All posts by theroff97

Yellowstone South Loop and Grand Teton

Location: Island Park, ID -> Yellowstone/Tetons -> Jackson, Wyoming

Good news: we slept in later than we had the previous mornings. Bad news: we still beat our alarms.  But waking up early allowed us to get a head start on the day, and just like our first full day in Yellowstone we needed as much time as we could get. Overall the park felt a little busier than Sunday.

As soon as we made it into Yellowstone we made a beeline for the geyser basins and started with the Firehole Lake Drive. We coincidentally arrived about a minute before the eruption of the Great Fountain Geyser. It was perhaps one of the more interesting eruptions we had seen (in Yellowstone, New Zealand, or Iceland), owing to how the water sprayed and spread out around the crater and flowed down natural terraces that previous eruptions had created over time.

Fountain Geyser
Fountain Geyser Steps

Next we went on a two mile hike along the Fairy Falls trail. Luckily we got there just before the crowds arrived. This hidden-in-plain-sight side trail goes up a hill that overlooks the Midway Geyser basin.  In the cool morning, the trail gave us a great view of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring reflecting off the steam. The trail itself ended atop a hill which gave an overhead view of the iconic landmark.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring steam reflections

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

We made a quick rest stop at Old Faithful, and was coincidentally there to see it erupt again. But no pics this time. We then drove across the park and had lunch at Lake Village, before driving north again to see Sulphur Canyon. They weren’t kidding around when they named that location. The sulfur was so overpowering that it stung our eyes. But it didn’t seem to bother the bison relaxing in between bubbling sulfur pools.

Sulphur Spring
The stench of sulfur clearly didn’t bother this relaxed bison.

Our last scenic stop at the park was at the Mud Volcano, where we saw the Dragon’s Mouth.

Mud Volcano
Dragon’s Mouth

We also passed the Great Continental Divide while driving in this part of the park.  A Continental Divide is a drainage divide on a continent. The Great Continental Divide is  series of mountain ridges stretching from Alaska to Mexico, marking the separation of drainage basins that empty into the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

At this point, we had spent most of the day in Yellowstone and had one more park to visit. So we drove south and exited the park. We had a short and uneventful drive on the John Rockfeller Memorial Parkway before entering Grand Teton National Park.

The Tetons are renowned for the iconic views of its distinctive mountains and excellent mountain hiking trails.  The park was much more crowded than Yellowstone, and Ryan suspects that a lot of the other visitors were there in part because of the eclipse yesterday. But we aren’t exactly known for our mountain climbing skills so this wasn’t a good fit for us. Sadly, it was the middle-late afternoon and hazy so we couldn’t get many good photos of the mountains.

But we did managed to get a few photos of the mountains and take a short hike near Jenny Lake and the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve.

We also saw the shrinking Teton glacier from the distance.

Teton Glacier

We left Grand Teton in the early evening and made our way into Jackson. It was supposed to be a short drive, but we got caught in the afternoon rush hour. After checking into the hotel (yay internet, air conditioning, comfortable bed!) we walked around the artsy and expensive downtown Jackson and had dinner.

Tomorrow we visit Fossil Butte National Monument, Fort Bridger State Park (for the Oregon Trail nostalgia), and finish in Vernal, Utah with Dinosaur National Monument.

Total national park passport stamps: 8

Total times Ryan checked the weather: 0

Total steps: 13,418

Total miles driven: 226

Osprey we saw in Yellowstone today

Great American Eclipse

Location: Rigby, Idaho

If you are reading this blog, you probably already know by the tagline “Total Eclipse of the Honeymoon” that we are eclipse chasers (see honeymoon, total; honeymoon, penumbral; Iceland, partial). And like so many other of our trips, we planned this one around another eclipse. We began early planning for “The Great American Eclipse” back in 2010/2011 when we realized that the next US total eclipse would pass in a desert near so many iconic national parks.

Today’s eclipse is being hailed as the most shared event on social media in human history, the greatest temporary migration of humanity due to a natural event, and perhaps the most populated the state of Idaho has ever been.

Enough background, we’re still on east coast time so we woke up naturally before sunrise. Yet again we skipped the snooze bar and got a head start on the day’s events. Ryan checked the traffic and saw that our 67 mile trip from Island Park (where there is no totality) to Rigby (eclipse centerline) would take about 70 min “with the normal traffic”. Traffic is a relative term of course, and what’s light traffic by east coast standards is heavy by Idaho standards. The steady line of cars on the highway was so long that we had trouble getting onto the road from our hotel. But once we joined herd it was a fairly steady (albeit 20 mph under the speed limit) drive into the path of totality. Traffic did mysteriously stop outside Ashton, Idaho.

But you aren’t here to read about Idaho’s historic traffic day, you’re here for the eclipse pics and we’ve got some great ones coming shortly.

We got to a friend’s house in Rigby, Idaho with about two hours to spare before eclipse first contact. We scouted out locations in their yard and selected one in the backyard with access to a shaded picnic table and chairs and a clear view of the sun. Rachel set up the cameras and Ryan helped explain the science and experience of eclipses and totality to the family.

Ryan was concentration so hard on the task at hand that he still maintains that he doesn't remember seeing a cat on the table.
Ryan doing eclipse calculations prior to the event to determine camera placement and angles

tl;dr

The weather was perfect and we saw the eclipse! Totality was an awe inspiring event again. We even heard gasps of amazement coming from our friends and even neighboring houses hundreds of feet away.

The partial eclipse phase before totality

First Contact
Partial Eclipse

Bailey’s Beads (just before/after totality when the light of the sun passes through the mountains and valleys on the moon and shines to the earth)

Prominences (large extensions of plasma extending from the Sun’s surface, usually as loops)

Diamond Ring (the last bright flash of light just before/after totality)

Diamond Ring at second contact

Totality

Totality with Mercury to the lower left

Partial eclipse after totality

One of our goals for this eclipse was to get a wide angle composite shot of the progression of the eclipse. We were successful. The picture below shows a quick attempt to show the entire eclipse event, with a tree and farmhouse in the foreground.

We waited a few hours after the eclipse ended to talk with our friends, have lunch, edit photos and videos, and let the traffic die down. Whereas many people arrived into the area over the last few days to get ready for the eclipse, most people all left at around the same time causing historic traffic jams.

Our friends recommended that on the drive back to Island Park that we take a detour to see the Mesa Falls. We would have done so on their advice alone, but Google maps also wanted us to take the detour to avoid the traffic on US20 North. Saving an hour of drive time, and that was five hours after the eclipse ended!

Tomorrow we go back into Yellowstone to explore the southern loop and visit Grand Teton National Park. We also relocate to Jackson, WY for the night.

Total pictures taken: 735

Total time in the moons shadow (totality): 2 min 17.7 sec

Total national park passport stamps: 0

Total times Ryan checked the weather: 1

Total times we checked traffic: lots

Yellowstone National Park North Loop

Location: Yellowstone National Park

We’re still on east coast time so we woke up before sunrise this morning. Rather than trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep, we elected to get the day started earlier than planned. We spent the day exploring the nothern end of Yellowstone National Park, and we needed every bit of the extra time.

Many people were thinking that the park was going to be extra busy today due to all of the eclipse tourists, with predictions of 3x-4x above normal. With a couple exceptions we didn’t have to wait long to find parking at the various sites, nor did we ever feel crowded when hiking around.

Our day began with a stop at Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring, and Monument Geyser Basin. But our first real experience hiking and seeing the geothermal sites was at the Artists Paintpots. There we saw steam vents and bubbling mud pits.

Beryl Spring
Overlook of the Artist Paintpots
Bubbling mud pit

But we spent most the morning at the Norris Geyser Basin. We couldn’t spend all day here so we had to choose between a hike of the Porcelain Basin to see its many hot springs, lakes and pools. Or take a longer ~2 mi hike of the back basin to see its many geysers. We decided on the back basin. Some of the geyser we saw included Steamboat, Puff ‘n stuff, Minute, and Echunis.

Steamboat Geyser
Cistern Geyser
Green Dragon Spring
Echinus Geyser
Overflow from Steamboat
Minute Geyser

Our next stop took us to Roaring Mountain

Roaring Mountain

and the Mammoth Hot Springs.

From there we proceeded east into the park making our way past Tower Junction and into the Lamar Valley. Prior to entering the valley Ryan lamented about the lack of bison (and other wildlife) we have seen today. But that quickly changed as soon as we started driving through along the road through the valley. We saw dozens of bison, many of which we grazing very close to the road.

Sleeping in the mud
A buck, not happy that humans are so close.

and even an osprey.

Two Osprey

For Rachel, the highlight of the day came when we got to see the Yellowstone Canyon and Waterfall. Parking and signage here was tight near the entrance so we took the first spot we could find and walked along the northern rim trail to various vantage points along the canyon. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Yellowstone Canyon – A basalt layer can be seen at the top as well as various ash layers (blueish-gray color).

Yellowstone Falls

We still had daylight to spare, so we went back west across the park and a bit south to visit more geysers at the lower and midway geysers basins. The most spectacular of which included the Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.

Sputtering Geyser
Crater of Excelsior Geyser
A preview of a better picture of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. Come back on Tuesday for a better view.

Finally, with little daylight to spare we exited the park, saw a few more mule deer by the river, and had dinner in West Yellowstone.

Young mule deer

Tomorrow we are going to watch the total eclipse in Rigby, Idaho. Yay totality!

Total steps: 24,132

Total geological formations visited: a lot!

Total times Ryan checked the weather for tomorrow: 4+ occasions of checking various weather predictions (we had no connectivity in the park).

Total national park passport stamps: 7

Total miles driven: 211

Bonus: Our first wildlife encounter of the day

Golden Spike and Geysers

Location: Salt Lake City, UT – Island Park, ID

Last night began our Eclipse and National Park trip. On Monday we plan on seeing a total eclipse in Idaho and through the week we will be visiting various national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, etc).

Last night we flew into Salt Lake City, UT. This morning we picked up our rental car and drove north towards Idaho.

We made a short detour on our drive north to visit Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is site where the intercontinental railroad was completed connecting the east and west coast. Ryan as a child loved trains and always wanted to visit this site. He even brought along his train engineer hat. Rachel had no objection to the detour and it made Ryan happy. Yay trains!

The site where the intercontinental railroad was completed connecting the east and west coast.

Ryan in a train.

Then we got back on the road towards Idaho. After 3+ hours, we arrived at our home for the next 2 nights in Island Park, ID. While driving, we noticed other eclipse heading north towards the path of totality. One RV even has a sign ‘Totality or Bust.’

We didn’t spend much time at the hotel and quickly headed towards Yellowstone National Park for our first of many visits.

First wildlife spotting: Mule Deer

Our plan was to visit Old Faithful today to avoid the big crowds expected tomorrow. We arrived just in time and didn’t have to wait long for Old Faithful to do its thing.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful

Coincidentally, Rachel had a camp friend also in the area whom we met at Old Faithful and had drinks and dinner to catch up.  We also watched another eruption of Old Faithful from the Inn.
After a nice dinner, we made our way back to the hotel.

Old Faithful from the Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful from the Old Faithful Inn

Tomorrow is an early as we plan to do the northern loop of Yellowstone. Rachel is very excited for all of the geology! Yay hot springs, geysers, and rocks!!

Total steps: 8,441

Total Miles Driven: 487 miles

Total States: 4 (Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)

Total National Park Stamps: 4

Total times Ryan obsessed over the weather forecast for Monday: 10-15 (significantly less than usual since he has been driving all day)

Equinox: Day at Sea IV, Water Spouts

Location: Heading north, rounding the west coast of Cuba.

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Even by our “Sea Day” standards we didn’t do much today. We slept in past 11. Booked next year’s discount December cruise. After lunch we sat out on the sun deck to tan and blond.

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Ryan took part in the fourth and last pool OlympiX of the cruise. It was the hula hoop game. Where teams locked hands and had to transfer a hula hoop from one person to the next down the line and back again, without breaking hands, first. The other team knew what they were doing and it moved down the line quickly. Ryan’s team did not know what to do. Somehow his team’s hoop fell out of the line between the first and second person. But using a loose but literal interpretation of the rules, it went from person-to-person and back very quickly. Ryan’s team won, by sucking at the sport!  The game was over in less than two minutes.

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Later in the day, we saw a couple waterspouts off the port side of the ship. Waterspouts are tornadoes the form over water. These weren’t enough to cause damage, and we were far enough away that it didn’t affect us. We did manage to snap a few photographs. Apparently these are common in Florida. For web searchers, we were somewhere between Havana and Key West, and around 3:30.

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In the evening, we saw the third and last production show of the cruise. The show was called Topper, and featured singing, dancing, and cirque acrobatics set to recent pop songs. The entertainers wore unique costumes ranging from something Aztec like, to flowers, to skateboard goth-punk. It was another entertaining show.

Today is the last full day of the cruise. Tomorrow we disembark. We plan to write one more post summarizing the trip and showing off better photographs from the trip.

Free purell squirts: 4

Total steps: 7,989

Spelunking Playa Del Carmen

Location: Cozumel, Mexico

Today was our second and last day in Cozumel. We booked an excursion that would take us to a nearby limestone cave on the mainland. We had to wake up pretty early this morning to take the tour, like earlier-than-the-oceanview-cafe-is-open early. Not because our excursion was particularly long, but because the Chichen Itza tour needed to leave really early, and they wanted all of the mainland tours to take and return on the same ferry.

So we left the sip at 7:00 and took the ferry across the channel to Playa del Carmen. Last year the voyage was pretty rough and lots of people got sea sick. We were extra prepared this time and wore seabands, took bonine beforehand and sat in the back of the boat. It wasn’t needed because the waters were pretty calm.

Next we met the pier guide and boarded a van to take us to “Rio Secreto” (or Secret River) site. From there we got into our swimwear (we had an option for wet suits), showered, put on life vests, hard-hats with lights, and equipped a walking stick. Then we took a short hike through the jungle to get to the cave. They claimed that we were entering the Mayan underworld, so a Mayan priest said a prayer and shook incense before us prior to going down the chasm.

This one cave is one of the largest in world, coming in about 27 miles long. There is another cave nearby which is nearly as large, if the two were discovered to be connected, then it would be the largest in the world.

We spent about 2 hours in the cave network. The only lights were from our hard-hats lights, guides flashlight, and the flash of the photographer’s camera. It could get very dark in there. We traveled about half a mile during that time and went between 20-60 feet deep. We had to navigate and climb over and between stalactites and stalagmites. And for prolonged periods we had to wade through waist-deep water. The water was comfortably cool/warm, about 75F. The path through our section of the cave, nicknamed “Happy” was generally clear. Our trek through the lava tube in Iceland was more challenging. At times our guide stopped to briefly talk about the formation of the chamber and some of the geology of the cave. Rachel occasionally added to the conversation with her geology background. During this time the group photographer would sneakily preposition himself to get pictures of us going through the cave.

You might be wondering at this point ‘Where are Rachel’s photographs?’ Well there aren’t any. We weren’t allowed to bring our cameras on this tour. We did have an option to buy photos of our tour at the end, but they weren’t the most flattering. Plus, when Ryan heard the price he asked “US Dollars or Pesos?!”. …So this post will be a little devoid of original photos. But you can see a few examples on the company’s website.

Toward the end of our journey through the cave we had to forgo hiking and actually swim through the underground river to progress through network. We were very adept at the swim, especially compared with the rest of the group.

Eventually our journey through the underground river came to an end and we made our way back to the surface. We dropped off our gear at the station then went to food-hut for lunch. An authentic Mexican buffet lunch was provided. We heeded the warming about the very hot and spicy sauces and had a mild lunch. Others in the group ignored those warnings to their own dismay.

Following lunch we were driven back to Playa del Carmen. We had about two hours here of free time before we could catch the water taxi back to Cozumel. We couldn’t leave any earlier, and we had to wait for the Chichen Itza tour to return so that all of the mainland tours could arrive at the ship at the same time.

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We spent some of this time at the beach. And even took a short break for ice cream before taking the water taxi back to the ship.

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Tonight’s entertainment was David Guidice, who performed a Billy Joel tribute on piano. Always fun.

Tonight was also lobster night. We each had two lobster tails.

Tomorrow is a day at sea and our last full day of the cruise. We don’t plan to be very active, just more of the usual. If we don’t post tomorrow, we’ll post the following day.

Free purell squirts: 3

Total steps: 10,090

Total distanced caved: ~ half a mile underground, but a quarter mile through the jungle

 

San Gervasio Mayan Ruins

Location: Cozumel, Mexico

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Today we are back in Cozumel, Mexico. We were here last year and took a tour of the Chitzen Itza ruins in Yucatan. Today we set out to explore the San Gervasio ruins here on Isla Cozumel.

These ruins were dedicated to the Mayan goddess of the moon and fertility. Leigh and Becky, who did not join us on the tour, were very happy to hear about the latter. 😉

It was hard to appreciate the meaning behind many of the ruins. Luckily our guide Cesar was able to give everyone the necessary background on Mayan mythology and numerology to understand the architecture and symbolism of the sites.

The ruins were more modest than what we toured last year. We saw the temple dedicated to moon goddess…

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and another to both the sun and moon.

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We also saw the gates and road to the city.

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After the visiting the ruins our tour took us to a beach on the Caribbean side of the island. We spent about 90 min here relaxing in the cove and occasionally lying in the hammocks.

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The evening show was the Broadway Intimate Cabaret. The ship’s singers sang a variety of Broadway hits.

Tonight, we also joined Becky and Leigh for dinner in Murano, the ship’s French specialty restaurant. The food was delicious.

We overnight in Cozumel tonight. And tomorrow we go on tour of an underground river cenote on the mainland.

Total steps: 9670

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Equinox: Day at Sea III

Location: About 90 miles off the coast of Nicaragua heading north

Today was our third sea day of the cruise. Per our plan, we accomplished nothing. In the morning we went out on the sun deck to tan and blond. We had lunch at the Asian-fusion specialty restaurant, Silk Harvest, with Leigh and Becky. The food was great! In the afternoon, Rachel went to the casino and Ryan went back up to the sun deck.

Incidentally the ship was sailing at 30 kts today. We must be in some sort of current to sail so fast. As a result the ship has been rocking more than it has the last few days.

The view from our balcony.
The view from our balcony.

Speaking of rocking, the evening entertainment was the Tenors of Rock, a 5-man group (although only 4 were here tonight) who sing rock songs ranging from the 60’s to 80’s including works by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Kiss, and more. For an audience that didn’t recognize Livin’ on a Prayer the other night, they sure loved this set (which opened with Livin’ on a Prayer). We really enjoyed the show. They are very talented singers who had a unique take on rock music. You don’t often hear harmony during Sweet Child O’ Mine.

Midday tomorrow we make port in Cozumel, Mexico. We will be going on a tour of San Gervasio Mayan ruins and then we will relax on the beach.

Free purell squirts: 7

Total steps: 7,026

Costa Rica Rainforest

Location: Limon, Costa Rica

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Today we made port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This was another port that we were really looking forward to visiting, because today we were going to explore a real tropical rain forest. No, Tijuca didn’t really count. This was a full day tour, we were one of the first people to leave the ship and one of the last to get back on board.

Our excursion started off with a river cruise through the Tortuguero Canals. We were told beforehand that this would be our best opportunity to see wildlife that day, due in part to it being early in the day, near water, and relatively out in the open. We spent about an hour cruising through the canals. During this time we were able to see…

…howler monkeys…

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…a two toed sloth…

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…an active three toed sloth…

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…cayman…

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…crocodiles…

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…various birds…

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Kingfisher
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Green-backed Heron
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Cormorant

… and more!

Green Basilisk
Green Basilisk
Bats (very small bats)
Bats (very small bats)

Following the river cruise we drove about 2 hours inland toward the mountains. It was here that we spent time at a private reserve near a national park. We started our tour there on a nature hike where we saw carpenter ants, bullet ants and:

toucans

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and an anteater.

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We had an authentic Costa Rican lunch with lots of yummy foods. It poured during lunch time. But luckily it cleared up in time for our tree top gondola ride.

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A naturalist guide joined us in the gondola as we cruised through the rain forest both near the forest floor and a hundred feet up at the tree tops.

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We returned to the ship just before last call. In the evening we saw Mark Preston of The Lettermen.

Tomorrow is our third day at sea. We plan to accomplish nothing.

Number of primates: 2, howler monkey and human

Number of pilose: 3 (anteater, two toed and three toed sloths)

Free purell squirts: 9

Total steps: 8,299

 

The Atlantic Locks of the Panama Canal

Location: Colon, Panama

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Last night we posted the blog and tried to go to bed early for our early morning excursion to transit the Panama Canal. But things didn’t quite go as expected. Soon after uploading last night’s post we got notification that the ferry that is used for the excursion to transit the canal was down for repairs, and that our excursion was cancelled. Because it was so last minute, we were only given three options as a replacement:

  1. Going to a shopping mall in Panama City
  2. Visiting Portobelo, Panama which according to the tour description “is severely affected by poverty, the facilities are substandard”
  3. Visiting the Gatun and Agua Clara Locks of the Panama Canal

Regardless of disappointment we booked the locks tour late last night. Our tour would limit us to one ocean, one continent, and no water transportation.

This morning Ryan was in a mood. But we still got breakfast and boarded a tour bus that first drove to Gatun locks area. Along the way we learned that there are no traffic laws in the Colon Province (this is actually true), and that most of the countries economy comes from the Colon province, but all of that money gets reinvested into the Pacific coast side of the country. And it really showed while driving through Colon.

We started our tour of the locks at the new (one year old) Agua Clara locks visitor center. These are the newest locks of the canal and are about 60% bigger, but use 60% less fresh water than the previous locks.

Agua Clara Locks
Agua Clara Locks

But because they are so much bigger they are also slower. We were at the visitor center for about 1.5 hours and only managed to see one larger super-carrier make it though 1 of the 3 locks.

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After that we went to the older Gatun locks.  We were there for about 45 minutes and saw a couple ships pass through the locks.

Driving over the Agua Clara Locks. That is the same container ship from the previous pictures.
Driving over the Agua Clara Locks. That is the same container ship from the previous pictures.

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Ryan, Rachel, Becky, and Leigh
Ryan, Rachel, Becky, and Leigh

We also got to see the use of the mule trains which help move the ships through the locks.

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And play engineer on a model mule near the entrance.

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Overall it was a pretty neat tour. It’s still upsetting that we couldn’t transit the canal on this trip as planned. But we suppose it prevents us from doing it twice if/when we come back again to do a proper cruise ship canal transit.

We made it back to the ship in time for lunch. One “advantage” to having out tour cancelled and rebooking a different one was that we could take advantage of the “in-port” prices for a massage. A relaxing massage ensued later that afternoon.

In the evening we saw the production show Elysium. It was entertaining as always.

Today also marked the southern most part of the trip at (9.3 N).

Tomorrow we make port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, where we’ll go on a tour of the rain forest.

Total Oceans: 1 (North Atlantic)

Total Continents: 2 (South America – on foot, and North America by sight)

Free purell squirts: 6

Total steps: 8,779

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