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28th January, 2017

Cartagena, Columbia

There is a somewhat circuitous route passing through the Boca Chica channel to get to a berth in Cartagena, so it was a pre dawn arrival at the pilot station. The sun rose quickly, as did the heat, so by the time we had docked just after seven the temperature was 27 degrees. There were six different tours, most of which included a walk around the historic old town, situated within great walled bastions and so very colonial Spanish.

Our first stop was at La Popa, a hill overlooking the city on which stands the monastery of Virgen de la Candelaria. When we arrived, there were hundreds of young happy locals, all there to celebrate, noisily, a religious holiday. As they started to leave we entered into the wonderful cloisters where a few monks were sat offering guidance perhaps to those that were in need. The altarpiece was as one might expect, in the grand Catholic style, covered in 22-carat gold leaf.

We returned to sea level and headed on towards the fortress of San Felipe, built in the 17th century to guard the city from land invasion. A strenuous climb was required in order to reach the ramparts, still with their ancient canon in place. A series of tunnels within had to be negotiated before emerging at the very top, they had been built as a last means of defence with dark hidden chambers holding a gruesome surprise no doubt.

Back down in the city, and after a typical Colombian meal taken in a waterside restaurant contained within the old walls, we headed on to the historic centre. Las Bòvedas, built as a series of dungeons and storehouses, now converted into craft shops, the first retail opportunity of the day for Mrs R. Time, and we, fortunately moved on however, past the pretty balconied facades of colonial architecture, many with colourful hanging bougainvillea. We came to the Church of Santo Domingo, damaged by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, and near the main square of Plaza de Bolivar, revolutionary hero of South America. A visit inside the former headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition gave us the opportunity to see various instruments of torture, which our lovely guide was insistent were never actually used in Cartagena. (Where then I thought?)

Perhaps needless to say our tour ended with free time to wander the historic streets. My good lady is now the proud possessor of some local craftsmanship, a bag (another always needed apparently) for which she negotiated very successfully and then convinced the vendor that he and his mother should also have their photograph taken with her.

A great day and a great destination.

Captain Philip Rentell

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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