Sunday, 12 October 2014

0116 Cartagena

Having got up at 3 am, we were at Panama airport by 3.45 am for our flight to Panama at 5.45.  What a stupid hour to be up an about !! Regardless, Avianca had us leaving on time, and a one hour flight to – Bogota !! Yup, no cheap direct flights
today, folks – just via Bogota !  And of course Bogota is at 2200 metres, so it isn’t exactly warm at 6.45 in the morning !  Thankfully it is a short layover, and by 10 am we finally landed in Cartagena, where it was a lovely sunny day, and at sea level quite warm and humid.  I went into the bank to change some $, and that involved so much paperwork and photocopying of passports that by the time I came out 25 minutes later, although the sun was still shining, I was surprised to find the streets not just wet but actually under about 6 inches of water, and Janet hiding in a doorway with the bags !  What had happened while I was in the bank ?

It turned out there had just been a really short and very sharp downpour !  And as we climbed into our tiny little microcar Hyundai taxi to go to our hotel (bags on the front seat, no boot to put them in !) , the water was lapping the underneath the car and we thought for a while we were going to get our feet wet while inside the car ! Apart from the flooded roads everywhere, not a very exciting drive to our hotel along the Caribbean sea front, but I was pleased that my instructions in Spanish to the taxi driver did enable him to take us directly to our hotel !! The Spanish lessons in Panajachel must be starting to pay off !

Stepping out of the taxi, carefully avoiding the water in the road, we entered our whitewashed and very smart little hotel, Casa Mary – And walked straight into the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – We even had a Sonny !!  “Everything will be all right in the end – And if everything is not yet all right, then we are not yet at the end” !!!!  Actually it is very nice, but they were mopping up the water from the storm (a lot of the hotel is open to the skies), and they are obviously trying very hard.  Just a quaint little hotel !!  Perfect.  Not sure what their fascination is with Halloween though !

We originally had a room with a little balcony overlooking the street which we thought was rather cute.  Janet bought some local hamburguesas for lunch which actually weren’t too bad, and after a lazy afternoon snoozing after our early start, we set off down the road to explore in the evening.  We headed up towards the local church and square (about 50 yards up our road) and found a live band playing, hot dogs and bbq trolleys on every corner, crowds of people milling around, and lots of great little restaurants with tables on the sidewalk. And kids playing soccer in the streets in the middle of it all.  We grabbed a table at Café de La Trinidad, and had the most wonderful evening on the edge of the sidewalk, people promenading, drinking beer and wine and sharing a delicious pizza.  Life in Cartagena seemed pretty good !  In due course we wandered back to the hotel, where I took my hearing aids out and slept like a log, while Janet, even with her ear plugs in, heard every single car, hawker, drunk going home under our balcony, and apparently didn’t sleep a wink all night ! I never noticed !

So first thing in the morning, after our complimentary breakfast up on the 3rd floor open terrace looking out over the town’s old tiled rooftops, Janet was off downstairs to arrange a change of rooms – Which I felt was unnecessary, but then it wasn’t me that had been awake all night ! A la Marigold Hotel, this took a while, and eventually, after the morning rain storm (seems to happen every day), we went out and found a little restaurant for lunch (still not sure what we ordered
– I think it was chicken !!), and then we set off a la pied into the old city (only about 15 minutes away), set behind massive stone walls that were built specifically to keep that terrible pirate Sir Francis Drake out !! And the old city is really quite spectacular – The wall itself has to be 40 feet thick, and then the city inside is stunning. Some is still under renovation, but that doesn’t spoil it. Narrow streets, wooden security bars and balconies, old churches, Spanish
Inquisition torture chambers, lots of statues of Spanish and Columbian leaders, lots of high fashion shops, restaurants, bars, and of course lots of touristy type shops. Oh, and Emerald shops – Quite a number of them.  The hotels are mostly a lot more upmarket and expensive in the old town – Some quite stunning, set into the old buildings with big internal courtyards visible through archways.  We wandered around soaking up the vibrant atmosphere, and eventually ended up at the Palacio de la Inquisicion. Said to be one of the finest buildings in town, heretics and witches were denounced here and about 800 people were condemned to death, tortured, and executed here.  The palace is today a museum, displaying the

Inquisitors’ instruments of torture, a history of Cartagena, as well as a collection of per-Columbian pottery. We spent a fascinating hour or two there before going back out into the Plaza Bolivar below, sitting in the shade, buying some yummy fresh mango from a lady in striking local costume, and continuing to just enjoy the atmosphere.  The many squares in the town are striking, although it is very difficult to photograph much of it because the   We   Whoops – Sorry !) who were leaving to go to the US and then home tomorrow after several months wandering S America.  So it was really interesting to chat to them and get some travel tips that would help us on our way south. Danny also introduced us to his son Juan Camino, an 8 year old who was out playing soccer in the square with his friends.  A very pleasant evening.
enjoyed a gelati to help us keep cool, and then headed back to our Casa Mary for a rest before heading back up the road to our local square for some refreshment. Our friendly waiter Danny (Danuelo ?) at the Café de la Trinidad was there so we ended up there again, enjoying a few beers and Mojitos, while Janet had a corn cob smothered in parmesan off a local bbq trolley ! We met a young couple from Canberra (Claire and ?
streets are so narrow that you can never get everything in frame ! By about 5 pm we were walked out – It is pretty hot and humid here, so one walks pretty slowly !

Then back to Casa Mary and our new room – One that is so quiet that once Janet’s head hit the pillow, she didn’t move again until breakfast time !!

Cartagena is a fascinating city, in a part of the world that has extensive history way back to the original Karib tribes that ruled this entire coastline in the early days, then slowly developed as a trading post in the region, the arrival of the Spanish when it was used as a storage place for the gold plundered from the local tribes, and thus attracted the attention of the famous pirates like Francis Drake !! As a result they built the almost impregnable walls and defences, but this took them 150 years, by which time the world had changed !  The French also came in here and did their fair share of plundering, while all the time Cartagena was a centre for the entry of African slaves into the region.  A lot going on in Cartagena over the years !

Now we continue to wait for Tuesday when we can start the paperwork and customs work to get Troopie released from the port – Where hopefully she is already sitting !

Pics are here :-


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