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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tunneling through Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena, Colombia

(Back to the jungle, next post in a few days!)

I took off my backpack and threw it into the back of the taxi. Telling the driver I wanted to go to the bus station, I was propelled backwards as the taxi lurched forward. Fifteen minutes and 5,000 pesos later, I was directed by a man to the Brasilia bus ticket office. Using cash saved me 5,000 pesos, paying 25K pesos for my ticket back to Cartagena rather than the 30K I had paid for the trip to Santa Marta. 

I've learned that the bus exterior gives no indication as to which company it belongs to. On each ticket receipt, the cashier at the ticket office hand writes the bus number for the corresponding trip. Though I traveled with Brasilia both ways, both buses had the markings of another bus company on its external facade. The bus numbers, however, were dead accurate.

The ride on the minibus was uneventful. Packed full with 22 people, it reached Baranquilla in about two hours. There, about 80% of the passengers got off. The driver wasn't announcing any of the stops, so I was reluctant to do what I did best on long bus rides - sleep. We waited about half an hour at Baranquilla for more passengers while an attendant came on to mop the bus floor. Then, we continued on for another two very bump hours while Taken 2, dubbed in Spanish, was shown on the TV at the front of the bus. 

There was another heat wave smothering Cartagena. Though, at this time of the year, that was more of the rule than the exception. I asked Vicenta from Makako hostel for a place to eat. I was directed west to the end of Calle Quero, where Alex stood. I had another plate of arroz con pollo and a huge glass of limonada de coco. The former's portion size was large enough that I almost skipped dinner. The latter was something that I was starting to get addicted to. 

I went back to the hostel with the intention to take it easy, allowing my knees to recover from the Lost City trek I had finished the day before. One of the travelers popped in Django Unchained, and so I was glued to my seat for the next two hours - with the exception of a 5 minute walk to the pastry shop across the street for a brownie. 

I had my sights set on Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas the next morning. A giant fortress sitting on top of the Hill of San Lázaro, the castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It lies about a 15 minute walk outside of the walled city. Inside the stone fortress is a complex labyrinth of tunnels that are partially lit by lightbulbs. I say partially because quite a number of bulbs have died out, leaving areas in pitch black. I had brought my headlamp in anticipation of this. Despite the illumination, the walk down the steep, narrow, and dark tunnels was one of the eeriest tourist attraction I've been to - especially since I was the only person there at the time. 

After my visit to the Castillo, I dropped in to La Mulata, a pescaderian restaurant located right next to Makako. By South American standards, La Mulata was large and consistently packed with locals and backpackers. It's no surprise that it's only opened for four hours a day, because it probably makes more than the majority of the nearby restaurants. Though the food is well proportioned and tastes phenomenal, the service is friendly, and the waitresses use blackberry like devices to transmit orders, the prices were cheap. Here, there was no tourist markups. Vicenta strongly recommended trying La Mulata's limonada de coco, which I'm glad I did. It was by far the best I had so far in Colombia. One day I even tried their limonada de mango, another odd juxtaposition of flavors that actually works. 

At the west end of the city where the colonial wall meets the highway beyond it sits Café del Mar. It's about three kilometers directly west of where the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas resides.  However, most people go there not for the Café, but for the panoramic view of the sun setting over the Caribbean Sea, lighting up the waves before it and casting a glow over "modern" Cartagena a little to the south. 

The next day or two went like a blur. I walked from one plaza to the next, discovering Juan Baldez Café, which is probably why there are no Starbucks around.


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