City by the book: Cartagena & Márquez

Last month I embarked on an adventure with my sister for four weeks around Colombia, Peru and Brazil. It was brilliant. Part of what made the trip so great was that in four cities, I read books associated with the city. Not only is it a much cheaper way to immerse yourself in a city’s history when you’re too broke for museums that don’t accept UK student ID, but it totally enhanced my experience of visiting a new place. I mentioned this when I wrote up my holiday reading list, but now I want to dive in and reveal how I found the cities, share a few disaster stories and talk about how the books changed my trip.

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First stop of our trip was Cartagena, on the northern coast of Colombia. Despite everyone telling us we would be mugged the moment stepped off the plane, Cartagena proved to be an incredibly exciting place full of respectful people. My book for Cartagena was Gabriel García Márquez’ Of Love and Other Demons. Telling the story of a girl who is bitten by a dog with rabies and who is sent to a convent to handle her ambiguous ‘demon’, the book probably increased any preexisting paranoia I had about stroking the city’s dogs – difficult when you’re a big dog person.

Not only was the story compelling but it described the city in a way that I could see and place events in the book into the city in real life. The street my hostel was on was even directly mentioned. FYI the hostel was Mystic House in Getsemani and was everything you could want from a hostel.

What’s more, the discussion of religion throughout the novel was fascinating as I saw for myself how entrenched Catholicism is in Cartagena, even though it was introduced in a pretty grim way. On a roof top bar for ‘sunset’ my group found ourselves in a spectacular thunderstorm, where our bartender, terrified out of her wits, abandoned us, signing the cross as she fled. Even those who seem to reject the role of religion in Cartagena remain suspiciously respectful of catholic values, making Márquez’ line “one never quite stops believing… some doubt remains forever” feel comfortably accurate over two decades later.

I highly recommend Cartagena as a city to visit, the food is delicious, full of chicken, rice and plantains, as well as their famous ceviche which while delicious was served a little strangely… Our short time in Cartagena had a really great balance of hard touristing and relaxing on the beach, and we spent a couple of really great evenings soaking up the fun (and the amazing street food) in Trinidad Square.

Cartagena dog rating: 5/10

For many more (ridiculous) photos of our trip they can be found on the Instagram hashtag #hermanasbravas… don’t ask how or why the hashtag is what it is!

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