By Jan Chait
Last week, I told you the frustrating side of my Panama Canal cruise. Was there a good side? You betcha! For one, I saved up enough spare change to get myself a pretty decent emerald pendant. Some of the world’s finest emeralds are mined in Colombia, and I wasn’t about to leave the country without one.
I’m sitting in a cab outside of Pierino Gallo, just a couple of blocks from the now-famous (or infamous) Hotel Caribe. That’s where the Secret Service met the prostitutes, as you may recall. I’m there to buy an emerald, but why am I not in the building, which houses one of Cartagena, Colombia’s, premier emerald dealers? It’s a two-story building with no elevator, and the store is on the second floor so, via e-mail, I’d arranged with the owner to have the store come to me.
A man kneeling beside me is showing me trays of emerald jewelry as street vendors, tourists and sight-seers mill about. Finally choosing a pendant, I pull out my wallet and count out the cash to pay for the piece of jewelry. I hand over one wad of cash and peel off bills from another wad to add to it.
The emerald guy takes the trays and my money and goes back into the building. My traveling bud follows him. The cab driver follows her. Leaving me — the person who’d just flashed a wad or two of money — at the mercy of potential banditos. And I couldn’t roll up the windows and lock the doors because I was in the tropics and would have melted. Surely you don’t believe the driver left the keys so I could run the air conditioner! At least he parked the car in the shade.
Luckily, no robbery occurred, but I was mobbed by every street vendor in the city who undoubtedly noted that I had money — albeit less than pre-emerald purchase. “Tablecloth, lady?” Nope. Got plenty of those at home. “Necklace?” Nope. “T-shirt? Grande!” the t-shirt dealer said with a bright smile as he held his hands in front of his chest to indicate big boobs. No, no, no.
This was my first cruise without going on a shore excursion. In fact, I only went ashore in Cartagena. For Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Mexico, I stayed on the ship. In two places, the ship didn’t dock at the pier. Instead, it laid anchor and tendered — or ferried — people from the ship to shore and back on small boats. I decided I couldn’t handle steps or small boats bobbing up and down, much less both at once.
Aside from that, there was a lack of shore excursions that were wheelchair (or scooter) accessible. One I saw that looked particularly tempting did not have accessible transportation to the site, plus it was at a tendered port. Shore excursion books don’t tell you these little things. If you have mobility problems, contact your cruise line’s shore excursion department and ask to speak to its accessibility expert. That’s how I found out about the inaccessible transportation to and from the site.
We went to two places in Mexico. One was tendered. I was going to get off the ship in the other place — until I looked and saw…Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and a Galleria. “Looks like home to me,” I said to myself. “So much for unique native crafts.”
There’s plenty to do on a ship, from gyms and spas to lectures, movies, shows, tai chi on the deck, and demonstrations. I attended some lectures, saw a couple of recent-run movies, got a much-needed haircut, and took steel-drum lessons. (For real. Hey! I was a music major in college!) I’m not ready to join a Caribbean steel-drum band, but I can now play “Happy Birthday” on one of those suckers.
My favorite act was a ventriloquist sans dummies. The airline lost his carry-on luggage with his act in it. Yes, I said CARRY-ON luggage. That airline must have magicians to make carry-ons disappear. At any rate, the performer used people from the audience for his dummies. It worked.
And, of course, you can eat. You can eat yourself into oblivion if you want. Some people do, figuring it’s paid for, you may as well get your money’s worth. I did that the first couple of times, then got over it.
What I like to do with food on cruises is try new things and try things I don’t particularly like. For example, I’m not a big fish person. I grew up inland and, frankly, Mom couldn’t cook fish worth a darn. I remember being at a bat mitzvah on the coast and sitting next to the hostess when a plate of fish was placed in front of me. I had to eat it. Was it good! I wanted to lick the plate and ask for more! Fresh fish, well-prepared, is yummy! So I eat fish on cruises. I even ate some salmon, which is not usually a favorite, even on cruises. Yum!
I piled my plate with vegetables; vegetables I was familiar with, vegetables I’d never had, and vegetables prepared in ways I hadn’t tried. I became a Swiss chard fan.
Meals were generally topped off with a scoop of sorbet. Once there was an apple something-or-other. Another time I had oatmeal-raisin cookies. I skipped the chocolate extravaganza.
Consequently, my glucose stayed in range pretty much all of the time, although I did have one day where I ran high. As it turned out, I had lost track of the days (easy to do on vacation) and had kept my infusion set in too long. The problem was exacerbated when I topped off the insulin in my pump instead of taking the time to change the tubing and reservoir. Once I did a total change-out, my numbers came right down. Betcha I won’t do that again! (I’m not perfect, but I do learn from my errors.)
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Jan Chait: Jan Chait was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in January 1986. Since then, she has run the gamut of treatments, beginning with diet and exercise. She now uses an insulin pump to help treat her diabetes. (Jan Chait is not a medical professional.)
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