Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” Jodi Picoult

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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The city was founded in 1533 and was the main South American port for the Spaniards. They stored treasures pillaged from the indigenous people in Cartagena to ship to their homeland. Silver, gold, cacao beans, chile peppers and tobacco from the new world were shipped to Spain. Cartagena was a marketplace for slave ships coming from Africa. It was probably the most looted port in the world. As a result of constant pirate attacks, the Spanish built a solid wall to surround the town to protect their valuables. It was built during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and is the only walled city in the Americas. It took more than two hundred years and fifteen million African slaves to build the wall.

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The main fortification was the Fort of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (named after Spain’s King Philip IV) which is located on a 130-foot-high hill towering over the city. Originally built in the mid-1600s, it was rebuilt and enlarged several times over the years to become the greatest fortress Spain ever built in the Americas.

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Las Palenqueras are the famous fruit basket ladies you see around the walled city. They come from San Basilio De Palenque which is an hour away from Cartagena.

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These women are the descendants of South American slaves and San Basilio De Palenque was the first city in South America of free slaves. Las Palenqueras keep their African culture and traditions.

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The food market in Cartagena is hot and dark with a lot going on. The smell hits you. It is a mixture of sweet smelling fruit, fish smelling fish, raw meat and live birds.

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The thing I always notice in these markets is that they use every part of the animal and the parts are all there to buy. There are always flies and fast-moving, knives, machetes and hammers.

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Tables are filled with all the local fruits and vegetables. I eat delicious tamarind from the pod. I have never seen a raw one before. (tamarind)

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Everyone is moving quickly carrying a lot on their heads or in their arms. It is a market for locals and you can buy anything from toiletries to clothes as well. I bought flip-flops.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. (poor but happy)

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It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other.

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The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. When you finish the water they quickly open it up and slice up the meat. It was clearly not the first coconut they’ve opened with a machete. It feels very far away from Cartagena.

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Then I walk for a long time with my feet in the Caribbean sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Day and night the sound of clip clopping horse and carts carry tourists around the city. I prefer to wander around and walk the walls at dusk.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair.

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You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books. Garcia Marquez or Gabo died a few days after I returned . But now I can picture him  sitting in La Vitrola, Café Havana or in a square in Cartegena writing his stories. ( a person standing in front of Gabo’s house, some famous characters from another author play chess in the square)

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Thank to Jose and Kevin Rodriguez for their kindness and knowledge of a city they love.

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Colombia is now one of my favorite places. One of my best trips happened because I said yes to something I never thought I would be doing alone. Thanks Jeannine Cohen from Geox for planning this wonderful adventure.

Viaje Con Cuidado,

JAZ

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Things I Have Learned From The Incas In Peru

“Before our white brothers came to civilize us we had no jails. Therefore we had no criminals. You can’t have criminals without a jail. We had no locks or keys, and so we had no thieves. If an Indian  was so poor that he had no horse, tipi or blanket, someone gave him these things. We were too uncivilized to set much value on personal belongings. We wanted to have things only in order to give them away. We had no money, and therefore a man’s worth couldn’t be measured by it. We had no written law, no attorneys or politicians, therefore we couldn’t cheat. We really were in a bad way before the white men came, and I don’t know how we managed to get along without these basic things which, we are told, are absolutely necessary to make a civilized society.”

― John Lame DeerLame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Things I Have Learned from the Incas In Peru

The Inca culture is part myth part Peruvian history. There are no written historical records of  people that lived for three hundred years and ruled  the West Coast of South America for one hundred years.

Their recording system (mathematical) system was colored strings with knots to keep records of everything that could possibly be counted (livestock and business transactions), and some things that couldn’t – like instructions, people’s names etc.   They were  required to remember to understand what the strings or quipu meant .  Most people couldn’t do it.  They had a  class of royal quipu specialists who knew how to make and read them. (the first accountants and business managers)

Archaeologists believe now that the Incas  were possibly inventing written language just as the Europeans were destroying their civilization.

.No other civilization has managed to assemble so many colossal stone blocks so seamlessly cut with stones or bronze.  The edges of the stone were rubbed smooth until they merged together perfectly like a puzzle. There is no mortar holding them together and they are earthquake proof constructions. ( Sacsayhuaman fortress)

How they  transported all that granite up there  to Machu Picchu remains a mystery.  It is believed that they quarried  it on site. 

The Incas knew how important water was and treated it with great respect but we did not. (Ollaytantambo)

but we

When the descendants of the Incas are planting to this day, they put flowers in their hair to dress the earth. They live with shortages but they have the mountains and the sky and that gives them peace. They are always chewing coca leaves.

Inca dances are traditional and also a way to pray.

The Inca manhood initiation rite lasted a full month, during which the boys who were training to be warriors were flogged repeatedly, had huge holes cut in their ear lobes, ran dangerous races, and danced till they dropped.

There was a lot of building going on in the Inca civilization ( third largest after Egypt and Mesapotamia)  They built palaces, aqueducts, storehouses, terraces, temples, houses, gateways etc. Looking at Machu Picchu you could see their “tax dollars at work”.

 We know very little about Inca women because the only written records are by the Spaniards. Spain was a patriarchal society and they were not interested in recording information about women.

The Inca emperor married his sister seemingly because this helped to resolve the problems they had with succession when an Inca died.  ( a good way to prevent inheritance problems but not birth defects). Her name was Coya and she was powerful in her own right.

 Pizzaro and his men were not heroic explorers but an extremely desperate group of foreign invaders who brutally murdered the Inca civilization  ( where have we heard this before?)

The Incas were skilled craftsmen and artists. Most of  their gold and silver art was melted down by the Spaniards.

There were no homeless people in the Inca civilization. If criminals were not killed, they had to beg for food everyday and tell their stories so other people would not commit the same crime. (sounds a lot better than twenty years without parole) 

The spirit of Ayni  (rhymes with Hi-ni)   exists in the Quechua  culture today. We don’t talk  about Incas as a surviving culture anymore.  It is “I help you so you must help me later.”

Also today we have Inka Kola, Inka rail and a ton of Inka traffic going to all the historic sites.

Machu Picchu was the royal estate of Inca  King Pachacuti.

Th Incas were good at organizing labor. When Pachacuti’s grandson Huayna Capac built his royal estate  (in Urubumba) he had 150,000 workers on site. The corn-growing Cochabamba valley of Bolivia was short of local labor, so they had 28,000 workers migrate there from Lake Titicaca and back (a distance of about three hundred miles) twice a year, once to plant and once to harvest.  On foot, of course.

They had nice roads to travel on. The Incas built a network of stone-paved highways all over the empire. Archaeologists have so far logged about 50,000 miles of remaining highways in modern Peru alone, not counting the other nations that once formed part of the Inca empire.

Machu Picchu has brilliant engineering, drainage and foundations. They filled the terraces with layers, starting with topsoil for the crops and then river sand, stone chippings from the quarries, and big rocks. Underneath that are subterranean drainage channels which still carry water down the mountain   No matter how hard it rains, no standing water ever remains for long on the surface.( Estimate: 60% of construction at Machu Picchu is invisible, underground.) i believe we could learn something here because it rains a lot in Macchu Picchu.
The Incas worshipped the earth goddess Pachamama . Before our trip to Machu Picchu we met with a shaman to make an offering to Pachamama for safe journey.

The purpose of Macchu Picchu will always remain a mystery. It is probably a religious and spiritual site.  It is the work of man echoing the work of nature. The Inca trail leading up to Machu Picchu ( it takes four days  of camping out in the Andes if you want to do it) was built to always face the snow capped mountains because that is what they worshipped. The architectural style is sacred geography.  For me, if God isn’t at Machu Picchu, he isn’t anywhere.

 

Viajen con cuidado,

JAZ

PS.  I had help on this one . It is advantageous  when you are writing about the Incas to have made a friend in Peru who happens to be one of the leading authorities on the Inca civilization .  Peter Frost is an explorer, author, photographer and National Geographic expert on Peru and the  Incas.  He has made one of the most important discoveries of Inca civilization since Machu Picchu. Check out his website  (www.peterfrost.org).  If you are traveling to  Peru you will find his books very beautiful,  helpful and informative.