Cartagena de Indias is the bread and butter of Colombian tourism. A beautiful colonial town with still intact walled remains, it is almost de rigor for anyone visiting Colombia to include it in their itinerary. Colorful, gorgeous and a historical delight, it is also the most touristy place in Colombia, and the sheer amount of vendors reflects that. Our entire time in Cartagena, we were on autopilot for a polite 'No gracias' every 20 seconds or so.
Determined to keep to budget in such an expensive city (by Colombian standards) but also wanting to stay within the walls for at least some of our time there, I found a hostel room for 16,000 pesos - a great find when most rooms go for 20,000-22,000. When enthusiastically informing Bea and Helen about this, I strategically omitted the fact that our room was so cheap because it had an en suite bathroom open for use by the entire hostel. When I did tell them, we all dreaded constant nighttime bathroom visits, but the amount of visits by out of roomers was thankfully low. Sadly, within 5 minutes of arrival, Helen´s exploration of the kitchen facilities revealed that the kitchen was infested with rats. Thus, poor Bea discovered that both Helen and I are deathly afraid of rats and ended up being our nanny for our entire time at the hostel. Forced to fetched any item we needed from the kitchen and cooking dinner for all of us on her own, she definitely earnt the status as the reason behind the name ´Team Beatrice´. Sorry Bea!
Colombian dancing in the square on our first night
We spent our first night wandering around the cobbled streets of Cartagena, buying sugary coconut treats, sipping on fresh juice and watching street dancing. We randomly found a massive music festival outside the walls, with Colombians breaking into impromptu salsa all over the place. After a night´s sleep that thankfully didn´t involve a rat nibbling on my toes, we got up determined to historify ourselves. Looking forward to a day in a big city after lots of nature and small towns, we spent the day ambling around the Old City seeing the sights, taking far too many photos and constantly repeating ourselves exclaiming at just how beautiful it all was. The colonial architecture in Cartagena is gorgeous and everywhere you look there are bursts of color. As per usual in Colombia, it was humid and HOT, and we had lots of breaks in various parks and plaza, enjoying watching the world go by.
Impromptu salsa - just another day in Colombia
At night, we readied ourselves for a big night out with copious amounts of rum and two new Australian friends, 2 guys who had just travelled down Central America. Embarrassingly, later that night when those copious amounts of rum had had the desired effect on me, I drunkenly asked them whether they had tried cocaine yet...while they were high on cocaine. I should have known better, as our hostel was rife with it - the first night we arrived, the group of people we were talking to were discussing the merits of buying half a gram or a full gram, and offering bumps. Cocaine isn´t very popular amongst Colombians, so really it´s just all the dumb gringo backpackers who made it feel like cocaine was everywhere, especially when we walked over to the clubs and got offered it on street corners. Anyway, no cocaine for Team Beatrice and it was a night full of salsa and a lot of drunken flashbacks the next morning.
Team Beatrice take Cartagena
Roll on the next morning and we experienced a conundrum known to travelers worldwide: overdue laundry needs meaning you literally have nothing clean left to wear. Off our clothes went to the lavanderia, and off we went in our party clothes from last night. Team Beatrice - Keeping Cartagena Festive (and kind of smelly). We had a very enjoyable time scrambling around the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, running around the tunnels and hiding from the rain, attempting to translate the rather useless brochure´s paltry attempt at history. On the way there, one eager young man who was following in the footsteps of many, many other Colombian men who assume gringas are all up for it 24/7 very earnestly informed me of his favourite thing by following and shouting, ¨I like sex! I like sex! ¨. The constant sexual catcalling in Colombia always entertained me greatly, although Bea and Helen weren´t such fans. We had every variation from the very vanilla ´Hey sexy lady´ to the more interesting ´Ohhh you want baby?¨ topped off by one enterprising gentleman clearly trying to set himself apart from the crowd, who asked Bea, ¨Hey beautiful lady. Are you from Africa? ¨
After our fort sojourn we walked back through the maze of Cartagena streets and when the skies opened up, did some dancing in the rain. Assuming it was just a little shower, we kept walking before eventually concluding, soggy and not so smelly anymore, it was a rainstorm equivalent to the one that led to the creation of Noah´s Ark. We feasted on pizza slices and watched the furious pounding for a good hour before dashing home, arriving absolutely soaked. We had a delightfully cozy afternoon wearing our warm winter clothes that we had been lugging around since the wintery Andes and not needed whatsoever since entering more tropical locales and reading our books. If anyone wants a good book recommendation, ´The Lost City of Z´, the book I was reading that afternoon is fantastic and a good read!
Dancing in the rain in the streets of Cartagena
People watching the streets of Cartagena from our patio