Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Cartegena

Rather than sail to Cartegena John and I drove to the city from Puerto Velero. The journey takes just over an hour and it's a good road. We could have caught a bus but as we needed to drop off our hire car we figured that leaving it in Cartegena and treating ourselves to a few days in a hotel was a good option. The road to Cartegena is quite an easy one with nowhere near the traffic we experienced going to Santa Marta. We passed the Sombrero  Parador where we have eaten a really good meal for a great price and resisted the temptation of stopping off there for a snack! 

We booked a hotel inside the walled city ...the Zana Boutique Hotel and what a little gem it was. Air conditioned room, the Internet, breakfast on the roof terraces do all within walking distance of the main sites. The cost for four nights was very reasonable .... and the staff were great so friendly and helpful and more importantly for us..... Juan spoke English! So we did not have to resort to thrusting the iPad at them having asked the translation app to do its stuff and ask 'which way to the nearest bar!'

There is quite a lot to see in the walled city but it's hot, steamy and very busy so we decided to pace ourselves and the first stop was to the very impressive Castillo de San Felipe.  The castle is located on the Hill of San L├ízaro in a strategic location, dominating approaches to the city by land or sea.Built by the Spanish during the colonial era construction began in the year 1536 and it was expanded in 1657. Arming ourselves with hats, plenty of water and an English audio guide we were able to find our way around this impressive castle which dominates the view from the old city. Interestingly we discovered parts of English Naval History we never knew about....23,000 lost in the Battle of Cartegena, where we got our backsides kicked by a much smaller navy with the strategic importance of the fortress really coming into its own. Apparently George II instructed that the loss was to be kept quiet if you read the losses of ships as well as naval personnel you can understand why! ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cartagena_de_Indias ). We were also fortunate that the heavens opened as we were nearing the hospital area, sheltering in there we found a really good video explaining the gradual development of the castle and it was in English!!

As the rain gradually eased and with the roads temporarily flooded we took refuge in a local cafe and tried out our Spanish ordering ourselves something to eat that looked vaguely recognisable.
The walled city is packed full of bars and restaurants as well as places of interest. As we walked past one an American collared us with an offer that was too good to resist....two mojito for 20,000 pesos ....that's around £4.50 ! He also countered the offer with ' if you don't like them then you don't have to pay!' .....never being one to resist a challenge we sat down and forced ourselves to try them ( not!). On a hot humid afternoon it was just what we needed....inevitably...we paid!

The bar also had a humidor with both Cuban and Colombian cigars for sale. One thing that we have noticed in Colombia is that they do not smoke. If you smoke you are very much the outsider. Cigarettes are not readily on sale in the big supermarkets and the little corner shops sell cigarettes singularly as well as by the packet. Whilst cigarettes are not expensive it is good to see the young people making the choice to spend their money on other things.

Dotted around the old city were also metal work statues and there were some in the square close to our hotel. They all depicted everyday scenes and one particular one of a guy leaning against a tree having a pee was always subject to the scrutiny of young children. Several times I saw young children tug at their mums hand and looking puzzled ask 'What's he doing Mum?' Their varying responses made me smile, some would ignore the child completely whilst others laughed and went into long explanations in Spanish (incomprehensible to me!).

Within the walled city there are many museums and statues. It is a vibrant and interesting place, street vendors on every corner are not too intrusive and they seemed to understand that 'no' meant 'no'. There is something of interest on most streets, for instance the local corner shop to our Hotel just oozed character and how it was still standing I'm not sure! Not quite your local Co op!

The naval museum is well worth a visit and whilst they do warn you that most of the signage is in Spanish, John and I used it as an opportunity to try to extend our Spanish. It is very visual so we were able to get the gist of most of the exhibits.
We spent four interesting days in Cartegena and we were glad that we decided to make it a road trip. The anchorage outside Club Nautico looked like it could get a little rolls when the powerboats come past and we were told by more than one yachtie that you hull gets fouled very quickly there. One guy even told us he had a diver go down to clean his hull every two weeks!! Yikes!
With an ever increasing list of jobs we have decided to go to Shelter Bay when we leave Colombia. We need to sort out yet another problem with our mast and so will haul out there. Now it is the inevitable wait for the weather window......  

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