What I Would Change about Cartagena

If I could wave a magic wand and change two things about Cartagena and life on the coast of Colombia, I would eradicate the drinking culture and improve the lives of domesticated animals.


Drinking is ingrained in the culture, something that men (and a few women) indulge in every Friday and Saturday night. Some men spend a good deal of their paychecks drinking before they ever reach home. It’s a way to show their machismo, and the fights that occur at these “watering holes” is yet another unfortunate way. Booze used to be cheap here, but over the years, with added taxes, it’s no longer cheap. Then, of course, there are drugs, too, from cheap to expensive, depending on whether you want the by-product of manufacturing coke or the real thing. Drugs, however, are not at all acceptable, but drinking is. I would guess there’s at least one or two alcoholics in every family.

My other pet peeve is how donkeys, horses, dogs, and cats are treated. The streets of Cartagena are filled with emaciated street dogs who roam around ripping garbage bags and foraging for food. I’m sure some of them belong to people but most do not. No one thinks of getting them sterilized so every so often you can see a pack of dogs chasing a poor female in heat. They careen along the sidewalks and street, 10-15 males, making quite a racket. One thing about those street dogs, though, is that they know how to cross the streets–they look both ways. The burros are an even sadder story than the dogs. They are truly beasts of burden here, an extension of the carts they precede. I haven’t seen one without a thousand scars on its body, hip and rib bones protruding. Cats and dogs steer clear of each other, though I think cats have a clear advantage in the food category because they eat the mice and rats that share the streets. Survival is what it’s all about and I wish I could care for each and everyone one of them, but there are just too many. The plight of the horses who pull the carriages around downtown Cartagena has improved over the years. They used to look awful but, finally, the city council passed a law that the horses had to be well-cared for or they could not enter the old city with their carriages.

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