“Who’s the most famous person called Susan to have visited Cartagena?” asked the guide, outside a fancy hotel where the celebrity had stayed.
“Susan Boyle?” replied the Brit.
“No. Susan Sarandon. Next question: which film did Antonio Banderas make here with Selma Hayek?”
“Shrek 2?” I suggested.
“No. Love in the Time of Cholera.
“What was Michael Douglas doing in Cartagena?”
“Catherine Zeta Jones?”
Given Cartagena had famously withstood 6 attacks in its last few centuries, it should be no surprise our guide could withstand (if not entirely understand) our barrage of sarcasm.
And yet, we gave it our best shot.
“What does the yellow in the Colombian flag stand for?”
“No. It’s for gold.”
Free city walking tours have sprung up throughout major cities in Colombia, often run by rival companies distinguished by their colours. I did the Yellow Tour this morning, but there is also a Red tour company. Or you can discover the historic city on Segways, just like the Aztecs did.
The guide started the tour, speaking through an amplifier attached to his belt, by asking everyone to give their name and where they came from. As with everything “free” these days, we were paying by giving up our personal information. He probably would have asked for our emails and social security numbers had the group not been so large.
For each person he would shoot back a fact about that particular place.
“I’m Lynn from Nova Scotia,” said one.
“Let me guess. From the city that starts with an H and ends with an X? Can anyone say what city Lynn is from?”
Though only two hours, it was going to be a long tour.
Eventually it was my turn. “Where are you from?”
“I’m not from Canada.”
“From Canada? Let me guess the province.”
“You can guess all you want, but I said I’m NOT from Canada.”
The guide was certainly knowledgeable – so knowledgeable in fact he kept on asking himself questions which he would immediately answer.
A typical 20 seconds of him talking went as follows:
“Why would the clock tower have four different times showing? Because they didn’t have a mechanic to fix it. Hey you know what people in Cartagena call someone who isn’t truthful? They say he has as many faces as the clock tower. You know what this has in common with Ireland? They have a similar expression there. Amiright, lady from Dublin in the crowd?”
“I’m from Cork, but ok.”
Listening to him was less like hearing a tour, than a two-hour educational slam poetry contest.
Given it was free, we could hardly complain though, and the colonial city was a jewel to walk through, whether listening to a babbling guide or not.
It was steeped in history, but also up to date. In Plaza Santo Domingo, he pointed out the Botero sculpture, of a voluptuous nude woman.
“You see that sculpture? For one week now, police have been on the lookout for a tourist who stripped off and mounted the sculpture.”
If caught, the young man faces being banned from Colombia for 10 years, but will no doubt live on as part of the Yellow Free Tour script.
After two years, the tour wound up with the guide asking a quiz, though it was getting less and less city-specific.
“Ladies, pick a number between 1 and 12.”
“Yes! You win, here, have a free keyring.”
He ended with a last footnote relating to Pablo Escobar. As with the previous tour in Bogota, he was disparaging of his legacy, as was the drug lord’s son:
“His son eventually moved to Argentina, where he changed his name to escape his past, and then wrote this book.
He held up a photo of the book, entitled: “My father Pablo Escobar”.
“Then why did he bother changing his name?” I wanted to ask.
In short, while there was plenty to see on the tour, irony was not one of the guide’s frequent observations.