A Travellerspoint blog

Day Forty - Hot Day in Cartagena, Colombia

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The day started with a reasonable sunrise, when it starts like that you know the day will be good. We arrived at our berth at 08:00 and an 'all aboard' time of 13:30. A very short time to explore the city. We have a ship's tour booked which will use up all of our time in port. We managed to avoid the back of the bus, our guide was quite old and very deaf, his booming voice required almost no amplification. Eager to pass on lots of information but in heavily accented English and I missed a lot of what he said.

Our first destination was the La Popa Monastery built over 400 years ago it sits on the highest feature overlooking the city. The courtyards around the building provided fabulous vantage points for viewing the city below. The chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Candelaria, credited with having saved the city from attack by disease, pirates and foreign powers.

In an impressive feat of driving we managed to get down the mountain for a brief stop at the foot of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas a massive fortress that was frequently attacked but never fell. A short time later we were invited to visit one of many stores selling 'local' handicraft and souvenir objects. The pressure to 'buy' was almost overwhelming both from the shopkeepers but also the street vendors who offered an endless array of hats, shirts and jewelry. One lady picked up five pairs of ear-rings and five matching bracelets for US$ 20, she thought she was doing well to get the ear-rings for that price. Even broken down to individual beads and used for craft work it seems cheap.

Back on the bus and off to one of the entrances to walled Old City. We walked through a number of the narrow streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beautifully painted and restored Spanish Colonial style houses lined both sides and shared space with bars and restaurants. There were massive cathedrals, coble stoned plazas and some impressive public art. The occasional treed park provided some relief from the sun.

We were collected by our guide and taken through the Gold Museum where many delicate and intricately work artifacts were on display under the watchful eyes of the stern faced guards. An unexpected extra bonus was the cooling effect of the air-conditioning. Back on the streets and off to meet up with our bus and driver. One enterprising vendor handed out free samples of her coffee flavoured candy. Three bags for $5 or seven bags for $10, we thought the $10 deal was worth it.

Found our bus and we were driven to the New City with its five star hotels and tall apartment towers. Here we were offloaded and shepherded into a very exclusive emerald jewelry store. Acting on the agreed time to be back on the bus we arrived with 10 minutes to spare and waited, and waited and waited. Finally the guide and his driver found the errant couple but by this time we were a good half hour behind schedule. Despite the driver's best efforts we arrived back at the ship's side well after 'all aboard' time. We were the last bus to return. Makes it worth buying ship's tours, they guarantee to wait.

A brief refreshing wash and a cold drink and we went to the Theatre to attend Bill Keene's 'Destination Presentation' on our next port of call of Aruba. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. Before heading up to the Horizon Court I spent some time on Deck 7 to capture some images of the setting sun.

After two days of energy sapping heat we can't find the enthusiasm for the soprano performance by Colleen Williamson. Additionally, we put the clocks forward another hour resulting in another short night.

There are many images from today's outing and I've selected an image from the La Popa Monastery Chapel. You can view the image by following this link to my main album.

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 17:27 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Day Thirty Nine - Transit of the Panama Canal

Saturday, 3 October 2015

What a day !! Started early as we sailed towards the approach channel for the Canal. There were dozens of ships of all sizes and types lying at anchor awaiting their scheduled time to sail in. There were views of Panama City in the early morning light. The many impressive modern buildings were somewhat at odds with my expectations - in a very good way.

On our approach to the Miraflores Locks we passed beneath the Bridge of Americas. To our port side we were presented with a view of the new locks which are due to open the canal to larger ships early in 2016. This construction phase should be completed by the end of 2015 after which the new facilities will be subjected to an extensive testing program. The Miraflores Lock comprises of two sets of two lifting chambers. Due to the size of the ships and the volume of water involved it takes almost an hour to pass through.After a short transit we entered the Pedro Miguel Locks which are a pair of single lift chambers.

We then sailed under the impressive Centennial Bridge carrying six lanes of traffic high above the ships. We then sailed almost three hours on the outer reaches of Gatun Lake crossing the Continental Divide through the Culebra Cut. There is still a lot of activity involved in widening and dredging the navigation channel. All of this activity makes this transit unique as the construction phase will come to an end soon.

The cruise through the main basin of the Gatun Lake presented us with many wonderful views of the lush tropical jungle which came right down to the water. There was a constant procession of ships heading South as we headed generally North. Amongst a mixture of various cargo vessels we were met by the cruise ship Costa Luminosa as she made her way to the Pacific Ocean.

Took a little time out to grab a quick snack and then prepared for our entry to the Gatun Locks. It was interesting that there was a large collection of cargo ships lying at anchor waiting their turn to enter the locks. I'm told that our uninterrupted passage comes at a considerable cost to the cruise line. One of those extra fees that is added to the basic tariff. The Gatun Locks are a pair of three lifting chambers which lowered the ship to the level of the Caribbean Sea.

It was just past 16:00 when we sailed out of these locks making a total of 10 hours of almost uninterrupted exposure to the blazing sun. I suspect I'll have significant sun-burn tomorrow. During this time I managed to record 440 images, not all them crystal clear due to shaking of my right hand. Anyway it presents me with a massive challenge to select an image for my 365 Project. The most graceful structure was the Centennial Bridge and my best shot of that was with a tanker ship sailing ahead of us passing under it.

So for today's image we have the Centennial Bridge over the Panama Canal. You can view the image by following this link to my main album.

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 17:51 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Day Thirty Eight - At Sea Off Panama

Friday, 2 October 2015

My arrival on Dec 15 this morning was greeted by remnant storms on the Southern horizon. Large banks of cloud masked any visibility of the sunrise. Although dramatic, the billowing clouds were difficult to capture and the results were mediocre at best.

First activity for me was again a presentation in the Theatre. Bill Keene presented his overview of the next port of call being Cartagena, Columbia. All always his presentation was informative, technically excellent and delivered with a sprinkling of humour. The audience numbers were down a bit, no doubt due to the loss of an hour overnight. Spent some time on the open deck trying to capture the different ships that pass us most of them a long way off.

After lunch there was a presentation by Bruce Vancil, his topic being the collecting, presentation and trade in ship memorabilia. His passion is 'Steam' ships but it doesn't stop him from collecting other nautical items. He provided an insight to the lengths some 'ship nerds' will go to obtain and display their collections.

Stayed in the Theatre for the screening of "Far from the Madding Crowd". A period 'chick flick' that could have been over and done with in the first 15 minutes if only she'd said YES!! The final outcome was totally predictable, the path along the way took some interesting twists and turns. Not a total waste of two hours.

We went up to Deck 7 to see what the setting sun could produce. The lead up to the actual event provided some amazing patterns in the clouds. We also spotted a small patrol vessel which we later identified as belonging to the Fisheries Agency of Japan, no idea what it was doing here on the other side of the Pacific.

Enjoyed dinner in the Horizon Court and Jenny remarked that we'd never previously eaten so many deserts. One or two at lunch and the same in the evening. I put it all down to the winning smile and personality of the young pastry chef Cris.

We continue on an almost Easterly course for our appointment with the Panama Canal tomorrow morning.

For today's image I cobbled together a collage showing four different vessels encountered today. You can view the image by following this link to my main album.

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 18:21 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Day Thirty Seven - Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Thursday, 1 October 2015

An early start to the morning as we are required to assemble for the start of the tour at 07:15. Breakfast completed by 06:30 we made our way to the assembly in the Bordeaux Dining Room, we're one of the first to check in. Right on time we are directed to the Deck 5 gangway and onto the pier to join our coach. As luck would have it we are the last couple on the first coach. We board the vehicle and there are just two seats left, at the back of the bus next to the on-board toilet. This gives us a view to the Left but only a diagonal view to the Right.

There's an hour long drive out of the port area and into the hills, the ride becoming increasingly slower as the road deteriorates to rough track. We finally arrive at the lush facility where there's a change of transportation and a rest room. We walk a short distance to a flat bottomed boat with double rows of twin seats, a layout almost identical to the coach.

We motor along the river with our guide and the boat driver pointing out the various wildlife along the way. There are distant views of the Red Macaw, some lizards sunning on low branches. The mangrove trees crowd both banks and the guides spot small crocodiles, tiny bats clinging to a tall tree, blue egrets, white egrets and a vulture soaring overhead. While it is difficult to make them out in the lush growth it is next to impossible to photograph them. On our way back to the landing we come across a troop of White Faced Monkeys scrambling up a tree to make their way to the other side of the river.

Back at the landing we are provided with sliced fruit and iced tea and water. The gift shop is the only shopping opportunity on this tour. Jenny managed to find an irresistible Tee Shirt with the image of a beautiful butterfly. Then it is back on the coach and back along the track. At one point the driver stops the bus, gets out and returns with some branches of beautiful flowers. They are passed through the bus for close inspection. The bouncy ride continues until we arrive at a level crossing where we meet our train.

The 'train' consists of a diesel locomotive, a caboose and two passenger carriages. We are last off the bus and there's no time to take a photo as we pile onto the recently 'restored' carriage. Being last on we are left with the least desirable seats not that any of them can be described as comfortable. The train sets off on a rough and noisy journey back in the direction of the port. For an hour we rock, bump, grind and roll our way past forests, plantations and squalid settlements. The building of this track must have been quite an achievement, the passing years have done little to improve the ride.

At the end of the ride our coach awaits us and we head back to the pier. Because of the shallow waters the pier is quite long, a guess would be almost one kilometre with just enough width for two vehicles to pass and leaving just enough room for pedestrians. There is no room for these coaches to turn so they must either back up all the way to the ship and drive off or drive on and back off. It is all achieved with a minimum of fuss and no obvious harm to the 2000 passengers that go ashore.

We're back aboard by 13:00 and join a sizable crowd in the Horizon Court for an interesting lunch. I decided to have a little of each of the prepared named salads. It amazes me how quickly the pile of food grows !! Took the camera for a quick tour of the open decks to try and achieve an illustrative shot to capture the length of the pier. I think I failed as there is not really a suitable vantage point. Tried to focus on another chapter of my book and finished up with eyes closed and according to Jenny, 'snoring like a bear'.

Woke up to write this blog and broke off to capture the sunset. It was not to be as there was heavy rain and occasional lightning. Back in the cabin, Jenny has found a movie she wants to watch. At 19:10 tonight the "Grand Seduction" is on. We've seen it but would rather watch it again than go to the Theatre. Up to the Horizon Court where we are entertained by a spectacular lightning show. We are still tied up with the 'All Aboard' time set for 18:30. Mentioned the difficulty I had peeling an orange to one of the chefs. I explained how tough the skin was and how soft the fruit, he offered to have one peeled, I thanked him but dismissed the need. Sat down to my bowl of grapes and he turns up at our table with a peeled orange perfectly arranged on a plate. How good is that ?? Cris the pastry chef performed his magic trick again causing a large piece of Mimosa cake to leap up onto a plate in my hand. I felt obliged to eat it.

Back in the cabin as the ship prepares to cast off and head out to sea again. Our clocks go forward another hour tonight and as tomorrow is a sea day we're not under any pressure to get up early. No doubt my desire to chase the sunrise will have me on deck to meet it. A small piece from last night's show. When an old lady was asked the secret to a long marriage she replied, "It is like a deck of cards, you need two Hearts and a Diamond at the start, in the end you look for a Club and a Spade."

Tonight's image is one of those elusive monkeys. You can view the image by following this link to my main album.

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 20:09 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Day Thirty Six - San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Eased our way into the morning as the ship drops its anchor in Baha San Juan del Sur and prepared for a tender service to transfer passengers to the temporary pontoon ashore. We have no tour booked so we can set our own schedule. By 09:00 the pressure on the tenders has eased and there is no waiting. The tender is only partly full when we head off to the shore.

The temperature is already around 30 °C as we find our way into 'town'. The landing area is an extensive construction site where a new passenger terminal is being built. We manage to evade the many hawkers selling carved bowl, painted curios and cashews and walk along the waterfront. The town is a mecca for back-packers with lots of hostels, bars and restaurants. There certainly isn't any sign of up-market tourist stores, they can be found in Granada or Managua. We wander along most of the inner streets and capitulate about two hours later as the heat sapped our energy.

There was no significant delay for a tender and the iced water and cold face cloths were greatly appreciated. A quick trip across the bay and into the cooled atmosphere of the Coral Princess. Our shirts are almost dripping with perspiration. After a refreshing shower we made our way to the Horizon Court for lunch.

There are no activities in the Patter that attract us so it looks like an extended siesta will fill out the afternoon.

Woke up in time to catch some images of a setting sun again and the time was only 17:35. The Horizon Court was the most crowded we've seen so far this trip, can't think of a reason for that. After dinner we occupied our regular seats in the Theatre and were somewhat amazed when Susan Rawlings, our Cruise Director appeared on stage all glamorous looking and sang a beautiful song. Not bad at all for a lady approaching 50 !!

She introduced tonight's act, Travis Turpin who made a very credible job of impersonating some of the biggest names in the business. Possibly the highlight was the love song he sang for a couple celebrating their 65th Anniversary.

Another port day tomorrow and a half day tour booked. We have to meet at 07:15 so there may not be time for sunrise photos as well as breakfast. We'll see how it goes. Today's image was captured ashore, hope you like it. You can view the image by following this link to my main album.

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 20:09 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

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