Entries in Cartagena (10)
While Frank and I were in Cartagena last month one of the coolest things that we did was take a tour of Cartagena Bay that was offered by our hotel, Casa La Fe. In the morning we met our boat captain, J, in the lobby and Frank and I walked with him out to the marina about ten minutes away. Since we were coming from Centro we started our journey in Bahía de las Animas, a bay north of Bahía de Cartagena (Cartagena Bay). The three of us hopped on the small boat and we were off. As we left we had a beautiful view of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver from the water.
J was incredibly friendly and spoke a bit of English, but the bulk of the tour was done by an audio player that we listened to as we stopped at different places.
Along the way we learned a lot about how the Spanish defended and built fortifications for the city. Being one of Spain's most important and richest ports in the New World, Cartagena was an attractive target for attack. Notable attacks included Sir Francis Drake destroying about a quarter of the city in 1586 and demanding an exorbitant ransom to leave as well as a 1697 raid by the French who plundered the city. To protect their city the Spanish poured incredible amounts of money into building walls and fortifications to defend Cartagena.
From Bahía de las Animas we headed east past an old fortification (now a nightclub, according to J) into Laguna de San Lazaro.
From the lagoon we could see the immense Castillo San Filipe de Barajas. Begun in 1536, the fortress was expanded several times over the next 200 years. From its location situated on the Hill of San Lazaro the canons of the fortress could protect the whole bay. Frank and I visited Castillo San Filipe to explore it a few days later on our trip.
Heading back out of the lagoon we proceed south into Bahía de Cartagena passing one of Caragena's first forts, San Sebastián del Pastelillo. Built in the 16th century it is quite small and now home to the Club de Pesca Restaurant. It also has a small marina and we made a quick stop for bottled water there.
As we continued on we had some nice views of the skyscrapers in the Bocagrande area of Cartagena. We also passed a statue in the water of Virgen del Carmen, patron saint and protector of fisherman and sailors.
Bahía de Cartagena has two entrances from the Caribbean, Bocagrande (big mouth) in the north and Bocachica (small mouth) in the south. As we looked out to the Bocagrande channel it appeared to be a great place for ships to enter the bay. Looks can be deceiving, however, and the channel was blocked by the Spanish as part of the city defenses, first by sunken ships which were then later fortified by boulders.
We sped south along the Bay for a while, heading to the southern end of the island of Tierra Bomba to visit the defenses that Spain had built to guard the Bocachica channel. With Bocagrande up north blocked, Bocachica was the only way into the bay and it was vital to guard the entrance.
Our first stop was to visit the hilltop fortification of Batería del Ángel San Rafael. We docked the boat in the small town along the water.
It was a very hot day and as we walked with J through town most people were taking cover in the shade from the blistering sun. J seemed to know everyone in town chatting with everyone we passed.
As we got a little higher up, we had a lovely view back over the town and water.
As we got closer to the battery, the pathway was lined with pretty mosaics depicting scenes in Colombia.
After a finally summiting the hill, we reached Batería del Ángel San Rafael. The battery had a small number of cannons pointed across the Tierra Bomba plain to help defend Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica down below.
Looking back toward the bay and little town we had some beautiful views overlooking the water.
At the point we learned about the coolest thing regarding the fort: the tunnel system underneath it. The structure in the center, which I hadn't paid much attention to previously, actually covered the ramp to enter into the tunnels.
The tunnels were really cool to wander around in and J showed us around with his flashlight.
Inside the tunnels were tons of tiny fruit bats. It was a little surreal to be walking in the tunnels and then have a bunch fly right at you because you accidently scared them. Frank got a few videos of them which were really neat.
The tunnels design included a trap for invaders. The idea was that they would enter the tunnels which would end in them exiting into a dry moat where they would be ambushed by Spanish soilders.
As we walked back through town, J pointed out a few old entrances down into the tunnel system of the battery.
We got back on the boat and made the short trip to the nearby Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica. We had some great view of the fort from the water as we passed by.
We had a wet landing a few hundred feet away from the fort on a little beach covered with palm trees.
We were hungry so we decided to have lunch before touring Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica. Many of the locals were excited to try and sell some souvenirs to us while we were sitting down and I ended up buying a lovely shell necklace and bracelet.
While we were relaxing in the shade and chatting with some of the locals, someone noticed that the boat had gotten loose and was heading out into the rocks. J ran out to the water, swam to the boat and rescued it just in time.
While lunch was being prepared we had some delicious small oysters that had been harvested right from the bay.
Our lunch of fresh fish and plantains was excellent. Frank and I each had a different type of fish and we tried a bit of each others.
Rested and full, we headed off to see Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica. One of the locals, S, came with us to be a guide to the fortress. He had spent a few years living in New York and had some vestiges of a New York accent when he was speaking in English.
Inside Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica the fort was laid out in a large circular pattern.
At the very center in the ground was a hole filled with water. S said that it was used like a PA system by the Spanish. If you yelled down into the water it helped amplify the sound across the fort. He tried it to show us and it worked pretty well.
We headed through one if the many interior doors to a landing that we saw from the sea.
I was really impressed with the huge mechanism and out on the landing we had a nice, close up view of the outside of the fort.
Back inside we spent time touring around all the the passageways and rooms on the first floor. Everything was built with teardrop shaped rooflines for stability. There was no power so some of the areas were completely dark and we just had to feel our way through. Luckily S knew the fort inside and out and did a great job of guiding us.
We then proceeded up the ramp to check out the batteries on the upper level at Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica.
From the high vantage point we had a great bird's eye view overlooking the inside of the fort.
We also had a fabulous view overlooking the bay and could even see the small fishing town we had walked through earlier.
In the middle of the channel we had a view of Fuerte Bateria de San Jose. It was built at the beginning of the 17th century. It was designed to cross fire with Castillo de San Fernando to prevent invaders from entering the Bay through Bocachica.
We continued walking around the battery enjoying the beautiful day.
As we continued around we had a view back toward our landing spot. The turret looking structure on the right housed a steep spiral staircase.
We descended down the spiral staircase back to the main level of the fortress.
As one last stop before we left, S wanted to show us the bathroom. Not only were the holes from the original latrine for the fort there, but there was also a port-a-potty for the modern visitors to use. I thought it was funny and fitting that they had done that.
After a wonderful tour we left Castillo San Fernando de Bocachica.
We returned back to our landing spot where J and the boat were waiting for us.
We sped back to Cartagena, passing by many of the sights we had seen on the way out. Before we knew it we were approaching Centro.
We thanked J for a wonderful day, said our goodbyes and headed back into the city.
It was a really wonderful day and seeing how several of the various fortifications fit together to defend Cartagena in person really made it come together for me in a way that just reading about it or seeing it on a map would not have done. We also really enjoyed our time chatting with the locals at Bocachica and getting to understand them a little better. If you find yourself in Cartagena I would definitely recommend it!
As you walk around Centro in Cartagena, the dome and bell towers of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver can often be seen above the roofline of the surrounding buildings. On our first full day of walking around the town, Frank and I decided to go in and see the beautiful church and cloister.
Upon entering we decided to get an English guide since there wasn't much signage and none of it was in English. At a cost of less than $15 US, it was a good deal and Fernando proved to be a great guide.
Immediately on the left from the entrance were two bells which Fernando said were rung in 1811 when Cartagena declared its independence from Spain.
From there we headed up a flight of stairs into the cloister. It was founded by the Jesuits in the early 1600s as San Ignacio de Loyola in honor of the man who founded the Jesuit order. Later it was renamed in honor of San Pedro Claver who lived in the cloister devoting his life to helping the African slaves that had been brought to Cartagena.
Upon entering these upper rooms I realized what a perfect tour guide Fernando was for Frank. When we go to museums like this, Frank likes to point out what he doesn't think is original or as he says call out the BS that a museum is trying to pass off as original by omission. As soon as we entered Fernando pointed at each item in the room telling us if it was original or a reproduction. Floors: original. Altar: reproduction. Frank loved it!
This ceiling: totally original.
We then moved into this second room. Just out of this picture was a case of relics that Fernando said were reproductions because the originals were looted by pirates. Pirates!
From that room we moved into the room where San Pedro Claver lived and spent his last days. He suffered from Parkinson's disease and died here in 1654. In case you were wondering, Fernando said the bed was a reproduction but the mattress was original. Not quite sure about that...
We then exited into a long open air passageway. Along the side of the building were paintings depicting the life of San Pedro Claver. He was born in 1580 in Spain to a wealthy family and following his studies at the University of Barcelona became a Jesuit monk. He volunteered to go to the New World, which is how he ended up in Cartagena.
Once in South America San Pedro Claver was appalled by the conditions that the African slaves were forced into and dedicated his life to ministering to them. He referred to himself as the slave of the slaves and would regularly meet slave ships that pulled into the port with water, food and medicine for the sick and starving slaves. Over the course of his lifetime it has been estimated that he baptised 300,000 slaves in Cartagena.
We then entered a room that once served as the cloister's dining room and is now a museum (all originals, according to Fernando).
All of the statues in the room were amazingly carved from wood. The second statue that looks like cast bronze has quite an amazing faux paint finish on it and at first I had no idea that it was actually wood.
In order to prove the point that the statues were wood, Fernando rapped his knuckles on them. Yes, he was tapping on statues over 300 years old.
We headed back downstairs and into the courtyard which is divided in half by this wall that was original to the convent.
It was such a lovely and peaceful space.
In a little niche above the middle archway was a beautiful little statue of the Madonna.
The garden side of the courtyard was incredibly lush and full of beautiful tropical plants.
At this point we entered the church through a side door from the courtyard.
The church was built in the early 1700s in honor of San Pedro Claver and features a beautiful Italian marble alter with a carved statue of the saint. In 1850 Pedro Claver was beatified and then cannonized a saint by Pope Leo XII in 1888, making him the first saint from the New World.
At the base of the alter, San Pedro Claver's remains were interred in a glass coffin.
At this point we were done with our tour. We really enjoyed having Fernando as our guide and were particularly impressed with his English, which he had only been studying for two years.
Even though the tour was now over, Fernando went above and beyond and took care of us in one more way. It was super hot with ridiculously high humidity that day and he could tell that Frank was dying in the heat so he lead us out of the church, telling us to follow him down the street. He led us into an "Emerald Museum" which happened to have ice cold air conditioning and then we said our goodbyes as he had another tour scheduled back at Iglesia de San Pedro Claver.
The "Emerald Museum" had some displays about emeralds in the back with an emerald store up front, of course. We were thankful for the air conditioning so we spent some time checking it out. There was a small fake emerald mine that you could walk through and some paintings about how the native people of Colombia used emeralds in rituals.
We also learned that Colombia leads the world in emerald production with over half of the worlds emeralds coming from the country.
Of course, the sales people tried to sell us some emeralds, but thankfully they didn't try to push a sale on us and we enjoyed the small break in the air conditioning before venturing back out in the heat. Thanks again, Fernando!
Frank and I are heading home today from Cartagena after a great week here. The city is amazing, full of beautiful architecture, delicious food and wonderful people. We spent time wandering around the old walled city, had an amazing time trying new tropical fruit at Bazurto Market and spent a day out on Bocachica exploring old Spanish forts. It has been a fun, relaxing vacation and I'm looking looking forward to sharing some of my photos from this trip when I get home.