Friday, December 21, 2018


This year we have two Christmas trees. The first is my little goose feather Christmas tree which is at least as old as I am if not older. It was given to me on my first Christmas and resided in my family home until 11 years ago. It came with lights which were in the shape of Chinese lanterns and always gave a nice glow to the corner of the living room.

It stands only 12" above the wooden base and I think it gets smaller every year! Maybe it is drying out in the harsh Texas climate.
I was completely oblivious to its origins until 11 years ago. We were in England for Christmas, my mother having passed away that September. On a chilly winter evening we were watching the Antique Roadshow with the tree atop the television. Someone had brought in a little tree and they started to talk about its branches being made of goose feathers. It looked so much like my little tree that I walked over to the TV and took a good look at it. Lo and behold those branches were made from dyed feathers.

The goose feather trees are considered to be the first artificial trees to be made and originated in Germany in the 1890s, when there was concern about too many trees being cut down for Christmas trees. The cutting of trees had been going on for many years with no forest management. If my tree came from the continent then I have wondered how it came to be in England at the end of the war. It must have already been there before the war started in 1939. It has a special place in my Christmas decorating although the 240volt lights have been removed and replaced with tiny tree ornaments. There are still some of the original berries on the end of the stems which were widely placed in order to decorate with candles.

My second tree is far more local, being a dead branch from a cedar tree. Firmly held in a pot with plaster of paris, it holds a collection of ornaments designed and made by the Texas State Capitol every Christmas since 1996. Collecting one of theses ornaments has become a tradition for us and this year they have their own little tree.

I'm sure a new one will have its chance to be on the tree for at least 12 days after Christmas. Yes, we still hold to the tradition of taking down all the Christmas decorations by January 6th.

So what to do with all those other tree decorations I have collected during my married life. A select few have found their way into a bowl to be displayed on the coffee table.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Friday, December 7, 2018


It is pouring down outside. The perfect opportunity for a little daydreaming about our winter trip from 2016 and to finish what I started nearly 2 years ago.

I remember the days when, living in a winter climate with a dormant garden, as soon as the New Year arrived, I would have my nose buried in the seed catalogues. I would move an old door into the kitchen to create a large table in readiness for sowing the seeds.
Now, living in central Texas, and with the freedom to travel, we make sure we are gone for much of December and January. Why? Cedar fever. David is extremely allergic to the wind driven pollination of our Ashe juniper tree or cedar as it is called around here.

In December 2016 the timing was perfect for a cruise through the Panama canal, sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Santiago, Chile. With lots of sea days I loaded up my phone with podcasts. If I was going to leave my garden behind I was not going to leave gardening behind. I could picture myself sitting on a steamer chair on the promenade deck as we sailed towards the equator. Was I in for a surprise! You wouldn't believe how cold it was, even at mid summer at the equator, sailing at 20 knots into a 20 knot wind, into the Humboldt current. Brrh! Having said that I think it was partly due to our thin Texas blood. The Europeans found it quite balmy and they were up on the pool deck sunning themselves. Even though the air may be cold that sun is powerful, so when you find a sunny spot you had better be protected and the best way is to cover up with blankets!

Like to come along with me? Following our quick embarkation we were soon in our room.

Our room for 2 weeks
A welcome glass of champagne and we were ready to head off for lunch and the library. Then it was unpack, the usual muster station lecture(at least this time it was in the theater and minus life jackets) and sail away. After two days our first stop was Cartagena, Columbia for a little 'romancing the stone'. Our port side cabin gave us a good view of sailing in. First the growing modern side of the city with tall buildings.

And then glimpses of the old fortressed and walled city (center) which is a World Heritage site.

This is one of the safest cities in Columbia, so we had no qualms about going it alone. We left the ship, walked out of the port and hailed a taxi, which we shared with another couple. The taxi dropped us off just outside  the walled city, free to roam at our leisure. I think we could have walked there but the heat and humidity were quite fierce so I think we made the right decision to take the taxi. The old walled town is charming with its shaded narrow streets and although there are shops selling art work and souvenirs it isn't at all touristy. And, considering there were several cruise ships in port at the same time, not that crowded.

Colorful, balconied buildings planted with trailing vines.

You can even take one of those colorful houses home with you.

Many colonial churches opening onto squares.

Making use of boarded upshot fronts.

This bronze statue has tempted quite a few.

Gertrudis or "La Gordita" Bronze, by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero.

Street musicians in the main square. The hat was not for sale even though David tried. Save yourself for the Panama!

Fruit sellers. Of course, the vendor was there for the tourists but who could resist that fruit. Forget about not eating the fruit in Mexico. It's perfectly fine here.

The Plaza Bolivar with bronze statue of Simon Bolivar.

After roaming the streets and squares we headed out to climb the city walls. As always the photo opportunity in the sentry box.

Cartagena flag flying high on the city walls.

After a couple of hours in the humidity of Columbia we picked up a taxi outside the main gate for the $10 ride back to the ship. I made sure we left home with a good wad of $1 bills, which were accepted everywhere we stopped. The walk back from the port entry took us through the aviary with lots of very noisy squawking parrots and we left with favorable impressions of this colorful town.

Next stop Colon. December 13th 2016

The town of Colon was a different matter. We had already been warned that it was unsafe to go it alone so we booked our only ship tour of the cruise. A visit to the rain forest and Fort San Lorenzo. It started with a ferry ride across the river on an open pontoon-type ferry. That probably explained the mini bus we were on. Quite unusual for a cruise tour but very welcome. It is one of the things that have driven us away from cruise ship tours. It always takes so long for people to get on and off the bus not to mention the stop for lunch. We did, however, pay a visit to the deserted US military base, Fort Sherman, which has a functioning marina and therefore toilets. We had to wait for the ferry, which will no longer be used once the new bridge has been built. On that subject we did hear later that one of the pillars of the incomplete bridge was sinking!!
We drove through rain forest where we caught a glimpse of a sloth up in the trees along with monkeys and those brilliant blue butterflies. The sloth was so much easier to capture than the monkeys.

Then on to the San Lorenzo Fort situated at the mouth of the Rio Chagres. The original wooden fort was built in 1595 to secure the trade routes from attack by Caribbean pirates. I didn't know Sir Frances Drake was a pirate but he attacked the fort in 1595 followed by Sir Henry Morgan who burnt the fort to the ground. It was then built of stone and the current fort was rebuilt around 1700.
Just imagine those galleons sailing up the river right into the sight of the guns.

Another one of those sentry boxes. David, get in there!

It was then time to visit the Gatun Locks, which consist of three locks. We would be entering the canal tomorrow morning but for now we are at the observation deck watching a cruise ship leave and a container ship take its place. The mules on either side tow the ships through the locks.

Panama Canal transit. December 14th 2016

We spent most of the next day in the observation lounge of the ship as our narrator, Bill Fall talked us through the various locks. Bill was absolutely the best. He had lived on the Panama Canal in his youth when his father worked on the canal. He just knew everything there was no know about the workings and what was going on all around.
Here we are waiting for the lock gates to open.

Now the gates opened and in we entered, at a snails pace.

After passing through the 3 Gatun locks we entered Gatun Lake and slid quietly by the islands that are all that remain of hills.

There were two more sets of locks before we reached the Pacific, Pedro Miguel(1) and Miraflores (2).

Work along the edges of the canal is constant as landslides are common.

Then we saw Panama City though the humid haze.

A closer view of the city and the colorful roofs of the museum as we prepared to enter the Pacific on our way to Ecuador and the port of Manta.

 One sea day with plenty to do onboard. I took a lesson at the Apple Store. Yes! an apple store on the ship, but only a small one.  I have now mastered Airdrop. Then Trivia. We are on a progressive trivia team with 4 other guests. At some point we crossed the equator and we were supposed to calculate at what time that would be. I didn't get involved with that math calculation.

Manta December 16th

As we said into Manta, tugs alongside, we could see tens of fishing boats anchored in the harbor.

We were to learn that Manta is the tuna capital of the world and what we saw later in the day made me think twice about whether I want to eat canned tuna anymore.

I had arranged a mini bus tour of Manta with 10 fellow passengers before embarking. After a little confusion dockside we managed to find our guide, Belen, with Manta SOS. The first stop was boat building along the shore line.

Preparing the wood by chain saw, onsite.

And then to the fish market further along the beach.

Fished out we left for the rainforest and the National Park where we were to take a tour with the ranger. There was a lot of confusion when we arrived and a lot of standing around not knowing what was going on. We had been told we needed $20 for our group of 12 to pay a ranger. I think we later realized that there were not enough rangers for the taxis that kept showing up. I don't think they booked ahead for us. In the end they had to join another group to ours which made for a difficult tour. The pathway was narrow and rather slippery in places. We saw monkeys, enormous snails, beautiful butterflies, and the tiniest of frogs. Our guide pointed out the vegetation and the plant from which they make Panama hats as well as many orchids, bromeliads, giant bamboos, avocado trees. We did not see the black panther who roams the area after dusk. .

Coffee bean tree.

Tiny frog

Our final  visit of the day was to the town of Montecristi. The bus climbed the steep Montecristi Hill to the historical museum and mausoleum honoring the revolutionary, General Eloy Alfaro Delgado, who was born in Manta. The museum was once his house and has been refurbished as a historical museum.

Somewhat unassuming is the mausoleum. It is a tribute to a song named Earthen Vessel in which the words, " I want you to bury me, as my ancestors, in the cool dark belly of a vessel of clay"

The faces of revolutionaries with their eyes closed to the sun.

The museum area is also a tribute to the railway. Alfaro completed a railway line from the coast to the Andes during his rule.
With all that history behind us it was time to visit the Panama Hat store, passing by the statue of the Panama Hat Lady.

Alas, no hat to fit David! There was a small craft market in the town where I purchased a few tiny llamas for the grandchildren.

Returning to the ship I spent a little time on the balcony watching the activity below on the dockside before we sailed. This activity started shortly after we arrived and was still going at the end of the day. Trawlers unloading their catch into large trucks which pulled up once after another. The fish are graded and flash frozen while at sea. If you have ever seen a large tuna then you know these ones are small and with the volume of fish that day, and how many other times during the year, you begin to wonder if tuna is sustainable anymore. Maybe the same as happened to cod. Soon our oceans will be fished out.

December 17/18

A couple of sea days allowed for some different activities around the ship. I attended a great lecture accompanied by a slide show. I think it was animal adaptations.

Here a bird in Tokyo nesting outside a dry cleaners and making full use of wire coat hangers as nesting material.

We played trivia.

And the ship prepared for Christmas.

On December 19th we sailed into the major port of Lima, Peru.

We didn't have anything planned for this day because we had been to Lima before. We took a free shuttle to a shopping center, but there was nothing of interest and we didn't find a market. David was bent on buying some beer which he was successful in doing along with a bottle of wine. He knows full well that they don't allow you to take any alcohol on after the first day. I suggested he put the beer in his back pack and I would take the wine. My bag went through the scanner first and they were so busy calling out for my bag to be looked at that they missed David's bag with the beer. They would give us back the wine on the last day. The irony of this was that he bought a bottle of Chilean wine in Peru and we would get it back when we disembarked in Chile.

December 21st Arica, Chile

This was bit confusing for a Texan. Same color, same star but different configuration.

Our tour in Arica was pre-arranged by one of our fellow passengers on cruise critic. The first stop on the tour was to the Silos of Huaylan. Large cylindrical wells lined with round stones which the ancient peoples covered with a domed roof. They were to save food for times of drought. And drought came all the time to the Atacama desert which is the driest desert in the world with an average rainfall of 1mm year. It is a death zone for vegetation.

We walked on a trail to examine the holes and learn about fertile times followed by drought times. Saving food in these pits was important.

Our guide pointed to several of the 18 mosaic panel on the hillside in the distance which date from 1100-1400 AD. Their meaning has been lost in time.

We saw several more as we continued on our way.

We then visit the church of Jeronimo de Poconchile which was first erected in 1605 by the Spanish.

Simple graves on the hillside in the sand.

And directly behind the church.

A few ladies had set up stalls selling local handicrafts. I bought a little pipe for my grandson, some little lamas and bracelets for the girls and a doll for me.

We next visited a museum to learn a little more about the area and ancient inhabitants. It was a also a perfect restroom stop.

In such a desert area it is delightful to find such an oasis with palms and many olive trees. In one part of the museum was an ancient olive press. Nothing was written in English (why on earth would it be!) so we were grateful to have our guide.
A new area of the museum deals mainly with how the Chinchorro buried their dead as well as collected artifacts. The Chinchorro mummies predate Egyptian mummies.

Our next stop involved the dead once again. We visited a cemetery in a small town where we were to have our lunch.

Maybe everyone gathers here after a funeral.

The restaurant had a delightful shady patio.

They served an enormous amount of food. We had to choose chicken or pork which was an enormous plate of meat as well as the salads and bread. A small pisco sour too. After a morning in the desert we were ready for a beer-which was extra.

Time for a photo opportunity outside with a few geoglyphs in the background.

Then we were on our way back to Arica but not before heading up into the desert. Just a few shots of just how arid this desert. water from the Andes must collect in a dam higher upstream. The original inhabitants had no such luxury.

Crops are grown under shade cloths.

We were told that only one plant can survive up here and the driver stopped so I could get out and take a photo. No-one else was interested. Maybe in a good rain year the desert blooms or maybe this is too high up.

We now grow back towards the coast and one final stop at a market-special request! It certainly was a worthwhile visit.

After a full day we were ready for a couple of sea day and our final destination, Valparaiso.

December 24rd Valparaiso, Chile

I had arranged for a tour, by The German Pirate, with 8 other passengers . We would be taken on a tour of Valparaiso and then to Santiago where we would spend the night, flying out on Christmas day. There was quite a delay at the start because of traffic at the dock as we waited patiently for our driver and guide.  He finally arrived and we were off and the vehicle climbed high up the hill side, overlooking the port, to a lookout point and the entrance to a funicular railway. These old funiculars are considered to be a national treasure. Of the 16 only 8 were in working condition in 2017 as the others were under restoration.

The old fashioned turn style

Inside the car

I have completely forgotten the name of our guide, who owned a small restaurant, and wanted to take us there to show us. It was a bit of a hassle because some members of our group had difficulty climbing up the steps to the top floor and it all took a lot time. The restaurant was not open.

Wall paintings outside our guide's restaurant

The rickety stairs to the top
If I could say one thing about Valapraiso it would be-wall paintings. Everywhere the sides of buildings and wall have been decorated with all manner of subjects. Most of the trip involved taking us to areas of the city with the best paintings. Here is just a sampling.

As you mighty guess this was one of my favorites. I don't know if the steep street was once open to vehicles but now the residents have taken over and planted a garden down the street.

Someone in the neighborhood had been celebrating early and was taking a little nap.

Our bus took us back down to the shore and the fish market.

I can't say that this looked at all appetizing.

I asked if we could stop at the floral clock in Vina del Mar, which would be our last stop in the Valparaiso area. Next stop would be the vineyard and then on to Santiago.

Then the wheels came off-or rather the water hose broke on the minibus and we limped into a garage. There was no hope of getting this fixed on Christmas Eve. The next 3 hours saw us hanging around waiting for a replacement bus. No easy matter. One small bus arrived and took the passengers who were supposed to go to the airport. We waited some more and finally another mini bus arrived to take us. Of course we had to stop at some roadside restaurant which as a disaster, completely missing the vineyard visit. In retrospect we should have opted just to drive straight on the Santiago. It was almost a relief to get to the hotel. We stayed at the Hyatt using my free credit card night and enjoyed a wonderful 6 course, special Christmas Eve dinner, sitting out by the pool.

A rare photograph of us both.
Next day we spend the day around the beautiful hotel grounds before leaving for the airport for our flight back to Texas. It had been a great trip.