Laughter, our only effective weapon in Cartagena

There´s something sexy about Cartagena–something that makes me feel sexy–and it´s not just the wet hot heat pressing my dress close to my body, or the scantilly clad Cartagenas languidly drinking guayabas in the corner juice bars. It´s also the maze of cobbled streets hemmed in tight by towering colonial churches, museums, mansions, monasteries, palaces, plazas, fortresses, and overhanging balconies colored by bright strands of fuschia and melon bougainvillea slipping off the sides that spike my libido into the stratosphere. It´s the street food–the fried plantains, arepas, empanadas, and pastels. It´s the hot salsa music, the cumbia, and the dreamy late night acoustic guitar. It´s the ghosts of indian maidens, infamous pirates, great generals, and the witches of the Inquisition that haunt “the heroic city´´ with tales of treasure, magic, war, and conquest. It´s the horsedrawn carriages trotting alongside the fruit carts in El Centro. It´s the easy conversation and warm wide smiles. In a word, it´s the culture.

I´ve been missing this kind of highbrow, low-fi, city sensuality. I don´t think that I´ve been properly romanced like this since Havana. Yes, Mexico has great cities, and it is rich in its own history, food, architecture, and art, but as a whole, it´s not very sexy. It lacks the afro-caribbean beats and dirty dance moves that really give pulse to a place. I guess you could say that if countries were women, Mexico might be the one you take home to meet mother, while hotty Colombia and her sizzling sister Cuba would be the ones to take you home until you begged, pleaded, and screamed `mother.´ As for the Central American countries, well, they´d just be friends.

But here´s the thing: I feel guilty about my unabashed indulgence in a city, even if it is just a small one. For the past few months, I´ve been reading books and essays about how civilization isn´t sustainable–you´ve probably guessed as much given the tone and topic of many of my posts. As I´ve lamented before, we need freeways, factory farming, dams, oil, timber, mining, and ultimately exploitation and war just to keep modern cities functioning. I know this, and I absolutely support some sort of global scale-down to village life, but why can´t we keep some things in the shift, like fashion and fine wine? I like the idea of stumbling in my six inch stillettos down a dirt road, drinking a big red, listening to a traveling troupe singing opera out the back of a horse drawn carriage. Vive le village! I say.

My internal struggle between nature Stevie and city Stevie reminds me of the book Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. Quite relatably, the main character, Harry Haller, feels like he is half man–academic, refined, and social– and half wolf– instinctual, primal, and a loner. The two dualing personalities never allow him to feel fulfilled, authentic or at ease. He can´t relate to others in high society because the wolf always points out the artificiality and nauseating affectations of the bourgeoisie. Yet, he is morbidly lonely, on the brink of suicide in his dogged isolation and primal angst. At the end of this fantastic tale rich in imagery and philosophy, Harry makes peace with himself by taking up arms with what Mark Twain deemed the human race´s “only really effective weapon´´: laughter.


Laughter has the last word in the novel, in this post, and in life because it is at once physical and cerebral: It bridges the gap between our bodies and our minds, our wolf and our man. Let´s consider the biggest existential joke of all: We are born with a heroic drive to do great things, knowing full well that no matter what our claim to immortality may be, no matter how hard we try to create something meaningful and lasting in the world around us, we are destined to die. Moreover, it´s our unique human intelligence that opportunes us this unfortunate dilemma. But what is our body´s response to this horrific fate? Visceral, bellyaching, hysterical laughter!  That´s what we do when things don´t add up. Someone slips on a banana peel? We giggle. Who´s on first? A crack up! Our freighter set off two days early without the Sprinter aboard? My computer went to sleep and won´t wake up? Kiki peed on the bed? Hilarious!!!!

Mankind´s greatest cultural contributions are born from a civilization that is killing us? Hahahahaaaa!

What can we do but laugh? -STEVIE

Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Everywhere from the galleries to the hostels, bars, and even an icecream shop (see left pic below) showcase local art.
Below is the entrance into “the walled city´´ of old town Cartagena. Within the walls are the fully restored districts El Centro and San Diego, while Getsemani is a short walk outside the walls. Tree and I are staying at a great bang-for-buck hotel called El Viajero located in El Centro, the safest and most pristine section of the city.

(Below left) As the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and a storehouse for treasure plundered from the local population, this bastion of the Spanish overseas empires was also a tempting target for buccaneers. It was in response to pirate attacks that the Spaniards built up the walls and a series of forts around the town. (Below Right) The haunting Palace of the Inquisition is now a museum, which displays the sadistic instruments of torture used by the Inquisitors. Eight hundred people were killed under charges of witchcraft,  magic, or blasphemy before independence in 1821. 

Since when have you been a witch? What is the name of your master among the evil spirits?

Have you ever wondered what happened to all the phone booths in the world? In Cartagena they have been replaced by cell phone carts.  For a fee, you can stop on just about any corner to make a local call.
The left staute is of Pedro de Heredia, who founded Cartagena in 1533 . The right statue is of Simon Bolivar who won Cartagena´s independence from the Spanish in 1821 and dubbed the town “the heroic city´´
The famous Catedral built in 1575

Tree and I enjoyed a couple of Aguila national beers at the Cafe del Mar which is located along the outer walls and overlooks the Caribbean sea with a great view of Bocagrande, the ritzy developed part of Cartagena, in the background. (Notice the cannon?)

Track Sprinter Life’s exact GPS location! 
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  1. Have you tried taking the battery out of your laptop and putting it back in? Sometimes that helps.

    BTW – Where's our postcard? 😉

  2. Stevie, Tree, and Kiki says:

    I tried that, as well as trying to start in safe mode, resetting the PMU and the PRAM. When it restarts, it goes immediately into sleep mode. Before this happened, I got a warning that my battery was running low. It doesn´t make quite sense how it´s related, but I can´t help but think that it is. In any case, I´m getting pretty good at using the Spanish keyboards in hotel lobbies 🙂 -Stevie

  3. Auntie Coco says:

    kiki looks very sexy too!

  4. Scott´s In St. George says:

    Stevie, what a compelling letter for laughter and a trip to Cartagena. One of the best you've written. I've passed it along to friends.
    If the Sprinter doesn't show up for another month, I will be led by the hand through all of this city.

  5. The Raging Inferno says:

    What a glorious introduction to the continent

    Where are Kiki's stilettos???

  6. Are you for real with those cell phones? How much does it cost to make a call? Hilarious.

  7. Jenica Fonttenaus says:

    I loved this blog post. You have such a talent for writing and I hope that, one day, you are truly able to share it with the world. I'll be your #1 fan, next to Tree. You must sign all my books and attend all my parties so I can introduce you as my friend from long ago……………DEAL?

  8. mamatuyas says:

    It LOOKS like your kind of city, Dear One – beautiful, passionate, colorful and romantic! Every time I think of you and Tree living your dream it brings a smile to my face.

  9. Melissa says:

    I love when you write Stevie!! Cartagena looks like your kinda place…glad to see that Kiki made it cant wait to find out how the Van fared. Miss you!!!! <3<3!!

  10. Logan & Brianna says:

    City´s certainly exude debauchery. You had better head for the campestre or PanAmNotes will send the FARC in after you!

    Loved the post. Keep it agrarian.

  11. Logan & Brianna says:

    City´s certainly exude debauchery. You had better head for the campestre or PanAmNotes will send the FARC in after you!

    Loved the post. Keep it agrarian.

  12. Love the description of Cartagena. Makes me really want to visit!

  13. Anonymous says:

    The bar scene vid in Cartegena is great. Do you two ALWAYS get the best seats?

  14. Miin and Niel says:

    LOVE new blog posts. You make me realise how every place can bring joy + happiness, reminds me to have a more +ve outlook!

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