Friday 5 December 2014

Week 37 ; Cartagena, Colombia

Friday December 5th 2014

  ¡Buenos Dias Cartagena !

We are about to cross a busy intersection when we see these three guys on the opposite side of the street just ,very casually, hop onto one another’s shoulders, as if completely unaffected by gravity, oh, and they are carrying large knives !  This made us pause, we froze as our minds tried to process what we were seeing. “Okay, Um, what’s this now ?

The three man pyramid then walk into the street,very business like, until they are facing the waiting cars and motorcycles and they start to juggle their knives, in unison ! Just another typical work day in Cartagena !


The knife yielding trio

Performing for the waiting traffic

This famously beautiful walled city (it is a UNESCO Heritage Site) is giving us loads of opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the South American Culture. In a way it reminds me of Europe, with its narrow streets, imposing cathedrals and charming plazas.  

Soon after crossing the street they used the traffic light pole to get into position

Cristobal Colon

This is where the similarities with Europe end however, as it is distinctively South American in every other way; the salsa music, the beautiful fruit (vendors selling mouth watering fruit everywhere!), the guys wearing 15 hats on their heads as they try to convince you that you need one too, the beautiful latino women wearing high heeled sandals, the guy counting and sorting coffee beans on  the street. What a great atmosphere !  ¡Que Lindo ! 

The ubiquitous Cartagena hats sold every where

Balconies as far as the eye can see

Many years ago, Cartagena had a history of being attacked by ruthless pirates, over and over again. So it is not surprising to hear that this fortress (Castillo San Felipe) is the largest fortress ever built in the Americas. It was built by the Spanish in 1637 and took over 80 years to complete. We had fun visiting it, and walking through the many dark tunnels. S-p-o-o-k-y ! 

Not all the tunnels have been found by the way, archeologists are still excavating them !

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

The spooky tunnels in Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

The city is also an artistic and cultural hub. We have enjoyed seeing great sculptures and paintings as we wandered around the old city. 

Cartagena is a veritable artistic and cultural hub

Linguistic woes.

¡ Lo siento !  My spanish is not great ! I wish it was better !  I had studied quite a bit in preparation last March, but, that was 8 months ago..and sadly my brain has forgotten more than bits and pieces ! In theory I can get by. I can say the essential stuff and when I take the time to think about what I need to say, I can formulate a decent sentence and I can understand most of everything I read !  But when things happen muy rapido and I have to think fast, my brain freezes, (or melts one of the two) , and all that comes out of my mouth is Indonesian, or just, nothing !!!  I stand there like an idiot with a painful grin pasted on my face, unable to even remember the most basic words. Like the time the bus dropped us off at the wrong place, we were standing on the sidewalk next to the conductor who had escorted us out, the bus was about to drive away and, I lost all my words!!! It’s like when you’re playing Pictionnary and you only have a few seconds left on the timer and you are just blurting out nonsense, repeating the same word over and over again, yeah, that was me! In the end we had a good laugh, and we got to where we needed to go. It is all part of the adventure and challenge of traveling after all !

Multi coloured buses

As we walked around the old city, we have simply enjoyed being surprised by what we can discover around the next corner. Each street It is really quite stunning with the gorgeous balconies over flowing with flowers, the wonderful immense doors (with smaller doors built into them), the curios and antique shops, the many colourful vendors of the streets.

Yes, this restaurant has its very own stuffed bull greeting you at the door! 

Visiting antique stores

Did you know that Colombia is the world’s second largest exporter of Emeralds ? Neither did I !  Fortunately for our pocketbook, neither Meghan or I usually wear gems or jewels. It was interesting just the same to see the beautiful green stones in the stores. We have been enjoying visiting the plazas and trying the local food from vendors. One such snack was corn bread pan fried with cheese inside, another favourite is a 'plato' of beautiful layer; meat, cheese, plantain, more meat, topped with crispy potatoes & garlic sauce), muy delicioso! We visited El Museo de la Inquisicion. Colombia participated in the “Spanish Inquisition” in the 1600s’ and in the museum we saw a variety of “tools” which had been used to convince people to talk back in those dark days. We also got to read an interesting questionnaire that they had for “Witches and Warlocks”, Sheesh !

The Museo de la Inquisicion

Great timing !

When we first arrived in Cartagena after a 5 day crossing, it was Sunday afternoon. We were amazed at the sight of so many sky scrapers, and all of them so white !  We came in to the bay, with the Statue of Madonna and Child greeting us right in the middle of the water.We even saw a fleet of navy ships and even a couple of submarines! I had never seen a real submarine before!

The white city of Cartagena

Statue of Mary in the Harbour

Arriving into Cartagena

Immigration Building 

Inside the impressive Immigration building

A submarine !

Once we anchored and cleaned ourselves up a little bit, we went to shore, we had not checked in to Colombia yet, and we knew that we could not do it ourselves as we normally do. (In Colombia you need to hire an agent who will do the process for you). Because it was 5 pm on Sunday, we expected that we would have to wait until the next day to meet the agent, but we thought we’d just pop over to the dock at the Marina, to see what we could learn. When we got there, a lovely gentleman (named Victor) who was just hanging around the marina asked us if we needed our passport stamped. We said; “Yes! Sure !” So Victor called the agent (David) on his cell phone and told us he would be here in 1/2 hour !  Great !  So we waited. When David arrived, he asked us what country we were from. When I told him we were Canadians, his eye brows jumped up and he said : “Well I have some news for you: Starting tomorrow, Dec 1st, there will be a new fee of $80 US per person for all Canadians !”

My first thought was: “Ok, is this guy being honest, or does he pull this stunt on every new comer to get some money out of them?”  Then I found out that it was true. Our Canadian Government imposes a similar fee to all Colombian residents entering Canada and so the Colombian Government had decided to reciprocate. Luckily David was well connected and had called the immigration office and explained that there was a Canadian Family that HAD to be checked in IMMEDIATELY, and could not wait until tomorrow. 

And this is how we ended up, at the immigration office with David (who drove us) on Sunday night  narrowly missing a $320 expense ! By 6 pm we were all checked in and legal and we felt pretty darn happy. As David was driving us back to the Marina, he asked us if we needed anything else..and so we asked him to drop us off at the nearest restaurant for dinner !

And this is why we ended up in a Chinese restaurant on our first night in Cartagena ! This was a bit of a comical situation to find ourselves in because, in Calgary, when we go to a Chinese restaurant, I‘ve come to expect the owner of the restaurant to speak broken english ( I know it is a cliche, but it’s true!) But on this occasion, even if I had a few rehearsed Spanish sentences in mind, when we walked in and  were greeted by the Chinese owners.I found it difficult to get my head around speaking Spanish to this gentleman, and then when he handed us the menu and it was all in spanish, it was just too much for my exhausted brain ! And there was my family, with eyes turned expectantly towards me,waiting for me to perform my linguistic duty!  I floundered at first, but by the time dinner was over, I was proud to be able to ask for the food to be wrapped up to take away with us. We ate Chinese food for the next two dinners ! Our next destination will be the group of islands just south of the city (Islas Rosarios). We look forward to catching up on swimming and snorkelling.We will keep you posted on how that all goes, in our next blog ! Until then, Hasta Luego Amigos

Cartagena at night

1 comment:

  1. Soooooo many things to comment on in this one. Let's see if I can remember them all. First off, j'adore the lower perspective picture of Matthew at the tunnel entrance/exit, also the ones of him and of Meg with the pigeons.

    No blog previous has ever made me drool so much as this one. What a BEAUTIFUL city! And the character and friendliness of the area seem to radiate through your words more, perhaps, than any other location we've read of yet.

    The coffee beans must have smelt amazing! And I don't even drink coffee. And the emeralds ... wow! My eyes lit up! I wasn't aware of their export status from there either.

    Linguistics ... you speak English, French, Indonesian ... likely a smidgeon or better of a few other European languages ... I hazard to say your beautiful and tremendously intelligent mind is completely forgiven for having forgotten some of its Spanish. Yet what a wonderful opportunity to rekindle your tongue's relationship with it by immersing yourself with knife juggling trapeze artists, custom agents and eatery hosts. I don't doubt for a moment that your flailing version of Spanish is still impeccable compared to my french, lol.

    Absolutely wonderful that you have been able to keep up with blogs and photos. It's so calming at this time of year to know that you are not only safe and loving every moment but that you are living life to its fullest intent and giving Matthew and Meg the most glorious Christmas gift of all, a world education and opportunity to meet so many new people.

    Keep posting, please. Love the reads! Looking forward to Meg's next blog as well.

    Much love and Christmas prayers and blessings from up North xoxo