|Happy New Year, Mardi Gras, and Valentine’s Day! We have had a very good winter so far. Over Christmas and New Year’s, we went on a cruise that departed from Los Angeles with stops in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, to Columbia and back to Fort Lauderdale.
We flew into LA a couple of days early, so we took advantage and visited the Reagan Library in Simi Valley. This is a really good Presidential Library and Museum with lots of public and private memorabilia and a pavilion for Air Force One. Since it was a few days before Christmas, they also had a special display of trees with decorations from various countries. It was interesting to see so many items from history that we remember.
The cruise first stopped in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We decided to take an excursion that first took us via catamaran out into the harbor to see the rocks at Land’s End and the arch “El Arco”. The next part of the excursion was via bus to see a glass blowing factory and then up the Pacific coast to San Jose. We did a stroll through the center of town to the Mission of San Jose and the Courthouse. Of course, we had to sample a local margarita before heading back to the ship.
The next 2 days of the cruise were at sea, but Santa Claus had his radar on, so he was able to find us! We were astounded at the flat seas of the Pacific – very smooth sailing, almost like a lake sometimes!
Our next stops were Acapulco and Huatulco. We decided not to take any ground excursions in these ports.
We did disembark the ship in Gualemala for an excursion to a driving safari. Most of the animals were from Africa, but there were some native deer. The highlights were a huge giraffe blocking the driveway and licking the front of the bus and beautiful white peacocks.
The next stop was Costa Rica and a river tour. The tour was relaxing, but it was very hard to see the birds in the dense trees, although a couple were really screeching. The river has many crocodiles, but they were pretty good at hiding.
The ship threw a wonderful New Year’s Eve party on the pool deck. There was a lot of music, dancing, and champagne to ring in the New Year out in the Pacific.
January 2 was the day to go through the Panama Canal. The pilot boards the ship at 5:45 AM when the journey begins, and it takes until about 4:00 PM to make the transit and he leaves the ship (about 48 miles). The canal opened in 1914 and the same 3 sets of locks are in operation today. We could see the construction underway for the new locks being built due to open in December 2016. This will allow for longer and wider ships to transit, but some huge cargo ships will still have to go around the Cape because they are too tall to pass under the Bridge of the Americas. It’s pretty expensive to transit the canal, which generates about $2B in revenue for Panama, but it saves almost 3 weeks of travel time.
Ships are tied to electric locomotive “mules” when they enter the locks. Ships use their own power to transit the locks, but the mules keep them centered in the locks. The most fascinating thing is how the lines get to the mules. Two men in a rowboat row to the ship, catch the lines and hand them off to men on shore to tie to the mules. Our narrator explained that it is felt that 2 men are more reliable than a motor that could fail and could not be fixed, which would really mess up the flow of ships passing through the canal. All the technology in play today and a rowboat is essential to the flow of world commerce! After the transit, we got our “Order of the Ditch” certificates.
Our final stop was in Cartegena, Columbia where we took a carriage ride through the old city. The most striking thing was the beautiful architecture of the buildings.