…which is probably why we were up well before 6 AM this morning. That and the fact that the ship set its clock back one hour last night for reasons that were not fully clear to me. I tried to sleep a little longer, but couldn’t, so up on deck I went to take pictures of our approach into the harbor surrounding Cartagena. I found an excellent place to do this and got dozens of great pictures. When we came around from the north and west, I got some nice pictures of Bogota, far in the distance, as well.
We went up for breakfast to try and beat some of the rush, and then back to the cabin to prepare for our first excursion. We had a "Best of Cartegena" tour. We met in the Princess Theater at about 8:40 and were directed to our buses right away, which meant our tour got started early. My first step on the pier represented the first time I have ever been to South America. This added a fourth continent to my list. Only Africa, Australia, and Antarctica remain untouched by me.
Our tour guide was a jovial Colombian man named Javier who spoke good English with a thick Colombian accent. There were 23 people in our tour group, and yes, Kelly and I were the youngest–by at least a decade. Unlike in Europe, where I had minimal Italian and virtually no Greek, I was pleasantly surprised at how much Spanish I have retained. I was able to read the signs we passed with relative ease, and I was able to understand a good deal of the Spanish I heard around me. We were given ear-pieces with which to betterhear our guide, who spoke into a microphone and which could then be heard directly in our ears.
We headed first to the highest point of Cartegena, the monastary known as La Popa at the top of a 500 foot hill that overlooks the harbor. From there, we had a 360-degree view of the surrounding city, including our ships, the harbor, the ocean, the airport. The monastary was pretty impressive, too. The drive up to the monastary revealed pretty quickly that Colombia was different from Europe. Tiny, delapitated houses lined the streets, some of them one room, and no door or screens in the windows. Little children chased chickens in the front yard. Traffic was a mishmash, and I could never quite tell who had the right-of-way and when. And then there were the vendors that bombarded you when you got off the busses. Neither Kelly or I are big suvonier shoppers, but the bombardment was constant. I quickly learned, however, that once you said "No thanks," twice, the vendors moved on.
We visited a fortress that took nearly 200 years to build, and then was never used. The tunnels beneath the fortress were impressive though I think Kelly was impressed more by the cool shade the tunnels provided (it was 100 degrees with 95% humidity–typical for the "wet" season in this part of the world). We visited the "old town", where we walked around the streets and into some emerald stores, for which Colombia is famous. We did buy a small suvornoir, something that ran for $21,000 Colombian pesos, or $11 American dollars. We didn’t even think to haggle. We simply handed over the cash.
We visited more shops, and then a museum, where we literally made a whirlwind tour of some diaramas. There we were treated to a beverage, and I had to try a can of Aguila, the National Beer of Colombia. It tasted exactly like Bud Lite. Finally, we stopped at another shopping center, this one recommended by Princess Cruises. We spent about 30 minutes there, mostly sitting on a bench and trying to stay cool while others paid for pictures with sloth and bought coffee from "Juan Valdez". Afterward, it was back to the ship.
The tour was a nice one, but I can’t help but think, with regret, that Colombia is quite possibly the first "third world" country I have ever visited. Even the new construction–sky scrapers surrounding the harbor–looked to me to be, if not shabby, then clearly not of the quality one would expect in the U.S. or U.K. It pains me to think that the per capita income in Colombia is very likely the amount, in dollars, that we paid for this cruise. Still, there is a lot of beauty in Colombia that you can’t see anywhere else.
Back on the ship we made for the Horizon Court for lunch. We were both hungry but decided to eat light. I had an excellent turkey and cheese sandwich on Ciabatta bread, some cole slaw, and some chocolate hazelnut cake. Then Kelly went to nap while I headed for the pool. I sat out there for 2 hours before the deck crew started up a water volleyball game and was looking for volunteers. I volunteered, and for 45 minutes, I treaded water in the pool, playing three games of water volleyball with about a dozen other people. It was a lot of fun, despite the fact that we lost every game.
We left port around 3 PM and at present, are heading in a westerly direction toward Panama, which, rumor has it, we shall arrive at sometime around 5 AM tomorrow morning.