20130104 – Panama Canal

Friday – hot, humid and sunny.

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At 06:30 we sail into the Gatun Locks of the Panama canal. Some are up to see it. The smart ones have figured out that as we’re going in and coming back out we can see the same thing at a more civilised hour. Park up in the middle of Gatun lake; tender off those who are going on a tour; hang around a couple of hours; then return back through the same locks. Have to say it’s an impressive feat of engineering especially when you consider it was completed in 1914 and the major impact / saving it has on shipping. 

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At last I manage to make a simple cheese sandwich for lunch.

Then we dock in Colon in Panama for 3 hours. Less said the better. As everyones advised not to go out the port area, supported by all travel advice I’ve seen. Even it’s own web site, it really seems a complete waste of time. Mind you we did have to pick up those who went on a tour. At least I finally DSCF8243managed to get onto free wifi and pick up 62 emails.

Glad we’ve seen the canal but Panama is just another one of those countries we won’t be coming back to.

Dinner was a tad disappointing should have gone to the buffet. Went along to the show. Thankfully there were no seats – looked like my worse nightmare of song and dance. Even Wendy wasn’t keen.

Early night watching Curb Your Enthusiasm Season 8 at long last – both seemed to nod off around the 3rd episode. Its as good as the rest we were just tired from all that exertion during the day.

TV on board isn’t bad, not that we watch it, but it does have some good films and documentaries on.

Only in America:

  • Only in America could politicians talk about the greed of the rich at a $35,000 a plate campaign fund raising event.
  • Only in America could people claim that the government is still discriminates against black Americans when they have a black President, a black Attorney General, and roughly 18% of the federal workforce is black.
  • Only in America do they have terrorists kill people in the name of Allah and have the media primarily react by fretting that Muslims might be harmed by the backlash.
  • Only in America could someone drinking a $5 latte and texting to his friends on an iPhone 4 complain that the government allows some people to make too much money.

Saturday – even hotter, more humid and sunny. Haven’t a clue on temperature just know its to dammed hot.

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Dock in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. We avoid any of the tours as they’re mainly rain forrest, saw enough in Oz; banana plantation, probably put me off bananas for life; coffee plantation – similar; Tortuga canal sounded interesting but it really is the wrong time of day to see wildlife – such as Sloth, 2 and 3 toed – and Wendy didn’t want to be consumed by mosquitos. Costa Rica sounds a progressive place, no standing army – country won Nobel Peace prize for disbanding armed forces; first democracy in South America; long period of peaceful existence and not  to forget 95% literacy rate!

So we decide on a stroll around town. Whilst we didn’t feel threatened or in danger, apart from the man traps and pits strategically placed around the streets which could have broken a few bones  – seems like someone steals the grids off the drains! Have to say it was the sort of chicken shit place that makes us appreciate even Blackburn. High police presence. Even though it seemed to consist of 12 year olds, with police baseball caps, riding mountain bikes whilst conducting lengthy conversations on the mobiles glued to their ear. Not even a MacDonalds and none of the DSCF8305supposedly free wifi worked.  Very disappointing, won’t be on our returns list. 95% literacy, well I can only assume all the kids were on holiday!

Afternoon around the pool with Kindle. Wendy watches Snow White and the Huntsman on the big pool screen. I manage to upset some Americans when I jump in the pool. Oh dear the’ve got a little water on their hair. What do they expect if they sit on the poolside, it’s a swimming pool for gods sake – not too bright!

Oh and it was my 63rd Birthday. Great cards and presents from the kids but alas at £3 a minute we didn’t want to fritter away their inheritance that fast on a phone home. Wendy bought me a Panama baseball cap and a Scuba dive in the Epcot aquarium with all the sharks, stingrays and multitude of other fish. Has she taken out an extra life policy on me?

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Day 6 and I’m starting to look forward to getting back to the USA; some simple food – beans on toast; having severe wifi withdrawal symptoms. Funny it’s not email, and certainly not Facebook, I’m missing but just having the Internet to answer so many day to day queries.

Enjoyable meal with Alec and Ann, complete with obligatory birthday cake and Happy Birthday serenade from the crew. Comedy show then very late to bed 23:30 – Noddy well past Big Ears.

Can you believe it? Well yes I can!

Gunmen on motorcycles sprayed a van carrying employees from a community center with bullets, murdering five female teachers and two aid workers.

The director of the group that the seven worked for says he suspects it was the latest in a series of attacks directed at antipolio efforts in Pakistan. Some extremist muslims oppose the vaccination campaigns, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the United States and claiming the vaccine is intended to make Muslim children sterile.

Last month, nine people working on an antipolio vaccination campaign were shot and killed.

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Sunday – hot and sunny. Pewk bags are out again, very rough.

Try an all time American classic for breakfast. Peanut butter and jam. Not one for my top 10 culinary delights.

Sea day. Now I’m really missing the Internet. So much I want to get done, I could even be earning some  money solving my next SQL problem. Frustrated! What’s the difference between a sea and an Ocean? How do you flatten XML in SQL? Whats the GDP of the World? Whats a Sloth like? Need a VRBO in the Smokies………..

Post a photo of Mum and eulogy on Facebook. Get some more emails.

Formal in the evening. Make the supreme effort with a tie. Ladies wear their pretty frocks.

Only in America:

  • Only in America would people take rappers who brag about shooting people and selling drugs seriously when they complain the police are targeting them unfairly.
  • Only in America would do they make people who want to legally become American citizens wait for years in their home countries and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege while discussing letting anyone who sneaks into the country illegally just become American citizens.
  • Only in America could the people who believe in balancing the budget and sticking by the country’s Constitution be thought of as “extremists.”
  • Only in America can you have terrorists fly planes into buildings and have some people’s first thought be “what did we do to make them hate us?”
  • Only in America does airport security put its hands on your underwear….while you’re wearing it.

Monday – hot with sun and cloud.

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It’s Grand Cayman today. Been there before, a lovely civilised place. Free wifi at most cafes and it works.

I do the dive so it’s up and out early. Typical I’ve got a cold so shouldn’t really be diving. I miss out on the 1st. Mind you it’s an +80ft wall dive. Considering most people are only PADI Open Water Certified. Mind you Princess demand that only Open Air Certification will do! Open Water means a maximum depth of 60ft. It’s ok says the dive master if you want to just stay at 40-60 ft you can just swim above the group. Great idea. Your air supply packs up so you’ve got a 20 – 40 ft swim down to your buddy to get emergency air. Oh and on the way down you’ll need to take it slow to decompress your ears. I don’t think so. Sounds a recipe for disaster.

I do the 2nd dive which is a maximum 60 feet for 40 minutes. It’s the Paradise coral reef followed by a wreck dive. A great dive; warm; fabulous coral; turtles; loads of very colourful fish; 60 foot visibility; because it’s sunny above you really get the benefit of the colours of the fish and the wreck adds a pleasant change. My sort of fair weather diving.

Wendy and Ann have gone into the town for some retail therapy. Somewhat belatedly, thanks to our bus being 30 minutes late, I get to meet them and Alec, he’s been on the stingray snorkel tour, for a pleasant lunch at Breezes.Very pleasant.

After lunch I go with Wendy and Ann for a browse around the shops. Alec goes snorkelling from the beach. He found the coral and that better than his morning tour. After 60 minutes around the shops I’m kicking myself for not doing the snorkelling.

For a pleasant change at dinner we go up to the Horizon Court for the buffet.

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Just one more sea day before we’re off this pirate floating gin palace and get to some free wifi!

What undesirable condition – answers on an email please?

Women in the Indonesian city of Lhokseumawe have been banned from riding astride motorbikes because of ludicrous fears that it distracts men drivers.

Civic leaders in the second largest city in Aceh province say they are clamping down on un-Islamic practices. Mayor Suaidi Yahya said:

Women sitting on motorbikes must not sit astride because it will provoke the male driver. It’s also to protect women from an undesirable condition.

It’s improper for women to sit astride. We implement Islamic law here.

Tuesday – hot and very sunny.

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Sea day. Lounge around ship in the  morning; Wendy goes shopping and washing; I go to the Navigation at Sea Lecture in the afternoon. I was desperately trying to figure out what they’d try and sell me at the end – brass sextant, compass, map, telescope all marked with “Princess Cruise” no doubt. But no sales pitch – wow. What a cynic. Get a few of my questions answered at last. Key one about how stabilisers work and there effect on MPG. It turns out that when they’re deployed MPG goes down. Now a cynic may think that a few sick bags are probably cheaper than the extra fuel costs. Fortunately everyone knows that cynicism is not one of my strong points:-7.

After yet another lunch we go up on deck and try and find a sun lounger. I think the ship must be full of Germans. Yes, the towels are out in force. Supposedly moved if left more than 30 minutes – I wish. I’d cure them with a simple strategy. After 30 minutes throw towels, books and other personal space stake holders overboard. If they do it a 2nd time throw the owners overboard. Usual story plenty for everybody if everybody is reasonable but of course scrots are everywhere.

Pleasant evening meal in the buffet again with Alec and Ann. Some how it’s more relaxing than the formal dining room and the menu down there looked like it was an assembly of cruise last day  leftovers.

Only in America:

  • Only in America could the government force a skating rink to have handicapped parking spots and Braille on the ATM machines.
  • Only in America could the government collect more tax dollars from the people than any nation ever has before in all of recorded history, still spend trillions of dollars more that it has per year, and complain that it doesn’t have nearly enough money.
  • Only in America can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.
  • Only in America do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front.

Wednesday – don’t care about the weather it just one of those days from hell when we have to go through US Immigration.

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Disembarkation was well organised and painless. But US Immigration, as always, manage to inflict the maximum amount of misery. 2 desks for Non-US and 10 for US. Fast moving US queue. Slow moving and getting longer Non-US queue. Then to turn up the misery one of the Non-US  misery inflicters disappears. 40 minutes to get my photograph and finger prints taken yet again. Do they want visitors? We love travel around the US but every time we encounter this crap we want to vote with our feet.

Why do we choose Hertz. There’s at least 4 pickup buses from every other company. The Hertz bus is about as rare as a woman’s liberation march organised by the Taliban. Perhaps Hertz have been taken over by US Immigration.

Hertz at least make up for it by giving us a one hell of an upgrade. Well seems like about a 10 car upgrade. We booked the cheapest, smallest car going and are entitled to a free upgrade, this time it’s to a roomy Ford Escape SUV. Mind you Perhaps I should hang onto it and take it up to Park City. 

Hotels a tad outside of Fort Lauderdale but I know I’m in heaven. Junk food in abundance even within walking distance (most un American I know). After all that cruise food there’s Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Checkers, Starbucks, Johnny Rockets, Rainforest Cafe and best of all a Cheesecake factory – perhaps I might finally get my Toblerone Cheesecake. Start simple with a Subway.

Wendy’s excited as I’ve managed to start a download of the East Enders Omnibus for the whole of last week. Note the word started, at these wifi speeds it will probably be finished in time for our flight home next week – feel a Victor moment coming on.

Whilst we both enjoyed the cruise I think 10 days was just enough. So what did we like about it:

  • Great service and friendly crew.
  • Met some interesting people and made some good friends with Alec & Ann. Amazing how comfortable and easy to get on with some people are, like you’d always known them always.
  • Cabin and balcony very comfortable.
  • Even though the ship was full it was never really crowded anywhere – a really nice size.
  • Photography course good.
  • Port lectures were good.
  • Enjoyed Aruba catamaran and snorkel; Cartagena was a lovely old city to explore; Panama canal was interesting and relaxing; dive in Grand Cayman was one of the best I’ve done.
  • Good movies selection and TV even though we didn’t use it.
What didn’t we like:
  • Wifi cost and slow speed – greedy.
  • Entertainment was mediocre.
  • Food was mediocre, choice somewhat limited.
  • Too many queues on boarding and a queue to have a money making photo taken was the final straw and just typical of greed before customer service.
  • Most of the lectures etc on board were just merchandising opportunities. Very little intellectual stimulation.
  • Port itinerary was what appealed to us about this cruise, but the actuality was disappointing. Too short a time in Aruba; Colon was too dangerous to explore; Porta Limon was a 3rd World dump.

Acid test – will we cruise Princess again? Yes.

Continued details of the Revocation of Independence are posted below.

You will learn to eat using both a knife and fork at the same time.

To improve gourmet food in the UK, Taco Bell will get the royal seal of approval “By appointment to her majesty the queen” if they open a branch in every UK city. That’ll be one up on the French food snobs.

All restaurants and cafes will attend compulsory tea making classes. It will be illegal to serve tea with cream, half and half or hot milk. Putting milk in the cup first or last will however be left up to the individual establishments preference. After 6 months anyone found serving tea with cream or hot milk will be sent to Guantanamo Bay.

All petrol pump credit card machines will be reprogrammed to accept UK Post Codes (Zip codes to you).

Credit cards will use chip and pin to cut down on fraud – you know it makes sense.

Any organisation that is complicit in the deaths of 10,000 of our newly claimed citizens will be declared illegal. The NRA will therefore be declared illegal, it will be disbanded forthwith along with their political lobby. Members will receive a full refund of their membership fees.

Pavements (sidewalks to you) and cycle paths will be installed on all urban roads so that citizens can safely walk without the need for a gas guzzler.

Drive in booths will be abandoned. You can get out your gas guzzlers and walk. The exercise will do you good and help reduce obesity levels.

Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

Hussar and God Save the Queen!

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