Friday, October 12, 2007

Enjoying more of Cartagena

October 8, 2007  Monday

Yesterday we went to a nice Sunday lunch with some other cruisers.  Tom and Cassy on S/V CYRANO and another couple whose names I never understood.  The taxis here are so tiny that only 3 people could ride in one, so we had to take 2 cabs.  Luckily both taxis did make it to the same restaurant at about the same time. 

This was the nicest restaurant in our Cartagena ventures to date.  Not the best food because that award still goes to Da Danni, the Italian place down in San Diego district of old town.  But this restaurant wins the best décor award.  It was called Arabe and is located in the posh Boca Grande area.  Arabe specializes in middle Eastern cuisine.  There is another Arabe in Manga where we have eaten before, but this Arabe in Boca Grande is in a totally different class.  Nice tablecloths and well-appointed décor and professional wait staff; a very nice place.  FWIW, I think arabe means Arabic type food here; the two Arabe restaurants are not connected in any way.  Now, neither Bill nor I know anything about Arabic food; so you can imagine the guessing game we were playing trying to figure out Arabic food in Spanish.  I had pechugas de pollo con champignones and Bill had a filet mignon (we think).   Both very good.  The others opted for wine but we abstained since this was lunch time.  Wine that early in the day would put us both down for the afternoon.

Last night was another pot luck dinner at the marina.  We were both so full from the large lunch that we ended up grilling pork chops and bringing them back to the boat to save for another day.  We grabbed the table closest to the grill and food serving table and shared it with the family from BLUEPRINT MATCH.  I got a private chuckle when the cruiser group from Club de Pesca arrived and obviously thought we had taken “their” table.  That group had claimed this particular table at all the previous pot luck dinners since we arrived; but, hey, it is open seating and we got there first.  It was just funny to see the expressions on their faces.  I enjoyed talking with a guy from Arizona who is a single hander.  He sailed alone from the top of the Sea of Cortez down to Panama.  His 2 sons flew down and transited the Panama Canal with him.  They then went down to the San Blas Islands and his sons flew back to Panama City and he sailed alone to Cartagena.  It takes a different kind of person to want to cruise alone.  I know neither Bill nor I would enjoy it all alone.  A big part of the enjoyment is having someone to share the experience.  Sad part is that he is married but his wife doesn’t like boats, so they spend 5-6 months per year apart.

After pot luck we returned to the boat and watched some DVDs.  Bill’s brother, John, had sent us a bunch of DVDs.  When Aaron and the grandkids visited us in Bonaire in August they brought 2 suitcases of stuff that John had bought for us.  Lots of goodies!  Stashed in one of the suitcases were a bunch of DVDs which we had not expected.  These included years of seasons of the old TV series Mash.  We rarely watched Mash when it was originally on television because those were the years we both worked and also had small kids to occupy our evenings, so these episodes are all new to us.  We are rationing ourselves to no more than 2 episodes each TV evening.  Thanks, John.  This provides us with many nights of entertainment in lieu of real television.  We can only read so much and then it is time for a bit of TV pap and Mash is perfect for that.

October 12, 2007  Friday

Okay, so what did we do all week?  Well…..pretty much, not a darn thing that anyone will find interesting. 

On Monday we again walked down to the Centro district and finally found the Museo Naval del Caribe, Cartagena; a/k/a the Maritime Museum.  It was hiding behind the Iglesia y convento San Pedro Claver.  Everyone kept telling us that it was at the San Pedro Claver church; no one told us that it was BEHIND the church and convent.

On the first floor were some great models of the undersea terrain in the Bay of Cartagena and the Caribbean Sea and even coastal Pacific.  There were also models of every fort and battery that was ever constructed near the city of Cartagena.  Also had a few models depicting the major sieges by sea that the city endured in its history.  Pretty neat stuff and way more detail that we care to try to remember.  Bill took photos of every sign printed in English so that I could read it later when writing this log; but I don’t want this to become a history lecture so I won’t use much of it.  On the second floor there were lots of great examples of old time ships from around the world…..from very old Chinese celebration ships and Phoenician and Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Grecian, etc., etc.  The most interesting to me were the very old Roman ships.  Never saw anything like that before.  Wish there had been more info on these old boats/ships.

Cartagena was founded in 1533, and by mid century it was the major consolidation point for the silver, gold and jewels being plundered from the New World by the Spanish. As such it was a popular target for pirates. In response to these attacks the Spanish built an elaborate defensive system of walls, the main one encircling the town, but also linking together outlying forts, which included a wall right across the closest entrance to the inner bay. Although the city was subsequently besieged by both the French and British (Sir Francis Drake in late 1500s), once the walls were completed it was never again taken...until 1821 when Simon Bolívar finally wrested the city - the last, insular outpost of the Spanish - out from under Imperial rule.  There were 7 forts and I can’t remember how many batteries—a lot.  The very first fort was built in 1534 and was located about where our boat is docked right now.

Most of the defensive walls encircling the city are still in place, and the Old Town has been preserved much as it was. To the south of it extends the crooked elbow of the Boca Grande Peninsula with its mix of modern high-rises and hotels. To the northeast rises two of the city's most famous landmarks, Fort San Felipe, and, even higher, the Convento de la Popa, (which has been restored by Augustine monks and is now a monastery).  North and east of all this sprawls your usual urban industrial spread, while tucked into an armpit of the inner bay is Isla Manga, an upper middle class area of old mansions and mid-rise apartment buildings, on the south edge of which is Club Nautico...our marina. 

The fort and La Popa are the 2 remaining tourist items that we hope to visit.  Another very popular tourist attraction is a mud bath.  This is a natural mud pool in the crater of a dormant volcano 36 kilometers north of Cartagena at Volcán de Lodo el Totumo. According to other cruisers, this is a 45' high mud volcano rising from the shore of a gorgeous lake and is supposed to be one of the largest mud volcanoes in the world. The locals have quite a little operation going giving mud baths and mud massages. You strip down to your bathing suit, climb the mud cone via mud and stick steps, and at the top lower yourself gently into the 10x10' crater. Imagine lowering yourself into a giant tub of slightly-gritty, room temperature chocolate pudding! Oh, by the way, there is no bottom, but the mud buoys you up with no risk of sinking. Three young guys awaited the tourists in the mud. Once immersed, they "float" you and move you around like floating dead wood. After everyone stops giggling, these guys start massaging you.  After an hour you climb back out.  From the crater, you make your way down another "ladder" from which you are led to the lakeshore by a team of ladies, who rinse you down with bowlfuls of water. Most everyone eventually gives up and takes off their mud-laden swimsuit and rinses more thoroughly.   This “natural spa” experience costs only  2000 pesos per person ($1).

We plan to give the mud baths a miss.  Don’t you just love that expression?  I heard it from a British woman.  Rather than say “we do not plan to attend” which sounds rather negative, she says “we plan to give it a miss.”  Whatever….neither Bill nor I want to submerge our bodies in mud.  But others aren’t so squeamish;  I know of 11 cruisers who have booked a tour guide and are going there next week.

Another place to visit is a hacienda where they raise bulls for bull fighting.  We also plan to give that a miss.

Wednesday night was the weekly happy hour, but this week there was a new twist.  The woman who owns the marina hired a dance troupe and “band” to entertain.  These were different dancers than we saw in Plaza Santo Domingo shortly after we arrived in Cartagena, but they performed the same dances.  Can those women’s hips move fast!  And the men tense their chests and arms so tight and move so fast that it looks really painful!  Afterwards, Bill and I walked to a local Mexican restaurant.  I know; we said we would not try any local Mexican food any more after being so disappointed in so many islands already.  But guess we are just suckers when it comes to Mexican food.  This time the food was okay; not great, but okay. 

Last night I made chicken enchiladas suizas.  That was much better than anything we could have had at the local Mexican restaurant.  Cannot wait to be back in Houston at Christmas and get a real Tex-Mex fix!

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