I have a very peculiar code of appreciation for the places that I visit. It is of course highly pretentious, to the surprise of absolutely no one reading this. I engage emotionally and intensely with everywhere that I go, often very quickly and always in the most judgemental manner possible. I do not want to like what others have liked, currently like, and will potentially like, but always inevitably end up doing so, to my great chagrin. I try so hard to not be what I so incredibly patronisingly describe as ordinary, mainstream, or commonplace that I find myself beatifying the dullest of destinations and mocking the most awe-inducing. And then I buy an Eiffel Tower pencil sharpener souvenir.

No first day in a new city and country could illustrate the above sentiment better than today, here in Cartagena, Colombia. I could feel my pseudo-exploratory discovery sensibilities bristling with disdain as I walked from my hostel to the meeting point for this morning’s free walking tour of the city. Urgh, a McDonald’s. Uffff, so many hawkers hassling me. My initial decision to stay here five nights, or even possibly seven, drops to four and drifts closer to three by the time Arturo begins his well-honed and well-rehearsed opening gambit.

We start to walk around the city as its history is very lovingly recounted to us; from the early days of colonisation, slavery, and piracy to its current status as touristic jewel and absolute highlight of the Latin American gringo circuit. “Well, those balconies are rather pretty”, I think to myself before quickly checking this unexpected enthusiasm. But it is too late. The Venezuelans in the group are actually of Italian origin, and as we visit the mid-tour coffee shop, all hell breaks loose and fraternisation ensues. “A Sicilian grandmother, ay madre!” As the only non-local, everyone wants to hear the story of the pandemic backpacker with no wife, children, pension plan or home.

Yay! I got it wrong about a city, yet again!

The coffee is from another galaxy, and the company is even better. The lovely couple from Medellín pay for my double espresso while I am not looking, and then ask if I want to join them at the locals’ market for some lunch, a long way from the tourist hordes. And will I also please visit them in Medellín, when I am there, pretty please? And damn, doesn’t this city look drop-dead-gorgeously-stunning, now I come to think of it? Oh shucks, here I go again, I realise. Ah well, in for a penny, in for a peso.

So much enjoyment, so pretentious…

We catch a taxi with our tour guide to Bazurto Market, as far removed an atmosphere from the tourist centre as one could possibly imagine. Misshapen pans cook up steaming mountains of rice with prawns and langoustines along uneven alleyways, all looking droolingly enticing. We find a spot at a communal table, sit on wonky plastic chairs and enjoy the food as it comes to us. Conversation is so simple, so fun: three strangers with a common love of food and adventure, in an effortless enjoyment of how pure travel can be.

It’s that seafood and eat it diet time, again…

As inspirationally effortless as travel can be – with Marinella and Mauro

In the space of five short hours, I have exorcised the demons of my ridiculous preconception about this quite stunning city, and can look forward to enjoying it for what it is: a sun-drenched Caribbean colonial marvel unashamedly milking its tourist potential. If I don’t like this, I can leave. But I don’t, quite the opposite. I increase my reservation to five nights upon my return to the hostel, request a slice of humble pie for my afternoon snack, and attempt a surreptitious glance at the small glass souvenir cabinet. Yup, that Cartagena fridge magnet has well and truly got my name on it…

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  1. Looks amazing!

    You make your own luck and your own enjoyment; so pleased you are finding joy in these extraordinary places – even the ones you don’t want to!

    Keep trekking JMK!!

  2. Pretentious, my son pretentious? 100% . Glad you’ve seen the error of your ways figlio mio.

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