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Johnny B

John and Diane are at it Again!

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To Americans some Canadians have almost a Scottish accent, most pronounced when using words like "about". We say "abowt", some Canadians say "aboot". Same with "out" - we say "owt", Canadians say "oot".

It's a southern Ontario "accent". I get teased aboot my pronunciation by non-Ontarians a lot.

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It's a southern Ontario "accent". I get teased aboot my pronunciation by non-Ontarians a lot.

 

Thanks for that clarification.

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December 25 - at sea

Merry Christmas!

 

I’ve always thought Christmas on board a ship would be a dull and dreary affair, but, yet again, I’ve been proven wrong. So far (and it’s about noon), this has been a most wonderful and moving Christmas which I’d like to repeat with other family members.

 

In the last couple of days, there have even been Christian (rather than secular) Christmas carols played all over the ship. It’s as if getting closer to the actual day has made everyone more aware of the meaning of the day. During dinner on the evening before last, our friend Nestor, the head wine steward, came over and invited us to attend the Christmas Eve carol concert in the Queen’s Lounge. Nestor has a wonderful singing voice, and he is always in charge of any Filipino entertainment. Last night was no exception, so at 11:00 (after a mid-afternoon nap, of course) we made our way to the Queen’s Lounge for an amazing show called “The Sounds of Christmas Carols.”

 

The program was a mix of solos, duets, and choirs, and it brought more than one audience member to tears. The show began with a solo of “All I Want for Christmas is You” by a young woman with an amazing voice. Then there was an international choir, followed by a young woman singing “Mary Did You Know?” Nestor’s Filipino choir sang two Christmas songs in Tagalog, and later in the program, the Indonesian choir, made up of Indonesian Christians (as it’s a majority Muslim country) sang an amazing version of “O Holy Night” that brought the audience to its feet. The recessional was “Silent Night,” and we were then sent into the midnight welcome of Christmas.

 

The only negative part of the evening was during the Captain’s closing remarks, when an apparently inebriated audience member stood and began, in the most profane way, shouting at the captain. We were too far from him to hear what his complaint was, but he was immediately surrounded by security and removed from the Queen’s Lounge. I would imagine he will be permanently disembarking tomorrow in Guatemala. I hope so anyway. Even his rant could not ruin the evening, as everyone left in a reverent spirit, many headed to midnight services. The mass was in the Queen’s Lounge, but as Protestants, we headed to the Wajang Theatre, where a short but lovely service of communion was held.

 

This morning, after enjoying breakfast on deck, we headed to our cabin for Mimosas and gift opening. I thought that would be “it,” but at 10:00 we sat in the balcony of the Queen’s Lounge for the children’s Christmas get-together. A choir of adorable 3-7 year olds sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” followed by Christmas carols and then . . . a visit from Santa himself. The children came to the stage one by one, receiving a gift-filled stocking from Santa and sitting on his lap for a photo. Even the teenagers got a gift (a soda card, I think), and not one refused to sit on Santa’s lap for a photo.

 

If you’ve ever considered a Christmas cruise and decided against it because you thought you’d miss the feeling of the season, take my word for the fact that you won’t.

It is, in every way, a wonderful and moving experience. So, I leave you with the words of Santa . . . “and to all a good night.”

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Thursday, December 26

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

 

Christmas settled down yesterday by about lunchtime, evidenced by the number of people already in the casino. It was a formal night, so we got all gussied up and met our friend Jeff (of blog fame) in the Crow’s Nest for pre-dinner libations. Jeff was joining us for dinner, and we had an entertaining two hours just chatting away. The menu was exactly what you’d expect for Christmas: turkey, ham, prime rib, etc. All three of us opted for the turkey, and it was really quite wonderful. We poked fun at Jeff because he had them skip all the vegetables and give him extra mashed potatoes. I shouldn’t have made fun, because I had them delete the yams and add mashed potatoes too. Wide pieces of red ribbon crossed the tables, making each white table look like a wrapped Christmas gift. It really was very pretty.

 

John and I (and our family) love to go to Hawaii. No matter the time of year, it’s warm and the flowers are beautiful. No, we’re not in Hawaii, but we’re in Guatemala, and here in Puerto Quetzal and in Antigua, it’s very much like Hawaii - at least in weather and flowers. One big difference is that, contrary to Kauai, where we always stay in Hawaii, here we had a great view of four huge, active volcanoes. I asked when one of them last erupted, and our guide said, “Four days ago.” Whew! I guess that’s really active, and earthquakes are also quite frequent.

 

We docked at 8:00, but because our tour didn’t leave until 9:00, we had time to exercise, breakfast, and shower with time left to just take it easy. We are not fans of HAL shore excursions for several reasons. They are inordinately expensive, they make you wait like sheep in the Queen’s Lounge, you have to wear funny little stickers, and then you have to travel in a pack to see anything of interest. Oh, and one more reason: I don’t think there’s a shore excursion that doesn’t stop at a “kick back” shop. Today’s was the jade museum, which, coincidentally, has a large shop attached. So . . . why did we sign up for a tour? Because this one was called “Antigua on your own,” and it only included a bus ride to and from the colonial capital of Guatemala. Of course, as already mentioned, the drop-off and pickup point was the jade museum, but we got out of there as soon as possible.

 

Antigua is a lovely city at an elevation of 5,000 feet, with cobblestone streets, centuries-old buildings, and more than a few churches destroyed by earthquakes. We walked for about 2-1/2 of our three hours there, and saw lots and lots of little shops, restaurants, street vendors, and some beautiful public buildings. In the middle of town is Central Park, where one can sit and just enjoy the day. We were going to do that, but the area which we would have chosen was occupied by a group of about 50 HAL tour participants who were (mostly) listening to their guide. Now I’m not above surreptitiously listening to guides giving information on a tour to which I don’t belong, but the sheer numbers of people made me want to get away. Instead, we went to the lovely colonial building across the street which either is or was the center of government. The second floor balcony gave us a view of the square, the cathedral across the square, and the pillared galleries on both sides of the square.

 

As we walked along the street headed to lunch, John noticed a Jeep whose license plate was surrounded by a holder stating that it was purchased in Grass Valley, California, where we have good friends living. The car’s owner was sitting in the car (taking a nap, I think), but he saw John’s San Jose State ball cap and commented on it.

That led to a discussion in which the car owner said that he had lived and worked in the San Jose area for 30 years, but he had lived in Antigua for the last three years. He had three very good reasons for it: the cost of living is very low, the people are very friendly, and the temperature only varies from 50 to 90 degrees, but usually in the 70’s or 80’s. They sounded like good reasons to us.

 

Lunch was at a local cafe, where John had chile rellenos and I had the local specialty, pollo pepita (I think). It’s pieces of chicken cooked for a very long time in a wonderful sauce, served with rice, tortillas, and a chicken tamale on the side. I certainly couldn’t finish all of that, but John, being the kind person he is, volunteered to help. All in all, it was a wonderful visit to Antigua; the only bad thing about it was that it was just too short. We do plan to tour Mayan sites in Central America one of these days, and now we know to include Antigua, too.

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I enjoyed hearing about all of the Christmas festivities on the ship. Merry Christmas

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD

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Friday, December 27

Corinto, Nicaragua

 

In addition to never having been to Guatemala, we’ve also never visited Nicaragua, so we were anxious to see part of it. Because the port city, Corinto, was fairly small, we wanted to go farther afield and see a bit of Nicaragua’s colonial history. For that reason, we jumped on the Cruise Critic tour begun by Joyce. Not only was it less expensive than the HAL tour, it was in mini-vans - and we didn’t have to wear stickers. The whole tour (all three vans of it) was booked through Julio Tours of Leon, and it was great.

 

We docked at 8:00 and had been told to meet the vans outside the gate as early as possible, since Leon was about an hour drive away. Our “all aboard” was at 2:30 today, an incredibly early time, but we had to deal with it. We were directed to our van and told we were the “Tiger” group. We hopped in and, even though there were enough seats for 15, we only had 11.

 

Our guide was Aaron, a young man in his early 20’s who has only one more year of university to finish - studying tourism. On the drive to Leon, he gave us a great deal of background on the country, the economy, and the decades-long civil war that ended in the 90’s. We learned more about the Sandanistas (and later found out that Julio had been a member), and were told that the tourism business was growing by leaps and bounds: a million tourists in 2012, 1.2 million in 2013, and 1.5 million expected in 2014.

 

The fact that stuck with me was that one family owns 40% of all the value of Nicaragua. They produce all the rum and beer, control all the sugar cane, run the largest insurance business in the country . . . and on and on. They have just invested half a BILLION dollars in a coastal resort whose prices range from $500 a day - standard room in low season - to $12,000 a day (but it does include breakfast and lunch!). Recent guests have been Kobe Bryant and Morgan Freeman. Future guests will certainly NOT include us! The 40% fact shows how much imbalance is in the Nicaraguan economy. It is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere, only above Haiti (to which we traveled in 1967 and had cocktails with Papa Doc’s son-in-law - whom he later had executed, but that’s a story for another time.) One related economic fact is that Daniel Ortega, the socialist president of Nicaragua, is one of the richest men in the country and an investor in the same resort.

 

I was able to step down off my soap box and set foot in Leon, an interesting colonial town which is alive with small businesses and people just enjoying the early summer weather of about 80 degrees. There are some beautiful churches, and the city’s cathedral sits facing the town square. It is open to visitors, of course, but there’s one chapel whose wrought iron gates remain locked. It is dedicated to Jesus and in the ceiling there is a distinct “Eye of God,” which Aaron said was put there by members of the Illuminati, the secret society mentioned in Dan Brown books.

 

We had about 45 minutes free, so we walked around the square and tried, in vain, to find a diet soda. They have LOTS of soda, but none of it was diet. Then we went into the rather modern cafe on the corner of the square which was to be our meeting point, and there we found Coke Zero - for $3.00 a can! We decided to wait until we got back to the ship for lunch, so that was our only expenditure during our tour.

 

Aaron took us into the city market, where we saw everything from spices to fabrics. When we walked into the fish section of the market, our eyes were caught by a large basket that, on first glance, didn’t have anything that looked familiar. Just then the IGUANAS in the basket began to wiggle around and a few jumped onto the floor. Who knew that iguana was such a treat, either cooked in soup or cooked on the grill. Most of our group could have won the high jump - backward - but the stall owner just picked them up and re-balanced them in the basket. It seems that their little mouths were tied with string so that they weren’t dangerous. The irony of the iguanas is that they are an endangered species but are sold at every market - no wonder they’re endangered!

 

Our last stop was at a lovely modern art museum contained in three different beautiful colonial homes. Each building was built around a central patio in the Spanish fashion. Some of the art was to my liking, but some was just a little too modern for me. My favorite exhibit was an entire village made from popsicle sticks. Heck, I think my brother and I did that when we were kids!

 

Our drive back was the excuse for a bit of a nap, and we boarded the ship about 5 minutes before “all aboard” was called. We were back in time for a sandwich and a nice warm sailaway on the aft deck. All in all, it was a great day.

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I have especially enjoyed reading your last two posts since I will be visiting those ports in 2015. They are not ones that you hear much about so your reports have been interesting and useful. Thanks!

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Thank you for taking time to post such wonderful information. I keep thinking some day, some day! BTW both of you look wonderful at Christmas dinner as seen in one of Jeff's photos. Keep posting such great info. It makes my day reading your posts.

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John & Diane,

Love, love ,love your posts, thank you!!!! Look forward to them daily!

I know you are friends with Jeff......love his posts & pics too!

Do you know what happen to him in Mexico, mugging??? Seems he still has his camera! Just read in his last post a hooker tried to get some business from him!!! Too funny!

Thanks again!

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I really, really enjoy reading your wonderful postings. If my memory serves me well, I remember you had to leave the Amsterdam (World Cruise) early last year. I wish you well this year.

 

Please, if you will, I beg a small favor of you. Jeff Farschman takes such wonderful photos and rarely responds to comments. With his permission, would you/he be so kind to let us know what camera he is using. He mentioned in his Blog that he had a new toy this year.

 

Enjoy your adventure.

 

Ancon

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Thanks for asking about Jeff's camera. We're a half hour away from the ship right now, but when we get back I'll ask Jeff about his camera and post it with today's blog. BTW, it's not the camera for Jeff; it's the photographic skill he has and which I envy.

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Thanks for asking about Jeff's camera. We're a half hour away from the ship right now, but when we get back I'll ask Jeff about his camera and post it with today's blog. BTW, it's not the camera for Jeff; it's the photographic skill he has and which I envy.

 

I so agree. Jeff's photos show remarkable talent and insight and an eye for beauty in everyday things and people, and turns them into stunning photographs.

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John and Diane,

 

Thank you so very much for your response.

 

FYI during the 1980s, we lived in Lompoc, CA just a few miles down the road from SLO. Beautiful country.

 

Wishing you a safe cruise and a Happy New Year.

 

Ancon

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Ancon--we bought taught in Santa Maria--well, actually Orcutt. We had a nice 35 minute am and pm drive from SLO, much of it by the beautiful Pacific Ocean!

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Saturday, December 28

Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica

 

It was yet another beautiful, tropical Central American port. We docked at 7:00 (I think; I wasn’t quite aware of such things at the time) and almost immediately the 800 (!) people who had booked HAL tours headed for the disembarkation ramp and thence to their lovely huge air-conditioned buses to head who knows where. I know there were trips into the hills and into the jungle, zip-lining and going to the beach, but I didn’t follow all of the possibilities.

 

Our goal for the day was to get some free or inexpensive reliable internet and Skype or Facetime with our daughter, son-in-law and (especially) our granddaughter. Ever since we found out that the ship blocks Facetime and Skype because of their excessive use of bandwidth, we knew we had to find it ashore. At first, it seemed like we’d be able to do so right at the port, since there was free internet in a room attached to the gift shop, but apparently they didn’t have much bandwidth either, so as a couple of dozen people logged on, the speed of the connection slowed almost to a stop. Oh well.

 

Then we decided to go to the nearby town, Puntarenas, to walk along the beach, soak in the local culture, and, of course, get fast internet. We had a great time. The beach isn’t the prettiest one I’ve ever seen, with either dirt or volcanic residue mixed in with the sand, but the people were really enjoying the 85-degree weather, the warm water, Saturday, and the Christmas holidays. There were family groups everywhere, eating out of picnic baskets or grilling their lunch (I just hope it wasn’t iguana!). We walked waaaay down the beach before we crossed the street to come back the other way. At one of the street-side restaurants, we ran into Noel and Lolita, with whom we had our excursion yesterday. They were having lunch, sharing a very large whole fish that looked delicious.

 

We then got off the beaten path and walked several blocks down a side street so we could see the town’s cathedral. It was very old and very pretty, but also very closed, so we didn’t get to see inside. Then we walked along more side streets, past a Burger King and several thriving small businesses until we got back to the beach, where we went into a restaurant that had two really important items: very cold Imperial beer and free internet. The beer was great, and so cold we didn’t mind the heat. Then we finally got to Skype with our kids, but the video didn’t work, so it was just like having a conference telephone call, which was okay, because it was just so nice to hear their voices. We decided that this had been such a complicated endeavor that we wouldn’t try to visually communicate until Ft. Lauderdale, where we can use Facetime on our I-Phones.

 

We had the same taxi driver, Arturo, both ways, and he was an amiable and talkative host who told us about his town and, on the way home, he even brought along his daughter who was on her way home from a family wedding. When we asked him about whether iguana was eaten in Costa Rica, he told us that it was and that they referred to it as “chicken from the tree.”

 

It was a fairly relaxing day with no tour and just wandering around was the business of the day. I’d come back here, but next time I hope the ship docks in the town (where there’s a really nice cruise ship dock) instead of 30-minutes and a $30 taxi ride away.

Tomorrow is a sea day, and with the cold I apparently caught from John, it will be wonderful to do nothing all day.

 

S. Charlie and Betty are sending a hello to their daughter.

 

Also, Jeff’s camera is a Nikon D7100 with an 18-300 lens, one of 5 he brought onboard the ship, but it’s the one he uses almost all the time and it’s his newest.

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They seem to like to dock at Puerto Caldera. It must be cheaper but there is nothing there. I'm docking there as well in April. Thx for the update.

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Your descriptions of the places you visit are incredibly interesting and fun to read. I feel like I"m walking around with you. Just wonderful. Much thanks.

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I also want to add thanks for the great posts. I have always enjoyed your posts over the past few years. We've been to some of the ports and love your take on them. We also usually do private tours or wander on our own. Best wishes for a fabulous trip (once again!).

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Sunday, December 29

At Sea

 

There are so many things to love about sea days, especially in the tropics. It’s like being at a beach where someone brings you a beach towel, provides your (gourmet) meals, and then comes in and makes your bed. The biggest choices to make during the day have to do with which, if any, of the offered activities you should participate in, and then what to have to eat. It’s truly bliss.

 

Right now it’s in the high 80’s with a gentle breeze blowing and the chairs on the aft deck are going like hotcakes. If you leave yours to get more iced tea or to use the bathroom, you’d better leave something there to show that it’s yours, or you’ll be out of luck.

 

Speaking of out of luck, we had a bit of a problem yesterday, which continues into today. We returned to the ship about 4:00, at which time I went to the library to write the blog and John relaxed on chaise lounge on our verandah (another bit of bliss) to pretend he was reading. Then we met on Deck 8 aft for sailaway, one of the things we really enjoy about cruising. When we approached our room at about 5:00, he said, “Oh, I forgot my key; I hope you have yours.” I did and we went into the room. Later, after we had dressed for dinner and were headed for the door, John went to pick up his brown leather HAL card case where we each keep our room keys and he couldn’t find it. Boy did that room get turned upside down, but with no result.

 

It wouldn’t have been so bad if he only had his room key in there, but he also had his driver’s license, a credit card and about $40 or $50 in cash. Whew! Before going to dinner, we stopped at the front desk to check the lost and found, but it wasn’t there. They took down the information and said they’d call us as soon as it was turned in. We checked the area where John was standing for sailaway as well as asking the fellows at the bar if they had seen it - no luck.

 

As of 2:00 today, we have looked every possible place in our cabin and on our verandah and we’ve bothered the ladies at the front desk a couple of times. We know he brought it back on the ship, because the key card is scanned when passengers board. Sometime during that hour it disappeared, and John can only think that it fell out of his pocket and someone picked it up but has not turned it in. We know everything can be replaced, but it will be a pain. He already has a substitute key card, and we’ve checked to make sure that no extra charges have been made on the ship with the old one. If it doesn’t show up by tomorrow afternoon, we’ll call the credit card company to cancel it and just have to write off the cash. Fortunately, we have no rental car plans on this cruise, so he can just get a new driver’s license when we get home. I keep telling him everything will be okay, but he’s a worrier who almost NEVER does things like losing important documents, so it will bother him the rest of the cruise.

 

So . . . that’s all the news for now. I assured him that all we have to do is cancel his credit card and the old one will show up, but who knows. If I were larcenous and found his card carrier, I’d probably just take the cash and surreptitiously leave the rest on a bar counter somewhere. You’d think that anyone on a cruise would turn it in as soon as

possible, but I guess not. We can’t judge others by our own standards. I’m sure all will be well in the long run. I’ll keep you updated.

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This would be such a worry! I'm sure you've thought of every possible place to look, but probably several of us (me too!) won't be able to help suggesting places where we've found missing things in our cabins, in hopes that maybe one will be the lucky spot.

 

Did it fall out of a pocket out on the verandah?

 

Any other pocket? Or a pocket in a day bag if you took one off the ship? I often (usually!) carry my key card in a pants pocket and if I can't find it, it's usually on the floor of the closet where I hung the pants because it never made it to the spot on the desk where I always mean to set it but sometimes forget.

 

The last time I "lost" something thin our cabin steward found it slipped under the TV stand on the desk.

 

Hope it turns up today!

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