Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hibernate during day; go out during cooler evening time

September 20, 2007  Thursday

Last night at the weekly Wednesday happy hour at the bar here in Club Nautico a couple of cruisers (who shall remain unnamed) told us all about their experiences in the San Blas Islands, other parts of Panama and locally here in Colombia.  It is always good to hear from people who are familiar with places that we have not yet visited; however, one thing they bragged about struck me as just plain wrong.  They bragged about how many small lobsters they could buy in the San Blas for less than $5 USD.  The large lobsters are now exported (mainly to the US), so only smaller lobsters are available from the local fisherman in San Blas.  You are no longer permitted to harvest lobster yourself; you must buy from a Kuna; which I think is only right since you are in their waters and that is their livelihood.  But these cruisers said sometimes they would buy lobsters that were barely bigger than large shrimp.  That is just plain wrong!  The small lobsters should be allowed to grow and multiply before being harvested.  If this practice of cruisers continuing to buy tiny and immature lobsters continues, then the San Blas Islands will have a lobster shortage just like that now experienced in the rest of the Caribbean.  Can’t blame the poor Kuna fishermen because they are just trying to make a living with what they have, but the cruisers should know better.  The cruisers should refuse to buy the tiny lobsters and ask that they be returned to the sea to grow and multiply.  If we don’t buy the tiny ones then the Kuna will stop harvesting and trying to sell them!  Use a little common sense folks!

The Club de Pesca crowd also talked about how much nicer the facilities are in Club de Pesca than here are Club Nautico.  They are correct; we have seen that.  But, if it is so great down at Club de Pesca then why are they doing all their socializing here at Club Nautico.  Because the cruisers gather at Club Nautico, that’s why.  Either place is fine and we are very happy with the people here at Club Nautico.  We do have our passarelle for access from the dock to our boat instead of having to use one of those big planks that hang out from the dock to each boat.  That does make a difference in how you feel about this place.  I would hate to have to walk that plank every time I wanted off or onto our boat!  Our passarelle is controlled by a halyard and we lift it when not in use, and lower it only when we are getting off the boat.  It has a hand line and stanchion to hold onto as you walk the passarelle, plus the dinghy davit is right there so you can also hold onto it.  Makes for a more secure feeling when walking that narrow passarelle.  When I tried walking the plank to get onto BLUEPRINT MATCH the other day, I flat could not do it!  Bill moved the plank closer to their dinghy and I managed to get on and off that boat by touching the dinghy for balance, but it is rather disconcerting to walk the plank over the water while watching the moving stern of a boat so you can step onto it at the right movement.  It makes you feel dizzy.  I am just not that coordinated.

September 22, 2007  Saturday

Past few days have been very hot and humid, so much so that we have pretty much hibernated inside with the air-conditioning.  Walked around Manga a bit just to get some exercise; but saw nothing exciting, just a typical neighborhood.  Last Sunday we did walk over the bridge into the Getsemani District of Cartagena.  It is the district inside the first thick wall of Old Town Cartagena.  All the shops were closed since it was a Sunday afternoon; only a few restaurants were open but we weren’t hungry at that time of day and in that humidity and heat.  It was fun walking the very narrow streets and the very old stone buildings with balconies filled with flowering plants overhanging the narrow sidewalks. 

At Plaza Trinidad Bill bought me a ice treat—what we would call a snowcone.  It tasted wonderful and really was an ice treat to cool off on a hot afternoon.  A man with a wheeled cart had 5 flavors of syrup flavorings in plastic bottles with squirt dispensers on the bottom edge.  He had solid pieces of ice that had obviously been frozen in small deep bowls and he would hand grind one bowl of ice to make each snowcone.  The hand-crank grinder looked to be at least 100 years old.  Then he would dispense as many flavors of flavoring as you chose onto the ice in a the paper cup.  He then drizzled condensed sweetened evaporated milk all over it; put in a straw; and handed to me.  This cost 1 mil (1,000 pesos or 45 cents US)  It tasted great.  Bill wouldn’t touch it; he said because of the condensed milk on top.  You know how doubtful that stuff must have been after sitting in the heat all day!   I thoroughly enjoyed it as I tried not to think about the quality of the water that had been used to make that ice.  Since I didn’t get sick later, I probably will enjoy more snowcones---but without that milk on top.  All I really want is the sweetened ice anyway.

We enjoyed watching the local people just hanging out at Plaza Trinidad.  Lots of kids playing in the plaza.  The church looked ancient.  After finishing the snowcone we decided to return to the boat and do more sightseeing another day.  We had no map or diagram and had no idea where we were or the significance of what we were looking at.  You really need a good tour guide to tell you about the history of all these buildings; otherwise, you are just looking at old buildings.  Hopefully we will eventually get around to finding DuranDuran; he is supposed to be the best guide.

Yesterday morning we started to grab a taxi to go into the Centro District of Old Town Cartagena.  We made it as far as the end of the marina dock before deciding that it was just too darn hot and that we would enjoy it more if we waited until early evening.  So, back to hibernate for another day inside our air-conditioning.  We each grabbed our laptops and played computer games all day since the internet wasn’t working well.  I think too many people in this marina take their laptops down to the bar and spend the entire day talking on Skype.  That uses up all the bandwidth during prime hours, IMHO.

A little after 5 p.m. we decided that the sun was low enough that we could be reasonably comfortable walking around narrow stone streets between hot stone buildings, so we dressed again and caught a taxi to the Centro District.  Cartagena is divided into several districts.  There are 2 very thick old stone walls that encircle the old town districts.  Our marina is located on a small island called Manga which is just southeast of Old Town.  It is an easy walk over the bridge to enter the first thick wall which surrounds the Getsemani District of the old city Cartagena.  That is where we walked around last Sunday.  If you walk straight through the Getsemani District then you pass the Centre Convenciones.  After the convention center you pass through another thick stone wall surrounding the Centro District (directly in front of you through the Clock Tower entrance of the inner wall) and the San Diego District of the old city (to the right or north of Centro).  There is also anther area called La Matuna which is off to the right separating Getsemani and San Diego.  I have not been able to find out what La Matuna is all about; it is inside the first wall but outside the inner wall, and there is another partial wall around part of it.  The other 3 districts (Getsemani, Centro and San Diego) are filled with shops, restaurants, bars, churches, libraries and museums.  The La Matuna area is a mystery to me as I can’t find information on anything that is supposed to be located there.

We told the taxi driver to take us to Plaza Simon Bolivar in Centro.  He drove straight through Getsemani where we had walked last Sunday.  Then he turned left around the south side of Centro and followed the wall around to the beach side.  There he found that the entrance that he had planned to use into the walled city was closed for the evening.  The tourism police do this to ensure safety for the hundreds of walking tourists at night in this historical district.  So the taxi followed exterior of the wall along the beach almost to the end, where he finally found another entrance through the wall that was not closed for the evening.  This brought us into the walled city into the San Diego District, which is where our hotel is located where we will stay while the boat is hauled next week.  The taxi proceeded through the San Diego District southward to the Centro District; so we sort of got a little driving tour most of the way around the old walled city and then most of the way straight through it.  Those streets are really narrow for automobiles, and the taxi was a very small car.

When the taxi finally reached the corner to turn towards our destination of Plaza Simon Bolivar, he found that street closed by the Tourism Police as well.  So we hopped out of the taxi and began our self-guided walk around the Centro District.  At this point I should mention that we see more police in Cartagena, and different kinds of police, than we have seen anywhere.  Not to forget also the private security guards that are absolutely everywhere, most carrying guns and looking like they are not people who should be doing so.  So far in our limited travel around the city we have seen Municipal Police, Museum Police, Tourism Police, Traffic Police, the Colonia Policia and the plain Policia.  And we have not seen one policeman detaining one single person.  Seems pretty safe here as long as you use common city sense.

The Centro District is literally filled with shops of every kind.  Lots of clothing and shoe shops, mostly higher quality items.  We walked for a couple of hours and finally decided it was time for dinner.  The restaurants have good-looking babes standing in the streets with menus.  Most of them wear tight skimpy tops and tight jeans with high-heeled sandals to get attention.  They approach you as you walk down the street and try their best to get you to eat at their restaurant.  Same hawking is true for the hundreds of jewelry stores, except the jewelry stores all use men who are not nearly as attractive as the restaurant babes.

We chose an upstairs restaurant with a balcony table overlooking the Plaza Santo Domingo.  This provided us with a wonderful opportunity to people watch on a Saturday night as this is the most popular plaza in Cartagena.  I had mango ceviche appetizer and fabulous seafood pasta; Bill had a less-than-stellar churrasco (steak).  This meal cost more than twice the price of the great meal that we had enjoyed at the lovely de Oliva on our first night in Cartagena.   Still not an expensive evening at 92,000 pesos ($41.50) including both taxis and dinner with tip.

The people watching was fun.  A dance troupe performed in the street; there was a mime; a man juggling fire sticks; several table-side guitar players for the 3 restaurants whose tables fill the plaza at night; a puppeteer; and a couple of the black boys that are famous in Cartagena.  These boys (appear to be very young men or teenagers) paint their skin and clothing totally black.  They sometimes cavort around but mostly just sit quietly with a black-painted can placed in front of them to collect tips.  We have heard that these black boys can cause problems during carnival by ganging around tourists and demanding money, getting black paint onto the tourists if they don’t give enough money or sometimes resorting to robbing the tourists.  But all the black boys that we saw this evening were quiet and well-behaved.

It was a fun evening.  Still can’t believe we are actually in Cartagena.

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