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The Energizer Blog

  • Writer's pictureEileen McDargh

Cartagena Romances Stones Part Two

Cartagena Romances Stones Part Two

At the close of a conference in Bogata, we retreat to Cartagena for three days of rest and relaxation and—of course. adventure. After all, isn’t this the city where Michael Douglas chased emerald thieves and won the heart of Kathleen Turner? (Surprise! While the script kept throwing out Cartagena, the movie was shot in Mexico!) Nevertheless, the walled fortress of the old city, named by UNESCO as a world heritage site, is immediately sweltering in humidity-- a contrast to cold/wet Bogota at 10,000 feet in the Andes.  Thankfully, a heads-up from my well-traveled sister kept us out of Bocagrande (think South Beach with hundreds more beachgoers and vendors).  Bantu Hotel, a 25-unit boutique two-story, sits on a side street, within walking distance of the plaza where Gabriel Garcia Marquez perched his characters for Love in the Time of Cholera. My readers don’t need the blow-by-blow details.  Let my pictures speak of the Caribbean colors, the bougainvillea cascading from incredibly tiny pots, the fascinating door knockers urging entrance to cool atriums, and the industrious stamina of resilient vendors who try in every way to earn pesos. Poverty abounds and yet I see only three people begging. Everyone else is trying to earn a living—including the black-painted human statues who stand in the blazing sun, hoping someone will drop money in a pot in exchange for taking a picture. Resiliency! In my broken Spanish, I tell my painted fisherman that he has much courage to do what he does. Suddenly, a huge smile breaks across his face like a sunbeam after a thunderstorm. He reaches out so I can shake his hand. In a heartbeat, I know my words mean more than the pesos in the pot. Why do I not do this more? Despite all the “no gracias” I  utter to vendors wanting me to buy everything from sunhats to sunglasses, from beads to watches, from Botero replicas to knock-off oil paintings, I am never harassed or bothered. “No” just means “Next”. Another lesson to remember when my proposals are turned down! Juan Valdez coffee supplants Starbucks and ceviche becomes our daily fare. We don’t need to rely on a taxi driver and my limited English to get around. Cartagena-native Angelina Calvo, a colleague in the training & development field and now director for the undergraduate language program at the Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar, becomes our  most gracious host and guide.  Fluent in English and French, she offers a glimpse into other worlds outside the ancient city. We feel her passion to teach English as a second language, thus increasing employment chances in the growing hospitality field. From a city made famous by Spanish galleons loaded with stolen gold to a city made infamous with its  hundreds of years of a hateful slave trade, Cartagena still evokes mystery and yes—romance. Even if one has a heart of stone.

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