Cartagena was a fantastic experience. At a distance, the
skyscrapers surprised me as I had mostly heard about the old town. We
made a reasonable arrival time yesterday, which was helped by that we
could enter through the opening in the rock barrier in the Boca Grande
Straight with a guaranteed depth of 8 feet; not much margin to Queen's
Ransom's 7.2 feet draft! It was a rising tide, so we didn't need to take
an extra two hours to go through the main ship channel of the Boca
Chica Straight. We asked the Cartagena Port Authority for a tidal
reading at the barrier. They tried to be very supportive, though they
didn't manage to provide us with that specific piece of information.
We dropped anchor off the Club Nautico in the inner bay. We had made a booking of a berth there, did not have one when we arrived at our planned arrival time. However, there are also clear advantages to not be at the dock, but alone at anchor. The marina which is run by John was very generally very helpful to us. The first people I saw when I got ashore was little half Swedish Teddy who was there with his mum Roseanne; Teddy had played a lot with our boys in St Lucia. We needed a ship's agent as you are not allowed to deal with the customs and immigration authorities directly. It was with some trepidation we let David of Motores y Velas agency take our passports and ship papers away with the promise to bring them back the same time next day. He did!
The sun set behind the domes of the old town and its last rays were reflected in the windows of the skyscrapers of Bocagrande; our view from the anchorage of this beautiful spectacle was uninterrupted. After some shopping and our traditional beer at the aft deck to celebrate our safe arrival, we set out into this gorgeous city in the balmy evening. It is a UNESCO world heritage sight. The old town is surrounded by massive city walls, Las Murallas, we had a drink on top of the old ramparts from where we could see the ships out on Caribbean Sea, the old buildings and the lit up church domes and towers. Not surprisingly, it became a late night for us having enjoyed the good quality food and the night spots of Cartagena.
We spent today walking many kilometers up and down the streets of the inner city. The San Diego neighbourhood of the the old town was especially atmospheric, as it is more of a mix of a lively city and a world heritage site than its more up market sibling El Centro. It was hot, as always. The Spaniards turned Cartagena into their main port of the Caribbean and gateway to South America. During the 16th century it was the victim of many raids (including by Sir Francis Drake) and fires, which lead to the construction of impressive forts which together with the strategic lay out of its water ways made it easily defendable. You have to pass through a few bays with narrow straights to get there. It is interesting to read the story of the city's successful defence in 1741 against a British attacking force of 186 ships and 10 times the manpower of the Spanish.
Hans, as always, went on his own to the massive local market Mercado Bazurto, which is a 24/7 affair with everything conceivable on sale. It was certainly less polished than the tidy old town. Small alleys covered with canvas to protect the sales from the sun. Keep your hand on your wallet, your camera, and your cellphone, was the general advice.
Overall Cartagena felt safe, as long as you know what you are doing such as hoisting up your dinghy at night. After a short afternoon nap, we once again sampled the excellent cuisine and nightlife of this truly remarkable city until the early hours! La Santissimo, the name of the restaurant, served delicious food originating from the local Cartagena and national Colombian kitchen.
I know Imelda is envious to not get to visit Cartagena this time, but I have promised we will do so as soon as practically possible! I cannot recommend Cartagena any stronger, it is a true delight!