Cartagena: The Convent and Castillo

Today my aunts were flying into Cartagenafor my cousin, Micheal’s wedding. They weren’t set to arrive until the afternoon, meaning we had the whole morning free. We had initially intended on waking up early so we could do everything we wanted to before it got too hot out. We didn’t end up getting up until 8:30 a.m. and didn’t leave the hotel until 9:30 a.m., leaving us minimal time to get where we wanted to. Since we slept later than we intended, I said that we didn’t have to go to one of the places on my list, even though I was dying to go. We would just have to go another day. I would be okay with just seeing Castillo de San Felipe. We hailed a cab in front of our hotel and the driver suggested that we do both Castillo San Felipe and La Popa, where I was dying to go. It would cost us 40,000 pesos for the cab ride.

Our first stop was be La Popa, where our cab driver would wait for us. La Popa is a convent that was founded in 1607 on top of the highest hill in Cartagena sitting at almost 500 feet above the city. We were going to a part of Cartagena that we hadn’t been to yet. We were no longer in the walled city, yet we weren’t in beachy Bocogrande either. We were going to the residential part of the city. It is not suggested to walk to La Popa. As the cab climbed up the steep road to the highest point in Cartagena, I could see why. The road was so steep that I probably would have passed out walking up it on this hot day and the homes on the hill side were very poor. It would not be safe for tourists to walk in this area. We probably would get pick pocketed if we walked through this neighborhood. It’s sad because the clothes drying on the lines outside these home were the uniforms of the cab drivers and tour guides we had all week. I’m looking out at these run down homes and one could be the home of my cab driver.

We arrived at the top of the hill to yet again be bombarded by people trying to sell us all types of souvenirs. They surrounded the car and it was hard to even get through the group of people who were circling us. Pushing through the people away from our waiting cab driver, we made our way to the entrance, paid our 8000 peso entrance fee and passed the gates into the peaceful convent. I could breath again.

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We took the few stairs up to find ourselves looking out at the most amazing, sweeping view of the city. All of Cartagena was visible below us. It was such an amazing view yet we were some of the only people viewing it. During our time at La Popa, there was only one other small group there. It was like we had it all to ourselves. We were on top of Cartagena, seeing a view only shared by a few. The old city of Cartagena is where we have spent most our time and I didn’t realize just how big and modern the city was until I was standing above it all. Like everything in Cartagena, we could only stand and stare for so long. The sun was too hot above and the cement was burning to the touch. We had to continue moving into the convent.

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Entering through the cool stone walls of the convent, I took to a shaded corner. It was much cooler within the walls, even though the convent consisted of an open courtyard completely exposed to the elements. The courtyard was like a dream. Bright flowers weaved on vines on the walls and the sun beamed through the openings There was even a well in the middle of the courtyard. It was like something poems are written about.

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Everywhere you went in the convent, there was another view. Light shown through metal doors, the laced pattern casting shadows on the light. Through this metal door was another gorgeous view, this time of the bay. The water was dotted with small lush islands. I’ve never seen something so mesmerizing.

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I cut through the rooms of the convent, past priest’s robes and playing kittens in the pottery. I walked to the patio to find the mom cat basking in the sun. As if I hadn’t seen enough views, I cut across the caution tape to look out at Cartagena once again. La Popa offered almost 360 degrees of Cartagena and I wanted to see all of it.

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Before leaving the convent, I made my way through the courtyard to the La Popa chapel. The chapel was ornately decorated with marble floors and a gold alter. It was unlike the rest of the convent, which was breezy and bright. The chapel was empty and quit aside from the man hammering away behind me, working on renovations. In order to keep something so beautiful for so long, there needs to be constant renovations.

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After leaving La Popa we headed to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, built by the Spanish in 1536 to protect against attack on the city from pirates. The fort stuck out on a hill in the middle of a now suburban neighborhood. Newer building surrounded the ground of the fort from all sides.

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We bought our tickets for 17000 pesos, opting out of the guided tour. We headed up the grass lined walkway to the fort. It looked so daunting. Looking up, I saw steep ramps and a large fort waiting to be explored. I had a cold bottle of water in hand. It was time to conquer the fort. The first ramp nearly killed us in the heat. My breathing was heavy and I was sweating profusely by the time we made it to the top. And this was only the beginning. To our luck, a man was stationed at the top of the ramp selling hats. At this point, I would take anything to make the heat a little more bearable. A hat would do the trick.

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We explored as much of the fort as we could, our chests heavy and our faces flushed. It was so hot our, yet the fort was so cool to see. There were cannons along the forts walls, with actual cannon balls besides them.

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One way we were able to get out of the heat was by exploring the tunnels underneath the fort. These tunnels were dark and damp, some even required a flashlight. I’m not quite sure how people were able to maneuver quickly through these tunnels during attack. I could barely walk through them without bumping into a wall. We entered the tunnels through a level passage. Yet, when we went to leave the tunnels, we were face with a long, narrow staircase we had to climb.

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When walking through the fort, you could tell how well it was built. I would see one spot I wanted to go, but it was near impossible to get to. I would start walking a a direction to find that the fort dropped off to a pit fall most likely to trick and trap intruders. It was pretty difficult to navigate. I climbed every step I could find, examined every lookout I could until I felt like I was going to be sick from the heat.

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At this point, I left Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas in the distance and took a cab back to Bocogrande, where my hotel pool was waiting for me. Jumping in the pool had never felt so good. I needed it. My aunts arrived soon after we did and relaxed in the pool with us before we had to get ready for a cocktail party.

I did my best to get dressed up. We had some confusion with the cabs, trying to figure out the exact location of the house we were going to. When we got to the house where the cocktail party was, our cab driver tried to get us to pay for both our cab and my aunts cab even though we were paying our individual cab drivers separately. Luckily my cousin and his Colombian finance arrived just in time and set the confused cab driver straight. It was a stressful transaction but I was so happy to finally be there. The house was so incredibly beautiful and I wish I had more pictures of it. I was finally stepping through one of those quintessentially Cartagenan doors. The party took place on the patio, which offered a view of the old city walls and the Caribbean Sea. The sun stole the show as it set over the horizon. Once the sun had almost set, the party was in full swing.

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The view, food and company were all excellent, aside from a little too much coconut. Not too sure if I’ll ever get used to all the coconut in food in Colombia. The night continued on with mojitos and delightful broken conversations with people from all over the world. I couldn’t completely understand everyone but I knew we all shared one thing in common, we were there to celebrate the wedding of Michael and Marcella ahead of us. If the party wasn’t great already, we were gifted with Mochilla bags. Mochillas are hand woven bags by the Wayuu tribe of the Guarjira Peninsula and can take up to 30 days to complete just one. They are so intricate and as colorful as the people of Colombia. She also included a shot glass from Barranquilla’s carnival, which are designed to wear around your neck. There was also Colombian candy and coffee in them. It was a very nice gesture and a nice momento of Cartagena.

One thought on “Cartagena: The Convent and Castillo

  1. Pingback: Cartagena: Four Day Itinerary | Come Join My Journey

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