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POINTE-A-PITRE, GUADELOUPE


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Welcome back to Guadeloupe! Today we escorted a panoramic tour. Guadeloupe is actually 5 islands, but the two larger islands, separated by a narrow sea water channel, are the most populated.

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Our guide is pointing on the map to our location. The two main islands are frequently referred to as forming a butterfly shape. During the 4 ½ hour tour we traveled into the rainforest in the western island, Basse-Terre, and then to several sites on the eastern island, Grand-Terre.

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Sugar cane grows uncultivated here since 2005, when the government stopped the export of sugar since it had become unprofitable. Tourism is now the main industry.

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A walk into the rainforest took us to Crayfish Waterfall

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A house of the living –

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-A house of the dead. This cemetery is in the city of Morne-a-l’-Eau. The black color of morning for Europeans and the white color of mourning for Africans are combined, symbolic of the island history.

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- What can I say – it’s a French island!

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We made a brief stop at this restaurant on our way to the southeastern most point of land.

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This is Castle Pointe, with a wild surf and amazing rock formations.

Posted by Swenigale 14:06 Archived in Guadeloupe

CASTRIES, ST. LUCIA


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Lots of ships in port today, so we are anchored offshore and we used tenders to get to the island.

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Our island tour was delightful, especially since our guide had a wonderful Caribbean accent.

We visited Bagshaw's Art Studios and learned about the silk-screening process.

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Seven times occupied by the French, and seven times occupied by the British, St. Lucia is now an independent country.

This is La Toc Battery, built by the British near the close of the 19th century.

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As we stopped for a glimpse of beautiful Marigot Bay we were distracted by the wonderful cooking aromas.

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In the small fishing village of Anse la Raye the boats and nets were already in for the day.

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Conch shells decorate the walls in front of this house

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The Roman Catholic parish church

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Chickens crossing the road - could be supper!

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The "Pink Plantation" is located on 2 acres of tropical gardens. During French occupation the estate housed

senior officers of the military and later became a small coffee estate. It is now the home of Wild Orchid hand-painted ceramics -

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The lush gardens at the Plantation provide plenty of inspiration for the artists' tropical designs.

Posted by Swenigale 12:16 Archived in Saint Lucia

GUSTAVIA, ST. BART'S


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Sunrise over St. Bart’s

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The harbor in this lush French-speaking island is only 15 feet deep, so at sunrise we anchored and prepared to tender to the island.

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Saint Barthélemy was named by Columbus for his brother. It was first settled by the French in 1648 (briefly taken over by the British in 1758) until in 1784 France traded it to Sweden, of all places, for trading rights with Gothenburg. The Swedes built Fort Gustavia, renamed the capital Gustavia, and stayed for 100 years.

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Our taxi tour with our English mixed in with French speaking guide lasted one hour– it’s a small island. There are no crops grown here – everything must be flown or shipped in. So, needless to say, everything is really expensive!

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Most of the cement-paved roads are very well maintained. We saw spectacular vistas – and homes. This house was the home of Rudolf Nureyev the dancer (you reach in through the heart to open the door).

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The cemeteries (of which I believe there are only four) are prettily decorated with real and also artificial flowers. Unlike other Caribbean islands, 90% of the population here is of European descent.

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This statue of an Arawak honors the island’s original inhabitants.

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The stamp of Swedish ownership is still to be seen in the street names, which are all posted in both Swedish and French.

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The oldest building in town is the Swedish Bell Tower, built in 1799. The bell has since been replaced by a clock.

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It was truly right and fitting that out little Swedish Hästa would make an appearance in this formerly Swedish Colony!

Posted by Swenigale 13:16 Archived in Saint Barthélemy

PHILIPSBURG , ST. MAARTEN


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The beautiful island of St. Maarten welcomes us again. The Star Clipper is in her berth waiting to welcome new guests aboard for their week-long cruise in the islands.

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As we walked to the water taxi we got the chance to take one last Christmas tree picture – when we walked back to the ship 4 hours later it was all gone.

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Picturesque, non?

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Me, Chandra the sales girl, and the free hugs / beer man. We bought a watch here – good prices!

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Hästa made it to the beach –

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- and stood guard over us.

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This is the current Town Hall and Post Office. Built in 1793, it has been a Commander’s home, a Fire Station and a Jail.

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This is one of the Water Taxis that run from town to the cruise ship docks and back every ten minutes.

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What is it? Anyone know? It is very duck-like (note the webbed feet), but that is a very different kind of duck bill!

Posted by Swenigale 06:56 Archived in Caribbean Netherlands

GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICOS


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We docked at the Grand Turk Cruise Center, sharing the space with the 3,000 passengers on the Carnival Freedom.

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There are 30 islands in the 166 square miles of ocean known as the Turks and Caicos. They lie due east from Cuba and just north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Diving and snorkeling are the draw here since the maze of coral reefs form the third largest barrier reef in the world!

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The excitement for us today was going to be a "power snorkel". We headed away from the terminal area onto a local road which would bring us and 20 guests to the snorkel site.

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On the drive we saw school girls,

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donkeys (which roam freely about the island),

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salt ponds (Grand Turk and Salt Cay were the largest salt producers in the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries),

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the first church built on Grand Turk (St. Thomas Anglican, 1823-24, built by Bermudan settlers),

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and monuments and reminders of John Glenn's nearby splash down in 1962.

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We were on our way back to the ship in this bucolic setting (note the cow), still marveling about our awesome snorkel adventure. We had floated over the edge of "The Wall" where the ocean floor plunges 7,000 feet!

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We weren't taking any pictures on this adventure but here is a stock photo of a Seascooter in use. We had spent part of an hour (it seemed like minutes, it was so fun) each holding our individual power units with which we explored the reef and its colorful occupants. It was so cool powering around with my Seascooter that I almost forgot to look at the fish! Was this experience a highlight? You bethchya!

Posted by Swenigale 03:11 Archived in Turks/Caicos Islands

MIAMI, FLORIDA


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We sailed into Miami early in the morning, the close of a cruise for most of the folks onboard.

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In a matter of a few hours the ship's cabins were cleaned and all set for new guests, 400 of whom will be sailing on the full World Cruise. The Crystal Plaza is ready for a gala send-off countdown.

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This is our cabin/home for the next 74 days.

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The Miami skyline, from our balcony. Someone pinch me!

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Everyone is onboard and ready to celebrate with Capt. John Okland.

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We've reconnected with many friends and everyone is excited to be embarking on this Grand South America Exploration!

Posted by Swenigale 19:56 Archived in USA

KEY WEST, FLORIDA


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The American flag, flying for the port of the country we are entering, a beautiful sight. Today in Key West two other ships are docked at the pier, so we will be tendering to shore.

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There are numerous trolley and conch train 1 hour tours. We both escorted guests in the trolleys this morning. The driver/guides were excellent. Here are some quick snapshots of some of the homes, etc.

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Hmm. The tour was over and somehow we found ourselves in Margaritaville - at lunch time. Should we, shouldn't we.it is 5 o'clock somewhere!

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Why not!

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Add a "Nacho Volcano" to the yummy margaritas and we were happy!

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Back on the ship, fresh squeezed orange juice, anyone? What a nifty orange squeezer! Too big for our kitchen, though!

Posted by Swenigale 10:21 Archived in USA

GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN


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Since we didn't have a bank to "visit our money" (a frequent joke among the guest entertainers) we headed for the beach.

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Seven mile beach is gorgeous and today uncrowded. The surf was a bit rough and it was tricky getting out of the water without getting dragged back. The water was beautiful, however.

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Public access paths to the beach are well marked and numerous.

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Lovely landscaping surrounds the resorts.

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Posted by Swenigale 11:01 Archived in Cayman Islands

WILLEMSTAD, CURACAO


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As we entered the narrow harbor of St. Anna's Bay (which opens up to be the 7th largest natural harbor in the world), Curacao's Dutch heritage and "storybook" appearance was delightfully on display.

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The Serenity is docked inside the harbor. Looking out from a rear deck you can see the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge for pedestrians. It swings wide open when ships enter the harbor.

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Our afternoon tour took us through Willemstad to some of the sights on the island. The coming Carnival (which is 3 weeks away!) parade route is already lined with people's chairs - reserving their spots!

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This is an obligatory stop on most tours, and a chance to taste Curacao liqueur - the distillery is north of the city and is the only place in the world where the original liqueur is made. The secret recipe evolved using dried orange peel from inedible oranges.

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Here we were, just 35 miles from the northern coast of Venezuela in a 38 mile long volcanic island, home for over 50 nationalities. The Dutch West India Company claimed Curacao from Spain in 1634, but it was rarely peaceful in ensuing years as the French and British battled each other in the New World. Only after 1814 and the Treaty of Paris did things calm down and the Dutch influence and control resumed.

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We arrived at the Hato Caves - don't need to understand the language to understand this warning - don't eat or touch those little apples on the ground! They are poisonous!

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The Caves are high above sea level and they are made of coral! Eons ago caves formed under the sea and since being above ground the coral is being draped with the limestone formations we expect in underground caves. They are hot and humid, since they are above ground - but the fruit bats like them!

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On the hillside Ed caught sight of this lovely pair of parrots.

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So pretty, even at night. We learned a few words in native Papiamento- there is no set spelling for the language, so this is what I heard: Bom bini (welcome), Masha danki (thank you very much) and Sushi (garbage!).

Posted by Swenigale 05:26 Archived in Curaçao

ORANJESTAD, ARUBA


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Frigate birds were soaring overhead as we docked at 7am

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The sun rose and Oranjestad awakened. Aruba is a small island in the Dutch West Indies, just 70 square miles

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Tourism is flourishing, thanks to Aruba's beautiful beaches and friendly people.

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Reflecting the Dutch influence in their architecture seems to be a good tourism move.

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Work is being done on a shopping street.

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A local supermarket posts prices in Netherlands Antilles Guilders.

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Ready to let go the lines!

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Looking from our balcony we have a good view of the port side of the bridge, and the start of our trip to Cartagena.

Posted by Swenigale 18:56 Archived in Aruba

CARTAGENA, COLUMBIA


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The sight of old Spanish fortifications heralded our 2pm arrival - the beautiful bay and lagoon of Cartagena

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Pelicans and seagulls are unimpressed by the arrival of our big white ship. The port was discovered and named by Spanish explorers in 1505 and the city is now the 5th largest urban area in Columbia.

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The serene Madonna and child belie the turbulent, often bloody history of this place - scene of bold piracy and cruelty with the discovery of "green gold", emeralds, once it became prized by Europeans.

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The old city is surrounded by walls constructed by the Spanish over a period of 200 years. They were built to give protection from all the pirate raids.

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Our "pirate ship" ride (made even more colorful by dancers, musicians, and our very own pirate captain) brought us to the Old City-not to pillage, unless with credit cards!

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Unemployment is high in the city, but there are men working hard breaking up and replacing a street by hand.

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The Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - a beautiful place to visit with its colonial architecture and interesting history and colorful shops.

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You are not counted as unemployed if you are a street artist or vendor - the quick art this man creates is fun to watch - and a bargain at 2 for $10!

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You are here.

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Our pirate ship awaits. Fun - but I'm glad we're not sailing in her around South America!

Posted by Swenigale 18:21 Archived in Colombia

CARTAGENA, COLUMBIA - Day 2

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We stayed overnight in Cartagena, so Thursday morning we both escorted tours - Ed to the Monasteries, me on a "Kaleidoscope" visit. Outside the city walls the Spanish built the amazing Fortress of San Felipe. This was Spain's most outstanding feat of engineering in the New World.

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The fort was built when it became clear that more protection from pirate raids was needed. Spanish treasure was stored here, but it was still vulnerable when loaded on ships to be brought back to Spain.

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Begun in 1536, construction lasted 121 years.

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This is the courtyard of La Popa Monastery - a 17th century structure high over the city. Beautiful and peaceful now, it was needed as a fortress at times in the past.

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The golden altar inside the chapel had been hidden in a swamp from the marauding pirate Henry Morgan (supposedly a far distant ancestor of one of our lecturers!).

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We could fill pages and pages with pictures of balconies, flowers, street vendors, etc..!

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The roof tops of the Church of San Pedro, also a monastery.

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San Pedro Claver lived from 1580 to 1654, he was a Jesuit priest who dedicated his life to protect, help and baptize thousands of slaves who were brought here from Africa to work in mines under brutal conditions.

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San Pedro was the first South American Saint in Roman Catholic tradition. His remains are enshrined at the base of the altar in the church that bears his name.

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"Hats off" to Simon Bolivar - the hero who led the fight for Columbia's independence.

Posted by Swenigale 13:21 Archived in Colombia

PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT


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We waited our turn at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. The ship's schedule for each lock was planned, mighty fees were paid, and our minds were brimming with the fascinating history of this incredible work of engineering - all of which I will share with you right now - just kidding!

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Seriously, we've had lots of lectures and even a special canal guide on board to give us more information as we make our transit.

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The French were the first to attempt to dig the 47 miles through the isthmus of Panama - they were forced to abandon the project because of disease and money problems - this cut is what can still be seen of their failed attempt.

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A crocodile decided to get out of our way.

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The lines from ships to locomotives that keep the big ships from bumping the sides of the locks are still brought to the ship by row boat, a very dangerous job.

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Hi to everyone!

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It is well worth looking up the history and operation of the Canal if you are at all interested. They also have webcams so you can watch ships pass - did anyone see us?

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Two of our ship's photographers were catching guests' waves from shore.

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Workers on the cargo ship don't see cruise ships in the Canal very often since most of the traffic is commercial.

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Here is the Bridge of the Americas as viewed from our balcony located just below the Serenity's bridge. You can see construction on the new locks to accommodate larger ships that are being built on both ends of the Canal. This is the Pacific end. We had a sunny, beautiful day for our 8 hour transit. Tonight we will lie at anchor outside Panama City. By the way, thanks to friends who have been following us on Facebook. Your comments are appreciated.

Posted by Swenigale 14:31 Archived in Panama

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA


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We started our tour of Panama City, the capital city of the Republic of Panama, by revisiting the Panama Canal, this time to observe the Miraflores Locks from land.

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At a local museum our guide explains some of the history of Panama City. Today we would see its three incarnations. First, as it was founded by the Spanish in 1519. Next, rebuilt in 1673 8 kilometers away, and the present day modern city.

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These boys are setting up their playing field near the old road to the 17th century settlement.

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Panama City is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. It was destroyed by Henry Morgan in 1671, and ruins of churches, convents, palaces, etc, are being preserved and protected.

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Modern Panama is said to be among the top five places for retirement in the world.

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Buildings keep rising. You would never suspect that the city is surrounded by a belt of tropical rainforest.

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Our walking tour of Colonial Panama (El Casco Antiguo) was about to begin.

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Restoration work is being done all over the place. French, Spanish and Italian architecture are all mixed together in a beautiful blend of styles.

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Posted by Swenigale 17:41 Archived in Panama

MANTA, ECUADOR


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We are in Manta, so near the equator! This major port along Ecuador's central coast calls itself the Tuna Capital of the World.

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We visited a Tagua factory. It is a hard white nut that is carved into figurines, buttons, and other souvenirs.

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Tagua is, in a sense, saving elephants, as it can be used instead of ivory.

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According to our guide, plastic buttons would melt in Ecuador's tropical heat - but buttons made of Tagua will not! (Calumet friends - "Hello, my name is .Jose..and I work in a Button Factory!")

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I love the little slices of life we see as we travel.

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We made our way to nearby Montecristi, famous as the birthplace of the Panama hat. Skilled weavers work with the fibers of the Toquilla plant.

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There are still about 50 weavers in and around Montecristi, but much of the production of the hats has shifted to a nearby town.

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Montecristi's marketplace and Roman Catholic church.

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When in Montecristi, one must buy a Panama hat!

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Back in Manta, across the pier from the Serenity fisherman transfer bait fish - none of these fish will be on the menu tonight!

Posted by Swenigale 14:16 Archived in Ecuador

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