An Ecuador Adventure

Traveling The Panama Canal Part 4

Pictured is a sign welcoming tourists to ‘Cartagena De Indias’. Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

I recently traveled to Cuenca, Ecuador on a cruise ship with my husband, Fred. On the way there, we spent a few days outside of Washington, D.C., two in Huntersville, N.C., and four more in Pompano Beach, Fla., where we left our van in my cousin’s care.

I woke very early on the fourth day to find my husband on our balcony, looking at the stars. The walls and ceiling of our stateroom creaked from the draft from the open door. When he realized I was awake, he called me out to see the big dipper and one of the planets. Not being morning people, we went back to bed after watching the sunrise.

Later that morning, after having breakfast on Deck 11, which is where the buffet is located, and telling Made (pronounced Ma-dee), our room steward, not to fuss over our room, we headed for Deck 3. After the crewperson scanned our room cards, we got off the ship at the first port of this journey, Santa Marta, Colombia. We boarded one of the awaiting shuttle buses and rode past large shipping containers and crates holding massive tires on the short ride off the pier, where foot traffic is forbidden. Prior to this cruise, we have walked away from the ship in most, if not all of the ports we have visited. This was a working port.

We had been warned in the daily bulletin that is left on our bed every night, to keep our personal effects close by and to avoid flashing money. Soon we were surrounded by people selling jewelry, sunglasses, anything a tourist may or may not desire. A young man wearing a stack of 10-12 hats with large cowboy-style hats at the bottom graduating to smaller women’s and children’s hats, made me appreciate my hatless, T-shirt and capri attire on the 84-degree day.

After we convinced the salespeople we weren’t interested in their wares, we faced the taxi drivers, who offered rides to the shops for $5, another wanted $25 for round trip. We decided to set out on foot. Soon we came to an outdoor area, where 18-20 people were sitting, standing or leaning while looking down at their phones. It was public WiFi, but it did not work for us.

Flamingos, peacocks, parrots and iguanas could be seen at the aviary. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

After crossing the street and circling the block on foot only to find deteriorated buildings and large trash-filled holes in the sidewalks, we came to a corner shop with people sitting at tables on the sidewalk, having a beverage and looking at their phones. We sat at a small table that was missing the outside band, leaving a sharp, metal, headless nail exposed. All of the items offered to us at the last area were sold here, minus the hats, but with cigars and a few other items. A man played a drum while blowing on a small wooden instrument. Another man balanced a sharp knife that held a beer bottle on the brim of his hat. A little boy, who was about six-years old asked for money, after tapping my shoulder.

Fred bought a bottle of Pepsi, which he drank through a paper straw as he struck up a conversation with a Chicagoan while I checked my email and Facebook to see if anyone from home had tried to get in touch with us. I took my turn with three of my Words with Friends friends. The man from Chicago told my husband about a disturbing offer he received involving young girls. There wasn’t much to see at this location and it was very warm, so we decided to return to the ship.

On the previous seven cruises on two other lines, we have eaten dinner in the dining room every night. Because this dining room experience hasn’t compared to the ones we’ve had on other cruise lines and because the menu didn’t appeal to him, my husband suggested we eat at the buffet on Deck 11. When we arrived, much to his chagrin, but to my delight, we found a full Mexican buffet set up, complete with decorations. It was decided we would separate and have dinner in two different areas for the first time in 63 dinners on a ship.

We are both social people. He enjoys being surrounded by people constantly, but I need a little downtime and this was a perfect chance for me to have that. I chose a sweet potato burrito, a hot and a cold rice dish and a bowl of chili, which I topped with shredded cheddar cheese. I left them on a table in the back corner, retrieved a cup of hot water and a tea bag and sat quietly facing a window while eating. After finishing my food, I went back for more hot water, another tea bag and a white chocolate filled-dessert. After savoring another cup of mint tea and wondering why I ate the dessert, I took a walk on Deck 6.

We woke up the next day docked near MS Zuiderdam at the port in Cartagena, Colombia, the only port we have repeated during eight cruises. This ship is part of Holland America’s fleet and was the ship we took to the northern end of the Panama Canal, the Caribbean side, the first time we were there. Since the ship does not pass through the canal, a train ride excursion is offered, of which we had taken advantage four years ago.

There is a bird aviary near the port in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

Seeing or even thinking about that ship always brings to mind a conversation that took place in the dining room of another ship a few days before we boarded it. It was the last night we were on a Carnival ship and the waiter was sympathizing with us. I told him there was no sadness for two reasons-it was the second cruise we had been on that year and because we would board another cruise to the Panama Canal eight days later. After I responded to his question, asking if it was the Zuiderdam, he said, “My uncle works on that ship and one of their activities is napping.”

Even though I had never been on any of Holland America’s ships, I wasn’t too concerned, because it was a free cruise for us because another cruise we had booked with them was canceled at the last minute. This free cruise came to be a few months earlier, after our van was packed for a four-week trip to New England, including a round-trip cruise from Boston to Quebec City on one of Holland America’s ships. At the last minute before leaving our house, I saw an email on my iPhone stating the ship had sustained a broken propeller. Not only did they send us a check to cover a non-refundable trip insurance policy we had taken, they credited our Mariner account with the amount we would have paid for the trip! We wish we had booked it when it was $400 more. We have been impressed with that line ever since, because that was to be the first cruise we were taking with them.

While my husband was waiting for me to join him for breakfast on this, the fifth day of our cruise, a drill was announced over the speakers, which are located throughout the ship. Some areas of the ship were placed on lockdown as the crew members participated in a drill meant only for them. It is never a good idea to have my husband confined to an area where food is in abundance. When I joined him, he had three empty small, square plates and two empty bowls. He, also, had a small square plate that had a cinnamon roll on it and a dinner plate that held an omelet, cottage cheese, some sliced pears, some fresh fruit and an egg and a slice of Canadian bacon sandwiched between two halves of an English muffin.

This was a port day, but since we had been there before and since it was a very warm day, we only walked a short distance to the aviary where we saw colorful parrots, peacocks and flamingos and a few iguanas.

While dining that evening, my husband found he did not like the smoked cheese ravioli he had ordered and requested another entree. Yes, you can do this on a cruise ship. In fact, you can order three entrees, if you desire. The dentist we dined with a few nights earlier, told of witnessing a man who ordered seven lobsters on a different ship.

Most of the people who order multiples, tend to order desserts. On my first cruise, which was out of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, we were seated with the same people at the same table every night. One of the women, a seasoned cruiser who was literally carrying her bag off of this ship and onto another, encouraged another woman and me to order the hot melting lava cake. When we both said we had decided on the crËme brulee, she told us to order both desserts and how she had always done this. I carried on her tradition for a few nights before I came to my senses. She may have been able to discipline herself to a few bites of each. I could not and didn’t want to be the average cruiser who gains 11 pounds on a weeklong cruise. To be continued.