I had always been curious about Cartagena and so, when less than an hour flight away in Panama, I decided to go check it out.
Cartagena is very interesting from a historical perspective. It was founded in 1533 by the Spanish and became the major trading hub for the entire region. This attracted all sorts of people including a multitude of pirates. In order to resist the various attacks, in the 17th century the Spanish Crown hired the services of prominent European military engineers to carry out the construction of fortresses, which are nowadays one of Cartagena’s clearest signs of identity.
If you are into history and seeing it in person, Cartagena should be on your list. Most of the walled city, existent for over 400 years still remain. Inside the walls it is a neat place, to be sure. The Plaza Santa Domingo is the place to go for a nice dinner in the warm Caribbean air in a beautiful old square surrounded by interesting architecture.
I stayed outside of the old walled city in the area called Boca Grande. I would advise anyone visiting against this. Boca Grande is quite old and run down and not very nice. The selling feature of this area is that it is on the beach, but the beach in Cartagena is not very nice at all. Most of the sand gets blown right off the beach in the gusty Cartagena weather, resulting in sand dunes piling up across the road from the beach. The remaining sand isnâ€™t very nice at allâ€¦ it is brown and basically looks like dirt. The water is not very nice looking either. If you are looking for a beach holiday, do not go to Cartagena.
I was there early in the week and therefore it was very tranquilo. Almost everywhere was basically empty. But some of the clubs and lounges, especially those built onto the walls of the old city themselves are quite neat.
As for the general vibe, it has the vibe of a bit of a tourist trap. It seems fairly shady and not all that nice at all. A lot of the tourist activity comes from many of the cruisers who use Cartagena as their first or last port upon transit, or before transit, on the Canal. So, most of the people in town are kinda older, sailing cruisers. As much as I really admire their spunk (sailing ainâ€™t easy! I woulnâ€™t want to do it at 60!) and their lifestyle (free, nomadic), cruisers in general are usually a goofy bunch… not to mention they are of the poor folk who employ the “I’ll work hard all my life and then relax and drink a beer on a beach when I’m 90 years old” type-a-folks… so, the crowd in Cartagena is not exactly my preferred entendre.
So, in an attempt to find any sort of interesting activity I asked the local taxi driver where is a good nightclub (nightclub in all of Latin America, refers to a gentlemans clubâ€¦ a place for social dancing and drinking is called a discotheque). He ended up taking me to some super shady placeâ€¦ it was actually a houseâ€¦ there were about 25 guys inside, and one barely attractive girl gyrating lazily about. The funny part was, nearly half the crowd were all police officers, complete with their full police vests on. Actually, now that I think of it, there were tons and tons of â€œpoliceâ€? in Cartagenaâ€¦ I use the term loosely because many of them looked like they were almost school kidsâ€¦ itâ€™s like they give half the people in town a police vest and a gun. Good old centralized law enforcement!
Briefly, on the topic of police, the whole idea and concept of arming a small percentage of the population and giving them the ability to harass and molest others is a ridiculous system. It has generated millions of helpless people who cannot sort things out for themselves, much less defend themselves in any way. If someone is harassing you, it is actually against the law to pull out a gun and tell them to beat it. You must call a government telephone number and somewhere between 10 minutes and never, they may show up and â€œsaveâ€? you. Laughably, many people believe police actually help stop crime. This is absolutely not the case. All police ever do is show up after you call them and write down what happened. You could have a million police officers and it would not change the amount of theft or violent acts one iota. Sure, every now and then they do actually catch someone who had committed a crime. But if people could take the law into their own hands and/or were able to hire private, free-market investigators, the amount of justice dealt out for offences would increase exponentially. And donâ€™t even get me started on the concept of putting people in cages (jail) for violating the laws of the land! A useless, expensive waste of time.
Thatâ€™s my libertarian rant for the dayâ€¦ back to Cartagenaâ€¦
In general, I was disappointed with Cartagena. I had hoped it would have been better than it was. I hoped itâ€™d be nicerâ€¦ more beautifulâ€¦ more fun and lively.
I think I made a mistake in my choice of venue, gauging from conversations with others and information I have gleaned from elsewhere. It appears the place to go that is more nice, fun and lively is Santa Marta, a short bus or plane ride away, near Baranquillo. But I wanted to move on, so I did not go there.
Colombia, in general, does not have as many beautiful women as in most of Central America. Obviously it has someâ€¦ Shakira being a prime example! But in terms of neck-turning beauties, Colombia is much less-so than places such as Mexico and Nicaragua.
This, combined with the fact that I could not find good poker action (although I heard afterwards there is one good place, on the other side of the airport, but I never found it) had me itching to hit the road.
So I booked a flight on Avianca from Cartagena, connecting through Bogota, to Willemstad, Curacao.
But, upon arrival in Bogota I was advised that the Bogota-Curacao portion of the flight was cancelled and the next flight was for the next day. I asked them if they were going to supply me with a hotel room for the night as per normal convention. No. Can I cancel the ticket and get a refund? No. Ok, thanks!
But, I wasnâ€™t too upset, being as I like Bogota, so I hopped a taxi and headed to the Zona Rosa district. I walked around for 2 hours looking for hotels but they were all full! I finally found a hotel, 20 minutes away, in downtown Bogota.
Later that night I cabbed it back to Zona Rosa and ended up playing at a cool new poker room called Rockefeller, owned by two American guys. The stakes werenâ€™t very big but the action was good. I actually ended up closing down an entire table when I busted every single person at the table!
I then ventured outâ€¦ but being a Wednesday night it was again very tranquilo. Hardly any discotheques had any people. And so I headed back to the hotel.
Bogota is still a fun, nice place to visit, although most of its nighttime action centers around Thursday-Saturday. I briefly considered getting a place in Bogota near the Zona Rosa and itâ€™s restaurants, discos and casinos but I think I will leave Bogota as a nice place to visit when in the area and leave it at that. If ONLY Mexico and Thailand had legal gaming, Iâ€™d never even consider going elsewhere. Argh. What a ridiculous lawâ€¦ no wagering on events! Everything in life is a wager on an outcome! Jezuz. How can people stand this global prison we live in??? Thankfully all of Mexico and Thailandâ€™s other freedoms and treasures make up for this loss.
Anyway, the next day I again attempted to make it to Curacao. Updates from Willemstad, Curacao soon to follow.
*note: I may actually head back to Cartagena, and possibly Santa Marta later this week. Why would I do such a thing? Well, why do I ever do anything? A girl of course. More later.