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Monday, 03 May 2010

Cartagena, Colombia: Buses in South America, To Look or not to Look? - Page 2

Written by Brendan van Son
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I stepped off of my plane into the humid Caribbean air confronted by a familiar regret regarding the next leg of my journey: another Latin American bus! In South America, it seems like on every single bus journey you’re putting your life into the hands of stock car racers who haven’t been told that they’re now driving a bus. On the steep-edged, sharp mountain curves, one often hears the questionable rumble of the pressure to the driver’s gas pedal — the result of which would test even an astronaut’s G-force tolerance levels. Bags on the ground and objects in the overheads are often launched across the bus in the seemingly gravity-free environment. The locals, who are quite used to the situation, carelessly continue reading the latest futbol news or bouncing their unbuckled kids on their laps. Speed limits seem like more of a recommendation, as drivers appear to have no issue passing police officers at top speed.

Other than Santa Marta, which sits about 4 hours north up the coast; Cartagena is the oldest surviving city on the South American Continent. It was established as a sea port in 1533, two years before the conquest wars were won by the Spanish against the Incas in the Andes of South America. It quickly became the most important port in South America, because it was here that the Spanish held its gold and silver exploited from the continent and its people. The treasures sat in the noble city forts waiting to be shipped across the ocean on Spanish Galleons.

Cartagena, Colombia: Buses in South America – To Look or not to Look?, Latin American bus, travel South America, Columbia’s coastal treasure, travel Cartagena, travel Columbia, Cartagena de Indias, Brendan van SonOf course the treasures held by Cartagena made it a literal gold mine for pillaging pirates and privateers. After a number of attacks, including the most devastating assault, one by Sir Francis Drake in 1586, Cartagena erected a series of sturdy cement walls and a solid concrete fort to protect it from further peril. These robust walls still protect Cartagena’s old city today.

Throughout the many civil wars in Colombia, Cartagena has remained a safe haven. Despite a single truck bomb set off by Pablo Escobar’s Extraditables, the city has been left untouched by the years of violence and destruction. It is a city of vast cultural diversity as well. The sound of Castelllano Spanish is often mixed with the colorful flavour of Caribbean slang which gives the city a unique cultural attitude.

Today, the city is divided into numerous distinctively different districts. The most notable of these districts is the colonial center of El Centro. The old town provides a sharp contrast to modern tourist district of Boca Grande. El Centro may be one of the most charming places in all of South America. It has the vibe of New Orleans mixed with the peace and charisma of a small Spanish village. Its narrow cobbled streets and colorful colonial buildings might leave you wondering if you’ve stepped back 400 years, until the yellow taxi cabs wiz up and down the calles.

Cartagena, Colombia: Buses in South America – To Look or not to Look?, Latin American bus, travel South America, Columbia’s coastal treasure, travel Cartagena, travel Columbia, Cartagena de Indias, Brendan van SonThis city was once known as one of the most romantic places in the New World; and one look at all its vicariously hanging balconies and bright churches will leave you without a doubt as to why. The stone walls that used to protect the city from pirates now shield the city from the crashing Caribbean Sea waves. The barrier provides a raised walkway – one of the best ways to truly enjoy the city and the sea. It is one of those places that can leave you at a standstill, sucking in a deep breath as if you were hoping that you could breathe in the atmosphere and keep it with you forever.

As I leave Cartagena, I look out my window and see a city of a charm, history, and character that is indescribable. Its feeling cannot be explained by words, or even pictures.

As I take my seat in the middle of the bus and the driver closes the swinging arm door at the front, I realize that if my next destination offers even half of what Cartagena has, it will be worth all the bumps, bruises and anxiety of my bus journeys.

© Brendan van Son

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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