Friday, March 27, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 10 At Sea

I woke up this morning feeling pretty good so that was a big relief.  After our usual breakfast, we made our way to the showroom for a presentation by travel guide Kainoa on our upcoming port of Trujillo, Peru.  After that we wandered around the ship a bit and then returned to our room.

I didn’t think I would have much time to spend on the blog, but after realizing that three of our next four days are sea days I decided to see if I could get caught up.  Our Internet speed seems to have improved so that will help too.  Writing the blog doesn’t take that much time, but going through the numerous pictures we have taken and picking out ones for the blog and then editing them, takes a lot of time.  I’m not complaining, as I enjoy doing it, but if anyone wonders why I fall further and further behind, that’s the reason.  Plus it’s a vacation and that is my main focus.

So the short version of the above rambling is, I spent most of the rest of the day except for lunch working on pictures for the blog.  We also did take an afternoon break and went down for the final qualifying round of the slot tournament, but didn’t fair too well.  Val got bumped out of the qualifiers and neither of us scored enough points to get back on the list.

This evening it was Chris at the MIX Lounge, dinner and the casino as usual and then back to the room.  Tomorrow morning we will arrive in Fuerte Amador (Panama City), Panama.  We did receive good news tonight that the excursion we signed up for tomorrow would be leaving at 9:30 instead of 8:00 in the morning so we don’t have to get up early.

Note: The Internet is again very slow and we are going to be very busy in the upcoming days so there may be a long delay until the next blog post.

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 9 At Sea

Today is the first of the two sea days we have before we reach our next port in Panama.  We slept late to make up for our lost hour of sleep and then had our usual continental breakfast in the Neptune Lounge.  At 10:00 we attended a talk by travel guide Kainoa on Fuerte Amador, Panama, our next port. 

After that we met with the future cruise consultant and booked a cruise called the Voyage of the Vikings, which won’t be until July of 2016.  It is 35 days long and will be our longest cruise we have taken.  It looks like a very interesting cruise and visits Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, The Netherlands and the UK.  Even though it is a year and a half away, we are looking forward to it.  The cruise is a round trip from Boston so we will have to put our aversion to flying aside for this trip.

After that it was back to our room until Val left for her team trivia.  When she returned (the Smarty Pants had won again) we went up and had lunch.  After lunch we wandered the ship a bit and ended up spending some time in the casino a then it was back to the room.

I’m not sure what it was, but I wasn’t feeling too well so I spent the rest of the day resting.  I had an ear infection a week before we left which is gone, but I think I may be feeling some of the residual from that.  I wasn’t too hungry so we skipped our usual evening routine and ordered room service and had dinner in our room.  It was early to bed for me with hopes of feeling better tomorrow, which thankfully is another sea day.

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 8 Puerto Chiapas, Chiapas, Mexico

This morning we sailed into harbor of Puerto Chiapas and docked around 8:00 AM.  Puerto Chiapas is in the state of Chiapas and at the very southern end of Mexico, only a few miles from the border of Guatemala.  There is not much at all around Puerto Chiapas, no real towns and it is an agricultural area.  It is very flat with no mountains in view for as far as you can see.

Today our plan was to take a shuttle into the nearby city of Tapachula and explore the city center.  Since it was Sunday morning, we decided to wait until mid-morning to catch the shuttle so we had a leisurely breakfast on ship before going ashore.  The weather was quite warm with temperatures in the mid-eighties and high humidity.  The only thing actually at the pier is a welcoming center with shops and entertainment.  There was also another pavilion that had a pool for swimming as there were no accessible beaches nearby.  All this was built for the use of cruise ships docking here.

The visitor's center is about the only thing at the cruise ship port.

The Statendam
Val at the entrance to the welcome center.
We bought our shuttle tickets and were on our way to Tapachula a little after 10:00.  It is about a 30 minute drive from the cruise dock into town so we got to see a bit of the country side.  We saw many orchards of mango and banana trees, which we were told are the main crops in the area.  Tapachula is fairly large with a population of around 140,000 so as we neared the city, traffic got pretty heavy.

Our shuttle passes a carefully loaded truck full of corn headed for market.
We were dropped off just before 11:00 in the center of town, which was teeming with people.  This was not really a tourist area so we were able to see the local people going about their lives as they normally would.  Being Sunday morning there were a number of people attending mass at the Catholic Church and many others at the numerous open air restaurants and food stands.  It looked like a lot of people were just enjoying sitting in the plaza watching the world go by.  There was also a produce and meat market which was very busy with many people buying fresh fruit and vegetable and numerous stalls of whole chickens for sale.

The Catholic Church in the central plaza of Tapachula.

The downtown market was busy on a Sunday morning.

 As we strolled around we enjoyed listening to a marimba band playing on the street. It’s the first time we had seen one marimba played by three or four people at the same time. It seemed a very interesting way to play the marimba, which we saw repeated several times. After walking around for a while and exploring the area, we decided to stop at one of the open air restaurants and have something cold to drink as it was quite warm.  It was very pleasant to sit in the shade, sip our drinks and watch the people go by.  A cooling breeze had come up and it was really quite pleasant.  There was also a marimba band playing there so that added to our enjoyment.

A marimba band was playing.

Our stop for a cool drink.

There were lots of shoeshine stands around the plaza.
We finally decided it was time to catch the shuttle back to the ship and reluctantly left our cool spot in the shade to make our way back to the shuttle stop.  After another half hour drive back to the port we were back at the welcome center and decided to look at the shops.  There was also a marimba band playing there so we were treated to more music as we made our way from shop to shop.  Just as we were finishing with our tour of the shops, a local group of folkloric dancers came in and performed local dances.  They were very good and we very much enjoyed the show. The dance troupe was made up of very pretty young ladies and very handsome young men.  Their costumes were quite colorful, and with each dance they performed they changed into a different costume. I don’t know how they did it as it was pretty warm and with the humidity they must have been very hot.  We stayed and watched the whole show before returning to the cool air conditioning of the ship.

One of many mango orchards we saw from the shuttle as we returned to the ship.
Colorful items for sale in the visitor's center.

We were entertained by local folk dancers in the visitor's center.

It was getting late in the afternoon and we hadn’t eaten lunch so we grabbed a bite to eat and then relaxed in our room until it was time for the sail-away party on the sea view deck.  The sail-away was fun as the local dancers we had seen earlier came out and performed on the dock as we sailed away. As the ship pushed away from the dock the dancers waved good-bye and all the people on the ship waved to the dancers.  As usual, the ship blew it’s very loud three blasts of horn as we moved away from the dock, except this time it added a few extra toots to acknowledge the generosity and friendliness of the dancers. There were also people standing on the small docks around the bay waving as we left. 

Our military escort into and out of the port.
The dancers perform as we sail away.

A final wave good-bye.

People along the bay wave as we depart.

The sun sets on another great day.
One thing we have noticed at all of our stops in Mexico is the friendliness of the people.  They are quick to greet you and smile, and I’m not just talking about the people trying to get our tourist dollars, but just people on the streets going about their business.  We noticed this particularly in Tapachula where we almost felt like we were intruding on their Sunday morning activities, but they were very friendly and we felt welcome.  Mexico gets a pretty bad rap in the media because of all the violence, which of course is prevalent, but the average person is friendly, respectful and very proud of their country and culture.

After the sail-away we did our usual evening (MIX Lounge, dinner and casino) and called it a night.  Tomorrow is a welcome sea day, but we will be losing another hour of sleep due to another time change.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 7 Huatulco, Oaxaxa, Mexico

Today marks the end of the first week of our cruise; time certainly does go by fast.  This is our second day in Huatulco and we have booked a ship excursion called Rural Communities and Traditions.  We were out on the dock just after 9:00 AM and were soon loaded into vans to start our excursion.  The day was hot and humid, but luckily the vans had air conditioning (kind of).

We drove off into the countryside on a dirt road.  Eventually we arrived at a small village where we were given a demonstration on making fresh tortillas and then got to sample them with tamales.  The tortillas were made in a very old adobe kitchen on a wood stove with a stone cooking surface. I have to say that eating them fresh was a real treat, much better than eating them in a package from the grocery store.  The woman making them was very skilled and it looked like she had made many, many tortillas in her life.

Next it was on to another village where we visited a place where they grew various types of cactus for medicinal and cooking uses.  I really had no idea that cactus was used in so many ways.  After listening to the talk we were able to sample some various food made from the different types of cactus.  There were scrambled eggs and a salad incorporating different types of cactus, and some roasted cactus leaves (which smelled like cooked artichokes and had a similar texture as okra).  Once again there were fresh tortillas that we could make tacos with using whatever combination of the above foods caught our fancy.  They also had freshly made salsa, one “gringo style” (not hot) and the other one was muy caliente.

Our guide Fernando explains the uses of the various types of cactus.
A plate of cooked cactus leaves and the bowl of "gringo" salsa.
Taking the sharp thorns off the cactus leaves.

Our next stop was to show and sell some local handicrafts woven with dried palm fronds.  The work was quite good and the prices were very low, it hardly seemed fair as there were some mats that took up to three days to make and the lady who made them only asked $15.

The Oaxaxan version of a lemonade stand.
Our last stop was an iguana habitat where iguanas were being raised to be released into a nearby national park.  Evidently the iguana population is diminishing and they want to restore them.  Reptiles are not my favorite animals at all, but it was very interesting and I learned quite a bit and Jorge, the fellow running the place, seemed very dedicated to what they were doing.  After his talk on iguanas, Jorge gave us fresh lemonade his wife had made from lemon trees we were sitting under, delicious and refreshing!

That was the end of our tour and we were driven back to the ship and its welcoming air conditioning.  All and all, it was a very interesting day.  We learned a few things and got to sample some more of the local foods.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we were back on board and spent most of the afternoon resting and looking at the numerous pictures we took today.  There was a sail-away party on the sea view deck at 4:30 so we went out there for a while and watched as we sailed away from Huatulco.  We returned to the room where I caught up on my daily log that I used for the blog and then it was time for dinner.

Tomorrow morning we will be arriving in our next port, which is Puerto Chiapas in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.

Adios Huatulco.