Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Little Honesty Among Friends

Map picture

For those of you who have followed along on our trips in the past, I am sure you know how enthusiastic I can be about sharing with you the many exciting things that Lisa and I are seeing and experiencing. By the same token, if a trip is just not particularly engaging, then I feel that a little honesty among friends is called for, and that I need to admit what I suspect you would read through the lines of my writing.

Sadly this cruise is falling into that second category; it is OK, but far from anything “special.” After our experience traveling to Lake Titicaca was such a disappointment, the remainder of our journey seems to be following course.

In any event, allow me to catch you up to speed as best I can on what has been happening, while those of you at home have enjoyed a large snow storm.

After our trip into the High Andes, we returned to meet our ship at Callao, which is itself a suburb of Lima, Peru. Lima was founded by the Spanish in 1535 and served for over 300 years as the capital of Spain’s South American Empire. From its regal history, it has earned the moniker the “City of Kings.” Even today Lima retains its importance as home to over 9 million people and as Capital of modern day Peru. Trying to visit a city which is so large in one day means that much gets missed; however, we decided to focus on two primary areas. First, we wanted to visit the old Colonial City, or the historic heart of Lima, and then later, we would drive into the area known as Miaflores, the modern side of Lima today.

Our first stop in the old city was to walk around the Plaza San Martin. DSC00562Dominating the center of this Plaza is a large monument to General Don San Martin, and at one time the buildings and hotels surrounding this square represented the very center of upper scale life in Peru. After walking around a little, our guide took us into one of the old and elegant hotels; it was as if we had walked back in times to the early 20’s.

Back in the car, we headed for the main square of Peru in which is located the Presidential Palace, City Hall, the Cathedral, and the Place of the Archbishop. DSC00599We walked around enjoying the sites, and had worked our way over to the Presidential Palace to take some photographs, when a ceremonial guard appeared for a changing ceremony. The next thing we knew was that we were gruffly being pushed back behind some hastily erected barriers by tall, mean looking guys, carrying nasty looking batons which they were clearly prepared to use. That quickly cooled our interest in the Plaza, and so we found a little place to sit away from the heat and enjoyed a coffee and water. When we were finished, we got back into our car and headed to Miaflores to see the newer part of the city and also to look for some shoes that would fit Lisa’s feet a little better than what she brought. After finding the shoes, two things were becoming apparent; first, it was becoming incredibly hot and humid with almost no breeze, and second, the traffic was building to grid-lock. When our guide admitted that the traffic would only get worse and that for the most part we had seen Lima, we cut our outing short, and headed back to the ship which fortunately was not too far at that point. Thus ends our day in Lima.

The following day our ship docked at Salaverry, Peru which is the port city for the nearby metropolitan city of Trujillo. Our interest in this stop was to see the ruins at Chan Chan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a rather miraculous city having been built around 1100 A.D. as the ancient capital of the Chimu Empire. When I came too Trujillo over 40 years ago, we were showed the ruins of Chan Chan, but were not allowed inside. Today was to be a special treat since I had learned that the interior of the city was built in the form of a maze; a maze that was known only to its citizens. Today we were taken on a guided tour of exactly what lay behind the 36 foot high walls. I was absolutely amazed. After clearing the maze at the entry, we stood in a large courtyard that could rival what I had seen in the Forbidden City in China.DSC00662 It was an extremely large ceremonial area with two areas that were raised above the floor, once such area for the Emperor and the other for his guest. Seating was all around the vividly decorated exterior. We walked for well over an hour in the heat and humidity, always being surprised and amazed at what lay around the next corner. Finally both Lisa and I gave out in the heat, and cut our visit a little short in order to seek some shade and water. While we were seated, we could both clearly hear the roar of the nearby surf, but of course that exit from the fortress was hidden to us mortals.

Following this visit, our bus travelled to another suburb of Trujillo, called Huachuca. Located there are the ruins of what is called the “Temple of the Dragon” or “Huaca Dragon.” This temple is thought to be around 1100 years old. DSC00645It is an adobe pyramidal temple decorated in high relief. When I first saw this structure 40 years ago, it was in pretty good shape. Today it is in need of some help. The government is making some steps to preserve the property, but nearby Chan Chan is grabbing all the glory and funding for now.

Before leaving Peru, I would point out that the western coast of South America has been populated over the centuries with innumerable Indian cultures. The Inca’s are perhaps the best known because they dominated and absorbed so many of the smaller tribes, thus becoming a large entity. They were then discovered and defeated by the Spanish.

Our next stop on our continuing journey north along the coast was a short stop at Manta, Ecuador. Frankly Lisa and I were still worn out by our overland trip and the full day spent in the heat of Lima, not to mention the great deal of walking we did in the heat around Chan Chan. All of this is my way of explaining that we were really tired and just decided to stay on the ship at Manta. The tour we would have taken would have us visit a factory to see how they process the tagua nut, after which we would go visit the factory where panama hats are made. Throw in a stop at the Civic Center, and we came up with a double yawn and fell back into bed to sleep! Great travelers we are……

On the 21st we reached the Panama Canal around 8am, and completed our transit by 2:30pm; which from my six or so crossings was record time.DSC00735 I have really planned on positioning myself with my video camera at a point where I could look forward over the bow as we went through the locks, and then play it back at high speed. Boy did that plan fail. Can you believe that there is one and only one place on this entire ship where a passenger can look forward? That one spot is on the very top deck which is open to the full effects of the sun and heat. Even if I could stand to stay there for an hour in the boiling sun and humidity, every other passenger with a camera is also trying to get to that one spot – so it got a little nasty at times. I gave up, which left me either looking out as we went by things, or looking aft at where we had been. After six crossings neither option seemed all that great, so I took some pictures and called it a day.

I did learn one bit of trivia that surprised me; in what direction does the Panama Canal travel? If you said East-West, as I did, then you would be wrong. The canal actually travels North-South. There is indeed something to learn every day.

Having crossed the canal, our ship paid a call to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Costa Rica actually has three distinct areas. The Capital, San Jose, is located in the Central Valley. There you will find the majority of the country’s wealth. On the West Coast there is a prospering middle class as tourism is becoming a big deal. Sadly on the East Coast where we made port, we got to see the poorest part of the country. Since there was not much to see, we took an eco-jungle cruise through The Tortuguero Canals. DSC00818I really thought the two hour long journey would be hot and boring, but I was wrong on both cases. It was a cloudy day and so the heat was tolerable. We actually got to see a large number of animals, including sloths, toucans, bats, iguanas, lizards, and more birds that I can name or count.

Leaving Costa Rica behind, we are now spending two days at sea to Key West. Having been there many, many times, it will be interesting to see if our old haunts are still there. Leaving Key West, the ship goes directly to Ft. Lauderdale, where we will get off on the 26th, and head home to the snow.

I am sorry this trip is not the most interesting we have ever shared. Perhaps in some way we are a little home sick for the Silver Explorer where there was always more activity.

We look forward to seeing everyone soon, and I will try to finish the pictures by tomorrow.


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