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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Aruba and Cartegena

After 2 days at sea, during which we relaxed, ate, and explored the ship, we arrived in Aruba on Tuesday. It was hot and humid. The ship’s announcement told us it was 81 degrees but it was so humid it felt like 100 degrees. We hadn’t planned an excursion in Aruba because we were only in port from 7:00 a.m. till noon. We had read on cruisecritic.com that the shops in the port town were close enough to walk to, and that is what we had decided to do. We got off the ship, and on the way to town, just happened to walk by a huge ship docked next to us. It was a Royal Caribbean ship but we can’t remember what its name was. A very hot walk into town brought us directly across from some flea market vendors who were selling Caribbean clothing ( dresses, shirts, etc.), jewelry and cheap souvenirs. It was fun to walk around, but still so hot. We walked further into town and I took some pictures of some pretty buildings and the ship from the dock. After 90 minutes, we were so hot we returned to the ship. We didn’t see the Aruba that many people think of…sand and beaches, but we saw some beautiful buildings and had we been in the market for souvenirs, would have had a hay day! Shortly after noon, we headed out of port and saw some beautiful beaches and resorts. We found out that a few doors down from our room is a very nice back deck where we can survey where we have come. I took a nice picture of Aruba from that deck and it will be nice to view the canal from there. On to Cartegena, Columbia on Wednesday. I was not looking forward to going to Columbia but we were on our way. It has such a bad reputation for drugs and crime. We originally hadn’t planned a tour for this port either, preferring to try to get a taxi into the Old City that is surrounded by stone walls. But it had been so hot in Aruba, and Cartegena was also supposed to be hot. Chuck decided we should book something that would get us around in a cooler fashion than walking. We booked a bus tour which included a picture stop at the great fort that protected the city, the Naval Museum, inside the city walls, and shopping at the old dungeons whose previous cells had been converted into 23 shops. It was again hot on this day. We were very happy to see that our tour bus was air conditioned. Our tour guide, Paulina, was originally from Bogeta and told us that the heat is the same every day in Cartegena. Chuck and I decided we could never live here since neither of us likes the heat. On the way to the amazing fort Paulina told us that most people in Columbia make the minimum wage of $250 per week. Gas costs $5.00 per gallon, and most families have to live together because they can’t afford rent for their own family alone. She warned us to ignore the vendors because they are everywhere and don’t take no for an answer. She said it is better to ignore them. She was correct about that. She also said that if you see women selling fruit on their heads, that if you want some fruit, tell them you want to buy some. And if you want to just pose for a picture with them, they will expect some money afterward, usually $1.00. The vendors, even at the fort, are quite bothersome. They were selling cheap costume jewelry, hats, sunglasses and small leather purses. Even if you tell them no, or you aren’t interested, they will follow you, holding out jewelry, and dropping the price as you walk. We just said no and ignored them and that worked pretty well. And there were some ladies dressed in native costume and selling fruit from their heads. We watched 2 women from our bus pose with a fruit woman, and then act surprised when she held her hand out for money. I guess some people don’t pay attention. The stop at the fort was literally 10 minutes so it was just to take pictures. The fort was amazing and the walkways up to it were winding. It would have been quite a feat to walk up to the top in this heat so I was just as glad that we didn’t have time. Next, we were on our way to the Naval Museum. This was our only stop inside the Old City so I was able to get some pictures of a few houses, and the front on the museum with it’s canons. I thought that Chuck would like this stop because he had been in the Naval reserves. Unfortunately, the sound didn’t carry well there so it was hard to hear our tour guide, and this was the first museum we have been to in all of our travels that had nothing written in English! On top of that, the museum was not air conditioned. I entertained myself by taking pictures of some pirate mannequins they had that were hanging from ropes on the ceilings and walls, and another one of Sir Francis Drake, whose name I did recognize at least! At the end of the Naval Museum, we were treated to a series of native dances performed by men and women in costume. The hall that they performed in was a bit cooler because it had fans at the top of a high ceiling. We also were given bottles of cold water which at this point came in quite handy. On the way back to the tour bus, we were again met with vendors, this time trying to sell T-shirts, and yet more jewelry. Once on the bus, we were extremely grateful for the cool air. Our last stop was to an old set of dungeons that the tour guide had said were authentic souvenirs and real silver, etc. These shops were approved by the cruise industry so we felt better searching for souvenirs there. The shops were quite similar and I again took pictures of them. There were vendors all down the courtyard area in front of the shops, and it was again annoying. Inside the shops there were lots of cheap souvenirs if you were interested in key chains, post cards, pot holders, etc., but some had nice jewelry and clothing. We had been instructed to bargain with the shop keepers, but I forgot to do that when I fell in love with a turquoise stone necklace for $12 U.S. Chuck asked me when I came out if I had bargained, and I was embarrassed to admit that no I had not, in spite of loving a bargain and bargain shopping. Oh well, I just have to let that be a lesson for next time, although because Chuck bargained and bought me a beautiful white blouse, I don’t think there will be a next time on this trip. I have my souvenirs, which include also matching t-shirts that Chuck bought for the 2 of us (yeah I know, some of you are saying, ‘How cute” and some of you are gagging at that one!!! Ah, we are love birds, what can I say?!!!) We headed back to the ship after that stop, and went right in to eat lunch because we were so thirsty and hot. One of the nice things that Princess Cruise lines does is provide cold cups of water and cool facecloths as you come back to check into the ship. It’s a wonderful treat, and has probably helped some passengers avoid heat stroke. After lunch, we took a nap, worked out and went to dinner. We saw an illusionist who was not that great, and came back to the room and went to bed early because we are entering the Panama Canal zone at 6:00 a.m. and the canal itself at 7:30 tomorrow morning.

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