Helena Tebeau ’17 illustrates the contrasts and culture of Cartagena:
After two flights, and a few hours of waiting at airports or in buses, we arrived at the old city walls of Cartagena. The big bus wasn’t able to drive us straight to the hotel, so we grabbed our backpacks filled with a day’s worth of clothes and toiletries and headed into the heart of Cartagena.
The walls were incredible; lamps surrounded them, basking the buildings on the edge with warm yellow light that contrasted with the black night. Just a street away was the ocean.
Even before we stepped through the rock doorway, we were met with an exciting example of Latin American culture. A girl, wearing a large, shiny and princess-like dress, was getting her picture taken. The leaders of the group informed us that this is a quinceañera, a celebration of becoming a woman at the age of 15.
Then we were inside the walled city, walking through the beautiful town that reminded me of Florence, Italy through the old architecture, colorful houses, balconies, exquisite doors, and countless plazas. Street musicians and performers were scattered among the many people on the street. Whenever we passed them, they would begin to play American music. From countless experiences, we had already got to know the heart and energy of Colombians, and that night was no different. A melody of talking, singing, laughing and happiness seemed to engulf the whole city. Even falling asleep, we could hear it pulsating through the walls.
The next morning, it was as if we stumbled across a completely different place. The streets were mostly empty apart from venders and a few people wandering around. Early sunlight managed to highlight the antique and beautiful city, as we learned about Cartagena from our tour guide, Niko. From time to time a car would drive by, cheering for Colombia to win its match against Uruguay (Colombia did!), but it was mostly peaceful.
The contrast shocked me. I fell asleep to a lively city, but woke up to a calm and pensive one. The experience only strengthened the notion that Colombia is a country of many colors. The night and day of Cartagena both are complete opposites, yet, to the people there, they are both completely normal. I am so thankful to be on this trip and have the opportunity to learn about this culture. I already know now, a few days before the end of the trip, that I will want to travel back to Colombia someday.