April 11, 2017:
After a day at sea, we pulled into Cartagena, Colombia this morning before dawn. We are docked in the industrial port, next to the area of Cartagena called Manga. I have to say: Cartagena has the nicest cruise ship welcome center I have ever seen! It is lushly landscaped and has tons of tropical birds roaming free, so it makes for a really dramatic welcome!
Today, we scheduled a sightseeing tour with a local guide from Tours by Locals online. True to their reputation, they were prompt and ready for us the minute we stepped through the cruise ship terminal. Our local guide and driver took us first to the Fort of San Felipe, which is a very impressive fortification! It made Portobelo look like a child’s toy in comparison!
As you can see from this map, Cartagena is really a series of islands and peninsulas creating a great inner harbor, which is what made it so prized by the Spaniards as a transshipment point for all the riches of the new world. However, to get to the protected walled inner city, you had to pass through a series of fortresses, all protecting the approach to the old city.
Even though it was just after 8 a.m. when we arrived, we’re almost at the Equator here, and the sun was beating down and reflecting off the coral surfaces out of which the fort is built. The views from up here are really great, and the modern skyline serves as a good foil for the ancient walls of the walled city.
Next, we went into the old walled city and walked around on the walls for awhile. Then we watched a street artist paint a landscape on a mirror using his hands in about 2 minutes’ time. Shawn picked up an authentic “Panama Hat” (meaning it was made in Ecuador) from one of the ubiquitous street vendors. We passed by the Museum of the Inquisition and saw the window of denunciation, where Cartagenans could rat out those they suspected of heresy. Cartagena has many lovely squares where leafy green trees shelter you from the brutal heat. We stopped by one featuring the obligatory statue of iron Bolivar, and on the visit an “Emerald Museum”, which is really an emerald stop with some nice historical trappings about the emerald industry in Colombia. Then, the heat was really mounting, so we made a strategic decision to rehydrate with some of Colombia’s finest beers, Club Colombia.
We wandered over to the Plaza of Santa Domingo, which is lined with restaurants and bars, and took some photos with the fruit selling ladies. Then we wandered around the Plaza de Los Aduanas (the customs officers), which have also largely been converted into shops and some restaurants. The Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj) crowns this plaza. The walkway beneath it is the main entrance the old city.
We then visited the Cathedral of San Pedro de Claver, who is known as the Savior of the Slaves. San Pedro of Claver was a Jesuit priest who became stationed in Cartagena in 1610. Over the next 40 years, he ministered to the sick and dying slaves who arrived in Cartagena as part of the slave trade, and was worshipped by them. The Cathedral is refreshingly sparse and open (relative to other Spanish Cathedrals of the era, and adorned with some art made by the slaves he ministered to. The Cloister gardens are a cool and refreshing oasis. Once again, in Colombia, the stark contrasts are eye-popping, as there is a buxom, nude Botero brass sculpture located right outside the main door in the adjacent plaza.
We enjoyed a nice lunch in the old town, and then wandered around a bit more before heading back to the boat. This evening, we enjoyed Windstar’s marquis event; the outdoor barbecue on the main deck as we sailed away to Santa Marta.