Although people have lived in this area for 4,000 year, it wasn’t until the mid 1500’s before the city as we know it was founded. Originally an important port for Spanish trade, it has withstood numerous attacks by foreign governments and pirates. A large part of this has been the construction of a major defensive wall, most of it still exists today.
The old city has a wall of some 9 miles long, and entrance is through the clock tower. Inside, you will find narrow roads, but colorful buildings, many with balconies with flowers and decorations. There are parks and museums, but it is hot here…. the average high temperature is 90F all year round!
Once outside the old city, it is a large and modern place. High rise apartments and office complexes as far as the eye can see. Truly a city with both the old and the new.
Below are some pictures; for a full album click on the Flickr link (below right) and click on Albums.
In order to make the Panama Canal work, they had to flood a large valley. This lake is now called Gatun Lake, and houses a wide variety of wildlife. Much of this was viewed from a small boat. In addition to the usual birds, we even saw (and heard) a Howler Monkey. They are loud!
On the way to the lake, the bus made a quick stop so we could view a rare two toed sloth up in a tree. we watched, it climbed higher… and the branch broke and the surprised sloth was at our feet! An unusual experience.
Certainly the Panama Canal was one of the highlights of our trip. After reading all about it, listening to lectures about it, and seeing the old movies about it, the trip through the canal was fantastic. Just seeing the place that had the huge political history, emphasized by the thousands who lost their life building it was thrilling.
Our ship, the Celebrity Infinity, was a “Panamax” ship, meaning it was as large as was allowed. Our ship, 985 feet long, just fit in the 1,000 foot locks… with 1 1/2 feet per side!
We were lucky enough to see the new locks being built on both the Atlantic and Pacific side. They are huge, each gate weighs over 350 tons! Once these are finished, shipping capacity will be dramatically increased.
It will be interesting to see if, and how, the proposed Nicaragua and Northwest Passage canals could affect the ongoing Panama operations.
As usual, all albums may be found by clicking on the Flickr link (lower right) and then clicking on Albums.
Our second leg of the cruise started in the port city of Valparaiso. Unfortunately, serious fires the night before our arrival meant so much smoke in the air we didn’t even go off the ship for our customary walk. So, we sat around in the the terminal until we could re-board the ship.
After 2 sea days, we arrived at Arica, Chile. In the rain… the first rain for this city in FORTY YEARS! Locals were very excited by the rain. We took a cruise to view the geoglyphs, enormous figures on the hill side. Based on their location and orientation, it is presumed these were navigational aids to find your way out of the desert to the sea.
A visit to the local museum introduced us to the Chinchorro mummies. These 7,000 year old mummies pre-date Egyptian ones by some 2,000 years, and show an entirely different civilization existed here. They used a most unique mummification technique. Careful preservation is necessary as the humidity, even as low as it is, is increasing which affects the mummy materials.
Although arid, this area has excellent soil, so with irrigation it is a big producer of many types of fruit and vegetables. Because there is only one season here all year, there are no seasonal products… everything grows all year. Especially olives, a major crop.
Our next stop was supposed to be Lima, but a problem with the completion of dock construction diverted us to Pisco, Peru. There is really nothing to do or see here unless you take expensive excursions, so we stayed on board until we departed for Manta, Ecuador
Manta proved to be quite interesting. This is the area where the Panama Hat originated, and it still is one of the mainstay industries in this area. The ladies who weave the hats have a very unique way of working!
The St. Mark’s church is particularly interesting… it was designed and pre-fabbed by Gustav Eiffel (before the Eiffel tower) and shipped with two other buildings to Arica. These were to replace originals destroyed by an earthquake. All the metal pieces fit together and require a key to assemble/disassemble them. When Peru lost the territory in a war they took the “church key” with them.
As usual, click on the Flickr link (below right) and then Albums to see all photo albums. Our next stop: the Panama Canal.
Our second week was spectacular. It started with a cruise around Cape Horn, known as end of the world. This is where the Pacific, Atlantic and Antartic oceans meet. We were luck with calm weather: 12 foot seas and 50 mph winds. Two days later, and winds were 80mph+ and 30-40ft. waves!
We then cruised through the Chilean fjords. Specifically, through the Beagle Channel, and had a great look of the glaciers that line this channel. This took us to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. We hiked a local ski area and got our End of World certificate. And had some king crab, locally caught.
Our visit to Punta Arenus was cancelled due to hurricane force winds. The port was closed, so the captain decided to divert to the seldom visited Skua glacier. This is one of Chile’s main glaciers, about 13 miles long and runs into the ocean. We had a great view of the glacier and ocean interface.
Our next stop was Puerto Montt, Chile. A rather small city, whose main income was fishing. We visited the fish market, and based on our observations, wouldn’t want to eat anything from there. Not sanitary to our standards. On to Santiago, our last stop of this, the first leg of our cruise.
Again, a few pictures are ;posted below. our full albums are on Flicker (below right). Click on Albums to see the list of albums.
Although our cruise started in Buenos Aires, we actually didn’t leave port until the second day. Instead, we had a tour of a local ranch, where we learned about their lifestyle. We viewed the ranch, watched horsemanship demos, learned more about folk dances, and ate some local barbecue. Washed it down with a local red wine.
Our first true port of call was Montevideo, Uruguay. Uruguay has some 300 million cows, and 3 million people. So local industry was heavily skewed to leather and beef. We had a pleasant stroll through the city and “shopped” a local art fair. A storm was brewing, and we made it back to the ship just before a major storm struck. Others were not so lucky, and got a good soaking.
A short cruise brought us to Punta del Este, a local hotspot for the rich and famous. Beautiful beaches and a cheap economy makes it a haven for people like Madonna and Leonardo deCaprio, who frequent this area. But we also saw the poor side of the area, showing the contrast between the haves and have nots.
We ended out first week at Puerto Madryn, AR. Not exactly a tourist town, but a 2 hour drive in a cramped van brought us to Punto Tomo, a major rookery for Magellan penguins. Thousands of them were here, we saw penguins from hatchlings to elders. We also some some local rather rare birds and small mammals.
A few pictures are shown below, but feel free to click on the Flickr link (below, right) then click on Albums for our complete albums.