Cartagena, Colombia

The hanging gardens were just stunning.

Our first port of call was Cartagena.  It was my first experience setting foot on the South American continent.  We had pre-arranged a shore excursion (titled Exploring Magnificent Cartagena) through the cruiseline, so all we had to do was walk down the gangplank and board an air-conditioned bus.  This is our preferred method for most ports, at least during our first visit to them.  Our first stop was La Popa, a hill above the city that serves as the site for the convent La Candelaria.  From this high perch we were afforded outstanding views of the surrounding area, highlighting the mix of different architectural styles.  Everything from seventeenth century stucco to ultra-modern towers filled the landscape.  We visited San Pedro Claver cloister and monastery, where the founding priests remains are displayed on the high altar, encased in a brightly lit, gold-leafed, glass fronted reliquary for all to see.  We walked through the Old City, where narrow streets were lined with antique houses sporting colorful hanging gardens.  Our tour included a stop at the fort of San Felipe de Barajas.  We also walked along the city’s ancient fortress walls, made from a mix of crushed stone, seashells and coral.  This is a really ingenious use of local resources–you could see the fossilized coral in the surface of the wall.  Lastly, we were dropped off at a popular shopping district.  Here Tony bought some souvenirs and I paid too much for a cup of true Colombian coffee.

This convent's courtyard was a beautiful setting.

This is a city of contrasts.  The views from the hill made this especially apparent.  Bright white apartment buildings rise like slender, bony fingers above a sea of slums, stretching as far as the eye can see.  Even from this high vantage point, the cacophony of the streets still reached us.  Mostly we were surprised at our own ignorance that such a city even existed.  How could we not have known about such a bustling vibrant metropolis of more than a million people?