Saturday, 1 August 2009

Columbia's Coastal Jewel

A riot of colour and tropical heat, and fanned by an all too occasional sea breeze, the city of Cartagena de Indias is the sparkling jewel in Colombia's crown. With local people even warmer than the climate, this is a very pleasant place to be...and if you're not careful you'll grow roots. A mate of mine who works for Lonely Planet came out here for a week and stayed 6 months. I can see why.

We arrived by long distance bus, and hopped into a taxi for the ride into the centre. We were immediately transfixed by the hustle and bustle of Getsemani, sidestreets packed with locals and vendors, kids and dogs chasing each other along sun-cracked pavements, overweight and sometimes pregnant (very niche, I'd imagine?) prostitutes touting for business, piles of fruit on roadside stalls. A few minutes' walk along these streets can turn into an interesting hour...the locals are all too happy to sit and chat.

We took a room in Media Luna Hostel, the biggest and newest in the area. It started well enough, and we'd had a few decent nights out in the beginning. I returned one afternoon to find Jocky and Garfield in conversation with a few people around a table. I sat down and introductions were made.

"Guess who's here?" laughed Jocky.
"You're joking..?"
"Don Don Don" himself and Garfield chorused.
"Can't you hear her?" asked my Scots friend, and nodded across the courtyard.

The American lads at the table asked as to what the joke was. I started explaining about this girl's verbal diarrhoea. A couple of minutes in, Jocky was telling me to be careful. DDD had just walked up alongside me, stopping me mid-sentence. But any fears of me being caught mid-bitch were allayed as she started blabbing at a hundred miles about her journey. Christ. Any further fears of me being thought of as a bit of a bitch were also allayed as I caught the eye of one of the American lads', and he raised his eyebrows and smiled agreement.

That night continued in similar fashion, DDD holding court up on the roof terrace, telling everyone the best places to visit in South America, Politics (questionable), informing some people they'd been ripped off for this and that as she's only paid such-and-such. She sat in between myself and Jocky, and she began harping on about her job...then actually asked what I did? Overcoming my surprise at her actually wanting to talk about anything but herself (obviously her favourite subject: "Anyway, enough about me...what do you think about me?"), I managed a brief outline of work. We then realised we'd briefly worked together at a London design agency. Thankfully only for a week as I was leaving and she was new. I'd have remembered being subjected to this type of verbal onslaught, otherwise?

Of course, we disagreed on a number of subjects. On the roof one night, a few people were knocking the Israelis (a common past-time around her, it seems...everyone has an opinion, none of them favourable). We discussed past and recent history. Her response to the Palestinians being ousted from their land? "Well the Jews needed somewhere to live, because they had a bad time in the War". An interesting point. My Grandad suffered in Burma fighting the Japanese in said War, and he didn't get offered a timeshare in the Golan Heights as far as I'm aware. I'll ask my Nan. I won't even get started on the heated Darwin's Theory Of Evolution discussion she had with Garfield, it was incredible but long-winded.

Later she mentioned wanting to travel through New Zealand in a camper van. Brilliant: Jocky had done just that a few months ago, and so I dragged him (reluctantly and wearing a rictus grin) into the conversation, waited a minute until she took over...then ducked out and started talking to Garfield, instead. A manuevre Field Marshal Montgomery would have been proud of.

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