Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Exciting Cartegena!!!

I don't know if it's the emeralds or what but Cartegena is an exciting city!  It has it's own South American vibe.  Old and new side by side, throbbing and pulsating, frenzied, hot, exciting all at the same time.

It is a beautiful city.  High rises dot the skyline and the colonial old town has wonderful architecture.

The city wall and fort are still intact as well.

However Columbia also has a long history drugs and corruption.  These were two of Pablo Escobar's houses.

People make their living here, like everywhere else, however they can. Some push carts, others carry and still others work in the gem industry.


Of course, we were in Columbia so we wanted to see and buy emeralds.  Our cab driver took us to Bocagrande (local place all the taxis take you to and get a little kickback from the owners) that also had a good reputation for quality emeralds.  We took the little tour through the factory......

 and then reached the shop.  That's where I got in trouble.  This bracelet just had my name all over it and was calling to me to take it home. 

                                                                               So I did.

That's another trip in the books.  Next week it's Belize, Honduras and the other coast of Mexico. I'm really looking forward to seeing Tulum.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Transitting the Panama Canal.......

I have now been through the world's two great canals, the Suez and the Panama.  None could be more different.  The Suez is a continuous waterway dug through barren desert and you view the occasional village.  The Panama Canal however is an incredible engineering feat that is almost difficult to believe.

Our ship is the widest and tallest that is allowed in to the canal. After we started through I could see why.

The ships were lined up waiting as we entered through Panama's pastoral landscape.

The bowcam gave everyone a front row seat.

Guided by tugs, we entered the locks.

To say it is a tight squeeze is an understatement.  It is nothing short of amazing.

These tugs are leading a tanker in the oncoming lane!

Carolyn had been upgraded to a killer suite so hosted our Panama Canal crossing.  It began with a light breakfast and champagne. It was followed by assorted sandwiches and pizza for lunch as we glided across the lake in the center of the canal and was the perfect way to make the crossing!!

I am not too mechanically gifted so I am sure others could appreciate this crossing better than I but it was a fascinating experience.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Costa Rica....the Flower of Cental America

I really liked Costa Rica.  I liked the beauty of the landscape, the friendliness of the people and the interesting things to do.  It is a beautiful country from the sea and the beaches are littered with driftwood.

We rode through the highlands into the mountains on our way to a traditional coffee plantation where we learned all about how coffee is harvested. 

Let me tell you it is back breaking work.

The tiny red berries are hand picked since only the red ones are the best quality.

This little boy was modeling the basket the natives wear to gather the berries and they get $2 for a 25 pound basket of coffee.

We were shown the plantation and how the coffee was sorted, processed and  roasted.  It is a coop of local workers who create these products and live in the area.



It was actually very interesting and the final product was delicious.

After leaving the plantation we were taken to an oxcart factory where they make the colorful oxcart used throughout the country for festivities.  They are all hand made and hand painted, a laborious task.

Overall we really enjoyed this excursion because we learned so much about the people, way of life, cost of living, schools for the children, lots of local information from our guide who was excellent.

I can easily see why so many people go to Costa Rica to vacation and live.  It is a beautiful country with welcoming people and is very inexpensive.  I'd visit Costa Rica again.

Next post the Panama Canal transit.......


Okay, to be fair I am not a big fan of Mexico.  The people are wonderful, very accommodating but I struggle with the poverty knowing that Mexico is rich in lots of natural resources including oil and silver but has a long history of crime and political corruption.

Our first stop was Cabo San Lucas.  Upon entering the port, the view is stunning, absolutely gorgeous.

 However that is about as far as it goes.  I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't this.  You enter the port area which is overrun with tourist shops and bars.  Then once you leave that area you are thrust into a barren landscape with virtually nothing to see.

I can understand why some movie stars and politicians like it here because it is so private, uncongested.  However it was a HUGE disappointment for all of us.  Once you left the coast it was pretty bleak although the locals tried hard to entertain us.

We did visit a glass factory where they use recycled glass to make beautiful art.......

And that was pretty much it.  The only other high point, or should I say low point, was when our bus got in a wreck.......

Next stop was Puerto Vallarta.  Now this is what I was expecting.  Beautiful big city with an old town although it is a relatively new city having been popularized by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton while filming Night of the Iguana.  It was pretty but once again, I am not a big fan of Mexico and there are limited things to see and do.


Same with Huatalco.  It is rural, has a scenic coastline and that is about it.

I think if you were from a northern climate you might really enjoy these stops for the snorkeling and beaches but being Floridians, they didn't do much for us.

Our final Mexican stop was Puerto Chapias, near the city of Tepechula.  This is a traditional Mexican town that was pounded by a major hurricane earlier this year doing extensive damage from which they are still trying to recover.  This is the real Mexico with busy central squares and lots of people going about their daily lives.

It is located by the Mayan ruins of Izapa which were very interesting in that they are not at all like the Aztec ones found in other parts of Mexico.

I was particularly fascinated by the tiny museum in Tepechula.  Although very small, it had some incredible artifacts any museum would love to have.  I was absolutely amazed by them.

So there you have it, the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Cabo and Puerto Vallarta are clearly tourist destinations and Huatalco is trying hard.  Only Tepechula was a truly Mexican town representative of the rest of the country.

I don't think  I will be coming back this way any time soon.

Next post will be Costa Rica, a beautiful country which understandably attracts a lot of ex pats.  Beautiful lowland and hihglands, lots of English speaking natives, low cost of living and very welcoming to new people coming in.