Archive for Jan, 2019

Across the Pacific to Nuku Hiva (or perhaps not!)

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 30, 2019 by David Palmer

(28th Jan – 6th Feb)

This run of sea days didn’t start well for me. I visit the gym each day in an effort to waste a few of the enormous number of calories that you inevitable consume on a cruise (it takes a will stronger than mine not to do so) and though I don’t exert myself as much as in my younger days, I ricked my knee whilst on the running machine. Annoyingly, I now have to rest it for a few days and watch what I eat. Fingers crossed on that!

On the Columbus we see more of the captain than on any other ship we have been on. He is often seen at all times throughout the day and evenings at various locations around the ship, chatting amiably to passengers and crew alike, noticeably keeping an eye on things. It keeps the crew on their toes and displays good leadership to all onboard. I think, unlike the captain of the Costa Concordia, this captain will be the last to leave a sinking ship, not the first. As an example of how tight a ship he runs, on the 31st we had our third life-boat drill of the voyage.

It was in the afternoon that I managed to get on line to discover that Sarah and Lee had exchanged contracts on their new house and had started to move in. A great relief for them as it was looking quite likely that their chain would fall apart at the last minute. I think moving on the coldest day of the year so far was the least of their worries! It has been difficult keeping up with family news and uploading blogs as WiFi is pretty poor out in the Pacific. The speed is very slow and is quite random, but then I guess seabirds, turtles and flying fish don’t have much use for the technology. On a positive note, I am back in the gym, fighting the flab, though the running machine is being avoided.

Quite appropriately we crossed the Equator on the 1st February. This is not much of an event when flying, but on board a cruise ship it is an excuse for frivolities. On other ships we have been on there has been a party, preceded by a short ceremony where King Neptune (a suitably costumed crew member) welcomes everybody to his kingdom and it is usually finished by an extremely long ‘conga’ around the various outside and inside decks. The Columbus does it differently, Neptune still takes centre stage but he has supporting characters; pirates, mermaids and doctors. Crew members (4) who have yet to cross this line on the globe are held prisoner by the pirates and then subjected to a trial where amusing trumped up charges are brought. After being found guilt they are required to kiss an enormous fish (fresh from the kitchen), before being placed on the operating table where their punishment was to be covered in; eggs, ice cubes, baked beans, flour and lastly milk. Suitably humiliated they are then dumped into one of the ship’s swimming pools. Afterwards it had to be emptied, cleaned and refilled, it took most of the day. A very funny way to mark what I suppose is an important landmark in the careers of the unfortunate participants.

As we have been making our way around the globe every few days or so, we have been regularly putting the clock back one hour. So far we have done this 10 times, surprisingly though we gain an extra hour in bed, the following morning we always seem to sleep soundly until our 8am alarm, no matter what time we retire. We have an internal cabin, so when the lights are off, it is quite pitch black and coupled with the gentle (so far) motion of the ship there is no clue for our internal clock to gauge the time, particularly as we hear no sounds other than an occasional random creak as the ship flexes against the swell. However, on the 2nd February we had to put the clocks back 1/2 an hour. Sue had no problem with this, but I was startled when the alarm went off and just couldn’t wake myself up until later in the morning and after several cups of coffee. Just as confusing was a win by England against Ireland, in Ireland, by a 12 point margin! Now who saw that coming?

On the 4th we should have woken to a breakfast, anchored off the small French Polynesian island of Nuku Hiva, but it was not to be. Unknown to the passengers, at 12.30am the ship had received a distress call from the yacht Chismosa out of San Francisco. She had lost her mast, there was an injured person on board and she was running out of fuel in a location way off the normal shipping lanes. The Columbus was the only ship remotely nearby with appropriate facilities to accomplish a rescue. This meant reversing our course and steaming for 10 hours to meet up with the stricken vessel. We passengers slept on, blithely unaware of the drama unfolding. As Sue and I made our way to breakfast, we heard rumours from others that we were still at sea and not anchored off the island as expected.

Venturing on deck it soon became apparent what was going on as we watched one of the ship’s tenders launch and head off in the direction of a little white speck in the distance. The Columbus was now progressing in ‘dead slow’ towards the gradually recognisable shape of a sea vessel. I returned to the cabin for camera and binoculars, through which I could see three people on her deck, the mast clearly missing, the shrouds obviously cut or snapped and the safety rail mangled. I could see one old gentleman with cuts and bruises to one arm sitting quietly in the cockpit coiling ropes, with a younger man at the helm attempting to steer the craft towards the Cruiser and a young woman sitting on the cabin roof looking relieved. The tender didn’t attempt to board the craft or attach a rope to tow, but remained just an few metres away until the Columbus came very close. The yacht had some power and was motored in a growing swell to the small lowerdeck where the port pilots gets on and off the ship. Once alongside, ropes were attached and crew members boarded her.

Lots of discussions took place before barrels of fuel oil were seen to be poured into the yacht’s fuel tank. This took quite a while as the swell meant that the liquid swilled around in the funnel, threatening to spill out over the deck and into the sea. With that task accomplished, crew members were seen to be checking all parts of the boat, I would guess that was to check how sea worthy the craft was. I don’t believe our captain was going to allow her to motor on to the nearest port if she wasn’t. Eventually, all seemed to be in place and everyone satisfied and she was release from her shackles and gently motored aft followed by the shepherding tender. The danger was over for the time being, with a full fuel tank and the injury, not so life threatening as first rumoured, they stood as good a chance as any at making it to safety.

This was not the end of the excitement. Our tender boat still had to be lifted back on board and this proved not so straight forward in a growing swell. Five times they attempted to hook themselves onto the lifting gear without success. In one attempt they manged to successfully engage the two hooks and lift themselves clear of the sea only for the cabling to twist with the motion of the ship and they had to return to the water. On each attempt they had to back away from the ship and then make another run into the lifting zone. It took well over an hour before the craft was safely stored back into its cradle. I think its crew were mightily relieved, though they still had to face the captain, who watched every attempt from his perch on the side of the bridge. I think they may be experiencing some practise lifts when we next make port (when and wherever that is).

As if this incident wasn’t already an exciting enough diversion, as the yacht was approaching the Columbus, with the tender some twenty metres away, I spotted a shape looming up from the deep blue depths to the rear of the tender. As it neared the surface I could see that it was a huge shark, probably inquisitive as to what was happening above and came to have a look. Perhaps in the hope of a tit-bit or two? It was easily half the size of the tender and had a huge head. It’s upper surface was spotted like a leopard, so I am guessing it could have been a leopard shark. As it hit the surface I grabbed my camera and snapped it just as it dived under the boat, but snapped it again as it appeared on the other side. Unfortunately, the photos won’t appear in the blog until I return home as only those taken on my mobile will bluetooth to the tablet I use to write this blog.

Why the yacht lost its mast I have no idea, but it is usually down to poor seamanship or lack of sufficient maintenance. As we have met no poor sea conditions on route, it was suggested by one passenger that it may have been a freak wave. I guess we passengers will never know. However, the effect of this incident is quite profound. The tiny island of Nuku Hiva has taken a big hit to its economy with the loss of our visit and with only 2000 inhabitants, our 1200 passenger ship would have contributed quite a bit. Also, we were disembarking an injured cabin steward who was to return home via the tiny island airstrip, he will now have to wait until Tahiti. Not to mention that some unfortunate insurance company is going to take a big hit in compensating a cruiseship deviating from its course and schedule for over 10 hours.

Up the Coast to Mexico

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 29, 2019 by David Palmer

(26th – 27th)

In the last blog I forgot to mention an amusing incident whilst visiting Antigua, we were sat on a bench in the main square, resting our feet, hiding from the heat of the day under a pretty mimosa tree when Sue fancied purchasing some cashew nuts from a passing vendor. She had a few coins of local currency left over from shopping and had just completed negotiations on how many nuts should be put into the little bag (Sue always drives a hard bargain) when she suddenly cried out, “What’s that!” and clutched her hair. With a broad smile on his face the nut seller pointed upwards, there, cooing contentedly above, was a pigeon. He had scored a direct hit. It did at the time pass through my mind that this may have been a trained pigeon, called into action when awkward customers drove too hard a bargain.

It was a sea day and also Australia Day the day after Sue’s encounter with the South American equivalent of the Dam Buster’s. Many of the activities on board had an Aussie theme which also included meal times, lunch was a typical Aussie Barbi held on deck. Sue immersed herself in most of the games and quizzes going on, while I contented myself with sticking to my usual routine, it was a very hot day. I did spend some time ‘up-top’ on the prow of the ship watching the the occasional turtle pass us by, some unfortunately too close and disappeared into the side wash of the ship where I crossed my fingers and hoped they would emerge at the rear of the ship, avoiding the propellers. I hoped.

We arrived In Acapulco (Mexico) as usual during breakfast on the 27th. A very hot day greeted us as we disembarked from our berth which fortunately was directly opposite the fort of Acapulco. We had decided to do our ‘own thing’ today, but the decision was made with some trepidation. Watching the series of ‘El Chapo’ on Netflix prior to this holiday didn’t but me at ease and the on board description of this port, pointed out that this, ‘once popular tourist destination, had suffered from years of Mexico’s on going drug wars and despite frightening homicide statistics the violence was largely confined to gang disputes, but the city remains comparatively safe to visit.’ Very reassuring!

It was evident as we left the ship that the Mexican authorities had taken our safety quite seriously. There were armed police everywhere and these were backed up by patrolling and fully kitted, camouflaged combat troops. Reassuring????

Acapulco was a small fishing village, first discovered by the Spanish during the time of conquest and later by John Wayne and fellow film stars who would jet down from Hollywood to get away from the admiring crowds. They called it their playground, Wayne had purchased a hotel to accommodate his personal guests. The bay is very pretty with its back drop of hills and of course the warmth of both sea and climate is a perfect combination. Today there are high rise hotels and the urban spread has reached into the surrounding hills, but it still has that aura of past glory and undeniably takes a very pleasing photo in every direction.

We had come to tick off one of our bucket list items; cliff diving. After first ignoring the polite taxi drivers touting for trade at the exit to the port, we left the ship and with a few other early disembarkers, strolled along the sea front while trying to make sense of the very inadequate free map we had been given. We were heading for the Hotel Mirador, where on the adjacent cliffs the divers were going to plummet into a narrow water filled ravine. It was hard going under a ferocious sun, walking in the shade became a necessity as there was no breeze to cool our progress. Reaching a point along the coastal road we headed up and over what turned out to be a narrow strip of land between two bays and descended onto a local beach between two cliffs where families seemed to be taking a Sunday stroll. We joined them along a raised cliffs

ide walkway, passing groups of cats clustered around fishermen busy gutting their catch, patiently waiting for the inevitable scraps. Reaching the end of the path we returned to the beach before ascending the road and path on the opposite side.

This route was in full sun, but every 50m along the sidewalk there were large sail shaped signs containing the pictures of past and present Hollywood and Mexican movie stars that had once made this place famous. At the very top, was of course John Wayne, he had been given his own viewpoint with small arena, probably used for local theatre performances and giving the audience a wonderful seascape as a distraction. Here I practised my limited Spanish on a couple sitting and chatting under a covered pergola, asking the way to the Mirador, we discovered that we were just a few hundred metres away.

With perfect timing we arrived at a viewpoint opposite the cliffs just as the divers were climbing, spider like up to the two little blue shrines built into the cliff. Here, they said their prayers before preparing to dive. We watched, photographed and videoed their dives. Two solo dives, then one double dive followed by the finale of a single dive from the highest perch of all. From outstretched arms and launch, the descent into the water was unbelievably quick, the most vivid memory being of the accompanying shadow on the cliff wall as if the soul had departed the body and was chasing its diver down the cliff face, attempting to rejoin before the water’s surface prevented it. A wonderful sight not easily forgot.

After chatting to another couple that had unfortunately arrived a little too late to witness the spectacle we descended down into the ravine to see how deep the water was that the divers were risking their lives by a potential suicidal swan song. From this spot it was obvious that the water was deep, but the ravine was no wider than the width of a king size bed and the cliff itself was scarred with sharp ragged outcrops that would probably make death by drowning irrelevant if you hit it on the way down. Here we came across some more divers that were practising at a lower level and on the opposite side to the main show.

Cliff divers come from three local families, it is a tradition and jealously guarded. They rely on donations from their audience, who stuff dollar notes into their trunks as payment (assuming all goes well and they exit the water). Whether they receive payment from the Hotel Mirador as well, we could not find out. They should do.

We returned to the ship in time for lunch after first visiting the city’s colourful Cathedral, packed with worshippers, then a brief foray into a local market. After a change of T-Shirt and a cold shower we again ventured out into the heat of Acapulco.

This time we crossed the road by the port exit and climbed up the steps leading to the fort. Surprisingly it seemed slightly cooler than in the morning. Entrance to the fort was $4 each and gave us access to the 11 mini museums inside. The fort is pentagonal in shape, within the various sized rooms there are exhibits displaying different aspects of Acapulco’s and Mexican history. As a life saver there were very efficient air conditioning
units that I didn’t stray far from, while Sue read every available scrap of information on each item. With the internal rooms thoroughly investigated, we moved onto the roof and battlements. The views of the city and bay were excellent, it is a great place to build a defence structure, or at the very least a bakery. The heat generated from the flat roof would easily cook as many loaves as you could wish, but in the absence of dough, Sue and I made a good substitute. Though the views were superb we were glad to get to ground level and into the shade of some trees.

Making our way to the market of the morning we came across a museum housing face masks used in Carnival and local festivals. Some were very old, all were beautifully made though many depicting quite grotesque figures. We watched a colourful video of the Carnival and a short explanation of how the masks are made before moving on.

The abundance of soldiery passed en-route was reassuring but worrying at the same time. In one street we discovered a queue of young men clutching forms, lined up at a desk and fronted by a very official looking officer. We soon worked out that they were being recruited into the army.

In the market Sue abandoned me to the shade of a large tree while she went on the hunt for a dress to buy. Amusingly, I had been sat there on a low stone wall for around 20 minutes, watching the busy goings on of the street market when I caught sight of some movement to my right. To my surprise it was two soldiers standing just a few feet away from me in their camouflage outfit up against the tree foliage. Those drug gangs didn’t stand a chance around this tree, but I guess it might be a different story elsewhere in the city.

Luckily, despite trying on several outfits Sue couldn’t find anything she really liked, so the dollars stayed firmly in my wallet. Disappointingly we returned to the ship and left the traders, soldiers and drug dealers to their own devices.

Acapulco, you are a lovely city with lots to offer, I sincerely hope that you successfully address the faults in your society, I think you are trying hard, I wish you well. We may come back, one day, when you don’t need guns on the streets to keep us safe.

That evening as we sailed away from this iconic playground of the 50’s and 60’s, we partied ‘Mexican style’ on the top deck, safe in our rather large tin can.

Up the coast to Guatemala

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 26, 2019 by David Palmer

(22nd – 25th)

Now that we are heading north up of the coast of the land mass of Central America we are beginning to see more signs of life in the sea around us. We do come across the occasional frieghter swiftly passing a mile or so away in the opposite direction, something that we did not witness in our crossing of the Antlantic, but the real interest is the appearance of wildlife.

This morning after breakfast (23rd) Sue and I stood on the top deck overlooking the prow of the ship, fascinated to watch the seabirds (no idea what species) using the updraft of the ship to maintain their weaving back and forth flight as they waited patiently for startled flying fish to burst out from the waves. Frightened by the noise and motion of the Columbus they took to the air, fins outstretched, desperate to escape the perceived danger from below, seemingly unaware of the real danger from above. As the fish took to the air, often in groups, the waiting predators reacted instantly, diving as fighter pilots on the tail of their enemy. Those fish that elected to skim at length over the rolling Pacific waves were the most fool hardy, however the spectacle provided the greatest excitement for the ship borne watchers, would the chasing bird catch up before they splashed into the safety of the waves? Even so, sanctuary was not guaranteed, if the bird was close enough, he too would follow into the depths, creating a blurred streak of bubbles within the deep blue. If successful, they would appear again on the surface and remain awhile swallowing the flash of silver gripped firmly in their beaks, otherwise they would instantly take to the air and like a good “Ace” join the combat again.

A little later we were delighted to see two turtles frantically paddling to avoid being sucked into the bow wave of the ship, happily they made it with ease, but it looked a good workout for them.

Onboard there are many daily one-off activities happening to amuse the passengers, as well as the usual quizzes, games, lectures, clubs and film shows, one deserves a mention. Through our daily update magazine the passengers had been invited to submit a structure that would enable an egg from breaking when dropped from Deck 14 onto Deck 12, and be closest to a target. I have a few engineer friends that would have loved such a competition and it appears so did a large number of passengers. It was a hoot. Some of the structures seemed to come straight out of the ‘Whacky Races’ factory and so did their creators, but most worked (in a fashion) and it wasn’t a matter of accuracy but downright luck as to who won. I hope they do this again, I may give it a go.

On one of the sea days, Sue had another story to tell when we met again after separate activities. An elderly Welsh lady in her eighties related to her why she was cruising alone. She should have had the company of a friend who she had paid all the costs for (including insurance and trips), as her friend could not afford to do so herself. However, prior to travelling, her friend had medical problems that meant she couldn’t travel, but on the insurance declaration she hadn’t declared that she had previous medical issues or that she had a scheduled medical appointment. Naturally, the company rejected the claim for compensation of costs. Bad enough you would think, but since the Welsh ladies husband had died in 2000, her friend had also been living with her rent and food free. To make things even worse, she had also just amended her will to state that if she died first, her friend could live in the property rent free until she too passed away, then it would become the property of her own daughter. A very sad state of affairs, particularly as her friend has yet to apologise for the situation and it is quite upsetting for the poor lady. However, she is prepared move on and enjoy her cruise. Good for her, it is literally water under the boat until she returns.

On the 25th we docked in the Puerto Quetzal, the main port on the Pacfic coast of Guatemala at 7.30am. First impressions were not great as this is principally an industrial city and the surrounding landscape was flat, not much to see of interest from the decks, unless you are an industrialist, of course. We were due to arive at a smaller port that was designed to take cruise ships, but recently a large ship containing charcoal had some smashed up the dock and it was being repaired.

By 8.45am we were seated with others on a small mini-bus for our transfer to a past capital city of the country, Antigua. The country is on the fault line where two techtonic plates collide and is therefore a very volcanic region, it wasn’t long before we began to encounter volcanoes. Most were dormant, but as we began our ascent from sea level to our 5000m destination we passed one that was still spasmodically erupting, evident by regular plumes of dark smoke billowing into the blue sky. It was at this point that we came across very dusty roadworks, slowing our progress to a crawl, giving us time to view the surrounding carnage. Last June, the belching pyramid of rock and ash that we had been blithely approaching had erupted with devastating effect. A pyroplastic cloud had raced down the slope that we were currently traversing and had swept the road away. Horrifically, around us was a scorched landscape of denuded trees, standing stark within a landscape of grey and rubble. On closer examination we could see the tops of buildings and other structures poking out through what is now the surface of the ground, they had been buried in ash. They are still digging out their inhabitants. A sobering moment and a bringing home of reality to those of us fortunate enough to live in more stable parts of this world.

The roads as you would expect are not in great condition and in several locations our vehicle bounced in and out of deep pot holes that not only shook its passengers but we would find out later affected the bus detrimentally.

Our journey to Antigua took 1.5 hours. It is a picturesque town surrounded by three volcanoes and has wholly cobbled streets that require great concentration when moving around due to the great amount of earth movement in this region dislodging the cobbles, even vehicles have to be careful and pedestrians run the risk of a turned ankle or worse.

We had decided to hire a guide for the day to make sure that we saw and understood all that was there to see on such a short visit (5 hours). For $15 each we secured the services of our English speaking guide, along with another couple.

Antigua is hosting a South American Convention at the present and there are many heads of state and diplomats staying in the hotels so the security was pretty obvious. with troops and police (all fully armed witha fearsome array of weaponry) standing on most street corners.

Our first visit was to an ancient monastery that is now the best hotel in the town. It had been destroyed by earthquakes but an entrepeuner saw the opportunity and turned it into a chic hotel, preserved the ruins, created several museums on the site and of course it as also the convention centre and where the heads of state are staying. I am surprised that we could enter the building, but our guide had a word at the entrance and we were nodded through. We have come across South American security before in Cuscos where during a ceremony I was able to stand 2m away from their President and I was carrying a rucksack. Perhaps they think that lots opf guns is enought deterrent? Have they not heard of ISIS?

The hotel/monastery/museum/convention/gardens was given a visit, but as you would expect it is an exceptionally pretty place to spend some time, particulary with a back drop of volcanoes to entice your gaze. We meandered in and out of the various preserved chapels, caught intriguing glimpses into the sumptuous hotel through the open doors, photographed the lovely gardens with fountains and eventually found ourselves back onto the cobbled streets of Antigua.

It is not a large town, so thankfully the sights were only a short walking distance from each other, especially as it was tricky underfoot, you had to be extra wary of the head height balconies that threatened to inflict even greater damage as you hugged the crazily undulating pavement whenever a vehicle rattled and bounced its way down the narrow street.

We passed and photgraphed several other vary ornate Catholic churches, one we entered and investigated the gold covered little chapels within, while the others we satisfied ourselves by standing outside and listening to its history in what ever shade we could find. All had been ruined by earthquakes at one time or another and the local population had rebuilt them, but the one that I found most impressive was just a facade, there was nothing left behind the beautiful frontage.

We stopped next at a small cafe/bar that according to our guide brewed the best Guatemalan coffee in the town. I can’t confirm that his boast was true, but it was tasty and certainly had a kick to it, I had been feeling a little lethargic in the heat, but afterwards I felt quite perky!

We visited a few local markets and Sue took advantage, while my wallet got lighter. The trinkets, clothes and ornaments on display were very bright and colourful and easily catch the eye. A distinct advantage with dour European tourists around.

The central park is the location of more churches, impressive government offices, shops and hotels. It is quite picturesque and obviously as well used by the locals as well as by tourists. School children, smartly dressed in uniform were making their way through the central square as we arrived, the girls attire included a very scottish pleated tartan skirt. There are many shoe-shine stalls and hawkers within the park, but like the rest we had come across in the cobbled streets, they show you their wares, and if you say no or show disinterest they move on with out complaint. They do not follow you, thrusting their trinkets in your face, continually jabbering, “Which do you want?” as they do in the Middle East.

After working our way around the square, learning about the history of its location and that of the surrounding building, we agreed to have 45 minutes roaming time to ourselves before meeting our guide again, to escort us back to the minibus. The other couple went off to find a bar that was playing music and we explored the streets surrounding the square, discovering another market where my wallet grew even lighter and then a chocolate museum where the smell was divine.

Arriving at the location of our minibus we discovered that the earlier potholes had indeed damaged our transport and that it was now broken. A new one had been sent for. However, around twenty minutes later it was announced that the driver had managed to fix the problem, but the airconditioning was now not working. We opted to drive back with the windows open rather than wait for the new bus to arrive. I think we were all of that generation that drove without aircon, we just opened the window, there was no option of a button to press to cool you down. It was the dry season and the journey was a rather dusty affair, but we survived and arrived in time to catch the Columbus before it sailed.

That night, we said goodbye to Guatemala and as it was Burns Night and there are a large number of Scots onboard the passengers and crew of the ship celebrated.

The Panama Canal

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 23, 2019 by David Palmer

(22nd)

There was a full cruise day after Aruba to reach the entrance to the Panama Canal, it was our goodbye to the Caribbean, it had been good to us; calm seas, blue skies, heat and some great views and memories.

We apparently picked up the pilot some where out to sea at 5.30am, the Canal is on both our bucket lists, but it did not include greeting this necessary element to the experience at such an ungodly hour. I was on deck with camera ready just after six am and it wasn’t quite light yet, though it was very humid. Sue went on deck shortly after, though I wasn’t until lunch time that we saw each other again.

I witnessed the passing under of the new Atlantic (unfinished) Road Bridge which is the first obstacle to negotiate before arriving at the first set of three locks. The Tannoy informed us that the bridge is soon to be opened at a cost of 350 million dollars. Leaning on the the railing at the bow of the ship, I mischievously whispered to the Scotsman standing next to me, ” Hrrrrm, we could have done that for 2.4 billion.” He agreed, “With a two year delay on delivery.” This third world country doesn’t know what it is missing.

As the light increased, the decks quickly filled up with eager bucket listers, even the crew started to assemble on the topmost deck where the off-limits radar equipment is sited. Everyone was anxious to capture an image that could be shown to friends and family back home that would impress with their photography skills, I use the ‘quantity method’, click away as much as possible and one is bound to be decent. Isn’t it?

The Gatun Locks are on the edge of the rainforest, its canopy is just a few metres from the waterway and the surrounding buildings. To raise the ships to a height sufficient enough to enter the central man-made lake there are three consecutive locks. They are big, but not big enough, we could see through the trees in the distance, evidence of a new canal that is being built that will take the new breed of mega-ships. I just hope that it doesn’t take the 800 000 deaths the present one took before completion.

We are following the cruise ship Norwegian Star and she was soon to leave the first lock as we arrived to couple up to the ingenious machines that would first pull then drag us to a stop between the sets of gates. We watched and photographed as the Norwegian Star rose inside each body of water rapidly displaying more of her hull on each occasion. The transit through this first set seemed to enthrall all, no one left the decks to take part in the usual set of activities below decks. Each lock took 15 minutes to fill. Moving around from one side to the other and from the front to back to get that special photo, was not easy with the number of bodies around, most reluctant to give up their position, even to briefly move aside to let you pass. I didn’t play rugger for 40 yrs for nothing!

Alongside the locks are railway tracks, similar to those that you see on the mountainous funicular type except these run flat except for a short slope up to the next lock. Waiting for us on these tracks were four small trains, two on each side. We gently nudged up to a long dock, sited before the locks themselves before being held there by two tugs, front and back with water churning washing machine like from their rear in order to keep us steady while two of the trains on the one side squeaked and squealed up to us and attached two cables to our (in comparison) leviathon. From my height, the cables looked ridiculously thin and the vehicles themselves, rather insignificant. What do I know? As the cables tensioned we inched forward into the lock to be latched onto in similar fashion by two trains on the opposite side. They had no trouble tugging us and then halting us inside of the three locks. The ships are not permitted to use their own engines for common sense and safety reasons. It was fascinating to watch and as a distraction we had a couple of container ships transitting in the opposite direction through parallel locks to the side.

With the locks negotiated we entered Gatun Lake, once the largest lake in the world, but at present only coming in 3rd. The sun was quite fierce for our nearly eight hour steam across this body of water, finding shade while observing the passing jungle covered islands and shoreline became a priority for most but the foolhardy. Many had their binoculars out searching for signs of life in the canopy, but this appeared to be limited to a great variety of large and colourful birds, other wildlife appears to have rejected the CMV appearance fee as too derisory.

Our pilot kept us informed over the Tannoy as to anything of interest that we were passing. I particularly enjoyed the jungle prison that we quietly slipped by in which we were told the President of Panama is currently enjoying its facilities. I wonder who he upset? Around two thirds of the way we passed the small town of Gamboa nestling on the shore, seemingly more of a home for the large earth moving machinery than homes and buildings of the people who service the system.

The next set of locks is the Pedro Miguel Locks followed by the small Miraflores Lake then the double Miraflores Locks before reaching the Pacific Ocean. By this time, there had been some thinning of the watching passengers, the restaurants had opened up for the evening and to avoid starving to death some felt it necessary to take on a few more calories. No doubt they were equally astounded at the sight through their dining room windows of the view of Panama City rearing up in the distance out of verdant jungle, a truly awe inspiring sight with the late afternoon sun glinting off stupendous towers of concrete and glass. Certainly, a statement that the human race can bend any environment to its will. It is huge!!!!!

As the sun set we sailed off under our final bridge carrying the Trans-American Highway into the bay and finding a space, dropped anchor among the countless dozens of other ships. We were stopping for several hours to refuel, before continuing with our journey. Some how a tanker found us in the dark and by 2am had disgorged its contents into our bunker and we went on our way.

Ahead lies two more sea days before our next stop in Guatamala, I wonder what the Pacific Ocean will have in store for us?

One Sea Day to Aruba

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 22, 2019 by David Palmer

(19th – 21st)

When you share a tin can with 1800 people for any length of time you are bound to come across some interesting individuals. Past cruises have shown us that the human form can certainly attain eye-watering proportions in both size and body shape, living on a food conveyor belt doesn’t help matters, but on the Columbus there are very few of these individuals, perhaps this may be because there is a dearth of North Americans on board, this may also account for the lack of whooping and inappropriate applause during showtime. However, the one couple onboard that could benefit the most from a crash diet of biblical proportions are in fact British, come from the west country and have a down to earth and amiable nature that is a characteristic of this part of the UK.

The real interest is in the stories regarding the reasons for passage on our medium sized cruiser of unadulterated luxury. Sue seems to have the knack of eliciting some extraordinary tales from our fellow mariners, usually when I am off doing some other activity. A couple of days ago she was sat with a couple from Scotland who were complaining bitterly about their circumstances. It seems that they were unhappy with their stateroom consisting of a lounge, bedroom, dressing room, toilet and bathroom, large balcony and personal cabin boy. Champagne in the room and clothing washed when required was not good enough for the £55 000 they had paid and though this was a world cruise they were going to demonstrate their unhappiness by disembarking in Australia and flying home. Now the story was related to Sue in one of the dining rooms, with the main grumble being, why should they have to dine in the same restaurants as the other passengers? It was a shame that when I eventually joined Sue for lunch, the pair had left, I think they may have benefitted from my input into the conversation.

Another tale was related to Sue whilst leaving port in Aruba. This time the story was told by an American who had moved to Perth in Scotland after marrying a Scots lassie 17 years ago. He had left his wife behind as she didn’t fancy being away from home for 120 days. What???? He had just completed a phone call to her and had disturbed her beans on toast lunch, he continued that she was younger than him at 64yrs, he was in his 70’s. Sue retorted that she too was 64yrs old and can understand that she wouldn’t be bothered to cook a meal just for one person. His gracious reply was that she was an old 64yrs and set in her ways, while Sue clearly was not. Changing the subject he told her that he had booked tours in each port, two of the trips costing in the region of £1 500. Is his wife mad, or is this not the full story?

We arrived in Oranjestad, the port and capital of the Dutch island of Aruba during breakfast. It’s a small island with the most prominent feature visible from the ship being a volcanic shaped hill some miles inshore, we learned later that despite looking like a volcano, it isn’t. Another gorgeous Caribbean day greeted us, not as hot as Barbados due to a gentle cooling breeze lowering the temperature to somewhere below 30.

We had a trip booked for this island called ‘Sea and See’, disembarked, ‘stickered up’ we left the port by air-conditioned coach by 8.45am. Our guide for the day was an Abba fan called Fernando, yes, inevitably it wasplayed over the sound system. After making our way along the coastal road passing by many huge and modern hotel complexes we progressed through to the outskirts where we had a glimpse of where thelocals lived. We were informed that the you could buy a house on the island from as little as $30 000 up to $500 000 for something quite plush on the beach. The local currency is in Florins.

The striking thing about the landscape is not the white sandy beaches (they call its sugar sand here) but the abundant cacti that tower upright on every scrap of land that has not been built on or farmed. It could easily be the set for a hollywood western and wouldn’t take too much imagination to envisage the Lone Ranger and Tonto galloping away over the hill.

The coastline of Venezuela is visible from Aruba, but there appears to be very little love lost between the two peoples. The main industry on the island apart from tourism (mostly American) and the Alovera plant is the Venezuelan oil refinery, which apparently hasn’t paid its dues to the island government for a number of years now. They also seem to resent rule from the Netherlands, the president in protest to one particular imposition went on a hunger strike to have the ruling overturned, however the Dutch were not over impressed and he gave up when he realised he was going to have to die to make his point.

Our first stop was at the Island’s only lighthouse. It was built after the SS California foundered on the nearby rocks with the loss of several lives. It is now appropriately called the California Lighthouse. For $5 there was an opportunity to climb the structure but with only a 15 minute stop no one took advantage. The views from the base were as good as those from the top, I guess!

Next was a short drive to a monstrosity of a hotel. It is part of the RIU chain, easily the largest, whitest and tallest building we have seen on the island and designed to look like an Indian temple complex. What on earth had the architects in mind? It would have looked fine in Mumbai, but Aruba? I think not. Thankfully we only visited its pier so that we could catch our boat to the semi-submersible craft somewhere out to sea. I took advantage of its WiFi and chatted to Sarah for awhile until we sailed out of range.

The submarine was anchored near to the wreck of a German freighter that had been scuttled at the start of WW2, to prevent it being of use to the allies. It is now a popular diving spot (there were plenty of scuba divers in the surrounding water). We boarded the sub without any difficulty and descended into its depth, each of us taking a seat, crocodile fashion next to our own window with a view below the waterline. For the next hour we traversed back and forth over the wreck, spotting the different varieties of fish swimming lazily by. We finished by passing over the reef to see even more colourful varieties. Returning to the pier we boarded the coach for the next stage of our island adventure.

The Baby Bridge isn’t much of a an erosion feature worthy of more than a brief visit but it is the best they have as a few years ago its nearby bigger brother collapsed during the night, giving the restaurant and gift shop a bit of a problem that this smaller replica seems to have solved, for now.

Our final visit was to another rocky feature. The Casibari Rock Formation are formed of quartz diorite and there is supposed to be evidence of prehistoric rock drawings, but they must have hidden them well. However, they do afford good views and are quite photogenic. Again, it wouldn’t seem out of place to see the Lone Ranger and Silver galloping around the rocks at any moment. It was quite breezy at the top and Sue became parted from her headwear. Despite my best efforts, clambering over the building size boulders I couldn’t find it. It was probably lodged in a crevice alongside the rock paintings, waiting to be discovered again by a future generation.

Returning to the ship, Sue bought a new hat from one of the gift shops that are inevitably housed in the terminal all ports that cruises visit.

We sailed at 3.30pm. A short visit, but if you are here for just a day, it is long enough. Apart from chilling out on a perfect Caribbean sugar beach and topping up your tan there is not much else to distract you for long, not even the Divi Divi tree, famed on the island for always pointing to the west. Would we visit again, probably not, the abundance of mega hotels along idyllic beaches doesn’t sit well with the conscience and comes perilously close to an up-market Benidorm.

Across the Atlantic to Barbados

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 19, 2019 by David Palmer

(12th-19th)

We are now fully settled into the ship’s routine of entertainment and mealtimes, supplementing it with trips to the cabin, gym and deck etc. Of course we could eat when we wish, skip an activity, or perhaps attend a club/group that we have rejected as being too active (Zumbah), uninteresting (Bridge) or beyond our abilities (dance/choir) to sign up to. However, there are plenty of alternatives but I guess it is human nature to find a way of enjoying your time without too much effort, and we have done that. It is a long cruise though and you never know, we may decide to join the amateur dramatics or even meet Bill W. We have 6 sea days to fill before Barbados!

Today was significant as the Palmer clan added a new family member, Harry the sandy coloured greyhound arrived in Rothwell. It was remarked that he bears the family nose, so shouldn’t have any trouble fitting in!

On our second sea day (13th Jan.) the ocean took its cue from the sun and was on its best behaviour. Warm blue skies emerged from the blustery, grey days of our passage so far from Europe, the surface of the waters gently undulating like a blueberry jelly, without the hint of any random creamy topping to catch the eye. No sign though of any wildlife, neither in the sea or air, just the occasional small amorphous bits of brown flotsam seemingly in a hurry to speed aft. Not even any other shipping. The on-board interactive map show us as following the mid-Atlantic ridge, roughly half way across this great expanse of water. Lemming like, onto the newly appeared sunbeds. One brave lady even entered the pool for a swim, testing the water for the presence of any killer whales, no one followed her. Sue and I kept to our routine of activities, welcoming the extra seating being afforded to those of us not yet eager to ‘tan-up’ quite this early in the adventure.

On the 15th I spoke to Sarah through the miracle of the internet, she had some bad news regarding their house move which should have taken place last Monday, it appears that their vendor is selling two properties in order to fund their onward move, but the other property unfortunately has a limited title deed which needs to be removed before the sale can take place. The buyer of Sarah and Lee’s house has sold with an exchange of contracts to his own house, therefore leaving him potentially homeless if the issue of the limited title deed is not solved a.s.a.p. Last minute problems in house moves are to be expected but can still be quite traumatic for all involved, I have every confidence that the solicitors will rise to the occasion and sort out a mess that they should have seen and sorted a month ago. They have a week to do so.

Back on board, the daily temperature has risen to 20 degrees and we had our first BBQ on deck. Sue tucked in with gusto but I had just returned hot from the gym and satisfied myself with my usual fayre from the salad buffet. Despite all the same activities going on, sunbathing appears to be the most popular pastime with passengers, most seemingly to be asleep. Sue and I soldier on with our daily selected list of ‘things to do’ except we now play scrabble up on deck rather than in the air-conditioned games room. As an elderly gentlemen mentioned to me at the coffee machine, “Life can be tough at times.” I agreed, “There aren’t many of us that can cope with such hardship!”

Oddly, our mornings activities on the 17th were interrupted by a second life-boat drill. We have never had two of these on board a ship before and neither have any of our fellow mariners standing dutifully on deck roasting under a searing sun. Though the sea we are skimming through does look rather calm, blue and inviting, plus according to the ship’s newspaper, it is now also quite warm, I hope our captain is just being over cautious and the crew aren’t secretly fighting an iceberg strike below the water line, I have no wish to check the editors’ accuracy on the sea conditions in person.

“Land Ahoy!’ was the cry Columbus heard as the island (later named Barbados) was sighted 400 years ago and on the 18th the cruise ship Columbus slipped quietly into Bridgetown (previously James Town) and took its place alongside the dock among four other cruise ships already moored up. Laying opposite the P&O ‘Britannia’, we seemed dwarfed in comparison, but to our rear was the much smaller Fred Olsen ‘Braemar’, ensuring that we had bragging rights over at least one set of cruisers’ that we may meet on shore.

The day was ideal with little puffs of cloud sliding across a blue backcloth, occasionally dimming what at first appeared to be a warming, friendly yellow disc, but would as the day progressed prove to be a not quite so friendly open oven door. After breakfast we left the ship and joined the thin line of rucksack carrying evacuees filtering into a crammed dock terminal, mostly seemingly bent on logging onto the WiFi, we joined them. Charlotte was online so we chatted for a while catching up on family news before again joining the line of escapees, first passing through a throng of eager taxi drivers keen to ferry us off to one sight or another, we declined.

Our walk into the town centre and its most popular tourist spot, “Broad Street’ took about 30 minutes with occasional stops, the longest being at the fish market where we saw the boats being unloaded of their catch, this seemed to be mostly tuna, one fish in particular was easily 2m long.

It was very hot, so ducking into shops to look at the merchandise was more an issue of survival rather than purchase, air conditioning can be a life-saver at times. Saint Mary’s church was at the end of this crowded street so we decided to investigate its cool interior. The front and side gates were locked and chained, but on further circumnavigation we found the rear gates slightly ajar and a gardener busy about his business, he said nothing as we walked past him and finding the church door open, we entered. It is a pleasant enough church, not fussy with decoration, obviously well used but not that well maintained. After a few photos, a wander around and a sit down to rest hot feet we emerged into the furnace to find and photograph the towns two central bridges, hence the name: Bridgetown.

This location is the centre of tourist activity as lying at the end of Broad Street it attracts those bent on shopping, plus being just a few hundred metres away from a local beach of white coral sand, those cruisers keen on sunnier activities pass through gripping towels and suncream. To take advantage of the passing trade are bars, gift shops and traders selling art etc. from stalls located on the bridge itself. We had a brief mosey around to see what was on offer, before purchasing tickets to the very impressive English style Barbados Parliament.

We began by working our way though the Museum of Parliament outlining the history of democracy on the island, it is the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth. From there we proceeded to the National Heroes Gallery of which according to the displays there are 10 of them, I found Garfield Sobers the most interesting (I have gone off politicians!) Next, we had a conducted tour of the debating chamber and then the Senate. Knowing the history of the island, unsurprisingly they are exact replicas of the British Parliament, I just hope that their representatives are not as self interested and deceitful as ours.

Fully politicised we set off in search of Saint Michael’s Cathedral. It wasn’t far, just a few (hotfooted) minutes walk away. As with St. Mary’s, all the usual gated entrances were barred against entry but after another circumnavigation we found an open entrance, but were stopped from entering by a sign indicating that the building was locked due to repair. It invited us to visit the grounds but we wanted the shade and cool of inside, not the heat of gravestones and concrete.

We returned to Broad Street and purchased a Christmas bauble that Sue had spotted earlier, before revisiting the area around the bridges and checking out the rather sad and dilapidated main outdoor market area. Apart from fruit and vegetable stalls there only appeared to be rather seedy local bar shacks, all in poor condition as was their local customers. We hurried back to the touristy gift shops along the little harbour on the other side of the bridge, very much a barrier between the the haves and the have nots. I bought a T-shirt and then guiltily dropped my change into the out held cup of a beggar crouched patiently on the bridge.

The beach was just a short walk away and that is where we went next. It was busy, yet there were plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas available. We could tell which beachlovers were from the Columbus as they had their distinctive blue and white striped bath towels with them. The brilliant white coral sand besides being the trademark of the Carribbean and cool underfoot is a great reflector of the sun’s heat and it wasn’t long before our slow amble along the beach, around beached jet-skis and toasting bathers had its affect. Wading through the surf had some cooling influence, but without getting fully immersed it was a battle we could not win as we had neglected to bring either swim-wear or towels. After around 40 minutes or so we left the beach to those much better prepared and made our way along the board walk towards the sanctuary of our metal home for the next couple of months. We stopped to purchase drinks at a supermarket before visiting the Pelican Art Centre located just out side the cruise terminal.

We hurried back to our cabin for cooling drinks and drop off the bags we had managed to fill in our foray into Bridgetown, than disembarking for a second time we returned to the WiFi inside the Cruise Terminal along with many passengers from the other ships to pick up emails etc. etc.

The Columbus left port at 5.30pm.

Many of our fellow cruisers had taken tours to various parts of the island, others who had visited before had used local transport to revisit favourite spots. We had chosen to see its capital and make up our own minds on Barbados by experiencing its culture on our own. Would we visit it again? Yes.

Columbus sailed to the Azores

Posted in Uncategorized on Jan 11, 2019 by David Palmer

(7-11th)

Due to a delay in refueling we didn’t leave our berth in Amsterdam until midnight, by then we were snug in our cabin.

A sea day means that on waking we read the morning ship’s daily magazine in earnest and plot what we are going to do in between meals and the evening entertainment. Today would have been my first visit to the gym but a sore ankle that I have been carrying for a couple of weeks now wasn’t improved by yesterdays city ramble, so that activity will have to wait.

We did attend two quizzes, a bingo session and an interesting lecture on Liverpool.

We are starting to become familiar with the layout of the ship and are now not having to retrace our steps as often, but I guess that means that we are getting less exercise, but to compensate we have decided not to use the lifts and are stretching our legs up the many stairways.

There was a formal dinner and this was preceded by the Captain’s Welcome Reception (DJ’s etc. worn). We were first in the queue to be presented to our tall Greek ship’s captain, a mild mannered man with a soft handshake. After our photograph with him we sat in seats alongside a single elderly lady from Germany who was second in the line. After a glass of champagne there followed some very delicious canapes, then several more glasses of plonk while we waited for the captain to shake the hands of all the other guests. While we waited we chatted (as best as we could) to our seating partner. Her English like our German was not expansive, but we managed. We discovered that she was 79 yrs old, she was on the World Tour (120 days) and would be celebrating her 80th in Mumbai. She lived near the Dutch border but started her cruise in Tilbury rather than Amsterdam, I think that she was annoyed that her travel agent had sent her on flights from Dusseldorf to Amsterdam then Amsterdam to Gatwick and finally a long transfer to the port in Tilbury to catch the ship, when she could have got on board in Amsterdam. However, she looked quite a fit and alert lady for her age as proved by the fact that a couple of years ago she spent 4 months flying around the countries of South America, that’s brave thing to do at any age. When all hands had been shook the captain along with the rest of his senior heads of departments, took centre stage and introduced themselves and wished us a pleasurable journey.

The show was a dance extravaganza called appropriately ‘Anchors Aweigh’, well known nautical tunes danced to in a variety of sailor outfits and accompanied by the ship’s resident singers with support from a ‘well oiled’ Sue, the champagne either has magical qualities or the alcohol content was high.

Our evening meal was again with Ian and Diane with the remaining two place settings remaining stubbornly empty.

The following morning in addition to attending the quiz sessions we played Jackalo, a long board game where you push wooden discs down a board, trying to get them through small openings that attracted various scores. It was fun but frustrating, there was lots left for improvement.

The afternoon was taken up with a lecture on first names, we followed that up with another quiz then a game of scrabble. As we transfer from one activity to another, we pass by others that seem quite enticing but then you can’t do everything can you? However, we did sit for awhile and listen to the passenger’s choir being practised, they were singing Moon River and it was really rather enchanting, such a shame Sue and I have voices that replicate mating toads!

The evening entertainment was a stand-up comedian from Wolverhampton, he had an excellent repartee of gentle humour that didn’t upset any category of the human race (mostly) too much. A quality essential for any entertainer on a multinational cruise ship if they wish to attract a lengthy or repeat contract.

The 9th was a full activity day with the usual quizzes and lectures, but I opted out of a seminar on pain control with Sue and went for my first session in the gym. On meeting up back in the room I learnt that Sue had also left soon after me, disappointed at the focus of the lecture, which appeared to be that pain was not good for you and that it was a symptom of something being wrong with your body. Now that wasn’t a surprise to her, so she retired early for coffee in the restaurant. Perhaps the next session may be more informative.

We did watch our first on board film, a Liam Neeson action movie called “Commuter’. An entertaining but far fetched plot that required its audience to ‘buy into’ the idea his 60yr. old character could fight like Mike Tyson and that some very powerful and rich people were scoundrels who wanted to keep secret their dastardly ways. I could only align myself with one of these concepts, the other was too ridiculous to contemplate. Can you guess which?

The evening show was a pantomime, Aladdin, having witnessed a much more professional production in Kettering over Christmas this version was hilarious because of its blatant amateurishness lots of fun and laughs from audience and cast alike.

We have taken to doing a couple of turns around the deck after our evening meal and it has been noticeable that on each occasion it is becoming warmer as we head further south. Summer days are here again.

The ship has 1200 passengers and 620 crew from 28 nationalities, there are no children on board (it is an adults only voyage), the age range of the passengers certainly weighs in favour of those in the retired bracket but there are a few from 20+ years upwards. It’s not many, other than the retired or of certain professions that can afford the time off for a cruise of such length (120 days completing the World Tour). There are a few passengers that are working on board whilst enjoying the facilities, I did come across a writer the other day, he was complaining bitterly about the lack of WIFI in all parts of the ship, but I have seen others with heads buried into their laptops with screens displaying spread sheets, word-processors and other work related software. So far I have resisted the temptation to ask what they are doing and why.

We are now becoming familiar with the faces of our fellow travellers and the greetings are becoming warmer and more familiar as the days pass. As we are all in the same boat, we have the incentive to get on with each other and chat, no meal passes without an exchange of pleasantries and then inevitably the conversation comes around to: How many cruises have you been on. Where are you disembarking. Where are you from. Have you been to ……. There is No mention of UK news and definitely Brexit has never been mentioned (so far), not even by the foreign passengers. What a relief. If the conversation lasts for any length of time then relationships and children are discussed. We were surprised to discover that many of the couples we meet and chat to are not married or even partners, they met on a past cruise, live separate lives in different parts of the UK or Europe and meet up on board when it is next time to cruise. It makes sense, rather than pay a hefty single supplement for each cabin, book as a pair and share one, saves a lot of money. We have seen on past cruises a slot in the activity timetable for singles to meet each day, I guess this is where it all happens with the result being evident on this ship. There are no timetabled singles activities on the Columbus (job already done), but the there is a club called the ‘friends of Bill W.’ It is where any gay or lesbian passengers get into contact, they meet every day at 5pm in the Aft Observation Lounge (some one has a sense of humour).

We docked gently into Ponta Delgada at 8am with with hardly an onboard shudder. If our alarm hadn’t gone off at the same time, Sue and I would have been unaware that we had reached our 2nd port of call. At breakfast we could see that it was a grey morning and the town was already bustling with activity.

We had holidayed in the Azores a few years ago so didn’t feel the need to join any organised trip to discover the island, we already done that and decided that we loved the place. The day trippers had already left the ship for their adventures by the time we disembarked and ignoring the polite requests of the taxi drivers at the end of the pier, we plunged into the town with its pretty black and white cobbled streets and emersed ourselves into Azorian culture.

First, we headed for the one focal point from which we knew where everything else was located and that was the Collegia Hotel, which had accommodated us on our previous visit. It was still there, unchanged and still felt like a warm, safe sanctuary if needed. Why do we always return to places we have visited in the past?

The nearby Arts and Culture Museum (Dept. of Sacred Art of C Machado) was open, we had attempted to peruse its contents several times before, but on each occasion it had been shut, after paying 90 cents for a 1Euro entrance ticket (it was all we had and we are pensioners after all) the staff kindly waved us through. The building was a retired church, originally built by the Jesuits before they were thrown off the island during the reformation. The large and impressive altar was intricately carved with the most complex groups of designs and characters we have ever seen. Like so many others it was originally going to be covered in gold leaf but the Jesuits left before it was finished and in our opinion it is much the better for it. Our miserly 90 cents appeared to provide us with our own personal guide who gave us the complete history of the building and of the many other artefacts in the rest of the museum. We completed our visit with a display of Azorean roof tile production, I found it particularly fascinating (I don’t think Sue did) as a few years ago my step brother and I had re-roofed his Bulgarian home with similar pantiles.

We returned to the ship for lunch and then headed back into town, first visiting an ATM to collect some of the devil’s coinage, the Euro. Next stop was the Palace of Santa Anna (Jardim Do Palacio De Sant’ Ana) and its gardens, the site contained the current Azorean President’s offices in a very impressive, obligatory black and white mansion like building. The palace was off limits so we meandered around the beautiful gardens, conveniently the trees and shrubs were all labelled, inviting them to be read and discussed, which we did.

Not yet satisfied with our intake of floral knowledge, sights and smells, conveniently a short way down the road was the Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico Jose Do Canto), it too possessed an impressive building that was off limits to us, but only because the original home of Jose De Canto is now a 2 star hotel. We first explored the little chapel of Santa Anna close to the entrance and probably where Jose used to pray. The gardens themselves were vast and home to a great many species of trees and shrubs, again all labelled and all requiring reading. It took some time to oblige, but I don’t think we missed many. However, one large specimen insisted on dropping its seeds onto us painfully from a very great height, after checking that it was the tree playing games and not (as in the past) a troop of monkeys amusing themselves, we hurried on without knowing its species, original location and dimensions. He shall remain an unknown.

Next port of call was the fortress down by the harbour. We had taken many photos there on our last visit so as my feet were sore (my watch was telling me they had taken 11597 steps since waking) we checked that it was still in the same condition as we had last left it and went back to the ship for much needed coffee and a feet up.

The evening show was an excellent concert of classical singing with violin.

The captain promised us a sea swell of 4-5m throughout the night and the whole of tomorrow, this should be interesting.