Cartagena de Indias

Well I saved the best for last. Of all the places I have been in South America, from Montevideo to Asuncion, from la Paz to Lima, from Cali to Caracas, Cartagena tops the list. I love this place. It has everything a hedonist like me could ask for: warm sunny weather year round, nice beaches, old cobbled alleys, massive churches, shady plazas, great outdoor restaurants, hotels for all pocketbooks, and lots of cool streets to explore.

Cartagena goes back to 1533, and has been a major port and storage point for shipping all the gold and silver the Spaniards stole from the Incas. Which is one reason Sir Francis Drake sacked the place in 1580. Which got me thinking: Is theft any less of a crime if you steal from a thief? If Pizarro was a bad guy for stealing from the Incas, was Drake equally bad for stealing from Pizarro and the Spaniards? Or is his crime somehow less bad?

Regardless, Cartagena was the target of many pirate attacks over the years. Now it is simply a great place to stroll around and take in the culture and history. Here´s a few pix.

Colombia is known for their cut flower exports. Here´s why. This is a flower stall in the market. I have never seen such HUGE colorful flowers.

Just a follow up to the food post of last time. I commented it´s tough to know what to eat and what to stay away from. Here´s a few photos of street vendors and their cuisine. Now maybe it´s OK to eat this stuff but I wouldn’t risk it.

Finally, the beach: Traveling is hard work, so here I am rewarding myself with a nice coco loco.

The Darién Gap

I’m not sure how many people know that you cannot drive the entire length of the 16,000 mile long Pan-American highway. In fact, there is not a single road that connects North America to South America. The reason is the Darién Gap.

The Darién Gap is a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama (North America) and Colombia (South America). It measures 100 miles long by 30 miles wide. On the Colombian side lies a flat marshland, half of this being swampland. On the Panamanian side is a mountainous rain forest. Here, where Central and South America come together, lies one of the richest ecological regions on Earth.

Why don’t they build a road and connect the missing link in the Pan-American highway? Supporters of the highway cite both symbolic and economic reasons for completing it. It’s outrageous, they say, that at the dawn of the 21st century the Americas are still not united because of a few miles of missing road. Business would love to be able to truck cargo between the two countries.

But completing the Pan-American highway here, say conservationists, would attract thousands of poor immigrants looking for land and guarantee annihilation of the remaining forest. Leaders of indigenous Indian tribes in the gap fear the influx of immigrants would destroy them economically and culturally. Conservationists also point to the nearest stretch of the highway, already completed as far as Yaviza, Panama. The area, heavily forested only 20 years ago, is now mostly stripped of timber for miles on both sides of the highway. A road into this area would be a death-knell for one of the wildest, most untamed parts of the Americas.

Latin American diplomats have called for completing the highway, but Panama’s government, concerned about political and drug-related violence moving north from Colombia, seems to have given the project a low priority.

In fact, many Panamanians are comforted by having the Darien Gap as a buffer zone on the Colombian border, as many drug operations and terrorist groups have made the Darien Gap their home.

So, how do I get to Panama? By sailboat. I have arranged transport on the Da Capo, Captained by Max, a 79-year old Swedish sailor. He is taking six passengers to San Blas islands and from there I will catch another boat to the mainland. The trip should take a couple days, but I may stay over in San Blas for a bit, it sounds nice.

In any case, adios from South America!

6 thoughts on “Cartagena de Indias

  1. Ben Kilpela January 15, 2008 / 8:47 pm

    Thanks for the fascinating lesson on the Darien Gap and Cartagena, Kev. I appreciate all your work in writing on these things. On Drake, I guess you have to ask yourself what you might consider moral in a situation analogous to Drake’s. Upon finding out that a family member, say a cousin, had embezzled $50,000 from a company, would you think that you would be moral in stealing from him, perhaps going to his home, scoping the joint out, finding his hiding place, and then helping yourself to the loot? I’d guess that there would be extremely few writers and thinkers on moral issues, those of the Randy Coehn sort (he writes the Ethicist column for the NY Times), who would say that you are being moral in stealing from a thief.

    Ah… but Drake and the Spanish is a slightly different case, for England and Spain were at war at the time, which is usually overlooked in discussions of Drake. The King of Spain, Philip II, had declared ALL English people to be his enemies (one of those early decisions that European princes made about non-combatants in war that set the precedent that Osama Bin Laden eventually drew upon) and ALL their possessions to be fair game for any Spanish soldier willing to take the risk of seizing them. The English followed suit. The war became a tit-for-tat tale of robberies in the New World colonies of the two countries. That somehow changes things, doesn’t it? Think about it, and give me your reply.

    Have fun on the island.


  2. DAD January 16, 2008 / 11:07 pm


  3. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. January 17, 2008 / 2:42 am

    Bettyt and i were in Cartagena a few years back; it was wonderful. That’;s where I had a chance to watch a Columbian Folk-dancing troupe performing the most strenuous dances I have ever seen.

    See if you can find out the name of the Columbian hero who with one arm, one leg and one eye defeated the great Francis Drake. There are statues of him everywhere. It is but a short hop from Cartagena to Aruba so many of the Columbians (drug-runners, prostitutes, etc.) find there way there and then on to Curacao and the Americas. Have a great sail (which is probably history when you get this).

  4. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. January 17, 2008 / 2:44 am

    Once again forgot to re-read my last post. I must be getting too old. We leave for Florida on Feb 1 so hurry home; we’re only there through April.

  5. Ira January 17, 2008 / 2:54 pm

    Kev, your getting sick story reminds me of the time your sister got sick eating a spider leg that was in her food in Turkey. Or maybe it was the water coming out of a rock in Cappodocia. We never could figure out which. Anyway, she gets very sick – weak and feverish as we drive down towards the south coast and Antalya, a town with a great crusader castle. (On the way I got a speeding ticket and the cop had me pose for a photo with him. After paying him about 60 bucks on the spot. A speed and photo trap.) At one point we pulled over and I urged Katrina to try to throw up and get it out of her system. At this point she revealed to me an amazing fact – she had rarely ever thrown up and didn’t know how. I remember finding that shocking. Anyway, we found ourselves checking into a hotel in a town that stunk like rotten eggs because of a factory. After sitting in the room for 30 minutes it was clear we had to leave. The lady running the place charged us for the room anyway. She must have thought we were there for a (real) quickie. I talked her down to half price and we headed for the next town over. K was fine the next day and beyond.


  6. jojo January 20, 2008 / 6:02 pm

    Hey Kevs,
    -20 with the windchill in the U.P. today (1degree F) so we are in a deep freeze that is extending down the midwest. Although I know most other areas are not getting it accompanied by snow. I shoveled for about an hour yesterday and got completely drenched in sweat…oh how we yoopers keep warm.
    Beautiful shots of color with the flowers, food, sea, sun, and a coco loco (they probably don’t make virgin ones do they) Have one on me.
    Really learning alot from your blog. You know so much…traveling is such hard work like you say.
    We’ll be in Florida the first week of April…you should be home by then N’est Pas? It is probably nice to be inching toward American soil, is it?
    Talk soon,

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