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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.

 

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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!

Five Years of Adventure

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the launching of our travel blog. Our first post happened before we even left for our honeymoon and was just a link to a news article about one of the first stops on our trip. At that point, we hadn’t even figured out the general format or tone for the site, nor really what we were doing.

In the following days, we started to figure out what we wanted to write about, how we were going to write it, and what kinds and numbers of pictures we would post to go along with the text. On the honeymoon (the original Super Awesome Mega Trip) we always seemed to be a day or two behind in posting, and we were often limited to how much we could include based on our limited and expensive internet access. Hence the frequent typos, grammar mistakes, and smaller pictures. Once we got on the cruise ship and had some days-at-sea, or rest days, would we catch up. Today we try not to fall behind in posting daily blogs, because we know we’ll never catch up otherwise. These trips are supposed to be a vacation after all!

We eventually settled into a rhythm where Ryan would write the first draft of the day’s post, Rachel would add accompanying pictures and correct Ryan’s awful hastily typed mistakes. Then we’d together proof it one last time before posting it for everyone to read. On the honeymoon, the entire process could take anywhere from 30-120 minutes per post, usually closer to the latter. Today we need around 30-75 minutes per post, and its usually around 45 minutes.

We’ve accomplished a lot in these last five years. We’ve been to every continent, touched every ocean. Seen a volcanic eruption, fled from tsunamis, swam with sea lions and penguins, dove with great whites, played with dolphins, went on safaris, hiked rain forests, deserts, lava fields, and glaciers, saw dozens of waterfalls, and marveled at aurora and total eclipses.

We’ve blogged about thirteen different trips in the last five years.

In the past we’ve put together a top five list for each of our major trips. So in celebration of our fifth anniversary post, here’s our Top TEN favorite destinations and sights from the last five years.

#10 Hobbiton (Matamata, New Zealand)

Bag End

This is the only non-nature related item on our list. If we could only visit one movie set from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it would have been Hobbiton. As luck would have it, this was the only set people could visit during our time in New Zealand. This was just a fun and cool place to visit.

#9 Antarctica (Paradise Bay, Antarctic Peninsula)

Of course Antarctica would make the top ten list. We didn’t get to spend much time here, nor even get off the ship, but the scenic cruising was breathtaking. Everywhere we looked we saw beautiful virgin land, untouched by anything without wings for a very long time, completely unspoiled by civilization. Penguins, sea lions, and whales were all over the place. We got to see icebergs and blue ice from the continental ice shelf. Our time here was cut short when a blizzard rolled in, but led to a snowball fight on the sundeck that we’ll never forget. We hope to return in the future!

#8 Iceland and the Northern Lights (Iceland)

What’s not to love about Iceland (except for the climate). We couldn’t really identify any one particular thing about the long weekend getaway that was awesome by itself, but when we combine the aurora, glacial hikes, geysers, columnar jointing, waterfalls, and snorkeling between continental plates in near frozen water, it becomes one super memorable trip. Every so often we look at the prices for a quick weekend getaway for a second trip.

#7 Kilauea and Volcanoes National Park (Big Island, Hawai’i)

A safe trip to see the world’s most active volcano? Yes please! We hiked on lava fields and inside lava tubes and saw red lava sloshing around and bubbling in one of the cones from a helicopter. It was even where we sought shelter when a tsunami hit the big island.

#6 Devil’s Pool (Livingstone, Zambia)

Our only full day visiting Victoria Falls was pretty cool. Views from the very wet Zimbabwe side, and the drier Zambia side, seeing a rain forest micro-climate, and river cruise in the evening along the Mighty Zambezi River for our defacto last game drive. But the highlight of the day was swimming in the Devil’s Pool. This natural pot sits on the edge of Victoria Falls. The rush from looking over the edge of one of the earth’s greatest waterfalls in an experience we’ll never forget.

#5 Kenai Fjords (Seward, Alaska)

This was almost an entire Alaskan cruise combined into a single day. What made this tour so memorable was probably a stroke of luck. Perfect weather combined with the arrival of numerous orca pods for mating season made for perfect scenario of seeing an overabundance of wildlife combined with Alaska’s natural beauty. We saw hundreds of orcas, lots of puffins, dozens of sea lions, a breaching humpback and a few glaciers up close. Easily the highlight of the Alaska trip.

#4 South African Safari (Hoedspruit, South Africa)

We spent about three days in the Thornybush Private Game Preserve outside of Kruger National Park. We had two game drives a day where we got to see the big five (Elephants, lions, leopards, water buffalo, black and white rhino) amongst many other great animals like hippo, warthogs, giraffes, and zebra. There was no one game drive that really stood out since they were pretty all great.

#3 Galapagos (Galapagos, Ecuador)

Much like the African safari in #4 above, there was no particular location that stood out during our recent Galapagos trip. Since there weren’t any natural land based predators in the archipelago, the animals were completely comfortable around us and each other. The entire vacation was fantastic and a truly amazing experience. We snorkeled with sea lions and penguins. Got up close with tortoises, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds, marine iguanas, and herons. We hiked a lava field that rivaled Hawai’i. One thing we never mentioned in our earlier blog posts was just how great the Xpedition crew performed. We were used to great service on Celebrity ships, but these guys were a step above.

#2 Volunteer Beach Penguin Colony (Volunteer Point, Falkland Islands)

This was the highlight of the Antarctic trip. We walked around with thousands of penguins that day! King, Gentoo, and Magellanic penguins were everywhere. The sand on the beach was so white that it looked like fresh snow. The temperature was cool but not cold, so it was quite comfortable to hang out and observe the penguins in something that looked like their natural habitat. We only had 90 minutes here, and it was the most expensive excursion we’ve ever gone on, but it was totally worth it. We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to make it back to the Falklands, but if we do we know where were going to spend our first day.

#1 Total Eclipses

Of course total eclipses were going to be #1. We’re eclipse chasers! We plan our trips around spending time in the moon’s shadow. Our first eclipse was on the honeymoon somewhere between Fiji and New Zealand. The second total eclipse was in Rigby, Idaho.

Other great visits that didn’t make the top ten include: Mauna Kea, Koala BearsCape Horn, Istanbul, Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, Vancouver, Costa Rica Rain Forest, Yellowstone National Park

Distances:

  • By water: ~22709 nautical miles
  • By air: 95674 miles
  • By car: ~9000 miles
  • By train: 345 miles
  • steps: 955,948 plus whatever we walked on the honeymoon, south america and Antarctica, Galapagos, and Vegas trips.
  • Total distance traveled: >131,152 mi

For reference the circumference of the Earth is 24,901 mi

Travel

  • Total watercraft traveled upon: 1 ship and 9 boats
  • Cruise ships: 6 (Celebrity Millennium, Celebrity Infinity, Celebrity Equinox, Oasis of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Radiance of the Seas, Celebrity Xpedition)
  • Total aircraft: 51 jets and 1 helicopter
  • Total airports: 43 (IAD, IAH, LAX, ITO, KOA, HNL, SYD, MEL, AYQ, CNS, GUM, NRT, EWR, DEN, LAS, PHX, GRU, GIG, EZE, FCO, SAN, REY, KEF, BWI, FLL, DKR, JNB, CPT, HDS, LVI, DCA, PBI, SEA, ANC, SCC, BRW, YVR, DFW, CLT, SLC, SAL, GYE, GPS)
  • Total hotels: 33
  • Total rental cars: 5

Geography

  • Total US States: 18 (Maryland, Virginia, Texas, California, Hawai’i, New Jersey, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, California, Florida, Washington, Alaska, North Caroling, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)
  • Total US Territories: 4 (American Samoa, Guam, Washington DC, US Virgin Islands)
  • Total Countries: 33 (US, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Falklands, Chile, Uruguay, Italy, Vatican City, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Malta, Iceland, Bahamas, Sint Marteen, Senegal, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Mexico, Canada, Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, San Salvador, Ecuador )
  • Total Continents: 7 (North America, Australia, Asia, South America, Antarctica, Europe, Africa)
  • Total Oceans: 5 (North and South Pacific, Indian, North and South Atlantic, Southern, Arctic)
  • Total Hemispheres: All 4
  • Total Equator Crossings: 10
  • Total Time Zones: 25 (EDT, CDT, PDT, HST, GDT, NZDT, EADT, CAST, EAT, JST, EST, BRT/UYST, ART/AQ-Rothera, FKST/CLST, CST, CEDT, TRDT, PST, GMT, AST, SAST, AKDT, COT, ECT, GALT)
  • Highest Elevation: 13,796 ft (Muana Kea)
  • Lowest Elevation: -20 ft (Great Barrier Reef)
  • Farthest Point South: Paradise Bay, Antarctica (64°51’18.8″S )
  • Farthest point East: Thornybush Game Preserve (31°11′ 50″ E)
  • Farthest Point West: near Yulura, Northern Territory, Australia (~130°57′ E)
  • Farthest Point North:  below Point Barrow, Alaska (71°21′26″ N)

Wildlife

  • Total Penguin Species Observed in the Wild: 7 (Little Blue, King, Gentoo, Magellanic, Chinstrap, African, Galapagos)
  • Total Penguin Species Observed in Captivity: 6 (Emperor, Adelie, Humboldt, Southern Rockhopper, Macaroni, Northern Rockhopper)
  • Total Penguin Species we have yet to see: 5 (Fiorland, Snares, Erect-crested, royal, yellow eyed) All of these species can be found on or in the vicinity of the South Island of New Zealand.
  • Total Cetaceans: 7 (Humpback. beluga, Dall’s porpoise, orca, harbor porpoise, southern right whale, bottlenose dolphin)
  • Total Pinnipeds: 10 (South American Sea Lion, Antarctic Fur Seal, South American Fur Seal, Galapagos Sea Lion, Galapagos Fur Seal, stellar sea lion, river otter, sea otter, harbor seal, cape seal)
  • Total Primates: 5 (humans, marmosets, baboon, vervet monkey, lesser bushbaby)
  • Total Sula: 5 (australian gannet, cape gannet, blue-footed booby, nazca booby, red-footed booby)
  • Total sharks: 3 (great white, black tipped reef shark, white tipped reef shark)
  • Other notable land animals: Elephants, lions, leopards, water buffalo, black and white rhino, hippo, warthogs, giraffes, zebra, moose, brown bear, black bear

Meteorology and Astronomy

  • Total Eclipses Viewed: 2
  • Total minutes spent in the moon’s shadow: 5 minutes 48 seconds
  • Total Partial Eclipses: 1
  • Highest Temperature we experienced: 99°F (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
  • Lowest Temperature we experienced: 24°F (Southern Ocean near Antarctica)
  • Roughest Surf: 14 ft (Southern Ocean near Elephant Island, Antarctica)
  • Strongest Wind Gust: 65 kts (Elephant Island, Antarctica)
  • Highest Kp when we were actually able to see the aurora: 2.7
  • Aurora colors observed: 5 (green, red, purple, blue, pink)

Photography

  • Total Pictures Taken: ~42,500

Miscellaneous

  • Total Honeymoon Word Drops: 50
  • Total Ugly Americans Encountered: 8
  • Total Volcanic Eruptions Observed: 2
  • Total Royal Flushes at a Table Game: 2
  • Odds of Getting a Royal Flush in 7 Card Poker: 1 in 30,941
  • Total Snowball fights: 1
  • Vaccinations and medications required: 4
  • Total national park passport cancellations stamps: 51
  • Total Days: 188 (includes partial travel days)
  • Longest day: 39 hrs (Dec 3, 2012 with a convenient dateline crossing)
  • Shortest day: 0 hrs (Nov 11, 2012 skipped by crossing the international dateline skip)

Blog Stats

  • posts: 181 (including this one)
  • views: 12,216
  • countries: 97
  • regular followers: 133
  • Most visits in a year: 2015

Join us again in the spring as we go on another Caribbean cruise.

It’s been an amazing five years! Who knows what the next five will bring.

Post script: After reviewing our Galapagos photos, we discovered that we did see the Phillie Phanatic after all!

 

Santiago Lava Fields and Bartolome Island

Location: Sulivan Bay between Santiago and Bartolome Islands, Galapagos

This morning the ship dropped anchor in Sulivan Bay, located between Santiago and Bartolome Islands. This was the day which we were most excited for when planning the trip. This location mixed recent lava flows, volcanic formations, with an active penguin colony. We were worried that we may not have had enough time to fit everything we wanted to do into such a short day.

We had an option for two tours in the morning. We could either go for a long 2 mile hike over the lava fields on Santiago Island, or do a shorter lava field hike. We choose the longer option. We’ve been to a lot of lava fields during our travels together: Hawai’i Volcanos National Park, Vesuvius, Mount Etna, and even Iceland. But this lava field was probably the best we’d ever witnessed to see pahoehoe lava formations.

Lava fields in Santiago Island, Galapagos
Pahoehoe lava with layers of lava beneath.
Us standing on the Santiago lava field, with Bartolome in the background
Us at the edge of the pahoehoe flow next to the socoria cinder cones.

There wasn’t much in the way of wildlife in the lava fields. There were some annoying tiny yellow flies (who didn’t bite), and the painted locust who was attracted to Ryan’s shirt.

A painted locust landed on Ryan

There wasn’t a marked trail on the lava fields and one had to be careful where they stepped. Cracks and crevices were plentiful, exposing lava layers that the geologists love to study.

Never step off the trail! (even if it doesn’t exist)

We were both very surprised to discover hornitos, something that we hadn’t heard of before today. Hornitos are small holes where lava emerges out of lava tubes and bubbles to the surface. They can grow quite large, but the ones here weren’t particularly tall. They were pretty iridescent owing to the volcanic glass that formed around the edges.

hornito

We had a few hours in between the morning and afternoon tours. The ship didn’t even change location. So instead of us going to the wildlife, the wildlife came to us. All around us, we would see manta rays doing flips out of the water. The mantas engage in this behavior to dislodge fish, attract mates, or for fun.

A manta ray flipping out of the water

A turtle came to the edge of the ship.

A sea lion took a nap on one of the pangas.

Look at the last panga on the left side to see a napping sea lion.

And an egret landed on the aft dining section of the ship.

Egret

Their were several options for tours in the afternoon in Bartolome. Everyone could do a deep water snorkel. Then separately people could climb to the top of bartolome, or go for a panga ride to see wildlife. We choose the snorkel and hike.

Bartolome is a volcanic island that formed about 700,000 years ago. Probably from a single eruption. The island may be best known as one of the filming locations from the movie “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World”.

Our first excursion of the afternoon was to go for a deep water snorkel off the coast of Bartolome near pinnacle rock. This was the tour that Ryan was most excited for. When we approached the dive site, we could see a penguin about 30 feet north of the panga making noises. It was like it was beckoning us to come play with him. But our guide told us that we had to swim south. We figured that if we saw one penguin, we’d surely see more that wanted to play.

We didn’t. As it turns out most of the penguins live on the other side of the island, but they occasionally come over to look for food. Not so much today, but at least we got to swim with penguins yesterday.

In fact, we didn’t see much beyond lots of fish on this snorkel. It was a little disappointing compared with our previous swims. But you can’t control wildlife, and we were probably very lucky that last couple days so it sort of all balances out. On the plus side, we saw a LOT of fish, and the water was probably 10 degrees warmer than yesterday.

Two schools of fish collide
Ryan snorkeling
Starfish were very common

Our last tour of day was the long walk to the top of Bartolome. We had to take 380 steps to the top of island (374 feet) with a trail of about 0.8 miles long. The entire trail was on a wooden boardwalk. The panoramic view from the top is said to be one of the best and most iconic in the islands.

The hike took about two hours. We made frequent stops so that the naturalists could explain the geology and vulcanology of the island. We got to see lots of craters and cones from diversion eruptions, lava tubes, and volcanic bombs.

A lone green plant and flowers on the side of Bartolome

Here’s our view from the top. It really did offer a great view of the nearby pinnacle rock, and most of the surrounding Galapagos islands. The only downside was that the tour was near the end of the day, so the lighting wasn’t very great to get a shot of pinnacle rock.

A view from the top of Bartolome
A submerged caldera from Bartolome

Tomorrow we go back to Santa Cruz island to visit Bachas Beach, where we might get to see flamingos for our last beach snorkel. In the afternoon we visit North Seymour Island for our last snorkel of the trip, and visit a frigate bird colony.

Total pennipeds: 1 (galapagos sea lion)
Types of lava formations: 3 (pahoehoe, aa, hornito)
Totel penguin species: 1 (Galapagos)
Total Phillie Phanatic sightings: 0
Total havana club and cokes: 3
Total equator crossings: 0
Total islands visted: 2
total watercraft: 5
Total Steps: IDK, fitbit died. But based on other passengers fitbits, over 10,000 plus a lot of swimming.

The Penguins of the Elizabeth Bay Mangroves

Location: Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island, Galapagos

Today we are splitting our posting of the days events into two seperate posts, because its a logical seperator due to being in different locations and because we have so many picutres to share.

This morning we dropped anchor near Elizabeth Bay, Isabela Island. The location is on the western end of the archapeligo and experiences some of the coldest waters. This makes it ideal for penguins and other wildlife that prefers colder water. Frequent readers will know that we love penguins, and the timing of this trip in Septemeber was to maximaize our chances to see the endemic Galapagos penguins at their most active time.

We weren’t disappointed.

There was only one excursion option this morning, a panga ride to see the mangroves of the bay. We had a choice between 8 AM or 10 AM ride. We’ve beaten the sun every day, so we choose the earlier ride. Plus wildlife tend to be more active in the mornings and evenings.

The panga departed from the ship and we made our way into the bay. As we approached the coastline our naturalist started looking for signs of penguins. Ryan was the first to spot one in the waters.

First sighting of a Galapagos Penguin

And then we never stopped seeing them! Even the naturalists were impressed by how many penguins we could see and how active they were. Normally they may only see a handful. We saw dozens!

Galapagos penguin eating a fish

Penguins chest bumping
A penguin falling off a rock after a chest bump
Ryan’s in his happy place
Both Galapagos penguins and Rachel exhibiting their respective natural behaviors

After looking at penguins in the open bay and near the mouth of the mangroves we ventured further into the protected waters. There we saw rays and turtles.

On our way back to the ship we stopped at a few rocky islands to see the nesting sites for the flightless cormorants. This nesting site was also joined by a couple resting sea lions.

flightless cormorant
Flightless cormorant nesting site.
flightless cormorant about to jump down a step
flightless cormorant midjumo
“Look at me! I’m beautiful!”

This afternoon the ship will move north up the coast to Tagus Cove. We will go on a deep water snorkel to try to swim with the penguins. Then we’ll split up and go on different excursions, each with varying length panga rides and hikes.

Boarding the Xpedition and Daphne Major

Location: Santa Cruz, Baltra, and Daphne Major, Galapagos

We woke up early this morning. Not because we had too, but because we got to bed early last night, we’re still on east coast time, and a loud rooster was not far from the hotel. We spent some time packing up, and playing on the internet then headed down to have breakfast in the courtyard. It was a yummy and generous sized breakfast for two people. It didn’t take long for the birds to realize that we were eating and soon Tippy Headrin (Ryan) was surrounded by a couple dozen finches and other birds eager to eat any loose crumbs that fell off his plate when he was looking the other way. Like all other animals here, the small birds have no natural fear of humans, and would only fly away if we made any sudden moves in their directions.

After breakfast we left the hotel and made our way from Puerto Ayora to Baltra airport. We did the same journey as yesterday but in reverse. It took about 70 minutes to get to the airport. Along the way, Ryan spotted two Galapagos tortoises, but we were travelling too fast to get any pictures.

We arrived at the airport and met with the Celebrity Cruises representative. We were the first people to arrive for the cruise. He showed us to the Celebrity VIP lounge were was had access to food and drinks. Over the course of the next hour and a half, other passengers would trickle in from incoming flights. We were notified that the ship was ready for us and that we could board the ship. So the 16 early arrivals (most other passengers took the pre-cruise Quito add-on) made our way to a shuttle that took us to the port on the north side of the island.

We boarded the first zodiac (panga) to leave the port and made our way to the Xpedition. The panga ride took about 5 minutes to get to the ship. We were the first ones to board the ship (and thinking of Leigh’s life goal the whole time).

We got a quick cruise briefing and our room keys. And just like any other first day on a ship: we dropped our stuff off in the room, got lunch, and decided to explore the ship.

Exploring the ship took less than 5 minutes. It’s just not that big. It has a lounge, hot tub, a few decks chairs. The lounge is used for nearly all briefings, and its the only place on the ship with wifi (although we still could get a wifi signal nearby).

Most of the rest of the day consisted of getting us educated for the rest of the week. Our first briefing was the mandatory safety briefing and muster drill.  This coincidentally happened at the same time as the fourth quarter of the NYG-Eagles games. We’ve heard this briefing before (in the event of a water landing…) but it had a few twists from the normal cruise safety briefings. Ryan paid close attention… to the gamecast on his phone.  And he in no way was loud, made a scene, or drew attention to himself when the eagles won with a 61 yd field goal. FLY EAGLES FLY!

Next the ship raised anchor and made its way to Daphne Major and nearby volcanic island. This small island juts out of the sea with no obvious way to make landings. So the ship sailed around it. The island is most famous for the recent(ish) work of two researchers who have been returning to this island twice a year to survey the various finch species. Through their research they were able to show adaptation and evolution in action through the natural generation of a new finch species. This scenic cruising lasted less than an hour.  We got some good pictures of the island with its geological layers.

Daphne Major
Geologic layers showing different types of eruptions on Daphne Major

Meanwhile various frigate bids began flying in our wake, providing great photo opportunities.

Frigate bird flying in our wake

Along the way, we passed by some rocks sticking out of the water. It was populated by lots of seabirds and sea lions.

birds and sea lions resting on the rocks.

Later in the evening we had a briefing on how to snorkel and what excursion options were available to us tomorrow.

Tomorrow we will visit Rabida Island. In the morning we will go for a long hike and snorkel near Port Egas. In the afternoon we’ll go for a panga ride in Elizabeth Bay followed by more snorkeling.

Total watercraft: 3

Total steps: 6,175

The internet is faster and more reliable than we were expecting. It looks like we’ll be able to update the blog every night, but we may be a little limited in the amounts of wildlife photos we can upload. 

Also… Rachel was watching the Redskins gamecast while we were writing this… HAIL TO THE REDSKINS!

Riding Along the Oregon Trail

Location: Jackson, Wyoming -> Vernal, Utah

Click for a higher resolution image of today’s travel

Today was a travel day meant to transition from the mountain climate portion of the trip  to the desert climate.  And some of this journey took place on the Oregon National Historic Trail.

We didn’t beat our alarms for the first day of this trip, and actually hit the snooze bar a few times. So we got a later start than expected. We weren’t on a tight schedule so it didn’t really matter.

We left our comfortable hotel and made our way to Fossil Butte National Monument. It rained during most of this trip, so we didn’t get many good pictures of the landscape along the way.

The world’s largest elkhorn arch.

Along the way we shortly dipped in Idaho one last time, and then joined up with the modern Oregon historic trail.

We made it to Fossil Butte without any issues. The website for this park hasn’t been updated in a while so we came in with pretty low expectations. But the site museum and surrounding area has been updated recently so we were pleasantly surprised with what we found. On the road leading up to the visitor center were sign posts showing the evolution of life and geology on earth since its creation. The signage was proportionally spaced along with the respective passage of time. Rachel had flashbacks from her college classes and gave Ryan plenty of geology lessons for the day.

Inside the visitor center we were treated with well-preserved fossils of fish, plants, and other animals that had been preserved in a massive lake that once occupied the area about 50 million years ago. It was all presented very elegantly in a tight museum.

From there we got back on the road, again following the Oregon historic trail. Our next destination was Fort Bridger Historic State Park.

Along the way, we joined another wagon train to avoid some rough trails.

We did not die of dysentery along the way.  Somewhere along the trail, “Ryan has exhaustion”, and we lost two oxen while trying to cross the river.

Look at this awesome photo Ryan took of Fort Bridger today!
And this is the photo Rachel took.

The historic location has gone through a lot of changes since it was just an out of the way trading post along the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. Today it’s a museum. We spent about an hour here.

We got back on the road and made our way south towards Vernal, Utah. Along the way we passed through the scenic Ashley National Forest and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We pulled along the side of the road to get some great scenic shots of the landscape.

Flaming Gorge

Along the road, the forest service set up short informational signs that explained the geologic history and formation of the varied terrain along the road and through the road cuts.

Scenery on the drive.

In the late afternoon we arrived at the hotel. Ryan took a nap and Rachel worked on editing some eclipse photos.

Tomorrow we will start the day by visiting Dinosaur National Monument, a midday stop at Colorado National Monument, and looking at dinosaur footprints north of Moab, Utah.

Total steps: 6,960

Total miles driven: 323

Total national park passport stamps: 10

 

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

 

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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Seward’s Ice Box

Location: Seward, Alaska

It wasn’t acutely cold in Seward today. We just couldn’t think up an appropriately witty title for today’s post.

Today was the last of our early morning wake ups for the trip. Ryan got up very early to return the rental car and take the hotel shuttle back, while Rachel stayed back to finish up packing. By 8:40 we were on a shuttle on our way to Seward to board a cruise ship.

We had a couple stops along the way. Our first stop was Beluga Point. We had a few minutes here to stretch our legs and look for the white beluga whales. We didn’t see any here.

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Beluga Point

But we did see a pair a half hour later down the road. We were going to fast and weren’t in a position to pull over so we couldn’t get any pictures.

The next stop was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This facility takes in injured and orphaned wild animals and attempts to heal them back to health. Those that can be reintroduced to the wild, are sent out. Those that can’t be released, find a comfortable and spacious enclosure view-able to tourists. We saw grizzly bears, elk, bison, moose, fox, lynx, and many more.

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Grizzly Bear
Lynx
Lynx
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

We arrived in Seward for the second time in two days. We had several hours before we had to board the Radiance of the Seas, so we dropped off our bags with the porters and took the Seward Shuttle to the Alaska Sealife Center.

The Sealife Center is essentially an aquarium featuring local aquatic species. It’s a large modern building that stands out from the rest of the town. Among the highlights are a large aviary with numerous puffins, gulls, ducks, and mulls that can fly around with visitors.

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It also had habitats for seals and sea lions.

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A playful seal

After our visit to the Sealife Center we took the shuttle back to the cruise terminal. This was probably the easiest time we ever had boarding a cruise ship. It didn’t even feel like we were starting a new phase of the trip, so much as going on the next tour. We think this had to do with the Radiance being a smaller cruise ship and the abnormally long time the reduced number of passengers had to go through the boarding process.

We spent the rest of the day going through our first day cruise routine. We unpacked, explored the ship, hit the hot tub, did the muster drill, and had a frosty fruity beverage as we watched the world sail away.

After diner, because it was still light out, we got a few more pictures of the nearby fjords as we sailed southeast.

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Tomorrow is an “at sea” day were we have a scenic cruise of the Hubbard Glacier.

Today’s weather: High 63, Low 52, Sunny

Sunrise: 4:52am, Sunset 10:58pm

Total complimentary purrell squirts: 0, they give us disinfectant wipes

Total complimentary disinfectant wipes: 3

Total steps: 11,508