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Romancing the Stone in Cartagena, Colombia

Written on: Tuesday July 1st, 2008

A journal entry from: Trails in 2008

Hello to anyone still out there reading my ramblings. Iīm a tad behind on updating where weīre at, South America has been too busy! But I reckon in the next 2 weeks I can catch up with myself.
So - Colombia! It all started when we met two Colombians in Greece. We had kind of eliminated Colombia off our agenda and had planned to start our travels in Ecuador. But after being in Iran, we realised that the most "dangerous" countries are usually the best because 1) they are not usually dangerous and 2) all the paranoid tourists donīt go there, and they seem to be the most annoying.
Itīs about 32 degrees here but really humid, thereīs a real carribean flavour and the heritage of the city means you canīt really generalise about what a Colombian looks like... there are quite fair skinned people who descend from the spanish conquerers, really dark people who descend from the african slaves brought into build the city walls and sea fortresses, and some (but not many) indigenous people.
To try and set a scene of Cartagena (pronounced Carta-hena) in a paragraph... lots of men selling tea & coffee from thermos flasks, portable food vendors mainly selling fried chicken, potatoes and plantain, shoe shiners set up in the main shady square, and lots of public art and sculpture. Thereīs a dodgy side, which sees women hanging around corners at night, a fairly prominent drugs scene (tourists and locals) and a grim side when you get away from the nice colonial part of town.
Cartagena is famous for its emeralds, and anyone who knows my love of green stones can sympathise with Al as we spent nearly a whole afternoon being enticed into the many jewellery shops and putting Al into difficult situations with the shop assistants asking why he wouldnīt buy his wife a beautiful ring! hahaha
If you have high speed internet, check out footage of us in a mud volcano at http://www.vimeo.com/1646235  (really getting adventurous with the blogging now, eh?!)
The day we arrived 11 hostages were dramatically rescued from FARC, the guerilla group that have made Colombia a no-go zone for so many years. Some of these hostages were captive for 7-10 years, so very big news and very emotional scenes on the tv. The most prominent hostage was a French Colombian female politician who got kidnapped whilst campaigning in the previous elections.
Not many people here speak english, they donīt really need to when they have only had a tourist trade for about 5 years, and the rest of the continent speaks spanish. We feel like we have had our hands cut off! Our spanish is so bad that when the guy at the hostel asks us if we need towels, we have no idea what he is saying!! Looking in to spanish lessons...