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Valparaiso to Fort Lauderdale aboard the Celebrity Infinity: A Photo Review


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All too soon the driver turned the boat around, pointed the bow toward home, and opened the throttle. ComputerTravelGuy and I both smiled; there’s nothing quite like a fast boat on a sunny day. We took one last look back at the Ballestas as they quickly dropped astern. We passed The Candelabra again on our way back, and as we sped past the port of San Martín, I took this photo (below) of the Infinity. After what seemed to be only a few more minutes, I heard the sound of the engines change as we slowed down to enter the marina near the town of Paracas.

 

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The trip back to the ship was uneventful. We thanked Pedro for the great job he’d done as our guide and wished him well.

 

When we exited the bus, we could see that local vendors had set up tents and were selling tables of handicrafts and other items. They seemed to be doing a fair amount of business. I was tempted to wander over and check a few prices (after all, I have grandchildren), but I was tired and hot and hungry. I could see that the very long line to get back on the ship was only going to get longer since tour buses were still rolling in. (Our theory was that the 7-hour port call had caused all the tours to leave and return around the same time, effectively creating a bottleneck.) Celebrity personnel did what they could by offering chilled towels and cups of ice water. The line moved quickly and before we knew it, we were back on the ship.

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A few more thoughts on our day in San Martín. . . .

 

As I’ve said earlier, we loved our trip to the Islas Ballestas and we had a magical day. What I haven’t mentioned yet is the not-so-magical smell that was hard to ignore. The guano from lots of fish-eating birds, combined with the smell of excreta from lots of fish-eating sea lions, made for a rather pungent odor.

 

We were encouraged to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen on this tour. I almost donated my favorite ball cap to King Neptune twice that day, thanks to the wind, so consider bringing a hat that won’t blow off in the wind.

 

I thought Celebrity did a remarkable job of arranging shore excursions for this port on very short notice. In addition to the excursion we took, the other offerings included excursions to the Incan ruins at Tambo Colorado, the Paracas National Reserve, a Pisco Valley tour that included 2 bodegas, and the Nazca Lines overflight.

 

I heard very little feedback about the other excursions. One person said that he had not been impressed with the bus trip to Paracas National Reserve. On the other hand, I spoke to a couple who had paid almost $500pp to take the Nazca Lines overflight and were thrilled with the experience. They said that they had always wanted to see the Nazca Lines and were unsure of whether they’d ever come back to Peru.

 

There may be some potential for private tour providers for this port. Before deciding to throw in the towel and take an excursion through the ship, I spent a quality 10 minutes searching for private tour providers. I did find some interesting results that I might have pursued had there been more time. One of our roll call members advertised a tour for this port, but I didn’t hear how it turned out.

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We are taking your trip in reverse in December. Your narrative about your day in Arica was wonderfully informative. Thanks for taking the time and effort to write

 

Hi JJSAsail, This was a very nice itinerary. We liked the way that the port calls alternated with sea days. I'm pleased you found my Arica information to be useful and I hope that you find my upcoming posts on the ports of Manta, Colon, and Cartagena to be of benefit as well. I would be happy to answer any questions.

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Lima. . . .sigh.

 

As I mentioned earlier, our itinerary had originally included a stop in Lima, Peru. We were scheduled to arrive in the port of Callao at 7:00 AM and depart at 4:30 PM. Two weeks before embarkation we were notified that our port call in Lima had been replaced with the port call in San Martín. As you will recall from my earlier posts, we went on to have a great day in San Martín, but at the time, we were heartbroken. As far as we were concerned, Lima was "the jewel in the crown" of this itinerary.

 

I had booked a 12-person private culinary tour with The Lima Gourmet Company, a very highly-rated tour provider on Trip Advisor. (I checked just now and they are currently #1. I'm not at all surprised.) The Lima culinary tour would introduce us to the city of Lima through its cuisine. Our stops would include a coffee roastery, a local market, a class where a chef would teach us to make ceviche and pisco sours, and lunch at a restaurant amid Pre-Incan ruins. Along the way, a guide would point out the sights of Lima.

 

Samantha, my point of contact, was an absolute pleasure to work with. She always responded to my emails within 24 hours in polite, personable English. The Lima Gourmet Company’s usual policy was for tours to be prepaid up front. For my tour we agreed that, since I was reserving the tour almost a full year in advance, I would pay for one seat (as a deposit) to reserve the tour and the payment for the other seats would not be due until much closer to the tour date. All payments would be made via a secure website in the US.

 

I asked Samantha about her cancellation policy in the event of an itinerary change. She said that, in the event of an itinerary change, she would refund almost the full amount, keeping only what was necessary to cover her transactions costs. That sounded reasonable to me so I sent a deposit, booked the tour, and advertised it on my roll call.

 

Thirty days ahead of the tour date, everyone had sent payments and everything looked good. I had emailed Samantha to confirm that everything was in order; Samantha replied that they were ready for us.

 

When I learned the news about the itinerary change, my heart sank. As soon as I was able to confirm the change, I emailed Samantha to let her know that we would not be coming to Lima and to request that she issue the refunds. She replied almost immediately with the specifics on how the refunds would be issued and what to expect. With that information I was able to email my tour members to let them know what was happening (six tour members were already on the ship) and I asked them to let me know if they did not receive notification of the refunds. Several days later, I had received both my notification and refund. Between emails and personal contact (at the Connections Party), I was later able to determine that everyone on my tour had received their notifications as well.

 

There had been other private tours for Lima that were organized through our roll call besides mine. I learned from others at the Connections Party that there had been some challenges in getting refunds issued. I did not learn the names of the other tour provider(s) or any specific details.

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After another day at sea, we arrived in Manta around 10 AM on Sunday, March 22nd. This morning we were able to awaken slowly and eat a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room. For the port of Manta, I had chosen to sponsor a private tour for some of my fellow roll call members. I returned to our stateroom after breakfast to look over the documentation before heading down to our group’s meeting place.

 

Our tour provider was Narwell Ecotours, a small Manta-based company committed to providing “experiences that allow you to unite with the environment around you, be aware of nature and its inhabitants”. (From their website.) Elsa, my point of contact, had always responded to my emails promptly in clear, correct English. Since our itinerary change had affected our arrival time in Manta, I had emailed Elsa a few weeks earlier to let her know that we would be arriving an hour later. Elsa had taken the news in stride and had responded by suggesting a couple of possible ways that our tour could be modified to allow for the shortened time in port.

 

I had asked the group to meet in the Rendez Vous Lounge at 9:45 AM so that we could disembark the ship together as soon as it was cleared. After leaving the ship we boarded the port shuttle for a short ride to the port gates. We got off the bus and headed towards a parking lot where the private tour providers were parked. Along the way we were asked multiple times whether we needed taxis or private tour services. A polite “No, thank you” or “We're looking for Narwell Tours” was usually all it took for us to be left alone. We boarded our minibus and met our guides, Jonathan and Jesús.

 

Our first stop was the Pacoche Humid Forest for a guided nature walk. Before exiting the minibus, we applied sunscreen and insect repellent. We grabbed our hats and cameras and followed our guides into the forest.

 

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A highlight for everyone was seeing the howler monkeys in the trees.

 

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On our way back to the bus, we crossed this bridge. One of our guides went ahead of the group while the other stayed behind to make sure that everyone was okay.

 

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Looking forward to the next installment! Brings back lots of great memories, since I've done that itinerary (except that we did stop at Lima, so I didn't get to see the Islas Ballestas, which I would have loved!) Hugs to you and CTG!

 

Salish Sailor :)

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We stopped for lunch at a small family-owned restaurant along the a scenic stretch of highway. Our group of 16 filled the entire second story of the restaurant.

 

The menu was simple, yet nourishing and the prices were quite reasonable. Jonathan and Jesús helped people translate the menus into English and made sure that those with dietary restrictions had the information they needed to make safe choices. ComputerTravelGuy and I shared a large plate of shrimp and rice ($7.00) an order of fried plantains ($2.00), and two bottles of Ecuadorian beer ($1.50 each). Our food arrived steaming hot and in generous qualities. The mountain of shrimp and rice on my plate was more than enough for the two of us and we couldn't finish the plantains. The beer was served in 600 ml bottles.

 

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Our view from the open air balcony was beautiful.

 

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We could see Ecuadorian families spending a lazy Sunday afternoon on the beach.

 

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These homes, across the street from the restaurant, all had a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean.

 

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Looking forward to the next installment! Brings back lots of great memories, since I've done that itinerary (except that we did stop at Lima, so I didn't get to see the Islas Ballestas, which I would have loved!) Hugs to you and CTG!

 

Salish Sailor :)

 

HI!!! How have you been??? We thought a lot about you on the cruise and wished that you could have been there. (Alas, we are all at different places on our bucket list.) What a great experience we had going around The Horn in 2010!

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We were also on this cruise, which was actually the final segment of a B2B2B on the Infinity. Always fun to see someone else's photos from the same cruise.

 

We also had a private tour arranged in Lima and had made a partial payment. We did not have any problems obtaining a refund from that company, but some friends, who were also scheduled for a private tour in Lima but with a different tour company, are having problems.

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After lunch we went to meet the maker of the finest "Panama" hats in Ecuador. Our guides told us that what came to be known as the "Panama Hat" was actually of Ecuadorian origin. It acquired the name "Panama Hat" after one was given to President Teddy Roosevelt to protect him from the sun during his visit to Panama.

 

We entered the home of the hat weaver to watch him at work. His hands moved so fast and the strands were so fine that some appear blurred in the photo below. He was weaving bent over, with his chest resting on a cushion that was resting on the crown of the hat which, in turn, was supported underneath by some sort of form. Working like this, he was capable of producing two hats per year for which he was paid well, by Ecuadorian standards.

 

 

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After weaving for five minutes or so, he straightened up and began to answer questions. He was very patient and seemed willing to answer our questions all afternoon, if need be. At one point he opened a cupboard and showed us one of his finished hats. He seemed more than willing to have us touch it, hold it or even try it on. Imagine! He was holding six-months-worth of income in a room full of strangers and allowing us to touch it. A few of us reached out and gingerly touched the hat, but no one seemed willing to try it on.

 

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Our next stop was Montechristi, the town where the hats were traditionally woven. We stopped to see the mausoleum of Eloy Alfaro, an important figure in the history of Ecuador. (I found the mausoleum to be quite beautiful.) There was also a museum and several small shops selling handicrafts at the site.

 

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Our last stop was a hat shop where we had the opportunity to purchase authentic Montechristi hats of our own. About half of us piled off the bus and up the steps to the shop. I had warned ComputerTravelGuy for weeks that I wanted a traditional hat and several conversations later, he had reluctantly agreed. Over the course of the day, however, he had become an enthusiastic connoisseur and now wanted a hat of his very own.

 

All around us we could see people trying on hats. There was really quite an excellent selection (at all different price points) and I was having as much fun watching others pick out hats as I was picking out my own. ComputerTravelGuy and I both chose the classic style. ComputerTravelGuy dickered a little and before we knew it, we were the proud owners of two traditional Panama, er, Montechristi hats.

 

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We piled back on the bus with our purchases adorning our heads. On our way out of Montechristi, we passed a statue commemorating the town's history of weaving fine hats.

 

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After leaving Montechristi, we had about a 30-40 minute ride back to the port. We had had a very full day. Many seemed content to watch the scenery go by. There were several quiet conversations and Jonathan and Jesús answered any last questions. Before we knew it, we were back at the port. We thanked the guides for our excellent day and piled into the port shuttle for our trip back to the ship.

 

As the ship pulled out of Manta, we took one last look at the port through our stateroom window. It had been a good day.

 

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Edited by polySeraph
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We were also on this cruise, which was actually the final segment of a B2B2B on the Infinity. Always fun to see someone else's photos from the same cruise.

 

We also had a private tour arranged in Lima and had made a partial payment. We did not have any problems obtaining a refund from that company, but some friends, who were also scheduled for a private tour in Lima but with a different tour company, are having problems.

 

Hi Northern Aurora, it's good to see your post. Thanks for the information on your tour provider in Lima.

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A few more thoughts on Manta. . . .

 

A hearty "Thank You" goes to my tour members for their support and cooperation. One member volunteered to help me manage the tour (which allowed me to expand its size) and gave me several excellent suggestions. Everyone on the tour arrived at our meeting place on time and well-prepared, resulting in a smooth start to a great day.

 

Manta is located at 0.95° South Latitude. Being so close to the Equator means that protection from the sun is essential. In addition to a hat and sunscreen, I brought a travel parasol for some instant shade. Others in our party wore lightweight, long-sleeved cotton garments.

 

The price of a Montechristi hat can vary greatly, depending on quality. Hats that are finely woven (the number of rows of weave per inch), have a consistent, even weave, and a consistent, even color command higher prices. We saw some hats in the vendor area of the museum for $20; hats in the sombrero shop started at $40 and went up to several hundred dollars. Hats of the highest quality can cost thousands.

 

My new hat does a great job protecting me from the Florida sun and since it breathes, it keeps me a little cooler.

 

Several hours after leaving Manta, we crossed the Equator and entered the Northern Hemisphere.

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The day after we left Manta was a sea day. We attended a couple of presentations, picked up our passports, and met friends for dinner. Before going to sleep we prepared for the Panama Canal transit the next day. We debated about whether to set an alarm.

 

The next morning, well before the alarm went off, we were awakened by the vibration of the bow thrusters. I looked out the window and saw the ships at anchor. I volunteered to go for coffee and headed upstairs to the buffet.

 

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I could see that lots of people were already out and about in the early morning light, preparing for the big day.

 

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There was lots of movement around the ship as people went from side to side taking photographs.

 

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Others had gotten up early to get ready for a different sort of day.

 

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We passed under the Bridge of the Americas and proceeded toward the Miraflores Locks.

 

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As we entered the first chamber of the Miraflores Locks, I could see passengers standing on the bow. I decided to head down there. I kept asking questions until eventually I was directed to the balcony of the Celebrity theater. I walked through the balcony and found a door to the outside. A Celebrity staff member was available to assist passengers with the step over the threshold. Passengers were checked for proper footwear (i. e., no flip flops) before being allowed outside on the bow. Once outside I made my way up a flight of steps and to the front. I could see two ships rising in the locks ahead of us.

 

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ComputerTravelGuy stayed upstairs to capture the transit from a different perspective.

 

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By the time I took this photo, the Infinity had entered the next chamber of the Miraflores Locks. The two ships ahead of us had crossed Miraflores Lake and were now in the the Pedro Miguel Locks. The Centennial Bridge can be seen in the distance.

 

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We were just about to exit the Pedro Miguel locks when I took this photo of the Azamara Journey entering the Culebra Cut.

 

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Edited by polySeraph
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I met ComputerTravelGuy in the cabin and we headed down to the main dining room for lunch. We managed to get a table by the window where we watched the Culebra Cut pass by. We thought about the many hundreds of lives that had been lost where we were now cruising. It was sobering.

 

Later in the afternoon we joined friends on their balcony and watched Gatún Lake glide by. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon with just a hint of a breeze.

 

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When we spotted the water towers in the distance, we knew that we were getting close to the Gatún Locks.

 

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The four of us moved to our cabin in the bow to watch the Infinity enter the first chamber of the Gatun Locks.

 

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After the Infinity had entered the first chamber of the Gatun Locks, our friends invited us to join them at an open house being held in a stern cabin by a couple of roll call members. We left our cabin in the bow and traveled the length of the ship to the open house in the stern. We thanked our host and headed out to the balcony.

 

Seeing the locks from the stern provided us with an entirely different perspective. For much of the time, the lock walls were so close that we could have reached out and touched them.

 

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We smiled and waved at the mule driver who smiled right back at us.

 

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It seemed that almost no time had passed when we realized that we had been lowered to sea level and were pulling away.

 

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As we left the Gatun Locks behind, I pondered the day's events. We had just crossed a continent on an ocean-going cruise ship using technology that was over one hundred years old.

 

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Edited by polySeraph
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After the Infinity had entered the first chamber of the Gatun Locks, our friends invited us to join them at an open house being held in a stern cabin by a couple of roll call members. We left our cabin in the bow and traveled the length of the ship to the open house in the stern. We thanked our host and headed out to the balcony.

 

Seeing the locks from the stern provided us with an entirely different perspective. For much of the time, the lock walls were so close that we could have reached out and touched them.

 

3-24-IMG_6639-r_zpsqizzrevc.jpg

 

We smiled and waved at the mule driver who smiled right back at us.

 

3-24-IMG_6643-r_zpssvpezlqu.jpg

 

It seemed that almost no time had passed when we realized that we had been lowered to sea level and were pulling away.

 

3-24-IMG_6645-r_zps7wjbhzg9.jpg

 

As we left the Gatun Locks behind, I pondered the day's events. We had just crossed a continent on an ocean-going cruise ship using technology that was over one hundred years old.

 

3-24-IMG_6647-r_zpsapmmdoe5.jpg

 

Amazing pictures. This is a cruise my DH and I are planning in the future. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

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Amazing pictures. This is a cruise my DH and I are planning in the future. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

 

Thank you! We have so many amazing photos from that day that it was hard to know what to post. I'll be adding the photos from our day in Colon shortly so, stay tuned. . . .

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The next morning we arrived in Colon, Panama at 7 AM. We awakened early, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed down to meet our tour group in the Rendez Vous Lounge. Another member of our roll call had arranged a tour through Robtad’s Tours. The stops included Fort San Lorenzo, the Gatun Visitor Center, and the Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center. We were all on time, so by 7:15 we were off the ship and on our way to meet our tour guide. Our guide was Reynaldo and our driver was Janet. The 15-passenger van had more than enough room for our seven tour members, plus our driver and guide.

 

Our first stop was to be the fort. Colon’s morning traffic was busy and chaotic, but Janet was up to the challenge. I sat back and admired her “artistry” while listening to Reynaldo’s narration. After 15-20 minutes we came to a dead stop. Reynaldo explained that we were lined up to cross the Panama Canal via the swing bridge at the Gatun Locks. After a few minutes, traffic started moving again and we crossed the Canal and continued on our way.

 

On our way to the fort, we couldn’t believe how thick and lush the jungle was. Reynaldo told us that this was Panama’s dry season, and in the rainy season, the jungle was even more dense.

 

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Arriving on the grounds of the fort, these hanging nests first attracted our attention.

 

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This is the bird responsible for building the nests in the above photo. According to my Panama bird book, it is some sort of oropendola.

 

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Edited by polySeraph
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Fort San Lorenzo was built in 1560 by the Spanish at the mouth of the Chagres River to protect the Las Cruces gold trail. The trail was used during the rainy-season to transport Peruvian gold from Panama City on the Pacific across the isthmus to where the Chagres River emptied into the Caribbean Sea. The fort was attacked by the Pirate Henry Morgan in 1670. Ten years later the Spanish built a new fort 24 meters (80 feet) above the water.

 

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The fort’s battery

 

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Another view of Fort San Lorenzo

 

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The Chagres River meeting the Caribbean Sea

 

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Looking up the Chagres River

 

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After leaving the fort, we made our way toward our next stop, the Gatun Visitor Center. While we were crossing the swing bridge in front of the Gatun Locks, ComputerTravelGuy snapped this photo of the lock gates.

 

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Just inside the entrance, we saw these historic old mules.

 

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We climbed up (and up and up) a very long flight of stairs and found ourselves on a covered, open-air platform. We had the perfect view from which to observe Canal operations.

 

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Note how close the bow of this ship is to the lock gates. We were surprised by how quickly water filled the chamber.

 

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This photo gives some idea of just how big the current mules are. Compare the size of the mule with the human-sized stairs.

 

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After watching Canal operations for a while, we reluctantly made our way down the stairs. Everyone took turns getting their photos taken in the cabs of the old mules. After a quick pass through the small gift shop, we walked outside in time to see Janet pulling up in the van.

 

Our next stop was the Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center. The previous day we had seen the Observation Center from the ship as we had approached the Gatun Locks. In the photo you can see it high on the hill above the ship. The bow of the Azamara Journey can also be seen on the right of the photo.

 

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The Observation Center was a brand new, beautiful facility well-situated on its hilltop. From the covered observation area, we could see for miles. If we looked in one direction we saw the Caribbean; in the other direction was Gatun Lake. What caught our attention, however, was the massive construction project at our feet. Most of us had attended the Infinity's lecture series on the Canal, but there was no way that the photos and statistics in the PowerPoint presentations could have adequately prepared us for what we were seeing. It was enormous!

 

The massive rolling gates can be seen below.

 

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This photo shows one wall of the new locks. The Caribbean is visible in the upper right of the photo. If you look closely you can see a couple of pickup trucks parked next to the wall near the building with the blue roof. This will give you some idea of the scale of the project.

 

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Looking toward Gatun Lake

 

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After leaving the Observation Center, we made our way back to the port. We thanked Reynaldo and Janet for the great day and made our way through the shops in the terminal back to the ship. Infinity crew members welcomed us back with chilled towels and cold water.

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Later that evening I opened my laptop to transfer my photos from my camera to my laptop. It had been my practice to transfer the images after every port call and evaluate them while the day was still fresh in my mind. I hadn’t had time to transfer the images from the previous day’s photos of the Panama Canal transit so I was looking forward to seeing them as well.

 

I connected my little Canon to my computer and was surprised to see an error message on the camera’s display. I unplugged, cleaned, and reseated all the connectors and still got the same error. When ComputerTravelGuy came back to the cabin, I gave him the news. We talked it over and decided to take the chip down to the Photo Department to ask them transfer the files from the camera’s chip to a disc. Two days later, the disc was ready. Since we only needed the last two days of images, everything fit on one disc.

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