Merry Christmas – Limon, Costa Rica

We were greeted Christmas morning to a very overcast sky and scattered showers. I admit I was a little bit grateful as the forecast for high temp dropped by about five degrees(f). Our excursion today was to take us on a short walk in the rain forest, followed by a canal cruise then a drive through the city back to the ship. We were again instructed to bring a government photo ID, and our vaccination card (or photo of it). This time, however, they had someone just off the ship who took photos of our vaccination records.

I came armed with a full bottle of mosquito repellent as mosquitos just love me (sadly). I had husband spray me down, then I offered the bottle to anyone else who might not have thought to bring some. I had a few takers out of the group!

The walk was uphill, steep, but not overly so, and we were moving at a slow pace in order to look for wildlife. However, I have to add that the path was covered with rocks, leaves, and protruding roots and, being a rain forest, it was all wet, which of course made it slippery. On the way back down the hill one lady from the tour slipped and landed on her back. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt, but I did hear later in the cruise that a woman on another rain forest walk fell and broke her leg. So if you consider this excursion, please wear sturdy shoes and use caution.

We were not far along the walk when our guide spotted poisonous tree frogs. Beautiful in color, green with black spots. He actually nudged it out from under a leaf so we could get some pictures. A little further on the walk, we came across a few more, and then even more. They were found in abundance under a large growth of bamboo.

The bamboo was amazing and grows in abundance here. They are quite impressive in size and shape of the stalks. I’ve included a picture with my hand in front of one of the stalks – and note I do have large hands.

As we continued to walk up the hill, someone shouted the word many of us were hoping to hear ….. S-L-O-T-H!! Excitement abound as everyone looked for the sloth that had been spotted above in the tree. I saw it! And it was moving around in the tree! Even our guide was excited about this as he says it is often hard to spot them so high up. He guessed the sloth might have been moving around to either dry off a little, or find a better position for any additional rain. It was really a neat experience to see the sloth in its natural habitat.

I wasn’t able to get a picture of it as it was partially hidden behind a large branch, but slightly above the sloth and on the far side of the tree was a vulture. Our guide mentioned, when it took flight, that it was actually a King Vulture and he added they are quite rare to see. I really wish I had been able to get a picture. When it took flight, its wing span was amazing!

After some time spent taking pictures and watching the sloth we continued on for a couple more minutes then headed back down the hill. When almost back down, we stopped at a fork in the trail and there were facilities to use before getting back on the bus and heading for the canal ride. I added mention of facilities because some folks do wonder if there are places available on tours. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly. No sooner than we got back on the bus, it began raining. he bus ride took a few minutes and took us past their Chiquita Banana facility.

The place we parked and got off the bus had some beautiful flowers planted around. There was a trail to the boat, lined with beautiful tropical plants and flowers. Our guide also pointed out a not so pretty (in my opinion) side of nature, a couple of decent sized spiders. Ick!

Fortunately, the boats were covered as the rain continued. The seats were hard metal, but they did have life jackets placed on the seat backs to help with a little comfort. We all boarded the boat and before we could even pull away from the dock, old eagle eyes (I believe it was the same woman that spotted the sloth on the walk), spotted a sloth moving around a lot in the tree across the canal. We ended up sitting there for a couple of minutes and this guy was very active, climbing from branch to branch, front and back and at one point almost looked like it did a little swing. Again, amazing, just amazing! And then off we went!

Both our guide, and the driver of the boat were on the lookout as well for wildlife. The canal cruise was only about 40 minutes I believe, and we saw at least a half a dozen sloth along the way. Along with the sloth, we saw several birds, including a couple of types of heron.

There was a lot of talk along the way about alligators/crocodiles. It was mentioned they had Caiman there. A smaller version, with a little different color and head shape. Lo and behold we came upon …. yes, a caiman! Just sitting there on someone’s boat ramp! The home owner’s dog (fenced in on the front porch) was none too happy about this guy being there. But it sat there for a minute or so letting us take pictures, then it walked into the water and let us get some good pictures of it swimming near the boat! Pretty cool!

And last but not least, of the amazing creatures we saw along the way, were the iguanas. We even spotted what they call, a “Jesus Christ Iguana”. Sorry, not pictured, I was having problems getting a good view of him with my camera as they kept swinging the boat around so everyone could get a good view.. As our guide explained it, this is the iguana that you sometimes see in videos running across the water – hence their nick name for it (because Jesus walked on water). Such beautiful color on these green iguanas, and they were not easy to spot as they blended in with the greenery around them all too well!

When the canal cruise was over, they had a small container of fresh fruit for us. There was also a stand where you had a small selection of souvenirs to choose from. Then it was back to the bus. There were facilities available here as well if anyone needed it.

Once back on the bus it was time to head back to the ship. At the port, they drop you near a shopping area that is a short walk from the ship. It is a bunch of little vendors with t-shirts, wood carvings, paintings on wood and other little things. Fortunately this area is covered by a large tent. This excursion was about four hours long in total and, like the other ports, was a morning excursion to beat the heat of the day. Then it was back onboard for more shipboard fun! At the end of the day, we returned to our cabin to find certificates for completing the Panama Canal transit the day before.

Panama Canal

The day after Cartagena, on Christmas Eve, we went through three gates of the new locks of the Panama Canal. It was a beautiful, but hot/humid partly sunny morning. The bridge is called the Bridge of Atlantic. I took a bunch of pictures of it, looking for just the right angle. I liked this one best!

We were already headed towards the locks when we woke so we stayed in our cabin for a bit, watching/listening to the commentary on the TV while watching from the balcony as well. This first image (below) shows the entrance to both sets of locks, the left, our path to the new locks and the right, the path to the old locks. One of the things that was kind of sad, was the commentator pointed out that there is already damage, from ships running into things. Two of the pictures show this – along a dock area, and concrete damage along the stairs. I’ve added labels to those two pics.

As with many cruises of this type, Princess has experts come aboard and they broadcast a lot of information about the old locks and the new throughout the ship. We learned that each door of the new locks were made in Italy and shipped over, and weigh 4200 tons each. Mind you, a lot more information was given, but I didn’t jot it down. The gates stuck in my head though! The gates on the new locks slide in/out unlike the old which I believe are two gate doors that swing open/closed.

Once we passed through the third gate, we entered Gatun Lake. It was at this point, that they began calling for excursion groups to meet for debarking. They were taken off by the lifeboats (used for tendering), to shore for their excursion. We would not see these folks again until early evening.

While most folks went ashore on excursions, we opted to stay onboard. I knew it was going to be particularly hot/humid and we agreed after the warm day in Cartagena that a day out of the sun would be a good break before Costa Rica the next day. Interestingly enough, it seemed as though every other person who stayed onboard were at the pools lol. We took the day and enjoyed time chatting with crew, enjoying a beverage or two, lovely lunch in the dining room, a nice nap/movie and just relaxed.

Around 4:30 PM we headed out of Gatun Lake and back through the three gates and made our way towards Cristobal, Panama. This is where we docked and waited for the folks on excursions to rejoin the ship. I will add that Cristobal is a working dock and there are very limited facilities. When we docked, two tour buses were waiting for us, and more arrived over the next couple of hours. We noticed that, because it is a working dock, passengers had to stay onboard the bus to wait for our arrival.

Although part of me wished we had done an excursion anyway, ultimately I was glad we stayed onboard as the temp tipped to about 91f with humidity in the 80 something %. We both realized we had a slight sunburn from Cartagena so it was good to not overexpose. And you can’t fault a nice relaxing day onboard a cruise ship!

Our next stop, Christmas Day, was Costa Rica…..

Cartagena, Colombia

After two days at sea, we docked in Cartagena, Colombia. We were required to bring a government issued photo ID and our vaccination cards, or photos of them, ashore with us, as well as being asked to wear masks at all times.

We had an excursion planned that was a horse and carriage tour of the old city and fortress. The sun was out and it was toasty and humid! Fortunately the excursions were mostly in the morning so we could get back to the ship before it hit the hottest of the day.

Our excursion was a short one at just 3 hours. We exited the ship and met our bus. Once everyone was there we were on our way with a drive through town to the old Fortress. We only had 10 minutes here, which was not enough time to explore. It was really only enough time to walk down past the ticket booth and back to the bus. It might not have taken so long, but the people selling their goods were everywhere. Selling hats, small leather purses, fans, jewelry, maracas, waters etc. Just know there are many and they can be quite pushy. There were also ladies dressed in colorful outfits trying to get you to take photos – for a price of course.

After the short view of the fortress, we were headed near the old city to meet our horse/carriage. They were lined along one of the narrow streets. The old city streets are too narrow for the buses which is why this tour uses the carriages. They load you four to a carriage so it’s full and off you go on the bumpy streets to the old city. They wound back and forth from street to street, a line of horse drawn carriages we went. All along the route we encountered more locals trying to sell you goods. Unfortunately, in my opinion, this really took away from the ability to enjoy the tour as they were even reaching over the carriages to try to get you to buy. However I think the part that bothered me the most were the ladies. I get it, they’re just trying to make money, but there were a couple of ladies that would approach you with a stool in hand, and begin trying to rub your arm or leg (not with lotion, just rub you).

Once the tour was over, the carriages stopped in the square and we were pointed in the direction of a jewelry store which was air conditioned and had a restroom. After that we had a few minutes to shop if we wanted before we followed our guide on a walk to the bus meeting area and it was back to the ship we went.

I can’t help but think it might have been nice to also see some of the newer side of Cartagena, pictured in the first couple of images as well to see how things have changed.

Back at the cruise port, they drop you on a different side than they picked us up. It caused us to walk through a zoo of sorts. There were lots of parrots, a few monkeys and other animals. We only walked straight through back to the ship and saw a few, rather than walking the whole place. There also appeared to be a restaurant and gift shop for those who wanted to stop.