Category Archives: Caribbean

Harmony of the Seas

Location: Labadee, Haiti -> Fort Lauderdale, FL

So remember how we posted that if we don’t write a post and upload every night, that we would fall behind and never post anything on time…. whelp… this post is about a week an a half late. FWIW, we had a relaxing vacation!

On the Thursday of vacation we made port in Labadee, Haiti. We were here about a year and a half ago. Since then it has been built up even more.

We didn’t have any excursions planned here so we slept in more than we did yesterday. In the morning Ryan got in a few rides on the flowrider. He’s improved since the last time.

But he still wipes out.

Midday we took advantage of a relatively empty ship and hung out at the pool. Ryan went on the water slides a few times and Rachel soothed her muscles in the hot tub.

In the afternoon, Rachel played mahjong with Becky and Leigh. Ryan got off the ship and enjoyed the beach for about an hour in Labadee.

In the evening we saw the dive show “The Fine Line”. Everyone really enjoyed it. There were the usual acts of amazing dexterity and a lack of respect for gravity that we’ve come to expect from Oasis class dive shows. And it was set to mashups of music lifted from Ryan’s iPod, so you know he loved it.

Dinner was delicious as always. But we really really liked the asian style pork tacos. Ryan got seconds and others were inspired to get it as an additional appetizer.

After dinner we saw a comedy show which featured Troy Thirdgill. We last saw him on the Millennium over five years ago. He’s updated his act since then and targeted it towards an older audience. We laughed a lot.

Friday was an at-sea day and our last full day on the ship. It was just as relaxing and unproductive as every other day on this trip. In the morning Leigh got up the courage to go on one of the water slides. He had to remove his jewelry before he could go down the slide. He left it with Becky.

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Leigh and  Ryan had a race to the bottom where Mark, Myrna, Becky, and Rachel were watching.

Ryan coming down the slide.
Leigh coming down the slide.

The rest of the day was spent with various relaxing activities. Ryan went to the solarium to tan and blond. Rachel, Leigh, and Becky went to play mahjong. In the early afternoon the six of us went to see Grease in the main theatre. We enjoyed it.

After the show Rachel went to the casino. Ryan wanted to try the florider again but the weather didn’t cooperate. So instead he took a nap and then went around the ship taking photos of various curiosities. He found these garden gnomes in central park. Clearly the crew like to have a little fun.

Ryan also got a kick out of seeing a blue footed booby on a mast on the ship’s miniature golf course. He pointed out that it should be a red footed booby because those rest on branches, whereas blue footed will only rest on the ground. Ahh the things we learned in the Galapagos.

We disembarked from the ship Saturday morning. We all had global entry and cleared customs much more quickly than our last cruise through FLL. A few hours later we returned to Port St. Lucie. Noah was very happy to see us again!

Some Noah cuteness!

Join us again in December when we go on another Caribbean cruise, but this time to some new islands that we haven’t explored yet. But… look out for a special post in a couple of weeks.

 

Trip Totals:

Total hotels: 1

Total aircraft: 2

Total watercraft: 3

Total miles flown: 1812

Total miles sailed: 2494

Total steps: 80,338

Total airports: 3 (BWI, FLL, PBI)

Total countries: 3 (US, Sint Maarten, Haiti)

Total states and territories: 3 (Maryland, Florida, Puerto Rico)

 

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Puerto Rican Window Cave

Location: San Juan and Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Wednesday was a typical excursion day: wake up before the sunrise to go to some far off locale. On the one hand we got far less sleep than we were accustomed to during the last week. But on the other hand we got to see sunrise over the San Juan fortress.

We made port in San Juan, then got off the ship and took a bus about 75 km west to the Arecibo region. Along the way we saw some of the damage from Hurricane Maria. There were still downed cables in San Juan and blue plastic tarps over roofs both inside and outside the city.

Our tour today was a short walk through the rain forest and a short journey through two limestone caves to eventually see the window cave.

The damage from Hurricane Maria wasn’t as obvious in the forested area. We learned that the winds damaged the fruit bearing trees in this region and they haven’t sprouted new fruit yet. This has taken its toll on the fruit bats that used to live in the nearby caves. The fruit bat population has since dropped from a few thousand to about 20.

We walked though two caves. The first cave had wide entrances on both ends and never got truly dark. Inside we could see ancient petroglyphs.

The second cave was longer and has some very dark rooms. It was also required a more strenuous descent to get into the cave. It didn’t take long to make our way through cave to see the famous window.

Afterwards we returned to the ship to get lunch and relax. We left around 2:00 and we got more pictures of the fortress as we left the harbor.

Wednesday night was formal night. We got group pictures with Becky and Leigh, had lobster dinner and saw a stage show. Last night’s show was “Columbus” which was a fictional and comedic take on the story of Christopher’s lesser known cousin Marvin. It featured a smorgasbord of hits from Broadway and pop music.  It had its moments, and destructed the fourth wall on many occasions. Overall, it was entertaining.

Our next port of call is Labadee, Haiti.

 

Return to Sint Maarten

Location: Sint Maarten

We’re on the road again, or more accurately, we’re on the seas again. In the past we would make a post everyday we’re on a trip. But this time, we’re not on trip, we are on vacation. So rather than writing a short throw-away post talking about an eventful flight, or “Rachel went to the casino and Ryan took a nap, we’re combining a few days into one post to make it less boring to read.

Also, since we’re on a legitimate vacation, we just didn’t feel like spending time on a blog post.

Friday night we flew from Maryland to Fort Lauderdale. We got into the hotel late and went right to bed. On Saturday morning we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the port where we boarded the Harmony of the Seas.  We met up with Rachel’s parents (Leigh and Becky) and godparents (Mark and Myrna) after boarding the ship.

The Harmony is an Oasis class ship and currently the largest cruise ship in the world. It shares a lot in common with its sister ship. The most noticeable difference is that this ship has three water slides and two very tall dry slides.

Ryan took advantage of the lesser crowds on embarkation day and went on the dry slide The Ultimate Abyss. This attraction features two slides that drop over ten stories down to the boardwalk. The explicitly forbid GoPros and other cameras in the slide for safety reasons. Ryan really enjoyed it and went down the slide twice. Meanwhile Rachel learned that its faster to wait in line and go down that slide, than it is to take the elevator from the 16th deck to the 6th deck.

The entrance to the Ultimate Abyss!
A view looking down to the boardwalk and the Ultimate Abyss.

Sunday was our first “At Sea” day. The ship was predictably crowded. We went to the solarium and tanned for a couple hours. It was surprisingly easy to find deck chairs there. In the afternoon Rachel went to the casino and Ryan took a nap. In the evening we went to the ice show “1887.” It was a very entertaining show.

Monday was a repeat of Sunday. Midday tanning at the solarium. Afternoon nap and gambling. In the late afternoon Ryan tried the water slides. All of the slides had about a 20 ft drop that had a few horizontal loops mixed in. The yellow and blue slides were dark and twisted down. The green slides was open to light and had less turns. But it had a big cylindrical chamber that the slide emptied into at an angle so that the rider can user their own momentum to try to travel around one or more times before taking another slide down to the end of the ride. Ryan preferred the green slide.

Water slides!
Ryan enjoying the slide.

Today we made port in Sint Maarten. The island is still recovering from Irma last year. Cruise ships are finally starting to return, but there is still a lot of damage to repair. There were no excursions to the French side of the island this trip. Today we took the water taxi to main town. We went shopping with Becky and Leigh. They looked at jewelry. Ryan bought rum. Ryan was too sunburned to try to stay at the beach.

We returned to the ship. Rachel went to the casino and Ryan took a nap. We had dinner at Chops, a specialty restaurant on the ship.

Tomorrow we make port in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We go into the rain forest to visit the famous window cave.

Total steps (from Tuesday): 12,190 – this ship is big!

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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Cartagena

Location: Cartagena, Colombia

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Typically we come into a port of call with some background and expectations of where we are visiting. But today was one of those rare exceptions. For whatever reason, we didn’t do a lot of research on Cartagena beyond looking at the offered excursions and the travel advisories on the State Department website. The excursion options were pretty limited, and everything offered was a variation on an old city tour and/or old fortress tour.

We choose the old city tour. We got up a reasonable hour and joined Becky and Leigh for breakfast. Soon thereafter we got off the ship and boarded a catamaran which took us across the harbor to the old city. On the way, we passed by the Colombian naval base, which was proud to welcome its fifth ship to the fleet yesterday. Our guide made light of this and said that their navy has 400 ships… minus 396. He said that Colombia is not a war country and doesn’t have need for a large military. But he did take pride in saying that Colombia is the only South American country with access to two oceans. But we’d think Chile might have something to say about that here.

The Columbian Navy
The Colombian Navy

It may be useful to point out that it was about 90F and sunny today, even though the forecast called for clouds and passing thundershowers. It was hot and muggy and a bit difficult to really enjoy.

Our tour guide Carlos (aka Speaker) was full of extra energy and tried his best to wake up the large group and get us excited for the day. He was pretty knowledgeable about the city and its history and provided plenty of background via a microphone and chest speaker. But it was difficult to always hear him or pay attention with the constant pestering of the street vendors selling hats, sunglasses, and necklaces. The city itself is almost 500 years old. The old walls were built as defenses against pirates.

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Beyond seeing the architectural beauty of the old city, we also made stops at the Pre-Colombian culture and gold museum, and the emerald museum. The latter two were a great stop if only for the air conditioning and break from the vendors.

After about two hours, and a deceptively long mile of walking, our city tour came to an end. We boarded the catamaran and went back to the Equinox. But before returning to the ship, the port had a small zoo with various local birds and monkeys.

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We spent the rest of the day on the ship relaxing from the heat and activity of the morning’s tours.

In the evening we saw the comedian Carl Banks.

Tomorrow we make port in Colon, Panama. But we won’t spend much time there because were going to board another boat and transit the Panama Canal! Tomorrow will be a two continent and two ocean day.

Total steps: 10,678

Total primates: 2 species

Free purell squirts: 7