3 New Countries!

11 01 2012

Hi Friends! Happy hump day! Is it really the 11th already? Yipes! I really wish this month would slow down!

Last week went by especially fast because I was on vacation! I went on a cruise with my boyfriend which took us to 5 countries in 8 days! I was able to add three countries to my “Countries Visited” tally: Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica. We also hit up Aruba and Grand Cayman. It was my last vacation before my big move, which happens Sunday, by the way!

One of the highlights from the trip was ringing in the New Year in Aruba. Our flight arrived at 11:20pm, and by the time we got through customs and got to our hotel, it was just about midnight. I was happy just to be with Bill, but the icing on the cake was that we were in Aruba and there were thousands of fireworks going off around us. It was an incredible sight to see, especially from the balcony of our hotel room. Check out the short video I took:

So. Many. Fireworks.

Absolutely incredible.

Here’s a daylight pic of where I shot the video:

Pretty sweet view, eh?

We had just enough time to grab a bite to eat and check out the beach in Aruba, before we needed to board the ship and sail for Cartagena, Colombia.

When we got to Cartagena, we hopped on a water taxi that took us from the port to the Old City.

We strolled around on the streets, just taking in all the sights and sounds of the city. There is clearly a lot of history here, but unfortunately, we didn’t go on an organized tour to learn about it. I need to do some research now!

I really enjoyed just wandering the streets, and stopping into the occasional store.

I also bought some fresh fruit from one of the street vendors. Holy deliciousness! This was the best mango I’ve ever had in my life!!

We made it back to the ship just before we left for our next destination: The Panama Canal.

I’m going to be honest here, and say that I’m glad I can say that I’ve been through (er, partially through. This cruise only took us through some of the locks.) the Panama Canal, but it wasn’t the most exciting part of the trip. Going through takes a long time, and someone was droning on the loudspeaker information about what was happening and about the history of the canal. Unfortunately, it took a lot of effort to understand what he was saying, and I ran out of patience. I think if I knew a bit more about the history and engineering, I’d probably appreciate it more.

We did get off at a port in Colon, Panama, which was also underwhelming. There was basically a small shopping area nearby and nothing else. The ship was only scheduled to be here two hours, and I can see why. We stopped in one of the stores, which was basically like a big Walmart or Target, and explored the aisles. One interesting find:

Imported Milwaukee’s Best beer for 49¢!

It was also neat to see all the different foods they stocked on their shelves, and see how they displayed their eggs (not in refrigerated cases) and meat (also, not in refrigerated cases).

We hopped back on the ship with plenty of time to spare before the boat set sail again. Next stop: Limon, Costa Rica!

When we arrived in Costa Rica, it was POURING rain. We had signed up for an excursion, but our tickets never arrived. So, we stood out in the rain and spoke with the excursions woman, who explained that the one we had selected was sold out, and that she could put us on a new one. After briefly glancing at the excursion she was pointing to, but mostly relying on her judgement, we gave her our information, and ran to the bus. Our new excursion was a boat ride on the canal and a stop at a banana plantation. Ok with me!

Before we even got to the canal, we saw some wildlife, including monkeys!

Fortunately, the rain stopped when we got to the canal. Once there, our boat driver and tour guide, with their eagle eyes, pointed out everything from snakes to birds, to lizards, to monkeys and sloths. It was really cool to see animals in the wild, which I usually only see in zoos!

After the tour, they gave us some fresh fruit. This was probably the freshest banana I’ll ever eat. And the pineapple and watermelon were AMAZING! T

We stopped at the Del Monte banana plantation on our way back to the ship. We saw how the bananas get from trees and into the boxes that are sent to the States and other countries.

First, bananas are bagged while on the trees. These bananas have (I think) about a month before they get cut off the tree.

When they’re ready, they’re cut off the tree, and attached to a pulley system, where someone will walk the bananas (up to two miles) to the building where they clean and sort them.

They are debagged, and someone hoses them off. The bunches are then cut off the main plant, and tossed into a water bath.

From there, they float to a series of people who sort them. If they are bruised, or too yellow, they’ll be tossed onto a conveyor belt, which takes them to either local markets, or ships them to the Gerber factory. If they meet certain quality standards, they will continue on their journey.

The bananas continue to float until they hit the next series of people, who take them out, dry them, add the Del Monte sticker, and put them in a crate.

They box them up, and then ship ’em out!

I’m happy I had my educational experience for the day. Now, take me back to the ship so I can put on some dry clothes!

The next day was a sea day, while we drifted towards the port I was most excited about, Grand Cayman. I was super pumped to go swimming there, in the crystal clear water, surrounded by tons of tropical fish. I could hardly wait to jump in! Bill and I went swimming in two different spots, once near a sunken rice boat, where I saw a small sting ray, among other brightly colored fish. We also tried to head out to Eden’s rock. Unfortunately, there were little jelly fish all over the place, and we were getting stung like crazy, so we turned around. We did get to see a few 4 foot long tarpon though, just hanging out by the rocks were we got in. Pretty neat. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy an underwater camera to take pictures. 😦

My island vacation wouldn’t be complete without stopping for a Piña Colada at a beach side bar. YUM. Does vacation really need to end?

I had an amazing time on this cruise. This trip really made me realize that I absolutely love traveling to new places. The world is so much bigger than my little reality, and just seeing how other people live is a good reminder of that. There’s more than just the American way of doing things, and traveling helps you see that.  One of my Facebook friends posted this quote the other day, and it really resonated with me:

The world is a book. Those who do not travel read but a page.

I understand that making travel happen can be a challenge: the cost, the timing, etc. But, the things you see, the experiences you’ll have, the memories you’ll make are totally worth it.