Friday, May 28, 2010

Colonial Colombia

After months and months of wishing and waiting, we finally made it to the 3rd continent in the Americas! I suppose that coastal Colombia just barely counts, but it is South America. It was a short stay - only 5 days in all, but we've got to keep on movin' if we're gonna fit in all that we've got planned in for 1 month!

We arrived last thursday afternoon in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, a colorful, colonial city founded in 1533. There's definitely that latin caribbean flair in the air in Cartagena that we don't often feel in Guatemala nor in Mexico for that matter. We stayed within the old walled city where the colorful streets are lined with terraces hosting beautiful, familiar bugambilia but with the road being much narrower and the buildings much taller than in Antigua. At one point in time I had heard that Cartagena is the #1 colonial city in the world. After seeing it, I'm not really sure that it's true. Yes it is beautiful, but #1 beautiful, I may beg to differ. For as stunning as it was, it was also quite busy, dirty and city feeling - none of which Antigua is guilty of.

There are really three parts to Cartagena - the walled city, outside the walls and Boca Grande (the beach hotel area). We stayed at a decently cute Hotel Tres Banderas within the walls. I'll be honest, my standards for hotel cuteness are largely based around cleanliness. This place was clean I suppose, but there was just this feeling that couldn't allow me to take my shoes off. I really do think it was one of the best mid-range options available, but I'm type A. Please don't let me stop you from staying there though; the staff was the best - super friendly and helpful. Anyway, the walled city is walled because during the time of Spanish rule back in the 16th century there were many attacks by pirates on Cartagena, and thus the wall was built to protect the city, but it took nearly 2 centuries to complete! The Cartagena inside the walls is the one with the colonial feeling. Honestly outside of the walls, it really just feels like any other big city.

Of course there are just a couple of amazing thing that Colombia in general offers that Guatemala cannot even attempt to compete with - cheesey bread and fresh fruit juices. On nearly every corner in Cartagena someone is selling
pan de bono (or some other cheese filled gloriously delicious bread). And on the corners where there isn't bread, there is juice. Not just your average orange, apple, & mango though - exotic tropical fruits that can't be found further north. Maracuya (passionfruit) quickly became our favorite with lulo (for me) & tomate de arbol (for Ben) following close behind. A wonderful snack in only 2 blocks. And the best part is, it's all for only a buck or two!

fresh, warm pan de bono

While we were in town, there was some sort of Navy convention going on, so the main harbor was lined with decked out sailboats and cute sailors from around the world. There were honestly so many of them it made me feel like I was walking around Pearl Harbor in the WWII era. Every bar and restaurant was packed full of boys in tight white pants, shiny black shoes and cute little caps, many of whom had a "civilian" girl wrapped around his arm.

These guys had the most adorable outfits.
We're pretty sure they were Dutch, of course.

Aside from cheese bread and juice (which I almost exclusively dined on for the entire 5 days), we made sure to sample a couple of other well known local treats.

colombian beer & pinapple margaritas

and meat on a stick - always a favorite of Ben

But there was more to our days than just stuffing ourselves silly. We also took in the cultural sights of the region.
El Convento de Santo Domingo
(with a crooked bell tower as a result of the devil's work!)

artwork by Bortero
(apparently fat ladies are sexy?)

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
(an fortress with extensive tunnel systems that was never ever penetrated by enemy forces)

amazing city views

& the local form of transportation - chivas

One night we stumbled across some traditional African dancers in one of the main squares. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch. Some of the girls dancing looked to be no older than 14 or 15.

Afterward we hit Pizza in the Park, a cute little pizza joint that delivered your pizzas to you on a stool, curbside, in the park across the street. Wouldn't a cool concept like this go over great in parks in the states?

sipping a little cerveza to keep cool while waiting for our pizza

Now there is one really major factor that I've left out thus far that honestly should be seriously considered before rushing out to purchase your plane tickets; Coastal Colombia is super hot and humid - like sweat through your shirt in a matter of minutes, humid - like need a cold juice on every corner whether you like it or not, hot! Of course we knew it would be different than temperate Antigua, but seriously we found it hard to enjoy ourselves at times and spent much of our time ducking in and out of air conditioned store fronts (even though we didn't want to purchase anything) just to escape it. Perhaps it's a bit less humid other times of the year and perhaps it is manageable for someone who will also be traveling to higher altitude areas in Colombia, but it is something that should to be seriously considered when planning your trip!!

1 comment:

Josefina said...

I just randomly came across your blog and really enjoyed reading through it!
I spent hours walking around those streets with a map in my hands. No hurry, just seeing people, historical houses, churches, eating....thinking twice, forget the map! Just get lost and latter find yourself amazed by the place. Love Cartagena and love Colombia!

Josefina - Colombia Travel