A rude 3AM alarm woke us Thursday; sleepwalking our way through a familiar pack-up process we Ubered to the MEX airport on-time by 4AM. Our flights through Panama went smoothly and by mid-day we cleared the small Cartagena airport and were taxiing past the Ciudad Viejo to our AirBnb apartment at near Bocagrande’s El Laguito.
The Bocagrande peninsula is Colombia’s answer to Miami Beach…a soulless strip of beach-front high rises packed with tourists, pools and bad restaurants. But we’re on a budget and rooms are cheap so….
…We’re now in the Caribbean, and the service and hygiene standards are a bit more relaxed. The room wasn’t ready, so I stalled they boys at the building’s small pool while Sue shopped for groceries. When we finally were able to enter our apartment, we found it large but spartan, so we set about making some minor requests like a patio door handle, toilet paper, soap, and a coffee pot. At least their was AC in the bedrooms… Cartagena swelters.
After a few recovery hours I dragged the family through the steamy streets of Cartagena’s Old Town and we staved off tweener hanger attacks with a Subway sandwich before finally landing in cute but expensive La Mulata for local eats. After a very long day there wasn’t enough energy for evening explorations, so we taxied home to the cool comfort of our rooms.
Friday morning we returned to a free walking tour that Sue had booked, and enjoyed a proper introduction to the Old Town. Benefitting from a magnificent natural harbor, the City became the northern portal for South America, Spain’s primary coastal Caribbean port, the center for slave trade and for storing the gold and treasures extracted from locals. It thus attracted pirate attacks from the likes of Sir Francis Drake and Edward Vernon. And in 1811 – early in the battle for independence – the Cartagenians endured a 4 month siege: 6,000 residents died of starvation and disease before they capitulated to Pablo Morillo’s Spanish blockade. 10 years later when Simon Bolivar’s forces finally liberated Cartagena he bestowed its well-deserved moniker: La Heroica, the Heroic City.
After the tour we tried a few sights, but just wandering is the best way to see this old town. We found a pleasant cool spot for lunch then started a quest for gelato; mission
accomplished I set off to buy a Panama hat. Max looked so good in my hat that we returned to buy him one too. A half day of Cartagena heat was enough for us all, so we returned
to our breezy 9th floor apartment, it’s A/C and pool. In the evening we strolled to a favorite local fish shack Kiosko El Boney for tasty calamari, sea bass and a cold one.
Ben work Saturday with a nasty stomach flu (oops), so we took the day off from touring while he convalesced. Sue wrote and I researched our upcoming Spanish travels. Max and I slipped out midday to scout the local beaches and wound up spending a pleasant few hours at the Hilton’s pool. In the afternoon I set out in search of water and groceries, and slipped into the Hotel Caribe, the Grand Dame of Bocagrande, and the scene of the 2013 Secret Service Sex Scandal. This week it’s a lovely, leafy, genteel old place, hosting events for Cartagena’s 57th annual International Film Festival. Later that evening Sue and I strolled over for a light dinner by the pool.
For Sunday I’d planned a boat trip to a local island, but with Ben on the mend we opted for a simpler, safer day of diversions at the Hilton. The air conditioned game room with a Sony Playstation, pool and waterslide were fine therapy, and soon enough he was back in the pool, all play. That evening Sue and I slipped out to finish off the streets of Cartagena… we’d missed out on weekend Salsa, but still found lively streets and hip haute cusine at Demente in Getsemani.