Voodoo Masks and a Dead Saint

Trip Start Apr 07, 2013
Trip End Apr 21, 2013

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Flag of Colombia  , Bolivar,
Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today is our last day in Cartagena before heading out for the Ciudad Perdida trek, and we took it pretty slow. We're settling into a little routine of sleep in, get a fresh juice, and aimlessly wander the Old Town. As we sipped our guanabana and lulo juices we flipped through the guide book for some ideas of what to do today. One of the top picks was the gold museum (the place we had spent an hour trying to find yesterday) so we slurped down our fruity concoctions and started walking. I threw in some pictures of the fruits we're getting to try down here. Ive never seen any of these at Publix; what's up with that? Having found the museum yesterday we could at least get to the place pretty easily, but it turned out they were only open for a couple of hours in the morning and then a couple of hours in the late afternoon. Those are my kind of business hours! We got there about 30 minutes before it closed, but that turned out to be plenty of time. The museum is very small and the upstairs exhibit wasn't open, making it even smaller. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a five minute movie in English (real English, not some first year English student's wacky translation) that gave some background on the indigenous peoples of the area. The irrigation systems they were able to build were really incredible. They made hundreds of mounds perpendicular to the flow of flood rivers, which slowed down surging waters and gave people the ability to control their direction. They controlled how much water went where, and even created reservoir lakes that held water during the dry season. The video even said that modern day engineers have tried to find a way to improve on the design but can't. It's simple and it works!

We were blown away by the detail of the gold ornaments on display. There were all kinds of pendants and jewelry, even golden nipple shields (seriously, what kind of combat requires those???). It was the kind of stuff that you look at and wonder how in the world anyone could make it without a machine, a true testament to the skill of its makers. The place was pretty packed and as we walked around we saw huge groups of old white people. Just about every plaza was filled so we think there must have been a cruise ship or two in port. It's a shame they will only get to see a tiny sliver of Cartagena. To each his own but that is definitely not our kind of traveling!

I think today was the first time I came to a very happy realization: no fast food! We have yet to see one single McDonalds, Burger King, or Starbucks (sorry Jessica :) This is a pretty touristy city, so I'm really surprised the chains haven't overrun the place yet. Even Cusco, Peru had the Golden Arches. Kudos to Cartagena! Nothing strips a place of its authenticity and exoticism faster than a billboard for a Big Mac.

Twenty minutes after getting to the gold museum we pulled out the guide book to figure out our next stop. Just a short walk away was the convent and church of San Pedro, a saint canonized for his work with the black slaves brought in through the port. As soon as we walked in through the massive, ornate doors we saw the entrance point and a wall of men (tour guides) eagerly waiting to pounce on the next person to walk in. I did a 180 and we sat in the shade outside of the church, googling reviews to see if it was really worth it. One of the street vendors selling cigars (they're all Cuban, of course) tried to tempt me. It was a hard sell considering I don't smoke, and he got the message pretty fast. But he loved my backpack! He looked it all over, naming off all the country patches I had (one for every country I've been to) and finally looked at me with a disappointed face. "Where is Colombia?". I'll get one soon, I swear!

We spent ten minutes looking at pictures and reading blogs about the convent. Brittany is never a fan of touring churches in the first place, and I just hate getting hassled because there was no way I was paying for a guide. Tripadvisor said it was a must-see, so we bit the bullet, paid the entrance fee and walked in, ready for an onslaught. I guess I got worked up for nothing because only one of the men out of the whole group stood up to ask if I wanted a guide. I said no and he sat back down. It was a scratch your head type moment because they usually swarm you, but I'm totally cool with how it went down!

The church was three levels of beautiful colonial architecture, open air balconies and a jungle-like courtyard complete with parrots and macaws. To the right was the church itself. We explored room after room of artwork and relics, finally ending up in the cathedral. It isn't St.Peter's in Rome, but it was impressive. The ceilings were very high and adorned with pane after pane of beautiful stained glass. The colors and scenes were unusually vibrant, so I can't imagine that the glass is as old as the church (of course, being too cheap to hire I guide I'll never find out). The most unique and unusual part of the cathedral is the alter itself. It's all dedicated to San Pedro and adorned with larger than life sculptures of him, but we were surprised to find his visible corpse at the bottom of the altar. His bones are laid out, dressed to the nines. You can see his skull clear as day. Strange but memorable. After you've visited four or five of these places they all start to blur together, but I don't think I'll forget the one with the corpse!

Speaking of being dressed to the nines (and where in the world did that expression come from?) the monks and nuns wore full-length robes and head coverings. We were sweating up a storm in shorts and t-shirts. We didn't get very close to any of them but I'm guessing none of them smelled lemony fresh :) I wish I had a picture to post because their clothing was very interesting to see outside of a History channel special, but I didn't want to appear disrespectful so the camera stayed in my pocket most of the time.

One extremely steep and narrow staircase built into the foundation and supporting column of the building wound its way up to the third level. Getting up there gave you a really good view of the stained glass, and got you up close to an organ that must have been twenty feet tall. I would have loved to hear it play; organs have such a rich and hard to imitate sound. On the other side of the church we found lots of small exhibitions of African and Haitian art, apparently meant to represent the cultures of local and enslaved people throughout the area's history. I learned a lot here. Everything looked pretty, but the exhibits helped you to understand the underlying religious significance of what you were seeing. Just about everything I saw here was something I might buy at the market, but not anymore. Even the basic styles of the Haitian paintings were related to Voodoo, and the African masks symbolized far worse. I never knew this, but those masks are supposed to contain the spirits of dead ancestors, warriors you've killed, etc. The idea is that you wear the mask and it imparts the strength of its spirits on you, but only if you believe in its power. I actually have one of these things at home from our honeymoon in the Windward Islands. I think I'll be getting rid of it now...

After wandering the church for a while we took a breather in the open courtyard, and it took Brittany about .2 seconds to find a cat to play with. I spent some time checking out the macaws. Wow are they beautiful! Unfortunately their beaks give me the heeby jeebies. Those things can crush rocks; how easy would it be for them to take off my finger? Brittany tried to convince me they weren't plotting to eat my presumably delicious digits, but I'm no fool. I admired them from a few feet away. I'm glad they were there but it's a little sad to see them cooped up. It was an incredible feeling to see those birds, which I had only ever seen in a cage at Bush Gardens, flying wild in Peru. Every time we go down south and see these birds we decide we (well, I) want one and then return home to discover that they cost thousands of dollars. I like the birds but sheesh, I could fly back to Peru and see them there for that kind of money! Plus I'd probably have a hard time figuring out how to trick Brittany into cleaning up all the bird poop.

We lounged around for another half hour and decided it was siesta time. On our way back to our outrageously uncomfortable hostel bed (this thing is literally crumbling to pieces) we passed an empanada stall. I thought this could be a home run; cheap and delicious. They cost about a dollar and are the size of basketballs. Unfortunately, when you get a chicken empanada they apparently cook the entire chicken into it. On the very first bite I crunched into a thick bone. Blech! Upon further inspection, the whole thing was full of them. I basically had to dump out the contents, scrape the meat off the bones, stuff it back into the deep fried casing and then eat it. Way more work than it's worth, but I did save a few bucks!

We jumped into bed for our thirty minute siesta, which turned into a four hour nap. Vacations are great! I booked our shuttle to Santa Marta for tomorrow and we got ready for tonight's meeting at the local Kingdom Hall. There are a LOT of Halls in the area so we picked one not too far away and headed to the street to get a taxi. It's a pretty easy process here, just go to a busy corner and look foreign. They honk their horns from a block away to get your attention. Make eye contact with the driver and you're good to go! We had the address and the driver knew the general area, but we must have circled the block for a good five minutes before he finally pulled over to ask for directions from some people on the street. Brittany and I don't remember much from Spanish class, but we do remember how we were taught to say Jehovah's Witnesses. It sounds very different here. Nobody pronounces the "s" in anything. It isn't "buenas dias", it's "buena dia", and "gracias" becomes "gracia". It isn't too hard to figure out once you know what to look for, but we have a hard time understanding things as it is. The funky accent doesn't help :)

The Kingdom Hall looked very small from the outside, and when we got there a group of friends was already waiting at the gate to be let in. There was no parking lot; everybody walked to get there! When we got inside the Hall opened up to a large auditorium; it was way bigger than I was expecting. Only two people there spoke a few words of English (out of about 75) so there were lots and lots of handshakes but very little talking. One brother said in his best broken English that all we needed to understand is love. And there was plenty of that! We kept finding ourselves trying to talk to the brothers in French. It makes me think that we could really make some progress if we went somewhere that spoke French and no English; we just need that push. I'll need to do some research to find a place like that, because it definitely isn't Paris. A sister that had taken a year of english in school many years ago sat with us so we could at least follow the scriptures. We definitely knew we weren't in Florida; the Hall is cooled by open air and there were tiny geckos crawling around on the ceiling. It didn't rain while we were there, but if it had the water would have run down the inner walls of the Hall and flowed out through narrow gutters cut into the floor. The meeting was the highlight of the night and we have lots to share with our group back home!

We said our goodbyes and walked a block from the Hall to get a taxi home. Probably two minutes later we passed a big group of well dressed people walking out of a building. Sure enough, it was another Hall! There must be huge growth in the area because the Hall we went to had four congregations meeting there, and there was another one just a couple of miles down the road.

We went back to La Ceiba (the juice bar) for another cheap pizza dinner and finished it off with some lattes. It must have taken the poor woman ten minutes to make those things and they only cost about a dollar each. I actually felt guilty paying so little, but snapped out of it pretty quickly :) We've got a four hour shuttle ride to Santa Marta tomorrow, and I'm getting pumped up for the trek. The shuttle's supposed to be here at 9am. Experience tells me we'll be doing good to see it by 9:30...
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Joe Barber on

We look forward to your updates each night. I really want to join you on one of you adventures, you will have to work on Kim for me. Have fun! Joe and Kim Barber

jhenley87 on

Thanks Joe! I'm glad you guys are enjoying it. It's a lot easier to keep up with now that I can do it on my iPad. I'm up for a trip with you any time. The only danger is that we'll get into a competition of who can spend less money haha

Juan claudio on

Yeah the accent's pretty odd lol. Did you like the lulo? wow i never realized cartagena was so pretty. And you packed meeting clothes?

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