Today we are going to Muse about a cruise to the Panama Canal. If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.
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A Trip Away and Back
It gets cold up north in January. We have friends who like to get away this time of year if possible. They decided to take a cruise to the Panama Canal and back and they invited us to join them. We went the last week of January.
We left from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in the late afternoon, after which we were nine days travelling, four days at sea and five days with port calls. For the person who enjoys the time on the ship it was a great trip. Spa, casino, entertainment, lounges, food in abundance and specialty restaurants all provided by an attentive and responsive crew, it was all there. But for the person who is interested in the port stops it was not the best experience. The port stops were too short to do much and there wasn’t much to do.
Still there were interesting things to experience of course. Let me tell you about it.
The first two days we were at sea. From our balcony we could see the endless ocean and clouds and nothing else. Until … I spied something on the horizon, so far away that I could only guess at what it would be. It appeared tall. I took a photo of it with my camera focused on the maximum zoom setting. It was still a mystery, so far away. When I got home, I put it in the computer and maximized it even more:
It was a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere. To my knowledge we were not close to any body of land. That was the excitement of the day!
Our first port call was at Oranjestad, Aruba.
We were only in port from 7:00AM til Noon, so we limited ourselves to strolling into town. It was a shoppers heaven. Prada, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Tourneau, Cartier and more, all were there. Unfortunately the stores opened at 10:00AM. Enough said.
Back to the ship we went and set sail for our next destination.
This is an old city dating back to 1533. Among other things, it is known for the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies.
I was excited about seeing the city. It is the kind of thing I find very interesting.
In the morning we approached the coast, We passed villages
and then groups of fishermen in one man skiffs.
We passed an old coastal fortress guarding the harbor
and eventually saw the skyline of modern Cartagena.
Our friends and we were interested in seeing the old town, but not interested in going in the group bus tours. So, we hired a driver.
The traffic was daunting.
When it was all said we saw one site, the Zenú gold museum, and a square before bailing out and going to a nice restaurant for lunch and then returning to the ship. Disappointing.
But I must say, from what I saw through the traffic, parts of the old city are beautiful.
I understand the beaches nearby are good. There is so much history in Cartagena that it is likely worth an extended stay, not just a port call.
Next stop Panama
We left Columbia in the mid-afternoon and sailed on toward the Panama Canal. In the morning as we awoke we were in the canal approaching the Gatun Locks, the Atlantic side locks.
Here you see the first lock. There are two channels, side by side, separated by the structure you see here. This picture was taken from our ship which was in the channel on the right. The channel you see is on the left and, just beyond the channel gates, is a ship. It is being raised to the next level so it can pass through the next lock.
This shows a ship preparing to enter the lock next to us. The gates are swinging open to allow the ship to enter. Once inside, the gates will close and water will be pumped into the lock, floating the ship up to the next level.
This is the middle lock.
Finally, we were through, entering Gatun Lake
At this point our group elected to take a cruise tour. The ship was not going on through the canal. It was to turn around and pass back to the Atlantic side. Passengers were not allowed to disembark unless they were on an official tour.
We elected to go to Panama City, an hour away. There we would see “Old Panama City”, Colonial Panama City, and modern Panama City.
The ship was not docked, so it was necessary to use the ship tenders to disembark. That process took a long time because of the number of passengers. We were then taken to buses. Ours was old and in disrepair. Hmmm! The guide had no microphone, so when she was up front, those in the back could not hear. When she came to the rear, those in the front could not hear. Hmmm!
Are you getting a sense of how much I liked this?
Between the process of exiting the ship and getting on the bus and the driving to Panama City, it was four hours before we reached our first destination.
Old Panama City Panamá Viejo
Now, this was a surprise. Old Panama City is an archeological ruin in the midst of the city. Quite interesting! The city was founded in 1519 and over the years suffered attacks, fires, and earthquakes but survived. However, in 1671 it was attacked by Welsh pirate Henry Morgan and was destroyed.
What remains today are remnants of stone buildings, homes, church, a bell tower. The city was larger than it appears today. Much of the original city was built of wood and decayed long ago. What remains are the ruins of buildings owned by the affluent, buildings built of stone.
This was worth seeing.
We boarded our bus, got back into traffic and headed to the colonial city.
Colonial Panama has some beautiful areas. Our bus group was to walk through the area. By this time my friends and we were tired and grumpy. We spotted this:
and we peeled off and high-tailed it for a bar stool. There we enjoyed the panoramic view of the new Panama.
At the appointed hour, we returned to our bus. The guide arrived an hour later. Hmmm! The trip back to the ship was fine but when we arrived we found most of the other passengers came back at the same time. Getting on the ship was a process.
The ship set sail at 11:00 PM, five hours late because one of the tours took the passengers to the wrong city to board the ship. It had to retrace its steps.
We cancelled our reservation for the next day tour.
Limon, Costa Rico
The following day we disembarked at Limon, Costa Rico. It’s a working class town. We hired a driver to explore the countryside. Our driver pointed out this strange tree.
Those hanging things are birds’ nests. The guide called them “Montezuma’s Pendent”.
We visited a banana plantation. Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita have big operations in the area around Limon.
The banana bunches are covered with a blue mesh bag. Apparently insects are not attracted to blue. Further it protects the fruit from the sun and other critters. Under the bag (I looked) the bunches are tagged with different colored ribbons, each color indicating when the bananas will be ripe. This is used to decide to which markets the bananas are to be shipped. The idea is to be certain the bananas do not ripen before they get to market.
We had a good feeling about the country and what we saw. Costa Rico was friendly and relaxed.
The bananas were about the most exciting things we saw and by mid- afternoon we were heading back to the ship. That is ours in the distance.
Next day we were at sea and the following day we were in the Grand Cayman. The island was pretty and, unlike all the previous stops, there were no bars on the windows or razor wire on the walls or electric fences above the razor wire on the walls. It seemed a well-ordered little island. The main attractions were the beach and finance. Boring. The highlight was lunch at a hotel. Sorry, no pictures of Grand Cayman.
The last day we were at sea on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale, where we were met the following morning with the rising sun.
Did we have fun? Yes, we enjoyed being with our friends. We enjoyed the amenities of the ship. (I am now dieting) We enjoyed some of the ports of call. Given my preference through, I would choose to spend several days in a place.
more to come
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