Well Rested,Well Fed, and Happy to be Home

It was early evening on April 10 when Holland-America’s Nieuw Amsterdam slipped her lines in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and at leisurely pace set course across the Caribbean for Cartagena, Colombia. A few years ago I would have dined well and in comfort, then attached myself to the Internet via on board WiFi and reported to daily newspaper readers on a voyage in progress.
This time I just dined well and in comfort then watched the moon light its path on the ocean and the stars move with their eternal precision across a cloud free sky – and went to bed. The 25 cents a minute for the use of an extremely slow on-board cyber connection, plus the plodding of far from dexterous two finger typing, have placed the pleasures of instant communication beyond my willingness to pay.
After three nights and two days sailing we gently ease into a berth at Cartagena, a city once plagued by terrorists as brutal as ISIS and put to the torch in 1586 by Francis Drake, one of England’s greatest naval heroes. Drake savaged Spanish ships and settlements in the Caribbean and South America thus making his Queen Elizabeth 1 a very rich ruler and Drake a very rich gentleman. The Queen said “thank you” and Francis became “Sir Francis”.
The Spanish called him – and still do – “the pirate Drake” which he was at both ends of what is now the Panama Canal and where we are heading as we leave the old city to get in line to transit one of the great wonders of the world. Drake got to the Pacific side of the Panama Isthmus by weeks of sailing around South America. I made the trip on a luxury liner in a day. It’s my second trip, the first a few years ago from west to east, but the wonder remains that mankind could carve its way through jungles and mountains and create a seaway which lifts and lowers seagoing leviathans to varying ocean levels.
But even as I marvel at the miracle of engineering and ease of travel it now brings me, I remember that in the 34-years it took to build the Canal claimed the lives of 30,609 workers — mostly from malaria, yellow fever and dysentery. By coincidence it was the latter of the deadly trio that took Drake’s life in 1596. He was 56 when they buried him at sea “in a sealed lead coffin” off Portobelo, a small town of 5,000 not far from the Panama Isthmus. His coffin, though sought for many years, has never been found.
With the canal behind us we “hang a right” and begin the long, restful, no wrestling with WiFi, run for home. To be honest, and because old habits die hard, I did make one serious attempt to communicate at Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica where WiFi is offered free. I attempted to avail myself of Costa Rica hospitality. So did several hundred other passengers armed with everything from ancient laptops (me) to the latest smart phones which remain beyond my understanding. I took one look around a barn-like room jammed with people – many frustrated as they can’t get on line with a single button click – and give up. It’s quieter back on the ship with my laptop zipped up for the duration.
Silent it remains through Corinto,Nicaragua; Puerto Quetzal,Guatemala; Puerto Chiapas, Huatulco,Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; San Diego, California and then the close to three days sea-run home to Victoria’s Ogden Pont.
If you’re planning a cruise it’s one of the best if you consider flying to Fort Lauderdale and sailing home. Not all ships call at Victoria – but Seattle and Vancouver are and not too far from Victoria if it is your home base – and they are certainly easier to handle than a long tedious cross- country flight which can quickly take the edge off calm cruising benefits if you sail from west to east then fly home. If you shop around you’ll find a cruise that gently brings you all the way home.
One word of advice if you opt for the “fly east, sail home” option: Avoid any attempt by your travel agent to book you Air Canada via Toronto-to Fort Lauderdale (or other Miami starting points). USA Customs and Immigration – which you must clear with your luggage in Toronto – is a nightmare of epic proportions even if you have asked for gate to gate assistance as I’ve been doing since wobbling past 90 two years ago. Route yourself east with Alaska Air through Seattle. It’s far more efficient and easier. Believe me.
And it’s a great ride home.

6 comments

  1. Enticing, to be sure. The icing on the cake would be a 15 day European River Cruise. Fly BA Vancouver/London (Premium Economy) then to Amsterdam for the 15 days to Budapest probably on a Viking Longship. Virtually everything (ex gratuities) is included.
    Thanks for the travelogue!
    Tony S.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Happy you are home safe and sound Jim. I am flying to visit in Edmonton for 10 days in May.
    Sure will miss my big fella for company. Always nice to be home again.Sounds like quite a trip.
    Cheers Joan Martins

  3. An interesting comment about Air Alaska via Seattle. We vowed never to do that again on a short hop to Palm Springs this winter because we had to go through security to get into Seatac having done such 30 minutes previously in Victoria. There was one line, no sorting for people with proximate connections and of course we missed our flight to CA.

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