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Full Circle

Day 221: Cartagena to Mexico City

Michael Palin - Full CircleA sticky, stale dawn. Through the walls of old Cartagena for the last time, passing an elegant iron-work bullring, a fitting last image of a city that takes its pleasures in style. Out along the coast road to the airport. The Caribbean Sea looks tired, as if it's had a bad night. Colourless waves sidle towards the shore and collapse exhausted onto the sand. The air smells of yesterday's heat and the humidity is already suffocating. When I bend down to lift a couple of cases my body responds like a well-filled sponge.

At the airport, as they sit out a two-hour delay caused by a military fly-past to celebrate Independence Day, smart Colombians are reading the latest offering from their world famous author and national hero Gabriel García Márquez who now lives in Mexico City. A Frenchman, now living in Colombia, tells me a good story about the eccentric country we are about to leave. After a recent air crash in the Andes, the black box flight recorder went missing for some considerable time. It was eventually found at the house of an old lady living high in the mountains. She had covered it with a cloth and was using it as an altar.

My image of our next destination is forever tainted by a phrase I remember reading in Charles Nicholl's fine novel, The Fruit Palace: 'Fifteen million people live in Mexico City and it smells as if they all farted at once.' Not exactly a tourist board slogan and I'm prepared for the worst as we land in the Mexican capital four hours after leaving Cartagena. It's raining and I'm told that's good. During the rainy season daily downpours wash the pollution out of the air and clean the atmosphere.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 221
  • Country/sea: Colombia
  • Place: Cartagena
  • Book page no: 284

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