I have been sitting in front of this screen for damn too long trying to sum up our last week in Colombia, which we spent in Cartagena. I just don’t know where to start. Cartagena was magical, there were so many awesome things happening when we were there around Christmas. I thought the city would be quiet on Christmas week but Holy Cat I was wrong!
I was planning on writing an entire post about the city’s fame and glory. I made mental notes of what I was going to write about, but then the heat of the Caribbean sun melted all those mental notes I beautifully gathered in my mental scrapbook.
Trying to detangle all those sweet memories of Cartagena and to pour it into a chronogically-make-sense writing causes my brain physical pain, so I made another mental note that for next trips; to bring a notebook to at least take notes of the inspirational moments that pop up. Ogawd, I am a pathological mental-noter. We all know I won’t remember to bring that notebook because my backpack will be filled with things that I thought crucial but will end-up unused, like a third pair of bikini.
Anyway, are you familiar with the terms mountain person and beach person when it comes to traveling destination? Nico is definitely a mountain person, he can walk and walk and walk up and down a mountain nonstop with a happy mood, much like a walking cymbal monkey on Duracell lithium battery. While I, on the other hand, I love beaches. If you ask me what is my fav city in Colombia that we have been to, I would definitely say Cartagena. Not because I am a beach person, but because Cartagena has tons of awesomities (awesome qualities) other than its sparkling blue water and white sand beaches.
We flew to Cartagena from Medellin with Avianca airlines and landed at Rafael Nunez airport before noon. We took a taxi to get us to our hotel and the driver took us by the coastal highway where I saw pelicans for the first time in my life, and BAM!!! Right there, right then, I knew I’d love Cartagena (and yes, I am kinda easy to impress). I have never seen pelicans in real life before (I never even thought I would see one, ever) so that first impression got me really excited about the city.
As you can see from the picture above, one side of Cartagena is very modern and advanced with all those fancy skyscrapers, this area called Bocagrande. It offers different kind of entertainment and environment than the area we stayed in, the historical area. The charms of Cartagena are spread on the historical area with the colorful old colonial buildings and cobblestone paths.
Here are some awesomities of Cartagena that made our stay memorable:
Awesomities # 1: The area we were in: Getsemani
Getsemani is a neighborhood located right across Cartagena, the walled city. This neighborhood is where local families still live in and therefore Colombian hospitality and culture are still very much alive and palpable. Although this area is rated as a rather dodgy/slum-ish area according few snobby travel guide books, this area is actually bursting with color, arts, and friendly locals. IMHO, this once slum neighborhood has evolved into a trendy spot, offering various laid back dining, nightlife, and lodging options.
Awesomities # 2: Where we stay Casa relax
In Getsemani, lots of houses has been transformed into casas (private homestays), much like bed and breakfast. Among all the casas in the neighborhood, we chose to spend our 5 nights in Cartagena in Casa Relax.
The casa has an open dining room and common hall (with TV, pools, darts, etc). It also has an open air swimming pool right at the heart of the building with hammocks hanging on the side. It was exactly what we needed when the sun got too emotional (hot, burning, and unforgiving, like jealousy) during midday, where we could just take it easy, slothing by the pool, sipping fresh concoctions made out of don’t-know-what-but-it’s-pretty-good.
Awesomities # 3: Inside the wall
The history of Cartagena goes back to the colonial era where the city was one of the major port in the Caribbean coast. It's architecture is heavily influenced by the Andalusian style colonial buildings. The heart of Cartagena's downtown is surrounded by a 11 km thick wall. The wall was built by the Spaniards to protect the city from the pirates and other evil dudes. The picture above is the entrance to the downtown historical area or known as the Walled city. This clock tower,La Torre del Reloj Publico, is one of the most iconic landmark of Cartagena. There is an area where we could go on this massive wall. When I looked closely at the wall, I noticed that the wall is partly made from coral!
There is a lot going on inside that wall. The streets are lined with vibrant colored casas of the wealthy merchants which are now mostly transformed into upscale boutiques, hotels, bars, and restaurants. Vendors selling typical Cartagenian souvenirs with ridiculously marked up price are everywhere and add to the charm of the city. Although I must admit that this place has become very touristic and almost lost it's authenticity because everything is turned into a commercial place, there are some landmarks that still preserve the historical bit of the city like the church Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, the Palace of Inquisition, and the Las Bovedas.
Have you ever heard about the Spanish inquisition? At first, all I know about Spanish Inquisition was about how gorey it was. To be honest, that was the main reason I was curious about this palace. We took a guided tour (thank God) and he explained everything about the inquisition and the history of Cartagena. O'boy, I was totally misled about the gorey part! It wasn't actually that bad. There were some torture devices displayed in this place but nothing that I couldn't stomach.
Awesomities # 4: Street food
We eat a lot. It just how we are. Although there are fancy restaurants inside the wall, we opted to eat from the street instead or from garage-turned-into-an-eatery kind of places in Getsemani. With a fraction of the fancy restaurant price, we got more than we could chew, tasted more flavors than we imagined, and got addicted more than we’d like to admit.
Awesomities # 5: Beaches
Now this is the main reason why we were in Cartagena; its Caribbean beaches, y’all! You see, I got a lot of bucket lists to do and each list represents a particular category. There is one for authentic food I want to try, one for animals in the wild that I want to see, and of course one for the water bodies around the world I want to dip my ginger root toes in. In Cartagena, I can tick Caribbean sea off this list. Hashtag euphoria.
CSFB is one big-ass fort, located 15 minutes by walk from where we stay in Getsemani. According to the legend, this fort was the only fort in Colombia that has never been taken by enemy. The fort is huge, it looks like a masonry hill.
(not so) Awesomities # 7: Counterfeit money from the ATM
If you pay something in cash with a big bill like this 50K COP, there's a high chance that your bill will get scanned for authentification by the cashier, and guess what?! The authentification machine beeped at my money when I was trying to pay something in Cartagena. There are 3 ways of detecting counterfeit money in Colombia; the beeping machine, a magic pen that only works on real counterfeit money, and by looking at it closely and compare it with another bill of the same value. One of my 50k COP bill failed on all this three examinations. It meant that the bill was genuinely fake. 50K COP worths about 25 CAD. I didn't really appreciate it when my hard-earned dollah is exchanged with something that worth as much as the monopoly money.
The cashier told me that it happens often; people get counterfeit money. It's like a common problem in Colombia, especially with big bills like 50K or 100K. Maybe it's common for them but it sucked donkey balls for me to have this kind of problem. The worst part is I got the money fresh out of an ATM. How come an ATM gives out counterfeit money??
The cashier also told me that I could go to a bank and simply ask for an exchange for the money. Yeah right! With my anxiety problem, I couldn't casually do that without worrying that they will thought that I have anything to do with this counterfeit money crime and then they will confiscate my passport and put me in jail and put those torture devices from the Inquisition Palace on me till I confess the crime I didn't commit.
Of course , it was all taken care of. Don't ask, won't tell.
Awesomities # 8: The pelicans
Every day before sunset, the pelicans filled the sky. The sky looked like it was full of pterodactyls. I don’t really know what they’re doing, honestly. Perhaps they are just acting busy to look like they have something to do in their life other than just sitting on one hand on the beach, all day.