Sunday, 14 May 2017

Cruising – Days 236 to 242

Cruisers are us!
Day minus 2 – 7th May
Still in Jicaral in the Nicoya Peninsular at our final housesit. Julie and Juan-Carlos arrived home on the earlier ferry at 5:00pm (we had a ‘heads up’ phone call from Kristina to say she had received a ‘Whats App’ message from them). Shared our 1 litre of beer and crisps with them, Jackie chopped up more vegetables, added more rice and made our pork stir fry go between 4. Left them at 7:00pm to go to our cabana in town for the night as they were very tired.

Day minus 1 – 8th May
Our cruise cabin
Arrived back at housesit at 08:00am to find Juan-Carlos had cooked breakfast for us, all sat down together, they looking much more refreshed. Neither dog had eaten their breakfast and Penka dog looked decidedly under the weather with patches of sick visible outside. They will take her to the vets later. Finally ‘Canadian Jim’ arrived at 09:50am to collect us, driving a big four wheel drive, with his partner Momo (or something like that). Jackie had contacted him on the cruise messenger service following a notice he had put on saying he lives on the Nicoya Peninsular, is going on our cruise and will pick people up on the way if required. An ex-Canadian army man retired early at 45 and has lived for 2 years in Costa Rica, he drove quite fast but relatively safely telling stories of his life as a tank commander.

The view of Cartagena through our window as we docked
Picked up Victor at San Jose airport on the way (he was supposed to arrive yesterday but San Jose airport was closed due to a power cut. He’s a 62 year old retired last year and travelling the world on cruise ships while his partner of 37 years is still working (but he does finally retire in September!). Got the low down on cruises from him, included a warning that boarding is chaos, but after that it’s great. He will be in the bar at the back of the ship as it leaves port. He always does that apparently, sitting with a cold beer or, in this case as all alcohol is included, something stronger and with an umbrella in it. Think we might join him!

Long journey to Puerto Limon, arriving at our Airbnb at 18:00 to be greeted by a lovely Jamaican who took us to the local shop to buy beer. Cooked in the Airbnb, bed early

Day zero – 9th May
Up early, neither of us slept all that well, finished off our breakfast food and a final pack. Got taken to the port by our Jamaican host at about 10:30 although boarding was between 11:00am and 1:00pm, but after Victor’s advice about chaos at the port when boarding we decided to be there a bit earlier!

The new, larger Panama canal. The ship is too large for the old locks, it's too wide, but OK in length. In the new locks it looks tiny, which shows how much bigger they are than the old ones. The lock isn't curved its the panorama photo distortion
The new gates slide rather than swing and here it is half open
We should have been there a lot earlier. Nardo drove down the road, and even he was amazed at the queue snaking a block down the street and round the corner, still at least we knew they wouldn’t go without us, but what a shambles. People wandered up and down handing out various forms to fill in, before we finally got to the front, after an hour a half, to find that to cap it all, we weren’t allowed to walk through the gates, we had to get on a bus, for which they were charging $5 per person! Check in, after that, was actually quite painless, we left our bags with the bus so they could be delivered to the cabin, boarded, had our hand luggage and bodies scanned, and were in. dropped the hand luggage off and went to the buffet for lunch. We hadn’t seen beef like that in months, this is going to be good.

Tugs guiding the ship through the lock
Muster drill followed shortly and we met our cabin steward, who pointed out what B had just discovered, the carpet in our cabin was very wet, so off to reception who changed us from deck 2 with a little porthole, to deck 7 with a big window, albeit looking onto the jogging track before the rail, but it’s not like anyone actually wants to look in.

Gatun lake, the highest point on the Panama canal, 26m above sea level
So started our exploration of the ship which ground to a halt as we realised we were about to set sail, so grab a drink and to the rail to wave farewell to Costa Rica. Mmm, Brian measures of gin in the G&T…. Bumped into Victor our fellow passenger from the previous day with Patrick who we were meant to be meeting later to plan our visit to the Agua Clara expansion locks of the Panama Canal, so plans made we settled down to our G&T in the 360 degree observation lounge.

Rainstorm as we got back to the ship
Shower, and change for dinner, where is the dining room again? We had asked for a small table so were surprised to be shown to a table for 10. We were shortly joined by a couple from California, though he is originally from Germany, and that was all. There is a menu that is fixed for the duration of the cruise and a small daily menu that changes, so lots of choice and free flowing wine. The food is beautifully presented, with sensibly sized portions so allowing us to enjoy a three course meal (or four or five, or however many you want) without feeling stuffed. Despite both being very tired we managed to stay up to watch our presentation of the welcome show, starting at 10.00. When were we last up at 10.00? And we had to be up early as we were leaving the port of Colon at 14.30 so our trip out had to be early, and we were losing an hour! Enjoyed the show, till the Spanish ventriloquist came on…..! Bed, and a goodnights sleep.

Day 1 – 10th May

Old Cartagena town walls, built to keep English pirate Sir Francis Drake out
Breakfast in the buffet, before meeting up with Patrick on level 1 to head ashore. Patrick is out, across the gangplank, but me? No, my card that is all you need aboard ship, isn’t working, it’s not showing her my picture, so she won’t let me off, back up to reception, level 4, and onto my third card. This one worked so off we went, purposefully striding past all the taxi drivers close to the entrance. Finally found one to take us for $15 per person, not $25. Still too much? Probably but life’s too short! We were lucky, we arrived as a ship was in the lock, storage tank one of three was emptying into the lock as it raised to the level of the Gatun lake. It was a bigger ship than we saw the last time, but only just, lengthwise it would have fitted the old locks but not widthwise, though it looked tiny in the space. They have just had the biggest container ship through, 13000 containers rather than the average 8000, total cost for transit? $1million! Interesting video and back to the taxi driver, till the boys on their smart phones discovered the free, very slow, wifi in the café.

By the clock tower on our walking tour of Cartagena
We were dropped back at the ship just as the heavens opened. We smugly walked past the new arrivals all checking in, in a nice air-conditioned hanger, just our check in then, though it’s not the ships fault, but the towns. Back to the cabin and Oscar has not done well on the Teddy points. Teddy is just cast aside, not at all comfy in the bed. Time for lunch, big plate of salad with a little bit of fish, sense is kicking in already, except for the one glass of cava I suppose. Muster drill for new arrivals, we feel like old hands already, then we are off, so time for cocktail and waving goodbye to Central America after five months and one day. Gin fizz, much more drinkable than the pina colada we tried the previous day. Met an interesting American lady who had picked up the only English book in the library, Jeremy Clarkson, not sure he’s really going to be her cup of tea….. Strange isn’t it, she sat there telling us all about the tapestries in Stirling Castle while we told her all about the National Parks in Utah!

A show put on for us in Bolivar Square
Down to dinner, would there be more of us? Yes, but no. It’s got worse. Two Taiwanese boys, eating their bread rolls with a knife and fork, no English, no Spanish and no food. They were vegan which despite not being the only vegans on the ship seemed to be causing problems, so a plate of salad with boiled rice and steamed vegetables, was followed by a plate of fried rice with vegetables! No wonder they were skinny! We haven’t seen them since and I can’t say I’m sorry, it was just hard for everyone.

Day 2 – 11th May

Street in Cartagena. Victor is on the right
Cartagena Colombia, an historic walled town, how best to see it? There is s free walking tour but disembarkation started at 09.30 and it started a bus and taxi ride away at 10.00, not really going to happen. Then the hop on hop off buses turned up, the same red livery and writing as in every town in the UK and Europe. How strange, but it made perfect sense, so with Jim and Victor we sat upstairs in the front row for the hour and a half tour, followed by an hour and a half walking tour. Ideal, we saw everything we wanted with minimal effort and back on board in time for lunch. Salad again, but with fresh poached salmon, yum. Back to the cabin and having left Teddy tucked into the unmade bed as we left, Oscar had got the message and Teddy is waving from his comfy position against the pillow. So he should be, we are leaving the cabin beautifully tidy, so apart from bed and towels there is little for Oscar to do.

You are supposed to look 10 years younger looking in this mirror. It didn't work for me! Jim, who gave us a lift is left of me in this photo
In the zoo of the cruise ship terminal at Cartagena, Columbia
We did get off again and walked down to the port building, the last of our fellow passengers checking in, and they don’t know how lucky they are. A leafy area with peacocks, flamingos and maccaws to keep them entertained while queuing! We were there to visit the aviary, well he still has a soft spot for parrots. I encouraged a cockatoo onto my arm where he wandered up and down. How do you get him off? Pass him onto your husband…. First thing it did then? Beak straight through the brim of Brian’s Ozzie hat! Trying to get rid of the first bird, another one flew in, so one on each shoulder and gentle nibbling of ears, face, how do you get rid of a bird without getting pecked to death? The highlight of his day, only 100+ bird photos to go through then!

He's on the door cloer in the zoo enclosure
Mojito to wave goodbye to Latin America, well we do feel we have to try all the free cocktails…

Back to just the four of us for dinner, well we now know it could be worse! Fabulous show, really enjoyed it, though according to Patrick, four times is a bit much! Everyone has cruised before except us, and we are still not cruising, this is a voyage home!

Day 3 – 12th May

Not sure what he is, but he's very cute
First sea day, hurray. Lazy breakfast, cereal and fruit, we are trying to be sensible. We’ve found the best spot in our favourite bar, comfy sofas and a power point nearby, so armed with laptop, for photo sorting and blog writing, book, kindle, crossword and free flowing coffee, water and anything else you wanted delivered with a smile that was us till lunchtime. Turkey was the meat of the day of which I had the tiniest bit, just to make a turkey sandwich, but in the time it took us to eat our lunch I watched five turkeys being carved and distributed!

Close up to a toucan
Time for a short siesta before our first trip to the gym, well you’ve got to try. We have also been using the stairs, from deck 7 (cabin) to 1 (disembarkation), 3 (restaurant) 5 (favourite bar) 11 and 12 (buffet) and 14 (360 lounge) 14 is the only one we are using the lift for, if carrying cocktails! It’s not often you can use the cross trainer while satisfying my obsession of looking for whales!

the first cockatoo steps onto Jackies hand...
Quick shower, well it’s gone five, the sun is definitely over the yard arm and we have yet to have our first cocktail of the day. Why did they dip the rim of the margarita glass in lime and salt and then serve it with a straw? Too much sweet alcohol, so while B had a second one I went back to a G&T. I had to send it back twice, first time to be put in a bigger glass so he could add more tonic, second time just to add more tonic!

Everything must be pecked!
First formal night, so, as formal as we can get, but hey, I think we scrubbed up ok, but perhaps I just couldn’t focus in my gin haze. Joined at our table by a Scottish/English couple, they live in Spain, but prefer to be English speaking so they had moved from their Spanish speaking table. No choices tonight, just the seven courses of the gala menu….

A second one really wanted my camera
Queue up to have our photo taken with the captain? I don’t think so. We’d already refused to have our embarkation photo taken, hot, bothered and fed up as we were. Fortunately the photo on the electronic card is only visible when scanned by computer, it’s not printed on as Brian’s is looking very grumpy!

Day 4 – 13th May

How do you get a cockatoo off your shoulder?....
Slightly confused, we’d both thought today was St Maarten, but no, second sea day, fortunately we had managed to confirm this before going to bed, so a repeat of yesterday, only today I might actually finish this, to date, having been far too busy relaxing yesterday. A cha cha cha masterclass by the pool has broken the morning nicely. We did think we might actually go in one of the two pools but with no lounger or chair available even to put a pair of shorts on, we’ll save that for later. So soon to lunch, then the tough choice of which cocktail to try before dinner, suggested attire for tonight is white! I don’t even have a white pair of pants, so I may have to go the other way and go black. Life is very hard.

Quick dip in the pool before cocktail hour, after dinner show, and bed.

Day 5 – 14th May

St Maarten

Pass it on to me, except he wants to eat my hat!
Shopping and beach heaven. Neither of those really float our boat, though Maho Beach is renowned for being at the end of the run way, so that was the only vague temptation, the Cruise excursion at $37 each was way overboard, so we thought we’d walk into a town, when a very nice new collectivo came past. $2 each! Got on to find a family of four from the cruise liner docked next to us, also going to the beach. People hopped on and hopped off, we had a little guided tour, just entering the French side of the island, dropped off at the beach and he said he’d come back on 20 minutes. Perfect, in that time two planes landed and two took off, admittedly not big jets, but enough to get the idea. Back to the boat for lunch and then we’ll go out looking for cheap wifi……
Then there were two with a third thinking of climbing on
Lots of macaws that were completely free and their wings were not clipped either. We could see them flying around the harbour completely free. They must return for the free food they are given
Finally a great photo of toucans!
In fact I got many, many photos, but they are very cute
On board the cruise ship, showing off my sooty t shirt
Gala night in the theatre on board
The person with the microphone is the captain. He's definitely the fat controller!
One of the areas on the ship. Its difficult to remember its a ship sometimes, except for the slight swaying when at sea
Arriving at the Dutch port of Philipsburg on St Maarten today
No need for Spanish here
So, silly activity for the day? Lets go to Maho beach and see if we can get plane tyre marks on our heads!
So here we are on the beach, there's a small road and, the other side of the fence, the runway
We didn't have to wait long for the first one...
Not a huge plane, but still quite exciting
And there it is landing
Time for another one. This photo kindly taken by the family we met on the bus


  1. Looks fab- so glad you're enjoying it- at least I think you are! X

  2. wow! looks brilliant. It must be very exciting watching the planes flying over. imagine a week in a hotel there! lol.
    The bird pictures are lovely. Hope you have a smashing birthday Jackie, amongst the glamour! xxxx

  3. My fav comment of this entry - we use the lift to level 14 if we are carrying cocktails!! This is indeed the life!

  4. Glad to see you two enjoying the cruise! :-) Am looking forward to seeing how your trip across the Atlantic ended up. Funny, we also gravitated heavily towards the G&Ts and gin fizzes while onboard that ship. Sounds like you as well. Hope you had a pleasant and relaxing crossing full of many more G&Ts!