Cartagena de Indias: "Placid Sea, Pastel City"
Cartagena de Indias
November 14, 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
From time to time, my curious friends ask, "Jan, how are the ladies there?" (Wherever "there" is.) So their "inquiry" regarding "Las mujeres Colombianas" was no surprise.
How shall answer the question about Colombian women without exacerbating my own proclivity for hypertension and without interfering with any cardiac control devices out there? I'll do my best:
In my usual haunts on the other side of the world, Asian women are conservative in their public appearance and dress, except for the current short-short shorts fashion-statement of the slim, younger set. And except for a few daring, leggy university girls who challenge the uniform regulations, skirts are the "proper" length and shirts cover the shoulders. At the beach, Thai girls go swimming in jeans and shirts.
Here on this side of the world, Latin women swing to other end of the continuum.
Blouses are worn to display a generous, proud, poised, profound décolletage.
Form-laminating jeans feature an ample derriere endowed with an unabashed, well-articulated amplitude.
And while lolling in my Cartagena cabanita, sipping a cool beer on the fine, black-sand Sundown Beach, as I concentrate my gaze on diving birds, paragliding sails, coasting jet liners, gently floating clouds and timidly lapping waves just beyond my toes, I steal a wee peek at the chattering passing parades and group gab-fests loitering thigh deep in the sea just beyond my camera lens (almost) to report that the two-piece (this ain't the Côte d' Azure) Colombiana bathing costumes are, in a word, "de minimis."
Up from the beach, above the port, and behind the barricade of stone-wall fortifications built by the Spanish to protect the city from British invaders and thieving pirates, an influx of handicraft-seeking bargain-hunting cruise ship passengers and a host of camera-carrying travelers stroll the streets and plazas of the old city of Cartagena de Indias. The park-like Plaza de Bolívar features a large statue of a stately, yet humble Liberator riding an equally humble horse. Surrounding the small, vendor-crammed park are several churches, a fine Cathedral and the Palacio de la Inquisición that I politely declined.
Unlike the grand European influence in the big cities and the Spanish colonial mountain towns, Cartagena is a Caribbean enclave. The older bright yellow-gold-orange buildings have huge, carved, flower-festooned balconies that overhang the cobbled streets and alleys. And unlike pale-faced and beige-faced Colombians in the south, the natives here are dark-faced descendents of that distant era. The atmosphere here is as lively, colorful, and musical as any of the Antilles.
The day-cruise to the Islas del Rosario through the Bahia Cartagena and into the open sea included an aquarium stop and two hours at the Playa Blanca (white sand beach). On board I met one couple from Brazil, but the bulk of the passengers were Colombian tourists enjoying the Cartagena Independence Day holiday.
Back on land, I wandered into the final stages of a giant parade. Folks from Cartagena and surrounding towns were celebrating wearing their most flamboyant costumes. Many young revelers had pastel-powdered faces that reminded me of Happy Holi in India.
Caribbean people really know how to party; I am tempted to accept the invitation from a young couple from Barranquilla I met on the cruise and join them for Mardi Gras next year.
Now after ten days of casual traveling in Colombia I need to start making plans for the remainder of the trip. I work my way backwards from the last day in Bogotá. How many days will I need in Manizales and the Zona Cafetera, and how many more in Medellín? So reluctantly I must leave Cartagena and the hot Caribbean scene and fly back to the cool mountains and valleys.
Actually, the cool mountains and the coffee-growing region sound delicious.
Maybe I'll take a cup with Juan Valdez.
Sr. Juan Roberto....aka "El Exigente"