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It’s rare to see an exhibition of artefacts with no clear indication of their age. In the case of Beyond El Dorado, guesstimates span well over 1000 years, leaving you lost in the mists of time. The reason? You can’t carbon-date gold. This illuminating exhibition at the British Museum is all about Colombia’s deep-rooted attachment to the magical metal, an addiction which ended when the plundering Spanish conquistadores rolled in. I was lucky enough to see the exhibition at an evening viewing, so notching up the enchantment. Despite being London on a drizzly November evening, the glistening forecourt managed to look suitably dreamy.


I did get to that Playa Blanca – and very blanca it was. Classic powdery white sand fronted by cliched turquoise waters and the silhouettes of coconut palms: all quite beautiful if there’d been a few hundred less people. From the ferry jetty at the canal, I’d hired a motor-bike taxi to bump me 15 km or so along a rough track the length of Isla de Baru to reach the beach. The rough ride wrought havoc on my spine, though my valiant driver seemed none the worse. A couple of times I had to dismount in places where the road was completely flooded as well as rutted to the point of resembling mountain ranges. So when I finally staggered down to the beach to be confronted by this Latino playground – family groups lunching, kids playing, a flotilla of speedboats and an army of pushy roaming vendors – it was like a slap in the face. Reality = Sunday = time off. Remember?


I´ve been here nearly a week, and am still seduced. It´s not surprising, as Cartagena seems to respond to every hazy dream of a life less frantic. Tropical heat with a gentle breeze (that only picked up a few days ago), stunning Spanish colonial architecture (half Merida in Mexico, half Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and probably a touch of Havana, though I’ve never been there), lush vegetation, the walk-shuffle of people accustomed to the heat and humidity who never speed up, fabulous hideouts from hotels to bars and restaurants, people who sit in the street late into the night singing along to a TV in a cafe, big black mammas with even bigger grins, the highs & the lows of Latin American countries…it´s all here.