Cartagena, Colombia Part 2

Cartagena, Colombia- Part 2

Plaza de las Coches

Plaza de las Coches

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, came to Cartagena in late April 1948 and created his literary masterpieces here. Cartagena became the muse for him as he unleashed his magical stories here. He became friends with the local poet Luis Carlos Lopez, and worked as a journalist for the newspaper, El Universal. Then in late 1949 he moved to Barranquilla where he continued his novel “100 years of Solitude” which he completed in 1967. Cartagena was the setting stage for his novels. He was born in 1928 and brought up by his maternal grandparents in the small town of Aracataca, located in a tropical region of northern Colombia, where the Wayu Indians lived. Today he uses his home in Cartagena as a part time residence.

View from the sea

View from the sea

Cartagena street

Cartagena street

Having read several of his books and especially remembering his novel “Love in the Time of Cholera”, and its movie which was also filmed at many places in Cartagena, I decided to take the Gabo (as Garcia was affectionately called by Latin Americans) self guided tour. It describes Cartagena with facts and fiction through Gabo’s stories and novels. After listening to a brief history of Cartagena, the tour took me through the amazing streets and pretty plazas of Cartagena. These streets and plazas have historical significance and traditions and come alive with Gabo’s legends and magical stories. First I walked to the pretty corner plaza near Las Murallas, St Teresa’s Plaza, where there was a great view of the sea and parts of the walled city. I then walked to Calle de Las Damas, a quiet street now but then where the aristocratic ladies took their evening strolls. Here Gabo’s story takes us to the time when the King of Spain, Charles VI walked the walled city dressed as a lady to investigate the large cost incurred for the walls.

Statue of San Pedro Claver with a slave

Statue of San Pedro Claver with a Slave

Metal Artwork, San Pedro Claver Square

Metal Artwork, San Pedro Claver Square

Then I walked towards pretty Plaza San Pedro, with its baroque style Inglesia y Convento de San Pedro Claver. San Pedro,a Spanish Jesuitmonk who ministered to the slaves from Africa, lived and died in the Convent. His remains are preserved in the altar. The San Pedro church with pretty stained glass windows, was built by the Jesuits in XVIII and named after San Pedro Claver, referred as the “Apostle of the Slaves” and “Slave of the Slaves”.

I walked by a row of beautifully carved iron artwork around the square, depicting everyday life of Cartagena, then at a fancy restaurant, souvenir and emerald shops and the Modern Art Museum where Cartagena’s painters are.

Cartagena, Colombia 105As I was exiting the square, there stood a palenquera selling fruits and standing by a raspado (snow cone) seller. To cool down from the intense heat and humidity, tourists and children were standing by to get the shaved/crushed ice with condensed milk and fruit flavored syrup.

Columbus statue, Aduana Square

Columbus statue, Aduana Square

Next according to the tour, I walked to Plaza Aduana (Customs Square), the largest and oldest square in the old town, with a statue of Christopher Columbus in the center, and the City Hall and Tourism Office around the square. Many open air ceremonies are held in this square. While we were visiting there was a conference with music and dancing in the evenings. It used to be called Plaza del Mar as it was the confluence for ships between America and Europe for traders and where communication between the two distant places took place in science, arts and commerce.

Plaza del la Coches

Plaza del la Coches

Then I strolled around the corner to Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages), a cobbled stone triangular space, where the activity is…. with vendors, horse carriages, and music bars. On the opposite side is the Puerto del Reloj (Clock Gate), the official entrance to the old walled city whose clock tower can be seen from anywhere in the city. Here I was immediately attracted to the old colorful French style yellow, pink and blue houses with pretty balconies and colonial arches at the ground level.

Plaza de las Coches

Plaza de las Coches

These houses were the homes of the wealthy during the romantic era when their children were sent off to Paris for studies. The well-concealed arcaded walkway on the ground floor, called “El Portal De Los Dulces” has rows of confectionary stands selling local sweets such as cocadas, caramels and other varieties, as well as ice cream parlors.

Confectionary stands

Confectionary stands

A huge statue of Pedro de Heredia, the Spanish conquistador who “founded” Cartagena in 1553, stands in the middle of the Plaza. I found this an irony to glorify a leader who brought the slaves, and at the very place that was used as a slave market, where slaves were publicly auctioned.

Plaza de las Coches was then also the meeting place for the slaves who came on market days. But today, horse carriages await here for tourists to take them on a ride through the historic town, and so its name, Plaza de las Coches. I sat down on a bench for some rest and to admire the beautiful balconies.

Heredia statue at Plaza del Coches

Heredia statue at Plaza del Coches

As I was listening to Gabo’s video while gazing at the cobbled stoned plaza, I was immediately transported to the crowded busy market place with slaves selling foods, baskets and trinkets. This was the setting for Gabo’s novel, “Love and Other Demons”, of a Marquis daughter who went with her Mulato servant to the slave market to buy a string of pearls and where she and four other slaves were bitten by a rabid dog that burst into the market. Today dance groups and jazz bands perform here at an outdoor café, and, bars and souvenir stores now occupy the ground floor of the balconied homes.

Mild Chilies

Mild Chilies

Walking outside the Clock Gate of the walled city, through Puerto de Reloj is the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square), the setting for Gabo’s novel, “The General and his Labyrinth” published in 1989. This plaza, built in October 1997, pays homage to all those who were victims of violence.

View of Clock Tower from esplanade

View of Clock Tower from esplanade

In front is the wide-open esplanade where I strolled by, gazing at the beautiful sculpture of winged horses, the Pegasos Monument (Muelle de los Pegasos) at the city dock. On the other side looking high up is the Obelisk, located on a Monument in the center of Centennial Park.

The Pegasus monument

The Pegasus monument

At the end of the esplanade is the street leading to Getsamini, fast becoming a trendy area with bars, dance clubs and restaurants, and especially where the young are attracted by their budget type hotels. I decided to go there at another time to explore further its streets, cafes and bars and to try its menus.

Lunch under the rubber tree

Lunch under the rubber tree

Then I turned back on the esplanade and walked to the Peace Plaza to the famous huge rubber tree, a “shade for gatherings” as Gabo says, a refuge place for shoe shiners, retirees, food vendors, chess players and those who simply come here for a chat or to take a respite from the heat and humidity. It was lunchtime and many workers were buying lunch from a vendor and sitting under the tree to eat.

As I watched them unwrapping the leaf and enjoying their lunch, yellow tinted rice with pieces of chicken and vegetables, I too bought one and sat among them to enjoy my lunch while chatting to some curious locals. Stuffed and happy, I walked pass the Plaze de Coches towards the apothecary where the setting for “Love in Time of Cholera” was, about the physician Dr. Urbino who married Fermina. He lived and worked here, and battled cholera. The apothecary was the meeting place of the educated, who helped the poor with medicines that came from India.

La Cathedral

La Cathedral

I walked to Plaza de la Proclamacion, where the people of Cartagena met to support the independence of Cartagena, and now called City Hall because it is where the local government is now located. Here is also where the fort like massive La Cathedral is, which dates back to the 16th century. While still under construction, it was partially destroyed by the cannons of Francis Drake, but it was finally completed in 1612. I stopped to see the beautiful artwork displayed in front of the cathedral.

Artwork in front of  La Cathedral

Artwork in front of La Cathedral

Simon Bolivar statue

Simon Bolivar statue

Nearby is the small park, Plaza de la Bolivar (originally called Inquisition Plaza), with shady trees and a statue of Simon Bolivar (liberator of the city) in the center.
This park was where the public trials were held then. I walked around the park, stopping to look at the Palace of Inquisition, the Gold museum, the elegant balconied restaurants and shops. Then I sat on a bench to have water and to take shade from the hot afternoon sun and humidity and watched locals relaxing and doing the same. Then I came by an artist, stopped to admire his painting while we chatted for a few minutes. I went inside the Palace of Inquisition wanting to take a tour of its museum, as it looked very impressive.

Inquisition Palace

Inquisition Palace

But after reading its history and the gnarly tools used for torturing the church’s enemies, I decided against it. It was the seat of the punishment tribunal of the Holy Office who punished the ‘heretics’ who dwelt in magic, witchcraft and other non-Christian practices, and who were publicly executed. The beautiful colonial looking gold museum (Museo de Oros) housed archeological pieces of gold and pottery of the Sinu people who lived here and the surrounding areas before the Spanish conquest.

Local Artist

Local Artist

Then I walked by streets along Arzopispado stopping to gaze at more homes with gorgeous balconies decked with flowering bushes and by street vendors selling curios, old books and fruits and passing by more emerald shops and finally came to the local University. It was lunch break and as I walked back to the hotel, I passed by locals sitting around on a sidewalk next to a vendor, enjoying soups made with chicken or pork ribs, corn and rice.

University

University

The University’s architecture was attractive and I was curious to see its inside. I walked in and asked permission to enter and I was amazed to see how bright and well kept it was, with a clean and pretty garden displaying busts of its various leaders. Gabo pursued his love of literature here against his father’s wishes and searched for success in his writing. Nearby, cafes, fast food eateries and stores were bustling with students. I decided to push ahead on my tour as I needed a couple more hours to explore the city before the places of interest closed.

Church

San Toribiode Mogrovejo Church

I walked towards Plaza Fernandez de Madrid in San Diego district where San Toribiode Mogrovejo Church is. It is a small pretty colonial style church with Moorish style ceiling built with funds from the local community.

I walked in the small park, watching a serious group of card players, then came across some other locals sitting on benches enjoying their snacks while others were just resting.

San Pedro Plaza

San Pedro Plaza

This plaza is another setting for Gabo’s novel in “Love in Time of Cholera” where the heroine, Fermina sat in the park and wrote her letters to her lover, Florentino that she sent through her aunt. This place was also the setting for her home where she grew up, a Portuguese style house on the park. Again, pretty balconied homes were the attraction here. Walking about a couple of blocks away I came to the San Diego plaza where many pretty cafes and restaurants abound. And nearby are the fancy hotel Sorfitel Santa Clara (originally a church), the Bellas Artes University and Convento de Santa Clara, which belongs to the poor nuns. One evening, we walked to this plaza and had dinner at one of its outdoor cafes.

Sis and I having dinner, San Diego Plaza

Sis and I having dinner, San Diego Plaza

friendly pedlars

Friendly and creative peddlers

It was a warm and beautiful evening with some innovative peddlers coming to sell their wares. We bought a few things and enjoyed chatting with them, as they were friendly and artistic people. And we invited one friendly vendor to sit down and share our meal while we enjoyed talking to him about his family, his creations and Cartagena.

Then I headed to Plaza de la Merced, near the Wall, and close to where Teatro Heredia was built on a former church, in 1911.

Teatro Heredia

Teatro Heredia

It has Baroque Italian-style architecture and today holds concerts, dramas and musicals. Then I walked towards the sea area, to Las Bolvedas below the city walls, housing 23 old dungeons. These were used for military purposes by the Spanish and its vaults were used as storage for ammunition and provisions for troops, but then later served as a jail. Now they are souvenir and craft shops. One evening we strolled through them to find something to remind us of Cartagena but I decided against it as I preferred to buy from the friendly street vendors. Then I walked upstairs to the Fortification Museum that tells the story of the city’s historical fortifications. It felt eerie as I walked to its tunnels below. After coming up, I walked on the ramparts to get great views of the ocean as well as the buildings and streets of El Centro.

Sculptured Alcatraces Monument

Sculptured Alcatraces Monument

We passed by the elegant Alcatraces monument, depicting a flock of pelicans soaring into the sky.

Gabriel Garcia's home

Gabriel Garcia’s home

I walked down from the rampart and tried to take a photo of Gabo’s transient modern looking home, built in 1990 and overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It was not possible to see much of his home as a high wall surrounded it. Then I walked towards the Santa Domingo Square, passing by different neighborhoods and an open-air café called Cafe del Mar, located atop the city walls facing the ocean.

Beautiful sunset from Café del Mar rampart

Beautiful sunset from Café del Mar rampart

One evening my sister met me here and we had some wine while enjoying the cool sea breeze and watching the beautiful sunset. It was a moment of solitude and quietness again looking towards the ocean and seeing the sun go down.

View of city from Café del Mar

View of city from Café del Mar

View of Bocagrande from Café del Mar

View of Bocagrande from Café del Mar

The view was spectacular. And we could see Bocagrande in the distance, with its skyscrapers. The place was getting crowded as the evening wore on, with trendy Cartagenans and tourists and so we left.

I then walked to Santa Domingo Square, a pretty lively square surrounded by the Santa Domingo Church, and a hot spot for cafes, restaurants, and antique, emerald and souvenir shops.

Plaza Domingo

Plaza Domingo

Reclining Lady

Reclining Woman

Tourists were posing for a snapshot in front of the Mujer Reclinado (Reclining Woman), affectionately called the “Fat Lady” by locals. This great sculpture is by the famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero.

The Santa Domingo Church (or Inglesia) is the oldest church in Cartagena built towards the end of the 16th century.
That evening we went to have dinner at the Plaza de Santo Domingo as the square looked so pretty and lively at night with its lights and music. Musicians were around, playing their pieces and waitresses were beckoning us to come to their cafe and restaurant. We sat at one of the outdoor cafés. While waiting for our food, we enjoyed the music and checked out the jewelry and artwork offered by friendly vendors. I also enjoyed practicing my Spanish with them. The food was quite ordinary but the ambience was the price you pay for here.

Getsamini neighborhood

Getsamini neighborhood

Another day we strolled out of the Clock Gate through the Esplanade to explore Getsamini, a neighborhood built outside the walls where craftsmen and merchants and other workers originally settled. This Bohemian neighborhood was originally built for slaves during the 18th century but today is becoming a trendy area especially with boutique hotels, clubs, bars and cafes.

We passed pretty squares, cafes and homes towards Libertad Plaza where a picturesque mustard colored church stood, the Inglesia de la Trinidad, built in middle of 17th century.

Trinidad Church

Trinidad Church

It was here that the Act of Independence from Spain was signed in 1811. Then we walked to Plaza del Pozo (Well Plaza) in the historical area, which provided water to the local population. It was a small square and rather untouched, and looking at it I felt transported to a bygone era.

Vegetable vendor

Vegetable vendor

We walked further through neighborhoods, some quite funky with small cute hotels and cafes with balconies covered with beautiful flowing flowers. By this time with all the walking, we needed to rest our feet and… we were hungry! We ended in a little dinky family owned restaurant for lunch. It looked clean and pretty and a little boy came out from a room separated by a curtain to talk with us while playing with a ball. His mom took our order and after 15 minutes we were served some home-made lunch with rice, beans and fried chicken.

Lunch-typical comida

Lunch-typical comida

Though a simple meal, it was tasty. After 30 minutes, the family members sat down together to eat, chatting and laughing.

Boat leaving for Rosario islands

Boat leaving for Rosario islands

Rosario Islands (Islas de Rosario), located about 37 km southwest of Cartagena, are a beautiful string of 27 small coral beach islands with turquoise colored waters. One day we walked through the Clock Gate towards the Tourist Office where the boats for Rosario Islands leave. It was originally the old port, a pier where the ships arrived transporting goods and using the warehouses. We had to take a boat for Rosario Islands, either the smaller faster speedboat or the slower larger boat. We avoided the speedboat after reading guide books and reviews saying they were not safe (alas! a mistake we won’t forget!). So we opted for the bigger boat, the Alcatraz, that accommodates 160 people with food and music on board, but did we regret taking this boat! Initially it was fine as we took some pretty photos of the view around Cartagena as the boat left the port. But it was a lot of sailing time and the boat was crowded with local families. We were told the trip would take about 2 hours as it stopped at a few places…but not only did it leave late (an hour) but it also took more than 41/2 hours before we reached our destination, which was a poor quality beach area! Before we arrived here we stopped by an aquarium on a small island. As we got off the boat here, fishermen were selling lobster meat topped with ketchup, on paper plates. It looked fresh and inviting and we sat in a shady area to eat and avoid the hot sun. After the snack, I walked by the aquarium and then hung around until we were called to embark on the boat.

Vendor selling fresh lobster

Vendor selling fresh lobster

Delicious fresh lobster

Delicious fresh lobster

When we arrived at the beach we were told we had only 30 minutes on the beach. The beach was not feasible for swimming as it had rocks all over and the water was slightly muddy. We were provided with a poor quality lunch of white rice and fried fish fillet at a crowded setting where we were hounded by peddlers. Then we had to deal with aggressive women on the beach who were harassing us for instant beach massages. Once we agreed we were then cheated as they tripled their price at the end. We were almost threatened if we did not pay what they asked for. The guide from the boat just walked off as we approached him for help. The Cartagena Tourism should clean up this mess for tourists. It was unfortunate as it left a distasteful memory for me regarding this trip! It was a rather disappointing day as I looked forward to enjoying Rosario islands. It is better to pay more and go to a better swimming area.

Cocadas

Cocadas

We made a terrible mistake in budgeting on the trip fare.

Convent la Popa

View from Convent De La Popa

One day we took a tour through the town going towards Castille de Felipe de Barajas and Convento De La Popa, two places of interest that we wanted to see but were a bit too far to walk. The bus took us first to Convento Popa which is 500 feet atop a hill, the highest point in the city. The name means Convent of the Stern, as the hill looked like the back end of a ship.

Convent De La Popa

Convent De La Popa

It was founded by Augustine monks in 1607 when it was a wooden chapel but later it was replaced by stone when the hill was fortified. The monk, Fray Alonso Paredes had a vision to build a monastery on the highest point. When he arrived, he found a “pagan” sect (runaway slaves) who worshiped the image of a black goat named Busiraco, and whose shrine was already built in the same location. The monk flung the icon from the top of La Popa, and replaced it with the image of the Virgin de la Candelaria, which stands today. As we stepped from the bus we were confronted by numerous peddlers. We entered its gates to the chapel that housed the La Virgen de la Candaleria and a statue of Padre Alonso Garcia de Paredas.

Courtyard, Convent De La Popa

Courtyard, Convent De La Popa

It has a beautiful flower filled interior courtyard with stone arcades. The church is ornately decorated with gold. As we walked along its walls, we took in the breathtaking views of the city all around.

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Castille de Felipe

Then the bus drove down about 2 km to the Castille de Felipe de Barajas, located nearby Gestamini. It is the largest and strongest fortress built by the slaves brought by the Spanish. The construction began in 1536 on Lazaro Hill and expanded in 1657. It has dark eerie tunnels connecting various points.

View from Castille de Felipe

View from Castille de Felipe

I walked up the hilly path to it and then strolled around this rather impressive military style structure with its maze of tunnels and labyrinths. As I walked around, I had a beautiful view of the city with its Pedro Claver Church tower and the Clock tower in the distance.

Art Museum

Art Museum inside

And of course I could not leave Cartagena without trying more of their ceviches and juices…and some art museums.

 
Art Museum

So for the remaining couple of days during lunch time, I sampled their ceviches and different juices at a pretty outdoor café, La Cevicheria in San Diego district, and another at a café in El Centro, both nearby the hotel. The ceviches were flavored with local fruits and coconut milk.

Delicious Ceviche!

Delicious Ceviche!

Art Museum

This was a great birthday treat…..relaxing and getting some adventure!

Enjoying my birthday at  sunset!

Enjoying my birthday at sunset! Salud!

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Categories: Colombia, Featured, Journeys, Spotlight, Tastes, Traditions

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4 Comments on “Cartagena, Colombia Part 2”

  1. carmen.delguercio.evans
    January 21, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    What a fabulous vacation.  Never thought about traveling to Columbia before, but your description of the place makes it very inviting.

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S™ III, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

    • January 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

      Hi Carmen: yes it is beautiful place and you will enjoy it! Cartagena is on the Caribbean so different from Bogota or other cities inland….more relaxing.

  2. maria mercedes bejarano
    January 21, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

    Tracing your steps in Cartagena is a joy ! Thanks for sharing your journey from your heart .
    I admire your guiding instinct to find the goodies and the beauty .

    Thanks for visiting Cartagena

  3. January 22, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Cartagena was a joy to visit! It s a great place to go to in the Caribbean to relax and get some adventure! Tks for introducing to it my friend.

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