Columbia as a whole had acquired a reputation of danger, drug cartels and trafficking, laden with violence and an air of disregard for human life, greed and corruption.
Pablo Escobar ruled the country by terror and fear and his underlings were said to be merciless in executing opponents, and innocent bystanders alike, were they unfortunate enough to be in the line of fire.
The 1970’s were the height of this activity, and a country filled with beauty and over 5,000 years of history, had become a “Banana Republic’ with shady and corrupt leaders. Family members of mine departed for Cartagena (pronounced with a hard N) with the warnings of well-meaning friends, to be careful, never walk alone out of their hotel, especially at night, when it’s doubly as dangerous.
My relatives were a bit nervous, the warnings ringing in their ears. Cartagena, as most places in Columbia, had a reputation for violence, drug trafficking and kidnapping people for ransom.
My parents received a wonderfully cheerful long distance call from the hotel, where our kin stayed: they said that instead of bullets and drug cartels, they found a breathtakingly beautiful city, where ancient and modern lived side by side.
I’ve been there since, and fell in love with Cartagena, especially with the historic walled section- easily walk able- stunningly colourful, and declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1984. The narrow streets, with their flowering bougainvillea laden wooden balconies: Fruit vendors and horse-drawn carriages compete for space with pedestrians, and tourists.
The stucco building, coloured and stained with brilliant hues of blues yellows, greens, with touches of pink from the overhanging flower bushes. The whole of the old city sparkled with beauty and cheer, to such an extent that even the street sweepers wear bright orange, fruit and vegetable stands sparkle in the sun.
There are three distinct sections to the city of Cartagena: the walled historic Old Town, where most cultural activities and festivals take place.
Then there is the modern section, with its high rise glass and cement buildings, hotels and condos on the beach front. And finally, a quiet residential neighbourhood, palpably recalling days of a bygone era, with its beautiful large homes, built in the colonial style.
Both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans have coasts in his South American country, and the ocean is never far away, no matter where you go.
Walking the teeming streets at night, where couples walk peacefully with strollers and others sit at an outdoor café staring into one another’s eyes.
Not very scary nor threatening, to say the least.
The drug cartels of years past are indeed a thing of the past. While the reputation of violence hasn’t yet been eradicated, the bad guys have. The local government with the help of the US, did a wonderful job of turning the Pablo Escobar minded against each other, killing Escobar, then turning on each other.
At a recent study done by the UK based New Economics Foundation, Columbians are the happiest people in word &ndash the country is a great supplier of emeralds and with all the physical beauty, 82 degrees median to wake up to each morning, who can blame them.