1/20. Overnight bus, Cartagena to Medellin
The next 3 days were a treat. Cartagena is a magical town. It has it’s flaws. Droves of tourists dumped from cruises by day, persistent street hawkers used to preying on said tourists, and yes the best part is very small. But I loved it. Every second. If someone asks me what I did in Cartagena, my answer would be “for the most part, I walked around. Ate. Walked some more. Ate again and after dinner probably to another walk.” We’d go to bed late, not because of anything cool like partying; just strolling, and wake up early to enjoy the hot-as-hell caribbean days. Rune said Cartagena reminded him of Havana. Proud, elegant, but battered by time and the elements. Hopefully one day I’ll see Havana, but for now Cartagena will set the scene when I think of the historic Caribbean.
Our first day we took a blisteringly hot walking tour in the morning. I was the “guide” and the Lonely Planet was my only reference material, but I found it pleasant and informative(albeit sweaty) if I do say so myself. To escape the heat we siesta’d in Mila, a modern cafe we stumbled across, with everything from refreshing ceviche and juices to rich desserts and coffee. We ended up stopping there at least once a day for the next three days.
The rest of our first full day was spent walking the wall buit to prevent pirate attacks and visiting Castillo de San Felipe, a nearby fort. The best part of the fort being the vista of the bustling city at sunset.
The next day we decided we might as well check out Vulcan Lodo De Totumo. Described as a big dirt hill with a bunch of mud in the middle, it came highly recommended as a fun day trip from some of our fellow Cuidad Perdida trekkers. It’s a volcano that instead of lava spews mineral rich mud….and you can get in it. The curiosity was too much and it actually turned out to be really, really fun. So yeah, you climb up the hill and sink into a “caldera” of mid so thick it will hold you in any position you end up(and once in position it’s goddamn hard to change it). There’s a bunch of guys there clambering to take pictures, massage you, and some pretty vicious women at a nearby lake more than eager to strip you down and wash off the mud. The servides are voluntary but hard to refuse as they dont really take “no gracias” for an answer, but for a few dollars’ tip it’s well worth it for the experience.
Our last night in Cartagena we walked, ate and strolled as per usual. It never gets old. As a final treat we took a brief horse drawn carriage ride through the old streets. The sounds of the horse echoed through the narrow calles like the memories and myths of “La Heroica’s” past.
This morning the “Denmarkians” set off for the islands of San Andres and Provedencia and our little group started parting ways. Wiggy, Bonn Tien and I had overnight buses so we decided to check check out another fort(San Fernando). Although forts aren’t really that interesting to me, it’s only accessible by boat and I always love a boat ride so what the hell.
I knew from the get that something different was going on as soon as the water taxi started filling up. It was us three and a boat-full of dark skinned Afro-Caribueños. No tourists besides us, gringo or otherwise. We left the relatively quaint dock from El Centro, passed the flashy, South Beach-esque high rises of Bocagrande and eventually reached a series of shanty towns built of refuse and cement blocks amidst the mangroves. The people getting on and off, those fishing nearby, or avoiding the heat under whatever shade they could find, were all black. In the historic, touristy center it seems to an outsider that there is a happy balance of white, creole, mulatto and African, but on this boat ride it became apparent to me that the people of African decent are still getting the shaft in Cartagena. The last of the “towns” was Bocachica, where the fort sits. The fort itself was whatever(best part was the walking though the bat filled corridors), but the people I talked to is what left the strongest impression. Maybe I’m just a sucker, but I felt like the hawkers here were different. Yes they were annoying and persistent as usual, but I felt an extra desperation. So close to a tourist gold mine and trapped, jobless on a the remote outskirts quietly waiting for someone, anyone to visit their forgotten attraction. I ended up buying a couple beers from a guy named Manuel, a super stubborn hawker who really wanted to be our guide, take our picture, sell us something, anything. Once I convinced him that we didn’t want a guide but I’d be happy to by some beers and talk he eventually chilled out his sales pitch and we chatted about the hard life in Bocachica, baseball(Cabrera is from Cartagena so he is a fan of the Reds, but he earned bonus points for appreciating the Phils), and the women of Cartagena. Basic guy talk.
…had multiple, extensive, sad, profane, funny, informative conversations with a few residents of Bocachica. Again, I may just be a sucker to poor vendors who know every scale that opens a gringo’s heartstrings, but I really felt like guys eventually dropped the bullshit. Maybe I tipped the guy too much for bringing me beer, maybe I bought a stupid necklace I’ll never wear for $3, but when they opened up I thoroughly enjoyed talking to these guys. As a bonus, according to the bracelet selling guy, the next time I visit Bocachica I don’t have to stay in the “hotel”(where ever and what ever the hell that is), but he offered me a hammock at his place. Although there is no way in hell I’ll take him up on his offer, it was authentic and appreciated none-the-less.
The spell of Cartagena was broken minutes after leaving the safety of the city walls. On the long taxi ride to the bus station, the old city stuck in time retreated with the reality of travel in Colombia. From the open taxi window colors, people, smells flew by. Back to the as-fast-as-you-can-ness of street travel here. Quickly the ghosts of Bolivar, Drake and Heredria dashed as we whipped through bumpy streets clogged with traffic, people and sounds.
That was a long one. At the moment we are on a VERY bumpy overnight bus to Medellin. I guess our first bus broke so we had to switch to another. We were originally scheduled for 12 hours, but after the delay we shall see how long this takes. Don’t know what to expect in Medellin. I’ve given up expecting here, it’s always different and always good so just excited to see what happens.