Cartagena, you’re not how I pictured you

Cartagena, Colombia

“To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.”

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

Cartagena de Indias, infamous for its history, beloved of cruise ship daytrippers and (un-named) setting for one of my favourite Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels.

Cartagena is undoubtedly a beauty, but there’s an undercurrent. Arriving later than expected at the bus station on the outskirts of town, the crazy traffic placed us firmly back in reality again. My mind darted back to a sketchy bus station in Venezuela, many years ago. Keep your eyes open.

I don’t like arriving somewhere new at night. I’d rather arrive late afternoon, get my bearings, but this time it couldn’t be helped. I was starving, everyone was inviting us to buy something, the humidity made everything more vivid.

Cartagena, Colombia

The old walled city is gorgeous, there’s no getting away from that. I loved the street scene statues, the trailing flowers from balconies which reminded me of those in the Canary Islands. Imposing, solid doorways and hidden courtyards.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

But real life is outside the walls. I read somewhere that it’s deliberately kept that way, which made me feel uneasy. A gilded cage is not so appealing.

Cartagena, Colombia

It’s only sitting on a half-finished roof terrace, high above the Plaza de los Coches, twilight slowly approaching and painting the nearby church in pinks and yellows that Cartagena really shows its appeal.

The lights on the Torre de Reloj are starting to come on and the plaza is starting to fill with the horse and trap drivers and people visiting the sweet stalls in the arcade. Later the salsa will start up in the tiny corner bar. I can’t make my mind up about Cartagena.

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