3/28 Cartagena, Columbia

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March 28th 2018
Published: April 4th 2018
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"This room is not fit for humans! I can't sleep. Can't you hear that?" I awake to a verbal onslaught of unfounded accusations. I don't hear anything. Oh. Yes. I hear the faint intermittent moan of a fog horn, the constant hum of the engines keeping the ship moving along with ocean water massaging the steel hull of our vessel as it slices through in the middle of the night. All sounds one might expect when on a ship at sea. I was sound asleep. Looking out our stateroom window I can make out a full moon, low on the horizon and partly obscured in fog. Fog? I turn to her, my responses to all her rants at the ready, only to find her fast asleep. Now it takes me some time to fall back asleep and today we need to be up early.

The alarm awakes me at 6am. I say 'awakes me' because she's already up and about after a restful night's sleep. What happened last night? Whatever it's was, it's all good now. She ordered room service this morning and arrives just after 7am. Nothing much, just coffee, fruit and a small Danish. Oh yes, and two
Karen & Friend Waiting BelowKaren & Friend Waiting BelowKaren & Friend Waiting Below

Karen in Turquoise Top, White Pants
small cartons of milk for tonight's cookies. I suggest she cash a $100 bill on the ship but she insists that she's not spending any money in town today. OK. Our tour today from Holland America is "Cartagena City Highlights". It's just 4 hours but we're only in port from 7am-1pm and Karen wouldn't help me on choosing an activity for this port. I normally prefer the intimacy of a smaller private tour but this will have to do. We meet in the theater, disembark and we all load on the bus, probably about 30 of us.

Cartagena, located on Colombia's northern coast and facing the Caribbean Sea, is the most visited city in the country by tourists. The city was the first Spanish colony on the American continent and one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas. The city has two main parts where tourists go: the walled colonial city, which is truly amazing and has many fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the beach known as Bocagrande.

The bus leaves the port, traveling through some rather seedy areas of Cartagena while our guide describes some of the sites we are looking at as well as things we will be seeing later. He explains to those that plan on shopping that the prices start out high and quickly drop by half and then some more. He also suggests that if you have questions about souvenir items or prices, be discrete and discuss with him in private. Both he and the vendors live and work together and if you ask in him front of them, he will say, "That's a great deal".

Our first stop is the Fort of San Felipe de Barajas. As we pull alongside, Mom sees the long ramp winding its way to the top of the walls and decides to sit this one out. She makes it to a lower level, stops there and visits with another woman in our group who opted for the short version too. I make the trek by myself, taking both pictures and videos as evidence of my accomplishment. We stop several times while walking along the route through the fort for our guide to explain the history and importance of the fort. We traverse several tunnels and cobble steps to reach the summit. I offer to take a photo of an Australian couple and they return to the favor, a shot of me by a cannon atop the fortress. Then we begin the hike down, dodging the same vendors that were harassing us on the way up. It seems that most of their wares are identical and each has a specialty. There are t-shirts, castanets, hats, sunglasses, purses, bottled water, jewelry, cigars, watches, tablecloths and belts. They all appear to be from the same supplier and everything is $10, well really $5 and sometimes $3 if you just keep saying know. There are "professional models" that will allow you to take their picture for $2, maybe $1. I must say that all these people are out there working for whatever they can get. There is no welfare here so they must have some means of supporting themselves and their family.

Later our bus takes us to a shopping area in the "old walled city" called Las Bovedas where we have a half hour to shop. Mom blows her $50 spending money in the first storefront and is now out of cash. What did I say? I buy a $10 t-shirt and Mom finds a dress for Kaylyn. A few beads for herself and that's it. Just enough left for tips. Next, we drive to the Church of San Pedro Claver and then we walk around town seeing some sites. I take photos and some video of the whole street scene. Different vendors, same stuff. Our last stop is in Bocagrande, an area famous for its shops. Our guide chooses Ada's Jewelry, probably because they're buddies or relatives of the guide. The store is nice, not pushy and a folding chair provides Karen with some relief from all the walking. Remember, she's out of "ammo". They offer coffee samples, clothing and other souvenirs but as our 30 minutes time limit approaches, everyone starts to make their way back to the bus, parked a couple of blocks away.

Our bus makes the return trip to the Westerdam in about 20 minutes where we find a long line of passengers waiting to board the ship. Like an airport, ship security must confirm that each person boarding is truly that person via picture ID and all personal belongings are scanned in an X-ray machine before boarding. This takes time and because it was a short day with short excursions, everyone returned at once, probably about 1500 or so. A lady from the port boards our bus and tells us just to relax in the air conditioned bus until the line goes down. That sounds good until we realize the line is never going to go down. Other buses have been pulling in behind us and depositing passengers into that line, the line that remains eternally full.

With that, we exit the bus, join the line and are on board in about 20 minutes. Back to our room, it's time for showers, change of clothes and then up to the Lido for lunch. Nothing too much since it's hot and muggy. Returning to our room, I sign up for the Internet and start disseminating the blogs, starting with the first issues. Very laborious indeed. Mom watches an animal show until dinner. No fancy dinner tonight for us. Just the buffet for turkey, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts and some ice cream too. Next up to Deck 11 library where I work on today's blog. At 8:30pm, we head back to Deck 2 to watch one session of BB King Blues Band. This is the first time we've seen the group that's performing on this ship. There good but I think the group from the Nieuw Amsterdam was a little better.

Back in our room by 9:30, we watch a documentary on the Panama Canal while I try to send out two more blogs. They won't transmit. Karen falls asleep. I'm done for today. Tomorrow we will pass through the Panama Canal starting around 7am from Colon and, according to schedule, arrive at the Pacific Ocean around 5pm.

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