"The good lady is a holy nomadic mannequin that travels around during festival days wearing different outfits....."
Hello from festive Cartagena where every night is party night.
It’s been quite a transition after our six months spent in an isolated marina in a remote corner of Curação where the biggest gatherings were the huge shoals of fish and the loudest music came from the birds.
In Cartagena the party boats ply up and down the bay every evening blasting their music. Hedonists dressed in white dance like no one’s watching on every inch of deck. In the mornings the boats come from the Rosario Islands bringing many islanders who work on the mainland to the city. The evening sees them shipped back home again. Daytrippers who want to visit the islands do the trip in reverse.
To make our evenings in the cockpit even more entertaining, we are anchored right opposite the Colombian navy base. The siren goes off, the helicopter flies around. The sailors get thrown in the water then they have to climb up the side of a massive ship using only a rope ladder. They sure keep them active. Their various boats go out on missions, patrols or training seemingly every night.
The city is bustling. Street art adorns the walls, tourists abound, hawkers sell trinkets, fresh fruit, arepas, water and beer. It’s all a far cry from when I first visited Colombia 18 years ago.
At that time Colombia was in the midst of a civil war between paramilitaries and the FARC guerrillas. At that time the risk of kidnapping was so great that we chose not to not travel by bus overnight. That’s why we only visited the Caribbean coast. Locals were nervous. At the Tayrona national park I met a young man whose parents had been murdered as part of the drug trafficking trade and he himself had had to go into exile until things calmed down. Other middle class Colombians that we met were nervous of strange noises from the mountains. At that time you had to keep your ear to the ground to find out which places were currently controlled by guerrillas or paramilitaries.
When we travelled to Panama, we did so by sailing boat to avoid the infamous Darien Gap where kidnappings are rife. Although we did meet a man in a hostel in Panama City who had travelled through it. His skin entirely blue - painted by the Indians he had met and that kept him safe on his passage.
Today, Colombia still has a very large drug trafficking trade and there are areas of the country that still pose high risk of kidnapping and violence. The Darien Gap is now better known for being a well known migration route for people from across the globe trying to reach the United States.
But most of the country is largely safe to visit and the number of tourists has skyrocketed as has the development. Outside of Cartagena’s historic city walls, huge skyscrapers sprout high into the sky.
Within the historic city walls you have shady plazas, great museums, such as the Palace of the Inquisition, which details the Spanish Inquisition as it operated in Colombia, including how it affected slaves and indigenous peoples. Another is the Zenú gold museum with its fascinating display of the goldsmithing abilities of the precolombine Zenú people.
The city walls themselves are also a spectacle. Metres thick; in the evenings they play host to dozens of locals and tourists who come to admire the sunset. Lovers hide in the crenellations and buskers sing and play - including Eloi - a Brazilian musician who is taking a year out to crew on his friend’s catamaran back to Brazil. You can check out his great music here.
Outside the city walls you have the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas with its deep tunnels and Hornabeque construction. Built in 1536, the fortress is shaped like a set of bullhorns, a defensive construction design that comes from the German word Hornwerk.
One of our favourite sights has been the Convento de la Popa. Set high up on a hill, it has magnificent panoramic views across the whole city. A flowery courtyard gives it a quaint feel, as do the various coloured and adorned items of clothing displayed that are worn by Nuestra Señora de Candelaria. The good lady is a holy nomadic mannequin that travels around during festival days wearing different outfits.
But the nuns are not so sweet. Proudly displayed hanging from the ceiling is a shattered drone. Displayed as a warning to people not to fly drones or they will shoot them down like the one on display. To add insult to injury the last picture taken by that drone is blown up and displayed as well. Ruthless.
Cartagena is a great place to spend Christmas. It is cheap enough here to regularly eat and drink out, which feels like a real luxury. They are known for their fresh juices made of fruits you can’t get anywhere else, such as the citrus fruit lulo. They also probably have the best Christmas decorations of anywhere we’ve seen.
Merry Christmas everyone! Have a good one :-)
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