THE PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
A road journey from LOS ANGELES to CARMEL
DECEMBER 27, 2012 - JANUARY 3, 2013
THE PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
A road journey from LOS ANGELES to CARMEL
DECEMBER 27, 2012 - JANUARY 3, 2013
THE PANAMA CANAL
A VOYAGE BY SHIP FROM THE PACIFIC TO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN VIA THE PANAMA CANAL
January 4 - 19, 2015
'My impression about the Panama Canal is that the great revolution it is going to introduce in the trade of the world is in the trade between the east and west coast of the United States.'
- William Howard Taft -
The Panama Canal is an 82km artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the narrow Isthmus of Panama. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduces the time for ships to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Started by the French in 1881, it was completed by the United States in August 1914.
The Canal consists of artificial lakes and three sets of locks and it takes an entire day to traverse the canal in a passenger ship.
When cruise dates align with our summer holiday period, it would be silly to pass up the opportunity. So we find a great deal from a third-party cruise broker, securing a balcony mini-suite for a more-than-reasonable price and enjoy sixteen days aboard the Norwegian Star.
The voyage takes us south along the Mexican coastline, stopping at a number of ports along the way. We also visit Costa Rica, Colombia, and Jamaica, before arriving in Miami, Florida on the morning of January 19, 2015.
Our journey occurs just a few months after the centennial celebrations of the opening of the canal. We are amazed at the magnitude of the canal and marvel at the ingenuity shown to plan such a huge undertaking during an era when modern technology was not available.
Cruise: 16-day cruise on Norwegian Star
Panama Canal: Mexico and Costa Rica to Miami, Florida from Los Angeles, California from January 4-20, 2015
DAY ONE: LOS ANGELES
SUNDAY, JANUARY 4, 2015
Accommodation: Sunrise Hotel, 525 S. Harbor Boulevard, San Pedro, CA 90731
Breakfast: Mishi's Strudel Bakery, 309 W. &th St, San Pedro, CA 90731
Cruise Ship: Norwegian Star - World Cruise Centre, San Pedro, CA 90731
After spending a week in Waikiki, we had arrived very late last night. Within minutes after arrival at our hotel, I had regretted that I had not spent the extra money on the Crowne Plaza, just a few doors away. After today, we won't have to worry about our accommodation because we will be enjoying the next sixteen days aboard the Norwegian Star.
Since we have to start the boarding process at 12pm, we take a walk around the surrounding streets to stretch our legs after yesterday's long flight from Honolulu and to find some (decent) coffee. Usually a hard ask, we found a wonderful Hungarian bakery where we ordered a light breakfast and coffee. We enjoy our morning wander before taking the hotel shuttle to the cruise centre to board the ship.
Check-in is a long, laborious process, and it appears that all passengers must be aboard two-hours before departure for security reasons.
When we first decided to take this cruise and during the booking process, I had asked for a centre-of-ship cabin. However, the discount companies don't always get these cabins so when I had been offered a balcony room for a miniscule additional cost, I jumped at it. And I'm glad, because we have a large stateroom with a sitting area and a balcony, which provides plenty of space for us for this longer cruise.
Once the mandatory passenger safety drill is complete, the ship pulls away from San Pedro at 4pm. The sky is turning a dusky orange-grey colour and from our balcony we watch Los Angeles slip away.
It's time to explore the ship.
DAY THREE: CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
TUESDAY, JANUARY 6, 2015
Shore Excursion: Baja Highlights
Experience the beauty and cultural richness of Baja on this excursion that features both scenic and historic sights. Board your transportation for a picturesque drive through Baja California desert terrain. Your first stop is at a local glass factory, where you will watch artisans at work, learn their time-honoured techniques, and browse their colourful creations at the gift shop.
Continue to the town of San Jose del Cabo and stroll on your own along the charming, tree-lined streets and enjoy the colourful murals and te historic town plaza. You'll stop at one of the area's renowned restaurants for a complimentary beverage while you take in sweeping panoramic views of the Bay of Cabo San Lucas and El Arco in the distance.
Upon return to the port, visit the heart of Cabo San Lucas and learn about the original settlement and the native flora of the region. A 10 minute walk returns you to the ship.
The Norwegian Star is anchored in the bay as there is no pier large enough for cruise ships at the port of Cabo San Lucas. But it is a perfect opportunity for Norwegian Cruise Lines to perform the obligatory safety tests on the lifeboats, which are used as tenders to ferry us between the ship and the small pier.
We are booked on the Baja Highlights shore excursion and must wait until our tour is called before we can leave the ship. This ensures that the thousands of people aboard are able to disembark in an orderly fashion and the system works really well.
We board the bus and within minutes we stop at an artisan factory, where we enjoy watching glass blowers deftly pick up blobs of liquified glass on the end of a long, hollow blowpipe and quickly forms the red-hot malleable, but quickly-cooling glass into magnificent and unique works of art. We are delighted to see the finished product as it is snapped off the blowpipe and set down to cool and for the colours to brighten. No matter how often I see this art in motion, I can never tire of it.
As the bus leaves the small and somewhat developing tourist town of Cabo San Lucas, we are quickly removed from the urban area into the desert region of Baha California. At first glance, the sandy terrain looks lifeless, but it actually supports a wide range of vegetation, such as cactus, agave, and aloe vera.
This very southern tip of the peninsula where Cabo San Lucas is located is also the spot where the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California meets. The road on which we are travelling runs beside thirty-two kilometre-long resort corridor of beach-front properties and golf courses that are either recently completed or are currently under construction. With the pristine water, a dramatic rocky outcrop at the very tip of the peninsular, and wonderful sunny weather, this is a lucrative tourist mecca for holidaymakers. We don't have time to visit the famous 'Lover's Beach' nor are we able to explore El Arco, the rock arch, which is synonymous with Cabo San Lucas, but we have a wonderful view of the whole area from the back terrace of a pub, where we order refreshing drinks as we view the point of the peninsula from this wonderful elevated location. With a good zoom on my little camera, I am able to capture this iconic photo from this vantage point.
The small city of San Jose del Cabo is the municipal centre of the Baja California Sur state. Unlike the tourist town below, San Jose has a long history. The Mission San Jose del Cabo was established in 1730 and is the southernmost of the Jesuit missions on the peninsula. The region was a landing and resupply point for ships that carried out trade between New Spain and the Spanish territories in Asia, such as The Philippines. In 1734, a revolt between the indigenous Pericu people broke out and the mission was destroyed. The ongoing confrontation with the indigenous people, its inability to develop agriculturally, and the brutal murder of Father Nicholas Tamaral contributed to the permanent closure of the mission in 1840.
Saint Joseph's Church, located at Mijares Square, was built in 1940 in the place where the original mission was established. We enter the pretty church and its features are pointed out along with it's brutal history.
We participate in a short walking tour of the town before having some time to wander through the pretty cobbled streets. Hummingbirds hover as their long, pointed beaks extract nectar from the profusion of flowers in the city. I am mesmerised as these tiny birds use the strength in their wings to quickly dart from bloom to bloom to feed its minute body.
Our tour finishes back in Cabo San Lucas and although time constraints do not allow us to further explore the beach areas, we are content with the quality of the tour taken today.
Sadly, as I download my photos to my iPad, some glitch occurred and the photos were deleted both on the device and on my memory card. Unfortunately, I make a further fatal mistake when I didn't remove the card and lock it with the hope that I can retrieve the photos later. Most of my photos of today's activities have been irretrievably lost.
DAY FOUR: PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 7, 2015
Shore Excursion: Puerto Vallarta and Mismaloya
Experience Puerto Vallarta in all its glory. Travel along the main highway to Old Town, along the city's cobblestone streets for a stop at City Hall and the Cathedral of the Lady of Guadalupe. Pass the elegant area of Conchas Chinas on your way to the southern end of town. Continue south along the highway to the coastal village of Mismaloya, the location of the John Huston's 1956 film, 'The Night of the Iguana', where remnants of the movie set can still be seen. Return to Puerto Vallarta and stop at a charming restaurant for a complimentary beverage before returning to the ship.
Highlights: Puerto Vallarta malecon, old square, Mismaloya
Our voyage so far has been wonderful. The Pacific Ocean is calm and since we're hugging the coastline, we've been able to see land on the horizon thus far.
We arrive in Puerto Vallarta around 11am and, unlike yesterday, are able to walk off the ship and look for our pre-booked tour. Our shore excursion includes a walking tour of the downtown area and to Mismaloya, the small coastal village with a link to Hollywood.
Securing a window seat with no obstructions, we are hardly settled before our first stop. The Malecon is a wide pedestrian promenade on the edge of the beach, which provides easy access to some of the best attractions in the city. Part of the 1.6 kilometre space is studded with some of the most amazing sculptures. Like an outdoor art gallery, these works are designed to be touched, sat upon, or even climbed - although I don't go that far. My favourite one, apart from the magnificent Los Arcos, which stand in front of an amphitheatre, is the imposing seahorse. I am very much aware that our time in Puerto Vallarta is not going to be nearly long enough and already I feel a sense that I will be missing out on a lot of iconic sights and activities today.
We stand between the arches and take photos; the blue Pacific Ocean is a magnificent backdrop on this warm, sunny day. Aztec dancers perform nearby and it occurs to me that this is a perfect space for absorbing the sun and culture at the same time. We barely see anything before we are herded and taken a few steps away into the older part of the city where we visit the square and the iconic crowned church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Brightly-coloured flags zigzag between buildings; the colours are a perfect contrast to the bright, azure sky, and herald the entrance to the church.
Inside, mass is in progress, so we quietly, without disturbing the worshippers, walk along the side aisle and admire the beautifully decorated interior. This church was constructed fairly recently between 1930 and 1940 on the original foundations of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been built in 1901. Dedicated to the Mary, who appeared to a Mexican man, Juan Diego on December 12 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe is depicted as a dark-skinned woman whose dialect was Nahuatl, Juan Diego's native language. During our travels to Spain and Latin America, we've visited many churches dedicated to the patron saint of Mexico, and the church here in Puerto Vallarta is a celebration of culture and faith.
We meet our bus at the designated time and drive twenty kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta. On the way, the adjacent homes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton are pointed out. Due to the mores of the time, Richard Burton had purchased the two properties and engaged a builder to construct a bridge to connect them. Casa Kimberley, is now a hotel, which provides visitors the opportunity to stay in the house once owned by Elizabeth Taylor. The reason why we selected this specific tour is because we want to visit the scene of the John Huston movie based on the Tennessee Williams' play, The Night of the Iguana. The remote (at the time) location had no telephones, roads, running water, or electricity, and an abundance of iguanas and scorpions. John Huston believed that using a real location provided a true and believable atmosphere.
We stand on the headland overlooking Mismaloya bay and as the remnants of the film set are pointed out, it is easy to imagine a time when this place, just a few kilometres from the nearest town, would appear to be as isolated as depicted in the movie. Out in the water are five tiny granite islands called Los Arcos, which provide refuge for bird colonies. Visitors always attract the entrepreneur and this is no different as a couple of iguanas are dumped on my arms as photo opportunities, I know that I am not going to get away without dropping a few pesos in the handler's pockets. As much as I don't approve of handling animals in a foreign country, I do concede that people need to make a dollar somehow and so I pose for the obligatory photos with grace.
Later, as we are directed into a hotel beer garden for a complimentary beer, I wish that we are closer to the city as I would love to have some time to wander and to absorb the atmosphere. Sadly we are unable to do so. As we settle into the beachside bar and watch people parasailing high above the water,one of the passengers sits down with us. A professor of economics and a history and literature buff, he tells us that his favourite movie of all time is Huston's Night of the Iguana. It does remind me that I should get a copy of the movie to watch later.
An extra day in Puerto Vallarta would have been perfect. We take the shore excursions to see the best of the cities and towns on our itinerary, but we do miss out on having the time and the ability to immerse ourselves in the place and to explore the nooks and crannies, which often provide the unexpected experiences. There is no true balance in these circumstances, so the least I can do is put Puerto Vallarta on my bucket list and return on day in the future. For today, however, I cannot recommend this tour highly enough for its content and for the excellent guide.
DAY SIX: HUATULCO, MEXICO
FRIDAY, JANUARY 9, 2015
Shore Excursion: Huatulco Archaeological Site & Market Shopping
Discover the best-kept secret of Huatulco's history and the stunning scenery of the Copalita River Ruins. Locates 20 minutes southeast of modern Huatulco, the remains of this ancient city is thought to be of Zapotec origin, but was eventually captured by the Aztecs. The site lies on the Copalita River and is surrounded by lush forest vegetation. Your guide will lead you through the site and share information about the history of Huatulco and the ancient inhabitant of this world hidden among the superb fauna, flora, and unbeatable natural landscapes. As you walk along the ancient stone pathways you'll have the chance to observe tropical and migratory birds in the area near the river. You'll see the field where the ancient ball game was played, foundations of homes and pyramids and some carved stones. You may even have the opportunity to see how archaeologists and anthropologists work.
Continue to the charming town of La Crucecita, where you can meet the locals and stroll around the town centre. Visit the local church and admire the world's largest painting of The Virgin of Guadalupe on its ceiling. The state of Oaxaca is famous in Mexico and throughout the world for its handwoven fabrics and traditional foods including an excellent Oaxaca fresh white cheese. You will get to taste some of these regional delicacies at a small store demonstration of the local cuisine. You'll also learn how the inhabitants carry on the traditions of their ancestors making colourful woven rugs, carpets, and fabrics hand-milled on traditional looms. The town also offers a great variety of handicrafts and local products such as wood-carved mythical animals, black pottery from the central valleys of Oaxaca, Mezcal a well-known tequila, chocolate, organic coffee, clothes, wines and more.
Highlights: Guide's name is Eduardo. Meeting local people in La Crucecita, the ruins of the Zapotec town.