Friday, April 14, 2017

a quick Cartagena work trip

One of the perks... NO, the MAIN perk of my current job is that I get to travel. Like, a lot. Sure, it's usually very brief stays, and most of my time is taken up by work. But I always – ALWAYS – manage to squeeze in some exploring.

So, end of March I ended up in... Cartagena, Colombia! I had never been to the country (I mean, Bogota's airport doesn't count!), so this was a fantastic opportunity to have a look!

I stayed a total of four nights. And here's just a sampling of what it was like...

The walled city by night

The area where Cartagena de Indias was founded had been inhabited for some 5000 years even before the Spanish arrived, but the city you see nowadays is from the early 16th century. In fact, the historic centre, or Ciudad Amurallada (walled city) has been a UNESCO heritage site for some 30 years already!

I spent a couple of nights wandering inside its walls. By the way, exploring by night is about the best idea, given that even this early in the year it's already pretty hot. Towers, churches, balconies over narrow streets, squares of many sizes, stands selling traditional sweets under old arches, and dinner in the form of arepas (a sort of corn patty) cut open and filled with queso (cheese) which, due to the arepa being super hot off the pan, melts right then and there!

Right outside the walls there's another historic part, Getsemaní. Less famous, more bohemian, less manicured and somehow more authentic, with lots of graffiti and people still living there. It's a shame I only came here once for a beer and a small walk with a colleague, 'cause i really enjoyed the vibe! 

The walled city by day

Because, sure, by night the temperature was very pleasant. But I wanted to see the historic centre by day too, right? It's a colourful part of town, with lots of pastel colours, including on the churches' domes. Besides, the wall goes practically all around the centre! It seems Cartagena was the usual target for pirates in the Caribbean, so they really had to have some serious defenses, right?

Sunsets by the beach, toucans and arepa 'e huevo

I did not stay by the historic centre, but at an old hotel by the beach. That particular beach had a stone pier jutting into the sea, and I spent a couple of nights there just enjoying a nice, relaxed Caribbean sunset...

The hotel had its own special residents, as well. First, this gorgeous toucan! I think I saw that fellow every single day of my stay! Of course, it figured out that a) we were not dangerous and b) that mornings we had plenty of food around us. So it was more than willing to perch on a chair by you or anywhere near your food! Although you could see it at any number of other places, too.

And then deer? I saw two of them my first evening, but I didn't see them again. So sweet! A lot less trusting than the toucan, but one did get pretty close to me!

And behind the hotel was a bay, where I say some storks (I think, I'm definitely not a bird-geek) on an evening walk back to the hotel.

I had most of my meals either at the hotel or where we were having the workshop, so a couple of mornings I decided to go for a most traditional breakfast – arepa 'e huevo con suero, or arepas filled with egg and a side of sour cream. This kind of arepa is made with a very very thin dough, egg is placed inside before it's set to fry, and then it's deep fried. Not bad at all, if just a tad heavy for breakfast! Oh, and Colombian coffee? Thumbs up, of course!

What you came for

Like I said, I went to Cartagena for work. And this work has to do, in essence, with making people's lives better through a more effective use of international cooperation, which can in turn detonate broader change. When you're in an office typing away, or at nice conference halls with well-versed and well-dressed officials, it's really easy to forget the real reason behind all those documents, and meetings, and conferences, and reports... 

It was very welcome that, as part of my work, we visited a centre for local infants, a result of development cooperation efforts. A nice reminder that it does get better somewhere along the convoluted line between my office and someone's home.

Good-bye Cartagena!

I had to fly back to Mexico via Bogota. And since I had a few bills left while waiting for my Mexico City flight at the airport,  I decided to go for one last Colombian thing – a local brew! But then they also had a local spirit, aguardiente. And I hadn't had that yet either! The barman's suggestion? A "submarine"! The local beer, with a shot of the local spirit floating upside-down inside. Not bad at all. Not bad at all. And with that, I bade farewell to Colombia.

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