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San Blas Islands, Panama (2019)

     We arrived at our anchorage in the San Blas archipelago around noon on January 8.  There are some 375 islands, give or take a few depending on your source, fewer than 50 of which are inhabited by the Kuna people.  They are an indigenous tribe who apparently originated in the mountains near Santa Marta, fled from there when the Spanish arrived and settled on these islands in the mid 19th century.  Today rising seas are threatening to submerge these very low islands and some of the Kuna have already begun preparing to escape to the nearby mainland.  The large mountains you can see in some of these pictures are on the coast of Panama.

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     The night before we arrived here was Tropical Night in the dining room.  The large stuffed penguins who had been lined up to greet us as we boarded the ship were stylishly outfitted for the occasion.  These pictures were taken in the morning; by the end of dinner one penguin was missing from each tableaux, presumably kidnapped to someone’s stateroom.  We hope they will be recovered soon.

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     There are something over 60,000 Kuna, about half of whom live on the islands or the nearby coast.  They have been recognized as an autonomous region within Panama since 1938, after an attempt by Panama to subdue the Kuna was fought off in 1925.  The Kuna celebrate this defeat of the Panamanians every year, although we have read that the Americans helped end the conflict because of their concern for stability in the area of the Panama Canal.  The Kuna are traditionally a matriarchal society, with inheritance passing through mothers and men moving to their brides’ houses when they marry, but this is apparently fading in recent years.

     Early in the afternoon we tendered to one of the larger inhabited islands in the Carti group in the western part of the archipelago.   The Kuna were unreceptive to visitors until 10 or 15 years ago, but now permit them, including many from cruise ships.  We disembarked onto a small wooden pier and walked into the small town.  The island appears to be very crowded with small wooden houses & we saw no expansive open places.  The narrow pedestrian streets end at the water & you can see other islands the appear very close, but these few open spaces are very trashy if you step back a few paces.  One tree we walked under was hosting a green parrot & another very noisy bird.

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     The main street was completely lined with women selling molas.  If you don’t know what that is, a mola is a picture made of a stack of different colored cloth, which are cut down to different levels to form pictures or designs.  The edges are sown down & there is often applique and/or embroidery added to complete the picture.  They often depict birds, animals, fish or insects worked into extremely colorful designs.  Sometimes more modern items find their way into a mola; we have one at home depicting teeth being extracted with pliers that was given to Rick’s father, a dentist. While the buildings were small and basic, with metal or palm leaf roofs, the island has electricity and solar panels and satellite dishes were plentiful.

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     The traditional dress of the Kuna women involves a lot of molas, with head scarves & arm and leg covers usually made of molas or beads.

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     We tendered back to the ship, where we had lunch and took a last look at the islands, much brighter in the afternoon sun.   We aren’t sure which of these pictures are of the island we visited, as there were several that could be seen fairly close together.  This was an interesting place to visit, but it looks like a challenging place to live.

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Santa Marta, Colombia (2019)

     On January 7, after two sea days, we reached our first port on this voyage, Santa Marta, Colombia.  This is the oldest city in Colombia, founded in 1525, and is most famous as the place where Simon Bolivar died.  It is a busy container and coal port & something of a seaside resort for Colombians.

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     Under our veranda this morning some crew were working on top of one of the tenders, a job I don’t think I would want.

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     After breakfast in the dining room (they make particularly good french toast) we left the ship.  As we have often seen, there was a group of Colombian dancers to greet us on the pier.

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     Walking through industrial ports is often forbidden, so we boarded a shuttle to take us through the maze of stacked containers to the port gate.  A madonna statue (the original, not the singer) watches over the port.

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     Leaving the port, we walked a little way up the Malecon, a road that follows the shore.  We came upon a notable 1928 sculpture of the Spanish Conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas, who discovered the Bay of Santa Marta in 1501 & founded the city in 1524.  He stands atop a tall pedestal with a small plaza below surrounded by stone balustrades.

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     Across the street we found the Biblioteca Gabriel Garcia Marquez (sponsored by Colombia’s Central Bank).  Nobel laureate Garcia Marquez was a local boy, having been born about 50 miles away in a small town called Aracataca that was the inspiration for Macondo in his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years Of Solitude.”  A timeline of his life is painted on the wall under the name of the building.

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     In front of the library is the Plaza de Bolivar.  It is lush with trees, with an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar in the center.  Unfortunately he is looking away from the sun (what poor planning), so it is tough to get a decent picture of him.  At the end of the plaza is a white fountain with heads whose mouths would spout water if it were working, which it wasn’t.

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     Nearby is the Antiguo Palacio Consistorial, originally built in the 17th century but restored and updated several times since.  Apparently most of the old buildings along the west coast of South America have been rebuilt several times over the years because of earthquake damage.  The western edge of the volcanic Ring of Fire follows the coast of South America, leading to relatively frequent earthquakes.  Anyway, today this impressive building serves as the city hall of Santa Marta.

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     We walked on to the Cathedral, a rather plain whitewashed building, small for a cathedral.  Originally built in the second half of the 18th century, it is the oldest cathedral in South America.  The Christmas display was still there, complete with a lamp post carrying a sign “Let it snow.”  Since it is January and it was 88 degrees out, it seems doubtful that snow has ever been part of the Christmas celebration here.

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     Across the plaza is the 18th century building that was originally the Episcopal Palace, and is now back in the hands of the church after serving in several different secular roles.

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     We walked on to the Parque de los Novios (Park of the Newlyweds) whose official name is Parque Santander.  Francisco Paulo de Santander, whose statue graces the park, was an important associate (and sometimes antagonist) of Simon Bolivar. The area around the park must be jumping after dark as it is full of clubs and restaurants with outdoor seating among the flowers.  A town festival had just ended and we saw colorful signs for it in this park and elsewhere.

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     We walked over to visit one more church, the Iglesias de San Francisco de Asis, passing a very impressive piece of wall art.  Originally completed at the end of the 16th century, it was used in the mid 17th century as a jail by pirates (apparently Santa Marta was subject to a number of pirate attacks in that period).  It has been rebuilt several times after disasters, most recently in the 1960’s.  Only the façade remains of the colonial structure.  A mass was in progress when we visited, accompanied by a singer playing a guitar, although since we could not see him it might have been a recording.

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     We saved for last the Casa de la Aduana, which is also the Museo del Oro (gold museum).  The oldest building in town, this is where Simon Bolivar lay in state after he died in Santa Marta in 1830.  It also houses a very fine collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts from the Tairona and other indigenous tribes that lived in the area.  Unfortunately, visiting this last proved a poor strategy, because we had barely looked at the first two rooms of artifacts before they began to close the museum.  The museum is normally closed on Mondays but they had opened it just for the morning presumably because of the presence of a cruise ship.  So we would have been better off visiting here first.  Live and learn.

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     It was mid day so we walked all the way up the Malecon looking for a likely place to eat, but we didn’t find anything enticing.  So we crossed the street and walked back toward the port on the bay side.  There were a number of public statues of Indians, interesting if not great art.  There was a row of cabanas and a lot of people swimming by the beach.  We probably wouldn’t want to swim there since it is part of a commercial port, so how clean can the water be?  Then there was a long row of vendors’ tents, mostly selling souvenir knick knacks.

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     Back on the ship as we waited to sail away there was much to see.  The nearby hills were covered with cactus as big as the trees.

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    A lot of pelicans were flying and floating in the area.  A large flock of them was perched in some trees on a hillside.

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     Meanwhile, up by the Lido pool there was a Colombian dancing performance.  A group of Colombian “ambassadors” had been on board since we left, giving cultural classes and demonstrations.  Mary came down to tell Rick about it, but he only made it up for the tail end of their dance.  More about them in a future episode.

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     So as the sun set we sailed away from Santa Marta, our first port in South America.

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Once More Around The Horn: South America & Antarctica 2019

     We left home early on New Year’s Day to drive to Ft Lauderdale, to set sail on January 4 on the MS Prinsendam.  As in 2012, we are circumventing South America, with several days in Antarctica & a trip up the Amazon River as far as Manaus.  Prinsendam is the first Holland America ship we sailed on and is our favorite, mostly because of its small size (about 850 passenger capacity) & particularly attentive crew.

Holland America ocean cruise ship

     Sadly, this will be Prinsendam’s last Grand Voyage for Holland America since it has been sold and will leave the fleet this summer.  We had been thinking about traveling this itinerary again sometime, since it was our first long voyage in 2012 and we really weren’t properly prepared to take full advantage of it.  But when we heard that Prinsendam had been sold we signed up immediately for this cruise because doing it on another ship wouldn’t have been the same.  This time around we will have a balcony room (we got a bargain offer on an upsell offer from our original oceanview cabin).  In the picture above, our cabin is near the center of the ship just above the orange tops of the tenders/lifeboats.  Here is our planned itinerary, in both graphic and written form.  [As many of you know, planned ports are sometimes changed or missed because of local conditions; we have already lost a planned stop on Margerita Island in Venezuela, presumably because of political instability.]

Grand South America 2019 map

Daily Itinerary

Date

Port

Arrival Time

Departure Time

Jan 4, 2019

Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)

6:00 pm

Jan 5, 2019

Cruising

Jan 6, 2019

Cruising

Jan 7, 2019

Santa Marta, Colombia

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 8, 2019

San Blas Islands, Panama

12:00 pm

6:00 pm

Jan 9, 2019

Panama Canal, Panama

5:00 am

5:00 am

Jan 9, 2019

Fuerte Amador, Panama

8:00 pm

Jan 10, 2019

Fuerte Amador, Panama

6:00 pm

Jan 11, 2019

Cruising

Jan 12, 2019

Manta (Quito), Ecuador

5:00 am

8:00 pm

Jan 13, 2019

Cruising

Jan 14, 2019

Salaverry (Trujillo), Peru

6:00 am

6:00 pm

Jan 15, 2019

Callao (Lima), Peru

11:00 am

Jan 16, 2019

Callao (Lima), Peru

6:00 pm

Jan 17, 2019

Cruising

Jan 18, 2019

Matarani, Peru

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 19, 2019

Iquique, Chile

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 20, 2019

Antofagasta, Chile

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 21, 2019

Cruising

Jan 22, 2019

San Antonio, Santiago, Chile

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 23, 2019

Cruising

Jan 24, 2019

Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 25, 2019

Cruising

Jan 26, 2019

Castro, Chile

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 27, 2019

Puerto Chacabuco, Chile

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Jan 28, 2019

Cruising

Jan 29, 2019

Cruising to Amalia (Skua) Glacier, Chile

Jan 30, 2019

Punta Arenas, Chile

7:00 am

8:00 pm

Jan 31, 2019

Cruising Glacier Alley & Cape Horn

Feb 1, 2019

Ushuaia, Argentina

6:00 am

8:00 pm

Feb 2, 2019

Cruising

Feb 3, 2019

Cruising Antarctica

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Feb 4, 2019

Cruising Antarctica

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Feb 5, 2019

Cruising Antarctica

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Feb 6, 2019

Cruising Antarctica

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Feb 7, 2019

Cruising

Feb 8, 2019

Cruising

Feb 9, 2019

Grytviken, South Georgia Island

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Feb 10, 2019

Cruising

Feb 11, 2019

Cruising

Feb 12, 2019

Stanley, Falkland Islands

7:00 am

5:00 pm

Feb 13, 2019

Cruising

Feb 14, 2019

Puerto Madryn, Argentina

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Feb 15, 2019

Cruising

Feb 16, 2019

Punta del Este, Uruguay

8:00 am

3:00 pm

Feb 17, 2019

Montevideo, Uruguay

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Feb 18, 2019

Buenos Aires, Argentina

8:00 am

Feb 19, 2019

Buenos Aires, Argentina

5:00 pm

Feb 20, 2019

Cruising

Feb 21, 2019

Cruising

Feb 22, 2019

Santos (Sao Paulo), Brazil

8:00 am

11:00 pm

Feb 23, 2019

Ilhabela, Brazil

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Feb 24, 2019

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

8:00 am

Feb 25, 2019

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

6:00 pm

Feb 26, 2019

Cruising

Feb 27, 2019

Ilheus (Bahia), Brazil

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Feb 28, 2019

Cruising

Mar 1, 2019

Recife, Brazil

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Mar 2, 2019

Cruising

Mar 3, 2019

Fortaleza, Brazil

8:00 am

2:00 pm

Mar 4, 2019

Cruising

Mar 5, 2019

Belem, Brazil

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Mar 6, 2019

Cruising

Mar 7, 2019

Cruising

Mar 8, 2019

Santarem, Brazil

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Mar 9, 2019

Boca da Valeria, Brazil

8:00 am

2:00 pm

Mar 10, 2019

Manaus, Brazil

10:00 am

Mar 11, 2019

Manaus, Brazil

5:00 pm

Mar 12, 2019

Parintins, Brazil

8:00 am

2:00 pm

Mar 13, 2019

Alter do Chao, Brazil

8:00 am

2:00 pm

Mar 14, 2019

Cruising

Mar 15, 2019

Cruising

Mar 16, 2019

Devils Island, French Guiana

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Mar 17, 2019

Cruising

Mar 18, 2019

Bridgetown, Barbados

8:00 am

6:00 pm

Mar 19, 2019

Port Elizabeth, Saint Vincent

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Mar 20, 2019

Cruising

Mar 21, 2019

Willemstad, Curacao

8:00 am

11:59 pm

Mar 22, 2019

Port of Oranjestad, Aruba, Caribbean

8:00 am

5:00 pm

Mar 23, 2019

Cruising

Mar 24, 2019

Cruising

Mar 25, 2019

Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)

7:00 am

     The internet is set up differently this year.  Minute by minute charges are gone, and internet access is purchased once for 24 hours a day for the whole trip.  Expensive still, but at least you don’t sit there watching the minutes & $ rolling away as you wait for something to upload or download.  So we are going to try to post the blog as we go along and see how it goes, because we still don’t know how slow it will be this time and uploading lots of pictures takes a lot of bandwidth.  If you see this page it means we were successful in uploading the first time, and will probably try to continue doing it during the trip, although the other episodes will have a lot more pictures & thus may not upload as well. 

      Even so, we will inevitably get further and further behind because episodes can only be written on sea days and they take a while to complete.  If you want to know where we are in real time there is a button at the top called “M/S Prinsendam’s Current Position” that will tell you where we are & what the weather is like there.  Next to it is a button titled “About This Blog” that will call up a page that will tell you more than you want to know about this blog & how to use it.  And one final tip:  the pictures have captions but they are not visible unless you hover your mouse over the picture.  That probably won’t work on a phone or tablet or any other device that doesn’t have a mouse, so if you care about that look at the blog on a computer if you can.

     Those of you who are familiar with our blog may notice a few differences.  The picture above the title will rotate randomly among pictures of the authors in various travel locations; be aware that those pictures have nothing to do with the content of the episode that will appear below them.  The background has been upgraded slightly to a more colorful and dynamic view of the ocean.  And we have a new, simpler web address – www.baderjournal.com – although anyone using the old address will automatically be redirected to the new one.

      So this promises to be a varied, enlightening and fun voyage:  Penguins, Llamas, Whales & Dolphins.  Samba, Calypso & Tango.  Glaciers, Desert, Mountains, Rainforest, Icebergs. From freezing in the Antarctic to baking in the Amazon just two weeks later.  While you never know what will happen over the course of almost three months travelling in foreign parts, we anticipate enjoying every minute of it.  See you South of the Border.

 

Epilogue: Blacksburg, Virginia

     On May 7, less than a week after getting home from the World Voyage, we set off again to drive to Blacksburg, Virginia for a memorial service for our friend and world travel companion, Lee Wolfle.  His lovely family had delayed the service so that his friends on the world cruise would have an opportunity to attend.  Some others would have liked to attend but for logistic obstacles, but Robert drove down with us and Karen drove up from her home in North Carolina.

    You may recall in our first post about this cruise, back on January 4, we mentioned that this voyage was a reunion of sorts for the seven people who sat at our table in 2016.  We were all back at the same table for the 2018 cruise, picking up where we left off as a happy & compatible group of travelling friends.  None of us was more enthusiastic about that prospect than Lee Wolfle, who had tee shirts made for all of us showing the itinerary and titled “Around The World Together Again . . . Table 65.”

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Table 65

     Like the first world circumnavigator, Ferdinand Magellan, Lee didn’t make it back from the trip.  He began feeling poorly probably in New Zealand, was never able to get his strength back & had to leave the ship in Singapore.  He was diagnosed with leukemia in Singapore and was flown as far as Los Angeles, where he entered Cedars Sinai hospital for treatment.  But that didn’t work out & he died there in the middle of April as we were approaching Banjul.

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     All of Lee’s friends on the ship were shocked at the speed of his demise. Many of us were walking on the beach with him in the South Pacific just six weeks before he went into the hospital and at that time he seemed hale & hearty. Lee was a very big man, about 6’7”, and very active (he took an expedition to Antarctica last year) so it was hard to picture him as being so seriously ill.  Needless to say, his ordeal cast a pall over the remainder of the voyage for all of us. 

     The memorial service in Blacksburg was not a somber affair.  It was more a celebration of Lee’s life, with friends and relatives taking turns recounting memories and anecdotes about him.  We were happy to meet Lee’s family, about whom he talked a lot.  We spent two nights in Blacksburg and had an opportunity to see some of the town.  It is the home of Virginia Tech university where Lee had been a professor and he was an avid fan of their football team.  Statues of their mascot, the “Hokie” (a turkey we think), were all over town dressed up in varying painting styles.  We found a street named for Lee (probably originally named for Robert E Lee, but not while we were there) and visited the local library (of course) which had an interesting exhibit of quilts.  We would have enjoyed having Lee there to show it all to us, but the closest we ever got to Blacksburg with Lee was the Due South restaurant, where we shared barbecue lunches a couple of times.

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    We only knew Lee for about two years.  But he was a good friend & the nicest guy you will ever meet.  We all miss you, big guy.

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Wrappin’ it up

     On a voyage around the world there is no avoiding a lot of sea days at the end crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  On this trip there were seven sea days between the Cape Verde Islands and Fort Lauderdale, broken only by the day in San Juan that was the subject of the previous episode.  That doesn’t mean that everyone is napping in the sun the whole way though, since there is always plenty to do.  This included the crew shows by the Indonesian & Filipino crews, a goodbye assembly featuring the officers and crew, and good-byes to all your friends on board (not to mention packing, which we won’t).

         The crew shows are always entertaining, colorful and very well attended.  The crew members put a lot of work into these shows, rehearsing in the little spare time they have away from their jobs. The Indonesian crew show was on April 24, the day before we reached Puerto Rico.  It started with a sort of glove dance, involving interactive movements by crew members lined up and wearing white gloves.

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     Next up was a group of three singers, then a very impressive Indonesian dancer (who had been our waitress in the Pinnacle the day before).  Note how expressive her hand gestures are; our hands won’t bend in that way at all.

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     A group of crew supervisors performed in sunglasses and glittery costumes, then two women danced wearing long yellow scarves.

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     Next was the monkey dance, depicting a story from Hindu mythology.  The guys sitting on the floor are all monkeys, an evil spirit comes to take away the queen & the good king shows up in the end to make everything come out right (we may well have the story garbled).  One of the guys sitting on the floor was our assistant waiter, Leo.

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     Then for the finale many of the performers came back on stage to play a couple of songs on sets of tuned sticks, each of which makes a note when shaken.

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     The Filipino crew show was on April 26, the day after our stop in San Juan.  It started with a rousing full cast number then, in contrast, a solo guitar set from a very good guitarist.

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     After an appearance between acts of an angel (played by Kaye, our wine steward), a group of women with straw hats performed a hat dance, with hats moving from head to head.

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    Another group of women did a dance using large scarves, which they later folded into turbans.  Then Nestor, another wine steward who works near our table and produces the show, sang a solo song.  The song was not in English, but he was dressed half as a man and half as a woman.  We don’t know what that was about, but Nestor is a very good singer.

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     The last performance involved a large group wearing white gloves that glowed in the dark.  They put their gloves together to form different pictures and messages.  It was quite impressive and showed a lot of work.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get a decent picture until after the lights went back on.  Then everyone was back on stage for the Finale.

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     On April 27, the day before we arrived in Ft Lauderdale, there was a final assembly in the Queen’s Lounge for summing up and farewells.  Captain Mercer and Hamish the cruise director both addressed the assembled passengers and there was a special moment as they celebrated the retirement of Barbara the location guide after some 25 years and countless voyages.  She was very good and will surely be missed.

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     On April 24 we had a good-bye lunch in the Pinnacle with the usual crew and later a group picture at Kathy, Corinne, Kay and Karen’s table downstairs in the main dining room

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      Amsterdam was headed for a weeklong dry dock after it dropped us off in Ft Lauderdale and they began preparing for that work as we crossed the Atlantic.  Outside our window workers were putting down a plywood covering over the teak deck.  Meanwhile, inside our cabin our suitcases were being packed with what seemed like a lot more stuff than we started out with.

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     Our last sea day was dark and wet.  During the afternoon the Captain came on the loudspeakers to inform us that a waterspout had been spotted off our starboard bow.  A waterspout is basically a tornado occurring over water rather than land.  We had never seen that before so we went out on deck to see it.  There were actually two waterspouts, one of which moved toward and then past the other.  Quite a sendoff from the ocean!

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     We had our final night on board then disembarked the next day, April 28.  We picked up our car and drove to St Petersburg where we spent three delightful days with Mary’s aunt & uncle, Irene and Michael.  Then home, where we began posting all the episodes of this amazing voyage to the blog, where you are reading them.  Ending an epic voyage like this one and saying good-bye to all your friends and acquaintances is sad, but getting home after four months away is always a good feeling (even if you do have to start cooking and cleaning for yourself again).  Hopefully we will get to do this again one day.

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