March 8th: Cartagena
We’ve just sailed out of Cartagena on our way to the Panama Canal which we transit tomorrow.
As we queued for the bus today, I saw various emergency equipment being loaded aboard. Masks, sick bags, hand sanitizers, wipes and all the other paraphernalia a tour guide might need to cope with a tourist who suddenly succumbs to norovirus. A couple of days ago the number of affected passengers on board had dropped to 5. Now it’s up again to 18, and the ship is on red alert dealing with it.
What a marvelous place Cartagena is. OK, it was a short visit – only just over half a day, and we spent it in the old city, now a tourist centre, so my perspective is limited. Even so, it was a delightful old town, with all the colour, romance and charm that we’ve come to expect from Caribbean nations.
If I take no other impression from this part of the world I will carry a memory of colour. Not just of the houses themselves, or even the brightly clad people, but of the flowers that grow in profusion from balconies, in gardens and roadside hedges. Brightly coloured bougainvillea flourishes everywhere, along with other vivid exotic plants I can’t begin to identify. Mind you, compared with the island countries we’ve been to over the last week or so, there’s a definite haze that hangs over Cartagena, and the sea water lacks the rich turquoise colour we’ve come to love.
Once upon a time Cartagena was the conduit for all the wealth Spain extracted from South America. All the gold and jewels from the continent flowed through this port. Unsurprisingly, the rest of Europe wanted to be in on the deal, so there were numerous scuffles and invasions as England, France and other countries tried to muscle their way in.
Spain managed to fend the invaders off. They scuttled ships and dumped rubbish in one of the lanes into the harbour, so that invading ships and armies only had one, well-defended channel by which to access the port. Actually, given our shopping today, I suspect Cavan and I have succeeded where other armies failed, having quite satisfactorily pillaged Cartagena today ourselves.
We explored the emerald museum, followed by the gold museum. Cavan looked increasingly nervous as I pushed him into each one. I’m not sure he trusted my story that it was purely academic research that prompted me to steer us there.
I fell in love with the door knockers. They were such an obvious statement of importance and affluence, and yet each one was different and many had a sly charm.
After a morning in the town, we returned to the port and spent a fantastic couple of hours in the parrot park which adjoins the ocean terminal. There were flamingos, swans, monkeys and parrots. It was a lovely way to relax after our morning’s exertions. We sat and drank rum punches in the warm sunlight. Cavan played with the parrots – I think he still misses Digby.
Tomorrow we have an early start and an all-day journey through the canal. Everything we’ve heard about it so far sounds fascinating.
My camera is suffering from some sort of click fatigue, and I can’t believe the number of photos I take each day. I imagine it will be doing heavy duty tomorrow.