I awoke at 4:30 Saturday morning, feeling that my left eye was glued shut. This was the same eye in which Steve had splashed a droplet of the volcanic goo on Friday — the obvious cause of my distress. I lay in the dark, wondering if the resulting infection would blind me permanently. After a long, long time, I fell asleep again. But when I woke up for good, around 6:30, the eye seemed mildly improved, and it continued to get better throughout this day that we devoted to seeing Cartagena’s sights.
The old section of Cartagena acquired a wall centuries ago to protect it from the wave after wave of Caribbean pirates who attacked the city over time. Today sections of that protective structure have been lost, but a lot remains, and you can walk along the top of most of it. Steve and I had resolved to do that first, partly because the day dawned sunny and hot and promised to get hotter later. The receptionist at our hotel had assured us it was safe, but almost immediately we had reason to doubt her, when we passed a gaunt young man who looked high on drugs and was holding the leash of an animal that appeared to be part retriever, part Rottweiler. At least 30 feet separated us from them, but the dog suddenly sprang to its feet, and made straight for Steve’s leg. “NO!” Steve bellowed at it, in his best dog-training voice. More effective at protecting him was the muzzle around the dog’s jaws; also the fact that its master stumbled over to collect it.
After that exciting start, the rest of the day was unremarkable, albeit pleasant. Steve and I circuited the wall and bought Colombian headgear. We ambled up and down the picturesque narrow passages in the Old City, today filled with trendy shops and restaurants and bars and energetic street life.
Back in our more residential neighborhood (Getsemani) we had a superb lunch prepared by a culinary historian, then we went back to our hotel to escape the stunning heat and humidity (105 degrees and 80% humidity, according to my phone). We ventured out again with Mike and Stephanie for sunset cocktails at a bar on the wall and more excellent seafood in the centro. After that, we headed to one of the most famous salsa bars in Cartagena (La Habana), where depressingly, the bouncers let Steve and me in without paying the cover charge (about $9 per person.) Doubtless they guessed we were such geezers we wouldn’t stay for long, and more depressingly, they were right. When we learned that the live band wouldn’t start playing until 10:30, we headed home, though Mike and Stephanie remained and got in an hour or two of (extremely crowded) salsa.
Because Steve and I were asleep so early (10:30 pm in a town where many folks stay up till 3 or 4!), we were able to squeeze in an early morning walk this morning to the great fort of San Felipe de Barajas.
It occupies the heights across from the Old City, and the guidebooks claim it was the largest and most effective fort ever built anywhere on earth by the Spaniards during their long colonial hegemony. We used the audio guides and were genuinely impressed. Pretty much all the gold looted by the Spaniards from South America must have passed through this city. The fort enabled Spanish soldiers to blast would-be looters from any direction.
Once again, the day was astoundingly, breathtakingly hot — rivers of sweat poured down me, and it made me think (in retrospect) that Vietnam was cool in comparison. After two hours of walking around, I couldn’t take any more, and besides, it was time to pack up and get to the airport for our 12:45 pm flight to Pereira in Colombia’s coffee country.
Now we’re checked into our hacienda on the grounds of a big coffee plantation in Juan Valdez country. We’ll get the coffee culture tour tomorrow.