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November 1, 2010

Cartagena: back to the eighties

On October 12th, Aires flight number 8174 with Captain Jose Escobar safely touched down onboard with us on the runway of Cartagena. If you ever take a flight to Cartagena, sit at the left window. As the city emerges from the surrounding estuaries, the tall and white hotels on the thin strip of Boca Grande give the impression of Miami. As the plane continues its descent, you will see favela-like districts without paved roads, often covered by waters, where little rafts are used instead of cars.
The flooding is a problem in the whole city: half of the day the streets of the hotel zone are covered by the waters of high tide and as a pedestrian you need acrobatic skills to get from one street to the other.


The hotel zone itself is funny. There are a number of hotels built in the seventies or eighties and still operating with the same technology. We had the luck to stay in Costa del Sol, which is a brilliant example of such hotels. The whole building is covered with single layer windows and large gaps between them. The air conditioning is solved in a per floor level and besides being inefficient it breaks down in an average twice a day. Since there is no way to control it, you either freeze or sweat your heart out since the outside temperature is hot and 110% humid. The hotel offers two pools, both of them suspiciously yellow in color as there is no system to circulate and clean the water. Internet theoretically exists in the lobby, but they are always working on it to get it fixed by the next day. Best part though is the number of paintings and mosaic art found all over in the hotel, depicting Colombian supermodels from the eighties or simply a woman in bikinis.


The historical city center is charming and colorful and even has some cool bars on top of the city walls. At all times there are couples hiding in the holes where once cannons were set to protect the city from pirates. Apart from the historical center there is a more or less interesting castle with a huge Colombian flag, and you can make a number of organized daytrips to one of the islands nearby. Beware though: nothing can be more disorganized than an organized trip in the Caribbean. Pack plenty of water and patience with you when you embark on such trips:)


One of the most popular daytrips take you to Playa Blanca. The beach is not that bad, if you move away from the heaps of tourists, just a few meters, you already reduced the number of handicraft sellers and masseuse candidates by a factor of 10.


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