Transiting the Panama Canal

Firstly, you may be wondering what happened to the Aruba blog. Unfortunately, the day after Saint Lucia, I came down with Bronchitis and cellulitis of the eye. I went to the the doctor on the day we docked in Aruba, and was prescribed antibiotics. I am slowly getting better, but, apart from just walking off the ship, I didn’t do much in Aruba. I have a couple of photos taken from the ship as we were leaving as I felt so unwell. I was scheduled to do a water based activity but because of the eye problem, I had to cancel. Luckily the medical centre stamped the back and because of that I got a full refund.

We transited the Panama Canal on Sunday 20th January. We were given a schedule of the highlights in the horizon the night before, but as always it was subject to change. We were also given a small booklet with a brief history of the canal.

The length of the Panama is 80kms (50 miles) from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It takes on average 8-10 hours to complete the transit of the canal. Lake Gatun covers and area of 163.38 square miles and was formed by the construction of an earthern dam across the Chargres river which runs Northwoods towards the Caribbean sea.

The dam across the Chargres River

The Culebra cut is 13.7km long and extends from Gatun Lake to Predro Miguel locks.

The images above are the approach of the first and third of the Gatun locks. At the third lock we had the first of two medical emergency evacuations.

Each chamber is 110 feet wide by 1000ft long. Total volume of concrete to build the locks was 3,440.488 cubic meters.

We then spent a very lazy 4-5 hours cruising the Gatun Lake.

During the cruise of the Lake, there was several activities taking place onboard, one of which was an ice carving (a very strange thing to do in 30 degree heat!).

As we approached the Pedro Miquel locks, the captain announced another emergency evacuation off the ship. After that we proceeded through the lock then onto the final two locks that would bring us in to the Pacific ocean. There was a ship next to us which allowed me to photograph its progress through the lock.

The mules are very important and pull or guide the ships through a very narrow area. There is usually 4 to a ship – two at the front and two at the back. The first mule or locomotive cost $13,217 and were built by General Electric, an American company. Mitsubishi is the current manufacturer of Panama Canal locomotives which cost US$2.3m each!

As we were passing though the Miraflores lock, I could see in the distance a container ship using the newer canal.

After leaving the final lock, we then headed under the Bridge of Americas and past Panama City to continue up the coast to Huatulco.

The canal is an amazing piece of engineering. I think the photos will say more than I can. I have also posted a time lapse on my Facebook page which can be accessed here (there are two parts as we had an emergency evacuation right below my cabin and was requested not to photograph or video the medical disembarkation).

My next blog will be about Huatulco and Cabo San Lucas.

Saint Lucia – 16th January 2019

St Lucia is a beautiful and lush island. Its another island with Volcanic soil so, like Madeira, it grows a plethora of produce. Some, such as bananas, coconuts, cocoa, avocados, mangoes and other citrus fruits are grown for exporting. They also grow food for local consumption, such as coffee, christophene, breadfruit, plantain, carrots, cabbage, pumpkin and a variety of root products such as dasheene, yams and sweet potatoes.

For my tour, I chose an independent company called Cosol. They are local, drive small mini busses and, when doing the tour, you really feel like you are a local. Our tour guide was known as ‘Yellow Bird’ and is the brother of the founder of the company (known as Colsol) who unfortunately died last year.

I disembarked the ship at about 8.15am and proceeded to the meet up point for the tour. I was greeted by a very happy guide who was introduced to us (by then, several others from the ship were there too) as Yellow Bird. We were allocated to a mini bus and off we went.

We drove through the town of Castries and up into the hill where we stopped for our first photo opportunity. It is important to know that when you stop at any of these places, there are vendors waiting to sell you stuff. Luckily, they do take ‘no’ and don’t pester you too much. Much of the stuff they were selling was jewellery and other hand made produce (I didn’t really look at much of it). We were informed that there would be vendors at other stops, too.

After stopping for the beautiful view of Arcadia docked in Castries, we then carried on to Morne Road to a banana plantation. Very fascinating to see how bananas grow.


Yellow Bird showing us the inside of the banana plant. The bananas start growing downwards.

As the banana mature, they cover them with a blue bag to protect them from the insects. Whilst in Madeira on the tour, I was told that they cover them like this to make them all grow the same size. Whilst we were at the banana plantation, there was an opportunity to taste a freshly picked banana, some banana chips (served with banana ketchup and barbecue sauce – I didn’t have the sauce).

Above you see a couple of stages of the banana tree.

We then drove through a fishing villages. This one was called Canaries and Yellow Bird described it as a poor village. It certainly looked a picturesque place to live. We were driven to a vantage point where we could take some photos.

Picturesque Fishing Village Canaries

Back into the Mini bus, then on to a stop for Breakfast. The breakfast consisted of a large selection of local dishes. I didn’t have much but everyone else raved about it. There was also plenty of liquid refreshments including Spiced Rum, Piton Beer and soft drinks. I was assured that the rum was very nice!

We then headed on towards Soufriere. It is a town on the West Coast of Saint Lucia, in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The town and the surrounding district has a population of 7,935. It was colonized by the French and was the original capital of the island. We stopped for a photo of the Pitons, volcano and of Soufriere. Again, there were vendors trying to sell stuff. I spoke to one young lad who was looking to study engineering to help his family. I think he was looking for a donation to his college fund and made me a grasshopper out of banana leaves. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash on me and did apologise, but he gave me the grasshopper anyway and thanked me for talking to him.

We went down the hill into Soufriere to catch the water taxi to Sugar Beach to snorkel. Yellow Bird was telling us that he used to be able to drive tourist there, but a resort purchased land on the only land route and then stopped tours going to the beach, but the resort didn’t own the beach as there are no private beaches in Saint Lucia. To get around this, Cosol tours (and others) started using the water taxi to get there. The resort are now OK with this and do supply some chairs on a small part of the beach for non resort customers. Sugar Beach is located right between the Pitons.

We were given an hour here to snorkel or to sit and drink! I had a good snorkel and saw a lot of fish – possibly more than I saw in the Great Barrier Reef, but it was very sunny here and the water was clear. Something that was lacking in the GBR. Forgive my photos as this was the first time I had used my gopro, but am in love with the quality of photos it takes!

After our hour of snorkelling (which went very quick), we had another trip in the water taxi back to the mini bus in Soufriere. We then headed to the drive in volcano. Surprisingly (not), when we opened the door, there was a strong smell of sulphur. Some of the group went for a dip into the mineral bath. My back was hurting a bit so I opted to watch from the top and take some photos.

Steps down to the bathing area

After descending the steps, you arrive at the bathing area.

After a soak in the mineral bath, it was time to get out and get ‘mudded up’.

Over the other side of the bride was another pool and I took this photo.

I thought the lady laying on the stone with handprints on her butt was rather amusing!

While the others showered, I headed back to the mini bus. As they all got in the bus, there was a rather strong sulphuric smell following them!! Luckily, the next stop was the waterfall where they could have a rinse off in fresh water. This would be our last water stop.

The waterfall was a short drive away.

I managed to get a photo with no one in it and it was a lovely place

We then headed back to the restaurant where we ate breakfast and had lunch of bread and cheese, and some more refreshments. There was a couple of dogs there which I fed my food to (they got me some food but it had fish. I guess they don’t understand vegan in Saint Lucia, but I appreciated them trying).

There appeared to be a lot of stray dogs in Saint Lucia which I always find sad in any country. This dog was at the place we ate but I am not sure if he was a stray or was owned by the people who owned the restaurant.

As we headed back to the ship, once again driving the same route, we stopped to view Marigot Bay which is where Dr Doolittle was filmed. It looked like a very rich part of Saint Lucia.

We then continued back to the ship. On the way we stopped for one last photo of a naturally formed arch in the sea.

Gros Islet, Saint Lucia

We arrived back at the ship at 4.30pm, so we’d had a whole day tour with Cosol’s Yellow Bird. I’m not sure if I mentioned above that there is unlimited alcohol/refreshments available throughout the tour – you just have to ask! The tour cost $75US per person and is a fabulous price for what you get. I would highly recommend Cosol tours and if you are visiting Saint Lucia whether on a cruise or a holiday, please consider Cosol tours. There is a link to their Facebook Page at the top of this blog.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog on Saint Lucia. My next stop is Aruba (18th January). All the images have been taken by me and have not been edited in any way so is a true representation. I also apologise for any spelling errors – I will check once I have a faster internet.

Madeira 10th January 2019

We docked in Madeira at 10am on 10th January. Considering we had a 13 hour delay and a diversion to Vigo for the medical emergency evacuation, I am surprised it wasn’t later!

I had a trip booked for 12.30pm. I decided to go for a short walk and get some photos of Arcadia in Port. As well as Arcadia, Fred Olson’s Balmoral was also in port. The weather was looking good for the day.

The cruise excursion trip took us to a little fishing village Camara de Lobos. As we approached the village we saw many small colourful boats in the bay just waiting for fishermen to take them out to sea. The streets were narrow and the Christmas lights were still up (but not lit). we were told that the fishermen are sometimes out for days at a time. It was a beautiful little harbour.

Unfortunately we didn’t stop for a photo so this was taken through the coach window.

Viewpoint photos taken from a cliff and the cliff had a viewing platform made of glass. It was cracked on the edge, so I wasn’t going to risk standing on it.

We were then making our way to the second photo opportunity stop. The coach took us through twisting and winding roads to a look out but we were still in Camara de Lobos. The roads took us past a plethora of different fruits and vegetables that is grown in Madeira. The soil in madeira is volcanic rich. The different vegetables are grown at different altitudes throughout the island.

We saw so many things growing including bananas, mangos, papayas, avocados, sweet potato and grape vines. There was also a lot of sugar cane grown which is used mostly for molasses. The reason that Madeira is able to grow so much of a variation of fruit and vegetables is down to the volcanic soil and its richness of nutrients. These were what were growing at lower altitudes and as we went up further into the mountains, it all changed and we saw less of the lush green and it was mainly dominated by sweet chestnuts, walnuts and eucalyptus trees.

We then went on to Santo Antonio. It was a beautiful look out point where we could see Arcadia in port. in the distance of the second photo, you can see two more islands of the Madeira Archipelago.

We carried on our ascent up to ‘Nuns Valley’ which was 3,300ft above sea level.

Nuns Valley is a small parish nestling between almost perpendicular mountains in the heart of the island. Both Eira do Serrado and Paredão viewpoints are excellent locations to contemplate the magnificent views of this parish.

The huge cauldron in which Curral das Freiras is sitting was either formed by erosion, which is the more recent theory, or as many still believe, by volcanic activity.
In 1566 the nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from pirates attacking Funchal and found seclusion here, where they also brought the convent treasure.

The parish is very isolated, and locals mainly live of what they grow. The local chestnuts are delicious and are used in everyday cooking.

Curral das Freiras was the property of a couple that sold this land to the captain of Funchal, João Gonçalves da Câmara. This captain gave the lands to his daughters when they entered the Santa Clara convent (also built by him). (info taken from here).

Again, apologies for some of the images – they were taken from the coach window. They shows the change in products that can be grown depending on altitude. There is a lot of Eucalyptus trees in Madeira, although a devastating fire wiped a lot of them out three years ago.

While we were up at the viewing point for Nuns Valley, we were ‘treated’ to some cake, tea, coffee or madeira wine. I had asked the tour guide for something suitable and he said there wasn’t, so I decided to just take a walk (after I got back to the coach some other passengers had said the guide was looking for me with a gluten free cake, but they said it didn’t look very nice. I did point out that Gluten free food is an acquired taste!), anyway – I had a good look around and it was a very pleasant view and I enjoyed it. After joining the coach, we made our way down the twisting and winding roads and back to our coach.

Sail away party started at 5.30 in the Aquarius pool and bar area. When I got there, it was well underway!

The sail away is great fun. The entertainment team try their hardest to get everyone up and dancing! Some do, but the majority don’t. They have ‘Great British’ songs playing like ‘I am sailing’, ‘reach for the sky’, ‘Agadoo’ and many more. Great fun watching everyone!

Just after 6pm, we enjoyed a lovely sunset. I thought it was beautiful how just as our ship started to turn, the sunset lit up the coast of madeira. Very beautiful and a lovely ending to a wonderful day in Madeira.

Thank you for reading. I have 5 days at sea now until St Lucia.