Cartagena, Columbia – Day 2
Our second day in Cartagena, we were determined to head back to the Dungeons and shop the arcades. Our tour guide from the day before had offered to take a group into town, but we missed the ride. So we caught a taxi with another couple and split the twenty dollar fee. The driver dropped us off in the Old City but couldn’t tell us where to find the Dungeons. We noted our location so we could head back there for pickup and refused his offer to wait for us, or to come back at a specific time. We figured it wouldn’t be hard to flag another taxi in the same place.
We’d obtained a shopping map from the ship, but the streets were not labeled correctly or with any detail, and it only pointed out the ship’s recommended stores. We found these okay, but they weren’t where we wanted to go. Nobody seemed to understand when we asked about the Dungeons, or else they pointed vaguely and said the arcades were blocks away. We strolled along the streets, admiring the architecture and the wares sold by the street vendors.
We peeked inside a cathedral that was crowded on this Sunday morning. Many patrons sat in the pews. We saw the famous clock tower.
We climbed the wall and admired the view. The ancient wall is an attraction in itself.
By now we were hot and tired. We trudged back to our place of origin. Buses sat waiting for their groups, but we spied only one lone taxi. The driver didn’t speak English and shook his head at my gestures. He must have been waiting on a return fare. It looked as though other cabs were driving by another section. Maybe we could hail one there. But the streets were flooded from recent rains, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that getting over to that spot would be difficult. Plus the cabs were zooming past as though already occupied.
Maybe we could find another place by the wall where there was a taxi stand. We wound through the streets, sweat dripping down our faces. Feeling lost and on the verge of collapse from heat exhaustion, I wondered what would happen if we needed medical assistance in this foreign place. We stopped passersby to inquire about a taxi, but no one spoke English. Overheated and panting, I feared we wouldn’t make it back to the ship.
Shoving aside a sense of panic, I staggered onward. As though by divine providence, I saw the familiar and very welcome face of our tour guide from the day before. He must have dropped off his load of tourists there and was hanging around waiting for their return. I waved to him. He recognized me and waved back. As we approached, I said we were ready to go back to the ship. He offered to take us to the Dungeons, but I didn’t care at that point. We followed him on a fifteen to twenty minute hike through the maze of streets to another section by the wall. Here he got us a cab and negotiated with the driver on our behalf. Greatly relieved, we dove inside the air-conditioned interior and settled back in our seats. The fare was supposed to be $15 for the two of us, but when I handed the driver my $20, he nodded and kept it. I was so glad to be back at the ship that I let it go.
A shuttle ran between the end of the pier and our ship. We gladly climbed aboard. Once back in our cabin, I rinsed my face with cold water. My complexion was red as a beet. We’re Floridians, so our sweat glands had done their jobs, but all the walking in the high heat defeated even us. Truly our guardian angels were watching over us that day to bring the tour guide our way.
Once we’d recovered, we took the shuttle back to the entrance and shopped in the spacious, air-conditioned gift shop where they sell emerald jewelry, native crafts, coffee, candy, and more. Outside, the port area is attractively landscaped with birds on display. You can catch a taxi out front. Just remember to arrange for pickup if you go touring on your own.
After having been so stressed out, overheated, and dehydrated, I succumbed to a scratchy sore throat. This was the beginning of a cold which my husband caught from me. No doubt our resistance wore down that day, but we learned a lesson. Columbia isn’t like the Caribbean islands where people speak English and you can easily hire a cab. Nonetheless, Cartagena’s Old City is a beautiful place with flowers and ironwork on second-story balconies and romantic carriage rides. Visions of Romancing the Stone will play in your head. But now I understand how the heroine felt when she got lost on the wrong bus.
Next Port: Georgetown, Grand Cayman
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