We were in Cartagena, Columbia, the morning after Aruba. I was awed by the harbor. I had no idea what to expect, but this dramatic skyline of white high rises was incredible. Somehow, I didn’t expect such a cosmopolitan city.
Cartagena is only a few degrees above the equator and normally experiences temperatures in the low 80s. This is the rainy season
and it was overcast with periodic rain. The rain was warm, though, so I didn’t carry my umbrella. I was more concerned with keeping my camera dry than myself. I brought a specially designed plastic bag to put my camera in. It’s open on one end and has a small hole in it that you’re supposed to position over the eyepiece. The hole was so small I couldn’t keep it in place so I took photos while looking through plastic. The photos came out well, despite the weather.
We took a four-hour tour in Cartagena. It was a good tour, very interesting.
Lee, our guide, had an interesting habit of repeating nearly everything he said. It was a four-hour tour but if he hadn’t repeated himself, it would have been a two-hour tour! Here’s how it went.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Cartagena has one million peoples. Ladies and gentlemen, there are one million peoples in Cartagena.”
Tourism is very important to my country. Tourists are very important to my country. Do you understand what I am saying?”
And so on and so on …
Beautiful purple wall
On the flip side, however, Lee was incredibly nice. I forgot my Dyazide – my water pill – and my ankles were swollen to the point where I didn’t have ankles any more. Normally I have very nice ankles. I asked the second tour guide if we were going to be near a pharmacy on the tour. She said she didn’t think so but she would ask Lee. I told her I didn’t want to disrupt the tour or keep anyone waiting.
We came to a stop at a jewelry store.
“Columbia is the world’s largest producer of emeralds. The world’s largest producer of
The Banana Lady
emeralds is Columbia. Do you understand what I am saying?” (Columbia exports 95% of the world’s emeralds.)
Yes, Lee, we understand.
Lee came over to me, very concerned that I was ill. I assured him I was only hot and tired like everyone else. Once he was sure I was OK, he took Tom to a pharmacy while everyone hung out at the jewelry store – no one bought an emerald and I don’t think anyone was even the slightest bit interested. However, the shop was air conditioned and they were handing out free passion
fruit drinks complete with ice so everyone was quite happy!
Tom and Lee returned a few minutes later with a diuretic.
Thank you, Lee; I’m sorry I was critical.
When we visited a park with a statue of Simon Bolivar there was a woman walking around in a very colorful outfit with a bowl of bananas on her head. We saw women like this in several places on the tour. Lee explained that we were welcome to take a photo of her but it would cost $1. As you can see, I took the photo through the crowd to avoid the $1 surcharge.
I was especially interested in the architecture of Cartagena. The buildings
I wonder how much these cost?
were beautiful and painted in more subdued colors than, say, in Mexico. The city holds a balcony contest and they were especially well done.
Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia and became part of the Spanish Empire. It was the shipping center for gold, silver and slaves between America and Spain. This made it a favorite target of pirates. A massive fortress, Castillo de Felipe de Barajas, was built between 1536 and 1657 to defend the city.
Walkway along the sea wall
A very long sea wall was built around the old city to defend it after the English
pirate Sir Francis Drake attacked it in 1586. Drake destroyed over 25% of its buildings including Cartagena Cathedral – which was rebuilt – and demanded a ransom of 107,000 Spanish Eight Reales, about $200 million today. Drake led one
Grassy area between the wall and the sea
of five pirate sieges. The city successfully defended itself when England attacked it with a force of 24,000 men and 186 ships.
Cartagena was also subjected to the Spanish Inquisition. The Palacio de la Inquisicion still stands and is now a museum displaying instruments of torture as well as pre-Columbia, colonial and independence-era art. Inside the old city are Las Bovedas, dungeons originally built for the military
and to hold the victims of the Inquisition. We visited there and it is one very long building with small shops in each “cell.”
We enjoyed this tour very much. When you’re on a cruise you rarely have enough time to see everything you’d like to. Instead, you get a taste of the area so you can decide if you’d like to return. I’d like to see more of Cartagena someday.
Until next time,
Susan L. Stewart