I hadn’t slept late since I’d been in Cartagena. What kind of vacation was this? I was up early again for the Real Cartagena Tour with Chris, Alex Rocha’s oldest son. The tour only included me and another couple because a group of five chose to sleep in after a long night of partying. The tour began in the Bocagrande, El Laguito, and Castillogrande neighborhoods. Chris explained Cartagena neighborhoods have six levels, with level six being the safer, more luxurious areas, and level one being the impoverished areas. Those three neighborhoods were level six after lots of gentrification. El Laguito was once the residential area of local fisherman, but they have been pushed out to other neighborhoods in the city. Residents of Castillogrande like to consider it as a level seven neighborhood, although such a thing doesn’t exist.
Next we headed to the Old City. There was an area locals are not allowed to go unless they have some sort of license they have to pay for. At some point, they tore down the wall where the less prominent people (i.e. those of African descent) were. We walked in that area and visited the flower market and the food market. Since there weren’t any flowers in season at the time, the vendors had displays of fake flowers for sale. We sampled various fruits and bread from the local vendors at the fruit market. I had a fruit Colombians call mamón, but I was more familiar with the Jamaican description of it as a ginep. I never ate one before that day, and I learned the texture was too slimy for me.
While strolling through this area, we came across a park dedicated to Manuel Zapata Olivella, an Afro-Colombian author who never received the level of fame of Gabriel García Márquez. There were white park benches with various quotes by the author in Spanish. Chris also pointed out several planter boxes that were painted by an artist as a reminder of those of African descent that walked those streets, but have been pushed out of the neighborhoods into areas farther away from the city center.
We drove through Getsemani (level 5), and learned it was an area that has been quickly gentrifying. Chris pointed out a corner building currently held a luxury hotel, and stated it used to be a crack house. Getsemani also has the face of Cartagena, Ana Luisa Muñoz. We stopped on a street just inside the walls to view “Las Tres Guerreras,” The mural was created by Fin DAC, who felt Muñoz embodied the different ethnicities that could be seen around Cartagena. Believe me when I say the mural was more stunning in person.
Our next stop was in a level 3 neighborhood farther away from the city center. This neighborhood was occupied by people who looked like me – brown and beautiful. We strolled through a market for a moment before sampling some fruit juice made from lulo, a traditional fruit in Cartagena. I noticed lots of football jerseys on sale in preparation for the World Cup at the market, as well as food, beverages, beauty products, toys, and DVDs. A man who looked like my dad motioned us over to play a game of dominoes with them, but we all declined his kind offer.
Toward the end of the tour, we reached the level one neighborhoods. Those were the areas with homes thrown together with random pieces of wood and scrap metal, much like a shanty town. The area was close to the Cartagena airport, and there were trees planted to block the views of the poverty-stricken neighborhood from the airport.
We ended the tour with lunch on the beach at a spot called La Perla Negra for the traditional meal of fish, rice, and plantains. Just as the tour ended, the rain began. I got back to my Airbnb and decided to take a nap. Before I could even get to my bed, the people I met at the beach the day before messaged me with an invite to dinner. They were already there and waiting on me, so I took a hoe bath and rushed out the door to meet them at the The Clock Pub. They had just finished eating and I wasn’t hungry at all, so we made a plan for the rest of the night. We were going to find a good spot nearby to pregame. Then we’d head find a good spot for dancing. I was tired, but I agreed.
Our group of five landed at a bar named Bourbon St. that had no reminiscence of New Orleans at all. What they did have was happy hour, though, so we hung out for an hour. A fiasco occurred and the two women decided to leave. It was now just the two guys and me like the night before. We walked to Plaza Trinidad, and got more drinks at Casa del Ron. I had to slow down on the liquor because I got emotionally tipsy and started crying about a trifling ex.
Casa del Ron had a nice vibe, but this was the guys’ last night in Cartagena, and we all agreed it should go out with a bang. We wanted to have a ratchet good time, and Casa del Ron was a bit too sophisticated for the moment. Earlier that day, Chris told me Eivissa was the hot spot to be on tonight, so I told the guys and we headed that way for a bit of debauchery.
Friday was day of miscommunication. I was supposed to go on a tour to Palenque, but I misunderstood the pickup time to be 11:00 am when it was actually 1:00 pm. As a result, I missed the tour. That was the activity I was looking forward to the most. It was the main reason I had been trying to get to Cartagena for the past three years, so I was so disappointed when I missed the opportunity to visit. San Basilio de Palenque is village established by escaped and former slaves. Cartagena was one of the main slave ports for the Spanish at one point. It’s because of this missed trip that I know I’ll be returning to Cartagena again soon.
Since I had the day to myself, I decided to explore the streets for street art. I had already seen a lot of gems while walking around the city, but my Airbnb host had provided me a list of her favorite ones along with the locations..
I grabbed some lunch at Espiritu Santo inside the walls, and spent the rest of the evening searching for souvenirs for my parents. This was my last full day in Cartagena, so I had to get their requested coffee mugs and other random junk. I didn’t need any souvenirs for myself. The special memories I made Cartagena were enough to last me a lifetime.