Panama Canal Cruise – Day Five

Welcome to Santa Marta, Columbia

This is a fairly new stop for cruise lines and you can tell.  The coast is much more mountainous than Aruba but still full of scrub and cacti.  We arrived at a working pier where there is a huge coal mining operation going on.  Therefore, we were not allowed to walk to the city, but rather were bussed from the ship to the main gate. 

Once there you are right in the main section of the city and right next to the beach.  There were a couple of tours that some of our group went on, but because the tour guides lacked experience, there were some problems.  Their English was not good and they seemed to leave half of their groups behind while they talked about the stop they were at.

One of our couples took a taxi and saw a lot of attractions and had a great time.  We decided to do our own thing and walk around Santa Marta.  I think we took some wrong turns as the areas we ended up in were definitely not touristy….

When we got back to the shopping area, we found that these items were the most represented:  shoes, baby clothes and cell phones.  I couldn’t figure out why I would want a cell phone from Columbia??  We did run into Juan Valdez and his donkey as you will see in the pictures and went to Columbia’s version of Starbucks – the Juan Valdez Cafe.  It was about 100 degrees and the humidity was high so we ducked into such places as Exito – Columbia’s version of Walmart. 

By the time we got back towards the water, we were pretty damp so we stopped at this little bar that was being renovated at the time, but the owner seemed to be pretty friendly even though he couldn’t speak English.  He sure knew how to say 4 dollars in English.  Not too bad for 2 beers.  We tried the Aguila brand as shown in our pictures. 

We noticed a lot of buildings being fixed, renovated and painted, so I hope that soon this will become a great stop on the Panama Canal Cruise.  There is a lot of poverty in this area and tourism is a great way to increase revenues for such a nice port.

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Panama Canal Cruise – Day Four

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Welcome to Oranjestad, Aruba

How can you tell this is a Dutch colony???  There is blue Dutch pottery everywhere….

We went on the Aruba Sea & Shore tour in the morning.  If you haven’t been to Aruba, here is an idea of its size.  It took us about 15 minutes for go from the south side of the island where the pier was to the north side of the island for our first stop.  Apparently you can go almost anywhere on the island in about 20-25 minutes.  There are about 100,000 inhabitants on the island not including tourists, a hospital and two medical schools.  Where did you do your med school?  Aruba!! 

The island is very dry with mostly scrub and cactus for foliage.  Our first stop was the Casabari Rock Formations.  These huge rocks are just hanging out in this area with no mountains to have fallen from.  At some point someone created stone steps to get to the top so you could get a panoramic view of all the scrub and cacti…..

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Next we hit the Natural Bridge at one of the beach park.  The original bridge collapsed in 2005 so we get a lesser bridge but it is still pretty neat.  Also, all over the island you will see stacked rocks.  These are wishes that people have placed in “strategic” locations.  When you place your rocks you make a wish.  It’s supposed to come true within three days.  Mine still hasn’t happened but maybe it takes longer for tourists….

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The third stop is in the resort area where we pick up a catamaran to take us out to a semi-sub.  This is basically a boat that has a submarine-like hull to it so you can see the reef but not really submerge.  We were over a shipwreck of a German freighter.  The story of the wreck was more interesting than the fish – which there weren’t too many of.  The German freighter was anchored at Aruba when WWII started in 1939.  At first they were okay as the Netherlands were still neutral.  That changed when Germany invaded the Netherlands.  Then rather than hand the ship over to the Dutch, the captain scuttled it and he and the crew got to spend the rest of the war as POWs in Aruba rather than go back to Germany.  That’s a tough life.

The last stop was the California lighthouse.  The lighthouse is not named for the state but rather for the name of another ship that sunk in that area.  Fortunately, everyone was able to swim to shore and the cargo was released.  The Arubans were able to gather the cargo and use or sell it themselves.

The bus brought us back to the pier and we headed off to the shopping district.  All I managed to get were a couple of t-shirts for the kids…..

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Panama Canal Cruise – Day Three

Day 3 is an “At Sea” day.  These are very important days as you need a little rest after the previous day’s adventures and you need to get ready for the formal evening. 

Rick and I hosted coffee and danishes for our tour group at 10:00 by the Lido deck pool.  It was a nice visit and we got to know our group a little better. 

Sea Days can be either very active with lots of activities put on by the Party Planner and Cruise Director OR you can spend the day like us and just pamper yourselves.  We had breakfast in bed, lunch by the pool, Royal Dutch High Tea and finally the Captain’s Welcome and formal dinner. 

It was definitely a lazy day for us after all of the rushing around to get everyone on ship and settled.  We deserved it.  Our captain is a darling Englishman, Peter Harris, with a delightful sense of humour and, I hope, great navigational skills.  You know you’re getting old when the rest of the executive crew look like they are eighteen.  I’m sure this is not the case but they were very young. 

We “dressed” for dinner as it was a formal night.  Rick looked resplendent in his tuxedo as he smoozed with our tour group.  Everyone looked lovely and we had a delicious meal.  

After the Stage & Screen show put on by the Westerdam singers and dancers, we were off to visit a few of the bars on board – each with their own specialty – some jazz, some crooners, some disco, and so on.  Rick and i both love to sing and fortunately for us, no one has the nerve to come tell us to stop….at least not yet…..

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Panama Canal Cruise – Day Two

Welcome to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Holland America has its own private island in the Bahamas with beautiful beaches, parasailing, horseback riding, swimming with stingrays, and much more.  When we arrive at the island, there is a welcome centre where you can meet for any activities you may have signed up for or just hang out at the beach.  The water here is a beautiful turquoise blue with a darker blue in the deeper waters.

I decided that the Stingray exhibit would be different so we made our way to their enclosure.  This is an amazing attraction where you can swimming and feed the stingrays in a enclosed environment safe from predators.  After donning some snorkeling gear I head into the pool.  You can not stand up in the enclosure as you may accidentally step on a stingray and break its spine.  It’s difficult to know where they are as they kind of sneak up on you from behind so floating is a must. 

Shortly we are allowed to stand close to the pier so we can feed the rays.  A stingray professional instructs us in how to feed the stingrays properly and then we each take our turn.  We each got a squid about 8 inches long that we held in one hand.  Then when we put our hand in the water, the stingray comes right up and sucks it out of your hand.  You have to be careful to let go of your squid or the stingray will suck so hard to get its food that you will get a “stingray hicky”. 

While standing around feeding the stingrays, they have a great time swimming by your legs and rubbing their velvety skin over your legs http://genericoitalia.it/.  They are very soft but have a slimy feel to them when you pet them.  The scary part is the massive stinger they possess – some were about 6 feet long. 

There was one stingray with no stinger.  I asked the guide why and he show me a finger stump on his hand and said that is what happened to the stingray.  I was aghast until I realized that he was joking.  I never did find out why the stingray didn’t have a stinger.

After this adventure, there was a nice BBQ on the beach where I had some mahi mahi (I thought that was a Hawaiian thing), lots of fruit and salads.  Then we spent the rest of the day on the beach.  Half Moon Cay is definitely a paradise and we thoroughly enjoyed it. 

One lesson we learnt today is to check the expiration date on your sunscreen!!  Rick’s was ending May, 2009 and mine ended in 2007!!  We didn’t get burnt to a crisp but we did get some burn that we shouldn’t have.  You could say we got a little colour……

Also, when I got back to the ship I did notice a lump and bruise between my thumb and index finger where I had held the squid so I guess I managed to get myself a “stingray hicky”!!!

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