Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Cartagena (part 2)

We decided to spend our last few days in Colombia in Cartagena, in a nice hotel with cold air conditioning and fast wifi. We even found one with a small pool on the roof, perfect to cool off and relax after wandering around in the heat of the city – and in need of a little bit of luxury for our last few days. Perhaps even more surprising was to find a hotel that even had a hot water shower, which is something of a rarity in Colombia!

As we counted down our final few days, we decided to take it easy and not schedule too much to do. We booked on to a free walk by tour of the old city run by a local volunteer, who showcased architecture, historical facts and culture over the course of the two-hour stroll through the city's walled old town.

Some of the fascinating facts we learned were:

-   There are twenty-nine bank holidays per year in Colombia!

-   Every year there is a competition in the old town and the house judged most attractive doesn't have to pay any taxes (as an incentive for all the colonial-style houses within the city walls to keep up appearances)

Old colonial style house in Cartagena's old town

We also paid a visit to the crypt, part of the old Santa Clara Convent - which is now inside one of Cartagena's most premium hotels. The hotel agreed to keep the crypt intact and to allow public access after the story piqued public interest: when the crypt was excavated, a skeleton with long locks of copper coloured hair was uncovered inside, her hair having continued to grow for 200 years’ after her death. The story was originally featured in Gabriel García Márquez’ work, "Of Love and Other Demons," a tale which blurs fact and fiction and is based on this legend.

Famous Medellin painter and sculptor, Fernando Botero, known for his (often satirical) artworks featuring grotesquely large and exaggerated people and figures (including his take on the Mona Lisa) has one of his statues in the main square to commemorate him. It is said if you touch one breast, you'll come back to Cartagena in a year; touch both and you'll come back in two years. Touch her fat tummy and it is said to bring good luck!
Fernando Botero sculpture

Botero's Mona Lisa

We stumbled across some amazing - and highly energetic dancing throughout the city. This traditional Caribbean-Colombian "Mapale" dancing accompanied by fast-paced drumming and clarinet represents an erotic courtship between a man and a woman. It was introduced by African slaves brought to Colombia in a Spanish ships. The movements are said to be based on the movements of the mapale fish when they are out of water.

Leaving Colombia, we flew back to Mexico for two nights in Isla Mujeres before our long flight back to London. Two days on the beautiful Playa Norte was enough to make us want to stay longer and continue our travels - but no such luck: reality is ready to resume in London; jobs to be found and money to be earned!
Blue skies on Isla Mujeres seafront