Sunday, December 23, 2012

What has happened after nearly a year of our lives? Dear reader, I am not a very reliable chronicler of our own life and travels as you know. I blame it on Facebook, an election year and my lack of discipline. But it has been quite a year, none-the-less. After our Panama Canal cruise we needed to center ourselves so we retreated to the desert. I can now see the importance of the desert experience to so many writers, poets and spiritual seekers.
We spent nearly a month off by ourselves in the wide open and desert quiet spaces. We enjoyed some time with our Boomer RVing friends near Quartzsite, AZ, attended to our annual dental maintenance in LosAlgodones, BC, Mexico and were moving on towards our favorite Sonoran desert "homesite" near Ajo, AZ when life caught up with us (me) in a dramatic way.

We had just arrived that Sunday (4 March) afternoon at the Yuma Elks Club to take on fresh water and dump our waste water after 3 weeks in the desert. That night I experienced the most violent nausea in my life. I attributed it to food poisoning from an unwashed orange I'd eaten earlier at an open public market. Well, after 8 hours the stomach quieted, I collapsed and then the fever began. We did finally go for a CAT scan Friday which determined that it was the gall bladder and not the orange as the cause of my discomfort and that we should find a surgeon soon for the task. But, by Sunday (and nearly a week of 102F temperature) I surrendered to Ms. Nancy's pleadings to go to emergency room at the hospital, which, by the way, was conveniently located across the street from our new Elks Club homesite. I was in the OR and under the knife before midnight; I was finally able to leave the following Saturday. Not much of a week really, but the infection took a while to subdue and I was pretty miserable, too. We ended up staying the month on that dirt lot behind the Elks while I experienced two endoscopic procedures to place and 2 weeks later, to remove a stent in the bile duct. I am immensely grateful that all worked out well and for the good care and attention received from hospital staff.
 Our winter  travels were cut short by the month long Yuma stay and we returned willingly to our homebase at Glen Eden to further convalesce and get serious about the garden and enjoying some of the flowers we'd planted in the fall.Our lives adjusted well to settling in. Tom became active again in the Riverside Co. Master Gardeners and Master Composters with workshops and public events. Nancy enjoyed the healing and increasingly warming waters of the outdoor pool on a daily basis. Over these years we long understood that we operate with different areas of interests and more importantly, different energy levels. Wow! We worked on RV lot, our personal projects and even managed to begin exploring southern incredibly diverse and sunny place. Actually, it  one of the truly few Mediterranean climates, likeTuscany, Chile, and South Africa. The challenge for the gardener is to learn what to plant when and how to irrigate effectively and efficiently in an arid climate with predominantly winter only rains. The other challenge is to realize that the sun at 33 degrees north latitude is a whole lot more powerful than what I was used to in the relatively dark northern Pennsylvania.

Speaking of which Tom had a great summer break when he flew back to the hills of PA for a wedding of the son of long time friends who has been more like a nephew or godson. Lucas married lovely Lee in a beautiful outdoor ceremony at his mother's home near Towanda, PA. The weather was perfect and the several days preparation provided a great chance to reconnect with old and long time friends. It was quite sobering for Tom to realize the children he saw born and watched through over the years grow now as adults and establishing their own families. His own children were teenagers when he and Ms.Nancy got together so many years ago (33 years and counting) that he missed this earlier phase. The weather was great and he had opportunities to see the many changes to the region. There are new installations of wind turbines on the mountain tops near Troy, PA and gas wells and pipelines all over these beautiful rolling hills with the fracking boom in the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits for which this old home area is ground zero.

For the balance of the summer we endured long periods of extemely hot and dry weather. It was a challenge to get any good tomatos or peppers from the garden, and everything seemed to suffer for it. But also heating up was the political season and Tom again became involved with voter registration and get out the vote activities both here in SoCal and on several occasions in the Las Vegas, NV area.
 There was lots of worry and concern this election season and we both did what we could, Nancy via the internet and Tom on phonebanks and neighborhood canvassing and it all paid off, and was fun, too, especially at close up during an Obama Rally  and on Election Night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Since the election life has settled back to normal activities here in SoCal with occasional outings to the beach (warmer water/fewer people) and restaurants (Indian and Thai topping the list). Overall it's been a great year but it's now time to get the motorhome back into shape for travel. Tom's been cleaning up the lot and planting a winter garden to hopefully still be producing when we return. He's also checking all RV systems and realizing it's time to catch up with basic cleaning and maintenance. Just in time for Christmas and here we are now! Hope to be on the road to the desert in a few weeks after new year and to start over again our seasonal travels through the desert southwest. Until next time, thanks for your patience and our best to you for a happy holiday season and wonderful new year!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

We're really back in SoCal...the Cruise finished, but our commentary didn't....

Well here we are in SoCal again and it looks like our blog ended with us just leaving LA for Miami via the Panama Canal. Here's the next installment in that saga. Along with a few pics. Will try to keep this up a bit more diligently as the spring rolls into summer early here in Corona, CA. Hope you enjoy:>

We docked early this morning at Fuerte Amador, Panama.....well, "docked" is not really the word....we anchored in the bay, and lowered the tenders from the deck (small boats holding maybe twenty people between inside and up on the deck), and had to take about a fifteen minute tender ride to get into town. 

Tom took the tender in early in the morning, in search of a real Panama Hat, (which are actually all made in Ecuador, but became popular in Panama after vendors from Ecuador marketed them in the early 1900s to the workers building the Panama Canal, then when Teddy Roosevelt, visiting the Canal project,  appeared in one in the newspapers, they were "Panama Hats" forever, despite their true origin. 

I, though, had a leisurely morning, then took the tender into town about lunchtime, where I met Tom, sporting his new Panama Hat, and we connected with the minibus that was to take us up into the hills to a rainforest preserve.

We learned one thing.....a sea that looks "calm as glass" to a ship the size of the Coral Princess, or on the webcam, is a completely different animal on a small boat....we lurched and rolled in the tender, and the waves looked huge, but I didn't get seasick at all, so was quite proud of myself.  

We drove about half the distance of the Panama Canal, to the midpoint of the canal, passing the prison where Manuel Noriega is now "in residence", having been returned from France to face another 20 years prison term here in Panama, and other interesting sites, then near the Culebra Cut and the Pedro Miguel locks of the Canal, drove up in the mountains to the reserve. 

Beautiful, preserved rain forest area, lots of birds, monkeys, several large rabbit sized rodents that I've forgotten the name, and lots and lots of butterflies. We went to a luxurious resort, where we had a "shopping experience", bathroom stop, view of the grounds, etc., then on to the ecological part of the tour.....

Atop the 10 story tower and Tom with his new Panama!
Once in the rainforest, we climbed up a ten story tower (well, not exactly was a large square tower, ten stories high, open, like the Eiffel Tower, but with ramps going up on all four sides, no steps.  So to get from one level to the next, you walked around all four sides of the structure, with each side's ramp leading you up 1/4 of a story, so the ramp wasn't too steep.  I don't think I could have DONE 10 stories of steps, but managed the ramp, although I was mighty glad to get to the top.  Coming down was a LOT easier. 

But, when we got to the top, it was surely worth it, because we had a wonderful bird's eye view of the Canal from the midpoint, looking both toward the Pacific and toward the Atlantic. Such an amazing accomplishment, even by today's standards, with today's equipment, and knowing that it was built at the turn of the 20th Century, more than a hundred years ago, in a tropical jungle, which at that time was rife with yellow fever, malaria and other diseases, which cost the lives of about 25,000 Canal workers, sobering. 

View of Canal and Gatun Lake
When we had looked our fill, down, down, down we went, around and around we went, ten stories down, and went to an ecological center with aquariums, reptiles, beautiful orchid gardens, and a large butterfly enclosure, where there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of brightly colored butterflies.

Finally, the minibus ride back to the Coral Princess, arriving at the dock in time to catch the last tender back to the ship.  Weren't too upset, though, because they check you off when you leave the ship and check you on when you get back, and if you are on a Princess tour, which we were, if you are late coming back, they won't leave you.  Something that is NOT true if you go off on your own, because when all THEIR tours are back, off they go, on schedule.  There is always talk of someone on a previous cruise who didn't make it back in time and had to fly to the next port of call, but we were safe from that. 

So, tired but happy, having seen lots of plants, animals, scenic vistas, etc., we pulled out of the harbor about dark, as Tom and I sat upstairs in the buffet by a window, watching the lights of Fuerte Amador, Panama disappear into the night, heading for the BIG one, going through the Panama Canal tomorrow. 

Thursday 12-29-11, Transit through the Panama Canal

We spent the night anchored just outside the entrance of the Panama Canal, together with several other ships waiting their appointed time to go through.   

Preparing to enter the first lock on the Pacific
Wake-up time was supposed to be 6 a.m., to be ready to enter the canal at 6:30 and the first locks at Miraflores locks about 6:40, but the tender gangplank is several decks below us, but on our side and almost under us, and we had our balcony door open slightly, so when the boat from the Canal authority came, bringing the pilot aboard (all ships take on a pilot, actually TWO pilots, expert in the transit of the Canal, who actually guide the boat through, although our Captain when asked, said slightly testily, "they are in an advisory role", hahahahaha), at 5:00 a.m., so we got up in the pitch dark, dressed, and were out on our balcony first, and then on the open part of our deck, forward, to watch us enter the Canal area, pass under the big bridge and begin to line ourselves up for the first lock. 

As we approached the first lock (there are two separate lanes of Canal), there was a huge car carrier in the one lane, and as we steamed toward the other one, we just had to trust that this big ship actually COULD fit into that small space, as we could see that the car carrier had only about a foot, maybe two on each side, and a bit more front and back. 

They threw our crew lines, and attached four huge lines to us one on each side in front and one on each side in back, as we entered the lock, and then five locomotive tugs held the lines to hold us steady in the locks.  The ship actually enters the lock under its own power, and the purpose of the lines is to hold it precisely in the middle of the lock so the ship isn't damaged by hitting the sides. 

Once you are in the lock, they let in water and raise the level to the water level of the next lock, and once you're at that level, the big gates open and you steam into the next lock at a higher level.  There were two locks to go through at Miraflores, then a short trip across Miraflores lake, and into the lock at Pedro Miguel.  Once those three locks were accomplished, there we were, lifted up across the Continental Divide, and sailing along on Gatun Lake.  This whole process took some hours, until almost lunchtime. 

We're finally there!
By then, we were very tired from standing all morning, and getting up at 5 a.m., so we repaired to our balcony for some sit down time, and a lovely room service lunch (club sandwiches, flan, homemade chocolate chip cookies, tea and coffee.....yeah, I know, I'm hopelessly off my eating plan, despite my best efforts.....MUST do Weight Watchers boot camp as soon as we return to undo the damage.  I've been walking a LOT, but surely have gained, hope not too much). 

Room service here on the ship is very nice.....cloth napkins, heavy china, covers on all the stuff, little china pitchers of cream for your we came across Gatun Lake to the final locks on the Atlantic side, we sat and munched our lunch on the balcony, then arrived at the Gatun Locks that would take us back down to sea level and spit us out into the Carribean.  We did the same process coming through the Gatun locks as the others, except in reverse, as we entered the locks on high water, then the water was drained out to bring us down to the level of the next lock, and when that was achieved, we sailed into the lower lock. 
The Culebra cuts at the Continental Divide...most difficult excavation of the entire canal project
Looking back at Gatun Lock heading into the Caribean

Finally, we sailed out into the Caribbean, had fun looking at all the ships anchored at the Atlantic end of the Canal, waiting to transit, but then collapsed and took a nap.

SO, the major purpose of the cruise has been achieved, but we still have plenty of fun and things to look forward to.  Tomorrow we make a stop in Cartegena, Colombia, and we'll be doing a tour of the old part of the city, then several hours on our own just to wander around and see stuff.  Then the next day, we make a stop in Aruba.

We know we had arrived on the Atlantic side though, both because the color of the water is different, AND, boy was it humid!!! 

At present, large container ships that are too big to fit in the locks  must unload on one end of the Canal, move their freight by the Panama Canal Railroad to the other side, then reload onto container ships waiting on the other side.  When the new locks are completed in 2014, they will be much larger (who knew in 1900 how big ships would be today?  at that time, they built the canal plenty big enough for the biggest ships they could contemplate), and after 2014, we'll be back to that situation again.  Who knows what will happen in another hundred years? 

The new locks will be alongside the old ones, which will continue in use, for the smaller ships, so the capacity of the Canal will be greatly increased as to the number of ships that can pass through and backups will be rare, they hope. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Holiday Cruise That Was...

Greetings once again from along the road in Quartzsite, AZ. We're a few weeks late and just back from our incredible Cruise Vacation and Birthday & Anniversary Celebration, but thought you might still enjoy our musings and photos from our trip from LosAngeles to Ft.Lauderdale, FL via the Panama Canal. We'll share some of our early reflections from emails and notes Nancy wrote early on the trip:

"Where to start? How many ways can one say "beyond our wildest imaginings" without it sounding overblown? But, honestly, that is the plain truth. No wonder people like to go on cruises!

First, the ship is absolutely beautiful, and much larger than it appears in pictures; a true First Class hotel of the sea, plus a whole lot more. Fine dining, really great entertainment.....we've gone to a Las Vegas type dance revue, a great singer and impressionist who "became" everyone from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash to Joe Cocker......then last night we went to a performance of a Las Vegas hypnotist who just came from a stint at the Riviera, and she was absolutely incredible and Vegas-style revues and musical shows.

Sailing has been quite smooth until last evening at dinner, when they announced that we would be crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec (you may remember, that is just below where we lived in Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, Mexico), There were strong winds out of the north, coming across the Gulf of Mexico and across the isthmus of Mexico, with winds in excess of 60 knots (a knot is 1 1/8 mi) hitting us obliquely on our port side, during the early hours and into the morning as we crossed the Gulf of Tehuantepec. Oh, dear.......hadn't felt the least bit seasick before, but was starting to worry.........

The captain said that in an effort to minimize discomfort in the passengers, he would be changing our heading and moving in close to shore in order to reduce the impact of the winds and the waves, but that outside access to the decks would be restricted for some hours during the night and early morning, and rooms on the port side of the ship should be very careful as balconies on that area would be very windy. SO.....I was quite worried,especially since we are on the port side, but I turned out to be a better sailor than I thought I would be, given my tendency to carsickness. I just kept telling my mind and body that it was just being in the rig on a very stormy and windy night, or driving down the road, and I guess my mind and body believed me (It helped to see the hypnotist and see what power mind had over body)

Here's a GREAT thing, though......normally, we have been cruising pretty much out of sight of land, although when we came down toward the end of Baja CA, we could see a line of mountains, and we could see where Baja CA ended, but of mainland Mexico, it was way too distant. BUT, to avoid the worst of the winds the change in course, bringing us close to shore meant that late last night, while we were still awake, we passed Puerto Escondido, then were just outside the 12 mile limit, plenty close enough in to see the lights of the towns, etc., and guess what we saw? Yep, the faro (lighthouse) at Puerto Angel, just around the headland from where we lived, and then the lights of Puerto Angel! We were sure of it, because that is the only lighthouse on that whole strip of coast, right there on the point of land that is Puerto Angel, that marks the point where mainland Mexico takes that big jog east. It felt really, really cool, to be passing our old hometown area of Puerto Angel so closely .

By the time we woke up this morning, seas were up, it was really windy, we could feel quite a bit of motion even in our stateroom which is in the very most stable part of the ship, (the middle or midships) but nothing more than one might feel going down the road in the motorhome, or sitting in the desert in the winter on a dark and windy night. We hadn't ordered room service for this morning, since we were up so late last night, we didn't want to be awakened by it, and the sea and wind were enough that Tom thought I should stay in the stateroom rather than try to go to the restaurant or buffet for breakfast, as they are all in the front of the ship on various decks and more motion is felt there.

As a longtime RVer with an exquisite sense of "level", I could tell that the ship was definitely leaning a little away from the winds, and pouring a bit of my tea onto the plate confirmed that as the tea pooled onto one side of the plate quickly.

There is much to do ( or not).....entertainment, live music, Scholarship at Sea lectures about the various ports we'll be visiting and other stuff, and everything from wine tastings, to demonstrations by the chef, the list of stuff going on takes up several pages, and you could never do it all, which makes it very hard for Tom to choose, as when you choose one thing, several others are being missed, hahahahaha.......the food is wonderful, and although we've pretty much stayed out of the buffet for meals and have eaten in the dining room, which is more the "French" way of eating, elegant food, with courses served slowly, food exquisite, but not large portions, conversation with your dinner partners (you can choose a table by yourself, or choose to share....we've chosen to share with either a table for 4 or for 6 and have met some incredibly interesting people.)

It's a very international crowd, with lots of Europeans, Asians, a fair number of folks from Canada and Australia, a smattering of South Americans, and of course a fair number of Americans. I've heard there are 200 children on board, but they aren't all that noticeable, both because Princess has a huge number of activities for them, they have a deck with special areas and activities for them, and you often don't see them except at the pool or movies, but also because they are mostly those types of kids who have been well socialized to behave, so aren't running amuck, which is nice. They were having live music in the atrium while we were sitting before supper in the espresso and pastry bar there, and when the musicians took a break, a lovely little eight year old girl stepped up to the piano and played flawlessly, for about fifteen minutes......I'm sure her grandparents who were there were bursting their buttons, she was really good.

Not only is the food wonderful, the desserts to die for, but everytime you sit down in a public area in one of the many comfortable armchairs, etc., to read your Kindle or just people watch, some spiffy attendant in a stiffly starched uniform will appear carrying a tray of tiny little tea sandwiches, or miniature pastries, or sushi, or at 3 p.m., warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk, little arrangements of cheeses and homemade breads and crackers, to offer you....the list goes on and on. Other than in your room, there are no trash cans. You finish something, sit it down on the table beside you and an attendant whisks it away........

So....I'm fighting the good fight on the weight program, doing the best I can.....have fallen prey to afternoon tea one day which is served in the dining room from 3:30 to 4:30, and is a steady round of tiny little tea sandwiches of everything from salami and cheese on tiny little croissants, to rare roast beef on tiny little rye rolls, with horseradish, and the biggest collection of little homemade scones with clotted cream and preserves to put on them, everything in the world that can be made from chocolate, little tiny fruit tarts with this incredible vanilla filling (my downfall....they DO, after all, have slices of fresh fruit on top so should be healthy, right?) You sit there and a steady round of attendants comes around with tray after tray of goodies, with the everpresent tongs to transfer some delicacy to your plate...

On our anniversary, (32 years with this year's winter solstice), we woke up to balloons and a poster on our door, and a nice card from Princess.......for your birthday, when you have dinner, of course, crew appears and sings happy birthday to you, and there is a lovely, small chocolate cake for you to share with your tablemates of the evening. (We sat at a table with a birthday girl the other night, so I saw what to expect tomorrow), when I will pretty painlessly turn 70!

The ship is decorated beautifully for Christmas, I understand that Santa is going to fill stockings for us, Christmas carolers abound, Santa is coming tonight......the crew on the ship are from all over the world, every one dressed in spotless, starched uniforms, with big smiles, and you are never more than a few feet away from someone who is looking to make your experience ever more wonderful. I really begin to see that it might be really nice to be rich, since I expect this is how people like royalty live on an everyday basis.

We're really looking forward to the various ports of call, and have been attending lectures and presentations of what to see, etc. at each one, and we've booked several tours, something at each stop, from a visit to a coffee plantation, etc., in Costa Rica, plus some wandering around on our own in Puntarenas, to a visit to a rainforest preserve and tram ride with aerial views of the Panama Canal from the tram at Fuerte Amador, Panama near the entrance to the Canal, to a short tour of Colonial Cartagena, Columbia, plus several hours of wandering around on our own there, to finally, in Aruba, where we'll do things separately, as Tom is going to do a National Park hike and nature preserve, and I'm going to do a boat trip in a glass bottomed boat over a reef and a famous shipwreck located less than 50 ft. below the surface, and home to many reef fish......."

So keep in touch and we'll post another installment in a few days as we take in some of the ports and the canal crossing. We re still trying to sort out the photos and the memories.
Happy trails for now