On Tuesday morning I woke to the gentle movement of the ship and a lovely sunrise outside my window. I so love the gentle rocking, the ocean sliding by, the low hum of the ship’s engine in the background. Somehow the combination of movement and sound and vision is completely relaxing. On this morning, we tried the healthy breakfast at the spa, with oatmeal, fruit, flaxseed, organic mango rolls and jam, yogurt, melon, and green tea. Perfect. We sat out on the promenade deck for some breezy knitting and conversation with an interesting lady who was also knitting, and claimed to be self taught. Without a book, even. Amazing, I haven’t a clue how someone could do that.
At 11 we took in a lecture in the theater about the Panama Canal. The lecturer was born in the “zone” and was so interesting and informative. We again enjoyed a perfect lunch at the Seaside, with luscious Caesar salads, fresh fruit and vegetables, and great desserts. Back to the cabin for a mid day nap, more ocean sliding by. Went up to the pool deck in the afternoon for a swim. The seas were rough with 9 to 12 foot waves so the pool was sloshing around like crazy. It was great fun swimming against the waves and getting thrown around in the pool and swimming against the current, great exercise. Afterward I went for a dip in the hot tub to relax a bit before afternoon cappuccino in the Kove Patisserie. We spent the rest of the afternoon in a deck chair relaxing in the warm sun and reading. Dinner was casual, but again delicious, and we topped off the evening with some gambling in the casino after the show. The days slide so gently by, just like the water sliding by our window on the port side of the ship. We love our walks around the upper deck, 5 laps per mile, and we promised ourselves at least a mile after breakfast, and a mile before any other meal!
A relaxing day at sea was perfect preparation for our long day planned in Cartagena. We set the alarm for 6 AM in order to watch the ship sailing into the harbor. At the harbor entry, old Spanish forts guard the way, with local fishermen in small colorful boats forming a great contrast in the misty early morning light. However, as we approached the city itself, the crumbling decay of some of the skyscrapers was obvious. The new city is built on a peninsula, at sea level, and the Old City can be seen through the skyscrapers as the ship approaches. We heard that many of the floors in the buildings are empty, and are used simply for money laundering schemes.
Cartagena de Indies was, for two centuries, one of Spain’s most prized New World ports. It is now a United Nations World Heritage Site, and within the old walled city are many examples of Colonial architecture, shady plazas, and narrow cobblestone streets. The forts and stone walls were built over time to defend the port against pirates and enemy fleets. The city’s history is a bloody one, with sieges and sackings that go back to it’s fall to Sir Francis Drake. Today Cartagena has a population of more than a million people and is actually considered a island of peace in an otherwise troubled country. We were really looking forward to visiting this interesting city in a country where we have never traveled.
We planned an early excursion, “The Best of Cartagena”, and boarded a bus for “Old Town”. The bus stopped at the magnificent old fort of San Felipe de Barajas, but actually entering the fort wasn’t included the tour, something in the fine print that we neglected to read about this particular excursion. In fact, at first the tour guides only planned to let us see it through the windows of the bus, but relented and did allow us to walk around a little bit. Men and women were trying to sell leather goods, and jewelry, and were fairly aggressive as they approached. I just kept saying, “No”, since any kind of comment would engender more hawking. Even “No” didn’t usually work, and we had to learn to completely ignore these people and make no eye contact. It’s the price of being a tourist in a tourist place, I suppose.
Wandering along the old streets was fascinating. Since the early days of the city, people have immigrated from the Caribbean, and many of these people keep their culture alive and have a strong ethnic pride in their background. Women whose heritage is originally from the West Indies, called the “banana ladies” are amazing, balancing huge fragrant baskets of fresh fruit atop their heads while they dance and smile and seduce you into paying a dollar to take their photo.
Our next tour stop was the Church of San Pedro Claver, named for a Jesuit monk who was canonized 200 years after his death for his life’s work defending African slaves in Colombia. The religious art at the church was fascinating and the tropical gardens were lush and beautiful. The Colonial architecture of old town was dramatic, with the dark rich ochre yellow color and rusty orange popular colors. The Inquisition endured for 200 years in Cartagena and we explored the Inquisition Palace and saw the window where parishioners could place anonymous letters condemning anyone they wanted to accuse of heresy. I chose to avoid the torture museum, but enjoyed the beautiful architecture and gardens. There were sloths in the trees that were almost impossible to see with their protective coloring and stillness.
We later traveled by bus along the Boca Grande beaches to Pierino Gallo Shopping Center. The beaches were busy, but not particularly beautiful, with murky water, brownish sands, and cheap shelters that could be rented for a fee. The mall wasn’t particularly interesting, certainly not upscale, and the tour guides insisted we should stay with them as they paraded us through the jewelry stores hawking the famous Colombian emeralds. Mo and I went the opposite direction, found another street and did a bit of shopping on our own. Our choices included a five dollar watch, a small stone box, dollar bracelets, and a ten dollar bag, items closer more within our spending budget than emeralds! Even at the numerous shops at the Dungeons, I failed to find much of interest that gave some kind of sense of the culture of Colombia. There was no music, no local ethnic food, nothing but cheap tourist items that were the same in every little store. Examples of the famous embroidery and artwork of Colombia were few and far between.
We returned to the ship in the mid afternoon for a late lunch, unimpressed with Colombia and glad to be back on board. The port was hot and noisy and even on deck at the pool I was definitely ready to get back to sea. Late in the afternoon we found a ping pong table and had a great time laughing ourselves silly. Mo was beating me badly most of the time, and once she said, “You need to move around more, you look like you are standing in concrete”. Who knows why that was so hysterically funny but we just about split our sides laughing.
We decided we were too tired for any kind of fancy dinner and opted instead for a hamburger on the pool deck, a simple perfect end to a long day.
For more photos of our day in Cartagena, click here