“Who told you this bus was going to Cartagena?”

Cartagena* has always been one of those cities that I never knew too much about, but in my mind the name conjured a sort of mysterious, romanatic association. I never thought about it too much until we had booked our trip and my friend Pallavi asked what was the first thing that I thought of when I heard the name Cartagena. 

“I have no idea,” I told her, honestly stumped. (I feel like am forever failing her memory tests.) 

“Romancing the Stone!”she shouted.

And I realized that it was, of course, the genesis of all of my feelings and knowledge about Cartagena: the 1980’s romance adventure movie that I had watched repeatedly with my sister and cousin during one or two summers in Finland.** Although I had completely forgotten about the movie, clearly my subconscious had not. Cartagena, Colombia is about the furthest place from my grandparent’s summerhouse in Uimila, Finland and in my mind (and in reality) a much more glamorous and exciting place. Emeralds! Treasure Maps! Adventure! It was worlds away from Pine Cones! Saunas! Boredom! Little did I know that flashforward 30 years (yikes!) and I would actually be visiting the city that I had only seen in a movie. 

And so far, Cartagena de Indias (the city’s official name) has not disappointed. Just an hour flight from Bogota it almost feels like we are in another country. After the thin, chilly mountain air in Bogota, stepping into the heat and the oxygen-rich air in Cartagena was like being enveloped in a warm hug. (One that quickly becomes suffocating. It is HOT here.) Our luggage came out immediately and fifteen minutes later we were standing in the lobby of the gorgeous Santa Clara Hotel, a former convent in the middle of the walled old town. From our room we could see the palm trees, the pool and the ocean. It didn’t take long for the kids to throw on their bathing suits and head down to the pool. Between Sweden and Bogota this hasn’t been much of a swimming summer so they were happy to spend the rest of the afternoon in the pool. It’s a strange and lucky thing to take a vacation from your vacation (Sean isn’t so lucky and one of the reasons we are here is for his work.)

We left for dinner at dusk. There is a distinctly Caribbean feel to the city. (No surprise, it’s on the Caribbean.) Walking down the maze of narrow, dimly lit streets we could still make out the vibrant pink and purple bougainevilla crawling up the side of the colorful buildings. People were sitting in the squares. Horse drawn carriages were clip clopping over the cobblestones. “It looks like Disney,” Oscar said. “You mean Disney looks like Cartagena,” Sofia corrected him. 

It’s just like the movies.

*I apologize for the lack of photos. We are (the only guests) at a remote resort on the Colombian coast right now. And, more information on Cartagena to follow! (My family thinks this post was very flimsy.)

**In the early 90’s I once met Kathleen Turner in the bathroom of a New York City restaurant and gushed to her how much I had loved her in her Broadway performance of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and just had to mention another favorite, “Romancing the Stone.” 

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