We have been in the Getsmani district of Cartagena, Colombia for a week now! This week has consisted of lots of wandering and exploring. Retracing our path to figure out this crooked maze of streets, figuring out the cheapest place for breakfast and the best place for coffee, how to respond with a "Buenos" as we pass people in the streets instead of the "Hola" that has been ingrained since language lessons in primary school. We are finally settling in to sync with the beat of the city. But I suppose the best place to start is the beginning…
I will admit it was a bit overwhelming at first when we got here and even the cab driver didn’t know how to get us to our apartment (after giving him directions written out in Spanish that were provided by the landlord). It took reversing down a one way street with cars swerving around us and multiple stops on the side of the road asking people in the neighborhood where exactly "Callejon Angosto" is but we got it figured out. Our apartment that we have rented for the month is on a street so tiny cars cant even drive down it and is just one block from Plaza Trinidad (town square). Definitely right in the heart of things! One of the first things we had to adjust to as Americans was our innate desire for privacy. Here, EVERYONE leaves doors and windows wide open to let the breeze come in day and night. They sit on the stoops and chat with neighbors as dogs wander the street off leash checking up on the happenings of the neighborhood. Certainly a healthy dose of culture for us but I suppose that is why we are here. To get a little uncomfortable and to experience new things. It took us three days before we were willing to open the windows and door in the morning hours to get a little fresh air and sunlight. It still seemed weird though as the fruit cart vendor walked up to the window asking us if we wanted any avocados or watermelon this morning.
Spanish lesson are the center of our day. We do an hour of grammar and an hour of conversational Spanish with our two instructors. Sometimes we wander the streets going to different vendors or restaurants, sometimes an activity like going to their bar and learning how to brew beer or to their apartment to make fresh shrimp and fish ceviche with patacones (all explained in Spanish of course). Muy interesante! At first the conversational Spanish was totally overwhelming. It took all my brain power to put together 2 or 3 words with hand gestures in order to guess what they had just said. Mind you my guess was usually wrong and they would have to go back and say it again in English. But last night we we had met up with the owner of a hostel we were thinking of staying at next week (without the help of our trusted teachers) and I only had to ask him to repeat 3 times! This was a 20 minute conversation and he wasn’t even slowing down for me! I felt like dancing in a circle and shouting with joy. Now as for me putting the simplest of sentences together in response… That is another story. But with only one week in that finally gave me the reassurance that things would fall into place.
We were hanging out in the plaza the other night, which is people watching like Ive never experienced before. It is the center of town life here and it fills to the brim every night as people join together to socialize and decompress from the day. There were children playing futball, young teenagers flirting on the benches, hippies selling bracelets, food vendors calling their wares, a mime suspended in mid air making the children throw coins in his can to make him move, police hanging out shooting the breeze, break dancers entertaining the crowds, and dogs wandering the people looking for handouts. All of the sudden the doors of the church were opened and out walked a wedding couple that had just tied the knot. Everyone clapped and cheered then went about their business. We were watching from the side, making our comments to each other of who would want their wedding pictures taken in the middle of this crowd? But all the sudden it struck me… Por que no? Why not? It seems to sum up the people and culture we have met here thus far. Why not get married in a crowded plaza where its that many more people celebrating the night with you? Why not shoot off fireworks on a Friday night just because? Why not have a take a nap in the shade when its hot in the afternoon? Why not dance as you sweep the street if the music is good? The people here have a love for life and they dont need an excuse to do anything. They just do it.