The journey from Bogotá to Cartagena was a pretty easy one. I managed to get a cheap flight which took just over an hour.
Due to the esteem that comes with having an extensive covering of one’s upper lip, I was swiftly upgraded to a seat with extra leg-room and free drinks. The GCSE I received in Spanish back in 2012 allows me to be confident that it definitely had nothing to do with the fact that the website through which I purchased the ticket was exclusively in Spanish.
Moving on, I landed around midnight and jumped in a taxi towards the city. I had a bed in a 4 person dorm booked for that night so thought I would go straight there and get my head down.
On arrival at the hostel, I noticed that air-con wasn’t going to be something that was complimentary. It was about 30 degrees and pretty humid so I knew getting to sleep would be tough.
The man on reception took me up to one of the dorms and I noticed on entry that all the other beds were full. Mine was a top bunk so I slung all my stuff in a locker stripped off and got into bed as quietly as possible.
This was clearly not as quiet as I thought.
I woke in the morning to the sound of someone shuffling around and decided to get up. I jumped down from my bunk and stepped into the fray.
Thinking back now, I can draw a few similarities between my actions and the charge of the light brigade. Admittedly I was slightly more naïve in my expectations of the reception I would receive.
The shuffling was coming from a well built lady of Germanic origin. I immediately piped up with an apology if I woke her last night etc. and a brief explanation around my flight being a late one.
My awfully British attempt to make amends was met with a steely glare. Think Miss Trunchbull from Matilda when she catches the ribbon and realises someone has been near her house.
I knew I couldn’t stay.
I jumped ship, popped downstairs to the breakfast room and quickly looked on Airbnb for another option for a few nights.
I found a nice room in Manga (roughly a 15 minute walk from the walled city) and booked it. 5 minutes later I was all packed again and out the door.
Cartagena is a colonial era city surrounded by large defensive walls. Graffiti is everywhere throughout, ranging from scribbles you would expect to see etched into the back seat of the Number 43 from Didsbury to Manchester, to vast complex murals which really capture the nature of the city.
I had heard that the place was supposed to be a little bit more touristy than other parts of Colombia and, I must admit, being the intrepid explorer that 2 nights in Bogota had made me, I was a little sceptical. It is fairly noticeable that the city is more geared towards the consumer with concentrated areas of restaurants and bars with English, French and German menu’s adorning their walls.
That being said, I feel I must caveat it somewhat by suggesting that it is by no means exclusively focussed on foreign travellers. The majority of those who do visit the city from elsewhere are, according to the lady who owned my Airbnb, holidaying Colombians.
It isn’t (or at least, wasn’t when we were there) the sort of place that you could expect to find beach towels meticulously laid out in the early hours to reserve sunbeds. This is purely metaphorical as there are no sunbeds in the city centre but you get the gist.
Speaking of beach towels however, Cartagena is a coastal city and as such, nearby are a few beaches. The temperature of the place does lend itself to sitting on a beach drinking lukewarm lager so I made the effort and got an uber over to one of said beaches. I paid my 20,000 COP to get a sun shade with a seat beneath it and read my book.
I took a dip in the sea which I must say was pretty brave for me. I did most of my growing up in the North East of England. Tynemouth being my local beach left me with an ingrained assumptive attitude that if the sea is that sort of greeny-grey colour, it must be absolutely freezing.
While the sea at Cartagena was that colour, it was actually scarily warm. I would say the best comparison is probably a bath that you’ve been in for the best part of an hour. All the bubbles have gone except for a few small but hardy pockets and the writing’s on the wall. Probably about five minutes before you pull the plug and your fingers and toes are unrecognisable.
As beaches go, I’d suggest it was a touch mis-leading. The tag-line/name of the area being ”the Caribbean Coast” in my mind conjures images of long white sand beaches with a crystal clear blue sea. The reality is somewhat different; grey sand, grey sea and there was a bit of sand in the bottom of my Piña Colada.
The next stop is Palomino, further east along the coast. It is supposed to be very laid back and a great place to knock about if you like beaches and mountains.