It may seem like I’m giving short shrift to Cartagena, where we spent roughly 3-1/2 days, especially in contrast to the number of posts that I did on Bogotá. A few reasons – we didn’t do nearly as much – we really only had three “activities” that we did, one each day; we put in a fair amount of “down time”, either at the beach or pool; we didn’t eat out as much – Henry kind of reaches his limit of restaurant dining after a week or so, and so I acquiesced to a number of meals in the hotel.
Overall, it was not one of my favorite places – we didn’t dislike it, we just didn’t find it as interesting as we’d hoped. It’s great if you really do just want down time, you can easily just veg out at the beach or wherever, and really not do much of anything. Outside of the extremely touristy “walled city”, or “historic center”, there’s not much to do in the city – there are some monuments you can go visit, and we did a drive up to the top of the Cerro de la Popa, a church on top of hill, mostly known for its great views over the city, and, we arranged for a guide (Alfredo DeÁvila, tel: 3224934639, highly recommended, only speaks Spanish) to take us into the mangrove glades north of the main part of the city, and that was actually the best day – tranquilly floating through them, ending up at a secluded beach area and just relaxing, a guy who runs a little restaurant at the far end of the beach offered up a selection of fresh fish of the day, our choice of either fried, grilled, or stewed – we went for grilled and stewed.
Possibly what I liked least was the constant focus on money. First off, it’s far more expensive than Bogotá, by close to 50%. Everyone wants cash and gives you a hard time about using a credit card, even the hotel’s own contracted taxis kept trying to get us to pay with cash rather than just charge the service to our room. If you’re not careful, people will charge you extra for things – we had to correct a couple of taxi bills, and a couple of restaurant bills that had different or additional costs snuck in. And everywhere, someone has their hand out either begging, or trying to get you to buy something. Basically, there is no industry in Cartagena except tourism, at least within any of the areas that someone visiting is likely to end up.
Food-wise, it’s very different from the food scene in Bogotá. The cheap restaurants tend to be serving up basically fried or grilled fish, pretty much the same stuff we had on the beach, and with little variety. You can get fast food, which abounds, particularly fried food. The nicer restaurants are few in number, and tend to focus on local ingredients used in either relatively classic, or very modern, French style. In both ranges of cuisine there’s a preponderance of sweet, fruity sauces, and surprisingly for a Caribbean city, little to no spice, and if you ask, you’ll likely get nothing more than a bottle of one brand or another of tabasco pepper sauce.
Service is very different from Bogotá as well – it’s a bit stiffer, which may be mostly because they’re more used to dealing with high end tourists than anything else – it’s also very rushed. I think every restaurant we ate at, including the nice ones, a waiter was at the table before we’d even settled into our seats asking if we’d decided on a drink, a bottle of wine, whether we wanted water. How about a menu first? How about letting us grab a breath? And as soon as you set down your fork from taking the last bite on your plate, someone’s whisking it all away, regardless of whether someone else at the table is still eating – even things like, as soon as you take your bread rolls out of the breadbasket, someone runs over and takes the basket away. It wasn’t just one place, it was pretty much everywhere, low and high end.
So, on to the video..