A Travellerspoint blog

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 4

Christmas in Curacao

sunny 26 °C

Waking up to the Captain gleefully welcoming everyone to Curacao bright and early Christmas morning is not exactly what I had imagined Christmas morning looking like, or rather sounding like. I guess strikingly blue waters and a fruit salad of buildings lining the coast is not a typical Christmas morning view out the window either. However, we did salvage some Christmas morning traditions. Marty's family does eggs benedict on Christmas morning and so we made it to the dining room for our one and only formal breakfast for delicious (although I'm sure the homemade stuff is better) eggs benedict.

Our excursion for the day was two-fold. Part 1: a mission to find working internet or telephones on shore to reach family back at home since the cruise internet was out and $8.00/minute seemed a little steep for international calls. After wandering the colorful and fairly lively streets of Willemstad, Curacao (filled mostly with cruisers like ourselves and less of the locals) we managed to find a phone in a hotel where I was promptly rewarded for such dilligent searching with about 25 mosquito bites. Awesome, but mission accomplished nonetheless.

Part 2 was a trip to the other side of the island, Curacao is the largest of the 3 ABC Islands, to check out the Hato Caves. We welcomed the break from the hot sun, a little history of Curacao and a chance to see all over the island as we drove out and back from the caves to port. Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can see why as you drive through. It has been hit by its fair share of tropical storms but the buildings are beautifully preserved, very colorful and lively and there has been a real effort to preserve the history of the Jewish community who settled there, the slave trade who passed through and/or worked there as well as the continuing relations with the Netherlands and the nearby Latin culture.

Before boarding the ship we sampled a few locally made beverages. While the Curacao plant (the manufacturer of that sweet bright blue liquor) was not on our tourist map for the day we did manage to sample locally made pistachio and banana cream liquors...Yuummmm! If we hadn't had too much to carry already and weren't trekking through the coffee region the following week, I would have bottles of that stuff! After tantalizing our tourist taste buds with local brews we hopped back on the boat to relax.

After a wonderful day, our evening performer left a little something to be desired. I know most shows on cruise ships have to be taken in with a grain of salt (or 5), but Christmas 2008 was really a test of how much you are willing to put up with. The star of the Christmas show was Charo! I had seen her on my last cruise performing the same show in the same red get-up (far left) and knew well enough to stay away. Marty had not been so lucky as to catch her so we popped in for literally 30 seconds, just enough time to hear a "cuchi, cuchi" and got the hell out. Wheew!

Posted by tuffchix 16:13 Archived in Netherlands Antilles Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 3

Aruba- Christmas Eve

sunny 26 °C

We arrived in Aruba Christmas Eve day and pulled up alongside tourists sunning themselves from their hotels' private beaches. From the ship we could see Aruba's colorful skyline that would characterize all of the islands in the Lesser Antilles. In Aruba though, we were going to be spending our day on the water. Thanks to Carla and Jerry (Marty's parents), our entire family was going out for a day of boating and snorkeling. The water only got clearer and more beautiful as we made our way through the ABC Islands, but Aruba's water was still wonderfully warm and clear. Of the two snorkeling sites we went to, the shipwreck was most definitely the best. It is a German ship who sailed into Dutch waters centuries ago. The Dutch gave the German ship's captain the option to leave the area or relinquish his ship to the Dutch. Not preferring either of those (the former because he didn't have enough supplies for the return, the latter I'm guessing is a pride thing), the captain evacuated his crew and sunk his own ship. No one died so there were no skeletons to see but the shallow waters meant that the ship's smokestack could be seen poking above the water and you could swim alongside the ship where lots of fish had made their home.

We sipped rum punch on the trip back to the cruise ship and though we had gotten poured on while boarding the catamaran that morning before heading out, we had warmed up, dried off and had a wonderful day out on the Aruban waters (Thanks again Carla and Jerry! Everyone had a great time!)

That evening while sipping after-dinner cocktails in the concierge lounge (only adding to the wonderful Christmas eve dinner we had just eaten) the carols started. Most of the cruise passengers were native Spanish speakers, so we got to sing 'Blanca Navidad' (followed shortly by its English counterpart 'White Christmas') as well as others in both English and Spanish for a truly bi-cultural Christmas. It was great to be with my family, but the rest of our families that couldn't be there were definitely in our thoughts that evening, we missed you all.

The night wrapped up with midnight mass (where the priest sang incredibly off-key and off-beat) but we got the point. Even though most of the mass was in Spanish, the unity and spirit of Christmas wasn't lost on anyone, English speaking or not. In a rare and often missed opportunity, everyone had come together to celebrate Christmas and even those who couldn't be there with us felt like they were there. While it felt different that most other Christmases for a myriad of reasons the rest of the time, in those treasured few minutes at mass, it wasn't so different after all.

Posted by tuffchix 08:35 Archived in Aruba Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 2

Colombia: Happy but Rum-less

sunny 28 °C

Ok, maybe not so much a party but a lot of QT with the fam and relaxation. My family arrived in Panama City on Saturday as well and it didn't take long to get into the groove of things. Dinner and taste testing some of the local fare, taking in the city's lights and seeing some of Panama City's claims to fame. We spent the morning checking out the Bridge of the Americas (the entrance to the Panama Canal from the Pacific side) and the Casco Viejo (old colonial part of Panama City) before heading to Colon (port town on the Caribbean side) to board the ship.

Once we had checked in, we boarded the Enchantment of the Seas, made our spa appointments (well I did, Marty opted for the more distinguished option of beers with my brother), discovered the Concierge Lounge which would be our saving grace (financially speaking) for drinks on board the ship, got oriented to the most important things (food, bars, and pools) and settled in for the week.

We left Colon, Panama that evening and headed for Cartagena, Colombia. Its one of Colombia's most beautiful cities in terms of Colonial architecture. We didn't get to the beaches here but walked atop the old city wall, visited the fortress- Castillo San Felipe- that used to defend Cartagena and Colombia from pirates (successfully too, as it was never sacked) and then off to the Palacio de la Inquisicion to learn about all sorts of Inquisition history, most notable the torture devices they used. The best part about this Palacio however, was the sloth in the banana trees in the courtyard! (Pictures coming soon)

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Cartagena walking the cobblestone streets (pictures really are worth a thousand words in this city, and most of the trip to be honest. When they are edited and up you can find them here), trying to stay cool by means of beer and ice cream.

Day 2 of cruising was spent in Santa Marta- another popular tourist destination on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Unlike Cartagena, the city of Santa Marta itself is not the gem that attracts people, but more the watersports, beaches, national parks and outdoor activities that surround the tropical city. We heeded the advice of our guidebook and Marty, Mike and I headed out to Taganga- a small town about 15 minutes outside Santa Marta famous for scuba diving and its beaches. We didn't have the whole day so we opted for snorkeling off the beaches of Boca Grande where clear waters yielded quite a few fish, shells, corals and the like for being so close to the shore. Despite our ambitious trek out to Boca Grande by taxi, then boat, then hiking along the rocks, our bigger mission was to get rum back on board. On the ship you can buy bottles of alcohol, but we discovered that you get them only when you disembark at the end of the cruise. It was no surprise that our volunteer salary really doesn't cut it for buying drinks at the shipboard bars so we were going to be resourceful. However our attempts at bringing rum aboard were squashed by the all to vigilant security at the boarding dock who knows this whole drill. Luckily, our Aguardiente did manage to slip through their system and the fam was able to sample Colombia's drink of choice (a anise flavored liquor that is taken in tiny shots).

At the end of the day we made it back on board, rum-less but just in time for the concierge lounge to open for happy hour so we couldn't be too upset. Every evening post-concierge lounge we made it to dinner for delicious food and a wonderfully entertaining waiter named Everton.

We would be sailing out of Colombian waters that evening and checking out the Dutch Lesser Antilles or the ABC Islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire (check out the pictures at http://beyondbogota.shutterfly.com/).

Posted by tuffchix 07:32 Archived in Colombia Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Holiday Hullabaloo: Chapter 1

They won't let us leave!

sunny 27 °C

Its been 3 weeks since we took off from Bogota to embark on a wonderful and much needed holiday break from The Bog. However, leaving Colombia is no easy task. It all started on Friday Dec. 19th- our last day in Bogota. We went to work, did very little other than eat loads of homemade Christmas cookies and fudge and attempted to cash our stipend checks- also not something that was in the cards for us. By the time we got out of the office all we wanted to do was to catch the last of the big city holiday cheer. Getting out and about not such a problem, getting home; a nightmare. No taxis, no buses, no Transmilenio in sight and miles (literally) of traffic. It was not the best way to finish up our 3 month run in Bogota but at least it would be a quick trip to Panama the following day, right? Wrong. At least we were able to salvage what was left of the evening with our 'apartment Christmas' including wine and The Christmas Story. I mean, how can the night not end well with visions of sugarplums and sounds of "You'll shoot your eye out" ringing in your head?

The call actually came on Friday to tell us that the flight we had carefully selected for the following afternoon to Panama had been canceled leaving us with no other option than to leave at 6am with layovers in Medellin and Pereira before even heading to Panama- WHAT??!!? By 4 am we were in the cab to the airport only to arrive at check in before 4:30 to be told that this particular airline doesn't open until 5am. During the holidays. For international flights. When all other airlines in the airport are open and processing their passengers for much later flights than 6am. By the time they opened a fairly large line had formed of anxious travelers. We checked our bags, had luggage claim tickets (which they do check here as you leave the airport), and boarding passes in hand when they remembered to ask if we had our vaccination records with us, as they are required for entry to Panama from Colombia. Shit. There was no mention in any confirmation email, website, or really anywhere in the process of buying these tickets that suggested we would need it for this trip. Shit. I had apparently shoved mine in with my passport and whatever other important documents we were carrying with us but Marty had left his at the apartment. The airlines proceeded to make some calls to customs in Pereira (the last city in Colombia we would be stopping at before leaving the country) to see just how necessary those vaccination records were. While a very nice employee was assuring us they were not all that important and we would still be able to travel, the airline agent was confirming that there was absolutely no way to get into Panama through Colombian customs without them. Shit. So to make a long and incredibly nerve-racking story a bit shorter in the 15 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave, Marty managed to beg the one open store in the airport to let us use their photocopier and with my vaccination records in hand, copied them, changed the names, dates, etc,. told the airline we had gotten someone to fax us Marty's real records (why they believed that makes no sense, exactly where would we be receiving faxes at this point?), and had a security guard escort us to the head of the lengthy security line for a flight we were told was ready to leave. Our flight was delayed for an hour.

It was the crazies run around at 5am we had ever participated in, not to mention the thoughts of 'we are not going to make our flight and there isn't another one today' and 'we are never going to make it to Panama or the cruise, or see my family' running through our head. Now we just had to hope anyone who checked the records didn't look to closely (or spill water on them washing away our 'corrections').

Three hours, and 2 flights later we arrived at customs, completely unpacked, unwrapped, described, explained and listed every single item we were traveling with, had our passports stamped, signed our name on the dotted line and boarded the last leg to Panama City. We arrived in Panama City, claimed our luggage, got the final stamp in the passport and were out getting a cab. WITHOUT EVER HAVING OUR VACCINATION RECORDS ASKED FOR, LET ALONE LOOKED AT!

Despite all their efforts to not let us leave, we managed to escape from Colombia. We made it safely to our hotel in Panama City where we went through a little 'reverse culture shock' at seeing such tall glittering ceilings, large comfortable couches, cable television, fitted sheets and other modern luxurious amenities the Marriott can provide. We kicked off the shoes and sat poolside in the glorious tropical weather sipping orange/lime water waiting for my family to arrive. It was officially vacation.

Posted by tuffchix 06:48 Archived in Panama Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Giving Thanks

A cross-cultural eating extravaganza!

rain 8 °C

Our travel has taken a little hiatus until the Christmas holidays. Since Medellin we have really felt the weight of true office work. Except for a few fairly frustrating days with a groups of unresponsive and spoiled 8 and 9 year olds out at our paradise of a camp, Bochica, we have been hammering away to the sound of protesters, car alarms, bus brakes, ruthless honking and the tap-tap of computer keys. Its not as exciting as it sounds, don't worry. However, this past week has been particularly eventful as we celebrated Thanksgiving and went to our first 'asado' (Colombian BBQ).

My friend Cody was here visiting for a few days last week and we were able to get some practice in as tour guides here, and we needed it. You could call it an adventurous weekend starting with a late night turned into long morning suffering the wrath of an ironically named drink called a "Be Happy". We checked out the local version of the Exploratorium called "Maloka" where we made wine (funny how I had to travel 3000 miles from my hometown in the CA wine region to make wine), and did a bunch of other nerdy stuff before walking miles to the nearest Transmilenio stop.

Last weeks reprieve turned into frustration with the rowdy group at camp and I wouldn't go so far as to say it settled down as I would it got much better! We didn't find out until Wednesday morning that the second camp we were supposed to be doing this week on Thursday and Friday was canceled due to washed out roads. Welcome to the Jungle! Not having had plans for Thanksgiving, we threw around a few ideas until it was decided (at 1pm on Thursday, mind you) that Thanksgiving for 12 would be at casa de Marty and Monica. We rushed out of the office a couple hours early to pick up whatever Thanksgiving items we could. Turkey- not so much an option here until Christmas, and even then its pricey so we went with chicken. Its the only whole bird that fits in our toaster oven anyway. Sides of mashed potatoes, gravy, a few pieces of sliced turkey resembling olive loaf a co-worker managed to find, homemade cornbread, raviolis- Marty's family's tradition, and green bean casserole with homemade "French's" onions (Campbells cream of mushroom soup was a stretch, there was no way we were going to find those tasty fried onion things that go on top) and all topped off with a pumpkin/apple tart. Wine and champagne on to wash it down. We really represented for the Americans treating our guests to their first Thanksgiving and I believe they are all currently planning their trips to the states next year!

In exchange for Thursday's buffet (and to celebrate some birthdays and the end of a long year at the Y) our boss, Alveiro, invited us and the rest of the office over for a real Colombian BBQ at his place. It was nice to hang out with our co-workers outside of the office and do a little taste-testing of the local fare. On the list of things we reconginzed: Carne (meat in thin and huge steaks), mazorca (corn on the cob done on the grill), chorizo (spicy sausage), potatoes (boiled and salted- like what they would be before you cut and dress them for potato salad), guacamole, pico de gallo, and beer. Things that I recognized and I would have rather not: Murcillo (blood sausage- not good no matter how you cook it), and Chunchillo (intestines of some kind filled with something even grosser). Of those 2, Murcillo I had tried in Spain and knew better than to go down that road, Chunchillo was new to me. I tried it. It now tops the list as the grossest thing either of us have eaten, follow closely by the hormigas culonas (ass ants). Now, I could just finish there with that image in your head. Mmmmm, yeah, that's right, intestines. But, out of pity, I'll move on.

The asado ended with cake, dancing and the watching of Shakira music videos (the Colombians love their Shakira) which is when we took our cue to take off. Back at home we settled in for an evening of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, our official kick-off of the holiday movie season.

After getting to celebrate with friends and the closest thing to family we have here, it reminded me of everyone I love and miss at home, but it also made me think about all the things I am so lucky to be able to have and do here. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I owe many thanks to all the people who got me/us here and for everyone and everything (ahem, Skype) the keeps me sane and connected. It really is an amazing to get to come see another country for all that it is and then some, and I really do appreciate all the opportunities I have here. While I could definitely leave behind the smog, crowded transportation, often insane work schedule and general unease of living in a foreign city, I would be neglecting so many of the reasons I came here and ultimately the things that keep me going here. So cheers to all, near and far; to all the things we came "here" for, all the things that keep us "here" and the little something extras we get on top; Happy Holidays!

Posted by tuffchix 18:54 Archived in Colombia Tagged events Comments (0)

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