Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Honolulu, HI

First Segment

 

This segment has many sea days before reaching Honolulu and then after Honolulu before reaching our first island port visit in the South Pacific….for some that is difficult and most of the crew, as the latter prefer time when the passengers are off the ship.   I like the sea days…as there are scheduled lectures, time for reading and I am able to work out in the gym.    Meals are more relaxed as there is no rushing to make a tour bus nor do we have to try and make a meal after a tour as we are now hungry since we have not eaten in two hours.

After Honolulu we crossed the International Dateline….we lose a day and three meals.   Seems like we should get a refund for the day lost at sea, but alas we do not.   There was a ceremony for crossing the Equator and the International Dateline...much fun...check out the Pacific Princess in the fourth segment.   After that we will have many port visits and less days at sea.  

 

Fort Lauderdale, FL

 

We arrived in Ft Lauderdale on time after an easy flight from Baltimore.   Met a number of people scheduled on the same cruise and as we arrived at the hotel we learned that the China and India visas werein hand and on the way down to us….great news.    Retrieved our boxes that were shipped down the previous week and then did a little shopping…….you know, necessary items and stuff like that.  

Did not get a chance to sightsee or take any pictures as the hotel is in the middle of shopping mall and quite close to the piers.    So my sightseeing is sort of restricted to the hotel.   If all goes well we will be on the ship early afternoon.     

 

Aruba

 

Aruba is an island that we visited before…..not a particularly pretty island from the point of plants and flowers, but the people are very friendly and courteous.   The island lies in the Caribbean Sea and has heavy surf and strong winds on the side facing toward the Atlantic Ocean.   But the real excitement in Aruba is the quiet beaches on the Carribean side of the island.  

We headed into town…well the tourista shopping mecca that is right off the piers.  There is also a huge casino in the Renaissance Hotel in town where I did some “phantom” gambling as I watched others at a Blackjack table lose a few hundred dollars each as I pronounced to myself “take another card”.    I didn’t do too badly, but I walked away with the same amount of money I walked in with and felt real good about that.  

We took a city bus to the beach resorts and headed to a pier, where we did some drinking and walking and talking.  Two other large cruise ships had arrived in port so we shared our space with roughly four thousand other passengers who were on the streets either shopping or headed to the beaches or both.   The weather was warm and a little muggy serving as a precursor to what lies ahead.

Outdoor shops in downtown Aruba   (left)  and  Palm Beach in Aruba (right)

 

Cartagena, Columbia

 

Cartagena, Columbia was not exactly what I expected.   At 6:00am I awoke to watch as the ship entered the harbor and a skyline full of possibly twenty story high residential skyscrapers appeared before us.   We never established who was paying one or two million dollars for these homes, but some believed they were foreigners.  

Columbia’s primary industries are coffee growing, emerald mining and of course, tourism.  One other ship was in port with ours which resulted in thousands of tourists being taken to various sites of interest in Cartagena……and, of course, each tour incorporates one or two stops for shopping.   And the tourists do shop….for the multitude of local items that is paraded before them in the shops and by street vendors.

The weather was extremely warm and heavy with humidity and we were told that this is the cool season.    We visited the Fort of San Filipe located high on a hill giving us excellent views of the old city below and the harbor.   Next, we visited dungeons that held pirates who in an earlier time plied the off shore waters, but which today are home to the many handicraft shops that sell their wares to the tourists…..sort of still like still a dungeon but now the tourists are held captive.
Cartagena, Columbia Old Town, Harbor and Skyline Fort of San Felipe

A visit to the Inquisition Palace again provided us with an introduction to an array of torture and killing machinery such as gallows, guillotine, body racks and many other such fun devices.  Throughout the old town there are Ceiba, mango and banana trees and other types of plants.  San Pedro Claver church, which we visited, was built in the seventeenth century in honor of St. Peter Claver the patron saint of slaves.

The old city with its narrow streets and beautiful wood balconies is very charming and enticing.   We walked along many of these streets and visited the central plaza with a statute of Simon Bolivar who is revered here as their hero.  It was interesting to learn that many years ago, Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador were one country and that there national flags are almost identical.

We had a great tour lasting four hours but the humid weather made our trek up the hill to the fort or even walking through the open shops very uncomfortable.   But as we were told, that is the weather of Cartagena, Columbia year round.

The Shops at the Dungeons Old Town Cartagena with its many balconies

 

Transit Panama Canal

 

Passing through the Panama Canal is an eight hour trip.   Starting on the Atlantic Coast we arrived at Colon, Panama at around 7:00am and reached the Gatun locks at 8:30am…at which time we passed through the three locks that raise the ship ninety feet.    It is our second time through, but the process remains a wonderful experience as we watch the mules…..mules are cog rail locomotives that hold our ship in the center of the lock and guide us gently through each of the three locks.  Two mules aft and two forward on both sides of the ship ….each with two lines that hold the ship in place with amazing expertise, especially when there can be only inches on each side of the ship to the edge of the lock.

After exiting the third lock our ship enters Gatun Lake that is fed by water run off from the rain forest via the Chagres River and which in turn provides the water to the locks on both ends of the canal.   It requires about fifty-two million gallons of water for each passage so the rain forest must be kept intact to ensure the ready source of the much needed water.  

The Mule

Gatun Locks Gates Closing

The Panama Canal has an amazing history and had been the goal of many countries over the years to build such a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  But it was the French who first studied the possibility of such a canal and began to build a sea level canal in the 1880s.  Such a canal was essential to reduce the trip from one coast of the United States to the other by over twenty days of sailing time and 8,000 miles.  

Under the leadership of the Frenchman, Monsieur de Lesseps, who was not an engineer, but was a visionary who believed such a canal was possible, the process was begun.   In fact, Monsieur de Lesseps had played a major role in the building of the Suez Canal.   After many years of trying to build such a canal in Panama and raising money to do so, he finally lost the confidence of the French public and government and the project was abandoned.

Locks Side by Side Close Clearance as Ship Enters Lock

Years later, Theodore Roosevelt recognized the strategic need for such a canal, signed a treaty to create the Panama Canal Zone that was to be wholly owned by the United States who would then undertake the engineering and construction of a canal that required the use of locks to raise and lower each ship as it transited from one ocean to another, some forty years after it was first started.  

Continuing our journey through the Canal we traveled through one lock at Pedro Miguel and finally, two locks at Miraflores which lower our ship to the level of the Pacific Ocean at Balboa.   A third set of locks is currently being built that will be much wider than those currently being used as most new ships are too wide today to pass through the existing locks.   The highest fare ever charged for a ship passing through the Panama Canal was $330,000 and the lowest fare was thirty-six cents for a man who swam the length of the canal, as all fares are based on a formula that considers weight and size.   Our ship paid $147,000 to pass through the Panama Canal.  

Container Ships Leaving the Locks Panama City Skyline near Pacific Ocean

 

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

 

Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America between Panama and Nicaragua.   Its seashore is located on the Caribbean Sea as well as on the Pacific Ocean and was discovered by Columbus in 1502 and named Costa Rica for its “rich coast”.   Being near the equator its weather is rather constant as is the daylight hours which is essentially twelve hours of daylight all year long. 

The rainy season brings extremely large quantities of water that contributes to the extensive biodiversity of the countryside.   It grows one-hundred seventeen species of fruit and many different types of animals and insect….1500 species of butterflies and 910 types of birds.   Their soil is very rich from the presence of volcanic ash and the large rainfall that they experience each year, which is a near perfect agricultural growing cycle.

Puntarenas Local fruit in Orotina

Tourism is their main industry (two hundred and twenty cruise ships will visit Costa Rica this year) and that source of income is followed by the development of microchips as Intel Corporation built a plant in Costa Rica  because of the availability of large amounts of fresh water.   Agriculture is also a major industry with pineapple, coffee beans, cashews and certainly bananas of which they are the largest producer in the world.  

Our travel in Costa Rica kept us in the rural farming areas where we visited two small towns ...Orotina and Esparza... and tasted samples of the various types of fruit and also had an opportunity to interact with the local people.   They are a relatively poor country, but they work very hard.   We had an opportunity to watch young children perform local folk dances and they invited us to get up and participate along with them.  They are the most adorable kids and were so happy that they thanked us for being with them.  

Young Costa Rican Dancer Friends Michael and Aunine with us in Esparza, Costa Rica

 

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

 

Our trip from Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala to Antigua, Guatemala took about one and one-half hours through mostly rural farming areas and the old commercial areas just outside of Antigua.    Our large modern bus cautiously negotiated the very tight turns and narrow streets into downtown Antigua with skill and upon arrival we were able to get a local guide to walk with us around the city.  

Guatemala was originally the site of one of the major Mayan civilizations.  The Mayans built temples, pyramids, libraries, observatories and other architectural marvels.  The area was claimed by the Spanish in the fifteen hundreds who came searching for gold, but instead found cocoa and coffee.   In 1821, the region declared independence from Spain and they joined the Mexican empire.  Guatemala become independent in 1839 when the federation was disbanded

Antigua was originally built near the base of a large volcano and in the early sixteenth century was flooded by waters that spilled down from the hills that stretched into the sky.   The people then moved their town to its current location and after an earthquake destroyed Antigua once again in the eighteenth century, the people moved the capital city to Guatemala City.   Antigua was declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.

Narrow Streets of Anitgua Entrance to the Church of San Francisco

Today Antigua is a city filled with history and beautiful architecture….it has five star hotels, excellent shops and one sees mountains in every direction.   But Guatemala remains a poor country, a country that depends on coffee exports for its major industry and tourism as well as sugar cane for their jobs.   Other agricultural products are exported as well.   Street vendors are everywhere selling their wares, but the quality products are found in the upscale stores.  Bargaining is part of the buying process and is expected.

Children may not finish school beyond the third grade when they are needed to tend farm or help parents to support the family.   Getting a college education is expensive and many families just could not afford the expense to send their children for a professional education. 

Church of San Francisco Street Vendors

During our walk, we toured the Church of San Francisco, La Merced Church and Convent, The Hotel Santo Domingo, a five star hotel that was once a monastery, Santa Catarina Archway (Clock Tower) and the town square, which was bounded by the Palacios (City Hall) and the Palace of the Governor.  Buildings in the middle of the town that were once homes to the very wealthy have retained their allure and are still the preferred homes.   Typically, windows in the homes are enclosed by decorative wrought iron grillwork which extends out from the buildings over the sidewalks. 

The Guatemalan flag is three strips of blue, white and blue representing the two oceans that border the country.   Most of the land in Guatemala is owned by a very small percentage of the population and it is almost impossible for the average person to gain wealth.   The people work hard, the opportunities are few, but they hope that the future brings a better life to their children.  Drugs are a problem and crime is a major concern. 

 

From upper left, clockwise:

Locals use the pool to do laundry, La Merced Church and Monastery, Church Ruins and Santa Catarina Archway (Clock Tower)

 

Acapulco, Mexico

 
Bay of Acapulco Divers on the Cliffs of Quebrada

Acapulco is a city by and for tourists……the hotels, the restaurants and the shops are there because there are tourists.   The Bay of Acapulco is one of the most beautiful in the world….it is bounded by mountains and the shoreline is filled with expensive hotels.  Whether it is the street vendors selling cheap local crafts or fancy stores selling the same local crafts for more money, the locals depend on the tourists to make their living.

Acapulco is an older resort area that saw its prime many years ago and then became somewhat shabby and crime ridden.   Now with many police in the tourist area, the city has had some resurgence but still suffers from the popularity of other Mexican resorts and the poor economic times.

A popular tourist site is watching the divers who jump from the cliffs of Quebrada into the waters one hundred and fifteen feet below and then climb the rocks back to the top.   When there are tourists watching they climb up to our viewing places in the hopes of getting some reward for their impressive efforts.   What they do is difficult and dangerous and it takes years to perfect as they learn to dive from higher and higher heights until they reach the top.   Just before they dive they turn and pray to the shrine of the Lady of Guadeloupe for their safety.  

Single Diver Two Divers Together

We visited Parque Popagayo in town which has a beautiful lake, animals, plants and walking paths where we saw parrots, ostrich, parakeets, deer and other animals. 

Then we rode along the beach area from Old Town to New town and then to what they call “Future Town”, where they hope that a bigger financial future lies ahead for them.   The hotels down near the ocean beach are the most beautiful and, of course, the most expensive.

Parque Popagayo Jumping of the Cliff

 

Zihuatanejo, Mexico

 
Zihuatanejo Bay Fisherman's Beach

Zihuatanejo is an old fishing village with much character……that is where cruise ships would come in and it has the ambiance that says that this is where the locals live, but it does have many tourist restaurants, craft shops, hotels and a magnificent bay with four beaches…..not that I would swim in the bay.   But the weather was just great and if I was ever to vacation in Mexico, it would probably be here.  

There is a fish market on Fisherman’s beach and shops all through the seaside village.   Our ship, small by comparison did not have a pier available so we had to tender to the village.  The other three beaches are spread around the bay all with magnificent views of the water and the mountains.

Ixtapa lies just over the mountain, just a few miles away and with ocean beaches….but it could have been a thousand miles away for it is just very different.  It has huge resort hotels along the ocean beach each bigger and more beautiful than the next.   Life is not in the village here in Ixtapa, it is in the resorts themselves.  Ixtapa is the competition that seriously impacts Acapulco’s tourist business.  

On the other side of Ixtapa are beautiful homes and an eco friendly park that is home to crocodiles and iguanas, birds and living creatures such as termites that are protected species here in this area.  

Zihuatanejo Village Crocodile Looking at Me
Ixtapa Resort Beach Pacific Princess in Zihuatanejo Bay

 

Topolobampo, Mexico

 
Local market in Los Mochis T-shirt shop

The Pacific Princess also visited Topolobampo….our last port visit in Mexico.   The primary purpose for this visit was to take passengers, who wanted to participate, on a train ride to Copper Canyon.    This was a seventeen hour trip…twelve hours on a train, four hours by bus and one hour at the canyon.  Too much for me, as it left at in the middle of the night and arrived back at the ship after I would probably have gone to bed.

But here we were at Topolobampo…the port that is; as there was a very small fishing village by that name a few miles away which we never did get to visit.  Shrimp and red snapper fishing is what the people here do and they evidently do it well, but there is nothing for tourists in Topolobampo.

We took a bus to Los Mochis about twenty minutes away.   Los Mochis has population of just under a half million people, and was settled by an American, Benjamin Johnston in the 1880s who led a group of idealists and social activists hoping to create a Utopian society.   It lasted for three decades and during that time they developed a sugar cane industry in Los Mochis, but time did not stand on their side.   The dreams died away and the settlers left, but the city continued to thrive on a growing agricultural industry as well as an increase in tourism.

Our visit to the region was a first for a Princess cruise ship and Topolobampo is continuing to develop their port to accept yet many more cruise ships.  Los Mochis had all of the character of a city designed for the local population and little or nothing for tourists.   There was no one hawking crafts trinkets or other tourist type items.   That made Los Mochis a charming city to visit…even had a Starbucks coffee shop…and walking through the markets and enjoying the great fish restaurants was an absolute fun time.

Los Mochis clockwise from upper left:   Local Market, Church across from the town square and our friends Michael and Aunine

 

Los Angeles, CA

 
Susan and Jerry Ports of Call

In Los Angeles we visited with our friends, Jerry and Susan.  We met Jerry and Susan some years ago when we are all traveling down the Yangtze River in China.  We had five days together and Susan and Jerry came to visit with us in our new home. 

Jerry and I have shared emails and phone calls for all these years and while this time together does not begin to represent a visit we have to make to their home, we cherished our short time together.   We went to the Ports of Call just down from the Pacific Princess, where we had lunch and walked around the shops. 

We also had to say good bye to our new friends Michael and Aunine…knowing them was such a great part of our journey, filled with excellent conversation and much laughter.   It is not always possible to meet wonderful new friends, but we did it with Jerry and Susan and once again with Michael and Aunine.

We were able to talk with our family and friends by cell phone.  It was terrific to be able to talk with the Deborah, Larry, Wendy, Jan, Greg, Kevin and Harry and Diane.    Also talked with Barb, Chickie, Marion, Lila N. and Sandy.

Susan, Lila and Jerry Lunch at Ports of Call

 

Honolulu, HI

 
Banyan Court at the Moana Hotel Waikiki Beach Looking Toward Diamond Head

The Pacific Princess docked in Honolulu at 7:00 am and we were up early making phone calls back home…once again it was great to talk with the family and friends…..we are going to miss that contact for the next three months.   Should have arranged for a worldwide phone….

We arranged for a ride into Waikiki Beach that took us to the Moana hotel….a great place on the beach where you sit under the banyan tree, have a drink and just watch the surf.   This was an old haunt for me, when I would visit Honolulu on business trips.  

There was almost nothing there that I remember about Kalakaua Avenue….my memory of a Polynesian scene is no more.   Today Waikiki is for tourists…upscale stores everywhere and lots of fancy shops.   For me the old vision is gone, Waikiki is just like any other tourist venue.

 

Aloha Tower

Under the Banyan Tree Diamond Head - Sailing Away - Aloha

One place we walked through…the International Marketplace in Waikiki was always the tourist shopping center, but today it is a gaudy replica of just how bad a tourist site can be……trinkets, t-shirts and every other piece of cheap item a tourist buys to take home is there…..many times over.

Now do not get me wrong, Kalakaua Avenue is very pretty but it is just not what I wanted to remember.  The beach is shorter or narrower, the prices greater but the weather is still perfect.   I have no immediate desire to return to Honolulu and see my dream shattered anymore.   

So what did we do….we walked around, sat under the banyan tree, had lunch and watched the surf….it was not a bad day.  

Polynesian Hula Dance