We were both initially a bit disappointed in Cartagena.
For me, my ideal place is a quaint, quiet town where people keep to themselves and there’s only a cafe/bookstore and a posh epicurean shop that regularly stocks Manchego cheese. One of Ian’s ideal places is a social anchorage, where, blissfully oblivious to the risk of food poisoning, 120 sailors will organize a potluck Christmas dinner, as was his experience in 2006 in Cartagena.
When we first arrived, after a bureaucratic and expensive check-in, we headed into the old city, which is hot, bustling, and packed with local holiday tourists. Way too overstimulating.
“It’ll grow on you,” Ian reassured me. During his last circumnavigation, he was here for four months and the marina, Club Nautico, hosted a potluck dinner at Christmas. Colombia is one of his favourite countries and Cartagena was one of the highlights of his last trip.
But since then, things have changed in Colombia. There has been a very successful peace agreement between the government and the rebels in 2016 ending a 52-year civil war. And Club Nautico has moved on. Before, 90% of their clientele were international cruiser sailboats. Now, 90% of their clientele are the thriving Colombian middle-class who prefer powerboats. And apparently (or should I say, mercifully), the powerboat folks do not do potluck at Christmas.
So we both had to shift our expectations. I had to adjust to that Latin American pulse. Ian had to reset his expectations regarding the anchorage. On one hand, the anchorage is a pumping, partying, rolling anchorage of passing speedboats all day long, many playing loud music – a cover of Elton John’s Rocketman being the most popular. On the other hand, the closest grocery store is amazing and stocks an endless supply of Manchego.
Once I caught up on sleep after getting through The Washing Machine, and I wasn’t agitated and angry that this place is loud and friendly, we started to take it all in. To begin with, Colombia is a COVID-conscious country, having been slammed this past June. Vaccination rates are high and Cartagena has COVID measures comparable to Toronto circa-October.
So it all felt relatively unfettered to experience Cartagena, a beautiful old walled city with well-preserved architecture from the 15th century. The highlights have been:
- Sitting in artist Botero sculpture-littered-plazas with cafes serving ceviche and mojitos at noon while bearing witness to a wedding through the open doors of an old cathedral
- Patio dinners with ceviche and gin Basilico cocktails
- Rooftop bars with a sunset view of the plaza while sipping pisco sours (and eating ceviche)
- The Museo de Arte Moderno showcasing Latin American art from the 1950s and small side streets in Getsemani barrio with local contemporary artists working in open-air studios draped in bougainvillea
- And friendly taxi drivers, ours was Luis, who will shuttle all over town, calling all their contacts to try and find the mRNA covid booster or a machine shop to custom fabricate a backup stainless steel bolt for the autopilot (my aversion to hand steering means I do not want that puppy to break)
Finally, we also celebrated Ian’s completion of a circumnavigation. One way of looking at a circumnavigation is going around the world but you can spiral, climbing the latitudes and never cross your path. Another way of looking at it is when you “cross a path”. He sailed around the world but hadn’t ended up in any of the same places twice until we arrived in Cartagena. We had a drink of pisco from the Easter Island Maoi bottle that is mounted on the wall of the boat that Ian got in 2007. This bottle has yet to complete its own circumnavigation.
Now we’re heading off to the San Blas Islands in Panama where there will be no regular internet. Happy New Year everyone ❤