The Colors and Contrasts of Cartagena

Plaza de los Coches Cartagena Colombia
Plaza de los Coches

I took a moto taxi from the bus terminal into the center of Cartagena, kind of a nostalgic thing for me to do as it reminded me of the moto taxis in Asia. The entire time, the driver was asking me if I like Colombian men, if am I looking for a boyfriend here, etc. Luckily I didn’t catch much more than that as he was trying to talk to me through his helmet while looking at me in the rear-view mirror and speaking with a thick coastal accent. I’m starting to think that a requirement to be hired as a taxi driver in Latin America is to hit on your solo female customers. I imagine the questionnaire looks a bit like this: Are you over 18? Do you have a driver’s license? Will you ruthlessly make passes at females on the road and in your car while working?

After arriving and wandering a bit, I came upon the grand entrance to the old city, inside of which is Plaza de los Coches. I was just in time to catch the most amazing dancers (check the video).  I was entranced by their hip movements… it’s so African-Caribbean-Latin, I could watch it all night long. I had to repress the urge to try it out myself on the street.

horse and carriage Cartagena Colombia
one of the horse and carriages for hire

Like other travelers have told me before, Cartagena is a city of contrasts. The old city is full of expensive restaurants, clothing boutiques, colorful outdoor restaurants, museums, plazas, monuments, and antique churches, with lots of domestic and foreign camera-toting, white-linen-wearing tourists wandering through the streets. On the other hand, you have the people living on the outskirts of the city who come in trying to hustle a million pesos or 2 from the visitors. Being more of a humble traveler myself, I felt a twinge of guilt as I sipped a coffee at one of the famous outdoor plazas, Santo Domingo. There goes that Western guilt again.

Sundays are strangely deserted in Cartagena. I didn’t have the city pegged for having a super religious population but I could be wrong. Or maybe people actually use Sunday what it’s intended for – rest. It was so dead, actually, that I asked a security guard where all the people were, thinking that maybe I had missed some type of catastrophic event that would be showing on the news, advising all the residents to stay at home.

Anyway, Cartagena is cool, and though there aren’t as many typical hostels, there are tons of budget hotels that are actually cheaper than hostels for a private room. I am splurging just a tad by staying in a private room, but I make up for it by eating street food and menus of the day, which are set menus that are cheap, tasty, and huge. The only real problem with my room is that it smells like a sweaty man. I had to buy incense because it’s so nasty, which covers it up temporarily. I’m actually running out, looks like that’s on my to-do list tomorrow.

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