Everywhere within the old walls there are sites to inspire and amaze. It is a world heritage site for good reason. Every twist and turn of the narrow street leads you to some new splendor. The modern city has of course spilled far out, many miles beyond the confines of the ancient walls.
If you cannot be bothered to read its history, you must at least learn something from the faces of those who live here now. The Spanish of course left their mark but hundreds of years of slave trading shows that the face of Africa is everywhere here as well.
And if nothing else is true, it is abundantly evident, to even a casual observer, that coffee is an important aspect of the Columbian culture. Not just that it is grown here in abundance, but also, not all of the harvest is transported away on in sacks laden on the backs of donkeys, led by pseudo Juan Valdezs. It is also consumed at regular intervals throughout the day by most if not all Columbians is an unavoidable dark savory reality.
Possibly a priest walking with a coffee and what looks like a Grammy award.
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It is on a sultry day, within the cool confines of one of many of old Cartagena's plazas that I at last begin to feel the pulse and flow of the life of those who live here.
I must foolishly confess that in the many hours I spent here I never learned the name of the plaza nor understood what great hero sat upon his bronze horse. He who has stared benignly down from his superb vantage point for centuries observing not just me but all the folk who came here for coffee and coolness and good times.
It is only some time later that I learn that the statue is of none other than the great liberator himself, Simon Bolivar.
Today however I am interested only in the living. Those whose lives, at least for the part of each day, take place beneath the grand sweep of his metal gaze.
Children purchase small bags of corn to feed to pigeons. With swift feet they also run around the statue again and again. Never tiring, rounding each corner they always discover something fresh and new.
Young couples are interested in nothing much else than each other. Sitting in the statues shade and drinking coffee.
There is no Starbucks here. No Dunkin Donuts. It is just a man with a thermos and plastic cups and hot black coffee for a few pesos.
Chess in the lanes around the square seems to be a popular diversion for young and old alike.
For the old men who come each day they find challenge and battle beneath their swiftly shifting fingers.
The warfare is sometimes ferocious. The casualties at worst a bruised ego. All live to fight another day. To come back once again to the square in which it is always summer and there is always shade and there is always a man on a horse watching over you.
If Colombian coffee runs hot so to it seems is the blood of those who live here. A sidewalk preacher finds a willing audience for his boisterous message of salvation. With fervor he checks his bible to ensure his message is accurate. Though I certainly do not know even a fragment of what it was, I enjoyed it just the same. .
I was much surprised, when late in the afternoon, a troop of young dancers showed up.
The air was filled with a thunder of drums, the slap of bare feet, and the yips and cries of the dancers performing the traditional Mapalee dance.
Tonight the moon shines full and bright down upon the little square, upon the sprawling city of Cartagena, and all the world around us. It does not care, or take interest, in any of the little dances nor in any of the grand dramas playing out beneath its brilliant glow. I look up however and cannot help but be inspired by its journey. As it moves bright and silent across the night sky and on and on through my dreams.
Desire-Sun makes me tremble.
Aspiration Moon makes me dream.
O Desire-Sun, in you
I have my silent death.
O Aspiration Moon, with you
I have my endless Life.
Excerpt from The Dance Of Life, Part 1 by Sri Chinmoy.