We arrived in Cartagena not knowing what to expect. Every time we come to a new country there is anticipation, excitement and a bit of nerves about the port entry, legal procedures etc but it’s always different and we are glad when we eventually find the right anchorage and get settled. Colombia need agents to check in so we called Maria (every lady in Colombia is called Maria we discovered!) And she sent a guy out who took our passports away, got them stamped and returned them to us that evening. We were now ready to explore…
The anchorage in Cartagena is literally in the middle of the city. We could walk to the old town, the mall, all the restaurants, even to the hardware shops but with taxis at only $2-3 we used them quite a lot as well.
Cartagena is a wonderful vibrant colourful city full of charm and character. It is also hot – VERY HOT! As we were in the rainy season it was also very muggy and we found it very draining. We hadn’t been in heat that extreme since India but there we could use our air conditioner as we were in a marina and here we were at anchor. With our new batteries we decided that we could run the air con- and hopefully they would cope with the extra drain. Once we had air con we found we could sleep at night again but every afternoon we still had to come back for a nap as we were exhausted walking around.
Cartagena has a delightful old walled city which is a rabbit Warren of lanes and small streets. There is a long spit of land called the Boca Grande which acts as the business district and where the flash hotels are. This section also fronts the beach which is packed daily with locals and tourists and has lots of seating areas served by small bars where you can laze around all day people watching. Very nice..
The residential area is full of shop, malls, markets, services and people getting on with their daily lives. It’s busy, crowded and loud but its really the pulse of the city and I loved it.
We hadn’t been there more than a couple of days before we discovered that Mildred and Keith from Sv Atalanta were in town. We had not seen them since Chagos 3 years earlier so it was lovely to catch up. They had been lockdown for a year in Mildreds home country of the Philippines and had only just got back to their boat.
Ian wanted to sort out some parts for the boat – another solar panel and some engine parts. Cartagena has everything but they speak Spanish so we found it hard to communicate. We both started Spanish lessons online to try and alleviate the problem. We did manage to get everything we needed eventually – and the boat is now even more overloaded!
We visited one of the huge malls and did a huge shop – they had a fantastic homeware shop and big supermarkets so we stocked up on everything and taxied it all home. We spent time wandering around the old city just watching the world go round and eating meals with Mildred and Keith. Cartagena is a ‘people watching’ place with loud Colombian music blaring out of every street corner. There were people selling cigars, postcards and all manner of tourist paraphernalia on every street corner. I loved it. Everything seems so bright and colourful and their artwork was incredible. No wall was left unadorned and there were paintings for sale up many of the side streets. The standard of artwork was very high and the prices very reasonable – and yes, we bought some.
The paintings for sale down a side street
After about 10 days we got a text from Ian and Diane on SV Blue Infinity at 7.10 that their autopilot has died and could they come into Cartagena for repairs. I told them they needed an agent and gave them Maria’s number. It was about 8am by now and we expected them sometime during the day but while having my morning coffee on the sugar scoop I saw they were anchored right next door to us. They had texted at 7.10pm the night before and had arrived about midnight! The two Ian’s then spent the whole day sourcing parts and trying to find someone to fix the autopilot. Luckily it had broken before they had reached the San Blas as there’s nothing there to fix it.
That evening we all went out to drinks and dinner in the old town. The food is cheap and plentiful and there is a myriad of restaurants to choose from. We ate out every night we were there – and we never went to the same restaurant twice.
One day while wandering around we found a sewing machine shop. I had been looking for some velcro to replace our cushion cover velcro which had stopped ‘sticking’ together. They had everything – so I stocked up on more needles, threads for my machine and even got my Velcro. The area had lots of people offering services – like taxes, wills etc and these guys sat around with their portable old fashioned typewriters and typed out anything you needed. In the day of smart phones, laptops and internet it was interesting to see the old fashioned ways are still in existence.
The architecture in Colombia is also very appealing to the eye. Many days we spent getting lost amongst the streets only to find another stunning row of buildings – they were well maintained and lived in. The old city of Cartagena has a heartbeat unlike some of the old walled cities in Europe which are now just for tourists to wander round.
Our boat projects were all being finalised- with the exception of installing the solar panel as it needed to go into the frame off the back of the boat. Ian didn’t want to do that in Cartagena because we were continuously being bombarded by the wake of the power boats that tore past us every day. They were full of young Colombians blaring out incredibly loud music from their outward facing speakers having the time of their life – we took our life in our hands every time we tried to climb into our dinghy as the wake caused it to jump around like crazy.
We could have spent months in Cartagena – we wanted to visit Bogota inland but also needed to move on if we were going to get through the Panana canal in March- only 6 months away. Keith and Mildred were heading west too and so we decided to go ahead to Panama and wait there. The main reason was that after only a few weeks our hull bottom was covered in big barnacles because of the warm water. To remove them we would be removing the antifoul which was only 5 months old but it had to be done as having such a big growth on the hull seriously affects our sailing ability.
On our last night we all walked back into the old city for dinner. I felt I knew this place so well now but still managed to find another new restaurant. We had a bar crawl on the way home visiting some fabulous places. At night it comes alive with pop up bars everywhere, music coming out of every bar and restaurant and people milling around. It’s not much cooler in the evening but at least the sun has gone to bed –
There were a couple more jobs for Ian and Diane to complete so we decided to catch up with them 10 days later in the San Blas islands. It took a whole day to check out so we left early the next day. We were sad to leave Colombia – it really is a wonderful country.