Monday, January 15, 2007

Cartagena and the Panama Canal.

48-hours ago I didn't know a thing about Cartagena; I barely knew it existed.

Then, Saturday night, having nothing else to do, I looked up the place. It's pretty incredible. I always think of Colombia as being a Pacific-facing ocean, but evidently it's Caribbean coast has quite a reputation, and Cartagena is kind of to Colombia what Rio is to Brazil or New Orleans is (was?) to the U.S. The city is also quite large, probably comparable to Indianapolis in the U.S., so I'm kind of disappointed with myself for not having had any prior knowledge.

We arrived at 8 and I was wide awake and ready to go. I was able to persuade Jessica to get up with me by persuading the suite butler (James) to come down to our stateroom with a plate of bacon and eggs (sunny-side up). A couple phone calls were able to get the rest of the gang together. I think Sumara had other plans, but Amber and Clara and Meridith and Gemma and I all set out toward the Old City, which is "where it's at" in Cartagena. It took us about ten minutes to find the place and another five to get lost. This was where we saw the man with the moustache point his finger at his poodle like a pistol, clicked the "trigged" and the dog dropped over dead. It got up again, of course.

I know there was a lot of sightseeing and picture snapping. I'd orignially hoped to get all over the city. I had thought about the warnings we'd gotten about exercising caution in "unfamiliar neighborhoods" and I'm always torn between exercising more care (since I overestimate my own safety often) and less (since those warning are typically a little overblown). As it turns out, there was so much to see and do in the Old City, and it was so difficult getting disentangled there that the issue was really moot. We spent a lot of the morning touring a church and the old slave markets, and after lunch (I had Ajiaco, which I can add to Colcannon, Bigos, and Chicken Noodle Soup as "international comfort food") and a walk along the old fortifications (the city withstood a siege by privateer Sir Francis Drake for a hundred days), our group walked out to Bocagrande on a peninsula jutting out from the city, and we split up. I think that Clara and Meridith and Gemma went down to the market district to do some thrift shopping. If so, I think they must have hit the goldmine of affordable and luxurious textiles. Jess and I hit the Caribbean Beaches, which can't be beat for atmosphere. We were walking along eating Plantain chips when we realized the ship was only twenty minutes from embarktion. (A difficult thing about being this far south is that I'm still used to the sun setting at about 5 PM... it doesn't which makes my sense of the time all messed up.)

Last night we were very social on the trip, and Meridith and Gemma and I haven't had a chance to hang out much, so we made good on an earlier threat to have a drink in every bar on board. We met up with Malcolm and Garrett again, and one of them commented that "some time we'll really have to do this sober." I realized for the first time that Noel is the only other Y chromosome in our whole little group.

And that was that. Today, instead of typing I decided to get some reading done. Reason: I can take the reading up onto the Sun Deck, whereas the computer batteries tend to go dead after a couple hours. We're taking the Panama Canal today, leaving the Atlantic, and the scenery is lush and spectacular.

Oh, yeah, we're very close to the equator, but it's the dry season. So sweltering compared to what I'm used to, but still barely manageable.


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