Archive for January, 2012

In Patagonia

On Thursday evening, January 26, we left Castro & sailed south toward our next stop, Puerto Chacabuco in Patagonia.  This area is just stunning.  During dinner we watched a glorious sunset, which turned the top part of the mountain range that was along the channel a beautiful pink .  Because we were at dinner we didn’t get a picture of the range, but here are a couple of shots of mountains in that range.  They really do not do justice to the sunset colors.

21 Mountain near Isla Chiloe, from dining room in evening 22 Mountain near Isla Chiloe, from dining room in evening

Friday morning, January 27, found us in the harbor of Puerto Chacabuco.  The weather was quite ugly, so rainy & cloudy you couldn’t see much.  We had to go ashore via tender boats & for awhile the water was so choppy they wouldn’t let us board the boats.  Happily, the weather in this area can change extremely quickly and for most of the day it turned out to be beautiful & sunny.  Here are two views of Puerto Chacabuco from the ship, one in the morning & the second in the evening.  Quite a difference.

03 Morning view from cabin

88 Evening view from our window on Prinsendam

Puerto Chacabuco was built in 1995; it is just a port & there is no town.  The port here used to be at a town called Puerto Aisen.  However in the late 1980’s & early 1990’s there was a long series of forest fires causing erosion from the mountains that filled the river with silt, making the river un-navigable.  So they built this new port at Puerto Chacabuco, but the nearest town is still Puerto Aisen.  Here are a few views of the area around Puerto Chacabuco.

02 Morning view from cabin in Puerto Chacbuco

84 Prinsendam in harbor from Puerto Chacabuco 89 Evening view of mountains from Prinsendam

We took a privately arranged tour of the area that took us first to Puerto Aisen.  The guide said no one knows the origin of the name but one theory is that when the first settlers came this was the limit of the local ice sheet, so they called it “ice’s end” or Aisen.  Sounds dubious to us, particularly since that phrase sounds suspiciously like English.  Anyway, it’s a small frontier town on a river nestled among large snow-capped mountains.  The weather really changed during just the 20 minutes or so that we were there; I have included at the end of this sequence two pictures of the same mountaintop from the Plaza de Armas taken about 3 minutes apart.

04 Puerto Aisen 05 Neighborhood in Puerto Aisen

10 Chilean national tree 08 Mary reading inscription in Plaza de Armas, Puerto Aisen

 11 Puerto Aisen church from Plaza de Armas 09 Plaza de Armas in Puerto Aisen

16 Mountain top, puerto Aisen 19 Mountain top from Puerto Aisen

Next we saw a two level waterfall called Cascada de la Virgen, named after the shrine next to it of (what else?) the Virgen de la Cascada.  After that we went to a nature preserve including part of the Rio Simpson, a lovely river among the mountains popular with fly fishermen.  Among other things, we saw there some wild fuschia & a giant relative of the rhubarb which is eaten by the local folks, but we didn’t see any of the condors that live there.

20 La Cascada de la Virgen 22 Virgen de la Cascada

32 Rio Simpson

 27 Mary with giant rhubarb 30 Wild Fuschia

25 River stones near Cascada 34 Rick at Rio Simpson

We had lunch at a “campo” or country house in a place called Pangal.  This is not a tourist place but a family who are friends of the guide.  They grow most of their own food; there is a greenhouse for growing salad greens, and they have llamas, sheep & geese (at least that is all we saw).  Lunch was served in their “quincho,” a wooden barbecue house designed for parties & celebrations.  Because the van could not cross the suspension bridge on the way to the campo we had to walk about a half mile, across the bridge (which is solid, but does sway a little) and through some beautiful mountain scenery.

37 Mary crossing bridge at Pangal 91 River from bridge in Pangal

92 Rick at bridge at Pangal  41 House in Pangal

76 Mountain view on walk back from campo

93 Greenhouse at campo in Pangal 72 Llama at Pangal

43 Geese at Pangal campo 50 Ram with grandaughter at Pangal

73 Llama 48 Llama (or perhaps not) at Pangal

74 Llama

In the quincho was a huge fireplace in which a whole lamb was roasting on a spit.  We were told that it had been cooking for about 4 hours.  We were given a pisco sour & Chilean wine to drink and were served the lamb as “asado al palo,” along with salad & potato & fried bread called sopas.  It was all delicious.

51 Lamb on spit at  Pangal quincha (out-bldg for parties & celebrations) 53 Turning the lamb on spit

During the meal we were entertained by a young couple doing local folk dances (one of the dances was called a “cueca”).  The gaucho appeared to have a roving eye.

56 Folk dancers at Pangal54 Folk dancers  doing Cueca at Pangal 68 Folk dancers at Pangal 66 Folk dancers at Pangal 61 Folk dancers at Pangal70 Folk dancer eyeing Mary

Outside was this little ram making a lot of noise & looking like he really wanted to go inside the quincho.  I tried to tell him that it wasn’t pretty for lambs in there but he didn’t seem to believe me.

75 Ram at Pangal 52 Grandaughters

After that we went back to the ship, making one more pass through this beautiful territory.  As usual there was a towel animal to cap off the evening (you wouldn’t want to miss one of those, right?).

78 Mountain view with yellow field 80 Mountain view from bus

81 Mountain view from bus 90 Elephant towel animal

Friday night was very rough. The captain came on the speaker around 8:00 to tell us that they were changing course because of bad weather & we would be going out into the ocean at midnight, where we would stay most of Saturday and then go back into the fjords Saturday evening.  He told us to prepare for bad weather and to secure everything in our cabins “unless you want to see your Ming vase rolling around the deck on your verandah.”  We don’t have a verandah in our cabin (or a Ming vase, for that matter) but we did secure everything in our cabin, putting things in drawers & cabinets.  During the night the ship was going up & down quite emphatically; in the middle of the night I was awakened when our bathroom sliding door suddenly slammed shut on its own initiative (Mary, amazingly, slept right through that).  The next morning the captain told us we were experiencing 15 foot waves & gale-force winds.  It surely felt like it; you couldn’t walk in a straight line around the ship, but were constantly weaving back & forth like a drunk.  First the floor would be inclined to the left, so you would lean in that direction to maintain your balance, but suddenly the floor would be inclined to the right instead, so you would stagger to the left while trying to regain your equilibrium by leaning to the right, but just when you thought you had succeeded the floor would suddenly be inclined to the left again & the cycle would repeat.  I told Mary we were getting good exercise out of it since you had to walk twice as far to get anywhere on the ship with the constant zig-zagging.  I took a couple of pictures of the waves, but because of the height from which they were taken they do not begin to convey what it really looked like.

02 Sea in turmoil 03 Fifteen meter swells

We did go back inside the fjords around 7:00 & it was much calmer.  We could see impressive mountains along the side of the channel but it was too misty to get a decent picture.  When on a long voyage like this, away from the normal rhythms of city life, it is easy to lose track of the days.  So on Prinsendam they change the floor mats in the elevators every day as a reminder (remember, there are lots of older folks on this cruise, so memories are probably generally less than stellar).  And, of course, another towel animal.

01 Elevator floor mat 05 towel bunny

From this point on for the next couple of weeks internet access, and therefore blog postings, will probably be pretty spotty.  We have ‘”scenic cruising” on Sunday, we are in Punta Arenas on Monday (where I hope to post this blog entry), then Ushuaia, Argentina, on Tuesday (where I may have another blog post),. After that are 5 days of cruising through Antarctica where we will most likely be incommunicado.  We are supposed to be in Stanley, Falkland Islands on Monday, Feb. 6 (although we are told that weather prevents going ashore there about half the time), then two more days at sea until we reach Buenos Aires on Feb. 9.  After that communications should be better & you will hear from us more often.

Castro, Isla Chiloe, Chile

After a rough day at sea, we arrived this morning at Castro, a town on Isla Chiloe (chee-loe-way) off the coast of southern Chile.

02 Castro from ship

05 Castro with cathedral

A sharp contrast to Santiago’s teeming millions, Castro has between 20,000 and 30,000 people and its green hills are a welcome change from the deserts of the last week.  It’s a small port so I imagine it gets few cruise ships, but it seems to have a thriving tourist trade since there are lots of hotels & restaurants.  Established by (who else) the Spanish in 1567, it was then isolated from all European interaction for 200 years after the local Mapuche people drove the Spanish out of the southern Chilean mainland in 1599.

Built on the landward side of the island (the 2d largest island in South America after Tierra del Fuego), Castro was pretty much destroyed by an earthquake & tsunami in 1960.  The buildings here are mostly wood, painted a variety of bright colors.

14 Mary on Castro street 07 Cathedral

The cathedral, opening (as usual in South American towns) onto the Plaza des Armes, is painted yellow with a purple roof.  Because of the unusually high and low tides buildings by the shore are built on stilts and are called Palafitos.

07 Cathedral 18 Cathedral from Plaza des Armes

12 Palafito 11 Palafitoes

20 Palafito restaurant with boats

As you can see, it was very low tide when we were there; some boats were on the beach waiting for the water to come back to them.

We walked all the way up the very steep hill to the cathedral.  You can see how steep it is from this sidewalk up the hill, which is actually a stairway.  If you look very closely, there are two people walking up, near the top of the stairway.  They are not us; we took an easier route.  Walking back down we passed a couple of dogs in front of a restaurant having a great time chasing cars slowly climbing the street, trying to bite their tires, then returning to the restaurant to await the next driver.  Mary turned to me and said “valet barking.”  I wish I had thought of that one.  Also here are a few other random shots of interesting things in town, like a cow sculpture, some graffiti & a mime playing an accordion.  Finally, today’s towel animal, a cobra.

16 Stairway-street 15 Cow sculpture

17 Graffiti

19 Mime playing accordion on Castro street 01 Towel Animal - Cobra

Valparaiso & Santiago, Chile

On Tuesday, January 24, we arrived in Valparaiso, Chile’s third largest city with close to a million people (we think).  We were on a bus tour to Santiago, Chile’s capitol, which was to leave at 7:15 AM (!), so we got these pictures of Valparaiso harbor just before sunrise.

01 Valparaiso harbor at sunrise

06 Valparaiso bay with mountains at sunrise 03 Valparaiso at sunrise

Valparaiso is built on a number of steep hills (heard that before?).  It has cliffs not far back from the harbor and a whole series of funiculars to carry people to the upper city.  We were told that only 4 of them are currently in working order.

56 Funicular in Valparaiso 58 Funicular in Valparaiso 

Santiago de Chile, the capital, is in a valley in the Andes mountains about 100 miles east of Valparaiso.  It was an early Spanish outpost & now has some 7.5 million people spread out for many miles.  They told us it never rains there in summer & never snows there in winter, although the surrounding mountains get plenty of snow.  Most of our tour was, sadly, spent on the bus.  On the way there we saw vineyards in several mountain valleys (Chileans are very proud of their wine, which is supposed to be first-rate).

08 Vina Indomita vineyards near Valparaiso 10 Vineyard in valley near Santiago 11 Mountain & red flower bush near Santiago 12 Vineyard in mountain valley near Santiago

Now for some pictures as we drove around Santiago.  The train station with, if you look very closely behind the pole at the right, a carousel (not great, but the bus was moving).  Then an unusual red church, a wall with graffiti (we have seen a lot of graffiti in Chile), a clock tower near the central plaza (where we couldn’t get out because someone was robbed there on our guide’s last trip, which she blamed on Peruvians who hang out there), and the Palace of Justice (which I assume is like a Supreme Court).

13 Train station in Santiago (with carousel in lower right)   24 Red church in Santiago

15 Wall graffiti in Santiago  26 Church tower near Plaza des Armes23 Palace of Justice in Santiago

We did get out to see the Presidential Palace.  We were pleased & surprised to see a statue of Salvador Allende there.  Our guide’s favorite word was “nice”; everything was “nice” except two things:  the earthquake two years ago & Augusto Pinochet (she pronounced the “t” at the end).  She said he took away all freedoms & passed laws to benefit himself & his supporters.  This was a welcome change from our ship, where we heard two lecturers (one British & one American) praise Pinochet for saving the country from communism & establishing a strong capitalist economy (although the British guy acknowledged that “some people disappeared”).  I guess a bloodthirsty police state is OK for some (who don’t live there) so long as free enterprise is protected.  There is no statue of General Pinochet at the Presidential Palace.

17 Statue of Salvador Allende outside presidential palace 17 Statue of Salvador Allende outside presidential palace  21 Presidential Palace from across square 20 Toy soldiers - guards standing on platforms outside presidential palace

Before lunch we went up to a scenic overlook on the side of a hill that had great views of the Andes & Santiago in the valley below. Unfortunately there was a blanket of smog that interfered with what would have been quite a picture.

 43 Santiago panorama

40 Mary at Santiago overlook 46 Santiago from hillside overlook 50 Cactus & Santiago overlook near restaurant 80 Rick & Mary at hillside overlook of Santiago 48 Santiago from hillside 49 Cactus on hillside

After visiting a disappointingly overpriced artisan place in Santiago the bus took us back.  We slept most of the way back but our guide detoured us at the end through a resort town next to Valparaiso called Vina del Mar.  Apparently, there is a beach house there for the President and government officials & rich folks from Santiago go there to swim.  Tough to get pictures from a moving bus (& we were sitting on the wrong side for pictures).

53 Vina del Mar (resort community near Valparaiso) 55 canal where ocean comes in at Vina Del Mar 54 Christmas tree-like fir in Vina del Mar 65 Vina del Mar from ship

Finally, some views of Valparaiso as we sailed away, the harbor pilot leaving the ship, and yet another towel animal.

64 Valparaiso at sailaway with multicolor bldgs 63 Valparaiso at sailaway

60 Pilot's boat alongside Prinsendam 66 Towel animal - seal

I guess that’s all for now.  We are headed south to Patagonia right now & it has been a very bumpy ride since yesterday, almost like a roller coaster.  And we haven’t even gotten to the really wild water yet!  To make it just a little scarier, the ship creaks a lot (it’s pretty old for a cruise ship; built in the early 80’s,).  But so far we are holding up pretty well.  We have 2 port days in a row, so it will probably be a few days until we post here again.

Antofagasta & Coquimbo, Chile

Long time, no see.  Before getting into today’s subject, I wanted to correct my description of Mollendo, which I derided the other day as an ordinary Peruvian town.  I have since learned that it is a seaport (once an important one) & one of the top resort towns in southern Peru.  Rich folks from Arequipa have beach homes here and there is a castle, which is now apparently owned by the Catholic Church.  We (obviously) didn’t see any of that, but then we didn’t stay very long because I was still feeling pretty sick then (much better now, thank you).

Anyway, on Saturday, January 21, we docked at Antofagasta, our first stop in Chile.

21 Antefagasto from departing ship 

As you can see from the mountains this is still on the edge of the Atacama desert.  There is a town not too far away called Calama that has never recorded a drop of rain.  In the late 19th century Chile fought a war with Peru & Bolivia over this area, with the result that Chile has sovereignty here but Bolivia (which has no coast) is guaranteed a trading outlet at ports in northern Chile, including Antofagasta & Arica.  Chileans & Peruvians don’t like each other very much to this day.

This is important because in this area of Bolivia is a place called Potosi, which was basically a volcanic mountain of silver.  While most silver ore has less than 5% silver, the ore at Potosi had more than 50%.  Nearby was another mountain full of mercury, which is used to extract silver from ore.  The Spaniards, true to form, basically enslaved the local Indians & forced them to labor in the mines, most of them dying quite quickly.  We were told that in some of the Indian graves from that era, when the bodies decomposed what was left was a pool of Mercury beneath the skeleton.  Anyway, Potosi accounted for about half of all the Spanish silver exported from America in the 16th & 17th centuries, which basically doubled the money supply in Europe (and also, incidentally, in China where the Spaniards traded it in Manila for porcelain & silk) & apparently also paid for the Hundred Years War.

After the wonders of Peru, Antofagasta was really not a very interesting city.  Here is Mary in the Plaza Colon (Spanish for Columbus) with the dome of the Regional Library in the background.  There was also a fountain and a clock tower.  The clock tower was contributed by the British community here & is said to be a miniature copy of Big Ben in London, but really looks nothing like it (it does have 4 clock faces).

01 Mary in Plaza Colon in Antafagasto Chile 04 Fountain in Plaza Colon 02 Big Ben clocktower in Antefagasto 07 Clocktower with strange evergreen 

We noticed quite a lot of dogs lying around the streets, some with collars some not, some looking mangy and some not.  Also, I think this is a statue of Ferdinand & Isabella, although it wasn’t labeled.  It is at the edge of Plaza Colon, on Avenida Jorge Washington.

05 Mary & dogs in pedestrian mall 09 Statue in Plaza Colon, possibly Ferdinand & Isabella

Here we are leaving Antofagasta where a small lighthouse sits at the harbor entry, occupied by lots of birds, mostly pelicans.

24 Mary looking at water as ship sails from Antefagasto22 lighthouse in Antefagasto harbor entrance 

23 Birds (mostly pelicans) near lighthouse

After a sea day we docked in Coquimbo, Chile, on Monday,  January 23.  Coquimbo & its sister city La Serena are resort towns on a beautiful bay.

08 Boat in Cocquimbo harbor  02 Cocquimbo harbor

Coquimbo is built on the steep hills surrounding its harbor.  On top of the hill where the ship was docked is a huge & very ugly building called the Millennial Cross.  Built in 2000, as the name indicates, it memorializes the Pope’s visit to South America.  You can go up & look out the windows (we didn’t).  The other major landmark in town is, weirdly, a mosque on a hill.  We are told that this does not represent a Muslim community in Coquimbo, but was built primarily as a tourist attraction.  We’re not sure whether this is true but speaking as tourists it doesn’t do much for us.

05 Cocquimbo 20 Cocquimbo from La Serena

48 Cross atop hill in Cocquimbo 53 Mosque in Cocquimbo

The hills are so steep that the sidewalks look like Lombard Street in San Francisco.

42 woven sidewalk on hill in Cocquimbo 46 Houses on hill in Cocquimbo 45 Houses on hilltop in Cocquimbo  42 woven sidewalk on hill in Cocquimbo

They must not get many cruise ships in Coquimbo; they sent out a band to greet us in the morning (way too early) & to send us off in the evening.  Not the world’s greatest band, but it was a nice gesture.

43 Band to bid ship farewell in Cocquimbo

We took a van with a few other people for a personal tour.  He took us to a spot called Drake’s Castle, where Sir Francis Drake supposedly built an encampment while pirating Spanish ships along the west coast of the Americas.  We believe he camped here, but we don’t necessarily believe he built the castle-like structures.  However, its a lovely spot, with rock formations, beautiful flowers & bay views, & a rock full of sea lions.  I guess in some circumstances people will pay just about anything for a bathroom (it’s really about $.50).

17 harbor from drake castle  10 Sea Lions on rock at Drake castle

18 white flowers at drake castle15 Rick at Drake castle 

14 cactus at Drake castle12 Sign at Drake castle - Banos $250 

We then drove around the bay to La Serena, a beach resort.  We stopped at a wimpy lighthouse on the beach then drove up a hill to visit an old fort (still run by the army) built, we were told, by Italians.  We were told that a lot of Italians emigrated to this part of Chile at the end of WWII (while the Germans were going to Argentina, I guess), but this fort is a lot older than that.  There was a pool with a marble sculpture brought from Italy & some nice Italian marble benches as well.

56 Lighthouse in La Serena from ship 19 Lighthouse at La Serena 21 Cocquimbo from La Serena   55 Castle in La Serena from ship

32 Fort overlooking La Serena 30 Two beauties - Mary & Italian marble statute at pool at fort  27 Rick & Mary at fort, overlooking La Serena Chile29 Italian tile bench at fort

We went on from there to a shopping square,with artisans, souvenirs, barbers, hat stores, etc.  We stopped at a grocery store, mainly to use the bathrooms.  Here is Mary in the van with our friends Bing & Barb & a sign for parking for expectant mothers.

23 Mary in van at La Serena with Bing & Barb Parking for expectant mothers

The shopping stop was a nice little square with a fountain in which kids played.

35 Market near La Serena, with fountain

Lots of colorful items for sale, some artistic & some not so much.

36 Indians vs. Conquistadors chess sets, market near La Serena 39 Needlework hangings at market near La Serena

38 Table of souveniers at market near La Serena  39 Needlework hangings at market near La Serena

 38 Table of souveniers at market near La Serena39 Needlework hangings at market near La Serena

And finally, for you towel animal fans, here are a couple more:

57 Towel Animal - Shrimp (we think) 25 towel squid

General San Martin & Matarani, Peru

On Tuesday,  January 17. we visited a port called, poetically, General San Martin.  Its not much in itself, as you can see.

03 General St Martin port 02 General St Martin port, near Paracas & Pisco, Peru

It is located on a sort of large rounded peninsula, described evocatively by the ship’s travel guide as a “carbuncle on the coast of South America.”  Up the coast a few miles is the city of Pisco, which was devastated by an earthquake a few years ago & is still not fully rebuilt.  But the big attraction here (at least for us) is Isla Ballestras, sometimes described as a poor man’s Galapagos.  While it is hardly the rich nature preserve that the Galapagos are, it is a wildlife sanctuary that is home to an unusually diverse and numerous collection of bird and sea animals.  One guide told us that this area of Peru has more diversity of species of wildlife than anywhere else in the world.  I’m not sure about that grandiose claim, but its pretty impressive.

We took a speedboat to Ballestras holding about 25 people from a little town not far from the port called Paracas.  It seems to be building itself into a resort town but is still a pretty sleepy place and, as you can see, it is on the edge of a rather bleak desert.  We did, however, enjoy its outdoor statues of a penguin & a sea lion.

08 Penguin sculpture, Paracas Peru 71 Sea Lion sculpture at Paracas Peru

04 Paracas, Peru 05 Prinsendam, from Paracas Peru

After boarding the boat & donning our life jackets the first place we came to was an ancient cliff drawing called the “candalabra” or “trident.”  It is quite huge and very old, created by ancient indians, but no one knows why it is there or what it is supposed to represent.  It seems to point directly to the Nazca lines (landscape drawings much further inland by the ancient Nazca indians, the shape of which can only be seen from an airplane) but it is not now thought to be related to them.

13 Rick & Mary in boat to Isla Ballestos  15 Giant Candelabra on hillside near Puerto San Martin

16 Candalabra 18a Mary in boat near candalabra

Then on to Ballestas, about a 25 minute trip at high speed over choppy ocean waters.

85 Isla Ballestas

So now, before we get to the wildlife you are all waiting to see, my sad story.  We were told that we needed to worry about our hats on this trip.  You need them not only for protection from the sun but for protection from bird droppings.  There is a strong wind while speeding to the island so I put my Cincinnati Reds baseball cap on backwards to avoid having it blown off (as you can see in the picture above).  Well, when we got to the island there didn’t seem to be much wind anymore, so I turned the hat around.  Almost immediately a gust of wind came along & blew my hat overboard!  The guide tried to retrieve it with a pole but the waves were too choppy.  So now my hat sleeps with the fishes.  Worse, the lack of a hat led to a bad sunburn on my face & the top of my head where my hair used to be (I hadn’t put sunscreen there or on my face because my hat was always sufficient protection), which was probably made worse by windburn on the trip back from the island.  As a result I have been feeling pretty sick over the last few days, which Mary attributes to sunstroke, although now it is starting to get better.  Enough about me.

As you can see below, Ballestras is completely covered by hundreds of thousands of birds of many varieties.  Its a pretty impressive sight.

29 Cliff full of birds

54 Hillside of birds 55 Hill of birds

89 Birds on rock at Ballestas 88 Birds at Ballestas

Herewith some photos of a few of the various species of which I managed to get pictures from a seriously rocking boat.  Pelicans & a Kelp Gull:

22 Pelicans & Grey Gulls at Ballestas 23 Pelicans & grey gulls with Kelp Gulls (lower rt) on cliff at Ballestros

Humboldt penguins:

28 Humboldt penguin & pelicans at Ballestas 38 Humboldt Penguins

Guanay Cormorants:

48 Guanay Cormorants 49 Guanay Cormorants

And my favorite name, Peruvian boobies:

24 Peruvian Boobies at Ballestas 44 Peruvian boobies & sea lions

This striking red-headed bird was not in the bird guide we were given, but it looks to me like some kind of vulture.  The second one on is eating what appears to be a fish.

51 Red headed bird (perhaps a vulture)50 Red headed bird (perhaps a vulture) eating its prey

Sea Lions:

53 Two sea lions 66 Sea lion on the rocks

62 Sea lions in the surf

61 Sea Lions on the beach

The sea lions are very loud; there is a constant bellowing coming from the group.  I don’t know if they do that all the time or just when there is a boat nearby.  In the next picture the shadows at the bottom are full of yelping sea lions & some birds, while the white rock is covered with birds.

20 South American Sea Lions at Ballastas

Well, all these birds are gathered in one spot & you know what birds do best.  As a result, this island is very rich in guano (bird droppings) which makes excellent fertilizer (it also makes this island really stink).  So every 7 years they harvest the guano from the island.  There is a pier built for this purpose which, like everything else, is usually covered with birds.  When the Spaniards first collected and shipped guano from here to Europe it caused something of a revolution in agriculture there.

33 Dock for shipping guano (collected every 7 years) 33a under dock at Ballestas

This area of Peru, and really most of the coastal area of Peru & northern Chile, is a desert area.  In this general area of southern Peru & northern Chile (mostly further inland) is the Atacama Desert, which is the driest spot on the globe.  It literally never rains here.  We were told that this is the reason all the Indian ruins are so well preserved, particularly the adobe mud bricks & the mummies that would have deteriorated badly in a more temperate environment.  But the desert hills around here are sometimes quite beautiful, showing a variation in color and light & shadow, particularly at sunset.

19 Desert cliffs near Ballastas

80 Hills behind St Martin bay

83 Sun setting behind St Martin hills   76 Mary looking out at St. Martin bay 79 Jellyfish - maybe Man-o-war 78 Gulls sitting on water

Looking out at the water before sailing we saw a whole lot of these huge brown jellyfish (left above) floating by; Mary thought they might be Men-o-war.  And gulls floating on the water; mostly they fly around, then suddenly dive-bomb straight down into the water after fish, but that happened too quickly & unexpectedly to get a picture.  We also saw a squadron of Pelicans flying in a V formation, just a few inches above the water.  They looked very military in bearing, but again no picture since I didn’t have my camera out in time (d’oh!).

I want to keep you up to date on the towel animals and bread sculpture as well, since we have been enjoying them.  Our best towel sculpture by far to this point has been the hanging ape, which we didn’t notice for several minutes after entering our room because it wasn’t on the bed like the others.  The cornucopia is all bread (with, I presume, some food coloring), despite what it looks like.

44 Ape towel animal 92 Octopus towel animal 72 Cornucopia bread sculpture 74 Bread sculpture of bunch of grapes

January 18 was a sea day then on January 19 we docked at Matarani, a very small port in southern Peru.  I think this is the first time Holland America has visited here & it appears that they get little or no other cruise traffic.  The port itself is pretty, but there is nothing else there except more desert.

10 Port at Matarani 11 Port at Matarani

The nearest spot of real interest is an old Spanish colonial city called Arequippa but it was an all day bus trip to see it, with 2 1/2 hrs on the bus each way, so we skipped that.  (Actually, with the way my innards were acting, I never would have made it that far without a rest stop.)  The cruise line was operating a shuttle bus to the closest town, a small town called Mollendo which really had nothing to distinguish it.  The shuttle took us through rather barren desert for half an hour, with narrow bumpy roads often hugging the sides of steep hills.

08 Alcana desert between Matarani & Mollenda 09 Desert near Matarani

The town had an interesting indoor market with colorful fruits and stalls with hanging meat (hanging unrefrigerated for who knows how long).  They had an interesting variety of corn with very large kernels.  Peru has more than 300 varieties of potato (!) and also a large variety of corn, both of which originated here.

01 Indoor market in Mollenda 01 Indoor market in Mollenda

05 Large kernel corn 02 Bananas in Mollenda

Mollendo also had the inevitable church and a central plaza.  Below right is a picture of Mary walking along a street of food vendors which is, as one of the passengers kept saying, “evidence that we were there.”

03 Church in Mollenda  04 Mary on street in Mollenda

07 Mollenda main square

So basically nothing special here, but it was interesting to walk around a real Peruvian town that is not set up to cater to tourists.

That brings us up to date (today is a sea day & tomorrow we will dock in our first port in Chile).  Before leaving Peru, there is one thing I meant to show you earlier; it doesn’t have anything to do with Mollendo but I am going to put it here anyway because its the only place left.  For those of you interested in elections, it seems that they had elections in Peru last year.  A whole lot of people were running for President, it seems, and political signs were everywhere, in Trujillo & Lima especially but also in Paracas.  Peruvians paint their political signs on walls (there are walls along most streets and hardly any buildings have a front yard without a wall in front of it, often with barbed wire, broken glass and even electrified wire on top of the wall).  The signs are still there, of course, even though the election is long over, & I guess they will stay there until someone pays the owners of the walls to paint something else over them.  It makes you glad to have all the crappy little political signs we have in the US that look so bad but can at least be cleared away from the landscape once the election is over.

76 Keiko for President sign painted on wall in Trujillo 03 Presidential election sign on wall, Callao

And one last interesting thing we saw all over Peru was a large number of these little 3 wheel cars.  We had never seen them before but they are everywhere here, quite often with this kind of original paint job.

06 Three wheel van, Paracas Peru

That’s it for now.  See you in Chile in a few days.

Lima, Peru

We were in Lima, Peru Sunday & Monday,  January 15 & 16, so this will be a two day posting.  We actually docked in Callao (pronounced Kai-yow) which is the nearest port, about 25 miles from downtown Lima.  02 Port Of Callao, from ship

Lima is a huge city, 8 or 9 million people depending on who you ask.  Much of it is very pretty, with beaches (pretty rocky ones, though), cliffs, parks and lots of beautiful flowers.

11 Beach at Miraflores, Lima on horizon  09 Beach at Miraflores 11 Beach at Miraflores from cliff  05 Cliff at Miraflores

29 Red & purple flowers in Lima park  04 Fishing from the dock, Miraflores, Lima Peru

However, it is also a city with a lot of poverty (in fact, we have seen this throughout Peru).  We were told that 11% of the population of Lima live without electricity or water service.  You can see thousands of what are essentially huts (someone said they look like ship containers) on hillsides, occupied by squatters.

14 Squatters hill in Lima

16 Squatters' hill in Lima

On our first day in Lima we were on a tour booked by one of the other passengers that was supposed to take us to the 2 best archeological sites in Lima.  However, when our van pulled up to Pachacamac we learned that  because there was a major car rally finishing in Lima that day they had decided at the last minute to close Pachacamac at noon.  So we did not get to see the site that was the main reason we booked this tour.  The rally was a big deal, with cars from all over the world competing, & lots of folks came out to see it, but that was a disappointment.

15 Gate to Pachacamec ruins, which we couldn't enter 13 Pachacamec, perhaps, from the road 12 People waiting for road rally finish in Lima

So, having seen nothing up to then, they took us to lunch.  We ate at a nice Peruvian buffet place where we could sample a large variety of Peruvian food, including the largest corn kernels I have ever seen.  I also tried a Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru & Chile (and thus a dispute about who originated it).  And on our table was a small pot of hot sauce that tasted very much like what you can get at local Peruvian chicken places in Arlington such as Crisp & Juicy, which is our favorite.  The comparable restaurants here are called “Pollo de Brasas.”

23 Front of peruvian restaurant where we ate in Lima 20 Mary in Peruvian restaurant in Lima 21 Rick in Peruvian restaurant in Lima 18 Peruvian hot sauce

After lunch we visited several parks.  The first one, on the edge of a cliff in the Miraflores district (a wealthy suburb), contained a sculpture the Peruvians are very proud of picturing two indians kissing.  It also has a wall that was inspired by Antonio Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona.

24 Kissing Indians statue in Lima park 26 Bay from Lima park

25 Panarama of Gaudiesque wall in Lima park

The second park was all olive trees that were planted by the Spaniards more than 300 years ago.  They are set out in neat rows.

57 Olive tree park, Lima 56 Olive tree park, Lima

Finally, we visited an important archeological site, right in the city, called Huaca Pucllana.  It is a large pyramid that is in the process of excavation.  The most interesting thing about it (for a visitor, not an archeologist) is the “book style” technique of laying the adobe bricks, which we hadn’t seen before.  We were told that the entire thing is made of bricks; there is no space inside.  Apparently, each generation would build a new layer on top of the old one.  According to our guide, the last picture in the group is the remains of some human sacrifices uncovered here.

32 Mary at Huaca Pucllana 37 book-style adobe bricks at Huaca Pucllana 45 Huaca Pucllana 41 Adobe finish over bricks at Huaca Pucllana    90 Rick at Huaca Pucllana 43 Perhaps remains of sacrificed indians

And here is the skyline of Miraflores from the top of the pyramid.

93 Miraflores skyline from Huaca Pucllana

Also at the Huaca Pucllana site we saw our first llamas, some guinea pigs (which Peruvians eat), and some Peruvian Hairless dogs (which are exceedingly ugly).

50 Llama at Huaca Pucllana 97 Llama through chain link fence at  Huaca Pucllana

53 Guinea Pig (Peruvian delicacy) at Huaca Pucllana 47 Peruvian hairless dog

The last thing on our tour was a park with a variety of creative fountains, called the Magical Circuit Of The Waters.  This park was very popular; lots of local people there on a Sunday evening (even though it cost to enter), with everyone taking their pictures in front of the fountains.

 62 Circuit of the Waters 67 Water tunnel, circuit of the waters, Lima 68 People in fountain, circuit of the waters 73 small fountain, circuit of the waters, Lima

69 Red & purple Bougainvillea, at circuit of the waters, Lima 74 Old church tower, from circuit of the waters in Lima

That night on the ship a local folk dancing group put on a really terrific show (which included an old Peruvian folksong written by Paul Simon).  The last dance, of which I did not get pictures, had two young fellows doing some impressive gymnastic dancing (back flips, etc.) while holding a long scissors in their right hands with which they kept the beat of the song.  I wonder how much blood was on the floor while they were learning to do that!

75 Folk dancers on Prinsendam in Lima 76 Folk dance show on Prinsendam 78 Peruvian folk dance show on Prinsendam 82 Peruvian folk dance show on Prinsendam 85 Peruvian folk dance show on Prinsendam  86 Peruvian folk dance show on Prinsendam

On our second day in Lima we visited two archeological museums.  The Larco Museum allowed photos but the Gold Museum did not.  Larco was an archeologist/collector who collected a huge amount of pottery & sculpture, mostly in northern Peru, early in the 20th century when it was still legal to do so.  He established a museum in what used to be his hacienda, a beautiful building with fabulous gardens.  We had an excellent guide & learned a lot at this museum.

Most of this collection is pre-Inca.  The Inca conquered much of Peru in the 12th & 13th centuries, so their empire was only a few hundred years old when Pizarro came and conquered them (that’s an interesting story in itself, since he did this with a total of 168 men).  Other civilizations in this area, such as the Moche & Chimu, lasted for 6 or 7 hundred years before declining.  Many of these pots, which are in astonishingly good shape, are actually water vessels (you can see the long spouts on the top), but probably were never used for that since they were made to put in the tombs of noblemen.  In these tombs they have also found the skeletons of dozens of other people who apparently were the nobleman’s retainers, buried alive to serve him in the next world.

12 Pre-Inca indian water vessel with person (1000 -2500 years old) 15 Water vessel pottery with skull sculpture 17 Man's head pottery water vessel (Moche, pre-Inca) 16 Woman's head pottery water vessel

There is also a room containing ancient textiles that were in the tombs.

19 Moche textile, closeup (Lorca museum) 20 Moche textile, closeup

In a separate wing of the Larco museum is a collection of extremely explicit pottery, demonstrating that these Indians knew how to have a good time, & expected to continue doing so in the next life.  I was going to post some pictures of these but Mary prevailed upon me not to include pornography in the general blog posting.  If anyone really wants to see these, email me & I will try to email you copies of some of the pictures (not sure it will work on this spotty internet connection).  You can specify the type of sexual depiction you are interested in, if you like, since these Indians pretty much covered the field!

The Lorco museum also has gardens with beautiful flowers hanging over walls & giant cactuses, so I will share a few here.

\10 Red & blue flowers at Lorco museum 37 Mary at Lorco Museu  05 Flowers on wall at Lorco museum in Lima 06 Flowers at Lorco Museum in Lima 38 Red & yellow flowers at Lorco museum 07 Cactus & flowers at Lorco museum

36 Cactus at Lorco  museum

Here is a “Chifa” restaurant, which is a Peruvian version of Chinese food (we didn’t get to try any), and the national library of Peru, for the librarians in the audience.  Also, we have here laundry drying on the roof of a house, which we have seen quite a bit of here in Peru.  Note that there are steel construction rods sticking out of the roof on the building nearer the front.  You see this all over Peru; we are told this is because property taxes are lower for unfinished buildings so people keep their houses permanently “unfinished.”

40 Chifa Wong restaurant in Lima 42 Peru national library

43 Washing on roof & unfinished roof, Lima

Finally, here is the monkey towel animal we received at the end of the day and a bread sculpture of a barrel with a bunch of grapes at the lower left made out of 2 different colors of bread.

01 Monkey towel animal 02 Barrel made of bread, with bread bunch of grapes at left bottom

Trujillo, Peru

Hi again.  Its been a while since we have posted to the blog.  This is because we had 4 consecutive port days with land tours that didn’t leave any time for blogging, then 2 days of me (Rick) being sick (which isn’t really over yet).  So, there is a lot to catch up on, & I think it will take several postings.

On Saturday, January 14, we were in Trujillo, Peru.  This is a city of between 800,000 and 900,000, depending on who you ask.  It seems to be a very poor city, with most people living in what amounts to brick or adobe shacks.  We saw  lots of small fields of sugar cane, chili peppers & other vegetables, as well as cows & a lot of dogs.  We were on a bus tour to three fascinating archeological sites in this area, so we did quite a lot of driving around the area, much of it on bumpy roads that, as Mary said (quoting Big Bird) “really shook up my giblets.”

Anyway, here are some pictures of adobe brick walls at residences outside Trujillo, & the local church in this village.

01 wall, Trujillo 20 Adobe wall outside Trujillo 19 Church in village near Trujillo  18 Street in village near Trujillo

Here is a field of sugarcane (with the foothills of the Andes in the background).  They tell us that they harvest the sugarcane by setting fire to the field.  Only the leaves burn, & then they come along & slice off the remaining with machetes.  The second picture is of sugarcane harvesters carrying the cane from a burned field.  They are trying to convert the industry to mechanical harvesting to avoid releasing so much carbon dioxide into the air but that is still in an early stage of acceptance.  The third picture is a street vendor with a bunch of sugarcane stalks on the right side of his cart for sale.  And then a store selling Inca Kola, which is ubiquitous around here and can be purchased in Arlington Va as well (although Carrie tells us its pretty vile).

23 Sugar cane & mtn outside Trujillo 22 Men harvesting  Sugar Cane outside Trujillo  50 sugar cane stalks (right) on street vendor's cart 49 Inka Cola sign

The first archeological site we visited was called El Brujo, and was a good ways north of the city.  This was a temple/pyramid built by the Moche people, who lived in the area about 1500 years ago. long before the Aztecs.  The pictures below really don’t do justice to it; the figures on the walls are a deep & vivid red.  In the large picture, the figures have a rope around their neck, which indicates that they are captives who will be used for human sacrifice.  That does not mean they were captured in war necessarily; these people engaged in a sort of ritual combat within the community and the loser would be sacrificed.  It appears that they did this most often by drugging the victims with some sort of potion they drank, then they would be taken up to the sacrificial alter & the priest would cut the artery in their necks & they would bleed to death (although sometimes they were just thrown onto rocks below).

At the El Brujo museum (where photography was forbidden) there was a mummified body of a woman who was apparently some kind of shaman & a noble person.  Her body and face are covered in tattoos.  There are a lot of mummies that have been found in this area; they have survived in very good form because of the dryness of the weather & can be seen in quite a few museums, we are told.

05 Mary at El Brujo  15 Archeologists excavating at El Brujo

06 El Brujo, captives on wall

 14 Rick in El Brujo 12 El Brujo wall decorations closeup

The second site we visited is called Chan Chan.  It was a city built by the Chimu people, who lived about 800 years ago & were conquered by the Incas.  The frustrating thing about this site is that apparently much of this stuff is “reconstructed” to look like they think it did originally, and its very difficult to tell what is original & what has been enhanced or reconstructed.  So with that caveat here are some pictures.  This was a large palace, with many decorations carved in the adobe walls.  You can see what are thought by some to be squirrels, then fish & then birds.  The even horizontal likes are thought to represent the water in the sea nearby.  The cross-hatch design in the large picture below are thought to represent fishing nets, and these people are thought to have subsisted largely on seafood.

24 Mary at Chan Chan  28 More squirrel walls at Chan Chan  31 Wall with fish decoration33 Bird decoration37 Chan Chan

Below left is an interesting looking duck that was in a pool inside Chan Chan, and below right is one of several hokey folks who help give the place a Disneyworld tinge (consistent with the “reconstruction”), that seems a bit out of synch with an important archeological site.

42 Ducks inside Chan Chan  44 Reenactor at Chan Chan

Our third archeological site was Hauca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon), another temple built by the Moche.  Of course, that is a name given by modern archeologists and there is no evidence that the Moche called it that.  Anyway, it was the most spectacular of all in terms of preserved artwork uncovered on its walls.  I think the god in the picture in the top right below looks a little like Homer Simpson (if you disregard the hair & the fangs).

54 Wall decoration at Temple of the Moon  55 God on wall of Temple of the Moon56 Face on wall at Temple of the Moon 57 Face on wall at Temple of the Moon

Those pictures were all on the inside of the temple, but there is an even more spectacular display on one of the outside walls.

67 Inside wall with hole made by Spaniards, Temple of the Moon

The bottom row above shows captives to be sacrificed, the second row shows a line of  Indians holding hands, the third row is spiders, the fourth row shows warriors carrying clubs & the top row is snakes.  The big hole at the top was made by the Spaniards, who were a lot like the Taliban (who destroyed the ancient giant Buddhas) in their efforts to destroy everything that wasn’t Christian oriented.  Below are some closer pictures of some of these images.

    65 Captives being taken for human sacrifice, Temple of the Moon63 People holding hands, inside wall at Temple of the Moon

66 Spiders, inside wall of Temple of the Moon 64 Warriors carrying war clubs, inside wall of Temple of the Moon

71 Rick at Temple of the Moon70 Mary at Temple of the Moon 

Then there was this particularly intricate wall at the Temple of the Moon, with a close-up of some if its busy decorations.

68 Wall at Temple of the Moon 69 Closeup of wall at Temple of the Moon

And finally, lest we forget what this was really all about, here is a picture of the spot where they conducted human sacrifices (many skeletons were found in this area), and also a picture of the nearby Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), which is bigger than the Temple of the Moon but has not yet been excavated.

75 Human sacrifice spot at Temple of the Moon   60 Human sacrifice site, Temple of the Moon

52 Temple of the Sun at Trujillo

Back on the Prinsendam that night we discovered that there is a talented bread artist (of all things) on board.  Here are a couple of his or her sculptures, baked entirely of bread.  There will be more of these in upcoming days.

77 Lobster bread sculpture on Prinsendam  78 Alligator bread sculpture on Prinsendam


Today we finished up our two days in Ecuador, where we visited the port cities of Manta (Wednesday) & Guayaquil.(Thursday).  We continue to be thoroughly frustrated with the Internet service on the Prinsendam, which is expensive ($.25 per minute or more, depending on how big a plan you purchase) & hardly works at all.  It is galling to sit and wait minute after minute while gmail loads, with the meter ticking away.  Then it will helpfully inform you that “this is taking longer than usual” (as if we didn’t know that) and tell us to start over by reloading the page.  So, if you aren’t getting timely answers to email that is the reason, and also the reason why these blog postings may appear a day or two after they are written.  So, please be patient, “this is taking longer than usual!”

I also wanted to mention that when I looked at the Panama posting on the internet it didn’t look like the draft I was working with in Windows Live Writer.  As you could tell by the text, the smaller pictures were supposed to be shown 2 on each line, but at least on my computer the posting on the internet showed all of the pictures in a single row down the page.  So, today I’m going to try making the smaller pictures a little less wide on the page in the hope that they will appear on the internet where they are supposed to.  If the Panama posting on your computers appeared with the small photos two abreast like it is supposed to, please let me know in the comments; it wouldn’t surprise me if my internet connection here & small laptop screen were screwing up my view of it.

Manta is a city of 180,000 in the northern part of Ecuador.  It is known for Panama hats, the best of which are made in a town near Manta called Montecristi.  In fact, all Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador.  Apparently they were originally exported from ports in Panama, from which they got the name.  Or, a better story, Teddy Roosevelt got one of these hats while inspecting the construction of the Panama Canal & called it his “Panama Hat,” and the name stuck.  That sort of thing happened a lot with Teddy Roosevelt, who was something of a celebrity before there were celebrities.  Anyway, here is Manta & some panama hats & some flowering trees:

03 Manta from aft dining deck 07 Pile of Panama Hats  08 Panama Hat stand

06 Tree with orange & purple flowers 12 Red flowers on trees

Of course, everyone bought Panama hats in Manta, including yours truly.  All I need now is a 3 piece white suit & a cigar to complete the look.

36 Rick in Panama Hat 39 Mary in Panama Hat

Manta is a fishing port, with emphasis on tuna.  You can tell tuna is important here because they have erected a public statue of a tuna & a tuna fountain near the entrance to the port!  I also got some pictures of a ship unloading a tuna catch next to our ship.

15 Statue of Tuna in Manta 16 Tuna fountain in Manta

18 Unloading Tuna 22 Unloading tuna

Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest city with 1.8 million people.  I find it hard to believe I had never heard of a city that big until signing up for this trip.  It is also Ecuador’s busiest port, although you have to sail several miles up a river to reach the port, which is still 30 minutes from downtown by bus.  Most cruise ships can’t sail up this river; ours is one of the few small enough to do so.  Mostly, Guayaquil is a big & fairly ugly city, with nondescript high-rises & fairly rundown neighborhoods lacking in character.  Our shuttle bus dropped us off in the center of town, at a park known as Parque Seminario (its across the street from the cathedral),  & also as Parque Bolivar (it has an equestrian statue of the general), & also as Plaza de Iguanas.  It must be confusing to have so many names for one place.

Its called Parque de Iguanas because (you guessed it) there are a lot of iguanas that live there.  It turns out that iguanas like to climb trees, & the local hotels come out a couple of times a day to give them food (looks like lettuce), since they are a tourist attraction.  Very cool, in my estimation.

28 Iguanas 08 More Iguanas

26 Iguanas with birds on their backs 10 Iguanas in tree with pigeon

05 Iguanas fighting over food 27 Iguanas in treetop

The park also has a statue of fighting wild boars, which should make Texans feel at home (and Cincinnatians, although these pigs don’t fly), and across the street is the cathedral, with a statue of General Bolivar in front.

12 Statue of fighting pigs in Parque Bolivar 13 Cathedral & statue of General Bolivar (the cathedral is really white on off-yellow in color, very pretty)

Walking along the Malecon (the riverside park) we saw the “rotunda,” a columned semicircle with a statue of Bolivar & San Martin shaking hands.  They met here but didn’t get along (they say San Martin wanted monarchies in South America while Bolivar wanted Republics), and Bolivar refused to ally with San Martin despite an offer to serve under him.  San Martin soon withdrew from the fight for independence & retired to Europe.  So its hard to understand what there is to commemorate here, but they have done it anyway.  There is also an attractive Moorish style (why?) clock tower & many pretty flowers & gardens.  Mary had to use the “banos” here & found to her dismay that you have to pay for toilet paper; fortunately she had some kleenex since she didn’t have any coins.  Live & learn.

17 Statute of Bolivar & San Martin 16 Statue of Bolivar & San Martin meeting in Guayaquil (they didn't get along &  reached no alliance)

14 Moorish style clock tower (10 minutes slow) 15 Bolivar rotunda on the Malencon (riverside park), with colorful hillside of houses

21 Portrait artist under trees on Malencon 23 Possibly a Banjan tree on Malencon

22 Red flowering tree over bridge on Malencon 19 Yellow blooming trees

Tonight on the Prinsendam it was Panama Hat Night.  So, I took this opportunity to introduce you to the other two couples assigned to our table at dinner.  Steve & Kathy (in picture with Mary) are from Fort Worth, although they live now on the coast of Alabama.  Steve is a retired firefighter.  Bing  & Barb are from St. Louis but have lived for 8 years in Tampa. Florida.  Bing has been a very successful gambler on this cruise.  They are all nice people & we have been enjoying their company.

30 Mary & Steve and Kathy Beasley, Panama Hat Night in Prinsendam Restaurant

31 Barbara & Bing Bingenheim, Panama Hat Night 34 Rick & Mary, Panama Hat Night

And finally, every night the room crew leave us a towel animal on our bed.  Its pretty silly, but kind of fun since they are different every night.  Here is one of the best so far, to end this installment.

35 Elephant towel animal 24 Towel animal on pillow (seal, perhaps)

We have a sea day tomorrow (Friday), then four consecutive port days in Peru, so the next posting will probably not come until after that (assuming, as always, that the internet permits).

Panama Canal

Before we get to the Panama Canal, on Sunday we visited a small town on a tropical island off the coast of Panama called Bocas Del Toro.  It is one of a group of islands, largely owned by United Fruit Co., which exports hundreds of thousands of tons of bananas every year, mostly to Europe.  They tell us that Columbus landed here on one of his voyages, & repaired one of his ships on one of the islands in this group.  Anyway, here is your opportunity to finally see this place you have never heard of before, and probably will never hear of again.  As mentioned the other day, if you hover your mouse over a picture, a caption will pop up.

Bocas Del Toro

Town Hall, Bocas Del Toro Many rooted trees in park, Bocas Del Toro

Simon Bolivar statue, Bocas Del Toro Christmas Tree in park, Bocas Del Toro

Library, Bocas Del Toro, with Mary

Leaving Bocas Del Toro we saw this unusual island, which reminded us of a certain animated character some of you might be hip enough to know.

Lionturtle, near Bocas Del Toro

On Monday we traversed the Panama Canal.  Interestingly, because Panama is shaped like an S the canal runs from Northwest on the Atlantic side to Southeast on the Pacific side.  After entering the canal from the Caribbean, you are lifted about 85 feet by 3 levels of locks at Gatun.  Then you cross a huge man-made lake, created by damming the Chagres River.  Then on the Pacific side you descend about 85 feet, one level at the Pedro Miguel lock, then two more levels at the Miraflores locks.

The current canal is only big enough to handle about 94% of the ships in the world, so they are building a new larger canal that will be able to handle the rest.  The larger canal, which is quite near the current one, was actually started by the United States in the late 1930’s but never completed because of the war.  Ships have to make a reservation to go through the canal more than a year in advance; it costs about $50,000 just for a reservation and another $250,000 or so to actually go through (rates are determined by weight), and all transactions are cash-in-advance.

The French tried first to build a canal across Panama in the late 19th century, but failed because they tried to do the whole thing at sea level (with no locks) & because of mosquito transmitted disease, particularly yellow fever which killed more than 25,000 workers.  When the Americans came in, they were able to exterminate all of the disease-carrying mosquitos, an impressive feat (particularly because those at the top refused to believe that mosquitos were the cause of disease).  There have been no cases of Yellow Fever in Panama since 1907.

Anyway here are a few of our pictures; the narrative above is designed to help you place where the pictures were taken along the canal.

Entering Panam Canal on Caribbean side - to left is the new canal under construction, to right is the old canal

First 2 locks at Gatun, with ship on second level on right entering lock at Gatun, dark part of lock doors will be underwater when ready to move to next level

Gatun lock doors tucked into canal wall Mechanical mule

You can see in the picture on the left above how the lock doors fit flush into the walls of the canal when open.  On the right is one of the mechanical “mules”; two of these on each side help guide the ship through the locks with ropes.  Below are two workers in a tiny rowboat next to the ship; the mule’s ropes are thrown down to them & they take them over to attach to the ship.  It looks pretty precarious from where we were standing.

Men in rowboat waiting for mooring rope from Prinsendam

Rick & Mary at Gatun Side of ship & canal wall

I tried to insert some video here of the locks opening, but apparently I can’t do that without being online.  So I probably won’t be able to do videos, since the internet is spotty & expensive onboard this ship.  Maybe I will figure it out later.

Mary at last lock door at Gatun (2)   Rick & Mary viewing canal from front of Prinsendam Pelican by the canal

05 Lock door opening at Gatun 08 Mule surmounting incline at Gatun

15 Rick at GatunWindstar 4 mast yacht moving from 1st to 2d level at Gatun

The ship above right is a 4 mast yacht operated by the Windstar cruise line.  Our captain told us near the end of the canal that he had been captain of that ship for 4 years.  Small world.

Below left are islands in the man-made Gatun lake that were mountaintops before the dam was built to create the lake.  The crest in the distance in the  picture below right is actually the top of the earthen dam built by the Americans to create the lake; it is half a mile wide at its base.

Islands in manmade Gatun Lake used to be mountain tops Dam of Chagres river near Gatun.  Far shore is a manmade earthen dam, half a mile thick at its base

Calebra cut, with terracesContinental Divide

Above left is a small portion of the “Calebra Cut,” which was several miles of solid rock they had to blast through to create the canal.  The terraces are where earth moving equipment & rail cars were brought to cut out the walls, layer by layer.  On the right is another portion of the cut, at the continental divide.

Blue Heron next to canal Dredging canal for larger ships from new canal (2)

Everybody likes wildlife, so above is a blue heron (I think) standing by the canal.  On the right they are dredging the canal to make it big enough for the larger ships that will come through the new canal locks.

People stopped to watch the ship pass Crowd at viewing platform at Miraflores locks watching us

Above are people stopped to watch our ship, first near the Pedro Miguel lock and then at the viewing center at Miraflores.  It was odd to see people taking our picture!  We had to stop at Miraflores for one of our passengers to be taken off in an ambulance.  Since he walked to the ambulance, we are hoping that nothing was seriously wrong.  Below left is a beautiful bird with swallow-like divided tail, many of which we saw at Miraflores, and below right is the Panama Railway, the first transcontinental railroad.  Then pictures of the Bridge of the Americas (where the Pan American Highway crosses the Panama Canal on its way from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego), and of Panama City at the Pacific end of the canal.

Swallow like bird at Miraflores locks (2) Panama railway, the first transcontinental railroad

Bridge of the Americas (4)

Panama City from Pacifi

That’s it for Panama.  Today it’s raining cats & dogs here in the Pacific Ocean but we are hoping for better weather tomorrow when we go ashore in Manta, Ecuador, where we will arrive at 4:00 AM.  The Captain has already apologized for waking us that early with the maneuvering engines but I’m sure an apology won’t seem like enough tomorrow morning.  We will probably post again after leaving Ecuador in a few days.


We haven’t reached any ports yet (except Georgetown, Grand Cayman, which we have been to several times & didn’t love very much, so we stayed on the ship).  However, I wanted to see how the blog posting goes, particularly since our internet connection on the ship is spotty & VERY SLOW.  So, today we will share with you some photos taken aboard the ship.  Assuming this all works as it should, if you hover your mouse over a picture (ie. don’t press any buttons), a caption should pop up that will tell you what you are looking at.

First, here are a couple of paintings of the ship.  The first one is of the original Prinsendam, which sank in 1980 (everyone on board was rescued, but its not pleasant to think about, for those of us on board).  The second is of the ship we are on.

Painting of original Prinsendam

Painting of Prinsendam

On Thursday we sailed past Cuba, so here are a couple of pictures of Cuba:

Coast of Cuba 1

Coast of Cuba 7

Today we sailed past the Columbia Archipelago, a group of 3 islands in the Caribbean near the coast of Nicaragua (don’t know why they are Columbian, but they are).  Not much of a picture, but here it is anyway, just because I can:

Columbia Archipelago 2

And finally, some pictures aboard the ship: the Atrium, which contains the spiral staircase in the center of the ship, much more modest than on other ships we have been on, but more tasteful & less gaudy, in my opinion.  Also the aft dining deck, which is a great place for an outdoor breakfast or lunch (today we saw a whole lot of leaping tuna over the side of the ship there), the library (of course, for anyone who knows Mary), the view from our stateroom & some shots out on the deck.

Prinsendam Atrium, with etched & frosted glass ship pictureMary eating on aft dining veranda

Water on deck in sunPrinsendam Library

view from library window (with Rick's feet)View from our window

Mary looking out at Grand CaymenAft dining veranda

Oops, that wasn’t all!  Here is the piano trio playing in the lounge, & a huge painting of an unidentified sea battle (you can bet the Dutch are the good guys, since this is the Holland America Line) that is hanging rather impressively in that same lounge.

Rosario Strings in Explorations CafeRosario Strings Trio

Naval Painting in Explorers Lounge

Tomorrow we will stop at Bocas Del Toro, an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama, & the next day we will go through the Canal, & then to Ecuador.  So there should be more to post within a few more days.