Yep, you read it right. I spent two days acting within the beautiful Old Wall of Cartagena de Indias. And not just for any old documentary, but for the Netflix hit series itself -Narcos.
Okay, I’m not going to get too excited. I was just an extra. This meant my role was to create everyday life within the scene. Shootouts and cafe conversations can’t just happen with the actors, people need to be there to make it all seem real. My role consisted of walking around casually in the background. Nothing exciting. Maybe you might see the back of my head for two seconds.
But this post isn’t completely about acting. I consider myself more of a travel writer. Instead this is about Cartagena de Indias, and why exactly it makes for the ideal backdrop to many movie scenes (I’ll only brag a little bit, I promise). The locals I worked with said being an extra in Cartagena was pretty much a part time job, so film sets frequently stop by this beautiful colonial city.
So why Cartagena? When it was founded in 1533, it became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and a key outpost of the Spanish Empire. However, where there’s treasures, there’s pirates. So over the next century it was beautified with forts and elaborate walls to protect the stored treasure plundered by the Indigenous people. Since then, the old walled town has changed very little. It’s like a step back into the 17th century. So it makes sense director’s will jump at the chance to film in this historic location.
Let’s consider Cartagena within the international market. While it’s one of the most expensive places in Colombia, it’s a relatively cheap tourist destination on a global scale. In fact, despite being in Cartagena, we were supposedly filming in Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island north of Venezuela, that I’m guessing would be more expensive to fly a filming cast to. Cartagena has the beauty and the affordability. I must note they did go to a lot of effort to ‘change’ Cartagena to Curaçao, altering small details from streets signs to postcard stands.
Next up, the weather is going to be pretty great -well at least look great. By midday the production crew were running around making sure everyone was well hydrated. Standing around all day isn’t as easy at it sounds. There’s heaps of waiting, heaps of re-takes and heaps of sweating. (I don’t think the production crew would be too happy if we returned their beautiful 20th century clothes dripping in sweat.)
I’m going to be honest here, being an extra was definitely the highlight of my time in Cartagena (oh and maybe rubbing mud into Mel’s face in the nearby Volcán, El Totumo). We had organised to stay in town for five entire days, but if it wasn’t for our two days acting, I would have been a little bored. Three days was enough to see the beach, see the old town and enjoy a snippet of the night life.