Jim and I went on a cruise through the Panama Canal with a group hosted by Gina and John Ostos of You Are Not Alone Travel Group. This cruise departed from Miami, Florida and arrived in Los Angeles, California fourteen days later. Since we were on a one-way trip, we rode the Florida Redline Shuttle from Bradenton to the Port of Miami. We arrived safely at the Port of Miami about midday and was able to board the Norwegian Star pretty quickly. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship, taking pictures of the Miami skyline and enjoying the buffet. Jim also showed off his dancing skills during the Sail Away Party.
We were looking forward to seeing Gina and John, along with other members of the nineteen persons group at dinner. It was a pretty diverse group of people, which included families, neighbors, life-long friends and people meeting for the first time. Jim and I reunited with friends that we sailed with last year. We took the picture below on the second night of the cruise.
We had two sea days before reaching our first port of Call. Those days were spent getting to know the new people in the group and catching up on life with group members that we already knew. Some people needed these two days to get their sea legs. The Caribbean was very turbulent, which caused seasickness in some group members. There were lots of things to do on the ship during the days at sea. Some of the group members and I met with Gina in the ship's gym to participate in group exercises. That helped offset some of the extra calories we were consuming. Jim and I also played a few games of Bingo, participated in some music trivia and caught up on some reading. We purchased an internet so we were never off the grid.
Our first Port of Call was Cartegena, Colombia. Cartetegena is a modern city and a major port on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region.
Cathedral of Cartagena
We visited the Cathedral of Cartagena and Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress within the city. It was built by the Spanish during the colonial era and is located on the Hill of San Lazaro in a strategic location.
Castillo San Felipe de Barajas
Sandy's tour was very informational. It highlighted the importance of the Catholic church in the colonial era. There was a of terrible acts in the name of religion. There were torture chambers, weapons and executions. There was a native performance and a tour of a museum.
Cruising through the Panama Canal
Cruising through the Panama Canal was an interesting experience. This was definitely a bucket list item. It took over eight hours to travel the 51 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Three canal locks at the end lifted the cruise ship up 85 ft above sea level to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal. We were then lowered at the other end by three locks into the Pacific Ocean. Being engineers, we were still amazed that this engineering feat was completed in 1914 and locks are operated by gravity and displaced water. We were escorted into locks by Panamanian authorities, who charge an average toll of $150,000 per crossing.
We saw the skyline of Panama and spotted a crocodile swimming near the shore. The area around Gatum Lake remains unscathed by human interference and one of the few accessible areas where various native animal and plant species can be observed undisturbed in their natural habitat.
Puntarenas, Costa Rico
As you can see, the weather was absolutely fantastic in Costa Rico. The city was decorated for the holiday season. Irene and Gustavo were our tour guide and bus driver on Scenic Costa Rico tour.
The school children were allowed to performed as a reward for good grades and good behavior. We were encouraged to join in the celebration. There were opportunities to shop for homemade items.
Jaime was our tour guide. He asked us to call him Jimmy. Our tour was called Colonial City of Leon, which involved a one and a half mile drive from the Port of Corinto to the City of Leon, a former capital of Nicaragua. We traveled on a new luxury bus with restroom and a water/guave juice fountain. Jimmy said that it cost $280,000 and is owned by the driver, Carlos. I mention this because the disclaimer on the tour stated that air conditioning was not guaranteed. We were pleasantly surprised. Jimmy provided us with lots of information about the country of Nicaragua, some things I knew and had forgotten, and some things I never knew. For instance, the shortest distance between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is 11 miles in Nicaragua. There are 19 active volcanos, which is one of the reasons the International Canal was built in Panama and not in Nicaragua. China now has a project with Nicaragua to build a canal.
Traveling the 70 miles to Leon gave us the opportunity to see the countryside and get a glimpse of how the people lived. Things that I noticed was most homes had electricity, but no indoor plumbing or air conditioning. Cooking was done outside. I noticed a few televisions and cell phones. Travel was by horse or bicycle, with very few automobiles. There were an unusual amount of semi-trailer trucks in driveways. There were large and small farms. Agricultural products included mangoes, cashews, peanuts, sugar cane and bananas.
We visited the city center of Leon. One of the tourists sites is the La Asuncion Cathedral. We climbed to the roof via a very narrow staircase and took in a fabulous view of the city.
The Holy day of Obligation (Celebration of the Virgin Mary was being held). There were decorated altars in front of many homes and town squares. Children were out of school. There were also street vendors selling homemade items In the center square of Leon.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
Rita and Ronald were our tour guide and bus operator. Rita stopped for homemade tortillas along the route. We did not sample them, but most of the other passengers did.
Puerto Quetzal was one of my favorite stops because the people of Guatemala were so warm and welcoming. We took a scenic drive to Museo Cultura Cotzumalguapa, which is a museum full of archeological finds. One of the landowners found ancient relics on his property and opened the museum. His family were sugar cane growers until they sold the farmland to larger companies that took over that business. The farms were like self sufficient communities with a school and chapel on the property. The family land owner allowed the families that worked for them in the past to remain in the houses on the land. Since the family land owners had moved to the city, these families took care of the family home and land for them. They were allowed to sell homemade items to tourist.
Acapulco was the city just as expected, a city dependent on tourism. We took a bus tour through the city so that we were able to see the three resort areas.
We saw the cliff divers of LaQuebrada in traditional Acapulco, the old part of the port. We drove through Acapulco Dorado and Acapulco Diamente, the newest and most developed part of the port. We stopped at a scenic outlook and was able to see an aerial view of the city. We visited a church and a wild life habitat.
Our tour guide and bus driver were Victor and Sylvester. The bus was stopped by the police and the tour guides had to pay them a bribe before we were allowed to continue. Acupulco is known for it crime and drug gangs. It is the second deadliest city in the world. It has been checked off the bucket list so no reason to return.
Cabo San Lucas
The last stop was Cabo San Lucas. This was our second visit to Cabo. We wanted to see the downtown area and a close up look at Land's End. We took a boat ride and got some excellent pictures.
We took a tour of the city and went to a glass blowing factory. Cabo is a place that we will visit again and maybe stay awhile. Gustavo and Carlos were our tour guide and driver. Most of the group went on this tour so we were able to take some group pictures
The cruise was approaching the end. We spent the sea days hanging with the group. We walked along the track on the upper deck everyday, met John for breakfast and ate dinner with the group. The great thing about traveling with You are Not Alone Travel Group is that you can spend as much time or as little time with the group as you want. We are looking forward to our next cruise with this group.