Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cartagena: Old Town

We were invited to our friends' wedding in Bogota, Colombia, so we flew down a few days early to travel around the country. Our first stop was Cartagena, a city on the north coast of Colombia. Our guidebook described the Old Town of Cartagena as the "Venice of South America", with rambling streets lined with bougainvillea-covered balconies. This statement is almost accurate, but Lonely Planet fails to mention the crazy, almost Indian-like traffic that swarms these idyllic streets. There are moments of calm to be found in the leafy plazas around the city, which we experienced on a Sunday afternoon.

Cartagena boasts many museums and cathedrals and we paid visits to the Palace de Inquisicion and the Convent de San Pedro. The Palace de Inquisicion displayed some interesting torture instruments, and eerie scenes of death set in a beautiful courtyard.

The Convent was founded by Jesuit monks in the 17th century. One of these monks, Pedro Claver, dedicated his life to ministering to the slaves brought over from Africa, He was known as the "Apostle of the Blacks" or the "Slave of Slaves", and he was the first person to be canonized in the New World in 1888. He was honored in death with his glass coffin placed in the altar of the church, his skull visible to the congregation.

We wandered through the labyrinth of streets, past the vendors selling fresh fruits and arepas, to the fort wall which surrounds the city. Along these walls are canons and watch towers, while dungeons lie below. We eventually found the ubiquitous Cafe del Mar, where we enjoyed some cold sangria while watching the sunset over the sea. Just beautiful!

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