Total distance travelled: 40,600 kilometres (25,217.39 miles)
Finally, probably around 2 months later than we’d expected, we had finally made it to the southern American continent.
A short taxi ride followed, duly shared with our English friends Chris & Faye, with whom we were soon to part ways (we’d booked accommodation in separate hostels), then it was a matter of locating our hostel amongst the busy streets of Getsemani, a suburb that borders the old historic heart of Cartagena.
What struck us immediately was the colour.
It was everywhere and took many forms. Street art, flowers and vines hanging from balconies and walls, indeed the walls themselves are festooned with colour.
As far as first impressions go, this was a fairly decent one.
We settled into our hostel, and by settled I mean dumped our bags, and then it was time for the short walk that would get us into the old town, Cartagena’s UNESCO listed historical drawcard.
It’s always an indicator of how charming a place really is, if despite the volume of tourists, the place can still captivate.
I think here, we found another of those…
The second thing that got us a little excited was food, or more specifically, the abundance of street vendors we’d spied, with all manner of carts offering a diverse range of wares, and the smells that usually accompany such activity.
Temptation eventually got the better of us, our first indulgence came in the form of Arepas, in this instance, filled with a delicious dollop of butter and grated cheese.
It was a solid offering to help us keep the energy (and cholesterol) levels up!
Possibly suffering from a little fatigue from our sea voyage (or the after effects of the previous nights bottle of rum), a long afternoon/evening this was never going to be, and as if queued by the setting sun, we followed our tired feet back to our hostel, ready for a more thorough inspection of the city on the morrow.
Waking to bright sunshine, we were immediately struck with the same impression of this colonial darling, but rather than be distracted by this beauty and charm, we were on a mission.
Sitting back a little from the old city of Cartagena, with commanding views indeed, is the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the largest fortress built by the Spanish anywhere in all of the Americas.
As you could imagine, we felt that this warranted a look!
Thankfully the stroll from our hostel (which was Mama Waldy’s for anybody that may be interested) to the fortress, was little over 15 minutes.
I say thankfully, however that isn’t to say that the morning heat hadn’t already done its best to try and have us working up a sweat!
On paying our admission, we opted out of both a paid guide, or forking out a little extra for an audio tour, prepared to just take in this imposing edifice in our own time and in our own way.
We made the ascent up the long and winding ramp, snaking our way past many large groups of visitors. Yep, it was busy!
The place was impressively big, and offered many different ways to navigate your way through the site.
A series of stairs and ramps connects the many levelled battlements, the most obvious means to get around.
If however, claustrophobia isn’t an issue, then a warren like maze of tunnels is also an option, constructed as a means of protection for the defenders, it is little wonder that this place was never assaulted!
It did come as a little surprise when we discovered how far this castle was from the water (meaning none of its cannon could fire upon approaching ships).
This however was deliberate, as its purpose was the defence of the landward approaches to the city, a direction of attack employed by opponents on many an occasion making it necessary (indeed pirate Henry Morgan sacked Panama City by travelling overland, and when the English conquered Havana, it too was a land assault).
When we’d had our fill of history, the hot morning that it was saw us jump at the chance for an icy Raspado (we’d developed a taste for these shaved ice, syrup drizzled treats during our week in Panama City).
With its many narrow, cobbled streets, Cartagena is an ideal city to explore on foot, at least the old town and Getsemani areas.
It was through this pursuit we stumbled upon many of our favourite things about this city.
Continuing the them of colour, is the street art, something impossible to miss in the Getsemani area at least. It is simply everywhere.
In fact so proficient are these street artists, we saw one wall of work that was completed in only a single evening!
Did we mention the food?
Thrown in our faces, was the apparent fact that for the first time since the delicious delights of Mexico, here was a country, or at the very least a city, with a wonderful street food scene.
But it extended off the street too, and it was perfect given the heat too, that we should find the best gelato since Mexico’s Guanajuato, and possibly the best of the trip full stop (similar to Guanajuato, the star for me was a flavour called Torta de Limon)!
By night, the place was just as good as by day.
True, many of the delicious street food vendors had by then called time on their days, but when they can make the place look as lovely as this (and lets be honest, the arteries do eventually need a break), can one really complain?
* Entrance into the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was $17,000.00 COP per person.
* Gelateria Tramonti, home to that most delicious commodity, Gelato, can be found on Calle de Ayos 4-50 in the old town.