The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

*This is part 2 of 2 of Cartagena.  See part 1 above.*

Our Lonely Planet calls Cartagena’s central market, the Mercado Bazurto, “not for the faint of heart.”  Reading this, we knew we had to go.  Catching a cab, we ventured out into ‘real’ Cartagena.  Outside of the relatively clean and authentically preserved old city, the authentic part of the city spillovers into a wild mess of poorly paved roads and petrol fumes.  Animals fight for space in the road as people dart past pot holes of rotting sewage and into one of them many food carts selling oysters and beef empanadas.  I have been to plenty of markets around the world, including quite a few in Central and South America, but never have I been to one as powerful as Bazurto.

Westerners never go to Bazurto.  People stared at us in incredulity, as if wondering why we would leave the colonial comforts of the old city for a dirty and definitely-not-up-to-health-code urban mess miles away from the Caribbean coast.  But that is exactly why we went, to see real Cartagena and experience the genuine Colombia.  After all, we didn’t come thousands of miles to South America to sit in an air conditioned hotel room overlooking the sea; “you can sleep when you’re dead” is a good travel mantra.  Anyway, as the picture will illuminate, Bazurto was an intense experience.  The market is a maze of narrow dirt alleys and dilapidated wooden stalls.  Everything seems to be sold here – in one corner, a butcher chops beef, blood running down the side of the counter, in another, an old woman peddles sliced fish basking in the brutal humidity.  On the ground, makeshift bridges from vegetable crates cover cesspools of liquified trash.  I can’t even imagine at night when presumably the rats come out to play…or even worse, when it rains…

Later in the trip, we climbed the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the largest and strongest fort built by the Spanish in any of their New World colonies.  Completed several years before our country celebrated its declaration, the fort was never conquered.  It stands proudly over one of the city’s higher hills, commanding a view of the Caribbean.

In the distance, skyscrapers along the Bocagrande district of the city arch along a sandy peninsula, offering warm winter refuge for Colombian tourists.  Later we would walk the 4 or so miles from the tip of Bocagrande back to the old city.  Hundred of people come up to you asking if you want a massage or sunglasses or need help applying your sunscreen.  I really felt my Spanish, which gets us by surprisingly well in Latin America (6 years of class instruction later…), improved after dealing with hordes of peddlers all selling one of only a handful of products or services.  No gracias. Yo no quiero un masaje y yo no quiero que me toques. Ciao. (No thank you.  I don’t want a massage and I don’t want you to touch me.  Bye.)

Colombia.  What a fascinating place.  People are blindly unaware of the realities that make up modern, cosmopolitan Colombia today, repeating decades-old soundbites of drug cartels and violence.  Look closer and you will find an amazing destination well off the Latin American tourist circuit (we counted – we saw 4 Americans but a good handful of Aussies and Europeans) that rewards those with a little patience (the violence has kept tourists, and therefore English, from percolating heavily throughout the populace) and the intrigue to press further into a dynamic and unique international destination.

I’m already looking forward to going back to Bogotá, the ancient capital 8500 feet in the Andes, and especially Medellín, the country’s cultural second city.  Colombia, I’ll see you soon.

Back in Cartagena after swimming in the mud volcano, I take a solo trip around the old city. Here, just a street sign near our hotel.

The Plaza de Simón Bolívar is a favorite hangout of author Gabriel Garcia Marquez

These type of statues - large, nude women - are all over Cartagena

Plaza del Santo Domingo, another old city square

Giant Colombian flag (with some words attached to the bottom)

Walking up the city walls again...

...and finding no one up there. Much like Spain, people take siestas here to escape the intense heat. Here, an old colonial tower shares the skyline with the new pillars of glass and steel of modern Cartagena

The spot where a cannon would be frames the southern Caribbean Sea

An odd globe statue with the skyscrapers of the Bocagrande district in the distance

A platform in the sea to the right of the globe statue

Back in the old city, the old clocktower. It was destroyed and rebuilt 3 times as attackers sieged the city.


An old gate, seperating the El Centro district from the poorer Getsemani area

Horses carry people on the cobbled streets

Old theater

Another view of the gate

The gate from the Avenue of the Heroes, a site dedicated to those that helped solidify Cartagena's history

The next day, we took a cab outside of the old city into Cartagena proper. Several miles in, we arrived at the Mercado Bazurto, something my Lonely Planet says is "not for the faint of heart." Wow, were they right.

Roughly $2000 Colombian pesos = $1 USD

Lots of fish sitting in the incredible heat and humidity

So much fish. That fried fish we ate in Manzanilla was probably from here.

Is this hygenic?

This is sort of horrifying. Blood from the butcher shops leaks over the counters.

Walking through Bazurto

Chile vendor

We were quite the spectacle. Not very often do Westerners leave the nice old city and come quite a bit out to 'real' Cartagena.

The market, Bazurto, had so much liquified trash just laying around. Surely rats must come out at night. Hello, cholera. I wonder what happens when it rains...

Looks like she is making corndogs

"Prohibited to throw trash." That worked out well.

After Bazurto, we took a cab to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the largest and strongest fort the Spanish built in any of their New World colonies

Climbing up

Giant Colombian flag on the fort

The pose...with a windy shot of the giant flag

View from the top

Next to some metal thing

Under the fort there was an extensive tunnel system

Cannons at the top now face the Bocagrande district skyscrapers

Another view from the top with the big Colombian flag

From the fort, we took a cab to the very end of the Bocagrande peninsula, the location of all skyscrapers. The beaches directly in Cartagena really aren't that great - the sand is dark, the water is murky, and there is heavy erosion problems, so rocky jetties punctuate the shore every 200 feet. For crystal clear waters, you have to venture a few miles north or south of the city.

The back of the lifeguard station

Me in front

Beach. So many people came up to us asking us, in Spanish, if we needed chairs or a massage or sunglasses or someone to rub sunscreen on us

I love signs

Looking back; another beach shot

Tree on beach?

On the beach umbrella things, a message drugstore advertisement

Drinking the Colombian national beer, Águila, which means "eagle," on the beach

A seafood rice lunch

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4 Responses to The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

  1. jml says:

    nice post…looking forward to your PRC entries!

  2. Hey Zach, It is probably a little bit late for this comment but “Drogas la rebaja” is the name of a drugstore. I hope the comment below the picture is a joke. I dont want people to think that is so easy to advertise drugs in the beach.

    • zlain says:

      Hi Carlos,

      Oh, I did not know that! Thank you! I didn’t think it was an advertisement for drugs, but like a stern warning not to use them – “drugs are bad!” haha
      I’ll change the caption.

      Thank you very much for catching this!


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