Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cartagena, Colombia - a busy, crowded, vibrant city!

Cartegena, Colombia.  My impression of the city is of a very busy place with lots of Colonial-era buildings, some of which are falling down, others which have been renovated and are spectacular.  Narrow one-way streets with many cars and many more people.  Many poor people on the streets, not so many beggars, but many people with small stands where they sell mainly fruit.  Many small stores with tons of people in them.  Many police and guards at the entrance to each store and in each store.  Not many Christmas decorations but enough to remember Christmas is coming.  Very Catholic - we went in two churches and there were services happening in each - in one new priests were being initiated, in the other, it seemed to be a regular service.  Lots of tourists on some streets, on others, very few.  A walled city.  Busy.  Traffic.  Loud.  Active.  Vibrant.

This is the clock tower where the cab driver let us out.  It's famous in the town.  I think it's part of the wall which encloses the entire old city.  I found the juxtaposition of the old tower and the new highrise behind it interesting.
The gentlemen in white shirts you can see in the photo were waiting avariciously for tourists to get out of cabs so they could accost us to offer us walking tours of the city, Panama hats that fold up to postcard size, passage to the jewelry stores where they sell emeralds, passage to places to exchange money, or anything else we might want.  We had at least 10 people come up to us and speak to us for at least 30 seconds each.  I hated being rude and was very friendly, saying, "No, thank you." but then eventually I got to where I wouldn't even look at them, just ignored them, and let them keep talking.  that made them stop.  They were really annoying - AND I completely understand that they need to make a living!

 An inner courtyard of which there are many.  This one looks like it was a beautiful building but it has seen better days.  Part of the roof was gone.  I didn't go further b/c it looked a bit unwelcoming/dangerous?  The talks they give us on board before we go into a country make everyplace seem  a bit dangerous.  A doctor tells about how to avoid diarrhea and flu and all that - don't drink the water or ice or eat fruit from open street stands - all that stuff.  Of course I have no desire to become ill, but I also hate hearing all that stuff because it puts me on guard.  Oh well.  I guess the motto "better safe than sorry" is the one we're living by here!
 I dont' know if you can see it or not, but there are two Santa Clauses on the balconies here - they're climbing up into the house.  You can see them better to the right. The balconies were so beautiful - out of gorgeously carved wood, mostly with extraordinarily beautiful plants on them.

 I didn't see many people who appeared to be this poor, but there were some.  In general there wasn't enough room on the streets for people to sit like this without being stepped on.  Perhaps that helped with the problem of begging.  No room...
This was the only artist whose work I saw in Cartegena.  I've only seen a few painters' works and no art galleries on the trip so far.  I thought this guy's work was quite interesting  - he bulked up famous works of art like the Mona Lisa on the left there.  he had painted them in many sizes of canvases.  He certainly wanted me to buy one, but I decided not to - I have enough paintings at home already!
This woman was dressed beautifully and was kind enough to stand up and pose for Gerlinde and me in her beautiful dress.  Then she came up and demanded that we each pay her a dollar for her trouble.  Oops!  I loved her colorful garb! And this way I can feel like I've contributed to the economy of Colombia in at least a very small way.  It's quite something to consider the different ways people have of earning a living. 

This is the inside of a library.  The stained glass windows are beautiful.  We went in because we could see the windows but we stayed inside because it was COOL in there!  We had already filled our clothes completely with sweat - there wasn't a dry spot on them all day after about 30 minutes of walking around.  It felt great to go into the air conditioning, but I also felt like so much of a tourist, I just couldn't stay - I felt like I was gawking at everything - like at animals in a zoo.  I'm not a very comfortable tourist.  I want to see everything, but I also don't want to act like I'm staring or gawking.  It's a difficult balance to strike - to be respectful and friendly, etc.   By the way, there's a uniformed guard in the lefthand archway.  He watched us closely the whole time we were in there.  I guess he was making sure we were respectful!
A typical Cartagena house in the old city.  Christmas decorations on the balcony.
This is the gorgeous, restful-looking inner courtyard of a private house which used to belong to the President of Colombia in the 1700's (if I understood the guard accurately - he was speaking Spanish).  Many of the houses had inner courtyards - a real necessity for quality of life, I think, given how hot and crowded the streets were and how few trees and how little green space there was out there.

Part of the fortifications of Cartegena.  The entire (old) city is surrounded by a very thick wall made of junk and old bricks and fossils and sand and all that stuff.  Cartegena was an extremely important port when the Spanish were transporting gold and silver from Mexico and Peru to Spain.  They would stop here and wait to get a full shipment before taking off for Spain.  The port is almost a full circle so is fairly easy to protect.  There were many, many battles here over the centuries.  When I looked off the deck of the ship out into the harbor, I could see and hear the battles, the old wooden galleons, the cries of the sailors and pirates who died in the tens of thousands, all for the sake of gold and silver they had robbed from the indigenous people.  It's a horrible history and one that is difficult to be with.  This entire region has such a violent history, it's at times difficult for me to be with.  I realize the entire world is full of such pain and heartache and death and violence.  It hurts my heart when I think about it.  I feel it intensely in this particular region, just as I did in Portugal when I traveled there.  I don't know why I'm so attuned to this particular area, but it seems I am. 

The Cathedral is in the distance.  These are houses right next to the city wall.  A storm could have hit us hard but thankfully it didn't.  We had clear skies the entire day.  When we went into the Cathedral to take a look, there was a service going on - it appeared they were consecrating (right word?) priests - about 12 of them.  In this most Catholic of countries, perhaps they don't have as much trouble finding priests as they do in the US.

The Cathedral was a pretty building, but not magnificent with gold and silver like in Portugal.  The building itself definitely had European roots though, as did the many houses we walked by.  
A section of the wall as seen from the top of the wall.  We went over to the red roof in the distance hoping to find a place to sit and have a glass of something, but it was closed until sunset.  It was remarkably difficult to find anywhere to sit in the entire city.  We had brought our art supplies with us hoping to do some small watercolors of the pretty buildings while we were out and about, but we just couldn't find a place to sit to do so.  That was odd. I'm not sure what to think about it.  There were a few parks with some trees, small ones, pressed between narrow busy streets with cars honking and with a large impressive white man on a statue in the middle.  Workers sat on all the available seats eating their meals from white styrofoam boxes just like we do in the States.  The darker the skin, the more evident it appeared that the men did heavy labor.  In the one park where we also took a load off, we saw some European-looking men dressed in business clothes sitting talking, shooting the breeze loudly with large gestures.  The workers, on the other hand, barely spoke to one another, just ate with great concentration, then lay there, exhausted, done in, until it came time to go.  It was a strong contrast to notice.
We wandered into the German/Colombian friendship house or something like that.  It was delightful to see many German, or actually Austrian, words painted on the walls.  There were many words I didn't know, very unusual ones like one that means letting go completely into trusting that all is well.  That's a concept I hope to master one day but which I only understand conceptually, not experientially so far!

We saw this very inviting-looking courtyard after we'd been walking around for about 2 hours and were as hot as I can remember ever having been.  It is a spa and a restaurant.  We were bold enough to walk in to take a better look but didn't feel like paying the premium to eat there.  I just wanted to lie down in the blue water and let it flow over me.  Did I mention it was HOT outside??

This is the inside of a small church we happened into around 12:30.  There were a lot of people there for a weekday noon time service.  This was in strong contrast to the primarily Protestant city of Montego Bay in Jamaica where we were unable to find an open church the entire day we were out and about. 
a torn placcard outside of the Cathedral in Cartegena.  I am not sure what it says but I liked the picture.
A woman selling baskets in the streets.  She was so small and the baskets so large, I wondered how she could carry them all. 

Gerlinde and I finally found a place to sit and rest our weary selves.  It was a small cafe with only a few tables but with lots of cool furniture - Victorian sofas and chairs with very modern upholstery.  We sat at a table with comfortable plastic green chairs.  The woman who waited on us was very nice and understood my Spanish better than I understood hers, so I got to order what I wanted, but I didn't know exactly what it was! 
It ended up being a beautifully presented plate full of fried foods - 2 dough-encased eggs that cooked as the batter cooked; 2 empanadas - meat encased in fried dough; then 2 servings of fried dough with no enclosures (sort of like a Dunkin' Donut), all served with homemade salsa, lime slices, sour cream, and slices of red and green peppers, beautifully arranged.  It was an aesthetic delight and WAY too heavy to eat much of, but I very much enjoyed the presentation!  I also got a smoothie made of the freshest coconut, pineapple, and mango.  It was fantastic!  Absolutely fantastic!  Gerlinde took a picture of me enjoying my first sip which I'll include here if you promise not to blackmail me with it!  You can see how hot I was from the sweat dripping into the drink from my hair.  The fruit gave me great relief!

Many of the houses were wonderfully picturesque with plants growing out of the most surprisingly small plots of dirt.  I love the colors and patina of this wall.  There were bars on all of the windows.  For protection, I'm sure, but also because there are no screens on the windows, so they use bars so the windows aren't simply open completely to the outside - at least that's my thought about it.

I love this door knocker.  I would have gotten one to bring home if I could have found one!  
A house names Los Balcones - I can understand why.  I love the bright colors!
 OK, I'll admit it - I looked into someone's open window and saw this scene then did the crazy thing of taking a picture of the inside of her house - plastic onthe chair, Christmas scene on the table, mural on the wall.  It was a private home with such a remarkable scene set up for the holiday.  I overcame my inhibitions about allowing others their privacy and took the shot anyway!  I sure felt naughty!
 Ya gotta love these headbands!  I thought about buying one but figured if I showed up with short hair, wearing one of these things, Chris might have reservations about letting me in the house!
One of the stores on a busy main street, more like a regular city street, with Christmas decorations for sale.
 one of zillins of fruit stands we saw everywhere!
a gentleman selling tomatoes.  They were pointy on the ends, unlike any I've seen before.
 another fruit stand with a scale for measuring.  I wanted to eat them all, but we'd been warned not to in case they carried something our stomachs couldn't handle.  Thankfully we get a lot of very good fruit on board each day so I'm getting my fill of watermelon, cantaloupe, etc., just not the more exotic fruits like mango and papayas.
 A bakery we saw from the street. If we had taken the time to exchange money, we certainly would have bought some!  It smelled fantastic!

 I was interested to note that the manakins weren't all skinny white women with thin lips.  Instead, the women were curvier, darker, and had thicker lips. The guys had dark hair. The one blond man I saw (right) had the broadest shoulders I could imagine.  He was bizarre looking!
 the way fruit is served from the stands.  Yum!!
 Can you tell I was enticed by the fruits?
 another salesman peddling his wares.

Christmas decoration

Christmas decoration surrounding a large palm tree - a Christmas navity scene.

A flower market, but, ironically, in such a tropical country, almost all of the flowers were artificial!  Bright, silken, and fake!  That was quite a surprise to see!

 I wish I could read what this says.  I tried to speak to the man to ask him what sort of documents he fills out, but he just pointed to his sign.  There were 8-10 people sitting there with their typewriters filling out forms for folks.  If you read Spanish well enough to know what this says, please let me know!  I'm so curious!  I asked if it was for people who couldn't read or write, but he said it wasn't.  Curious!
The second of two beggars I saw in Cartegena.

This gentleman was creating pillows and such using this crafting method.  I don't know what it's called.

It's hard to see what this is, but it is a bunch of bottles wrapped in yarn with corked wired together between the bottles, all of which are insand.  Quite festive and strange!


When we returned to the boat, I saw there are many animals there including this parrot, toucans, and even some monkeys.  I hadn't noticed them in the morning at all because so many men came up to us to insist we take their taxi to the city.  I couldn't see straight with all the people in my face.  I do NOT like such hard sales.  At all!

Gerlinde again.  The perfect travel companion for this trip!
 and our beautiful ship.  Quite impressive, huh?!
The ropes holding the ship to the dock.
a map of where we've been so far.  Sorry it's hard to see.

So, that's it for today!  It was fun taking the time to write all about yesterday.  I think I pretty much missed Colon, Panama - we have to be on board again shortly - but I needed time to catch up with myself and to remember where I've been.  Writing is so helpful for that.  Even if no one reads this blog, it's helpful for me to write it so I remember what I've seen and what it meant to me.  I am finding it difficult to absorb so many sights, sounds, and smells - (there were many of each of those in Cartegena), but it's amazing having the opportunity to try!  I'm very grateful to be here seeing so much and experiencing so much!

Til next time!  Alles Gute!

1 comment:

  1. I am reading it and loving it!!!!