Tuesday, March 18, 2008
A Day in Cartegena
"Last time you took me down one of these tunnels, I couldn’t walk for three days!" I was complaining to C, who grinned and pushed on, down the tunnel into the belly of the fort.
We’d come to the fort seeking shade as much as history. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas *was* the biggest fort the Spaniards had built in their colonies. It did dramatically tower over town, imposing its stony threat by sheer solid volume. But given the taxing humidity of the hot Caribbean coast, we were enticed by the promise of cool tunnels. They were shady, but I could only take a little bit of steep underground closed-in spaces before bolting up to the surface.
At the top of the fort were views of Cartagena’s walled historic center—where our hotel was—as well as of the nearby sea. The walls were intended to protect the city from pirates, but also from battles between countries. Cartagena was the conduit for the plundered riches of South America, which were being taken back to Spain.
Today the walls still feel protective. Colombia is so far a lovely place, but there is no ignoring its safety issues. Inside the walls, I felt safer than I had outside the walls, or over in also-walled-in Getsemani, where we’d gone to buy our Monday shuttle tickets to Taganga. This might be due to the heavy police presence.
In the heat of the day, I struggled not to lose focus on the colonial city, with its cathedrals, museums, and plazas. We stopped in the main Cathedral at one point, stumbling onto a student orchestra rehearsal. C worked, shooting footage for a project, while I simply sat on a pew and enjoyed the shade.
At dusk, the city came to life. Buskers danced in Plaza de Bolivar. Women sold homemade sweets by Puerto del Reloj. Horses trotted along, pulling tourists in carts. We sat on a bar balcony overlooking Plaza de San Diego, where we had a great view of a couple doing the tango for spare change. Finally, we headed back to our own hotel's square, Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, for a crisp-crust pizza.
"I love this. The restaurant is the sidewalk." Indeed it was. Customers order in a tiny carryout. The waitress then brings out two plastic chairs and a small stool. Patrons sit on the sidewalk across the street, alongside a park. The pizza ends up placed on top of the small stool.
Even better? The pizza was delicious.