At home in the Welsh Marches, the Hay Festival is a kind of Glastonbury for books, subject to the vagaries of the British summer. Every winter, however, it folds its tents and transports itself to Cartagena, on the Spanish Main.
Winkled out of their libraries, literary types can be seen blinking in the Caribbean sun, their ears-when not following debates in fast-talking simultaneous translation-seduced by the sounds of salsa or the more local dance music of champeta. Pablo Escobar, the most notorious of the Colombian drug lords, died nearly 20 years ago. Cartagena is a symbol of the new Colombia: vibrant, prosperous and chic.
The English have been here before: Sir Francis Drake paid an uninvited visit in 1586, staying for two months. But Cartagena recovered from his attentions, wisely hiding itself behind ramparts. Forty years ago, you might have thought twice about staying, but poverty preserved it. Property prices are now in the millions. It’s not a place for early nights, or those who are sensitive to noise; some time after midnight, I saw a trumpeter playing as he walked across a square to a bar. For him the night was just beginning. What a place.