Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adventures at Sea: Cartegena

Holland America Zuiderdam
Disembarking in Cartegena, Columbia on my cruise to the Panama Canal was such a refreshing experience. It didn't start out too well, but once it was over and I was back in my room, a sigh escaped from me; one of satisfaction and accomplishment.

The plan was to meet the 2 couples I dine with at 0830 on the pier for a day of seeing the sights. Just prior to leaving the ship, I noticed the rain storm. It was one typical of the tropics, in which the clouds moved quickly and in the distance could be seen clearing weather, complete with sun shining through the grey and white clouds, which were billowing up in the humid air above the towering white buildings of the newer part of town. The rain was slowing and, with the distant sun visible, I decided to head on out to meet my friends in despite of the weather. Being the first of the group to arrive on the pier, I waited under the awning set up by the ship's crew. The rain intensified and was now sideways, so even though I was standing under the middle of the awning, my back was getting soaked. Having had enough of this, I made a bee line right back to the comfort of the ship.
Louis and BJ, 2 of my dinner companions

Back inside, as the crew were busily hawking rain panchos to those hearty enough to brave the storm, I ran into Louis and Kathy, the couple from New York who I had been there to meet. I told them of the rain and my dwindling interest in getting out to see the city. Even when the rain stopped, it would only get hot and more humid. They agreed, but since they had yet to meet Kavita and Sawish, our other dinner mates from Canada, and even though they were now faced with doing it alone, since Kavita and Sawish may have bailed on the plans, too. They were determined to see the city, even though it was now 15 minutes past our scheduled meeting time. But I felt resolute in my decision to remain behind and stay dry and comfortable.

After a bit, the rain stopped and I decided to at least venture to the cruise terminal to see 'something' of Columbia. After all, who knows when I'd be able to return? I was so happy for the break in the weather. Nearing the terminal building, I was greeted by a small rain forest with flamingos, peacocks, iguanas, parrots, toucans, ducks and macaws. And inside was a gift shop full of wonderful things, all Colombian (and a few from China, I'm sure!) giving a hint of what the city and local culture was like. My interest was piqued.

Seeing the various souvenirs, I decided that a little sacrifice of comfort would be worth the cultural education. My friends entered the building, after having decided to wait out the rain, and were happy to see that I had a change of heart about joining. Now about 45 minutes behind schedule, we followed the information I had from prior research and passed the numerous taxi drivers hawking for business. It was much like being in China, but these guys had to be told at least 3 times, “No, no thank you, no taxi, thank you, no!”

Just outside the gates we found cabs for half the cost, and in Francisco, we found a driver who spoke English well and promised to give us a great tour, to get us back in time for the all aboard, and had a cab large enough for the 5 of us without being cramped. He quoted us a price of $5 a person. The reason I wound up giving him $10 at the end of the tour some 2 hours later was that he really did show us a nice time in Cartegena.

We started at the fort, then saw the great wall of the old city. We delighted in the old jail, which now houses wares and touristy items. Francisco told us to go up to the top of the fort for a great view of the Caribbean and the city. While there, we found a fun group of young boys who begged for us to take their photo. Afterwards, all they wanted was to see the photo, which elicited from each of them hearty laughs and smiles.
The boys begged for a photo

Our next stop was what seemed the heart of the old city, where we found a nice square with fountains a few cathedrals and a free museum to explore. As we left, a large tour group approached. They were recognizable as being from our ship with their tour stickers visible. We were glad to be leaving just as the crowds started to arrive.

We drove along the shore and were shown the naval base and the new city with its modern skyscrapers. I found it all so fascinating and was happy to have seen some of Columbia. He brought us right back to the terminal entrance with about an hour to spare. I played with a toucan and another bird (not sure what kind) who was very friendly and interested in my dangling camera strap. I was delighted in my conversation with my little bird friends, including a hungry green parrot, busy eating seeds from a halved papaya, who let me stroke her tail feathers. As another rain shower trapped me under a large canopy to await the free shuttle bus back to the ship, I admired a proud looking iguana walking across the pathway just in front of me.
My toucan friend

I was back on board only 5 minutes before all call. It's the latest I've ever been back on board, as I normally side with caution and board half an hour or more before they tell us to. The one photo I hope never to take is one of the ship leaving a port of call!

After a quick bite for lunch, I enjoyed our sail away from the Crow's Nest lounge, positioned over the ship's bridge. Watching where the ship was headed, I noticed something in the water just off to our port side ahead. I wasn't sure what it was, but it appeared that we would be going quite close. As we neared, I saw that it was a small fishing boat and a man was struggling to keep afloat as his vessel began to take on water. I could see him fight his way to the bow, the stern now completely under water and all of his wares floating away. It looked pretty dire. To our relief, our captain made an announcement informing us that they had called it in to the coast guard.

We left the numerous white buildings in our wake under a clear blue sky populated with full white clouds gliding on a gentle breeze. We were about to re-enter the waters of the Caribbean. I went down to the forward balcony on deck 9. The waters were blue, the shore dotted with quaint buildings, blue churches with white trim, small rocky beaches and tiny boats darting about. The man standing next to me agreed that it was a great day, adding that it's always a great day when things are going right.
With the white buildings beyond, we leave the stone fort for the Caribbean.

“And today, at least for us, they are all going right,” I replied. He smiled and looked back to the shore where a group of locals waved from a small sandy beach in front of a stone fort, with flavorful music blasting from large speakers, loud enough for us to hear. “Yes,” he said, “it's all going right today.”

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