Cartagena and its Country, Columbia – Part 2

“I have to get to Cartagena!”  (Who said that?)

“My sister’s in trouble in Cartagena!  She’s been kidnapped! I have to get there!”  (Who said that?)

If I use the words Romance and Stone…. does that help? Kathleen Turner? Michael Douglas? Danny DeVito?

Well, now YOU are going to Cartagena….so let’s learn a bit about that city, as well as the country in which it’s found.

This city of about a million people was founded in 1533, named after a seaport in Spain, and became a major center of early Spanish settlement in South America.  Today, it’s a popular tourist destination.  Which is why we’re here.

Its history is some fun.  It was wealthy because all the stuff from the New World on its way to Spain came through Cartagena into the Caribbean.  There roved those wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ll throw a few names out to whet your thirst…Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth of England’s favorite “legitimate pirate,”  and his own near-relative John Hawkins were two of the English privateers.  Drake, who landed at night to conquer the city at dawn, burned houses and destroyed part of the Cathedral.  Drake forced the authorities to pay him 107,000 ducats, took some jewelry and 80 artillery pieces.  In 1568, Hawkins besieged the city for seven days.  In 1697, a fleet of French soldiers and pirates tried to take Cartagena.

To fight off these repeated attacks, the Spanish Crown hired prominent European military engineers to carry out the construction of fortresses, which today mark one of Cartagena’s signs of identify.  The construction took 208 years. But, the port still attracted pirates.

In 1741, the city was attacked by English troops in a fleet of 186 ships and 23,600 men against 6 ships and 3600 men.  After weeks of intense fighting, the siege was repelled by the Spanish who inflicted heavy casualties on the English troops.  (Check out the War of Jenkins’ Ear or the Battle of Cartagena, but I like the first title better…and it’s the one I know about the battle.)

As if there wasn’t trouble enough, the Catholic King Phillip of Spain established the Inquisition Holy Office in Cartagena and ordered built the Inquisition Palace, which was finished in 1770 (when we were just starting our…  uh…dispute with England for our independence.) And it’s still there with original colonial features.  When Simon Bolivar invaded to free Colombia from Spain, the Inquisition disappeared again.  (In case you’re interested…during its two centuries of existence, some records show that the court carried out 12 autos-de-fe, 767 defendants were punished, six of them burned at the stake.

Finally, 250 years after the Spanish conquered it, Cartagena declared its independence in 1811.  It’s called the Heroic City.

With tropical location, the climate changes little…ranging from low of 76 F to high of 89 F.  About 40 inches of rain per year…rainy season is in October.

Let’s look at the town itself. The Rafael Nunez International Airport is about ten minutes from downtown.  In that area, downtown, there’s a Centro Historico, or Walled City, where you can find information on the history of the area. This is the real heart of the city, with a mixture of architectural design, mainly of colonial style, but there are some Italianate buildings, like the Cathedral’s bell tower.

Clock Tower Gate

The official entrance to downtown is through the Clock Gate, which leads you into the Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages). Then the Aduana (customs house), then the mayor’s office. And the Museum of Modern Art.

Also nearby are the Plaza de Bolivar and the Palace of the Inquisition, then the government Palace, across from which is the Cathedral of Cartagena. (Remember how the Spanish designed towns:  a mid-place square (Zocolo in Mexico City, plaza in other cities, where one side there’s a church, one side has the government building, and often a type of lodging on another side.  A museum is often on the fourth side of the square.  Always the church and the government building.)  Stop to admire the restored Santo Domingo Church, decorated with a famous sculpture, Mujer Reclinada (Reclining Woman), by a famous Colombian artist Botero.

The Teatro Heredia (Heredia Theater) is an architectural jewel located in front of the Plaza de la Merced.  A little further on in the University of Cartagena. The Claustro de Santa Teresa (cloister) has been remodeled into an upscale hotel.   Several other convents also have been remodeled into beautiful hotels.

Inside the Old City, you can go to Las Bovedas ( The Vaults) from where you can see the Caribbean Sea.

The commercial and financial area of the city is the Matuna, where you can find nice hotels and good restaurants.  It’s one of the most representative areas in Cartagena where African people brought here as slaves used to live.   More churches and convents are here also.

Bocagrande (Big Mouth) is the most modern area of the city.  Shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries are here; a little farther on are the beaches and nightlife.

Today, Cartagena has focused on heavy urban development, particularly skyscrapers. Hollywood loves the atmosphere of Colombia, although Romancing the Stone was filmed in Mexico.  But, another movie, The Mission, was filmed in Cartagena and Brazil, as was the movie Love in the Time of Cholera.  Cartagena shows up in some novels as well.

But don’t you fail to get out and walk around the downtown. Maybe you’ll recognize some scenes you’ve seen or read about. Just know you’re seeing a town with a history that’s beyond colorful and exciting.  May you find some color and excitement here, as well.


A Potpourri of Venezuela, Colombia and Cartagena – Part 1

You’ve all heard of Irish Stew and of Hungarian Goulash:  today I’m telling you about a trio of places that makes up a potpourri—surely as hot and tasty as Goulash and Stew. I’ll touch on them in order of our passing by or stopping at.

So, I’ll begin with a country that is vital to the United States—and other countries around the world—Venezuela.  It comprises a mainland and many islands in the Caribbean, and borders (more or less) with Guyana, Brazil and Colombia, although there have been border disputes between all three countries and Venezuela.  The current fight is with tiny Guyana.

But, let’s back up a few centuries.  People have lived in this area at least 15,000 years. The modern world learned of the land when in 1499, a fellow whose name you’ll recognize sailed in along the coast of Venezuela.  Here, he saw villages that people had built over water, reminding him of Venice Italy, so he named it Venezuela, which means “little Venice.”  Others have said that the local natives were called Veneciuela … so you take your choice.  Spain colonized this area in 1522, killing the locals who were descendants of Carib Indians; an uprising for independence began in 1811, but in 1812, a terrible earthquake hit Caracas, so those attempts failed.

In 1821, Simon Bolivar (the Liberator), who is recognized as the liberator of several South American countries (Ecuador and, obviously, Bolivia), led a revolt against the Spanish, which resulted in a messy decade of fighting until 1830, when the country became somewhat settled—and free of Spain.

For the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Venezuela was in continual turmoil and/or dictatorships. In 1958, the country began a series of somewhat democratically elected presidents.


Angel Falls – By Paulo Capiotti [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The economy of the country began to reach heights with the discovery of huge oil deposits, reaching its best until the l980’s.  But huge public spending and internal and external debts of the government during the Petrodollar years of the 1970s and early 80s led to a collapse of oil prices during the l980s, all of which crippled Venezuelan economy.  When the money went south, so did the dream of democracy.  Major coup attempts, two in 1992 and one in 2002, have led to rising poverty and crime and increasing political instability in the country.

Venezuela is a beautiful country:  the Andes mountains in the west, has part of the Amazon Basin, and has Angel Falls, the world’s largest waterfall… a wide diversity of plant and animal life…maybe among the widest of any other country.  The Orinoco River drains a large land mass, one of the largest in Latin America…not just South America…Latin America.  Cloud forests and rain forest are particularly rich, for example, with 25,000 species of orchids.

File:Manatee.jpgNotable mammals include the giant anteater, jaguar, and the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.  There are also manatees, river dolphins, and Orinoco crocodiles—which can get as long as 26 ft., plus a host of bird species—ibises, ospreys, kingfishers, and the yellow-orange turpial, the national bird.  Mining, logging and shifting cultivation (known as slash/burn cultivation, I think) have endangered many of these animals and plants.

Venezuelans have been sports figures in the U.S., primarily in baseball. Several are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Soccer is also a popular sport.

Artists and writers have achieved worldwide recognition, as have architects…all heavily dominated by Latin American culture.  Ninety-six percent of Venezuelans are nominally Roman Catholic, but I doubt that includes regular church attendance.  It usually doesn’t in Latin America.

Income: petroleum sector accounts for about half of the GDP and for around 80% of their exports. Spanish is the national language

Since we really aren’t welcome there, let’s go on to the other two ingredients in our cultural “stew”…but I hope you know that Venezuela is a beautiful country; it just needs good people to lead it…. Next time, we go on to Colombia and one of its major cities, Cartagena, which we WILL visit.

Book Signing at Barnes and Noble

I will be signing copies of my newest book, Belize Barter, at the Redding Barnes and Noble this Saturday, April 23 at 3:00 p.m.
In Belize Barter, Briana Fraser is back. Swept once again into a dizzying world of espionage, revolutions, and misadventures, Briana is asked to take a hiatus from running her travel store in Ashland, Oregon, and reprise her one-time role as a courier for a U.S. spy agency.
This time, the exchange will happen in Belize, a veritable hotbed where mysterious groups vie for political control. Briana finally agrees and boards a cruise ship south, but she gets more than she bargains for when her teenage sister, Leslie, is dragged into the fray. Briana must summon all her wits to save more than herself and her mission: this time, she must save her sister.
Come on by the Redding Barnes and Noble at 1260 Churn Creek Rd. to pick up your signed copy!
Belize Barter Front cover

The second installment of the Briana Fraser series!

Argentine Assignment now available for purchase

The first book in the Briana Fraser series, Argentine Assignment, is now available for purchase as a Kindle book on  Information on how to purchase the paperback will be provided soon.

The first in the Briana Fraser series

This is a suspense novel that puts intelligence agency courier Briana Fraser in situations of intrigue and danger. She explores the beauty of Buenos Aires and Mexico City in her desperate effort to complete her secret assignment. Also included in the action is her fellow cohort, Derry, who provides some light romance in the midst of the turmoil.

Follow Briana as she tries to distinguish friend from foe in her dangerous trek through a South American nation’s political upheaval. And, as she encounters those wishing to do her ill. You’ll never think of a knitting needle the same way again!

Argentine Assignment Book Signing!

I will be having a book signing of Argentine Assignment on this coming Friday May 8 during the times of 11:30 to 1:30 at the Sportsman’s Express located at 14385 Wonderland Blvd.  Redding, CA (No. of Shasta Lake aka Shell Station). This is a suspense novel about a low-level courier for a US spy agency.  She’s told to go to Argentina to pick up a “package”….she thinks it’s documents, right?  Wrong!  And thereby hangs the tale.  Come by for a chat!