©Wolfgang Kaehler

Day 9, Cartagena, Colombia

The heat is growing in Cartagena as the sweltering rainy season sets in. Even the costanas are pulling handkerchiefs from their pockets to wipe pearls of sweat from their brows. When I make it to my Spanish school, I already need a bottomless glass of cold water. In class we talk about the temperament of the Colombians. Our teacher, Orfait, points out that Columbia is consistently at the top of the list of the happiest countries in the world. We look on the internet at the Happy Planet Index: sure enough, there is Colombia in place number two! On the Lonely Planet Happiness Index there it is in fifth place: an excellent showing as well!

Getsemani area of Cartagena, Colombia

What is Columbia’s secret? To explain, our teacher he tells us how he recently lost his wallet. Everything was inside: credit cards, papers, his money. But when he realized he had left it on a vendor’s cart, and it was gone for good, he shrugged his shoulders, laughed and said,”Yo non puedo hacer nada.” (I can’t do anything about it.) He waves is his hand and tosses a quick smile. I recall my French Canadian uncle Paul who told the whole family before he passed away, “Enjoy life!” And there is Montreal in second place on the Lonely Planet index! Maybe the Columbians and Montrealers are onto something!

Getsemani area of Cartagena, Colombia60065431


After my Spanish classes I make my way to say good-bye to Jose, Elmer and Victoria, and other people I have met in the neighborhood. Then I meet my other teacher Victoria to help her practice her English. We chat as we feed pigeons in the Plaza de San Pedro Clavel and watch Caribbean dancers leaping to a impassioned drum beat in the Plaza de San Domingo. When darkness falls I give Victoria a kiss on the cheek, Columbian style, then make my way down the dimly lit streets passing the couples in the park, men playing cards, and the handsome black man outside the emerald shop. Before dawn, I walk beneath a giant mango tree to the front of my hotel. The groggy hotel clerk whistles into the night until a taxi appears out of the darkness, and I feel feliz as I leave this insouciant city by the sea.

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