8. Cartagena

Thankfully, by the next day, the skies had cleared significantly. Though still somewhat overcast, and the air still heavy from the heat and humidity, the lack of scorching sun meant that we could at least walk through old town without being stifled. After a pastry and coffee breakfast at La Brioche, we strolled around El Centro, the centre of the old town. El Centro is lined by colourful colonial buildings with wooden verandas hanging over narrow cobblestone streets. At every turn, different pastel hues from buildings and street art met the eye. The blues, yellows and whites would be augmented by wallcreepers and blooming blossoms hanging from the buildings.

Within El Centro, Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza de Bolivár are fantastic locations to people-watch with a fruit juice in hand. On any given day, you might see young people gathering and texting, fruit vendors skillfully hacking tropical fruits into manageable bite-size chunks, or children spontaneously kicking a ball around. El Centro is also strikingly clean; the pampered buildings housing boutique hotels and uber-chic fusion restaurants do give off the feeling of an gentrified and over-beautified town.

Heading eastwards, and out of the comfort zone of the walled town, passing underneath the clock tower of Puerta del Reloj, we reach the other part of town in the peninsula: the Outer City. The difference between the picture-perfect El Centro and this neighbourhood is remarkable; instead of clean streets and quiet squares, the suburb of Getsemaní teems with Colombian life, with curb-side food stalls, fruit vendors, slightly more worn out architecture, and boundless energy. Getsemaní used to be the red light district of Cartagena and a complete no-go for tourists, but today, it is home to artisan shops, independent art galleries, and delicious home cooking. As such, it is quite popular with backpackers and street artists.

By this point, the tropical heat was taking its toll. We decided to duck into La Cocina de Pepina for an early lunch. La Cocina de Pepina is unpretentious and small, specialising in home-cooked Caribbean cuisine.  A favourite of Gabriel García Marquez. The chalkboard menu offers specialties such as Mote de Queso, a rich and filling cheese soup; Ceviche “Si, Si, Si”, apparently named after a well-known local patron who never turned down any favours, stacked in layers of prawns, avocado and snails; and a fantastic roasted eggplant. La Cocina de Pepina is definitely worth the visit, especially if you find yourself in Getsemaní; do be aware that the portions are fairly large, so you may want to share a few dishes.

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