"" Writer's Wanderings: Cartagena, Columbia

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cartagena, Columbia

It is amazing how things can change over the course of 12 years. Sometimes it’s in a good way and other times for the bad. In Cartagena’s case, the change has been good. Unimpressed with our first visit years ago, we were not enthusiastic about stopping at the port on this cruise through the Panama Canal. Memories of looking out from our balcony at a depressed housing area and then being shepherded around on our excursion huddled together to keep us from getting lost in the throng of vendors, beggars, and those of even less reputable interests did not make us excited about a second visit.

This port call could not have been more different. At the last minute, we joined a group from our ship that we had met online through the Cruise Critic forum. The tour guide, Dora (yes she actually add “the explorer” to her name) had come highly recommended and several previous cruisers had used her tour company.

Our ship, Celebrity’s Constellation, docked in a shipping port in the city. Shuttles were available to the shopping and old town area of the city. We met our guide on the dock and she led us to a very nice mini-bus with an amiable driver. As we drove on, we saw lots of new buildings, new construction projects, new roads and repairs in progress—lots to indicate this was not the depressed city it used to be.

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour to the highest point, La Popa, where there is an old monastery. I remembered the last time we were there. Someone thrust a three-toed sloth into my arms without asking me and wanted to charge a dollar for a picture. The sloth was still there but now the vendors are kept outside the courtyard and were much more polite.

Our walk through Old Town Cartagena was comfortable and interesting with a couple of stops at some churches and a museum. Vendors were still a bit aggressive but we never felt threatened as we had before. Perhaps that was due to the obvious security in the area. Several levels of guards, security patrols, police, and military (the more important the rank, the bigger the gun) were visible everywhere we went.

I loved watching the colorful ladies with huge bowls of fruit on top of their heads sashay up to tourists and ask if they wanted a picture with them—for a price, of course. They would work the crowd for a bit then find a shady place to sit down, pull out a big knife and cut slices from their watermelon to eat.

It was a great day and we were so glad to see the progress this city has made as it emphasizes the importance of change, growth, development, and attitude in order to preserve and increase its tourism industry. We will enjoy returning again.

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