Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Panama Canal Take 2 and Limon, Costa Rica--Jan. 24-25

Today we are doing a partial transit of the Panama Canal. This time we will go through the locks to Gatun Lake and then passengers can get off on tenders and go on tours. After that we will return through the same locks and pick up the passengers at Cristobal. We are happy to stay on board and enjoy a sea day.

It’s a foggy, humid day as we start through the locks.

Two ships can go through parallel locks at the same time. The ship beside us has just been raised up to the higher elevation.

The gates are opening to allow the ship behind him to come through.

Here is where the linesmen hang out who have attached the lines to the “donkeys” to guide the ship through.

The fog isn’t lifting. It’s going to be a hot one!

It’s a busy day with lots of cruise ships going through the locks.

We have arrived in Gatun Lake. 14,000 ships a year go through the locks, so there are always lots of ships waiting to go through.

I have decided to take line dancing in an effort to get some exercise! Going to the gym has been an effort. Line dancing is very popular on the ship. Good thing most people are off on tours today and it’s a small group! I am concentrating so hard on counting the steps...doesn't look like I am having any fun, but I am!

It was a wonderful day on board. We met up with our group at “Mike’s” and most people were pooped from their day out. It has been quite port-intensive the last couple of days and we have another port day in Limon, Costa Rica tomorrow.

We visited Puntarenas on the Pacific side of Costa Rica on the last cruise and no one really had anything good to say about Limon, so we’ll see! Limon is on the Caribbean coast and has many banana plantations and thick, tropical jungle. The official language is Spanish, but a Jamaican dialect of English is spoken around Limon.

We are on a tour this morning with a Cruise Critic group which has been organized by Ken Hall. We’ve been communicating on-line for a couple of months now. Ken and his wife, Bobbie, live in Florida, but Ken’s father was born in Tracadie. New Brunswick. Small world!

Our tour guide, JJ, has gone to university for 5 years to become a tour guide. He is extremely knowledgeable. From our van, he spots several monkeys in a tree and we pile out to take pictures. I can’t even find the ones in the trees, but we sure look like a bunch of monkeys on the ground! We’re good tourists!! JJ is in the white shirt and shorts.

We can safely say that Limon is on the less prosperous side. We stop across the street from this store.

At this organic fruit stand…

Obviously, one of JJ’s favourite stops!

JJ gives us tiny organic bananas. They are the sweetest and most delicious bananas ever!

This is a cocoa bean plant. He gives us one of the little buds to put in our mouth. It is slimy and tart. Inside is the brown cocoa bean.

JJ’s son is along with us for the day. He is very shy. They do learn English in school and he appears to understand what is being said but is reluctant to speak to us. The kids are on school break until Feb. 10.

JJ spots different grasses and herbs along the side of the road for us to smell. This is the saffron plant. Who knew?

These kids are standing on the side of the road and JJ stops the bus to let them come on. One kid has a 3-toed sloth and the other has hibiscus flowers. You can see the dollar bills appearing!

Funny looking critter…they spend up to 18 hours a day sleeping in trees. They cannot walk on all four legs, so typically drag themselves across the rain forest floor. Although they aren't good walkers, they are agile swimmers. They are quite docile and when handled give the impression of being half asleep, but you have to watch out for their claws.

Here we are arriving at the Del Monte banana plantation. Costa Rica produces the best quality bananas in the world and this plantation is huge.

The different coloured ribbons indicate when the bananas were picked. One guy is going along the rows and selecting a banana from each batch to cut open. If he detects any black marks inside the banana, the whole batch is discarded.

Education is free in Costa Rica and everyone must have a high school diploma in order to work. Even a street sweeper will have a high school education. You do not leave high school until you get a diploma, no matter how long it takes. They have a very high literacy rate at 95%. Imagine doing this job all day…

At this point, the bananas have already gone through several sortings. If any black marks are seen on the outside, the bananas are immediately discarded and sent to the city for local use. We definitely should count our lucky stars that we don’t have to do this job.

The flowers appear in groups (hands) along the stem and are covered by purplish bracts which roll back and shed as the fruit stem develops. The first hands to appear contain female flowers which will develop into bananas (usually seedless in edible types). The number of hands of female flowers varies from a few to more than 10, after which numerous hands of sterile flowers appear and shed in succession, followed by numerous hands of male flowers which also shed. Generally, a bract rolls up and sheds to expose a new hand of flowers almost daily.

Getting back in the van to head to our next stop…a river ride.

Oops! Don’t go too fast on the road…there are banana crossings. This is not electric, but is being pulled by a guy at the front.

JJ points out the different trees along the way. This is a Fire of the Forest tree and does not have leaves but is very colourful and tall. They can easily be seen over the tops of the other trees in the forest.

Unfortunately, this is a very common sight along the road.

And then you come across a very attractive home with the yards neatly maintained.

We pass by the Dole facility. This ship is the largest refrigerated container ship in the world holding over one thousand 40 ft containers.

If any of the bananas in the containers are found to have black spots, the whole container load will be discarded. They have very high standards!

We arrive at our river cruise destination, which is located next to a nice hotel.

Unique picnic tables!

Here are the boats we’ll be using. We’re happy they are covered, because it is very hot.

Not sure if he is actually supposed to be working, but he is finding a way to beat the heat…

JJ is joined by a driver and two other guides. I don’t know if Tsunami is this guy’s name or if he is trying to tell us something. We don’t ask!

A beautiful crane…

A common sight along the river…

I forget the name of this bird, but look at his distinctive yellow feet!

These coconuts are harvested when they are green and are used solely for their milk.

Beautiful plants mixed in with the overgrown shrubs…

This is what a banana from a male plant looks like. Not edible! Someone asked if the monkeys would eat them, and surprisingly, we find out that monkeys don’t eat bananas! Who knew! They actually eat nuts and leaves from the fiscus trees. Monkeys only eat bananas when they are out of their natural habitat.

As we saw before, the fiscus trees are actually very dangerous as their roots wrap around other trees and strangle them.

Look at these roots…

We pass by another cruise company. They all promote eco tours…

Hmmm…not sure if we want to take this tour!

I have to check out this website to see what kind of place this is! Is this considered a nice resort, I wonder?

JJ spots this group on the river bank. I think it’s a frequent stop of his. The boy comes down to show us his “pet” crocodile. Get out those dollar bills!

This girl is standing in the background holding a racoon! Aren’t they nocturnal? She is making his paws "play the piano." It cracks me up because she is stealing crocodile boy’s thunder!

Once they see dollar bills, everyone gets in on the action! Monkey man brings his monkey down. Look at the girl playing with the racoon.

“What are you looking at!”

JJ takes everyone’s cameras and gets a group shot for them.

We head to the beach for a typical lunch Costa Rican. JJ says try the rice and beans, so we do. It’s delicious!

Ken and Bobbie, our Cruise Critic friends, who organized the tour. We ended up paying $35 each for the day…a steal! They are travelling in a group of 16 who know each other from a dancing group they belong to.

The local entertainment…yeah, it all started out good, but shortly they became a little annoying! Any time a new group of people came in, they started all their repertoire again, complete with the passing of the hat.

Lovely beach area…

Weaving hats…

We’re heading back to the ship and JJ takes us to a lookout where we get a nice panoramic view.

JJ tells us that the crime rate is very low in Costa Rica, but we do notice a lot of houses with barbed wire fences around them. He tells us that the laws in Costa Rica allow you to shoot a burglar as he has no right to be in your home. Strict laws! A man will receive an automatic two-year jail term for abusing his wife, and during this time she is able to sell anything and everything of his.

Heading back into town…some nicer areas…

And some not-so-nice areas…this is all within the same block.

Barber, manicure and pedicure…

The downtown area…

And after a great tour, we are back at the pier. After hearing some not-so-nice comments about Limon, we were very happy with our day. Most of it can be attributed to a great tour guide!

The ship next to ours is the P&O ship, the Oriana. It is interesting because there aren’t that many balconies on the ship, but the ones we see have very nice furniture on them. I think it’s probably a pretty pricey ship. The captain (I think we’ve lost our Italian captain at one of the ports and inherited a British one) tells us that there are some close friendships between the two ships, so we should expect a noisy send-off. He’s right! As we pull away from the dock, it’s a battle of the ships’ horns to see who will get the last word in!

I head down to the medical centre when it opens at 5:30. I have this stupid rash or hives on my face that won’t go away. It isn’t pretty! The doctor puts me on steroids and antihistimines for the next 5 days. Curses! Now that is going to curtail the drinks! We gather with our group at Mike’s to hear about everyone’s day.

Tomorrow is a sea day and everyone is looking forward to it!

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