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!