Actually, I was planning to take a short Caribbean cruise upon my arrival to America. Then I had the opportunity to go on a 15-day long trip I'd dreamed of for so long. The price was unrealistically low, tips were free, and even the replacement of the return air ticket (airport and departure date) did not cost anything. So I made my decision pretty quickly.
We departed from Fort Lauderdale on old MS Veendam.
In the morning, we moored at private Half Moon Cay owned by Holland America Line. Of course, this is a fabulous place; a real paradise.
However, we weren't big fans of the beaches, we decided to go ashore after dinner. There was large MS Zuiderdam next to our ship, and I imagined the struggle for sunbeds.
Nevertheless, the beach appeared to be almost deserted! Did they return to the ship's dining rooms after having a good swim?!
We had been here many times before, but the temperature was never 71ºF (22ºC - both of water and air). We decided to take advantage of the cool weather and visit the stingrays caught in a net for the passengers' amusement in the cove on the other side of the island:
These guys were so curious! As soon as we went down on a ladder to the water, they swam to us and began to do laps:
We returned to the beach, checked our watches (where were the people?) and bathed for another hour. The water was amazing, the sand is white and fine as flour, and without centipedes!
Houses for companies (you can rent them for a day) were empty; we didn't hear any noisy guests:
The bar was also sad, passengers left the island. It was deserted again:
We were impatiently waiting for the next port.
To make the waiting more cheerful, we were shown "Romancing the Stone" in the theater and on the television in our cabin. The bus to Cartagena was impressive.
In the morning, we moored next to the ship called the Royal Clipper. They are so lucky, eh!
Here's my story about the port of Cartagena, Colombia.
You should get up early so that you won't miss sailing by the new district of skyscrapers - this is a magical picture, low light provides excellent images and the scale of construction is impressive!
I did not take the camera, and how wrong I was! I recommend that you bring yours!
After leaving the pier, passengers who do not board the sightseeing buses immediately go to the park. There were attentive parrots, not easily frightened rabbits and peacocks all around, even pink flamingos at a waterfall. There was also a wi-fi zone (for an extra fee), a gift shop and cafe - a paradise but not the "bus to Cartagena!"
We took a taxi to the Old Town for $20, from a parking lot in the same park. We didn't haggle as we had heard about the prices beforehand. How wrong we were! We came back for $10 and the taxi driver was happy. It seems that the official price is much lower, you just need to go further out of the gate.
Moreover, there were less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) to go. If it's not so hot, the walk to the city center takes about 40 minutes.
The 3-hour long round-trip to see all the sights (a fortress, church and Old Shoes Monument) cost $60 in the port, which is cheaper than the ship's excursions.
The Old Town is surrounded by a defensive wall, there are colored houses with wooden balconies full of flowers inside. Everything was bright, loud, colorful!
We had some plans for Cartagena: to buy a battery charger for the camera (I had forgotten it at home), to surf the Internet and to try local coffee. We did everything and returned to the port for $10; we were very satisfied.
Then we passef through the Panama Canal, it lasted the whole day.
What is the Panama Canal?
This is a 49 foot (80 km) long water route connecting the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. The passage through the canal allows the passing transport to save time and money. More than 1 million ships have used the canal since its creation. The historic number of one million was announced in 2010.
History: The first efforts to build the canal in Panama were taken by the French in 1880, but the construction was suspended due to financial difficulties and setbacks.
When Panama got its independence in 1903, the right to construct and manage the canal was transferred to the United States. All income went to America from 1914 to 1999.
Panama took control over the canal on New Year's eve, 1999. A broad reconstruction program started in 2007. As a result, they constructed the third line of water elevators and created new conditions enabling the canal to be more efficient without harming the environment.
The canal consists of a series of locks and two lines of water elevators, connecting two large lakes and several rivers.
This is a scenic passage down the river. Passengers on the decks were offered refreshing fruit:
It was a beautiful day, a very interesting event - the passage through the Panama Canal. Each cruise lover should see it. I highly recommend it. HAL provided us with illustrated booklets. That's where I got information about the canal.
Our next port was Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica.
We didn't go anywhere here because it was cloudy.
Next port was Corinto, Nicaragua.
We were very lucky as my friend had already traveled the same route. She recommended that we take the ship's tour in Corinto, because they do not offer anything ashore, there's no taxi - only pedicabs, and it takes at least an hour by car to get anywhere.
The bright greeting on the pier turned out to foreshadow our trip! There were no tour offers, but the passengers were greeted with gifts - bags with colored, wooden birds:
We booked the tour onboard and didn't regret it. The tour, called "Colonial Leon" (for $59.95), was great. We had such an educated and intelligent young man with a great sense of humor in our comfortable bus, that now I think that all the Nicaraguans are the same - smart, funny, artistic, amazing!
The road to Leon, the charming town with narrow streets in the colonial style, takes 75 minutes. The road is in excellent condition, you can admire the scenery that includes sugar cane and volcanoes through the window.
The bus dropped us at the main square of Leon, we were immediately surrounded by merchants; cheerful and unobtrusive.
Apparently, there's a matriarchy in Nicaragua. Our guide told us that the chief of the country's police was a woman. Since she has taken this position, the crime rate in the country has decreased dramatically. Today, Nicaragua is absolutely safe for tourists. However you shouldn't let your guard down.
It's clear whose name the town has borrowed.
The tour offered a visit to La Asuncion Cathedral.
We quickly explored the inside:
And went on the Cathedral's roof. There was a very narrow (with a width of less than 23 inches/ 60 cm, not everyone can get through it) stone staircase, you need a medium level of training to overcome it. Do not forget to take socks: you need to take your shoes off before entering the roof:
The roof was amazing, we didn't want to leave!
Then we had two hours of free time. We wandered around to get acquainted with the country:
I wonder whether the fruits are imported?
You can see this church in all the pictures of Leon:
Very interesting country, excellent local beer, funny songs, high volcanoes - that's what I know now about Nicaragua :)