Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Monday, October 31, 2022

South America : Day 19 : Adiós y Hasta Luego….

Sadly our holiday adventure is drawing to a close. For nearly three weeks we’ve been travelling around South America - well, principally Bolivia and Colombia. And it’s been fab.

Bolivia has natural wonders aplenty. It is perhaps not quite as developed as its neighbouring countries but it certainly has much to offer; the massive Uyuni salt flats and Lake Titicaca to name but two. 

Colombia was a revelation. It was beautiful, welcoming, cheap(!), and so much fun. Lots to see in the countryside and lots to do in the cities. And having a Caribbean coast was the icing on the cake. 

If you are in half a mind to visit either places, you’d certainly have a fun time. Both countries are very safe, friendly, and many adventures await you. 

Here’s a few of our favourite photos from our trip. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

South America : Day 18 : Cartagena Knockers…

Cartagena is famous for a number of things. But near the top of the list are its doors, knobs, and knockers.     

Knockers are big here. The knockers (or aldaba) all represent a trade or an occupation of the house’s inhabitant.     

Lions:  One of the most common door knockers, the lion is associated with strength and leadership and symbolised families related to the army.    

Lizards:  Associated with blue blood and royalty, the lizard signified members of the royal family, nobles or those with legitimate (or otherwise) connections.    

Mermaids, seahorses, other sea creatures or fish:  This makes up another large portion of door knockers. They represent merchant marines and other working class professionals bringing in goods via the sea.      

Hands:  The hand knockers were for those in the clergy as it’s meant to be the hand of the Virgin Mary of Fatima.  

Size is everything; the bigger, more ornate, and more elaborate the knocker on the door, the more impressive your family’s heritage and social positioning.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

South America : Day 17 : Cartagena - A city with a past and a future…

Today we set out to explore Cartagena proper. Being a port on the Caribbean coast it was (and still is) a gateway to the world. 

The Spanish founded the town in the 16th century and it quickly became a thriving port. It was dominated in those early years by trade with Europe (mainly ‘export’ of gold!) and the terrible slave trade. The town are attacked at various times by the Portuguese, the British, and pirates - all after a share of the city. 

Much of the Spanish colonial architecture still exists and what is new is generally sympathetic to the same style. 

Cartagena is famous for something else too. It’s knockers. (See later post for more on that.)

The city is beautiful. There is a happy buzz about the place. We felt very safe, and very welcome. 

In fact while walking around we were struck about how relaxed the locals were with tourism. I guess it’s been a part of the city since it was founded 400 years ago and especially since liberation in 1811. 

One thing that we did see was plenty of examples how racism has effected the city over the centuries. The buildings built for the slave trade. The forced conversion of locals and slaves to Catholicism. The terrible Inquisition of any non-conformists. The torture that went on. The more recent purges in the late 1990s as innocent Afro-Colombian people were rounded up and killed by the Colombian Army claiming falsely they had killed guerrillas. 

There are many art projects in the city representing these terrible atrocities. Black street art, paintings by black residents and artists, and exhibitions for children and adults alike. It was very moving and often inspiring.

Cartagena is not a city to shy away from its past. 

Nor it’s future, as our guide told us (who was Afro-Colombian), black-run businesses are springing up all over the place. 

It’s a fascinating place and I strongly recommend you come and discover it for yourself. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

South America : Day 16 : Medellín -> Cartagena…

So it’s farewell to Medellín (pronounced Med-A-Jean by the locals BTW) then but a short flight (albeit in a torrential rainstorm) due north to the Caribbean coast and the lovely town of Cartagena.  It will be our home for the next few days. 

The place is really beautiful; Cartagena was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish and the walled city still preserves a lot of that original colonial architecture. The city was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. 

Cartagena is hot though. Tropically hot. So we decided to spoil ourselves and checked into a posh hotel with good a/c and a pool in the Old Town for a couple of nights. It was the cheapest room they had. What we didn’t quite realise was just how posh the place was; free drinks on entry. a palacial room with its own staircase, it’s own balcony, a ‘free’ minibar, and staff who just couldn’t do enough for us.

We have a lot of exploring to do, but that can wait for another day. For now it’s tiffin in the library then feet up and cocktails by the pool.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

South America : Day 15 : El Peñol…

Today was our last day in the Medellín region. So we headed out of town to a Colombian must-see natural wonder; El Peñol (literally, “the stone,)  

Set in the lush green rolling hills of Antioquia, the giant monolith rock of El Peñol is reminiscent of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio. The 200 metre high rock towers over a series of beautiful lakes with a mountain backdrop. The gentle undulating scenery makes a stunning comparison to the modern and cosmopolitan city of Medellin only a few hours away.

It was a struggle - mixture of steepness, narrow slippery steps, and vertigo - but we reached the top of the rock by a series of 708 winding steps. At the top we were greeted with a stunning 360 degree bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside and lakes. It was fab.   

After we descended (gingerly) we walked around the nearby town of Guatapé. It is a lakeside 'get away' for the residents of Medellin and had a colourful rural charm all of its own. The main town square or 'parque' has lots of brightly painted houses and shop fronts. Oh, and a gay bar!  

We stopped for lunch on the waterfront (for another Colombian specialty) and then moved back to the central square for coffee and to people watch before heading back to Medellín.   

A lovely day out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

South America : Day 14 : Medellín City Tour…

Our hotel is lodged in the buzzing El Poblado area of Medellín. It’s lush and tropical. Humming birds, exotic plants, and weirdly intricate insects flutter around as we breakfasted on the patio.   

Colombian coffee inside us, we soon embarked upon a grand tour of the greater city. Medellín is a sprawling place - it has a dense central district, a colonial past - museums and art galleries. The residential areas consist of tower blocks and brick and  wooden houses that seem to cling to the sides of mountains like mosses and infiltrate the nearby forests like vines. 

It’s a glorious melange.   

Medellín is certainly a city with a history; from the valiant founding fathers trekking across the Andes, through to the dark days of drug cartels and the city’s more recent rebirth as one of South America’s most vibrant & progressive.   

We started in Barefoot park - shoes optional. It was very ‘mindful’ - bamboo wood, sensory struts, tree-hugging. Not quite what we expected. 

We then visited Comuna 13, a rough area which once suffered from appalling levels of violence - shootings, car bombs, etc  - but which now has been utterly transformed by the locals through transport, education and street art projects.  We stopped for a coffee and chat with the locals. 

We then rode on the city’s famous cable car system high up into the hills that gave us not only great views of the city but a chance to understand better the geography and social make-up of Colombia’s second city.     

Back down in the valley, our lunch stop was in a little place that had a rich variety of local delicacies on offer. Stu had a rice and pork dish, I plumped for ajiaco - a chicken / potato soup with a whole sweet corn, cream, avocado, banana, capers, and rice. Yum.   

Afterwards we walked around a crazily chaotic street market ending up in a dingy area at the back. The men were selling watches, the girls selling sex.   

A sad light district really. The girls were simply walking the streets. Teenagers most of them. So sad.

We then visited the Parque Berrio (that cheeky fellow Fernando Botero again) to see the famous Botero sculpture park. 

One of the bird sculptures was partially destroyed in 1995 by a terrorist bomb killing 28 young people at an outdoor concert and maiming 200. The damaged sculpture was left as a reminder and a new prouder bird added next to it. 

A fascinating day out. 

Fun fact: Utilities in Medellín (gas, electricity, water, internet etc) are all supplied by a single government-owned company EPM. The service is quite good apparently and each home pays a tariff based on the wealth in the local area. Lower in poorer areas. Higher in richer areas.