I would go back in a heartbeat. Cartagena is magical. Truly. The city is vibrant, the food-delicious, and the people living in this city are so friendly. Friendliness isn’t always apart of the bargain when you are traveling, this I have learned. It is also particularly unique in Cartagena’s case. Cartagena is a city, like many in the Americas and the world, built by slave labor. This city has seen a great deal of gentrification over the past decade and the families originally living here have felt the effects and some say the gentrification of Cartagena is destroying the rich black history of this port city. Particularly and most recently in the area of Getsamani, a historically working class black neighborhood known for its thriving art scene. Here you will still find many locals living among mostly American and European tourists and hipster migrants. However, homes have been sold by long time residents and converted into boutique hotels and guesthouses. Fancy restaurants with expensive menus frequented by the tourists sit beside family run restaurants and food carts frequented by locals. I wonder how long the cohabitation will last and it sickens me if the soulful atmosphere of Getsamani is eradicated and her long time residents are pushed out completely of the city that their ancestors built.
Obviously, we know we are part of the problem. Foreigners invading the space of others, that is us…but we still long to explore so many crevices of this world so we try to be incredibly mindful about how we travel and how we spend our money while traveling. Whenever possible we opt to buy from local artists, from small businesses, and local owned restaurants and cafes. We also love staying in Airbnbs. It is amazing to stay in an actual home with the amenities that come with it all while paying people living in the communities we are staying in. The owners of the Airbnbs we have stayed in almost always give us a guide for the neighborhood we are visiting as well as assisting us with anything we might need whether it is random information or letting us check in late or early.
In Getsamani we stayed in the beautiful home of Diobeth and Elizabeth, a lovely couple who are originally from Cartagena. We also had the pleasure of spending time with Diobeth’s grandmother who was staying with the couple while recovering from surgery. Kole’s Spanish skills are stellar(especially in comparison to my pitiful skills, it’s been years but I am still in the silent phase – I know, pretty pathetic) so we were able to speak a while and learn about her and her life. Diobeth and Elizabeth’s 300 year old colonial style home is massive and also houses their film school. It is located in the front of the home while the rental is farther in the back. Our space was a huge open 2 story space with our own separate entrance and bathroom. The decorations were simple and minimalist and we felt so completely comfortable there. Our favorite part from this listing had to be the small pool that was steps from our door. It was so luxurious to take nighttime dips whenever we pleased. Oh, and the listing was right in the center of Getsamani, steps away from Plaza Colon.
Isla de Tierra Bomba – You must go… This was the most perfect isolated beach I have ever been to. I mean, I am not a connoisseur of beaches by any means. I still prefer mountains and forests to beaches and I had to look up how to spell connoisseur so don’t trust me, trust the pictures I post and make an informed decision based on the knowledge you possess about…beaches and…pictures. I’ll stop now.
Getting there, we took a boat from Cartagena and we were honestly so lucky to find a boat driver that knew of a very isolated stretch of beach with a small hotel resort that only had two other couples lounging in their personal thatched spaces. The boat driver dropped us off at 10AM and said they would be back for us at 5:30PM. For about 10 USD we rented our space. A set up I loved and still miss. For the ten bucks we were able to afford two lounge chairs, two hammocks, a swinging bed, a pallet couch and pallet table that also acted as a box to lock away our valuables while we were swimming. The small hotel also had a small restaurant/bar that provided us with our lunch feast and countless fruity mixed drinks for me and Club Colombia beers for Kole. The day we spent there was languid and relaxed beyond measure. We went from napping, to sleeping, to swimming, to eating and drinking, and then repeated all listed while listening to soft instrumental music provided by the resort.
Street Art Tour – The street art of a city speaks volume. It is typical for us to search out a street art tour when visiting a new city and there are several servicing the city of Cartagena. We chose to go with the donation based tour. At midday a group of obvious tourists met in the center of Plaza Colon. Out of the group of twenty or so, I was the only person of color in attendance. Kole and I stood a bit aways from the group. Near us were a group of Afro-Columbians who were discussing the very white gathering. As the tour guide approached the center of the plaza to gather us tourists all together. The oldest woman in the group near us called out to me in Spanish asking what was this gathering was. Kole answered for me because like I said before, my Spanish skills are lacking. She chuckled and continued to speak to me even though Kole was obviously the only verbal out of us two. She said something along the I thought you were one of us. I smiled, nodded and said thank you. The exchange was bitter sweet. Yes, I am like her and the people surrounding her but I am also not. The ability to blend in is very rare for me and whenever I travel and feel as though I belong as long as my mouth is shut, I am happy.
Back to the street art tour, it was awesome! While our actual guide is less rememberable than others we have had in the past, the art present in the communities of Cartagena are remarkable. The tour was mostly concentrated in the the Getsamani area which was filled with gorgeous detailed murals. The art was never ending. Many of the works detailed the Afro-Columbian struggle in the city. You could feel the pain in the work but also a beautiful resiliency.
Cafe Havana – Walking into this joint feels as though you are walking back in time. Although their are more mainstream clubs in the Walled Old City, we chose to hit this more local spot where we could avoid a cover charge and over priced drinks. Live music started at 11 and people flooded the dance floor. Having taken some salsa classes back in the day while in university, Kole and I were filled with confidence and hit the floor. This club is packed though and it is difficult to maneuver but we found a tiny spot near the the stage that we commandeered. After some dancing and a drink at the bar we exited because we can be very frugal travelers and buying more drinks in the club is more expensive than heading to the local market. After hitting up the market we walked to Plaza Colon and people watched. There was live music, food trucks, a large group of women completing a Zumba class, and more.