The sign says it all. We arrived in Cartagena, one of the oldest cities in the New World founded in the 1500s. It has survived all these years despite colonization, wars and heat. Many places are suffering from high heat this summer, but Cartagena is always hot and humid. Hot, hot, hot, and sweat-dripping-from-every-pore humid.We enjoyed strolling the walled city, window shopping, having a coffee and wifi access, chatting with the café owner who is back in the area after 20 years in Florida–his accent, or lack of it, gave him away. We stopped for lunch at La Perla, run by the people who run the Peru sushi restaurant next door. Our Peru-inflected food was delicious, including shrimp ceviche Cartagena style in a spicy tomato sauce, oxtail and blue cheese filled appetizer puffs, and ravioli with shrimp and crab. The air conditioning felt delicious, too.
Houses are carefully painted and decorated, often with lizards.
The arcades are remodeled storage from earlier times when the arches housed storage for mariners or the fort. Today, vendors offer woven goods, leather bags, and souvenirs.
As we headed back to the car, we stopped in a store to buy some Colombian chocolate for scientific purposes, to compare with single source chocolate from Peru and Bolivia. It’s all pretty tasty.
Three young men wanted to rap to us for a tip and were unhappy to find us hot and tired and uninterested in rap. Some people enjoy these performers, and pass by the entrance to the fort to see whether the trumpeter will guess their nationality and play the national anthem of their home country.
We stuck to the UNESCO World Heritage site portion of the city. It is lovely, though touristy, a bit like the French Quarter in New Orleans, or the Casco Viejo in Panama, and makes a pleasant day trip.
Though most people are pretty low key here, you see that some people are struggling. Like the young rappers in Cartagena getting up close hoping for a tip, fruit-sellers rush to your window when you stop along the highway. There’s a touch of desperation in their desire to sell you something. It can be overwhelming to be offered a bag of mangoes by five different people at the same time. Even if you wanted mangoes, how would you choose?