Waiting and Being

It’s Holy Week and Minou is dying. She is old, older than we had thought, and her kidneys are diseased. Other than alleviating her symptoms there is nothing we can do. There is no cure for this. So we hydrate her, feed her, pet her, cuddle her, love her, but under all the doing we’re waiting until the time is filled and she is no more.

Waiting and being.

The last time I felt this helpless was during the birth of my twin godchildren. Their mother had asked me to be at the birth, and I was glad to go. Yet I’ve never felt as useless, as helpless as I watched my friend slip into preeclampsia and hallucinate through the middle of her labour. The nurses and doctors did the things they did, and it turned out well, but all I could do was sit in a corner, frightened and angry at my inability to help, to act, to DO something to alleviate my friend’s pain. All I could do was be there. Be present, witness her suffering and wait until the babies were born.

Being and waiting.

All I can do is be there while she labours to give birth. All I can do is hold the small furry body while it dies. All I can do is ache while the hurt heals. All I can do is wait: for life, for healing, for death, for the end, for the beginning, for the other shoe to drop, for the disaster. All I can do is wait: for the wound to heal, the breach to close, the child within to grow, the seed to germinate, the season to change.

It’s Holy Week and it’s filled with doing, with action. We clean, we bake, we prepare the baskets, we attend church and try to cram in as much good Lenten behaviour as we can before it all ends and we’ve fallen flat on our faces again, but under all that busyness, all that acting and doing, we’re waiting.

Waiting and being.

We want to do, we need to act. Action is right and good and necessary. We do things, we act, we make, we unmake, we change something, anything, whatever needs changing, making or unmaking. But, as the wise man said, to everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecc. 3:3). There is a time to act and a time to simply be and let what happens happen. But simply being is anathema to us. There must be something we can do! We endure it, we barely tolerate simply waiting, simply being while things happen that we can do nothing about: while the baby is being born, while the grandfather dies, when the child’s heart is broken, while the breach between friends or spouse heals. We twitch and fuss, wanting to get in and DO something.

In these long, tiring and out of time services we wait. We stand while around us doing happens: the prayers are offered, the hymns are sung, scripture is chanted and we in our wounded, broken selves are open receptacles for God’s love and mercy. The priest works, the deacon and subdeacons work, the readers and the choir work. Our work is to be open and receptive to God and the services, to witness the doing and the acting, perhaps even to join the singing and the prayers, but primarily our work is just to be. Even in the presanctified communion we do nothing as Christ enters us and sanctifies us.

This isn’t passive. Even though we are being done to, being acted upon, it is not part of our fallen nature to just stand and be, to open ourselves to God and the saints and the angels. It requires great courage, our full attention and an amazing persistence. We are, in the services, active in being who we are: broken, weak and prodigal children of our Father.

It’s during this busy, grief filled week of waiting and being that I’m learning that it is in waiting, in simply having to BE that I can draw closer to God. Perhaps it is one of the ways to theosis – to being one with God, to, as Athanasius pointed out, become God. He is the great I AM. That’s what he told Moses to say, when He met him in the burning bush. “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14) It’s said at the end of our services, “Christ our God, the great I AM”. He is. He doesn’t act, he doesn’t change, he simply is and the universe exists. The bush burned without being consumed, but we, in our need to do and act and make burn up our leaves, our stems and roots until nothing is left but dead branches and ash.

I need to burn less and I AM more. I need in these moments to be still and know that He is God.


Hurry up and wait. And wait. And wait. And .. . … wait some more.

I suppose, if things have to go wrong, the best time for them to go wrong is at the end of an otherwise excellent vacation, and that’s what happened to us. It wasn’t anything awful, and our lives aren’t in the least disrupted by it, but it was frustrating, tiring and just plain annoying. And it wasn’t like the trouble hadn’t been foreshadowed, either.

When we booked the cruise, we’d had the Holland America cruise consultant book our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver. Why I didn’t ask her to book all the way through to Victoria is something I’ve been asking myself ever since I hung up the phone away back last February, but I didn’t, so I had to make the arrangements myself – no big deal, except that it turned into one.

See, Delta changed our flights two or three times before we left on the cruise, the last change meaning that I had to rebook the Vancouver-Victoria flight myself. And that was a big deal because I had to move it to the last flight of the day. If there were any more changes, we’d have to book a hotel for the night and fly out the next day, thereby upsetting the cats, our house sitters and not doing our own peace of mind much good. However, I didn’t receive any more notifications and thought all was good.

We had packed the night before and left the suitcases outside the door of the stateroom so they’d be picked up and moved off the ship for us. We received our “colour” – the disembarkation procedure is done by times and colours – you disembark when your colour (ours was purple) is called. It’s done to minimize crowding, delays and frustration. In this case, through no fault of Holland America, and precisely due to Homeland Security, that didn’t work.

The plan was to get up at our regular time, have a relaxed breakfast then sit and read/walk, do whatever we needed to do until our colour was called, when we’d disembark the ship. We’d pick up our luggage in preparation to go through customs. Then we’d board a bus, be driven to the airport, where we’d wait until our plane was called at 3:50 for Minneapolis. We’d land approximately 3 hours later, have time for a more or less leisurely meal, then board the plane at about 8 pm for another three hour flight to Vancouver. We’d have to hustle on that one, to get from the international terminal, through customs and over to the domestic terminal to pick up our flight to Victoria, but we had an hour or better to do that, so I wasn’t too worried. Lots of slop time for things to go wrong, or delays or whatever. That was before we encountered Homeland Security, and a bus company and an airline who’d obviously been channelling Homeland Security’s modus operandi.

The day started out all right. We got breakfast, sat and enjoyed the morning, waited for our colour to be called. Didn’t worry when they had some issues with the gangplank – after all, our flight didn’t leave until almost 4 pm, so it wasn’t as if we had to hustle to get to the airport. And we got called at our scheduled time, still with lots and lots of time to spare. It was 10 am. How long could customs take? Heh. Heh. Heh.

We disembarked, collected our suitcases and then confronted the customs lineup. Huge. Enormous. Five people thick and snaking back from the front doors of the airplane hanger sized building almost to the doors leading to the pier and the gangplank. We joined it and waited. And waited and waited. And waited some more. We moved forward slowly. There were a total of six customs officials on duty, and there were two columns – US destinations and non US destinations. US destinations line, with two officials was 1/5 the size of our line and finished an hour ahead of our line. And then both the officials went off duty. FOUR customs officials. Over 1200 people had been on board, and over 3/4 of them were in the line we were in. A snail could have beaten us to the front of the line. One on Valium. An hour and a half later we finally approached the security kiosks.

We were passed through after an intense scrutiny of whatever secret information is included in our passports, no verbal communication from the security officer (I think he might have grunted at one point) and then joined the line up for the bus to the airport. We were told that the bus to pick us up was even now on its way from the airport to us and would be here momentarily. Um, yah. No such luck. I’d looked at maps of Fort Lauderdale, and even assuming rush hour traffic and delays, it couldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes to get from the port to the airport – they simply weren’t that far apart.

So we waited again. And waited. And waited. No explanations, no attempts to answer questions. “It’ll be here in a few minutes” was the mantra.

Forty five minutes to an hour later the bus finally arrived. We boarded and then waited (again!) while the driver, by himself, loaded all the baggage (with 5 other employees standing around watching him and offering advice. I am not kidding.)

We drove off as the driver did a comedic monologue, which, if I hadn’t been so frustrated and annoyed by the unnecessary delays, would have had me in stitches. I looked out the window as we drove along, to see an enormous billboard advertising (I am not kidding here) Syphilis. Yes, THAT Syphilis. (There is any other kind?)


Did anybody give any thought at all to the idea that this is located where every visitor arriving in Fort Lauderdale is gonna see it? I can just imagine the conversations. So, what was your impression of Fort Lauderdale, Bev?

We did get to the airport, but our trouble didn’t stop there. Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our amusing dance de luggage and Delta, our less than amusing encounter with the gate attendants, and how you can drag race in an airplane.

I found it!

You know all those vacation ads of perfect people on perfect beaches, in perfectly clear and beautifully blue and green tropical waters? The ones where the sun is shining down, and the waves are breaking just ideally, never too close but not too far from the suntanning bodies lying on blindingly white sand while a little way away more perfect people are riding the most beautiful horses on the planet and further down the beach there’s a volleyball game going on and you just know that all these people won’t need to shower sand grains out of tender places at the end of the day (because, you know, they’re perfect)? Those photos?

I found the place they take them.

half moon cay 2

The Bahamas, just off the coast of Florida. The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is actually over 700 islands, cays and islets (size is the determining factor in whether it’s an island, a cay or an islet, but don’t ask me what the break point is). If you look at a map, we were on Isla Pequena San Salvador (Little San Salvador Island). It’s a small island (or a cay) between Cat and Eleuthra Islands. Holland America has leased the cay/island from the Bahamas and renamed it after the major bay – Half Moon Cay. It’s about seven kilometres long and two wide with a two kilometre long lagoon in the middle of it (which is protected and is a sea life preserve).

half moon cay 3

As far as I can tell, the Holland America parent company only has the use of the Bay and a few miles of the island itself – most of the rest of it is without trails or roads, and we encountered a number of “not allowed beyond this point, very dangerous” signs while on our walk. If you google it or look at the satellite image of it, you’ll see what I mean.

The only people on the island are connected to the Holland America company – either guests, like us, or ship’s crew on leave, or working for our comfort, or support people who are ferried over from Cat and Eleuthra Islands (an hour and a half ride one way). So it’s the “perfect” island – everything there is for our comfort and convenience, and in the areas meant for us, it’s been groomed and landscaped and arranged to be the “perfect” tropical island. There are caretakers who live on the island, mostly to care for the horses, but again, it’s all in aid of keeping the illusion of a perfect world alive for us paying guests.

And yes, on this island you can ride horses: on the trails or in the surf. You can jet ski, lounge on the amazing white sand beaches, swim in the turquoise, clear waters, paddle with pet manta rays, bike (or scooter) around the roads and trails, take a nature hike or rent a cabana and relax in the privacy of a small house for the day.

We opted to get active and with four other people take a nature/historical walk around the parts of the island accessible to us. Well worth the time, even though I ended up wishing I’d brought my bathing suit from the ship – that beach and that water looked delicious! It was very, very hot but the humidity had dropped significantly, for which I was really grateful. Also teaching both Al and I that it’s the humidity we have problems with, not the heat.

Our walk was scheduled for 10 am, and we arrived there around 9:15, so walked around the roads and paths to get a feel for the place. And the first thing we encountered was a couple who asked us if we’d be witnesses for their wedding. They were joking (I think), but it was kinda nice to see some romance on a picture perfect tropical island! It was one of the ship’s officers and one of the singers from the ship – they looked really in love and amazingly happy. So maybe there is a wedding in their future. Best of luck to them, if so! They also weren’t all that social – a couple of conversational exchanges and a laugh or two and they were away on their own.

Turns out they do have a little chapel there in case people want to renew their vows – I gathered from the signs that actual first time, till death do us part spur of the moment shipboard romance weddings aren’t on the agenda here. You can get married on this island, but not on the spur of the moment.


If you google images of Half Moon Cay, you won’t see the island we saw on our walk.

half moon cay 1Al still had the camera, so I don’t have any of the photos we took to show you a comparison.

The walk took us off the regular paths into the brush so we could see the plants and wildlife of the island. I didn’t take notes, but the guide gave us some good information not only about the plants that grew there, but some of their medicinal uses, and warned us off some of the less pleasant ones – there are some that are like poison oak and poison ivy. The wildlife isn’t terribly dangerous – wild chickens and roosters, three different kinds of lizard, and various birds. We climbed a hill and saw the ruins of a house that had been used centuries before when other people had come to the island to fish and hunt, and raise chickens, whose descendants still inhabit the island (the chickens, not the people). I suggested to our guide that they hunt the chickens and serve ‘em up to the guests, but she didn’t think that would go over well with the chefs, for some reason.

We also got to watch manta rays in the lagoon – neat, wonderfully graceful beings who swooped and flew through the water and wanted to play with the people who had come to learn about them.

We wandered along deserted paths and were far from the rest of the ship’s passengers and crew, which suited us fine. And when we came out onto one other part of the lagoon, noticed our “wedding” couple wandering the beach a ways down from us, obviously very happy being along together.

We visited the “farm” where they cultivated and seeded the plants used in the gardens and plantings around the bay, and in the foods served on the island, and met a pet iguana of the gardener. I’d have like to spend more time there to see just what they grew and how and what they did, but we were there for only around 10 minutes and most of that was listening to the gardener talk about his iguana.

The walk was a leisurely hour and a half (to cover a mile and a half) with lots of stops to try and find lizards (those suckers can MOVE!), or look at the house ruins (I would have liked a bit more time to poke around those). We actually didn’t leave for the walk until almost 11 am, so it was in the worst heat of the day, and even in the shade, I was glad we weren’t trying to break any walking speed records. By the time we took a break at the manta pool, we needed the break. I managed to down over a litre of water in less then five minutes. It was lovely!

After the break, we strolled back to the main guest area and then bid goodbye to the guide and had lunch. Barbequed chicken and hamburgers and fresh fruits (some of which were grown on the island, I think) and veggies.

It was a lovely island, and the parts that had been built up as the resort were gorgeous, but honestly? I preferred the trails we walked along, and the hills we climbed that were less than perfect settings for tropical vacation photo ops, and that let us enjoy the silence and the stillness of the place.

It was a good day, but not as good as some of our other excursions. Maybe if the walk had been longer, or I’d gone swimming, but it felt like too perfect a place – not something that you could live in for long. I was glad to get back to the ship, even though it was our very last full day.

Tomorrow we would be disembarking in Fort Lauderdale and catching a plane to fly home.

Living the Rich Life

Well, yes, we already are, but today we went into the stratosphere – a super premium wine tasting. Wines from France, Washington State, California and a Super Tuscan from Italy. This is the last tasting, and definitely, saving the best for last. Some wonderful wines here.

We dithered back and forth about this for several days. Neither of us felt as though we had a palate that was refined enough to appreciate the quality that would be showing up here, but eventually we figured – these wines are so far out of our range, that this is probably the only chance we’ll ever get to taste stuff this good. So may as well try it out and figure out just what we’re really supposed to be looking for when we look for a good quality wine at whatever price point. And given what we experienced, it was so worth the time and feeling outclassed!

Later: For this tasting only, I did some pricing research and we’re looking at wines that range from $53.00 a bottle for the Chardonnay up to $180.00 for the Super Tuscan. Not something we’re going to buy often, if ever!

There were only 14 of us, and of that number, 5 of us were women. Interesting. In earlier tastings while the men had an edge on numbers, women were almost equally represented. But not here.

The focus here was wonderful – there was conversation at the beginning, before M. Cecilia began talking, but once the tasting got underway, it was all serious, and once we were just tasting and comparing, the conversations I overheard had to do with the wines, not with anything else – very nice change from some of the other tasting, where the point seemed to be as much to drink wine and socialize as to actually learn anything. It worried the Cellar Master. I know the feeling – you’re not sure if your audience is absorbed and intent, or bored to tears. In this case, it was very focused and listening and learning. I was also pleased to overhear some of the more experienced tasters say that she was the most knowledgeable of the people they’d ever listened to. Certainly, she loves wine and loves to teach about it. That’s come through in every single conversation we’ve had with her, and in every one of the tastings.

Start with the single white we had. As I’m learning about wines, I’m learning to really enjoy the whites, almost as much as I like the fullbodied reds. And today, my learning paid off – we had a 2011 Louis Jadot Puligny Montrachet from France. It’s from the Burgundy area, which means that it’s a chardonnay grape (with a very few exceptions, all white wines from Burgundy are Chardonnay, and all reds are Pinot Noir. And I’ll tell you what the exceptions are when I remember them (didn’t write it down) or when I get home and can look them up.) As soon as I tasted it, I recognized it as a Chardonnay – which is the very first time I’ve had that happen with *any* wine. So yay for me! I’m learning!

puligny montrachet

Anyway – it’s a lovely pale yellow, almost clear on the edges. Very delicate on the nose – I got (and M. Cecilia confirmed) toast, then honey, and finally a mineral scent. That followed with the flavours on the tongue as well – along with a very creamy texture due to the lactic (bacterial) fermentation which gives rise to the malic acid in the wine that follows the regular fermentation. It’s aged in oak for 12 months, and is a very delicate wine. Really nice, and the buttery, creamy texture was a delight.

So, a little bit about label and quality assignments in Burgundy. And again, M. Ceclia’s teaching shone through – it made sense! (I’ve read about and listened to explanations of the French labelling rules several times, but with her explanation, it’s finally starting to come together and be understandable.) Louis Jadot is a trader of wine. A Negotianse (that’s my guess at the spelling). Because of the way in which land is passed down in a family and because of the amount of grapes needed for wine, the traders buy from different vineyards, and then blend the grapes. Jadot is one of the best names in France.

The Puligny is the village where most of the wines come from, which is in the Burgandy region. Montrachet is the name of one of the most famous vineyards in the world, which is located near the village. Were the grapes from this vineyard used in this wine? I’m going out on a limb and say, yes, probably. But not necessarily all of them, because of the fact that Louis Jadot is a trader. The Montrachet name means this is a Grand Cru wine – top of the line in France. In any other country in the world, this would be labelled a Chardonnay, since that’s the grape used in the wine.


reynvaan syrahNext up was a 2011 Reynvaan Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington State. Now I like Syrahs and Shiraz’s almost as much as I do Cabernet Sauv.s, but after this one, I think I may just abandon the Cabs entirely (okay, except for Bordeaux).

It was a medium to dark ruby in the middle, paler at the edges and is a wine that can stand aging in the bottle (says the Cellar Master). Because it comes from a cooler climate, the notes are spicier than a lot of Syrah grapes (I’m repeating what was said here – I wouldn’t yet know). But that was apparent in the nose and the tastes – intense spicy odours of pepper – Cecilia said white pepper, coriander aniseed and other dark spices. The better the grapes and the riper they are at picking, the less bell pepper and green notes it should have – and this didn’t have any bell pepper notes to it. The middle of the taste is very dark flavours, and it’s got a medium body. The tannins were finely balanced and strong, but not overpowering. What was interesting about it was how the nose changed over the period of about half to ¾ of an hour. At the middle of the tasting, the nose had moved over to thyme and oregano notes and then later, after the tasting, when we were talking to M. Cecilia, it had a strong “comino” scent. I think I tasted cumin, but don’t know if that’s the same word as her Argentinian name. Definitely something exotic and East Indian. (Later: comino is cumin, so my nose didn’t play me wrong – that’s what I thought it was, but couldn’t be sure if her word “comino” was the same spice.)

Oh, avoid having this wine with stinky-foot cheeses. Those are the soft Brie and Camembert type cheeses that have odd odours to them – my nose insists on relating them to stinky damp feet, so that’s what I call them. Anyway – they don’t work together at all!


heitz cabernet sauThird was a 2008 Heitz Traildside Cabernet Savuignon from Calfornia. Edge of the Napa Valley, touching another area that neither Al nor I remember. It’s both fermented in oak and aged for 3.5 years in oak. It’s a medium ruby in the middle, garnet on the edges and is one that can also be aged in the bottle. Beautifully balanced odours, a medium body, peppery but soft and subtle tannins – present but unobtrusive. Fruit forward – dark berry fruits – I got blackberry but didn’t taste the other fruits she mentioned. It’s a very limited run – only 9,947 bottles in this vintage and they are all numbered (our bottle was somewhere in the 3,000s).

I very much enjoyed it until after we tasted the last wine – and then, between the Syrah and the Super Tuscan, the Cab became very thin and vinegary. Odd.


solaiaNow, I’ve heard of Super Tuscans, and if I hadn’t tasted it, and had just listened to Madame Cecilia, I’d have thought “it’s amazing what marketing can do!”

If you know anything at all about the way wines are labelled in Europe – France and Italy, then skip this (or laugh at how I get it wrong, and yes, please let me know and we can laugh together at it over a glass of something nice). See, Super Tuscans came about because of the way in which Italy controls the quality and types of wines. Tuscany is in the Chianti area (I’m itching to find a map, which I don’t have here in the stateroom), and the wines from that area that get the highest designation – DOC & DOCG have to be 100% Sangovesie grapes. Anything else ends up as the lowest (table) or second lowest (IGT) quality designation.

Well, the Antinori family, (if you remember the Premium wine tasting and the Col Solare, a member of this family has paired with a Washington State winery, so experimentation and open mindedness seem to run in this family, which means both their wineries and our palates benefit!)who’ve been in the wine business since the 11th century, had an area of vineyards in Tuscany that held French grape varietals (varieties?) for experimental purposes. For family consumption, they’d cultivated a Cabernet Sauvignon that was amazing. One of the members of the family decided to release it to the general public, but because of the way in which Italy assigns quality, it had to take the IGT designation – the second lowest quality designation in Italian wines. (Later addition: according to my wine atlas, the original designation of this wine was even lower than that – the humble table wine designation! When it proved to be a massive hit, the Italian wine authorities moved it up. And it’s also loosened up and allowed some other varietals into the Chianti Classico – something unheard of until the Super Tuscans.) There were a couple of other families doing this as well (related to the Antinori family), and thus were born the super Tuscans. Like I said, if I hadn’t tasted the wine, I’d have thought – so you can market this well enough that a low quality wine can bring over $300.00 a bottle – nice going! Yeah, well. Read on and laugh with me.

Super Tuscans, I gather, are not pure grape varietals – they’re blended, like the Bordeaux wines. But according to the Cellar Master, each varietal is fermented and aged on its own, then they’re tasted and are blended depending on the results – so some years, the wine will have more Cabernet Sauvignon, other years, the Sangovesie or the Cabernet Franc will dominate. Whichever is the best quality in that year. The wines are aged 18 months in oak, but I’m not sure if that’s 18 months separately, then blended and aged again, or if the 18 months is split between the separate and the blended.

We had a 2009 Antinori Solaia that was 75% CS, 20% Sangovesie and 5% Cabernet Franc. It’s a dark, almost black wine, with a garnet edge and can stay in the bottle for 15 or more years. It’s got intense odours – fruit forward, followed by oaken notes, and the odours are jammy and marmaladey – rich and thick. I also got some liquoricey notes further down in the scents. It’s full bodied, velvety on the tongue, with a sunny, hot flavour/feel to it. There are strong spicy notes, strong, strong tannins, but a smooth, long finish. Really, really nice. It goes well with a Brie/Camembert type of cheese (I didn’t catch exactly which type) that almost made me enjoy the stinky-foot stuff. It also went well with the other, old whatever it was – cow’s milk, but I have no idea what. Not cheddar – but I don’t know what (Nice, though. I want more of it).

This was a wonderful way to end the series of wine tastings we’ve been at. Even though we probably won’t ever actually buy any of these (especially the Super Tuscan!) it was nice to see what really high quality wines taste like, and to look for less expensive ones that come close to this quality.

The time for the cruise to end is drawing near – we have one more port of call, and the day after that, we arrive in Fort Lauderdale. Bittersweet – I’ve loved the time out of time, when my entire life has been removed and nothing but the moment exists, but I’m also missing connections with my family and friends, the neighbourhood, church especially, and the usual, normal routine.

So the next stop is Half Moon Cay, which is leased from the government of the Bahamas by the Holland America line’s parent company, and is kept for the benefit of their cruise guests. Not sure how I’m feeling about it right now – part of me would rather just have another day at sea, but part is curious about just what a private island looks and feels like.

Then it’s into Florida and home!



Gracious and welcoming, but only if you’re rich.

The streets of the old city were narrow but it didn’t feel as if the buildings were looming over us or about to fall on us.


Neither did they feel crowded (in spite of the fact that it was also a holiday here, and so were more crowded than usual with sightseers, shoppers and people out enjoying their holiday.)


They felt enclosing and comforting – due no doubt to the fact that most of them were in shade! It was really hot! There were a number of squares in old city, all of which were open and airy and bright with grass, trees, bushes and statuary.


Balconies were everywhere, and so were plants – flowering plants and bushes on the balconies, and growing in pots in the courtyards and squares, and trees growing wherever there was room. There were lovely touches all over the walled city:

P1020143No practical reason for the decoration on the doors, it’s just to make it pretty.

P1020145Note the door in door – the big doors were for horses & carriages, the little ones for people.

Birds abounded – flocks of bright green parrots squawking overhead, pelicans everywhere near the water – they were like gulls here in Victoria – if there was water and people, there were pelicans. They even had statues of them along the waterfront.


We climbed on the bus for one more stop at an upscale (toursit) modern shopping complex in the “New City” in the Bocagrande which is the main tourist area of the city and then took a leisurely drive back to the ship along the waterfront.

I got the feeling over the course of the day that Cartagena is a city of extremes – there is a lot of wealth there – the construction going on and the prices of property in the old city (out of anybody but millionare’s ranges) says that lots of people do have money, and lots of it, but I could see poverty as well. I didn’t seem to see much in the middle. I’m assuming that the street vendors and the shop keepers in the tourist area of old city are not all that well off – with the street vendors, their wares weren’t handmade and we saw identical merchandise for sale regardless of where we were (I had to smile when one of the vendors selling unframed paintings tried to convince us he’d painted them all. Either he was lying or he could move really quickly, since I’d see the exact same “painting” back at the fort) which says there’s somebody organizing a lot of them, which means probably darn little of the money they earn ends up in their pockets. I got the feeling health and social services aren’t a high priority with the government. We passed two hospitals, one a civilian, the other military. All I can say is if I get sick in Cartagena, I hope they take me to the Naval hospital.

But there were lots of parks and sports fields, soccer, of course, and baseball, and lots and lots of wide open grassy areas that were well looked after and were being used. The beaches along the Caribbean were well populated and it looked like people were having lots of fun swimming, sitting, visiting and just enjoying the day. There’s loads of construction going on, and I had the impression of an prosperous, growing city. The neigbourhood immediately adjacent to the container port was gorgeous – full of large, gracious houses built in the early 20th century, with some wonderful 1920s and 30s Spanish architectural features. I half expected to see langourous women in cool cotton flapper dresses lounging on the porches with mint juleps and white suited men standing near them. We passed through another shopping area just inside the container port, with a sort of conservatory/gardens/zoo, and saw our first monkeys. No idea what type, but they looked like they’d love to get into the bus and wreak havoc. One is cute. Several aren’t quite as cute as they are threatening!

Cartagena is still an important port, and there are three open ports and over 40 private ports in the city. There’s lots of industry, a petroleum refinery, and Cartagena’s industry contributes 8% to the GDP, so why the impression of so much poverty? It’s something I don’t understand. Nice to have visited, but not a place I think I’d like to come back to.



Once we got back on board, it wasn’t long until supper – and a nice surprise was to have roast turkey on the menu, complete with all the trimmings. In honour of our Thanksgiving of course. We, really enjoyed it – but I’m sure the kitchen didn’t. As we were leaving the dining room, we happened to get into the elevator with one of the officers in charge of the kitchen, and he told us that they had only planned for approximately 200 turkey dinners, since that was about the number of Canadians on board. Instead, it was only 6:30 and they’d already had more than ¾ of the rest of the diners order the turkey. There was one more reserved seating, and open seating went on until 8:45. I wonder if they ran out?

Two at sea days coming up with one final wine tasting – a “super premium” tasting that I’m really looking forward to, and then we stop at Holland America Lines own private island – Half Moon Cay.



Gracious living, then and now.

We took a winding, scenic route to the old city, and the minute we could see in the walls, it was clear that there was no way the bus was going to fit into the streets. We’d be walking, which was just fine by me.


While the old city is walled and had cannon mounted at one time,


and is  a historical artifact in its own right (although not, like the fort, designated a world heritage site by the UN), it’s still in use, and cannonballs are now used for decoration rather than defense.


The walls, where the soldiers barracks used to be are now tourist stalls,


and we walked down past the stores and up onto the walls of the city, where we saw the guard kiosks.


Al and I were totally unprepared for the aggressive sales we found in Cartegana. Street vendors were all over the place, and while they respected your “no”, there were always more of them. And it is a bargaining culture – they offer $50.00 and you counter with $10 and worked your way to a compromise that satisfies both parties. We’re not bargainers, Al and I, and we were really uncomfortable with the fact that not only the street vendors were aggressive and bargainers, so were the propeitors of all the stores – we stopped in some of the more upscale tourist shops in the new city and found the same thing. They stand outside the stores, trying to talk customers in, and once you’re in, salespeople follow you around until you leave the store. When I tried to look at emeralds (to admire, not to buy, but boy, I saw some nice stuff!) I was shadowed by a clerk, who kept trying to show me things she thought I’d want. She wasn’t being rude or hard sell, she was just there, always, no matter where in the shop I went. Very disconcerting for me, since I don’t respond well to that kind of attention. And the prices weren’t fixed even in those stores – the listed price was a starting point.


But in old city, most of the shops were closed for the day and except for the street vendors, we were able to walk and look and listen to our guide describe the city, what it had been and what it was now. We saw the place Marlon Brando had stayed while filming in the old city back in 1968, and admired the feel, look and scents of the place. It’s a living museum. The buildings inside the walls are now hotels, condominiums, city administration buildings, shops, café’s and nightclubs, as well as churches and cathedrals, but the look and feel of the exteriors is preserved and it’s got a lovely, warm (that has nothing to do with temperature) charm.

P1020131This would be an upper class dwelling, as it’s three storied.








This is middle-class – two stories


And also middle class – two stories.

The area was originally divided into poor, middle-class and upper class buildings, and it was easy to tell which building fit into which class – single story buildings were for the poor, two story were for middle class and three were for the rich. Every residence had a walled courtyard, no matter how single story they were.

P1020146This used to be a private house, three storied, and is now a hotel. It’s an incredibly upscale area with condo units going for around $1M US or better. We’re looking through the entry into the courtyard. Directly across from the main entrance is the entrance to the stables, which formed one of the wings of the house – stable on the ground floor, living area above it and a private, walled garden of your own.

There had been a number of convents, monasteries and churches in the original city, all of which were either hotels or condominiums now. One is now a museum, and the city’s cathedral is also in old town.

P1020164St. Pedro Claver Church

We stopped at St. Pedro Claver Church, named for the local saint, who is known as the slave to the slaves, the Apostle of the Blacks and is the patron saint of seafarers. The church houses his relics and has the museum in the monastery attached to the church. The church building has been there since before St. Pedro’s time (he arrived in Cartagena in 1610 and died there in 1654) under a different name. It was renamed for him after his canonization in 1888. The courtyard (or cloister) was lovely – walled on one side with the monastery, and on the other by the church, it was shady, large and relatively cool. There were paths around gardens that housed palm trees and local plants (many of which we grow in tiny form as house plants – I saw sanseveria, coleus, and several other types I can’t name.) There were two street vendors with tame parrots – colourful fellows, who would sit on your arm for a fee. Right up until one of them tried to bite the fellow holding his mate!

We entered the San Pedro church and were able to get a look at St. Pedro’s relics. He was a Jesuit priest who made it his special mission to minister to the slaves of the area, and since Cartegana was such a major port, there were always slave ships bringing people from Africa to work in the mines in South America, or to be sold for transport to the Carribean and Central America. Ten thousand a year.

P1020174Altar in the far background, the relics are below it in a glass walled coffin.

He would climb into the ships and begin his work before they were even offloaded, and continued ministering to the slaves in and around the city for over 40 years. It’s estimated that he ended up baptizing over 300,000 people in his lifetime. When he visited slaves on the plantations and at the mines, he refused the hospitality of the owners and overseers and instead stayed in the slave quarters. Needless to say, he annoyed the local authorities (including his bishop), because he advocated for more humane treatment for the slaves, but city authorities bowed to popular demand and gave him an elaborate and public funeral.

The relics are housed beneath the altar in a glass sided coffin, and he’s robed magnificently – probably far more richly than he ever was in his lifetime, considering he died neglected, starved and beaten by the ex-slave sent to care for him in the last years of his life.

There was more to see and more to do – of which we’ll learn tomorrow, and we’ll find out what problems the kitchens on the ship had at dinnertime. In the meantime, enjoy the day!

Don’t look like a tourist.


I have to admit, I was a little nervous about visiting Cartagena after we received the security warning the night before we docked. The note didn’t say anything we didn’t already know, and the things they suggested should be standard procedure when you’re traveling. Don’t flash wads of cash, don’t wear lots of jewellery and be sure what you do wear isn’t ostentatious, try not to look like a tourist, look after your belongings and keep track of your handbags, cameras and other accessories.

We do that most of the time anyway – neither of us are big jewellery people, we never carry big wads of cash (at home or away), and whenever possible, I try to avoid carrying a purse or handbag (both at home and when I’m traveling – I hate having my hands cluttered up with stuff). We carry wallets in places it’s hard for other people to get to (or at least places that would look and feel really odd for some stranger to be groping into), and if we have the camera with us, it’s constantly in our hands.

But no other place had prompted the ship to issue a warning to us about potential problems in the places we visited, so I was a bit nervous. We were on an excursion, so I assumed we probably wouldn’t be assaulted or attacked outright (safety in numbers and that sort of thing) and we weren’t trying to get around the city on our own, either. Which actually turned out to be a good thing, since we docked at the container port, and as far as I knew, there were no really good ways to get into the city itself.

I was a bit more . . . cynically amused about the advice to try not to look like a tourist – I mean, really! That’s what we are. How can we not, when we’re not native to the place and don’t know the accepted dress or deportment? How can we not, when most of us are paler (or a lot redder) than the inhabitants, and what was most evident in Cartagena, we don’t sweat like them? Really. That should have been a dead giveaway to anybody wanting to prey on poor innocent tourists. It was amazingly hot that day, and within five minutes of walking anywhere, most of us were soaked with sweat – we looked as though we’d been trying out for wet T-shirt contests. Our guide and the local people around us were sweaty, yes, but it was dew on their faces, and the usual underarm circles, not like they’d just climbed out of the pool! Kinda hard not to look like a tourist when we’re dripping salty water everywhere we go!

P1020098I didn’t worry much about it once we’d met our guide and were on the bus heading into town. The trip was a historical tour through a city that was over three hundred years old by the time Victoria was settled by the Hudson Bay Company in 1848. Cartagena was founded in 1553 by the Spanish and before they figured out that maybe they needed some protection, the British managed to capture the city at least once (they tried tricking the governor out of it in 1568, but he didn’t fall for it). Sir Francis Drake took it in 1586, and the local governor ended up paying a humiliatingly large sum of money to get it back. Its location, value as a port and magnificent harbour ensured that Drake was neither the first, nor the worst of the city’s attackers.

P1020063So, they built San Felipe de Barajas Fort. It’s also known as a “castle” but it’s not really – I suspect that’s a misunderstanding. Yes, it’s Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, but not in the sense that we understand castle. This was pure and utter military defense.














Unless they were soldiers assigned to the place, nobody lived here – even the governor lived in the walled city itself. It’s built on a hill that overlooks the town (or the town as it was when it was built)

P1020092The old city – the part the fort was designed to protect is to the left of the large island in the middle foreground of the map. The island is known as Bocagrande (big mouth) because of the large opening to the harbour on its right. (The small opening on the left of Bocagrande is now built over by roads.)

and is riddled with tunnels designed for defense and to get from one part of the fort to another without the enemy seeing or knowing you’re there.


Attackers who tried to negotiate the tunnels ended up facing a barrage of gunfire with no ability to respond.


Can you imagine being an attacking soldier and having to go into that?







That tunnel slopes down. Defenders stand at the top of the stairs, firing down. When you’re in the tunnel, you can’t see the end of it, so can’t fire on the defenders.






Several of the tunnels had side gaps, kind of internal guard houses where defending soldiers would stand. If you had no light (we had electric lights, but I can imagine how dark it would be with candles or lamps) you would be shot dead without ever knowing what hit you.


There was a stretch in here with no light. I had to feel my way along, and just as the wall disappeared, our guide spoke from directly beside me. Had I been an attacking soldier, I wouldn’t have been aware of anyone there, or of the shot that killed me.






The view from the top of the fort is magnificent,


and I figure it’s only surpassed by the view from the monastery on the mountain further inland. (Still functioning as a monastery, by the way).

After spending part of the morning climbing, ducking through tunnels and generally having a wonderful time, we boarded the bus for a trip to the oldest part of the town, the part that the fort had been designed to protect.

P1020101 The low section of the city in the very far background is where we’re headed in tomorrow’s post, and the tall buildings on the extreme left background are on Bocagrande (also known as “New City”).