It’s World Cruise update time and I’ve got a lot to share with you, so let me get straight down to business.
Our next exciting day was spent transiting the Panama Canal and what an experience it was. I’d previously enjoyed a partial transit, but I was itching to find out what else there was to see as we made our way out of the Gatun Locks, into the lagoon and onto the next sections: Miraflores Locks and the Pedro Miguel Locks. The day was perfect. I spent the morning trying to spot crocodiles, but they were obviously hiding beneath the waters surface as it was incredibly hot. We sailed under bridges, we passed a rehabilitation centre where the inmates were cheering and whistling at us and we had incredible views across Panama City as we exited the canal system. It was one of those experiences where you don’t want to leave the open decks, just in case you miss something. We had a local man onboard for the entire transit and he gave us updates and info throughout the day. The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean and our transit took approx. 8 hours.
A sea day followed and we then arrived in Manta, Ecuador. It was yet another very hot and sticky day and certainly not the kind of weather you want to walk around in for too long. Marian and I went to the mall to stock up on important things, like Yuca chips and washing powder and then we made our way towards the beach and its bars and restaurants. I was so hot and uncomfortable, so we found a bar and enjoyed some drinks and food before taking a stroll across the beach. We stayed there for most of the day. I had wanted to explore Montecristi, but the heat put me off that day. A few hours watching the world go by was calling, so of course, I answered. Did I get the most out of my day in Ecuador? No, but sometimes you just need to do what feels right there and then.
We sailed from Manta and had 2 sea days to relax and unwind before we started our 3 day stretch in Peru. I sat on deck for several hours on both days, caught up with some reading (I’m almost finished 1 book) and devoured all the food that was put in front of me. We played Cards Against Humanity on one evening and had an early night on the other – it’s all about balance, especially on a trip as long as this one. We also had the Crossing of The Line Ceremony on our first sea day. We’d actually crossed the Equator during the early hours of the day before, but as we were then in Ecuador, it was saved for our next sea day. It was hilarious and several crew members found themselves kissing the fish and ultimately being thrown face-first into the pool on Deck 6 – it was a health and safety officers worst nightmare. The ceremony was originally a naval tradition, but over the years it has found its way to cruise ships and with good reason. It is an initiation rite that commemorates a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator. Sailors who have already crossed the Equator are nicknamed Shellbacks or Sons of Neptune. Those who have not crossed are known as Pollywogs.
We arrived in Callao early on the morning of January 29 and we had a pre-arranged tour with Haku Tours. After some panic over shuttle buses and pick-up points, we finally met our guides for the day in Miraflores, Jean Paul and Yonathan. We left the glitz and glam of the city behind and we made our way into other districts – places the tourists don’t usually go. Our first stop was at a lively and very colourful market that stood at the foot of a mountain. There were people everywhere buying and selling. One lady offered us a slice of mango each and it was the sweetest and most delicious mango I have ever tasted. We also found black corn, which I’d never seen before and we were introduced to a local witch doctor who quickly put together a concoction of potions and other good stuff to help Yonathan with his cold. I’m sure it works, but it looked revolting. It was a lively and fascinating place and the locals were clearly happy that we were there. Before we left, we bought several bags of fruits and vegetables that we would then take up the mountain and give to 5 families that live in the shanty town. It was an eye-opening experience and it made me feel very grateful for the life I have.
Most people there don’t have running water or electricity and the families can’t afford to split up, they all live together under one roof. We met one of the community elders, an 84 year old lady who had clearly had a hard life, but there she was, busy in her yard and still making the massive trek up and down the mammoth flight of stairs to her home every single day. I struggled with the stairs and the heat started getting to me after a few hours – how they do it day in day out is beyond me. It was a chance to see the real side of Peru and the reality of many of its people. We ended the day with a visit to the centre of Lima and a peek inside the catacombs and a quick stop for a delicious Churro. When we returned to the ship and spoke with other passengers about their day, it was clear that we had spent our time doing something that was far more rewarding than simply seeing the city and staying in the tourist areas. I’d highly recommend Haku Tours if you want to do something different during your time in Peru and if you want to give something back to those who are less fortunate than yourself. We spent approx. $10 on fruits and vegetables and we provided food for no less than 15 people. The tour itself was $55 per person for around 8 hours.
On our second day in Callao, we went into Miraflores on the shuttle bus and explored the city and Inka Market. We shopped, we stopped for drinks and a quick bite to eat, and we explored everything we hadn’t seen the day before. It was nice, I enjoyed our time in Miraflores, but the previous day and the people we had met was still at the forefront of my mind. It really is so important to see the real side of life in the places you visit. I appreciate that it’s not for everyone, but give it a try. Go off the beaten track and explore the true day-to-day life of the locals and trust me, you’ll find it so much more rewarding. The man that started Haku Tours was born and raised in the shanty town that we visited and the money spent on the tour goes back into the community. They’re currently building a soup kitchen there and a day care centre.
Our final port in Peru was Paracas, a Peruvian seaside town that is the gateway to the Ballestas Islands. I’d researched before leaving and decided that the best thing to do was book a local tour across to the islands on the day, so that’s what Marian and I did. We grabbed a cab from the port with 2 other passengers and off we went for 2 hours of fun and excitement on a boat. It was fantastic! We got to see the famous candelabra geoglyph that adorns the hillside. It is over 150m high and 50m wide. No one knows exactly how long it has been there or when, or what it signifies, but many connect it to the Nazca Lines. We were given some basic info and then we carried on with our journey to the Ballestas Islands where within minutes, we were greeted by thousands of birds (including the Peruvian Booby), hundreds of sea lions and several very small penguins. The smell was a little overpowering, but it was a unique experience and the boat, several times, was within just a few feet of sea lions, many of which were still very young. Before we left on the tour, many locals had been trying to sell us hats. We kept politely declining, we were sure we didn’t need them, but if you go, I actually would recommend that you buy one. When I say there were thousands of birds, I mean that literally and at one point, at least 2000 were flying right above our boat. The possibility of being pooped on is very high. I did manage to get a very small splash on my arm, but thankfully my head and clothes remained untouched. The Ballestas Islands are nicknamed the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’, but they are far from that and certainly worth the time and the money. The only way to get there is by boat and there are several operators in the town with prices from as little as $8 per person.
Since leaving Paracas we’ve been at sea. We have 5 sea days in total (we’re onto day 3 now) before we reach Hanga Roa. I have fingers and toes crossed that we make it to the island. Apparently, it can be difficult to tender there and many ships have to cancel their calls, but if that happens, we will end up with 11 sea days in a row. I love sea days, but even that could become a little too much for me, especially if the natives start getting restless. For now, we’re all going with the flow. The weather hasn’t been great since we left Peru, but I’m happy with that as I have terrible sunburn on my nose and back. I’ve been spending my days writing, chatting, doing laundry, tidying the cabin and I even went in search of a lady that is supposed to haunt the Lido Lounge. I haven’t found her yet, but if I do, I’ll let you know. A group of us are planning to do a little ghost hunt one night when the majority of people have gone to bed. Watch this space…