Charmed by Colorful Cartagena

Bienvenido a Colombia!  Bienvenido a Cartagena! 

      I could not have asked for a more captivating place to arrive in Colombia, or South America for that matter.  It's a magical seaside paradise nestled underneath the Caribbean Sea blending Colombia, Caribbean, and Spanish culture—a real life Pirates of the Caribbean setting. However, there is a dark side to Cartagena’s history. Cartagena was imperialized by Spanish Catholics in the early 1500s as a key port in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and became a hub for the inquisition in South America before Colombia liberated itself through revolution in 1810. Despite all this, today it's an utterly narcotizing destination, in more ways than one, and you should certainly put a trip to Cartagena on your bucket list.  The food is exquisite, the women extraordinary, the pastel colors intoxicating, the history fascinating, and the streets vibrating with life—albeit in many senses a dark beauty.

      With its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, Cartagena is a buffet of some phenomenal seafood. Ceviche, ceviche , and more ceviche.  Even for a seafood hater like me, It was extraordinary--the octopus ceviche I had the first night blew me out of the water.  Anthony Bourdain was onto something when he visited this gem of a city.  Visiting Cevichería and following in his foot steps to chow on more ceviche was uncanny.  It was all perfectly seasoned with lime, mandarin, mint, coriander, garlic, salt, and olive oil; even the shrimp I had (testing my alleged shellfish allergy) was exquisite.  The jam packed flavors of meals like this and the sweet fruits like naranja, guyabanana, coco, papaya, mango, pineaplle , and maraquipa were a tremendous delight to my taste buds.  Kicking back while sipping on aguardiente--a Colombian anise flavored alcohol--and mojitos atop the walled city fortifications to watch the sun set beyond the oceanic horizon was incredibly lush, to say the least.  Don't believe me?  I'd argue my photos prove otherwise.

    The food was extraordinary, but the women even more so. Thanks to the pop culture prevalence of dance (baile) music in Colombia--cumbia, bachata, champeta, salsa, and reggaeton--the women of Cartagena seemingly have dance ingrained into their dna. Whether it’s salsa lessons in the hostel, a local bar, or even one of the clubs, nightlife in Cartagena transforms into a symphony of sensuality. And the vibrant pastel colors of Cartagena serve as a perfect complement to this beautifully vibrant and vibrating sensuality. On the surface it's an intoxicating gallery of beauty, but bubbling beneath the surface is the dark side of Cartagena: prostitution.  Around the Walled City many of these enchanting women—the vast majority of which are from Venezuela—stand smiling, hoping to lure some tourists to the bedroom in order to make a living.  Even Tinder is at least 90% escorts advertising themselves to a millennial audience.  It's a sad, sad reality that the hustle of the body is all too real here.

      In addition to the hustling prostitutes are the hustling parceros.  Lining the small cobbled streets of Cartagena are enterprising youths selling cerveza, Cuban cigars, cigarillos, bracelets, trinkets, and of course any and all drugs under the sun.  According to these parceros, dozens of which are all called Tony Montana--Scarface--they have "the best in Colombia, the best whatever you want. Coca, cocaína, weed, anything the best. Puro calidad, the best quality in all Colombia."  And they all offer the service to take it home and try it out and pay later, a very clever way to insure money changes from tourists wallets into their hands.  As Pablo Escobar said, " Plata o Pluma, " money or lead.  One way or another they would get the money; talk about sketchy. The hustle is real and I certainly will go with a hard pass on any and all of it. There’s enough enchanting energh, storied history, and narcotizing beauty to stay in front of the curtain.

This magically colorful and captivating city was a fortuitous gift.  Cartagena certainly charmed me with its colorful sights and beautifully chaotic energy. I've been incapacitated by ceviche, captivated by the beauty of the city, enchanted by the women--who are the only thing hotter than the weather, and even escaped to an island paradise on Barú for a day.  I hit the full send to South America and fate sent me to the perfect paradise to liftoff into my journey.  

Muchas graciás Cartagena.  Estuve un buen tiempo que no es possible para olvido.