Romancing The Stone
Trip Start Dec 06, 2011
3Trip End Ongoing
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As it turns out, Cartagena is quite the place. To give you an idea, walking around here today (I just arrived this morning) this city reminded me alternately of New Orleans, Palermo (Sicily), Bari (on the heel of the boot in Italy), some of my favortie cities in Mexico, and some of the grittier parts of Rome and Barcelona. That´s the kind of place it is. Grand historic plazas, tiny little hidden plazas, churches, churches, churches, narrow winding streets, stunning architectural details, omnipresent myriad forms of art, dance, and music
The culture seems pretty traditional (lots of religion and folkloric stuff) but there´s hints of a thriving and sophisticated contemporary scene too. There´s street vendors everywhere selling everything from chinese plastic crap to traditional crafts to tropical fruits to grilled meats to regionally distinct versions of my perennial latin america favorite... yummy stuffed corn things. There´s even little stands selling phone calls. The age of public phone booths is officially over and now it's just small time entrepeneurs with a few cell phones, a card table and litle sign, charging by the call those who can´t afford their own private cell phones (presumably most Colombians). I noticed lot's of bookstores and libraries too. And in the ¨cleaned up¨parts of town there are boutiques, galleries, design shops, snazzy restaurants, and all levels of tourist oriented goods and services. Most of the (old) town though feels like a string of ancient working class neighborhoods layered with varied commerce and people of all ages hanging out day and night. It's the kind of thing we´ve almost completely lost in North America. I love it.
Everywhere I went today I witnessed some serious street level flavor
Clearly there is a government and monied interest strategy underway to transform this city into a 21st century international tourist destination hotspot. I bet they succeed, because this place already has everything it needs to wow and seduce. Except perhaps the requisite level of first world comforts and a worthy enough reputation. But it´s just a matter of time. Important stuff will be lost in the transition (like the beautiful integrity of some of these ancient working class neighborhoods!), but at least North Americans will have something better to consider about Cartagena besides that damned Michael Douglas movie.