After our brief stay in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I was put in mind of a couple of three things: 1) I had never been in Florida before; 2) Florida was hot and sticky, very flat, but pretty in itself and 3) Fort Lauderdale was where the aged film Where the Boys Are was set. You might remember it. It featured Dolores Hart (who became a nun), Connie Francis (a much finer singer than she was ever given credit for) and the one and only Yvette Mimieux (later of the Time Machine and then mainly obscurity).
We left Fort Lauderdale and, despite our lack of enthusiasm about the concept, flew to Toronto The Dull via argh Air Canada for both legs and thence to change planes for Vancouver, and ultimately to Comox whence it was not at all hot and sweaty despite the fact all this stuff took place on the same day. This only left us with firm resolve that the next time we’ll leave from Forth Lauderdale and arrive back in Vancouver on the ship.
So, to fill in some gaps, dear friends:
We were on an 18-day Panama Canal cruise on Holland America. We left Vancouver under an overcast sky with our first stop being – for whatever damn reason – Astoria, Oregon. Not such a huge thrill. Next one was San Diego, which we both love. Then Cabo San Lucas Mexico. I used to really like Cabo, but not so much this time. Too many persistent hawkers on the esplanade and a constant drone of Sea-Dos and loud music. Cabo, at ‘Lands End’ is a brilliantly beautiful setting, however and that makes up for the other irritants.
We then went south – waaaaaaaaaaaay south to Huatulco, Mexico, which we both fell in love with quite readily. Lovely setting and warm, friendly people. A few hawkers but not so persistent as in Cabo.
Next was Puerto Chiapas in a jungly region that has been somewhat strife-fraught in recent years. We liked it very much and it felt more Central American than Mexican, as Guatemala is just a few miles south. And no hawkers whatsoever. Cruise ships have just started calling there so the concept of rich gringos is still a bit alien, it seems.
In Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica I finally set my feet on the shore in Central America for the first time. There we took our crocodile river cruise, which I mentioned earlier. Worth the price of admission to see these huge creatures that predate the dinosaurs. I would easily go back to Costa Rica and can understand why it’s such a popular destination.
Next came the Panama Canal and that was worth the price of all admissions. The journey through – which takes about 8 hours – was intriguing at every level one can imagine, and also some unexpected enchantments like the coatimundis playing in a park along the way, and the fact that there are crocodiles in the canal; there was the Manhattanesque skyline of Panama City in the distance, and then the Bridge of the Americas, just completed, which connects North and South America in a single span. Gatun Lake at the end of it is huge and dotted with inviting looking islets, which are actually hilltops in an area that is actually a flooded valley. At the same time we tried, in our leisurely trip to not dwell on the fact that the completion of the canal in 1914 led to the deaths of some 5,000 workers via yellow fever, malaria and a ghastly number of premature explosions as they cut through the gaps.
From there it was into the Caribbean, which was actually a less enchanting watercourse than I’d anticipated. We saw much more wildlife in the forms of dolphins, flying fish and birds on the Pacific side.
Cartagena, Colombia – yay, I finally made it to South America – was a place that put the lie to images of Colombia as a strife-torn enclave ruled by drug gangs and other evildoers. It was an enchanting colonial city dating back to the 1500s (the photo is of us standing before the massive fortress built centuries ago to guard the place, which is also the birthplace of Simon Bolivar. We loved it there and I’d go back in a heartbeat despite my disappointment of not having caught even a glimpse of Juan Valdez and his donkey. We did, however, see Macaws, monkeys and my li’l toucan friend.
And then it was nearly over and we took a couple of day to cross the Caribbean to reach Fort Lauderdale.
And I’d do it all again tomorrow.