Thursday, July 16, 2009

Our second tour in two days, I blame it on the heat.

If I haven’t mentioned it already, or often enough, I just want to talk about the heat of Cartagena. It was stinking hot and humid and at night it got cooler but the humidity never disappeared. We’d been in heat but this was different almost suffocating. Either that or the last few weeks in the rainy season of Central America had spoiled us. Regardless it made it hard to do anything especially once we had an air conditionned room which we spent the morning enjoying. Then we finally decided it was time to leave the refrigerator of a room and see a bit more of the city. Mostly because we needed more money to pay for the blessed room.

Unlike our attempt to change US dollars, it was straightforward and easy. The first bank machine we tried worked. That was a relief – since we hadn’t told the bank we were going to be in Colombia and they could have (should have) blocked the transaction. But for once we were the benefactors of the bank’s inefficiency. The other plus was that we were now near a tourism booth in the old city. Two days ago when we had walked by, we had been offered a tour of the city. At the time we weren’t interested. I'm not normally a fan of tours - they're usually more expensive than seeing things yourself, you don't spend enough time at the sights and you're automatically in a crowd. But today, the heat had us changing our minds. The same man was there offering the same deal. The $20 price sounded reasonable and the idea of getting to see some of the sights outside of the old city walls was appealing so we signed up.

Immediately we were whisked away by air conditioned taxi to the new area of Bocagrande to hop on the tourist chiva or old style bus. It was quite the climb to get in and out of the bus. And we were one of the few non-Spanish speakers on the bus, so the tour was in Spanish with broken English. Okay so maybe not quite the lazy tour we had thought it would be. But we were in the new city which we hadn’t been to. It was all modern with tones of tall buildings both residential and business built on a reclaimed land in a thin stip that juts out into Cartagena Bay. And 50 years ago it didn’t exist. Not terribly exciting to me but Adrian loves tall buildings. Then it was back up into the chiva (my arms are getting quite a work out)

Next stop was Los Zapatos Veijos monument, yep a pair of big old bronze shoes. They’re based on a poem where the author compared his love for the city to his love for an old pair of shoes because old shoes are always the most comfortable ones. Not quite the proclamation I would hope for but it was so popular with the Colombian tourists, the shoes were invisible under the hoards of tourists which quintupled when 5 more chiva tour buses pulled up and deposited their contents in front of us.

So it was back up into the chiva (oh my aching arms) and up to the old convent known as La Popa on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Adrian and I skipped the religious importance lecture in favour of taking in the spectacular views of the city. The grounds were pretty nice too. Then we climbed back up on the chiva (it got harder as my arms got more tired) and headed down the hill, past kids making and flying kites, to the fort. Seeing La Popa and the San Felipe Fort were the real reason we got on the tour. They were both a bit out of the way and between taxi fare and entrance fees, this guided tour was only slightly more expensive and a lot less hassle.

The fort was pretty impressive starting with the giant Colombian flag flying overhead (photo above). What was more impressive multilevel design of the fort. The different levels allowed the fort to defend itself even as parts of it were breached by attackers. We were also taken through the labyrinth of tunnels that connected all the levels. It was fun but there was very little shade up there on the top of the hill and Adrian and I found the energy totally being sapped from us. By the time we got to the next stop in the old dungeons of the old city, we decided to duck out. It had been three hours and we’d already walked around the old city on our own. So we snuck out and walked through the old city checking out a few more squares and churches we’d missed before even catching some of the music and dancing around them. We were both hungry and decided to have a bite to eat in the old city. Unfortunately the prices were ridiculous and definitely not backpacker friendly at most places so we ended up at the Colombian equivalent of Swiss Chalet which was still grossly overpriced but at least it was air conditioned. I think it was time we escaped the heat of the city before we spent all our money here.

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