7 April 2013

OUR LAST SEA DAY


And
      The treasures of the Westerdam

We have actually come to enjoy our “sea Days”.

 

Our sea days have all started with a leisurely breakfast in the stateroom. After that anything goes. The is so much going on that you can just walk around the ship going from venue to venue or you can just go and find a quiet spot and read a book or work on the written portion of a blog. There is no pressure to do anything. There are no tours booked and you don’t have to be anywhere at any particular time.

The pictures scattered through this posting are of the treasures and artwork throughout the Westerdam.

Many of the lounges have life music of a large variety of genres. In the piano lounge you will usually find a classical pianist and often he or she is accompanied a violin or saxophone. The HAL Cat band usually plays in the Ocean lounge with a variety of soloists. The steel drum player and band are usually performing around the main Lido Pool. The day can be a busy or as quiet as you wish it to be. The decision is yours.

 
A few interesting facts about the trip as of today. We are currently travelling along the north end of the Middle America Trench. The deepest reading shown on the screen so far is 12,758 ft. By the time we reach San Diego tomorrow we will have travelled 5170 nautical miles, seen 13 countries and visited 11 of them and not had one day of rain the whole trip. I am including Cuba and Panama in the count. When we travelled between Cuba and Haiti we travelled along the shore of Cuba and could see Cuba for at least 4 hours. So we have seen Cuba but have never been there.
 
We have crossed Panama, sailed her lakes and used her locks but we never touch land. So again we have seen a lot of Panama but we have never touch land there.

The meals have been surprisingly healthy, well proportioned and not one repeat. The head of dietary spoke at one of the coffee times with staff and was asked about the menu rotation. He said they do not have a rotation and this cruise has a 35 day menu plan. Many of the passengers are staying on the cruise ship in San Diego and continuing on to Hawaii and the south pacific then back to San Diego before doing a short relocation cruise from San Diego to Seattle where the Westerdam will do the Alaska cruises for the summer.

Some last minute cruise statistics:

- The ship, through its desalination plant, produces 1,700 tons of potable water per day. The daily consumption of potable water this trip was 750 tons per day.

- There were 1,778 passengers and 804 crew members.

- 1 nautical mile = 1.15 statute miles or 1.852 kilometers.
 


- The current Panama locks were built at 110 feet wide. Less 18” on each side to make room for the massive rubber bumpers that line the canal to keep the ships from getting scraped should the mules fail and the ships rub along the side. That leaves 6” on each side of the ship. Not a lot of room for error. We managed to transit all the locks without once hitting the side.
- Although a Panamanian Pilot comes on board the ship as it enters the canal, the pilot is never at the controls and is only on board to give advise and to help the captain navigate the waters through the lake stretches. The ship is propelled through the canal by its own power and the “Mules” are only there to keep the ship dead centre going through the locks.

 
 
 
 
 

The art work on board the Westerdam is worth well over 2 million dollars.


This picture is of one of the many tile mosaic floor patterns that you will often find yourself walking on as you make your way around the ships many hallways, lounges and entrances.
 

CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO


CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO



Cabo wasn’t and then it was. Let me explain:





As per out schedule we dropped anchor and were ready to start the tender process by 8am. What the Captain didn’t know was that the area where the port authority had us anchor was not that protected from the Pacific Ocean and, with the sea being very rolling this morning it was almost impossible to try and load the tenders with the ship rocking by as much as 6 feet. So the captain announced on the PA system that we was getting permission from the Port Authority to pull anchor and move closer into shore and away from the big waves.


He said if this was not possible, then we might have to forgo the land portion this stop. In the end he received the permission (I’m sure the port saw lost $$$ if they didn’t agree).

In order to keep the ship steady and make loading and unloading onto the tenders possible he had to keep the engines running and by using the stabilizers he was able to keep the ship reasonably steady and the tendering process started again, albeit over 1 ½ hours late.

It was around 9:30am that Lucy & I decided that Cabo wasn’t going to be a stop for us. We would stay on the ship and just enjoy the day relaxing. However by 10:30am it looked like the tendering was going well so we decided to try it anyway. We went down to the registration area in the Queen’s Lounge and received tender tickets. The wait would be 30 minutes.

There are two types of tenders being used today. One type is the port supplied Cabo Tenders. The second type of Tender were the ships own lifeboats. The lifeboats can hold up to well over a 100 people comfortably in long bench seats.

Our number was finally called and we took a Cabo Tender from the ship to the Cabo San Lucas harbour.

The Cabo San Lucas harbour area is VERY busy with tenders, fishing boats, glass bottom tourist boats, jet skis, catamarans, yachts of many sizes, deep sea fishing vessels, pelicans and harbour seals. That’s just on the water. On land it was even busier with a person every few feet trying to get you to take their tour by boat whether it be fishing, glass bottom or catamaran all for “a special price just for you today”. In between all of those there were merchants of all ages asking you to purchase the incredibly valued merchandise they were displaying in your face. This merchandise was mostly intricate silver jewellery but could also be cigars “straight from Cuba”, hats, sunglasses, cloth, masks, toys, gum, bead work and whatever else the artisans could possibly come up with. This is the first port where it was so very “in you face”. It was very uncomfortable and very annoying.

As usual Lucy and I did some meandering around the town located just a few blocks away from the port area. We had forgotten but by looking at the advertisements at the entrance to all of the Pharmacy’s, how may prescription drugs are available over the counter. One of the passengers on our ship is a Pharmacist. She said they stock up on antibiotics ie: Amoxicillin, Cipro and an antibiotic eye drop. So she said they were good to go for another year. She also said they go to Tijuana for all their dental work. Seniors take note. Your Mexican vacation can be two-fold!! Something to consider. I know we have friends who come down to Mexico for 6 months of the year. They always have all of their dental and medical work done in Mexico. He had is eye surgery done with great success. Dad Doerksen would have loved the adventure.

We took a long walk away from the port area to the business district. The shops and stores were very similar to what we have seen in P.V. and the previous stops.

 
 
 

With our time being limited here in Cabo we headed back to the port area and found a ocean-side restaurant where we stopped to have lunch.
 
Lucy ordered shrimp soft taco’s and I had the fish and chips. The servings were large so again, if we could agree on what we wanted to eat, we could have shared. Since we were eating at the restaurant we were given the WiFi code and were able to use the internet connection do some updating without a charge.







Even as we sat in the restaurant the vendors came through with their merchandise. Many of them being very young children. It seemed like this was an acceptable practice because the servers never paid much attention to them.




While sitting and having lunch we were able to watch the small fishing boats come back into port with their catch of the day. Following close behind them were the pelicans and harbour seals hoping to catch some remnant for lunch. The harbour seals were actually quite large and some tried to get onto the back of the boats.


Also from the port area you can see the surrounding hills. There are many hotels, resorts and private villas around the port area and up onto the barren, treeless hills. I don’t think you would come here for the flora display. The area is very dry and desert like. It seemed that unless you irrigated things simply did not grow.

It was soon time to get back to the ship. I know we were not here very long and we certainly only saw a small portion of the area but from what we felt and saw we were not drawn to this place. I will not be placed very high on our “return to visit” list.










Returning to the Tender area by way of the merchants marathon we had no problem getting on the first boat without a wait. This time we were able to get on one of the ships lifeboats so we were able to experience what it was like to sit in and ride in an actual life boat.









 
The rest of the day onboard we relaxed and spent some time up on deck watching but busyness of the harbour.



Then, with a triple blast of the ship’s horn, we turned 180 degrees on the spot and headed back out to sea. The Tender lifeboats were all back in place and life on board carried on as usual.




That was our last land stop before San Diego. Tomorrow is a sea day and a day to start packing for the early morning disembarkation on Saturday.

4 April 2013

PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO


A short day means an early wakeup! We were again having breakfast as we docked port side. Apparently this is a fairly new cruise ship terminal which was quite obvious as we got off. It was well organized and very clean.




Today we shared the port with our sister ship the Zaandam. Not quite as large as we are but still a fair size. The Zaandam arrived just before we did and in the afternoon it left about an hour before we did.



The temperature today was around 25 - 26C with a nice breeze and with very low humidity. So tolerable after some of the very hot and humid days we’ve endured.

Here are a couple of greeters. No idea why a goat is important as a greeter but all I could think of was that is was a way of greeting all the old goats getting off of the ship. Sorry but that’s all I could come up with.



We didn’t walk away from the pier far enough and so ended up paying too much for a ride into the old city. $5.00 each to get downtown.



Lucy was here with Carman and the kids about 10 years ago but so much has changed that it was like seeing it again for the first time. I’ve never been here but was amazed at the art work and amazed at how big the place is. Obviously they are very used to tourists and most of the café servers and shop keepers speak English to some degree. This, of course, made is easier to communicate. PS: we found our table cloth!!
 
So from the start we decided to walk around the old town starting with the Oceanside promenade. A concrete “sidewalk” all along the ocean side between the beach and the buildings. All along the promenade there are statues, sculptures and works of art of various shapes and forms.

 
 
Also along the beach, on the beach, there were a number of sand carvings done by some of the local youth. Of course there was a box at every sand sculpture asking for donations. We stopped to photograph some of the works and then we also meandered in an out of some of the shops/stores along the way. (we did a lot of meandering on this trip)

After a long stretch of the promenade we headed away from the beach a couple of blocks into the city and headed back. This is where we found the church and many other shops and cafes.











We did this for a couple of hours and then we decided to stop for something to eat and chose a place across from the beach called the “Cheeky Monkey”.
 
I had a meat lovers nacho plate and Lucy had crab cakes on a bed of pasta. The servings were huge, we should have shared. But then Lucy would only have had crab cakes and I would only have had pasta. The service was great and the food was excellent and reasonably priced.



Having had a great rest with refreshments we headed back down to the beach to walk on the sand and in the waves. We probably could have walked along the beach all the way back to the port it was that beautiful and long.




One of the interesting creatures to watch from the shore is the pelicans. Here they are larger than I imagined and they sit around on the anchored boats waiting for some unsuspecting fish to come by. This one was sitting on top of one of the hotels along the beach.

But after some distance we decided we needed to get back to the ship and headed away from the beach into the town where we knew we would find a taxi. Sure enough, for $3.00 we got a ride back to the Port. What we should have done this morning was walk all the way out of the port area and then grab a regular taxi to whatever destination we wanted. They are less expensive and generally faster. Fasten your seatbelt or hang on, they don’t slow for bumps or rough roads but you get to where you want to go.

On the ship we took some time to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet while the rest of the passengers slowly made their way back before departure. Security to get back on the ship was tight and, although we didn’t have to show our passport, all of our bags, backpacks and cameras were checked thoroughly before we were allowed to get anywhere near the ship. Everything is electronically scanned when you get onto the ship anyway so the extra port checks seemed a bit redundant.



Departure from Puerto Vallarta was exactly at 4pm. The tie ropes were released and, with a quadruple blast of the ships horn, we headed back out into open water.

We think we were able to place where Lucy went 10 years ago with Carman and the kids. She said she remembered that is was about a ½ hour out of the old city. This picture might be of the area.

As we headed out into the calm, clear open sea we were treated to a show from a couple of pods of Orcas swimming not that far off from the ship, slapping their tails and breaching from time to time.

It doesn’t take long and the land slowly disappears and all you see is water everywhere. We have been following the Middle America Trench which is very deep. We have see a lot of water in the last 2 ½ weeks and yet it is such a small portion of the total ocean volume of the world. When you try and fathom that thought it is a bit mind boggling.

As the day ends we watch as the sun simply floats down into the ocean and is extinguished for another day. Then it is the stars’ turn to take over their celestial positions to be gazed upon in awe. One then simply stands in silent wonder at our surroundings and says a prayer of praise to our Creator for all is perfectly and wonderfully made.

SURPRISING HUATULCO, MEXICO


The ship was just docking Starboard side as we were having breakfast on our deck. We were all tied up and ready by 8am. The daily program, The Explorer, stated: “Please note that there is NO shade on the pier. Also, it is a 2 ½ ships length walk to the bus/taxi area” That would be about 2500 feet.


We decided to go to the beach and also just look at what some of the possibilities would be for the day. The beach was right off the bow of the ship. Very strange to have the ship so close to the beach area.



So off we walked, away we walked. The beach area near the ship was so similar to the beach area in Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa that we felt right at home. Restaurants, shops, fishing boats and sand under your feet at the outdoor beach cafes.



We managed to get a good map from the tourist booth and decided to head into the city on foot. After a couple of blocks we realized that, being 34C, it was a bit too hot to be walking around with street clothes and bathing suits underneath. So, since we were not that far from the pier, we headed back on board, changed and then headed straight for the taxi stand.. :>) So, for $3.00 we took the cab right to the centre of La Crucecita which is all part of the Huatulco area.

We are also back to the country of the VW Bug!!

This is a resort town. It was obvious as soon as we stepped off of the pier. Not only do tourists from outside the country come to vacation here but also the local people living in the surrounding areas. There were actually more Mexicans on the beach than foreign tourists.

Using our trusty map we were able to find and visit the big church, the plaza with the wonderful shade trees and the market.

The market setup was exactly as we had found it in Zihuatanejo a few years ago. There are a few openings to the street to get into the market but the main market itself is rows and rows of corridors with small booths lining the corridors behind the main entrances. Tight, hot, smelly but vibrant. Every possible type of merchandise is available to purchase and more. Fabrics, shirts, skirts, toys, electrical appliances, everything for the do-it-yourself-ers. Food of all kinds from yellow chickens to the most delicious pastries. Then cafeteria row. Everyone speaking to you at the same time, all of them wanting you to purchase something from them. Children tugging at your clothes wanting to sell you gum or some trinket that their mother, grand mother or great-grandmother had made or the like.


But as we meandered through the market maze we still felt totally safe. The booths were run by whole families. The atmosphere was rather jovial actually. I soon realized that they were intrigued by our height. Most of the merchandise is hung on the walls and right over the walkways. I also soon realized that the kids would really start to giggle if I bumped my head on things so it became a bit of a dodge ball game, just for the fun of it.

We were looking for a tablecloth but in the end we came out empty handed. We found one that we liked but it was on one of the tables in the restaurant. The owner, however, was not willing to part with it. So after a good laugh we parted ways. Not that we weren’t offered one of equal quality and value but beige wasn’t the Mexican colour we had in mind.



We left the market place and found a small sidewalk café a couple of blocks away from the market and sat down for some refreshments and just to watch the life of the city.

It was garbage day. So here is what happened. The truck slowly makes it’s way down the street. The swamper on the back of the truck hit the metal box of the garbage truck with a metal bar, that being the signal to the businesses and residents to bring their own garbage and toss it into the back of the truck. Every once in a while the swamper would activate the bin crusher to empty the back and then start banging on the truck. Everybody brought their bags and cans of garbage and dumped them into the truck themselves. The truck was no different than what we use back home but with a personal twist. Unfortunately I was so amused in watching this process that I totally forgot to take a picture.

$3.00 later we were back at the port and back on the ship for a quick change and then off to the beach for a swim and some WiFi updating.

Here is the issue with the Blog right now. If I am on the ships WiFi, which is very costly, my blog template is in English. As soon as we go ashore and use WiFi on shore, the template changes to the language of the host country. So in the Caribbean the template was Dutch. I could make out what I had to do so I didn’t have a problem. But since then the blog is in Spanish so I have to keep the blog very basic and I have no idea what the word edit is in Spanish. PLUS, none of the Spanish on-shore WiFi stations have allowed me to download pictures onto the blogs. That’s why you are getting pictureless blogs at the moment. Once I figure that out I will try and edit them back in. If that doesn’t work I will add the pictures when I get back home.


Back to the beach. We found a nice beach table on the sand under this wonderful, shade palapa (canopy) with free WiFi if you ordered something to drink and a snack. So we did. We were right next to the water so we took turns going in for a swim and a walk along the beach. Lucy loved the fact that she could have her feet in the sand while sitting in the shade watching the happenings round her. We didn’t want to leave all of our stuff just lying around unattended. And, just like in Ixtapa, the merchant sellers would come by on a regular basis with all the jewellery and trinkets for sale. And besides that we had to shoo away these black birds that kept flying right onto the table and stealing our tortilla chips. The birds are not black birds nor crows but some skinny melding of the two.



The area of Huatulco processes all their sewage and there is no dumping of raw sewage into the ocean. This results in a very clean ocean shore area. Even the part of the ocean right under the ship, as it seemed we were, was crystal clean, teaming with marine life and safe for swimming.

I started this blog by saying Huatulco was a surprise. We had read up about it but didn’t realize that it was as well established as it was. We felt welcome and the people seemed to be quite used to having foreign tourists around. We felt safe in every part of the areas that we visited. And we liked the fact that the area is a vacation spot for Mexicans as well. We both feel that this could be a place that we could come back to for a vacation.

Since we were so close to the ship we didn’t really worry about the time and stayed at the beach only until we needed to get back on board.

One of the things that I have spent a lot of time doing is watching the docking and undocking process. I am very intrigued by the intricacies of the process. From the “final horn” for the last call for boarding to the final push-off never ceases to amaze me. I’m usually at the railing on whichever side is adjacent to the pier and watching. I have had the fortunate opportunity to watch this process three times from our own patio when we were docked starboard as the ship usually docks port side.
 
Today’s departure was prompt and speedy. We have a lot of NM’s to cover over the next 36 hours. (Nautical miles) Tomorrow is a Sea Day. Everyone is really looking forward to a day of rest. We have been going pretty steady for the last 5 days.

Tomorrow will be a day in Puerto Vallarta, then a day in Cabo San Lucas, then another sea day and then we are back in San Diego where we will do our final disembarkation and transfer to the airport for our flight home.

1 April 2013


PUERTO CHIAPAS, MEXICO





“DING, DING, DING, DING, DING, DING… Your attention please. This is the 1st officer from the bridge of the Westerdam speaking. The sound you have just heard is the fire alarm. A fire has been detected in the silo of the aft incinerator. Please sand by for further instruction. All fire staff to their stations please!”

Not what you want to hear when you are 100 miles of the coast and in very deep water AND at 4am on Easter Sunday morning.

Then moments later:
“DING, DING, DING, DING… Attention passengers this is your captain speaking. A fire has been detected in silo of the aft incinerator. Please stand by for further instructions.”

Then 5 minutes later:
“DING etc… Attention all passengers. This is your captain speaking. The fire in the silo has been contained and extinguished. I repeat, the fire has been contained and extinguished. No further action will be necessary at this time.”

“Ding etc…Attention all fire crew. Please stand down. Thank you for your cooperation.”
 
It is now 4:30am and now we had to try to go back to sleep.
 
After that early start we had b’fast and headed to the dock bus area and took a local shuttle bus into the city of Tapachula for our usual self-guided walkabout. ½ hour bus ride in each direction and the cost was $10.00 roundtrip.





The guide on the bus told us a lot about the city and the area which is really growing. We drove by a massive university, high school and hospital. It all looked very clean and fairly new.





The city shows more of the poorer side. The sea port was build about 10 years ago to encourage tourism in this province. It seemed as though the residents simply accepted and basically ignored us. It might take a few years before they realize the source of funds that tourists can be to them but for right now it was easy to walk anywhere without being accosted by sales people.


We walked through many markets, alleyways and plazas. This is definitely not wheelchair accessible city. Even walking you have to be careful you don’t step into a hole of off of a sudden curb. Sidewalks end and start at will and you must keep looking down ahead of you so you can plan your route.

Being Easter Sunday a lot of businesses were closed but the markets and plaza areas were open and full of people, both local and foreign to watch the dancers and various entertainers.





The people seem very happy and when we asked they tried to be as helpful as possible.

 
Our days don’t last that long because in this heat and humidity you can only last so long before you need to stop. We rested in the shade of these wonderful, huge trees quite often and of course continue to drink lots of water that we take along from the ship.

 
The ½ hour bus ride back to the ship was much more quiet than the outbound ride. People just get tired.



We learned today that a couple missed the ship in Cartagena, Columbia. They did not have their passports with them although we are told with every days announcement and the daily schedule sheets that we get every evening that we should not leave the ship without are Cruise Cards and our passports. Apparently, after much expense they rejoined the cruise in Costa Rica totally missing the three day in between including the Panama Canal transit day. One lady said, “Well they are just plain stupid”.

Today we took Easter Dinner in the Vista Dining room.

Tomorrow, Huatulco, Mexico.