Romancing The Stone

Trip Start Dec 06, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Colombia  , Bolivar Department,
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I've never actually seen the movie Romancing The Stone but it seems to be the thing most people (North Americans anyway) associate with the city of Cartagena.  Back in the Irving Klaw Trio days (my band in the 90's) the phrase ¨Romancing The Stone¨ was frequently invoked in our tour van as a clever euphemism for something else, something crude and personal.  Think about it.  Anyway, I really hadn´t given the phrase so much as a thought since then.    

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 hot and sweaty broken up only by the cool ocean breeze and occasional torrential downpour.  Caribbean suave and sexy, totally unpretenscious. 

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.  Most of the town is gritty for sure, but it feels safe.  And most people seem easy going and friendly.  Even the police (who are stationed everywhere-see photo caption below!) seem pertty chill.  My afternoon stroll was delightful and turned into a several hour hike excursion getting ¨lost¨ in the old walled city and then finding my way back to the neighborhood where I´m staying.  The fortress like walls around the old city were built in the 16th century to protect against invaders (especially Sir Francis Drake and pirates apparently) and at several spots there are rows of massive cannons jutting out through the walls.  As my afternoon stroll graduated to an early evening stroll I sought out the top of these walls in order to get my bearings.  There I noticed lots of young couples sitting on the cannons (they are cozy semi-hidden spots nooked into the wall) making out.  They seemed so innocent.  What an amazing spot to be making out, particularly with a first love!  Perched on a massive ancient weapon overlooking this beautiful city from atop it's own perimeter.  Not to mention the phallic aspect.  I was too respectful (bashful?) to take any photos of the couples.       

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.         
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Matt Modrcin on

Andrew - great blog - makes me want to travel and see parts of the world that I have never imagined. Keep writing and enjoy.

jd chandler on

great photos and a nice blog. i haven't been to south america in a really long time, but it still looks great. what a beautiful city with great public art. when i was in ecuador mi abuela told me that only colombians and peruvians committed crimes in ecuador - so if i were you i would look out for ecuadorans. they've got to commit crimes somewhere.

have a great trip.

Thom and S Marrion on


Awesome photos, it sounds like you are having a good start to your trip.
Sounds like Cartagena is a very sexy city.

Have a great time

David on

dude, looks incredible...but quit bashing Romancing the Stone...that movie rocked! (at least when I was a teen)....don't remember Cartagena in it though....seemed to take place mostly in the jungle....glad to hear that it hasn't become disneyfied yet....i knew from the NYT it has been a travel hotspot for at least 10 years now and sort of assumed it was more like a Santa Fe than a New I want to go!

Ben on

That's a crazy police poster. It's like a film poster for an indie star wars. Great to see you have a blog, will be following along in envy.

deb on

sadly, i admit that the first association for me was romancing the stone. thanks, however, for the new association with masterbation. love the blog, your voice has an expansive quality. makes me want to travel more!

Kyle on

Good stuff, sir. Keep it coming, and more importantly enjoy the hell out of the journey.

(as a side note, thanks for not referencing Danny DeVito's role in that move. Would have blown the ambiance)

Mark G. on

I haven't seen a new blog entry since your first one. I trust you're enjoying yourself, and are experiencing a well-earned rest. You write well. Please know that I'm thinking of you as you deepen into your adventure, and as the new year unfolds for you. Enjoy yourself, and as we have discussed, live your travel experience to the fullest, with all its shades of light and darkness.

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