Cartagena, Colombia is an assault to the senses. We were thrilled to be in Cartagena on New Years Day, 2017. We were awestruck by the sights, sounds, smells. We had been ship-bound for the last two days which may account for some of the feeling of sensory overload that was Cartagena, Colombia. It’s not that this ship is boring; quite the contrary. Regent describes Seven Seas Explorer as “the most luxurious ship ever built” and I believe it, although I haven’t embarked on many fancy cruise ships up to this point in my life. The ship is brand new. It was launched in the spring or summer of this year, so everything is beautiful and opulent. There are people on this ship who are not so impressed. Not Slick and me; we are trying to be cool, but we are big time slack-jawed almost all over the ship.
The city of Cartagena is beautiful, but not in the same way. It is a vibrant city with much history and a fair amount of grittiness in the mix. In fact, when I say that our sense of smell was assaulted, I seriously did not mean it in a complimentary fashion. Truthfully, it kinda did smell turd world. Er, I mean “third world.” The scenes along the streets brought to mind Havana, only with more buildings that we thought we could walk into with all the confidence in the world that they would not crumble and fall down upon our heads. The people were nice even as they harassed us to buy fans, leather bags, cigars, etc. Even in the face of multiple rejections, they remained optimistic and cheerful and usually doubled-down their resolve to be as pesky as possible.
For me, it was love at first sight when I cast my eyes upon the Wayuu Mochila bags. I had read about them and could not wait to see them on the streets of Cartagena. Their history is as compelling as are their colorful designs. For hundreds of years, the Wayuu women have been weaving these bags. Theirs is a polygamist culture. Men may take multiple wives. They live in the La Guajira region of Colombia, which is a desert area in the northernmost part of Colombia. Often, there will be no rainfall for up to three years, and in many parts of the area, there is no running water. The people live in clusters of seven to eight huts that make up their “rancheria.” The women tend to their children, their home, and their livestock. In their “spare time,” they weave the Mochila bags. Only the matriarch of the family can teach the art of weaving to the young women of their family. It is said that the designs are taught to the elder women by a spider deity called the Wale ‘Keri. It can take a month or more to weave a bag. It is thought that some of the vibrant colors are inspired by the bright orange of the desert sand contrasting with the crisp blue of the sea. Whatever the inspiration, I loved the bags and wanted to share some pictures from the streets of Cartagena.