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Dogsledding in Quebec

Mel treated me to a wonderful trip for my birthday. We stayed at the Ice Hotel in Station Touristique Duchesnay near Quebec City. On the afternoon of our arrival, we had booked a dogsledding adventure. This was great fun!

We arrived at the venue by bus, and disembarked to the howling of the dogs. They can hear the bus arrive and know that this means they get to run! Here is a pic of the kennel area:

Sled Dog Kennel, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Sled dog kennels, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec

It was really cold this afternoon, around 5 degrees F, but the dogs were comfortable and acclimated to the climate. They just lay on the snow or on top of their houses:

Sled Dog on top of their house, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Enjoying the winter weather atop his doghouse!

After some instruction from our guide, we met our team at our sled:

Our Sled Dog Team, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Two of our team’s dogs, the big, strong ones at the back of the team of six dogs.

Then, we were off!!


We went on a hilly course, and I had to get off the sled and run and push up the hills to help the dog team. The lead dog always knew what was going on, and I noticed him (or her?) checking over their shoulder every time I got off or back on the sled. These dogs are magnificent, and just live to pull sleds.

We had a bit of a problem part way through, a pair of dogs fighting each other. Our guide had to swap a dog from our team with one from her team.

Unrest Among The Sled Dog Team, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Unrest among the team members.

We arrived back at the kennels after a lovely circuit through woods, up and down hills, and along the banks of a nice river. Now it was time to thank the dogs for all their hard work:

Arriving back at the kennels, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Arrival back at the kennels.

Mel thanking the dogs, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Mel giving the dogs some lovin’.

These dogs are not house pets, but they are very affectionate and enjoy human company and touch.

We then went to the yurt for some hot chocolate and got to meet one of the puppies:

Puppy, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Sweet girl! (Kind of stinky, though!)

One member of our team was an 11-year old female, still pulling after all these years! When the dogs no longer want to pull, they are retired, and get taken for walks from time to time. One of the dogs is the mascot and has her own area where guests can pet her:

Mascot Dog, Station Touristique Duchesnay, Quebec
Mel and the mascot.

This was one of those memorable experiences we seek as travelers. Add it to your list of things to do!

Happy travels!

-Steve

Costa Mesa, Southern California

Mel and I are in Southern California visiting Helen Long and her family on Balboa Island. We are also going to drive to Santa Barbara and empty the storage unit we have been renting for years now…

Yesterday we had lunch with Helen, her daughter Pat Borison and Pat’s son Randy Borison, and Bob Lee on the deck of Helen’s Balboa Island home overlooking Newport Harbor. A lovely day, and so nice to see Helen again after around a year and a half.  Many memories were brought back for me, watching the boats go by on the bay, and the people and dogs walk by on the boardwalk below us.

Mel and I are staying (with free weekend nights earned in a promotion!) at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Pretty nice property, and directly across the street from the mall. This latter point is interesting because Charlie Palmer has opened a restaurant at the mall. It is actually in the Bloomingdale’s building. I remember reading somewhere that Charlie had felt that his original restaurant in New York (Aureole) had benefited with its proximity to Bloomingdale’s, and here was a chance to recreate something like that on the left coast.

We tried the restaurant last night. It was very good, yet I have to say we were both a little disappointed.

We started out looking at the wine list after being asked what we would like to drink. After reading it for 15 minutes or so with no dinner menu, our waiter came over to ask if we had made a selection. We explained the difficulty of doing so without seeing the food menu – he agreed and delivered our menus. On the menu was a five-course tasting menu offered with or without wine pairing.  These tasting menus can be pretty fantastic, so we were interested. However, aside from establishing the existence of the tasting menu, the dinner menu provide no further information. So, we waited again until our waiter came back to the table and asked him what the tasting menu was.  He read it to us from the back of his order booklet.  Strange that it is not printed somewhere, even on an insert.  We mulled it over and decided we did not want the tasting menu. After deciding what we wanted to order, we turned our attention back to the wine list. The wine list had so many possibilities we decided we wanted to speak to the sommelier to help us decide. Our waiter returned, heard our request and promptly the sommelier came over and helped us select a Spanish wine to accompany our dinner. The wine was Flor de Pingus ’06, Ribera del Duero. We knew (or know?) nothing of this appellation, but the sommelier offered it as his recommendation based on what we told him we were interested in, which include some Riojas, also a Spanish wine. Anyhow, he brought it already decanted, and it was great!

Now, back to the food. We ordered entrees and side dishes only. Mel the aged New York, Steve the mushroom-stuffed quail. The dishes were good, very good even, but just did not send us for a loop. Mel’s steak had very good flavor, but was really tough and hard to cut on one end. My quail was sort of buried under the mushrooms and truffle sauce. The flavors were very nice, but little quail made it through. Here is a pic of my entree:

Steve's Mushroom-Stuffed Quail Entree
Steve’s Mushroom-Stuffed Quail Entree With Mini Veggies

For dessert we ordered a trio of chocolate, recommended by our waiter over our initial choice of a cheesecake with a ginger-strawberry coulis and orange-campari sorbet. Here is a pic of the chocolate trio:

Chocolate Trio Dessert
Chocolate Trio Dessert

The ‘sorbet’ with milk chocolate (how does a sorbet have dairy in it?) was simply strange. The huge chocolate-caramel tart was fine, though awfully sweet. The white chocolate mousse with strawberry was nice.  We were not all that excited about it, and our waiter did offer to bring us the cheesecake, but we’d had enough by then.

We had a fantastic meal and a great evening, don’t get me wrong.  I guess we just had our expectations, especially for service, set a little too high.

Today is a beautiful Southern California summer day laid our before us.  We better go to the beach!

Happy travels!

-Steve

Aboard SeaDreamII – Puerto Rico and nearby islands

We arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico late at night. One of our bags (my large one) did not make it, and by the time we’d completed all the paperwork and caught a cab to the hotel it was well past midnight. We had planned on staying two nights prior to embarkation, so the delayed luggage proved not to be a big deal, but it is still stressful.

Puerto Rico is fun! The people love their music and enjoy one another and life. Their care-free spirit carries over onto the highways.

We wandered around old San Juan. The architecture reminds both of us of Canary Island homes, with wooden balconies and vivid paint schemes. Hardly a surpirse, the Canaries being the Spanish jumping off point for the New World.

Street in old San Juan
Street in old San Juan, Puerto Rico

It felt strange to be so clearly in the States, yet in so utterly a Spanish culture, with the post office personnel speaking Spanish, and English only secondarily.

On Friday, December 19th we boarded the ship for our 9-day cruise. The SeaDream II is tiny, around 4000 tons with a capacity of 110 guests only. But it is a very nice little ship and we have a nice cabin on deck two (steerage with porthole windows). Similar to Seabourn, the service and cuisine are top notch, with everything included.

We left San Juan for two other Puerto Rican islands, Culebrita in the morning, Vieques in the evening. Culebrita is a small island and wildlife refuge, unpopulated by humans. Mel and I hiked to a nice beach and sunned and swam awhile.

Tortuga Beach, Culebrita, Puerto Rico
Tortuga Beach, Culebrita Island, Puerto Rico

We reboarded and had lunch en route to the second island of the day, Vieques. We anchored off of Esperanza. At 7:00 pm we had a shore excursion to Mosquito Bay on this island renowned for its bio luminescent plankton (dinoflagellates). We motored around on our electrically-powered pontoon boat and marveled at the glowing wake and the glowing paths of fish that were spooked by our vessel. We moored in the middle of the bay and had the opportunity to swim in the water. What fun! Every move you make creates a glow, and the sparkling of these animals as the water ran down your arms and chest was fantastic. Impossible (for me, at least) to photograph., but here is a pic of the bus and our compatriots.

Bus to BioBay, Vieques, PR
Bus to bioluminescent bay (Mosquito Bay), Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

We were informed on this day that our itinerary had changed completely around due to a storm northeast of us in the Atlantic that was expected to bring high winds and large waves. So on Saturday the 21st we sailed for Saba and St. Bart’s. When we arrived at Saba (Netherlands Antilles) the winds were too high to allow for the tenders to take anyone ashore, so we departed immediately and arrived in Gustavia harbor, St. Barts around noon. We will overnight here and leave late tomorrow night, completing our cruise going eastwards with the wind and swell.

Happy travels!

-Steve

Barbados, St. Martin and some days at sea

During Christmas eve dinner several angels paraded through the restaurant singing a Swedish carol and carrying lit candles – lovely!

On Christmas day Santa arrived at the Veranda cafe at 8:00 am. We understood he was a bit hungover. In any event we did not make it.

We spent the day sunning on deck and sailing past St. Lucia and its magnificent Petons. We met a couple a year ago from Miami who told us how much they’d enjoyed St. Lucia – its always good to put a face to a name:

The Petons, St. Lucia
The Petons, St. Lucia as seen from sea

We had a nice Christmas dinner and turned in.

Our next day in Barbados was greatly enhanced by the generosity of our friends Helen and Graham who we have met onboard and who own a beachfront property on the island. They have a car here and we retrieved it and they dropped Mel and I off at the Blue Monkey restaurant and bar for a morning at the beach. This was really nice, and we found our own little stretch with shade and a nice place to swim:

Beach on Barbados
Beach near the Blue Monkey, west coast of Barbados

Graham had suggested lunch at the Sandy Lane Golf Club, and they picked us back up around 2:00 pm. This was a nice place to eat lunch with magnificent views and excellent food.

Lunch on Barbados
Lunch at the Sandy Lane Golf Club – what a view!

They then toured the island with us in their car. The east coast with powerful surf and scenic coastline is quite the contrast to the calm west coast:

East Coast of Barbados
The Atlantic Coast of Barbados – powerful surf and cliffs. We saw some surfers out here this day and it was well overhead.

After a day at sea, we anchored off of Marigot, St. Martin on the 28th. Walked around town a bit. Got a taxi to Grand Case which was small and lovely and serene, especially compared with Marigot. This  town is situated on a crescent bay with white coral sand and turquoise waters. We watched Frigate birds fishing just off the beach – they are beautiful -  black with long, angular wings and long beaks. They fish by soaring over their prey and then diving down to, but not into, the water and scoop up prey fish with their beaks. They seem to have to toss them around a bit before they can ingest them, and I estimate a 50% loss during this maneuver.

We had lunch at Le Tastevin ‘seaside gourmet restaurant.’ The attraction of St. Martin is the combination of Caribbean blue and French cuisine. An excellent lunch of fresh Mahimahi grilled and served with sweet potato puree and herbed butter. We had a half bottle of French champagne and overlooked the ocean, beach, the Frigate birds and Anguilla in the distance. A very enjoyable afternoon indeed!

Grande Case, St. Martin
Grande Case, St. Martin. View between two beach-front buildings along the main (i.e. only) drag.

Lunch table, Grande Case, St. Martin
The view from our lunch table at Le Tastevin restaurant, Grande Case, St. Martin

We took a taxi back to town and looked around a bit more then returned to the oasis that is our ship.

On the morning of the 29th we anchored off a small island near Virgin Gorda where we had a beach barbeque like the one we had a couple of weeks ago on Hunting Caye. That was a tough act to follow, but it was nice there. There were some incredible yachts anchored here. Our friend Graham lusts after the 80 ft + sail boats of which there were two or three examples. Large motor yachts also.

Anchor Bay, Virgin Gorda, BVI
The bay at which we anchored, Virgin Gorda, BVI. The Seabourn Legend is the largest ship in the bay, but not by much!

I expressed my displeasure with the chief purser the night before regarding the fact that they had canceled the shore excursion to ‘The Baths’, a national park on Virgin Gorda. An extended family is on board and the matriarch expressed her displeasure as well, evidently in a more effective manner, as we learned that morning that the ship had freed a tender to take some of us back to Virgin Gorda where we could make private tour arrangements. Anyhow we did get to go there and snorkel among the coves and rocks and bright tropical fish.

The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI
At The Baths, Virgin Gorda, BVI

Another journey is coming to an end. Not just our cruise, but that of our dear and mighty hound Ras. We hope she will make it until we get back to California on the night of the 2nd of January. She has been an inspiration in my life…

Happy New Year one and all!  May peace prevail on Earth.

-Steve

St. Barth’s and Deshaies, Guadaloupe

St. Barth’s is just delightful! Tiny, with narrow, steep roads and villas dotted all around the landscape. The capital city of Gustavia where we anchored is filled with quaint buildings, tons of expensive yachts anchored and tied up on the wharves, and designer storefronts. It is very clean.
The fist piece of rubbish we saw was a champagne cork!

The island is very arid with cactus. So arid, in fact, that this island was not populated by indiginous people. The people now here are overwhelmingly French (as opposed to African or Carribean descent). It quite literally is like being in France.

Tobacco Shop, Gustavia, St. Barth's
Tobacco Shop, Gustavia, St. Barth’s

Street Scene, Gustavia, St. Barth's
Street Scene, Gustavia, St. Barth’s

Street Scene, Gustavia, St. Barth's
Street Scene, Gustavia, St. Barth’s

After being warned it would be impossible to find a rental car Mel spotted an agency that was open. This was a pet store, and I waited among the tropical fish tanks and dog collars to be waited on. We rented a Suzuki speck for (Euro)75 and took off with our British acquaintances Graham and Helen for a tour. Mel had done her research and we set out for Plage Goveneur (Governor’s beach) – wow:

Governor Beach, St. Barth's
Governor Beach, St. Barth’s

Governor Beach, St. Barth's
Governor Beach, St. Barth’s

We then packed up and headed over to the next cove where Plage de Saline (Saline beach) is – another of Mel’s discoveries. Here is a large salt pond and some cafes. We ate at Espirit de Saline and it was good and quite expensive (as is St. Barth’s in general).

Lunch at Espirit del Saline, Saline Beach, St. Barth's
Lunch at Espirit del Saline, Saline Beach, St. Barth’s

Lunch at Espirit del Saline, Saline Beach, St. Barth's
Lunch at Espirit del Saline, Saline Beach, St. Barth’s

We then walked over to the beach proper there. Very nice with several boats anchored just offshore for (I guess) the day.

Saline Beach, St. Barth's
Saline Beach, St. Barth’s

After a swim there and a walk it was time to return to Gustavia and our ship. The staff set up a deck barbeque this night which was fun. They work so hard to set up a lavish spread and then tear it down in minutes flat to make way for the topside entertainment after dinner. Here are some shots of the spread and our mighty staff:

Staff on Seabourn Legend
Staff at the Deck Barbeque on Seabourn Legend

We had a nice sunset followed by a full moon.

Sunset, St. Barth's
Sun setting over Gustavia harbor, St. Barth’s

Moon over the ocean
Moon over the ocean

On Christmas eve morning we anchored off Deshaies, Guadaloupe. Mel and I just love this little town with its carribean pastel buildings, verdant rainforest and attractive coastline.

Waterfront, Deshaies, Guadaloupe
Waterfront, Deshaies, Guadaloupe

Restaurant menu, Deshaies, Guadaloupe
Restaurant menu, Deshaies, Guadaloupe

Fish seller, Deshaies, Guadaloupe
Drive-through fish sales, Deshaies, Guadaloupe

Colorful porch, Deshaies, Guadaloupe
Colorful porch, Deshaies, Guadaloupe

Building, Deshaies, Guadaloupe
Building, Deshaies, Guadaloupe

We went on what was described to us as a ‘pleasant walk’ to Plage Grand Anse. It was not that pleasant a walk, quite hot alongside the main highway for half a kilometer until the turnoff on a gravel road out to the beach – this another kilometer or so. But the beach is beautiful, deep and wide with yellow-tan sand and aquamarine waters. This is a fairly steep beach, so swimming there was one of those washed-out and washed back in experiences.

There is a cafe on the beach which was operating. What it really amounted to was one guy operating three fires on which he barbecued bueatiful looking fresh fish and fish steaks and cooked rice and foil-wrapped potatoes. Of course there were baguettes served as well. Rudimentary, but quite charming.

Plage Grande Anse, Guadaloupe
Plage Grande Anse, Guadaloupe

Cafe kitchen, Plage Grande Anse, Guadaloupe
Cafe kitchen, Plage Grande Anse, Guadaloupe

We walked back into town and shopped a bit. The rum made here is supposed to be the very best. We understand it is made from free-flow cane juice as opposed to being made from molasses. Anyway, we bought a bottle of dark, 6-year rum we will take home and try one day.

Back aboard for sunset, lifting of anchor and Christmas eve dinner.

Happy travels!

-Steve

Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

After a day at sea we docked on Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, at 1:00 pm on the 21st of December. The waters here are crystal clear and impossibly blue:

Blue waters, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Blue waters, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

This is the seat of government for the nation, but it is very small both in area (around 10 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point) and in population (3,500 souls). Historically the most important of the group of 40 islands as these things often go. The locals are convinced this is where Columbus first landed in the new world in 1492, and we understand that arguments in favor of this claim are quite strong. In any event, the waterfront along the Cockburn Town is named for the landing and is a national park.

I believe these are British possessions still, with Queen Elizabeth II the head of state represented by the local Governor. In any event, very British indeed and our conversations with the locals revealed a very clipped accent different from the patois we had come to expect of the Carribean islands. Our greeting of choice was ‘good afternoon!’ People are very proper and polite and we enjoyed speaking with them.

This place is just so layed back it appeals to us, and is a place we would like to return to and spend some time when we need to unwind. We’d better bring some books! This is a good place to dive evidently and we saw many dive shops and boats anchored offshore.

Cockburn Town is home to the important buildings and institutions – the assembly buildings, post office and library. Most of the building along the appropriately named Front Street have plaques on them describing their historical significance. Nice Carribean colonial architecture:

Sunnyside building, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Sunnyside building, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Library, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Library, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Church, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Church, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

We strolled through some alleys and photographed a few buildings. I am having a hard time describing the place. Feels like a lost corner of the Carribean in some ways. Anyway, here are some more pics:

Laundry drying, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Laundry drying, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Deserted building, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Deserted building, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

'Iron' building, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
‘Iron’ building, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Street Signs, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Street Signs, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Porch, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Shaded porches on two stories, Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Home in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Home in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Home in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Home in Cockburn Town, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

We returned to the ship and had a little time at sunset on the beach nearby. A great sunset that night:

Sunset, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
Sunset and the Seabourn Legend, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Next day was a day at sea enroute to St. Barth’s. We relaxed and enjoyed the great weather on deck, the flying fish and the dotty white clouds all around. The sun set this day right into a razor-sharp horizon line:

Sunset at sea enroute to St. Barths
Sunset at sea enroute to St. Barths

Our sommelier came to our suite and inventoried and stored our wines for us – such service! This guy is German, has 5 first (and middle) names and two surnames, is of royal blood, and I think only half-jokingly says he is 543rd in line to the British throne. He is really great and we wish we had had him on the first half of the cruise.

As I write this we are anchored at Gustavia, St. Barth’s and are readying to go ashore and bleed Euro. We hope to find a nice beach to linger on, do some shopping and have a fabulous French lunch possibly (!) accompanied with French champagne.

Cheers!

-Steve

Belize City and a Day at Sea

We had dinner after leaving Roatan at Restaurant 2 with a Trattoria theme. The food here is always excellent, but on this night the real highlight was the simply perfect conditions at the aft end of the ship: tropically balmy and clear night, stars sparkling like diamonds, going through the colors of the rainbow, and an upward-facing crescent moon directly astern illuminating our wake providing a shimmering trail behind us leading to the horizon. It was magical!

The next morning we anchored at Belize City. Our shore excursion had been cancelled which was really disappointing to us – Mel especially had really looked forward to cave tubing after we had not done it on the North Island of New Zealand three years ago on our sabbatical trip. Anyhow, we made do and simply toured the city on our own for a couple of hours.

We anchored quite far offshore and used local tenders that held 50 or more passengers in contrast to our 24-passenger tenders we carry aboard. We arrived at a newly-built cruise passenger terminal with all the requisite shops and colorfully painted railings and facades. We blew through that and went for a walk first around the point forming the northern part of the city which is divided by a creek. The lighthouse is here as well as a Radisson Hotel. Much more interesting is the neighboring inn named the Great House. A wonderful building and we got a room tour to boot.

Belize City is an interesting city, with British colonial architecture and influence that is evident. We walked around the point where the lighthouse is situated on and came across Memorial Park. The homes there exhibit the colonial architecture I am talking about, with large porches and corrugated roofs:

Homes on Memorial Park, Belize City, Belize
Homes on Memorial Park, Belize City, Belize

Government House on the very southern tip of the south side of the city is classic – colonnaded, white, with wrought iron fencing and lawn and waterfront. Across the street is the Anglican Cathedral which is the oldest in Central America. Unfortunately (and even on this Sunday) the church was closed, but we circled it and looked at the tombs where the area’s cardinals had been buried.

Anglican Cathedral, Belize City, Belize
Anglican Cathedral, Belize City, Belize

Government House, Belize City, Belize
Government House, Belize City, Belize

Downtown is the courthouse, right of Treasury Street:

Courthouse, Belize City, Belize
Courthouse, Belize City, Belize

This being Sunday, the shops should have been all closed. But due to the proximity of Christmas, I guess, some stores were open. We went into a department store to have a look around and try to find hot sauce for John Shilling (we didn’t). The closer to the center of town we got, the more action there was, and we enjoyed Brodie’s, a large provisioner with a supermarket section, clothing, a pharmacy and so on. Very interesting to see what was stocked on the shelves, which included jars of tarragon imported from France. We did buy two bottles of hot sauce for John: Marie Sharp’s hot Habanero pepper sauce and her ‘Beware – comatose heat level’ Habanero sauce.

Here are a couple more pictures of the city:

Signs on a shop near the Swinging Bridge, Belize City, Belize
Signs on a shop near the Swinging Bridge, Belize City, Belize

House in Belize City, Belize
House in Belize City, Belize

After leaving Belize, we steamed for two days and arrived in Fort Lauderdale on the 19th. The swells were pretty big these two days, and Mel had a hard time one night. Suffice to say we dined in our suite that night!

One of the highlights of the last day at sea was the ‘market buffet’ lunch the crew put on for us. The buffet line circled through the galley, and the spread was beautifully done. It was festive and a nicel last lunch for those who were disembarking in Fort Lauderdale.

Here are some pics:

Welcome to the Buffet!
Last day lunch at sea – welcome table

Lunch Buffet Line
Lunch Buffet Line

Lunch Buffet LineBread Table
Bread Table

Andrea at the Pasta Station
Andrea at the Pasta Station

Whole steamed Mahimahi
Whole steamed Mahimahi

In Fort Lauderdale Mel and I rented a car and ran errands. These were not so bad as it included picking up some more wine! Had to stock up on champagne for the holidays, after all…

Tomorrow after a day at sea today we arrive at Grand Turk, one of the islands of the nation of Turks and Caicos. We spend the next two weeks exploring the Lesser Antilles.

We will keep posting here.

Happy Travels!

-Steve

Roatan, Honduras and Hunting Caye, Belize

We arrived and anchored at Roatan Island, Honduras the morning of the 14th after a day at sea. This island has a heavy English influence, having been an English possession and also run by English pirates for quite some time. The Brits ceded it to Honduras sometime in the 19th century. English is spoken as the fist language by many of the islanders. Right now it is quite popular, and real estate prices have risen dramatically as expats come here to live. This is a great place for diving, and there are some great beaches as well.

Turns out December is the last month of the rainy season here, and we were glad we had not booked any shore excursions for this day. Folks who did returned soaked to the bone. We went into the town of Coxen Hole (named for the pirate who established the port here) in the afternoon after most of the rain had stopped and took a look. This is really not much of an attraction, but gives an idea of how Hondurans live on Roatan. Here are some pics:

Corner Market, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Corner Market, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras

Carneceria, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
The butcher’s shop, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras

Bertos Ferry, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Bert’s Ferry Terminal, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras

Fish Seller's Cart, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Fish seller’s cart with cooler and scale, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras

Bananas at the Market, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras
Bananas at the Market, Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras

Sunset over Roatan from Seabourn Legend, Honduras
Sunset over Roatan from the Seabourn Legend, Honduras

The next day, the 15th of December, we arrived at the Belizean island of Hunting Caye, one of the Sapodilla Cayes on the very southern end of Belize’s barrier reef. This reef is the world’s second largest barrier reef (after Australia’s). The waters here are clear and rich, the reef magnificent. This area is preserved as an aquatic park.

Ship’s personnel set us up on the beach for the day. We had the ship’s marina’s water sports toys such as kayaks and windsurfers on shore. They also set up a full bar and brought provisions for a beach barbecue.

The beach is beautiful and the waters full of wildlife:

Beach on Hunting Caye, Belize
Beach with the Seabourn Legend offshore, Hunting Caye, Belize

Starfish, Hunting Caye, Belize
Starfish, Hunting Caye, Belize

The real highlight of the day on the beach is Seabourn’s traditional ‘caviar in the surf’ – caviar and champagne served in the ocean on a perfect tropical day in the Carribean!

Champagne in the Surf, Hunting Caye, Belize
Champagne in the Surf, Hunting Caye, Belize

Caviar in the surf, Hunting Caye, Belize
Caviar in the surf, Hunting Caye, Belize

Champagne in the Surf, Hunting Caye, Belize
Champagne in the Surf, Hunting Caye, Belize

Caviar in the surf, Hunting Caye, Belize
Caviar in the surf, Hunting Caye, Belize

After caviar one is ready for lunch, of course:

Buffet, Hunting Caye, Belize
Lunch spread, Hunting Caye, Belize

Barbecue, Hunting Caye, Belize
Our wonderful staff preparing lunch, Hunting Caye, Belize

Lunch, Hunting Caye, Belize
Life is good! Hunting Caye, Belize

Beach, Hunting Caye, Belize
Shot of the beach, Hunting Caye, Belize

This morning we are anchored off of Belize city. We are a little sad as our cave tubing shore excurions has been cancelled! We will go into the city and have a look around…

Happy travels!

-Steve

Cedar Valley Canopy Tour, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica

We docked in Puerto Moin, Costa Rica this morning. This is a commercial port just north of Puerto Limon, on the Carribean side of Costa Rica. The Dole pineapple ship anchored just offshore was a dead giveaway.

One of the famous nearby attractions is Tortugero Park with estuaries and lots of wildlife and a couple of shore excursions went there today. I believe lots of sea turtles nest in these estuaries.

After our experience at Manuel Antonio National Park craning our necks trying to see the wildlife in the canopy 200 ft above, we decided we wanted to try a canopy tour. This means zipping from tree to tree suspended on cables from a roller clipped on to what is basically a rock-climbing harness. Lots of exposure and adrenaline!

The forest on this side of Costa Rica is much wetter than on the Pacific side, a real rainforest with lots of wildlife. On the ride to the top of the hill where our cable zipping started we saw many very colorful frogs in the foliage of two species – one a brilliant red the other a lime-green and black wavy-striped species. These are poisonous frogs and their bright colors plainly advertise that. But, makes them easy to spot.

We ascended the first platform and prepared to take off. I went just before Mel in second position and made it to the first landing platform. After quite a delay I heard Mel coming along the line. The rollers sing along the cable as you ride along and that sound is transmitted through the cable itself and is quite loud. Much louder were Mel’s screams as she rode the cable towards us. She arrived basically in hysterics, tears running down her cheeks and just so pumped up on adrenaline she could hardly stand. The guide on the far end had to push her off – she just could not make herself do it on her own. He said “Close your eyes! Lift your feet!” he said and then pushed her off the platform.

This first transfer platform was about a million feet up in the air on a tree and the size of a postage stamp. Mel and I and two guides shared it, one guide trying to get me out of there on the second line, the other catching Mel and readying her for the next line on the other side of the tree.

After the second run we hit terra firma, a nice place to collect ourselves and take stock. All the essential bits were there. Seeing bullet ants and getting stung by a milder species sort of grounded us too.

Then off to the next platform and a series of six cables bringing us all the way to the bottom where we had begun.

We were all (Mel included) much more comfortable with the whole game plan by now, and I tried to pay attention to the canopy as I zipped through it. Can’t say I saw a whole lot! But just being up in the breeze high in the canopy of the forest is treat enough for sure.

Here is a shot taken from one of the platforms of a rider coming our way:

Canopy cable, Cedar Valley, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica
Cable and Platform in the canopy of the rainforest, Cedar Valley, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica

And here is a series of my dear and brave wife, Melisa, preparing to ride the line and taking off:

Mel on a cable, Cedar Valley, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica
Mel getting ready to go, Cedar Valley canopy tour, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica

Mel on a cable, Cedar Valley, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica
Mel taking off, Cedar Valley canopy tour, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica

Mel on a cable, Cedar Valley, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica
Mel on her way, Cedar Valley, Puerto Moin, Costa Rica

We have a sea day tomorrow, then arrive in Roatan, Honduras on Friday.

Happy travels!

-Steve

Transiting the Panama Canal

We transited the Panama Canal yesterday. What a fascinating experience! There is all the engineering wonder involved – the fact that this system was conceived and constructed a century ago and continues to operate essentially unchanged.

For me also recent reading and historical context added to the fascination. I’d recently read a history of the California gold rush and the stories of people travelling to the west coast of the US in 1849 and 1850 (and later) are striking. Some overland, some around the horn, and some overland across the Panama isthmus. But this large migration was an undeniable instigator (arguably one of many) of the eventual US involvement in Panama.

I had also read a history of the building of the canal, and I thought of the French effort hot on the heels of their Suez success and the bloodbath that effort turned out to be – the deaths due to yellow fever and malaria (among other diseases to be sure). We drove past the French graveyard on our shore excursion to Monkey Island the previous day…

There is also an amusement ride quality to going through the locks, and seeing these huge ships elevated and lowered 30 some feet at a time…

Average fees are US $80,000. This compares very well with the cost of going around South America.

We transited from the Pacific side and our first set of locks was the Miraflores Locks:

Towing train, Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal
Towing locomotive (or tug), Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

These tugs nurse vessels through the locks. The size of the locks limit the size of ships that can transit the canal, giving rise to the ‘panamax’ ships which clear the locks by literally inches on either side. There are large container ports on either end of the canal connected with a railroad, and oversize container ships will unload at these. The containers will then be moved by train to the other side and loaded on another container ship.

After clearing the locks on the Pacific side we entered the Galliard cut through the continental divide:

Galliard Cut, Panama Canal
Entering the Galliard Cut, Panama Canal

In the image above, Gold Hill is on the right. I forget the name of the hill on the left. This area forms the continental divide and was very challenging to dig through. The French basically crashed and burned here in 1890 or so. They were attmepting to construct a sea-level canal.

There is no gold in Gold Hill – the French named it Gold Hill in hopes of attracting investors to the project. The French effort failed due to lack of investors, among other reasons.

When the canal opened in 1914, the Galliard cut was 200 ft wide. Currently, and therefore in the photo above, the cut is 800 feet wide. It is hard to imagine transiting through the cut with only 100 feet on either side.

Work on the cut continues today:

Work on Galliard Cut, Panama Canal
Work on the Galliard Cut, Panama Canal

One hundred years later they are still fighting slides and erosion through the cut:

Landslide in Galliard Cut, Panama Canal
Landslide in the Galliard Cut, Panama Canal

And one hundred years later Gold Hill looks to be fairly well tamed:

Gold Hill, Galliard Cut, Panama Canal
Gold Hill, Galliard Cut, Panama Canal

The Panamanians voted in October in favor of widening the canal to allow for two-way traffic and in favor of adding a new set of locks, presumably larger. The new set of locks will consist of a single set of locks on either end of Gatun Lake (there are currently two sets of locks on the Pacific side and a single set on the Atlantic). This work has already begun in earnest:

Widening the Galliard Cut, Panama Canal
Widening the Galliard Cut, Panama Canal

Once through the cut we entered Lake Gatun, the result of damming the Chagres River. The basic structure of the Panama canal is this: Dam the Chagres which flows to the Atlantic, forming a large lake 85 feet above sea level. Build locks on the Atlantic side to the lake. Dig through the continental divide on the other side of the lake, and build locks down to the Pacific at the end of the cut.

We crossed the lake through which there is two-way traffic and approached Gatun locks which would lower us to sea level on the Atlantic side. These are a series of three chambers accomodating two ships at a time spaced one chamber apart. Fascinating to watch! Here are some pics:

Panamax ship, Gatun Lock, Panama Canal
Panamax ship, Gatun Lock, Panama Canal

Gatun Locks, Panama Canal
Gatun Locks, Panama Canal

Gatun Tug, Panama Canal
Tug descending Gatun Locks, Panama Canal

Panamax exiting Gatun Lock, Panama Canal
Panamax vessel leaving Gatun Lock, Panama Canal

Ship behind in Gatun Lock, Panama Canal
Ship in the lock behind us, Gatun Lock, Panama Canal

Leaving Gatun Lock, Panama Canal
Leaving the last lock, Gatun Lock, Panama Canal

We had rough seas last night here in the Carribean. We dined at ‘Restaurant 2′ where they served a tasting menu. Our experience in the past was that this was done with wine pairings, but that did not really happen last night. But it is a really fun way to dine. This restaurant is on deck seven in contrast to the main restaurant which is on deck three, and is also located at the extreme aft of our yacht. We were really moving around lots up there during dinner! Mel did okay thanks to here bonine, but wanted to get to bed right after dinner.

This morning is beautiful with tropical clouds and blue sky (and lots of whitecaps on the ocean!).

Happy travels!

-Steve