Monday, April 27, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Final Thoughts

The main attraction of this cruise for Val and I was the chance to see Machu Picchu, but it turned out to be a lot more than that.  Machu Picchu was certainly the highlight, but we found Central and South America to be fascinating places to visit.  Val and I both realized how little we knew about Latin America and our cruise really piqued our interest.  Most of the countries we visited, although fairly peaceful now, have had a turbulent political history, and learning about the history and culture of those countries really added some depth to the cruise we didn’t really expect.  We also learned a lot about the Inca, Aztec and Mayan civilizations and their demise at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors, also extremely interesting.  We would take this cruise again as having limited time in most of the ports left us wanting to know more and see more of the places we visited.

The highly anticipated centerpiece of the cruise was the visit to Machu Picchu and it didn’t disappoint.  We both read about the Incas and the Spanish conquest before we got to Peru so to see some of the actual places we read about was really exciting.  Machu Picchu itself was something I think both of us will always remember and was truly awe inspiring.  I don’t know whether I will ever make it back, but I am glad at least to have seen it once.

Another aspect of the trip was the fact that most of the countries we visited are third world countries and extremely poor.  Although we see it on TV and read about it in the newspapers, it's another thing to experience it first hand.  These countries have such a rich cultural history and are full of wonderful people so it's hard to see conditions not as good as they should be.  It would never keep us from going back again, you just have to go with an open mind and understand the circumstances.

I enjoyed all of the ports we visited, but a few of the other highlights of the trip for me were visiting Antigua in Guatemala, the Embera Indians in Panama, and Ecuador.  We were lucky to have had calm seas and very good weather for the trip.  The heat and humidity were difficult and wearing, but it’s what you have to deal with when you visit the tropics.  All in all, it was a great trip and exceeded our expectations.

What’s Next

We don’t have anything planned for the immediate future as we have some catching up to do around the house after being gone so long, and with the exception of last summer, we usually don’t like to travel during the summer months.  We do have our annual Geezer Gathering planned for mid-September and this year we have rented a house on a ranch near Sheridan, Wyoming.  Val and I are planning to extend that trip by going on into Montana and the Dakotas before heading back to Oregon where we have booked a room at the Crater Lake Lodge.  So maybe this year it will be a just a couple of long trips and not much else...we’ll see, you never know!  That’s it for now, see you on down the road.

Inca Empire Cruise - San Diego, The Pacific Surfliner and Home

Even though we wouldn’t be getting off the ship until at least 8:30 AM, I was up before 7:00 to watch our arrival in San Diego.  As we sailed into port, I noticed we weren’t going to the usual spot we dock in, but on the next pier over.  It turns out that the Legend of the Seas, the Royal Caribbean ship we saw in Puerto Vallarta, had gotten there before us and had taken our spot.  Usually when there are two ships in port they just dock on opposite sides of the pier, but we went to the next pier over.  We knew they had an outbreak of the norovirus during their cruise (news travels fast on the high seas) so we speculated that they wanted to keep any intermingling of people to a minimum to stop the spread of the disease.

After getting us safely docked, I went back to bed for a short time, but by this time I was fully awake so I got up.  Val was soon up too and after she got ready, we went down to the Neptune Lounge for our final breakfast.  We said good-bye to the concierge, Julius, and then went back to our room to hear the announcement that it was time to leave the ship.  On our next ship we will not be in a suite because the price was just too high, but I will miss the large room, perks and pampering you get; I guess I have become a little spoiled.

Another benefit of a suite is you get priority debarking so we would be one of the first groups off the ship and avoid the later crowds.  Just after 8:30 our group was called and we made our way to the gangway and through customs and shortly we were in the terminal getting our luggage.  At this terminal, it was a rather long walk to get a cab and as we had quite a bit of heavy luggage we found a porter with a cart to carry it for us.  We got a cab and made the short trip to the train station just after 9:00, a pretty quick time of getting off the ship.  Our train didn’t leave until noon so we settled down for the long wait in the waiting room.

The San Diego train station is a historic Santa Fe station that functions as the local transit center as well as Amtrak station.  Besides Amtrak, the San Diego Trolley and local commuter trains leave from there.  The station is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  Since it was Tuesday morning I thought the train might not be too crowded, but the station was busy.  It seems that a lot of people from both ships were using the train to get home.  We spent the time reading, taking occasional walks around the station, and rehashing the cruise with some of the people from our ship who were also waiting.

The historic Santa Fe depot in San Diego is now the Amtrak station and local transit center.
The station is very close to the cruise terminal, we could see our ship from the depot plaza area.
The time passed pretty quickly and it was soon time to board and begin our eight and a half hour journey back home.  We like train travel and the time seems to go by very quickly.  The train follows the coast for much of the time, which is very scenic.  As the train made its way north, more and more people got off and by the time we left Santa Barbara the train was pretty empty.  We followed the coast between Santa Barbara and Guadeloupe and watched the sun slowly set over the ocean.  It was a very beautiful scene, but we also knew it meant the sun was setting on our trip, which was a little sad, but we were anxious to get home.

The train got in to San Luis Obispo a little early and as we got off the train there was our good friend Doug waiting for us to drive us home (thanks again to Doug and Ev for doing this for us, you are true friends).  By 9:00 PM we were back at home and facing reality.  There would be no attendants to clean and make our beds every day, if we wanted something to eat we would have to make it ourselves, and there would be no exotic ports to see. In other words, it was back to our everyday life, which is really pretty nice.  However, we do enjoy seeing new things and that’s what makes journeys and adventures so interesting.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 30 Sea Day

This is it, the last day of our cruise.  It seemed to go by so fast.  Not that long ago we had a whole 30 days ahead of us and suddenly it’s over.  Nothing lasts forever and we are looking forward to being home, but it’s still sad to leave.

After breakfast, we went to the showroom to see a talk on the workings of the ship which was interesting.  After the talk, many members of the crew walked onto the stage and we were able to show our appreciation of all the hard work they do to make our cruise so enjoyable.

After that we made our way back to the room to face the inevitable and started our packing.  It was a bit of a problem as we have made quite a few purchases on the trip, but didn’t bring any extra bags.  There is also a 50 pound weight limit for checked baggage on Amtrak so we also had to keep that in mind.  Weight was never a worry when we drove ourselves to San Diego to start a cruise so we’ve never had to think about it before.  We finally got everything squared away by lunchtime and had our bags ready go.  All luggage, except for carry-ons, has to be put out in the corridors by 1:00 AM so it does take a bit of planning to make sure you have everything you need in the morning.

Our packing finished we headed off to the Lido for lunch and then to the showroom for the final lecture by Tommie Sue Montgomery.  Today she talked about her own experiences and how she got where she is today.  It was very interesting as usual.  I think she is one of the best we have heard on any of our cruises.  After the lecture we decided to kill some time in the casino before returning to our room and relaxing until dinner.

After getting ready for dinner we were off to the MIX Lounge to drink our last unleaded margaritas for the trip and listen to Chris’s music one last time.  Soon it was time for dinner and we said our good-byes to Chris and the bar staff.  We usually don’t spend much time in the bars on the ship, but this time we really enjoyed it.  We were entertained by Chris and there was a group of regulars who showed every night to listen to his music.  I don’t know whether this is good or bad, but when we walked up all we had to do was wave to the waiter or bartender and our drinks would be there almost as soon as we sat down.  We will miss our nightly drinks and music when we get home.

Dinner was quiet as everyone knew that the cruise was almost over.  It was one of our better dinners of the trip and at the end the dining room and kitchen staff came out and serenaded us with a Indonesian farewell song.  We said our good-byes to our waiters, Al and Purna, and then made our way to the casino.  I lost my nightly allotment of money, but at least it took me a while to do it and Val continued to have luck and did pretty well for the trip.  Val didn’t come out ahead, but she did go home with almost as much money as she had brought with her.  I didn’t lose all my money, but I came close.  Anyway, we had fun and that’s why we gamble, it certainly isn’t because we expect to win money all the time.

After dinner it was back to the room to do our final preparations for getting off the ship and then I set our bags out in the corridor and we called it a night.  We would be in San Diego bright and early tomorrow morning, but not as bright and early as we thought.  We would be going through one more time change and setting the clock back an hour again – an extra hours sleep is always welcome.

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 29 Sea Day

Today is the first of two sea days before we arrive back in San Diego and the end of our cruise.  You can tell the cruise is almost ending as the mood around the ship is more somber as everyone prepares to leave.  The only thing we had planned this morning was a lecture at 10:00 AM so we took our time getting up and around.  It was nice to have yet another lazy morning.

After breakfast we headed off to the showroom to hear Tommie Sue Montgomery continue her lecture series on Latin America.  Today’s lecture was “The Myth and Reality of the Conquest of Mexico and Peru”.  It was very interesting as all of her lectures are.

After the lecture we wandered up to the Lido Pool area where they were holding a Statendam Fair where various departments had carnival games with a ships theme.  By winning at the games you earned “Dam” dollars and those who had the top five amount of dollars, won prizes.  Val and I earned a few “Dam” dollars, but not nearly enough to win a prize.  It was actually kind of fun and after making the rounds of the different games, we headed back to the cabin.

The other night when we had our Machu Picchu Red Group reception, Tony had collected pictures for everyone for distribution to the group.  I hadn’t heard anything from him so we went down to ask him about it and it turns out he had a DVD waiting for us.  Thanks so much Tony for doing that for us, it’s the little things that make a great leader.

Val and I returned to the room and looked at all the pictures Tony had collected from everyone, as well as video he had put together, very well done.  By this time it was time for Val to be off to trivia so while I waited for her to finish, I updated the blog and backed up the new pictures we had gotten.

Today was the last chance to qualify for the $500 slot tournament so after trivia, Val and I went down for one more try at qualifying – we didn’t even come close.  We hung around to watch the finals and then went for a late lunch at the Lido.  This was the last day of the trivia competition and the Smarty Pants Team came in third.  They started strong, but have faltered as the cruise nears its end.

After lunch we returned to the room and read until it was time for dinner.  There was a brief interruption when the captain announced there was a whale swimming along beside the ship on the port (left) side, but our balcony was on the starboard side so we couldn’t see anything.  I rushed out to the Sea View deck, but by the time I got there he had tired of following us and was gone.

Tonight was the final formal night of the cruise so most people were dressed for the occasion.  We went to the MIX a little early tonight and listened to Chris before it was time for dinner.  After dinner it was off to the casino where Val happily collected a $200 win, she is doing quite well on this trip!  I managed to break even for the night, which was a small victory for me as I have been doing terrible lately.

Val with Purna (on the left) and Al, our dinner stewards.
Tomorrow is the last day of the cruise, which is a sad and kind of lost day since we will be packing and preparing to leave the ship in San Diego.

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 28 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Today we are in Puerto Vallarta, our last stop before our cruise ends in San Diego.  We have been in Puerto Vallarta before so we had nothing planned other than go into the downtown area on the Malecon (a walkway along the beach) and do some final shopping for the trip.  There was a Royal Caribbean ship in port too so the port was a bit busy today.

This boat must be a fixture here, it was docked across from us on our first cruise back in 2007.
The cruise ship dock is right on the busy highway into the center of town.

This Walmart right across from the cruise ship dock makes it popular
with the crew, but I don't know how you get across the street.
The Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas was docked right next to us.
The temperature was moderate, but there was the ever present humidity.  However, compared to what we have experienced in other ports on this cruise it seemed fairly comfortable.  We walked around the pier area a bit, but could see there was nothing very interesting there so we decided to take one of the numerous taxis into town for $5 a person.  We were dropped off at the southern end of the Malecon and started wandering up to the other end, stopping at shops that looked interesting.  With another ship in port and also being spring break for some, it was a little crowded, but not too bad.

The Malecon
Some of the interesting sculptures along the way.

We reached the other end of the Malecon and we had done all the shopping and walking we wanted to do so we got a cab and were back at the ship by noon.  After lunch it was time to relax on the balcony and get some more reading done.  When I started getting a little drowsy, I put my Kindle down and just listened to music for a while on my Ipod while I dozed, not a bad way to spend the afternoon – a very tough life.

Val and I went out to the sail away party on the Sea View deck and watched us leave Puerto Vallarta and then returned to the room until it was time to get ready for dinner.  We were back to our usual routine tonight and unfortunately both of us had another losing night in the casino.

This cruise ship dock was a big improvement over a lot of them we've seen on this cruise.

The Royal Caribbean ship leaves before we do.
Now it's our turn.

We leave Puerto Vallarta and head for San Diego and the end of the cruise.
Tonight the Dessert Extravaganza was being held in the Lido Pool area so we decided to go and see what artistic dessert concoctions they had put together.  There were some very interesting and delicious looking desserts, but after taking some pictures we decided not to indulge as we were still full from our dinner. I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of going to the late (8:00 PM) dinner seating.

Here are some pictures from the dessert extravaganza. 
I wish I had some of those now, they look a lot better when you're hungry.

We called it a night and returned to our room to find a note left by the cabin stewards saying we are finally gaining back the sleep time we had lost – the clocks will be set back one hour tonight.  Tomorrow starts the first of two sea days before our cruise ends in San Diego.

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 27 Manzanillo, Mexico

When the alarm went off this morning it was still dark and we hadn’t arrived in port yet.  We had an excursion that started just after 8:00 so we had to be ready to get off the ship as soon as it docked.  However, Val had a bit of a relapse so we decided to cancel our excursion and just hang around the ship and the dock area today.  We weren’t too excited about the excursion anyway as it was another long day of a lot of bus riding and we’ve pretty much had our fill of buses by now.  So instead of getting ready to leave, it was back to bed for us and another hour of sleep.

After breakfast we got off the ship and headed into town.  Manzanillo is the busiest port in Mexico so it is pretty good sized, but the cruise dock is situated so all you have to do is walk a short ways and you're in town.  It is not the main part of town, as that is not within walking distance, but it was still interesting.  We were tempted to take a cab into town, but we were told that it was very busy because of spring break and we just didn’t feel like fighting the crowds today.  Val went back to the ship, but I spent some time walking along the waterfront.

It was a bit of a walk to get into town, but not too bad.
The main gate to get out.  What these characters are supposed to be, I have no idea.

There were several of these small Mexican Navy ships docked around the harbor.

There was a nice walkway along the harbor and beach area.

Manzanillo is called the sailfish sport fishing capital of the
world and this sailfish sculpture highlights that.

There were several small Mexican Navy ships in port and it looked like a lot of the sailors had leave as you could see them walking with their families.  After walking around for a while I returned to the ship and we went to the Lido for lunch. After lunch I went out on the balcony and read for a while enjoying the day.  The temperature felt very comfortable on the balcony, but when we were walking around this morning in the sun it was quite warm with pretty high humidity, but still not as bad as we have experience previously on the cruise.

We didn’t do much the rest of the afternoon.  I caught up on the blog and got our pictures organized, but other than that I mostly read.  There was a sail away party on the Sea View deck which I attended, but didn’t stay too long.   

Time to leave Manzanillo.
As usual, the "Halcats" band played at the sail away party.

We had received a notice inviting everyone who went to Machu Picchu to meet in the showroom at 6:30 to have a group photo taken.  Only about half of our group showed up, so the picture will not include everyone.  We’ll see how it turns out.  I wish I would have thought to bring my camera when we had our gathering the other night and taken a picture of all of us then.

We opted not to go to the dining room for dinner tonight and ordered room service.  Tomorrow we will be in Puerto Vallarta, our last stop of the cruise before we arrive back in San Diego.