We arrived in the steamy city of Cartagena de Indias after spending a week taking language lessons, albeit remaining surprisingly illiterate, in rainy Medellin. Now ensconced within the old Spanish colonial fortress we were relatively safe to gawk and awe at the magnificent colors of the wonderfully preserved architecture, but mostly at the magnificent colors.
We walked and walked throughout the old cobblestone streets, dodging the ever present horse buggy offering stylistic rides to one section or another, looking for new angles and new shadows to poke and prod our lens at. While bustling around town the one pervading thought that kept replaying itself was a quote from Anthony Bourdain in one of his traveling food shows, “I don’t know why more people don’t live here.” It was what I imagined Miami should look like without all its glitter and mid-century-modern style that I for one wish would just go away. This was style, and this was what style should smell like.
Steeped in history, Cartagena has a lot to see. Its pre-Columbian civilizations were masters of ceramic and gold work. The Spanish, with its guns-germs-and-steel, came to extract its riches of gold and silver and use it as a slave trading center all the while having to fend off multiple attacks by both pirates and privateers plundering these same riches. A few of the more notable sights we took in were the Spanish Inquisition museum with its gruesome looking instruments, the free gold museum which was worth a visit if for no other reason than a break from the midday heat, and lastly, the maritime museum where you can learn a little about the military strategies used to sack and defend the city throughout its Spanish rule. But more than anything, just strolling around the old streets and marveling at the well preserved buildings was worth our four day visit.
During the day, the city is remarkable. At night, however, magic rules and Cartagena begins to positively sparkle. The daytime cacophony of touts vying for your pesos and horn tooting taxis continuously marketing their services slowly fades, replaced by the pleasant clippity clop of horse drawn carriages as they pass by on cobblestone and the musicians taking their places on street corners and store front steps. Here you begin to witness the play of light from mimicked oil lamps casting long shadows against the deeply colored buildings. Magically transporting you back in time.