Jan 9 – Santa Marta, Colombia
The ship docked around 7 this morning, but we stayed in bed until 8. We had no plans for the day and no tours to rush to. Our friend Jorge told us that when we were in Santa Marta, we had to try the fish and patacones, the local version of fried plantains. That, at least, gave us a goal.
Santa Marta was founded in 1525 when the Spanish arrived and conquered the Tayrona people. It is the oldest city in Colombia and the second oldest in South America. It has long been associated with Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary who led Colombia and several other countries to freedom from the Spanish. Indeed, Bolivar died just outside the city and was buried here before his remains were moved to Bogota. His former home is now a national monument. There are lots of parks in Santa Marta plus the Tayrona National Park just outside of the city.
The city has a thriving commercial harbor and fishing industry, but tourism has become an important component in its growth. Most of the tourists are other Colombians and there were few non-Colombians among the throngs; most of those came from our ship. Santa Marta has good beaches adjacent to the commercial pier and lots of restaurants farther along the malecon. Very little English is spoken here by the residents.
We left the ship around 10 and took the shuttle to the end of the pier. Since this is a working commercial harbor, pedestrians, especially those in the HAL age group, were not welcome. Based on the port lecturer’s talk the other day, we had anticipated a shuttle from the end of the pier to downtown. We had hoped to see the cathedral, its square, and the adjacent market area. This was Major Disappointment #2 for the day because there was no shuttle. There were plenty of taxis, but we had been warned by Colombians to avoid the taxis, so we were left with few choices.
Disappointment #1 came when D turned on the “good” camera this morning and repeatedly received a message to turn the camera off and then back on. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, D should have been committed to an asylum. He kept turning the camera off and on, but there was never a variation in the result – no camera. He could look at pictures already on the memory card but could not take any photos. Fortunately, there was a small back-up camera and the phone, so all was not lost.
Just outside the port gate was a little shop designed to separate tourists from their cash, but we escaped without damage. We passed lots of bright yellow taxis but heeded the advice we had been given and walked right by. Since we had no concept of where we were relative to the cathedral, we walked along the malecon, the esplanade which ran next to the shore. We did not stop at the tent market we saw, deciding to look there on the way back. We stopped several times so MA could rest and found a place where we could put our pictures of Carter, Caiden and Harper in a bush to take their photos in Santa Marta; earlier efforts had failed because the breezes we encountered on the water’s edge were strong enough to blow the pictures over.
The pictures we brought of the grandchildren are called Flat Stanleys. We do not know why they are named Stanley, but it is not important. We first saw one in Antarctica in Jan 2004; it was a child’s photograph which was, in turn, photographed “on location” as if to say “Stanley was here.” Before we left Florida, D printed pictures of all 3 grandkids and had them laminated at Staples, then attached paint-stirrers with packing tape. They can be held by these handles or placed in sand or bushes to show them traveling around the world with us. We brought wax mounting clips, too, so the three of them look down at us from a wall in our cabin.
We spent some time sitting in the little park which stretched next to the beach and watched all of the people. The beach was crowded with families who came for a swim, not unlike Florida. We assumed that children were out of school for summer vacation, but that logic doesn’t really work since we are still north of the equator. Perhaps the Christmas holiday is longer here than in the States or attendance requirements are not as stringent. In addition to the families on the beach, there were lots of vendors hawking food, trinkets and sunglasses. They were aiming their pitch at the Colombian population since they spoke little or no English. Nonetheless, they all understood, “Gracias, no,” and were not obnoxious or persistent.
Although Disappointment #3 was that we did not get into Santa Marta itself – and did not see the cathedral, park or market – we did get to watch ordinary citizens enjoy themselves on the beach. If one goal of travel is to learn about other people and cultures, we learned plenty from our visit to Colombia.
It was only 11 o’clock, much too early for lunch, and the restaurant area was still a half-mile away, so we packed our pictures away and headed “home.” Disappointment #4 -- We never got to try the patacones, our one goal in Santa Marta. We did, however, do our small part to enrich the local economy. We bought T-shirts on the way back, one in the tent market and one at the shop near the shuttle bus. It never ceases to amaze that people who speak no English still speak US Dollar.
Back on board, we took our belongings to the room and relaxed a bit. D tried to post the Flat Children to Instagram unsuccessfully and thought the cause might be a poor signal since we have an inside cabin with no window. Our cabin is on the Lower Promenade deck which is the one which wraps around the ship, so all we had to do was walk around the corner and we were outside. Still no luck. Then the light bulb lit, and D turned on the “roaming data” on the phone and quickly sent pictures to Instagram and Facebook, then turned off the roaming data [which can be really expensive].
We were hot from our first venture off the ship and went to the Lido for cold sodas. When no one from the beverage department approached us for our order, we settled for ice water and cheese nachos, a little appetizer before lunch. We actually ate lunch in the MDR [she – chef’s salad; he – hot corned beef on rye] and enjoyed it despite slow service, possibly a result of many of the crew being in town on a day off. After lunch, we went to the cabin where MA napped while D updated the journal.
Trivia was different today. Gene, the Cruise Director, explained that on port days the trivia results would not be added to the cumulative totals but that prizes would still be awarded. This compensates for passengers who have other plans on shore days than to hurry back to play the game. Five of the 6 of us were present today, but we weren’t even good enough to be also-rans.
We sat around and talked with the others until 4 p.m. when they went to see the latest news about the massacre in Paris and its aftermath. We chose to remain ignorant and went for coffee instead. A little time in the room and then we trekked through the Amsterdam to the Piano Bar for Pub Trivia. D took the wounded camera with him in the hope that the photo team onboard could figure out the problem with the camera. The photographer was cooperative and determined, but he was unable to make any progress with the camera. Even though he said that he used to work for Fuji, the camera’s manufacturer, he asserted that he had never seen a message or problem like this. Since we had not shaken or dropped the camera, D decided that he had nothing to lose by shaking it now, so when we returned to the cabin, that is exactly what he did. And the camera came to life! Our fingers are crossed because we really do not want to buy a new camera in Singapore.
Dinner was delightful with lots of conversation with our neighbors. He is a retired Delta pilot and she has lived all over the world. We skipped the comedian and returned to the cabin to read, write and post.
TOMORROW –The San Blas Islands
Jan 10 – The San Blas Islands
The San Blas Islands consist of more than 365 tiny islands in the Gulf of San Blas off the northern coast of panama. Only 47 of the islands are inhabited by members of the Kuna tribe which moved here when the Spanish invaded Colombia. Although the islands are politically affiliated with Panama, the people remain quite independent. Because of their isolation, the islanders have been able to maintain their own matriarchal society. The women wear colorful garments called mola which are made by layering cloth and then cutting out patterns. They also wear beads on their legs to show their wealth in the community. There is still very little interaction with the mainland save for commerce in part, at least, due to the fact that the Kuna have their own language which did even not exist in writing until fairly recently. Tourism was discouraged for many years but now helps supplement the local economy. Again, no one spoke English but they all knew US dollars. And despite the primitive nature of their living conditions and way of life, we saw young people with cell phones and tablet computers in addition to dish antennas on many of the houses. There is even a power company on the island; it appeared to collect solar energy and distribute the electricity to the natives.
We had a late morning because there was no place to go. After breakfast in the Lido, we went to trivia and then back to the cabin to wait. There was quite strong wind in the area of the ship and the tenders were bouncing around when they practiced their approach to the ship. Finally passengers were allowed to board the tenders for a bumpy 20 minute ride to town.
The village consisted of several east-west streets intersected by maybe a half-dozen north-south alleys. Everything was jumbled together. We were herded like cattle from the dock into the center of the village, such as it was, via an ever-narrowing path between thatch- and steel-roofed hovels. Women and children were all sitting outside showing their molas and other wares for sale. The standard charge for a photograph was one dollar regardless of whether the picture was of a child, an adult, a cat, bird or dog. Women sat outside, too, nursing infants, but no one paid the least attention.
The entire village was draped with all manner of mola -- round, square and rectangular; abstract and geometric; parrots, turtles and fish. And the colors ran from the sublime of dark blues to riotous yellows and reds. One vendor who caught our attention was selling masks made of mola, but she would not bargain and we would not pay her price. D did get a picture of her showing these to MA, but that’s as close as we got. We paid 2 little girls and their mother one dollar each to hold the Flat Grandchildren and also took their pictures with the Amsterdam in the distance – sort of, but not quite, selfies. We wandered as much as we could [having gone from end to end of the island] before finding our way back to the tender dock for a much smoother ride home.
As much as any place we have been, this little island reminded of us Nosy Komba in Madagascar. When we were there in 2002, we arrived by zodiac and had to wade through the warm Indian Ocean. We did not have to do that today, but the heat and humidity were both high and, more to the point, everywhere we looked there was someone trying to sell us some local cloth handicrafts; in Nosy Komba, the women and children were selling mostly handmade lace in front of their hovels as were herded through the village.
The air-conditioning on the ship was a blessing, especially after the tender ride. Tenders are not known for being comfortable or breezy but for being crowded and stifling. A few minutes of recovery time in the cabin was sufficient to revive us and we went to the Lido for lunch. There was a little sales area for native mola on deck by the pool but we were brave – and the seller stubborn – so we still do not have a mola.
When we returned to our room, we looked at today’s photos after D copied them to the laptop; MA looked in on Facebook and Instagram; and then we assumed our normal activities – MA took a nap and D wrote about our experiences before we both forgot.
We finished our “rest period” in time to go to Pub Trivia and then returned to the room to watch the remainder of the Ravens – Patriots football game. We watched most of it in the room, then saw the Patriots run out the clock to secure the victory. Well, there’s always next year.
We ate with Arthur and Linda and their friends, Cruise Critic members Bob and Kathy. We had met them before when they visited the Starrs in Florida and we had dinner with them at the club. Tonight was very enjoyable and I am sure we will see more of Kathy and Bob. We skipped the singer tonight and returned to the room around 10, later than normal for us. We read and blogged before turning in.
TOMORROW – The Panama Canal