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Free Range Colombia – Day 20: Enchanted

Originally, we thought we’d head to the northern coast of Colombia, spend the night in Cartagena and hop on a bus to Tayrona – a popular national park a few hours northeast of Cartagena. One American couple we met said Tayrona was definitely pretty, but not the best hike in the world. Hm. And the Spanish couple staying in the Amazon with us couldn’t stop going on about how “super enchanting!” Cartagena is. Hm. And we were tired of transportation. Getting to Tayrona from Cartagena requires a lot. Hm.

We stayed in Cartagena for three nights. Sometimes original plans need to be ditched for the sake of enchantment and the use of our own two feet.

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While we walked and walked through the walled old town on Thursday, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the place. The wall is fascinating in and of itself. What was once a barrier from outside forces is now a marker between old and new. Sort of. On the inside, the streets are narrow, the buildings colonial, the horse carriages plentiful, and the squares Spanish.

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The restaurants are also expensive, the knick-knack stores redundant, and the street salesmen aggressive.

On the other side of the wall, the traffic is noisy and incessant…and that’s really all I know. It’s loud. It’s a city with really rich and really poor. Thus, we chose to remain on the inside.

I finally decided that the interest (at least mine) lies in the history of the place, and the culture that grew out of it. It hardly felt like we were in the same country, as we shifted our museum visits from the Amazon’s ethnographic studies to Cartagena’s San Pedro Claver Covent – named after the Jesuit priest whose work supported the humanization African slaves. The ladies selling fruit on the street wore colorful Caribbean costumes, not dresses weaved with strings from jungle plants. The music bleeding out of stores included horns and salsa beats, the people spoke some sort of fast and sassy Spanish that I couldn’t understand, and air conditioning filled every café.

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After a day of walking around, I can say that the old town is the perfect combination of colonial Spanish, Caribbean, African and Colombian flavors. It is tourism, it is a fierce wall to walk on, it is good food, it is good music, it is sunsets, it is coffee, it is plazas, it is bright, it is color, it is sass. It is enchanting.

Cartagena Photo Moments:

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Elise is a native St. Louisan turned Chicagoan working as a teaching artist and singer. Ever since she first traveled throughout Europe on tour with a children's choir, she's been a happy traveler, having learned to trust her travel instincts and the value of a big, fat smile.
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