Monday, January 19, 2015

Life on The Coral Princess

We loved cruisin' with Charlie and Mary

We’ve talked before about the pleasures of being at sea, but this trip was special because it was the first time we cruised with another couple. We had a great time sharing the fun with Charlie and Mary!


This really was a bon voyage! Our pictures tell the story best:

Some stats about our ship The Coral Princess
Nautical miles between our ports of call

"Captain Frank" checking out the stern of our ship
Beautiful Christmas decorations in the lobby

Watching evening entertainment with Charlie and Mary
in the Princess Theater

"Alex the Great" does amazing
magic for the ship audience

Great instrumental sounds from cruise
ship entertainer Craig Richard
Playing Movie Trivia with new friends Cheryl and Ken

Anne, Frank & Charlie were "big winners" playing
Jeopardy Trivia

Relaxing with the Kindle

Working like a dog on the blog
With Mary and Charlie and
our wonderful dining stewards, Jefferson and Jeb

One of the Princess ships was the original
Love Boat and this scrumptious dessert, served
every night,  is fittingly called "The Love Boat!"

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Yeh mon, this is Jamaica mon!

Striking red hibiscus on flower-covered Jamaica 
Once again, we were fortunate to have booked an excellent private guide. Levy was polite and professional and gave us another excellent day of sightseeing. We decided to skip the famous Dunn’s River Falls to visit the lesser-known “Blue Hole” instead.  What an adventure the Blue Hole turned out to be!

On the way to the Blue Hole

The Blue Hole has only recently been open to the public, and the unpaved entrance road prevents the big tour buses from making the trip.  To be honest, we were a bit nervous as Levy drove us up a mountain and deep into the jungle, down roads full of major ruts that got worse at every turn. The roads were so bad, Levy had to just creep along at 5 mph (maybe). However, we soon pulled into a parking lot of sorts and met our Blue Hole guide Alex.

The Blue Hole -- a jungle paradise
The Blue Hole is a secluded woodland swimming hole with a series of pools fed by tributaries and waterfalls cascading down a mountain side.  With only about a dozen other tourists, it felt like a hidden paradise where the likes of Heddy Lamar’s character Tondelayo would swim scantily-clothed in the cool waters beneath the jungle canopy.  Alex was one of several young kids helping visitors to experience the falls, and he certainly took good care of us. Alex was also a born jumper/diver, and he loved making crazy leaps into the deep pools of the Blue Hole.

Alex makes a dramatic leap
into the Blue Hole
As we were admiring the lowest pool of water a good distance below us, Alex suddenly said, “I am going to jump.” He got a good running start and did a magnificent cannonball dive into the middle of the pool. Wow!  There was a time, maybe 50 years ago, when we could perform these same antics too!

Preparing to brave the Blue Hole

Now it was our turn for some fun as Alex led us old farts gingerly to an upper pool with a small (but powerful!) waterfall.  He positioned us so that we would get a “water massage” as the falls were pummeling our naked backs. What we got was a near drowning!  We couldn’t believe how that water poured over us.  Anne couldn’t stop screaming, but even she had to admit, it was exhilarating.

Getting a royal Blue Hole massage

And you thought water boarding was bad...

Frank swims the Blue Hole after his dive
Not to be outdone by these young energetic punks, Frank climbed to a diving ledge up above where we swam, and did a leap of his own into the upper pool.  Even Alex was impressed (or so Frank likes to think LOL).  As we were walking down from the upper falls, Alex and a buddy of his started DANCING up and down the slippery rocks which defined the powerful waterfall. These young guys are so limber and totally fearless.

Alex leaping off the waterfall

Alex did one more jump and then literally ran back UP the waterfall to rejoin us.  The time it took for Alex to get himself right back up the rocks that made up the falls was less than a minute; it would have taken us old farts an estimated ½-to-1 full day to make the same climb, assuming we had some serious climbing equipment (ropes, carabineers, grappling hooks, and lots of assistance).   It was worth the trip just to watch Alex and his youthful antics!

Alex, our amazing Blue Hole guide

The Blue Hole was one of the most thrilling adventures we’ve had in a while, and we were both glad we pushed the envelope a bit to fully enjoy it.

Typical colorful but dilapidated island building

Levy gave us a ride around the colorful island, pointing out fancy resorts, gorgeous beaches, and even Mick Jagger’s house (not a bad “little” place).

Chef Germaine prepares his famous jerk chicken

Eventually we ended up at the restaurant called “Scotchies” for some of their legendary jerk chicken.  Their spicy chicken was delicious (and the indigenous Red Stripe beer wasn’t bad either).  We chowed down in a gorgeous garden surrounded by tropical flowers. Hard to imagine living in a place where this floral display blooms all year round.

Frank tries the local Red Stripe beer

Levy also gave a crash course in talking like a Jamaican. English is the official language here since Jamaica used to be a British colony; however, the locals have developed their own “patois,” a creole-influenced English that sounded like slurred English or maybe “shorthand English” to us.  Levy got a big kick out of teaching Anne to say the Jamaican phrase “Wah gwan mon?” (what’s going on man).  Best if said with hands on hips and LOTS of attitude!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Adventures with Manuel in Limon, Costa Rica

Our guide Manuel
We love to book private tours and our day with a local named Manuel in Limon, Costa Rica is a good example of why.  Anne found this private tour online, and we really hit the jackpot with our gregarious and affable guide Manuel; he spoke English very well, and was extremely knowledgeable and accommodating, but best of all, he was so much fun. He made our day, and we laughed all day long!

Colorful local house
Manuel met us right outside the ship’s terminal area and led us to his comfortable taxi to begin our tour of the area.  As we drove out of the city of Limon, we passed lots of ramshackle homes and businesses, but also plenty of pretty homes painted in bright colors like purple and pink.  

Local grocery store outside Limon
Roads were good and Costa Rica looked more prosperous than we expected. The whole country is so friendly and laidback; everyone seems to know one another, so it feels like one big family. Manuel must be “Mr. Limon” the way he was constantly waving to people.

Paprika Fruit

Manuel introduced us to many of the unusual fruits grown on the island, and several times, he would abruptly pull over, leap out of the car, and pick us some fresh fruit right from a side-of-the-road tree.  Manuel showed us star fruit and one he called a paprika fruit, a quill-covered gum-tree relative filled with tiny red peppers that emitted a red dye that women once used as lipstick. 

Manuel collecting ackee fruit right off the trees for us
But the strangest fruit of all was the ackee fruit.  Manuel walked right into somebody’s yard and paid a young boy a coin to climb up into a tree to get us two ackee fruits: one ripened and one not.  

Manuel showed us the two fruits as he explained that if you open an unripe ackee fruit, the gas from inside is so poisonous it can kill you! (Once the point was made, he immediately threw the unripe ackee out the car window.)  
Ripe ackee fruits; notice black
"olive-like" beans in each fruit

The ripe ackee is okay because it opens on its own, letting the gas escape gradually.  A ripe ackee has several large pulpy seeds that look like black olives and a starchy “meat” that is supposed to be delicious cooked with salt fish.  Frank ate some ackee seeds, and they were indeed delicious, even alone without the fish added.

Tasting fresh fruit with Manuel
We also stopped at a fruit stand, where once again, Manuel seemed to know everyone. We tasted pineapple, papaya, and a strange water apple that looked like a bright red pear.  Out back, Manuel showed us a coffee tree, a cacao tree, and an unusual (at least to us) cashew tree.

A real highlight of our day was a visit to the Del Monte Banana Plantation. Costa Rica is the second largest banana exporter in the world, shipping over a million boxes of bananas every year. At the plantation, we walked through a forest of banana trees marveling at the acres and acres of leafy green banana producing trees.

Anne points to a "banana runner", which is a shoot from
the mother tree that will be the next generation banana tree
Amazingly, each tree only produces one stem loaded with banana fruit and then it dies.  However before dying, the tree sends out several nearby runners that grow into more banana trees so they keep on propagating.

Frank in the banana forest

Each stem of fruit is covered with a strange porous blue plastic bag to protect the banana bunch from insects (we read later that the bags are lined with insecticide) and identified by a colored ribbon that indicates when the bananas will be ready for picking.  

The "banana zip line"
A cable for conveying banana bunches, called a “banana zip line”, runs throughout the forest of banana trees and right down into the banana processing area. Manuel told us that banana farming is hard, dangerous work and workers often die from being bitten by poisonous snakes.  After hearing that, we figured it was time to head for the factory!

Prepping bananas for packaging

The factory operation was fascinating but nothing like an American factory.  All the work was conducted in an open-sided barn isolated from the tourists, but certainly not a sterile environment. We watched as bananas hanging from the cable, zipped in from the forest as they were harvested by the workers. 

Manuel even hung on the zip line cable, and rode the cable along like a bunch of bananas, which totally cracked us up. As Manuel old us, “You won’t see a ship excursion guide do this!” (Hopefully, you can access our video of Manuel on the “banana zip line!” See below.)
                                               Video of Manuel riding the banana zip line 

Boat ride on the Tortuguero Canal
Another highlight was a boat ride on the Tortuguero Canal, altho we never seem to have good luck with animal sightings. We got a look at some of Costa Rica’s famous rain forest, and we did see lots of birds (mostly cranes and egrets), a family of howler monkeys swinging in a tree, and a 3-toed sloth sleeping (of course). Unfortunately, the sloth just looked like a big, grey fur ball burrowed in the crotch of a tree overhanging the River Moin. 

3-toed sloth looking like a fur ball in a tree

View over the rooftops of Limon with Coral Princess
docked in the background
Our last stop was a restaurant with a pleasant view over the city of Limon, which consisted mostly of single-story buildings with corrugated roofs.  We could see our ship down there in the harbor, waiting for us to return.  

Frank downs an Imperial beer

Frank got to try a local Costa Rican beer while at a restaurant; it was called “Imperial” beer.

Anne holds a small bunch of sweet-smelling "elan-elan"
plants that Manuel pulled from the side of the road 
After the beer, Manuel headed back to the pier, but made one last leap from the taxi to retrieve us a few sprigs of “elan-elan” growing on the side of the road.  He told us to rub them in our fingers, and smell. Wow, a bouquet of perfume was all around us!  

Manuel showing us an unripe ackee fruit
(right before he threw it out the window)

Manuel was much more than a taxi driver; he was a great ambassador for his country and he was happy to share all the things that make Costa Rica special. 

We said goodbye to Manuel at the pier, gave him a generous tip, and boarded the ship brimming with warm feelings and lots of fun memories of this friendly island.

More pics of Limon:

"Lost" in the banana forest

Quality Assurance guy makes sure no
bananas are too ripe for shipping

Our tour boat on the Tortuguero Canal

On the Tortuguero Canal

Wildlife on the Tortuguero Canal

More birds on the Tortuguero Canal

Crabbing on the Tortuguero Canal

Glorious bananas!