Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Report: Penguin Crossing

During our first Antarctic landing -- at the Arctowski Station on King George Island -- I was in the right place at the right time to capture this video.  Penguins have got to be among the world’s most amusing animals, and this little character is no exception.  Why did the penguin cross the road?  You’ll find out in this delightful little Report from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Logbook: Cape Horn

Capehorn2As usual, I was up very early on Monday morning for our port call at Punta Arenas. Rather than have you thinking this early morning routine is natural, I will tell you the truth: My cabin is the most forward on deck four starboard, right under the open deck where all the mooring gear is located. This means that as soon as the deck crew begins its preparation for docking -- including the use of heavy machines such as windlasses, etc. -- I hear it all at rather thunderous levels. Since they usually start their work at least an hour before the ship actually arrives at a port, I have plenty of time to get up, get coffee and observe the process. This is not as bad as it may sound, because I’m generally happy to make the most of my port time and, on the whole, my cabin’s remote location means that it is quiet and away from passageway noise on all other days -- especially the all important, relaxing days at sea. Anyway, as soon as the ship was cleared by immigration, I hit the streets.

Not having the charm of Puerto Montt or the size and vitality of Valparaiso, Punta Arenas is sort of the poor, blue collar sibling of Chilean Ports. The home of a large -- by Chilean standards -- naval presence and the base of operations for a fair amount of Antarctic support, the town is busy and functional. I found a cafe in which I got a decent cup of coffee and wandered around for an hour, watching the town wake up. I also found the local “Seaman’s Center” where I was able to get online to update this site and Skype. A couple of hours later I was back on the prowl and was able to get some supplies, take a few photos and follow my nose to a tiny little restaurant where I had a delicious lunch of roast lamb. Back on board, we departed and continued our way down the Straits of Magellan toward the Beagle Channel which we cruised through all night. By late afternoon yesterday, we were clear of the Channel, in sight of Cape Horn and ready to begin our crossing of the Drake Passage.

Capehorn1In brisk winds and lively seas, our Chilean pilot left the bridge, boarded a sturdy little Chilean Navy boat and left us to our own devices. For days now, there has been growing apprehension about what our crossing of this famous waterway would be like, along with much strategizing of timing and dosages for all manner of seasickness medication. As evening fell -- very late at this latitude -- the seas were lively and windswept, but not at all rough. There were a few bumps in the night -- nothing even remotely uncomfortable -- and by this morning we were in calm seas with very little swell. All in all a remarkably smooth crossing and a bit of a let down to those of us who hoped for something really exciting. We will continue to steam due south for the rest of the day, looking forward to seeing our first icebergs. In the morning we should arrive at King George Island and begin our Antarctic exploration!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Logbook: Puerto Montt - Chilean Fjords

Puertomonttfjords1Thursday was a particularly good day because our port of call, Puerto Montt, is one of my favorite little cities. Set deep in Chile’s inland waterway, at the base of the Andes and at 41 degrees of latitude, Puerto Montt has the same kind of environment as all my favorite places -- Southeast Alaska, Newfoundland, the Shetland Islands and the South Island of New Zealand to name just a few. As a center for fishing, agriculture, hiking, tourism and other commercial activity, it has a lot going on and a fairly robust economy. It offers a pretty wide variety of activities, restaurants, shops, etc. without being pretentious, and it is clean, safe and friendly. To top this all off, it has many, many dogs and very, very hi-speed internet. In short, Puerto Montt is a perfect place for me -- assuming, of course, that it has a laundromat!

As soon as we docked on Thursday, I hit the streets and walked about a kilometer along the shore to the center of town. I found a tidy internet center and made full use of its completely stable, screaming fast, 4 megabit hi-speed pipe to do all the usual plus download about 10 gigs of media to enjoy during the long voyage between ports ahead. With my online stuff completed in an amazingly short period of time, I wandered around the streets and enjoyed the sights of street vendors, the sounds of street corner bands and the smells of fresh bread and fresh fish -- though thankfully not all in the same place at the same time! The day was mostly overcast with occasional mist but it started to pour down rain at one point and I ducked into a cheery little restaurant for a bite to eat. Thirty minutes later I was back on the prowl, checking out the hand crafts, comparing the many trekking and outdoor offerings and generally thinking what a nice place Puerto Montt could be to spend a season or two. The ship’s departure time came too soon and I felt my first twinge of reluctance to get back on board.

Puertomonttfjords2With a wave as we headed out of the harbor, I promised myself I would be back. That night we continued south and have spent the past two days cruising the Chilean Fjords. It is impossible to describe the Fjords, and almost so to capture them in pictures. Steep hills, rounded by glacial activity, come right down to the water with a backdrop of rough, ragged mountains behind them. From time to time we have passed other ships, but mostly have had the peaceful majesty to ourselves. Stopping at one of the several glaciers along our route, the captain dispatched a Zodiac to fetch some floating ice. To the amusement of everyone on board, the small craft with an intrepid crew of six braved the elements and succeeded in their assignment. In the evening, those of us who are drinkers -- which I believe is all of us -- had a small piece of thousand year old glacial ice in our cocktail. It has been a lovely and relaxing couple of days, and this evening we will enter the Straits of Macgellan -- now officially renamed. In the morning we will be making a port call at Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Chile and our last landing before crossing the southern seas to Antarctica. As my good friend Rob says, “The next starts now, or maybe sooner” on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Report: We Need Ice!

MV Discovery uses a lot of ice. When the Bar Manager raised the alarm, “We need ice!” the Captain gave the order and the crew responded. Set to another perfect song by Hobo Jim, this Report chronicles the ice fetching mission in the Chilean Fjords on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Logbook: Valparaiso

Valparaiso1Arriving in Valparaiso yesterday had a very different “feel” to it from our other recent port calls. For one thing, we were pretty far south into higher latitudes so the temperature was more moderate -- you know how much I appreciate that! Second, as major ports go, Valparaiso -- unlike Callao -- is a pretty, colorful place. Third, being in Chile means being in a relatively well developed country with all of the advantages that has to offer. So, I was once again ready to go ashore as early as possible. My first funny experience had to do with getting out of the port. Although I could see the “center” of town right outside the port gate, I was not allowed to actually use that gate. Instead, I had to take a shuttle bus to the “terminal” about 2 km down the shore road. Once there, I cleared security -- they’re pretty strict about agricultural quarantine down here -- then made a short walk across the street to the rail station. Here’s the deal: The rail system uses only electronic cards, so you have to by an “empty” one -- cost 500 pesos, about $1. Then you buy your fare which, to the center and back, is 400 pesos. The system keeps track of “usage” and off you go. Compared to the last rail system I was on in Mexico City, this was totally hi-tech. It wound up about 10 times as expensive to go a much shorter distance, of course, but the trains were clean, cool, etc. and I enjoyed the ride.

Valparaiso2Arriving back at the center -- standing not 100 meters from my ship -- I looked for and found the “Seamen’s Center” which was recommended to me as a top quality internet cafe. Sadly, it was not yet open so I walked around until I found a center that was open. The connection there was painfully slow, so I did the minimum and left to explore. Valparaiso is famous for its many “asensors” -- or funiculars -- so I rode one. It costs 100 pesos -- about $.20 -- to make the one minute ride up or down. While the old age of the machinery makes it a novel and somewhat interesting trip, there’s really not much to recommend it. Besides, there’s little to see or do at the top so it really is a tourist thing. I spent another hour walking around and generally enjoyed the sights before stopping back at the “Seamen’s Center” and finding it open. What a pleasure! Owned and operated by a guy named Jamie who is a former cruise audio-video operator, the place has a nice cafe upstairs and a huge internet center downstairs. He caters to ship crews -- and passengers like me, of course -- and has just about everything they could want: Beer, food, games, phones and internet. With a megabit connection speed, I was able to finally download a bunch of podcasts and TV shows as well as update this site and call some folks. Skype was working so well, in fact, that I let a few of the crew from my ship who were there call their family and friends in the Philippines. After their first Skype experience, they’ll never be the same again!

At about 4 o’clock it was time to head back to the ship via the circuitous route I had used to get to the center. Don’t ask me why, but I ended up having to kick in another 100 pesos back at the terminal station. Either I was charged the wrong rate up front or it was some kind of “rush hour” premium. Who knows, maybe it was just a petty Gringo tax. Anyway, I got on board and was treated to quite a show: The crew had been loading stores onto the ship all day but were still a long way from being finished by the time we were to due sail. Apparently, some of the conveyor machinery had broken down and the Chilean dock workers were either unable or not in a hurry to fix it. By the time that was sorted out, it was obvious the loading would not be finished on time so the port agent hired a bunch of guys off the street to help hand haul boxes on board. Like an army of ants they made trip after trip on several gangways. The problem, of course, is that there was no way to get all the stuff properly stowed so it was just heaped into piles in every open area of the ship. The climax was when “haste made waste” and a bag of rice broke open on the conveyor then a skid of goods broke open and tipped over on the pier.

We finally sailed about an hour later and one of the young officers with whom I have become friendly confirmed that the captain was “to be steered clear of at the moment.” We left port and returned to our southerly course, heading to higher latitudes still. Today has been another lovely day at sea and we are due to arrive in Puerto Montt in the morning. All in all, Valparaiso is a nice port and an interesting, well developed place to visit. Another recommendation from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Logbook: Northern Chile

Northernchile1Saturday morning we pulled into Arica, Chile, a beautiful little port city at the very northern end of the country -- just barely south of Peru, to which it once belonged. I was so happy with the prospect of being out in the sunny -- and cool! -- weather that I was one of the first passengers off the ship. As usual, I had my Mac pack on my back, but this time I also had my laundry bag -- a simple white pillowcase about half full -- slung over my shoulder. A couple of other passengers teased me a little about taking my laundry ashore, but I easily defended myself by reminding them of what they were paying to use the ship’s laundry! Just outside the port’s gate is a pretty little square -- shown in the inset -- with a mesa of sorts overlooking the town. The climate is dry, almost desert-like, but it is not barren. Leading off the square is a pedestrian boulevard which I started wandering up to find internet and laundry. After walking along a seemingly endless row of closed shops, I realized that it was only 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning. So, I sat down on a bench to wait for a while. Looking around, I started to smile, then chuckle, then laugh out loud. You see, there were a number of other benches in the area, most of which were occupied by vagrants who each had some sort of back pack and a pillowcase-like bag. Noting the similarity between us was hilarious. Thankfully, I was notably cleaner!

Northernchile2Back on my feet, I wandered around and soon found a little slice of heaven: A laundry and an internet center side by side! Perfect! I dropped off my laundry, got on-line and did my usual. A couple of hours later I signed off, picked up my clean clothes and wandered around for a while. On my way back to the ship I passed a pretty big camera store so I stopped in and got a new camera. Yes, that’s right, another new camera! The Nikon that I bought in Atlanta had many of the features I need, but turned out to be missing a couple of really important ones. Namely, a viewfinder in addition to the LCD display -- which is impossible to see in bright daylight -- and a better menu/button interface for making adjustments. So, I got a Canon A540 which really does have it all -- including the vastly superior interface that I love so much! A little more walking later, I was back on board for departure from Arica which I would happily visit again -- and even stay in for a while.

Yesterday was a day at sea, highlighted by a request from the cruise director for me to do my Iditarod presentation for the passengers. A few days earlier I was joined at dinner by Jill, the purser, and in conversation we found we have a love of dogs in common. I showed her a little of my Iditarod video and she suggested to the cruise director that the passengers might like it. So, he asked me, I said yes, and spent some time yesterday reviewing my media and framing up a presentation which I did this morning. I talked for about an hour then handled some really good questions for about 45 minutes. It was very well received and I enjoyed doing it. The cruise director liked it as well, and has mentioned that he will put me in touch with the person who organizes speakers on future cruises. So, who knows? Early afternoon we docked at another lovely little city called Coquimbo which is much like Arica -- though a bit more likely to become a “resort” town in the near future. We had a very short time ashore, so I only got to walk around for an hour or so, have a “typical” Chilean lunch -- mixed grilled meats -- and head back to the ship. Tomorrow we will arrive in Valparaiso for a day then continue our progress to ports along the way to the Antarctic. All is well on The Voyage!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Musing: Teddy Wins!

Teddywins1Great news! I just got word from Aliy Zirkle that my dog Teddy has won the Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race! With help from eleven of her kennel mates -- ChaCha, Venus, Butterscotch, Pingo, Hoss, Skittles, Tony, Manny, Pepper, Heeler and Oddball -- and with Aliy’s husband Allen Moore aboard, Teddy finished the 300 mile race in 58 hours and 58 minutes, more than an hour ahead of the second place team!

Okay, okay, I know I’m exaggerating. The truth is that Teddy is only a team dog. ChaCha and Venus are the leaders and Allen is an extremely accomplished musher who did an outstanding job at the helm. What makes this win so significant, is that these twelve dogs are the core of Aliy’s “Pro” team and will make up the majority of the team she will race in the Iditarod in March. Get the picture? You may recall my prediction that Aliy will win the Iditarod this year and, while it is crazy to speculate about what winning the CB300 means with respect to the Iditarod, it is fair to say that the team is in great shape and has done better than any other team so far!

Teddywins2_3Coming out of the summer “off-season”, Aliy reported that all the dogs were looking good and ready to get going. As you can see, Teddy was her usual hyper-enthusiastic self on the first day that Aliy brought out the harnesses for the team’s first training run of the season. Anybody who says the dogs don’t love to run and race -- or thinks you have to “make” the dogs do it -- doesn’t know anything about sled dogs and has probably never seen a sled dog team in action.

Which brings me to the point of this Musing: I have been getting spammed recently by “dog lovers” shaming me and urging me to withdraw my support for Aliy, the Iditarod and dog racing in general. Some “journalist” decided that there wasn’t any “hype” in writing a “Happy Dogs Have Grand Time In Alaska Wilderness” story, so he took a bunch of arbitrary facts out of context and wrote a slam piece. For example: The fact that about half the dogs do not finish the race is not because they suffer, are maimed or die due to the brutality and negligence of mushers. To the contrary, half the dogs do not finish because mushers “drop” any dog that is tired, sick or disinterested in continuing. Who can forget last year when Jeff King, with a slim 45 minute lead on Doug Swingley wasted 20 minutes returning to White Mountain to drop a dog. When one of the race veterinarians asked him why, he simply said the dog “didn’t want to go” then gave the dog a hug, a pat on the head and a loving “thank you.” What a horrible man. I personally remember spending an hour in the dead of night at McGrath, tending to Linda Pletner’s team while she thoroughly checked out a dog who she said “just seemed a little off.” The vet couldn’t find anything wrong, but Linda dropped the dog anyway. She may have gotten the official “okay” but her experience, instinct and concern for the dog said “don’t risk it.” How thoughtless.

I could go on and on, but will instead simply say that I’ve been there, I’ve seen and met dozens of mushers and hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of sled dogs. I’ve never met better people or healthier, happier dogs. To all the “dog lovers” who are so misinformed by the media, I say “use your heads.” You can’t “make” dogs run and race by beating them. Sled dogs run and race because they love it. It is in their genes. It is what they are. Musher’s invest everything they have -- and often everything they can borrow -- in their sled dogs. They don’t unduly put that investment at risk or treat it badly. Their lifestyle depends on that investment. They’re not stupid. Yes, dogs sometimes do get sick or injured. What do you expect? They are the highest performance athletes in the world and running the Iditarod is a difficult, demanding, epic journey.

Most of the things that are worth doing in life -- even in a dog’s life -- are demanding and sometimes even dangerous. Human literature expounds at length about the “bliss” of “doing what you love” and “living the life you were meant to live.” Is this true for humans but not for dogs? I believe it is true for all living beings, and especially true for sled dogs. So here’s my reply to all the “dog lovers” who mindlessly cut and paste spam emails opposing the Iditarod and sled dog racing in general: On the whole, sled dogs live longer, healthier, happier lives than your fat “pets” who lay on the couch, cooped up inside for most of every day, wishing all the while that they could be part of a large, dynamic pack, bond in mutual cooperation with a worthy human, explore vast, exciting areas of wilderness and run, run, run... Just like their ancestors have done for thousands of years.

So, here’s to you, Teddy. You’re a great dog and I’m proud of you. Good luck to you and your pack mates in the Iditarod. Run hard, be careful and, most of all, have fun!

Logbook: Peruvian Ports

Peruvianports1Early Wednesday morning, I followed my usual routine of getting some coffee and heading out on deck to take a look. For what I saw, I had only one thought: “We must have docked in the wrong place.” As far as I could see up and down the coast, there was nothing but sand: beaches, dunes and mountains. Directly in front of me -- at the base of a huge sand mountain -- was a small, chaotic collection of run down buildings that I came to learn was, in fact, our intended port of call. Salaverry, is the main port for northern Peru and -- evidently -- a major source of sand. Besides that it has nothing going for it. Although the ship’s excursions to the nearby “old” city of Trujillo -- which focused mainly on shopping for arts and crafts -- didn’t appeal to me, it was immediately evident that staying in Salaverry for purposes of exploration would be of little value. So, I hitched a ride with the tour bus into the town square of Trujillo and hopped off. I walked around the square -- with its picturesque array of fairly well maintained and colorful “old” Spanish buildings -- for a few minutes then came upon a nice hotel with an open foyer. On a hunch, I went inside, fired up my Mac, and found an open, stable, wireless internet connection. After more than a week of limited bandwidth, I spent some quality time checking in with my “peeps.”

Peruvianports2At noon it was time to hitch a ride on the tour bus back to the ship in time for our early afternoon departure. Back out at sea, we were visited by a very large number of dolphins who put on quite a show. After a quiet night of cruising, we arrived in Callao -- the port city for Lima -- yesterday morning. Again, the scheduled excursions didn’t intrigue me, but Callao is a proper port and a proper port city so I decided to give it a try. With my pack on my back, I disembarked and immediately ran into some immigration officials with whom I started having a typically lively and entertaining chat in Spanglish. I asked to take a picture with them and one of the women asked me in return to show her how to use her new digital camera. I was happy to help, and within a few minutes she was all smiles, shooting away. That seemed to really cement our new friendship, so we carried on for a while longer and I asked for suggestions about what to see and do in Callao. They suggested I go to the old fort, but were concerned that I be very, very careful on the streets: “It is not safe.” I vowed to keep that in mind. Since Callao is a big, working port, pedestrians are not allowed to walk off their dock. So, I again hitched a ride on one of the excursion buses for a ride to main gate several hundred yards away.

As I bid my fellow passengers good day, I sensed a few of them gasping in mild horror as they saw the scene I was about to enter: chaotic traffic, milling crowds, abundant street vendors, vagrants, trash, filth and, of course, stray dogs. I will admit that it was all a bit daunting, but it didn’t make my internal meter go tilt, so I put my head down and walked briskly through the melee to a corner where several cabs were waiting. I hopped in one, pointed to the fort on my map and off we went. Five minutes later, I paid a dollar for the fare and got out at the fort’s main gate. I spent a few minutes admiring its architecture then saw a sign indicating there was a military museum on site. Approaching the guard at the gate, I pointed at the sign and asked if it was open. He made a brief radio call and moments later a man showed up to escort me inside to a ticket booth. I paid my entrance fee -- with the usual comedy of negotiating the conversion rate for dollars -- and joined a small group of locals ready for a tour. The young woman who would be our guide asked me if I spoke Spanish and I explained that I could understand it “mas o menos” if she spoke slowly and clearly. At first I thought this was a big lie, but over the course of the next ninety minutes it turned out to be only a small lie. I found I was able to understand about half of what she was saying and thoroughly enjoyed the tour through Real Felipe and Peru’s long and colorful military history -- most of which, of course, involves their various conflicts with the Spanish.

At the end of the tour I left the fort and sat on a bench in the small park just outside its walls. Within five minutes, three different people -- a Thai woman and two Peruvians -- came up to me and told me to be very careful on the street: “It is not safe.” I decided that this was enough of a “message” to be taken seriously, so I hailed a cab and pointed to the pier on my map. As we proceeded to drive away from the pier along the waterfront, I voiced my objection and told him to stop. We both got out of the cab and I pointed to the ship which was clearly visible in the other direction. We had a good laugh, because it turns out that far from wanting to kidnap me or anything, he had just assumed I wanted to go to the yacht club to get on my own boat! A few minutes later, I was standing at the main gate to the port. After showing my ship’s ID card to the guard, he asked me for a dollar -- an obvious petty extortion -- then allowed me to enter and board one of the port’s shuttle buses along with about a dozen longshoremen and other port workers. There was immediately a little joking going on at my expense, but I just spun my finger around my ear and said “Gringo Loco.” As usual, that did the trick and we all had a good laugh. I got off at the stop next to my ship and walked to the gangway for boarding. All in all it was a rewarding port call. Shortly, the excursions returned and -- after a brief delay while on of Peru’s two submarines cleared the channel -- we set sail for ports further south.

Today has been another fine “day at sea” and has been all the more enjoyable for me because our rapid progress to higher latitudes has been accompanied by milder -- at times even cool -- temperatures. Soon, I hope to break out the warm clothes that have been in my pack for almost six months! Over the next few days we will make port calls in Arica and Bahia Coqimbo en route to Valpariaso, the port city for Santiago, Chile.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Logbook: Galapagos II

Galapagosii1My second Galapagos exploration began early Friday morning. I had given myself a little “attitude adjustment” the night before following my first disappointing tour, so I was in good spirits and ready to go. The weather was beautiful and the small boats that were to take us on our three-part circuit of “Isla Lobos, Kicker Rock and Beach” arrived promptly on time at 8:30am. The only problem I noticed at once was that the boat to which I was assigned was set up more as a “water taxi” than as a “viewing” boat. In other words, the 35 foot craft had a large open area in the back that had a long bench on each side facing in. While it would be awkward enough to sit on the seat and try to look out over one’s shoulder, this problem was made worse by the fact that the seating area was enclosed and the “windows” were a hideous blue plexiglas. The only way to really see anything -- let alone take pictures -- would be to stand in the small exposed area right at the back of the boat. The problem with this, of course, is that there were over a dozen of us who would be trying to use this small space that would have accommodated something more like four of us. This was going to be “interesting.”

Anyway, the skipper hit the gas and off we went, pounding through the choppy seas. The naturalist guide assigned to our boat had better English than my guide from the day before, and he gave us the usual review of the rules and a brief itinerary for the day. After about 30 minutes of pounding along -- during which I read my book while many others turned various shades of green -- we arrived at Isla Lobos. For the next 30 minutes we drifted about 50 meters off shore, spotting blue footed boobies, iguana, sea lions, crabs, etc. Most of the group were considerate about sharing time in the open area, but there were -- as always -- a few who took the prime spots and never budged. Using my trusty Canon S2IS on full, 12x optical zoom -- and sometimes on higher power (lower quality) digital zoom -- I battled the effects of boat movement, distance and level of zoom to get some decent photos.

Galapagosii2My favorite is the one you see above which shows three species hanging out in harmony on the rocks with the sea spray behind them. If ever there was a “Galapagos Classic”, this is it. With our time on location used up, we made another pounding hop to Kicker Rock which is basically an ancient volcanic cone that is sticking up out of the water. I asked the naturalist guide a couple of questions like “How old?”, “What kind of rock?”, etc., but didn’t get anywhere so, after a quick cruise around the formation, we headed for our third and last stop. The “Beach” -- as it was billed in the brochure -- was a fitting and surreal ending to our tour. We pulled up to a small island with a clear, light sand beach and disembarked into warm, shallow water and waded ashore. The thing that astounded me is that besides a few small birds -- which the naturalist wasn’t sure but thought might be some species of Darwin Finch -- and some annoying insects, the beach was entirely devoid of animals. No sea lions, no crabs, no nothing. In a land teeming with wildlife, where you have to step around sea lions at the town dock, our tour landed on an empty beach. I gave up, passed the 45 minutes we had on land working on my tan then made the hour long boat ride back to the ship and embarked.

Not wanting what I had experienced so far to be the sum total of my Galapagos exploration, I took a tender into town and checked in with some private tour companies about options I might have for some more “independent” excursions. I’ll spare you the details and just say that logistics, length of time needed to go places and minimum passenger requirements pretty much shut me out. So, once again I visited with my sea lion friends on the town beach and headed back to the ship. On Saturday morning I thought about trying to round up some folks on the ship who might want to do something, but for the first time on The Voyage I wasn’t feeling too well. A scratchy throat and a stuffy nose -- clearly a result of being on a ship with hundreds of people -- convinced me to spend the day hanging out, napping, reading, etc.

On Sunday I felt better, but we only had a few hours before it would be time to set sail so I decided to bag the idea of arranging any more exploration and went into town, got online and did some iLife until it was time to leave the Galapagos. As you can no doubt tell, I was disappointed with my experience in the Islands. Had I especially selected this cruise with the Galapagos in mind, I would have been very dissatisfied -- as many folks on board who did just that were. By the way, I talked with a number of folks who were able to go on the “optional” (i.e. “good”) tours and the review was predominantly disappointing -- too much time in the boats, not enough time on location, too little information, too much hustle, etc. I don’t want to do any more ranting about the “Galapagos Gestalt” here in the Logbook -- though I may post a Musing or two -- so I will leave it all at that.

I have technically “been” to the Galapagos and I have learned a lot -- not so much about the islands or the wildlife, but about how I would “do” the islands another time. Namely, I would find a group of 6-10 people, charter a yacht or catamaran with an experienced captain/guide who has excellent English and good knowledge then do a week or so of island hopping. Other than that, I would consider a very, very small cruise ship that specializes in the Galapagos and check its itinerary carefully. Period. Just to bring you and the Logbook up to date, I will add that yesterday and today have been days at sea en route to a port call in northern Peru. I have spent much of the time struggling to write up these Logbook entries -- my first difficulties doing so on The Voyage -- and updating this website. I have also taken time to get my head straight after my Galapagos experience and am happy to report that I am back in the groove and ready for whatever is next on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Logbook: Galapagos I

Galapagosi1On Thursday morning -- after my brief, rained-out foray onto the island the day before -- I was eager to embark on my first “excursion” and to see what the Galapagos have to offer. Because I had signed up for this cruise only a few days before sailing, all of the “optional tours” -- the “good” tours -- were already booked up. Accordingly, I would only be able to do the two “included” half-day tours. As you will read later on, this turned out not to be much of a deprivation after all, but at the time I was a little disappointed and was looking forward to making the most of my limited opportunities. So, as my group gathered on board for our tender ride to shore, I was excited to explore the Galapagos. On shore, we were split up into smaller groups of about a dozen each and loaded onto a number of small shuttle vans where each was joined by its appointed “naturalist guide.” As soon as we began to drive, I knew we were doomed. The naturalist guide in my van spoke very, very little English and we could barely understand her as she reviewed -- again -- the strict rules and recited a brief history of the islands.

After a fifteen minute drive up into the hills of the island we pulled into the “Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado” which is home to one of the projects to repopulate the island’s giant tortoises. Arriving at a pretty fancy “visitor center” we got off the bus and made a short -- perhaps 200 meter -- walk into the reserve where we came upon a small man-made pond with a couple of tortoises in its vicinity. The pitch goes something like this: At one time there were 300,000 tortoises on the island, but this population was decimated by evil sailors and pirates who took the animals to use as food while at sea. You see, tortoises can go weeks or months without eating so these evil men would put them in the holds of their ships and butcher them for fresh meat as needed over the long duration of their sea voyages. Due to their thoughtless activities, the sailors and pirates depleted the population to only some few thousand or so. Oh, by the way, the poor hapless people who subsequently made their homes on the islands also introduced species like dogs and cats whose natural instinct to eat the baby tortoises also had an adverse effect on the tortoise population.

Galapagosi2The sailors and pirates are long gone -- though the dogs and cats remain -- and the National Park has established several reserves to support and foster the tortoises making a come-back -- with the intention of repopulating them to their original number of 300,000. At ponds such as the one we were visiting, naturalists put food -- laced with vitamins, etc. -- out for the animals twice a day. You can imagine my surprise at finding our visit coincided with meal time when we were “fortunate” to catch sight of a couple of tortoises. We all snapped photos and were asked for questions. Genuinely interested, I asked “How do you know there were 300,000 tortoises on the islands?” The answer: “That’s what the research shows.” Okay, let me try again: “What is the benefit of repopulating all 300,000 tortoises?” Answer: “That was the original number.” Me: “Won’t artificially repopulating that many tortoises have a very large adverse impact on other species that are part of the eco-balance as it stands now?” No answer. What was I thinking? We had been brought to the park, given our view of two tortoises and told the canned speech. What more did we want? A few of my companions asked what I thought were reasonable -- actually surprisingly good -- questions and received similarly useless responses. After a little more time hanging out at the tortoise pond, we were loaded back on the vans and driven another 15 minutes to a place where we were to climb a small hill and have a sweeping view of the island. Upon arrival, we were informed that the path was muddy due to the rain and were asked if we wanted to climb up anyway. Oh, by the way, it is foggy and you won’t see much. With democracy in action -- you know, when two wolves and a sheep sit around voting what to have for dinner -- the van voted not to climb and we drove right back out of the parking area. The good news is that the snack bar at the refreshment stop was open, so people were able to get their drinks, souvenirs and post cards. Color me happy.

When we got back to town and the tender dock, the general mood was disappointed -- even marginally depressed. Spirits were raised when someone pointed out that it was just about time for afternoon tea (“With those yummy desserts!”) back on board ship and most folks made a run for the tender. I stayed in town and communed with the local sea lions for a while, took a repeat walk through the town then hopped a tender back to the ship. With half of my Galapagos exploration now complete, I had seen two tortoises and learned nothing. Not an auspicious beginning. Surely my excursion the next day would be better...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Report: On The Beach

Here’s a little Macgellan video Report of my favorite minute in the Galapagos Islands. I did a little real-time narration while shooting for a change, so there’s not much for me to add here except “Enjoy!”

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Logbook: On The Equator

Ontheequator2Early Monday morning we tied up at the dock in Manta, Equador. From the ship, the port has that unmistakable look of a fishing town. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of fishing boats of various sizes and styles drift at their moorings with a back drop of two story buildings arrayed in a semi-chaotic jumble. As usual, I was ready to go ashore, look around, get on-line, etc., so I was at the head of the line when the crew opened the hatch to disembark. Straight down the gangway and across the pier to the gate, I showed my papers to the armed guard and was promptly turned back. Apparently I was not “authorized” to walk along the quay to town, and no amount of my Spanglish nor showing of my credentials succeeded in convincing the guard otherwise. So, I turned around and went back to join the throng of passengers that was gathering to take a shuttle bus to the “town center.” I have put “town center” in quotes because, well, it was kind of a joke. The bus rolled right through what was obviously -- to me, at least -- the “center” of town around the docks and continued toward the edge of town where it stopped to drop us all off at a shopping mall. Not a “market” with interesting character, mind you, but a modern shopping mall full of retail shops just like you might find anywhere in the world. It wasn’t appealing to me -- nor, frankly, to any of my fellow passengers -- and there wasn’t even any internet connection.

So, I caught a bus back into the “center” and walked a couple of blocks to what was obviously the nicest hotel in town where I inquired about internet facilities. I was graciously directed to the hotel’s business center where I went on-line and got to work. After that, I went outside and had a delightful negotiation with a mother and daughter duo over the price of a Panama hat. You probably know that Panama hats are all made in Equador and they are perfect for the climate -- white to reflect the sun, wide-brimmed for shade and able to be rolled up and put in my pack when not in use. I then spent a little time wandering around the “center” but it was totally uninteresting. Manta may be the “tuna capitol of the world”, but that’s about all it has going for it. In due course, I walked to the gate of the quay, flagged down a shuttle bus returning from the mall, and got on for the short ride through the gate and back to the ship. Early in the evening we set sail and headed just about due west for the Galapagos Islands.

Yesterday was a day at sea, notable for a couple of things. First, we had picked up in Manta a fairly large contingent of Equadorian Park Naturalists and they spent the entire day overseeing preparations for our visit to the Islands. The passengers attended a mandatory lecture about preservation of the Islands’ ecosystem. (For which there are several pages of rules, that can be summed up as follows: “Don’t take anything ashore. Don’t bring anything back. Don’t touch anything. Don’t feed anything.”) The crew spent the day madly dashing about the ship fulfilling strict and stringent quarantine requirements such as covering all of the ship’s plants in plastic or stowing them in sealed rooms, clearing all the open fruit and food bowls from eating areas, setting traps for alien insects and the like. It was quite an ordeal, and I was very impressed with the crew’s diligence, positive attitude and restraint in not murdering the demanding naturalists who, from my perspective, spent much of their time eating plate after plate of food from the buffet line. I may not be taking it all in an appropriately positive light, but I got the sense that the “Galapagos Gestalt” is all a little bit overdone by people with patches on their khaki shirts. We’ll see.

Ontheequator1Anyway, the other highlight of our day at sea yesterday was the traditional “crossing the equator” ceremony. The performers from the ship’s theater company -- about whom I cannot say enough good things for their tireless enthusiasm, song-and-dance abilities and much appreciated youthful vitality -- really outdid themselves! King Neptune, Queen Neptuna, pirates and sirens held court as the “polywogs” on board crossed the equator for their first time and became “shellbacks” in the grand tradition of being assaulted with various left over foodstuffs from the galley. A good time was had by all!

This morning we arrived at San Cristobal Island and dropped anchor. Because of our large number of passengers -- Discovery is the largest ship to visit the Galapagos -- shore excursions are arranged in small groups and not everyone has one every day while we are here. I am in the latter category and had nothing scheduled, so I waited until all of the day’s groups had disembarked then hopped a tender to the dock for a little independent exploration. My first Galapagos experience was the need to carefully step around a group of sea lions that were snoozing on the dock at the foot of the landing ladder. They were completely oblivious to our existence and didn’t even twitch as a few dozen of us passed by! My second Galapagos experience was a five minute walk the length of the “town’s” main street -- past a redundant array of restaurants, tour purveyors, etc. -- and reaching a guarded gate beyond which I would need to be in the presence of a naturalist. Over 97% of the Islands are National Park territory, and any “unguided” forays are strictly prohibited. So, I turned around and started walking back through “town.” As I did, my third Galapagos experienced commenced in the form of a tropical downpour that had everyone scurrying for cover. The rain showed no signs of letting up, so I worked my way from awning to awning back to the tender dock and went back to the ship. I spent the rest of the day further tweaking my on-board internet access -- with some success! -- and otherwise enjoying some quiet time. Tomorrow I am scheduled to make the first of my two shore excursions and I shall endeavor to share what I can of the Galapagos Islands on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Logbook: Panama Canal

Panamacanal1I was up at about dawn on Friday for our early morning approach to the Gatun Locks at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. One cannot properly call it the “eastern” entrance because -- as most of you have probably learned in a trivia quiz at some point in your life -- the Panama canal actually runs northwest to southeast when transiting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. If you don’t believe me, check a map. What may surprise you even more is that Panama itself runs almost perfectly east-west and not north-south as one might imagine it would as the connecting isthmus between North America and South America. Okay, enough with geography. On approach to the Gatun Locks, the first remarkable sight is to see a huge container ship elevated “above” you. It is hard to describe -- and the pictures don’t really do it justice -- but there is something unnatural about seeing an immense ship as if it was somehow up on a shelf. Trust me, it’s strange. Anyway, the Gatun Locks consist of three lifts which total 85 feet up to the level of Gatun Lake. As you enter the lane into the first lift, you watch a well choreographed process whereby ropes are cast from ship to shore and wire cables are hauled back to the ship. The other ends of the cables are connected to little locomotive-like vehicles called “mules” in honor of the beasts of burden that these machines replaced. With four “mules” attached to the ship -- both sides, fore and aft -- to keep the vessel straight and centered in the lane, the ship uses its own power to move forward at about walking pace.

Panamacanal2Because MV Discovery is a relatively small ship, we had plenty of gap -- 10 meters or so -- on each side. I noted with some amazement that the immense cargo ships fit the lifts with as little as 1 meter to spare since they are built to “Panamax” dimensions, the largest that can fit the lifts and thereby use the Panama Canal. There is strong desire for even larger ships these days, and the Panamanian people have voted to spend $5.5 billion to build additional, larger locks and lifts. An alternative is to build a new “sea level” canal in Nicaragua, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this eventually happens -- perhaps what all the Chinese money there is up to? -- so it will be interesting to watch the development of “trans-isthmus” shipping in the years to come. Anyway, although the locks of the Panama Canal are the largest I’ve seen, they work by the same principles as any other canal locks: Water flows down hill and boats float. The “mules” are very interesting to watch as they work together to keep pace with -- and climb hills of their own to match the elevation of -- the ships.

After clearing the three lifts of Gatun -- which took about 90 minutes -- we entered man-made Gatun Lake and sailed for about two hours to the entrance of Gaillard Cut. Although the locks are the most prominent and well known feature of the Canal, the Cut is probably the most remarkable feat of construction. Only wide enough in most places for one ship to pass at a time -- which requires alternating “convoys” in each direction -- opening the 13 km Cut required the bulk of the 273,000 tons of dynamite that were used in the Canal project. After about two hours of sailing through the Cut, the single-lift Pedro Miguel Locks lower you 31 feet to Milaflores Lake then a short run takes you to the two lifts of the Miraflores Locks which lower you the remaining 50 feet or so -- depending on Pacific tides -- to sea level. First getting a brief glimpse of Panama City a dozen miles away then crossing under the Americas Bridge, we were on our way out to sea. We spent the night cruising around then dropped anchor off Fort Amador on the outskirts of Panama City.

Yesterday after breakfast, we tendered ashore where I split off from the bulk of the group -- trying to sort out their various shore excursion arrangements -- with a nice couple of more “independent” travelers for a cab ride into town. The driver dropped me off on a street that offered a number of internet centers and I went to work uploading, etc. After a couple of hours, I packed up my gear and hit the streets. I had walked about two blocks when a guy standing next to a cab asked me what I was looking for. I told him I was just wandering around and he suggested a route through a nice, safe area down to the water front. I liked him and his helpful manner immediately, so I asked if he’d like to take me on an impromptu tour for a while. He said yes, quoted me a very reasonable price and off we went.

Over the next couple of hours, Hector took me to a few essential tourist sites but we mostly drove through various parts of the city and its suburbs. We had a lively conversation -- in English! -- about Panama, its people and various aspects of local life. By the time we were heading back to Fort Amador, I was convinced that Panama is by far the nicest -- and probably most interesting -- city in Central America. It is clean, organized, varied and vibrant. I would like to go back and spend more time there! Back aboard ship I had dinner then enjoyed the evening show -- a delightful musical dance number by the ship’s theater company. Today was a “day at sea” as we head to Manta, Equador for a port call. I hope to go ashore in the morning and find internet connection to upload the content I’ve created today as well as check in with my “peeps.” All is going well, and I am enjoying being at sea. I am especially looking forward to later tonight when I will make my first crossing of the equator on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Musing: PanaMania

PanamaniaI was only in Panama -- the city -- for a few hours, but I liked what I saw. Having spent the better part of three months transiting the length of Central America, the first thing that struck me about the city is how clean, organized and tidy it is. Unlike its disorganized, dilapidated and dirty neighbors to the north, Panama is a sparkling little gem. With this initial, attractive impression in mind, I spent my brief but highly informative tour with Hector exploring the five points of my “criteria for prospective US expatriates.” Here is the recap:

1) Proximity -- For most prospective expats, proximity to the US (for purposes of visiting family and friends, checking in with various professional services, etc.) is very important. Located only a few hours away by plane from several major US hubs, Panama clearly ranks high on this criteria.

2) Security -- While there certainly have been uneasy times in the past between the US and Panama, conditions have never been dire and they are very stable at present. Going forward, they are expected to stay very good. Beyond that macro view, crime in Panama is relatively low and general economic conditions -- a forward looking indicator of crime -- are excellent. Plus, having the US dollar as Panama’s official currency ties the two countries together in significant ways.

3) Infrastructure -- The power grid is stable, the water is drinkable and plenty, hi-speed internet is ubiquitous, the roads are excellent and health care is highly regarded. Strong marks all around.

4) Privacy -- Banking has always been a major industry in Panama and the Panamanians take their banking very seriously. Banking and privacy laws in Panama are some of the tightest in the world and, without getting into too many details, let’s just say that if Panama is a good place to put money for people who may have some things to hide, it is a great place for those who don’t.

5) Value -- I wasn’t “in-country” long enough to get a full sense of Panama’s cost of living, but I got enough to know that it is much lower than the US and probably about the same as Costa Rica. (For the same money, though, you get much better living conditions than in Costa Rica -- more for the same, so to speak.) While Hector and I were speaking frankly, I asked him how much it costs to live “well” in Panama, “you know, a house, a car, some decent spending money...” He replied that you can do well on $1,600 to $2,000 a month, though “more is better, no?” This turned out to be a perfect segue because his next comment was “You know, a lot of Americans are moving down here and living well on their Social Security.”

Bingo, a number of other vague observations fell into place for me. For one, I had been noticing a lot of construction going on around the city, mostly high rises of various kinds. I was about to ask Hector what kind of commerce was booming that requires so much new space when I realized that the buildings all had balconies on every floor and “mixed use” (retail, restaurants, etc.) at ground level. Now it was obvious to me that they were being built as condos, not office buildings. Many, many new condo complexes are on their way up in Panama. Maybe not as many as I saw in Atlanta, but proportionately so at least.

So here’s the rest of what Hector told me about the expatriate boom in Panama: If you are over 65, you only need to show the government your Social Security and retirement papers and you automatically get permanent residency. No “ninety day rotations” required. If you are under 65, you need only show proof of modest financial resources (Hector thinks it’s about $250k) and residency is yours. Even better in Hector’s opinion is the fact that “going into business” with a Panamanian handles both the residency thing and lets you have benefits at company expense. His immediate example involved me becoming his partner in a modest tourist business where I would provide the capital to buy a van which he would easily run at a good profit. I didn’t do the deal, but i admit I was intrigued.

So, what’s my point about PanaMania? Well, I am not in a position to say “go for it” because I haven’t gathered enough corroborated intel to give it my seal of approval. I am clear that Panama is worth a strong look, and I would anticipate going back there at some point to check it out in detail. Meanwhile, there is a lot going on in Panama and a lot of developed property will be available pretty soon. Prices are probably as low as they are going to get. If you’re thinking about a place to go, don’t wait for my final evaluation. Panama is a place to check out now.

Report: Mules

Transiting the Panama Canal is a remarkable experience. The size of the lifts and locks, the length of the Gallard Cut and the history of the construction provide a grand sense of scale. For me, however, the most interesting aspect of the Canal and its operation was the little locomotives called “Mules” -- named after the beasts of burden which they replaced -- and how they worked in teams to guide ships through. Using bells for signals, coordinating their efforts, climbing up and down the elevation changes, these little helpers are amazing. I, for one, will admit to waving a fond farewell each time one sent us on our way and went back for its next ship. Call me crazy if you want, but I think you might feel the same way too. Here’s my little homage to the “Mules” from The Voyage of Macgellan.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Logbook: Leaving Land

Leavingland1Late Tuesday afternoon I saw that the MV Discovery had arrived in Limon, so I stopped by the pier and asked the port agent what time I should board in the morning. He said he would be ready for me at nine-thirty, so I went back to my room, did my final packing, had dinner and went to bed. Yesterday morning I got up, had coffee, got ready, checked out and walked my gear the two blocks to the pier. After explaining to the security officer that I was an independent traveler -- and not with the group that would be arriving from San Jose later -- he called the port agent who authorized my boarding and let me walk out onto the dock. As I approached the ship, I was happy to see that Discovery is really pretty small as cruise ships go and I was eager to get on board and have a look around. At the boarding ramp I was asked to wait while passengers got off for their shore excursions, but after only a few minutes I was led up the ramp, had my papers checked, photographed for my ID and led to my cabin. I dumped my gear inside, met my cabin steward -- Rhande, from the Philippines -- and went off to check out the ship.

There were very few passengers on board and the crew was hustling to load supplies, sort things out and go about their usual business so I had a good time seeing how things work. I also took the farewell photo of good old Limon shown above! At noon there was quite a commotion as the buses arrived from San Jose with about 100 new passengers. Watching the process of getting them -- and their mountain of luggage -- checked in, I was really happy I got on board early! Back in my cabin, it occurred to me that it will by “my place” for a month, so I actually spent some time unpacking my gear, putting my clothes in the little dresser and even hanging up a few things. It all seemed a little surreal after living out of my bags for five months, but it was also sort of fun.

Leavingland2We set sail on time at six, and right after clearing the harbor got word from the captain that we would have a little change of itinerary. Apparently, while the ship was in Havana harbor a few days ago, some floating bunker oil had stuck to the hull of MV Discovery. Because we are going to the highly protected Galapagos area, this oil would have to be cleaned off before we get there. So, instead of taking two days to get to Cristobal, we would do it at full speed overnight and use the day saved to get the hull work done in port. The only real problem with this plan was that there was a pretty big swell going and our speed would make the effect worse. As the captain said, “I’m afraid it will be a bit lively tonight.” He wasn’t kidding. The ship was rolling and pitching pretty badly and the crew distributed the necessary “bags” all over the ship. It was pretty interesting to see them stuck in hand rails, on tables, on bars and pretty much every space you can imagine. It was even more interesting to see their numbers dwindle rapidly as many folks put them to use! Thankfully, sea sickness is not my problem, so I was happy to get my sea legs going and walk around the ship.

At dinner, I was seated and soon joined by a nice woman from London named Jean. We commented on how empty the dining room was and then had a lively conversation about travel and similar topics. After dinner I went to the lounge to enjoy a little concert, but found it had been cancelled due to illness of the musicians so I called it a night. I slept pretty well, waking up only a few times due to the heavy seas. This morning we arrived in Cristobal and were met by a couple of work boats with crews to do the cleaning work. We spent the day at anchor and most folks spent their time recovering. I did a little more looking around, watched a movie -- in English! -- did some reading and got my hair cut. I also did some messing around with the on-board internet. After a few experiments, I figured out how to get my Mac to connect to the wi-fi, but only enough to do web-based email. The connection isn’t good enough to do website updates or even Skype calls, so I’ll plan to do those during port calls.

At dinner, Jean and I had another enjoyable conversation and I am happily confident that we will have pleasant meals together until she leaves the ship in Galapagos next week. The captain has just announced that the cleaning work is finished and that we will stay in the protected harbor for the night then move on to our transit of the Panama Canal first thing in the morning! Stay tuned for more from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Report: Rock and Roll

Shortly after boarding the MV Discovery yesterday, I saw this ship entering the port of Limon and thought it was worth a minute of video. I hope you agree. Yet another “something different” from The Voyage of Macgellan!
(Spoiler warning: The ship makes it.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Haircut Chronicle: #4 - MV Discovery

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#4 - January 4, 2007, MV Discovery. I’ve never gotten my hair cut on a ship before, but I really needed one! Michelle from Britain was a good sport about being in the haircut chronicles, and we planned out my haircut in English! Nice and short on the sides, not too much off the top... Perfect! We both admired her work! Cost: 18 Dollars ($18)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Logbook: New Year 2007

Newyear2007It’s been a great New Year’s weekend on The Voyage. First, the normally boring bus ride back from San Jose on Friday was made more interesting by a four hour delay. About half way, right in the middle of the narrow, winding two-land road that works its way down the mountains from the high plateau to the coast, the bus came to a stop in a line of cars as far as we could see. After sitting on the the full bus for about half an hour, the driver opened the door and some of us got out for a stretch and a look around. Between the people who were walking up and down the road, the animated cell phone conversations and the entrepreneurs who showed up to sell refreshments, it was quite a scene. There was much chatter about what had happened, but most of it was lost on me due to my ongoing inability to follow the rapid-fire Spanish. I was able to catch the words “truck” and “car” so I figured it was a pile-up of some kind. Sure enough, after about four hours of waiting around we started moving and eventually crossed a bridge that had obviously been completely blocked by three trucks and a car which had tangled. One of the trucks had gone over the side and prompted much excitement from my fellow passengers. We passed stopped traffic for miles, and I can’t imagine how long it must have taken for the whole thing to eventually clear up.

Back in Limon, I was advised not to pursue my trip to Tortuguero due to the fact that the turtles are “out of season” and there wouldn’t really be anything to see. So, I decided to skip it and happily spent Saturday and Sunday around town. As Sunday evening -- New Year’s Eve -- rolled around, the town began yet another transformation as it closed up, boarded up and pretty much shut down in a matter of minutes. For a while it was very quiet -- almost eerie -- and I stayed in for dinner at my hotel. As time went on, people began taking to the streets, fireworks started going off and spontaneous combustion of human energy ensued. I kept my distance from the center of things by hanging out with the night crew of my hotel. In our combined broken “Spanglish” we communicated about what was going on and I learned that Limon is well known for New Year’s craziness.

By the time midnight rolled around, the noise was deafening, cars were careening through the streets with horns blaring, the fire department rolled out with sirens wailing and, in general, the scene could have been mistaken for some kind of war zone. My little group hung together, toasted the New Year and had a good time of our own. The mayhem continued until about one o’clock when rain started pouring down and put a damper on things. Yesterday morning I was up pretty early and went for a walk to survey the aftermath. The entire town was still closed up tight, trash filled the streets everywhere and well more than the usual number of people were sleeping on the sidewalks. It was fabulous! The rest of the day was obviously one of recovery, but by last night the town seemed to be back to “normal.”

My New Year’s in Limon was not the “biggest” in my life -- Times Square in NY still holds that title -- but it was certainly one of the most memorable! Tomorrow I will embark on the MV Discovery, so I am making final preparations to leave Costa Rica, Central America and even the land itself. I am looking forward to my upcoming sea journeys and all the exploration that 2007 will have to offer. My very best wished to everyone in the New Year from The Voyage of Macgellan!