If you already follow us on instagram (and if you don't why not? ;)) you have hopefully seen our more recent posts celebrating the culture of Cartagena and all the wonderful ways it is unlike anywhere else in the world. The above post (check it here) talks about how costeños don't go through the formality of saying buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches etc they instead opt for a long, drawn out, and quite nasal "bueeeeeenas" which basically has you covered for all times of the day. Maybe it's because time is never the most important thing in Cartagena? Anyway, after our post received a lot of positive attention, and people started to send us their versions of the costeña "buenas", we realised that the very essence of Cartagena and its people is captured in this authentic way of saying hello. For those reading this post in the hopefully covid-free and golden future, Cartagena is going through a pretty tough time as a result of all the strict quarantine measures, airport and business closures and resulting economic hardships/destitution courtesy of the local and global responses to the disease. On an individual level, people have responded in different ways. Unfortunately, one of the main responses has been to throw blame on each other and further divide and fraction the population. So as we continued to receive more incredible "buenas" videos, we thought that warm, welcoming, generous, connected energy that is so palpable in Cartagena could be something that the world could do with a bit more, and that Cartageneros could be reminded of, as they are being asked to once again dig deep and rise against the fear and uncertainty. So we made a video, and we think it would be amazing if you could add your voice to those of your Cartagenera friends. We'd love to see the Cartagena buenas travel around the world! Check out the video, and then give it a go! Trust us, it's fun! Then either/and upload your video to instagram/facebook tagging @cartagenaconnections and using the hashtag #buenaspalmundo or send it to us in a whatsapp message or facetime message to +57 3002 807 237
Have plans to have a relaxing day at the beach while you're in Cartagena? Whether you're thinking just to pop down to Bocagrande, trip up to La Boquilla or drive over to Playa Blanca, unfortunately there can be an ugly barrage of attention you may receive from vendors looking to extract the most amount of moolah possible from everybody who sets foot on their sands.
It is sad, and these vendors are definitely detroying their own livelihoods with their agressive, short-sighted approach, with tourists and locals opting more and more to avoid the public beaches and go to private island locations.
Now, it is definitely possible to still enjoy the beach.. you just have to go with your eyes open and prepared to negotiate all prices upfront. Or just say no gracias a lot. Above is a list of set prices agreed to by the local Cartagena council. Screenshot them so you have them as a reference point. There's also a number you can call if things get heated.
Above all, don't accept anything until you've set the price first. No trial massage. No sample oyster.
Now go forth, ready to avoid the beach bullying. Once they know you're clued up, they will probably leave you alone. Wish it wasn't like this but you know, sometimes life's a beach.
UPDATE: Jan wrote in comments said he couldn't read the prices in the images. So I'll write them out here now:
A double tent with 4 chairs - 30,000 pesos
Umbrella with 2 chairs - 20,000 pesos
Single tent with 2 chairs - 15,000 pesos
Sun chair - 12,000 pesos
Plastic table - 4,000 pesos
Plastic chair- 4,000 pesos
Complete massage - 50,000 pesos
Head of hair braids - 50,000 pesos
Individual braids - 20,000 pesos
Oysters - 5,000 pesos (we have definitely heard of people getting sick from eating them FYI)
Beer - 3,500-4,000 pesos
And for best beaches please check out this section of the website.
It's that time of year again when Colombians go costume crazy and adopt the North American festival with a fervour that has to be seen to be believed. Halloween. If costumes are your caper, and you're the type to travel for a really good bash.. then book your flights to Bogotá. The capital city does Halloween arguably better than anywhere in the world.. And if the date falls on a weekday (this year it's Wednesday) even better - it means parties the weekend before, after and on the day itself. Sorry liver. Where to go? Guaranteed mayhem awaits at the epic Andres Cande de Res party in Chia. But book tickets early because they sell out every year. Otherwise pretty much every bar around the Zona T will have some thematic fun for you. I definitely recommend you check out local guide civico for details on the best parties.
BUT since I live in Cartagena, since this website is called Cartagena Connections and since everyone keeps asking what the best party will be in Cartagena.. I've decided to quickly churn out this post with a summary of my picks.
TOWNHOUSE- Wednesday 31 October
Leading the charge for celebrating on the actual day, Townhouse will definitely be the best option for the 31st with a Heaven + Hell themed party. Townhouse is a boutique hotel located close to Parque Fernandez de Madrid with both a rootop terrace (Heaven) and a dark and moody basement style bar (Hell). Good music, great crowd, people who will genuinely dress up and guaranteed surprises (is that an oxymoron?).. Pave your way to hell with good intentions! Entry is 30K pesos, but free if you come in costume.
ALQUIMICO - Saturday 3 November
Consistently the best vibed bar/club in Cartagena, the Halloween party at Alquimico is always a top ticket for a good time and this year they have partnered with famed Party Promoters SUPREME FIRM to establish themselves as THE event to dominate the weekend celebrations. 500,000 pesos + 500,000 in booze for best costume, 4 DJs including Colombian/Miami favourite Augusto Yepes (he is gooooood) and a haunted house theme that is completely in keeping with this spooky converted Colonial mansion.
LA JUGADA - Friday 2 November
La Jugada has some of the best cocktails in Cartagena, which will definitely help with the warm-up for their Halloween party. Don't be suprised if your bartender is wearing a Dali mask however, as the theme has been taken from the addictive Spanish Netflix series Casa de Papel. Prizes for best costumes.
LA MOVIDA - Saturday 3 November
La Movida is the place the most connected Cartageneros go to club. They'll book tables, order bottles and have immaculate costumes. So if you want to rub shoulders with them, you'll want to RSVP to +573106364472 The theme is NEON HORROR. Expect some trippy effects and come prepared to dance until 4am.
SELINA Saturday 3 November
For more of a casual fun time, the rooftop of funky hostel Selina is a good bet. Officially their halloween party was last Saturday (oops) but there will be a repeat this weekend.
Same story with Bourbon Street. Their always mega fun madhouse party already happened on Saturday 27th October, but there will be a repeat of sorts on Saturday.
BLUE APPLE BEACH HOUSE - FOR WHEN YOU JUST WANT A RELAXING DAY AT THE BEACH (WITH ALL tHE TRIMMINGS)
Many a time we've despaired over the best option to recommend for those who want to enjoy some beachy lifestyling. You want a nice beach; nice water; you don't want people harassing you to buy stuff every five seconds, you want good food options, good service, a great atmosphere,you don't really want five sound systems blaring music at you, you'd like fair prices, not to get "ripped off", a nice selection of fellow guests, the possibility of being left completely alone in privacy, and a pool wouldn't go astray either.
It's not an unreasonable list of wants, but until now, Cartagena has come up very, very short.
But folks, we now have a winner.
Blue Apple is a Beach House (yes! you can also stay the night! Ask us!) Beach Club/beach restaurant with amazing food, drink and service, a private beach with zero vendors annoying you, an infinity edge pool, private volleyball court, plush towels, cool mood appropriate music, and a bunch of other list-ticking features that put it far and above any potential islands rivals.
If you want to know where we would recommend for some island time, this is it.
HOW IT WORKS
The Blue Apple is not open to the public. It is only open to members and their guests. Fortunately for you, Cartagena Connections is one of a limited number of Corporate Members, which means we can secure our clients a day-pass to visit for just 70,000 pesos pp (about $25 USD). This price includes return transfer by boat, use of the pool, private beach, showers and other facilities, sun lounges, paddleboard, fluffy towels. There's also other services like jetski, yoga, massages etc you can choose to have arranged for you additionally.
Rather than building food/drinks into the day-pass price, Blue Apple have decided to not enforce a minimum spend and instead allow guests to choose to order and pay for whatever food or drinks they want from the a la carte menu. You can see the menu in the photo gallery above. It's all exceedingly tasty and well-presented, but we're particularly partial to the pulpo and the mussels, washed down with a summer-time rosé. All day.
To reserve your place please email, call or whatsapp Catalina at firstname.lastname@example.org or +57 301 321 3533
Numbers are limited, so reservations are essential. Payment can be made directly to Blue Apple on the day.
The boat leaves usually about 10am, usually from the dock in Manga (specific time and details will be provided upon booking)
This is actually some of the best value going in Cartagena and considering it is also the very best quality option, a visit to the Blue Apple is something of a non-brainer. So let us reserve your spot today and you can thank us later.
BEST free (OR almost free) THINGS TO DO IN CARTAGENA
These are some of my favourite ways to enjoy and experience Cartagena. I've tried to include things that are free or almost free that you probably won't find featured in your guide-book but are still accessible for visitors staying in and around Centro.
Find a spot on the centuries-old wall at sunset and take in the view. Anywhere is good, but my favourite places are sea-side at the Baluarte de San Francisco (near the Hotel Santa Teresa), "Cafe de al Lado" - the space "Next-door" to the famous, and also famously expensive, Cafe del Mar, or head to the wall that overlooks the India Catalina and enjoy the chaotic spectacle of the afternoon-rush-hour commute. No matter where you choose, there will be a helpful vendor at your beck, eager to sell you a refreshingly cold cerveza. For added reflection points, contemplate all the incredible things those walls must have seen, since they were built way back in the 1600s. Sigh.
Get taken out to the ballgame as Cartagena's long-held passion for baseball is put on show at the weekly Sunday games. If I'm not playing (read about THAT here), I like to watch the games in Calle Pedregal in Getsemani. They also happen in Bocagrande near the Hospital and at the foot of Castillo San Felipe. For me, this is a glimpse of the real Cartagena. Music blaring, kids sucking on bolis (homemade ice-blocks), old-timers from the barrio debating the best hitting order and baseball played in the street with neighbours looking on from their bedroom windows. For many people in Cartagena, Sunday is their only day off, so it's not uncommon for the beers and aguadiente to be passed around fairly early in the day as folks settle into relax mode. Baseball season runs March - November.
3. Tierra Bomba
It's just 15 minutes by lancha (outboard-motor-powered boat) from Bocagrande, but Tierra Bomba feels like another world - with practically private empty beaches, and local islanders living very simply and happily. You can get to Tierra Bomba for as little as 2,000 pesos each way ($1) if you go through the Pueblo and don't mind waiting until the ferry is choc-a-block full of people before it leaves. Once there, make your way through the "town", past the colourfully painted houses, the dusty football pitch, and the fresh fruit juice lady with the best views in the country, to Playa Linda then settle in to your own Corona commercial; from where you'd rather be...
Chess (Ajaderes), Ludo (Parques), Dominoes and Cards - Cartageneros are quite partial to a bit of a boardgame (another reason I must have been born here in another life!). Pass by any plaza and you will find the tinto (coffee) vendors vying it out over a hotly contested game of cards (especially Plaza San Diego and Parque Fernando Madrid). Chess is the domain of Plazas Simon Bolivar (by day) and Trinidad (by night). And there's permanently a game of Ludo happening in Callejon Ancho in Getsemani. Stand there watching the men play long enough and they'll invariably invite you to play. If you want to experience Cartagena like a local, you'll happily accept.
5. Fly a kite
Although August is official "Mes de las Cometas" (Kite Month), there's plenty of wind most of the year here in Cartagena, especially close to the sea, and an afternoon spent kite-flying is a lot of fun! During the windy months there'll be kites for sale on the beaches and around key flying spots like the grassed area near the wall on the corner of Avenida Santander and Avenida del Mar. Or for extra crafty fun - make your own! Personally, I can't keep from singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite!" from Mary Poppins the entire time.
6. Take a bus
Something I always enjoy doing, no matter where in the world I am, is to jump on the most public form of transport I can find and just spend an hour or so riding the routes. Ok, so if you only have a short time, this might not be high on everyone's agenda. But I think it's a fascinating, almost-free way to experience a city. Here in Cartagena you will pay a maximum of $1,500 Colombian pesos (75cents). Locals will hand over less for short distances. Once you've moved past the pimped-up driver's area (glitter, neon, signs praising God, giant speakers, fluffy dice etc etc) you'll need to choose your seat. Seat selection is crucial in non-air-conditioned buses (the majority) - you want to be near an open window or door on the non-sunny side. Then sit back and enjoy the ride! At various points in your journey vendors and buskers will board the bus - they'll be selling chocolates, drinks, pens, books or rapping, singing, dancing. Many will share their unfortunate stories and ask that you give a little to help support them. You'll sit next to and maybe even converse with young and old. You'll learn the Spanish word for STOP as it is repetitively shouted to the driver. You'll see barrios that show a very different Cartagena to the one within the walls. You'll listen to Reggaeton, Champeta, Salsa and Vallenato. You'll also sweat. A lot. So be sure to bring/buy plenty of water.
7. I want to ride my bicycle!
Are you singing Queen too? Digress. So bicycles have pretty much taken over Cartagena. First there were a few rental places, then next thing they were springing up on every single corner of Centro and Getsemani. Goodness knows where they all came from. Bike rental is cheap. Usually around 3,000 pesos ($1.50) an hour and Cartagena is perfect for exploring by bike; it's flat and most of the sites are super close. Wait til the sun is about to go down and things are cooler, then cycle to Laguito to watch the sun set over the palm-framed sea. Or cycle beside the bay at Castillogrande or Manga and check out all the beautiful people keeping fit and families strolling with rollerblade-clad kiddies.
Pretty much most nights of the week, somewhere in Cartagena, there will be a free movie showing. Not only do they make great language practice for those looking to improve their Spanish, often the movies selected provide wonderful insight into Colombian or Latin American life. There's Tuesday night movies at Camara de Comercio, Wednesday night movies under the stars in the absolutely amazing Claustre de Convento Santo Domingo (the courtyard for Cartagena's most ancient convent) and Thursday night movies and short films at grungy Quiebracanto Cinebar (sit on chairs salvaged from the now-decaying Teatro nextdoor).
The people of Cartagena love music and dance, so to properly experience the city you're going to have to cut a rug. Or at least watch. There are countless free music and dance options here, from the free bands playing throughout the bars of Getsemani (enticing you in to buy a beer or two) through to dance classes at Ciudad Movil and the public zumba performance that happens on Sunday nights at Plaza Trinidad. Or just find a house with a decent sound system around Getsemani (there's dozens!) and dance with the locals in the street. If your budget stretches to include a cover charge, check out my descriptions of bars and clubs here.
10. To market, to market
Check out the sensory assault that is the Mercado Bazurto, the city's public market. Deafening music, tropical fruits, un-refrigerated meats, fish-juice-filled muddy paths and smells that range from vomit-inducing to hunger-making to floral depending upon the section you find yourself and the direction of the wind. Read more about the market here.
Lots of people arrive to Cartagena with the expectation that, as part of not-quite first-world Colombia, things are going to be cheap. 'Fraid not. Depending upon where you are coming from and how strong the currency you're converting is, things will be, for the most part, about the same price as in your first-world country (eating, drinking etc) or, even more expensive (accommodation, boating etc).
BUT if you know where to look there are still some choice options to eat on the cheap. I've made up a bit of a list of my favourites (in no particular order) HERE, but first here are some general tips to eating cheap:
The main plate will include your selected meat (carne [beef], cerdo [pork], pollo [chicken], lingua [tongue], higado [liver] or pescado [fish] being the main offerings) plus a varying combination of rice, lentils, beans, salad (always very basic - lettuce, tomato, onion), patacones and banana.
To drink, the usual offering will be aguapanela (brown sugar dissolved in water with lime juice), chicha (rice-based fruity cordial) or jugo (juice of the day). Corrientes are usually a lunch time thing, but a handful of places serve them up all night long too. Expect to pay from around COP$6,000 up to $15,000 depending upon the place and whether you choose the more expensive fish option.
OK! You're now ready for my list of cheap(er) restaurants. Go here.
Do you have any other tips to eat cheap around Cartagena?
It's a universally accepted truth that time flies when you're having fun. And since this past year living, working and loving in Cartagena has absolutely rocketed by, you can assume that I've had mega huge truckloads of fun. Although, as many of you can attest, I kindof always do.
Since this is our anniversary, I wanted to get all romantic and write a bit of a love letter/thank you note to my adoptive city. It might help to explain what the heck I am doing all the way over here in Colombia. And maybe even inspire some of you to visit.
Cartagena! Mi vida! Mi amor! It's been one year since I found myself at your tiny aiport after flying from Buenos Aires, via Peru. We got off to a pretty good start right away. Despite never meeting me before, new friend Willy, picked me up from the airport and dropped me at my hotel. This, ofcourse, involved driving along Avenida Santander where I first saw the kilometres and kilometres of unobstructed beachfront I am now so familiar with, stretching out for me under the setting sun. And man! You sure know how to set a sun. Where do you even come up with those colours? The dreamy purples and blues, nudging their way into the shock of almost fluorescent orange and peach, all set off with a kindof halo of gold and a salty ocean haze. Each day your sunsets are different and differently spectacular. I never tire of them.
I arrived just as you were readying yourself for the start of FICCI: an international film festival that transforms the streets and plazas and theatres around town into one giant free movie cinema – 7 days of almost non-stop film. There was a buzz, an energy, almost touchably thick in the air. It seemed that every bar was filled with up-and-coming directors discussing way-out ideas, getting drunk on aguardiente and dancing salsa.
So I joined in. Obviously.
There was a tall, dark stranger who held my body close so that I had no choice but to move as he moved. I overcame my Australian “personal-space issues” and together we danced; sweaty, exhilarated and punctuated by shots of Colombia's own rum, until the sun threatened to rise again. I retreated to my beachfront hostel by way of a hilarious taxi driver, rested for a few hours, then set out once more under the gloriously warm sunshine, impatient to explore.
People often ask me, Why you? Why would I choose to live in Cartagena? My answer usually has something to do with the warmth, the colour, the music I encountered that first day walking around your streets, and that I continue to experience each day as I fall more and more in love with you. It somehow felt like you were giving me a giant hug. The way 8 different types of music were playing simultaneously from 8 different portable music players within the one short street and it still felt right. The way the vendors pushing carts of fruit, saturated in colour, would sing out their daily haul – aguacates, papaya, limones, so that the people in the houses could come out and buy from this ever moving mobile market. Everyone and everything here seems to move with music. The people act with kindness, humour and smiling eyes. Life is taken way less seriously than dancing here.
I've more than embraced the dancing way of life. I manage to dance in some way every single day. Sometimes all day (hello fiestas de independencia and Carnaval, I'm looking at you!). And that's good enough for you. The people have in turn embraced me; this crazy Australian who dances a lot like a Colombian (but a little too fast and a little too big – “mas SUAVE por favor!”) and it hasn't seemed to matter a great deal that my Spanish is below par, so long as they can see me wiggling with all my energy and with a mega-watt grin. I started going to Zumba classes with the amazing, incredible, inspirational Erv. We started giving the classes publicly in Plaza Trinidad. The locals, the children, the expats, the everyone – joined in.. lending me almost celebrity status in the barrio. One of the songs we dance to is that previously annoying car alarm sound. Like the entire song is made up of that series of sirens. So anyway, thanks to zumba and Erv and you, Cartagena, even a previously annoying sound now makes me smile and want to dance.
So yes, even though I definitely stand out here, I still feel like I fit in.
I've learned so much!
Drink half your cup when you buy a juice so you can get a top up free. Tourists never do that. Suckers. And isn't that awesome? You always want just that little bit more, right?
Catch a colectivo. This is the best concept ever. No matter where you are going you can always share a taxi with three other complete strangers and share the expense, you just have to know where to leave from and get ready to raise a single finger (this is the symbol for colectivo as opposed to regular private taxis). When I do catch a taxi (very infrequently) I know all the real set prices for the different barrios depending upon the time of day. And if the taxi driver says an amount higher, I've learned to say “No jodaaaa” until he realises I am, in fact, a costena disguised as a blonde Australian. I've also learned to decipher the meaning of the different taxi-horn beeps (“hey, I'm here”, “hey, want a ride?” “hey, you're pretty”, "Hey other taxi, if you don't move I will hit you", “Hey, I'm bored waiting in this traffic”).
I've learned to distinguish between merengue, vallenato, champeta, reggaeton, salsa, cumbia and bachata (among others) and do a passable impersonation of someone who knows how to dance each of the different styles.
I've learned a lot about your history, the stories, the monuments, the ongoing struggles, the controversies. There's still so much to learn. Your past reads like an adventure novel: Ameri-Indians and gold-filled tombs, Spanish kings and Inquisitions, corsairs and pirates, gold and emeralds, slavery and immigrants, cholera and Catholicism, fortifications and fights for Independence. You've definitely led an interesting life.
And wow! You are super popular! It seems everyone in the world wants to visit you, have a major international conference or event with you, get married with you. A city after my own heart, you really like to party. And when you party, you always do it for at least a week. None of this weak-assed single day stuff for you. No senor.
I've had pinch-me-moments where I've been invited to enormous colonial mansions with grotto-like swimming pools and chandeliers with real candles. Days out on yachts visiting private islands and eating lobster. Met inspirational people and certified geniuses. Basked in the glow of their ideas and ambition, then felt a little cold when they all inevitably packed up and returned to reality.
I haven't found a boyfriend. But I've amassed some seriously entertaining stories while I've looked. And I think I'm getting close to developing an understanding of the complexities of Colombian men and the way they are different according to which part of the country they hail from. And why I probably won't end up being with one. That's all fodder for a separate entry, however. Perhaps a book.
More importantly I've made some really amazing friends. America's best and brightest who are here working as part of Peace Corp or the Fullbright Scholar programme, other expats from around the world who are captivated by the latin world and have come here to teach or translate or volunteer and make a difference, others who work in tourism or hospitality, locals who are endlessly sharing their perspectives and priceless insider knowledge with me, or teaching me street-slang. People I've partied with, danced with, eaten with, spoken very bad Spanish with, felt a connection with, felt like I belonged with. People who visited for a short while but somehow formed a bond with me that I will carry forever. So many amazing friends that it really feels like it has to have been more than a year to have amassed such quality and quantity. I'm not going to name names, but thank you. I love you.
Can I just name random things I love about you now? Gonna.
I love the pimped out buses with all their glitter and signs praising God. I love the enterprising rappers and chocolate salesman that travel on them looking to make a bit of money. I love how the buses have sound effects (like a cheesy radio station) so they can wolf-whistle hot girls they pass.
I love all the public holidays you have. It seems like there's one a fortnight. Someone recently told me that Colombia is second only to Argentina as having the most public holidays in the world. Nice, right?
I love Getsemani and the feeling of community there. If one person owns something, the entire barrio owns it. Need a ladder? Well, go see Rodrigo. Need a hammer? Dario is your man etc. People have less, but then they also have more because everyone shares.
I love how it's always Summer. Always.
I love leaving the house feeling dowdy only to be declared a goddess, queen, precious princess (insert multiple other over-the-top compliments here) by every man I pass.
I love $3 pedicures and $4 haircuts.
I love bolis (frozen home-made ice-blocks in various tropical fruit flavours).
I love the bright pink Kola Roman softdrink. I especially like how big, tough men drink it completely unaware of how effeminate the pretty-pink creaming-soda-like drink appears. And gosh! The old 80s adverts are so awesome!! .
I love the Plazas: Trinidad for chess playing and friends-greeting. For watching freakishly talented youngsters play after-school soccer. For warming up with a few tienda-bought beverages before heading out for the night. San Diego to soak up the creativity of the artistic students who frequent it. Simon Bolivar to buy enyucado from one of the Palenqueras. Santa Domingo to watch Shakiro (your tubby-bellied male drag version of Shakira) mime and dance.
I love the way costena women colour-block. And colour-block in neon no less. Black? You've got to be kidding. Their patchwork painted houses are just as bright and I really believe all this colour makes people happy. It definitely makes me happy.
You can buy hot pork crackling whenever you want, but my obsession is coconut water. It's all new craze and fancypants in the first-world (or is it back to being old news now?) but here it is fresh from a coconut, fresh from the beach. The water is poured into the same long thin plastic bags they use for bolis, and tied off. When the bags are used and empty they look like condoms. This amuses me too.
I love all the hand/body gestures and their meanings, like how Colombians point to stuff with their lips. The way they say “no” with the most decisive finger-wave you've ever seen. [OK!! I will not give you any more tea.. sheeeesh!]
I love running along your bays, your beaches, feeling the salty breeze on my skin, perhaps on the way home, pausing to buy freshly caught fish from the very man who caught it.
I love that people love big butts here, to the extent that butt implants are really commonplace. If someone tells me my ass is big, it is 100% genuinely intended as a compliment. My roommate actually applies butt-enhancing cream every night in the hope of making hers bigger.
I love my work. Our website, www.thisiscartagena.com is going to be a huge success and I love that I've been on-board almost since the beginning. I'm also loving doing my tours with www.cartagenaconnections.com and sharing all the the things I love about you, giving visitors the local experience even if they are only in town for as little as a day.
I love your walls – 11 kilometres of communal seating area with amazing views surviving from the 1600s; the perfect perch for making-out, sunset-gazing, wish-making. Or just public drinking. I love how on Sundays they turn into the perfect backdrop for baseball.
I love how if you feel you need to “get-away”, you're just 15 minutes by dinghy from Tierra Bomba, which feels like your own private island retreat. And if you have ganas to go further afield, the islands just get more and more beautiful and remote.
There's things I don't love, ofcourse. My biggest gripe is the way people (like, every single person) litter your beaches, your streets, your waterways. Then they tell me it's good to do it because it gives the people who clean, an occupation. But the public cleaners only clean certain parts and the rest of the rubbish mounts up and clogs drainways, and lines the bottom of the bays and chokes wildlife and is stuffed amongst piles of rocks on the beach. But I am going to do what I can to try and change some of these attitudes.
And I've got time to do it. Although we're still in the honeymoon phase Cartagena, I really believe we have a future, and I plan to dedicate myself to making it work with you (sorry Mum).
So, thank you Cartagena for an amazing year. Thank you for giving me a place in the world. Here's hoping things just keep getting better.
And can we maybe do something about the boyfriend, please?
Dirty smelling sprawling mess.
Pretty much everything you will ever read about the infamous people's market in Cartagena will reference the above description. There will also probably be some kind of mention of the thieves and pickpockets it allegedly harbours. It is all true. But if you discount Mercado Bazurto based only upon what you read, you are missing a place that is also incredibly vibrant; filled with coloured foodstuffs, the energy of frenetic commerce, the inherent warmth of the Costeno people and the widest smiles you will ever see. You'll also be skipping one of my most favourite places in Cartagena.
Yes it is dirty. The street gunge that seeps between your unprotected thonged* toes is a less-than-hygienic combination of mud, decomposing rubbish and fish juices. A misplaced step and your foot will be plunged into a pool of it, splashing the brown gunk in an attractive splattering up the back of your calves.
And my, does it ever sprawl. Unlike other Latin American markets I have been to with their more or less ordered zones (ie separate sections for shoes, meat, electronics etc), the Bazurto's floor plan defies rhyme or reason. Legumes lie next to lingerie. Fresh(ish) fish are displayed alongside fake flowers. There's also plenty to rate highly on the gore factor scale; like grey entrails and eyeballs freshly plucked from unfortunate cows.
The smell is what locals will complain to you about the most. Look. It's definitely not roses. But somehow I find the almost tangibly thick smell, kind of visceral. Like I am giving my nostrils a workout, in the same way as a bracing swim or arduous hike makes your body feel used and useful. And when you do catch the whiff of something pleasant, like the sweetened tang of freshly squeezed passionfruit pulp, your appreciation is heightened and your taste buds swell instantaneously.
Being tall and blonde, I often describe myself as high-vis here at the best of times. In the Mercado I swear it feels as though I have a neon sign pointing at me that flashes and screams GRINGA while the song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport is playing and monkeys cycle around me on miniature bicycles. Which is to say, I definitely do not blend in. But I like it. Got distracted buying Bolis (frozen fruit ice-blocks)? No problem! Look slightly lost and 4 or 5 people who have been clocking your every move will be ready to tell you exactly which way your friend went. Hmm.. where can I buy Cilantro? Again, volunteers everywhere to lead you directly to a vendor and to help you bargain a good price. There's the usual hissing, bonitas, “beautiful eyes” etc, in fact the frequency is actually cranked up here, but it's nothing if not good for the ego. And as soon as you require any help or information, the lewdness is quickly replaced by a genuine desire to help out.
I like to arrive early - before the traffic dust has settled on the produce, negating its freshness. Recently I've taken to getting the supplies for a simple ceviche. Fresh Corbina (white fish), cilantro, onions, limes, chilis and tomatoes. The whole lot, including the 2 giant fish (filleted while you wait) will cost less than $7. Sweaty, fatigued, I will then pull up a stool at one of the many outdoor eating spots for a hearty corriente (daily meal). A pile of coconut rice, fish/chicken/pork, fried platano or banana, lentils and salad, with a giant bowl of satisfying soup to start. It also comes with a glass of the revered panela. This is basically a cordial-like drink made from cane sugar. I continually make the mistake of telling them I don't like it. Woah! It's like I have spat all over the Colombian flag, so closely tied is this drink to their national identity. “But it's so delicious!”, they insist. I joke with the owners and share smiles with my fellow diners. I smile at the faded pornographic pin-ups of big busted women, lovingly pasted into place (and completely without irony) above the painted wall sign declaring “Todos gracias a Dios” - Everything thanks to God.
Then it's back on a bus, with their pimped up gilded curtains and travelling buskers, to the slightly less pungent world of Centro Cartagena. You've spent less, got more and got better.
When speaking to locals, they are genuinely amazed that I love the market so much. They talk of it being a dangerous, bad-smelling eyesore.
Sadly the government agrees:- council has recently decided that the Mercado Bazurto must relocate to a new home further out within 3 years time. Apparently the well-to-do consider this sprawling mess something of a blight on the beauty and safety of the walled city and want to keep it far from tourists and business. This is actually the second time the market has been moved. Previously it was right in the centre, near the current home of the convention centre. The rumours abound as to why it was moved at that time. Whether it was the result of some underhanded play by supermarket chain Olimpica or the result of the unhygienic tangle becoming too much to tolerate so close to the city walls is uncertain. Either way, the market has again offended the powers that be and is being pushed further out. How awful?! Cities need markets. And I think Cartagena, more than most, needs the colour and character of Bazurto to stave off the blandness and gentrification that threatens to deaden its personality and charm.
More than likely I will make the trek to the market even after it moves. And until then, I will continue to parade my gunge-splattered calves with pride, knowing I obtained the warpaint getting up close and personal with the real Cartagena.
*Australian glossary: apparently the rest of the world calls this type of footwear, flip flops
It started with a seemingly innocent and not unfamiliar question.
Are you American?
"No.. soy Australiana"...[ Pause for wide-eyed disbelief] "Sii... Muy lejos!" (Very far).
He insisted. But.. do you play baseball?
Well.. when I was a child I played softball. He agreed it was the same thing and started talking excitedly with the others.
It was Wednesday night. I was in the Plaza Trinidad Getsemani, watching the old-timers labour over their chessboards and occasionally getting flogged royally by whichever of their number decided to take pity on me and give me a go.
But now something else had piqued their interest: my supposed proficiency in baseball. Another hour of heated discussion and it was decided. I would be joining one of the local women's baseball teams. I was ushered off with vague instructions that I would be playing on Sunday at 4pm.
I didn't know where, who with, what or much else. I needn't have worried. The entire neighbourhood knew everything on my behalf. For the next few days as I walked the street, the usual greetings were modified to include a mimed baseball swing and a thumbs up. Then on the appointed day, I was walking home after a meeting at about 3pm and a skinny kid with an enormous smile came running up to me.. talking quickly and grabbing my hand. I needed to come play baseball NOW.
I quickly shoved on what I thought was baseball-appropriate attire and tried to keep pace with my new friend as he weaved in and out of the backstreets. As we ran, I received the excited calls of good luck from my neighbours. The kid led me to the team captain who explained (eventually) that I would also need a photo for the registration card. Woah. This was official. Paperwork completed, I was dragged (literally) by three girls to meet the coach.
I started to get a bit nervous. I mean, the last time I had held a bat was when I was ten years old. Ten. And now there was a building crowd and a coach and an entire neighbourhood cheering me on.
The coach took me through some warm ups. Catching. Fielding. Batting. I cost the team 4 balls as I belted them over the buildings. Oops. Coach seemed happy though. As I completed the drills I noticed a couple of the old-timers from the Plaza watching my progress from the side and nodding conspiratorially amongst themselves.
Then the drills stopped, there was more rapid discussion in indecipherable Costeno Spanish and I was dragged off once again. This time it was to the house of one of my teammates (picture a city shack, 6 people sharing a double bed, clothes strung throughout the ceiling and a lot of happy semi-clad children) to get my uniform which was, appropriately enough, an incredibly bright pink tshirt. Awesome.
I was ready to play.
So the venue. I found the above photo that someone else took over a year ago through a google search. But when I arrived in my bright pink tshirt, the wall was filled with supporters. Standing room only filled. And standing is dangerous because a home run is whenever you hit the ball over the wall. Some had signs. Some had noisemakers. The wall you see in the photo is centuries old (like 16th?) and I think you'll agree it makes a pretty impressive backdrop for a first-time baseball game. Home base is actually on the other side of the road now. And the streets are filled with hotdog and hamburger vendors. The photo also doesn't show the music. I mean it can't. But the music was blaring! Contagious wiggle-your-bum salsa, hip-grinding reggaeton, sing-out-your-soul vallenato. I joined my teammates at the side of the diamond and waited. There was a game still in progress and I witnessed one of the most Colombian scenes ever. Bases loaded, scores locked and still the tubby guy on third base couldn't help himself from dancing when his favourite song came on. Classic.
So the game itself was pretty straightforward. I batted fourth and managed to equip myself fairly ably, hitting the first ball I faced and making it to first base. Our next 2 players struck out, but then curvaceous Catalina hit a cracker and I sprinted for home. Unbeknownst to me I had accumulated something of a fanclub, and as I pounded into homebase, they erupted into a stirring chant of "GRINGA GRINGA GRINGA!!!". My teammates surrounded me, hugged me, high-fived me. It's been a long time since I have felt such a profound sense of accomplishment.
Then it was three out, change sides. In the field we kept the other team to a single run also but they were noticeably better than us. Next time at bat I repeated my first-ball, first-hit effort and made it to first. But we were three out before I could make it home. The crowd shouted instructions throughout the game. And this crazy crazy fanatic who I think was aligned to our team, was forcibly removed on two occasions for screaming at the umpire. The final score was 3-1 to the other team. And unfortunately my teammates didn't accept the loss graciously. The game ended with them shouting at the umpire something I still don't understand and storming off to gossip amongst themselves and leaving me bewildered and shaking hands with the girls of the other team.
It was crazy, colourful, manic and I loved every minute of it.
So.. putting on my tour guide hat now.. If you are in Cartagena on a Sunday you must must must get yourself along to a ball game. Buy a hotdog con todos (with everything), a beer or kola roman from the local store, plonk yourself down on the wall and soak up a non-touristy but totally delicious chunk of Cartagena flavour. And look out for a tall blonde girl on second base who can't help herself from dancing between batters.
A collection of musings, insights and experiences gathered by an energetic and enthusiastic Australian girl loving life in Cartagena, Colombia.