Saturday, April 22, 2017

Remaining Scenery
The last few days of our cruise were rather quiet.  There were a couple more ports of call, but unfortunately, we came down with what I call the “shipboard crud” and we really didn’t feel like venturing off the ship.  However, that didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy some lovely scenery!
Morning Mountain
As we sailed along the Mexican coast, we did see a mountain highlighted by the early morning sunrise.  I love the way it seems to be sort of rising out of the mist.
Going Out for the Day
As we were pulling into port at Cabo San Lucas, I noticed this fishing boat heading out for a day of deep sea fishing (I think!) in the early morning light.  I just love the feel of this image – very serene.
Cabo San Lucas Arch
One of the more famous views of Cabo San Lucas is this arch.  Interestingly, if we had gone ashore, I wouldn’t have been able to capture this image of it.  This was our view from our cabin balcony.
Cabo Cave – Perspective
As we were leaving Cabo San Lucas (it was a short day there), and we sailed just past the arch, I noticed this cave.  I purposefully am including an image with a boat in it, so that you can get a sense of how large this cave is!  I’m not certain if people can actually reach the cave.  The water looks calm here, but just a few minutes before (and after) this was shot the waves were crashing into the mouth of the cave!
Almost Home
We certainly did have some wonderful sunrises on this cruise.  Our balcony was positioned so that we got to get full enjoyment of the sunrises – and we did!  This sunrise greeted us for our last day at sea. 
Early Morning San Diego
The day ended up being sunshine-y in San Diego, but first, the sun needed to burn off the morning fog and mist.  As we pulled into San Diego port, I thought this was a lovely view of the city!  In all, even with the shipboard crud, we did have a wonderful, fun time on our Panama Canal cruise!
Flor de Cana – Corinto, Nicaragua
When we visited Corinto, we went on an excursion to a rum distillery.  Now, I did this mainly for Jeff, as he likes rum.  I, however, had never tasted a rum that I cared for.  I told him I’d be a good participant and try some (the tour came with a tasting), but I was certain he would end up finishing my tasting.
Distillery Logo
This distillery is family owned and has been in operation since 1890.  It has been passed down thru the generations, and is still going strong.  They pride themselves on the aging of their rums.
Museum and Shop
This only looks like an oddly shaped barrel.  It’s really a small museum, with a few antiques from the founder of the distillery and a souvenir type shop, where, in addition to t-shirts and dresses, one can also buy some of their rum (what a coincidence!).  Also, in an upper loft, one can pay for a tasting of some rum that is aged 25 years – it’s a bargain at about $160/bottle! (Or so they say!)
Not Water Tanks
These may look like water tanks, but they’re not.  We weren’t clear exactly what’s in it – except that it’s rum in some stage of being processed from sugar cane liquid or a type of molasses.  The molasses ends up getting distilled, and then the rum that results from that is aged. 
Reconstructing Used Barrels
When the rum is ready to begin the aging process, the Flor de Cana rum distillery has found that old Jack Daniels barrels make an excellent vessel for aging their rum.  They import used barrels from Jack Daniels – the barrels that are used for bourbon.  They only use those, as they give their rum a distinctive taste that Flor de Cana is known for.
Where Rum is Aged
Flor de Cana prides itself on its aged rum.  The “youngest” rum that will carry the Flor de Cana name has been aged 4 years.  However, the also have rum that has been aged 12, 18 and 25 years.  The longer its aged, the smoother it tastes, and more expensive it costs!  We were taken into this building where some rum that has been aged 30 years was kept.  This is not sold, and is generally only used by the family (to serve on special occasions or for very good friends), but we were all allowed a very small sip – yow!  It was mighty powerful! I did enjoy the whimsical shape of the door, too!
Served on Old Rum Barrels
When we were being served our first tasting, we were shown into a room with some great atmosphere, which was aided by the use of old rum barrels as tasting tables!  They served the rum tasting in some nice sipping glasses, and we were only given straight rum.  This was the rum that has been aged 18 years.  I was hesitant, but I said I’d try it, so I did.  And, guess what?  I don’t dislike rum – however, I only like expensive rum!
Yep, Jeff enjoyed all the tastings – the 12 year rum, the 18 year rum, the 30 year rum and when we got to the museum/shop, we did go up to the loft and sampled the 25 year old rum!  Needless to say, we were pretty happy returning to the ship!
Corinto, Nicaragua
The next stop on our cruise was in Nicaragua, a town called Corinto.  We had a very fun excursion there, but before I tell you about that, I want to share some of the beautiful views we saw.
Impression of Sunrise
It was very humid in Nicaragua, and when I stepped out onto our balcony on the ship, the humidity caused my lens to become foggy.  It was kind of like a soft-focus filter, and gave me this lovely view of the early morning sunrise.
Nicaraguan Volcanoes
It was rather hazy out, so I wasn’t able to get any really good shots of the countryside, but in this one you can see a few mountains.  Actually, they are volcanoes, and many in Nicaragua are active volcanoes.  In fact, Nicaragua was one of the two countries considered for what we now know as the Panama Canal.  The reason given for why Nicaragua wasn’t chosen was the volcanic activity, altho some say that was just a convenient excuse!
Red Sky at Night
The old saying for those sailing is “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”  If this evening sky is to be believed, the sailors were all happy campers on this night!
End of Day
There was something about the small fishing boats anchored in a bay we sailed by as we left the area that appealed to me.  It just seemed so peaceful, and reminded me of some song Linda Ronstadt sang…..or was it Jimmy Buffet?
Be Your Own Light
This is another lovely evening view as we left the Corinto port.  I just love photographing lighthouses – however, there aren’t very many of them in New Mexico!  You may be wondering how we spent the day in Corinto – check out the next blog post to find out!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Costa Rican Blooms
At both of our stops on Costa Rica, we saw some beautiful blooms and plants.  Come and take a brief view of some of them…..
Poas Volcano Blooms
Maybe it’s the rich soil that I can’t help but think is around volcanos, but the blooms sure are pretty along the walk to the volcano….
Leaf Texture – Poas Volcano
I was also struck by the incredible texture on some of the green plants along the way – with the reddish veins adding a touch of Christmas color…
Delicate Bloom
This bloom reminded me of Queen Anne’s Lace, but it wasn’t that flower.  I’m not certain what it was – a variation perhaps…
In the Woods
As we walked back from the volcano to the tour bus, I noticed this very peaceful woodland scene, with the roughness of a cut tree branch offset by the tiny shaded bloom…
Intimate Woodland Portrait
I love this image of a woodland bloom, getting ready to burst open.  The dappled sunlight peeking thru the trees seemed to shine a spotlight on it…
Brilliant Red Coffee Plantation Bloom
I previously mentioned that the coffee plantation had a butterfly garden on its grounds.  Well, you can’t have butterflies without some lovely blooms to attract them…
Full Hydrangea Bloom
This hydrangea bloom was just picture perfect, and I decided was best shown off with a watercolor painting effect…
Hydrangea Garden
Again, what a lovely portrait of the portion of the garden that seemed to be devoted to hydrangeas…
Interesting Blooms at the Coffee Plantation
I felt very lucky to get to see this bloom (and I apologize, but I have no idea what it is) in a couple of its lifecycle stages.  In the upper left image, it’s almost ready to burst forth into bloom.  A promise of the colors to come!  In the middle (lower) image, you can see a close up of one of the blossoms on the plant.  It sort of looks like some sort of sea creature, I think, complete with what looks to be an eye!  The 3rd image (upper right) shows you the complete bloom, with lots and lots of the the sea creature like blossoms in full display!
Daka Estate Coffee Plantation – Costa Rica
Our next stop was to visit a coffee plantation.  Those of you who know me well, know that I am not a coffee drinker.  However, I do like the smell of it, and was certainly willing to check out where Costa Rican coffee comes from (at least one place!).
Coffee Beans
Since 1940, the Vargas family has dedicated itself to growing coffee.  One interesting note about Costa Rican coffee – only 10% of the coffee produced in Costa Rica is consumed locally.  About 90% of it is exported.
Coffee Plant Bloom
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Before there are coffee beans, there is a lovely bloom on the coffee plant.  When we were there, most of the plants were past the bloom stage, as it was getting to the end of the summer season, instead of just beginning, as it is for us in the US.  These lovely delicate little blooms, end up producing the coffee beans that many folks love to grind and then enjoy brewed each morning!
Coffee Beans in Storage
As we walked along the various stops on our tour, one of the places that impressed me was the storage barn (it seemed like a barn to me, minus the animals!), where the coffee was stored after drying and processing.  The bags have markings on them, indicating when they were placed in this storage facility.
Best Quality Coffee Beans
Which of these bags contain the best quality coffee – that is to say, which has been processed the most and is ready for sale?  Answer: the bag at the top of the image, furthest away from me.  The way you can tell this is by the overall even color of the beans.  The beans in the farthest bag were truly all of an even color.  Not much variation at all!
Different Roasting Times
These coffee beans are all from the same plants!  Why do they look so different?  Different roasting times.  The longer they are roasted, the darker the beans get.  And, the difference in roasting times is only a couple of minutes difference between each batch!
Mama Banana Plant
However, coffee plants weren’t the only thing we saw on the coffee plantation.  There were quite a few banana plants around.  Here’s a photo of a plant with some bananas on the top portion of the plant.  One interesting thing about banana plants – the plant will only produce as many bananas as it can support and nourish.  The bottom of the plant reflects additional potential bananas that never developed because the plant determined it couldn’t support the growth of them.  Another interesting thing is that after producing this one crop of bananas, the plant sends off a shoot to begin another plant, and then this “mother” plant, dies.  Only one batch of bananas per plant.
Beautiful Butterflies
Another cool place on the coffee plantation was the butterfly garden.  Here’s an image of what looks like a beautiful butterfly (actually two are in this image).  It is beautiful, but all we can see is the underside of its wings.  When it flies (and is impossible to photograph!), you can see the upper side of its wings which are an impossibly brilliant shade of blue!

Poas Volcano – Costa Rica
Our next port of call was Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  They actually called in Puerto Caldera (Caldera Port) because of the active volcano fairly close to the port.  Costa Rica has a fair amount of volcanic activity still going on there, altho I don’t know that any of them is in a position to threaten the population.
Clear View of Poas Volcano Crater
It was a bit of a drive to reach the national park where this particular volcano was located, and then once we arrived there, it was a bit of a walk (maybe ½ mile at most) to reach the viewpoint to look into the crater.  The liquid in the caldera of the volcano is water.  This volcano spews water when it erupts – that’s different from any other volcano that I had ever heard of!
Poas Volcano – Clouds Drifting
We were told that we were actually pretty lucky to have such a clear view of the caldera, because frequently, the clouds cover the volcano. This volcano, like others and like mountains, frequently creates its own weather, and that weather generally looks like clouds!
Poas Volcano – Clouds Rolling Up from the Valley
When I looked to the left of the caldera, I could see a bank of clouds that were rolling up what I think of as the eruption path.  When the volcano erupts, generally, the water and whatever other material is in the blast, travels down the mountain following this path.  You can see how along the floor of the path, vegetation is a bit scarce.
Active Poas Volcano
This close up is proof that this really is an active volcano – check out the steam rising from the caldera!  The water that the volcano shoots forth when it erupts is drawn from a lagoon not far off to the right of the caldera, altho it was too far away to actually see. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

End of the Panama Canal
As we left the Calebra Cut, and headed to the 3rd set of locks, we approached a very tall bridge called the Bridge of the Americas.  It is possible to drive from Alaska all the way south to the tip of South America.  This bridge allows the route to continue across the Panama Canal.
Bridge of the Americas
You can’t really see how tall the bridge is in the above image.  However, in the image below, you can get an idea of how tall it is.  We were sitting on our balcony, looking up to the bridge.
Traveling Under the Bridge
Farewell to the Canal
We watched the last lock doors swinging shut on our trip thru history.  Amazing how smoothly things run on this over 100 year old piece of technology!
Sunset on Panama Canal Day
A final farewell to this most wonderful day..Enjoy!
Culebra Cut
The Culebra Cut is the narrowest part of the Canal, and measures 12.7 kilometers (approximately 8 miles) long. The entire Canal measures about 48 miles, so this cut is about 1/6 the entire length of the Canal.
Calebra Cut
The Calebra Cut segment was excavated thru rock and limestone of the Continental Divide of the Isthmus of Panama.  The water level at this point is about 85 feet above sea level.  One of the great difficulties in this part of the construction was landslides.
Traffic from Opposite Direction
This was one of the few times that we saw any Canal traffic traveling in the opposite direction.  I’m not certain why the traffic seemed to be traveling in the same direction as us, but there you have it!  This does give us a good perspective about how narrow the cut was at this point.
Dredging Operations
One of the things that goes on constantly is a dredging operation to keep the Calebra Cut deep enough for ships to pass thru.  The right of the image reflects the area where the material dredged up was deposited. 
Natural Shoreline of the Calebra Cut
Again, I was once again amazed at how natural the scenery was all along the Canal Zone.  What a peaceful view!
Gatun Lake Waiting Room
There’s another thing that surprised me was that there was a very large lake, Gatun Lake that served as a sort of waiting room for the ships as they traveled thru the Canal.  Again, the surroundings were very natural, and I wouldn’t know we were in the middle of a canal zone, if I hadn’t paid attention to the passage thru the first set of locks!
Gatun Lake Rainbow
Our cabin wasn’t facing the large part of the lake, but what we did see from the privacy of our cabin balcony, was this rainbow.  There had been a rain shower off the ship and we were rewarded with a lovely rainbow!
End of the Rainbow
It’s not often that I get to photograph the end of a rainbow, but I was lucky enough to capture this!
Gatun Locks Second Lock
First, let me say don’t worry!  I won’t bore you with walking you thru each and every lock we passed thru on this journey thru the Panama Canal.  However, there were some cool sights as we made our way thru the second lock.  And, just fyi in this first set of locks, the Gatun Locks, there were 3 locks.  Overall, there are 3 sets of locks that we travel thru to reach the Pacific Ocean.

Fitting into the Second Lock
I was amazed at how close we came to the edges of the locks!  In this image, it looks like we’re going to hit the guard house on our left!  We do come close!
Suck it in
Yes, we were as close to the side as the Princess ship in the lock next to us!  However, I thought this was a great image to let you see how close things come!
Close to the Guard House
You’ll recognize the small silver car that guides us thru the locks.  In this image, I’m looking directly down.  We are within inches of the edge of the lock, then the car and then the roof of the guard house are shown in the image, from bottom to top of the image.  Tight fit!!