I step out on to the bustle of a street in Getsemani, a working neighborhood in Cartagena. At once in the warm morning light, the smells of morning in South America assault my nostrils – soap and dirt mixes in the streets as businesses clean their floors in the morning light, mopping soapsuds into the gutters strewn with dust, chicken bones, and banana peels. Urine in the doorways from some temporary passerby the previous evening intermingles with the inviting scent of strawberry pastries, newly baked and awaiting consumption in the bakery a few doors down. Mangoes, chopped and displayed in a plastic cup for easy eating; limes, papayas, plantains, apples, passion fruits crowd the sidewalk forcing me into the street where I dodge carts, taxis, stray dogs, and the gente, making their way in the early morning light to work, meetings, or breakfast.
The warmth of the stucco walls painted in striking hues of pink, blue, orange, and yellow, offset with balconies and brightly colored doors, envelopes me when I pass by as though I were family. I don’t worry about the way I’m holding my backpack, or the fact that I’m carrying my cell phone in my hand. I wonder at our insistence on buying “alternative” wedding rings for traveling. This is not a place I feel the least bit threatened. I greet people with a slow, drawling “buenas” as I pass. I saunter. I don’t rush.
Cartagena breathes its own breath. It is a city of its own making, its own shape and form, its own design. Its colonial history informs its every action – the hierarchy of the fruit venders, the walls guarding the perimeter, the subtle verbiage used in the streets. Cartagena is vibrant and alive – a city growing of its own ingenuity and richness rather than the calculated designs of urban planners and architects. Cartagena rises and falls, soft and welcoming, heart pumping, sensual and alive. It’s a city that stirs your blood and your loins.
It’s been a week and a half since I arrived. And with each day that passes I fall more deeply under the spell of Cartagena. I repeat the name, slowly, over and over again, swallowing my “g” sensually. I consider naming my first child Cartagena. I reconsider. I walk slowly, letting the hazy light fall gently, warmly, over my skin. I wander the streets with my love, mojitos coursing through us, wondering where exactly we are amidst the old, winding streets. We rise and fall down off the sidewalk and up again, into the street, around a fruit peddler, over a giant hole, under an overhanging window. This is not a city for the distracted – it holds you in its gaze and makes you pay attention.
I spend many a moment reflecting on the grace that has brought me here, and the warm soul who shares this adventure with me. Though the future holds many uncertainties for us, each morning as we walk through the calles I feel that all is as it should be – we are in the right place, doing the right thing, and experiencing the wild a varied palette laid before us each day we spend in this beautiful world, growing together and storing away a cache of memories and experiences that will sustain us over the many years ahead.