I’ve been living in the Wandering Paisa house since August. Of course, it isn’t ready yet, but I’ve got my humble little setup that you can see here:
His demeanor struck me very much of a pro-war conservative in the States post-9/11 and pre-Iraq number II. He kept firing his fake machine gun up into the air to emphasize his points: “and we’re gonna smoke out all those socialist bastards out of the jungle, RATATATAT YEAH!” And this guy was almost forty. It reminded me of when we drove by the naval base and saw a huge statue out front of a Colombian soldier, flag in one hand, mouth open wide (presumably yelling) with his machine gun pointed towards the sky. He didn’t mesh well with Daniel, a pacifistic Peruvian sculptor who was one of the only other sole Spanish speakers in what became “the gang” for the night. Daniel and Antonio were lightly sparring words all night, Daniel usually deferring to take the high road and admit that Colombia was safer because of massive military mobilization. “But it’s not that simple,” he would whisper to me “mobilization of right wing paramilitaries has displaced millions and killed thousands.” It’s a difficult subject to discuss, especially when your own country has been so involved (Colombia still receives about $500-600 million a year in U.S. military aid). While I’ve been apt to talk politics in Argentina and virtually everywhere else, in Colombia I have just been listening.
I can’t get over how beautiful the city is. Some newly arrived Yanks asked me what highlights Cartagena had to offer any my reply was “the highlight IS the city.” You can simply wander around finding little fruit carts with exotic bevarages and snacks or just lounge in the shade of the city walls. While there is a fair amount of pushers and prostitution at night, one can defer unwanted attention with a “no gracias” or shameful finger wag (of which I prefer the latter). We set off to the Torture Museum, which is located in the same building where many of the Inquisitions between the 16th and 18th centuries. Many torture devices were on display, as well as more contemporary exhibits demonstrating some social injustices still perpetrated by the Catholic Church.
On our way back, I noticed a big exhibition in the main square, with young attractive folks in red jeans and fedoras offering information about Colombia to many of the foreigners who had just disembarked from a cruise ship. This was “Te Amo Colombia,” a Public Diplomacy project by the Colombian government. Each of the exhibits was made to look like a heart, showcasing various aspects of Colombian culture, such as celebrities (Shakira, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Juanes) and some you may not have known are Colombian (John Leguizamo, Edgar Renteria).
Aside from music there were other highlights of Colombian culture, such as dance, food and biodiversity. The exhibits utilized a high level of interactivity to showcase the mix of African, European and Indigenous cultures. Of particular interest was a series of blocks of travelors sharing their personal experiences in visiting Colombia:
We chatted for a while with Martín, one of the information people. PD folks will be happy to know that the organization funding the “Te Amo Colombia” is actually an autonomous body devoted to Colombian Public Diplomacy, much like the now-defunct USIA.The organization sends some Colombians abroad as Cultural Ambassadors, but oddly only to Germany and parts of Europe right now. Martín also talked about how the project in Cartagena was coming to an end in two weeks as the I gave him my USC Annenberg card and told him to check it out, maybe they’ll get it. They are off to a good start anyways. Check out the Te Amo Colombia Facebook Page here.
While leaving Argentina provided little relief from the summer heat and humidity, I was hit smack dab in the face with a dazzling array of colors that characterize the Carribean coast of Colombia. Flourescent pink, teal and rojos of quaint little haciendas lined along the beach and packed together in barrios with antique Spanish architecture make for a stunning contrast against colonial stone walls. And the people, seldom are there places where there is such a strong representation of African, European and Indigenous ancestry. You are bombarded with this triple alliance of three cultures in everything you see, eat, smell and hear in Cartagena, and did I mention, the entire city is surrounded by a giant anti-pirate wall?
Cartagena was one of the first stopovers for Spanish galleons who after colonizing most of the coast in the 16th century, began to make their rounds throughout the Caribbean before heading home. And where there´s treasure, there´s bound to be pirates, resulting in Spanish fortification of Cartagena. Most colonial cities I´ve been to have a section where it´s the old colonial section and the “new and improved” part of the city. Cartagena has about thirty blocks of lively city action within its ancient walls, which made it a blast to explore both day and night. As if the wall wasn´t enough, the Castillo de San Felipe, which overlooks the entire city and bay, stands as the strongest Spanish fort ever built and never stormed. It already stands as the best I´ve ever visited with panoramic city views and a labrynth of secret caves and passages within it.
Internet (well, wifi) is a less available, so I might be updating a little less than usual, but here are some initial observations:
1. Colombian food is actually pretty good (contrary to what others have told me) on the coast it´s a lot of fish, ceviche and chicken accompanied with fruit, rice and plantains. I will be devoting an entire blog to the ridiculous amount of fruit that is available here. Shout out to the return of the spicy, though they prefer to add homemade hot sauce after the meal is cooked rather than before.
2. Colombians are in general, much more open than Argentines to outsiders like me and their spanish is a little easier to understand, though the Coastal variety is a little stranger as its has a Caribbean twist.
3. There aren´t nearly as many Yanquis as in Argentina. I´ve met a few Euros and Aussies, but despite being at the height of tourist season, there are far less than in BsAs.
4. Cartagena is really safe. Granted, it´s the number one tourist destination in the country, but I see police on nearly evey corner AND strategically dispatched in places where they are actually needed like city parks, plazas and seedier looking parts of town. In contrast to Mexico, where I saw the Army everywhere, I´ve only seen a few actual army personell in contrast to the hundreds of local police, oh and they have been very friendly in providing me with directions or city information as well. More to come!