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A rough day at sea; Cartagena, Colombia, and Colon, Panama

Days 3-6

sunny 83 °F
View Enrichment Voyage - 12/12-1/13 on aweinstein's travel map.

It’s been three days since my first post and here’s a recap of what you missed:

You may recall that I ended my last post with the famous last words of “should be another great day,” in reference to the following day that was to be spent entirely at sea. I’m going to take full blame for jinxing the entire ship and all passengers aboard because the next day was certainly not “another great day.” It was a rough day. Rough as in the sea. Rumor around the ship was that we were on the tail end of a storm, so although there was no rain, there were definitely unsettled waters. I was feeling pretty nauseated for a good part of the day, but once I took some seasickness medicine I started to feel better almost immediately. Poor Paul did not have it so easy. He spent most of the day in bed (amateur). I did make it to Spanish for Beginners class and also to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s talk. Both were great – Spanish lessons are something I’ve always wanted to do and with a workshop offered during every day we’re at sea, I’m hoping the repeat exposure may make some of it stick. Justice O’Connor is a fascinating woman, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Arizona and then becoming the first woman on the Supreme Court. And even in her old age, she’s still extremely opinionated!

Fortunately the next day we were scheduled to be in port at Cartagena (Cart-ah-hey-nya), Colombia, so that put an end to the unsteady footing. We signed up in advance to take a walking tour of the historic walled section of Cartagena. We didn’t really know what to expect, but what a beautiful city! Bright colors, sea views, varied and picturesque architecture – we were pleasantly surprised. We learned a bit about the history of the city, visited an old military fort called San Felipe de Barajas and shopped at “The Dungeons,” which were originally built to store provisions for the troops and are now home to a marketplace that sells crafts made by the indigenous people.

After lunch, we really got lucky. Kristin, the blogger whose contest I won and the reason I’m on this trip, sent out an email to a couple people she knows on board this ship offering to put us in touch with a friend of hers (and Semester at Sea alum) who now lives in Cartagena. We jumped at that, because we all know there’s really nothing better than being shown around by a local. So we met Chelsea and a few other fellow Enrichment Voyagers at the historic clock tower in the Santo Domingo square of Cartagena. We went to eat at a local spot and had the lunch special – an appetizer (carrot soup – yum), an entrée (chicken with a mango sauce and rice and beans) plus a drink (sort of a lemonade slurpee). It was delicious and cheap - $12 each! Then we walked around some more, scoping out the fruit stands on every corner, asking Chelsea about the ways of the locals, and admiring the beautiful colors everywhere. Right before we had to leave to board the ship for our departure, we stumbled upon a 12-or-so-person band getting ready to play an outdoor concert in a small square in front of a church. We sat down for a few minutes and were able to catch them playing the Colombian anthem, the Cartagena anthem and one additional song. It was quite cool.

After that, it was back to the boat and then back out to sea. The waters have been much calmer since that one bad day, which is great news. Today we also had a day on land, which will only happen at one other time during this trip – that is, to be in two different ports two days in a row. Today we visited Colon, Panama. It’s unfortunate for Panama that it had to follow Colombia because there’s really no comparing the two. This part of Panama is rundown and the city of Colon is somewhat depressed. We were warned not to leave the cruise ship terminal in Colon since it can be dangerous for tourists. Lucky for us we had signed up for an excursion here as well, so we were all set. (I should add that what we heard about Panama City sounded like that is a much more cosmopolitan part of the country so it’s not like Colon everywhere.) We took a tour bus out to Lake Gatun, which is part of the Panama Canal. We attended a talk last night given by one of the professors on board the ship, which was the perfect way to set the tone for our visit there today. We learned about how and why the canal was built and the many years of political struggle over control of it. The Gatun serves as an important reservoir for the operation of the canal locks. It’s basically situated between the locks and is about a 10-mile stretch. While on the lake, we passed a number of cargo ships and even a Chilean tall ship used for training military students. The highlight, though, was the monkeys. We saw a bunch of capuchin white-faced monkeys (even a momma with her baby on her back!) and some howler monkeys as well, but they were up high in the canopy. The capuchins were not shy at all. One of them even jumped on top of our boat and ate a peanut out of Paul’s hand! In addition to the monkeys, we also saw a couple of hawks high up in the sky and even spotted a small baby crocodile just moments before it slinked into the water and disappeared.

Tomorrow is the day we get to transit the Panama Canal in our ship, the MV Explorer. If you want to try to catch us on the Canal Cam, there is a website: www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html. Our ship is blue on the bottom and white on top with a large Semester at Sea logo that looks like this:

I’m looking forward to transiting the canal. During my SAS trip, we went through the Kiel Canal in Germany, but I think that one is much smaller, so this should be a memorable experience.
Thanks for reading!

Posted by aweinstein 19:49 Archived in Panama Tagged ev

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