Panama City

After dinner last night, we enjoyed a lively folkloric dance show, Eight dancers and four musicians performed several numbers representative of the Panamanian culture.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

We booked a private tour with VIP Journeys Latin America, since we were interested in visiting the Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá (Panama Canal Interoceanic Museum), established in 1997 and devoted to the history of the construction of the Canal, including both the French and US involvement. The displays and narrative are mostly in Spanish, and no tours were offered by Crystal. Our tour guide, Fabio, spoke fluent English and was  able to help us fully appreciate the museum’s offerings.

Fabio is with VIP Journeys’ partner, EcoCircuitos Panama. The agency noticed that our ship was docked at the Port of Balboa, rather than the Port of Panama City as originally planned. They took a chance and sent Fabio here, hoping we would connect. We were concerned because our instructions didn’t look correct any more, so were really pleased with EcoCircuitos’ proactive approach. Fabio was very knowledgeable and professional, a perfect guide. He explained that his education was in tourism, plus additional studies in history, evident from his excitement about his country’s history. Panama requires all tour guides to be licensed, so they can ensure quality experiences for tourists.

Before visiting the museum, We strolled through the Casco Viejo (the old quarter), which dates back to the late 1600’s. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific Coast. Originally, buildings in this area could stand no higher than the Cathedral. That has since changed, and many buildings have been, or are being added to and renovated. Those buildings, though, must retain the original foundations.

This is actually the second site of Panama City. The original city was established in 1519 by Pedro Arias de Ávila, but was destroyed by the Welsh pirate, Henry Morgan (the original Captain Morgan) in 1671. The city was moved inland, and a double wall built around it for protection. Many of the stones from the original city were used to build this wall. There is one church, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy) which retains its original facade. All of the blocks and stones were moved and reassembled in Casco Viejo.

Buildings in this area represent many styles of architecture: Art Deco, French, Caribbean, and more. People came from all over the world during the canal construction (both the French attempt and the US completion), and brought their own architectural styles and preferences with them.

 

The American Trade Hotel was originally built to house the American Trade Developing Company in 1917. It was considered to be the first “skyscraper” of Panama City. TheIMG_5770 building housed Panama’s first modern apartments with reinforced concrete, using the same techniques perfected in the construction of the Panama Canal. In fact, it even housed many of the Canal’s workers.

The building was abandoned in the 2000s, and occupied by a lethal Casco Viejo street gang. During that time, gang members wrote quite a bit of graffiti on the walls. When the building was renovated, photos of the graffiti were incorporated into wallpaper that now lines the walls of the stairwells.

When the Panama Canal was built, local bricks were used to pave the streets in Casco Viejo. They were designed for buildings, and weren’t really strong enough for streets. Over the years, they have been patched and re-patched. During an historic renovation of the area, custom-made pavers were made by Pine Hall Brick, a US company based in North Carolina.

New pavers                                        Old bricks

At the Plaza de Francia (French Park), along the tip of Casco Viejo along the coast line, we saw monuments to some of the Frenchmen who were instrumental in France’s attempt to build the canal. One of the most notable, was Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had been instrumental in the aborted French construction of the Suez Canal several years before the United States took over. We also had great views of Panama City’s skyline and more modern buildings.

Our visit to the Panama Canal Interoceanic Museum was very informative. Established in 1997, the museum is devoted to the history of the construction of the Panama Canal in its various stages, including the first French construction attempt, the later construction by the United States, and the eventual transfer to Panamanian control. There is also a section dealing with the Panama Railroad which was constructed in the late 1840s to transport “49ers” (prospectors)  across the isthmus. We truly enjoyed this experience.

Late this afternoon, we got to see a NeoPanamax ship, one that must use the newer locks. Diamond Gas Sakura is a tanker built in 2018 that sails under the flag of the Bahamas, and it is 164 feet wide by 965 feet long, with a draft of 36.5 feet.

Tonight’s entertainment was Fox Fortura, a classically trained group of four young men, who made it to the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent in 2016. This is one more example of the quality of entertainment provided by Crystal – a marvelous way to end the evening!

 

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Cartagena, Colombia

Friday, January 10, 2020

Before today, most of what I knew about Cartagena was from the 1984 movie Romancing romancing-stone-dvdthe Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. It was a romantic comedy featuring a quiet romance novelist thrust into the adventure of her life when she goes to Colombia to try to rescue her sister who had been kidnapped by smugglers looking for a valuable emerald. Like the heroines in her novels, she meets an unlikely hero, and the story goes from there.

So…my vision of Colombia and Cartagena was of exotic birds, steamy jungles, waterfalls, mud, drug lords, crocodiles, and more. Needless to say, that vision was a bit inaccurate, though quite romantic. Indigenous people have lived around here for about 6,000 years, with the Puerto Hormiga Culture being the first documented community, from around 4000 BC. They would have enjoyed the mild climate and abundance of wildlife.

B9635F0D-B399-4202-B7DE-C19316EEA4F3Europeans arrived in the 1500s, and Cartagena de Indias, known as the Heroic City, wasfounded on June 1, 1533, by Pedro de Heredia y Fernández, a conquistador under contract to the Spanish Queen Joanna of Castile, looking for gold and silver. The city became an important port, subject to attack by pirates and corsairs. In 1586, a defensive wall was built around the city center. This area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Our guide, Ismael, took us first to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, originally constructed in 1536 by the Spanish, and expanded in 1657 and again in 1763. Named for King Philip IV of Spain, it is the largest fortress in the Americas. In 1747, Britain sent 196 ships to fight the six ships in Cartagena. They were so confident of victory that they printed coins ahead of time proclaiming their heroics. It turns out the British were not defeated by Cartagenans but by Yellow Fever. They eventually gave up their quest and returned home. General Blas de Lezo is credited with defeating the English invasion fleet, and a statue of him stands outside the fortress. General de Lezo suffered many wounds during his military career, losing his left leg, right arm and left eye. He considered these scars to be medals of honor.

We stopped by Las Bóvedas, The Vaults, originally built as dungeons, and now housing many craft stores and boutiques. I wouldn’t have minded a little more time for shopping. We walked through much of El Centro, with its beautiful homes, theaters, churches and plazas. Most of El Centro’s buildings remain intact thanks to its UNESCO designation. Any renovations here must retain the historic features. Buildings in other parts of the city were razed to make way for more modern structures. There are many high rise apartment buildings along the waterfront. 

My least favorite stop was at the Palacio de la Inquisición, Palace of the Inquisition. The Roman Catholic Inquisition lasted 200 years, from 1610 until Cartagena’s revolution in 1811.

San Pedro Claver, born in 1581 in Spain, came to Cartagena in 1616, where he was ordained a priest. He spent his life converting and ministering to the slave population there. It’s estimated that he baptized 300,000 slaves during his 38 years here. He was canonized by the Vatican in 1896 and proclaimed the patron saint of all Roman Catholic missions to African peoples. His remains are displayed at the Church of San Pedro de Claver in Cartagena.

After returning to ship, we enjoyed another lecture by Richard Morgan about transiting the Panama Canal. I’m looking forward to it tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Panama Canal Transit

January 11, 2010

I set the alarm on my smart phone for 6:30am, as we were scheduled to enter the Gatun Locks at 8:00am and I didn’t want to miss the approach. The alarm went off, I got up and dressed, then looked at the stateroom clock – 1:45am!! My phone’s time was off by 5 hours. Back to bed, fully dressed, until 6:30. Getting up this early was worth it – we were both very excited.

Although sea level is virtually the same on each side, tidal changes vary greatly from Atlantic to Pacific, from up to 3 feet on the Atlantic side, to as much as 20 feet on the Pacific. Each of the first twelve chambers is 1000 feet long by 110 feet wide by 48 feet deep. The six new chambers are 1400 feet long by 180 feet wide by 60 feet deep. Each of the new lock chambers has three holding basins. 60% of the water in the new chambers is reused, thus reducing the water lost to sea to nearly the same level as in the old chambers.

Ships were already lined up in the moonlight to make the transit. We entered from the north through the breakwater between Colón and Cristóbal, both cities named for Christopher Colunbus (Cristóbal Colón). We sailed under the new Atlantic Bridge, just inaugurated in August, 2019, then through the Gatún Locks. Off to the  right, we could see the path to the newer locks, which began operating in 2016.

The pilot arrived by boat to board Crystal Serenity. The pilot must be on board arrive before we can enter the canal, and works from the navigation bridge. The pilot is in total control of navigational through the canal. It takes years of training to become a canal pilot, at least 4-6 years. A senior pilot requires a few more years of training.

Two rowboats (pangas in Spanish) will come out to the ship to attach cables from the “towing” locomotives. There are two locomotives on each side of the ship, and they don’t actually “tow” the ship, rather they guide it to keep it from running hard into the side of the canal. These locomotives operate on a cog rail, running on 400 volt current.

Once we passed through the three Gatún Locks, we entered Gatún Lake, a 166 square mile artificial lake created to make the canal possible. What once was hills and valleys is now covered by 87 feet of water. We paused at the town of Gamboa, where the pilots are changed, from those taking us through the upper half, to those who take us through the lower half.

Then through the Culebra Cut, about nine miles long, which presented the greatest challenges to those digging the canal, ultimately defeating the French. This section is subject to landslides every year. Engineers had hoped to find the “angle of repose,” that point at which land will no longer slide down the mountain. They never did.

Next, we went through the Pedro Miguel Locks, where we could see the new, much larger locks to our right, then the two Miraflores Locks. Once we sail under the Bridge of the Americas tomorrow, we will be officially out of the canal. This bridge was built in 1962, and is the only bridge at Panama City for traffic over the canal.

 

 

 

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Miami’s South Beach

January 4 – 7, 2020

Before boarding our cruise to the Panama Canal, we spent a few days in South Beach, with temps in the low 70s. This was too cold for the locals, who were wearing sweaters and jackets, but welcome warmth for us Minnesotans. We have escaped temps that are hovering near zero!

Our lodging is with Hilton Grand Vacations at McAlpin-Ocean Plaza, just across from Lummus Park and its easy access to the beach.

We had visited this area perhaps 15 years ago, and much of it still looks familiar, although many shops have changed hands over the years. That wasn’t important, though, as we weren’t here to shop, but to relax and enjoy the sun. It was mostly sunny, and we only experienced rain one evening – a heavy rain that left us soaking wet. Who cares when the rain is warm?

This area is renowned for its Art Deco style buildings. We recognized the former Versace Mansion, which is now an upscale hotel called The Villa Casa Casuarina. We also located the Carlyle Hotel, which was the site of the Robin Williams movie “The Birdcage.”

One day’s walk took us to South Pointe Park and along the marinas.There was an arts and crafts fair at Lummus Park on Saturday and Sunday, so we checked that out and managed to purchase a few things there.

Ocean Drive is lined with bars and restaurants. We sampled a few during our stay, but the most interesting restaurant is located a couple of blocks away. Cheeseburger Baby is Miami’s only female owned burger joint and food truck, in operation since 2001. The place was busy, it’s a small venue with a few tables, but lots of takeout. I ordered a chocolate shake, french fries and cheeseburger. It was all delicious, but enough for two meals.

After our meal at Cheeseburger Baby, we wandered over to Española Way, lit up for the night. It too is lined with restaurants and bars, but we were just in the market for gelato. We did go back another night for dinner, though.

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SpaceX was launching a rocket on the evening of January 6, from Cape Canaveral, at a little after 9pm. We decided to go out to the beach to see it would be visible from here, 200 miles away. The sky was partly cloudy, but we were able to see the light from the rocket.

On our last morning here, we visited the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, a lovely oasis. It’s a small park, just 2.6 acres, featuring subtropical plants from around the world as well as from south Florida. It is also home to many butterflies, including the Atala (once almost absent from Florida, but making a healthy comeback), Monarchs and the Zebra Longwing (zebra heliconian).

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Crystal Serenity Sea Days

January 8 & 9, 2020

Wednesday

One of the things we love about Crystal Cruises is the quality and variety of lectures and classes that are offered. There are classes in technology, knitting, bridge, art, golf, yoga, dance and much more. Lectures address local culture and history, global and local politics, and more.

Entertainment is also varied, including song and dance, magic, comedy, daily movie offerings (with popcorn), piano bars, and a casino. People have asked me how we avoid becoming bored on “sea days.” My response is that, with the offerings on board, any boredom would be my own fault.

Three different lectures were offered today, and we opted to attend two. Unfortunately, the afternoon lecture interfered with nap time!

A Special Interest Lecturer, Richard D. Morgan retired as the General Services Director of the Panama Canal Commission. He has worked and lived at the Panama Canal for 26 E30385BC-A7D6-4201-9988-23BAF090AE5Eyears, and clearly enjoys talking about the history of the canal. The Panama Canal Commission was an independent agency of the US Federal Government. As such, it was tasked with the responsibility of breaking even, costing the American taxpayer nothing.

Before the canal was built, the best way to cross the Isthmus of Panama was by rail. The Panama Canal Railway was built in the 1850s in response to the great numbers of prospectors heading to California gold rush of 1849. It was moved and upgraded in the early 1900s to facilitate the building of the Panama Canal. Mr Morgan will be doing a series of four lectures on this cruise.

We learned a bit more about Brexit this morning as well. Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor of politics at Luiss University in Rome, gave us some background about Great Britain’s attitude towards the EU. According to D’Alimonte, Britain’s approach to Europe has been to be “with them, but not of them.” As far back as the 1950s, Winston Churchill made this clear when he said “We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a Federal European system….We have our own Commonwealth and Empire.” Hearing this, I was surprised that Britain ever did agree to join the European Union. Indeed, it was several years before they joined, and they had to make several concessions at the time, concessions they came to regret.

1E9556CC-A563-4339-B027-8A8C8FD249C4On our first morning, we cruised by Cuba. It was barely visible in the distance. I was reminded of a time, some 20 years ago, when I was on a flight that was going through Cuban air space. We were told to close the shades on our windows, and to not take any photos as we flew over. I couldn’t help but wonder who would see those cameras from so many thousands of feet below.

Tonight is our first formal night, so we’ll get dressed up and dolled up for the big night. After dinner, we enjoyed a comedy show with stand up comic John Joseph, who has appeared on several TV shows, in movies, on Sirius XM, and has gone on tour with the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Huey Lewis and the News and others.

Thursday

C4BC0BB8-51B7-4655-9781-EB60A8B5E0E5Our first lecture this morning was about Cartagena, Colombia which we’ll be visiting tomorrow. Ian Maclachlan, Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada talked about some of the history, both colonial and recent. Colombia has gone from being a “failed state” to one that is much more stable, both politically and financially.

Another of today’s lecturers is Scott Kelly, retired astronaut whose identical twin, Mark Kelly, is also a retired astronaut. Scott spent a year in space, one of the longest sojourns of any astronaut. He and his brother were subjects of a three year NASA Twin Study, comparing the effects of space on long time travel. Kelly was a very entertaining speaker, one we could have listened to for much longer. He spoke to the value of aiming high, and approaching it with small steps.

After dinner, we attended to a Billy Joel tribute, called “My Life,” by Welsh musician James Fox. We’ve had the pleasure of hearing him on a cruise a few years ago, when his show was called “Piano Man.”

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Panama Canal

Monday, January 6, 2020

Tomorrow, my husband and I will board the Crystal Serenity to cruise the Panama Canal. To prepare for this trip, we watched the PBS American Experience episode: “Panama Canal, Gateway to the American Century.” This 1.5 hour video was very informative, but really only touched the surface of the history on the Canal, and primarily only the US involvement.

To dive deeper, I also read David McCullough‘s book: “The Path Between the Seas, The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914.” McCullough’s study begins in the mid-1800s, when several countries were exploring options to shorten the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Both Nicaragua and Panama (then a province of Colombia) were considered for a canal. The French spent a few decades and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to build a canal, only to have the venture collapse in scandals and bankruptcy. The US took over in the early 1900s after aiding and abetting a Panamanian independence movement, finally completing the job in 1914.

The PBS episode was broadcast in 2011, and is no longer on the website. However, you might find a copy on line or at your local library.

McCullough’s book is over 600 pages, so might be a little daunting. It’s not a fast read, but I did manage to finish it a few weeks ago. If you are interested in more detail than the video gives, I do recommend it.

The US spent over $350 million to construct the canal, after the French had already sunk $287 million. In today’s dollars the total would amount to more than $14 billion! The Canal takes in about $2 billion per year in revenue, netting Panama’s treasury about $800 million per year, not a bad return on the investment.

Control of the canal was transferred to Panama in 1979, with US involvement phasing out over the next 20 years. An expansion project proposed by Panama President Martin Torrijos in 2006, added a new lane of traffic allowing more and larger ships to pass through. The project added two new sets of locks, one on the Atlantic side and one of the Pacific, and widened and deepened existing channels. The expansion, which doubled the canal’s capacity, was completed in 2016, with operation beginning in June of that year. The expansion allowed for a 50% increase in ship length, from 106 feet to 168 feet. Cargo capacity doubled, from 52,000 to 120,000 tonnes.

The history of the Panama Canal dates back much farther than either the French or US involvement. The idea of a passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans was first proposed at least as far back as the 1500s, when King Charles I of Spain had his regional governor survey a route along the Chagres River.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua was once considered in the 1800s for the western end of a Nicaraguan canal, before the current site was chosen. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a well known proponent of the Nicaragua option. The idea wasn’t completely abandoned, though. In 2013, Nicaragua’s National Assembly approved a bill to grant a 50 year concession to a Chinese Billionaire, Wang Jing. However, his fortunes took a hit during the Chinese Stock Market crash of 2015-2016, and the project is now considered defunct by all but Jing.

We look forward to learning more about Panama and the Canal as the days go by.

 

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Arcosanti: An Urban Laboratory

December 18, 2019

This was our last full day in Sedona, and the sun was shining – time for one last hike. Twin Buttes and Broken Arrow Loop are located on the eastern edge of Sedona. The 2.2 mile loop was just right for today. This is a multi-use trail, where we saw mountain bikes and jeeps as well as those on foot like us. A short portion of the trail, rated Double Diamond for mountain bikes, allows less than a foot for passage, but it was definitely doable.

Dinner tonight was at Creekside American Bistro, and we heartily recommend it. Mark enjoyed lamb while I had salmon. Both were good, but the best part was dessert – a delicious warm peach cobbler. We ate every bite.

December 19, 2019

This morning, we had breakfast at the Coffee Pot Restaurant, which offers breakfast 7D4CA31B-4005-48D0-B543-CCF528A7E35F all day, including 101 Omelettes! It took about 10 minutes just to read the menu. We had no complaints about the meals we ordered.

Then, we drove to Phoenix for tomorrow’s flight home. On the way, we stopped at Arcosanti, which describes itself as an urban laboratory. Pablo Soleri, trained under Frank Lloyd Wright, was an Italian architect who had a vision of a community where the architecture was coherent with ecology, a concept he called “arcology.” It was intended as an alternative to urban sprawl. Soleri designed and began building Arcosanti in the 1970s. The community is located about 75 miles north of Phoenix.

The original design was to accommodate a community of 1,500 people, but more recent numbers are closer to 100 permanent residents, with current residents numbering about 50. Besides apartments for the residents, there are dormitories for students and workshop participants. This organization has been around for almost 50 years, and while it may not seem to be very successful, it has proven its ability to persevere.

Arcosanti gets about 40% of its revenues from bells that are made here. We were able to observe some residents at work on the bells while we were there.

Tomorrow, we head back to Minnesota’s deep freeze.

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