Category Archives: Oceania world cruise

Two Days in Guayaquil

Due to the unrest in Peru, all of our excursions there were cancelled and replaced with two days in Guayaquil, Ecuador. We will still make a “technical stop” in Peru to resupply, but we will not be allowed to leave the ship. Guayaquil is the second largest city in Ecuador with a population of about 3 million people. It is the starting point for trips to the Galápagos Islands some 500 miles away.

On the first day we took a tour to the Las Peñas area. This is an older and colorful section of town where the buildings are built of wood and bamboo. Note the lighthouse at the top of the hill.
This is the first hundred of over four hundred steps leading up the hill to the lighthouse. Our tour did not include climbing these steps (thank goodness), but some did.
Our tour was a walk along a street at the bottom of the hill with stops at several artist studios.
Many of the windows were open with only metal bars covering them, so you could look right into the home.
Our guide said about half the buildings in the neighborhood were unoccupied. This one was in a serious state of disrepair.
The streets were very scenic, but the cobblestones were not a lot of fun to walk on.
The walk ended in a more modern section of town with hotels lining the Guayas River.
The cathedral was opposite the park.
There were statues scattered around town such as here by city hall.
Our main destination was the Malecón, or river walk, which was a beautiful blend of gardens, monuments, fountains, restaurants, playgrounds, and sites. It is the best river walk I have seen. For some reason, it is fenced off from the street and can only be entered at about five gates.
This three masted sailing ship was docked along the Malecón and was open for tours.
There was an occasional sprinkle, but the heavy clouds were a relief as it was very hot and humid.
This clock tower was within the Malecón. You can see the fence separating it from the street on the left.
The city has installed a gondola transportation system in town and across the river. It is a way to get around the downtown area and across the river and costs only $1.40(US) for a one way trip. It is not very popular with locals and is used mostly by tourists. We took it across the river and back.
Mary and Susan on the gondola.

How to Make a Panama Hat

On Sunday we docked in Manta, Ecuador and took a chivas bus to the town of Montechristi where Panama hats are made. The first question you might ask is “Why are Panama hats made in Ecuador?”. That style of hat has always been made here. During construction of the Panama Canal, these hats were very popular with the workers to protect them from the sun. When Teddy Roosevelt was visiting to check on the construction of the canal, his picture appeared in the New York Times with one of these hats which he mistakenly called a Panama hat. The name has been used ever since.

The hats are made from this plant which is only found in the hills above Montecristi. The shoots such as the small one in the center of the plant are used.
The shoots are flailed once on the ground which causes them to splinter. Workers with long thumbnails then divide the splinters into thinner strips.
The finely divided shoot is then put in boiling water to soften it. It is then dried in an oven using a sulfur bearing coal to give it the typical tan color.
The hats are woven around a balsam wood block. The size of the block determines the size of the hat.
Workers weave the brim of the hat in this position. They might be in this position for hours.
There is a large statue memorializing these workers in a traffic circle at the entrance to the city.
Once the weaving is complete, the hat is ponded with a wood mallet to soften it.
Finally, the hat is pressed into its final shape using a hydraulic press.
It takes months to make a hat. The quality of the hat depends on how fine the shoot used to make the hat is divided. The best hats look like they are made from felt cloth. The least expensive hats look like they are made from straw. The price of the hats range from about $100 to the mid thousands with the finest hats selling for up to $20,000. But not to worry, the hats are expected to last a lifetime.
We rode to the town in a chivas bus. These were originally the common public transportation in Ecuador. They are somewhat reminiscent of the chicken buses in Guatemala.
They originally had wooden seats. You notice the openings on the side were rather high for Susan to see out of.
Our tour description said we would have a band playing on top of one of the buses. The bus had a flat area on top for that purpose; but someone must have decided that wasn’t safe, so the band was in the back of our bus.
The town had a lot of hat shops, but there was also a church.
It was Sunday morning, and the church was fuller than any I have seen in a long time.
We climbed up a long flight of stairs to a hill with a view of the city.
Companies such as Starkist and Bumblebee get a lot of tuna from Ecuador. A fishing boat docked next to ours spent the entire day unloading tuna from the ship hold into trucks. You can see a pile of tuna in the left side of the hold. The tuna never stopped coming from this hold, so it is either a deep hold or they have some way to move fish into it from the sides or below. In any case, I was disturbed to learn that people had been walking on the tuna I eat.

Two Villages in El Salvador

On Thursday we visited two villages in El Salvador. Our guide said it was the second safest country in Central America, which probably isn’t saying a whole lot. Oceania has made some schedule changes which they say are motivated by improving their energy efficiency. The downside is that in all cases we will have less time in ports. In El Salvador, the result was most tours left at 6:45 in the morning. We switched our tour to the one that left the latest: 8:45AM

El Salvador has nearly 200 active or potentially active volcanoes. We saw a few of them on our tour today.
The first village had a nice church off the main square.
The streets around the central square had a lively market.

The Mayan City of Comalapa

On Wednesday we went on what was billed as an art history tour of Comalapa, Guatemala. The population of Guatemala is about 50% Mayan with most of the rest being Spanish or mixed. Comalapa is 97% Mayan and 3% mixed. It seemed like a very authentic town with no obvious tourists other than our group of ten. Since we like cultural experiences, this was our kind of tour.

The city had two large Catholic Churches side by side. The white church is the older one that was damaged in a major earthquake. It was partially rebuilt and is functioning today, but was not open when we were there. The closer church was built as the replacement.
The new church had a beautiful carved wooden door.
The interior was unique with an abundance of green drapes hanging from the ceiling.
The Market
The motorcycle carried an family of mother and father, the son in front, and the daughter squeezed between the parents.
Tortillas are a staple of every meal. Our guide said she eats five to ten corn tortillas at every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). She learned to make them as a young child.
We had time to duck into this cemetery and grab a couple pictures. I would like to have walked through it as it was very colorful. Our guide said on All Saints Day, Nov/01, families go to the cemetery and paint the graves, picnic, and leave a plate of food on the grave for the soul of the deceased. It is known as Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Chocolate and the Ball Game

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Out port today was Puerto Chiapas. The ship was docked opposite a park and that pyramid is the terminal.
Our first stop was the “Chocolate City” of Tapachula. We had a demonstration of how chocolate is made. The first step is to break the cacao pod in half by knocking two of them together. This exposes the bean which’s surrounded by an edible white pulp.
The beans are dried and ground using a mano and metate. We tasted a dried bean, and it is very bitter.
The ground bean is mixed with sugar and cinnamon and rolled into a big cylinder which is then cut into disks. No oil is added. The oil comes naturally with the bean. A piece of the disk tasted like the chocolate we all love. They also mixed three of the disks with a liter of milk to make hot chocolate. While it wasn’t as good as we remember the hot chocolate in Brugge, Belgium, it was very good! After the chocolate demonstration, we were treated to some mariachi music and dancing.
Of course the church is part of every town tour.
The flower of the ginger plant is very similar to a bird of paradise plant.
Our final stop was the Mayan ruin of Izapa. This site is a thousand years older than the bigger and better known site of Chichen Itza. This is the ball court. I don’t really know the rules of the ball game, but there is general agreement that you can only hit the ball (a rubber ball about the size of a bowling ball) with your shoulders or hips. Our guide stated that the loser of the ball game was sacrificed. This is controversial, and I have heard guides emphatically agree and disagree with this. I volunteered at the Mint Museum in Charlotte which had a large Mayan collection. The curator of that collection always said no one was sacrificed after the ball game.
The self portrait with the large bowl shows the first telescope. The Mayans filled the bowl with water and studied the stars that were reflected in the water. I’m not clear why they didn’t just look at the sky to study them, but that is what the guide said.
One of several partial pyramids at the site.

A Tale of Two Beaches

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On Saturday and Sunday we visited two different beaches from two different ports

On Saturday, we went to Isla Ixtapa, an island off the coast from the resort city of Ixtapa. To get there, we took a tender from the ship to the port of Zihuatanejo, a bus to Ixtapa, and a small ferry to the island. It was a lot of travel for a beach crowded with families on a weekend. On the tender, we passed this boat that had been taken over by pelicans.
Our destination was the two story restaurant on the center left of the picture. Unfortunately, they had no usable beach chairs and we had to sit at the table we would use for lunch. The water was comfortable, and in the afternoon we discovered the upstairs balcony which had ample seating and a nice view of the ocean.
Sunday we were in the port of Acapulco, where we spent the day at Pierre by Munda Imperial, a hotel built by J. Paul Getty. This was an entirely different experience with two beautiful pools, a wide empty beach, and a delicious buffet lunch.
We spent most of our day at this pool which had many lounge chairs and umbrellas.
The weather was as nice as it looks for a beach day – blue sky and mid 80’s.
The beach was very wide and had a lot of shelters. The water was pleasant and uncrowded, but the waves were strong.
One of the pretty pools in the resort.
We had lunch with our friends from the Viking world cruise and neighbors from Wrightsville Beach, Mary and Don.
There was a visiting mariachi band and dancers to entertain us when we returned to the ship.

We just learned that all our ports in Peru have been canceled due to the problems there. We are going to make another stop in Ecuador instead.

Colima and Comala

This is the second post I have made for this trip. It appears that no email was sent out for the first post. I have made some changes, and hopefully subscribers will receive an email for this post. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to review the previous post for general information about this trip.

On Friday, we took a tour from Manzanillo, the largest port in Mexico and much larger than our port in Wilmington, to the interior towns of Colima and Comala.

Our first stop was the zocalo, or town square, in Colima. The zocalo is typically a garden with a gazebo in the center with ample benches. The garden is usually surrounded by the cathedral, government buildings, restaurants, and shopping. In San Miguel, the zocalo is called the Jardin, or garden in Spanish.
One side of the zocalo had this red city building with the cathedral in the background.
Families and children with balloons are common in the zocalo gardens.
Our first stop was the archeological museum with a wide variety of pots. The Capacha culture is predominant in this part of Mexico.
A shopping street off the zocalo.
Our second stop was the archaeological site of La Campana, the largest pre Hispanic population center in western Mexico. While this picture is a small part of the site, our guide said that only 2% of the overall site has been excavated
The pyramids were relatively small.
Our final stop was at the Comala zocalo.
Unlike the colorful houses in San Miguel and Colima, Colama is a town of white houses with red tile roofs. There is an active volcano visible next to the tree. We had a traditional Mexican lunch accompanied by a very loud non traditional Mexican band.

Our Half the World Tour

Several years ago when we thought COVID would be a distant memory in 2023, we booked a 180 day Around the World (ATW) cruise on Oceania. The tour started in San Francisco, went around South America including a visit to Antarctica, crossed the Atlantic to Africa, went around Africa to Dubai, went along South Asia and east Asia, made many stops in Japan, went up to Alaska, and finally back down to San Francisco. Apparently, everyone else was also optimistic as the cruise sold out on the first day it was offered. Our travel agent came into work early to insure we got a spot. Over time people dropped out and the long wait lists disappeared, so they started selling the cruise in segments. Ultimately, we switched from full ATW to just the first four segments of 100 days from San Francisco to Dubai.

Travel is a little easier this year than it was last year. The ship no longer requires proof of vaccination (I personally wish they did), but we will have it with us just in case. They also don’t require a negative test. I do like this as it was very stressful when your whole trip was dependent on this last minute test. There are also no health questionnaires to fill out. This also relieves the stress of trying to figure out all the proper forms.

Of course 100 days is still a lot to plan and pack for. We sent one suitcase to the ship via Luggage Forward on 31/Dec. I have been packing in the guest bedroom since New Years Day. Susan is more a last minute type and she started packing three days before we leave. We each had one checked bag, one carry on bag, and one personal item. There was of course some stress when the FAA grounded all flights a few days before we were going to fly, and the weather reports in California were consistently bad.

Fortunately, our flight to San Francisco was uneventful and all of our luggage made it to the ship. The pilot prepared us several times for a rough landing in San Francisco, but the landing was very routine. The weather was cool with occasional rain. We walked to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. We were surprised at how deserted it was and how many restaurants were closing early on a Saturday night. We did find one open and enjoyed crab chowder in a sourdough bread bowl and Dungeness crab.

The Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline.
Our first port was Ensenada, Mexico which is most famous for La Bufadora, reputed to be the largest blowhole in the world. Unfortunately, the road there was under construction, so what was supposed to be a 40 minute drive each way became a 70 minute drive each way. We had a lot of time to chat with our Tours by Locals guide about life in Mexico.
The height of the spray from the blowhole is dependent on many factors such as tide and the roughness of the surf. Our guide said the spray was slightly above average when we were there. It was impressive and unpredictable as far as your vulnerability to getting sprayed.
There was usually a rainbow after each spray.
Susan has her hood up to keep her hair dry more than for the cold – but the jacket was needed for warmth.
The cactus were blooming on the ridge above La Bufadora
A small part of Ensenada with our ship, the Oceania Insignia in the port.

We have two sea days before our next port.