Day 2,004 of Traveling the World | Cartagena, Colombia | July 28, 2023

“No, gracias!” – This seemed to be the major theme during our day in Cartagena. We were approached by many people to buy something or other, to take their taxi, or take their tour, or come into their bar/restaurant/coffee shop. But, the good thing is, they didn’t harangue us or follow us around. Once we said, “No, thank you,” they walked away.

Cartagena was the first of Spain’s conquered cities in the Americas, and its location on the Caribbean was crucial for trade. From Cartagena, the conquistadors were able to ship the plunder from other locations back to Spain, as well as bring African slaves to the New World. In order to defend the city from pirates, they built a large fortress (San Felipe de Barajas) along the Caribbean, today Cartagena’s most prominent feature.

A walk around Barrio Getsemani was a must. It was formerly an area rife with drugs and prostitution, but has risen from the ashes like a phoenix to become one of the hippest districts in all of South America. It is friendly, colorful, and filled with funky little streets, cafes, bars, restaurants, art vendors, and laid-back locals. No soliciting us, no hard sells…everyone sits around and waits for you to come to them. There are lots of photos of Getsemani at the beginning of our photos to illustrate the variety of decorations and activities.

The Historic Center, or Old Town, was utterly charming. Narrow streets held every sort of business there is, and people crowded onto each and every street. There was lots and lots of street art, lots of churches, squares, statues, covered sidewalks….every sort of charming city feature was found here in spades. Just lovely. After our experience in Guatemala City, tied to a tour guide all day, we were very happy to be out on our own, free to head down any street we wanted that looked interesting or fun…mostly the fun ones.

Prices here were very, very cheap. Most cocktails go for $2-3. Our Uber rides, both directions, from the port to the Old Town (they took 20-30 minutes in very congested conditions) cost $2.50 (though we felt bad about getting it so cheap, when it saved us from having to deal with cab drivers, so we tipped substantially). Cups of Colombian coffee in the cafes went for about $2.

You just know SHE had to be our first photo.
There was an abundance of love, all over the walls, for Barrio Getsemani.
Most of the small shopping alleys had some decoration overhead, and this one used an abutment wall for selling hats and totes.
Flowers, plants, and flags overhead here.
Some lovely street art on this establishment.
A tunnel of artwork for sale.
Straw hats must be a big seller here, as they were everywhere.
The sign translates as, “Here the ones that rule are the women.” Yes! On the other side of the door, it advertises two Mojitos, or two Cuba Libres, for 20,000 Colombian pesos ($5!).
The street outside of the prior photo, with umbrellas, banners, and flags.
A colorful pug who also loves Getsemani.
She was posing for photos because this alley was ultra-decorated.
We liked the flamingo, and we liked the red ferns adorning the building next door.
Peering inside this cafe, we were jealous, but we had had coffee just 15 minutes before, or we would have contemplated the artwork and the world for a while.
Kites overhead, along with pretty wall art.
This was the first building we saw in Getsemani – so colorful.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – a small glimpse of the defensive fort/castlewith today’s red access staircase!
Puerta del Reloj, the Clock Gate, is the official entrance to the historic center.
We were last here in February 2009. Mike took a photo of Jan posing alongside this statue – but, yes, WITH clothes on!
These beautiful windows, and stylish chandelier, are in the main reading room of the Biblioteca Bartolome Calvo.
Streets in the Old Town were filled with pretty balconies.
The balconies are so important to the city’s character that they are depicted in artwork and on souvenirs.
Church of San Pedro Claver, facing out onto a pretty square of the same name. It was closed.
In the square are several metal sculptures of Cartagena’s historical occupations. This one reminded Jan of her mom, who was a fabulous seamstress and tailor.
This was funny! We saw this statue, and Mike took a photo because it is so unusual to have something dangling from a line – you would think it would have been vandalized long before. After he took this photo, the “statue” spoke to him, asking for a donation for having taken the photo. Mike complied and donated, of course.
Along one covered colonnade, the walking path held all these tributes to past beauty queens. You can see Mike’s shoes on two of the bottom squares.
Creepy street art.
The things you learn…while eating lunch, no less! These big-ass ants he is selling, Hormigas Culonas, are popular in Colombia as an aphrodisiac AND a snack! They are large female ants whose wings, head, and legs have been plucked off, then salted and fried. NOT that we would know, but the ants are said to taste like chicken, popcorn, and sometimes, bacon…and are a traditional wedding present here, since they are, after all, an aphrodisiac. Yuk, yuk, and yuk!
Cartagena Cathedral, which was closed.
The interior of the Church of Santa Domingo. We were visiting the square that the church faces, and were in the middle of remarking that every single church we passed was locked up tight (maybe due to vandalism? We don’t know), when a man pushed open the giant church door and invited us in! The spiral staircase is a unique feature.
A palenquera! Balancing fruit on her head, this oh-so-colorful woman is ready to sell fruit OR a photo of herself. We just tipped her for a photo. These women originally came from a village just south of Cartagena named San Bassilo de Palenque, one of the first places in the Americas to be free of slavery.
A cute palenquera doll, her eyes rolling.
This shop translates as “alchemy.” The description in the window doesn’t quite jive with the jars of…things, so we don’t know what gives.
Door knockers are a big thing in Cartagena, with the fish likely denoting a fishing family.
The Virgin del Carmen, embedded next to the door in this home.
The Old City is inside the old city walls, with this entrance and part of the walls being the Bullard of La Merced, the name of a nearby convent in the past.
The flamingos!
Parrots at the port in glorious colors.
This cute guy seems to be smiling at all the attention he was getting from cruise passengers. The birds were very tame an unafraid of passersby.

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