A hot, sticky and rather uncomfortable 5 hours in a minibus with barely working aircon was the price we had to pay for bypassing those dastardly taxi driving scammers. Arriving in Cartagena, we had booked an Airbnb in the Getsemeni district. Our host greeted us with her two French Bulldogs, Cosmo and Junior and all was well again. Sally had pulled another accommodation blinder.
After filming an episode for his TV show, ‘No Reservations’, Anthony Bourdain suggested “Its ludicrous that this place exists and everyone does not want to live here”.
Cartagena had humble beginnings starting life as an abandoned fishing village, when in 1533 Spanish Commander Pedro de Heredia landed and started building a settlement of his own. Discovering that the local Sinus Amerindian tribe were buried in tombs rammed full of all their gold, silver and treasures, grave robbing became the order of the day with the port quickly growing on the back of this plundered wealth. These riches attracted all sorts of European pirates and interestingly with links to my hometown (Plymouth UK) after one Sir Francis Drake took the city in 1586. He charged an extortionate $200 million in today’s money ransom (no wonder he built such a nice place at Buckland Abbey in Devon).
Another interesting point is that Drake and his crew are credited with inventing (or at least popularising) the Mojito . After the siege of Cartagena, several of his crew fell ill. Looking for a cure, he sent envoys ashore in Cuba to speak with the native peoples. His men came back with a drink made from a primitive form of rum, lime juice, and mint! Everyday’s a school day.
After Drake, Spain poured a mind boggling $200 trillion (today’s figures) into fortification to protect their wealth. The port grew to the largest in the Americas, holding raw materials from all over South America for export while becoming the major slave trading hub for the country, adding even more to the City’s riches.
Inside the walled City that historic wealth is apparent everywhere and is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage site with the most exquisite colonial architecture we have seen anywhere on our travels.
The Palace of Inquisition, cited as one of Cartagena’s best, although that point may have been lost on the thousands of Jews, heretics and other non-Catholics who were tortured and publicly executed there. Exploring the narrow streets, high end hotels, restaurants and shopping mixed with rather too many street hawkers and beggars including frequent coffee stops was the order of the day, it really is a fascinating city. It is also a popular stop off for the cruise liners.
Sally on top of her finding quirky things to do, instructed me to take off the wife beater and put on a shirt as I was taking her out to dinner. We duly set off to the San Diego District Women’s Prison for a slap up meal at the city’s newest restaurant called ‘El Interno’ (or The Inmate) where she had booked us in. You actually go into the prison.
A project where top chefs design the menu training the women in the preparation and service of fine food. This enables the inmates to gain a usable skill set before release. There was the added bonus of a day off their sentence for each day of work in the kitchen and was a great incentive to them. We enjoyed an absolutely cracking meal prepared by extortionists, drug traffickers, robbers and murderers who are considered minimum risk. That actually beggars the question what maximum risk would be?
Back to base and a bit of excitement as they were filming for Netflix, Queen of the South. Certain places at certain times you pick up that perfect vibe. One is sat on a balmy summer evening at Bantham Beach (UK) with a cold beer, gourmet burger from the Gastrobus http://www.gastrobus.co.uk, ice cream, friends, live music and everything seems just right. Get the picture?
Getsemeni has that same relaxed feeling. Evenings were spent in Trinidad Square, people watching from one of the many bohemian cafes, eating great food, surrounded by colourful streets, chilled friendly people in a great atmosphere. Bourdain was right it is a gem of a place and staying longer would be easy.