eje Cafetero, I can honestly say I was born in the most beautiful country in the world.
Now, I am going to break down my visit to Cartagena by my 5 senses: hear, sight, smell, taste and touch.
Hear: One night I decided to get lost in the historic center of the Cartagena by myself. I let the noise be my guide. First, in front of the Inquisition museum, I encountered a group of dancers dancing Mapalé and Cumbia— two traditional Colombian dances. I was blown away by their artistic abilities, as were the other hundred or so people staring along side with me. I continued my tour by following a group of “wanna be” reggaetoneros. With a beatbox in one hand and a microphone in the other, the teens weren’t even half bad. However, after hearing enough Reggaeton, I found myself climbing up the fortress to a bar to listen to a group perform classic Salsa songs. I stopped for a while to enjoy the breeze and a drink. Finally, I made my way out of the historic center and down a street called La Media Luna. When you first go down the street it seems like it is quite and not much going on, but once the street curves— Bam!—both locals and tourists dancing the night away to Champeta- traditional Colombian music that originated in Cartagena with a heavy influence from African beats and moves. It was truly an incredible way to explore the city!
Sight: It is really hard not to fall in love with the Historic Center of the city. I took a romantic stroll by on the fortress one night. The walled city’s architecture, mimics the colonial design of its Spanish conquer’s, specifically of Andalusia—the southern region of Spain. The colorful decor of the homes and shops, mixed with the flower accents, transported me to colonial times. I climbed up to the fortress to try to find my way through the maze that is the walled city, however the moon was overlooking the ocean and the dim lighting along the fortress created such beautiful scene it made me not want to find a way out. I watched people in all stages of life enjoy the breezy night walking, talking, and savoring the incredible view of the historic center. The previous day I had the opportunity to visit El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. This castle/fortress gives sight to the whole city. From the buildings in Bocagrande to the La Popa Monastery. But the most beautiful sight had to be the Colombian flag blowing in the air on top of the castle. What a beauty!
Smell: I wish I could say that everything was perfect in Cartagena, however if you smell closely, the wall that encloses the Historic Center has a certain stench. My cousin explained… Colombia is a very stratified country. It is divided by race, region, socioeconomic class, as well as other factors. Perhaps the most common is the division by socioeconomic class. They actually classify people by “estratos”. These estratos, measure everything from income to the location of the home. It is a way for the rich to subsidize the poor, as the higher the estrato, the more taxes someone pays, the more houses cost, the more utilities are, and the less social benefits you receive. Cartagena’s City Center is one of the highest estratos there can be, however drive 20-30 minutes south and the estratos change drastically. These people in the lower estratos are paid the minimum which is barely enough to survive, they cannot afford expensive things nor the best food. People living here feel like the system has failed them. They have no sense of pertenencia (in spanish this means a sense belonging, identity, and pride) of their city and thus they have retaliated against it. One common way of retaliation was to pee of the wall/fortress. So that stench that one may smell while walking on the fortress is the retaliation of cartageneros against the system. On the positive side, la alcaldia or the government of Cartagena has created many campaigns to help people from the area feel attached to the city to create this sense of pertenencia in all of its citizens. They even have designated days when the entrance to the attractions are free so the locals can take advantage of their treasures.
Taste: My taste buds had a field day in Cartagena. One morning we got up early and drove an hour to Gambote. We pulled up to huts in the middle of a road, and not knowing what I had gotten myself into, I quickly got out of the car. We were surrounded by trucks and truck drivers. We looked at each hut and decided on one— what was the criteria, really beats me. Regardless, I nervously sat down on a filthy chair and in that very moment, every inch of my body regretted wearing a white shirt. Across from me was a truck driver scarfing down a fried fish, rice, and cassava. I rested my arms on the table in order to not lean my white shirt on the dirty chair. Bad choice… I picked my arms up and they were covered in a black and sticky something. I quickly grabbed napkins and wiped my arms and the table. Lets just say the napkin was now the opposite of white. At last, my feast was placed in front of me. I squeeze my lime on top of the fried fish and dove into my breakfast. The outside was crunchy, while the inside was soft and salty. Each bite tasted better than the previous one. I no longer remembered that my white shirt was dirty, nor that I had grabbed a fish with my bare hands without washing them first (lets keep that a secret from my OCD mom). The only thing I felt was the sour lime and the salty river fish excite each taste bud in my mouth. It may have been the best breakfast I had that week—or ever.
Touch: I did an audio tour through the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. During the tour I was encouraged to touch the walls of the castle. The coral-like structure protected what was once La Gran Colombia from invaders and from colonial powers. Touching it was like a having a flashback to the many wars and the violence that this fortress was built to withstand. Now it serves as a reminder of the perseverance of my fellow countrymen. As I continued the tour I also felt the small drops of sweat caress my face, my neck and eventually every part of my body. The high humidity and the beating sun combined for a feeling of bochorno or extreme/ suffocating heat. But as the sun met the skyline and breeze from the ocean picked up, the sweat cooled against my skin and I felt refreshed. It was another great night in a beautiful city.
Quote of the day: “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”