Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cartagena: Que chevere!

For four days now I have had the pleasure of being a guest of the beautiful city of Cartagena. It's truly amazing! The city breathes history, which makes you want to explore - with salsa music playing in the background and the weather... well, let's not even talk about the weather.
First the citizens, then the tourists
The first days, I stayed in the backpacker part of town, Getsemani. Even though this neighborhood is nicer than most tourist traps, it also has a stench of dirt and prostitution. While I have breakfast, I actually see a tourist stepping into a cab with two hookers - this was at 8 AM! As I enjoy my muesli, tourists, unwashed and with messy hair, come out of their hostels to smoke a cigarette or to quickly run to the supermarket for a healthy breakfast of Sisi and chocolate bars. A salesman shouts out 'Paaaaapayaa' as he pushes his cart filled with tropical fruits ahead. An old garbage collector sings a beautiful song and seems to be followed by unexpected admirers. The sidewalk is suddenly busier behind and around him. An old woman begs, a young man tries to sell white hats. The man whose car has been blocking my view for ten minutes is asked by a (well-armed) policeman to move. The man yells something to the staff of the restaurant and drives off moping. A fine morning in Getsemani.

Papaya seller
Quite the location for a benetton store...
Yesterday I moved to the historic city, which is what Cartagena is know for. Despite the fact that I now sleep in a hostel (as opposed to my Getsemani nights where I stayed at a more luxurious little hotel), I cannot stop grinning: I am here! Every street corner provides a photo op. These Spanish and Italian architects in the late fifteen hundreds really did a good job; it's breathtaking. And it's not as swamped with tourists as I had expected it to be. Still remembering the streets of (other Unesco world heritage sites) San Gimignano, Hoi An and Luang Prabang (which I also loved, so maybe you shouldn't take me seriously on all of this), I was ready to brace for hawkers and hordes of sunburnt American retirees. But no! The city is thriving, with both tourists (from abroad and Colombia itself) and university students. Cartagena's international film festival was free for the first time this year and was so popular that I didn't get to see any movies (despite having waited in the burning sun for half an hour, booh). There were a lot of groovy young Cartagenans in the queue with me. I will report as a further explore the historic center.

Film festival head quarters
Open air film screening
View from my hostel
Of course there is a lot more to the city, of which I had my first taste today. I was invited to lunch at a friend's house (arroz con pollo, which means rice with chicken - very tasty!) in a neighborhood twenty minutes outside the center and got to see a more lively and real part of Cartagena. While the local beautician worked on our nails, I discussed food, cultural differences, men and family with my host, her sister and their ninety-year-old mother. Granny's eyes lit up while she talked about how there are no cars around and people dance on the streets when the party is on. Did I say we (mostly they) spoke in Spanish?

The feet lady knows it all
Granny speaks in a pace that makes it easy for me to understand
*"Que chevere" means "awesome"