Friday, January 8, 2010

Bienvenidos a Colombia

While leaving Argentina provided little relief from the summer heat and humidity, I was hit smack dab in the face with a dazzling array of colors that characterize the Carribean coast of Colombia. Flourescent pink, teal and rojos of quaint little haciendas lined along the beach and packed together in barrios with antique Spanish architecture make for a stunning contrast against colonial stone walls. And the people, seldom are there places where there is such a strong representation of African, European and Indigenous ancestry. You are bombarded with this triple alliance of three cultures in everything you see, eat, smell and hear in Cartagena, and did I mention, the entire city is surrounded by a giant anti-pirate wall?

Cartagena was one of the first stopovers for Spanish galleons who after colonizing most of the coast in the 16th century, began to make their rounds throughout the Caribbean before heading home. And where there´s treasure, there´s bound to be pirates, resulting in Spanish fortification of Cartagena. Most colonial cities I´ve been to have a section where it´s the old colonial section and the "new and improved" part of the city. Cartagena has about thirty blocks of lively city action within its ancient walls, which made it a blast to explore both day and night. As if the wall wasn´t enough, the Castillo de San Felipe, which overlooks the entire city and bay, stands as the strongest Spanish fort ever built and never stormed. It already stands as the best I´ve ever visited with panoramic city views and a labrynth of secret caves and passages within it.

Internet (well, wifi) is a less available, so I might be updating a little less than usual, but here are some initial observations:
1. Colombian food is actually pretty good (contrary to what others have told me) on the coast it´s a lot of fish, ceviche and chicken accompanied with fruit, rice and plantains. I will be devoting an entire blog to the ridiculous amount of fruit that is available here. Shout out to the return of the spicy, though they prefer to add homemade hot sauce after the meal is cooked rather than before.
2. Colombians are in general, much more open than Argentines to outsiders like me and their spanish is a little easier to understand, though the Coastal variety is a little stranger as its has a Caribbean twist.
3. There aren´t nearly as many Yanquis as in Argentina. I´ve met a few Euros and Aussies, but despite being at the height of tourist season, there are far less than in BsAs.
4. Cartagena is really safe. Granted, it´s the number one tourist destination in the country, but I see police on nearly evey corner AND strategically dispatched in places where they are actually needed like city parks, plazas and seedier looking parts of town. In contrast to Mexico, where I saw the Army everywhere, I´ve only seen a few actual army personell in contrast to the hundreds of local police, oh and they have been very friendly in providing me with directions or city information as well. More to come!

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