Monthly Archives: April 2022

Panama City, Panama April 29, 2022

Our next port of call was Fuerte Amador, Panama, eight miles form downtown. From here we booked an excursion into Panama City, the capital and largest city. Panama City has a population of two million people which is half of the country’s four million people.


Biomuseo – Whimsical museum structure by the renowned Frank Gehry with 8 galleries on Panama’s biodiversity

Panama is a country on the isthmus which links Central and South America. It received its independence from the Spanish empire in 1821. It is regarded as having a “high income economy” with a large portion of its income being revenue from Panama Canal tolls. About 40% of its land area is jungle. Panama has also been at the top of the list for retirees from other countries to retire due to their low cost of living, excellent healthcare and no hurricanes. 

We had really been looking forward to visiting Panama City. Unfortunately the excursion we booked there was the most disappointing of our cruise. 20220429_101007


The F&F Tower is an office tower in Panama City, Panama 797FT almost six degrees floor rotation

The excursion was called “Panama City: Old and New“.  We drove by the oldest part of the city Panama Viejo (Old Panama Ruins and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) without stopping. We struggled to snap pictures through the bus windows of some of the ruins. In fact the guide almost forgot to mention the ruins until someone on the bus asked about them.  Through doing research for the blog I learned that Panama City is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the Pacific coast of the Americas, and was founded in 1519.  The town was destroyed during a pirate attack in 1671 and the city center was moved five miles southeast. 20220429_10240320220429_10243920220429_102535

We finally got off the bus and proceeded to walk through an older part of the city. We passed by the Presidential Palace and the guide would not let us stop to get a picture. original_62c347d6-6ee9-4880-bcc9-f84c6f07093e_PXL_20220429_155720569Very strange. Not even a picture from a distance?? I managed to sneak a picture of some police near the palace. The guide did not use a microphone so it was very hard to hear him depending on where you were standing. original_77d13044-4c0c-4893-8d4c-ad84e456af61_PXL_20220429_155524781

We continued walking down some very narrow brick lined streets through the old colonial area of the city. PXL_20220429_160244065PXL_20220429_160341788The Spanish architecture was reminiscent of what we had seen in Colombia with the wrought iron balconies. original_b1a641d9-b2c2-4726-94d8-3ba8c76c41e5_PXL_20220429_160447203.MPPXL_20220429_160551393PXL_20220429_161332978Many of the old colonial buildings are falling apart and in need of repair. PXL_20220429_160023596

We visited Saint Joseph Church with its beautiful golden altar. The altar is considered one of the greatest treasures of Panama. The altar is made of carved wood covered in gold leaf. When the pirate Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed the city in 1621, the Jesuits painted the altar black to hide the gold.


Famous for its baroque altar carved in mahogany and covered in gold leaf.


The church had restrooms which some of us desperately needed. While some of us waited in line, the guide took the others to another room in the church where there were very detailed dioramas of The Nativity. Those of us who chose the bathroom were told to meet the group back in the sanctuary. We totally missed seeing the dioramas. Fortunately Bill was able to see the display and took pictures. I do not understand why the guide couldn’t have given us ten minutes so everyone could see them. 20220429_11252020220429_112644

Ruins of the Jesuit temple and convent. Functioned until 1767 when Jesuits were expelled. Built about 1749 and burned in 1781. 20220429_11361920220429_113714

We saw the ruins of the 1741 Old Convent of Santo Domingo. It burned in 1756, it was never repaired and the very unique flat arch located here was key during the negotiations of how to build the Panama Canal.


The Santo Domingo Convent , built in 1678, was one of the first to be founded in the new city.

It is said, that Panama used it as proof that Panama does not have earthquakes because an earthquake would have destroyed the arch. The current arch is a reconstruction with its original bricks. Note: Panama does have earthquakes!


We visited one more church, the Panama Metropolitan Cathedral, where construction took place from 1688 to 1796.


The Cathedral Basilica of Santa María la Antigua de Panamá is a Catholic temple. Original building destroyed by earthquake in 1882.


At this point in the tour it started to rain and storm. A very heavy rain as we started to walk back to the bus. Bill and I had brought one umbrella and one poncho. Most of the people had not brought anything and were getting soaked. We took refuge under some awnings but were splashed as trucks passed by. Discussion was held as to whether people wanted to wait or brave getting wet. At this point most everyone was soaked so what difference did it make. The guide said the bus was not allowed on the narrow streets and could not come pick us up. 

When we reached the bus we had a new bus waiting because people had complained earlier that the AC was not working adequately. Now people were drenched to the skin and had a nice cold bus to ride back on. 

At this point we were expecting to ride through some of the newer sections of Panama with skyscrapers and modern buildings along nice beaches. After all, the tour was called Panama City: Old and New. Even after the rain delay we were not behind schedule. Instead, the bus took us directly back to the ship. A disappointing end of the tour and a disappointing tour in all. We hope to return to Panama City someday and see more of it. One thing Panama City did not have was persistent vendors and beggars. Perhaps the rain had something to do with that but I don’t think much. 20220429_202727

Dinner that night was a couple from Stuart, Florida and another from Tampa Fl and sisters cruising together, one from Albuquerque, New Mexico and the other from Henderson, Nevada. All delightful dinner companions. 

After a day at sea our next port will be Costa Rica.

Transiting the Panama Canal April 28, 2022

A highlight of our cruise was transiting the Panama Canal. From the Atlantic to the Pacific it stretches 50 miles. Initially began in 1882 by French builders of the Suez Canal, they gave up in Panama. The U.S. acquired the canal in 1904 and began work.  American crews persevered with tens of thousands of workers drilling dynamite holes, driving steam shovels and laboring with pickaxes to build the canal, all the while fighting the heat, yellow fever and malaria. There were 25,600 fatalities. It took ten years to complete and shortened a ship’s voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by 7,800 miles.   In 1999, control of the canal was handed over to Panama from the U.S.

In 2016 an expansion more than doubled the canal’s capacity, allowing ships with a capacity of more than 14,000 containers to pass through. Today more than 12,000 to 15,000 ships transit the canal each year. More than 52 million gallons of water is used during each ship’s transit through the three locks. Recently they have added new locks that recycle some of the water so as not to deplete the lakes and rivers.

It is without a doubt one of the world’s greatest engineering achievements. More than 100 species of mammals and reptiles as well as 500 different birds live in nature reserves on islands and lakes along the canal. An interesting fact is that ships pay $35,000 additional fee for a reserved spot to transit. Otherwise, without the reserved spot, we would have had to wait for a long time to get in line for an unknown transit time. They also have to pay for each person onboard the ship. So Holland America probably paid $444,000 in fees to transit the canal!!

Since the average transit time is 8 to 10 hours, we had to get up before sunrise to see the transit begin. They opened up the bow of the ship, so that is where many people first gathered. The cruise director was up on the bridge of the ship with the captain and other officers and provided commentary throughout the day. 

We first passed under the Atlantic Bridge, spanning the Atlantic entrance to the canal. The best way to show you the transit is with Bill’s pictures rather than with words. 20220428_062103~3PXL_20220428_11321589820220428_063325

A few thoughts. It took all day, from before 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM. We were fortunate it was an overcast day which helped greatly with heat and possible sunburns. We were able to sit on our balcony for much of the time which made it much more enjoyable. Our cabin was located where the ship widened, our balcony allowed us to look toward the front of the ship as well as out to the side. PXL_20220428_115004723~2PXL_20220428_115944563PXL_20220428_120521045.MP

On the bow of the ship at 7:00 AM some crew members brought around warm “Panama Rolls” which is a tradition when transiting the canal. They are yeast rolls with an apricot filling. original_9e6308de-e0f7-4695-9705-38ec2938d11c_PXL_20220428_122623251.MPPXL_20220428_133737851They were very good and available in the dining room and buffet areas throughout the day. They were only available as a special treat that one day. 20220428_07164520220428_07170620220428_083719PXL_20220428_13390699520220428_08512520220428_085130PXL_20220428_140401811~2


Some of the Culebra Cut

We passed through the Gatun Lake to the second bridge. 20220428_123802~220220428_125014

When your ship approaches the lock a positive arrow sign directs you to the correct side. 20220428_131507

At the Miraflores locks we saw tug boats preparing to help ships transits. PXL_20220428_185824717PXL_20220428_202047018

When we were standing on the bow a large orange and blue cargo ship passed us in the other lock. A man standing next to us said out loud to himself, “Orange and blue, UVA colors.” I couldn’t believe it. Turns out he went to UVA and currently lives in the Winchester area. Of course Bill pointed out that was also the school colors of the University of Florida. 20220428_072433

As we neared the last lock, the cruise director announced a crocodile had been spotted in the water. That added some excitement for those who had never seen a crocodile before. PXL_20220428_20253443120220428_152938~2

We passed the Miraflores Locks and Visitors Center. A very large group of people had gathered on the top deck of the Visitors Center. As we passed by, a man with a microphone would say something in Spanish and then everyone on the deck would yell, cheer and wave to us. It was fun to wave back at them. 20220428_155306

Here we passed the concrete foundations for the swing bridges that were used to cross the canal with by car. 20220428_160816~2

We finally reached the water level of the Pacific Ocean. 20220428_14040620220428_161045

We had a great day and an amazing experience. We were amazed at how narrow the locks were and how little room there was between the ship and the sides. 20220428_083557~2The captain and crew really had to be on their toes all day!! On each side of the ship were four “mules”.  As a safety feature, ships were guided though the lock chambers by electric locomotives known as mules. Mules are used for side-to-side and braking control in the locks. Forward motion into and  through the locks is provided by the ship’s engines. PXL_20220428_122720547.MPPXL_20220428_123918060.MP

Time to go in, we see the third bridge. 20220428_16265120220428_162552~2

That evening we had a very interesting shared table. One couple was from British Columbia and he was a retired forensic psychologist at a mental hospital. His wife had worked there as well. He said he loved it when people asked how they met and he could say “at a mental hospital”. Believe it or not the other couple was from Dallas, Texas and he was a clinical psychologist. Made for a very interesting dinner conversation. As I said before, these shared tables can lead to interesting evenings. 

Next up: Touring Panama City


Cartagena, Colombia April 27, 2022

Our first port was Cartagena, Colombia. Colombia has coastlines on both the north Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It has 1,993 miles of coastline. It is the 2nd most biodiverse country in the world. The main language is Spanish along with 68 ethnic languages. It achieved its independence from Spain in 1819.  The population of Colombia is 50.88 million. 

Our port of call was Cartagena, population 914,552. It is a major port located on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia and has an important history linking it to the West Indies route during world exploration. It is one of the country’s oldest settlements and a UNESCO site. 

We booked a Holland American excursion which included a Hop On Hop Off bus which included a guided tour of the colonial walled city Centro Amurallado (Old Town). The bus picked us up early and we immediately experienced a Cartagena traffic jam. PXL_20220427_124527785PXL_20220427_131411674

We took a bus tour followed by a walking tour. original_80d9e049-740f-4f3e-9b85-d8a00a8dbc17_PXL_20220427_130525190

During the walking tour the vendors peddling their wares and the occasional beggars were relentless. No thank you or ignoring them didn’t stop their efforts to get us to buy things or give money. Our guide warned us not to have a picture with any of the colorfully dressed women with a basket of fruit on their head. They expect to be paid for their picture. I managed to sneak in a couple pictures when they weren’t looking. They try to talk you into a picture and then expect payment.original_b03c1602-b7ff-4bb1-a11a-6714c0a62be1_PXL_20220427_134728861PXL_20220427_141257837PXL_20220427_140455215 

The streets are cobbled and you have to be very careful where you walk. Potholes, cracks in sidewalks and unexpected holes are waiting to trip you up. No one worries about getting sued here. You are expected to watch out for yourself. You fall and get injured, your problem, your fault.PXL_20220427_133332600PXL_20220427_133410405 

On our tour we visited the Clock TowerPXL_20220427_131558829.MPPXL_20220427_131939068original_4d067525-deea-415d-9b4c-84a798f6e4ca_20220427_093628 original_cf46d0cc-3805-4e85-96d5-0d9d74633479_PXL_20220427_132732099.MP and walked the narrow streets with beautiful old buildings decorated with balconies and intricate windows located in Coches Square and the Baloco Street Corner. 20220427_080510original_9b6bc172-3b7e-4b62-9670-5254d2cd4028_PXL_20220427_133422637original_f125d724-0180-40d0-88d9-2fa8f2a4c848_PXL_20220427_133445535PXL_20220427_133958780


Palace of Inquisition Palace

The outside of the Palace of Inquisition Palace had a Spanish architecture depicting the country’s history of the Spanish Empire from 1492-1975.

LA Gorda “the Fat One” statue in Plaza Santo Domingo is located where there was once a slave trade market. Our guide told us it was supposed to be good luck to rub the statue, especially the backside.original_b03c1602-b7ff-4bb1-a11a-6714c0a62be1_PXL_20220427_13472886120220427_084639PXL_20220427_13403143820220427_084759PXL_20220427_13473584120220427_084726PXL_20220427_134942447PXL_20220427_134212188 

Catedral Santa Catalina de Alejandria

The Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Santa Catalina de Alejandria, built between 1577-1612 was beautiful.PXL_20220427_140854505

As part of our tour we went to an emerald museum. Colombia supplies about 90% of the emeralds sold in the world. They had a video and exhibits on how emeralds are mined. And of course as part of the museum they had a gift shop where they hoped you would buy emeralds (we didn’t).20220427_094136 

It is always a joy for me to find the public library, but unfortunately no time to go inside.original_5ea2ab41-6900-4686-8e34-7d0bca825d22_20220427_090121 

At this point the walking tour was over and we decided to continue on our own while the others got back on the Hop On Hop Off bus to continue the bus part of the tour. Bill’s sharp eye had seen a Hard Rock Cafe and we walked back there to get a shirt. Bill collects Hard Rock Cafe shirts and he has a nice collection from around the world.20220427_082859 

Next we caught another Hop On Hop Off bus and rode to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress built in 1536 by the Spanish. It is built in a triangular shape on top of a hill with eight batteries. In 1984 it was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site along with the walled city center. 20220427_080003

We paid $10 each to visit the fort. It was a very long steep uphill walk to the top where we were rewarded with fantastic views of the city. This was actually the hottest day of our seventeen day cruise and the walk really wore us out. By the time we walked back down the hill we were really feeling the heat and our water was almost empty. Across the street was a very small family market. We went inside and bought some Diet Coke and a few extra cans to take back on the ship.original_492a8d1b-f3cf-4a94-ba8b-98bed28f946a_20220427_10211520220427_10214420220427_10320820220427_10322120220427_103636 

At this point it was getting late in the day and we were concerned whether the next Hop On Hop Off bus would get us back in time before the ship left! Knowing a ship was in port, the bus company had positioned “ambassadors” at several of the stops. The ambassador at this stop was very helpful and called for a bus headed directly back to the ship to detour and pick us up. We made it back in plenty of time. By the way, throughout the cruise in most ports, we noticed local ambassadors, extra security or police presence wherever we went. We always felt very safe. With tourism being the #1 source of income for these countries, the last thing they want is for a tourist to have a bad experience.

Back at the port before boarding the ship we had some time to visit the Cartagena Port Oasis, a 1,000 square meter garden with peacocks, toucans and macaws to name just a few. They were obviously used to being around people. Of course there were several souvenir shops to visit for last minute shopping before heading back to the ship.original_a19eb771-98c9-40d9-a285-73c6ddca8c4d_20220427_11301320220427_113135 

As we boarded the ship we were handed wonderful lemonade and cold washcloths. Boy was that appreciated on this long, hot day!original_1a9fc356-fb23-46a6-98d1-e9b45f26da94_20220427_114731 

At dinner we enjoyed sharing a table with three other couples, one couple from Calgary, Canada, another from San Diego and the third couple was the same couple from Denver, Colorado as on an earlier day. Always interesting to see who we will end up with when we say “we will take a shared table”. It was fun listening as everyone shared stories of our day in Cartagena, especially when we each went on excursions to different places. 

Next up: Our day transiting the Panama Canal

Catching Up, Fort Lauderdale, FL & Cruise April 24, 2022

Our travel blog is back!! After more than two years of not being able to travel due to the pandemic, we are beyond thrilled to be traveling once again. 

Even though we have not been traveling, we have been busy moving, and then moving again and then moving again! In the fall of 2020 we sold our RV and rented a condo in Cape Canaveral, Florida. We were able to walk to the beach every day, watch rocket launches from our front porch and once cruising started up again we could see cruise ships leaving from Port Canaveral. We loved it there.PXL_20201004_213848588

But then we got the urge to own a home. But so did everyone else, especially in Florida. The housing market was brutal. We settled on a house in Davenport, Florida in the 55+ community of Del Webb Orlando. Five months after moving in we came to the difficult realization that it just wasn’t the area for us. Mistake made, lesson learned. Time to move on. Life is too short not to admit your mistakes and move on. Right?front 6

So we put the house on the market with the same realtor we bought it from and it sold in a month. We made enough on the sale of the house to pay our costs to buy and sell the house and break even. We were happy. We are currently renting a small house in The Villages in Florida. We have been here a month, with part of that month being on a cruise. Too soon to let you know how we like it. But no more home ownership for us until we know for sure where we want to live. Plus renting makes it easier to travel, especially extended international travel which we are hoping to do more of in our future. front 1

That leads us to this blog posting. Last time we posted we were on a cruise to Asia in January 2020. If you remember, our cruise was interrupted halfway through the trip when the pandemic hit and travel came to a halt. We were stranded for days in the South China Sea waiting and hoping for a port that would let us disembark and fly home. Cambodia came to our rescue!  Even though it wasn’t Holland America’s fault, they treated us very fairly. They paid for our airfare home and gave us all our money back in cruise credits for a future cruise. 

Since we had been vaccinated and boosted and the time to use those cruise credits was running out, we decided it was time to dust off the suitcases and hit the road. Or should I say jump aboard a ship! 

After lots of searching and pondering, we decided on a Holland America cruise through the Panama Canal. It began in Fort Lauderdale and ended in San Diego. Pretty convenient for Florida residents. Only thing that would have been better was beginning and ending in Florida. 

After over two years we were a little rusty when it came to packing, but we managed not to leave any essentials at home.  Two days before we embarked, we had to get our mandatory Covid tests. Bill made appointments for us at nearby Walgreens. It couldn’t have been easier. We pulled up to the drive thru window and the pharmacist passed us each a testing kit through the window. She watched as we each performed the test on ourselves and we put the swabs in envelopes and passed them back to her. She said the results would be emailed to us in about an hour. Not long after arriving home we received our email results and held our breaths as we read the results. Both negative. Whew! What a relief!! 

On Sunday, April 24th we drove our car from The Villages to Orlando where we picked up a rental car. We left our car at a long term parking area near the airport since we would fly home from San Diego to Orlando. We then drove the rental car to Fort Lauderdale. We chose Avis/Budget which was very close to Port Everglades and they provided a free shuttle to the port. The timing was perfect and we were able to hop into the last two seats on the shuttle getting ready to leave and away we went. 

Bill had worked very hard before the trip completing all our health information on the Holland America website, including our vaccine cards and our negative test results. He also filled out the information on a phone app called VeriFLY. When we reached the preboarding lines at the port, Bill told the ship officials he had completed VeriFLY which verified we were ready to sail. So we were able to skip the health check lines and after presenting our passports/boarding passes went straight onto the ship, the MS Noordam. Boy, was that easy!! 

We had originally booked a cabin with a verandah (balcony). A couple weeks before sailing we received an email from Holland America offering us an upgrade to a signature suite at a very reasonable price. Since the price was right and it was a seventeen day cruise, we decided to take it. We were anxious to see our cabin and we were thrilled with it. The main cabin was large with a king size bed, love seat, desk area and lots of storage. In fact, there was so much storage and closet room we didn’t use it all.PXL_20220424_190011146

The bathroom had double sinks, a tub and a separate walk in shower. The best was the balcony. Because the cabin was located where the ship widened, our balcony allowed us to look toward the front of the ship as well as out to sea. The larger balcony came  with two lounge chairs and a table as well as two more chairs with a larger table. Best cabin we have ever had! baloncy 2balcony1

After completing the required and simplified muster drill, we enjoyed a delicious lunch. We then returned to our cabin and sat on the balcony waiting to leave the dock. We really enjoyed seeing all the boats out on this beautiful sunny afternoon.PXL_20220424_212519757

The captain announced this was the ship’s first voyage since 2020. Over 700 days since  passengers were onboard. He said he and the crew were so excited to have people onboard once again. So that explained all the smiling faces and “Welcome back!” we heard all afternoon. The captain said when we left the dock and passed all the condos where people always waved at the departing ships, he was going to blow the horn extra long to let everyone know the MS Noordam is back!! 

We noticed in subtle ways the ship had not been used in over two years. All the dresser drawers were hard to open because they had gone so long without being opened. Our safe did not initially work because the battery was dead. 

If you eat your meals in the dining room you have the choice of a table for two or a shared table with strangers which could be a table for four, six or eight. Our first night we asked for a shared table and ate with two couples. One couple was from El Paso, Texas and the other from Columbia, SC. We enjoyed talking with them and the THREE hours it took to be served our three course dinner went by quickly. We found that after traveling over seven years in the RV we could easily talk with people wherever they were from because we had either been there or been close by. Slow service in the dining room continued to be a problem throughout the cruise. More on that in future blog postings. 

Our first two days of the cruise were sea days. We spent the time enjoying the ship, attending talks on upcoming ports, sitting on our balcony and eating WAY too much food! At breakfast on day 2 we sat with a couple from Boulder City, Nevada (the wife was a retired teacher and the husband had worked with power plants). The other couple was from Dallas, Texas and she was a retired school librarian. Perfect breakfast companions, all by chance! Dinner was with a couple from Texas and another couple from Seattle, Washington. On the third day breakfast was at a table shared with a couple from Denver, Colorado. The man was a retired dam engineer and Bill enjoyed having a fellow engineer to talk with. Dinner on day 3 was with a couple from Florida (not far from the Villages) and a couple from Ottawa, Canada. It is always interesting to listen to other people’s cruise travels and experiences. 

Next up: our first port, Cartagena, Colombia