Sailors, Prostitutes and Backpackers!

Cafe del Mar Cartagena and the historic centre.

Cafe del Mar Cartagena and the historic centre.

My visit to Cartagena was a disappointment. Not that it wasn’t interesting. Wandering about the historic sections of the city kept me busy for hours and it certainly can’t be said that the town isn’t photogenic.

My disappointment stems from the fact that Cartagena is a rather popular tourist destination, and all that that implies;

  • The fake landaus, (I say fake because there is nothing remotely traditional in their construction)
  • The price hikes, (my reference being Santa Marta)
  • The hawkers, (“Hello my friend, where are you from?”)
  • The prostitutes, (supposedly representing 50% of the local females in the old town after dark). Don’t believe me? Here’s the reference.
  • and the way everything is neatly geared to maximise the extraction of hard currency from short term visitors.

Dare I say that it’s just another tourist trap? Yes…

It isn't over until the fat lady.....

It isn’t over until the fat lady…..

In Cartagena’s defence though, it certainly can not be said that this is the only city where the above criticisms hold true.

It didn’t help that the marina (Club Nautico) is currently a construction site offering little more than a secure place to leave your dinghy at a premium price. I’m told it should all be completed by July so don’t let that small detail deter you.

Of the visitors there seemed to be two main types;

The older wealthier version making use of the up-market hotels, and the youthful backpacker occupying the small inexpensive hostels on the old towns perimeter.

I’ll leave out the yachting community for the moment.

And I’ll say nothing more of the secret service 😉

The other side of town...

The other side of town…

I was surprised to see so many backpackers! I’d thought them extinct. At least they appear to be a dying breed in Europe, (having been replaced by the wheely bag generation and the ever present trustafarians), but no…, backpackers are alive and well…, it’s just that they have changed continent.

Backpackers do what they have always done… Drink and hang around meeting other backpackers in what (to my eyes at least), is the grittier, but infinitely more interesting parts of town. But what’s a trustafarian I hear you ask?

Cartagena street art

Cartagena street art

That would be the neo-hippy white wantobe rastafarian with a trust fund. A growing phenomenon in the Caribbean and abroad. I could almost be one, except I don’t usually hitch-hike across borders these days, have the prerequisite passion for reggae music, the dreadlocks, the weed habit, the tubular cotton bracelet rack displaying my wares for sale, the musical instrument, the juggling apparatus, or the all important “trust fund” waiting for me back home.

For what it’s worth though, I do have hairy legs…! Harrumph… 😉

These tourists are the “bread and butter” for yachtsmen making Cartagena their home away from home. I was amazed by the number of yachts offering passage to budget travellers to or from Panama. At between $300 and $500 US per person for a one way trip, and yachts large enough to accommodate up to 25 passengers, you can see why many captains linger here.

You can also see why I wouldn’t…

Enough said…

Disenchanted with Southern Spain

Sailing near Denia

Sailing near Denia

I spent the next two weeks sailing down the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca stopping at Denia, Altea, Alicante, Torrevieja, Cartagena, Almeria, Almerimar, and Benalmadena.

With a steady land breeze, the sailing was exceptional. Eileen of Avoca sped effortlessly along the coast, often passing within a cable of bizarrely shaped headlands with dramatic cliffs and abundant bird life.

Dolphins visited frequently, swimming beside us with ethereal splendor for hours on end. At night, their intricate performance (illuminated by the agitated bioluminescent plankton), prompted rapturous applause.



The cities I’ve visited are the antithesis of this natural splendor. They appear excessively contrived and soulless. The further I travel south, the more feigned it all becomes.

With the exception of a handful of historic buildings, period architecture is abandoned to make way for the construction of theme park styled apartments and brand name shopping centers. What has happened to the real Spain? Tourist traps and real estate agents can’t be all that’s left!

Everything is for rent or for sale. Did the recent boom come at such a cultural cost?
I put these questions to the older sailors berthed for winter in Cartagena. They assure me that the real Spain still lives but it is not to be found further south among the plastic covered landscapes and marina developments of Andalucia.



I am certainly not impressed. The scarcity of berths for visiting yachts at intended destinations (Almerimar excepted) made landfall a chore, and the frequent questioning or searches by port officials did little to make me feel welcome.
Perhaps misinformation from my outdated Mediterranean almanac was to blame, or I’ve just been in the wrong frame of mind.

I decide to break my journey and leave Eileen while I return to Belgium for a white Christmas. I’ll take up where I left off in the new year.

Seasons Greetings everyone!