We got into Cartagena late yesterday afternoon (May 14th), and had time to explore the old city a bit by taking a walk along the walls at sunset.
Our hotel, the Hotel Bantu, is very centrally located in the old city, and has a beautiful interior courtyard complete with a pair of toucans flying around freely.
This morning, as we left our room, there they were! Being met by a toucan hopping down the hallway of your colonial style hotel is a wonderful and whimsical way to start the day. And, so it went.
We met our group early and left for a tour of the the highest vantage point in Cartagena, the church called “La Popa”, which overlooks the whole city of Cartagena. It’s been raining this morning, so the vantage point isn’t all that great, but perhaps Jim and I can come back later this week.
Our local guide, Katty Sarmiento, then led us on a walking tour of the center part of the walled city (called, appropriately, El Centro). The colonial and Republic-style architecture is dreamy and well-restored. However, it is really hot and humid, so we break to go off on lunch on our own. We tried a restaurant chain called “Crepes & Waffles”, which is a local Colombian chain started as a social benefit program to train single mothers and give them marketable skills by employing them in the restaurants. It’s been a huge success, both financially and socially, and they now have 38 restaurants all over Colombia. They also serve about 20 flavors of gourmet gelato.
Jim and I headed off to the local dive shop to make final preparations for our dive trip on Monday, and then headed back to the hotel to cool off again before we all headed out as a group this evening.
First up on the agenda was a cumbia dance lesson, which is the original dance form originated by the slaves working in this coastal region of Colombia. The guys were given hats, and the ladies were given long skirts, and then our talented teachers Mauricio (“Mauro) & Jessica at the dance school called Crazy Salsa proceeded to give us cumbia lessons. The attached video pretty much tells the whole story.
Once we got done, our trip leader Ernesto had planned another local treat for us. There are open sided wildly painted local buses called chivas which are used by the locals here in Colombia.
Part of the experience is that frequently, on the weekends, bands play music and get the crowd ready for the weekend on their drive home. Ernesto had arranged to rent a whole chiva for us for about 45 minutes so we could enjoy this local experience. We boarded the bus, and then made a quick stop to buy beer, which was greatly appreciated after working up a sweat in our cumbia lesson. Then the bus set off with its three man band, consisting of a guy playing what looked like a giant cheese grater, a guy playing a large bongo drum and a guy playing an accordion. We made up for any lack in musical or vocal talent with sheer volume. Then our newly-made friend, Karen, showed us how to us the vertical pole holding up the roof of the bus to pole dance. Most of us got up to dance, which was a little difficult for the guys because the roof was low. But we drove along the coast and through some of the newer upscale parts of town, as well as the edge of the old town, dancing like crazy and belting out the lyrics to classics like Guantanamera, and La Bamba. The chiva dropped us back in the old section of town a couple of blocks from our hotel, and we were sad to see them go. Jim and I agree that this evening is one of the highlights of the entire trip!!