Cartagena Day/Night 2 – Into the Walled City

After another somewhat slow start (hey I’m on vacation, sue me!), I headed back behind the walls of the old city to go have some ceviche.  I had remembered Anthony Bourdain on one of his travel shows had gone to a specific place for it and thanks to the magic of Google, I was soon en route to La Cevicheria.  This proved to be a bit more challenging than anticipated as the taxi driver had no idea where it was and had to resort to the old fashioned way of waving over random people for help.  No GPS for this hombre!

After a couple of false starts, I walked down a small alleyway to get to the restaurant, which was teeming with people.  Unfortunately, most of those people turned out to be speaking anything but Spanish.  Yes, I had stumbled into a dreaded tourist trap.  Still, if it was good enough for Tony , had to be good enough for me right?

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It was a bit hot to sit outside but I had no other choice.  Fortunately, there was just enough of a breeze along with the table umbrella to make it tolerable.  A cold dish of ceviche would hit the spot so I decided on their “especial ceviche” which was a combination of conch, squid and the catch of the day (red fish in this case)

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It both looked and tasted very different than a more typical ceviche and unfortunately, not nearly as good.  Unlike a Peruvian style ceviche, there was no counterpoint with corn or sweet potatoes to cut through the acid.  This was just acid on top of acid, and after about halfway through, I couldn’t take it anymore.  My first real miss on this trip.  Oh well, it happens.

It seemed appropriate too that a clearly for tourists “Colombian woman with fruit on her head” was near-by.

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The ceviche at least had achieved one goal of cooling me down so I left my disappointments behind and began to explore the old city.  It soon became clear why it has become a popular tourist destination as it really felt like stepping back in time.

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After a couple of hours of wandering, I was beat and retreated back to the A/C controlled environment of my apartment.  A nice siesta on my deck followed by a shower and soon I was recharged and ready to get back into the fray.

Since lunch had basically been a bust, I wanted to get Colombian food another shot and had been told Casa de Socorro would be a good spot to do so.  Located just outside of the walled city by the Convention Center, there are actually two Socorros – Casa and Restaurante.  However, the consensus seemed to be that Casa was the better option.

Casa de Socorro focuses on ancient Colombian food (as in pre-Colonial) with a particular focus on cazuelas – basically a large stew cooked in a clay pot.  I had become a fan of cazuelas during my stay in Buenos Aires so I was excited to try their version.

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Unlike La Cevicheria, I was once more the only gringo there.  The seating was also designed to emulate an ancient table setting which in my case meant a very low and uncomfortable seat.  I felt like I was back in Japan struggling to fit under something clearly not intended for my size.

A drink on the menu caught my attention – limon granizado con coco – basically iced lemonade with coconut.  That seemed tropical enough so I ordered one.  I had assumed it would be kind of like a virgin pina colada and that was basically true if not a tad more bitter.

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It was very tasty and soon after was followed by my cazuela of choice – langostinos and shrimp.

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Along with the cazuela were two mashed/friend plantain cakes and my increasingly new obsession, coconut rice.  This version was the best I had yet and the plantains were great vehicles to dip into the rich, shellfish heavy broth of the cazuela.  It was a full langostino along with 10 nice sized shrimp.  Very, very tasty and very, very rich, which made me realize any notion of dancing the night away were probably not going to come to fruition.

After saying my goodbyes, I walked down the street to the huge plaza that separated the walled city from the other barrios.

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Since it was now Thursday, there was considerable more life than the previous sleepy night, with vendors hawking their wares everywhere and large groups of people wandering around having fun.  Still, it wasn’t quite the mood I was seeking so I opted to hop in a cab to the next destination, Cafe del Mar.

I had read that Cafe del Mar had some great views of the city from their rooftop bar but for some reason didn’t realize exactly what that meant until I pulled up to large set of stairs leading up to the venue.  Cafe del Mar is actually located on top of fortress that surrounded the walled city, complete with turret mounts and cannons still there.  Unfortunately, the low lighting made any shots not really possible to capture how big and impressive it was but here are a couple of views.

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It was now about midnight and while there were people everywhere, it was by no means packed.  This though turned out to be a good thing for me as I had my choice of any number of spots to sit.  I first selected a chair that was in the center of the action but soon abandoned that for a much more prime location.

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Yes, that’s a bed, in the shape of a ship no less.  The combination of the setting, the cool breeze and mojito in hand made me a very happy camper.  The DJ was actually surprisingly good too as was the sound system so I hunkered down for a couple of hours to take it all in before finally heading home to get at least a few winks before it was time to start over again tomorrow.

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