The streets in centro storico in Cartagena are named only in segments – after every intersection the streets carry a different name. At first it was terribly confusing, making it hard to find a certain address unless I was actually in its immediate vicinity (so then, what’s the point?)
Despite that, it’s easily traversable as it is quite small.
It is easy to catch a sight of craggy craft vendors, roaring dance parades, street performances, who are normally not opposed to having their picture taken.
The music is known to spill out on the streets, and it’s not uncommon to see barefoot performers running to the next show.
In mid-day heat I hide at many shaded courtyard cafes or balconies cloaked in bougainvillea, after scouting the historic quarter at madrugada.
And every now-and-again underneath the said balcony I can hear a horse galloping down the street.
The whole production reminds me a bit of Venetian gondolieri. But these cocheros don’t sing.
They do, however, provide some routine guidance and point out sights of interest.
Or I hear a resonant voice of a saleswoman offering fresh papayas or nísperos, a weird stringy tropical fruit.
The fruit are a great deal, but the real treat are these eccentric characters whose faces show a life of vigour and exuberance.
The centre is not short of crumbling, dilapidated facades which symbolize its antique colonial qualities.
Bright, clashing colours embody the true Caribbean ambiance, an easy inspiration..
The ones that look immaculately restored are usually boutique hotels.
Cartagena has three distinct parts which are all vastly different – a historical centre and a UNESCO World Heritage, a high-rise residential and business (/industrial) neighbourhood Bocagrande, and a district that, by all definitions, would be a slum (although they don’t call it that here).
The first is the main tourist draw, and it delivers all the dreamy charm. Just as I wandered outside the walls I was hit by loud, traffic-clogged nondescript urban area, with little personality or allure. The third is a ghetto of unpaved streets and rundown houses which occasionally even lack windows and doors.