Cartagena: City of Lights

One cannot fail to realise that high tourist season is dawning, or has in fact dawned, on Cartagena. While this means clogged up beaches and inflated taxi prices (in spite of my doleful attempts to convince the driver that I do in fact live here and I AM NOT A GRINGA) it also means that by night the city stays alight, alive and electric.

The colourful Christmas lights making the historic centre resplendent have divided opinion, but mine lies somewhere along the fence: they’re not pretty but I still rather like them. I come from a family where the house is adorned for Christmas with militant precision and dictatorial colour co-ordination in the name of “good-taste”, so the garish flowers and nativity characters rather appeal to my childish sense of rebellion. My favourite element of decoration here is the lit up palm trees hung with baubles. This being my first Christmas in a hot climate, I can’t get my head round the association of palm trees with anything other than summer holidays and piña coladas, yet bizarrely, it works.

El día de las velitas was particularly special, with the whole city blinking with little candles, which for most signalled the beginning of Christmas. Even I have entered into the Christmas spirit, which I thought would be unachievable without the aid of frosty mornings, mince pies, mulled wine and Cliff Richard. I had been finding the supermarkets’ saturation of all things Christmas since mid-October burdensome and was beginning to be a bit bah-humbug about it all, but the sight of children gathered transfixed around little candles was enough to melt me into a sugary Christmassy sludge.

The only things that I find unsettling are the decorative Father Christmases hanging out around the city, sometimes on the beach, sometimes precariously off a balcony, suited and booted for their native North Pole, presumably suffering in this impressive heat. Leather boots, fur and plush velvet just do not seem practical for a Caribbean climate. However, people here in Cartagena seem to find it strange that I might be concerned for the welfare of an inanimate object, so I tend not to pursue the subject too vigorously.

As well as the lights, visitors and locals to Cartagena have been treated to an intensified level of entertainment and cultural events. While the festival of poetry left me baffled somewhat, unsure how to feel after a mixture of very good and very poor poetry, presented to a rather indifferent audience who more or less ignored the poets, the live music in public spaces and bars has left me much more inspired.

Most striking was Bomba Estereo who played on Sunday 5th in Plaza Aduana, the tireless lead singer Liliana Saunet propelling the crowd from a conservative foot tap to all-out rumba. I was impressed that the city had such a high profile artist performing in a free concert and it was the resulting accessibility and therefore diversity amongst the crowd that fuelled the thrilling atmosphere of the night.

Last Friday saw Erika Muñoz perform in Bazurto Social Club. The music was perfect for the location: high energy, unpretentious, all inclusive African Salsa. Since my first few weeks here in Cartagena Bazurto Social Club has become one of my favourite places for going out, with its utterly central location, arguably the best Mojito in the city and great music (I always experience the bizarre sensation that I am at a disco with Paul Simon), and its current programme of live events only makes me love it more. I can happily go there three nights in a week and never tire of being flung around the dance floor by some unfortunate person who has overestimated my dancing ability, emerging stumbling and gasping for breath onto the Parque Centenario. My lack of rhythm and coordination may give me away as a non- Costeña but I hope that at least my enthusiasm for the cause merits at least honorary status.