Wandering Around the Tropics with my New Ankle

Approaching Cartagena by sea.
Cartagena, Colombia

It all went swimmingly; one way to characterize the cruise which for whatever reason seems apt. The first days traversing the Caribbean from Florida to Colombia were rough. The first big show was cancelled for the safety of the dancers.

The Emerald Princess is a big stable ship, the entertainment first rate, so it was disappointing missing out on a big production show. I though, had no problem walking the rocking, rolling and lurching decks in sandals on my new ankle.

Exercising in the gym was a challenge though. I vowed religious devotion to the continued improvement and strengthening of my ankle. It has now been three months since ankle replacement surgery. The slow rolling ship gave me greater confidence in the stability of my new InBone2 total ankle replacement and my balance.

The Colonial Streets of Cartagena

The colorful Getsemani neighborhood in Cartagena.
Getsemani Neighborhood, Cartagena
The colorful Getsemani neighborhood in Cartagena.
The Ice Cream Shoppe

The first port of call was Cartagena. We booked a tour of the colonial center. As a precaution I wore hiking boots despite the heat. There was no point risking a turned ankle on the cobbled streets or a cut from some unseen glass or metal. Infection still poses a danger to a total ankle replacement.

The tour moved along quickly and was the most walking I have done in a long while. The Gethsemane neighborhood is an old bohemian/artsy part of the city. Beautiful murals, colorful houses and narrow streets provided me ample opportunities for photography. 

In Centro Cartagena, Colombia
Colorful mural in Getsemani
Expat-owned high-rises along Cartagena's waterfront.

Traversing the Panama Canal

The next day’s traverse through the Panama Canal offered other challenges. I’ve never been a fan of standing for long. During the transit I was on my feet a lot as we moved slowly from lock to lock; watching the water flow in, the ship ponderously rise, the gates open and then the painstaking, gradual movement into the next chamber; all very fascinating.

Leaving the Gatun Locks in Panama
A “Neo”, the largest of container ships exiting the locks heading east into Gatun Lake.
Gatun Locks
Looking Back Toward the Caribbean After Entering the Second of the Gate Locks.

My feet felt it but my ankle didn’t. Prior to ankle replacement surgery I couldn’t stand long without pain.

A tug maneuvering our ship through the Gatun Locks.
One of the tugs keeping us straight while slowly pulling us through the locks.
The gates of the third Gatun lock close behind the ship.
Approaching the Culebra Cut.
Approaching the Culebra Cut, the most difficult and deadly section of the canal to construct.

In the gym the following day, a day at sea, I met a guy doing balancing exercises and found out he’d had ankle surgery just before the cruise. We exchanged stories about our functionality making me happier still that I had elected for a full ankle replacement.

Seeing Friends in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica

The next day was a stop in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. This was our third time in Costa Rica, a stunning, beautiful country of active volcanos and warm-hearted people. A Welsh expat friend and his Tico girlfriend met us and took us exploring for the day; a special privilege few people on the ship enjoyed. Many took tours to the cloud forests around the Arenal volcano, a trip requiring a four hour drive each way on Costa Rica’s notorious roads only to see a cloud-shrouded mountain if that.

Our Tico friends

San Juan do Sur, Nicaragua

The following day found us only a bit north in the small coastal Nicaraguan town of San Juan do Sur. This would have been the terminus to the proposed Nicaraguan canal, a much debated alternative site to Panama. The small bay was lined with a beautiful beach filled with bars, restaurants and hotels. 

The streets were cobbled and the sidewalks broken making walking challenging. I met a couple from the cruise, she being pushed with difficulty in a wheelchair by her husband. She had both legs wrapped in walking boots like the one I had recently worn. She’d had Achilles tendon surgery on both legs a couple months before. No thank you.

Again, I felt fortunate to have had such a relatively easy time with my ankle replacement and to be so well recovered that walking these broken streets presented no problem.

The bay of San Juan do Sur, Nicaragua
Dancers entertaining upon disembarking
Sunset light illuminates the bay of San Juan do Sur, Nicaragua

Huatulco, Mexico–A New Destination for American Expats

The next and final week of the cruise was pleasurable and uneventful. We wandered around Huatulco, a lovely Mexican town in the southern state of Oaxaca. I had lived in Mexico for several years back in the 1980’s and had acquired many beautiful crafts. Anytime I’ve been to Mexico since I’ve found the quality and creativity lacking. In Nicaragua we bought crafts that were unique and creative, much better than what I’ve seen lately in Mexico.

The port of Huatulco, Mexico
The port of Huatulco, Mexico
La Crucecita church in Huatulco, Mexico
La Crucecita Church

I continued to workout every day in the gym. Lord knows, I had to work off the calories from the buffets. In Puerto Vallarta we didn’t bother getting off the ship. We’d been there several times and weren’t interested in braving the crowds and traffic.

Back in the USA

On February 1st we arrived in Long Beach, rented a car and drove to San Diego. We had left our car at my mom’s house before flying to Florida for the cruise. There was work I needed to do for her that I had begun the previous September a couple weeks before ankle replacement surgery.

It involved cleaning things out and carrying heavy boxes up and down stairs as I had done prior to getting my new ankle. This was an excellent before and after test.

This being the beginning of the pandemic, we saw that our sister ship, the Diamond Princess, had over 700 confirmed cases of coronavirus and been forced into quarantine in Japan. All passengers and crew had to remain on board for the next 3-4 weeks. 

Their cruise began only three days after ours. It was clear how fortunate we had been. I can’t imagine being quarantined in our small inside cabin for weeks.

Work at my mom’s went well. My ankle performed beautifully. Four months before each step was painful. I had to stop every couple of hours to elevate my ankle, rub in CBD ointment and take another acetaminophen, This time I worked longer, without pain killers, without CBD ointment and without pain.

I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to have Dr. Clanton of The Steadman Clinic perform a total ankle replacement with the InBone2 device.

Three Month Check Up at Four Months

I made an appointment to see him for my already-passed three month check up. Upon returning to Colorado they x-rayed my total ankle replacement. Dr. Clanton manipulated my ankle and declared everything aligned, stable and working as it should. “Come back around the one year anniversary.”, he said

I queried him about limitations and how much I could push things. He declared as before, no jumping, no playing basketball and no skiing bumps. Otherwise he said, “Let pain be your guide. If something hurts, back off or stop doing it.” So far I’ve had to do neither.

Dennis Jones www.dreamcatcherimaging.com