Hi Richard Lane here…
I’ve already blogged about the amazing Galapagos Islands, but also want to tell people about another wonderful, vibrant place which not everyone has heard of. It is the fascinating, tropical Caribbean city of Cartagena, on Colombia’s north coast, which was our first destination on our recent round-the-world extravaganza. As I reflect about Cartagena, I imagine striking Caribbean colours, pinks, ochre mustard yellows, strong minty greens, peeling paint on filigree balcony railings, coconut palm trees, and feel a hot, very hot, sun. Not to mention the taste of grilled kingfish, coconut rice, and plantain fritters, which seemed to be served up everywhere (fine for the first couple of days…).
My wife Liz and I stayed in the old part of the city, a UNESCO heritage site which is the old and amazingly well preserved Spanish colonial city, which dates back to 1533. These days Cartagena is much larger, with a population of just under one million inhabitants – but way back when, the city was a mecca for silver and gold mining, a haven for buccaneers and pirates, and, a hub for the slave trade. In fact along with Havana in Cuba, Cartagena was once one of the largest slave ports in the world, sad to say. There was an amazing Jesuit priest called San Pedro Claver, who, in the early 19th century, would spend hours living with the slaves down on the ships, oblivious to the foul conditions, in order to offer them some kind of spiritual recompense. One of Cartagena’s churches is named after this amazing man, which also contains his tomb.
I could go on for quite a while about the history and the amazing Simon Bolivar who led Cartagena and Colombia’s fight for independence from the Spanish in the early 19th century – but enough of the history lesson. For a blind person, Cartagena, rather like Havana, is one of those amazingly sensory cities (I was going to say sensual, though perhaps that could be misinterpreted), where the sounds, touch, taste and overall experience is something very different, very un-European, and very exciting. The permanently hot weather helps of course, and the Caribbean Sea is always warm and inviting. I hope others get a chance to visit, especially if it is to escape our gloomy northern European winter. One word of warning though – if you ever reach Cartagena and stay at the charming Hotel Pestagua, beware of a large, scary looking feline. This creature jumped into my lap while I was sipping a cool mojito cocktail and nearly caused a coronary.