Pirates and romance in Cartagena

We recently spent three days wandering the enchanting maze that is Cartagena’s old city.

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Cartagena de Indias was a pivotal port for the Spanish colonialists of the 16th century. The impressive wall surrounding the old city and the imposing Castillo San Felipe de Barajas were built to protect Cartagena and the wealth amassed by the Spanish from pirates sailing and pillaging across the Caribbean. The entire walled city is now a UNESCO world heritage site, and is quite something to behold.

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“Mamacita! Que rica!”

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Source: 7deadlymag.com

There is one aspect of life in Colombia that is driving me crazy: street harassment. It might be an issue all over the world (although I’ve never had any real problem in South Africa), but here in Colombia it is unbelievably ubiquitous and is impossible to ignore.

In the short time I’ve been living in here, I’ve come to dread going anywhere alone. When I do have to walk down the street on my own, almost every man I pass feels entitled to stare, hiss, or call out to me. They whistle at you from their cars, hoot as you walk past, open their windows to make kissing noises and hiss “princessa”. Often the cat-calling is “harmless” – although clearly it’s not, since I feel so angry and violated – but sometimes the tone of their voice and glare in their eye is challenging and aggressive. And in a country where sexism and sexual violence are a major problem, it’s indicative of a mentality that will always dismiss the idea of gender equality.

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Our first adventure on the Colombian coast

Although I have yet to do any real work in Barranquilla, we recently had our first week of holiday. There are so many places we want to visit in Colombia, but for the week of Semana Santa we decided to keep things local and explore the coastal region.

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Last Saturday morning, five of us volunteers met at the bus station and left for Santa Marta. It was a relatively uneventful experience, although we had underestimated the queues of people we would find at the station, as everyone fled the city in search of sun and sea in Santa Marta. Once we’d hopped off the bus, we dawdled on the side of the road for a few minutes deliberating on how best to get to Taganga – a small village about fifteen minutes outside the city. We decided that a taxi between us would amount to the same as a bus, and so the five of us squashed in and off we went.

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Barranquilla

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Barranquilla is an interesting city. It’s not very tourist-friendly, and generally isn’t a very beautiful place, but it has its charm. It’s the “largest port in the northern Caribbean Coast region of Colombia,” but the closest beach is half an hour away. Before arriving, I imagined you’d at least be able to see the ocean from the city… Sadly not.

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We are in Colombia

It’s still somewhat surreal.

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During orientation, sequestered as we were at an isolated hotel forty-five minutes outside of Bogotá, it was easy to forget that after travelling for twenty-four hours, we had ended up on the other side of the world. We spent two weeks at Hotel Xué Sabana where we brushed up on our teaching skills, got to know some of the other volunteers, and learned a bit about Colombian culture.

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