Cartagena

by lwsaville

I stayed a bit longer in Cartagena than perhaps I would’ve planned on. The close quarters on the boat provided prime territory for the spread of the common cold and I was one of the lucky winners. But I’d made it to Colombia! And I was expecting around every corner for people to be dancing salsa in the street. My unreal expectations were not fulfilled. Partly because I’m too much of a stooge to stay up late enough for the real salsa action to start (arriving on Monday does nothing to help). Of course people aren’t dancing in the street when it’s so hot out. Salsa music does however emanate from doorways and windows; salsa is listened to by the average person.

I found the people to be quite warm and curious as I went about my little daily tasks. Cartagena is certainly a tourist destination with a whole set of people making their livings off visitors. The very pretty colonial interior (inside the walls) contrasted slightly with where I was staying in Getsemaní, a living neighborhood. You can get anything you like in Cartagena. I walked passed a woman at night and she hissed to get my attention and showed how well she could suck on a random object she had. I also met a coke dealer who used to sell next to the Salvation Army in downtown Denver CO after he offered to show me where the girls were at (on the benches waiting of course) and then proceeded through the list of goods on offer before he realized I didn’t want anything and we chatted normally (they’re all very kind about it, small world). On the whole Cartagena is beautiful with it’s restored colonial bits and it’s run down lived in bits as well. The people were friendly on a level I’d not experienced since Mexico.

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This man was almost always at his sewing station when I walked by on my home street. To me one of the more cherished bits of Latin America is their thriftiness. Coming from a largely throw-away culture in the US (yes it’s shifting) to see people mending old clothes and things of that nature is refreshing. You can even find a vendor on the street selling unpaired used shoes.

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Ubiquitous pigeon on pretty balcony.

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Within the walls of Cartagena they work hard to keep everything fresh, clean, and colonial (the prices go accordingly).

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Lots of churches.

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Clock face of the same.

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Man in rapture feeding pigeons?

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Always time to sit and read the paper.

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Struck up a conversation with this sweets seller when I stopped on the street looking curiously into the famous “Donde Fidel” salsa club.

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Not sure what the purpose is but these strung empty cans caught my eye.

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The benches after the clock tower gate to the old walled town. The same on which the prostitutes sat at night when I met the drug dealer who worked in Denver.

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Some iconic sculptures with skateboarders hanging out working their flat-ground game.

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The sewing man packing it in for the night. I was always eager to have my next glimpse.

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Kids playing football in front of a church in Getsemaní. Out of the picture there are benches in a semi-circle that fill with friends, couples, and families at night, street vendors on hand for a snack or beer.

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Getsemaní sports some great graffiti.

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Getsemaní graffiti.

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Getsemaní grafitti.

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Run down entrance.

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Getsemaní grafitti.

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Local man leaving local shop.

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Kids playing ball in the street. Street activity sees a sharp spike towards dusk and into the night when it starts to cool off.

Some of my more interesting and favorite experiences in the bigger cities are when I go on a mission for something. Sometimes I’m looking for an ingredient for my kitchen setup (of course item size/weight and integrity of the oat are high on my list). Sometimes it’s a pair of underwear to replace some that mysteriously disappeared. I see more of a place that way and I end up talking to more people. Some times I don’t know I’m on a mission.

Having forced myself to stay up late on a Wednesday to attempt to at least see some dancing, I was sitting at Donde Fidel’s and one of the patrons had a pair of claves (the musical instrument that plays the backbone in salsa) that he would from time to time play (at his table with his friends!). I thought, what kind of a person brings claves to a salsa spot to occasionally play the clave (they like salsa in Colombia…)? It got me thinking that I should have something to play rhythms on (thought placed in back of head for further/later development).

The next day upon forcing myself to walk around the neighborhood to look for good photos (I get lazy on city layovers) I spotted a broken broom handle on the sidewalk. I kept walking and thought, hmmm, maybe if there’s a wood-shop they could cut it down for me and I could have some really cheap claves. On the next block I beheld a wood-shop. Trying to explain what I wanted proved difficult as I wanted to be sure they’d cut it before I went back to pick up the handle (what a strange gringo…). Went back for the handle and the guy cut it up for me and I tried it out. It was okay and I was pretty excited but now knowing what I was looking for the guy insisted these were terrible and that I needed something made of better wood and rummaging through a pile found something. He told me he could sell the piece of wood and some other guy could turn and cut it. So we went for a walk and set up the deal with the other guy in his cave-like crowded work-shop. So I’ve now got a pair of handmade rare tropical hardwood claves for which I paid a mere $4.44 (another example of resourcefulness in Latin America).

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Scene after making my way into the back of the shop where the lathe was. Guy rocking table legs all day long.

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Guy showing me how to appropriately use the claves he made for me.

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Guy back at his work on the table legs as I leave.

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And the finished product!

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