Sunday 29 January 2023

Huatulco, Mexico

As I mentioned in the last post, I did not have an excursion booked in this port - so there are fewer photos to share. I had never been to this port before and decided I would explore the port area, and knew there was a beach right off the pier.

I was awake about 5:30 that morning thinking I'd get up before we docked and perhaps catch the sunrise. Instead I thought 10 more minutes, and when I awoke next it was 6:40 a.m. and the ship was pulling into dock. When I checked the bridge cam, it appeared to be raining, so I decided to take it slow that morning. 

After a leisurely breakfast, again out on the deck, because if it has been raining, it had stopped by then. I headed up with my camera to take some photos of the port.

Even early in the morning, there were people relaxing on the beach.

This was shortly before the gangways were open for passengers to leave the ship. There is security at the end of the pier to ensure only passengers and crew of the cruise ships can walk the pier. There were local drivers with small golf carts assisting some passengers.

Off the pier was a marina which was busy the entire day. Catamarans and fishing boats were the first to head out to sea. If/when I return I'll look into a catamaran cruise around the area. Up on the hill is obviously a resort. They must have incredible views!

Several brown pelicans were waiting patiently for their breakfast. 

There were several restaurants and bars along the beach. The one on the left is where I had my lunch later that day.

I stopped at the stateroom to drop off my camera, and pick up my knitting and headed to Crooners bar for the Knitters and Knatters group. Interesting note - it wasn't unusual to see people grabbing their first drink of the day at 9:30 a.m - usually a Mimosa but occasionally a Margarita or other mixed drink. I assume these were passengers who had purchased the beverage package that allows up to 12 drinks per day - I guess trying to get their money's worth. 

There were four of us there that morning. Two weren't planning to leave the ship, one had an excursion booked for the afternoon, and I had decided to wait until the crowds leaving the ship that morning were well on their way. About 10:45 I left the group and headed back to the stateroom to drop the knitting, and to pick-up my wallet for the walk into town. I had already decided I would have a meal there at one of the cafes.

I ran into three of the solos/singles on the pier. Two of them had been off the ship by 8:30 and were heading back on-board after a little browsing in the shops. I think the other had an excursion. I wandered around a bit, but really had no shopping in mind. The vendors weren't as vocal and grabby as they had been in Colombia and I did go into a couple of interesting looking shops. 

There was nothing I couldn't live without so I carried on to look at the church. I've since learned that the Chapel of Santa Cruz is a popular wedding destination because of its location and views of the ocean and beach. There wasn't a wedding going on but there were many people wandering in and through the building. Hence, I only took a photo of part of the church.

I was walking past a cafe when a young man offered me a menu. I took it, and asked about WiFi - he assured me they had it and I agreed to take a table. As I entered the restaurant it was clear it was a local favorite as there were many families enjoying a meal there too. To start, I ordered a local beer, and later a plate of fish tacos. 

With WiFi, I was able to have a chat with D for twenty minutes while I waited for my food and watched the people around me. This is when I learned about Lady Spencer's arrival. I didn't hurry my meal as there were lots of tables and it was cool in the shade. 

Then it was time for a walk along the beach, and to get my feet in the Pacific ocean. It was quite busy with lots of families, so I didn't stay long. I was back onboard ship by 1 p.m. I spent the afternoon reading and taking more photos.

Across from the ship there were a number of resorts up on the hill. 

This is probably my favorite of the bunch. To the right there was one that is under construction and looked almost abandoned.

Further down the shoreline closer to the entrance from the ocean to the port was this group. I assume these are local families out for a day at the beach. 

This photo made me laugh. A pair of fishermen were clearly cleaning their catch and tossing bits into the water. That brown spot you see in the center by the boat is a brown pelican diving into the water to get a bite.

I did stay out for sail-away, and then headed back to my stateroom to clean up for the evening.  It was a laid back, quiet day on the Island Princess. I quite enjoyed my visit into the port area, and can see myself visiting again in the future. (I don't often say that about Mexican ports).

Funny thing, a couple of days later I received a message from a friend from grade school. She, her mother, and sister were in Huatulco when I was there and had seen the ship come in. Had she realized I was on board we would have gotten together for a visit. 

Next up - Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Saturday 28 January 2023

Back to routine

I'm interupting the vacation posts, to get back to my regular routine. It's been just over a week since I arrived home, and it already feels much longer than that. We had decent weather for most of the week, then the snow fell on Thursday and as of this morning, we're back in the deep freeze. According to the weather network, it is currently -25C (-13F), with a wind chill of -37C (-35F). I can assure you it feels very cold out there, as I just returned from filling the bird feeder. 

Initially when I returned, the birds weren't coming to the feeder. Perhaps they had given up on me since my son didn't fill it while I was away. But by mid-week they were back in full force, along with the squirrels. There is also evidence the hare has been finding food under the feeder too.

On Thursday, the Hungarian partridges were back - all eight of them. I was happy to see they've made it through the winter thus far. I smile everytime I see them parading through the yard. As you can see they found some shelter under the bird bath and hunkered down for most of the afternoon.

The hare paid a visit on Friday evening. I was having a green salad for dinner, while it had its greens from the spruce tree as well. 

The groceries needed restocking - I did that early in the week, ran an errand for my daughter, and dropped in at the Dollar store. On Wednesday before stitch and chat I stopped at Costco to pick up cat food for D and paper towels and Mr. Clean for me. There were only two of us at the stitch and chat. We caught up on Christmas (we didn't meet the week between Christmas and New Years), my vacation, and other happenings in her life as well. 

I worked on a counted cross stitch project I'm making for D and Eli. It was a kit I found at Value Village and it's coming along nicely. At home, I use two lamps for lighting, but the library's overhead fluorescent lighting was perfect. I've been trying to do an hour or two a day, as I'd like to finish it before March...but it's more likely going to be May.

Curling is back after a short break, with the provincial women and men's events happening across the country. The winners of these events will be the provinces (and territories) respresentatives at the national Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier (I can't recall who is the title sponsor as it has changed several times). I'm annoyed with our telcomm here in Saskatchewan as they are only televising one draw a day. I can watch the other two draws on You-tube. I'm starting to think that streaming services may be a better option than cable television.

And of course, I've been catching up with housework. As I predicted, the vacuum that I parked in the closet before I left did not move (I didn't expect it would). While C is pretty neat - there were no big messes to deal with - even with one cat the cat hair builds up. I'm pretty sure I picked up another cat based on the amount of fur in the canister.

Speaking of cats, while I was away, D found a young kitten (about 9 months old) living in her garage. We're not entirely sure how long she was in there, but she had a bit of frost bite on the pads of her feet, but none on her ears or tip of her tail. D posted on the local lost and found and town FB pages but no one came forward to claim her. She then contacted the shelter in the nearby town (none in her community) and learned there are 70 cats currently awaiting placement and they couldn't take another in at this time. As a result, she now has a third cat. Lady Spencer (a nod to Princess Diana), has joined the family. She's been checked out by the vet, given meds to rid her of worms and ear mites, and been spayed. I suspect that she may have gone into heat and rather than doing what was best for her, the family she lived with simply tossed her outdoors. Their loss. She's settling in well, with Sheldon and Stanley, and is even starting to rule the roost. Stanley gets annoyed and jumps up somewhere, where she can't reach him, while Sheldon mostly tolerates the pesky kitten.

I'll get to meet her next week, as I'm heading out to visit for a couple of days. Eli doesn't have school either Monday or Tuesday, (teacher's conference or PD days or whatever they call it these days), so I'm sure we'll have lots of fun.

Have a wonderful week ahead everyone. 

Friday 27 January 2023

Puntarenas, Costa Rica - Wildlife galore

 I had intended to finish this post this yesterday, but weather happened, and I spent time shovelling snow instead. Afer the snow came a bit of freezing rain and lots of wind, so I'll be out again to clear what blew in later today.

This is another photo heavy post - when I booked the jungle river cruise I had hoped to see lots of wildlife and I was not disappointed. We arrived in the port of Puntarenas, early morning of Wednesday, January 11. I was up before the ship docked, at 5:10 a.m. so that I could capture the sunrise.

I ran into one of the other women from the singles/solo group on Deck 16 and we chatted as we waited for the sun to make an appearance. I didn't last as long as she did, so this it the best I got.

After a breakfast from the buffet, out on the deck - why anyone would sit indoors when the weather is so lovely, is beyond me - I headed down to the Provence dining room for 7 a.m. Another of our group was also on the same excursion so we sat and waited for our group to be called.

The drive to the Crocodile Jungle River cruise was about 90 minutes. Our guide, Christian talked most of the way. He gave us various information about the country of Costa Rica, pretty much all of which I've forgotten already. 

At the location, we had an opportunity to use the bano since we'd be on the boat for 2 1/2 hours, and then walked down a series of ramps to the lagoon. I didn't get a photo of the boat we were on, but basically it was a flat bottomed boat with a canopy over it, and a large motor on the back. I'm guessing it held 20-24 guests. Thankfully it wasn't full up. K and I had taken a seat near the back of the boat, and I ended up going to the rear seat near the motor in order to get photos without blocking someone else. Since I was so close to the motor, I couldn't hear what Christian was telling us except when the driver slowed the boat down or stopped. Luckily they gave us a bird guide pamphlet, and Google lens reverse search did the rest when I got home.

Within moments of boarding, we were on our way through the lagoon and this was the first crocodile we found sunning on the bank.

Across the way, was a Roseate Spoonbill. I wasn't quick enough to get a good shot of it. 

The driver circled the lagoon to allow us to view a pair of HUGE crocodiles resting. The first photo is a close-up of the female.

We were stopped so I was able to hear Christian - he explained that the mouth is open for two reasons: to regulate body temperature and to allow small birds to pick debris from the mouth. My question, unasked, was do the birds then end up being a meal for the crocodile?

The male was resting in the water. If one wasn't paying attention, I'm not sure it would be noticed. 

After circling the lagoon, we headed out to the river system. About this time was when I moved from the seat next to K, and moved to the back of the boat where I could stand. Even if I couldn't hear Christian, I could see which direction he or other passengers were gesturing.

We passed these two men in a row boat - it appears they were preparing to fish. Now, I don't know about you, but knowing there are crocodiles in "them there" waters, I wouldn't be dangling my foot in the water. In fact, when I was sitting, I kept pulling my hand in when I realized it was on the outside of the boat...nowhere near the water.

I had no desire to interact with anything like this crocodile here. I'm sure the locals are better at spotting them than I am. What caught my attention was the sunlight on the scutes (the bumps) on the back of the crocodile. I've read that these allow the crocodile to swim without causing ripples on the surface of the water while they swim underneath. Good for them, not so good for their prey.

I have many photos of the Great Egret, however many of them are difficult to see the bird as, even they, blend into the background.

Here's one that I needed no introduction to (at least not in the past few years). We've had cormorants on the pond nearby - it was nice to see where they winter. Smart birds!

Here we have a Snowy Egret. It appears to be differentiated from the Great Egret by the size of it's bill.

This white bird is an Ibis, distinquishable by it's long dark beak. 

Here is another Snowy Egret. What you couldn't see in the last photo were the yellow feet. Aren't they fun?

These are a pair of frigate birds. I've seen them many times in flight on my various Caribbean cruises but never resting. Not a pretty bird.

The males of the specie are slightly more attractive, but not much in my opinion.

At this point, we had turned around and started our trip back to the lagoon. The driver took us part way down a short tributary, where we saw this bird in the tree. Recall the Roseate Spoonbill in flight earlier in the post. This is another one settled in a tree.

I believe this is a blue Heron, although it does not match either the pamphlet or the reverse search. We saw a number of these birds, but they really were well camoflauged and difficult to photograph.

On the other hand, these were neither difficult to spot or to identify. These are Royal Terns - they are so much prettier than the gulls we see here but similar in size and shape.

This was my fun find on the camera card. I knew I'd captured a bird, but couldn't tell exactly what it was on the small image on the camera. This is an Amazon Kingfisher. Definitely one of my favorites.

We weren't far from the lagoon when the driver pointed out this iguana on the shore. I was lucky to catch a photo as it disppeared into a hole shortly after.

We saw other birds I didn't capture, sandpipers, brown pelicans, and warblers. There were monkeys in the trees too as we had started our journey, but neither my eyesight nor my camera lens could see more than dark blobs in the tree. I had hoped to see a scarlet macaw but that wasn't to be, however I was not disappointed at the variety of creatures that showed themselves to us.

We were back on the ship by about 1:30 p.m. After a quick lunch I was reading and relaxing on the Promenade Deck when a loud band of musicians interrupted my concentration. I've included a short clip so you can hear for yourself. They kept this up all afternoon, until we sailed! Not just the musicians but the dancers too.

Next up is the port of Huatulco. I didn't have an excursion booked there so it will be a much shorter post. 

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Panama Canal - Part 2

I realized last night that I had a video on my cellphone of the car carrier making it's way into the Gatun locks. I hope it works, as it shows the mules as they travel down the rails to the lower lock. 

When I left off yesterday, we were about to sail under the Centennial Bridge. I watched from the buffet until we got closer to the Pedro Miguel locks. I didn't take as many photos here, but there are a few to share.

There's the Amadea again, this time using the left side of the locks. It may be there wasn't any traffic waiting to come through that side, or it might have been due to the weather that was about to blow in.

Look at the difference in the water levels. We were about to enter that last portion of the lock, and the water would be released so we were lowered too to match the open water beyond. Again, magic!

We're in the third lock at this point, with a view to the Miraflores locks ahead. It's not entirely clear, but it was beginning to rain at this point.

The tugs were waiting for us as we exited the locks - their presence turned out to be very important. The Amadea was beginning its progress throught the Miraflores locks, and you can see the rain coming in.

The visibility continued to drop as we waited. The temperature dropped significantly too, probably close to 10-15 degrees C. It wasn't raining too hard where we were (yet), and I stayed outdoors. (I don't melt, I just wish I would.)

We had a brief glimpse of Panama City, as the storm continued to roll in. 
This photo was taken with my cellphone before I fled indoors from the balcony. I was looking towards the Miraflores locks and could see nothing!

There was a single flash of lightning, a loud rumble of thunder, and the rain fell in torrents. I went back to my stateroom for 15-20 minutes (it was on Deck 11 too) hoping that the storm would clear out.

It hadn't entirely but had decreased signficantly. I tucked under a overhang and waited for it to clear.

I heard later that the winds were so strong that the ship was blown sideways and one of the tugs placed themselves between the ship and the wall to keep us from crashing into it! I must say I didn't feel a lot of movement in my stateroom, so I'm not certain of the veracity of that story.

As we made our way through the third series of locks, the Amadea had made its way through and was sailing towards the next bridge.

As we made our way through this last set of locks, we were greeted by a large crowd. They waved and took photos while we waved and took photos of them. There was an announcer explaining the process in English and Spanish. I'm assuming it was a tour group, and not locals.

This local, a brown pelican was waiting for the water to stir up its next meal.

On the other side of the ship, were several birds - two of the pelicans spotted something in the water. I wonder who got there first?

I wasn't able to find any information about this structure, but I'm thinking it was likely used as an observation deck at some point. It didn't appear to be in use now.

Finally, we reached the Bridge of the Americas, the first of the bridges built to allow traffic between North and South America. The bridge was completed in 1962 at a cost of $20M USD. This bridge is 1654 meters (5425 feet) in length, has a main span of 344 (1,129 feet, and a height of 117 meters (384 feet). 

Some other interesting facts about the Panama Canal:
France was the first country to begin working on the canal in 1881. This enterprise failed due for various reasons, including tropical diseases that killed thousands of workers.
In 1902, the United States took over the project. The government eventually spent $375M to build the canal, including a $10M payment to Panama for the rights to a 500 square miles to build the canal, and $40M for French assets.
More than 25,000 workers died during the construction of the canal; 20,000 from the French contingent, and 5,600 from America's efforts. Deaths were due primarily to disease and accidents.
The canal opened in 1914, and in 2010, the one millioneth ship transited the pasage.
While tolls for large ships can be reach $500K, the smallest toll paid was 36 cents, in 1928 by Richard Halliburton who swam the canal.
A maximum of 40 vessels a day transit the Panama Canal, however this number isn't often reached due to water storage limits, and the variety and size of the vessels.

We didn't complete our transit until nearly 5:15 p.m, about nine hours after it began. Despite the delay we were close to our original anticipated ETA. Good thing we got an early start.

I didn't catch a photo of the sunset that evening, as I'd gone to the singles/solo event and then to dinner. It was early night for me again - tired from all the running around the ship!

Next up - Costa Rica


Tuesday 24 January 2023

Panama Canal - Part 1

This will be a photo heavy post, with explanations as I add the a long post. It was a long day -  I was awake at 6:10 a.m. and after a quick breakfast, I was outside on Deck 16 not long after.

Our transit was through the old locks which are smaller than the new locks that were opened in 2016.  Princess has only two ships that can transit the old locks, the Island and the Coral.

I didn't make it in time for the sunrise - this would have to do. We were waiting out in the Atlantic Ocean with a large number of other vessels. The transit normally takes from 8-10 hours, our transit took longer due to weather conditions later in the day.

The companies that own the vessels pay for the privilege of transiting the Panama Canal. The lecturer  mentioned that our ship, the Island Princess, would have paid a toll of over $360,000 USD for the trip. 

The pilot boat arrived carrying the pilot who would navigate the canal. The ship's captain has to relinquish control of his ship.
This boat brought the men who would be throwing and connecting the lines for the mules that assist with the movement of the ship.

But before we reached the first set of locks, the Gatun locks, we sailed under the Atlantic Bridge. Construction on the bridge was started in 2013, it was finished and open to traffic in 2019. A four lane highway connecting North and South America, it is 2820 meters (abt 1.75 miles) long, with a span of 530 meters (1738 ft), and a height of 212 meters (695 ft.). The Island Princess is 63 meters in height (204 ft.) We had lots of room to spare.

The pillars are massive - I liked the curvature.

For the first series of locks, I started out on Deck 7. I was leaning out over the railing for this photo.  The men in the safety gear were from the second boat. Their job was the throw/pull the lines to secure the cruise ship to the mules. The line-up of vehicles on the track are the mules.

This was taken while we were travelling through the locks, so I'm slightly out of order. You can see the lines that are attached to the ship. On the top of the mule are a series of lights, like traffic lights, that provide needed information to the pilot on the ship. There are also bells that chime quite frequently. There are two mules, one on either side of the ship running on what appears to be a rail system.

Here we were waiting our turn to enter the Gatun locks (after the mules were in place). The ship in the locks ahead of us is the Amadea, a German ship that has a passenger capacity of 904. In contrast the Island Princess holds 2200, though we had about 1700 passengers on board for this trip. I had moved from Deck 7 to the forward public balcony on Deck 11. While it was out in the sun, so quite hot, it truly was one of the best places to view the locks.

The water level had increased in the first lock (don't ask me how it happens) and the gate was opening to allow us to enter.

While the gates are opening wide, you can see the next set of gates ahead, and the hill that the mules would climb as we made our way into the next lock. The water would slowly rise in our lock to bring us up to the level you can see in the photo with the Amadea. I'm not an engineer, nor have any such aptitude so I'll just call it magic. I know it has to do with gravity and water flow and that's about it.

While we were in one of the locks, I went down to Deck 7 again, to get a photo of the wall. There wasn't more than three feet between the ship and the walls on either side. Obviously the connections to the mules are very important.

In this photo I'm on the port side of Deck 14. You can see the lock that allows ships to travel in the opposite direction to the left. We did indeed meet more than one ship as we transited this set of locks. 

I went to the aft of the ship, to capture this photo of the car carrier (the grey ship on the right) as it sailed towards the Atlantic Bridge. As you can see there is another vessel waiting to the enter the locks behind us as well.

We reached Gatun lake about 10:15 in the morning. I don't recall when we first entered the locks, but I know it was early than we had expected, probably around 8:30. In that time, we travelled just 1.2 miles.

At this point we were anchored for some time in the lake, so I took a break from the sun, and grabbed some water, and went back to my stateroom to relax for about an hour. I was able to watch our progress via the Bridge cam on the television.

We were travelling through the Culebra Cut. This is an artificial valley, created to cut through the Continental Divide in Panama. The valley links Gatun Lake (Atlantic), to the Gulf of Panama (Pacific).

I didn't take a lot of photos in the cut, but there were a number of these directional beacons that assist in the navigation of the canal. It operates 24/7 and while the locks have lighting the cut does not.

There was some evidence of soil erosion throughout the cut, and in some placed terraces had been built. I presume those were meant to keep the soil in place.

This is Titan, otherwise known as Herman the German, a 350 tonne floating crane. Built by the Nazis in 1941, it and three others were seized at the end of WWII. It is still in use, by the Panama Canal company for heavy lifts in the locks. I shudder to think what would require its use.

At the end of the cut, we found the Centennial Bridge. The bridge was opened in 2004, as the first bridge (we're not there yet) wasn't sufficient for the level of vehicular traffic. The clearance is 80 m (262 ft.) so not as much head room for the Island Princess.

By this time, it was nearly 1:30 p.m. and the tummy was rumbling. I headed up to the buffet for lunch and kept an eye out the window as we headed towards the second locks, Pedro Miquel.

And it is at this point, I'm going to end this post as it getting very long - Part 2 tomorrow.