A World Away
By Sarah Casey, a volunteer from England who joined Domino Volunteers to assist with English classes at a community-based foundation in Cartagena.
Having spent 6 months travelling around South America and the last 2 months volunteering in Cartagena, settling into London life is taking A LOT of adjusting! Things I used to think were completely normal like sprinting up the escalators on the underground (even though I wasn’t running late for anything…), sitting on a packed silent bus and muttering a tiny hi, if anything, to the person behind the till in Tesco, now seem completely alien to me.
Each time I told a fellow traveller that I was going to Colombia their face lit up as they exclaimed ‘Colombia is great and people there are the friendliest people ever, you’re gonna love it’. I can now safely say that they were not wrong. I loved my time in Cartagena for the people I met there, the way they lived their lives and their attitude to life.
Over my two months in Cartagena I completely fell in love with the city and its Costeño people. The pace of life in Cartagena was definitely tranquilo (I’ve never seen such slow walkers!!) yet the city is always full of music, dancing, laughing and colour and there is always something going on for you to look at. Whether it’s the daily evening dancing at the Torre del Reloj, the performer who blasts out Shakira songs from his boombox and dances without letting his hips lie or a group of locals sitting around one of the many squares enjoying a chat or debate, for me, Cartagena is a city full of life and excitement.
Big difference #1
The pace of life between London and Cartagena is remarkable. Trying to get from one side of London to the other during rush hour is like watching an episode of Total Wipeout. You will have to jump, flip and duck in order to make it through unscathed. People are running and jumping on and off the tube, up and down the escalators and across the platforms, it’s a never ending rush! Whilst this can be exhilarating for a new comer to the city, it can also be pretty silly, having had my feet run over twice this week by a commuter armed with a wheelie case, I’m cheering for team silly.
Cartagena on the complete other end of the spectrum is extremely relaxed and slow paced. Wandering from Getsemani to the old town could take me around 45 minutes – it seems that along my travels I unconsciously transitioned from a rapid London walker to a relaxed Costeño walker. During my hours off from volunteering, I tended to wander around the city with no purpose, tasting all the local foods from arepas to roncons and the amazing fruits that are readily available on just about every street. There really was no need to rush for anything… tranqi!
Reflecting on this difference, I find it hard to remember my former self being one of those participants of the London version of Total Wipeout each morning on my commute. Yet, with each day that I take the tube I notice a subtle, yet noticeable all the same, quickening of my pace and widening of my elbows…
Cruising out of the city down the coast, a myriad of voices, Reggaeton tunes and car, bus and motorcycle horns can be heard. I loved just sitting in the window seat and taking in all the sounds, smells and sights of the city.
Big difference #2
Given that London’s population is over eight times the size of Cartagena, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that London is a much noisier city, however this isn’t quite the reality. Whilst you may have a tube carriage with over one hundred people in it, standing with heads in armpits and cheeks against windows, there will be next to no noise. Even a mere cough or sneeze can be clearly heard. On a bus in Cartagena however, it is an entirely different story.
Taking the bus from the Old Town to La Boquilla where I volunteered, was always an extremely noisy and exciting experience with various vendors shouting, school kids laughing and chatting and the bus men screeching the destinations. Cruising out of the city down the coast, a myriad of voices, Reggaeton tunes and car, bus and motorcycle horns can be heard. I loved just sitting in the window seat and taking in all the sounds, smells and sights of the city. Also, since the area where I volunteered was much less built up and with less tourists I got the opportunity to see and experience a different side to Cartagena that a tourist might not have the opportunity to. With so much noise and things to take in, the journey to La Boquilla was always an exciting one.
Big difference #3
Something else that I have really noticed that is different about life in these two cities since coming home is that here in London it is quite bizarre to say hello to people on the street that you do not know. I learnt this the hard way, having gotten used to walking around the streets in Cartagena and generally saying ‘Buenas’ to the street vendors and other locals, I bellowed hello at a mother and her two children when I sat next to them on the bus and was met with confusion and silence…it was a little awkward. It’s not that London is an unfriendly city but it’s just that the culture is pretty different to that in Cartagena!
Bringing a bit of Cartagena to London
Having travelled to Colombia from Brazil, through the other South American nations, I met lots of travellers who had already visited Colombia on their trip and were heading in the opposite direction. Each time I told a fellow traveller that I was going to Colombia their face lit up as they exclaimed ‘Colombia is great and people there are the friendliest people ever, you’re gonna love it’. I can now safely say that they were not wrong. I loved my time in Cartagena for the people I met there, the way they lived their lives and their attitude to life.
So next time when I pop into my local shop I might start a little chat with the person behind the till, and on the tube I might walk at a normal pace and spark up a conversation with the stranger opposite me...bringing a bit of Cartagena to London!