After rushing to get back to Cartagena a few days before we set sail, our captain informed us that we would have to embark two days late due to another malfunction, this time with the boat!
Thankfully this portal city has bags of character that could occupy you for weeks. Cartagena is without doubt the jewel in the crown of Columbia’s 1760km of Caribbean coast line. Being one of the first regions conquered by the Spaniards, Cartagena is the oldest surviving Colombian colonial city that grew in importance across the New World as the main port and market for the millions of slaves brought in from the west coast of Africa.
The high concentration of Afro-Colombians make this city feel completely different from anything thing else we have seen in Columbia so far. Everything here has more of a Caribbean feel, from the food served on the streets, to the colorful buildings; buzzing with locals trying to sell pretty much anything to the thousands of day trippers that swarm the old town like a sea of locust from the large cruise liners.
The costenos, as they are known, have a distinct and contagious historical identity different from other Colombians. “Lazy” and “inefficient” are words often used around the rest of Columbia, although I like to think of it as “carefree” and “unpredictable”.
Although visually stunning the touristy old part of town is simply overtaken with tourism and a little too perfect for our tastes, so we decided to stay in the poorer part of town, a favorite with broke backpackers like us.
Getsemani, feels more like Havana, with kids playing in the streets and old locals gambling in the shade, escaping the mid day sun. At night things liven up with bars and restaurants blaring out a funky salsa beat with the same old locals trying their hand as drug pushers to backpackers occupying the dozen or so hostels that line the Calle Media Luna.
Andre was fortunate enough to stumble upon a collection of prolific street drawings tucked away on a clandestine street in the neighborhood. These drawings, I later learned, were different depictions of Pedro Romero—a revolutionary war hero during the early 18th-century uprising against Spain. Romero’s true depiction is unknown, so in memorium, various artists gathered on this street to pay an aesthetic tribute to the late martyr.
It had been the longest amount of time we had stayed in once place since Buenos Aries (all of 5 days!); thankfully we were staying in a cheap and relaxing hostel (Hotel Holiday) which had simple rooms built around an inner courtyard, giving it a Melrose place vibe.
The only thing disturbing the vibe was yet another pesky hippie from Argentina who thought he would serenade us all with his awful flute playing!
We were joined by two new Polish friends we had met out last night in Tayrona (Dorotha and Ania) and Sev, our dorm mate from Amsterdam. After being there a while our group managed to grow with another couple traveling with a mother as well as Sev’s boyfriend, Matt.
To say that this was an eclectic bunch of people would be an understatement! I won’t bother going into it too much since you just had to be there on one of the many warm Caribbean nights spent sipping bear in the garden to fully appreciate the strong bond we all forged with each other.
To give you a little idea, I have tried to describe our new friends in a sentence…
1. Dorotha is a beautiful Polish girl, living in Paris and working as an exhibited artist with all the trappings that this pretentious scene bestows on one. However when the harsh exterior is pulled back you see a kind and caring girl.
2. Ania is also originally from Poland but moved to Paris two years ago and is most definitely the spiritual type that simply enjoys life to its fullest.
3. Sev is the daughter and grand-daughter of the Dam red light district with her father being a client. She has lived in squats and built a party business which she sold to finance the two years she has been traveling! Impressively this has all be done before the age of 29 and to add to her accolade she too is an artist selling her photography along the way.
4. Mat is Sevs boyfriend who she met traveling and comes from Cheltnam, where he was a plumber.
5. Noelie and Lucas are another couple that have met whilst traveling. Noelie is probably the prettiest French person I have ever seen and Lucas is a Canadian with an native Indian background living in California where he legally (kind of) grows weed which has helped finance his purchase of a couple of hectors in Mexico!
To add to the mix Noelie’s mother also joined for a while which gave us a real United Colours of Benetton feel.
Since we were all going separate ways after Cartagena, we decided to do a mini road trip together to the Isla de Baru which is about an hour away by boat. Getting there was an experience in itself since we decided to listen to Andre and take the what we thought would be the cheapest option; a local boat from the real port of Cartagena.
This place couldn’t be more different from the beautifully restored port (which reminded me of home and the Valletta harbour) in the touristy part of town. It is a filthy mix of local fishermen that set up stalls around the perimeter of a huge market catering solely for the poor communities that live for miles around the main harbor. Whilst initially feeling a little unsafe being the only white people there; after waiting for over 3 hours for the boat to leave, we got to have a true insight into the real Cartagena, which I much preferred to the one they would like you to see!
The main draw of the island is a beach called Playa Blanca which totally lives up to its name with the whitest sand I have ever seen. We all fell in love with the place so much we decided to stay the night in wooden shacks that were built on stilts overlooking the sea. Our hosts where a crazy local couple and their pet pig who catered for our every need. Any (the wife) was without question one of those people I will never forget! With a nervous stutter and I am sure a few screws loose she was a charming women that was grateful for the business.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better we came across a real sea horse swimming alone in the clear waters….I thought it was only the sight of dolphins that could make any grown man react like a little girl but trust me sea horses have just as much effect!
The only down point to the entire stay was saying good bye, hopefully we will all see each other this summer in Berlin for a reunion weekend! If it wasn’t hard enough saying good bye to our new friends we had to come to terms with the thought of not having our 3rd wheel with us anymore; Andre managed to loose our beloved Puft!