Day 15 – Tuesday – Oct 9 – Cartagena, Columbia


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South America » Colombia » Cartagena
October 10th 2012
Published: October 10th 2012
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Welcome to Cartagena. This is the first time we have ever been South America. We can check off a new continent from our to-do list.

The ship docked a little after 7:00 this morning but our tour did not start until after 9:00. So we did not have to get up especially early and we were able to have a leisurely breakfast. The Horizon Court was pretty busy but our evening waiter (Francis) found us a table in his section anyway. Since it appeared that many people were heading out early, we gathered our stuff and went to tour area about 8:30 (half an hour early). We got to sit comfortably for awhile and then headed off for our tour.

The first thing that we recognized was that it was a little warm, but very humid. The second thing we noticed was a crewman painting the side of the ship. There were no scrape marks on the side of the ship, however there were tire tracks. Back in the canal there is a pair of very large tires at the entry of each of the 3 locks and the tires guard the ship if it is too close to the first corner. Apparently at least once we must have gotten tread on our port side.

Anyway, we had the ceremonial picture taking at the bottom of the gangway and then boarded a minibus (17 passengers). There were about 120 people in our tour so we needed about 7 of these little buses. Our driver introduced himself, described the tour, and then we were off. The streets were fairly narrow and quite crowded (certainly glad we were not trying to do the driving). There seems to be a lot of street construction, as well as new building being built in part of our tour route.

Multiple times along the tour our guide explained that Cartagena was very safe city and tourists are very welcome here. We were supposed to go back and tell all our friends. Actually everyone we saw was very friendly and we quickly overcame a little initial apprehension about visiting Columbia. The guide never said anything about safety in the other cities, but certainly Cartagena is focused on tourism and feeling safe is an essential aspect of that business.

Our first stop was the old fortress of San Felipe. It is very imposing and all the tourists going inside had to climb a fairly steep ramp that switched back and forth about 3 times before you reach the main gate. Clearly it would have been easy to defend again invaders. Today it would have been a brutal climb for us, even without fighting off any defenders. We had previously turned in those tour tickets and now we were really happy about it. So after a couple of pictures, everyone got back on the bus and we drove around town.

The city was founded about 1500 and once the Spanish started using it, they built the fort and put up a large rock wall around a large portion of land – where the city developed. Periodically the walls displayed some ancient cannons on battlements. There were only a few gates inside, so we drove around some of the perimeter (between the wall and the Caribbean Sea) and then inside to the narrow “old town” street.

The next stop was a museum which showed a lot about the founding and growth of the city. If we had spoken Spanish we might have understood the writing on the wall, but the guide pointed out a few highlights (mostly models or dioramas). Then we went into an attached café where we got a cool drink. We could have had water, soda or beer. Since it was only 10:00 it seemed too early for a beer, even on vacation, so we both had Pepsis. There was a floorshow with musicians and 4 couples of locals in traditional garb and doing some energetic dances. David got a few pictures and tried to record a little of the music/dance. Then it was back to the bus.

Outside the museum and on the curb near the buses were street vendors trying to sell T-shirts, Panama hats, silver jewelry, Columbian cigars, Juan Valdez Coffee, and much more. A polite “no thank you” usually sent them off to the next tourist and we boarded our bus again without buying anything.

Then we drove around through more of the “old town” until we arrived at the original Dungeon, which was later converted to the police jail. These days the dungeon is a series of about 25 small shops where each of them sell various tourist souvenirs. We saw interesting wooden items (including some hand carved chess sets, woven woolen tapestries, lots of jewelry, post cards, t-shirts, etc). Outside there were several ladies walking around with bowls of fruit on their head – periodically someone buying a banana or slice of watermelon, or something). There were lots of other people trying to sell things, but again a “no thank you” usually ended their efforts. We had half an hour there and then back on the bus.

After that we drove around the town and then over to the “new town” where all the high-end condominiums and fancy hotels have been built. There is a long beach with lots of cabanas (must have been easily more than a mile long). They drove past the hotel where the US Secret Service scandal had occurred, past some of the churches, and past many fancy houses. Eventually we were back at the pier.

While we had been touring, the 2 Norwegian ships (that followed us out of the Panama Canal) came into port also. We were glad to have hit the streets before it got really hot and also before the other two ships could send their people onto shore too. Also, our guide explained than many of the people go home for lunch about 12:00 and don’t come back until after their siesta around 2:30. So there’s no telling whether the other folks would have seen what we saw anyway.

We got back on the ship about 12:30 and went up to the Horizon Court for lunch. Vic and Carol had been on the same tour with us, just on a different minibus. We had bumped into them during the music/dance event, but also at lunch, so we compared our two guides. Our fellow said he had spent 7 years living in Miami, so his English was accented but fairly understandable. Vic had more trouble understanding everything his guide said.

One thing we’ve failed to mention is that every time you go into a restaurant there is Purell containers for sanitize your hands. Tessa would really like it since she enjoys using “rub rub” anyway. But except for Janet’s cough (which seems to be getting better), we have been pretty healthy this trip.

We enjoyed watching a container ship being offloaded right near our ship. They have enormous cranes which lift the containers one at a time and lower them onto trucks to be carried away. However there were countless containers already stacked on the pier (some stacked half a dozen high and many, many rows deep). It was interesting to watch while we ate our lunch, and we wondered how they ever find the right one again when it was time to load it back onto another ship or truck it off somewhere.

We returned to the room and rested for awhile. While we were away we had gotten an envelope congratulating us on advancing to Platinum status with the cruise line. That means we have sailed 51 or more days with Princess and will get extra perks on future cruises. That was nice – we figured we would not get the pin’s etc until after the cruise was over and we got back home. Now we can wear the pin when we go to the Captain’s Reception later in the cruise.

Anyway, back in the room Janet watched a movie called “a man, a plan, a canal” and it was quite interesting to her now that we’ve been through it. David went to the Enrichment Lecture in the theater to hear about tomorrow’s destination – Aruba. We both had time to rest and enjoy a glass of wine before changing for dinner.

Tonight Janet had Mushroom Soup, Caesar Salad, Sea Scallops, and Cheesecake. David had Shrimp Cocktail, Caesar Salad, Tri-Tip steak, and a Butterscotch Sundae. This evening they also served everyone an Intermezzo of Strawberry Sorbet. So you see we are still having great meals.

We were talking to the Head Waiter – Roberto – about other ships in the fleet. He has worked on the Pacific Princess, but after we sailed on it. However he had transferred to the Grand Princess while it was in dry dock getting its major refurbishments. We told him we were on the first cruise after those refurbs and so was he so we compared stories. He was the Head Waiter in the dinning room above us on that cruise, which may be why we didn’t recognize him. Anyway, it was an interesting coincidence.

This evening they had a special production show in the Universe Lounge. It was called “On the Bayou” and was a lot of New Orleans based songs. We had sat on the main floor for previous activities and the chairs weren’t especially comfortable, so we planned to sit in the balcony this evening. The door attendant said the sight lines weren’t as good as downstairs, but by then it was too late to change our plan – unfortunately he was right. Oh well, we can remember that for any future occasions.

Tonight the clocks move ahead one hour, and we will be on Eastern Time. The ship is not scheduled to arrive in Aruba until 1:00, so even with the lost hour we can sleep until we feel like getting up.


On several occasions, including this evening, we had had thunderstorms at night, but so far we’ve had dry weather during most days (all our shore days). Normally Aruba has only 16 inches of rain a year, so the odds are low for us to have problems there. Of course there is always Murphy’s Law to contend with, so we will keep our fingers crossed.


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