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Come dancing

Iglesia de Trinidad in Colombia

With new-found friends, I sit and soak up Getsemani as it preps for its notorious party muscle. Be warned, from Thursday ‘til Sunday afternoon, Colombians bring seats, chess boards, deep-fat fryers, bottles of aguadiente (a local anise liquor that translates, ominously, to mean ‘fire water’), sound systems and some serious booty-shaking skills on to the street for three days of socialising – something to bear in mind when booking your guesthouse or hotel. That, and bring the best earplugs money can buy.

Noise aside, it’s irresistibly fun. So we forgo all plans for dinner and partake in a little people watching. One traveller in our group jokes, “the Colombians have obviously realised the street’s more entertaining than anything they’d find on TV”. He’s right. That and the fact the city’s constant temperature of 32 degrees means it’s better to live your life outside and enjoy the balmy Caribbean trade winds when they make an appearance. Requesting a second round of rums, we park ourselves among the throngs that congregate around the barrio’s 500-year-old Iglesia de Trinidad, a crumbling colonial church that serves as a massive hub of activity come sundown. Here, teenage boys sit on the stone steps to play backgammon, their shoulders bobbing to the city’s signature sound, champeta.

Originally a form of ‘Creole therapy’ to help Colombians forget about the country’s economic woes, over three decades champeta has evolved from a basic blend of local salsa, jibaro and reggae to encompass different variations of ragga and reggaeton. It’s the defining sound of Cartagena and the locals love it. From where I’m sitting, the sultry pelvis grinding and hip swaying that’s becoming more assertive as the square’s rum bottles are drained is comically jarring in the shadow of a Catholic church.


Colombia's Cartagena on the Caribbean coast offers a life more colourful
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