Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Panama Canal

We parked last night just outside the Panama Canal entrance, waiting for our turn to go in.  A couple of interesting tidbits - for a cruise ship of our size, it costs the company about $100,000 to go through the canal.  And, to reserve a daylight spot it is an additional $30,000. Credit cards are not accepted and the payment must be in advance of arrival!  Guess a monopoly can call it's own shots!

Lots of ships were waiting, and a brief lightning storm early this morning lent it's own beauty to the day.  Since there was quite a bit of traffic going East to West, during much of the day, both lanes were being used by traffic going west.  We followed a monstrous Panamax ship, one that is built to use every bit of space in the canal!  Typically those seem to be the container ships.

Lunch on the rear veranda watching for crocodiles and birds was wonderful, followed by rain and a nap until we hit the second pair of locks on the Pacific side.

Here we are entering the Atlantic side locks, sharing the lock with another boat and the Panamax container ship in the lock in front of us.
Below, we are headed on to the Darien Jungle south of the canal on the Pacific side.  Lots of boats on this side also, along with white ibis, brown booby's and the ever-present frigate birds.
Word is that there is a good chance we will continue to see dolphins plus a possibility of whales!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

San Blas Islands, Panama

Today was a very full day!  Starting with a wonderful sunrise accompanied by dolphins, through the visit to the San Blas islands and the Kuna Indians and ending with wonderful hours on a classic Caribbean island with sand, sun and snorkeling!  Both Diana and I show a 'bit of sun' now!

There are just too many things to cover from the day so I will hit what are the highlights for me.  First the islands with the homes only a foot or so above sea level.  These are one of the groups that will be hit hard by rising ocean levels!
They also had a couple of pigs - and this one came to see me!

The Kuna's are a semi-autonomous group - self-governed - within Panama, and tourism is a major part of their income.  The story goes, that the 'mola's" that they now sell are representative of the body paintings that they did prior to the missionaries arriving!  Of course, the missionaries taught them that they had to wear clothes - and the mola's are now part of the clothes and worn by the women and sold to tourists!

The islands are full of contrasts, old cultures along with cell phones and television.  The picture of the sail on the canoe (true dugout canoes - trees hollowed out) against the Prince Albert II is just one of the more visual contrasts.
A wonderful day, with sun and wind and pineapple, not much else needed for perfection!  We are off to the Panama Canal tomorrow, entering the first lock around 7AM.

Day 8

We had a relaxing day at sea on Monday, resting, reading and spending time with people.  Intermittent rain squalls passed by and the swells were large resulting in the boat moving quite a bit - up and down, mostly!  But, not a problem.

Seascapes were the order of the day as we made our way down to the San Blas Islands.  We passed the Panama Canal and watched very large cargo ships make their way to and from the canal.  We'll pass through the canal tomorrow.

We also were visited by a pod of dolphins - they are so fast that I only got a few shots, including one through the handrails! A green heron - apparently lost - visited us and stopped long enough to get his picture taken.

One note on the Puerto Limon visit that I forgot - we heard and saw howler monkeys.  Their howl is undescribable and unforgettable!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Puerto Limon

We arrived in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, about mid-day.  At 100% humidity, the view is quite hazy which lends a dreamy look to much of the landscape-waterscape pictures.  Although it had rained quite hard on our way into port, we had an afternoon without rain, which was much appreciated.

On our way to port, Diana led a Eucharist attended by Episcopalians and Anglicans (England and Canada).  Once she identified herself as a priest, several folks requested that she have a service on Sunday.

As we arrived, a brown booby as well as several frigate birds circled around to welcome us.  Our 'expedition' was to the Sloth Sanctuary, a facility started and operated by a husband and wife team that is continuing to grow in size and knowledge and reach out to educate the populace about sloths.  We had a lecture, took pictures of sloths, took a canoe trip down a quiet waterway, and then a hike through a rainforest nearby.  As anticipated, we saw many beautiful birds and flowers, with spectactular orchids growing in their gardens.

The sloths are quite something else; their movements are like a ballet in slow motion, very slow!
Their faces elicit a maternal

from women - the guys think they are cute, but whatever!

Here are some pictures of what we saw.  With the low light in the forest and inability to use flash to take pictures of the slots, I wound up shooting as fast as 2000 ISO at times.  So if you see some noise in the pictures, that's why - I have not yet removed it from these.

Monday is a day at sea as we make our way to the San Blas Islands off Panama.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Isla de Provedencia

Saturday we were anchored off Isla de Provedencia, a Columbian island little visited by tourists.  It has the third largest barrier reef in the world, plus much other natural beauty.

Snorkeling was our morning adventure, and we saw many beautiful fish at the reefs, a small shark and a manta ray.  What I conclusively demonstrated to myself was what a landlubber I am - I am quite a bit more comfortable on land than the ocean.
But a wonderful day with sun and wind and beauty.  We started off with another pod of pintail dolphins about 6:30am and - while approaching the island - watched the incredible frigate birds eat seafood while not entering the sea!
The flowering fruit is Noni fruit, apparently incredibly nutritious and originally brought to the Caribbean as food for the slaves - cheap and full of energy.

Here's a few pictures from the day.

Tomorrow we dock in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, and go directly to a sloth sanctuary, which should be fascinating.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Day 5

I was thinking about the fact that this is Day 5 - and the entire cruise is 15 days!  I have relaxed tremendously so far, what will I be like in another 10 days?!  I'm excited to find out.

Today was a day at sea, so did some exercise on the stationary bike and watched a masked booby dive for fish while flying fish 'flew' all around.  And I was riding the bike without my camera - not again!!

We sat out on the rear deck with the wind in our hair for lunch, both of us had massages and then, while walking around the front of the ship on the outside deck, watched spinner dolphins swim by.  Pictures below - what a wonder to watch as they cavort around the ship and then disappear quite quickly.

On a day at sea, if there are no sea creatures then there are clouds and sun to admire.  Above are a couple that caught my eye.
Tomorrow we will be at Provendicia, Colombia - an island that is known for snorkeling and diving and beaches.

Sunrise at sea

My internal clock has been waking me just before sunrise these last few days, and thank goodness for that!  The sunset last night was a yawner - behind clouds all the way down and no excitement-color at all!  But this morning more than made up for it as you can see.  Once again, with the clouds, I practiced looking behind me and was well rewarded.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

One more day in Jamaica

We anchored off Black River, Jamaica, today and took a tour of 'hidden' Jamaica.  Narrow roads in the interior of the island, where we saw much beauty, met more wonderful people and enjoyed great reggae!

First in the morning, I found this looking at me:

Then we took a  Zodiac ride, watched frigate birds catch fish, and boarded a bus in Black River.
Flowers are everywhere in Jamaica and I think one could spend a lifetime capturing their beauty - cause each day it changes with the light and their growth.  This is a classic hibiscus, and must come in at least 7 different colors that I saw!

About midway through the trip, we stopped at a pub/bar/eatery and enjoyed fruits from the area, Bob Marley music and a very cute donkey.

This man sang with his heart and soul and loved every moment of the singing.  An infectious grin, a great deal of enthusiasm and a lot of Ya Mon's and we all got along quite well!

Finally, posted on the header above the bar inside were these rules for a happy relationship.  Our guide related that in a measurement of happiness of culture, Jamaicans are very near the top.  Interesting dynamic in a land of dwindling opportunities for the young folk and one in which the society is rapidly becoming matriarchal as the males seem to be lost.

Tomorrow is a day at sea as we make our way to Isle de Providencia for snorkeling or whatever else we do the next day! 

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yo Mon!

Down in the land of Bob Marley and Jamaica today, spent time wandering through the streets and highways of Port Antonio.  We got to see some wonderful flowers, and met some great folks.  But first, here's the Prince Albert that we are sailing on..out of a possible 129 or so passengers, we have 52 on board.  The staff to passenger ratio is about 2:1.  We lack for nothing.  Plus there are 31 different nationalities amongst the crew and passengers!

This morning I was out looking for the sunrise, and turned to see the rainbow behind me - once again supporting the maxim that a photographer should always look behind them.

Flowers are astounding and are what we might see at the tropical flower shop - but so much more wonderful in their natural settings.  We did see a Red-billed streamertail hummingbird that only occurs in Jamaica.

And finally, the black and white repetitiveness and the human presence were an attraction to me for this picture.

Tomorrow we are off to another part of Jamaica, a tour up the Black River and then a day at sea followed by snorkeling off an island.  Wow!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Slow and Easy!

Today was a day at sea, as we traversed the sea south of the Dominican Republic/Haiti on our way to San Antonio, Jamaica, our first stop tomorrow morning.  Rested and spent time becoming familar with the ship. Our butler, Vishal, takes superb care of us and things happen without us being aware. 
We had dinner at the Captain's table tonight, and it turned out quite well, as we got an insight into how one became a sea captain.  Plus the resident marine biologist sat with us and we had great conversations re: the ocean and the environment.  Plus lobster with drawn butter - what could not be right with the world??

Here's a couple of shots from the day::  yes, those are my feet!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Swaying gently

Well, we are now onboard the Silversea Prince Albert II, and out to sea.  The boat is swaying gently from side to side, and it feels quite natural.  We'll see how that goes.

A few pictures along the way:  First a view from the plane of the wondrous colors below as we flew from Miami to the Dominican Republic.  Then a picture of a 'cherry' 1954 Ford Fairlane 500 in La Romana, DR.  And finally a wonderful spider lily that graced us after the sun came out.

The boat is fantastic and the service and food are 'awesome'.  Tomorrow is a day at sea and then Jamaica on Wednesday!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Gaggle?

What do you call a bunch of snowy egrets fishing together?  A gaggle of egrets?!  I don't know.  But September seems to be their month at the refuge. 
With their whiteness and the blue water and brownish grasses, there are many ways to do this.  The left picture is a more dreamy representation and the right one is higher on the clarity side. When in motion they are blurry and dreamy, sometimes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Backyard Visitor

Diana hollered at me this afternoon and I grabbed my camera and ran out.  Here was a Cooper's hawk in our backyard.  He hopped around on the ground, then on a lawn chair, then in a tree and then on the power line!  I walked around taking pictures (>300) and he just looked hard at me but did not spook.  The ones that were spooked were his potential prey - the songbirds.  We have bird feeders in the backyard and often have 30+ birds around.
As a friend of mine says, in the great outdoors "You're either eating or being eaten; it is always a restaurant!"  That seems to be the way of life and as an observer I feel very fortunate!

Here's a couple of shots of our friend!