But I Digress – Cruising Photo Favorites

December 31, 2019.

In the late 1990’s, my wife Lynn, daughter Carrie, and I departed Miami for an Eastern Caribbean cruise. It was our first. We enjoyed it, but times being what they were, it would be 2007 before we would make our second cruise. Since then, it’s become our favorite way of vacationing. In the next 16 years, we’ve visited the Caribbean islands twice, Hawaii, Fanning Island (Tabuaeran), went through the Panama Canal twice, and as the photo above implies, we departed Seattle for Alaska (you can tell by the tiny Space Needle in the far right background of this image captured on the Norwegian Pearl.) Continue reading

Natuwa – Wildlife Rescue in Costa Rica

Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica.

On our first visit to Costa Rica in 2013 after crossing the Panama Canal, our first stop was Puntarenas. Back then, we opted for a jungle cruise and train ride. We had so much fun on the jungle cruise, we elected to do it again. Fortunately for us, that excursion was sold out by the time we went to reserve our excursions for the trip. It was indeed fortunate as we elected instead to visit Natuwa. We would have missed a visit to a fascinating place. Continue reading

Cellpic Sunday – 22 September 2019

Costa Rica.

An enigma wrapped in a mystery. That’s what this photo is. The date stamp from my cellphone indicates the image was captured at 5:18 PM. It’s obviously a sunset so we must therefore have been looking to the west. Here’s the enigma. We were on our way to transit the Panama Canal. The other images captured on that date were all of Costa Rica. We docked at Puntarenas that day. This image was captured as we departed toward our date the next morning with our Panama Canal transit. We were on the west side of Costa Rica in the Pacific Ocean. So, how could there be a land mass to the west between us and the sunset? Could it be the time stamp was wrong and this was a sunrise? Continue reading

Castillo San Felipe – Cartagena’s Fortress

Cartagena, Colombia.

Built high on a hill, the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a commanding sight across a canal from the walled portion of Cartagena, the old city. Originally built in 1536, and expanded in 1657, then again in 1763, the fort was the site of several battles over the centuries. At one point, the fort fell to the forces of a French privateer Baron de Pointis. Continue reading

Cartagena – Romancing the Stone Wall II

Cartagena, Colombia.

I don’t know what it is about Cartagena, but something in this city clicks with me. Its crowded, narrow streets would be a horror to drive (as witnessed from the side window of our tour bus). Maybe it’s the historic old forts there. Maybe it’s the stone wall that surrounds the city center, built centuries ago as protection from marauding pirates, maybe it’s the movie, “Romancing the Stone.” The opening photo above features a view of the old walled city was captured from the top of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. Continue reading

Transiting the Panama Canal – 2019 Return

Canal Zone, Panama.

It was early morning when we entered the canal zone. Our trip, the second through the canal, would be from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic this time. Our original cruise in 2013 was in the opposite direction. Both trips started with the arrival of the Canal Zone Pilot who, along with a crew of workers would take over the responsibility of the ship’s safe transit through the canal, no doubt under the watchful eyes of the Norwegian Star’s captain.

Ahead of us we could see the Bridge of the Americas, a pathway to reconnect the two continents after the canal separated them, built between 1959 and 1962. There are two other bridges that span the canal as well.

The Norwegian Star is a Panamax ship built to the dimensions required to transit the canal in 2001. Ships in this class are typically just wide and long enough to fit into the locks at the canal. Norwegian Cruise Line ships that meet the Panamax dimensions can support about 2300 passengers or so. In the image above, our ship is ready to turn into the lock chamber next to the large green car hauler to the right. That large black appendage at the rear of the car carrier is a ramp. Car haulers lower that ramp and vehicles being loaded or unloaded simply drive on or off the ship via the ramp.

As we begin the process of entering the lock chamber, a row boat with two crew bring the large ropes that eventually tie the ship to a tractor on the shore. The tractors, referred to as “mules” don’t actually pull the ship. Larger ships like the Norwegian Star are 16-line ships. Each mule controls four of the large ropes used to keep the ship centered in the lock.

The pilot maneuvers the ship into the center of the lock and the mules tighten their ends of the ropes, four mules to a side. The ropes keep the ship from moving side to side. As the lock water level raises and lowers, the mules spool the ropes in and out precisely so that the ship remains solidly in the center of the channel.

Throughout the process, a spokesperson uses the ship’s public address system to describe the progress through the canal system to all of the passengers. There is a camera on the ship’s bridge that shows the forward view so that passengers in cabins can watch the forward progress through the canal. This photo is a screen shot of the television image as viewed in our cabin.

In 2013, our ship, the Norwegian Pearl was the largest ship to date to have transited the canal. If I recall correctly, they said the transit fee was $520,000 back then. Now that the new, larger locks are open for transit, much larger ships like this OOCL container ship can transit the canal. The sister ship to this OOCL line freighter paid the highest toll as of the date of our transit, some 1.8 million USD. It must be worth it to avoid the costs and time lost to transit the South American continent and use the larger locks of the Panama Canal instead.

Though we think of the canal being cut east to west, it is really cut north to south. From the Pacific Ocean, it enters two sets of locks, Miraflores, then Pedro Miguel. From there, it transits the major portion of the canal dig, the Culebra Cut. As you may note from the photo above, they terraced the slope of the cut to help keep earth from refilling the canal by natural erosion as they dug. After transiting the cut, the ships enter Lake Gatun, a manmade lake that is about 90 feet (28 m) above the ocean levels.

At the north end of Lake Gatun, one more set of locks, the Gatun Locks lowers the ship through three chambers to the Caribbean Sea. The image above features a view of Lake Gatun. The image below of the lakeside entrance to the Gatun Locks.

As we transited Lake Gatun, I noticed a workman along the shore standing at the door to his earth mover.

I couldn’t quite figure out what he was doing when I took the photo. Later, once I loaded the image into my computer and could zoom in, I could see what he was doing more clearly.

Apparently the sight of a cruise ship in the canal was worthy of his taking a cell phone photo. I suspect he sees a lot more freight haulers than cruise ships on his daily rounds. In 2013, I expected that would be our one and only trip through the canal, one of those “bucket list” items checked off and done. As it turns out, my sister and her friend also had the canal transit on their bucket list. They asked if we would like to accompany them on their journey. We didn’t hesitate to say, “Yes.” We saw some new (to us) countries, and revisited some places seen on the last trip through. It was well worth the second passage. I submit for your review a gallery of images. In most browsers, you can click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner




Pilgrimage to Popoyuapa – A Holy Week Tradition

On the road in Nicaragua.

It’s a long bus ride from the port city of San Juan Del Sur to Masaya Volcano. A couple of weeks ago, I shared photos of our visit to the volcano noting that there was about a 30-minute delay as we sat in stopped traffic. The tour guide wasn’t sure, but he guessed correctly that the delay was due to the passing of the pilgrimage, an annual holy week tradition some 150 years old. We couldn’t quite figure out how the traffic delay worked but we were sitting on the northbound lane in stopped traffic not moving at all, yet traffic appeared to be moving just fine in the southbound lane. At first I thought the single lane traffic would stop in the southbound lane and then we would proceed. It didn’t exactly happen that way. Continue reading