Notes from Puzzle Palace

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Panama City and Panama Canal crossing (again!)

We had yet another sea day after we left Puntarenas.  These are days I truly enjoy.  From this point forward, there will be fewer and fewer.  

We spent the morning lazing about (do you see a pattern here?)  This was followed by a ladies lunch in the grand dining room.  The intention was to get the ladies together to meet new people and to enjoy some chatting time.  While it was a wonderful event, the mingling didn’t really happen because of COVID.  There were a few tables of 6 or 8, but most were tables of 4 which meant that most people were seated with those they already know.  I did meet one "new" lady who was lovely.  My other 2 companions were already known to me and there were pairs that were known to each other.  At the end, we had each met one new person.  Sorry-I have this logic puzzle in my head now.  

Lunch was Mexican themed and was very tasty.  I finally got to try a cactus dish which I really liked.  There was a good amount of heat to the dish, but most of it was from the dressing on the top. I also had a very nice rice pudding.  A bit on the milky side, but nice all the same. The hostess gift was a cute little stone turtle and a wristlet corsage. 

I managed to get back to the room at around 2:30 and found George waiting for me.  The silly man decided to forgo lunch in favor of watching the news.  

This is a worrying situation.  I’m old enough to remember the cold war period and other Russian invasions.  My hope is that common sense prevails and that Putin backs down but I’m not holding my breath.

We spent the afternoon watching the news and redesigning a puzzle to be handed out as a hostess gift at the next ladies luncheon.  I somehow managed to get in on this next one.  

Around 3 we went upstairs and played a game of Rumiku with Rod and Merry.  I’ve never played it before and quite enjoyed it.  I hope they will invite us for another game somewhere along the cruise. 

Dinner was in Toscana tonight with another couple from the Miami area.  They crack me up.  Both were in the music industry.  She was an event planner, he was a musician and teacher.  The thing that gets me most about them is the laughter and his voice.  He is a Rodney Dangerfield doppelgänger. I’m serious!

We finally slept around midnight.  Not because of staying out watching the show, or listening to music, but because George found an excellent movie for us to watch. It was about King Arthur and his rise to power. King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword. Not the fable that I’m used to, but rather a modern twist on it.  If you get a chance, watch it-it’s not half bad. 

We moved our clocks ahead an hour and slept. 

Wednesday saw us in Panama City.  Here we had booked an excursion to go see the new locks over in Colon.  We haven’t been through the Panamax so we thought it would be fun. This excursion also included a dome train ride!  I love trains so there we went.  

We have not been to Panama City before other than via transit of the canal.  George and I decided that we would go into the city after we returned from our excursion.  The port is being newly built, so the ship put on busses to transfer people from the dock to the town center. We could bring our scooters with us and venture out upon our return.

Our guide was very good.  He chattered along for the entire 52 mile ride to Colon.  He told us that the Panamanian military was abolished after Noriega fell in 1999, that the Pacific side gets 60" of annual rainfall while the Atlantic gets 120".  The rainy season is from April-December and on 9-10 December 2010 the canal had closed for the only time since it had opened.  Apparently, on that day they got the annual rainfall and the entire city of Colon was flooded. Sadly we had to stop for an accident and the guide told us to watch for the dead body because of a vehicle that was at the scene. Sure enough, the body bag was on the roadside.

When we got to the other side, we watched the ships go in and out of the canal for a while before having to board the bus again to get to the train station. 

Some interesting trivia about the Ports:  The canal itself has been fully owned by Panama since Jimmy Carter handed it over in 1999.  The Port is run by Hutchinson Port Holdings. They have a renewable 25 year lease on the ports. This is a Hong Kong company formerly known as Hutchinson Whampoa.  They own ports throughout the world and are a private holding company that was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.  While it is now mostly owned by Cheung Kong Holdings (the majority holder  of which is LI Ka-Shing), it was originally started by a British gentleman, John Hutchinson in 1863.  It was later controlled by Sir Douglas Clague and Hutchinson Whampoa group was formed in the 1970’s.  In 1979 It was sold to Cheung Kong holdings and the rest is really history.  I used to live near the old Whampoa Dock in Hong Kong so I’ve read quite a few of the plaques that have been erected. I also taught Mr. Li’s grand children and had numerous opportunities to meet him in my prior life.  And the mall there is truly a sight to see. Yes, your eyes are seeing correctly, that is a ship!  It has 2 upper levels of restaurants, the main floor has a massive department store, and the lower level has a grocery store, food court, and a number of smaller boutique shops. 
The shipping and logistics field is fascinating as my students have told me throughout the years.  

Back to the train. Initially, built by the US government during the gold rush between 1860 and 1865, to transport goods.  The original train was built at 18’ above sea level, but once the lake was completed, the train was raised to 26’ above sea level.  Each train would hold around 100 containers.  To put that in perspective, the Panama Canal can hold ships that will take 5000 containers while the Panamax Canal will hold ships with up to 13000 containers.  There is talk to build a "Post-Panamax canal" for the newer mega ships like the CMA CGM Thomas Jefferson that we took our Container Cruise on in 2018. That ship will hold over 14000 containers.  Later the train was used to transport people back and forth across the isthmus.  Today the train is used twice daily predominantly for business men as the cost of a one way ticket is US$25 which is prohibitive for most of the local workers.  The other use of course is for tourism.  

Along the way we passed an old fort like structure that had been turned into a COVID hospital last year.  An odd looking museum 

and an Ice-cream factory turned prison.It's been slated for destruction, but ground hasn't been broken on the new one yet. 
The old barracks along the canal path had been turned into either a university or housing for people.
There is a vast difference between that housing and that of the modern day laborers. We were on just such a tour.  We opted for the dome roofed cabin as the views would be much better.  When we arrived, George got us a seat on the side of the canal so we could really see the views.  Upon being seated we were given a box of chips and cookies and ordered two beers. There is just something about being on a train and drinking beer….

We were initially told that there would be a short delay at some point while we waited for a cargo train to pass us.  This should have been a warning.  

Our ride started out just fine, but then it went south fast.  (West really, and slow at that.)  They were having a problem with the electrical power supply and we began to feel it rather quickly.  At first the lights flickered a bit, but then the AC went out.  With the sun beating down on us, George got up and shifted to a seat in a shaded part of the compartment.  I stayed where I was and took photos. 

It began to get much hotter and the guide came up and told us there was an outside area that we could go stand on. We did.  There was a lovely breeze out there and we began to enjoy the ride a bit more.  I got curious and wandered into an unopened car.  It was musty to say the least.  I don’t believe it has been used in years.  It did have a lovely old decor though. 

While standing outside on that deck, a gentleman came up and asked me if I was the blogging lady.  He was quite kind and told me to forget about the naysayers on some of the boards who think they are better than everyone else. He said he enjoyed reading the blog and can’t wait for each update.  He also told me he enjoys Rod and Merry’s blog as well.  It’s nice to hear such kind worlds after so many negative comments by a few bad eggs.  

Back inside, the tour guide told us that the car in front of ours had AC and he called his boss and we had been given permission to move there if we wanted to. Permission?  Our tickets were 1/3 again the cost.  I should think it would have been a given that we could move if we chose to.  

We all had a good laugh about getting the "authentic old Panamanian" train experience.  There were no complaints to my knowledge.  This was not the fault of the tour operator, or the cruise line.  It was a mechanical failure that added to the adventure.  Overall, it was a good trip.  But this is one for the "been there, done that" list.  It will not be repeated by us. 

What was to be a 5 hour tour turned into 7 and change.  When we returned to the ship we both took a cold shower and had a bit of a nap.  We were exhausted!  While we were to stay in port until 4 am, the all aboard was for 11:30 pm. We decided to forgo the visit to the city.  

We ate dinner in the grand dining room again with previous dinner companions.  George and the gentleman with us talked Tesla and Space X while the ladies talked about lost credit cards.  George had his used while we were mid-ocean and one of the gals had the same problem.  As a last resort, she will have a new card sent to our house to be picked up when we go home for the day.  I’m glad we can provide this small service for her.  

We also had a discussion about the century club.  This is a club for people who have visited over 100 countries.  I am currently on 85 and will have completed the 100 by the time the cruise is finished.  Out of curiosity, I looked it up on the internet.  It turns out that they also include a number of islands and cities of interest to their list.  So instead of the 195 actual countries and 39 dependencies or other territories in the world, this organization has 330 countries and territories.   According to their list, I’ve made the cut with 103.  I’m not so sure.  You see, they include airport layovers as long as you leave the plane.  That’s just a cop-out. The first benefit is "Worldwide recognition, or “bragging rights,” since so few people in the world have visited 100 countries, the basic requirement for membership".  Why join a club?  Why not just brag?  

We returned to our room to watch a movie, but got caught up on the crisis in Ukraine.  The world has gone mad.  I was shocked to hear that the former president was praising Putin for his actions against Ukraine.  At dinner I had asked one of our companions her thoughts on the events and she felt that Putin should have taken over the separatist strong holds in 2014 when the Ukraine first broke off from Russia.  Reading back on the news of what was happening in the area, it is a wonder this hasn’t happened earlier.  Ah well, no politics.

We went to bed around 10 because I just couldn’t watch any more.  

We awoke the next morning around 7.  We were about to enter the Panama Canal for the second time this trip.  This is the first time we have come through it from Pacific to Atlantic.  Same same but different.  But first, the news.

UGH!  War has begun.  This is a horrible time now isn’t it.  It makes me wonder what will happen to the Baltic section of the ATW.  I also wonder if our September-October Holland America cruise will be cancelled or diverted.  I listened to MSNBC for a while and was shocked by the reports coming out.  Not for the atrocities, but for the lack of knowledge on the part of one very good reporter. She just kept asking why Yalta gave Stalin the former Eastern Bloc.  Again, no politics.  

The blip from Currents said we would enter the canal at around 8:30 am and be out the other side by 3:55 pm.

By my reckoning, we were entering the locks around 8:45.  Not too bad on the timing.  I’ve been through the locks now 3 times and I’m not jaded yet. I am fascinated by the way these things work.  I took a few videos to post on my YouTube channel but I’m afraid they won’t be loaded until much later.  The signal in the Canal keeps going in and out, and it’s just not worth the used up bandwidth.  I’ll post later when I have them loaded if anyone is interested in the view from our veranda.

We stayed in the room all day.  No, I should rephrase that, we stayed on the Veranda all day.  George and I put on robes and sat outside to watch the world go by.  The breeze here is wonderful, the lake is calm, and the scenery is stunning.  It is an idilic place to be.  To make it even better, I can’t imagine sharing this day with anyone but my beautiful lover.  

As we cruised through, I sit back and marvel at the brilliance of the men who built the canal system and the lake that feeds it.  It is truly a modern wonder.   I shan’t bore you with details about the canal and it’s development, there is plenty online about it, and I believe my friend Rod has said he will go into quite a discussion about it in his posting of the crossing.  I look forward to reading it.  


We decided early in the day that we would just stay in robes and dress for an hour or so for dinner.  Room service it was.  Burgers and fries on the veranda with a nice beer and we were in heaven. 

Around 1:30 George went inside to 'read' (take a nap).  I stayed out and watched more of the world go by.  

Around 1:45 I saw us entering the last part of the canal.  We passed a few boats out in the water at anchor and took in the newly built bridge.  There is a ship ahead of us that is being moved by tug to go through the Panamax, we have had the pilot board again so I know we are getting close to our entry time.  

As I sit here idly passing the time, Chernobyl has been captured by the Russians and troops are heading to Kyiv.  I feel for the Ukrainians.  Over the past few days we have realized that this would not stop at just those separatist areas but rather that it will carry on into the East.  The dow is down 530 points. People are dying and I sit back and enjoy this trip.  Feelings of guilt are stirring.  

I fear now that our cruise is in jeopardy.  I just read a report stating that Oceania is looking for alternatives to St. Petersburg and other Baltic stops.  I wonder if they will even get that far.  Perhaps we will turn around after the Caribbean and head back to Australia now that they are opening up again…If the Russians have captured Chernobyl, what assurance do we have that they have not opened the sarcophagus and let that radiation escape?  I sound doomsdayish, but this is a real fear. Although, I suppose it is more worrisome that Putin’s troops will be able to get any unspent nuclear materials.  

All afternoon I had Sting’s 1985 song Russians from the Dream of the Blue Turtles album going through my head. Times have not changed much have they? 

And that brings me to today’s rant.  Why did I pay for all of my CDs, put them on my phone, only to have Apple decide they need to live in the cloud which I can’t access on this ship!  Modern technology is wonderful until it isn’t.  I’m amazed that we have been able to have zoom calls with our friends in the States while out in the Pacific, but I can’t listen to a bloody song when I want to.  Frustration.  

The destinations desk called to tell me an excursion we had booked-a 60’ rope bridge crossing in Ireland-has been cancelled. I laughed and said I expected quite a few more cancellations before the cruise was done. She agreed but told me it is still a long cruise.

There is one container ship in the lock in front of us.  I believe it will take another 1/2 hour to get it through the locks before it is our turn and we end up in the Caribbean.  It has been a wonderful crossing. Again, I can’t think of a better way to spend the day.  2:45 and we are now hooked up to the mules waiting.  At 3:15 we began our move into the first lock.  To our starboard side, a Korean owned grain ship passed through the canal.  (warning: multiple photos)

3:35 and we are in the lock on our way out.  There is a ship that is opposite us on it’s way in.  What a treat. I thought they said that the canal only went one way at a time.  No two way traffic.  Perhaps I was wrong.  Well, of course I am. It’s happening here and now.  We are going down while that ship is going up.  How fun. It’s working!  I can see the movement of both ships.  We are off in our journey time by a short while, but we’ve made it through yet again.  And at 3:50 pm all was done.  We passed the final lock on our way to the next part of our journey. By 5:15 the pilot left the ship.  Aruba here we come!

Sorry about the lack of puzzling all, we simply haven’t found any.  Perhaps on this next leg of our journey we will.  If nothing else, we’ll get more liqueur. 

Tomorrow is a sea day again and then we go into a month of Island hopping.  It will be yet another adventure.  Until next time, Happy Puzzling and Smooth Seas.

Edit: Via Facebook and some travel agents it has just been announced that Oceania will cancel all stops in Russia for the rest of the year.  There goes a city I wanted to see. But better safe than sorry.  I'm sure the ship will notify us in good time where we will go in liu of St. Petersburg.