Missive #1 - Cartagena, Colombia
February 6, 2020
Hola a todos!
I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia after a 2-leg trip from Vancouver to Toronto to Cartagena. Only 12 hrs but tiring in the ever-reducing space of Economy class. I was glad to be on my feet even just to join the long snake of travellers waiting to clear Customs. Sara, my Airbnb hostess was patiently waiting for me holding up a paper with my name. We walked together to her "edificio entre palmas" (building between palm trees), just blocks away from a major international airport. I have her bedroom which is sparse, clean and comfortable with a pedestal fan operating all night to alleviate the 24-hr heat (>30).
Cartagena - Guillotine in Museum of the Inquisition
The walled city was built 400 years ago by the Spanish against attacks from the English and pirates. Original buildings remain, including the museum of the Inquisition dating from the 1700s. I spent a couple of hours exploring the exhibits, also enjoying the AC and access to bathrooms! Then the cruise ship arrived and 2000 Germans delivered, prey to swarms of street vendors, taxi drivers and tour guides. I sought shade & ended up in conversation with an underemployed locals also seeking relief from the sun. I gave 10,000 Colombian pesos (about CAD$4.50) to a young woman with 2 small children, an economic refugee from Venezuela. I spoke to a Colombian about her later and he said she would be picked up by police if discovered.
Typical "comida del dia" (meal of the day) in Colombia: stewed chicken, rice, beans, plantain and soup with juice made of tamarind ("tomate del arbol)
Sara works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and rises early to take a "colectivo" (shared taxi) into the Centre. She shares a small 3-bdr apt with her youngest daughter Natalia, just finishing high school and her mother, also Sara, and about my age.
Yesterday I caught a colectivo to the old walled city of Cartagena, a big tourist attraction and local source of pride. Transport is a confusing melange of taxis, buses, scooters and pedicabs. Each has it's own transaction vocabulary and pickups and prices are organised in local fashion, not evident to a visitor. It would be difficult to cope solo without spanish.
View of roofs from my window
As in all of Latin America there is significant poverty and the average Colombian earns USD$100 - 300 per month. However beggars are few, most of them elderly or handicapped. Many survive as vendors and ply the streets continuously for a few pesos. In contrast, the beachfront is lined with luxury hotel and condo towers with more in construction. Pace of life is slow, people are ready to chat, and I've been treated honestly and fairly.
Today I take the bus to Baranquilla, about 120 km NE of Cartagena. I have arranged airbnb accommodation for the next 4 nights and then will work it out as I go. I may escape this heat and head into the hills after Santa Marta.