I’ve had this historically-rich city on my “to-go” list for a very long time. I wanted to visit Colombia since I was in grade school. It wasn’t until I read Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez my freshman year in college, however, that my love affair with Cartagena itself began. Love in the Time of Cholera is a literary masterpiece and one of my favourite books. I dreamt of walking through the city which inspired its streets as Fermina Daza did. I longed to be transported into a place and time so different from my own. It is amazing how much the old city (also known as the tourist centre) allows for such fantasies to materialise. Minus a lovesick Florentino Ariza, it’s a wonder how much this area brings the book to life.
Like many coastal cities, with a history of Spanish colonialism, the old city is colourful and vibrant. Even with only a cracked iPhone camera at my disposal, it was hard not to capture how wonderfully bright it is. The old city is marked, in contrast to its surrounding areas, by a wall enclosure and cobblestone streets. It is also heavily touristic.
Vendors (often with sweet words) fill up the streets all day and throughout the night. They vie for your attention, encouraging you to spend your money on their lemonade or small trinkets. Men and women alike, selling foods and souvenirs, trying to make a living. I wondered what it’s like to live in their shoes. To have to walk and work in an area where people of such means stroll by with little care for their basic needs, while you sell your very essence for a dollar. And I don’t mean that figuratively. As my friend and I walked through the streets, snapping pictures of practically everything, a woman, whose picture I took mindlessly, insisted that I give her money for the picture. She was stunning: deep, dark skin enveloped in colourful layers made of wraps, scarves, and shawls. She sold fruit on a corner, and apparently her image, too. I don’t judge it. People make money in all kinds of ways. And surely, she sees value in her image and what it offers. I’m not sure what to conclude from that experience, but it was an odd and recurring reality during my time there. So many people, with so much to sell, wanting to sell it to you. I suppose it reminded me of Kinshasa, where I grew up. Like Kinshasa, I felt my socio-economic privilege and it was, as it always is, very humbling.
In all, the old city isn’t hard to navigate and there’s enough for you to do during the day. We spent most of our time just walking, stopping, at times, for something to drink or to visit a shop or museum. I will say, it is unbelievably hot, so you take breaks whether you want to or not. You have to. The heat is unlike anything I have ever experienced. You could breath in the hot air and it would fill your lungs like clear smoke. And the night gives no relief. Most of the time, it is just as hot as it is during the day. I consider myself a tropical girl. I grew up by the equator, but Cartagena made me question my authenticity as a lover of the sun.
Before I arrived, everyone (friends and strangers alike) told me that I would love Cartagena, and they were right. I guess, I was just surprised by how much. I loved how hot it was. I loved how bright it was. I, honestly, did not want to leave and I truly cannot wait to go back!
Ps: Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted, I know. A lot has been happening lately. Luckily it’s given me the chance to think about where I want to take this blog. I’m currently working on improving the design and layout. So, expect an upgrade soon! Also, I’m planning on a few more political pieces that I’m really excited to share. All in all, hang in there with me. We’re taking this blogging adventure together, one step at a time.