The Caribbean port with a fort

For our visit to this hot little spot in the Caribbean, Cartagena de Indias turned up the heat and humidity. Sporting sweaty faces and damp T-shirts, we devoted 5 sticky days to exploring Cartagena’s brightly coloured buildings and charismatic old town which provides a visual feast of Bahama-like tropics and Spanish Colonial.

To touch on its history, in the last 300 years, Cartagena has survived six pirate attacks. One event saw 2200 Spanish troops defend a fleet of 33,000 soldiers on over 150 ships. The ingenious design of their fort systems ensured their ultimate success. In fact, Castillo San Felipe which was built in 1536, is known as the strongest fortress ever built by Spaniards.

Cartagena was also famously the muse and home of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And we quickly saw why. Indeed if the cobbled streets could speak, you get the feeling that many stories of epic love and tragedy would be told. During our stay, we both made it a point to read Marquez’s classic 100 Years of Solitude (a brilliant read and time-transporting experience). The imagery, the emotions, food and characters Marquez describes seemed to echo off the pages and into our real life observations. Under the tropical sun we fell in love with Cartagena’s fortified city, it’s romantic alleyways and vibrant people.

P9230101The views from Cartagena’s mega-fort Castillo San Felipe.

P9230061Locals having a lazy day playing guitar over the city’s skyline.

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P9230067Part of Cartagena’s continued defence was a 11km-long wall studded with gun turrets and canons.

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P9220023Probably due to the weather running hot, locals seemed to spend a lot of time outdoors, either in the plazas, sitting on their front door steps or playing soccer in the streets.

P9220025Having a relax outside our hostel – Casa Relax in Getsemani. This edgy and less touristy neighbourhood felt like a slice of real Cartagena. The hostel pool was an oasis from the heat.

P9240191Alice, doing her best to convince passerbyers she lives here.

P9220016Backyard barber.

IMG_0636Burger night. In addition to the usual suspects (hamburger pattie, mystery meat salami, lettuce and pickles) they add crispy fried onion chips and a sweet clear yellow jelly sauce. Overall the combo was quite tasty.

P9230136Best popsicle stand, possibly in the world. We went to La Paletteria most days to try out the different flavours starring many local exotic fruits.

P9230135We tended to eat our popsicles in air-conditioned comfort as the heat outside had the tendency to make a runny mess of these frozen treats.

P9240235Ben hitting up the ¨tinto¨ man for an afternoon expresso. Coffee carts like this are everywhere in the old city.

P9240238Groping this Botero sculpture according to local custom makes you lucky in love. We just did it because it felt really good.

P9240253At the local chicken and rice shops, they kindly provide plastic gloves so that you can handle your chicken without the worry of greasy hands. Ben visibly enjoyed this amenity.

P9240248A mime doing a pretty good job of being a Colombian version of Ben. We gave him a few dollars after he spent about 10 minutes cycling through our friends.

IMG_1302Amazing salsa music and vibe at the Cafe Havana in Getsemani. Watching the older couples dance the night away is a beautiful thing to witness.

IMG_0617When staring over the Caribbean coast, seafood is the only self-respecting thing to order. We hit up La Cevicheria, a place that was featured in Anthony Bourdain’s TV series No Reservations.

P9220007A delicious coconut crab salad we sampled at another local haunt.

P9220013Sitting there, feeling full, Alice felt bad for the crab so tried to put it back together again.

P9230122Platano chips. South America is the land of plantains (an oversized carbed up big brother of usual garden variety bananas).

P9230109First time seeing vultures. These two were lurking in the local park.

P9240146On another visit to the old walled city we visited the Spanish Palace of Inquisition complete with all variety of torture tools imported by the Spaniards. This one, as our guide demonstrated is a crusher to target thieves with sticky fingers.

P9240149A spikey necklace to silence lying adulterers.

P9240148Head crusher which increasingly puts pressure on your skull one painful turn of the screw at a time.

P9240151Ben just before Alice chopped his head off.

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P9240197View from 400 year old Convento de la Popa – Cartagena’s highest and most famous monastery.

P9240210Living in this monastery is this statue of this Virgin of Candelaria who is believed by locals to have saved them from centuries of disease and pirates. Her name is Carmen. She is also famous for miracles such as helping people to walk, see and hear again.

P9240209Pictured here is the impressive wardrobe of this Virgin of Candelaria. Honouring a delightul tradition, every year a local family is in charge of sewing and providing the Virgin Carmen with a new elaborate dress. Trendy lady!

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