Colonial Cartagena

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We were in the small village of Capurgana in the Darien gap of Columbia, one of the most uninhabited regions on the planet because here, the wildlife is truly wild. A Norwegian guy would later tell us a story about a journalist in Darien who had fallen asleep with his tent not fully zipped and woke up to find blood everywhere and half his scalp chomped off. A vampire bat – with rabies, it turned out – had managed to get in and feasted all night. He managed not to die, somehow. We however, we in a village and while there were no cars, roads, or electricity after 8:00, it was not so remote as that. The only way in or out was by boat and it turned out that the one boat heading to Turbo, a small city two hours away with roads and a bus terminal, was sold out for the day. There were, however, three spots on an indirect route to Candi and from there onward to Turbo. I looked at Amy, one of the three English people from the boat, and said that since Phil and I were two and Renee and Jared were two, it made sense for them to take the spots and we would spend another day in the middle of nowhere. “But I feel so bad, you guys are stuck here,” she replied. “If there were four spots, it would make more sense for us to use all of them instead of you guys but there are only three so this is the most logical thing,” I replied and she agreed with me. That is, until 30 seconds later the ticket agent turned and said he actually had 4 spots.

Suddenly, it still made more sense for the three of them to take the tickets. Simon, after all, was only traveling for two weeks. Well, Phil only had two weeks left too, I thought, but I said, “I wish everbody were here to discuss it” because I did still feel a bit bad to take the spots and strand them. She went to tell them while I stalled for time to try to hold the four spots and came back saying everyone had agreed that the three of them should go. Fair enough, consensus wins, and one more day in this small town wasn’t so bad. Still, not once did any of them say thank you and I further discovered from Phil that the story they’d heard was that there were four tickets to Candi where they’d probably have to spend the night and not all the way to Turbo via Candi. Anyway, I wasn’t happy with them on principle though the town was lovely. It also allowed Phil and I a chance to retrieve our hats which had been left aboard Da Capo. We walked around, lunched, finished our vodka with Jared and Renee, and went to sleep. I had a weird night where I awoke certain I had drunkenly got myself on some ship. We were in a hotel right over the water and the window was open, so there was the noise and breeze from the sea plus my head was still wavy from 5 days on a boat. I had philosophical thoughts for a few hours, saw shapes in the shadows, grew paranoid that our open window was an invitation to thieves, and finally fell asleep where I had a dream I could fly. I guess being back on land was taking some adjustment.

The next morning we got on our boat to Turbo where they fleeced us for baggage weighing over 10kg. In other words, any backpackers not making day trips would pay a lot more. Two hours of bumping and motoring along the ocean and we made it to Turbo where we hunted down a bus to Cartagena. However, there is no bus to Cartagena, only collectives (minivans) to Monterria and we got into a bidding war which ended with in a converted truck for 20000 pesos ($10). The driver was an idiot however and managed to clip an oncoming truck... with Phil’s surfboard. This didn’t seem to concern him at all which was obviously upsetting but he eventually had karma catch up with a flat tire. Of course, we had to sit there and wait at the side of the road, so I’m not sure that’s really a fair trade. We made it to Monterria finally and from there got in another colectivo (with a different company) to Cartagena for another 4 hours. Here, I made some friends in the van and wound up chatting with a few of them while they would talk to me and take turns answering my questions. Two of them gave us phone numbers to call, the first (Osbaldo) for somewhere Phil could get his surfboard fixed and he’d pick us up and bring us there, and the second (Carlos) to go out with him and his friends.

We got into Cartagena 13 hours after we first got on the speedboat that morning and Osbaldo offered to split a cab with us then negotiated a fair price out of the locals. He made sure the taxi knew where we were going and we were finally in Getsemani, the backpacker district at Hotel Holiday. We went out and explored the town and basically decided we loved it almost immediately. The buildings were colonial and thanks to the city’s walls and well-positioned defences it had never been sacked by pirates and privateers. People were everywhere, plazas with old buildings filled with chairs and people drinking in the moonlight with floodlit churches and historic sights all around them. Houses and little bars were pumping out salsa music and families and friends were there loving life and partying like there was no tomorrow. Phil and I sat in the square and people watched for some time, too tired to do much else but enjoying the atmosphere too much to sleep.

The next day in Cartagena we just walked around. Freshly squeezed orange juice and a fried mashed potato, egg, and ground beef ball for breakfast, we walked around the old town where we were staying looking at hostels and buildings. From there up to the centre looking for surfing shops for Phil and of course enjoying the town on a Saturday afternoon. We walked all the way up to the beaches and downtown area before grabbing a taxi back to the hostel. Daylight had only made us appreciate this place more, not to mention that it is literally crawling with beautiful girls. People watching has never been so much fun. We’d seen some cheap places in the old centre to grab a bite and wandered back there. While looking around, we ran across Renee and Jared and very shortly after, Hanna and Simon. We all had a beer together at a place we thought served dinner but nope, only lunch, and then split off because Renee and Jared are picky eaters and didn’t care for the cheap place that Phil and I found. We’d planned to meet them but the place they were going to go was closed when we got there and there was no sign of them at their hostel.

We walked back to the centre thinking they’d maybe taken a seat in the square but they weren’t there either so we decided to check out the nightclub all the street guys were trying to get us to visit: Isis. We arrived with beer still in our hands so we sat outside watching. It didn’t take much watching to realize the place was crawling with prostitutes. It was basically a brothel under the guise of a nightclub but we went in anyway to see what it was like. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere, we saw them and a few American-looking guys and not much of anybody else. We thought it’d be entertaining to have a drink – beer, to make sure if wasn’t spiked – but they told us it was 12000 for a beer that is usually 1500 and we saw why. If you are there, it’s for one thing only. We left. From there, we walked back to Getsemani and Avenida Nacional which is along the city walls, water, and filled with clubs. We went to a few but discovered that everybody was there with somebody. Outside one, a blonde came up and asked where we were from. “Canada” we answered. “WHERE?!” “Saskatoon”. At this she gave us a thumbs down and stuck her tongue out, and her lame attempts to excuse herself later were unheard. Traveller or not, that’s my home! And you’ve probably never been there.

Inside the club, she was nowhere to be found thankfully. The plaace was a visual overload, the girls here and the way they dance was eyeball popping. Of course, everybody is with somebody else, and we didn’t find any groups that looked inviting. Phil tried, against his better judgement, to chat with some Argentinians we’d seen in Bocas del Toro, but as usual they were snobbish and couldn’t wait to be rid of him so that they could be ignored by everyone else. There have been exceptions, of course, a few really cool Argentinians we’ve met along the way, but for the most part this is standard. One of the friendly ones told us that most of them who travel are the rich and think they’re better than everyone. Someone else postulated it was their largely Italian descent that led to their arrogance. It’s been said that once you are let in to the group they are very warm and friendly but otherwise nearly impossible to even be friendly with. Unless they want something from you. I stupidly gave away my bandana in Bocas del Toro (after initially laughing and refusing) to some Argentine girl that came up to me on the streets. Phil had lost his treasured SURFO hat. If you’re thinking it’s ironic or hypocritical to be offended that someone tells me my town is a dump and then have a paragraph about the attitude of Argentinians, you’re probably partly right. But I’m not dissing a place I’ve never seen or even talking about the country as a whole. I’m only recounting that most of my encounters with Argentinians thus far have been negative.

We had ourselves a dilemma the next morning. It was now the 14th, Valentine’s Day, and if we wanted to meet up with Anabella and Maria, we had to be in Bogota by the 20th. And there was still Santa Marta, carnival in Barrenquilla, the Tayronga National Park, the lost city, Medellin, the slow boat trip south to Bucaranga (two days) and busses. We decided that morning to head north to Santa Marta, spend a day there, a day trip to Tayrona, come back to Barenquilla to see carnival, and then back to Cartagena for one more day before heading south. I would have to miss Medellin (at least for now) to do my boat trip and I’d also have to skip San Gil and some hiking near there. Colombia would probably need a return visit even if I did double back to Medellin. The north was getting the short end of the stick but on the other hand it would help accelerate my timeline a bit and ensure that, despite the temptation, I didn’t spend too much time in Colombia. So we got on a collective and headed north to Santa Marta, four hours away to squeeze in what we could of this part of Colombia.

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