One of my favorite areas of Cartagena is the Getsemaní neighborhood. My favorite spot in that neighborhood is a quiet one-way street that leads away from the friendly prostitutes of Calle Media Luna toward Plaza de la Trinidad… and happens to smell distinctly of urine.
When I lived in Cartagena this past winter, I walked from a residential neighborhood at the foot of Castle San Felipe through Getsemaní every day to reach the language school where I was studying Spanish. I became familiar with the old men selling cold water in plastic bags in the already-sweltering 8 AM sun. I ignored the catcalls to the point that I barely noticed them anymore. I found a favorite place to buy jugo de lulo.
There was something perversely magical about the oppressive heat, the discarded trash on the sidewalk, the coconut venders, and the tropical music blasting from the taxi cabs. I loved those walks each day because I was passing through a world I’d never known and to which I was a complete alien. A short, blonde alien.
My local friends tell me that a few years ago, I could not have walked alone through Getsemaní. It was dirty, dangerous, and I’d probably be mistaken for a prostitute. Today, it’s full of backpackers, salsa clubs, and two of my favorite pizza joints.
And yes, my favorite street may smell like urine, but it’s worth every whiff.