Friday, April 22, 2011

The Island Princess cruise ship

14 days on a ship, rooming with your Dad.  Don't you wonder how that might turn out?  I did.  It was fine. We are good travel companions, perhaps because he trained me (LOL).

Here are a few pictures of our room, pictures from the balcony and around the ship.  I LOVED this ship and would gladly sail on it again.

Our room mailbox and address label.


Dad in our room, Caribe 319, starboard side.   Life jackets on the bed as we are getting ready to go to our muster drill the first day.  Also, bed will be made into twins that evening.

See, it's all good.  The beds were made with just a comforter with a duvet cover, no flat sheet.  At first I thought that was weird, but I took to it quickly.  It ended up to be just perfect.

This was our walk-in closet.  Just to the left in the photo was a floor to ceiling shelved cabinet and farther left the bathroom door.  This floor plan worked out well.  We used the floor of the closet for storage that we wouldn't have had if the closet had been designed in a closed fashion.

Here's a view from our balcony as we are leaving port in Florida, Port of the Everglades.  The balconies below us were completely uncovered, ours was half covered.  The balconies above us were smaller (could only hold 2 chairs and a table vs 4 chairs and a table) and were completely covered.  I think ours was perfect.

If I couldn't find Dad in the Horizon Buffet dining room at lunch, I often took lunch back to the room and ate on the balcony.  The Lido deck was up 52 stairs, which I tried to take as often as possible.

This is the atrium of the ship.  If you come across this feature, that you can reach on decks 5, 6, and 7, you know you are mid-ship.  Our dining room, the Bordeaux Dining Room, was deck 5 and to the left. Guest services and the tour desk were in the area also. The ship shopping is on deck 6.  The Crooners Bar (piano bar) and the Churchill (cigar smoking) room were on deck 7.  Also surrounding the atrium on various decks were the Card room (games and cards), the Library (books for loan, quiet reading, daily suduko and brain teasers), and the Casino. Many ship activities took place here, including: formal night photos, live music, cocktail and culinary demo's (fruit and ice carving), cocktail parties.

 This is a bad picture of the "Movie Under the Stars" picture screen on the Lido deck, near the Lido pool.  Perhaps I have a better photo......

If there wasn't a live band playing on the Lido deck, there was something showing on the screen.  Sometimes it was pretty nature photos, but usually a movie or a concert.  You could easily watch a movie while swimming in the pool.  I preferred the 10 pm movies, mostly because the time didn't conflict with other activities.  You could buy candy, but a cart would come around and offer free popcorn before the movie started.  If you wanted to get up and get a refill, it was unlimited.  At the half way point a cart would come around with milk and cookies.  Wool blankets were available in case the wind caused too much of a chill.
This is the passengers vs cruise staff volleyball championship game.  I knew the lady serving.  This was taken just after we left Cabo San Lucas.

I took this picture from the Sun Deck (deck 15) looking down on the Lido deck.  This was the "Ultimate Deck Party" and cruise staff (first row from the right side of the photo) are leading passengers in a line dance.  This area is usually filled with lounge chairs and Movie screen is just barely visible at the top left of the photo.  This is also where our Zumba class was held in morning.  The railing closest to the bottom of the picture is surrounding one of the two hot tubs near the Lido pool.

This is part of the Sun deck, looking towards the hills of Acapulco.   The ship appears empty because many people are off ship on tours.  We ate lunch here this day, trying to find a breeze to cool us off.  Hot, hot, hot in Acapulco!

This is deck 7, The Promenade.  This deck became one of my favorite places to hang out.  Here you can see some of the morning walkers doing laps.  I tried to walk every day.  This deck is the only one that you can walk unobstructed around. 2.8 laps equals a mile.  I didn't count laps, just put time in.  I like this deck because it's outside, without glass panels between you and the ocean. It's close to the water which makes it a great place to look for wildlife and feel the breeze.  These deck chairs are the most comfortable and once I got one, I didn't want to leave.

Unless I'm cold, I don't hang out in the sun.  I moved from port to starboard, depending on where the shade was.

After walk on the promenade, near dawn in the Pacific.  We changed our clocks back and forward a few times.  One day on the Pacific sunrise wasn't until 7:41am.

This picture is provided by Princess, of the Lotus pool area.  It's enclosed and air conditioned.  There are lounge chairs around the outside that look out through floor to ceiling windows, lovely!  This pool also has a slight current, and 2 hot tubs.  The ice cream station is just to the left.  Ping pong tables are upstairs.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Very Short Visit to Melbourne Beach, Florida

I'm finally catching up on photos of our trip.  I will definitely will try to add photos as I go next time.   Also, I'm going to summarize instead of narrate.  Wow, some of those posts were long.

Back to Florida: While reviewing the photos I remembered how much I liked the area.  I can't wait to visit again.  Besides the beautiful area, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Dan are fantastic people.  I loved listening to my Aunt Mary talk.  Her accent reminds me of family and time spent in Illinois, especially of my Grandma Haskins.

Getting the Hobie kayaks into the Indian River.  Sometime around 8:45am on the 29th.

Dad getting the hang of pedaling the kayak.

I really wanted to see some manatees, but this was as close as I came.

Uncle Dan and Dad heading out of the canal, into the Indian River.  This canal is a private waterway used by people who live on either side of it.  Kinda of a "alley" waterway.  While taking this photo, one of the many jumping fish almost landed in my kayak and a snake swam through the water just in front the guys boats.

Yep, life is good!

Uncle Dan, Dad and Aunt Mary on their driveway, getting ready to walk to the beach.

Dan and Mary at the beach. A very short walk from their house.

Shells were everywhere on the beach.  So many, and most of them were still whole.  I found a very large shell on the way back.  It must have just appeared, because I didn't see it the first time by.

Dad and Uncle Dan

Aunt Mary and Dad.  What a great day on the beach!

Cool birds (Ibis?), we don't have these in Oregon.  

A whole bunch of brown pelicans doing a fly-by

The four of us in Mary and Dan's house.

Aunt Mary has a painting studio in her house. So beautiful!

She paints beautiful paintings too.

The enclosed pool and garden is very refreshing.  Wonderful place for drinks and conversation.
I wish we could have had more time with Dan and Mary, I don't get to see my Dad's side of the family often enough and enjoy reconnecting with them.  

Friday, April 15, 2011

Back Home

I'm back home and continuing to unpack.  I took way too much crap.  Just the right amount of clothes, but the other stuff....TOOO much.

Still battling a lower GI bug, and the "non-motion" of land.   I think if the land would move a bit I'd feel better, it's almost like vertigo.  Never had this feeling before.

Anyway, I'll finish up the posts fromt he the trip and add pictures too.  I think I'll show the pictures separate from their original post dates, it will be easier to follow that way.
In the meantime, I tested out posting video's and added a monkey video to the bottom of the April 7-8th post.  Check it out.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April 11th -- Sea Day

Monday April 11th, 2011 -- Sea Day. 
Day 12 of the cruise.
Miles sailed from Fort Lauderdale: 3881.5 nautical miles
N.M. sailed from Acapulco: 532.2
Woke up to darkness at 0700 hrs.  Not used to it still being dark at this time of morning.  The day was markedly cooler, with very little humidity.  The wind blew fairly strong all day, so that our supposed high temp of 87 degrees felt more like 75 degrees in the sun and 55 degrees in the shade.  I guess they are weaning us off of the heat and humidity.
Now, 9:02 pm, the outside temperature is 70.9 degrees, 82% humidity (really?!) and 17 knot wind from the NW.  The ocean is choppy tonight, yet the ride is not bad.
Today I had happy feet.  I popped out of the cabin early and walked for 45 mins before meeting Dad for breakfast.  After breakfast I practiced some karate on the balcony, but I felt more like dancing.  I ran back up to the Lido deck and joined the Zumba class just after their warm up song.
I spent some time on the deck sunning with Dad, browsed the library, tracked down a Russian and then doodled.  Our head table waitress, Natalya, is from the Ukraine and her native language is Russian.  I asked her to teach me a Russian word that would be easy to say.  She taught me “pre-vee-ette” (that’s phonic spelling), meaning “Hello” to a casual friend.  I say it to her when I see her in the morning and at dinner.  Angelina Jolie says it in the movie SALT when she greets Erik when she meets him before the boat ride.  I am making her a little thank you card and wanted to put some Russian on it, including “pre-vee-ette”, so I needed to find a crew member to write it out for me. It didn’t take long to find someone to write out “pre-vee-ette” and “Thank you friend”.  What took a long time was me copying what was written in Russian to my paper.   But I did, and later I asked another Russian speaker if they could read what I wrote (they did).  Will need to work more on the card on our last sea day. 
Met Dad for lunch then we headed our separate ways, him to bridge, me to line dance.  
I returned to the Lido deck for another showing of SALT on the outdoor screen.  Had to leave early to make it in time for dinner.
One of the things I found in the library was a book of foreign words and phrases.  I browsed through it and came up with two more Russian words that I could use at dinner to surprise Natalya.  To tonight when I ordered I used the word “zakuski” (za-KOO-skee) for appetitizer and surprised the heck out of her.  Then I said “nachevo”, meaning “it’s nothing, no big deal”.  I felt pretty cleaver.
Anyway, dinner:
Appetizer: Twice baked goat cheese souffle with garlic sabynon (sp?)
Palate cleanser: Strawberry and thyme sorbet
Main course: Seared diver scallops in a sauce with vegatables.
Dessert: Raspberry Menage-a-toi (3 kinds of raspberry little desserts) Amaretto ice cream.
Tonight I’m going to watch the 10 pm movie “True Grit”  on deck.  We get to set our clocks back and hour each night for the next two nights.  That’s a plus for the late showing. 
Tomorrow we arrive in Cabo San Lucas at 0700 hrs.  We will get off the ship later because we have to tender ashore.  We plan to walk to the beach in play in the ocean after strolling through the shops.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 10th, 2011 -- Acapulco

Sunday, April 10th, 2011 -- Acapulco
I’m writing this on the balcony of my stateroom with a shot glass of limocello next to me.  Delicious stuff and made fresh here on the ship. I bought the drink at dinner, but they will refill it for me as much as I want and I get to keep the glass. 
We arrived in Acapulco this morning around 0800 hrs, before the sun rose over the eastern mountain tops, what a beautiful view.  Acapulco could truly be a wonderful destination if it wasn’t for the under current of worry regarding the drug war violence.
The city is built from the beach upward onto to the slopes of the nearby mountains that surround the bay.  The buildings are mostly white with bright colors splashed in here and there. At night the city sparkles with lights from the high rises and the house built up the hills.  The city twinkles its reflection into the water, adding to the scene. This I remember from my trip here a year ago February.
The beaches are beautiful now, and full of life (people) and a party atmosphere.  The water which once was a garbage can, has been cleaned up and has recovered beautifully. From the deck I could see fish swimming near the pier. It was hard to sit on the boat and not go walk the short distance down the road to the beach to play in the surf with all the locals.  
Yes, the scenery is beautiful and I would have loved the chance to talk Spanish as we looked about. But I held true to my Acapulco boycott and stayed on the boat except for a short visit to the shops in the secured area on the pier.  I hope Mexico is someday able to clean out scum that makes you think twice about visiting.
Today I walked on the treadmill as my walking deck was closed for repairs, then headed to the outdoor pool for a swim.  Spent some time “swimming” while watching the Phantom of the Opera as a silent movie (the original).  I think I preferred it that way.  Dad sunned himself on the upper deck.  We had lunch on the deck from “The Grill” for the first time.  He had a hot dog that looks super good, I had a great grilled chicken sandwich.  
After lunch I took my little port excursion to the pier shops, then returned to the pool for a little drawing an a nap.  Practicing naps again for when I return to the real world.
At dinner Dad read a will he made up for our table mates.  Then joked with him the night before, when seated at the head of the table, he stood up to stretch his knee that it looked like he was ready to read his will.  He took the idea and ran with it.  Each table part had a little piece and enjoyed his reading of it.
Appetizer: Eggplant and roasted garlic in pastry with some kind of sauce (very good! Can I have another please?)
Soup: Some kind of fruit puree.  Notice a trend on soup choices?
Main Course: Filet Mignon with shrimp and potatoes.  Steak wasn’t as tender as I’m used to.  The shrimp were.  More shrimp!!!
Dessert: Cherries jubilee, two kinds of Italian ice cream: one chocolate chip, the other espresso.
At 9:45pm there’s a Island Party on the Lido deck, so no Movie Under the Stars tonight.  They better make up for it with a good one tomorrow night.  I’m running out of nights under the stars.
Did I mention that they bring you popcorn to start with, then later on milk and cookies?  Well they do.
Last night I watched SALT, it was awesome.  
Tomorrow, think we are sea and arrive in Cabo San Lucas on Tuesday.  One port left.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9th, Sea Day

Saturday April 9th, Sea Day
We set our clocks forward one hour last night, went to bed late and got up early....what’s with that?!!!
Took an after breakfast power walk and sat on the promenade deck doodling and listening to my iPod.  Today was much warmer and more humid than yesterday.  Really getting tired of the humidity.   
Today was a great day to see wildlife.  I was just about to get up from my lounge chair and head to lunch when I looked up from my art pad and saw everyone standing at the railing.  That’s an unusual sight on the walking deck.  I hopped up and saw the best pod of dolphins I have ever seen.  I don’t know how many there were, but I gotta guess greater than 50, maybe more than 150.  The creatures were going crazy, jumping every which way and covering a very large amount of ocean real estate.  I did manage to get some pictures, but no video.   
Besides the dolphins, turtles were prevalent throughout the day.  They weren’t that big, but still fun to see none the less.  Other smaller pods of dolphins were seen, but another highlight was 2 shark sightings from the balcony.  Just before getting ready for dinner I stepped out onto the balcony and noticed other people were looking in the ocean.  They had also spotted an occasional turtle.  But twice, when they turned away to talk to other people, I saw a small shark swimming near the surface of the water.  They didn’t stay long enough for the others to turn back and see.  Ha ha, never turn your back on the ocean!
Appetizer: proscuitto (sp?) with melon and crostini.
Soup: some kind of peach and with sparkling wine.
Main: Scampi Fra Diavolo,   YUMMMY shirmp!
Dessert: Tiramsu....delicious!
After dinner I did some laundry and then headed to the Lido deck for The Movie Under The Stars at 10pm: SALT.   I liked it.
I’m going to read and then go to bed.  We arrive in Acapulco tomorrow at 8am and leave at 4:30pm.  I’m staying on board all day.  Besides two power walks, I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I think a swim in the pool might be on the agenda.  Also possible: Wii bowling, the golf simulator and Movie on the Deck: Social Network.
Hasta Luego!

Friday, April 8, 2011

April 7th, Puntarenas Costa Rica and April 8th, Sea Day

Friday, April 8th, 2011
Sea Day on the way to Acapulco. 
Blog post for Thursday April 7th, Puntarenas Costa Rica....
Yesterday we were in Puntarenas Costa Rica and took a rafting trip down the Coribici river in the Juanacosta province.  After we returned we only had time to get ready for dinner.  After dinner we had planned to go the the comedy show.  I ended up staying in the room and falling asleep early.  Dad came in about midnight or 0100, then did laundry for an hour (according to him).  Here’s how the day went....
I was still feeling a little lower GI discomfort that morning and wasn’t sure if I should go on an all day long excursion.  But after eating an early breakfast geared towards GI health (mostly liquids, cottage cheese and yogurt....mmmmm, good bacteria) and test of the “system”, decided that things were going to stay where they should and went on the trip.  
We took and hour and 45 min bus ride to our rafting location.  I like trips that travel through the countryside as you get a good look a the country and the guides tell us information we wouldn’t know otherwise.  Such as, last year Costa Rica received almost it’s yearly total of rain in about a week.  The guide said it “was crazy”.  I can’t even image.  The cemeteries here stand out because all the graves are above ground and many are stacked on top of others.  They aren’t “buried” because of they could be washed away during the rains.  That is also why the termites build their nest up in the live trees.  They only eat the dead material, but dont’ want to risk being washed away.  Many fences in the area are made using live trees, same reason, and the termites won’t eat them.
I didn’t think Costa Rica was as pretty as Panama.  It could be because we didn’t gain much elevation and weren’t in the rain forest.  The coffee plantations were located in upcountry, would like to see that area and the coffee some time.  Perhaps my opinion of Costa Rica would change.  Other products of Costa Rica are orchids and rice.  My tours are starting to blend together and I can’t remember what else I learned on this tour.  That is why I try to blog each night.  We did see a lot of the Brahman cows that are used here for meat.  The poor things are so skinny I can’t believe they taste good.  I like their ears, they look like the bunnies with the long floppy ears.
Costa Rica has a local saying “Purna Vida”, meaning “life is good”, and it is everywhere.  When the guide says it, it sounds like “Poona vida”.
On the raft trip Dad and I ended up on the front of the first of five rafts.  This was a good thing because our raft often saw critters first and then poor creatures retreated into the environment.  My goal on this trip was to see crocodiles and monkeys and both were accomplished.  We met to two pods of Howler monkeys that  howled at us as we approached on the river.  You could easily hear them before seeing them.  I took a video with my favorite new camera, hoping that the sound will come through after I get it on the computer (see below post).

 The monkeys were hard to get on “film”, and mostly guessed at what I was snapping at.  The monkeys were often seen lying on the upper branches of trees with their four limbs hanging off either side of the branches.  They were all black in color.
Besides monkeys we saw lots of iguanas sunning themselves on the shore.  Some were very big and pretty, with green coloring and black stripes.  Other lizards were smaller, black, and like to speedily run away as we approached.
The birds were a disappointment, no macaws here, only things we see in Oregon all the time: Osprey, kingfishers and cormorant type birds.
We saw two crocodiles but I’m not sure I was fast enough to get them on camera.  One was swimming towards the shore in a still water area.  All you could see was his two eyes moving through the water like a stick with two eyes. 
The second crocodile was a beauty laying up on the sand, parallel to water and under some branches.  Unfortunately I didn’t see him until he was just passing me so my look was short.  Very beautiful creature though.
Our raft trip lasted about an hour and half, traveling through almost continuous class I and II rapids.  We barely got wet and didn’t have to do any paddling.  The day was sunny with a very strong breeze.  The sun was so intense on our skin!  I was glad that I chose to wear my long sleeved fishing shirt.  I like the shade it provided on my arms. Our shuttle returned us to the put in location where we had lunch at the local restaurant.    The lunch was the best excursion lunch I’ve had.  I decided that I felt good enough to eat, and dove into it.  Delicious grilled chicken, black beans, rice, fried plantain and vegetable sticks.  I tasted Dad’s Costa Rican beer, Imperial, but didn’t care for it.  We were served mango juice with our lunch, and it was fantastic.  They followed up lunch with a dish of “chocolate chip cookie ice cream”, it was delicious too.  
After lunch we boarded the bus and headed back to town.  We passed the local bull fighting area and soccer fields.  At one point we passed a large tyrannosaurus rex, don’t know why it was there, but it would have made a good photo op.  We stopped at local souvenir store, which all tours seem to do, and I bought a small swatch of fabric with an applique design on it. Some of the designs are very beautiful, but expensive.  I was lucky and found this example for $5.  The coffee here was more expensive than Panama, so I didn’t buy any to try.  I might try to find some “Britt” brand online.
I think most of us napped on the drive back.  I was glad to pass the time more quickly as my GI started feeling a little unhappy.  I think the poorest part of Costa Rica was the area near the ship.  It was surprising how quickly the area could change from most house appearing inhabited to it looking like only every 3rd or 4th house was taken care of.  These “houses” were very basic and well worn.  Most had corrugated metal roofs that were rusted.  All the houses had bars on the windows and doors, to keep neighbors from stealing from them.  The guide said that you can often tell what part of town you are in by the bars on the windows and doors.  Although in better neighborhoods, some have them because they can be very decorative.  I think I would have them for the piece of mind.
That’s all I can recall about Costa Rica now.  
Appetizer: chicken and eggplant empanadas with bell pepper relish (oh so delicious, it was larger than a normal appetizer and I ate it all.  It alone could have been the main course).  Mango and pear soup.
Main course: Roasted lentil burger with melted cheese and fried egg, sweet potato fries, sauteed mushrooms.  (ooooohhh sooo good!  I’ll make this some time).
Dessert: Sugar free hazelnut and pumpkin pudding with vanilla cream sauce (didn’t like, didn’t finish) and chocolate banana ice cream.
I ate too much at dinner, and on the maybe still slightly sensitive GI system, didn’t feel great afterwards.  I went back to the cabin, read and fell asleep early.  
Today, Friday April 8th -- Sea Day
Wonderful day to sleep in, very rested.  Had a good strong, half hour walk on the promenade before breakfast.  The morning air is pleasant, in the 70’s with very little humidity.
After breakfast I found my new favorite spot to hang out.  The promenade deck is the deck used for walking, but along the sides are lounge chairs that are much more comfortable than the chairs on the lido deck.   Other perks include the fact that it’s quiet, no music or conversations....people are here reading and looking at the ocean.  We are only a few decks above the sea and being outside I have a clear view of the ocean and can feel the breeze.  I chose the port side because there is no sun on me here, no lathering in sunscreen.  I love this place and that’s where I’m typing this from now.  The only down side is the moisture.  The side table and arm rests are moist from imperceptible sea spray.  So the laptop is swathed in a beach towel.  Hopefully, thats enough protection.  
I reluctantly headed up for lunch with Dad and ate quickly to make it for line dance lessons.  Great fun, I might be getting the hang of this.
After lunch back out to promenade deck, only this time I chose starboard because the sun had moved to port.  The afternoon was warmer and the humidity climbed up a bit, but still tolerable.  I kept an eye out for dolphins, but was always to slow to look up when people started talking about them.  I did see several groups of flying fish, a large “flock” of smaller silver ones and one or two larger blue ones.
I took another power walk before heading up to get ready for our formal dinner.  Too bad I started a blister on one foot from that last walk.  It made my heels a little hard to walk in.  Over all though, very minor “shoe” issues this trip.  The madeira croc’s have been the best shoe I’ve brought.
My dinner choices:
Appetizer: potato latkes with smoked salmon, and sour cream....Yum!!!
Soup: Orange and Lipton tea soup.  Good but tasted like prune soup.
Main course: Grilled alaskan halibut with vegetables.
Dessert: Banana cream pie, basil mint sorbet.
Tonight, don’t know what my plans are for the rest of the night.  The “Movie Under the Stars” is Robin Hood, might watch that.
Tomorrow is another sea day. We are currently off the coast of El Salvador and will arrive in Acapulco at 0800 hrs on Sunday morning.  I miss Randy, really wish I could talk to him.  Hope all is well back home.  As of tonight at 2015 hrs we have traveled 2753 nautical miles from Fort Lauderdale Florida, 433 n.m. remaining to Acapulco.
Buenas noche.

The first sounds are the guide trying to get the monkeys going.  They didn't need that much help.  As I point the camera up into the tree from below, you can see 4 dark monkeys in the tree, one of them is moving.  You can also hear them at that point.  As yes, the monkey's sprinkled us!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 6th, Sea Day

I don't know what day of the week it is.  Now I know the correct date.  Sorry for the confusion on previous posts.  Vacation is so much work.

April 6th, 2011 -- Sea Day
Ahhhh, a nice relaxing day without much to do.  After the long day yesterday, this hit the spot.  
We both slept in until 8am, had a nice breakfast and then lounged around the deck reading.  There was a police, firefighter and paramedic get together scheduled, but when I cruised by the area I didn’t see anyone my age and figured I wouldn’t have anything to talk about with them.....I went back and sat next to Dad on the sun deck.
I think I saw a couple pods of dolphins, but they were too far from the boat to get a real good look.  I’ll continue to keep my eye out for them as we head north.   I remember from last year that our trip northbound seemed to have bigger swells and more sea life.  Interested to see if that holds true this trip as well.
I had a strange pizza for lunch, mozzarella, blue cheese and walnut.  I became sick afterwards.  Don’t know if that was the cause or not.  Spent the second half of the day resting in the cabin.  It was nice to be in a quiet , A/C’d place.  The temps were in the upper 80’s, but the humidity is thick and uncomfortable.
I missed my line dancing class, and Dad went to his bridge group.
I went to dinner, but started to not feel good just before dessert was to arrive.  I would have made my sister-in-law proud as I fought to stay at the table and have that dessert!!!  I did manage it, but left shortly afterwards.  Now I’m in the cabin, and am going to try some tea to feel better.
Appetizer: Fruit kebobs marinated in honey with a yogurt dipping sauce.
Soup: Cucumber mint with toasted almonds
Main Course: Leek and Cheese Tartlet
Dessert: Raspberry creme brulee with madelines, chocolate chip ice cream.
The dinner menu was french tonight.  Choices included escargot, corvina (fish), frog’s legs, duck, veal.  Of course there are always steak, salmon, salad and pasta options.
Tomorrow: We have a long day in Puntarenas Costa Rica.  We are going to be bused into the country side and take a 2 hour raft float and view wildlife.  Hopefully the GI tract will behave!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Puerto Amador - Day 8

April 6th, 2011...Don’t know what day of the week it is.  It’s day 8 of our cruise.  Today we were in Panama at Puerto Amador.   Right now I’m sitting on the balcony watching a thunderstorm off the starboard side of the ship.  Finally, I’m on the correct side of the boat!
I just finished watching Secretariat on the Lido deck, under the stars.  Saw lightning and was hoping we’d finish the movie before it got too close....we did.  Now rain is threating my post here on the balcony.  Half our balcony is covered, but the breeze is blowing in spit. But, back to our day.....
After we left the canal yesterday around 4pm, we basically anchored just outside of the entry to the Panama Canal.  We “park” out in the ocean, along with a bunch of other ships.  We could see the tall buildings of Panama City in the distance.
This morning (Lightning) we rode the tender shuttles into port for an 8 hour excursion into the El Valle eco-park.  We left around 8am and (L) were transported in 2 large A/C tour buses.  The port where we caught (L) the bus is an island off of Panama that is connected to the main land (L) by dirt fill roads.  The roads were made as ocean breaks (L) to help keep the tide influence calm for ships as they enter the canal.  The tides raise and lower 15-20 feet at every change.  
The view of Panama city is crazy.  Many, many tall buildings....but my favorite is one that spirals up to a point, which leans slightly one direction.  We didn’t actually go into Panama City, and for that I am grateful.  I think the traffic would be horrific.   
On our tour (L) we had a great tour guide.  He gave us a lot of information about the city that I wouldn’t have learned other wise. (Thunder)  At one point we crossed over the entrance to the PC on the Pan-American Hwy.  He, his name is Juan Carlos or JC for short, told us that the newer bridge that we passed under yesterday, the Centennial Bridge, is currently closed for repairs and the Pan-Am bridge is the only way to get from one side of Panama to the other right now.  Because of the that traffic during rush hours is especially bad.  Most low to middle class people live 45 to 60 mins out of the city so there is a lot people that travel into and out of the city.  Because traffic is so bad now, semi trucks are required to park along the road and allow the cars to travel the highway.  After 4pm, they are allowed to drive again.  We saw many trucks parked on the shoulder, one even had a hammock strung between two of them with the driver sleeping in it.  The police are big on speeding tickets here, unless you ride a motorcycle. If you are in a car, you will get a ticket. If you zoom by on a motorcycle, no big deal.  
The Panamanians love to party.  If there is a party in the suburbs, 100,000 people might be driving to get there.  In order to stop drunk driving, the police set up roadblocks leading away from the parties.  If you (L) blow to high on the breathalyzer, they make you call a taxi or stay over night.
When you arrive in the airport at Panama you can apply for insurance while you are here.  The government will cover you for health and life and maybe other, for 30 (T) days.  The government will help people who can’t afford medicine or (L) medical, but that is only if you have no way to pay for it your self.  If you want money, you have work for it.  Education is guaranteed through highschool.  Colleges and universities are available here too.  If you are an American and want to go to LSU, FSU, Norte Dame or OSU (that’s Ohio), they have campuses here and classes are in english.  Cost is $3,000 a term.  What a deal.  But regarding the spanish here, JC says that it’s not a good place to learn spanish.  The locals speak very fast and it’s hard to pick up.  He says go else where to learn Spanish.
I think Panama has a lot going for it.  It’s industry is (L) “services”.  The provide service through the PC, which they earn Billions of dollars from.  The highest paid one way trip through the canal was just over $400K.  The lowest fare was like 36 cents by a famous actor in the early thirties (Robert....H....something).  He swim 10 miles of the canal.
Pamama is trying to improve their standing with tourism as well.  They are building a new international airport to west to service the beach front communities that are popping up.  I would love a condo here once the airport is in.  Speaking of buying a can get a standard 3 bedroom, 2 bath cinder block house with a laundry and parking for two cars for (T) about $50k.  The condo’s I mentioned are under $200K and are made for (L) retirees.  When you purchase property here as a foreigner you don’t start paying taxes for 20 years.  The taxes they do have are pretty low (L), the breakover point being $3,000/mo.  Average salary is about $450/mo.  We could be rich here honey!  There are direct flights from several major U.S. airports. (T).  
So, we drive up into the crater of a dormant volcano, through the rain (L) forest that covers the hills.  On the trees we see cashews and mangos growing.  The cashews are weird little (T) nuts....they grow on the underside of the fruit.  One nut per fruit.  That’s why they cost so much.  The fruit is like a cross between a tomatillo and an old pepper that is getting soft.  I don’t see any value in the fruit.  I have pictures, I hope they turn out.
Onward and upward our bus goes.  We first stop at volcanic fed hotspring for (L) a dip in the pools. (T) (L)  I was going to go swimming, but the water color is not very attractive, so I just soaked my legs.  There was also mud that you could put on your face and legs, but I didn’t see any good way to get it off without getting wet, so I passed on that too. The grounds are beautiful.  I took many pictures of the trees and flowers.  One (T) of the grounds keeper spotted at sloth in a tree, but most of us couldn’t see him.  
Back on the bus to see a 30 m waterfall.  We took a hike through a canopy adventure park to reach the water fall.  Nice to see the rain forest up close.  The waterfall was pretty, but ya know I’m from Oregon....(L) you gotta do better than that.  Back on the bus to (T) a secluded hotel for lunch.  We had an authentic chicken and rice dish, with fried plantain and a salsa salad.  I tried Balboa beer, a Panamanian beer....I liked it.  The alcohol content was 4.8%.
After lunch we stopped at the local village market and souvenir shops.  I bought some Panamanian coffee and a little change purse. (T)  Dad bought a complete outfit that I call him Pedro when he wears it.  Perhaps pictures to follow. (L)  On the way back, we enjoyed the scenery and most people ended up falling asleep on the drive....until we got back on the Pan-Am hwy.  You can’t help but wake up with the curves and speeds they (L) drive.  (L) (L) We made it back to the tenders, and there was a (L) bit of a line. Back on ship at about dinner time and after a quick check of the menu I decided (LL) I’d forgo it tonight.  Dad, or Pedro (L) went any way.  I took a walk on deck, then headed to the buffet and pizza....brought it all back and ate on the balcony.  (LL).  It was nice to have the quiet tonight.  I didn't feel like talking (L) (T) (L) through dinner.  (LL)
After a shower (L) I went on deck to watch the movie as mentioned at the start of this post, then ended up here.  (L).  The storm is picking up and I may be forced inside.  So far the thunder isn’t very close. (L) the lightning intensity is picking up (T), probably because it’s so comfortable out tonight.  I’m sure it’s cooler than normal (L).  You know me though, I’m a weather (L) geek.  I’m going to stay here as long as I think it’s reasonably safe.  Things have really heated up now....gonna go watch the sky!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Panama Canal Transit

Monday April 4th, 2011 -- Panama Canal
Hola y buenas dias!  As I write this I am sitting on the balcony hoping the humidity isn’t bad for the lap top.  Guess I’ll go inside for a few minutes.
We were up early this morning to have breakfast and watch our passage through the canal.  We were a little behind everyone else so we watched from the forward windows of the buffet dining room instead of outside, which turned out to have a good view, just not from outside the windows.  I managed to video most of our passage through the first and largest of the 8 locks, the Gatun Locks.  Then all batteries went dead and I retreated to the room to recharge everything.  From there we watched from the balcony as we exited the final of the 3 Gatun Locks.  This is when the drizzle started and we, even though we are outside, were sheltered from the rain.  While traveling through Lake Gutan to the next set of locks, we float close to shore after exiting the canal and can see the rain forests that actually allow the locks to function.
In short a river was dammed to allow formation of Gatun Lake. The lake is continuously filled by the heavy rains from the surrounding forests. The water from the lake is then used to fill the various locks allowing ships to be raised over a total of 75 feet above sea level.  The ships are actually “raised up over” Panama, by water.  
When the French attempted to build the canal in the late 1800‘s they tried to dig down to sea level to create a one level passage.  Because of the heavy tropical rains they weren’t able to keep the land from sliding into the canal from the sides and finally gave up their attempt to build the canal.  The Frenchman who was in charge of the project had also developed the Suez canal and was trying to use the same type of design in an area with completely different geography.  From my understanding he had no special training, he was not an engineer, he was just a man with a vision and enthusiasm.
When Teddy Roosevelt became President he was greatly excited about the project and arranged for a small revolution in Panama so the country could declare it’s independence and allow the Americans to come down and build the canal.  Pres. Roosevelt was thinking military strategy in developing a way for our navy to have access and control of the PC forever (Jimmy Carter gave away our ownership of the PC during his Presidency).  The best railroad and lock engineers of the time were hired to design the locks and passage.  It’s a complete marvel that today still exists the way it did in the early 1900’s, because it works beautifully.  Water is gravity fed and the gates are perfectly balanced in place. The operation of the gates uses hydroelectric power and only needs 40 HP to move the necessary parts.  “Mules” or train engines are positioned around the ship and actually move it from lock to lock.   In order to connect their ropes from the mules to the ship, two men in a row boat row out to the ship and toss a rope with a “monkey knot” in it to our ship crew, who then secure it.  The men who toss the knot practice this toss and have competitions to keep sharp.  They want success on the first toss. There are at least 4 mules, 2 forward and 2 aft, with ropes attached to the ships.  The mules keep the right amount of tension to keep the ship center in the lock chambers.  Once the lock doors are opened the mules run on tracks and pull the ship into the next lock.  
Each lock chamber is 110 feet long by 40 feet (I think) wide.  Our ship is a “Panamax” ship and is the maximum dimensions allowed for transit.  On either side, there’s 2 feet between the ship and the wall.
One of the reasons the U.S. succeeded in the building of the canal was that one of the persons in charge of the construction decided to take care of the place that the workers would be living first. The men loved him for this and followed him eagerly.  He cleaned up the area with brooms, sewers, water systems and insecticide.  He constructed a camp that the workers could be comfortable in and wouldn’t mind staying.   Unlike the French, the Americans knew that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitos and a large effort was made to eradicate them and their habitat.  It was after this that Pres. Roosevelt visited. When Pres. Roosevelt visited Panama to see how the construction project was going, it was the first time a U.S. Pres. had left the country while in office.
After sailing over most of Lake Gatun we came to the narrow part of the passage known as the Gamboa area.  This is where much of the maintenance facilities are located and is an 8 mile stretch of the canal where most of the effort was concentrated because of the taller geography.  Travel through this part of the canal is currently limited to one way traffic.  This area also is where the futuristic Centennial bridge is located, and short ways down stream the only other permanent bridge, the Pan-American bridge.  The bridge is 6 lanes wide, but you wouldn’t guess it by looking at it.
Dad and I managed to have lunch as we approached the second set of locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks.  This was actually only one lock.  I ate quickly and hurried to starboard side, deck 7 to watch us drop down about 30 feet.  I took pictures of the mules as they approached and tossed lines our ship.  Also got a picture just after dynamite was detonated on the expansion project happening just north of the current canal.  It was cool to see us drop from being above ground level to being almost even with the ground after the water had dropped.  The water leaves the lock through 100 man-sized holes and takes approximately 9 minutes.  The terrain in the area is decidedly different, much more rock and less dirt.  The material from this region in taken by rail car to the Atlantic end to be used to stabilize the ground.
The day was sunny and humid so I headed to the Lotus pool for a quick dip and found a chaise lounge facing the glass window to watch our approach to the mira flores locks.  This set of locks is composed of 2 locks, bringing us back down the final distance to sea level in the Pacific ocean.   I fell asleep in the chair and missed most of this transit, but woke up in time to run to the back of the ship and take a picture of the locks as we left them behind.
The area on the Pacific side is full of ships staging to enter the canal.  It looks like a truck stop for ships.  
Headed up for dinner after lounging and napping some more.  If I didn’t have a scheduled dinner time, I wouldn’t have gotten up out of the chair until waaaay later.
Appetizer: Fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato with basalmic dressing.  
Thai chicken something something noodle and lemongrass soup.
Main course: Chateubriand beef with sauce and berny potatoes, vegetables.
Dessert: Chocolate flan with banana compote, Jamaican coffee ice cream
Returned to the room after dinner and will stay in tonight.  We dock in Puerto Amador, Panama tomorrow and have an excursion to an eco-park.  More on that tomorrow.
Good night!