Cartagena: of balconies, sweets and doorknobs

Trip Start Jan 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Friday, April 14, 2006

The charm was always been there. The houses have always been beautiful, their doors enormous, their balconies imposing and their doorknobs marvelous. The streets have always been a pleasure to walk in and the city walls have always had that romantic, heroic aura.   But it's frankly shocking to see how much more a city gains when a serious awareness of conservation develops, when not only city authorities but all the people who live there make an extra effort to bring back the splendour of old times and keep it for good, when tourists arrive in masses and Hay festivals choose it as their seat... It cannot be doubted: Cartagena is as intriguing as ever, as beautiful as it hadn't been in ages, and as lively as never before. 
There are towns to walk map in hand, to explore with a tourist guide at a reachable distance, to discover through the eyes of a friend who knows more.   But some cities, some towns are almost not worth seeing this way... Cartagena, is in my opinion, one of those... it's so much nicer to wonder aimlessly, getting lost in its narrow streets of houses with balconies, and this way naturally getting a feeling of the mood and atmosphere of the place.   It has become a contrasting city, though: full of high-profile restaurants and bars and expensive tourist shops, but also of small corner stores in which you can stuff yourself with all kinds of sweets, fruits and arepas. A city where wandering around pays off.  

Everybody walks inside the walled city, with two of the old colonial neighborhoods, but not so many people venture into Getsemaní, the third one, just on your way to San Felipe Castle, less renovated,   less sophistocated but never less charming. Walking around all of them will take you from the splendorous two story houses of enormous doors of Calle de las Damas to the small one-door, one-window, bouganville covered houses of Getsemaní...   in the process letting you appreciate the enormous array of whitewashed walls of every color imaginable, or the variety of doorknobs of all shapes and sizes. 
There are some unmissable corners: one of them being the Portal of Sweets, just behing the Clocktower,   where every single local sweet made of coconut, banana, papaya, guava, tamarind is sold... My favourites: the sour but sugar-coated balls made of tamarind fruit ("dulce de tamarindo"), "cocadas" (lumps of coconut, pasted together with arequipe or honey), or "turrón" (a hardened milk and honey sweet full of peanuts).



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