Its another quiet evening in Cartagena, Colombia as I meander, half lost, along streets that wind and curve and carry no sense of purpose at all.
Families and couples command the narrow sidewalks, squeezing me out to walk in the street as my pace demands, dodging puddles and sharing the road with anxious taxis and horse drawn carriages.
This calming frenzy of hopping and skipping and sidestepping traffic has become my nightly routine as my time in Cartagena stretches out for days, like a conversation with an old friend that lasts hours into the night with an ease like we never parted. The mind boggling layout of the walled city keeps me guessing but never overwhelmed as I slowly piece blocks together and connect the streets around them, my evenings full of endless walking.
Its a city that begs to be wandered alone, as more than one mind making decisions as to which mysterious route to wander next would be terribly frustrating — for me, anyways. I prefer to revel in my mistakes as I lose track of which turns I’ve made and uncover new paths to the same places.
This night finds me staring up at a balcony that overlooks the Plaza de San Diego. A chance to observe the city streets from above for a change sounds perfect and I climb the winding staircase to El Balcon.
The interior of the restaurant is empty, save for a couple that eagerly eyes the crowd on the narrow balcony outside, a bartender gently muddling fruit, and a man who carries the air of a manager, one foot perched on the bar’s footrest and the rest of him all eyes. His hard stare finds me, softens, and lingers two moments too long, as I’ve found typical of Colombian men. I offer him a smile.
I’m able to jump ahead of the couple when a seat opens up on the balcony, an advantage as a solo traveler that trumps the lingering eyes — there’s almost always room for one as I move about on my own. I find myself pressed up against a narrow bar along the railing, barely enough room to tuck my legs under, and a tight squeeze at my back for those working, but with the enormous night spread before me, I feel perfectly at ease.
I order a glass of white wine that greets my hand with cold condensation. I’ve forgotten my book but the scene below offers my senses plenty of material.
A mix of travelers from all walks of life are lit from above by San Diego’s iron street lamps and from below by the display lamps of trinket vendors.
There’s a group of three grungy backpackers sitting cross legged at the entrance to a church. One picks at their shoe that should have been thrown out miles ago as the other two chatter enthusiastically.
There’s a sneaker and khaki clad family of three – mom, dad, and son. The young teenager looks as though he’s never enjoyed his parent’s company more, but he’ll likely tell his friends otherwise when recounting their trip. Dad has a camera that’s as big as the giant brim of his hat and he holds it like a wounded bird.
There are two dark haired French girls whose accents drift up to my balcony. They’re smoking and laughing slightly, their shoulders folded forward as if tugged by trails of smoke. I wonder if they’re conscious of their ability to look effortlessly sexy.
The plates of ceviche arriving for the dates that surround me look unbelievable, but I’ve already filled up on street food. My glass of wine will do for now but I decide I must come back for a taste of all those freshly chopped colors and smells.
Cartagena is swooning me in this moment as I realize Valentine’s Day is near. What a perfect place to be with someone you love, or in my case, the perfect city to fall in love with. I offer a silent toast to a beautiful, charming city that has wrapped it’s sparkly night around me with love.
Cartagena is my Valentine this year, and I wish you all just as Happy a Valentine’s Day as well, with love, from Colombia…