March 22, 2013

Gold, Boats, and Forts

I'm just getting to finishing up our posts on Colombia now so bear with me. Thanks! ~Ayelet

We spent our last few days on vacation in the town of Cartagena, right along the coast. In a way, I felt like our vacation only started when we got to Cartagena.

Watching the sunset on century-old city walls

Because 1) it's warm and humid, 2) the people are super nice, 3) it was easy to walk around and felt safe within the old city walls, and 4) there was a variety of things to see and do.

One morning we spent some time in the old fortress on the hill. Cartagena was where Spanish kept all the gold they stole from the indigenous people before they shipped it back to Spain. So pirates loved to raid the city, or at least try to. The old city is faced on 2 sides by water and is protected by the city walls. The fortress on the hill protects the back sides of the city. We had a great tour guide at the fortress - at one point, he had us go down a dark maze to show how the military communications worked back then. And then he let us flounder our way out of the maze and scare us half to death in the process. Fun times!

Leading to the mazes below the fortress
On another day, we took a boat tour to a few islands off the coast. It took 2 hours to get out there, but let me tell you, this guy was the most entertaining guide/boat game show host we've ever had. We've got video, which we hope to eventually put together, but for now, I'll share this photo of just one part of this voyage.

Yes, those are two men who are cross-dressed up in women's clothes from female volunteers on the boat. They even have lipstick on and stuffed towels up their butts. Then, they were made to walk the "catwalk" and even dance with a pole. And I just want to say that the North American/European tourists were in the minority on this boat. That afternoon, after the boat, we ate lunch on Playa Blanca and relaxed on the beach under a cabana. It was perfect.

Because it was really hot in Cartagena one afternoon (actually, who am I kidding? It was hot every afternoon so we took our siesta usually between 1-3 pm), we stopped by the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum). To our surprise, it was an air-conditioned museum delight! The first floor was about the Zenu Indian tribe, which had goldsmiths quite early. They were around 200 BC to 1600 AD although there are a few remaining members still around today. It was amazing to me that they had an advanced enough society to use gold and have enough wealth to pay for gold jewelry during that time. When you hear about modern civilization, you don't hear about how advanced the non-European societies actually were.

Gold earrings that both women and men wore 
On the second floor, there was a section that talked about how they created a canal system over 400,000 hectares (almost a million acres) of land in northern Colombia because it would keep flooding. They carved out canals in their lands so their crops would still get the nutritional benefits of being in the flood plains, but their houses and villages were safe on the canal ridges. It's interesting because even today, people often build in places that are almost guaranteed to flood without taking precautions.

We were not expected Cartagena to have so much to do and see. We were pleasantly surprised.

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