November 15, 2003

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is easily one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen. Walking around "Old Town", a fantastically well preserved Spanish colonial town, you'd be hard pressed to guess what century, let alone what country you were in but for the few cars. Most cities, Vancouver included, would do well to take cues from Cartagena on how to integrate modern business districts and historical centers.

I'm here for the town's largest festival of the year - the coronation of Miss Colombia, a week-long festival held annually on the anniversary of Cartagena's liberation from Spain. Judges must crown one of the "Queens" from all over Colombia as the country's most beautiful - no easy decision, believe me.

The city shuts down business for a few days for the party, and parades and celebrations in the streets take over. Locals smeared in paint or used motor oil extort money from spectators by threatening to hug them or douse them with ooze.

Cartagena's most exceptional asset is its people; something that seems to be true everywhere in Colombia. They are easily the most friendly people I've met on this trip. Colombians are well aware of their country's reputation for violence abroad, but I don't think they are just being "extra nice" to tourists. Hospitality seems to be innate to the culture. Showing the smallest interest in their country; asking about tradition, things to do or see, politics or even the weather will often land you in the middle of a conversation with someone very eager to help you and learn about you.

Posted by dhuska at November 15, 2003 11:05 PM