Pirate Sieges and Mud Volcanoes

Trip Start Sep 09, 2006
Trip End Aug 18, 2010

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Wednesday, February 21, 2007

OK, so on first glance, this seems like the rich shee-shee-poo-poo international tourist tour group destination.  Flashy restaurants, fancily dressed women strutting their stuff in stilletos in the maze of narrow cobblestoned alleys, fashion shows being filmed with red carpets and cameras, and the only cheap hotel rooms available are rented out by the hour, with questionable stains on the sheets....

Was this the place for 2 backpackers?

Something else seemed to be luring us to this city....skeletons, daggers, and one eyed boatmen?

Due to its location along the Caribbean coast, Cartagena came to be the main Spanish port and the legendary storehouse for tantalizing treasures plundered from the Indians until their ships could transport them back to Spain.  Gold and silver left the port bound for Europe, pirates looted the city, and a walled fort grew to protect both shipping and the slave trade.

Indeed, Cartagena´s history includes some dreadful sieges by pirates over the centuries.  The consequences of this dark history of pillage and plundering is evident today in the multitude of large, fortified structures around the city.  Ancient cannons peak out of the walled inner city, cafes sit atop fortress castles, intriguing subterranean passages exist where you would be able to hear the slightest sound of the enemies´ approaching feet, and the briny Caribbean Sea lapping at its perimeters...it's the image of dreams and legends!  We could only imagine the battles that were fought here... 

One area of the fortressed Old City called Getsemani felt very much like how the streets of Cuba must feel.  This is one of the most representative neighborhoods in Cartagena. African people who were brought as slaves used to live in this area.  Images such as street peddlers sitting on stools on sidewalk corners, old women peaking out of their balcony windows watching the action below, and tavernish watering holes with names like "Havana Nights", where ex-bananna boat captains would drown away their solitary lives.  We spent quite a bit of time here.

And here´s a question:    Have you ever bathed in a VOLCANO?

Just 50km from Cartagena, you can go for a dip in a 15m high, cone-shaped volcano mound filled not with lava and ashes, but with MUD.  It´s pretty deep, and filled with a thick, dense, cold, greyish mud with a creamy consistency.  Once you´re immersed in it, it weighs you down, and you feel like you´re stuck!  If you try and move, the mud makes plopping and bubbling sounds all around you. 

But wait, there´s a BONUS!  For the 30-45 minutes that you are in there, you get scrubbed, rubbed, and knuckle-cracked by the volcano man...well, he´s actually a masseuse already waiting for you in the mud.  So, having each been massaged and yanked and pulled and prodded, we spent the next half and hour massaging the mud that is said to contain therapeutic properties into our skin, and scraping it out of our orifices (actually quite difficult, since your fingers are also covered with mud).  After the hour was up, we walked down the cone´s makeshift ramp looking like Aliens out of a horror flick, and entered the nearby lagoon, where local women gave us each a bath with their buckets.

The things you can do in this wonderful country of COLOMBIA!
"Cartagena"  is also the name of a board game that represents the famous 1672 pirate-led jailbreak from the fortress of Cartagena.  This game of strategy gives each player a group of six pirates and the objective is to have all six escape through the tortuous underground passage that connects the fortress to the port.

- Hotel El Viajero (40 000 pesos, double bed) is clean and probably the best budget option in the expensive walled historical centre.  It has rooms upstairs that are supposed to be only for tourists, however, the ones downstairs are usually rented by the hour...
- Bus travel from Medellin to Cartagena (63000 pesos, 12 brutal hours)
- There is a minibus from the Bus Terminal to the center  (1500 pesos), but it takes 40 minutes, and doesn´t actually take you into the walled city. Taxi may be a better option.

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