It’s really hot here. Coming from 2600m/70F crisp Bogota to sea level/90F humid Cartagena was a slap in the face. But it’s not unlike going back to Malaysia I suppose. They are, after all, both near the equator.
First thing one notices, other than the weather, is the people here. A former slave trading city, there is a huge population of people of African descent, much like the Caribbean. But they look a little different compared to African-Americans. I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly.
There’s not much to do here. Marbella beach nearby is dirty. I had to take a day trip to Playa Blanca, about 1.5 hours away, for turquoise waters and white sand. That trip, in itself, was quite an adventure, starting with a local bus ride for an hour, to the wooden ferry I could have bypassed, to the 15 min motorbike ride. At one point, I even wondered if the guy taking me to the beach on his motorbike was going to instead take me to a place where his friends would be waiting for me. It would be simple enough, as the road we took seemed remote. But as usual, my head got the better of me and nothing dramatic happened.
The Old City, enclosed within its old fortress walls, was a treat to walk, but only for a night. I enjoyed the colonial look. The place was filled with shops selling all kinds of goods, from food to souvenirs. I don’t know why but I keep seeing locals selling white hats and tourists wearing them. I kept going back each evening go try to catch the sunset, which I discovered came at exactly 6:10 pm every evening.
The actual city of Cartagena is filthy and crowded, with a lot of air and water pollution. On the bus ride to Pasacaballos (on the way to Playa Blanca), I got to see how life was lived outside of the touristic Old City and it was not pretty. Poverty is everywhere and people have to work hard to make a living. At least in Bogota, it looked like people worked in offices but here, I don’t think I saw any office buildings nor did I see people dressed up like they were going to an office. Most looked like young students, factory workers, market folk, or service industry folk, the kind of people who use cheap transportation like motortaxis and rickety old buses.
It did not look like anyone looked hungry though, as calories came in many varieties and were often cheap. Street food is widely eaten by the locals (I love arepas con queso). There are juice and fruit sellers at every street corner.
I also enjoyed visiting local joints for their cheap and tasty almuerzo sets for lunch and dinner, each meal costing $3.50. It’s so humble and simple and felt like I was eating a home-cooked meal.
Overall, I’d say 3 days would’ve been perfect for me. Staying 4 days was brutal, especially the last day. At least that gave me a chance to organize my pictures, read, and write.