So today was our last port of call, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. For this stop we signed up for the "Mini Jeep Adventure and Ranch Visit." At this port we are tendered rather than right up at the dock so we met in the theatre per usual after breakfast (and saw Derrick and Nicci at breakfast and they said since their kayaking trip had been cancelled they opted for our excursion) and then made our way to the tenders. Once onshore, we were met by a guide who brought us to a tour bus that took us through town and out towards the desert area where the ranch was. We offroaded a bit in the bus on the way to the ranch (both a standard highway detour and the "driveway" to the ranch which went past a few homes, both fancy and plain) and came up to the staging area where the folks that were on the horseback riding tour split with those of us going on the offroad tour. We were then brought over to our vehicles, the tour guide called them Rhinos, they were open air (no windshield) automatic transmission vehicles with rollbars, two seats, and a little flatbed in the back. I drove first and Jeremy said he would take the second leg back. We were told our rough itinerary, shown the basics of how to operate the vehicle, given a helmet, goggles and a bandana to wear over our mouths and nose and we were off.
It was a blast driving, up dunes and down ravines, we went through cacti and various flowering scrub brush (where thee were lots and lots of little yellow butterflies), then through a dry river bed and along the Pacific coast. We took a break for photos and water at the coast and it was beautiful. The coast was pretty rocky so the waves crashed rather spectacularly, I got a little too close to one and got my shorts half soaked but it was fun anyway. We then swapped drivers for the ride back along the course. It was fun to practice getting out of fish tailing and handling a rather loosely controlled vehicle (both the steering wheel and accelerator/breaks were very...forgiving). When we arrived back at the ranch we sat in the shade and were given water and granola bars and could purchase Coronas if we chose (Jeremy and I both did). The whole way Derrick and Nicci were behind us so it was fun to get to do an excursion with folks we "know," as it was fun to get to share the experience with folks.
The show tonight is a broadway medley but we won't see Derrick and Nicci there as they have been invited to sit at the captain's table at dinner tonight (fancy!) and they don't eat until 8:45 (the show we were planning to go to is at 8:45). On the way back to the ship we went through the inevitable and ever present souvenir shops next to the dock and picked up a last few souvenirs. We cleaned up (we were so dusty! My black shirt was brown by the end) grabbed some lunch, and are now watching the last 2pm tender come back before we head out for our last sea day and San Diego.
So today was our first of two stops in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta. The city is rather large and has a big port so we met our tour group on the pier, weaved our way through the opening tourist and souvenir shops and came to our rides for the day, 2 door soft top Jeep Wranglers. Jeremy and I were paired with a younger couple (she rather significantly younger than him) who were from the UK and Australia but currently live in Switzerland. Both she and Jeremy volunteered to drive so Jeremy took the first leg. We were given a red Jeep and set off in our caravan of 7 cars out of the city (past rather disappointingly a Walmart, KFC, Outback, Dominoes, McDonalds and a bunch of other American chain restaurants, along with a bunch of hotels along the beach) towards what our guide Jose Pepe called "real Mexico."
We drove through some agricultural areas that were growing corn and squash, forded a rather deep ravine and "off roaded" a bit along a dirt road (granted the secondary roads in Mexico are in pretty rough shape so that was almost more offroading than the actual course) along with some smaller villages (thankfully none with McDonald's) and stopped near a local elementary school to hear about what we had driven past. The kids in the schools were just emerging for their gym class and one of the middle aged guests who spoke Spanish talked to the kids, asking what grade they were in and seeing if they knew how to say "my name is" in English. We were brought through a "real" Mexican house which was very likely someone's home but was also set up for folks to walk through the living/kitchen area through to the back yard where they had various fruit trees growing (they also sold bottled water and soda). There were a bunch of stray dogs of various shapes and sizes and some free ranging chickens, but oddly I have only seen one cat this whole trip, not sure why that is.
We then drove another 15 minutes to a tequila factory and little souvenir market, we forgot to bring cash with us on the excursion so even though I was tempted by an agave weave bag and some jewelry I wasn't able to get anything as they didn't accept credit cards.
The tequila tour and tasting were fun. To make tequila they use rather similar methods to winemaking for a lot of the process, after they pressure cook the heart of the agave plant it is crushed/juiced and then put into tanks to age and then is distilled or aged longer in oak barrels. We did a tasting of "silver" (unaged) as well as tequila aged for 6 months and 18 months (each increasing in price, although the flavor I found was best to me in the unaged). They also had three flavored tequilas, peach, almond and coffee/chocolate, these were very sweet and didn't really taste much like tequila but were tasty nonetheless. We opted to buy a little variety pack of the regular tequilas and then after being given 10 minutes to shop the little market we were off back to town towards the beach to enjoy a "traditional Mexican snack."
On the way back the Australian woman drove, she got stuck with a bit more traffic and city driving than we did on the way out and ended up being rather frazzled by the time we reached the beach, but we made it just the same. We parked in a side garage/alley (and all the cars were thankfully turned around when we came back to leave) and walked to the beachfront to the "Burros Restaurant" for our snack, thick tortilla chips and fresh pico de gallo, then a plate with a sampling of quesadillas, a chicken taquito, fresh guacamole and refried beans. We also ordered drinks, a margarita for Jeremy and a Pacifico beer for myself (quite a tasty beer, by the way). We only had 45 minutes at the beach so after our snack we had just enough time to dip our feet in the ocean (we were expecting a bit more time than that at the beach, but oh well), and then we headed back through the early afternoon traffic to the ship.
Since we were already in our bathing suits and had wanted to try out the pools on the ship Jeremy and I stopped back by the room, dropped off our stuff and put on sunscreen and went to try out each of the saltwater pools they have on the ship, two outside (one four feet deep, one five to six feet) as well as the "therapeutic" pool which was warmer and had various jets and bubbles. We saw Nicci and Derrick in one of the regular pools and chatted with them for a while, as well as one of our fellow hikers from the volcano climb in the therapeutic pool (the guy who in fact was the high altitude climber who got us permission to do the farther/higher hike). It's been fun to start seeing and recognizing various folks on the ship, too bad we only have 2 full days left!
We had another tasty dinner and after dessert our waiter Adi came out with a "complements of the chef" Grand Marnier soufflé which was amazing, I could have had two. We also had our cookbook from the chefs table delivered tonight, it's huge and has lots of beautiful photos of the food we have had on the ship along with a general overview of Celebrity cruise ships. Tomorrow we have another Jeep tour, we may have convinced Nicci and Derrick to come along as their kayaking tour was cancelled, so we will find out tomorrow.
Today was a pretty quiet day, even though I had a bit of a rush of a start. The entire cruise we have been going west and setting our clocks back an hour but for whatever reason Puerto Vallarta is actually an hour ahead, not back. So not realizing that the night before we set our clocks back and when I woke up and checked the tv I saw it was 8:35, not 6:35 so I rushed off to my watercolor class while Jeremy stayed behind and had breakfast. I'm working on a painting of a bird of paradise flower, and I'm pretty proud of it actually. Linda Lee Curtis, the instructor, let us use some of her higher quality paints and they really make a big difference in color and application. I'm tempted to buy some more paints and paper when we get home, may be a fun relaxing thing to do on weekends and such.
After class I met up with Jeremy (who saw a sea turtle go by as he was reading out on our balcony) and we went to a talk by the first navigation officer in the theatre about how they do navigation and itinerary planning on the ship. After that, also in the theatre, was bingo. I bought one strip of cards and Jeremy managed to tolerate watching for about half of the games, then he headed back to the room while I and Felicia and Chad finished out our games (none of us had any luck, one guy behind us however won two games in a row). I met up with Jeremy for lunch then we went to the pool deck, planning to read, but ended up watching the officers vs guests pool volleyball game instead. We happened to be standing by Derrick and Nicci at the bar we were watching from so we chatted a bit with them and then headed back to the room.
Our plan had been to take just a short nap but we ended up sleeping until 5:35 so when we woke up we had to rush to get ready for dinner. After dinner with John and Karen we met up with Derrick and Nicci at the martini bar where we joined them for a drink and then we all headed to the evening show. I was quite excited for this one, it was a performance by Dale Kristian, who played Christine in Phantom of the Opera, both on Broadway (with the original Phantom, Michael Crawford) and in LA. She sang a lot of Phantom songs as well as "Memory" from Cats, "Don't cry for me Argentina" from Evita, and to our great surprise, our first dance song, "It Had to Be You." So overall a very enjoyable evening, even if we didn't do so great with the waking up on time parts of the day.
So today was the first of two sea days before we reach Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was a bit slow moving this morning and didn't wake up until 8:10 (typically I've been getting up around 6:30 or 7, kind of staying on East Coast time). Since I wanted to go to my watercolor painting class at 9 I told Jeremy to go ahead to breakfast without me while I got ready for the class. You pretty much can arrive anytime after 8:30 and there are already folks there setting up. Today's class you were supposed to use a photo of your choice to paint, I chose a photo I had taken in Cartagena, Columbia of one of the restored colonial homes that had a balcony covered with a red and green flowering plant, and it turned out pretty good if I do say so myself
Afterwards I came back to the room and met up with Jeremy and we chilled in the room for a bit and then headed up for a quick lunch at the poolside grill for burgers and fries. The seas had been a little rough so we headed back to the room and I took a nice two hour nap while Jeremy read. At 4:30 there was another cruise staff vs guests volleyball game so we headed up to the sports deck for that. Initially I had said I was just going to watch but after a game and a half of watching (and having one of the couples who were sitting out that game asking why I wasn't playing, and saying I needed to go "help the team" and play) I went back to the room and changed into more suitable clothes (a bathing suit, coverup and flip flops were not ideal for volleyball playing) and came back out and played for probably 45 minutes. We then headed back to the room and got cleaned up for dinner at 7 at one of the ships specialty restaurants, Qsine, with John and Karen.
After having a little bit of trouble finding the entrance to the restaurant (you can see it on deck 11 but there are no entrances on that deck, you have to go down to 10 and go up the midship staircase) we entered right behind John and Karen and were seated. The restaurant is decorated in black, orange and white, with mismatched black lacquer and white high backed cloth chairs and the food was amazing. You can order as many things as you like off of the menu (which is an iPad app) and they're all kind of mini-portions with one portion for each table. We had spring rolls (served in giant springs), sushi lollipops, build your own sliders, filet mignon, so much tasty food and capped off with a "chocolate tombstone" for dessert for me (super tasty chocolate mousse with a nutella crunch crust). I haven't been that full of food in a long time, but it was worth it.
So this evening proved just as fun as the day. Jeremy and I headed out for dinner a bit early so that we could stop at the martini ice bar on deck 4. Jeremy ordered a lime martini and I (unknowing what was in store) ordered the martini tasting. Jeremy got his drink first then the two bar tenders went to work setting up and mixing my drinks. They laid down napkins on the ice bar, then placed four cocktail glasses upside down of varying heights as well as a tall bottle of Stolichnaya vodka and balanced little tasting sized martini glasses on the top of each, along with one on the bar, for a total of six different flavors. Once that was set up the other bartender Ali came over with six cocktail shakers stacked on top of each other and he poured all six drinks at once, it was quite the spectacle and lots of folks oohed and aahed as he was pouring. The drinks were a classic martini with olives (honestly my least favorite, I prefer them dirty), an appletini (which was the first drink I had on my 21st birthday), a peartini, a raspberrytini with chambord (a favorite), a citrus martini (also very tasty), and a sunset martini (was tropical flavored with a splash of grenadine). Unfortunately we only had 15 minutes before we were supposed to be at dinner so I didn't really get to savor each drink (and ended up kind of doing the last sips as shots) but they were all very tasty and it was a fun "show bar" experience since they were twirling bottles and flipping cocktail shakers.
So we headed down to the Olympic restaurant which is where our invitation (that we finally received late the night before) instructed us to go. We were warmly welcomed by the maitre'd and the director of food and beverage for the ship and taken into the specialty wine room/cellar where a friendly sommelier served us a very tasty champagne with sliced strawberries and we waited for the other guests to arrive. Not long after Erin, the officer in charge of revenue on the ship and our host for the evening, arrived along with a friendly young couple from North Carolina, Derrick and Nicci, who both work in the anesthesiology unit at Duke hospital. Shortly after three folks arrived, a deaf couple from the Bay area and their interpreter who were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. After chatting and introductions we finished our champagne (after Jeremy made a quick shirt change, it was really hot in the cellar room) and were led into the ships galley.
Our table was situated right in front of the chef's office in between the dish washing area, the bread area and the appetizer stations. There were folks furiously working away the entire time we were in there, and 600 meals were served while we were down there and you would never have known. So we chatted away about what we all did for a living, traveling, and commenting on our surroundings including the head chef who was busily preparing our meals behind us at a temporary cooking station.
The first course was a choice between a warm goat cheese soufflé and a smoked salmon and peekitoe crab parfait layered with avocado, two kinds of salmon caviar, creme fraiche and petite greens. Jeremy and I each chose a different option so we could taste and split both. The parfait was very tasty but the goat cheese soufflé was the winner of that course, savory and fluffy with herbs and a strong goat cheese flavor, so good.
The second course options (again we got one of each) were a cioppino, a rustic San Francisco seafood stew with garlic, tomato and herb crostini, or insalata di arugula with fried bocconcini mozzarella, toasted pine nuts, crisp shallots, sundried tomato vinaigrette and balsamic syrup. The stew won this course, it had great tomato flavor as well as a deep seafood stock and it was Jeremy's favorite as well even though he doesn't generally like tomato based soups. We were served an intermezzo course of mango sorbet with a blackberry and chocolate curl to cleanse our palates then moved on to the main course.
We had the option of a Loup de Mer, grilled Mediterranean Sea bass, red pepper melange, crispy eggplant, balsamic syrup and sauce nicoise, or steak Diane. Jeremy and I both chose the steak and were not disappointed (per usual all of the steak we have had on the ship has been top notch, all sourced apparently from Colorado). The steak was perfectly cooked, with a flavorful wine sauce and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables artfully arranged on the plate.
The fourth course was a cheese course where we had a Brie, two smellier cheeses, and a firm mild cheddar along with pain de champagne and dried fruits. The Brie was probably my favorite of the cheeses, one of the soft smellier cheeses was a bit too smelly for my taste.
We finished with dessert, either a floating island with chocolate cream sauce or crepe ballon rouge with balsamic strawberries, vanilla ice cream and Chambourcin sauce.
Both Jeremy and I chose the crepe and were very pleased with our choice, the sauce had a bit of black pepper in it that went fantastically with the strawberries and smooth vanilla ice cream that filled the crepe.
The sommelier and servers kept our wine and water glasses full the whole time with some very tasty wines as well as flat (and then later upon Jeremy's request) sparking water.
After getting probably 15 minutes to chat with the chef (who said he normally does not get the chance to chat, so that was a nice treat) we ended a great dinner, the ladies were given single red roses, and we were escorted up the escalators to the main floor (we also were escorted up any time we needed to use the restroom). We decided to join Derrick and Nicci for a drink at the martini bar before heading to the room and that was quite fun. They are well aquainted with a lot of the bar tenders on the ship so it was like coming to a local bar with them. We chatted about our pets, cruising, and random other things while sipping a Bloody Mary martini (me) and an apple martini (Jeremy). We then walked with them to the casino as they had some "match money" to play and we watched them play their game of choice, roulette for a few minutes (until they ran out of the match money as they're "not gambling people", they came out $11 ahead though after a $20 investment, so not bad), and then parted ways to gratefully head to bed. What a great day.
So today we are in Guatemala. Yesterday we signed up for the Pacaya Volcano Climb, it was listed as "strenuous" which is the same level of difficulty as the other excursions we have been on so we weren't quite sure what to expect. We had the earliest departure time from the ship, 6:45am so we had an early breakfast and retrieved our stickers for our group in the Celebrity theatre. Once our number was called we headed off the ship and boarded our 2-and-1 bus around 7:15 and were off to the mountains. There was one couple that had been on the kayaking trip with us was on the tour, a younger couple from Miami, both who could speak Spanish, so it was nice to see some "familiar" faces.
When we arrived at the national park where the volcano complex was there were many younger children renting walking sticks for $1 shouting to us "it is necessary!" And I just figured they say that to get you to rent one, not the case as I found out later in the hike. There were also men and older boys with horses who followed us as we began up the path. I'm thinking, this can't be so bad that folks would bail out to ride a horse, but it was definitely a challenging hike. The first leg was very inclined and we were already a few thousand feet up and the altitude got to you quickly, so I was huffing and puffing after the first few hundred meters when we stopped the first time. Thankfully that was one of the steeper inclines, but not by much. One older British couple and one older lady ended up using the horses during the climb (and descent), it was $15 each way but I'm sure for them it was well worth it. We would go usually 10 minutes of walking and then pause to let everyone catch up and our tour guide Mynor would translate for the nature guide that we had picked up on our way in.
There are big signs in both Spanish and English at these "rest stops" telling visitors about the view they were seeing, the different types of volcanoes, vegetation, etc. As we are ascending we had a black dog that stayed with our group the entire way up, he just trotted along in the line with everyone else and would flop down in the shade when we reached a break spot, it was very cute (and of course the whole time he was looking for food when someone would pull out a snack bar or something). We were given two Milky Way bars and two bottles of water for the trip and we brought a Clif bar and two additional bottles of water, by the time we reached the top we had gone through three of the bottles of water and one candy bar and one energy bar. At what is typically the top of the climb there is a seasonal little hovel that houses a "lava jewelry" shop, but today they were on vacation so it was empty. The horses were allowed to come up to that point but then there was another 100 meters or so to climb to get to the high lookout point.
At this point we had gone from being in what started almost as a temperate forest to quite desolate black volcanic rock/gravel/sand with greener mountains off in the distance. We had gone from seeing the volcano from the road to being three quarters of the way up its side. There was a hiker in our group who specialized in high altitude hikes and he asked if we could go farther. At first this sounded like something we were too tired to do after the 4km hike up but wow as it worth it. Our Guatemalan guide took us up an additional 500 meters or so (probably 1km of walking), past where any normal tour goes, and typically where folks have to pay an additional fee to go. We walked through the lava fields, with their lightweight pumice stones and eerie shapes, at certain points it was like walking on styrofoam as you walked across and slid down the pumice stones. I had my Meryll hiking sandals on up to the top of our hike, but on the way down we essentially had to carefully slide down the loose gravel slope so I put on my sneakers I had brought (much to the relief of a few of the ladies on the hike who were worried about me). Before we had gotten to this point the older couple asked to go back to where the horses were so our main tour guide took him back and our nature guide continued on, with the wife from the Miami couple acting as a translator for him.
At the crux of our hike we were in one of the craters of the volcano, probably 3/4 of the way to the very top, which was split in two. In 2010 this volcano had erupted and went from a smoothed pointed mountain to a mountain top split in two, with both sides still steaming and smoking lightly. The lava flows and ash and rock that we were walking on were only two years old and just two weeks ago there had been an earthquake that mussed with the stability in various parts of the trail (so much so that at times we had to be very careful to follow exactly where the guide walked). As we walked along the side near the top there were many places where the ground was steaming and you could feel and see hot air coming up out from under some of the rocks. It is so hot that as a "treat" our guide brought up marshmallows for us to roast in one of the little scoops where the temperature was over 200 degrees. I have to say that was the coolest way I have ever roasted a marshmallow and wow were they a welcome sugar rush after the climb as well. We then began our descent down the gravelly path that was really just worn down lava flow, it's amazing how much the lava stone breaks up, but that's what makes the great volcanic soil around here as well as the black beaches on Guatemala's Pacific side. The descent was much faster than the ascent and we rarely stopped for a break. As we came down a cloud moved onto the mountain and a lot of the trip we were shrouded in the cloud, only being able to see a few dozen meters above or below us. It was actually kind of a nice change as it made you focus on the path and what was nearby, which was gravel for the first part, but then lots of little pink and purple and white flowers began to appear as you got a bit lower, then turning into more of a standard early growth forest by the end of the trail, with the ground transitioning from pure pumice stones about the size of golf balls to finer pea sized stone and sand, to mostly sand, and finally mostly soil with some rocks.
Once we made it back to the bus (our knees very grateful for it) we drove abut 30 minutes to lunch at a local restaurant. The food was great, simple but very flavorful. We had the choice of grilled chicken or beef that was served with grilled halved potatoes with an herb butter, sliced tomato, fresh avocado slices, and some very tasty salsa. To drink we could choose from a rice based sweetened drink or a flower/tea based sweetened drink. Jeremy and I each got something different so we could try everything and it was all great.
After we were dropped off at the port we made our way through the little market of souvenirs that were set up outside, purchased some gifts for folks and I got an oval jade pendant, with the silver back a design with a quetzal bird.
We have now cleaned up, dusted off everything (our feet and shoes were covered in black dust) and are relaxing until our "Chef's Table" dinner at 6:45, I can't wait! So far this had been the coolest day on the cruise and I have a feeling dinner tonight will cement that.
So today was a day at sea, so that meant a watercolor class in the morning after breakfast and some reading time out on the deck (we decided we really like the brown wicker chaise lounges they have out on deck with the orange cushions, may be good for our deck at home). In watercolor class we have started doing paintings based on photos now, I chose a green and red spiky agave plant. After that I met up with Jeremy and we went to a cooking demonstration (the chefs were very entertaining) followed by a lecture about the engines and navigation of the ship (not as interesting as the cooking).
After that we grabbed a quick lunch and then picked out the excursions we wanted to do for the rest of the ports (volcano hike tomorrow, two Jeep tours in Mexico. After making the reservations we returned to the room and read for most of the afternoon. We spent a bit of time trying to calculate the distance of the horizon (yes, we're geeks) and we hashed out ideas for lighting the new deck (I wanted criss crossed lights, he wanted them along the perimeter only, we compromised).
We got ready for dinner, our second formal night, and enjoyed another meal with John and Karen, we showed off wedding pictures and our engagement story this time around (I got chided by our other two dining couples for taking off my engagement ring to show them), and talked about Lord of the Rings. They loved Qsine so much and really encouraged us to go try it so we decided to go together the dinner after tomorrow. As an added bonus, the maitre'd overheard us discussing making a reservation and called for us and gave us a two for one price for dinner. We have to be ready by 6:45am tomorrow for our hike so we decided to skip the 70s musical show tonight and just read a bit of LOTR and head to bed early.
Today we visited Punta Arenas, Costa Rica. We pulled into port around 6am with a few rain clouds following us but the coastline was still visible. We can see mountains, black beaches (there are volcanoes, 7 active, along the backbone of the country), and a small tourist town. After acquiring some breakfast and waiting in the theatre for our tour time we boarded a small (2 and 1 seat across) bus for a lively two hour ride up the Pan-American highway to the restaurant and home base of the river tour company.
Turns out this was not a single inner tube kind of "river float" like we had done on our last cruise, but rather a 6 person raft plus a guide, and we had to paddle at various points. As we loaded into the raft the guide asked who wanted to be the leaders and sit in the front of the boat, without hesitation the other four folks in our group, a British couple and two ladies, turned around and pointed at us, so we were volunteered to set the pace for rowing (and probably ended up doing a bit more of the work, but that was fine). There were very small rapids in a few spots but most of the time the water was quite calm. Since I had thought we would be in the water more I did not bring my camera but boy do I wish I did (and I really could have as we did not get very wet until the last bit of "rapids" where a wave came right in on my legs).
We saw so many different kinds of wildlife, I had only seen them in zoos before but on this trip we got close enough I probably could've touched many of them. As we were loading into the boats there was a family of howler monkeys in the trees above us, including a few tiny babies, very cute. As we floated along we saw five different crocodiles of various sizes (I made sure to keep my hands out of the water at those times). We saw iguanas big and small, in trees and bushes as well as on the rocks and one even chilling on a branch in the middle of the river. Apparently during the mating season the males change their colors from green to orange and black, we saw three of the courting males. We also saw varying sizes of the Jesus Christ lizard (they can run on the water to flee from predators). When these lizards are small they look like a typical lizard but when they are grown they have a ridge/fin along their back and another along their tail. We also saw some really cute tiny bats. They hang around the rock outcroppings over the river and blend in almost perfectly with the rock. They are probably the size of a mouse but are kind of mottled brown and gray and almost appear spiky, but they are perfectly camouflaged against the stone. We saw two larger groups of a dozen or so bats, and as we got closer they flew off so that was neat to see. We saw so many different birds: yellow-crowned night herons, little blue herons, oriole nests (they looked like black drawstring purses hanging from the trees), pretty little blue mangrove swallows, snowy and cattle egrets, osprey (this is the migration season now for a lot of the birds of prey), a gray hawk (with bright yellow beak and feet, he was royally annoying some egrets by hanging around near their nests), yellow flycatchers, boat-billed herons (Jeremy thought it was holding a leaf in its mouth at first), magnificent frigatebirds, wood storks. It was really amazing to get to see these large birds up close.
After the tour we returned to the home base restaurant for rice, beans, carrots and green beans, plantains and steak for lunch, along with lemonade. Many of us also enjoyed the Costs Rican beer Imperial, which was very good, and was served ice cold so very refreshing as well. We did a tiny bit of souvenir shopping at the restaurant and then returned to the bus. I had a bit of a headache after the rafting so I napped for part of the way, Jeremy stayed awake for the entire, apparently rather harrowing, ride back. The highway is only two lanes and our driver was quite aggressive with passing other folks (at one point reportedly he was in the process of passing someone and there was an oncoming motorcycle Jeremy heard the driver mutter "shit" and apparently we almost ran the motorcyclist off the road). The driver was going along at quite a clip and engine braking often, for me it was just kind of a fun ride We passed pineapple farms, rice patties, sugar cane fields, tilapia ponds (with lots of white egrets hovering around), as well as cattle pastures and small family farms. Our guide Jorge was very nice (he was also our raft guide) and he always had "a plan" we had to follow and would be sure to let us know when something was "only ten minutes" away.
There is a tourist area with shops just past the cruise dock but it has started raining (it is the rainy season here) so I think we will stay on the ship, we do need to start buying some souvenirs though for folks, we are running a bit behind on that.
So today was a day at sea. The time shifted another hour back so we were awake around 6am, got some breakfast at 7, read for a bit then I headed up for my 3rd watercolor painting class of the cruise. The class has become much more popular over the past week and was pretty full. After I came back downstairs to the room and we both read for a while then went back up to the Cosmos lounge for the newlywed and anniversary welcome reception where they served champagne and a quite tasty strawberry custard cake. We sat with the New Mexico couple and stuck around afterwards to watch and commentate on the merengue dance class that happened after the reception. We found out they are both also only children and, eerily enough, had also first planned to do a driving trip out of Boston through New England as their honeymoon, then opted out due to too much planning being needed. Small world.
After lunch we got into our gym clothes and sat up on the deck for a bit and read, it was a bit windy and cloudy which made it cooler than normal but it was still nice. At 4:30 they had a staff vs guests volleyball game on deck 12 so we were eager to play in that. The court was shorter and narrower than standard, and the net lower but it was still fun to play. The wind blew the ball all around and quite a bit of the play wasn't the standard bump-set-spike but it was nice to get out and exercise a bit (and realize we miss home a bit too).
We got cleaned up after volleyball and headed to dinner in the main restaurant. We had been told last night that the chefs table dinner was tonight but turns out it is actually on the 16th, which is what we were originally told, so we still have that to look forward to later in the week. Tonight we had another nice dinner with John and Karen, chatting about gardening, movies, and our cats.
Tomorrow we are doing the rafting excursion in Costa Rica so that should be really fun, I know my parents, Jeremy and I enjoyed it on our last cruise.
So today we made our voyage through the Panama Canal, with Jeremy geeking out pretty much the whole time . We started entering the lock system around 6am and completed the crossing around 5pm. Jeremy was up bright and early to see us enter the first set of locks. We kept the cruise ship info channel on in the room and when they announced that the helipad was open at the front of the ship to view the locks up close Jeremy and I hustled (ok, ran), along with many other guests, to deck 5. I didn't hear during the announcement that you had to have closed toed shoes to go up on the helipad so I went back up to the room and waited for the rush to die down a bit then got on my loafers and headed back down. Jeremy had staked out a prime spot at the very front and center of the viewing area and so I got some very dirty looks when I called to him and worked my way through 3 layers deep of people to get to him, but he had saved me a spot. We got rained on rather hard two or three times while we went through the first set of three locks at Gatun. Despite the rain, it was pretty awesome to see the mechanics up close, the way the railings on the locks folded down to tuck into the sidewalls, how the locks used only gravity to transfer the water and keep each lock sealed. Very cool. As we were going through, we felt a pretty big jostling at one point and apparently one of the locks closed early and hit the back of the ship. The captain made an announcement about it after we completed going through the first set of locks but I didn't hear the complete announcement so I'm not 100% sure what happened, I'm sure we will hear rumors throughout the ship for a while though.
After the first set of locks we were in Gatun Lake, where we had kayaked yesterday. We went upstairs and had some breakfast and then returned to the room to watch things go by on our balcony. Then we decided to try lunch in the dining room for a change, it was alright, the service not quite as attentive as at dinner, Jeremy and I both had the udon noodles which were unexpectedly salty (most of the food, if anything, has been a bit under seasoned, but expectedly so as there are lots of folks on the cruise whom I suspect need to control their sodium intake), but still tasty. We then went out to the outside walk around deck 5 and encountered the newlywed couple from New Mexico and we watched going through the next set of locks together and chatted, took photos, and we all managed to touch the canal wall when we went through we were so close to it, very cool.
After the second set of locks we headed back to the room and read, watching the last set of locks go by from our balcony. I proceeded to take a 45 minute nap and then got ready for dinner. Tonight John and Karen rejoined us and we chatted away the whole dinner, ranging from science to touching on politics a bit.
Tomorrow is a sea day and I plan on going to the watercolor class at 9am, there's a newlywed/anniversary welcome reception with cake and champagne at 11am, there's also a volleyball game against the staff at 4:30 so I think we'll be partaking in that as well.