This is our very first port of call in South America, so we are able to tick one more continent off our lifetime travel goal.
As soon as we stepped outdoors, we were besieged by the heat. This is the closest to the Equator I have ever been and it rained all last night so Cartagena is like a steam bath, especially for poorly equipped Canadians like ourselves. As we walked through the terminal and to our contact point, Jim has to keep reminding me to walk more slowly. Walking quickly in this temperature and humidity can cause heat exhaustion.
We find our bus with no problem and enjoy the AC. Soon we are driving off toward the Old City. The bus takes us through wildly differing neighbourhoods. Some touristic and vaguely false looking and others very poor looking but oh so real. Cracked sidewalks, cracked buildings, litter in big piles of cardboard, bits of wood, drinking bottles and a discarded shoe. However, each house is painted up in its own vibrant colour; hot pink, turquoise, forest green, topaz, orange, and sunshine yellow. And many, many of these homes are decked out with bright Christmas decorations.
The traffic is terrible! I am so glad I’m not the one driving! There is a lot of honking, lots of scooters zipping between the inching vehicles, and many lines of traffic trying to squeeze into one thin road. As we drive along, I am amazed at the variety of skin tones I am seeing, everything from strong tea with milk to dark roasted coffee bean. Later I am to learn that this area has been called “The Land of Seven Colours” because of the intermixture of peoples from the coast, the rainforest, Europe, Africa, and Central America.
Finally we make it to our destination. The Segway Tours. Jim has always wanted to try a Segway. When we travelled this summer, Jim often found himself longingly gazing after a troupe of Segways on tour. Me? I of course was a little more reticent. I am a klutz. I fall off everything. Bikes, skis, high heel shoes, you name it!
However, I must say, the Segway was remarkably easy to learn. Yes, during the three minute individual part of the lesson, I couldn’t figure out how to make the machine turn right and ended up almost ploughing into the curb on the left. I was rescued by Caesar, our guide and teacher. Turns out I have a tendency to turn the handle like a bike, in other words, pulling with my left instead of pulling with my right. It was an easy fix.
The Segway tour took us through the Old Town, which is now mainly a pedestrian zone; only service vehicles, lots of taxis, and segways allowed in. This was nice because we didn’t have to worry about fighting with traffic. We could zip along to our hearts’ content.
The Old City is the area of town that was originally built for the high class, literally! Only the high class were allowed to build houses that were three stories high. The middle class, two stories, etc. Knockers on the front doors also told to which family the house belonged. Iguanas were for royalty. Seahorses for sea merchants. A cross on a hand for clergy. The number of studs on the door was also an indication of how much wealth the family had. You can learn a lot by a front door!
One aspect of Cartagena that is both intriguing and perhaps a little daunting is the number of street vendors. They can be quite aggressive but on the Segway, we could just zip right by and enjoy the sights without being pestered. There are carts with shave ice, ladies with wash basins balanced on their heads full of fruit or baked goods, stalls with coconuts ready to be hacked with machetes, lime aid carts with fresh limes and ice water,
brightly woven purses, leather goods, beaded jewelry, to name but a few. One type of cart called to me, it was a hot griddle with English muffin looking patties sizzling away. They filled the air with a lovely cheesy scent. They turned out to be made of white corn and white cheese and are a favourite breakfast pastry.
The tour was fascinating. A chance to gain new knowledge and learn a new skill. Yes, I was soon zipping along with the best of them on my Segway. Mine was “L” so I dubbed her Little Lady. I must admit, I was getting pretty cocky. However, there was one spot where we went up a short steep ramp and suddenly, with the change of balance, Little Lady was bucking unexpectedly beneath me. I was falling! But then, I felt a sudden push. I was rescued again! The rear guard fellow pushed me in just the right spot with just the right momentum to set me to rights. This must be the worst spot on the tour for first time Segway users but they were ready to handle it. Even for a klutz like me!