Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, Nov 10, 2011 – Cartagena, Columbia

We got up early (6am) and did our weight lifting and core exercise routine because we were scheduled to dock at 7am in Cartagena.  We had a 4-hour tour of the sites of the city that was to leave at 8:45am.  Our ship was only going to be in port until 3pm, originally all aboard was 2:30.  However, that was bumped up to 2:00pm due to some parades that were planned for the afternoon that were expected to totally disrupt traffic.  As we sailed in, we noticed a large number of high rise buildings on the port side of the ship that looked like a bunch of office buildings.  We later learned that they were all condos, apartments, with a few hotels scattered in.  They were right on the beach.

We boarded our bus on time (it was a fairly small bus, holding about 25 people).  Our tour guide was Jose Villa.  He was extremely enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the area.  The city has a very Moorish influence mostly because the early Spanish settlers who came from southern Spain liked the beach area and settled there, whereas those from northern Spain settled in the mountains. 

We found out about the parade.  It turns out that tomorrow (11/11/11) is the 200th anniversary of the revolution from Spanish rule.  So, it was a big deal and the city had been celebrating for three days previously, which will culminate in more celebrations tomorrow.  Here is a float that we saw being taken to the parade:

Our first stop was El Popa Monastery up on the hill overlooking the city (Cartagena is a city of 1.2M people, the 5th largest city in Columbia).  As soon as we got off the bus, street vendors trying to sell their wares immediately accosted us.  We then went into the grounds of the Monastery and first visited the central courtyard.  Interestingly there was a cistern in the middle and the large roof of the building had pipes that flowed into the center courtyard.  The cistern then collected the rain water from the room and that was how they got water in the early days (the place was built in the early 1500’s). 

After that, we visited Fort San Felipe, which is one of eight forts in the area.  It had no internal parts, just a bunch of platforms and walls for shooting canons at approaching invaders (which was often pirates trying to take over the city and get the emeralds that Columbia is famous for from their emerald mines.   It was quite an imposing structure and in excellent shape.

Note - they had these tunnels that were really neat in their design.  There was light at the ends and hidden along each side were side chambers.  If the enemy overran the fort, they could hide in the side chambers and because of the placement of light, they could destroy the enemy.  Pretty cool.

BTW – our guide mentioned that there were no more major drug cartels in Columbia.  They had all been driven out and had moved to Mexico.  It took nearly a generation and required locking up the political, police, and other officials who had become so corrupt. He was proud to say that Columbia is basically drug free.

After the fort, we visited a handicraft shopping area (Julie purchased a few small items) inside the old city (which is inside of protective walls).  We then drove a short distance to a place where the bus dropped us off to wander through the narrow city streets.   We also saw a street artist who used his fingers to paint a mirror as a painting and completed it in under 3 minutes.

On the way, we visited the church where Pedro Claver resided.  This person was a Jesuit priest who in the early days of the city, would get the African slaves that were being shipped in as laborers who were sick from the 3 month voyage and brought them back to health.  While he was healing them, he preached to them and eventually converted most of them.  Overall, he treated and converted over 300,000 souls.  Eventually in the late 1800’s he was canonized.  We saw his “bones” in the church.

After that, we stopped at another shopping area, this one a bit ritzier with a zillion jewelry shops and then headed back to the ship.  We missed all of the hoopla and arrived at 1:15. 

We hung out and watched the undocking procedure (it turns out that one lady had not gotten on the ship and they started calling for her at 2:10.  She eventually showed up at 2:25 and then we left.) It was important that we get out on time so we could make our slot for the Panama Canal. 

The Mozart tea provided welcome refreshments.  The ship personnel wear period costumes and do a high tea with finger sandwiches and various pastries.  We tried the Berliner, which was kind of like a glazed donut with a filling, but not exactly the same consistency.

Next up with the Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle.  We hung out with other cruise critic members, had complementary cocktails and appetizers.  This time, a ton of ships personnel were there including the Captain, Vice Captain, and others.  It was interesting to talk with them.  The Vice Captain has been sailing with Crystal for 5 years.  He was on a different cruise ship for 2 years before that and then prior to that he sailed on a container ship, moving boxes from one place to another.  He said it was kind of a strange job because those big massive ships had only 8 crew and were out for 6 months at a time.  When he was doing it, they didn’t even have internet.  BTW - we heard of a couple of Cruise Critic people who went to Rosario island were not happy with the tour operator who tried to charge extra for what they felt was included in the tour and were working with Crystal to try and resolve.

That was followed by dinner in the Silk Road specialty restaurant.  The Japanese themed food was great.  Julie had a lobster dish and Bob had a steak that you could dip in several different sauces (wasabi, chili, and teriyaki). 

After a very relaxing dinner, we had to hurry down to see the production show Route 66.  Another dancing and singing show, themed with music that could be roughly associated with the cities along Route 66 from Chicago to California.  Although we had both seen this before, we really enjoyed the music and cast enthusiasm.  The lead singers both have extremely strong voices.

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