The van had been packed in a container and was to arrive in a week in Colombia. We took a plane from Panama City to hot Cartagena, booked an AirBnB and explored around while patiently waiting for our home on wheels to arrive at the port.
It was hard to believe that this city could be hotter and more humid than all the places we had visited in Central America, yet there we were sweating our butts off even without moving. Luckily our room had AC, otherwise it would had been impossible to sleep. We approached the touristic loop with a great strategy, going out in the early mornings or late afternoons when the heat was less brutal, and taking naps in between. Do not attempt to go out at midday you will certainly melt the second you step out.
There are plenty to visit in Cartagena but the city itself is a character, it use to be one of the most important ports in South America where the trade of goods from overseas was huge, slaves from Africa were sold in the main square, the complex cultural exchange and diversity of the locals started 500 years ago and its the most tangible here.
We visited the Museo de Oro which is free and fascinating, there’s plenty of metal work by the Zenú people, a civilization that lived here before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. These people were not only surviving, they were thriving in this ‘harsh’ environment. The Magdalena, Cauca, and San Jorge rivers flood the plains for 8 months each year, and while nowadays people suffer the lost of their homes, harvest and cattle year after year, the Zenú would take advantage of this cycle, creating canals, living in small islands, harvesting on the river beds during the dry season, and using canoes for transportation. They were so advanced, and living in harmony with nature that they had the time to develop their amazing skills to work incredible pieces of art.
I can’t understand how the Spanish couldn’t have learned anything from them, how could they had come and devastated the Zenú, robbed them, killed them and felt so superior. History is so interesting, and so sad, have we learned anything from it yet?
Another fascinating museum is the Museo de la Inquisición, where we didn’t take much photos because it was so shocking. We learned a lot about torture and pain, the way the church has been imposing fear since the very first moment it arrived in Latin America, and how money was always the secret motive of all faith. The African slaves where the ones that suffered the most, but any foreigner that wasn’t a Spaniard might be accused of unfaithful if he or she was too wealthy or successful. The church will take their wealth and throw them in a dark cell in the name of God. There is a wonderful book written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘Of Love and other Demons’ that pictures the Inquisition through the story of a young girl raised by African slaves, living in Cartagena during that period of time. It’s so much more impacting to read it while you are there so look for it if you can. ‘Abaco Libros y Cafe’ sells English versions of plenty of Latin American authors, there you can find this book fro sure.
It was interesting to be in Cartagena at this specific time. The Pope was to visit Colombia during those days and he would be in town at the same time we were. His goal was to spread a message of peace after so many decades of violence in this country. The city was getting ready for days, streets were closed, police were everywhere, people arrived from all over to see Pope Francis. We were in the midst of the excitement, feeling a bit confused about it all. In Colombia, like in the rest of Latin America the great majority is Catholic, everyone loves the Pope, but after learning more about the darkest chapters of history in this parts of the world, I can’t understand how can people still believe in it. On the other hand Pope Francis is the most forward thinking Pope ever, he visited the Iglesia de Pedro Claver in Cartagena, where this priest helped the slaves and advocated for them, the message of the Pope was to acknowledge the wrong that had been done, and to change modern ways of slavery through the example of Pedro Claver’s life. I like that, but still don’t get it. I guess after so many centuries of torture, and engraving the idea of hell in the population of indigenous, and later the latinos, there is no other choice but to believe… Anyways, we saw the Pope-Mobile pass by and he was gone in 15 seconds, just enough to take a few pictures and melt a little in the hot sun of the midday. It was very quiet after that.
There is plenty more to see in town, Gestemani the neighborhood where we stayed has excellent pizza, bars, graffiti, and music in the Plaza de la Trinidad at nights. You can take a stroll to the Fuerte San Felipe, imposing fort in the outskirts of the old town with magnificent views of the city. And what we loved doing the most was just walking wondering around town, find surprises, new streets that smelled like flowers or another coffee shop to sit and chat.
Our anniversary number 9 was celebrated for the first time abroad in Cartagena, and even though we didn’t plan anything it was a very romantic day. One of the most romantic places in the world, Cartagena still has a very old feeling, the salty warm air at nights, the flowers dripping of wood balconies, the sound of music around every corner… we met with our good fiends John and Mandi for dinner, later on we went on a horse carriage ride through town, it was a lovely evening filled with good omens for our recent arrival to South America.
And just like that a week had passed by and Beast was back with us. The process to get her out was filled with bureaucracy and it took longer than necessary but we had her back and that was a very happy moment for us. As much as we were liking Cartagena the heat was a bit much, and after 1 year in Central America we were ready for some mountain time, believe it or not, the cold weather was calling our names.