South American Cruise 2012 Update #3

Saturday, October 27th; Day 10 of 21 on the trip; Day 8 of 18 on the cruise; The San Blas Islands

Arrival at the San Blas Islands was scheduled for 12:00 noon and it was just a bit before that when the ship anchored of shore. I had attended a talk given by the on board Travel Guide Benjamin about these islands and the Panama Canal. The San Blas Islands are not just one island but somewhere around 372 of them (give or take a couple depending on where you get the number from). Only about 40 or so are inhabited. The whole place did not seem very interesting and with it being a tender port (the only one on this cruise) I had decided that I had no interest in going to see it. The weather was quite nice except for a temperature of something like 86F and high humidity.

The island that the ship stops at is not even as big as the ship as you will see in some of the pictures that follow. It may be best that I put the pictures of the islands here, all of which were taken from the ship needless to say and then I will comment further about this.

The four islands we saw with buildings on them.

The first boat out to meet the ship and ask for money.

Crabs in one of the hollowed out canoes.

The crabs were available for $1.00 US each.

The left two of the four islands.

The island the ships tenders were going to.

Another of the canoes loaded with people looking for money.

The moon over San Blas as we sailed away.

As you can see it is a very scenic area which is nice but that seems to be all that is nice about it. The Cuma natives who live here are rather impoverished and things are not the best. You can see that in the hollowed out tree trunks that they make their canoes/boats out of. These are very frail and I saw a woman constantly bailing one of them out because it was leaking. The travel guide commented that if anything was thrown over the side of the ship, no matter how small, it would probably have sunk the just about any of the canoes because they are very thin apparently. It was forbidden to throw anything to them.

I talked to some of the people who did go to the island and the general consensus was that it was not worth it. Apparently it seemed to be much hotter on the island than on the ship and believe me it was very hot on the ship! The trip on the tender would have been rather warm as well. In the presentation it had been noted that it would take no more than an hour to see what was there but most people said that 20 minutes or less was more than enough with another hot ride in the tender back to the ship. One other comment that I heard related to the communal washroom facility used by everyone on the island which consisted of a raised pier or dock like structure that was on the far side of the island from the ship that allowed the materials deposited to drop directly into the ocean. This bothered some people but it is likely the way it has been done by these people for a great many years. Something like this always reminds me of Heidelberg Castle in Germany where the guides always make sure to point out the upstairs washroom that hung out over the moat and had an oval hole in the bottom where the inhabitants of the castle would go to the washroom and their deposits would end up directly in the moat surrounding the castle. The moat was likely worse though because it was a very small confined area compared to the much larger Caribbean Sea.

The ship sailed at 6:00PM for the very short 89 nautical mile (I think it was) trip to the Panama Canal which was going to be done at the breakneck speed of 8.9 knots (for the uninitiated the ship can do 21 knots) because the Captain wanted to be there by 5:00AM tomorrow to prepare for the transit of the canal that was scheduled to start around 6:00.

Thus concluded this day, so on to tomorrow!!!!

Sunday, October 28th; Day 11 of 21 on the trip; Day 9 of 18 on the cruise; Transit of the Panama Canal.

As it turned out the ship did start up the channel on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal at approximately 6:00 this morning. There was a fairly heavy passing shower going on at the time with a temperature of around 80F and as you can imagine rather humid. The shower did not last too long and by the time the ship entered the Gatun Locks at around 6:30 things were clearing nicely.

The Gatun Locks are a group of three that raise ships some 85 feet to Gatun Lake which ships sail across and down the Culebra Cut, a narrow 12.7 Kilometre long channel that cuts through the Andes Mountains, and then through three more locks on the Pacific Ocean side to go back down those 85 feet the ships went up on the Atlantic. On this side there is one single lock and then about a mile farther on the final two locks. The ship cleared the last lock at around 3:45PM and the canal completely by shortly after 4:00.

The best way to show the transit of the canal is with some of the ridiculously large number of pictures I took during it and here they are…..

It was still quite dark when the ship started up the canal.

Approaching the Gatun locks, the first ones on the Caribbean Sea or north side of the canal

The lock gates are opening to allow us in.

This is one of the electrically powered “mules” that are used to hold the ships in the centre of the locks.

There was lots of interest on the ship as the ship moved through the locks.

Moving from the first chamber of the Gatun locks to the second of the three chambers here.

The control building for all three locks with the “mule” that was guiding us on the port or left side at the front. There was another one at the front and one at the back on both sides in all the locks. Some of the bigger ships have two at the back as well. It is a common misconception that the “mules” actually pull the ships. The ships move under their own power the “mules” just guide the ships to keep them in the centre and not damage the locks.

The Gatun dam. This dam controls the height of the water in Gatun Lake. Like most dams of its type it is very narrow at the top and something like a quarter mile wide at the bottom.

The cruise ship the Island Princess just leaving the third lock and entering into the lake.

This is where the new locks that are being built on the Caribbean side to allow larger ships through the canal

Once through the locks there was not too much interest in just sailing across the lake.

Here are four ships, two behind us and two going the other way in Gatun Lake.

Here is another one passing us.

Here are two of the canal tug boats passing each other. These are used to help steer the biggest ships through the narrowest parts of the canal. In the background is the tall floating crane named Titan that is used to help repair lock gates.

The Chagres River was damed to create Gatun Lake. This is where it enters the lake. It is the main source of water to maintain the lake’s level. There is a resivoir up stream that stores water in the rainy season for use in the dry season to keep the lake level high enough for shipping.

This is a jail located just beyond the bridge in the previous picture. It’s most famous and current inmate is General Manual Noregia former ruler (dictator maybe) of Panama.

The best known part of the Culebra Cut. Gold Hill is on the left and the Centennial Bridge in the centre. This is where the canal crosses the Andes Mountains or the Continential Divide.

Here the ship is arriving at the Pacific Side locks. These are the first of the three sets and are called the Pedro Miguel Locks.

The big container ship that was following behind us is pulling up in the second lock beside us. My ship is already part way down the 35 feet that this lock drops ships so the other ship looks even bigger.

The container ship has stopped and is getting ready to be lowered.

Here we are leaving the Pedro Miguel Locks heading for the last set of two locks called the Miraflores Locks which between the two of them lower ships the last 50 feet to the level of the Pacific Ocean.

This is the main canal administration building and visitor centre. There was a large crowd in the viewing areas and someone on a P.A. was having the people chear us as we sailed by a bit after this was taken.

This is where the new locks are being built on the Pacific side of the canal.

I am having a brain malfunction as I write this trying to remember the name of this bridge but it is something like the Spirit of America Bridge or similar. I know it has America in the title. The Pan American Highway that runs from southern Chile to Northern Alaska crosses this bridge.

The ship as it passed under the bridge.

The capitol city of Panama called Panama City amazingly enough.

The ship then turned slightly to the west of south on a straight line towards Manta, Ecuador. 

As the ship sailed into the night I took this picture the last of many taken this day which might be called “The Full Moon over the Pacific” which after the final editing ended up on the top of the next page.

Monday, October 29th; Day 12 of 21 on the trip; Day 10 of 18 on the cruise; At Sea.

Today, as I write this, is cloudy and it has been raining most of the morning here, which is about 135 nautical miles off the west coast of South America. The temperature is in the mid 70’s F and just as I write this it looks like it may be brightening up some.

The group going to Machu Picchu had a brief meeting this morning. It was not the most informative meeting I have ever been to as nobody here has ever been on this shore excursion before. There are about 25 going on this one and about 15 more on the more expensive one. There is one guy going on mine who I think is going to be nothing but trouble based on his actions at this meeting. I hope I am wrong but I will just need to wait and see.

It is now evening by the time the editing is completed and the rain may have stopped briefly but last time I looked it still was but nothing like what is going on on the east side of North America  right now.

On to Manta, Ecuador.

Originally sent as Update #3 by email from the ship: October 29th, 2012
Web Page Created: July 1st & 2nd, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:41 PM