Guerrillas in the mist

Day 61 - Cartagena

Time passed slowly as the two travelers sat in an office squirrelled away in Tocumen International Airport. How slowly I cannot tell you for even the digital clock mounted on the plain white wall had stopped. Flight departure time was 30 minutes away but the battle to leave Panama still raged. Eventually our gratefull hands clutched a sheet of incomprehensible words and numbers meant to speed us to the next continent. Our reluctant hands abandoned our luggage to an airport worker whose assurances that they would meet us in Colombia were not entirely reassuring. Cartagena, famed haunt of pirates and privateers and redolent of the age of sail, lay before us. Despite several centuries some things haven't changed, it remains a busy port, services still exist for sailors long at sea. The latter point was illustrated most vividly as we stepped into, and i'll abandon euphemism here, a brothel. However unequivocal we might have thought our request of 'discoteque' was to the taxi driver clearly something was lost in translation. That or western males have acquired a louche reputation and penchant for the aforementioned euphemism. We drank one awkward beer and made our excuses. The next place was different, different in that it was at least ostensibly a bar albeit one heavily populated by women of an identical occupation. I debated with one over who had more right to the cubicle in the men's toilet before joining a couple of Colombians for a little innocent window shopping. The following evening we spent in the genteel environs of Downton Abbey, somewhat contrasting our brush with ill-repute.
Bogota, the name has become shorthand for South American violence of the drug-indiced kind. But it is a reputation the city is eschewing with the Uribe government's crackdown on the cartels. Still, as a newspaper headline once had it "War on drugs - drugs win". Tell an impoverished coca farmer that the eradication of his crop is for the benefit of an affluent soceity far from his and one has to wonder how much worse legal control could be? Nonetheless living standards in the capital would seem to be 'en la ariba' with the, admittedly fine, surroundings of the Bogota Beer Company parting us from $5 for every cerveza. Even the backpacker area in which we stayed had little of the scruffy value that we must seek. Perhaps Bogota isn't suited to parsimonious pass-throughs and rewards those with a longer stay and deeper pockets. Perhaps we didn't look hard enough. If we missed anything in Bogota at least it wasn't the start of the Six Nations. Colombia isn't overpopulated with rugby fans given that myself and Michael formed roughly 100% of the audience in the Irish bar. Still it's nice (if not unexpected) to beat the Scots whatever the location. Leaving soggy Bogota swathed in rain was an appropriate contrast to the place where we had next set our sights. Westward ho!

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