Thursday, November 5, 2015

San Diego to Home

Finale - San Diego to home

After leaving Cabo San Lucas we set our sights for our final port of call and disembarkation point of San Diego. 

Today is November 4th and it's our last day at sea. I've been on board since October 17th, embarking in Boston. According to our captain we have sailed over 5,000 nautical miles from Boston. For those passengers that started earlier in Quebec, Canada, they have sailed over 7,000 nautical miles!

Along the way, we've enjoyed 9 sea days, 8 ports of call, and spent a full day going through the famed and awe inspiring Panama Canal. I'm told we were very fortunate to have enjoyed spectacular weather on the day of our crossing. It was clear and sunny and not terribly hot, although the sun was brutal if you were out there unprotected. Not counting the U.S. we visited five countries - Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico.  

God willing, I will be repeating much of this same itinerary in January 2017 when I embark on my long awaited dream of a world cruise. It will be fun to go through the Canal for a second time and especially interesting to either pass through the new expanded set of locks that are set to open in 2016, which will make transit through the Canal a possibility for even larger ships, or at least watch the bigger ships go through the locks parallel to us. I will also look forward to exploring new areas and excursions in these countries that I have missed this first time around. 

This cruise was either my 15th or 16th - after awhile you lose count - but it is the first one where I have ever been sick.  This cruise I've experienced that dreaded "gastrointestinal" bug, a cold (but thankfully just a mild one), heartburn, and overall general blahness. Unless I'm feeling particularly lazy (and I confess to that here and there) I like to walk around the outside promenade deck every morning, trying to do at least two miles and sometimes three. This cruise I managed only two days.  One day I struggled to complete one mile. Today I accomplished three miles. I'm so tired of feeling physically crappy that I thought if I walked a brisk pace for a good length of time that I could sweat out whatever nasty toxins have taken up residence in my body and I'd feel better.  

I've learned new things on this trip. I've learned beginning Bridge, Mah Jongg (and I won my first hand a few days ago!) and  I've also attended culinary demonstrations and learned how to make a few new cool vegetarian dishes. I brought along two books to read and finished them both. I've done 20 daily sudoku puzzles. I've met some wonderful and fascinating people on board, from as close as Reno to as far away as New Zealand and Australia. Some of these people have shared their insights about their own travel experiences as well as interesting new homeopathic remedies for jet lag and muscle cramping. One woman was also kind enough to give me wonderful tips on working on my family tree, a project I started a few years ago. 

Our ship's departure process got delayed for over an hour this morning so I missed my flight home. Had to rebook a later flight. Sigh. However, while sitting at the gate waiting to board I heard that the entire San Diego airport got shut down yesterday afternoon due to a sniper shooting at incoming planes. Yikes. Good thing I came back today......

Traveling is so much more than
packing your suitcase and visiting someplace new. I guess, for me, it's about opening my mind and heart to all of the blessings that are before me. I always come back home changed in some way. Kind of like a tree that grows a new branch. Still a tree, but fuller somehow. 

I guess on that note, I'll say goodbye for now. Stay tuned for January 2016 when I'm off to South America and Antarctica on another adventure!

Some final photos:

The Veendam's mystery box cooking comp - between Food Services Manager (left) and Jeremy, our Cruise Director.

Esteban and Alexis - culinary demos

 My cabin.

Enjoying the many gorgeous sunsets

Huatulco and Cabo San Lucas Mexico

Huatulco and Cabo San Lucas

These were the last two ports on our cruise itinerary. It is interesting to note that one represents today what the other used to be 40+ years ago. 

Huatulco is a sleepy little seaside resort with a small but serviceable port set inside one of about 5 gorgeous little bays. 

There are a number of protected beaches and others that, although open to the public, are only accessible by water. 

The water is pristine and snorkeling here a good choice, if you're so inclined. I like snorkeling but I wasn't so inclined this trip, so I opted instead for a combo land and sea tour to get a taste of this pretty area. 

We were in port nearly all day and, since my 4-hour tour wasn't until 12:30, I though about going ashore early and walking around the shore area. The only problem was that it was HOT. And HUMID. And I was not feeling 100% to begin with, but I soldiered on and went ashore anyway. 

I began to wither almost immediately. The walk down the pier seemed like it was ten miles but it was only about 500 yards. "Good grief", I said to myself, "get your shit together Sherita".
So I kept going. I was glad I did. The little town at the shoreline was compact and engaging. There were, of course, the usual souvenir shops and restaurant owners hawking the merits of their menus, cool drinks, shade and free wifi. I declined all offers with a sad smile and trudged on. 

I soon found a small park with lots of big shade trees and benched scattered about. I plopped myself down on one and rested while I watched people walk by. After awhile I got up and headed back towards the ship. On my way back I found a beautiful little open-air church. I sat on one of the pews for a few minutes and enjoyed the quiet as well as the warm but soothing breeze coming off the ocean. 

Oh look! There's my ship!

Loved this cute giraffe I saw in front of a store. Sadly, he was too large to carry home.

I walked to the meeting point for the tour and presently we boarded a catamaran type of boat and set off on a 90 minute tour of the pretty bays. They had an open bar so I had a margarita and assumed it would help kill whatever toxins might be lurking in my bedraggled body. Probably not one of the better decisions I've ever made, in retrospect. 

The sea tour was very enjoyable and soon we returned to the marina and traded our boat for a bus. We headed out of town and up along a mountain road which gave us some lovely views of the harbor and bay. Our guide was a very exuberant man named Lalo and he seemed puzzled as to why most of us were tired and hot. We were a subdued bunch. 

Lalo took us to another nearby town called La Crucesita and had us stop at a really pretty church with stunning murals inside. The ceiling, especially, was gorgeous. It was a full body portrait of Guadelupe, one of Mexico's patron saints, I believe. Lalo had us walk up the side aisle, turn towards the center, face the alter, then turn around to face the church doors at the rear. Then he had us look up at the ceiling. Guadelupe looked down on us in such splendor! Lalo told us that the church was only about twenty years old and that it took the artist 40 weeks to paint the murals in the church. I was most impressed. 

Lalo then wanted to take us a few block's walk to a little museum but about a third of us had no desire to do so so he let us go back on the bus and wait. It was air conditioned in there and us weenies felt not one iota of guilt.

Can you see the man's face in these rocks?

A beautiful, unspoiled beach, accessible by water only.

Pretty church, with gorgeous murals inside.

The ceiling's mural

Soon enough everyone else returned and we started back to the ship. It was about this time that my stomach started hurting badly. It was that burning heartburn type of hurt. Gawd. I kept it together and managed to get back on the ship and to my stateroom where I dug through my little bag of emergency pharmacy mess and quickly chewed down some Tums. I soon felt better.  Needless to say, I skipped happy hour that day. Maybe it was the combination of an acidic margarita and the oppressive heat and humidity, I don't know. Whatever. I feel like made the best of it, feeling lousy or not. 

We enjoyed two sea days in between Huatulco and our next and last stop at Cabo San Lucas. 
Our time in Cabo was very limited - just a little over 4 hours. It was also a tender port which cut down on port time even more since the tendering process was a good twenty minutes each way. 

I had a short tour planned but quickly cancelled it when I found out that a fellow cruising friend was on another ship and would be in port at the same time. We messaged each other and planned to meet up at a restaurant on the marina. Sadly, his ship came in later than ours and by the time we met at the restaurant we had only about half an hour to spend visiting over drinks. Still, it was well worth it. It was fun to see him again and share cruising stories!

I will be stopping in Cabo in early 2017 when I go on my World cruise so I will rebook that tour for then. Good decision!

My first early morning view coming into Cabo.

Fishing boats heading out for a day fishing for marlin.

Condo row - beachfront.

The marina.

More cool storefront characters.

My view from the restaurant.



Me and my friend Glenn!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Coffee Plantation and Antigua in Guatemala

A Coffee Plantation and Antigua in Guatemala 

At some point on my cruise through Central America I had wanted to tour a coffee plantation. Guatemala's visit offered a combination all-day coffee plantation tour and city tour of Antigua.  Both were a 90 minute drive from port. 

I enjoy coffee. I'm not a crazy coffee-head - you won't likely ever find me in the long drive-through line at Starbucks or ordering "triple venti soy no foam" lattes ANYWHERE, but I like a good cuppa joe in the morning. But, I am always interested in how things are made and learning about how a little bean turns into a nice cup of coffee so on this warm day in the volcanic mountains high in Guatemala I found myself on a bus with 50 other passengers bound for coffee-land. 

The ride up to the plantation was 
really pretty. The roadside vistas were free from litter and at every turn the peaks of several large volcanoes grew closer and larger in size.

sugar cane fields

The plantation itself is called Filadelfia Coffee and Resort. They market their coffee under the name R. Dalton. Sadly, they use fungicides on their beans during growing seasons so there would be no bringing home of this coffee. Our household tries very hard to keep organic. 

Anyway, I learned all about how the beans were first discovered in Ethiopia and that Arabica beans are considered to be among the best, and how this plantation grafts their Arabica seedlings with  another inferior yet stronger root base plant so that the plants will flourish and not be killed by nematodes. Yikes. Coffee growing is complicated!

When it is time to harvest only the red beans are picked. Even then, when they are all dumped into a big basin filled with water (part of wet processing method), only the ones that sink to the bottom are kept for "premium" processing.

Then they are dried and go through a number of other selective processing. Some beans are sent out to coffee companies (like Starbucks) and they then do their own roasting but others are roasted here at the plantation and then packaged for sale, both locally and for export. 

It was fun to learn the process. We got to pick some red beans, squeeze the actual green coffee beans from within these and taste them at this early stage. I've got some photos I will upload later in an updated post. 

They hosted a nice lunch for us and we had a little time to relax, sip a cup of coffee and enjoy a delicious coffee mousse for dessert.

After the coffee tour we bid goodbye to our guide and made our way down the mountain a little to Antigua. It's a beautiful little city laid out as many others with lots of cobblestone streets in a large grid with a central plaza in the middle of the city. The city government building borders one side and the local
Cathedral another. Open market stalls selling crafts and street vendors hounded us mercilessly. I got really weary of saying "no, gracias" to these women and men offering their wares.

Pretty flowers at the Jade market

Antigua's government house

The Cathedral

Little girl taking a rest from selling her wares.

Everyone is involved in marketing and selling

We returned to the bus and relaxed in the cool air of the bus for our ride back to the ship. Along the way it began to thunder and lightning outside and the rain came down in droves! It almost lulled me to sleep.