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…
and another to both the sun and moon.
We also saw the gates and road to the city.
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.
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.
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…
…a two toed sloth…
…an active three toed sloth…
… and more!
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:
and an anteater.
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.
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.
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)
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:
Going to a shopping mall in Panama City
Visiting Portobelo, Panama which according to the tour description “is severely affected by poverty, the facilities are substandard”
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.
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.
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.
We also got to see the use of the mule trains which help move the ships through the locks.
And play engineer on a model mule near the entrance.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today we drove from Anchorage down to Seward. It was a relatively quick and scenic drive compared with our drives of the previous two days, aided by the sunny skies. We saw a lot of bald eagles during our drive, but we didn’t stop to get any picture because we had a tight schedule to keep to go on a cruise tour of the Kenai Fjords.
We should mention that the weather was perfect today. Upper sixties, mostly sunny, very calm seas, and little wind. What a contrast from yesterday!
We boarded the Callisto Voyager around 11 and made our way out of the Resurrection Bay. As we waited for the ship to leave, we got to watch a sea otter playing around by the docks. He even escorted the ship through part of the harbor.
Our first stop on the cruise was to look at a puffins on Hive and Rugged Islands. This was our first time seeing puffins in the wild. We were in Iceland during the wrong season to see them last year.
Next we ventured out into the Gulf of Alaska to attempt some whale watching. It’s usually hit or miss with whale watching in this part of Alaska during this time of year. But apparently we timed it perfectly. Not only did we spot a pod of orcas coming in, we spotted several pods of orcas arriving from a far. This was the first day of orca mating season, and both local and transient pods were joining together in the Kenai Fjords to engage in reproductive activities. Some of which we actually witnessed. By the end of the day, the dozens upon dozens of orcas began swimming together as a super pod. This kind of congregation is seen only 2-3 days a year!
We took a break from watching the orcas, and made way towards Chat Island where a colony of sea lions spend the day sunning themselves.
The ship then proceeded to the Holgate Glacier. We spent over 20 minutes here observing the glacier. The crew even took a few small icebergs out the arm (water) so that we could feel the glacial ice and pose with pictures of it.
We didn’t actually get that close to the glacier, so our sense of scale was off. We would see the glacier calve, then hear the loud crack 2.5 seconds later. It wasn’t until we left the glacier and saw another similar sized ship approach later that we could get a great sense for how huge it truly is!
Along with the glacier, there were numerous other scenic vistas and wild animals.
Including our first good bald eagle picture
On our way back to Seward we encountered a lone humpback whale tail slapping the water in the distance. We’re not sure if he was trying to attract the attention of other whales, or the tour boats. It certainly got our attention!
When we got close, he stopped slapping his tail, and started doing pectoral slaps.
By this point another two tour boats arrived. He kept up with the pectoral slaps for a while and then switched over to breeching! Amazing!
After leaving the humpback whale, we encountered another large pod of orcas. This time, there was also a group of sea lions nearby. They were not happy to see the orcas (since orcas sometimes eat them), and were very vocal about it.
Angry sea lions ‘barking’ at the orcas.
We were told that on most days, the tour would be lucky to see any whales. Today we had the problem of seeing so many, so close, on opposite sides of the ship, that we had trouble keeping up with the photo taking opportunities.
It was a fantastic tour!
On the drive back to Anchorage, we stopped to see the portage glacier.
Tomorrow we visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on our way back down to Seward. We’ll also visit the Alaska Sealife Center in town. Lastly, we kickoff the second half of our Alaska trip by boarding the Radiance of the Seas for a one week cruise.
Ryan woke up at 2:00 AM last night to be on the lookout for the Northern Lights. This would have been the middle of the “night”, but with extreme latitude it never actually gets dark this time of year. So with the twilight, the mostly cloudy skies and the inferior Kp<.33, Ryan didn’t bother to leave the hotel room to look for the aurora, and instead went back to asleep.
A few hours later we both woke up, packed up the car and left for Denali National Park. We arrived about 15 min later and waited for the Wilderness Access Center to open. Afterwards, we retrieved our tickets for the Toklat shuttle, got stamps for our national park passport book, and watched a short movie on the history of the park.
At 7:15 we boarded the shuttle (converted school bus) and made our way into the park. Our driver and defacto guide was Wendy, who has been driving this route for years. While the shuttle drivers are under no obligation to narrate or stop for wildlife, most do. We were fortunate that Wendy loved to look at the wildlife and provide great information to everyone on the shuttle.
Our ride took us about 60 miles deep into the park, to the Toklat stop. Along the way we saw four of the Denali Big Five (bear, sheep, moose, caribou, and wolves). We didn’t see the wolves, whose numbers are in great decline in the park.
We did see plenty of moose though. About 8-9 over the course of the day. These are somewhat rare to see, with only about 25% getting a chance to see them.
We got to see three grizzly bears, only one of which was in a good position to get great pictures.
We also saw plenty of sheep
We also saw the state bird of Alaska, the Willow Ptarmigan.
The weather was rainy, snowy, and overcast for most of the day, so we didn’t take many landscape photos.
After the tour we drove back to Anchorage. We stopped at the northern Denali overlook again. We were clouded out of seeing any of Denali. So instead we took this photo of a bear safety poster presented at the site.
Tomorrow we go down to Seward and take a boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park.
It should not surprise our regular readers that we (read: Ryan) like to go to geographical extremes on our trips. Today was the day or our trip that reached a new distance goal. Our destination today was well above the Arctic Circle: Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost part of the United States.
Currently Barrow is experiencing 24 hr daylight. This served to really mess with our internal clocks and calendars. But it’s also a great deterrent for vampires.
Just like previous days, we woke up pretty early to catch a flight. We got to the airport, then took a plane north toward Prudhoe Bay. We hoped to be able to get some good pictures during the flight, but because of the clouds (and the fact that we were on the starboard side of the plane) we were unable to see Denali. We arrived at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska without incident. We had a short stop where some passengers deplaned and a few more got on board. We didn’t even have to change seats. After another 35 min flight we arrived at Barrow.
We arranged a tour with the Top of the World hotel. They picked us up at the airport, and then took us to the hotel to see local Inupiat dancers. After the show, we went for a tour of town.
We got to see many of the highlights of the town, the whale bone arches and any other whale bone artifacts, ice cellar (where whale meat is stored), the smurf turf high school football field (as seen on ESPN), and the northernmost bridge in the world.
We even got to see the Barrow palm trees, made up of driftwood and baleen.
The tour took us to northernmost point of the US road system. We got out here to touch the Arctic Ocean. With this stop we have now visited all five of the worlds oceans (North and South Atlantic, North and South Pacific, Indian, Southern, and Arctic). From here we could also see Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the US, a few miles off in the distance. Because of the constant threat of polar bears, and presently unfavorable terrain, we weren’t able to actually make it to the point. We made it as far as 71.357353 N, 156.538716 W, close enough though.
Afterwards we went to see some whaling boats. The locals have a tightly regulated indigenous whaling culture. The whaling techniques are essentially unchanged for thousands of years, including the use of seal skin paddle driven longboats, and hand thrown harpoons.
All along the tour we were on the lookout for wildlife. We didn’t see any polar bears, but we did see some seals out on the ice. We were too far to get pictures good enough to post here. Near the end of hte tour we ventured out into the Tundra to look for snowy owls. The original name for the area, Utqiaġvik, actually translates to “place to hunt snow owls”. We found one, and Rachel got some pictures.
We were also taken to the grocery store, just to show how expensive food is priced. $10+ for a gallon of milk, $18 for orange juice, $8 for a bag of chips. Everything has to be flown in, and foods with expiration dates can be very expensive.
The tour concluded with a stop at the Inupiat Heritage Center, where we learned more about the local culture, whaling, and Inupiat art. The Heritage Center is affiliated with the park service, and we got our National Parks passport book stamped.
Lastly we took a flight back to Anchorage. This time we were on a direct flight. Again we were on the wrong side of the plane (port) to see any mountains.
Tomorrow we visit Talkeetna and drive up to Denali.
Today’s weather: High 41, Low 29, Overcast
Sunrise: NA (3:00am May 10), Sunset: NA (1:52am August 2)
Today was the long awaited day where we got to tour ancient Mayan ruins. The excursion to see the city of Chichen Itza was the entire reason we booked this cruise itinerary.
The excursion itself is very long. Those on this tour are the first people to leave the ship, and usually the last ones back aboard. We left the ship a little after 930, walked along the dock until we boarded a ferry boat to Playa del Carmen. It was a large and comfortable ferry, and the excursion people on the Freedom told us that the weather was great. Sadly nobody bothered to tell that to the surf.
We had read that the ferry ride can be rough. So we took dramamine pills and wore wrist bands to help control the sea sickness. We boarded the ferry to and tried to stay in the back so even further reduce the motion. But we and everyone else on our tour moved to the fore of the ship to expedite our egress upon arrival. After about 20 min of waiting the crew then boarded several dozen 15-16 year old girls on quinceanera. It was a loud trip across the channel. And very rough too! The ships bounced on the waves and swayed back and forth, no one was happy with the ride, and many people couldn’t keep breakfast down. The pills and bracelets helped us maintain our composure.
After we docked in Playa, we were transferred to a tour bus. Then we went on a 2.5 hr drive on a highway through the jungle. We were given a small snack to eat during the drive. Our tour guide Luis spent most the time telling us about the area and Mayan history.
After a while we made it to the ruins of Chichen Itza. It took some time for everyone to get off the bus and for us to make it through the long lines to get into the site. By the time everything was done, we would have only 45 min on site. Not nearly enough time. We were also given bottled water to drink in the park.
We got to see the El Castillo, the giant ancient Mayan pyramid. Another tour guide, Armando, explained the significance of the pyramid and how it was used a giant solar calendar. He also demonstrated how sounds bounced off all of the structures in interesting ways. For instance the sound of clap coming off El Castillo sounded like a chirping bird.
We also got to see the Temple of the Warriors, where sacrifices occurred, the Venus Temple, and the great ballcourt. Everything was built with an astronomical purpose in mind.
The latter of which is the largest ball arena in the Americas. The playing field is over 550×230 ft. We were told that the games were played every 4 years, only on the leap day, and that it was the captain of the winning team who was sacrificed. Because only the blood of the victor would be worthy.
All too soon we were herded outside of the park and back onto the bus. We had to get back to the ship in time. We were given a box lunch and soda to eat on the way back. The 2.5 hour drive went by without note. We also had to take the ferry again back to the ship. This time, we sat in the back and the seas were calmer.
Tomorrow is our last full day on the ship. It is an “at sea” day. We plan to spend it relaxing by the pool.
Today we were in Grand Cayman. We’ve both been here before, but not together, and we each came in with different memories of the island. Our plan for today was to see dolphins then go to Stingray City.
We had an early breakfast then took a tender into the cruise terminal. There were two other cruise ships today so it was a little hectic trying to find the place to check in for the excursion. But we arrived early enough that we also had time to do the obligatory magnet shopping before we left for the tour.
The exhibit itself was interesting, and made Rachel ponder yet again about becoming a full time wildlife and adventure photographer. Meanwhile Ryan enjoyed the picture of gentoo penguins. Afterwards we got to see other animals at the museum such as parrots, iguanas, conch and starfish.
We then had a short break where we could purchase refreshments and watch the dolphins perform and swim with people on the other tours. This would be as close as we would get to the dolphins. So webcrawlers researching this tour should be aware and take note to book a different version.
Next we took a mid sized boat to the highlight of the excursion, a trip to Stingray City. The trip from Dolphin Cove took about 20-25 minutes and it was a pretty smooth ride.
Many years ago, local fisherman would drop their offcuts off the boat in the middle of the bay on their way back to port. This would attract the attention of the nearby stingrays who would gladly accept a free meal. In time, the stingrays became accustomed to being fed at the same time everyday and always arrive around that time. Others took notice of this and began offering tourists a trip to the shallow and clear waters to touch, feed and interact with the stingrays. They are not aggressive, have no teeth worth mentioning, and won’t sting unless you step on their tails. Fun for the whole family. It’s now become the thing to do in Grand Cayman (besides diving and banking), and we took part in that tradition today.
We spent about 45 minutes at Stingray City. There were dozens of gentle rays swimming around us in the waist deep water.
Our tour guide gently caught one in his arms so that everyone could get a change to hold a large stingray, kiss it, and get a backrub.
Later the boat provided calamari for us to feed the stingrays. Ryan had the bright idea to hold the go pro and calamari next to each other so that he could film them eating up close.
Eventually our great time at Stingray City had to come to an end. We made our way back to the cove and later to the ship.
In the evening we saw the stage show “Once Upon a Time”, which featured the ships singers and dancers reenacting fairy tales with modern songs.
Tomorrow we make port in Cozumel, Mexico where we plan to visit the Mayan Chichen Itza ruins.
Today was perhaps the busiest tour day we’ve have in all of our travels together. We woke up at around 7:15, got breakfast, then hit the road to get an early start on seeing Victoria Falls.
Yesterday we had a tour of the falls from the Zambia side. Today we decided to freestyle view the falls on the Zimbabwe side. To do so, we had to walk from our hotel (Zambezi Sun) to the Zambia border control station near the Victoria Falls Bridge. Leaving Zambia was easy enough. Once we cleared the station and entered the no mans land of the bridge we were followed by some very persistent locals trying to sell their wares. They weren’t rude, nor did they appear threatening, but they didn’t take ‘no thanks’ for an answer. This continued until we got to the midpoint of the bridge and crossed into Zimbabwe.
Things were uneventful until we got to the Zimbabwe border control station. After our passports were stamped, we ran into Aaron, our guide from yesterday. He assisted us through the rest of the process, saving us some time. It helps to be good tippers. He had to go to another committement, so we broke off on our own towards the Zimbabwe park for the falls. Along the way, we encountered some more people trying to sell us knick-knacks. They were marginally less aggressive than those on the Zambian side.
All told, it took about 45 minutes to walk from our hotel to the Zimbabwe national park entrance. We didn’t have much time to spend here, because we had to get back to our hotel for another tour in about 2.5 hours. But 90 minutes in the park was enough time to see the various views of Victoria Falls. The Zimbabwe side was much more active, with tremendous amounts of water flowing over the sides of the cliffs.
The falls generated a lot of mist. Which forced us to have to wipe off or glasses and lenses numerous times.
The mist also created a miccro-climate rainforest. The hike through this area was even more startling a contrast compared to our hike yesterday. It was the most rainforesty rainforest we had ever vistited.
As we walked along the trail, we got to see Livingstone island and the Devil’s Pool up close from across the gorge.
After more hiking we made it to the end of the Zimbabwe side of the falls. By this point, the falls were dry. So we got some pictures of the cliff-face.
We then walked back to the hotel, passing through both countries border control stations once again. We encountered the same hucksters again, this time they eventually took ‘no thanks’ for an answer.
Back at the hotel, we quickly changed into swimclothes then set off for our first tour of the day. We took a golf cart shuttle to the Royal Livingstone Hotel next door, and then boarded a small boat to go to Livingstone Island. This location is where Dr. Livingstone became the first European to view the falls. Interestingly, one can almost walk to the island without getting wet several months of the year when the water level is low (such as now). During the wet months when the water level is higher, it becomes a true island.
Our guides gave us a very brief tour of the island, then they took us to the highlight of the island, the Devil’s Pool. This natural deep pool of water has a high wall, trapping all but a few centimeters of water from falling over the edge. It makes for some great photo opportunities.
Before, one can make it to the pool, you have to walk through some water (with very weak currents) to make it the section of the island with the pool. And walking on hot and coarse rocks is required both near the pool and on the main island before getting into the water. Watershoes or sandles are highly recommended.
We weren’t allowed to jump or dive into Devil’s Pool. Instead we have to slide down into it. There are several great areas for photos inside, including “the jacuzzi” where you face towards the edge of the falls
and the overhang itself. The guides have done this all before and know the best places and poses to have photographs. They’ve taken photos with all sorts of cameras and no how to operate all of them. They took some great pics and video of us at the overhang.
Ryan used the gopro to take some selfies and underwater shots, and over the falls shots to get a better idea of how Devil’s Pool works.
After about 10 minutes, it was the next groups turn and we had to get out. The last part of the tour was a nice Zambian style lunch. Great food. After lunch, we took a boat back to the hotel.
We had just enough time to change to get ready for our last tour of the day. We had a sundowner river cruise along the Mighty Zambezi River.
We boarded the African Princess several kilometers upstream of the falls. We had a 2 hours cruise along the Mighty Zambezi River. We were served unlimited drinks and had a small dinner. The highlight though was that it also served as a river safari. We criss-crossed the river many times, and slowly traveled along the banks to see various kinds of wildlife, including hippos, elephants, baboons, and many kinds of birds.
Despite hearing stories and warning about baboons the whole trip, we only encountered them for the first time today.
As the name suggests, we got to see sundown on the Mighty Zambesi River.
This was our last full day of the trip. Tomorrow morning we plan to get in a little R&R near the pool before leaving for the airport to go home.
Total Countries: 2 (Zambia, Zimbabwe)
Total Watercraft: 3
Total Steps: 22,593 (second only to our day at Disney Land)