CARTAGENA - ONE CITY, MANY WORLDS
Thursday morning Pr. Jairo and I hopped a taxi to Bogota's airport (for a total cost of $8.26) and then caught a flight to the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena de Indias. The "de Indias" distinguishes it from another Cartagena in Spain and has to do with where the Spaniards thought they were when they landed and formed the city in 1533. Most simply call it Cartagena.
Cartagena is one city with (as Pr. Jairo pointed out to me) many worlds. One of the 'worlds within the city' is the "old city" with historic, fortress-like walls built around it. We spent most of Thursday afternoon and Friday late afternoon and evening wandering the maze of narrow streets punctuated now and then by open plazas. All along the streets flower covered balconies look down on tourist shops, restaurants, sculptures and museums which line the streets. Pr. Jairo assured me that we were never lost, there were just times when he was temporarily on his way to being in a place where he knew where he was.
Like many Caribbean coastal cities, another of the 'worlds within the city' of Cartagena is a world of luxurious beaches. Pr. Jairo (Jedi master of bartering that he is) found us a two-bedroom apartment for a ridiculously low price on the 36th floor of a 40 floor residential building across the street from the beach just a 5 minute taxi or bus ride from the "old city." 'Bocagrande' or "big mouth" is the name of the stretch of beach where we stayed. The view was amazing and now I understand how and why people can go on beach vacations. Relaxing on the beach, it seemed as though the only time was the distance between two waves.
No matter which of the 'worlds within the city' you find yourself in, everywhere in Cartagena there are people trying to make a living, many by selling necklaces, t-shirts, beach toys, artwork, fruit, beer, water, and just about everything else you can imagine. I learned very well the Spanish phrase 'No quiero. Gracias.' Which means "I don't want. Thank you."
Still, we took a 'buseta' or "little bus" to the San Felipe Castle not far from the "old city" (see the photo album of Cartagena) and on the way Pr. Jairo pointed out one more of the 'worlds within the city,' but one that from my social location is all too easy to overlook. A world of poverty.
At least three worlds - if not a hundred more - within one city. A world of poverty. A world of luxury. And an "old city" of history and stories blending the two in tales of despair and hope.
…and also, blistering heat and blinding humidity which reached well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit while we were there. We left our apartment on 'Bocagrande' to catch another taxi to the Cartagena airport at about noon on Saturday and by 3pm we were 'home' in Bogotá. As nice as a Caribbean beach is, never have I been so thrilled for 60 degrees and cloudy. I feel like my body has been saturated in heat and will take some time to bleed it out. Of course, the memories of this city of many worlds will not be so easily bled.