Colombia Chapter 4 - Cartagena - ANDY'S TRAVEL DESCRIPTIONS

Colombia Chapter 4

The historic city of Cartagena

This is gonna be short. Guatape, a bus, an airport (which even a crop duster would avoid), Cartagena. After a few steps, little Niagara’s are forming on my forehead with heat, as always I dodge the airport taxi drivers, annoying as flies in summer, ask a policeman where to find a bus to downtown and shuffle in that direction. Confusedly looking for a bus stop, I’m intercepted by an elderly gentleman full of desire to help tourists and hoping for a tip. He directs me to a stand where he says I need to buy a ticket and charge it with credit. The lady at the booth nods. The card costs me 4 thousand + 4 thousand to charge the credit, I want to pay with 50 thousand… the lady rolls her eyes at me, the old man doesn’t hesitate, snatches the bill from the lady’s hand and runs off to the opposite restaurant. He shouts that it’s changeable…

After 10 minutes of waiting, the lady decides to look for the missing old man and I prepare arguments in my head about how the old man took the note from the shop assistant’s hand and so technically she was robbed and not me and thus I should get my card and change. Preparing these arguments in Spanish helps to embellish my glittering Niagara on my forehead.

In the end, there is no need for arguments and the lady returns with the old man and a 50,000 euro bill, which he couldn’t change, so the shop assistant took care of it herself. I’ve got the ticket and my few thousand quid. I give the old man a few coins, thanking him for his thoughtfulness and mentally rewarding him, like a dumbed-down tourist sheep, for not robbing me (the lady, actually). You have to appreciate it nowadays when you don’t get robbed as a tourist 🙂 … actually a lady, but I’m complicating things.

I’ve already booked the hostel 4 days in advance. And I’m very proud of it, because it was half the price of all the other hostels you can find in Cartagena during the Christmas period. Do you feel there’s a catch? After an hour’s drive, I get to a neighbourhood where the dog won’t bark, lest it be thrown on the spit. The hostel door is open, inside on the sofa is a young Chilean man ( for those looking for some Spanish slang, Chilean = a person from Chile). After a while a young man appears and shows me the hostel. There are no lockers, the room where I will sleep is not locked either. Instead of cancelling my reservation, I nod to the young man and pay for 4 nights in advance. Idiot. Must be the heat.

I confide in Chilan my concern for the safety of my belongings. His advice is:

“Carry everything of value with you at all times. Don’t leave anything behind. I do it all the time and I’ve never been hurt.”

Imbecile. Only Ovcacek could possibly top such moronic advice in a contest of moronicness. Even the rats’ feet are shaking outside, and it’s definitely not the cold, it’s the fear that someone will steal their fur and impale them on a skewer, and well, I’ll be walking around like a grazer with everything of value I own. Yeah, right. Of course, I don’t tell him I have a laptop and a DSLR in my backpack because I don’t trust him either. I tie my backpack to my bed with one lock and lock the zipper of the main compartment with all my valuables with the other. I use this trick quite often, you just need enough locks and something sturdy to attach the backpack to.

Walking around the historic center

I set off on foot to the historic center. It’s an hour walk, but maybe that’s just because it’s slower to walk with clenched cheeks. The last time I saw such a mess, smell and strange people peeking around was in the Dominican Republic… Fortunately, I’m past that point, so I’m walking quite confidently and my cheeks are clenched just out of habit. The historic centre at night is beautiful, full of Christmas lights, it’s alive everywhere, street performers playing instruments, young people gathering in various squares, chatting, drinking beers and eating street food in the form of meat skewers (cha cha and wiping the grease from their mouths with those furry things instead of napkins).

Every now and then someone offers me marijuana or coke. I may have written this before, but since I find it interesting, I’ll write it again. When I was talking to my Colombian friend Jorq, who is the same age as me, he told me that nobody ever offers him drugs and if he had to get some, he doesn’t even know where to turn. As a tourist in Colombia, I’m offered one about every 5 minutes.

Why it’s good not to reject God

I have a strange habit. Even though I’m not religious (unless it’s convenient for me), I visit almost every church imaginable. And every time, 2 things fascinate me. First, how much money and effort people are willing to spend for “the one upstairs”. And secondly the depressing, agonizing tone of it all, all the statues and people in the paintings are suffering. I doubt the kids splashing water on their foreheads here are crying because it’s cold. Fortunately, I’m not a little kid anymore, so the baby Jesus on the cross doesn’t make me cry. On the contrary, not only am I fascinated by the whole Jesus thing, but he also helps me get drunk for free. Through the window of the church I can see into the next courtyard where a modern music concert is taking place.

Think of “modern music” in this case in the sense of “modern art.” Kind of like an artist putting a paintbrush in her vagina and then smearing it on a canvas and then someone paying a bunch of money for it (if you’re now looking for some connection in your head to ridiculously expensive church decorations, that’s your problem). Except, here was just a young man trying to play the piano and behind him a screen projecting a few endlessly repeated cuts from old Italian films. Those already had the vaginas in them, if you were asking about the connection to modern art.

Towards wine and modern music

I turn on the turbo that takes me from the depressing church to the much more cheerful building next door. I pass through the metal detector and, in a pair of socks and shorts that perhaps only Pollock (also modern art) could have so boldly decorated, with an utterly confident “Hola!” and a natural “I’m soooo cooked” look on my face, I sneak past the stiff officer. On my way to the vaginas, I pass through a hall where there is an exhibition of colorful paintings. The artist himself, whom I see in one photo on a plaque for the exhibition, is animatedly chatting with visitors about how art is so important right now. I’m lapping it up like an Olympic figure skater, heading for the modern music.

Immediately I’m handed a glass of red Colombian wine, “Gracias!” Followed by another glass of white and another “Gracias!”. And since I prefer to keep my skirts, speeches and hangovers shorter on hot days, that’s good enough for the moment.

I wander the streets of Cartagena for a while, admiring the lights and thanking God for giving me this beautiful sight and a moment of a wry smile on my face. And maybe this is why there are so many believers. Maybe it happens to everyone, not just me. So the next time your grandpa tells you he’s going to church, forgive the bored look and just give him an approving wink and wish him a good time… The wink is enough, the verbal expression “enjoy those vaginas drunkenly” is not needed, he’s heard that from his grandmother.

Meeting Alfred

I walk back to the hostel, it’s quite dark by then, and I walk through the hour-long alley of horror again. For the last time. The next day, I take the bus downtown. I wander around the city during the day and confirm that Cartagena has really ugly beaches. In the evening, I meet Alfredo. A Swede I met on my motorcycle crusade through Mexico in a hostel in Puebla. You make contact with some people when you travel almost immediately, you just sit down, have something to talk about and it’s completely natural. And it was the same after six months in Colombia. We were sitting in a little square, sipping one bottle after another, talking about travel experiences and what Colombia is like.

That was the end of Cartagena for me and I moved on to the city of Santa Marta and almost immediately to the mountain jungle town of Minca.

  • I bought a 4k hatch. and a credit of 4k, total cost me 8k. I spent 2k on a ticket from the airport to downtown and never used the ticket again. I got from the center to the hostel for less than another 2k. So it cost me a total of 10k to get from the airport to the hostel. I think the taxi was 12k.
  • Don’t go to Cartagena for the beach, wasted money, it’s better to move to Taganga, which is on the edge of Santa Marta.
  • The most interesting part of the city is the historic center
  • You will only need 2-3 days to get to Cartagena