05 April 2008 | Panama Canal
31 March 2008 | off the coast of Baja California
21 March 2008 | 21 March En Route to Hawaii
13 March 2008 | Singapore and Viet Nam
13 March 2008 | SOUTH PACIFIC
07 March 2008 | Australia
12 February 2008 | easter island
05 February 2008 | Punto Arenas
03 February 2008 | tip of the world
02 February 2008 | off falkland islands
23 January 2008 | somewhere between Miami and Barbados BWI
05 April 2008 | Panama Canal
The Panama Canal was a long day. It was also hot and humid but very interesting. I was so engrossed in going through the first set of locks that I forgot to go inside for the trivia quiz. I have inherited Charlie's place now that he has gone home. He had a number of things that were pressing on him and he decided to fly home from Los Angeles. I considered going with him but as the Canal was one of my highlights for this cruise in the end I decided to stay. And it was all that I expected. What an experience! The Canal has three sets of locks, each of which has two lanes. They operate as water lifts to elevate ships 26 meters above sea level to the level of Gatun Lake. The transit takes ships across the Continental Divide and then lowers them back to sea level on the opposite side of the Isthmus.
We entered the first set of locks at about 7:00 AM. Then there was a lengthy passage, about 15% of the waterways total length, through a river like body of water called the Gaillard or Culebra Cut. This is currently being widened in order to accommodate the ever larger ships that are being built. There are also new locks also being built for larger ships and we saw the evidence of all the earth moving as we traveled through. I believe they are scheduled to open in 2014. At the end of the cut we entered Gatun Lake. The lake which is huge, provides the approximately 197 million liters of fresh water that are used for each lockage. Two hundred inches of water a year and a dammed lake in the mountains make this possible.
Ships use their own power for most of the Canal transit but when passing through the locks they are assisted by electric locomotives call mules. They use cables to align and tow the ships. They work in pairs and move on rails on each side of the lock. The QE2 used the maximum of 8 mules. One peculiar aspect of this operation is that in order to get the cables from the mules to the ship, two men in a rowboat row out to the ship to get a rope which they then tie to the cable so it can be pulled up to the ship. They apparently have never found a better system. The second set of locks was crowded when we arrived and we were delayed long enough that the captain had to cancel our stop in Cristobel, Panama. We exited the final lock at 6 PM and we are now sailing on to Cartagena, Columbia. This was substituted for our original port in Costa Rica because of difficulties in landing at that port. I won't be able to tell you much about that stop because I don't plan to go ashore. I know that as a part of a group I would be safe but I being cautious and none of the tours appealed to me anyway.
Tonight was Big Band Sounds and I chose to finish this.
We are in the home stretch.
04 April 2008 | Acapulco
The day in Acapulco. was especially good. I chose a cooking tour that was really wonderful. We were taken to a new restaurant up in the hills above one of the smaller bays connected to the main bay that we were anchored in.
This was after a drive along the main business section of the city: they even had a Walmart Superstore. This street was at beach level giving us glimpses of those in addition to hotels, bars and discos. It is certainly a thriving place!
The restaurant Zibu opened about 18 months ago. The owner is the son of the most famous chef in Mexico City. He used to work with her but decided to try this on his own. His English was excellent and he was charming to boot. The location was incredible and the restaurant was built from the ground up.
Most of the seating was open air and it was on several levels overlooking the sea. At first we sat in an area by the bar for Margueritas, plain, mango or tamarind while he talked about how he got his start. There was a moat that flowed over the edge, endless pool style around the cocktail area separating it from the outdoor eating area. After that we were taken into the kitchen where there were chairs set up facing the stoves and counters.
He did some of the work and his chef de cuisine and sou chef finished up the production of the dishes and plated them so we could all have our own full portion. The first dish was chicken taquitos with guacamole-taquitos being little rolled tacos. The second was pecan soup with chipotle and the third was fish fillets baked in banana leaves and foil with cilantro, tomatoes and red onions. They were outstanding and I am looking forward to trying my hand at recreating them at home. The owner also shared a cookbook that his mother had written, Mexico the Beautiful Cookbook which had a wealth of other interesting dishes. The real secret is the seasonings and it surely isn't Tex-Mex.
On the way back we were taken to a very exclusive area of homes that led to a lovely chapel built on the highest point in Acapulco by the parents of young men who were killed in a tragic accident when they were in their twenties. It was very modern but also very welcoming. The houses surrounding this hillside were generally concealed behind high walls so there wasn't much to be seen unless someone had a door or gate open. The only people we saw were gardeners and what I presumed to be maids or housekeepers and quite a few guards.
The weather was very hot and somewhat humid so we were all happy to be back on the ship where it was cool and I laid down for a nap. Dinner and part of the entertainment followed. I couldn't manage the whole Lounge scene. It was a piano player and a banjo player with band backup so I had an early night.
31 March 2008 | off the coast of Baja California
I have been lulled into laziness by the open sea since leaving Hawaii for Los Angeles. We had four days at sea at a very rapid speed. One night we averaged 31 knots by using all 9 of our engines. There is a of vibration at the aft end of the ship when we are pushing that fast but the ocean was smooth so except when we were eating breakfast or lunch in the Lido is wasn't bothersome.
Anyway, back to Hawaii where we stopped in 2 ports. The first was Honolulu. Unfortunately we did not get the premier dock once again but it was possible to walk to the Aloha Tower so at least it wasn't in the middle of a container yard again. We caught a cab from the dock and went directly to Pearl Harbor. It must be Spring Break for a lot of schools because it was unbelievably crowded. We arrived at 8:00 AM to what seemed like an endless line. We had tickets about 40 minutes later for a tour that would start at 10:30. By the time we finished about 12:00 they had given out all the tickets for the day. I had been there before but Charlie had not so I am glad we didn't wait too long to get moving that morning. The movie that they show before the boat takes you to the Arizona Memorial is very moving as is the Memorial itself. Seeing the drops of oil that are still seeping from the sunken ships and the large wall with all the names of the men who died so suddenly in an unprovoked attack is a not to be forgotten experience.
To go back to Honolulu we decided to get adventurous. Our taxi driver has told us we could take one of 2 buses back for $1 apiece since we were over 60. Someone at the bus stop advised us to take a different bus that was an express. We opted for the express but had not idea when we should get off; everyone had a different street name. Off we went in the hopes we would find our way and we did. We were admonished by the driver that the next time we tried to get a senior citizen fare we would have to show our Medicare card. Being only 63 I don't have one so I felt very guilty but managed to bury the guilt just this one time. We found our way to the tourist mecca around the Aloha Tower where we had lunch. Charlie then went back to the boat while I found a drug store to buy some necessities we had used up.
Once back on the ship we hurried to get ready for our World Cruise Dinner. This is for those 700 odd people who are aboard for the full tour. It is an event that is looked forward to with great anticipation. When I saw it was to be held in the Convention Center I was none to sure about how great it would be but it was a wonderful night. We started by receiving leis from darling young girls before making our way to cocktails on the roof top garden. There were dancers and singers to entertain us there and then we went downstairs to dinner. There we were greeted by tables set all in white except for large lavender bows on the chairs and matching napkins. The centerpieces were 18 inch tall glass cylindrical vases with at least 50 stems of white orchids coming out at the top. Votive candles were wrapped in green leaves and there were shells and star fish scattered about. It was all very elegant. Our 5 course dinner including Kobe Beef and lobster tails was excellent as was the entertainment throughout dinner!!!
The next morning we were in Maui and since we had been there previously we didn't worry about waking up early. In fact we missed breakfast so we went ashore and had an early lunch and then wandered around until mid afternoon before returning to the ship to watch whales from the deck, until we set sail for Los Angeles
In Los Angeles we were met by our son Justin who has recently moved there. He took us to see the Queen Mary in Long Beach. She is now a floating hotel and I have to say if I thought that the QE2 looked dated I was way off compared to the original QM. Not only was she dark and dreary she was very run down. I now view it as a real blessing that the QE2 is going to Dubai where there is a lot of money to redo her and keep her up. After that depressing visit we drove to the townhouse he shares with Amanda in Orange County. Their home is lovely and Amanda had a delicious lunch ready for us to enjoy. After that we sat around and visited with them until it was time to take me back to the ship. Charlie stayed in LA because he is flying back home tonight. There were a number of things pressing on his mind that we wanted to get home for but I am still looking forward to our passage through the Panama Canal so I decided to stay until we get back to New York on the 12th.
Now we are on our way to Acapulco where I am taking a class in Mexican Cookery then we will be on to the highlight of the Canal.