Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico – November 25, 2018 ?


When you take your mother on a cruise, I’ll bet you can list, in order of horribleness, what you don’t want to have happen. Somewhere high on that list is a broken hip. Yes, that happened. Mom took a fall on November 25, while we were off-ship in a local store in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. PV is a resort town with a population of over 275,000 that grew up in the1960’s after gaining notoriety when the Burton-Taylor movie, Night of the Iguanas, was made (and after the Mexican government untangled some property issues, invested in transportation infrastructure, and bumped the community up to City status.)

The Mexican Peso has been at a favorable rate to the American dollar for many years. There are many Canadian and American ex-pats who live here in PV, and many who visit for several weeks or months in the winter. As a result, there’s some pretty good medical care available here. After the fall, the cruise ship and the cruise port agent arranged for Mom to be transported to Vallarta Medical Center, a private hospital. She was diagnosed with two fractures of her left hip near the socket joint. Although the initial treatment plan was to put in a plate, the location of the breaks and her medical history suggested the better plan was hip replacement.

While the travel insurance company was willing (almost eager) to medically evacuate her to have the surgery done (somewhere unspecified) in the US, there were many factors that lead the family and Mom to decide the best course of action would be to have the surgery in Puerto Vallarta. And so it was done, on the evening of November 27th. Mom is now recuperating. I received what Iwas told was the final bill on November 29th. I was told by the administrative clerk that we were cleared to travel. That was, obviously, a little premature. Mom is a strong 94-year-old but was only 1 full day out of hip replacement surgery, with one physical therapy visit, and still hooked up to 4 types of tubes.

It also turned out not to be true, since the doctor assigned to the case still has not given her a medical release and it is Saturday, December 1. It is almost 100% not likely that the release paperwork will be completed on Sunday, either. It also probably was not the final bill. Who knows. (Yes, we have ravel insurance. Yes, it promises to cover these expenses. But you have to pay the bills and then submit a claim. I won’t get into a discussion of the comparative cost of medical care, but while it is a lot less expensive to have a hip replacement in Mexico in a private hospital, it is not peanuts, either.

The good news is that Mom is getting better every day.Sometime in the unknown future, we will get her home to Denver. Establishing when that will happen is like nailing down Jell-O.

So, here we are, after living in the lap of luxury on a cruise ship, camping out in a hospital room, eating interesting hospital food, with me sleeping on a vinyl-clad sofa and Mom enduring lumpy pillows and a painful injury. There are some lessons here. When you travel, you must always be ready to be surprised and to adapt. And when you travel, having travel insurance is a practical idea.

Our Room and Beds…

Cartagena, Columbia – The Aviary

I split post to two parts because I was having trouble publishing. There is a new WordPress editor that has some user interface problems.  This post contains the photos from the aviary in Cartagena.

I enjoyed the aviary, and especially the parrots. These are some of their pictures. I discovered that of the blue ones answers to “Hola” – it says “Hola”, but with another tone of voice – lower or higher, more musical ore more monotone. No matter what voice you use, the parrot chooses the opposite.

The peacocks appeared a bit bored and were stealing the parrots’ food and wandering the walking paths.

Inside the cage there was a very testy toucan who for a while was physically threatening anyone coming into or trying to leave the cage. It nipped my foot, so has the distinction of being the first toucan ever to bite me. 

On the other hand, these toucans, with beaks of green with a maroon tip and orange “lipstick” swoop plus a brilliant yellow bib were not at all testy. And don’t their blue boots set off their outfits?

Cartagena, Columbia – 2018

Mom and I visited Cartagena, Columbia, on November 16thon the Vision of the Seas. We are on the second deck of the ship in an ocean view cabin. There is a photo of the cabin below to show you how we have had the furniture arranged.

The thing to see in Cartagena is the walled city, which was built by the Spanish to protect the ships full of gold and other treasures they were sending from the New World back to Spain. The cruise port at Cartagena is about 3 miles from the old walled city, and the Ho-Ho bus, at $45 a person, is quite expensive plus it doesn’t go into Old Cartagena. (You would have to hop off for a walking tour, and Mom’s walker is not up to that.)

For our outing, we walked to the shops near the docks and the cruise terminal building and then visited the aviary and park near all the taxi drivers and their sales people. There are interesting, attractive, overpriced goods in the shop all of which are said to be made in Columbia. The shops are about 300 feet from the end of the dock and the walk is in full sun. It was 88F and very humid (rather like an August day in Maryland, and I will not assign adjectives to that – you can do that yourself.)

The aviary contains an open habitat for a large number of parrots, mostly blue with a few red and fewer still green ones. About 5 wandering peacocks were also in the open habitat. There was also a large walk-in caged area containing toucans, some kinds of ducks and other tropical, mainly ground-dwelling, birds. (The cage may be for their protection from varmints rather than to keep them from straying.)

Next to the aviary paths were concessioners selling rum punch and soft drinks. Mom and I got diet Cokes and sat at a table in the shade to drink them. I wandered the paths and walked through the cage taking bird photos, and Mom met Ronald and Solfred from Norway, and got to know them. Solfred declared that Cartagena is “too hot for Norwegians.” Ronald was a captain from the Norwegian merchant navy, so was not surprised by the weather – but not thrilled with it either.

Here is Mom with her hand on one of the ship’s cables.

And here is Mom with three big blue tugboats in the background. 

Snow, Leaves and Art before Panama

We’ve had a wet year in Maryland, and got more rain last week. In my 11 day turn-around between the Transatlantic and the up-coming Panama transit, I thought I might have enough time to get several chores done around the house, but hadn’t figured in the wet weather, a 2-day volunteer stint, the election, and a family visit. Packing for travel is becoming more of a habit, but it still needed to be done in a bit of a flurry this time.

Thursday was the first dry-enough day to take care of the first tranche of leaf-fall in my yard. At the end of Thursday, most of these leaves ended up in the compost bins in the back yard, but since they were damp, they were not particularly cooperative. Much as I like yardwork (and I do), this could have been more enjoyable.

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Friday, Gary and Cindy reunited with 3 couples in WDC, old friends from younger working days, and we and their friends took an excursion to the Smithsonian. We began our tour at the Air and Space Museum, which lots of visitors, including busloads of school kids, do. Then Cindy and Gary and I went to the art museums across the mall, starting with the beautiful old masters in the National Gallery of Art and moving on to the amazing modern art in the East Wing gallery. Below are Cindy and Gary in the Air and Space, standing in front of mannequins of well-dressed air travelers of earlier times.

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The interesting sculpture below looks like it might be made of paper. (It is resin.) From different angles you see different suggested images, of birds, horses, faces. And the structure has windows through it. From this photo, I see Stonehenge, a gaping-mouthed spook, a giraffe – and Gary, with one arm of the Calder mobile hanging above his head.

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The rooms of the East Wing are organized by date and origin. The works in the room representing European artists after WWII reflected on the destruction, confusion and disarray of their post-war world. Below, Cindy is standing by a sculpture resembling a signpost, but a signpost that is disorganized, incoherent, without direction. In this room it was easy for me to project on the art my present sense of cultural unease.

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Cindy and I both were taken by the painting below by Joaquin Torrez-Garcia, an Uruguayan artist, with its color, rhythm, and balance. It was painted in the late 1940’s. There is a tension in the “containers”, like cells, preventing freedom of thought and movement.

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Last night (Saturday) I took an uneventful flight to Denver. It was cold in WDC, in the 30’s, but mild in Denver, in the 50’s. However, early this morning, a large weather system started dropping a steady, moderate snow that stuck on the lawns and cars but mostly melted on the sidewalk and street. It has been snowing for hours, foggy, slushy, cold, wet, and by dark, freezing slickly. What a fitting prelude to a cruise through the Panama Canal.

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Tonight, in Colorado, we are having family dinner, brought to us by Yvonne and Mike, – ribs and sides. Among family and friends there is much joy and comfort to be taken. And you have to admit, Andi rocks those pink ruffled socks.

Mom and I will be leaving at 7AM for the airport to fly to Miami. We are excited and trying not to drive each other nuts with our pre-trip jitters.

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Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores

This is a statute of Goncalo Velho Cabral, who some say in 1427 discovered the Azores; he was a monk-navigator in the employ of Henry the Navigator. It’s a marvel that these islands in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic were discovered that early, but they were – that early, or earlier.

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The Azores consist of 9 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles west of Portugal and 1200 miles southeast of Newfoundland. The islands are located on an active triple junction of the Eurasian, African and North American tectonic plates. Earthquakes are common but usually small, and other continuing volcanic activity includes fumaroles, hot springs and boiling mud pots. Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the islands. Ponta Delgada, located on Sao Miguel, is the largest city on the islands. The Azores were first populated by Portuguese entrepreneurs in 1439 CE as a small fishing and agricultural village.

When I visited (for the third time this year), it was overcast and sometimes raining in Ponta Delgada. It was a good day for walking and a little shopping and the occasionally ducking into a coffee shop for a cappuccino. The rain made the Portuguese paving patterns in the sidewalks pop. Portuguese paving is made with dark and light (usually black and white) square stone pieces and is similar to mosaic work. The paving practice is said to have started in 1842 when a military commander, Eusebius Furtado, assigned a group of prisoners to lay a zigzag patterned courtyard as a make-work project. The patio made quite a stir and by the end of the 19th century, all new construction in Lisbon had to have Portuguese paving. It is now found throughout the world, wherever Portugal had colonies. Some of the larger pedestrian areas of Ponta Delgada have the most elaborate patterns:

But smaller areas, even narrow sidewalks, are also have patterned pavement.


The last time I was in Ponta Delgada, I walked with a cane and my trekking distances were limited. Now, with new knees, I walk all over the place. For this visit, one of my objectives was to walk up the hill to visit the gardens. There are several gardens, but because of the length of our port stay and the frequent rains, I needed to focus on just one. The garden I visited is called Jardin do Palacio de Sant’Ana. It surrounds what is now the presidential palace of the Azores. The palace is a large coral-red and white structure with classical statuary and suitable gingerbread. It is off limits to visitors to the gardens, although, really, you walk right up to it, around it and behind it and can photograph it from every possible angle.

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Jose Jacome Correia (José do Canto, 1820-1898), a native son of the Azores who was a intellectual, scientist, agricultural reformer, and gardener, built the palace and the gardens in the 19th century. Here is an example of allegorical statuary from the palace – a statue of Navigation.
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The garden contains many mature trees and palms from many places in the world. They have grown large and lush in the Azorean volcanic soil and humid, ocean-regulated climate. Many of us have seen beautiful flowering bougainvillea vines. In this garden, there is a bougainvillea tree, with a trunk 18 inches in diameter. These beautiful gardens include rose gardens that are not at their best at this time of year, and formal plantings including color blocks created with coleus in multiple hues.
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The garden paths are red gravel and curve and twist to reveal spectacular views of plants and plantings.
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This pond is a highlight of the garden, with a cluster of papyrus growing in the middle.
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This plant is from Australia, a macrozamia; its common name is burrawang.
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The plant below is from Madagascar and is a pandanus or pandano, also called a screw palm or screw pine.
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These succulents grow with wild abandon on a small embankment along the garden path.

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The Vision of the Seas

Many people have asked questions about features of my cabin or the ship or cruising. This post may answer some of those questions. If you have other questions I have not covered, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them.

The Vision of the Seas is a Royal Caribbean ship registered at the port of Nassau, sailing under the Bahamian flag. Its keel was laid in 1996 and the vessel was completed in 1998 by Chantiers de l‘Atlantique, a very large ship building company in Saint-Nazaire, France. The ship is 278.94 meters long and 32.2 meters wide, with gross tonnage of 78,717 tons. There are about 790 crew members from more than 50 countries, and up to 2320 passengers. This is a small cruise ship. As a comparison, in April 2018, the same ship building company, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, completed Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, weighing 228,081 tons with about 2200 crew and about 6000 passengers. While the Vision has 10 decks, the Symphony of the Seas, currently the largest cruise ship in the world, has 18.

zVisionPiraeusD60 (60)I took this photo of the Vision of the Seas in the port of Piraeus, Greece. The lifeboats (those white and orange bumps along the middle of the ship) are above deck 5, the promenade deck. My cabin on the last cruise was on deck 3 (count two rows of portholes). This cruise I am on deck 4. Both cabins are identical in layout. Both are inside cabins (that means no window/porthole nor balcony). Inside cabins are snug but not uncomfortable. Here is my cabin, photographed from the door:

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The bed is two twin beds pushed together. There is a 17” wide 2-drawer bed table on either side of the bed. The room can be configured to have the beds split to twins. There are bunk beds that pull down from either side of the ceiling, so, technically, the cabin could sleep 4 people. This would require some patient choreography on the part of the occupants, because there’s one bathroom and not a lot of extra floor space. To the right in the photograph are the dresser and desk, with three larger drawers, three small drawers, and a cupboard over the flat screen TV that includes 2 shelves and a safe. Above the desk are two mirrored small side cupboards large enough for bottles of water, cans of soda, and such.

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The desk is the primary place to charge electronics, with two 110-volt, US style outlets and two 220-volt European style outlets. Opposite the desk is a half-couch. Other furnishings include a full-length mirror, a small round table, and a trash can.

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On the other side of the wall from the couch is the bathroom, with a sink, a commode, and a shower. The bathroom also has a large over-sink mirror and an under-sink shelf.

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Next to the sink there is a narrow column of shelves for toiletries, and below them one small shallow drawer and one narrow, shallow cabinet. The shower is behind the irovy-colored curtain and is small. All the comedians joke about how small the shower is.
Opposite the bathroom, as you walk in the door, is a closet with folding doors. Having sailed on other cruise lines and spend many weeks in camper vans, I can say this cabin has an amazing amount of storage, and plenty of space for one or two people – just as long as they don’t both want to work at the desk at the same time.

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Other ship features include towel animals, such as this pup who came to be wearing my sunglasses. Towel animals appear every other day, approximately, usually on the bed. They are typically rabbits or dogs, but I have had a towel-bat hung from the ceiling – wearing my sunglasses. (Towel animals must have sensitive eyes.)

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The ship’s theater is used for lectures, bingo, concerts and shows, and yesterday was used for Catholic Sunday Mass. Our celebrant was Father Vincent Houst, a retired priest from the St Augustine, Florida, archdiocese, who is accredited through the Apostleship of the Seas. He says Mass daily for us. On sea days we have an enrichment lecturer at the theater who gives talks about forensic science and solving cold cases.

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The main dining room (MDR) is situated on decks 4 and 5, with the upper deck of the dining room designated as “My Time Dining” and the lower deck designated at “Traditional Dining”. I was reserved for My Time dining, meaning that I could (in theory) make a reservation for any time from 6:30 to 9PM. However, Royal changed me to the late seating of Traditional Dining. On the last cruise, Traditional Dining seating times were 6PM (early seating) and 8:30PM (late seating.) At Traditional Dining you are assigned a table and have the same dining partners every night. Depending on the size of your table, dinner can last from one to two hours, with a starter course, main course and dessert course served by very elegant and attentive waitstaff. The My Time section of the main dining room is in the photograph below.

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The ship has two salt-water pools, an indoor one and an outdoor one. The indoor pool is in the Solarium, which is roofed and walled in glass and includes many lounge chairs, tables and chairs and a small eatery called the Park Café that serves sandwiches, cookies, salads, soup, tea, coffee and water. There is also a bar in the Solarium, and two hot tubs. The Solarium pool is for adults only and ranges from 5’1” deep to 5’6” deep. It is not large enough to be a lap pool but is great for deep water running.

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The outdoor pool is larger, with many more deck chairs around it, and is open to kids as well as adults. There is gigantic movie screen on one side of the pool area for showing movies and videos. There’s also space for a band to play, a bar for drinks, a pool towel pick-up and return stand, and lots of tables and chairs.

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Inside the ship, the central atrium, called The Centrum, has a bandstand with a grand piano, a marble dance floor, a grand staircase, and seating along the on the 4th deck, plus seating and open balconies looking down from decks 5 through 8. The Centrum is a performance space, dance floor, exercise room, chorus rehearsal hall and more. There is usually some kind of activity there, except for very late in the evening.

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On Sunday in the Centrum, Steve Davis, the cruise director, interviewed Derek McKnight, the Food and Beverage director for the ship’s TV station, asking about his responsibilities and about the staff working for him. More than half the staff of the ship’s crew – about 400 people – for under him. The work day of a ship’s officer (such as Steve or Derek) is very long (7AM to as late as midnight, and always on call).

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Derek is from Cork, Ireland. He trained as an executive chef, was chef of several major restaurants, and has been with Royal for 10 years as Food and Beverage director. Being a ship’s officer means spending most holidays on board, including the last 10 Christmases, so officers try to take their families on board during the holidays. Derek has three kids. His oldest, a daughter, is studying to be a ship’s captain, so someday she could be his boss!

Akrotiri – Late Minoan Ruins, Santorini, Greece

Santorini is a Greek island in the southern Aegean Sea, about 120 miles south of the Greek mainland. It lies on a subduction zone called the Hellenic Trench subduction zone, where the northern edge of the African plate is pushing under Greece and the Aegean Sea (the southern edge of the Eurasian plate.) The crust thins in a subduction zone, resulting in earthquakes and volcanic activity.

In Ancient times Santorini was called Thira (or Thera). Santorini is what is left of the island of Thira following a massive volcanic eruption 3600 years ago. The circular bay that is embraced by the arms of the island is the caldera of the volcano. The caldera is so deep that cruise ships can’t anchor in it, so if there are no anchorages near the shore, those ships need to continuously circle or maneuver in place. It is a tendered port. (Small boats bring passengers to shore. There are no docks for large ships.)

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There’s a tiny bit of flat land around Santorini’s bay, only enough to dock small boats and have a strip of stores, not enough for a town or homes. The towns are built at the top edge of the caldera, and the rise from sea level to town level is about 300 meters (980 ft.)

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You can walk up a stairway to the top, or you can ride a donkey up the stairway to the top. Or you can ride to the top in a cable car – 6 Euros one way. Susan, Jack and I elected the cable car option. Our objective was to go to the main archaeological site on the island, Akrotiri.

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The Bronze Age Minoan town of Akrotiri was located on the southern edge of the island, high on a hill and within sight of a nearby island, Anafi, and on clear days, in sight of Crete. The town was destroyed by earthquakes that preceded the massive Theran eruption that occurred in the 16th century BCE. During the eruption, volcanic ash and debris buried the town, and it was not rebuilt. As with Pompeii and Herculaneum, the volcanic debris covered the town so completely that the frescoes, art and implements of daily living were preserved. Unlike Pompeii and Herculaneum, the people’s bodies were not trapped within the debris, so the earthquakes and volcanic activity preceding the eruption must have given the populace enough warning to evacuate.

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Excavation of this site first occurred in 1867 after locals found artifacts in a quarry. The ancient city of Thera was excavated in the early 20th century, and another site, Potamos, nearby, was also excavated. A Greek archaeologist, Spyiradon Marinatos, started excavating Akrotiri in 1967. Right at the start of the excavation, the city was discovered, and several years went into determining the town’s size (about 20 hectares) and preparing excavation facilities, including labs, housing and workshops. Because the town’s buildings were preserved by the volcanic debris, several stories of individual buildings are still intact, making it a challenge to excavate and preserve them. We saw the use of sandbags to stabilize walls, the addition of retaining structures, and the replacement of stone door and window frames with wooden and concrete beams. The corner of the building below is being held up by sand bags. In the next photo, timbers are being installed to maintain a doorframe.

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The archaeological site consists primarily of the ruins of the buildings, with very few artifacts left in place or on site. The frescos have been preserved and placed in museums elsewhere, and pottery, casts of furniture, and other items are held in a museum in Fira, the town at the top of the cable cars and donkey trail.

The ruins are covered by a building that opened in 2012, and that replaced a protective roof that collapsed in 2005, killing one visitor but not damaging the ruins. In the construction of the second building, two additional layers of settlement were discovered under the Late Minoan town. Below you can see the columns of the roof and some of the partially excavated earlier layers.

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One of the buildings still contains some of the beautifully decorated storage jars. Loom weights were found on the floor of the room containing the jars, apparently coming from a room above the jar storage room, indicating there were weavers working there.

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Beautifully designed walkways lead visitors around the site and down through one of the streets. The signage is not quite top-rate (only makes sense if you already understand what you are looking at.) Someday I hope guided tours by well-trained docents will be offered, but the expertise doesn’t appear to be available yet.

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I would go back in a heartbeat. There is so much to learn!

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