Saturday 16 February 2008

A Tale of Three Cities

I arrived on the South American continent as weary and jaded as a sailor on the Santa Maria. After 46 hours crossing the Pacific, the US and the Caribbean, I arrived in Barranquilla a bit worse for wear. The worst part of the flights were the 16 hours in those vacuums of emptiness - 4 nondescript airports, Sydney, Taipei, LA and Miami.

Barranquilla was also in slumber mode, shaking off a massive hangover from the famous Carnivale. It took me a while to get get my head and body into the frenzy of the Caribbean. This is a river port, sitting on the Magdalena river and it has this rough nature and wild and exuberant atomsphere. I forgot to take a photo of the hotel I stayed in, the Costa Caribe, an important detail for my trip from north to south.

Cartagena in the early morning
Cartagena is an impressive sight with its massive forts and walls surrounding a cloistered city of fine colonial architecture. A much more genteel atmosphere than Barranquilla yet, instead of a unrestrained living culture, it has the appearance of a preserved relic. The old city is sandwiched between a tacky multi-storey Gold Coast-style resort and an ugly urban sprawl. Perhaps the enclosure not only kept out intruders in the past but has also shielded the modern ugliness from the contemporary inhabitants of the walled city.

I had a 'training ride' from Barranquilla to Santa Marta and, apart from the heat and traffic, I really enjoyed the trip. Some warnings of the dangers ahead - the road was littered with dessicated snake skins (even a live python basking in the sun) and the ubiquitous tombstone memorials of past accident victims. On my left was the rolling Caribbean Sea and on the right a large expanse of inland water and wetlands. This is the Cienaga de Santa Marta - an important habitat for water birds, esp. herons.

Santa Maria was a nice surprise - a hybrid of the other two cities. Cobbled narrow streets and fine colonial buildings but with an intimate and lively centre. From the seaside promenade a lovely view out to the Caribbean Sea.

La Bahia de Santa Marta

I only spent a short time in these cities but their characters were so distinct I pictured them as members of a family in a Marquezian world.
Cartagena is the culturally refined and rather snobbish aunt who has been tarted up with quite a lot of make-up. As a conservative, she doesn't like to go out much and would rather stay confined behind the walls of her historic home.
Barranquilla is the wild extroverted youth, slightly delinquent and unkempt and often rowdy. He enjoys the chaotic and hedonistic lifestyle, and loves a party, especially around February.
Santa Marta is the oldest of the three, the patriarch and provincial gentleman. A modest man who was once a prominent businessman but now in his twilight years. Each evening he likes to sit on the promenade, looking out at the Caribe and sipping a cerveza.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No hay muchas cuidades extranjeras que yo he visite antes de ti Pete, pero esto, Cartagena, es la unica. Que bueno que tu eres seguro!

Hasta la proxima vez, chico