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  1. Saturday, June 1, 2019 San Luis Obispo, CA Home at Last! It’s both happy and sad to be home; happy to be where we are most comfortable and sad to have left our favorite ship after 127 days on board. On Wednesday evening it was again both happy and sad. Our guests for dinner that last evening on board were Steph, one of the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers - a dancer, and Claire, one of the singers. We’ve come to know them over the course of the cruise and had a great time exchanging stories about shipboard life both above and below decks and making plans to get together next WC, when they’ll be performing again. The crew goodbyes were full of hugs and tears and hopes to get together next year. Indy, our favorite waiter, is scheduled to be our waiter at the same table next year, although we don’t know about the others. It’s been a wonderful time getting to know many of the crew members better. On Thursday we set our alarm for 5:45 because Captain Fred had said that we’d sail under the Golden Gate Bridge at 6:30, something we hadn’t done for more than forty years (on the SS Lurline). He was spot on with the time - I looked down at my watch when it said 6:30 and then up at the bridge above. The fog kept us from having a full view, but what would San Francisco be without fog? From there we headed to showers and breakfast before disembarking just before 9:00. Apparently there were only about 30 of us getting off in SF, and it really made a difference in luggage. In Ft. Lauderdale we were told there were 10,000 bags; in SF, it looked like less than 100. Our four were the only ones being picked up by FedEx as part of our WC perks, and we should have them on Tuesday. Then it was Uber to the Hyatt Regency to collect our one-way rental car. We were scheduled for a Ford Focus but they substituted a hot little Ford Mustang convertible so we looked ever so cool heading down the freeway. We were on the 101 by 9:00, and with only two stops, one for lunch and one to pick up our mail from John’s brother, we were home by 2:00, returning the car less than 30 minutes later. It’s weird how one can fall right back into the home routine. By 7:00 we were parked in front of the TV, watching that amazing guy on Jeopardy and eating pizza. Our house had been left in perfect condition by our renters (now friends), and by 10:00 we were really feeling that 5:45 AM wakeup call. On Friday we made it to two social events, one at a local winery with friends and another to our tennis club to watch one of John’s tennis buddies play in a Friday night band. We even managed to pick up two wine shipments from wine clubs to which we belong, so our supply is excellent right now. It has been a wonderful 4-1/2 months and, when someone last evening asked, “Would you do it again?” we answered “of course.” The places we saw, the old friends we spent time with, the new friends we met this time around - all of it was a great experience. We really have a hard time realizing that we’ve done this seven times and enjoyed every single one. When we’re asked, “What was your favorite place?” we have no problem answering “Bhutan.” We have next year booked, including the same dining table with almost the same friends and the same waiter. Thank you all for following along. It’s fun to write about what we’re doing and it makes it far more special to know that many of you are “traveling with us.” Your comments really make my day. Next year begins on January 4 and I hope to “see” you then!
  2. Wednesday, May 29, 2019 At Sea en route to San Francisco - Day 2 The last day - at last! I think it will have been 130 days since we boarded in Ft. Lauderdale a long, long time ago, and now we’re finally (after last night’s time change) back in the time zone in which we began, good old Pacific Time. We are scheduled to dock at 8:00, and I imagine that by 9:00 we’ll be off the ship for the last time (at least for now) and calling for an Uber so we can collect our rental car. This, of course, should be a very relaxed sea day, but it’s not - at least so far. I began the day by having my Kindle slip out of its case, hit the deck, and go to the great electronic graveyard in the sky. This one was a gift to myself not too long after they first came out. On our first WC in 2008, we brought an entire suitcase full of books and used the shelves above the TV as our library. For 2010, however, we could carry our library in our tote bags, and that same wonderful little device has been a part of my life ever since. Two years ago, a ship’s officer (who shall remain anonymous) had an extra brand new Kindle, and he gave it to me. However, I was so attached to my old one that it’s just been sitting on the shelf waiting for something like this to happen. I’m not sure how to transfer all my old book friends (43 pages and counting), but I do know that there’s a phone number to a genuine person who will help me do so. I guess if all else fails, all my books are listed on John’s Kindle under “archives,” so I’ll be able to transfer them that way. After the gym and breakfast, my next steps led me to the on-board laundromat, where I did the last of the laundry, since we’d never get it back in time if I sent it out. I knew that on this short a cruise the washers and dryers fill up early, so I was there by 8:30 to toss in that one last load. Of course when it was done, I had to fold it and decide which of our bags would hold it (without bursting), and we’re almost, almost ready to put the bags out tonight. As mentioned yesterday, there are nine of them, but only seven will need to be picked up, as we’re carrying two off ourselves. Then the four Fed-Ex bags will be turned in, and hopefully will magically appear at our doorstep on Monday. As we exit the ship in the morning, we’ll have one more task. While in Portugal, our friend Ginni purchased a couple of cheese knives as gifts for friends. You know what a cheese knife looks like: as dull as dishwater and unable to cut anything more challenging than a soft brie. However, as she returned to the ship and went through security, the officer decided that it would be far safer on the ship if they confiscated the “booty” and saved it for her departure on May 16. Poor Ginni; she forgot to pick up her gifts when she disembarked and didn’t notice their absence until she arrived back in Texas. At that point, Rich texted us and asked if we could check to see if the knives were still on board and, if so, could we pick them up and mail the offending items to them. That sounds simple, but it required a specific email from Ginni authorizing me to collect the knives, have the front office make a copy of her email, and then a message sent to security to enable me to collect them on our way out tomorrow. Is nothing ever simple? So . . . by this afternoon everything will be packed, luggage will be in the hallway tonight, and tomorrow we’ll be on our way south to home sweet home. I just hope that there’s a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge on the way in.
  3. ger_77, you have sharp eyes. Yes, there are 9 bags. Four were shipped courtesy of HAL, two we brought on the plane, two were "pillow gifts" during the WC, and one was sent by our daughter with our cold weather clothes. The four originals will be FedEx-d home (again courtesy of HAL), and the remaining 5 will ride in the taxi with us to the Hyatt Regency in SF where we'll pick up our rental car to drive home. None of that bothers us; it's the unpacking that we dread!
  4. Tuesday, May 28, 2019 At sea en route to San Francisco (and home!) The skies are blue and clear. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s almost sixty degrees outside. I’m wearing my shorts and a sleeveless blouse and I’m beginning to feel that I should head back to the cabin to pick up a sweater. We can certainly tell that we’re headed northward. Today is going to be nearly final packing. Shiv, the Head of Housekeeping, is going to have our four large pieces of luggage returned to our cabin and I’ll see how much more I can jam into them. Anything that won’t go there will have to go into our “carry-on size” bags and our cute little square pull-alongs that were a “pillow gift” sometime during the WC. Fortunately for us, the four large ones, which will be shipped home via Fed-Ex, do not have a weight limit, so I can see us sitting atop each as we try and try and try to zip them. We received our colored tags this morning (eight of them) and we know to have our luggage tagged and outside the cabin by midnight tomorrow night. Sometime during the night, the hardworking deckhands will come and load them on dollies to be taken down into the bowels of the ship and then disembarked in SF. We were told that only 19 of us were disembarking, so the luggage should be no problem at all. It’s so much better than the 10,000 pieces of luggage taken ashore in Ft. Lauderdale when the lines for porters were about 200 feet long. We’ve discovered a couple more differences between the WC and this one. Before dinner last evening, we were talking about where to go for a glass of wine. Since there is no music at all in the Crow’s Nest (does HAL realize how much money they lose in alcohol sales with no band there?), we headed for the Ocean Bar on Deck 5. All I wanted was water while John had a glass of wine, and we began talking about the music. We realized that our parents would have been comfortable dancing to it in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Several couples danced, but since we don’t know the box step well enough, we had to take a pass. There was a song about coffee in Brazil, but the only one we really knew was “My Candy.” When we told Roel, our beverage server, that we might as well return to the Crow’s Nest, he said that recorded dance music doesn’t begin until 10:00 and that there are only about a half dozen people there at any one time. The other difference was noticed during dinner, when we were talking about the cute little lamps on each table and realized that there were no flowers on the table. We asked Indy about it and he said that, other than the WC, HAL had decided to replace the flowers with the lamps. So sad, but another way to keep from having to raise the cruise rates much higher. I do see cutbacks, but I also notice that the fares don’t go up that much. I’m afraid that a lot of people who complain about the cutbacks would complain even more if everything were kept the same and the prices skyrocketed. Although we’ve been missing our friends (and we know exactly what each one would order when we look at the menu), we’ve been enjoying our four-top for two for a couple of reasons. For one, we can invite guests and have an intimate dinner as we had with Tim and will have tomorrow night with Steph and Claire, members of the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers with whom we’ve become friendly. A couple of nights ago, we hosted Gracela, a friend from the front desk with whom we go back to 2013. The photo is of her with Manny, her fiance and our wine steward, whom we’ve known since 2018. Another advantage is getting to have long conversations with our waiters, especially Indy. Last evening we spoke about Ramadan, since Indy is Muslim. Since Muslims must not eat between sunrise and sunset, Indy awakes at about 2:30 or 3:00 AM to have breakfast, goes back to sleep, and then gets up to work at 6:00 or 6:30. When asked if there is an Imam on board, he told us that there was, and that he is a room steward who has trained in religious studies. It’s really interesting to get to know different people and how their lives and beliefs are different. I guess it’s time to head back to the stateroom to see if the luggage has been delivered and begin stuffing as much as possible into it. P. S. The luggage is now ready - and makes such a lovely picture!
  5. Monday, May 27, 2019 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico It was only a short stop, but it was a good one. Thanks to a visit here last May with some friends (our first trip to Cabo), we were fairly familiar with the town and looked forward to a good wander, which was about all we had time for. We anchored offshore at 7:00 this morning, with tendering beginning at that time. Not only were we not ready to go ashore by then, but we didn’t think there would be anything to do if we did so. We may have been wrong, however, because when we did get ashore shortly after 9:00, we found every bar in town not only open, but actively trying to solicit our business. One surprising thing that we discovered here was that if there are a lot of bars, there are almost more pharmacies. It’s possible to buy almost any medication one wants, and there were a couple of quite amusing illustrations as to why people should purchase *****. Actually, we were interested in finding a pharmacy, but all we wanted was cough drops and Chapstick, two items that we finished in the last couple of days. We wandered around for an hour and a half, finding out that “No, gracias,” works just as well here as in Guatemala. We turned down drinks, meals, silver, timeshares, and probably half a dozen other things. We actually went into a couple of the larger shops, with the thought that there would be more people and less attention on us. It worked. The tequila store had not only Mexico’s favorite beverage at pretty good prices, but chocolates, blankets, tee shirts, keychains . . . you get the picture. We didn’t buy anything, however. It was interesting reading the ads in real estate windows. It seems that there are tons of condos for sale around here, and while the prices seem right (in the $200,000 range), I wondered what the HOA’s would be each month. But, since we’re not in the market for a second residence, it was just fun looking at the pictures. When it got to be about 11:00, we decided it must be Margarita time somewhere, so we headed to Captain Tony’s, a harborfront restaurant we’d been to last year. We began, of course, with a couple of wonderful Margaritas (rocks, salt) and then ordered tacos. John’s were fish and mine were “pastor,” or pork with seasoning. Each plate came with a large scoop of guacamole, which went very well not only with the tacos but with the basket of chips alongside. Soon we were joined by Jay, the young lady who is the trainer in the gym, and her Margarita and chimichanga looked pretty darned good too. We talked and talked, but since the last tender was at 1:30 for a 2:00 sailaway, we had to bring a halt to our eating and socializing and head for the tender at about 1:00. After we returned, it was time for pickleball for John and a nap for me, since I tried to read but found out it doesn’t work with closed eyes. It’s been a good day and, as our last port, we were very happy with it, except we would have liked to have a few more hours to enjoy it even more.
  6. Sunday, May 26, 2019 At Sea en route to Cabo San Lucas Our second sea day before Cabo San Lucas and we can already feel that we are heading northward. Yesterday the skies were blue and clear and the temperature was about 80 degrees. When we went out onto the back deck this morning after breakfast, we could tell that the temperature was now in the high 60’s with partly cloudy skies and little humidity. Actually, after the midday high of 90 in Huatulco with high humidity, this feels pretty good. Last evening was the last Gala Night for the two of us, since the third one will take place after San Francisco, where we disembark. Usually the ship’s officers are sent to large tables on gala nights, but our friend Tim, the Environment Officer, had asked if he could host our little table, so there were three of us instead of two at dinner. We know several of the officers, although not as many on this cruise as on the WC, but it’s nice to be able to just sit and talk for two hours and learn more about each other. Tim, a native South African, now lives with his wife and two children in New Zealand, just outside of Auckland. He boarded the WC in Naples, and he and John got to know each other shortly thereafter. We learned that his family in South Africa is good friends with Oscar Pistorius and his family, and he was able to give us some insight into that whole situation. If the name isn’t familiar, just Google it and you’ll see why we were interested. He told us that Pistorius had been a friend before he became famous, but that fame changed things and that his anger management had caused several problems before the crime which put him in prison. It’s such a small world, sometimes. Tim also told us that there was supposed to be a dog on this cruise, but that changed at the last minute. We hope it was because HAL has learned from their last experience. I had earlier mentioned the situation with the dogs in the Pinnacle restaurant, but we found out later from another officer that fisticuffs did indeed break out over that situation, causing Security to be called. When I filled out my WC evaluation, I spent a couple of paragraphs on the whole dog situation. The weather has changed enough that John is able to get back into pickleball, and yesterday he spent 90 minutes playing. He has a tennis buddy at home who occasionally plays pickleball, and I think he plans to join him to play from time to time. I never thought I’d see it. Our other new activity is 7:00 Trivia in the Crow’s Nest. We’d rather play during the daytime Team Trivia competition with Bruce, but the 1:00 timing of it conflicts with too many other things, including pickleball. Isolda runs the 7:00 game, so we try to play, even though Happy Hour no longer takes place at that time. Oh well. We’re really looking forward to Cabo San Lucas tomorrow, since we spent time there with friends last May. The only drawback is that our calling hours are 7:00 AM until only 2:00 PM, so we’ll have to have an early lunch and then catch the last tender back. I think we’re looking forward to some (freshly caught) fish and chips and a couple of Margaritas. What could be better?
  7. Saturday, May 25, 2019 At Sea en route to Cabo San Lucas What a difference two oceans make. Last week we were fighting rough seas and high winds, digging out our sweaters and holding on tightly to the bars in the shower. This week is a whole new story. Now we’re whining about the heat and humidity and wearing the lightest clothes we have. Ah, the joys of complaining. Huatulco is located where the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountains meet the Pacific. There was a lot of resort development here in the 1980’s (I remember that there was a very popular Club Med located here) and people have been coming ever since. It’s much smaller and more laid back than Cancun or Mazatlan, and it has several bays, great dining, and activities such as kayaking, jet skiing, fishing, and just hanging out at the beach. We didn’t arrive yesterday until 2:00 and were greeted with 90 degree heat and humidity a little higher than that. It’s such a cute little Mexican beach town with families enjoying a Friday in the sand. In fact the fun seemed to go on all day, and while I know that yesterday was the beginning of a holiday weekend at home, I don’t know what the occasion was here, but it led to a really good time. We wanted some pesos so we didn’t have to depend on dollars (which are freely accepted), so we managed to find an ATM where we withdrew about $50 in pesos at an exchange rate of 20 to 1, or 1,000 pesos. Then we continued walking the few main streets, perfecting our delivery of “No, gracias,” for all the vendors. The information sheet provided by HAL listed a few restaurants, and when we serendipitously came upon “Las Margaritas” in the Marina Hotel, we knew we had come to the right place. We ordered “dos Margaritas” and tried to order chips and salsa, but the pleasant waiter decided that what we really wanted was guacamole and chips. The Margaritas were some of the best we’ve had, and we found that an order of guacamole meant a huge scoop almost covering a plate, decorated with a few chips and some chopped tomato. The basket of warm chips meant we didn’t have to use our hands, but we would have been tempted. A while later, John decided that two would be better than one, and when Jose brought his second, he brought me a small glassful - “uno pequeno,” he told us. Total bill: $15.00. Then it was time to return to the ship to call our daughter and granddaughter - our last call before arriving in San Francisco. We had a long and cheerful chat, learning about the end of school, Courtney’s PTA activities, and Jessica’s excitement about summer school (really!) Next year is eighth grade, and she just can’t get enough of being in junior high. I guess it’s genetic, since grandma loved teaching it for 35 years. After a chance for a shower and a change into fresher clothes, we went back to find a place for dinner. There are not only dozens of places to eat, but there are dozens of people standing outside them holding menus and assuring us that theirs is the best place to have dinner. We decided on Dona Maria’s Lobster House, but had no intention of ordering lobster, since tonight is a Gala Night and if I wish I can have it for free. We ordered fish tacos which were preceeded by a basket of freshly fried whole tortillas accompanied by hot, hot, hot salsa and pico de gallo. The three tacos themselves came on a large plate, accompanied by sauteed vegetables and rice. They were different from any fish tacos we’ve had, with the tortilla spread with mashed black beans and filled with a combination of small shrimp and chopped octopus. Different - but pretty tasty. Two orders of fish tacos, two beers and two Diet Cokes: $31.00. After eating, we headed to where the action was, a large open concrete area in front of a huge stage where a mariachi band was playing nonstop. There were about a dozen couples dancing, so we joined them briefly and then headed down for a moonlit walk along the beach. As we passed one of the many restaurants (this one specializing in pizza and two for $8.00 Margaritas), we were hailed by a group of the singers and dancers with whom we’ve become friendly. Their table was graced by several glasses of strawberry Margaritas and they said that the pizza was great. Of course that price was too good to pass up, so we found a table on the sand, ordered two regular Margaritas, and sat there watching Mexican families having a good time paddling around in the water after dark. We returned to the ship shortly after 9:00, in time to catch the extremely well-attended Ballet Folklorico performance by some local dancers and singers. At the high school where John taught there was an outstanding folklorico group, and while there were similarities, this performance was very different. While John’s group was always energetic and smiling, this performance began with six dancers in a slow dance, never smiling. Next was the corn dance, with six young ladies carrying bowls and acting as though they were distributing seed to the ground. Again, there was no smiling and the dance was quite slow. As the dances continued, they increased in energy, accompanied by happy faces. The last few dances were lively ones, and the finale was a combination of the more active performances throughout the evening. It was a wonderful introduction to Mexico, and the audience loudly showed their appreciation. It was a wonderful day, and the best part was our 11:00 sailing, which gave us time to stay ashore and enjoy the cooler air of the evening as well as share time with local families enjoying the beginning of their weekend.
  8. And, by the way, the next to last severe-looking fellow is NOT Shakespeare.
  9. Friday, May 24, 2019 Huatulco, Mexico We have our first Mexican port today, but since we don’t arrive until 2:00 this afternoon, our crew friends have told us that it’s considered a “sea day” for them, so few of them will get to have time off the ship. Bruce, the Cruise Director, asked those people who aren’t in a hurry to wait a half hour or so to get off the ship, so that’s what we will do. Last evening, as we were leaving the Crow’s Nest after Trivia, I paid some attention to the brass insignia outside and realized just how many things of beauty there are on this ship. So today, especially for those of you who’ve never been on my favorite ship, I’m going to show you part of the reason we love the Amsterdam. I realized as I uploaded the photos that some are easy to locate while others present a bit of a problem. I guess I should create a game, since even John didn’t recognize a couple. Enjoy the art tour.
  10. We both use IPhones. Often I use John’s photos (today 8 of 12 were his) but we have found that our IPhones do as well as our Nikon SLR and are a heck of a lot easier to upload the pix. Thanks for the compliment.
  11. Thursday, May 23, 2019 Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala Sometimes it’s a good idea to stay in the town in which the ship is docked, but when there’s a UNESCO World Heritage City only 90 minutes away, that seems the better choice. Antigua was founded in 1552 and was the colonial capital of Guatemala for more than 200 years until it was destroyed by a series of earthquakes in 1773, and even now, some of that damage is still visible. We knew that the only way we’d get to Antigua (for the second time) was to book the ship’s “Antigua on Your Own” tour, so book it we did. We docked this morning at 7:00, and had to skip the gym to be ready for our “tour” at 7:30. The bus ride there was made extremely entertaining by Manny, our Guatemalan guide. He was personable, informative, and really funny and he made the 90-minute ride go by quickly. We drove between the two major volcanoes in the area, one of which erupted last June 3, killing about 2500 people and completely destroying three entire towns. Antigua is a beautiful city, with multi-colored single-story buildings along most of the streets. The streets themselves are really a challenge, because while we’ve walked on cobblestones before, these streets had the biggest, most uneven stones I’ve ever walked on. It was such an adventure. The buildings alongside the streets were fascinating. It looked from the front as though there was just a small room, but upon entering, one would find that the space extended far back, often around a courtyard filled with flowers and a fountain. They were absolutely charming. Our dropoff point was The Jade Museum, which of course was there to sell semi-precious jewels to tourists. It seems that no matter which tour one takes, the setup is similar: a small museum, watching craftsmen cutting and polishing the stones, and then, amazingly, a large room with an “opportunity” to buy the product. We’ve seen this in nearly every HAL tour we’ve taken, and while many people just love the shopping available, we’re a bit more cynical about it. We did look for a birthday gift for our daughter there, but when we realized that the necklaces we liked were up in the hundreds of dollars, we decided to find her gift elsewhere. Along every street, there are vendors selling various handcrafts. The ladies, clearly of Mayan descent, are dressed in colorful local dress and are selling table runners, scarves, and anything that might be woven. The young men, on the other hand, seemed to specialize in flutes and small drum-like instruments. They would always ask us to buy, but a simple “No, gracias” was sufficient and they were very pleasant about it. As I’ve mentioned before, we buy and mail a postcard to our granddaughter from each of our ports. We found one with a couple of pretty photos of Antigua, but the shop didn’t sell stamps, so we headed around the corner to where we thought we’d find the post office. What we found instead, was a young woman who spoke English as well as I do who explained to us that Guatemala no longer has a postal service. What?! That’s right. Apparently the government contracted with a Canadian company for postal service for 25 years. When that time was up, instead of choosing the same company (with 25 years of excellent service), they chose an 83-year-old woman (with family connections) who had no experience with the post office who managed to run it into the ground. As of right now, apparently there are warehouses full of letters and packages that might as well be somewhere in the solar system, since they’ll never get where they should. We were a bit skeptical about this story, but Manny, our guide, backed it up and told us of receiving mail - 18 months late or not at all. It’s very strange. On our way back to our meeting spot at the Jade “museum,” we wandered into the Casa Santo Domingo, a hotel created from the ruins of a convent founded in 1542 by Dominican friars. Like the smaller buildings which opened onto charming courtyards, the hotel opened onto what seemed like an entire city block of restaurants, gardens, patios, ruins, and even a hotel. It was absolutely beautiful! We’d love to spend a few days in Antigua, and now I know where I’d stay. For such a wonderful hotel, the prices are reasonable and they even include breakfast. We would hire one of the young men who drive tuk-tuks around the city and see as much as possible, and then continue around the country to see such sights as Tikal and Lake Atitlan. Another great day and now we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s port, Huatulco, Mexico. We’re getting closer and closer to home.
  12. Wednesday, May 22, 2019 Corinto, Nicaragua So many times we cruise into huge ports with mega cities and high rise buildings, but today we docked in Corinto, a small town with very traditional and colorful one-story buildings. The main means of transport here is the bicycle rickshaw, and it’s not only for the tourists but seems to be how local people get around, since cars are fairly scarce. As we disembarked the ship, we were offered transport to the beach, tours of the town, and any other destination we thought desirable. We like to walk, however, and so we set off down the main street, a very familiar location from our last visit here. It seems that small stores are mixed in with homes and people were meeting on the street and at the entrances to buildings, just exchanging news and probably talking about all these tourists. There’s a large park in the middle of town with comfortable benches under trees which offered shade from the 87 degree heat and about 95% humidity. As we walked and walked, I began to drip and drip, and my hair, which would like to be frizzy, was achieving its goal. Our destination was the beach and the casual, thatched-roof bar/restaurant which had been our lunch spot last time. On the way, we passed two women making tortillas, kneading the dough, patting it into circles, and cooking the tortillas in a hot pan. We took a wrong turn, however, and ended up at Costa Azul, a pretty little ocean-front restaurant. They had some very tempting ice-cold beer, but since it wasn’t even 10:00 in the morning, we decided that it was a bit too early. After chatting with the waitress and taking a photo of her with John in front of the beer refrigerator, we continued our walk until we did indeed find El Buzo, our prior stop. By now it was about 11:00, and faced with several shipboard passengers fighting the heat with cold beer, we joined them. We sat at a beach-front table, drank our beer, and fended off at least a dozen vendors of different merchandise. However when the hand-painted bowl came by, I could hear it calling my name, so now all I have to do is figure out where to pack it. From El Buzo, we walked back to Costa Azul, since it was then about 11:30 and we could justify lunch. We shared a plate of fajitas, which were to be served with fried potatoes, but we begged for tortillas instead. I think they were fresh out of the pan and everything was delicious. The fajitas were a combination of beef and chicken cooked with onions and peppers, and the light sauce with them was delicious. To wash them down, John had another beer and I relied on a Coke Zero. The only vendor there was selling cashews in different sized bags, so we decided on the $3.00 size which would no doubt go for $10.00 at home. Then it was time to head for our “home away from home,” and while I looked longingly at those bicycle rickshaws, we managed to walk all the way back, with a stop in the city park, watching families interact (that young boy got such a smack when he disagreed with his mother), old men playing cards, and a small band playing music. By the time we boarded, I had reached the end of my rope, and upon arrival in the cabin, all I could do was stretch out on the bed and sleep for an hour. It was a great day with a look at a very traditional Central American town. It’s not there for the tourists, but the friendly people are happy to welcome us and let us know how proud they are of their small corner of the world.
  13. Tuesday, May 21, 2019 At Sea en route to Corinto, Nicaragua We’ve entered the Pacific, and it’s living up to the name that Balboa gave it, meaning “peaceful.” The temperature is 78 degrees, the seas are calm, and we’re enjoying a great deal of sea life, incuding dolphins, flying fish, and a variety of sea birds. What a difference between our eight wild days on the Atlantic! We had some rain last night and early this morning, but now it’s partly cloudy, as the weather people say, and good weather for tanning. Since we were given a free dinner in The Pinnacle for booking back-to-back cruises, we decided to use it last evening, and we enjoyed a great meal. We were welcomed by Peter, a chaming Hungarian who’s temporarily taking over Pinnacle management from Tina. We talked about Budapest and our favorite things there, and he gave us some suggestions for dinner. The last time we ate there with all our tablemates, we all decided that the starters were so good that it would be a smart idea to make a meal of them, so that’s what we did last evening. We began with an amuse bouche of lobster flan (with nice chunks of lobster) in a demitasse cup. Then John had a wedge salad which was served with crumbled bacon, blue cheese, chopped tomato, red onion, and toasted walnuts. I don’t usually like iceberg lettuce, but that looked delicious. My first starter was lobster bisque which was thick and rich and delicious. Then we shared the (now famous on board) clothesline candied bacon. It comes with three hanging pieces of thick bacon, of which I had one and John volunteered to eat the other two. What a sacrifice! It comes with half a semi-sour pickle, and I realized that if I ate a bit of the pickle with a bite of the bacon, the maple syrup sweetness was cut. For “main” courses, John had crab cakes and I had Caesar salad, both from the starter menu. We also added two side dishes: beets with blue cheese and French fries in a cone, hot out of the oil. Yummm. The quantitiy of food was just about perfect, because the starter portions aren’t too big and we never got to the steaks and seafood main courses. We did give in to dessert, though. I had watermelon sorbet and John had key lime pie. Then, as though we hadn’t had enough food, our server brought us a tray of white and dark chocolates. Such decadence. I think we might just go back. Since it was about 45 minutes until the evening show, we spent that time with a wonderful walk around the deck under an almost full moon. One change that’s been made after the WC is happy hour, defined as charging only $2.00 for the second drink (as long as it’s the same as the first). It used to be from 4:30 to 5:30 and then from 6:30 to 7:30, fitting itself into the time before both dinners. Now there’s just one happy hour from 4:00 until 5:00 in both the Crow’s Nest and the Ocean Bar, but boy is it popular. We’ve attended twice and, although we miss our friends, we do know all the staff there, so we have a good time. We won’t be attending every day, but it’s nice to know we can do so. After our leisurely sea day today, we head into three straight ports: Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and Huatulco, Mexico. Latin American ports are always fun with good food and great local markets. We’re not sure yet what we’ll do in Corinto, but I think in Puerto Quetzal we’ll head to the colonial city of Antigua. This two week adventure is going quickly, so we’re going to take advantage of the time we have before San Francisco.
  14. Monday, May 20, 2019 Transit of the Panama Canal As this is our eighth transit of the Panama Canal, you’d think it was a ho-hum situation, but it certainly isn’t. The engineering marvel that this canal represents is truly amazing and we never cease to find it fascinating. Also, the fact that we’re on Deck 1 now gives us an entirely new view of the whole process. I was reading today’s New York Times Digest when suddenly the room became dark. I thought John had closed the blackout curtains, but it turned out that we had entered a lock and were entirely enclosed by its stone walls. After the lights went on in our cabin, I could clearly see the work that had been done over a hundred years ago in building the walls of each lock. I think I’d been through the canal a few times before I realized why the locks were necessary. Although all oceans are at the same level, Gatun Lake is 27 meters higher than sea level, so if it were not for locks, the lake would empty into both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. So . . . in our direction, north to south rather than east to west as most people believe, we go through the Gatun Locks and into Gatun Lake. There are two lanes, one in each direction, and sometimes it’s fun to be opposite a cruise ship and watch people come out on their balconies in bathrobes to wave to us. The tropical beauty of the lake is outstanding, with green islands everywhere and, hopefully, a quick view of a monkey or even a cayman (an alligator relative). Cruising the lake is the longest part of the transit, but it’s the locks which take the most time. A complete transit of the canal takes about ten hours. Right now we’re in Gatun Lake, and later today we’ll go through the Culebra Cut, the narrowest part of the canal. From there we enter the Pedro Miguel Locks and then the Miraflores Locks, leading us into the Pacific Ocean. When Bruce, the Cruise Director, asked last evening before the show how many people were transiting the canal for the first time, more than half the hands went up. We’ve listened to people talking about the canal being way near the top of their bucket list, and how many have planned this cruise for years. We can certainly understand this being a goal; it really is a wonder of this modern world. Although you’re no doubt familiar with the history of the canal, a few highlights in case you’re not. Although the French tried to build a canal in 1880, there were too many financial problems and tropical diseases, so the effort came to nothing. After Panamanian independence in 1903, a second successful effort was made by the United States, culminating in the opening of the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914. The agreement was that the United States would administer the canal until December 31, 1999, and it was then that Panama took over operations. Operations continued smoothly through that transition and have worked beautifully ever since. In 2016, the expanded second (almost parallel) canal opened, which has doubled the capacity of the canal and allows ships that were previously too large to fit. Its locks are named Cocoli and Agua Clara, two sets instead of three. During a previous transit, we were told that our ship was charged about $250,000 to pass through the canal. At first I thought that was outrageous, but when that information was followed with the approximate cost of sailing around South America (in the millions), it made much more sense. Next year’s WC does just that, sailing down the east coast of South America, visiting Antarctica, and then up the west coast. Just the cost of fuel alone is higher than the cost of transiting the canal, not to mention all the other costs of a cruise. I guess this will be our last Panama Canal for quite some time, since next year we won’t transit at all. All the more reason, then, to just relax and enjoy this one.
  15. Sunday, May 19, 2019 Cartagena, Colombia It was a short but sweet visit to the northern tip of South America, docking at 7:00 AM and setting sail at 1:00 PM. Sitting on the coast, Cartagena was a target for nearly every pirate and swashbuckler in the 16th Century, so the inhabitants built a wall entirely around their town. It now is the longest city wall in South America. Parts of it were damaged over the years and had to be rebuilt, but nothing is newer than about 1750. In most ports, there’s a building with some small shops and possibly a cafe with the every popular internet, but in Cartagena it’s entirely different. After about a quarter mile walk, one arrives at a tropical paradise, with flamingoes, black swans, small deer, and brightly colored birds of several breeds. The cameras were going crazy and you’ll (hopefully) see some photos of the beauties of the place. We spent a bit of time there, but our real goal was the Old City inside the wall, and for that we needed either a lot more time for walking or a taxi. Since there would be no more time, the taxi it was. Our driver was Leo, and he had a wonderful personality, joking with us and telling us about his planned birthday celebration the next day. When he dropped us off just outside the wall, we made an agreement to be picked up two hours later, and then we began our exploration. The Old City contains a warren of small streets, barely big enough for a small car to drive one way, with beautiful colonial houses painted in bright colors and, of course, many, many shops. The main attraction for a lot of the ship’s shoppers was Colombia’s reputation for emeralds, and it seemed that there was a jewelry store or two on every block. There were also numerous coffee shops, as Colombian coffee is known all over the world. There were even a few reminders of Colombia’s violent past, when it was known for drug gangs. There were small stands selling everything from hats to fruit along the streets as well as ladies dressed in national costume with fruit in their hats. I know this is going to date me, but it made me think of Carmen Miranda. If we’d had more time, we would have enjoyed a Colombian lunch and a cold Colombian beer, but that was not to be, so after our wander and browsing were done, we rejoined Leo and headed back to the port. Instead of heading directly to the ship, however, we spent some time in the charming port area, buying, writing and sending Jessica’s postcard and then enjoying a long phone call with our daughter. Finally it was time to head back to the ship for lunch and, promptly at 1:00, we threw off the ropes and headed out to sea. The reason for the early sailaway is tomorrow’s destination, the Panama Canal. We learned from Captain Jonathan on the last canal transit that it’s important for a ship to be in line from an early hour to be ready to enter the canal. Although the visit wasn’t nearly long enough, we really enjoyed spending time in Cartagena and especially wandering through the Old City. We can highly recommend this port.
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