21 November 2004
Cartagena de Indias, Colombia N 10.2472 W 075.3249
At the end of half of the school year and after five months aboard Shiraz, ZoŽ decided it would be better for her to return to her mother and enter a more normal school atmosphere with peer groups and a wide selection of activities. Sitting at a marina and waiting for the hurricane season to blow out can be frustrating for anyone and for a nine year old it can be terribly boring. We did have the opportunity to celebrate ZoŽ's birthday at the Hotel Santa Clara with our friends from Camperdown and Fifth Season. The hotel serves a most elegant buffet and the pool was available for ZoŽ and her friend Mariano ( on the dock they were known as Mo and Zo) to go swimming.
Halloween was celebrated in a pretty traditional manner, with young kids and their parents walking the neighborhood chanting "Tricky Tricky Halloween, Quiero comida para mi", in hopes of getting some candy dropped into their bags. The marina held a Halloween party for the cruisers and ZoŽ and her friends on S/V Chewbacca had a great time learning new dances including the salsa. ZoŽ won a Club Nautico t-shirt and was very excited. They all danced the night away and at midnight were ready to turn in.
Cartagena continues to unveil itself as a most interesting destination. There are no English language newspapers and very little English is spoken by the local shops keepers and trades people but we are able to find our way around and learn about the local traditions and gather a bit of information along the way about current events.
We visited the Naval Museum and the guide gave us excellent insight into the history of Cartagena and the fortifications in the surrounding area. Treasures that were stored here awaiting transit back to Spain attracted most European countries active in the Caribbean and most of the pirates. One thinks of pirate ships as solitary entities but on at least one occasion the pirates of the Caribbean combined forces and attack the city with over one hundred ships. One sunken treasure in the surrounding seas is believed to be that the richest undiscovered deposit, estimated at between three to five billion US dollars. It is purported to be just forty miles offshore in 700 feet of water. Later in the week we visited the San Felipe Fortress overlooking the city and built to protect the city from attack from the land. During its history the fort never fell although the same cannot be said for the city it was built to protect. Finally we stopped by the Inquisition Museum for a historic look at the horrors perpetrated in the name of organized religion.
The plazas throughout the city are surrounded by restaurants thereby providing a gathering places for street entertainers and a good location for people watching. The Plaza of Santo Domingo is one of the most attractive and is easily described by the "Fat Lady" sculpture sitting in the southwest corner. The Colombian artists Fernando Botero traveled to the art capitals of the world in his early years studying modern art and the old masters until finally in the early 1960's amalgamating these influences into his own style. You may have seen his over inflated round forms of people in paintings and sculptures. The fine detail in his work seems to be enhanced by forms that look like they belong in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The city is full of prints and posters in the Botero style. The "heavy" sculpture of the lady in recline was donated by the Colombian artist and has become a favorite meeting place for locals and tourists.
The Independence Day celebration in Colombia is a two day holiday and encompasses a week of festivities that include parades, concerts, tall ships and the Miss Colombia pageant, one of the highlights of the year when the beauty of the Colombian women becomes a symbol of national pride. The week started off when the tall ship Gloria entered the lagoon with a gigantic Colombian flag flying from the stern. The yard arms were filled with sailors standing at equal intervals. In town parade practice was conducted early on in the week and the festivities were warming up with lots of people entering the city for the weekend. But then the rains came and came and came. In a period of one night Cartagena had more rain then they would normally receive in one month of the rainy season. The pursuant mudslides caused devastation among the poor who live on the hillsides in poorly built houses. The rains continued off and on for several days resulting in 75,000 homeless. National services were now directed at recovery instead of celebration and the political and private sponsors of the activities did not feel it appropriate to continue the celebrations when so many were in need. The city canceled all the major activities and parades and concentrated on the task of relief for the suffering.
During the weeks' muted celebration traditional "grease monkeys" roamed the street in an effort to intimidate locals and tourists alike into giving them money. In a kind of "trick or treat" scenario preadolescents cover the top half of there bodies with grease and threaten to give you a hug unless you gave them some change. Well the CW was to not be intimidated and not to give anything because if you started you then become an easy target. If you gave a stern "NO" and a negative hand signal they eventually left you alone and searched for a more friendly target.
Restaurants were filled and people strolled the streets where vendors displayed their wares. All the young ladies were made up in short skirts, tight tops, high heels and lots of large costume jewelry and you couldn't tell the hookers from those just out on a flirtatious evening stroll. The major brand liquor and cigarette manufactures were also out on the street. plying their products by offering free samples, sponsoring concerts and filling the streets with scantly clad young ladies advertising their product on tight fitting T-shirts. On the other hand the Listerine girls were clad in blue long slinky outfits looking like shapely bottles to remind you what to use in the morning after you have had too much to drink or smoked the night away. Music events filled the streets, the plazas and even the museums. It was hard to image what it would have been like if the parades had not been canceled.
Christmas decorations are on the shelves of the local stores and we are told that the town really turns out for the holidays.
We'll let you know what we find.
The two parade pictures were courtesy of Cindy and Allen on S/V Camperdown.....................
22 November 2004
Cartagena de Indias, Colombia N 10.2472 W 075.3249
Bush to visit Shiraz ?
We have received sensitive information from what we believe to be a CIA operative that we met the other night. While walking along the streets, a Danny DeVito look alike approached us and made our acquaintance. It was apparent that the pseudo name he provided us with was just that but to proceed on the side of caution we will refer to our new acquaintance as Mr. X. He knew we were cruisers and related to our nautical experiences by telling us he was himself a seaman that had traveled the world. Mr. X spoke seven different languages and his cover for this amazing skill was that he had started work as a boat cleaner and after a lengthy apprenticeship had worked his way up to seaman first class. During his travels at sea he had learned to speak fluently in many different languages but I am certain I could detect a trace of the Stanford Language Institute in his Spanish and Norwegian but I never let on. He gave us a brief walking tour of this section of the city and we visited a brand new hotel that more than likely hadn't had its first guest (now why does a common seaman know about a newly opened luxury hotel ?). The hotel had an enormous front door, the kind that could take a direct hit from an RPG. The night manager gave us a tour of the nicely appointed lobby with a small swimming pool and several private sitting rooms. This hotel was built to house special guest and I'll bet a visit to the roof would have uncovered enough antennas to start a radio station but we were only starting to unwind the story Mr. X was trying to tell us. It was here that we saw the newspaper (obviously planted) announcing the visit by our very own President. In a casual remark "our guide" attempted to clarify our feelings about the current administration and possibly recruit us for some future missions or intelligence gathering. It was something like, " so you like this Bush guy?" Our noncommittal response gained us favor since he was looking not for a political affiliation but rather a constitutional allegiance.
Next Mr. X led us to Crepes and Waffles our favorite desert place. On the way he was making remarks about the flavors of the ice creams available and if you listened carefully these apparently innocent comments were code words for Caribbean countries and their governments. "So you like the vanilla flavored ice-cream," which was an inquiry into our feelings about the Spice Island of Grenada. Our reply was that it was one of Ronald Reagan's favorites and therefore it was perfectly alright with us. " Do you like the Sundaes with the thick caramel on top?" Now we were getting someplace since we all understood that this was the code word for petroleum. "Oh, Si, Si, it is our favorite, we consume more of it than any of our friends."
We were really starting to communicate now but Mr. X seemed to be concerned that someone was following us. In his parting words Mr. X told us to enjoy the neighborhood. Over chocolate Sundaes we unraveled the clues Mr. X gave us and the real purpose for the Bush visit to Cartagena. Who has more petroleum in this neighborhood, why it's Venezuela. It just might be that Venezuela, with its rich oil fields, will soon enter the "axis of evil" providing the US with rationale for military action. Just imagine, Venezuela where gasoline at $.08 per gallon, now what would that do for the slumping US dollar and some old pals back in Texas and Oklahoma. And if the cost to conquer is not too great the US might even be able to take a bite into the $600 billion dollar account deficit piling up in the US.
Besides baseball is the national pastime in Venezuela.
We have cleaned the boat ever day since we heard about the President's visit to Cartagena. We sent an invitation to the White House for the President to have cocktails aboard but so far no response, we are in hopes that this is for security purposes only and that he will eventually show up at an unspecified hour. In our e-mail we told the President we could help in this Venezuelan situation. After all we know where the best empanadas are made, the coldest beers are served and where the major league baseball players stay during the season. We could introduce our forces to the best taxi drivers, the best pizza parlors and could point out some great places for in country R&R.
Standing on the dock at Club Nautico, we could see Air Force 1 make its approach to the airport. Soon after that three Blackhawks fully armed and loaded with Secret Service began their low flying weaving pattern near the route of the motorcade. The Blackhawks were so close they were making the coffee in our cup ripple. About the same time an entourage of high powered speed boats left the Naval Base and headed for Bocachica where President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia keeps a vacation home. A notice had been posted at the marina stating there would be no boat traffic allowed in the lagoon from 9:00AM to 4:00PM. We were in hopes that the President would take one of the power boats back and would stop by the marina where every US boat had "Old Glory" flying from the stern. Well, such was not the case as the Blackhawks followed their serpentine pattern back to the airport and the President boarded Air Force One heading back to the US.
What was said about Venezuela will be forever a secret but we are early into the second term and there is plenty of time for President Hugo Chavez to make some kind of fatal mistake that would put him up there with Kim Jong II of North Korea and that other guy from Iran (does anybody know his name?).
The local people in Colombia were very pleased by the visit since it was an indication that Colombia was now becoming recognized not as an ungovernable outlaw state but as a partner in the war against drugs and we had heard the President has promised to return to Colombia for a state visit. With help from the US, Colombia has been able to close down many drug operations or run them out of the country. We understand that they move to Venezuela most often. Is there a connection here?