Flew to Cartagena, Colombia, a major port founded in 1533.  During the colonial era it was a key port for export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for import of African slaves.  Cartagena was one of three centers of the Spanish inquisition—only Catholicism was tolerated here.  In 1984 the walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Tourism is a very important economic activity these days.

Our hotel was located inside the walled city; we found the historical city easy to walk around.  The hotel was a small unique/quirky one.  There were indoor balconies and several small courtyards with lots of plants.  Our room was located on a small courtyard with a fountain and a resident toucan.  Our shower and toilet were all glass.  If we didn’t close the curtains we could sit on the toilet and look out through the glass door to the fountain—and anyone else in the courtyard!

Our tour leader took us on a walk in the historical city.  Very colorful, very busy, very hot, very touristy. There are great colonial structures and narrow streets.  Saw some dancing that reminded us very much of Voodoo dancing we saw in Haiti and Senegal.  Later we took several walks around the area and were always drawn to the colors, music, and feeling of being back in Africa. A significant part of the population of Cartagena has African roots.  Near the Clock Tower is San Pedro Claver Square and the church and monastery named for Saint Peter Claver  (‘Saint of the African slaves’), as well as the Museum of Modern Art.

Cartagena is on the northern coast of Colombia facing the Caribbean Sea.  Several times we drove or walked near the coast.

One morning we went to an “emerald school.”  Colombia mines and produces about 80% of the world’s emeralds and they are usually claimed as the best quality.  The school takes children from poor families and teaches them to make jewelry.  They learn to cut and polish emeralds, melt silver and make threads, and bend threads to make various jewelry.  These apprentices cum instructors helped us each make pendants, bracelets, earrings, and rings.

We visited San Felipe Castle Fortress.  It was built by the Spanish in 1536 during the colonial era and expanded in 1657.  The castle is located on the Hill of San Lázaro in a strategic location, dominating approaches to the city by land or sea.

Another day we visited a fishing village and took a canoe ride around mangrove swamps.  We then stopped at a restaurant (on the beach) and had the best local food—fish soup, fried whole fish, coconut rice, and fried plantain.

We departed Cartagena for Panama City where we connected to our flight to Chicago at sundown.

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