COLOMBIA

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, General Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
(Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude).

There must be some grandeur in a country that gave birth to a writer who became a writer to show literature was not dead in South America… and who accidentally ended up becoming one of the most important writers of modern literature.
I have been seeking Marquez below and behind every stone I’ve walked past in Colombia. He managed to turn the bad smells of his country into tender words and in some way I got to smell the nice touch of his words even when the stinging stench of some alleys hit my nose.

Colombia is a complicated place. And a big country.
Before the trip I made an ambitious and impossible list of places I wanted to visit. As always, I knew I wouldn’t make it to check all those lines off.
After the trip though, shamefully, almost none of those lines had been checked off. My stupid habit of not planning things properly because it seems to me like cheating…
Lesson learned: I can be a lazy traveler, so from next trip on I will book in advance the next flight for few days after first landing. I need to keep the pace high.

The way Marquez kept his Colombia anonymous in his novels always charmed me. I guess it was his way of pairing up realism and magic.
This must be the reason why, after having spent some time in Bogota and after having walked through the Getzemani neighbourhood in Cartagena, staring at the local faces, listening to their mysterious conversations, enjoying the rhythm of dances I can’t dance… well, after all that, reading his novels became more like a riddle to me, or like decoding a secret book.

Bogota is not what one would expect. It lays on the mountains and its weather can be challenging.
My first contact with a new country is always cautious. You may say it is like the first endless seconds of a boxe fight: pure tactic and circumspection, but Bogota in particular has been quite hard to interprete. It took me a while to realise bad weather, traffic, low temperatures and the rain were not a matter of unfortunate timing, but the very nature of the city.
I tried to mingle with locals as much as I could, postponing the next move. It also took me a while to get in the mood for photography and perhaps this is why I did not take many photos of Bogota. Maybe I should have been focused on people more that on places.
La Candelaria is the neighbourhood where I spent most of my time there. It is downtown, old, coloured, fairly touristic but charming. The many graffiti of its walls will stun you. And then the “Botero Museum”… I really don’t understand how they managed to give such a treasure to tourists for free!

When I finally decided to move forward and leave Bogota I realised it was too late to hit Medellin or the coffee triangle or the Amazon region and the clock was tick-tocking in my pocket already, so I went right away to Cartagena.
As soon as I got off the airplane, the caribbean heat surrounded me and filled my lungs, headache dripped down along my neck and the color palette of my thoughts suddenly changed into some Gauguin-ish version of my best expectations.
I was looking forward to feeling the caribbean voice of the continent, so I skipped the more touristic part of the city and aimed straight at the outskirts. I found a hostel in the barrio Torices, sector Papayal.
It was a Saturday late afternoon when I arrived and there was music all over the barrio, people filling the streets, just spending time together, talking, dancing, eating. I must admit it was so much to digest, all together, so unlike Bogota and so… not suitable for tourists. I was and felt like a white fly there. The first thing I was told when I arrived at the hostel has been “don’t go around with your camera… and don’t show your phone”. I am used to people telling me this, but when I went out for a walk I realised that was no joke: shops on the streets were protected by iron gratings and the first evening out I was welcomed by the show of a motorbike pursuit with police shaking assault rifles. The amused reactions of the local spectators convinced me that not bringing the camera had been a good move.
Still I loved the place, it was authentic, powerful, coloured, intense… and with many off-limits streets. Plus (and this is a big plus) street food was amazing, some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had!
The contrast with the touristic part of the city was massive. Cartagena de Indias is an old colonial city, it used to be one of the most important South American harbours back in the slavery times and I guess it is where Marquez’s novel Love in time of cholera took place. Tourists are everywhere and locals are all set for them; women don’t spare smiles, but it doesn’t take too many of them before you realise it’s not enough to brag about and too much to be trusted.
Soon you also realise you’re the chicken, not the rooster.

So many books must have (or should have) been written about Colombian women.
Seems like they created an own version of emancipation, that flatters chauvinism. They can give you a piece of their heart and take it back as soon as the outbound flight check-in reminder is dropped in your inbox. They can be too much or too little, together.
It doesn’t matter wether you understand it or not, all that matters is that you don’t judge it, because they’re like the stars, like the rivers, like the sun: you can’t blame them for being too far, or too cold, or too warm. Whatever they are, they’ll burn and warm you up.

I think I fell in love with the Barrio Getzemani, where I spent my last days in the beautiful Cartagena.
In the evenings the main square in front of the church is filled with music. I remember with nostalgia the surreal scene of the crowd dancing together like in a huge pilates lesson, right in front of the church, while the mass continues oblivious of the mess erupting across the big wide open doors.
Seems like also religion there found an own version of emancipation, that flatters paganism.

Unfortunately I had to skip the last hint of plan I had left: Cabo de la Vela. My return flight was from Panama City and the land connection through the northern border Panama-Colombia is not available, so my only option was taking a sail boat to Panama, but… that is another story 😉
Feels like my journey to Panama has been a preview, rather than a trip. And my list is still there, tick-tocking in my pocket.

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  • Encounters
    Yesica is from Barranquilla but she lives in Cartagena. This photo was taken in Plaza de la Trinidad, in Cartagena, in the “Barrio Getsemani”.
  • Small harbour around Cartagena
  • Cartagena from the muralla
    The old town and the Bocagrande neighborhood.
  • Domestic tradings
  • Reflections
    A "Palenquera" and a a man reflected in the mirrors of one of the many beautiful facades in Cartagena old town. Palenqueros are an ethnic group originally from the Cartagena and Barranquilla area. You can find many "Palenqueras" in Cartagena selling fruit salads or souvenirs... and posing for the most "generous" tourists'.
  • Plaza de Bolivar, BOGOTA'
    A curious walker who became a model
  • Bogota - La Candelaria
    "La Candelaria" is one of the oldest and most charming barrios (neighborhoods) of Bogota. In this case I've enjoyed mixing the old and the new. ...an experiment.
  • Bridges and walls
    My last day in Cartagena before departing. I will never stress it out enough: the sea is a bridge, a point of contact, not of separation. Looking at this scene my thoughts slid off the usual track though: bridges seem to be elsewhere here.
  • Street life in color
    An old man selling watermelon on the streets of the hot and sleepy Cartagena in an early afternoon.
  • Taxi drivers
  • Cartagena
  • Hair cut on the street
  • Slow life
    Everyday life in Getzemani.