With help from the hotel, we booked a half day tour of the city. Our tour guide was Nico Medez. Previously, he had worked with Sarah Woods, the author of the Bradt tour book on Colombia, and she had listed his name in her Acknowledgements. Receiving an imprimatur from Michael Palin, this book has been recommended over the Lonely Planet version. To date, there are not many tour books on Colombia and purchased through Amazon, it was the only tour book we had brought with us. Excited about touring with an experienced guide, I was surprised when my first request, a tour of the Basurto market, received a resounding no. He described the market as a horror, a dirty place filled with pick pockets and thieves and not suitable for tourists. Of course, he did not realize his description would not have the intended result of scaring us off but would only increase our desire to go. How bad could the place be if Anthony Bourdain had filmed a segment of his program there? After laying out our bona fides, a list of the Asian markets we had visited and survived, and promising to be careful with our belongings, he said he would take us.
Located outside the historic city, close to the water in an industrialized area, the Basurto market is Cartagena”s main market. It is the kind of place where you can find most everything you need just not in the form by which you know it. Crawling out of the van, we found ourselves standing in front of a business selling bags of charcoal and used tires, the debris of both scattered over the yard. When I looked up, we had caught the attention of an overly large woman stuffed into a white plastic chair, sitting next to a stack of old tires. She did not return my smile and as she continued to stare, I felt she was pinning us, as butterflies, against a cardboard background. Apparently, she was not part of the welcoming committee but more the mistress of her domain. Then tiring of us, she began to yell at a small boy, covered in charcoal dust, struggling to fill a large plastic bag with small pieces of charcoal. This tableau included a large man, whose formerly white shirt was covered in black stains. He was sitting in an adjacent plastic chair, hard to determine his role, as he seemed concerned with nothing more than the morning bottle of beer he was cradling in his outsized hands. As for us, we were only passing through and could only process this scene as just part of the local color and the future of the young boy we recognized as details unfortunately beyond our immediate grasp or present sensibilities.
Fish stalls, whose tattered ancient tarps provided scant protection from the sun or rain, lined the entrance to the market. Soon we heard vendors calling out to Continue Reading >>