We are sailing north offshore from the Oregon coast today. Bird watchers are setup on the Promenade Deck with their spotting scopes, binoculars and some have cameras. Apparently they are spotting seabirds, but I only see a few that are close to the ship.
I go up to the Explorations Cafe just after 7am for cappuccino and relax for awhile in one of the chairs facing forward. It’s quiet up here at this time of day – too early for the trivia or game players. I have breakfast in the Main Dining room, sharing a table with a couple from Surrey, who mainly go to Mexico all-inclusive resorts, but are trying cruising. They are finding Holland America doesn’t offer enough onboard activities, but they are otherwise enjoying their time aboard, especially the Panama Canal transit.
I drop off my Canada Border Services declaration to the staff who are setup mid-ship on my floor this morning. I declared the Halley Hansen jacket and a Holland America 150th Anniversary 2-mug set. I didn’t buy anything while I was ashore on this trip! I give a gratuity to my room stewards this morning, after getting a couple of envelopes from Customer Service.
I watch a movie this afternoon: A Man Called Otto with Tom Hanks in the lead as a grumpy old man with a heart of gold. I enjoyed it, since he always brings so much subtle emotion to his roles. Mariana Treviño knocks it out of the park as his fiery new neighbour.
It continues to be cold, foggy and some rain is falling today as we sail up the coast of Oregon on our way to Victoria. As can be seen by the ship’s position map, there is lots of shipping traffic along this coast!
I go to the Main Dining Room this evening, and have some Prosecco with my Rack of Lamb. Later, there is a lovely sunset over the ocean, which I watch and photograph from Deck 10. I surprise myself with the good quality photo I take of the 9 day old Waxing Gibbous Moon directly overhead. Canon’s image stabilization works amazingly well, even from the deck of a cruise ship!
The ship is sailing from Panama to Costa Rica, arriving early tomorrow morning. I have a cappuccino from Explorations Cafe before going to the Main Dining Room for breakfast, since I can’t wait that long for coffee!
I spend the day taking photos of Brown Boobys, who are swooping around the bow of the ship all day. They are a striking bird, and strong fliers. I catch them in flight and feeding on the water using my new 100-500 telephoto zoom and the Canon R5’s active tracking. This system recognizes birds amazingly well, so I capture some pretty good shots – rating some of them 4/5.
Our Executive Chef Bitta gives a cooking demonstration in the demo kitchen setup in the BB King’s Blues Club, hosted by Cruise Director Kimberly. He cooks Cornflakes Crusted Corvina and Tuna Poke, with samples being given to the audience afterwards.
The satellite Internet connection is down today, which gives me time to work on the photos and video I took during our Panama Canal transit yesterday.
I go to the Canaletto Italian restaurant this evening, enjoying the Osso Bucco, which is amazingly flavourful and tender, served with creamed orzo.
There is an intense orange coloured sunset this evening (see banner image above), which reflects off the calm Pacific as we sail northward to Puerto Caldera (Puntarenas) Costa Rica, arriving tomorrow morning. It’s a beautiful tropical evening out on deck!
This is the day most passengers are on this cruise for: transiting the Panama Canal. I’m up before sunrise as the ship waits offshore from Colon in Limon Bay to enter the canal at the Gatun Locks from the Caribbean Sea. Although we enter the locks on time at Gatun, by the time we emerge from the last lock at Miraflores on the Pacific side, we are an hour late. The Sun is set by the time we sail under the Bridge of the Americas and into Panama Bay, emerging into the Pacific Ocean.
Although this is my fifth canal transit, I’m always fascinated by the process of lifting ships up to the level of Gatun Lake, and then lowering them back to sea level. This is the first time I’ve observed the new locks in operation: Agua Clara locks on the Atlantic side, and Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side. Since our ship uses the old locks, we don’t get great views of the new lock system, however I can see the massive ships beside and above us as we go through the old locks. In addition to bigger container ships, the new locks also enable LNG and PNG tankers to now use the canal, which apparently is a big revenue stream for Panama.
Our cruise director Kimberly is on the bridge all day narrating as our ship transits the canal. She shares that the captain has confirmed that today’s toll for the Nieuw Amsterdam is US$444,000, or just over US$300 per passenger!
I watch the ship transit the canal from three main areas of the ship. My own stateroom’s verandah is on Deck 7 Forward, so it offers great views from the right side of the ship and happens to be on the shady side since it faces west. I also pop out to the Deck 7 Forward deck, which is very close to my stateroom and is open today, since it offers great views from the front of the ship. Finally, once in awhile I go up to Panorama Deck 10, where I can get views from both sides of the ship and be higher up.
While I take photos of the transit from various locations on the ship, I also setup my GoPro action camera on the rail of my balcony this morning to shoot a time lapse video, capturing all the interesting parts of the process of moving through the canal and locks. This 3-minute video captures the 12-hour process quite well!
It is Sunday, so there is a big crowd of Panamanians at the Miraflores Visitor Centre, who are waving at us as we move through the locks. On the other side, there is a big Alligator on the canal shoreline. Panama Bay and Panama City are beautiful in the darkness with the city lights shining.
The ship is sailing from Aruba to Cartagena today in some choppy seas, so this area is living up to its reputation as one of the rougher areas of the Caribbean weather-wise. I see Flying fish off the bow of the ship late this morning while walking the Promenade Deck, so I return to my stateroom and use my 100-500 zoom on my Canon R5 to capture some mediocre photo and video. It’s exceedingly hard to capture the brief moments when flying fish are in the air!
There is another spectacular sunset this evening as we sail along the Colombian coast, with just a hint of Green Flash visible as the Sun descends through some cloud layers (see banner image above). These conditions enlarge and distort the solar disk but the Green Flash is not nearly as apparent as on April 11th.
I enjoy Jerk Pork Ribs for dinner in the Main Dining room this evening. Since I always share a table with others, I converse with lots of my fellow Canadians most evenings in the various venues aboard ship.
Pianist John Bressler performs again on Main Stage this evening. He gives another wonderful performance, but doesn’t do as much funny banter this time, since he wants to give us more piano playing accompanied by his raspy singing voice! John Bressler | Facebook
I enjoy sea days where I can relax, enjoy the warm breezes from my balcony and the outside decks, and take in the onboard activities and entertainment.
The Holland America Grand Circle Island excursion is listed for US$149.95, but I got $20 off from my Have-It-All package, and then another $20 off since the the tour operator is no longer including lunch in the tour. As it turns out, this excursion doesn’t much resemble the description given at all. First, we drive around the island in the opposite direction, and secondly, we miss many of the stops, so it ends up being mainly a day of driving with only limited opportunities to get off the bus to either shop or see the sights on our own.
We do not stop at Hanauma Bay Marine Preserve since it remains closed to visitors since COVID-19, so I have no opportunity to take photos, even from the top of the cliff. The lack of humans during the pandemic has allowed the ecosystem to recover, so only visitors with permits are allowed in now. We stop at the Halona Blow Hole so I have time for a selfie before we hit the road again. I appreciate the 20 minutes we have at the Byodo-In Temple, although it is full of visitors, so it’s very crowded.
We drive north along the beautiful east coast, passing by both the Polynesian Cultural Center (where we were originally to stop for lunch) and the Kualoa Ranch. We stop at a macademia nut farm to shop, but it is packed with people from other tourist buses. We are stuck in multiple construction zones along the way, which is certainly frustrating for all of us. We only drive by the famous north shore beaches: Makapu’u Point, Sandy Beach, Sunset Point Beach, and others – no stops.
Our lunch stop is in the surfing town of Hale‘iwa on the North Shore, where we have 1.5 hours to eat, shop, or do what we wish. I have an exceedingly expensive cappuccino and then wander along the main street that is lined with surf shops, restaurants, and shave ice places. I find some very nice Men’s Holoholo shorts in the Kahala shop, and buy a pair despite the US$88 price! I forgot to pack shorts for this trip for some reason…
We visit the Dole Pineapple Pavilion, which I detest, but at least we have 20 minutes off the bus. We are running late, so we miss the Nuuanu Pali Lookout (which would have redeemed this excursion for me), and drive directly back to the ship on the freeway. Needless to say, I’m frustrated and tired after this ordeal. I should have stuck to my original plan for today: take a taxi to the Bishop Museum.
After showering and putting on fresh clothes, I have a vegetarian pizza and a beer for dinner on the Panorama deck. There is a beautiful sunset over Honolulu, and later the ship departs Honolulu harbour around 10PM, bound for Kaua’i.
This morning, our first port-of-call is Marigot Bay, which is basically a yacht harbour. I don’t find this port too interesting, so I take the next tender back to the ship. After a couple of hours, we raise anchor and proceed to Soufrière, our second port for today on St. Lucia, arriving after lunch.
I’m on the Soufriere Morne Choval Horse Ride excursion this afternoon, which is a lovely way to spend an afternoon on St. Lucia. There are only four of us on the excursion, and it’s only a five minute drive up the hill out of town to the Morne Coubaril Estate Reserve. We spend a little over an hour riding around the estate, and then we have some snacks and drinks after the ride. They have some nice things for sale in their shop, and they also offer zip-lining, estate tours, and horseback riding to the volcano and beach.
We have an opportunity to photograph the Royal Clipper from the tenders while she is under full sail departing Soufrière at sunset (see banner image above). Now I know how passengers take those terrific photos of the ship! I also observe the Green Flash from the launch, and for the first time manage to take some photos of it, although they aren’t great.
After we are underway, the Captain’s Dinner is served in the dining room this evening: Chateaubriand, baked Alaska (just Neapolitan ice cream with cherry sauce), and bubbly to toast with. The Captain comes around to each table to toast and chat with us in person – a very nice touch!
We start the day with the fascinating, colourful, and very busy city fish market (see above banner image). I shoot video with my GoPro camera to capture the action, and take close-ups of the seafood to capture the colours and patterns. We then take boats to see the four Malay stilt villages located across the harbour from the city in the South China Sea.
We drive to the Masjid Negeri Sabah state mosque, which has a certain understated elegance. The Puh Toh Tze Buddhist temple is next, where there is a huge statue of Guan Yin in front, in addition to the traditional temple. There is also a giant drum and bell to presumably call the faithful to worship.
We wait for sunset to light up the Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu city mosque located on Likas Bay. That doesn’t happen since there are too many clouds on the horizon, however the mosque is lit by the very pretty golden hour light, which I capture in the time lapse high definition video I shoot with my GoPro Hero action camera.
After a good sleep overnight from Los Angeles, I’m up early and sit down for breakfast shortly after the dining car opens at 6:30AM. My new friend Jim joins me, so we talk about our upcoming plans over coffee, scrambled eggs and croissants. Jim is having grits, and assures me they taste great providing they are seasoned with salt and pepper – but I pass on them! The train is running late, so we have plenty of time before our projected arrival around 10:15AM. Outside there is desert scrub and a few cactus, and the mountains behind. We see a vertical rainbow to the north as the Sun rises over the mountains to the south.
It’s a cloudy day here in the desert. As we approach Maricopa, Arizona (near Phoenix) it is raining lightly. There is a crew change here before we leave for Tucson, my final stop for this train trip. This morning, the conductor says our delays last night when leaving Los Angeles were caused by staying clear of freight trains and there were also some weather-related delays, whatever that means.
The train pulls into Tucson station at 10:15AM (see banner image above) – the end of my train trip.
I wake up at 6:30AM this morning, having had a good sleep at the hotel. I go down for some breakfast and the essential coffee. It is then time to leave for the train station. There are patches of blue sky and no rain, so instead of taking a taxi, I slowly walk the six blocks to the train station, pulling my big bag on wheels.
The King Street Union Station in Seattle is beautiful inside, with marble walls and classic high ceilings. The old-style wooden high-backed bench seats hearken back to previous eras. I go to the ticket booth to check-in and the agent explains that if I need stuff out of my big bag, then I will have to take it aboard with me instead of checking it through to LA. Next time, I will know to take a smaller bag, since there is no assistance with bag handling when boarding the train.
This is certainly slow travel, since our check-in consists of showing our tickets to the agent, and then they hand write a paper ticket with our car number and room number on it. No ticket scans and no security checks. The Homeland Security Police presence inside the station bring me back to the current reality, although they appear to be pretty bored, having little to do.
9:30AM – Leave Seattle, WA. There is a Sounder commuter train unloading passengers on the opposite track to ours as we leave. It’s so refreshing to see rail transport being actively used here in Washington State, unlike Vancouver Island, where rail transport is being neglected.
10:30AM – Tacoma, WA – we stop to board a few passengers before leaving for the most scenic stretch along the Puget Sound to Olympia. The Roomette on the opposite side of the isle is being used by George, our car attendant, so I scoot over there to shoot video and photos, since he said he doesn’t mind. We also briefly stop in Olympia to take on a few more passengers, and then the train goes inland through rural areas.
12:00 Noon – Centralia, WA – we stop for a few minutes to detrain some passengers, and then carry on our way. Lunch is served in the dining car in three seatings: 12:00, 12:30 and 13:00. I skip the first seating, since there is a rush of passengers. The rivers in this area are muddy and swollen with the rain and snow we recently had over the last month or so.
12:20PM – Longview-Kelso, WA – The rain starts as we travel south, crossing rivers and streams with the I-5 freeway beside us. I’m so happy to not be driving…just sitting here in my Roomette with my slippers on, fully relaxed as I watch the drivers on the freeway drive through the rain. I go to the dining car at 12:30PM and have turkey medallions – a very nice hot lunch!
1:50PM – Portland, OR – We stop in Portland for about a half hour, where passengers get on and off. It is also where passengers can get off to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and to have a smoke (outside the terminal). I stay onboard, since it is raining quite hard.
I receive a voicemail from Amtrak stating that I should get off at Sacramento to be transferred by bus and commuter rail to LA to connect with my train to Tucson, since they are expecting delays further down the track to LA. They have refunded a portion of my ticket in compensation. I check with my car attendant, and he can’t see why that is necessary since the train isn’t currently running late. He suggests I check with the next conductor before arriving in Sacramento, but I should be prepared to get off the train in Sacramento at 6:35AM.
3:50PM – Salem, OR – A quick stop, where I see the Willamette University Bearcats female football players practicing. Lots of farming is going on in the Willamette Valley between Salem and Albany.
4:35PM – Albany, OR – Quick stop. Big rail yard.
The conductor comes by to find out what I was told about getting off in Sacramento. He confirms there is flooding near Chico, California, which will slow the train down, and there is also track work being done on the California coast section, so the train will likely be quite late. He confirms I should get off in Sacramento, and tells me I will be on a bus from Sacramento to Stockton, then a fast commuter train from Stockton to Bakersfield, and finally another bus from Bakersfield to LA, driving down the Central Valley. I will arrive in LA at 4:15PM, so I will have lots of time before my train to Tucson leaves at 10PM.
6:10PM I go for dinner at the second seating, I am seated with a couple who boarded in Tacoma. They are heading to LA and then getting on a cruise ship in San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, for a short 6 day cruise down the coast of Mexico.
8:00PM – It’s pitch black outside, but I see quite a bit of snow flashing by and snowflakes falling outside the window. We haven’t had cellular reception for quite awhile, which is to be expected in this area, according to the conductor. The train has slowed down to perhaps 10-15 mph and now it has stopped. Our conductor announces that the train will stop because an outside sensor is detecting that something is dragging below the train. He goes outside to investigate – in the dark and snow, and with a serious drop in slope beside the roadbed. After 10 minutes the train starts moving again after he reports nothing found.
8:33PM – I thought the train has stopped again, but it’s just become very quiet riding through the snow.
9:05PM – Chemult, OR – more passengers board the train, with deep snow outside.
10PM – Time for bed…my cabin attendant makes my bed – my first night aboard a train in my own Roomette.
November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji
First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.
I arrive from Nadi airport a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.
After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door. After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further.
There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.
Before supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible.
I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!
After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a lazy day tomorrow in the tropics.
November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji
I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.
I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach (see banner image above). This is a sublime place.
I walk over to Vuda Marina, where my friends Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey a few years ago. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji in 2004. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today, which goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.
I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.
Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment while I stand under its shadow while aboard the Paul Gaugin, observing this apparition from the Coral Sea.
I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.
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