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Alberta Badlands

July 2, 2018 Monday – Cretaceous/Tertiary Boundary and Tyrrell Museum Badlands, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

After having an early breakfast in my hotel room, our tour bus leaves by 8AM. Our all-day tour hosts are both geologists (and RASC members), so they share lots of info about rocks, glaciation, the K/T Boundary, and how the dinosaurs died off so quickly 65 million years ago. We are all given handouts authored by our hosts, with scientific  references, diagrams, and notes.

JoeTourist: Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park &emdash; The group expores a ridgeline for the K/T BoundaryOur first stop is Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park, where we dig around a bit and see the K/T Boundary for ourselves. There are hoodoos, piles of lignite, and a beautiful valley with the Red River below.  The park gets its name from a “dry island” formed by the ancient flow of the Red River, and later use by First Nations people as they drove buffalo over the cliff edge to their deaths, ensuring everyone survived the winter. This park is accessible during fair-weather and daytime only, but it is a fascinating area to explore!

JoeTourist: Royal Tyrrell Museum &emdash; Stegosaurus fossilOur next stop is the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. I have visited this museum before, but it is one of those museums where you can go back again and again to see and learn about new things. Today is the Canada Day civic holiday, so it is crowded, but as a tour group we have priority admission arranged, so walk right in ahead of the lines. There are dinosaurs on display here that defy description, along with all the usual suspects like Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, fish, turtles, shellfish, worms, you name it! All the fossils are from this area of Alberta, which is rich in fossilized remains from this epoch.

JoeTourist: Trekcetera &emdash; Star Trek artifactsOur last stop is a complete change of pace: the Trekcetera Museum, also located in Drumheller. Their main claim to fame is the amazing collection of all things to do with Star Trek: phasers, hollow decks, original costumes, and other original memorabilia from the Trek movies and TV series. They also cover Men In Black, Superman, Titanic, Sherlock Holmes, and other entertainment classics. This little museum is well worth a stop if you are a Trekkie!

After a full day of touring, a few of us walk from the hotel to nearby Gus’s Cafe and Pizzeria for dinner. The food is good, but the service is surly, just like the online reviews indicated!

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Kinabatangan Wildlife

April 10, 2018 Tuesday – Sandakan to Kinabatangan, East Sabah, Malaysia

2018 Borneo tour

Kinabatangan, Sandakan & Sepilok area map

Kinabatangan, Sandakan & Sepilok area map

Today we trade our posh Le Meridien hotel in Kota Kinabalu for a wilderness lodge in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. We fly to Sandakan in East Sabah this morning, drive along the Kinabatangan River (Sabah’s longest at over 500 kilometres) to Sukau and the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

Along the way we pass through many kilometres of oil-palm plantations, and arrive in time for lunch (served buffet-style). When one of the staff takes my bag to my cabin, he is attacked by a troupe of Macaque monkeys and is bitten. Not an impressive start to my stay!

Late this afternoon we take our first river cruise in search of Pygmy Elephants, but our guide Junior only finds fresh elephant dung, since they appear to be on the move. We do see a large group of Proboscis monkeys high in the trees beside the river, some other monkeys, and the Borneo Civet after dark as we return for a late dinner.

The cabins at the lodge are pretty basic, with no air conditioning, just fans and screens on the windows. There are bugs in the room and especially the bathroom. I started taking my Malarone anti-malarial medicine a couple of days ago in preparation for this segment of our travels, however despite the lodge being located right on the river, I see no mosquitos.

April 11, 2018 Wednesday – Kinabatangan in East Sabah, Malaysia

We leave the lodge by boat at 6:30AM for a 2.5 hour trip along the Kinabatangan River. We spot a beautiful Stork-billed Kingfisher soon after we leave the dock. Unlike yesterday evening, today I have my full camera kit with me for the boat trip, I take some good photos of a female Proboscis monkey with a baby in a tree, some Hornbills, a Black and Red Broadbill, a male Blue-eared Kingfisher, a Chestnut-breasted Malkoha, an Oriental Darter, some Silver Langur monkeys, a Wrinkled Hornbill, and a small Monitor Lizard. This is my most productive day for wildlife photography!

Our guide Junior gives a presentation on how he started out as a waiter in a resort, became a guide 35 years ago, and had the opportunity to work with David Attenborough on The Living Planet series. The biodiversity on Borneo is very concentrated, lending itself to feature films about the rainforest, such as the National Geographic Great Migration series. Junior tells us he is self-taught as a guide, but he is licensed by the government. Same goes for our other guides, including his son.

Stork-billed Kingfisher

Stork-billed Kingfisher

On the afternoon boat trip, we go up a tributary of the main river, where we spot: a Stork-billed Kingfisher, male Blue-eared Kingfisher, a large group of Long-tailed Macaque monkeys, a small group of Silver Lemur monkeys, a Roller Broadbill (aka Dollar Bird), a Wrinkled Hornbill, a Monitor Lizard (about a half metre long), and an Oriental Darter bird. We see a couple of wildlife bridges built by the government wildlife service  to help the Orangutans cross the river channel (since they don’t swim).

I skip the night cruise, since photography is pretty well out of the question, and I really don’t want to be bitten by bugs, pick up any leeches, or attempt to photograph bugs by flashlight.

April 12, 2018 Thursday – Kinabatangan to Sandakan in East Sabah, Malaysia

On our morning boat trip, we see: Proboscis monkeys feeding (including a male), a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage, a pair of Hornbills, a male Black and Red Broadbill guarding it’s nest, and a young Crocodile on the muddy shore.

Staff waving goodbye to us from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

Staff waving goodbye to us from the Kinabatangan Riverside Lodge

After lunch, it is time to leave the lodge by taking a 2.5 hour boat trip down the river to the sea, and then to the jetty at Sandakan. This turns out to be an endurance contest, despite having a rest stop half way at Abai Jungle Restaurant and Lodge, a lodge on the lower river run by the same company (S I Tours) as where we were staying. The boats are going about 40 knots and when we are in exposed sea water in the Sulu Sea, the ride is very rough and noisy. I wear my noise-cancelling earbuds to reduce my exposure.

Once we arrive at the jetty in Sandakan, our bags are taken by hand carts to the bus waiting for us, and we are driven a short distance to the only deluxe hotel to be found in Sandakan, the Four Points by Sheraton. It has an infinity pool, gym, 2-level lobby with a piano, and is over 20 stories high. It’s quite pretentious, however I’m happy to have an American-style room with air conditioning, hot water and comfy bed after the last few nights in the river lodge!

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Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

April 7, 2018 Saturday – Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

2018 Borneo tour

Woman’s Entrance, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque

Woman’s Entrance, Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque

We start our full day in Brunei visiting the opulent Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque, where we are allowed to visit the inside of the men’s prayer hall after removing our shoes. The women in our group must also cover their heads and legs, and everyone has to check our bags, although we are allowed to carry a camera with us.

There is a very impressive Royal Entrance to the mosque with fountains, gardens and ornate gates, however the best photo-op I found was the Woman’s Entrance, where the symmetry of the golden domes and minarets is stunning.

We then travel back into Bandar Seri Begawan to see Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien old mosque. I decide to not go inside, since our time here is limited. I walk out to the decorative cement boat that is situated in the middle of the lake beside this mosque, where I take some very nice photos of the mosque despite the midday Sun beating down on us.

We walk along the Jalan McArthur waterfront promenade to the jetties and board boats which take us across the Brunei River to Kampong Ayer, a Malay stilt village. After our return, we have time for a quick lunch at Franini’s Italian restaurant before boarding the bus to head out of the city. We make a quick stop for some retail therapy at a Starbucks in a mall, where I find some unique souvenirs of Brunei to take home with me before we continue on to see the Wawasan Brunei 2035 craft skills display.

Proboscis monkey in a tree on the Brunei River

Proboscis monkey in a tree on the Brunei River

Boats on the Brunei River take us past Istana Nurui Iman – the Sultan’s palace to see Proboscis monkeys in the mangrove at nearby Pulau Ranggu. We finish the day with another visit to the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah new mosque at night, which is spectacular.

I’m pretty well beat by the end of this marathon day, so after we return to the hotel, I go downstairs to have a quick dinner of Nasi Goreng and then I unwind in my room before bedtime.

 

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Singapore

Feb 29, 2016 – Singapore

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

We arrive early this morning in Singapore’s cruise ship terminal. We have a day in port and then overnight aboard the ship this evening. Most of the passengers are disembarking tomorrow morning, but I’m one of the 175 who are staying on board for the next cruise segment.

I take the Best of Singapore excursion today. It is an exhausting 8 hour tour, but we cover a great deal of ground, and I take some good photos and video. Our guide takes us to the City Gallery, where there are some wonderful scale models of the city and the whole country of Singapore. It shows just how much of Singapore is dedicated to gardens and other non-developed land, including the reservoir system for their water supply.

We take an electric-powered riverboat ride down the Kallang River and into Marina Bay, past Merlion Park. The Merlion fountain statue was erected as a symbol of welcome to visitors; the lion statue is emblematic of Singapore itself. We also see the historic Fullerton Hotel, on our way to the three towers that make up the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the observation deck, 200 metres (650 feet) above sea level, perched on Tower 3 of the hotel. I manage to photograph the amazing infinity pool (reserved for hotel guests) by leaning out from the observing deck to grab a shot. The view of Gardens by the Bay below the towers, as well as the city and harbour are fantastic from this vantage point. The Marina Bay Sands hotel has one of only two casinos, and a huge number of high end shops in a vast mall under the main hotel.

Our bus takes us to the entrance to Gardens by the Bay – a 100 hectare (250 acre) spectacularly designed park, home to an amazing variety of rare plants housed in giant, innovative domed conservatories. There are several different regions and ecosystems to discover, but we only have time to explore two: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The Flower Dome replicates the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions, and showcases flora that thrive in these conditions. Oddly enough, cactus and succulents, as well as Baobab trees are included in this ecosystem. True to its name, the Flower Dome showcases massive numbers of flowers from all over the world. As we move into the mist-veiled Cloud Forest, we feel the climate change to warmer and moister conditions. The 35 metre (115 foot) tall mountain showcases the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and presents plant life from tropical ecosystems, and is nothing short of spectacular.

We stop for a family-style Chinese lunch in a restaurant in Chinatown, which offers us a welcome air-conditioned respite from the heat and humidity on Singapore’s streets after seeing the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The gold-domed Masjid Sultan Mosque is the centre of Muslim culture in the city, and nearby Arab Street offers lots of carpet dealers. Shopping in Little India is interesting, and there are bargains to be had here when compared with Singapore’s more upscale (and expensive) shopping areas.

We finish our day at the legendary Raffles Hotel. I have a Singapore Sling cocktail where it was originally invented in Raffles’ Long Bar. Named after the British designer of modern-day Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, this property is one of the world’s finest and most famous hotels. The high ceilings and colonial architecture reflect the era of British rule (1819-1963). There is no public access to the lobby and other guest areas, however the Long Bar and shops are accessible to the public.

Singapore – photo albumsslideshow

 

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Myanmar (Burma)

Feb 21, 2016 – Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma)

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

The Volendam is docked about an hour’s drive south of Yangon in the port city of Thilawa, which is as far up the shallow Rangoon River as ships dare go.

My shore excursion into Yangon takes most of the day. Our bus is a bit dodgy, but our driver and guide are great, and the driver has a helper, so we are well-served, and we are offered lots of bottled water in order to stay hydrated in the heat. The drive from the port to the city takes almost two hours each way through very heavy traffic. As we leave the port through Thilawa, we encounter early preparations for a pagoda festival. There are circus rides, lots of food stands, and people everywhere despite the festival not starting for several hours. We cross the Rangoon/Bago River over the bridge into the city of Yangon, where we pick up a police escort. So for the rest of the day, we arrive at each location like rock stars!

Our guide explains that the change in spelling for the city of Yangon (from Rangoon) and the country of Myanmar (from Burma) was done by the past military government to correct historical misspelling of the two place names into English. She tells us land is very expensive in Yangon, development is sporadic, and is dependant on foreign investment and (in the past) sponsorship by the military regime. There are lots of homeless dogs, who obviously have to scrounge for food, however some are fed and adopted from the Buddhist temples, so they are referred to as “wat dogs”, after the Burmese word for temple.

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

Street vendor beside Mahabandoola Garden in Yangon

First stop is the Sule Pagoda, which is right in the center of the city. We don’t actually go into the pagoda, but we get to hang around Mahabandoola Garden for a few minutes, where there are lots of street food vendors. Next is the Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market, where we have some time to shop or just look around this massive market right in the centre of the city. There are clothes, shoes, precious and semi-precious gems and jewelry, inlaid wood, fabric, cosmetics and all sorts of handicrafts.

I’m glad to get out of the market, and go for lunch at the very elegant downtown hotel, the Sule Shangri-La. We are served (family style) a lovely Chinese meal with our choice of beverages, including beer or wine. I have a very nice lager-style local beer, and dine with several of my fellow passengers at big round tables. After lunch, our police escort takes us to the National Museum for a quick look at several interesting exhibits, including the 8-metre-tall golden Lion Throne used by the last Burmese King. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum.

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

The Vane and Diamond Orb atop Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is the highlight of a very full day. One of the wonders of the religious world, this Buddhist spectacle was built more than 2,500 years ago. The pagoda is located on the top of Singuttara Hill, so it is visible from all over the city, since the golden stupa is 100 metres tall. It is topped with more than 6,500 diamonds, rubies and other precious stones; the largest diamond is 76 carats at the apex! The top three components (the Diamond Orb, The Vane and the Umbrella) consist of some 86,000 jewellery items weighing over 5 tonnes. The decorations on the main stupa were recently redone, with the precious stones coming completely from donations. The pagoda is covered in gold plate (not gold leaf).

Everyone, including tourists have to take shoes and socks off and be modestly dressed before taking the elevator from the entrance to the main plaza that surrounds this huge pagoda. Since it is the middle of the day, the tiles are hot in the midday Sun, however since they are marble, it is tolerable providing you don’t step on the black ones! I work my way around the plaza, which has huge numbers of temples and shrines on both sides of the plaza.

The faithful walk around the pagoda in a clockwise direction (as do we), stopping at shrines and temples along the way. In particular, there are Planetary Posts, or shrines for each day of the week (two for Wednesday), just like there are buddhas for each day of the week. Speaking of Buddhas, there are worship halls and temples for the many different images of Buddhas surrounding the main stupa. Free wifi is available in the southeast area of the plaza, near the south stairway entrance.

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Monk, and offerings, and the Reclining Buddha

Our last stop of the day is to see the Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Buddha. Again, we doff our shoes and socks before entering the compound. This statue is 68 metres (223 feet) long. Buddha’s feet are decorated with astrology and other symbols. There are lots of wat dogs and their pups lounging around the compound.

Our trip back to the ship uses back roads after we cross the river, since our guide and driver want to avoid the local pagoda festival being held on the main road in Thilawa. I hear later from other passengers that they were caught for almost an hour in the festival congestion. Although the back road we took was a bit rough, we were back onboard the ship by 5PM.

Feb 22, 2016 – Monday – Yangon, Myanmar

I spend most of the day aboard the ship at the dock, and leave at 4:30PM to see the Shwedagon Pagoda at night. The traffic is very congested south of the main bridge across the river, but we arrive at the pagoda in time for sunset when the lights illuminate all the gold on the structures. One benefit of visiting at night: the marble tiles on the plaza around the pagoda are cool. Yesterday, I was burning my bare feet as I walked around the pagoda in the midday Sun. The Moon is full, making this evening even more picturesque.

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

The main Shwedagon Pagoda at night

While walking around the pagoda, a young Burmese man strikes up a conversation with me, asking about my country, how long I am staying in the country, how I got here and where I’m going after leaving. He speaks very good English, so we have quite a conversation. Two monks also approach me later on, although they speak poor English. They have similar questions as the young man posed, but they also want me to go with them for some reason. Of course I decline, since I have no idea what they want, and I have no intention of finding out!

This evening, the Thilawa Music & Dance troupe perform traditional Burmese music, dance and acrobatics onboard the ship. Their music is kind of screechy, but the performances are very interesting and the costumes are ornate and colourful. The last number involves two guys inside a giant elephant costume! I take video of portions of the performance.

 

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Walking tour & Paris at Night

September 18, 2014 – Thursday – Beaune to Paris, France

We leave the hotel in Beaune this morning and make the short drive to Paris, catching our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Sylvain drops us off a block away from our hotel and drives away for the last time. He was a great driver and was very good-humoured as well. Hotel Muguet is probably the nicest hotel we have stayed at on the entire trip, and I get to stay two extra nights here, leaving for home on Monday. I have a room facing the courtyard, so it is nice and quiet, and it’s air conditioned, which is needed to cope with Paris’ muggy weather right now.

We arrive a bit after noon, drop our bags off at the hotel, and quickly regroup to go on a walking tour of Paris and get an orientation of how to use the Paris Metro. First stop is Sainte Chapelle, a royal medieval Gothic chapel, located near the Palais de la Cité (City Hall), on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris. It is currently being restored, but is very impressive both inside and out. It was built to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ, and functioned as his personal chapel.  It is very ornate inside; decorated in gold and huge stained glass windows.

Map of photos taken in Paris

Map of photos taken in Paris

Next stop is Notre Dame Cathedral, an historic Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité. It is huge, and is an example of French Gothic Architecture, but not as impressively decorated inside as Sainte Chapelle. In fact, the interior is rather shabby in spots, showing the wear of so many people trouping through it. It was among the first buildings in the world to use flying buttresses (arched exterior supports), which are particularly spectacular when the building it lit at night. There is a huge plaza in front of the cathedral. We regroup here and take the bridge across the Seine to the Latin Quarter.

We have dinner on our own in the Latin Quarter before regrouping at Pont Neuf for an evening river cruise on the Seine. We see many of the bridges on the Seine lit up at night, as well as Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and a multitude of bridges as we cruise along the river. There are huge numbers of people partying along the river. Many are just hanging out with bottles of wine, while others are in semi-organized dances.

The cruise along the Seine at night makes for an impressive end to a very long and tiring day. After returning on the Metro, we are all glad to arrive back at our hotel.

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Bacharach & St. Goar

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

We arrive in the small town of Bacharach located on the Rhine River after driving the whole day from The Netherlands. We are staying in Hotel Kranenturm, a 700 year old structure which was one of the towers along the wall around the town. It was part of the city’s original rampart wall, and is just a few metres from the train tracks. Kurt and Fatima run the place. Fatima decorated the hotel, and Kurt is the chef.

I draw the room at the top of the tower (Prince’s Room #18), which means I have the most stairs to climb, but end up with one of the funkiest rooms with the best view of the river and the town and hills. Our group have drinks on the patio while the trains scream past us, and we also have dinner together in the hotel dining room.

September 3, 2014 -Wednesday – Bacharach & St. Goar

JoeTourist: Bacharach &emdash; Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

After breakfast in the hotel, we go on a walking tour of Bacharach with Herr Jung, an 83-year-old ex-schoolmaster with a great sense of humour. He takes us through the dark history of WWII from a German boy’s perspective (he was born in 1931). He was quite emotional at times, and everyone was very receptive to his message. He also led us on a walking tour of the town, highlighting the wine growing (which the region is famous for), the historic wall around the town, and interesting anecdotes about his personal friends and acquaintances.

After our walking tour, Sylvain drives us to St. Goar, a nearby town along the river where we do a walking tour of the Rheinfels Castle. This huge, historic castle was originally built in 1245, and withstood multiple sieges. The French invaders finally took over the castle without a fight and promptly destroyed most of it in 1797 during the French Revolution. Although the castle is considered to be in ruins, it is still very impressive as it sits on a hillside overlooking the Rhine River. A hotel is part of the castle.

Before we take a KD Rhine boat from St. Goar down the river to Bacharach, Jennifer leads us into playing “the name game” in the town square. We go around the group round-robin style, adding our names to the list of names, which everyone then has to recite (as a group). Of course, the list keeps getting longer, but the repetition helps us all remember each other’s names. The people in the square not in our group are amused by our antics!

The cruise down the river is great, since it gives us all time to rest our weary feet, and see the Rhine Valley and all the little towns, vineyards and numerous castles from a fresh perspective. We see: Loreley Rock (remember the old song “Sweet Loreley”?), Gutenfels and Schonburg castles, Liebfrauenkirche church, Burg Pfalzgrafenstein (a castle in the middle of the Rhine River), and the Oberwesel tower.

We arrive back in Bacharach late in the late afternoon. I go out with some of the group to a little restaurant on the main street only a block from our hotel and have a nice Jagerschnitzel, some Rhineland white wine, and a cappuccino to finish. Germans seem to serve cappuccino with a dollop of crème on top, so I have to ask for “plain, no crème”. Our all-American group is a lot of fun to be with, and this evening is no exception!

September 4, 2014 – Thursday – Bacharach to Rothenburg

After breakfast in our hotel in Bacharach, we schlep our bags across the street to where the bus is parked, and we are off down the highway to Bavaria.

The advice from Rick Steves to pack light is a valuable lesson to be learned by travellers taking his tours, since there is no porterage and the hotels often have no elevators! Rick Steves tours do not issue name tags…you are expected to make an effort to remember everyone’s name.

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Tahiti, French Polynesia

March 5, 2014 – Wednesday – Tahiti, French Polynesia

My excursion this morning is called Off the Beaten Track: Tahiti by 4-Wheel Drive, which is another tour using 4X4 trucks, but this time to explore the interior of Tahiti. We drive along the north coast of Tahiti from Papeete to the Papenoo Valley, and then head inland up to the base of one of the volcano calderas, now covered in lush tropical vegetation, with a river and waterfalls. The river is used for hydropower generation, although the dams, reservoirs and power stations are very small by British Columbia standards. We return using the same route, marvelling at the huge rough surf crashing on the rocks and shoreline. Our final stop is at an outlook over Mataval Bay and its black beach, with the capital of Papeete and island of Moorea behind.

After lunch, I venture out to walk around Papeete for a few blocks. Everything is closed today, since it is Ash Wednesday (and Missionary Day), both a civic and religious holiday. There are a few restaurants open and a few tourist shops, but otherwise the city is closed for the day. The Vaima Shopping Center was newly opened when I was here in 1978, but it is closed for the holiday like most other retail. The afternoon heat is a killer, so I return to the air-conditioned ship.

JoeTourist: Tahiti &emdash; Tahiti Ora folkloric dance troupeThis evening there is a special folkloric Tahitian dance troupe the Showroom aboard ship: Tahiti Ora. They are top-notch, high-energy performers, and the room is packed for their single performance. After the show, the rain is pouring down outside. We have been incredibly lucky during out time in French Polynesia, since this is their rainy season. We seem to have been perpetually a day ahead of serious-looking rainstorms. See my photos of our scenic cruise along Raiatea and Taha’a for some major clouds and even a funnel cloud!

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Guayaquil, Ecuador

Friday, December 9, 2011 – Day 19 – Guayaquil, Ecuador

Since I am staying aboard ship today, after breakfast I go outside to take photos from the Lower Promenade Deck and Deck 6 Forward as Rotterdam sits docked near Guayaquil. The Guayas River is an interesting and active transportation network. There is a dredge working practically alongside the Rotterdam, pumping river sludge onto a nearby island. The Ecuadorian navy ships glide by on a regular basis. There are a steady procession of private boats and tugs cruising by the Rotterdam, with people waving and taking photos, almost as though they never see cruise ships regularly. I make good progress reading my book in a recliner on the Lower Promenade Deck, and then later inside in the Library.

The ship leaves the dock precisely at 3PM; backing up beside a couple of docked container ships before turning around mid-stream to head out into the navigation channel. The Guayas River soon widens out considerably, and I see dolphins, Egrets, Pelicans, and other shorebirds. There are people in dugout canoes with primitive sails, and others in powerboats along the way. There are also lots of freighters anchored out in the river. I assume they are waiting for dock space. Among the numerous islands, there are some big shellfish growing operations – no doubt they are producing shrimp or crayfish. It takes Rotterdam almost four hours to clear the river and enter the saltwater of the Pacific, so we can be on our way to the next port of call, Manta, Ecuador.

My friends and I have some Becks beer on the Lido pool deck, which is very pleasant since the weather is warm despite being overcast. We decide to dine al fresco, having a simple meal from the Lido buffet as the ship proceeds down the Guayas River. A lovely way to end a day at leisure, as darkness descends.

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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Sunday, November 27, 2011 – Day 7 – Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Although this is my fourth time visiting Costa Rica, this is my first time in Limon. I came closest to Limon on my first trip to Costa Rica when I took a boat up to Tortuguero National Park to stay in the jungle for a couple of days.

I signed up to take a shore excursion today, but I’m glad it doesn’t leave until 9AM because I am having a tough time getting motivated this morning. After having some breakfast and my cappuccino, I am finally ready to get out there. When our group leaves the ship to go on our excursion, we discover we will be transported in a big, honkin’ tandem wheeled bus that is so high off the ground, we have to climb a set of stairs that folds down out of the back of the bus. It is air-conditioned and the seats are quite comfortable. There are big windows, and I’m happy the bus is only about half full, so there is lots of room to spread out. Another bonus is the weather – no rain, but overcast so it’s not too hot. The locals tell us the last few days have seen pouring rain, so we are lucky, since the good weather holds for the whole day.

Eric is our guide and Jose is our driver. They are business partners, and built this vehicle from scratch on a GMC truck chassis. We head south along the coast and then turn inland, traveling along the Banano River past the little community of Bomba, which is where the pumping stations are located for Limon’s municipal water supply. We driver further along the Banano River and then stop for a walkabout. Eric points out all sorts of flora and fauna, include the Golden Orb spider, a Balsa tree, and a red Poison Dart frog.

JoeTourist: Puerto Limon &emdash; Ticos swimming in the freshwater near the Caribbean coastal beachWe carry on along the river and then turn off the road into a banana plantation, where we stop to have a snack and listen to Eric as he explains all about the banana business. Eric mixes a drink called a “Missile”, which is a local liquor called Guaro, a squeeze of local (sweet) lemon, and topped up with Fresca. I prefer to have a local Imperial beer, but those who try the Missile say it is very smooth and refreshing. The good weather is still holding as we return to the ship by 1:30PM. As we travel along the coast there are many Tico families swimming and playing along the shoreline since it is Sunday. Of course they all stop to wave when they see our bus – a bit of a contrast from my experience in Colombia, where the locals either ignored the tour bus or just stared at us.

It is a welcome relief to get back on board the ship, which is really starting to feel like a home away from home. We depart on time, with the First Officer piloting us this afternoon. We now head for the port of Colon to transit the Panama Canal tomorrow morning.