Trip Start Feb 04, 2008
20Trip End Feb 21, 2008
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One dollar! oops, this time I was speaking CARTAGENAIAN. Today I went to Cartagena and I got to hold a two-toed sloth! (It has three toes.) I also went on a canoe ride with tons of kids asking us to buy sea shells. (The guy who first asked them to do that needs a good talking to.) Well anyway, I found some sea shells on my own.
Today's shore excursion had all the stereotypically bad elements of a group tour: bus loads of people, the most obnoxious among them the loudest (or vice versa), a disinterested guide alternately rushing and herding you, time at sights skewed toward economic opportunity (probably based on the kickback potential for the guide), sweltering heat, and plenty of locals in your face trying to sell you something or just asking for money
Too bad, too, because exploring this walled city that was once part of the Spanish Main and sacked repeatedly by pirates could be really interesting.
After a drive-by of the fort to allow us to shoot photos from the bus, we had all of 10 minutes to shop for handicrafts in what was reportedly an old dungeon, but retained none of its former charm.
Then we took a "stroll" through the Old Town in which we raced by the must-see sights--short cuts through Spanish colonial churches, two minutes to see the plaza, etc. The longest time allocated at any one place was at an expensive jewelry store, where they offered us drinks and allowed us to use the facilities, no doubt in hopes of making at least one high-priced sale.
Ever-present hawkers included the usual array of trinket sellers with t-shirts, hats, bags, and coffee. There were also lots of gimmicks aimed at getting you to pay to have your picture taken with someone. Women in bright-colored long dresses with bowls of fruit on their heads are the most prevalent there, but we also saw people covered in soot and standing very still (maybe a cheaper version of the silver guys who hit up tourists at the wharf in SF) and mimes.
Just as we were about to get back on the bus, there was one we couldn't resist, although it was also kind of heart breaking. This guy had a baby sloth, which he let Max hold for a picture and video for $1
Poverty was even more apparent in the palenque (which I gather is what they call a bario there--Colombian Spanish seems pretty different from what little I could pick out). We went there next for a canoe ride through a mangrove swamp.
The sight of loads of tourists, all in matching bright green life jackets even though the water was probably never more than a few feet deep, was more of a spectacle than what little nature we glimpsed on the very short loop. And for much of the time, we were surrounded by children offering to sell us shells for $1.
Back at the bus, they had dancers performing while they gave us all coconuts to drink, but like everything else on the tour, there was no time to sit and enjoy or even really register the moment before we were rushed along, this time back to the ship. Although not without tip requests all around, of course.
The good news is that at least our first two excursions were nothing like this, and hopefully the ones to come will all be better as well.
We spent the afternoon playing cards, swimming, and in my case, resting to try to recover from a cold.
Tomorrow we transit the canal!