Partout likes to dive into the issues, questions and puzzles of being all over the place, but sometimes the essence of a place is simply how it looks. That would be Cartagena.
Like many Spanish colonists and Caribbean pirates, we made our first landfall in South America in Cartagena. Though famously hot and humid, the city is supposed to be the most beautiful colonial city in the Caribbean and reeks of history and romance. In other words, it’s unmissable. We booked three nights.
Surfing through our lodging options, we chose the neighborhood of Getsemani as our base in the city for one reason: To save money. Compared with everywhere else we are going in South America, we found Cartagena lodgings expensive, at least during the month-long holiday when the whole country (except the tourist industry) vacations while kids of every age are out of school.
As it turned out for us, Getsemani was vastly more appealing than the old city on the other side of the wall. Cartageneros still live in Getsemani, their living rooms in full view through front door grills opening right onto the sidewalks.
El Centro is Disneyland. In August. Getsemani is Knott’s Berry Farm, in the old days. (Okay, okay. For non-Californians, El Centro = Manhattan; Getsemani = Brooklyn ungentrified.)
To escape the heat, Getsemani residents lounge on their doorsteps, play dominoes on sidewalks and gather in the neighborhood’s plazas to eat, drink, flirt and perchance to nap.
Strolling the neighborhood, we see a teenager donning her makeup outside her door, a woman checking her cell phone under a pirate parrot, a sidewalk cobbler repairing a purse, a man contemplating … photogenically.
The streets are narrow and colorful, some overhung with sparkles, pennants, even umbrellas, each street’s decor different.
Cars and trucks still make their way through, competing with donkeys and hand carts.
Whimsical statues populate the plazas.
Murals showcase the work of local artists and famous names.
Color is everywhere. (Doris finally feels she belongs.)
Partout is unlikely to return to Cartagena, even if it is the loveliest colonial city of the Caribbean. It is too hot and humid even for Louis, who has been heard to say he can never be too hot. But for a generous helping of eye candy? Unmissable.
FROM THE PARTOUT TOOLBOX
One of the most indispensable travel tools Doris uses for long-term travel are traveler forums, the online communities where travelers and others in the know exchange practical information. The best ones are essentially message boards where anyone who is signed up can post a question and get real-time answers from other travelers or helpful locals.
For information typically of interest to travelers who are more comfort- than budget-oriented, she mostly relies on TripAdviser forums, broken down by country and city. That’s how she found a Bedouin to lead us through the forts and deserts of Jordan and an Ecuadorian to take us into indigenous craft villages in Imbabura. For down-and-dirty intel from backpackers and other seasoned road warriors, she relies on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree. Trying to decide whether it was advisable to travel after dark from the Quito airport to a destination 90 minutes away, Doris posted the question on Thorntree’s Ecuador forum and had five knowledgable answers within five hours. Recently, she joined a community of world citizens called InterNation that also has a forum. When she needed an emergency dental appointment in Bogota, she posted a cry for recommendations, preferably English-speaking, and had the names and numbers of three dentists within the hour.
TOP TIP: Before hitting the road, sign up for at least one forum where in-the-know contributors routinely give real-time responses. You never know when a filling will fall out far from home.