Tourist in Cartagena

I arrived at the lobby to wait for the tour just before 2pm.  I waited for a while and then a man came in and spoke to a family group and turned to leave again. I went up to him and said my last name, he checked on his list, and yes there I was.

The tour was scheduled from 2pm to 6pm, the first 40 minutes was spent picking up other tour group patients from adjoining hotels. The traffic is as crazy here as it was in Santiago, and like Santiago they use a system of tooting which somehow leads to them not crashing into each other, although it seems like a pretty close call at times. Finally all the other riders collected, and off we go.

Tour bus for guided city tour

Tour bus for guided city tour

It is really warm, I feel like I could melt. On the tour, instead of having headphones and being able to choose a language, it was all in Spanish.  The view was interesting so I was not too concerned apart from worrying when we got off at the first stop to make sure I got back on the bus on time. The guide realized at the first stop when he spoke to me that I had no idea what he was saying, and after that he gave me a brief summary explanation of everything he said.

First of all we stopped just below the Castillo San Felipe De Barajas, aka “The fortress”. There was a Colombian women there in traditional costume with a platter on her head. I really wanted to take her photo but every time I was ready to click she would turn away. It took me a while to realize this was her job, and of course I could take her photo – once we had agreed on the price.

Colombian woman in front of Castillo San Felipe Barajas (the fort)

Colombian woman in front of Castillo San Felipe De Barajas (the fort)

To get to the fortress involved walking up the slope in the beating glare of the sun. The fortress is positioned on the hill of San Lázaro, where its strategic position dominates approaches from the land and the sea. The work on this fortress started in 1536 and it has had a number of additions. It is built in such a way that there is a series of walls wide at the base and narrow towards the parapet forming a formidable series of bunkers. The batteries and the parapets project each other making it practically impossible to take a battery without taking the whole defence system. There is a complex maze of tunnels and it is ventilated with grates. This is the most formidable defence complex of Spanish military architecture.

Inside the fortress

Inside Castillo San Felipe Barajas


Tunnels inside the fort

In the  View from Castilo San Felipe Barajas

View from Castilo San Felipe Barajas
In the photo you can see a wall that is around the walled city, then it changes at the end of the wall to the new city

Back in the tourist bus and off to the La Popa monastery, the highest point in Cartegena at 150 meters. Getting up there was a bit scary, going around sharp, steep, and windy corners, and often only enough room for one car. Not that driving around a sharp corner you couldn’t see around seemed to slow the driver down at all. However it turned out that going up was a relaxed Sunday afternoon drive compared to the nail biting ride down.

Up the top there were some great views unfortunately at this point my camera battery failed so took a couple of photos with the iPhone. I will have to consider getting a backup battery but first off I need to get a connection for the charger. There were quite a few stray dogs up the top but all seemed relaxed and once again no begging.

There are also stray dogs in Cartagena - quite a lot  They are really good at crossing busy roads. Plus the local drivers are more inclined to stop for them than tourists

There are also stray dogs in Cartagena – quite a lot
They are really good at crossing busy roads. Plus the local drivers are more inclined to stop for them than tourists.

Back through town to the old city. There were buses, bikes, people pushing carts, horses with carts, a donkey with a cart, bicycles with and without carts, pedestrians, stray dogs, yellow taxis darting in and out of street corners, other cars, street vendors performing at intersections, and roadworks all competing for the same stretch of road. All the vehicles were constantly tooting!  Loud music from a number of the vehicles, total chaos! But everyone seemed to get to where they wanted to go.

We arrived at the walled city. Construction began in 1631, the walls are up to 20 meters thick and 12 meters high, and approx 12 k in radius. There are hotels, shops, bars and residences etc in there. On the outskirts are the street hawkers and it gets more expensive the further you get into the middle. We got to go on a walking tour of some of it. It’s pretty amazing and I need to go back and take a fully charged camera. The walled city was also busy with horse and carts, heaps of people, street vendors and taxis but nowhere near as busy as the new city.

Walled city wall, 20 feet thick, 12 feet high - made from coral

Walled city wall, 20 feet thick, 12 feet high – made from coral

Most of the good restaurants are contained within the walled city, so another reason to come back. We got taken to an emerald shop supposedly to learn about how to tell if an emerald is real or not. But really it’s all about getting a captive group to sell to.  I had been thinking of getting a pair of emerald earrings as a reminder of this trip like the amber earrings from my Trans Europa trip. The price however was way more than I was willing to pay for the pair I really liked so I was not going to buy. When I said no, the price went down again and then again, and just as I was about to leave the shop it went down to half of the original price – so I bought them. By this time it was dark and the city looked very impressive all lit up with strategically placed lighting.

We got back to the hotel an hour later than expected. The security at the hotel is quite tight and until they get to know you, you can’t get in without your guest ID card. I got to the front door and could not find mine, I went through everything with me and finally found it. Once I got back to my room I realized my wallet was missing and that I had left it on the entrance table whilst looking for my guest ID, so I sprinted back to the reception area. Such a relief when I rushed through the door to see the security guard waving my wallet at me.

I then walked around a few of the locals shops to see if any of them have a connection for the camera charger to be plugged into prior to being plugged into the wall but no joy. Luckily the hotel did have one I could borrow for a couple of hours.

Back at the hotel I tried to download photos from my iPhone but although it showed as being connected to the wifi network it wasn’t. I know this because anything I tried to send I got a message informing me that it was not connected to the Internet. I tried forgetting the network, turning it off and on, checking the settings to no avail. Then I thought “I know I will download the user Manuel for a 4s!”. This downloaded perfectly, but was it was all in Spanish – what the sh**t. Then my iPad would not charge even though it had the charger lead in and was being charged in the same plug as previously! Arrgghh! I Decided tomorrow I would go to an iPhone and IPad store and get this all sorted.


Vendors on the way up to the fort

Vendors at the bottom of the fortress Note no grass, plus the council worker in the green suit these guys are everywhere

Vendors at the bottom of the fortress
Note no grass, plus the council worker in the green suit, these guys are everywhere.

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Tourist in Cartagena

  1. Wendy

    My heart was in my mouth when u said you had left your wallet…glad you got it back. You have taken good pictures Kaye, looks amazing and interesting re the wall…so old! When you can take a pic of your earrings, I’d like to see your purchase.

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