After six nights at sea I longed to escape the claustrophobic conditions off our boat and as the orange glow of Cartagena rose from the horizon a feverish excitement overwhelmed the weary crew. We had arrived in South America and Cartagena, a splendid colonial city with a dark history of slavery and pirates, that was alive with energy, was the perfect introduction to this new continent.
The spirited tempo of salsa and viannato resounded in every street. Content men in loose fitting cotton shirts drank cold beer in the balmy evening air. Beguiling women meandered in flowing white dresses that accentuated the rich tone of their olive skin, and striking pink and purple bougainvillea clung to heavy balconies of the opulent cobbled colonial plazas that reverberated with the tolling of church bells.
Allegedly I had just set foot in one of the most dangerous countries on earth, but as far as I could distinguish, Colombia was bursting with life and positive energy. And for the time since leaving Mexico, it looked like my culinary fortunes were about to pick up. Food seemed to be everywhere and Colombians loved to eat. In the mornings I breakfasted on calorie packed arepa con huevo the signature dish of Colombians northern coast. A thick maize pancake filled with an egg and seasoned mince deep fried and eaten on the hoof, washed down with glasses of sweet orange juice squeezed from the happy vendors on every corner.
Walking the cities ancient walls, built to protect Spanish gold from English pirates, vivid hand-painted stalls lined up selling bowls of refreshing ceviche. clams, octopus, conch and shrimp drenched in lime juice, the perfect antidote for the midday heat. Voluptuous black ladies stood behind towers of cocada, a sugary treat made of grated coconut and molten pannela, the muddy coloured residue of boiled sugar cane, flavoured with fruit.
After a week in Cartagena the despondent thoughts and feelings that plagued me in the later stages of Central America had vanished. Cartagena and Colombia had restored my energy and reinstated my enthusiasm for the road. Pulling myself away her plentiful charms, I packed up my bike and rode into the sultry heat of Colombia’s Coastal lowlands.