Monday, June 21, 2010

Birthday Weekend

June 18 was my birthday, but since Susan was working that day we waited until Saturday to celebrate begin celebrating. Mom and Dad are coming for a visit this Friday and when they are here we are going to celebrate my birthday, Dad's birthday and Father's Day all together. Saturday morning we went to the Flower and Antique Show in Yakima. Several landscaping vendors and antique dealers had booths set up for viewing. My favorite part of the show was this train display. Even though the track was small, this moving 5-car train was just so adorable.

I spent most of my time getting ideas for our yard, especially the front and looking for antique picture frames. This old bike full of flowers was beautiful.
This was a pretty little waterfall. I don't know if we will have a water feature in our front yard, but I took pictures anyway.
This checkers set was very clever. I especially liked the fact that players didn't have to bend over to play. The checkers had a hook on the top and the black handles you can see in the foreground hooked onto each checker so you could move them around the board. This is a great idea if you entertain a lot.
Susan made reservations at Greystone on Saturday evening. This is a place I have wanted to try for a few months and the food was just fantastic. I had marinated flank steak with shrimp. They served it with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. I even got a free piece of cake for dessert. YUM!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Acapulco, Mexico

Our last Port of Call before heading for San Francisco was Acapulco. Over 3.5 million people visit Acapulco each year to enjoy what the city claims are the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world. Of course, the Quebrada cliff divers are well known. Even though our particular tour did not include the cliff divers, our van driver did stop for a few minutes so we could watch the divers climb the cliff and then dive into the water. The rock formation rises 130 feet above the water and the divers climb back up after every dive. The first formal stop on our tour was the Flamingo Hotel, once owned by John Wayne, and lived in by Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame. This hotel has the best view of the open sea in Old Acapulco.
The dining room of the Hotel Flamingo. Many famous people have visited this hotel over the years and several walls are covered with celebrity photographs.

The Chapel of Peace is located at one of the highest points in Acapulco and offers the best view of the famous bay of Acapulco.
How about the view of Acapulco Bay from this swimming pool? I mentioned this Villa in my post yesterday. Once a private home built by the Barons of Portanova, the mansion cost $74 Million and they never lived there.
Just one of the amazing bedrooms.

This Villa was amazing to see, so if you ever get to Acapulco be sure and stop by for a visit.
Check back soon for a few pictures of San Francisco bay and more house updates.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Huatulco, Mexico

We took different tours in Huatulco. Susan's tour was titled Eco-walk and Birding Adventure. The two mile guided walk was along the Copalita River and wetlands. The surrounding jungle is home to several precious woods including cedar, mahogany, ficus, mocambo and almond trees. Over 227 species of birds inhabit the area, including orioles, woodpeckers, egrets, falcons, kestrels, parrots and over 20 species of hummingbirds.
This is a termite colony. I always thought they lived on the ground. Maybe it's too wet here during the rainy season for them to survive.

These are the plants that tequila and mescal are made from.
These people might have picked a better tour on this particular day as it was over 95 degrees outside with 90% humidity.
I went on the Rural Communities and Traditions tour to get a feel for how the locals live and work. Our tour bus stopped at three different homes where we listened to the farmer discuss his particular crop or crops. Most places had samples available, especially of the more exotic fruits.

This particular farmer grew an amazing variety of cactus plants.


At one house we watch a brick making demonstration. I do hope they use a different method of making bricks used for public buildings.
At my favorite stop on the tour, we got to enter a traditional kitchen where we watched tamales and tortilla being made over a wood fire. We got to sample these too, and they were very tasty. These people lead very simple lives but work extremely hard.
Largely due to the fact that Huatulco has 18 miles of coastline, forming nine beautiful bays, the Mexican government, inspired by the success of Cancun, is developing Huatulco into a major tourist destination. Resort hotels and restaurants are currently springing up along the sun-soaked shores. Americans are just beginning to discover Huatulco, while it has been popular with European tourists for years.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Scenes from our Cruise

I decided to take a short break from posting information about the Ports of Call and share some images from our trip. The sunsets on this cruise were just spectacular!

Disembarking a cruise ship while it is in motion can be exciting to watch. I'm not sure how it feels to actually be doing it. Several times during a cruise people are brought onboard and leave this way and we had a great view of the action from our stateroom.

Carving ice with a chain saw in 90 degree weather.

Touring a $74 Million mansion in Acapulco. Some people just have too much money.

Marine life watching us watch them.

It is incredibly difficult to get these pictures with everything in motion.

Another beautiful sunset.

Food Art

Out of all the food creations we saw, this monkey fishing was one of our favorites.

One orange submarine out of the water......
and another submarine in the water.
Next up - Huatulco, Mexico.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Costa Rica "rich coast" got its name from Spanish explorers due to rumors of gold and vast riches in this section of Central America. The dreams of wealth never materialized however the area is rich in natural beauty. Costa Rica occupies a unique position, lying between two oceans and two continents. Tropical rain forests occupy both coasts while mountains in the interior rise over 13,000 feet above sea level.
I wanted to have our picture taken with these girls, when we got off the ship, because the dresses were so beautiful. Later on our tour we learned that the dress design and/or colors have specific meaning. For example, if a women has a black band around the bottom of her skirt it means she is a widow, but is available to date again.

This church was across the street from Central Park in Esparza, the second stop on our tour.
The interior of the church was very beautiful.

These local children entertained us in Central Park while we learned about local traditions from our tour guide. Only children with superior grades in school can participate in these dances for the tourists.

In Ortina, we stopped at the farmers' market for a chance to see some exotic tropical fruits, such as caimitos, cashews, and mangoes. Chocolate was the first and only crop produced in 1790.

This is a cashew tree. There is only one cashew in each pod.

The capitol of Costa Rica is San Jose. There are 168 volcanoes in Costa Rica and seven of them are currently active. The annual rainfall in Costa Rica is 8 meters - that's 26.24 feet!
Most fences, like the one shown below, are natural fences made from fallen branches or trees.
These are coffee seeds. A lot of bananas are produced in this area as well.

This plant contains Achiote seeds. You may have heard of it as Mexican Saffron. Susan and I have some in our pantry. The plant looks lethal but it is very soft and fuzzy.
Early settlers used it as a dye for face paint and clothing and today it is used as a spice. It is very easy to get the dye on your skin and very hard to get it off.

Our next Port of Call is Huatulco, Mexico.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Panama Canal

Just before entering the canal, an expert on Panama and the Canal was brought on board to explain how the Canal works. Since our stateroom had a balcony, we could sit outside and watch the action while listening to the expert talk on our stateroom TV.

The Panama Canal unites the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at one of the narrowest point of both the Isthmus of Panama and the American Continent.

The Canal officially opened its doors to international trade on August 15, 1914 and since then over 970,000 vessels have transited the waterway. It is estimated that by October of this year, that figure will top 1 million. Our ship was charged $500,000 to pass through the Canal. The next picture was taken by looking straight down from our balcony. You can see that very little space is left between the side of the ship and the edge of the locks. A larger canal is being built to accommodate wider vessels.

The Canal has three locks, each with two lanes, that operate as water lifts to elevate ships 26 meters above sea level to the level of Gatun Lake in transit through the Continental Divide and then lower them back down to sea level on the opposite side of the Isthmus.
At each lock, water obtained from Gatun Lake is sealed by the gates in the lock chamber and then gravity drains the water to the lower levels. Approximately 197 million liters of fresh water is used for each lock and ultimately flushed into the sea.

A Control House, located on the center wall of the upper chamber, operates the locks for every ship passing through. Ships use their own power while going through the locks, but they are assisted by electric locomotives. Working in pairs, the locomotives keep the vessels in position within each chamber. Depending on the size of the vessel, from four to eight locomotives are required. Our ship used six, three on each side.

Row boats are used to go out to each vessel and bring the lines back for the trains.

Interesting Facts about the Panama Canal:

  • During construction of the Canal, over 152.9 million cubic meters of material were removed. Were this material to be placed on railroad flatcars, it would circle the globe four times.

  • On August 15, 1914, the SS Ancon officially inaugurated the Panama Canal.

  • The Canal initiated round-the-clock operations on May 12, 1953, with the installation of new fluorescent lighting in the Culebra Cut and the three locks.

  • The new Panama Canal locks will be 427 meters long and 55 meters wide, the size of four football fields. The present Canal is 80 kilometers in length.

  • At noon on December 31, 1999, Panama assumed full responsibility for the administration, operation and maintenance of the Panama Canal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cartagena, Columbia

Cartagena is a city of remarkable contrast. The Old City has been preserved, yet it is surrounded by modern skyscrapers. Over 1 million people live in Columbia, which covers 220 square miles. The capitol is Bogota, which is a short 45 minute flight from Cartagena, but to travel the route by car takes 23 hours. This was our first view of Cartagena as the ship was making it way into port.

Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. When the Spanish conquistadors discovered that the interior of Columbia was rich in gold and emeralds, these items flowed into Cartagena for shipment to Spain. To defend against pirate attacks, King Felipe II ordered a protective wall to be build around the city.

The investment in the wall paid off in 1741 when England attacked with a force of 24,000 men and 186 ships, but Cartagena successfully defended itself.

The San Felipe de Barajas Fortress situated just outside the walled city. This enormous fort is considered to be the most outstanding feat of Spanish military engineering in the new world.
On our tour we visited the Heredia Theater built in 1911 from the ruins of the old Mercy Church. The inside of the church, including the ceiling (shown below) was just beautiful.

We were treated to a folkloric show of music and dance by local artists in the main auditorium. The show consisted of dances from the three most important regions of Columbia - the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast and the Los Andes Region.

Today, Cartagena's economy is largely centered around platinum and timber, coffee and oil products. Tourism, roses and emeralds also contribute.

Statues like the one shown below are numerous around the old city. They mostly represent past customs. There were also living statues present. A man and a little boy would stand perfectly still until someone gave them a tip and then they would change their positions.

Baseball is the favorite sport in Cartagena and people still dress up when going out to shop, etc. They can always spot a tourist because of the casual dress, especially in the old city. There are thousands of motor bikes in Cartagena. Not only are they used for personal transportation, but they are also taxis. Every other Friday there are no motor bikes allowed in the city.

We also visited the San Pedro Claver monastery built in homage to the protector of slaves. It is ironic that Cartagena spent so much of its past trying to break free of Spain. Our tour guide explained that a large percentage of land, buildings and businesses are now owned by Spaniards.