Cartagena: It’s hot here, so take off all your clothes?
Another bus ride, another town. But just not any old town: this time, our bus brought us into Cartagena, Colombia, a city famous for its Caribbean location, stone walls, colorful colonial buildings, and its near and distant history (both involving fair amounts of danger and violence). Oh, and its heat. Man, is it hot there – whew!
Instead of a hostel, here we used Airbnb (which we highly recommend) to rent a private room in a colonial house in Getsemani, one of the most historic quarters in Cartagena. Not only was the location ideal and the price right, but the room had air-conditioning, lovely, lovely air-conditioning. During the daytime, when we weren’t exploring the city’s sights (more below) while dripping in sweat (or rather for me, basking in a more feminine “glow” of course), we sought refuge in our preciously cool room. In the evenings – when the city is temporarily relieved of the sun’s full force – we strolled, drank cervezas, and people-watched. Plaza de la Trinidad, just down the street from our rented abode, proved to be an excellent location for such activities.
On the subject of Cerveza, let me (Toby) interject, being slightly more erudite on this particular theme. Having arrived in Cartagena, one of our first actions was to establish a beach-head or perhaps more accurately a “local”: a colourful bar on a corner overlooking the entrance to the walled city. I had for some time been hunting for a brew know as Club Colombia Negra, this being the most singular of the Club Colombia family (also including Roja and a lighter distillation, consistent with the qualities of horse ordure, that I hesitate to name) and recommended by Thorsten, my compatriot in our earlier paragliding narratives. This was the place wherein I first encountered the aforementioned preparation, dark in colour, malty and fully consistent with those superlatives assigned it by Thorsten. So…if you got any of that, the black Club Colombia is the best! I do apologise, I’ve just been reading old fashioned ghost stories and I think the writing style might have rubbed off on me.
Speaking of pirates (how’s that for a non sequitur?), the historic center of Cartagena is encircled by walls nearly 20 meters thick and some of which are approaching 500 years old. They were constructed to combat a persistent onslaught of attacks by pirates. Today, people can walk along top: From this vantage point, you can see the colorful buildings and church domes and steeples contained within the walls AND the Caribbean Sea outside them. Strolling along the top of the walls seems to be the thing to do at sunset (but watch out for the wind, which is quite strong up there as dusk falls).
The streets contained by the wall are also great for walking: You are surrounded by vibrant-colored buildings with flower-filled pots over-hanging the balconies and bougainvillea climbing the trellises and you have to prepare to dodge the horse-drawn carriages clapping down and the fruit-vendors pulling their multi-colored wares through the narrow streets. During our walking tour of the old town we were compelled, of course, to duck into shops now and again to partake of their free air-conditioning. One such shop contained an odd assortment of items, from ships inside bottles to hand-woven tapestry to stuffed (formerly alive) baby donkeys. Pobrecitos. Despite the stuffed dead animals, the old walled city felt very much alive, with locals going about their business dominating the scene. But there was only so much pavement pounding our hot feet could take.
More hot feet. One afternoon – at the height of the sun’s powers – we visited this ancient fort, which was built around the same time as the earliest of the city’s walls. It sits atop a hill overlooking the old town and the Sea, so there are some great views to be had here. In addition to checking out the city from on high, we explored the fort’s underground tunnels and cells, which were so dimly lit and quiet, at some points I feared we might not find our way out! Another highlight of our visit to the fort was some unexpected twitching (that is bird-spotting to the non-Brits). We saw an owl swoop over our heads and shortly thereafter a pair of hawks chase pigeons across the sky and then land on the look-out tower right next to us. Very cool.
It is what it is. This was printed on the t-shirt of a man standing on the street outside our bus. I tried to take this sentiment to heart – while mentally noting that it is the PMRC version of shit happens – as we sat for nearly an hour waiting for another bus to show up and take us to our intended destination: El Totumo Mud Volcano. You see, our original bus had a flat tire, and we had driven on it so long the wheel was bent. And did I mention how hot it is in Cartagena, especially sitting on a bus with no air-conditioning? It is what it is. It is what it is…..
The new bus finally showed up and approximately 45mins later we arrived at what appeared to be a giant mole hill with a set of staircases leading up and back down its side. The plan? To strip off into our swim suits, ascend the stairs, hand our camera to a stranger who had 11 others dangling off his arm, and descend a smaller staircase into a small pool of oozing, warm-ish mud with 12 other people. For those so inclined, you could then have a strange man rub your body and limbs as you floated in the mud. When I declined this “opportunity”, the strange man pushed me across the mud-pool toward the other cheap-skates. Toby, on the other hand, decided he wanted the mud rub-down. Hhhmmmm…..
The viscosity of the mud made for some strange sensations. It was difficult to control your limbs and (in my case) bootius maximus. Just when you thought you had obtained some sort of equilibrium – with your head upright, your legs beneath you, and your arms in front – some other mud-goer would ‘run’ into you and, next thing you know, you tip over uncontrollably so that your butt is in the air and your head is falling toward the mud. All while this is happening, the man with your camera is taking pictures of you. Um, wheeee, this is fun? Once the mud bath is over, one has to ascend a set of very slippery steps. I, for one, was holding on to the railing for dear life, afraid that I would slip backwards onto the mud-bathers beneath. Thankfully, I reached the top without mishap. But the fun wasn’t over!
The final stage of this particular adventure was walking over to the lagoon where strange ladies wait in the shallows to throw water over you and rub the mud off and out of nearly everywhere. Those who are the least bit modest or have never been felt up before may prefer to find a way to avoid these ladies. Myself, I could not stop laughing the entire time. 😀 Toby and I talked about it later and we both felt like we were babies again, like when your mom bathed you in the kitchen sink. Totally weird and ridiculous at our ages! At the very end, you pay the rub-down men and bathing ladies for their, um, services. All good clean fun. Not!
While we enjoyed the days we spent in Cartagena and found it beautiful and quite liveable in many ways, we both decided that we could not stay long-term in such a hot, humid place. I mean, we got so hot we thought it was a good idea to throw ourselves in a mole-hill filled with mud and get molested by strangers! So with that thought in mind, we boarded the plane to Medellin, the city of eternal spring.