Compared to Salento, Cartagena felt like a whole different planet – how could these two places be part of the same country? Salento with its gentle rolling hills and laid back vibe was behind us and here we were, standing in the middle of sweat, and heat, and Caribbean beats.
We got settled in our AirBNB – what turned out to be our worst one thus far – and went walking into town. As we neared the city center, enclosed in thick stone walls, the barrio’s just outside were swelling and thumping with loud music and drums, people singing while sitting on the side walks or even flat out dancing to the rhythms. It was so cliche’ed that I couldn’t really believe it. Where were we? I had thought that this kind of vibe would be on the Caribbean islands, not here on the mainland. But that was our welcome to Cartagena De Indias.
People say it’s one of the most photogenic cities in the world. And it is. Just google it, you’ll see what I mean. Unfortunately I didn’t get much of an opportunity to photograph it, despite us being there for 4 days. In fact, almost all my photos were taken on our last night – which is why they are almost all evening shots. On the plus side, there aren’t many of those on google so I’m filling a niche.
There were a couple things that went down in Cartagena:
- It was hot. Really, ridiculously, unbearably, the-worst-so-far hot. You couldn’t move. I know people say that heat slows you down, but this was something else entirely. You really didn’t want to be out for the better part of the day. You wanted to be in a room with air-con just waiting until the sweltering heat died down. Just standing still during our walking tour our clothes were soaked.
- Jordan got sick. Really sick. Halfway through our walking tour on the first morning we were there we had to duck out so he could throw up. We spent quite some time in the Juan Valdez (Colombia’s Starbucks) just chilling while he tried to get himself feeling good enough that we could head back to our AirBNB. Which leads me to…
- Our AirBNB was terrible. It was in a sketchy-as-hell neighbourhood that required you walk past an actual garbage dump (a dried up river with everything from old mattresses and couches to syringes). It was a big room, which was nice – but it faced the sun all day so it was roasting, and there was no air-con. There was a dinky fan that didn’t really do anything to manage the heat, and again, just laying on the bed was sheer discomfort. There were tons of mosquitoes as well and no mosquito nets on the windows so at night you were faced with two choices: either die the death of 1000 mosquito bites, or suffocate to death in the heat. On top of that, at any given time our AirBnB seemed to have 6 other people in it (in addition to us)- all presumably family members, all sharing the 1 bathroom. This meant that you never got to use the bathroom when you needed to, and were usually waiting at minimum 30 minutes. Add to that the fact that the shower was ice cold (no, there was absolutely no hot water, not even a faucet for it, it just wasn’t an option) and we weren’t having a good time. So much so that with Jordan feeling so shitty and me being pretty disgusted with our accommodation we decided to flashpack over to a fancy, albeit pricey, hotel.
- There was a flash flood thunderstorm and power outage. After cutting our losses and leaving the AirBNB two nights early, we went to a very pretty hotel in a nicer part of town. We got there, we got settled, we got ready to head out into the world, and then a thunderstorm broke out. No biggie – we don’t mind a little warm rain. But it knocked the power out. Completely out. And not just a little – the entire area was without power. So we could sit in our hotel room with no air-con, no lights to read with and essentially nothing to do, or we could wander around in the pouring rain getting soaked. We did the latter until it was no longer an option.When we got back to the hotel we asked about the power, since they had said it would be restored by the time we’d get back from our walk. It wasn’t. And they couldn’t tell us when it would be. We waited until around 10 pm at which point I had some stern words with a very understanding concierge who appreciated that we had just dropped serious dough to stay in this beautiful, air conditioned hotel after leaving a shithole, only to find that we were dropping serious dough to stay in the same sort of conditions we had just left. He sent us to another hotel next door that wasn’t as good, and told us they wouldn’t charge us for that night, but that we could leave all our things in the room and head back early for breakfast since the other hotel’s breakfast wasn’t known to be good. So at 10pm we jumped puddles crossing street to the other hotel that was more of a dive, clutching our toiletry bags and things we needed to charge. When we arrived I was ready to get straight in the sack, but Jordan has his bug-checking-paranoia-thing he does so for a while it looked like we wouldn’t actually be staying there since we moved the sofa over and saw a ton of cockroaches. In the end, all of us – cockroaches, bugs and all got a decent night’s sleep and we were back in our flashy hotel by morning.
So Cartagena was an experience.
It was one of those places where just a bunch of things went wrong all at the same time, and they affected our ability to thoroughly enjoy the city – though the weather is definitely part of the city, and that had a significant effect on us.
We did have a good time – some of the time. We saw some of the sights (we never finished that walking tour), ate in a couple cool restaurants sampling the Caribbean specialties, visited a neat castle and got all our laundry done. But I’d go back if given the opportunity since I feel like we didn’t do it justice.