On the last day of August this year, I found myself sauntering through San Basilio de Palenque, the first free town of African slaves in the Americas, which dates back to the 17th century. I immediately thought of Murillo and Colombina. It made me wonder if this place might bear some resemblance to his La Palia, and if I could find inspiration for my sequel — some idea I could take back home to Brooklyn with me to share — right here.
Cartagena’s old town looks oddly majestic. It sways, in slow motion, like a lopsided medieval paradise. At night, people sweat, sing and salsa to Champeta. MCs from the outskirts spin a thumping blend of mild reggae, zuk and, dancehall to young hipsters crammed into the gutted buildings of Getsemaní. All around this rickety walled city, only the shoreline feels certain. It’s flat, blue and steady. I drove past it in a ‘cab’ last Sunday, on my way to the hotel. His bright blue ‘Aloha ‘shirt said it all. It had sunshine and palm trees scrawled across it. Hernando, my taxi driver, had a fairytale warmth about him. He was also a tour guide. He made sightseeing seem so easy.