Monday, December 25, 2017

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Today was a day that separated the tourists from the travelers. Linda and I worked hard to be travelers in a bus smattered with tourists. Our tour took us through the countryside of Guatemala, under the watchful eyes of huge active and dormant volcanos. Our destination was Lake Atitlán, where we were to load into a boat and motor to the end of the lake to a village called San Juan.

As the bus rumbled down the highway we gazed at the volcanos that poked into the sky all around us. Traffic came to a stop about 45 minutes into our trek. An accident had closed the road and we were forced to move at a snail’s pace along a fully clogged highway. We were travelers so we sat back and enjoyed our surroundings.

The accident put our tour behind schedule and our guide made some phone calls to alert the hotel. When we arrived in San Lucas Tolimán we were able to go to the hotel and eat lunch right away.

Our lunch was very good. They provided tortillas, beans, rice and then the main course of beef and chicken. Nothing fancy, but very flavorful.

We took some photos from the hotel patio, and then headed down to the dock and loaded onto the boat.

I think the boat was the original African Queen from the Bogart movie. It belched huge black diesel smoke from its engine and when the lone captain put it in gear, it shook like a cold wet dog.  Our captain acted as deckhand and pilot, moving from dock line to dock line and then scrambling up the side of the boat to steer us out onto the windy lake.

As travelers, you have to adapt. The wind was so strong and the boat was so slow that the guides made the decision that we could not motor to Santiago Atitlán but we could go across the lake to San Antonio Palpó where we could see how the traditional people live and make the fabrics.

With the captain fighting the wind and waves, we rattled slowly across the bay. Vendors had been allowed to join us and were like fire ants trying to sell us their wares.  Linda bought at bead hummingbird for five dollars. Later we purchased another one for three dollars. At one time I had three vendors working me, fortunately, all I had was two dollars and once they knew that, it was like having OFF on.

At our destination, the boat captain had to fight the wind and the local boat taxi drivers to find a place to moor the boat. This took several tries and it was very apparent that if the captain had some additional crew members to help, we would have offloaded much quicker. Working alone and against the wind, the poor man had his hands full. All we could do was watch.

We got off the boat and into a new swarm of vendors. Linda bought a beautiful table runner which she used to fend off more attempts at her money. We hiked up a street to the home of one of the fabric weavers and watched a demonstration on how they created the color dies for the yarns used to create the beautiful garments. This was very interesting, plus we got a chance to see how these people live.

Back on the boat our vessel belched smoke and shook its way slowly across the lake, back to the dock and our waiting bus.

We were way behind schedule now so the guide loaded us as quickly as possible and we headed back to the ship.  On the way back we had to stop so that our bus driver could loosen the right rear brake pads on the bus. They were rubbing and that kept setting off an overheating alarm in the cockpit. Nothing to worry about, it just added to our late return. 

When the tour was all over we climbed aboard the Viking Sun a full three hours late.

As travelers, we just shrugged and said “Sh&# Happens!” The tourists scurried back to their cabins and filed a less than stellar review evaluation of the day's events. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Léon, Nicaragua

We divided our forces in Nicaragua. Linda took a tour called “Cortijo El Rosario Estate and Equestrian Experience”. I on the other hand, took a tour called “Colonial Léon.” When we met at the end of the day it was obvious that Linda had made the better choice.

Dean’s Day –

Steve and I loaded into a bus and met our young guide. The fellow was very nice and spoke English with a thick accent, but he was easy to understand. We headed for Léon. Our objective was to visit the Léon Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As we wound along the roads leading into the city, our guide tried his best to give us some facts about Nicaragua. This took him about five minutes and then he stopped talking. His silence didn’t bother Steve or myself, but I guess a couple of our older companions felt that they were not getting their money’s worth, so one took it upon himself to give the poor guide a tongue lashing.  Both Steve and I felt bad for the kid, but the damage was done. For the rest of the trip the young fellow would try to fill the air with anything he could think of, desperately trying to appease the old tourist.

Later we were able to find out that the guide usually worked in the jungle as a nature guide who specialized in birds and plants. Guiding a group this size was obviously not in his wheelhouse. I felt he did a fairly good job under the circumstances.

When we arrived at the cathedral we toured the main sanctuary and then were allowed to climb up a steep tight stairway to the roof of the church.  What a cool place! I walked around taking photos in every direction. The architecture of the cathedral was amazing. Obviously, this was the highlight of this tour.

We loaded back into the bus and returned to the ship. As we drove up to the pier we saw before us a human tunnel created by the staff of the Viking Sun. Our bus doors opened and rock music spilled into our space. We walked out and danced our way through the line of cheering officers and crew. Our day ended in a wonderful welcome home.

Linda’s Day –

This is a little scary for me because Dean does all of the writing for his blog. Be kind… and I’ll do the best I can.
Our trip to the Cortijo El Rosario horse ranch and estate started early in the morning on the day we docked in Nicaragua. This was the excursion I had been looking forward to the most.  My traveling companions were Don and Caroline Samuelson. We felt this would be a not-too-difficult excursion for Don to get out and enjoy without worrying too much about how his wheelchair would handle the terrain.

I have always loved horses. I was lucky enough to have one of my own when I lived in Pendleton, OR. She was a sorrel, ¾ quarter horse, and ¼ Appaloosa. Her name was Bobbi and she made moving from LA to Pendleton tolerable for this Jr. High/then High School girl.
The drive to the ranch was quick and we were met at a large stone entryway with a cold rum drink. They then led us into a courtyard that contained a small demonstration/show ring. There were stables in the shade on either side of the courtyard and chairs and benches set up for us to sit on.
We were told a bit about the ranch. It was bought by a wealthy Italian family that loved horses and their new country. They wanted to give back. They provide scholarships to boys who show an aptitude for horses and horsemanship. This allows the boys the opportunity to better their lives and the lives of their families.

The ranch also has a clinic that provides equine therapy to children and adults alike to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth in people affected by ADD, autism, cerebral paralysis, developmental delays, genetic syndromes such as Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, and strokes. There is also help provided for the families as well. This is at no cost. The patients stay at the ranch; the younger ones with their families.

Then the music and the demonstration started. All the horses are Spanish or Lusitano. They are trained in several disciplines - dressage, for the picadors (bullfighting), and “airs above the ground” which were used in battle.

They began simply and moved through more and more complex steps, routines, and demonstrations. It’s impossible to explain or describe it all. It was all just magnificent and amazing – horse and rider so in tuned to each other that it seemed like effortless magic… beautiful, graceful, flawless, breathtaking. I get chills just writing about it. There are no words (though I seem to be typing a lot of them), and unfortunately, my pictures don’t capture the joy and magnificence of what I saw.

After the demonstration, we took a look at the clinic and met some of the kids. We moved on to a sort of shop that had a wall of windows that looked out on a work-out ring. They were working/exercising a beautiful stallion. I spent my time watching him, not shopping.

A lovely lunch was provided to us and we were entertained by a group of young dancers and 2 men, one on a guitar and the other on a marimba. Then Don, Caroline, and I took an old-fashioned buggy ride around the property. It was picture-perfect with horses and small deer grazing and peacocks strutting their stuff.

We did have to leave eventually. They loaded us on our bus and took us back to the ship where many of the officers and crew lined up to greet us and welcome us back. Music was playing and champagne was flowing. We three took pictures and danced (well, Caroline and I danced on either side of Don) back onboard the ship.

This experience touched me and affected me in ways I don’t really understand. All I can say is it’s now part of me and I’ll never forget it. Thank you, Don and Caroline, for being a part of this amazing day.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Our Captain guided us into the gulf where we would dock at Puntarenas, Costa Rica. When we neared the pier he skillfully stopped us short, hit the thrusters, and pivoted us exactly into our mooring. It is amazing how this big ship is maneuvered to tie up at each port. We never feel a bump, push or jiggle. When we were in place the two tugs that had escorted us peeled away in formation and moved on to other duties.

Today we were given blue skies and 89-degree weather. Looking around the Gulf of Nicoya we could see beautiful blue water dotted with thickly covered green islands. This is truly a paradise!

Precisely at 9:30 am our group number was called and we disembarked to meet our excursion bus. Today’s tour was called “A Walk in the Clouds” and would take place in a national preserve located inland, an hour and a half by bus, in the highlands. The tour guide was a very talkative, humorous fellow. He chatted continually making little jokes and telling stories. He would start telling one factual tidbit, and weave in a joke, then some facts about something we were passing and finally return to his original tidbit. I found myself lost most of the time, so I basically tuned him out and only paid attention when he said the words “left” or “right”.

About an hour into the ride we stopped for a restroom break at a souvenir shop. I looked around, but most of the items were of the “Made in China” verity so I passed. On the front of the building were some very elaborately painted murals. I was amazed at the detail of the work and the skill that the artist had. I took photos and then found my seat on the bus.
We arrived at the preserve and wriggled our way off the bus.  This was a rather large tourist attraction; there were zip lines, bungee jumps and suspension bridges winding throughout the jungle. Our tour would be on foot over the suspension bridges. Of course, Linda and I would have zip lined, but that was not an option provided by the Viking Cruise people.

Our guide broke us into two groups and we made our way along the trails. Near the start, a feeder had been prepped with bananas and this was drawing in some very beautiful birds to feed. I got a couple good photos and then we moved on to the hummingbird feeders.
Hummingbirds were everywhere! They zoomed in and gathered the nectar that had been provided. You could move in close to the feeders and stand still and they would come in and feed with no fear at all.

The rest of the walk was very easy and rather slow. It definitely was paced for the majority of the people from our cruise ship, but for a slow walk in the jungle, it was very nice.
We had a good lunch of chicken, beans, and rice cooked in a local fashion.  Once we finished that we were back on the bus headed home.

About halfway down from the hiking area the bus pulled over to the side of the road we were able to get out and view some Howler monkeys. The monkeys were in the high branches of the nearby trees eating the new growth off the branches. We took some photos but the combination of the distance away and location of the sun made it hard to get good shots. We were excited to see our first wild monkeys and that helped to top off our day in the jungle.