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Cartagena for a night or ten

COLOMBIA | Tuesday, 15 July 2008 | Views [763]

From the backpacker hangout of Taganga we headed to Cartagena. It has been described as one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in South America and I can understand why! It is an ecclectic mix of Caribbean, African and Spanish tastes and sounds. It was built almost 500 years ago as a main port to which the Spaniards brought their plundered treasures from the deep of the Americas to be shipped back to Europe. A series of forts protected it from the sea and the city was surrounded by high walls. Throughout history it was attacked by pirates, the French and the English. It was sacked a couple of times but most often withstood attacks including in the 18th century when 27,000 British troops were held out by 2000 Cartageneros lead by a one eyed, one legged, one armed commander named Blaz de Lego (true)!

After staying a night in the dodgiest, seediest street in the dodgiest, seediest part of town, we decided to move into the historical centre. There we found a clean and cheap hotel: even cheaper than the night before... Well, we soon learnt why when we saw couples coming in and paying for an hour or two and also noticed that the mattress was covered with vinyl! Yep, a love hotel. Nice. The whole situation normalised and we ended up staying for more than a few nights.

A few days before arriving in Cartagena, we had been day-dreaming about sailing and how, if possible, it would be cool to crew on a yacht during our travels. Cartagena seemed like a logical option so we typed up a notice; "Young Dr and Nurse available to crew, ocean experience (We didn't say sailing experience) and physically fit, fluent English and Swedish (they might think hot Swedish nurse- but they won't be completely wrong..), Basic Spanish and Japanese (did I mention Swahili?), Easy going". So, with notices in hand, we marched to the closest marina. "Es Privado", we were told by the guard holding a standard issue shotgun in hand. Bugger. We continued to the next marina and, along the way, I saw a young guy who was obviously a yachtie. We stopped him and asked him about where we should put our notices etc. He probably thought that we should put them were the sun don't shine but he humoured us and gave us some info in regards to this. It turned out that his name was Derek and he was the captain of a yacht that had just arrived. We kept chatting and he thought Dee was hot so he suggested we meet up with him and the rest of the crew for drinks later that night.

The place arranged for drinks was a bar perched up on the old fortification overlooking the town with a DJ booth situated in an old guard post and smells wofting from the open grill. Very cool! We waited for them to arrive, had dinner and waited some more but they never showed up; stood up!! That hasn't happened to me since 1986... (ie primary school). As we were about to leave, they came through the entrance and Derek introduced us to Caroline (Canadian), Joe (NZ), and Vivian (Bequian - a small Carribean island near St Vincent). We ordered a bottle of rum and the night set off from there. They told us that the boat they were crewing was a big yacht owned by a wealthy American who rarely used it... They turned out to be a really cool bunch and the night cracked on with more rum, salsa (interpretive white-man version apart from Viv's famous Bequia Wiggle) and a little more rum...

We awoke in out little love hotel the next morning a little worse for wear and decided to try to walk off our hangover by strolling through the old town. The old buildings, small squares and narrow streets are completely spectacular. That afternoon we went down to the marina, waved hi to the guard with his shotgun and strolled through to the dock this time. The guys welcomed us onto the yacht; an immaculate, very stylish wooden 74ft ketch with beautiful teak decks... Because our hangover wasn't bad enough from the night before, the partying began again... Dee had as a mission to set Joe up with one of the very pretty Colombian girls in the bar where we ended up. It became evident that 90% of the girls were hookers... what the!? Poor Joe. The night got crazier and crazier and, suffice to say, the sun was rising when we left the last place.

With out hangovers well and truly set in, we vowed not to party ever again.. for at least a few days. We spent much of the coming days with the guys from the yacht. It was just one of those sitauations where we all got along really well. We had BBQ's on their boat, went to a hot mud volcano where we drenched ourselves in the thick, chocolate-like liquid and had dinners around town. Good times!

The days just seemed to roll by and we kinda lost track of time. One evening we came back to our love hotel to be accosted by a big, burly latino guy who seemed to know a lot about us for someone who we had never met. We were polite, made ourselves scarce and went back to our room. About five minutes later we could hear him trying to line up a dorky American guy to be a drug-mule into the US! The whole love hotel concept was OK but big drug deals going on outside our room was a few too many stages from OK... The next morning I left Dee in bed and went out to find a place for us to spoil ourselves for a night or two (sometimes you get enough of grungy digs!). I came across an unbelievably nice little hotel in a 300 year old refurbished building which was straight out of Vogue Magazine. I told the owner that it was a suprise for my girlfriend and she gave me a good deal (It turns out that she misunderstood my very average Spanish and thought that we were getting engaged!). I went back to the hotel and lied to Dee that the Police were going through the hotel and it all looked really dodge and that I thought we should leave immediately. I've never seen Dee move so quickly! She thought that we were going to another crappy place so her eyes really lit up when she saw the new place. We spent a great couple of days there just chillin'. So good, in fact, that Derek and Caroline (who had recently hooked up) got wind of it and moved in too! The four of us has a fantastic lunch by the poolside on the roof. We were talking about out plans to move on in our travels heading south. Shortly thereafter, Derek suggested that we should join them on their next leg on the yacht bound for Panama... Dee and I looked at each other, struggled for words "Uhm, yeah, aah, Uhm, I mean, that would be fantastic..." Derek told us to think about it.. yep we had thought enough!

Within a day or two we were kneeling on the teak deck with Flitz (polish) in hand, polishing every last bit of stainless we could see in our new roles as pseudo-crew. We had to pinch ourselves to check that this had all happened...

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