Our taxi wound through the colorful cobblestone streets of Cartagena, carefully navigating the one-ways to our hostel in the middle of the old town.
O and I had spent the night prior sitting on the rooftop of our hostel in Bogotá, enjoying the company of a new friend and now the exhaustion was setting in. The sunshine and hot air weren’t helping but it was time to rally because appetite took precedent. We changed from the jeans and sweaters required in cool and cloudy Bogotá to the shorts and dress necessary to take on this polar opposite climate and headed to the end of the road for some highly recommend street food. We immediately understood why it was so highly recommended. For the equivalent of 50 cents Canadian per piece, a selection of empanadas, arepas, papas rellenas and others filled a deep food tray on a cart where the ingredients were assembled and then deep fried in a large pan of sizzling oil over a fire pit. Right on the street corner. Next to the tray were five sauce options to pour over your food selection. Needless to say, we sampled everything copiously.
The part of the old town where we stayed was surrounded by a large wall, a Spanish military defense and port of trade built in the 1580s, and an excellent sunset vantage point of the 2000s. After we ate our fill at the street corner we ventured along the wall as the sun set, painting the sky in cotton candy watercolors. The cultural significance of this wall is remarkably similar to that of Cuba’s Malecón, in that locals and tourists alike enjoy each other’s company while admiring nature’s beauty. A place to talk, stroll or spend some time in the arms of your significant other. After watching the sunset we walked through the town back to the hostel. Definitely a different place after dark! The temperature finally drops to a slightly more breathable 26 degrees and people flood the streets. The town was buzzing with a tropical energy and full of Latin passion. We spent the rest of the evening at the hostel enjoying Aguilas under a mango tree and making new friends.
The next two days were spent wandering the streets, taking pictures of everything. It’s unbelievable how colorful this town is! Although all connected, each building is dressed in a different eye-catching facade, a mix of colors to match the vibrant climate and culture. I was also impressed with the quantity and quality of fruit in this part of the world! From fresh watermelon and papaya for breakfast at the hostel to freshly squeezed orange juice and limeade from street carts, the flavor was incredible. It made me realize just how much our fruit back home is lacking in both taste and texture. I had pineapple that was so soft and sweet and the papaya so red and fleshy I couldn’t believe it was real! It felt like it had been infused with fruit extracts intended for baking. Fruit at home will never be the same.
There was an incredible restaurant patio just one block from the hostel called La Vieja Guardia where a glass of sangria or sauvignon blanc paired well with ceviche and the world’s best guacamole appetizers. Complete with small wooden tables and chairs, a pastel facade and the shade of a massive tree, this patio was the open air oasis of your dreams. Despite our short time here, we managed to visit this picturesque hole-in-the-wall each of the three days.
I don’t think anyone truly realizes just how hot the temperature is in Cartagena until they visit. Upon exiting any air conditioned area you immediately concede to being perma-drenched in your own sweat regardless of the level of physical exertion. The air was so hot and humid it felt like you were swimming in it or drinking it rather than breathing it but if asked, O and I agree that we would take this over a Canadian winter any day. It’s obvious that three days were not enough time to explore all the gems of the town and surrounding turquoise islands and so one day soon we will find our way back to revisit the vibrant colors of Cartagena.