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May 12, 2014 / Andee Frizzell


cartagenaCartagena is the host to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It maintains a steady, balmy temperature of 30-35 degrees all year round and has in its centre a walled city approximately 400+ years old. The traditional, renovated Spanish colonial style architecture is a sight to behold; a paradise in the truest sense of the word.

The long, white sand beaches are a bustling thoroughfare of commerce. Hats, necklaces, dresses, inflatable beach toys and baked goods, sail by your beach cabaña routinely, accompanied by vigorously, shouted sales pitches.  The purveyors of beach merchandise traverse the sandy strait with their wares firmly strapped to their backs or in some cases, their heads.

Raw fresh fish, displayed on aluminium trays, (sans any form of refrigeration), massages (pronounced and shouted at ear splitting volume ‘MAAASAWWWHAYYY’ and cervezas (beer) are hot ticket items.

These much sought after items are subject to the three tier pricing system. The top tier, as I like to call it, the Gringo tier, is the highest price, the second tier is the Colombian price, which is almost half the Gringo price and then there is the third tier, Native to this area price, which is the lowest and hardest of all prices to actually get.

An example of tiered pricing: the first cabbie I approached outside the airport to drive me to my hotel quoted me 80 000 pesos, Gringo price ($40), the second cabbie I approached to go the same distance quoted me 40 000 pesos, Colombian price ($20), and the third cabbie quoted me 20 000 pesos, Native price ($10), plus for no extra fee threw in a running commentary of points of interest along route. Unfortunately, for me, it was in Spanish, so I understood nada.

Bartering is even accepted on an official level. One beautiful night, at about 3am to be exact, after an amazing dinner in the old city, (and a bottle of wine) and a long romantic walk on the beach, Jack and I decided it would be extremely refreshing and somewhat thrilling to go skinny dipping in the ocean near our hotel.

We had just stripped down and dove into the water when the motorcycle police patrol showed up. With their headlight cutting through the darkness, aimed right at us, they beckoned us to get out of the water. Without trying to explain, it was pretty obvious we were in the buck, we sheepishly made our way to our discarded clothes. Apologizing repeatedly in broken Spanish and totally embarrassed, we dressed hurriedly.

The police officer on the motorcycle, began lecturing us, (in Spanish) I am assuming about the perils of water safety and the law prohibiting swimming after 6pm, (to which we were oblivious), ending his speech with a ‘you must pay a ticket’ motion.

His partner drew 100 000 ($50), in the sand with his foot. Without thinking, having been climatized to local bargaining customs, I immediately began moving my pointer finger back and forth, in the motion of ‘no’ and displayed my best Colombian bargaining face, (lips slightly puckered, eyes slanted and chin high). I countered his 100 000 with my own number, etched in the sand with my toe, of 20 000 ($10).

There was an immediate eruption of ‘nah’s’ and ‘hah’s’ and head shaking, which is customary, from the officers but I kept firm, pointing repeatedly at the 20 000 in the sand.

Finally, after a lot of arm flaying and exasperated scoffs, also customary, the officers, must have decided we were either too broke to pay or too stupid to understand that they could THROW US IN JAIL, conceded in accepting our offer.

If I were Aesop and this was a fable, the moral would be;

Righteous fearlessness is commendable, ignorant fearlessness is simply…. stupidity.



Leave a Comment
  1. arcticgoddess / May 12 2014 11:25 pm

    It must be because you are tall, blond and very attractive that you get away with all this crap. I’d be cooling my heels in jail right now if it were me. I know that for sure because I have never gotten out of a traffic ticket in this country.

    I think Jack owes you a meal when you get back to T.O. LOL

  2. eugene / May 13 2014 3:01 am

    Today the Oman censors let me read your story. Different computer and company server may be the reason or,,, maybe you negotiated with them.

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