October 7th, 2009

bundled up, walkabout, snow

Panama Canal Crossing

Written on Tuesday night -

This morning, Flar was up with the dawn. I know, because he pointed out the sunrise over the Pacific. There's this kink in the continent that make the ship actually travel in an easterly direction to cross from the Pacific to the Caribbean. I took a picture of sunrise, but I was too sleepy to get enrobed and sit outside to watch the workings of the locks. Flar recorded much of it on his video camera, and I watched the ship channel on the TV while I was half drowsing in bed. A team of pilots came aboard the ship before we approached the first lock. They took over control of maneuvering the ship, and they also provided narrative about what was happening.

After we were through the first lock, Flar and I headed up to breakfast in Cagney's. The buffet was already closed down, but our server was kind enough to bring us the fruit we would have gotten from it, along with our menu orders.

After breakfast, Flar relaxed in the sun while I stood in the line for Canal souvenirs. There was a Buy 2 Get 1 Free sale on the t-shirts, so I picked out three, then I also picked out a photo album, key chain and nail file. We came back to the room and lazed a bit, then Flar lay down for a nap while I went to the pool. I got one of the airbrush tattoos that they've been offering poolside, sloshed around in the pool and then read in the sun for about 45 minutes.

Then I went to Bar City to participate in the indoor putting and bocci games. For putting, our target was a foam soda can holder, and it was hard enough to get the ball into it without either moving the whole target or have the ball roll back out. Our champion was a sweet lady from the Big Island in Hawaii.

I'd never played Bocci before, so I was really looking forward to it. The ball rolls fast on carpet, but I kind of got the hang of how much to put into the roll. Our team played pretty well, but at the end of it, the winning team was made up of an older woman who'd played Bocci in her youth and the Australian crewman running the game. Apparently lawn bowling is a family sport in Australia.

Flar and I met in the Great Outdoors for a late lunch, and watched as the ship cleared the last lock and sailed away from Panama. Then we went back to the cabin to relax and nap. Once we got all dressed for dinner, we went first to the casino. Flar handed me one of his $100 chips from his first night of gambling, and we sat down at the Roulette Table. I got mine in dollar chips, to spread out over the numbers, and Flar got his in $5 chips, to bet around the outside. I started out betting the 5-6-8-9 corner, the 16 and the 25, for our wedding anniversary and my birthday, and the very first roll was 25. Whee! As time went on I varied my numbers a bit. First to 2-5. 9-12, 16, 25, adding in Flar's birthday, then to 2-5, 9-12. 16. 25-26-28-29, adding in our first date, and finally 2-3-5-6. 8-9-11-12, 16 & 25-26-28-29, adding in the boy's birthdays. I hit on everything but the 16 (well, duh - but that's a different tale). But when I say I hit on the rest, I mean, I was winning more often than I was losing. When I got about $29 ahead, and I'd won several in a row, Flar suggested we call it an evening, so we did. It turned out I won about $8 more than Flar lost, so we more than broke even as a pair for the night.

I learned something on the cruise that I've never understood before about why Flar likes to gamble. For him, it's about the people energy surrounding the table. The more people that are playing, the more he enjoy the game, because he's participating in a group cheering and railing etc. about the roll of the dice or the wheel. Several times now, he's passed by the craps or roulette tables when they were open, but there was no one playing. He says it's no fun to be the only player at the table. It turns out that the enjoyment that Flar gets out of gambling is very similar to the enjoyment I get out of bowling or the silly games I've been playing in Bar City. It's all about social camaraderie.

We sat in Bar City awhile before dinner. Flar had a scotch and I tried the Neon martini. It had vodka, blue curacao and white creme de menthe in it, and it tasted like spearmint, a very icy minty flavor. We sipped and we talked and we just enjoyed being with each other.

We ate dinner in the Garden Café tonight. Their dinner offerings include the simple and the elaborate. The food I had was quite tasty and I barely scouted out a quarter of the buffet. For dessert, I got a fresh strawberry crepe with whipped cream. Yummmm.

We returned to the cabin for an early evening. Tomorrow, we're docking in Cartegena, where I'm going to throw myself into a bubbling volcano. In the evening, I'm looking forward to the reception to celebrate taking onboard Colombian emeralds. My bowling partner Danni, who works in the ship store, tells me there will be green champagne at the reception. Who can resist?
bundled up, walkabout, snow

Cartagena

Our ship was scheduled to be cleared by 10am, so there was time for me to have a leisurely breakfast before getting ready for the Big Adventure™. Flar slept in, to store up energy. The going ashore guidelines for Cartagena recommended bug spray as well as the normal sunscreen, so one Flar and I were all ready to go, we took turns spraying each other. I used the DEET-free Buggs Spray that I have, since I didn't expect to encounter clouds of biting menaces. Buggs Spray smells of peppermint and other herbs, so it's not unpleasant to wear all day. Flar's spray from Brazil doesn't smell too bad, either.

We had our pick of seats on the bus, so we decided to sit on the raised back seat. We were joined by a trio from Brazil, and Flar enjoyed brushing off his Portuguese. I could even converse a little -- especially since they were all fluent in English. :)

Cartagena is a walled city that was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. The walls were constructed in reaction to sieges; the most famous was led by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The Spaniards used Cartagena to store gold and emeralds from the interior of Colombia, which was the target of the sieges. Drake accepted a 10 million peso ransom for not burning the city. King Felipe II ordered the wall to be built, and it was finished in 1686. The first stop on our tour was the fortress of San Felipe.

We then drove and drove and drove to reach the Mud Volcano. It is a natural formation, formed just like the cone of a lava volcano. But, instead of molten rock, the mound is formed from dried mound that bloops up over time. The approaching road has tiny versions of the mud volcano forming along one side. The volcano has been domesticated by the addition of two staircases, and a wood structure capping the crater, to provide ladders and footing for getting in and out of the mud. The steps leading up the volcano where carved out of the natural slope, and look to have been helped out with some concrete here and there. The railings look rickety, but they are quite sturdy, and a comfort, since the volcano is about 50 feet high. The higher steps are quite steep, but Flar and I both made it up them.

Flar only came up the mound to be my cameraman. This was my favorite excursion from all the ones offered through NCL, and he was a true hero to accompany me. He didn't get into the mud because of his catheter. Even aside from the mud itself, he's been cautioned against swimming in fresh water lakes -- which is where the rinsing is done.

The mud itself was wonderful. It was a dull grey color, but the texture was rich and smooth. The mud is thick enough that it is very difficult to sink down into it. Another lady and I were trying to get down past our shoulders -- I tried doing reverse pull-ups using one of the railings, but I wasn't strong enough to force myself that far down. Most people were turned all the way onto their backs, but I was working on keeping my ears out of the mud. I managed to develop a kind of mud-paddle, similar to pedaling an upright bicycle. I found I could even steer my way around in the mud.

Going back down the mound was a greater adventure for me than climbing up. Even though I'd sloughed off most of the excess mud, I was very aware of the risk of slipping. I relied on the railings, especially the vertical supports, almost like walking canes. Once I got down to the ground level, the soil was very very hot. We had turned in our shoes and towels at the foot of the mound, and rather than return them there, they had carried them down to the fresh water lake for us. I couldn't take the heat, and could barely take the pebbles, when I wimped out and limped over to stand on a porch in the shade. A very generous man who worked there loaned me his sandals to walk down to the lake.

At the lake, there were ladies with bowls who helped us down to the water and then rinsed us. They had us sit down, and then used the bowls to pour rinsing water over us while we wiped the mud away. My lady even peeled down my bathing suit top to get to the mud that was under it, and to rinse out the suit. A man on the bus said his lady had him hand her his suit to rinse while he rinsed himself. Once we were all rinsed off, our shoes and towels were in the shade, and a lady next to the shoes would rinse off our feet before we donned our shoes.

After all was said and done, we ha a nice bus ride back into town, where we stopped at a souvenir shopping area. I found some bags decorated with the cutwork style that Flar had found in Panama, so I was very pleased to buy myself a new wallet/purse while I picked out souvenirs for the boys and Mom. Flar stayed on the bus for a short siesta while I shopped.

We arrived back at the ship around 2:30 or so. Flar let me shower first to get the missed mud out of my hair, and then he showered to get the mud spatter off of his legs. When I had my 20-20-20 at the spa the other day, I'd bought a bottle of oil and a tube of gel that work together to do wonder for achy muscles, and I treated myself to a foot rub.

Now I'm all refreshed for our evening onboard.