Friday, February 10, 2012

Cruising to South America, Cartagena

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.  Pulling into Cartagena, Columbia.  We spent 2 nights in this port and I would love to have about a week.  Cartagena is a huge safe harbor for ships, with multiple large docks and stacks of container vans, cargo ships, passenger ships and local ferries.  It got its start as the port that brought in the slaves from Africa.  For a square rigger it was ideal, the trade winds would blow the square riggers across the Atlantic and it was a safe harbor below the hurricane tracks of the big storms.  There were 2 channels into the bays that could be protected from intruders and pirates.  The citizens were very pro-active in protecting their harbor and city.

The entrance channel to Cartagena
There are 2 channels into the bay leading Cartagena.  One of the channels is almost a 'fake' channel, from the water it looks safe to use but there is a shallow reef across it.  The other channel is deep and wide enough for ships and in historic times chains were draped under the water, then pulled tight to rip the keels off of unwanted sailing ships.

As the harbor turned into a large protected port battlements were put into place, including cannons, lighthouses, and garrisons.

The entrance channel to Cartagena

Now a pilot leads ships into the port to avoid underwater obstructions.  Locals dive with spearguns for fish, lobsters and other shellfish.

Anna on the bow as the ship enters the channels.

It was a beautiful warm day as the ship entered the port.  We were greeted by local fishermen waving from their small boats as they fished in the channel.  I watched as one guy, in a small outrigger canoe, held onto his vessel and drifted in the water, watching for his catch underneath.  Then he disappeared, reappearing a few moments later with a fish on the tip of his harpoon, hanging onto the side of his canoe as he dumped his catch into the bottom of the canoe.  Their techniques and methods haven't changed in hundreds of years.

Inside the Cartagena harbor.
Once we were moored at our dock we were free to explore the city.  The harbor itself was beautiful.  Hundreds of sailboats from all over the world are moored here.  It was such a pleasure to sit on the balcony of our room and just adsorb what was around us. Water taxis zoomed around the harbor delivering people and supplies to the moored vessels.

The business side of the harbor.  

While the beauty of the harbor can't be denied: this is a major shipping port.  Freight from this harbor goes around the world through the Panama Canal.  The container vans are blazoned with logos from dozens of countries and languages.  I have no idea how many of these end up in the USA.

Cartagena is full of tall buildings, all white and gleaming in the sun.
There are two definitive sides of Cartagena.  The historic side of the city are narrow cobblestone streets, adobe buildings and old infrastructure.  The new side of Cartagena is known locally as the 'Miami of Columbia'.  Tall skyscrapers, bright colors, lots of music, beautiful gardens.  The streets are wide, with sidewalks, and lots of traffic, buses, taxis and fast little cars.  A 2-bedroom condo runs about $320,000 dollars, American.

A replica of a square rigger providing tours of the harbor.

After our ship docked Linda and I took an old square rigger around the bay, getting a history lesson and enjoying a local band and dancing troupe.

We were greeted by a local dance troupe as we boarded and took our seats for our brief tour.  While we had hoped that the ship would raise sail it wasn't really logical to do so with lots of people, dancers, etc. on board.
One of the dancers in local costume greeting the guests on the square-rigger.

The drummers from the dance troupe
Drums and pipes seem to be the mainstay for music in Cartagena.  Multi-layered pan flutes play in just about every street corner.

So I pretended I could steer a square-rigger.

Sunset on the Cartagena bay.

While the passengers were getting settled lots of us jumped up to have our pictures made with the ship's wheel.
When the 7 Seas Mariner docked it was announced that there would be shuttle buses available to people who wanted to go into the city.  Unfortunately the local taxi fleet and drivers disagreed with the ship's efforts for buses and protested.  How did they protest?  They blocked the dock and entrance to the parking lots with their vehicles, making a barricade against buses.  The ship backed down really quickly and suddenly shuttle buses didn't exist.  There were a few problems with some of the taxis acting as 'pirates' and not as legal transport.  But overall, everything worked pretty well.

Local performers dancing for our cruise ship.
While we were docked in Cartagena another local troupe performed for us on the pool deck.  It was quite an impressive performance with multiple types of local music, dancers and performers.  I always knew that the cruise ship industry brought a lot of revenue into a community with tourists shopping, moorage fees, etc.  What I didn't realize that local performers also benefited when a ship pulls into the dock.  Local performers are hired to give shows on the ship, which gives local artists a boost.

The costuming was beautiful.

Some of the tribal dances were really intricate.

Breakfast on the balcony of our room.
 The following morning both Linda and I had early tours so we ordered breakfast in our room.  Our purser delivered breakfast about 7 a.m. and set it up on our balcony.  It was such a nice morning that we were reluctant to leave and climb on a bus.


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