“It’s Colombia, not Columbia…”

By Linda Ferguson

This slogan appeared on mugs, T-shirts, and whatever on our recent trip to Cartagena. I suppose it was to sting us Yankees for always spelling the name of the South American country incorrectly. We are probably too ingrained with the Columbia of the north – the District of Columbia. Another catch phrase of the lovely week we spent there was vendors selling the Colombian futbol team shirt for “Almost free”. I wonder if it was “totally free” the day after they lost the Copa America to Argentina. We got caught up in the city’s fervor that day. Watching from our hotel balcony, it seemed that everyone was wearing the shirt, and that night of the game we watched on the widescreen along with hundreds of Colombians. After the second 90 minute partido started we got tired and went to the hotel. My husband went to bed while I sat up with the hotel maids to watch the rest. Then the city was eerily quiet.

What a beautiful city to visit. It was our first time in South America, and we enjoyed the loveliness, the quaint old world charm, and the friendly people. Our hotel, the Casa del Coliseo, was on a narrow street, like a Spanish fortress tucked amongst the high end shops. Inside the hotel I felt transported back in time. Built of stone, marble, tiles, and gorgeous old wood beams, it was stunning. The staff was great, and so was the rooftop pool where we spent a couple of days after walking so much. Situated within the old walled city, we were able to walk everywhere. We preferred to stay away from the Boca Grande beach area outside the walls.

We did take a city bus tour (highly recommended) to a monastery high atop the city. The view left us breathless. The city was a lot larger than we had thought. We were shuttled to a famous fortress where the battle for Cartagena was lost to the British, but we decided to decline the circuitous and steep climb to the top for a restaurant serving cold beer where we could just watch the younger, stronger-legged (and lung endowed) tourists do the climbing for us.

The hotel provided a communal breakfast table each morning where we met many interesting travelers from all over the world. Folks from Tampa, Virginia, Panama, and Chile. Then we set out for the day of walking. We sat in beautifully maintained parks, found bars that were unique – the KGB bar had staff dressed like Cold War days and enough Russian paraphenalia to keep you coming back just to browse, all the while showing parades from Red Square that must have been decades old. Too funny. We saw Creole ladies dressed for the islands selling fruit, and even 2 folks taking their daily baths from the park spigot! But the town was free of trash, relatively quiet, and the horse carts provided diapers for their beasts to keep the city streets clean!

Now for the food:

Night 1 – A local restaurant where we ordered lobster but got shrimp. No importa! It did take us 2 days to realize that we were severely overtipping until we got the currency understood. We were able without issue to change American money in one of the city’s banks.

Night 2 – We had discovered what turned out to be our favorite spot – the Plaza Santo Domingo, nestled between churches and restaurants and reminiscent of the Euro outdoor cafes. That night we drank in the Plaza and walked to a steak place where my husband got the steak and I had the best salmon with asparagus risotto I ever ate. I had to laugh because when we walked in they were watching futbol, but they seated us and put on the stereo Frank Sinatra singing “That’s Life.” I was amused because that was the song a drunken friend of ours had attempted to sing accapella at his birthday party in Granada only days earlier.

Night 3 – The best pizza we ever ate right next door to the KGB bar. We were seated on the balcony overlooking the park. The wine was great, and then a family walked out next to us. I guess the waiter thought better of that, so inside they went.

Night 4 – We took the suggestion from the hotel to try an upscale restaurant called Cande which touted local dancers. Ernie ordered shark which was a bit too minced up for him and I had a seafood platter which disappointed.

Night 5 – Back to the Plaza where we ate Spaghetti Carbonara while awaiting the start of the Colombia-Argentina match. Tons of excited people and hardly a place to stand.

Night 6 – Ernie had been intrigued by a place we passed called “Moby Dick’s”, so we found our way back there. We thought the lively Creole cook would create something amazing. Well, we walked down into a hole in the wall basement which only sported 2 tables. We were fed small portions of shrimp al diablo which was not very diablo or creole!

But, breakfasts in the hotel were always cooked to order and very good. And the nachos and margaritas at the Hard Rock Café were yummy – plus a great view of the wall and the city.

To sum up, Cartagena is rightly a World Heritage City, and I would recommend it to all travelers. I can’t imagine that in the early 1900’s, they were going to tear the wall down. Then, they ran out of money, labor, and resources. We enjoyed all the walking and discovery, and we took in the Gold Museum and even the Inquisition Museum. And yes, thanks to my husband, I came home sporting a small emerald ring. I’ll always have a piece of Columbia adorning my pinkie finger! As usual, Ernie brought back t-shirts and shot glasses!

Linda Ferguson

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One Comment

  1. anonymous

    August 8, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Nice title…too bad you didn’t follow your own advice!! “I’ll always have a piece of ColUmbia adorning my pinkie finger.” 🙂