Cartagena de Indias has a lot more aspects beside the obvious, also more than the ones I talked about yet.
Let me show you some other facets of the city.
Some beautiful, some sad, some really hilarious! :-D
Here's the second part.
It’s full of colors
The colors grey, black and white don’t seem to exist in Cartagena. The houses are painted yellow and colorful graffiti cover the walls.
People wear a lot of rich colors and when the national soccer team is playing, the whole town appears yellow as everyone is wearing his soccer shirt. I actually found myself looking at my white shirt thinking „How boring…“ and buying one of those soccer shirts, too ;-)
(Parade in honor of Cartagena's Independence on Nov. 11, 1811)
Life happens on the street
The climate in Cartagena is hot and humid all year long. If the sun is shining, the heat is almost unbearable. That’s why life is happening on the streets. People sit in front of their houses as it is a bit cooler in the shade outside. They meet, chat, eat, drink and work outside. You can even get you hear cut on the pavement.
The evenings are pleasant as the temperature drops a few degrees and a light wind comes up. At night Plaza Trinidad in Getsemaní fills with all kinds of people having a beer from the corner shop and chatting the night away.
We found the self-appointed „Don del Barrio“ there, helping out his neighbors with all kinds of issues they might have and selling drugs as a secondary employment as well as a soldier on holiday who usually fights against the FARC and ELN in the jungle of Chocó - both of them in their mid 20.
Lots of street artists earn some cents by showing acrobatics or dance to blaring music; there is a quite impressive copy of Michael Jackson and a rather fat and hairy one impersonating Shakira.
The Bold and the Beautiful
Women want to be beautiful, like in every other country in the world. But here a lot of woman think it kind of obligatory to achieve something in life. As you cannot earn a lot of money with a job, the objective seems to be to marry a rich guy. Dressing up is therefore a must and plastic surgery (boobs and bottoms) is very popular. Even the mannequins in the shop windows did it ... :-D
The concept of women working and being independent is still in its infancy. The machismo, that is often deep-seated especially in the heads of women (e.g. your own mother), implies that you are only respected as a woman, if you are a good housewife caring sacrificially for your household, extended family, husband and kids. You can work 10 hour shifts too, if you like, but don’t neglect your duties as a wife. Having your own mind means you might be judged as „feminist“ by some, wanting to talk about things in a relationship lead some people to think that you are „complicated“. If you’re over 30 and single, that will be for a reason. A really pretty girl told me „I will have to marry a foreigner, I am 31 and too old for a Colombian guy. I don’t look my age, so I have lots of dates, but if I tell them, they find a lame excuse to leave.“ As a european these things are hard to understand. There are changes happening and young people challenge the traditional roles. Men hate being „useless“ without knowing how to cook, wash or iron. Women start to discuss their roles. But changing the society takes a lot of time and it will be interesting to see how new generations find their own ways.
We experienced another facet of the city when we were visiting a home for seniors in the outskirts of Cartagena. Old people sitting in a patio, staring at nothing or watching television, half of them not able to talk at all, waiting for death to come. Some of the people are seriously ill but there is not much money for medicine.
We joined them for 2 hours trying to be a distraction. One guy, César, a former soldier, talked our head off inventing scary stories about having 3 tanks in his backyard and how he kills all of the bad people by hanging or shooting them. An artist on crutches showed us his paintings on paper and wanted to sell them to us. A sweet old lady told us about her life and that she needed to get out of there. Leaving the place I was kind of paralyzed and sad. It took a few days until that feeling wore off.
A lot of people on the streets or at the beaches live from the tourists. No wonder as there are thousands of cruise ship passengers flooding the city every day. To earn money, mobile vendors started to annoy people, tourists and locals alike, ignoring the fact that their behavior might also scare off the tourists. The more shy vendors hold necklaces or hats into your face, the bolder ones shout random words like „Agua!“, „Playa Blanca! Barato!“ or „Where you from?“ at passers by, and a bit more silent then „I have everything!“. Taxis and Motor taxis try to attract your attention by passing you slowly and honking several times.
The beach in Bocagrande is almost unbearable. They try to charge you10$ just to have an eye on your private things while you’re in the water. Some ladies already start to put an awful smelling lotion onto your shoulders to force you into a massage. Thank god not all areas are like this. And if passing a plaza full of vendors a Zen-like attitude helps a lot. Just ignore the surrounding noise. ;-)
There are lots of warm and friendly people
People you meet on the streets of Cartagena are not openly friendly. They barely look at you and can be even rude sometimes, pushing and shoving. But if you do the first step by greeting or starting a conversation, people turn out to be very friendly, helpful, warm and happy.
Getting to know some people more profoundly, we found lots are actually very interested and reflecting people well aware of their surroundings. And lots are trying to change the bad things happening in their surroundings according to their possibilities.
Actually it is said that Colombians are one of the most happy people in the world. How is this possible with all the bad going on in their country?
Well, people tend to blend out the bad things, because they simply must - and focus on the good instead.
The celebration of Cartagena's independence for example was a great opportunity to have lots of fun and party hard. Thousands of people roamed the streets, drank, danced and had a good time.
And if there's no bank holiday, people find a reason to be happy and have good time. The whole country partied for days when Colombia tied (!) with Germany (1:1) in the Soccer World Cup in 1990.
The goal is still shown on television, provoking a smile on every face.
Living today and focusing on the good things available is not a bad attitude at all, even if it's going to extremes at times.
An anecdote - Transcaribe
You would think it a joke, but for 10 years Cartagena is building an express transport system - called Transcaribe. Lanes and bus stops were almost ready but the go life was constantly postponed. There was still something left to build or do. In the meantime bus stops were used by the homeless, were damaged and needed to be fixed. A never-ending story it seemed. The system is already working successfully in every other bigger city in Colombia, in Barranquilla they even started the project years later and finished already time ago. Only Cartagena couldn’t get it done for more than 10 years.
Somehow this reminds me of the Berlin airport… :-D
Last Monday we saw the first Transcaribe Bus - surrounded by lots of people taking photos of the apparition. :-D
Now what do you think? Finally all good? Well…
That Monday a 5 days test run started - and paralyzed the traffic completely as the lanes for Transcaribe were closed but no one could actually use it yet. If you wanted to go somewhere, you better left an hour earlier.
Now since Friday the system is life. But... nobody knows where the buses are actually going because there is zero information, not even in the internet.
Some other funny Cartagena habits
Woulnd't let you down on this one. ;-)
- You start walking in the middle of the street, as the boardwalk is full of bags, cartons, bikes, vendors, dog shit and other people. Cars will usually drive around you, if there’s enough space, or honk at you. Being in Medellin now, we really need to get rid of that habit… fast!!! :-D
- You start crossing the streets by walking courageously in front of a not too fast driving car making it stop for you with a hand signal.
- You start being that relaxed, that booking a flight AND booking a hotel at the same day seems too much work. We found ourselves groaning: Lets leave the hotel booking for tomorrow. Or the day after. Its still some time.
- You actually start feeling cold, if the air condition is set to something below 27°C. Should the outside temperature drop below that temperature for once, you start thinking of a jacket. I will never forget that night Markus turned off the air condition (that was set to 28°C) in the middle of the night causing the temperature to go up immediately and me, waking up sweating, looking at a Markus still cozily cuddled in a blanket with a smile on his sleeping face. Can you believe that?!
- No hot water: Getting into the cold shower in the morning having to wash your hair wakes you up like 2 cups of coffee. Unfortunately the effect wears off soon and you still need that coffee.
- We still don’t get, how people are able to eat fat dripping fried stuff before 7 am. Taking into account the crowds that besiege the street vendors in the morning, there have to be stronger stomachs than ours… :-)
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