Puntarenas, Puerto Quetzal, Cabo,Los Angeles, home

Trip Start Feb 06, 2013
Trip End Apr 03, 2013

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Johnny & Marks airbnb del Rey

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Saturday 23rd March Cruise day 8 At sea between Panama and Costa Rica

    A day at sea on the Funship, what more can we say. Dianne spent most of day taking it easy, feeling quite sick. Murray breakfasted on Deck 9 with Raisin Bran, two eggs easy-over, hash browns, grilled tomato, thin-cut, crispy bacon rashers, American coffee with creamer and sugar. Dianne later went to the Punchliners Brunch, with select seating and socialising. We fill in the day with chores, hand washing, Murray takes about 50 photos of birds, sea, a lot of sunset shots, a couple of whales, but nothing much to report.  Go to the Phantom Theatre for Showtime with Impressionist Chris John, who was OK, but nothing special. Dinner at our usual anytime seating, which is mostly pretty entertaining, with our group being among the last to leave.

Sunday 24th March    Cruise day 9    Puntarenas, Costa Rica

    We've booked a 7-hour tour - Crocodiles river cruise and Puntarenas highlights for US$75 each with Odyssey Tours (http://www.odysseytourscr.com) ( Trip Advisor rated 2 out of 20 things to do in Puntarenas).  We’ve been to Costa Rica before, when we spent 3 months in Central America in 2001, so happy to do a tour around the area near Puntarenas, where we haven’t been, even if it’s not particularly spectacular.  Prior to the mid-20th century, Puntarenas was the largest and most significant open water port in Costa Rica, especially for the export of coffee. However after the construction of the railway leading from the Central Valley to Puerto Limon in 1890, it lost favour to this more direct shipping route to Europe. Now as well, the newly opened Pez Vela Marina in Quepos, further South, pulls the vast majority of cruise-ship traffic, so we’re not expecting much from this stop.

Original trip was to start at 8am, but then the arrival time for the ship had changed, so the people who booked through the Cruise Critic group arranged for a 9am start (which may have been subsequently changed, but we missed this information as we were travelling). The boat got in at the original time, so we’re not sure what time the tour starts, so we’re breakfasted, packed and on the wharf by 7.59 AM. Walk a fair way past official Carnival tours before finding our Odyssey Tours man and being allocated to a bus. Quite a few people were late, obviously not sure of the start time either. There was a lot of shuffling between buses, with 10 volunteers being asked to swap buses. As Murray had achieved the favoured front seat, we were not too keen on moving, and hung back. The volunteers were first to leave, in a Mercedes minibus, while we did a lot of shuffling and backing on the wharf to get closer to the ship. Don't know if it was for our passengers or other, larger buses, but finally we were away by 8.40, with still a few people missing. Catch up with the others who were now in a 20 seater Marco Polo bus like us.

   We proceed along the long, skinny sand spit peninsula (Punta - point, arenas - sand) beside the mostly disused railway line (which dates back to better times) and alongside the beach, before picking up the highway, and even a Tollway, towards Carara National Park and the Tarcoles River. We pass a port at the southern end of the beach where there are ships and a 4-masted schooner at anchor, and a lot of people at a park by the beach.

   We pass into a major river valley, with the river coming all the way from San Jose. It has melon fields beside it, and a long bridge with a crowd of people on it, looking at surprisingly large crocodiles sunning on the river bank below. Disappointingly we don't stop, even though there are a lot of cars and buses parked off the end of the bridge. We pass a lot of fruit stalls, and plenty of signs for tourist traps, including Outback Jack's Australian steakhouse.

   To kill time waiting for our crocodile cruise, we take a leg up a steep gorge in Carara National Park, with a small river, carrying on up a steep gravel hill to a lookout point from which we can see the whole coastline as far as Puntarenas, and can see our ship faintly through the sea haze. We can also look down into the valley of the Rio Grande de Tarcoles, and up to the mountain backbone of Costa Rica. Murray manages to spot a red squirrel in a tree near the bus, but can't get a photo.

    We return to the main road, cut across it on a gravel road which takes us down to the small town of Tarcoles, same name as the river, where our guide explains that all villages have a school, a bar, a church and a soccer field. He also says they take great store by education, and Costa Rica has a police force, but no army, and the coast guard works with the USA DEA to discourage drug traffickers.

   We carry on through the village for a comfort stop at a restaurant, then on to the river bank where we have to wait 10 minutes for our boat, run by Crocodile man tour (www.crocodilemantour.com) to turn up. The boat holds all our 20 passengers plus some strays. Dianne manages to get us a near-front seat on the port side, an apparently advantageous position, but we proceed up the left bank, placing us away from the bank, so we have trouble getting photos of the numerous birds, Jesus Christ lizards, roseate spoonbills and a host of smaller birds on the river bank. We don't get very far before the first floating crocodile is spotted, then proceed further up to feed some raptors, crested caracaras. We get a pretty good go at photos of these, although the other side was still favoured. We also see a smaller raptor which comes along to get in the act.

We were all given a numbered bird identification sheet (which we took photo of). Birds seen on the cruise included 11. yellow crowned night heron 53. Baltimore oriole (red) 28. spotted sandpiper, ??) kingfisher, 34. an osprey eating a fish, 15. snowy egret, 8) roseate spoonbill, 23. black necked stilts, 47 great kiskadee (flycatcher) 17. great egret 16. cattle egret 40. mangrove swallow ??. tree full of barn swallows 55. Great- tailed grackle 32. crested caracara (eating meat) 33. yellow headed caracara   13. little blue heron 10. boat billed heron -a nesting pair with young, plus lots of jacanas, very pretty with their wings out, but hard to photograph, a red crowned woodpecker at the restaurant, plus hummingbirds later at the hotel up the valley, and a pretty green bird, as well as wood storks on the way home.

   The piece de resistance for the cruise was the crocodile feeding, where the boatman went ashore and called up three crocodiles to feed chicken strips to. He teased them until they rose well out of the water to take the bait, and went into the water up to his knees to continue the trick. Two of the crocks were about 2 metres long, and the third maybe 2.5 metres, and genuine crocodiles, not wimpy caimans or alligators. We also got some good photos of the guide from a second boat feeding them, but they didn't seem as interested in the second feeding. We were surprised at just how much birdlife we saw on this trip, and it was definitely the highlight of the day.

     We returned to the restaurant for a good meal of rice, salad, refrito beans and tilapia fish, with tamarind juice drink. Afterwards we went down to the beach looking for red macaws, with no luck, before we headed back up the hill to stop at the jungle hotel, Villa Lapas, in the river bed. Our guide walked us through the grounds explaining the uses the various plants can be put to. We see humming birds, but as usual they are hard to catch on the camera. The hotel puts on a good tropical fruit sampling - papaya, pineapple and watermelon. We make a group decision not to go to the beach to swim, as it’s getting pretty late, and we don’t want to miss the boat.  Visit a "cheap" souvenir stall and restaurant on the highway, have a look, but don't buy, but at least Dianne was able to get onto free wi-fi and update her mail.

   We are disappointed that we didn't stop at the bridge to look at the really big crocodiles, but they may have gone home for the day. Back in town, we drive through the inland one way street through the town, then down to the wharf, find we have plenty of time, so do a circuit of the Sunday-crowded town, with a very busy market area along the beach, then around the end of the point to the deep water ferry wharf and commercial area, before returning to the wharf, where we spend a long time waiting to pay our money. We tipped the guide and the driver, who slowed down at the photogenic spots for Murray to take photos, and left the bus early to look at the market rather than wait to be driven down the wharf to the ship.

   We’re surprised just how many people are out and about on this sunny Sunday – shopping, playing on the beach, and eating at the various stalls.  This area is the closest beach to San Jose 97 kms away, so this may explain the numbers. The market is crowded with lots of locals and cruisers, but is mainly souvenir junk, and not particularly interesting, so we look at the beach then run into one of the women we have previously dined with (whose husband is 78, super fit, and normally does major bike trips, until he recently collided with a car). Walk back to the ship with her. We clear the security at the wharf more quickly than we expected, but take forever to get through security at the ship, as everyone has decided to wait till the last minute for the 4.30pm "back on board".  Entertained by a couple of American wise-guys while we wait.

   We take it easy in the spa once we get sorted out, then Murray takes sunset photos before doing the “Your Time” Dining experience and the hunt for worthwhile entertainment, which included watching the last 10 minutes of the Hypnotist show with Jac Rene in the Phantom Theatre which was quite funny, but pretty scary that he can so easily control some people – not sure what the after-effects could be. Watch a little of a very over-dramatic white woman blues singer and finish up with the earlier session of the Adults Only comedy show.

Monday 25th March   Cruise day 10     At sea between Costa Rica and Guatemala

   More of the same -food, drink, chores. The photographic record shows photos of calm sea, brown and white boobies and/or small albatross, and a surprising number of turtles seen within 50 metres of the ship, every 20 minutes or so. Extrapolated over a few hundred square kilometres of sea, that is a lot of turtles. We are starting to double up on our dinner and lunch partners. We play bean-bag-toss, but don't get past the first round.

Tuesday 26th March   Cruise day 11   Puerto Quetzal - Antigua Guatemala

    The stop today is Puerto Quetzal, where they’ve built a new port, with a lot of souvenir shops.  However there isn’t much else around here, so most of the excursions are to Antigua and surrounds, or the volcanoes.  Having climbed Pacaya in 2001, we had NO desire to do it again.  We, however, loved Antigua, so have booked the “Antigua on Your Own”  (US$40 each) tour with Carnival (the first time we’ve EVER done an excursion with the ship) as it’s a 90-minute drive each way, and it’s possible to get caught in traffic jams, and the ship will only wait for you if you’re on one of their tours.

 We spent a week at La Union Spanish Language school in Antigua in 2001, however we arrived from Honduras on the 11th September, so didn’t do much Spanish emersion, as we were more interested in speaking English and finding out what was happening in New York, where we’d been the month before.

We are surprised to find that the tickets we bought in advance for the tour are for a 10 AM start, when the ship arrived at the wharf at about 7am, and the official arrival time is 8am, but there is little we can do about it.  Have a light breakfast then head out to the cruise terminal to kill time and look at what is to offer in terms of souvenirs and wi-fi. We find the wi-fi is temporarily out of action, and find lots of souvenir shops with very colourful fabrics and jewellery, but nothing we want.  There is also a Jade Museum, an air conditioned building with a large display of Guatemalan jadeite jade, its history within the Aztec culture, and how the re-discoverers of the source of jadeite followed clues from archaeology to find it. We are told that real jem-quality jade is more valuable than diamond, and that jadeite is harder, denser and more crystalline than nephrite jade, which is similar to serpentine and chrysotile, and a lot more fibrous and not able to take the high polish achieved with jadeite.

     We try for a bus early, as there are a lot lined up, but are told to come back at 9.30, which we do. Find one bus is full, and the next one is filling rapidly. We surrender our tickets to our guide, who insists on keeping them. We assume we will be given something to identify us as ticket holders, and we later do, a tag to hang around our neck with Bus No. 4 printed on it – we’re definitely tourists now!  We get reasonable seats on the left hand side, with a full, fixed window, but Murray's is suffering the South American disease, and won't sit up straight. We are off in convoy with another bus at 9.36, out through the port area industries, including a large gas terminal and container handling yards, with a lot of idle prime movers and container trailers.

    We pass through a flat coastal plain, with broad acre sugar cane planting, and views of the signature volcanoes of Guatemala ahead to either side of the road. They are mostly cloud capped (and possibly steam on one as we are later told there was a small eruption just after 9am), and even though they dominate the landscape, it is difficult to get a clear photo of them, even with the bus stopped, but this doesn't stop Murray from trying. With the bus windows heavily tinted, they reflect a lot of light and it is difficult to get a shot without the reflection of the bright, non-tinted windscreen.

   The roads are pretty good, sometimes dual carriageway, and we make pretty good time until we start to climb through the foothills of the volcanoes, passing through stands of dense forest, past deep volcanic ravines, and passing carefully over a large Bailey bridge where a highway bridge had been washed away, possibly in conjunction with a recent volcanic eruption. The nearby volcano on the left (north) side shows a large landslide path or lava track down the side close to us which could be the upper end of the gorge the road crosses.

   As we climb, the vegetation changes and we get into a coffee growing area, with fairly scrawny coffee bushes planted under shade trees, possibly acacias. We pass very close to the volcanoes on the left, further from the well defined cone on the right. At the top of the climb, we pass a large, but really run-down town, then run down towards Antigua, in a large valley with fields marked by lines of stones on the dry brown slope of the valley.

   Coming into the town just before Antigua, we zig-zag through narrow, dusty streets with a fair bit of traffic and some creative driving by one of our buses and local car drivers. The streets are so narrow we have to back and fill, and where we turn off the highway, the bus has to hold up the highway traffic while it backs and fills to make the turn. The Antigua we come into is not at all familiar in detail, although the general feel is right.

   The Spanish established Antigua as Guatemala's capital from 1543 until 1776, after the previous capital was destroyed in 1541 by mudslides. Antigua prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, giving rise to the construction of numerous monasteries and government buildings. Many of the original buildings collapsed during an earthquake in 1773. Officials moved the capital to Guatemala City, abandoning Antigua until the 20th century. Renovation efforts have since restored Antigua, and the town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

We stop at the east side of the town, roughly in the middle north to south, at Calle de la Concepcion. There is a restored hotel with a courtyard and a lot of tour and trinket presentations, but we use the banyos and head out alone, foregoing the pleasure of looking at the jade museum and workshop, and carrying on into the Parque Central, buying two small necklaces from a genuine peasant woman in the street and putting our head into a gallery with a typical, very attractive, plant filled courtyard on the way. Antigua is just as attractive as we remember. We take a lot of photos of the colonnaded buildings around the square, and the facade of the cathedral, before we head on east towards where we know there is a very elegant hotel with a courtyard garden. The street is quite long and Murray recalls that it was near the far end, so we stop before we get there, and head back to the Parque Centrale.

 Asked for directions to some of our old stamping grounds, and find the Monoloco Bar where we used to go to watch CNN and catch up on the news during the week of 9-11.    We ran into a couple from the cruise at the bar. They have an enormous plate of salsa and guacamole and insist we share it. It is pretty good, and we wish we had time to linger and share more, but have a Pepsi and get on the road again, as we have to be back at the bus by 2.15pm.

Heading out again toward the east side of the city, we direct some women on the cruise toward the bus, then look into a courtyard which is suddenly familiar. We have told them the wrong way, so have to correct this, then reverse direction, to try and find the church of San Francisco, which is reputed to have a floral carpet display for Easter week. Antigua is famous for its Santa Semana festivities, and the main ones are on Friday, so we’re a bit early.  The church does indeed have a display, but there is a service going on, so we have to walk down the side aisles to have a look. Murray doesn't want to take photos, as there are signs against it, but Dianne points out that even the locals are taking photos. We also take photos of the grounds and the market in the yard, then go in pursuit of the famous Arch of Santa Catalina.

    On the way, quite by chance, we come upon the La Union language school, and go in to have a look. It hasn't changed at all, same small tables in the courtyard with one-on-one teaching. We talk to a teacher with a French Canadian student, Murray flexing his forgotten Spanish, barely scraping a pass mark. We walk through to the north west side of the town, zig-zagging to find the Arch and the craft market, and look into a closed church ruin with figures and floats for the Easter procession being worked on. Santa Catalina Church has an even better display of flower carpet and fruit and vegetable decoration. Dianne buys an inflatable zebra hobby horse for Ed at the church, probably made in China, and not particularly germane to Antigua, but at least it has no paint for him to eat.

   We revisit the Parque Centrale, take a photo of the UNESCO plaque, and find the side entrance to the cathedral. It turns out the reason the cathedral front door is locked is that there is no roof, only ruins of a truly heroic scale, in a style very like the Basilica of San Simeon near Aleppo in Syria. It suffered major earthquake damage in 1773, and apart from the facade has not been repaired.

   Just before we have to get back onto the bus, we visit the well-publicised Jade Museum, fail to buy, then hasten to the buses when we see our #4 bus heading that way. Get our Mexican seat, and head off pretty well on time, getting photos of the other side of the road on the way back. There is a really depressed looking town where we pass between the two volcanoes, not a patch of paint on anything, a major contrast to Antigua.

  We get better views of the eastern volcanoes on the way back, including a double peak which could be Pacaya, but it is pretty faint in the haze. The bus takes us straight to the port, where we tip our guide, who was probably a good guide, but didn't have a clue about the country or Antigua, and was pretty rough on her pronunciation; and our driver, who did a mighty job in the narrow, rough streets on the way into Antigua. Murray goes back to ship, while Dianne buys some local jewellery till the 4.30pm back-on-board time.

   On the way out of the harbour at Puerto Quetzal, we see a strange sight on the shoreline between Puerto Quetzal and Iztapa - a group of some 20 two-storey condos, obviously abandoned, sitting on rows of 6 metre piles, a victim of some sort of major beach erosion or volcanic phenomenon. We later try to google them, and despite spending far too much time on it, we can’t find out what happened.  We do, however find out that in 2010 Tropical storm Agatha did a lot of damage around here, so assume that’s the answer. Query it on Lonely Planet forum, and someone says there was a gated community that used the wrong type of shore protection which ate their land instead of protecting it, and they went bankrupt and abandoned it.

 In the bay there are numerous shoals of small fish being attacked by large predator fish. The sunset is pretty quiet, although the disc of the sun is bright red through the haze. The captain has warned us of 50 knot winds and 12 foot waves in the early morning, so Murray takes a couple of seasick pills before bed. Dianne is woken by the movement of the boat, and gets up at 3 AM to have a look upstairs, but couldn't see a lot, and all the exposed areas were roped off. It was pretty windy by the empty pool, and the place was pretty deserted apart from some loose-end teenagers. Took some photos but didn’t show much.

Wednesday 27th March   Cruise day 12      At sea between Guatemala and Mexico

   The seas are pretty rough, and the wind is blowing about 30 knots in the morning, but it has died down from earlier, and the sea is free of whitecaps by lunchtime. Murray is feeling pretty crook with chills and fever, so goes to bed for the rest of the day. Both front up for dinner wearing our formal gear, then Murray back to bed while Dianne has a look at the “Ticket to Ride” Beatles tribute in the Phantom Theatre, complete with a big red double-decker bus.  Staging is quite good, let down by the singing, so don’t stay till the end.  Have a look at the Adults Only Comedy starring Dennis Regan which was OK.

Thursday 28th March   Cruise day 13   At sea between Guatemala and Mexico

   Murray is back in the land of the living, well enough to take some turtle photos in the morning, and take part in the bean bag toss, with little success. We watch parts of "Quo Vadis", and "Steel Magnolias", basically killing time.  Decided against seeing the Amazing Mentalist show with Joshua Seth, but Dianne went to the Adults Only Comedy starring Jeff Wayne who was very confident on stage, and was a great storyteller, but it became embarrassing when he picked on people in the audience in a very nasty fashion to get laughs.

Friday 29th March    Cruise Day 14        Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

    The stop today is Cabo San Lucas, right at the tip of Baha California Sur in Mexico. In 1987, when the kids were 6 and 8, we rode the buses from San Diego as far as La Paz, about 120kms north, but it was too hot for them, so we didn’t get as far as Cabo, so it’s been on our “to do” list for a while now.

 Murray is up early to take photos of the sunrise, but we are still a long way from Cabo, so back to bed, then we are up on deck by 6.45, breakfasting and taking photos, of the cape, and also a whale that comes up near the ship. Los Arcos (the Arch) on the cape, for which Cabo is famous, is visible from the ship, and it all looks pretty good. It is unclear whether it is possible to walk all around the shore from Lovers Beach, as the rocks seem to drop clear in the water at several points.

 The town has been developed mainly as complexes, separated by undeveloped desert, and the desert hinterland starts just outside the last condo. There is a ship at anchor in the bay which looks suspiciously like a whale chaser (if so, it’s come to good hunting grounds).

   This is a tender port, so we are in the Phantom Theatre waiting with our tender number (No. 1) pasted onto our shirts, taking photos of the decorations and killing time. Dianne has to run to the room against orders to get our map, then has to duck into our room again for tissues (she’s lost the fluey feeling, but has a cold) as we file past on our way to the tender platform. We are away by 8 AM, the original advertised time, but we’d been told we’d be arriving late, so we’ve obviously made up time during the night. Get some good photos from the tender - of the cape, stand-up paddlers, the port entrance, a large abandoned half-finished development at the entrance, a massive mega-motor-yacht, and the hire craft fleet.

    We have to find a tour, so ashore we talk to all the likely spruikers, and get onto a man who seems to know the situation. It is Spring Break time, and you can’t be dropped off at a lot of the beaches where you can normally be dropped, so the main options seem to be the larger craft doing tours to the snorkelling beaches, with a look at the Arch and some whale-watching on the way. After ringing around, it narrows down to the two-deck catamaran Oceanus. We pay our money (US$45 each we think) get a ticket and instructions, and after an abortive attempt to pick up free wi-fi as advised by our spruiker, we have a long walk along the waterfront around the harbour, taking photos of a 4500 kg marlin copy, a very flash American timber yacht, and the local architecture. We walk all the way to the entrance on the other side, taking photos of a boat full of brown pelicans, sea lions in the harbour, and along the beach to the seriously crowded areas, with rows of umbrellas and day-beds, with rows of floats defining territory.

Paddle on the shoreline in seriously chilly water, and escape the beach at the first street, a fair way along, and walk back through the streets to the harbour, stopping at a near-deserted upmarket shopping mall, which is supposed to have views from its third floor, but a security guard tells us it is closed. We find the second floor is almost entirely un-tenanted. Continue on, checking out the bar scene and tourist traps. We get back in time to pick up our masks, fins and snorkels before the 11am tour kick-off time.  We’ve been walking around in the hot sun for nearly three hours, so happy to be escorted onto the catamaran, and onto the top deck where Murray claims a space in the shade while Dianne negotiates a drink. There are a lot of people aboard, including ten or so from the ship, so we will not be alone if the tour is late returning. One of the advantages of a Carnival sourced tour is a getter guarantee that they will wait for a late tour.

     We proceed slowly out of the harbour, taking photos of some very flash modern yachts, and the inevitable pirate ships, and pass along the western shore toward the Cape and Los Arcos. It is more obvious that it is possible to walk all the way, if you’re a bit of a mountain-goat, and there are a lot of people on the beach and climbing the rocks. We stop for a long time off Los Arcos and Lovers Beach, getting photos of the rocks, beaches, the scrum of boats around the cape, sea lions on a flat rock inside the main outlier, and pelicans on a sharp rock outside the main outlier. The whole scene is very attractive and photogenic.

   We head east across the bay, passing a long beach, then headlands and short beaches.  Pass a tight raft of cormorants, and sight a whale out to sea. The crew may have seen this, but at this stage, it wasn't part of the plan, so we carry on to the national park at Chileno Beach, pulling up to a float line defining the edge of the protected area of the national park.

    It was now that we learned we would have to wear life jackets all the time while we snorkelled, and also that the water was pretty chilly, about 64F, or 18C. We normally think 28C is an acceptable snorkelling temperature, so when wet suits were offered at $5 each, Murray climbed down the ladder to check the water, and decided the $5 would be well-spent. We still had to wear the life jackets, but at least we wouldn't freeze.

    Murray's hired mask wouldn't stop leaking, and the snorkel also wasn't good, so his experience was a little distorted, but we persevered, covering the entire area inside a semicircle of exposed rocks in half an hour, which we reckoned was enough. There was a fair range of fish, mostly the usual offenders (helped along by all the fish feeding by the tourist boats), with a few new faces, but the coral was pretty tired and mostly dead, and covered the rocks pretty sparsely, so it wasn't one of the great snorkelling experiences, and in fact was extremely ordinary. At least we hadn't laid out money to dive, as the three divers we saw were right below us at easy free diving distance. We did learn we should probably buy some thin, shortie wetsuits for snorkelling in Oz, or even swimming with the cold-resistant grandchildren. We also saw some very weird sort-of electric submarines, a bit like a bicycle with a diving bell attached so the rider could breathe normally without having to know how to use a regulator, clear a mask, or adjust a BCD. Even so, the dive company provided an instructor with each sub. Another interesting feature of our visit was the presence of a Mexican Army/Navy boat, anchored near the shore, with a soldier in camouflage gear, with a rifle, stationed on the bow, and several others in the cockpit area.

    The service of drinks, which were part of the ticket price, was pretty continuous, and the meal was tasty enough, even if pretty basic, and we were on our way back after an hour. On the way back, we suddenly headed out to sea, and we noticed whale signs ahead, and other boats converging. We were subject to an impressive display by three whales, one a baby. They were breaching, waving flippers, extending tails above water, pushing vertically out of the water, all reasonably close to the boat. There was one game fishing boat which was far too close to the group. We got some of our best-ever whale photos. Fortunately the whales were heading in the general direction of the cape, so when they disappeared, we were well on the way back, so there was no temptation to go looking for them, as by this time we were a bit worried about getting back in time. The skipper pushed the speed of the very flimsy, flexible catamaran up, and we made it back to port just before 3 PM. We surrendered our snorkel gear, got Dianne's photocopied ID back (Murray's ID was destroyed earlier in the day by the wet carpet floor of the boat).

    The line of passengers waiting to board is already out the front gate of the terminal, and there is obviously no way the last tender will be leaving at 3.15pm but we are not worried as there are a lot of people behind us, and more arriving in ones, twos and groups. We tip a Mexican family entertaining the queue with music from a tandem xylophone, and rhythm from two young girls.              

   From the tender we are able to get some photos, including one of a very large sea lion riding up on the transom of a returning fishing boat, presumably being fed fish guts and scraps. Inside the ship there is a long doubled-up queue to absorb the high rate of re-embarkation. We drop our gear and head up to get into the Serenity spa at the stern before the rush.

We are supposed to sail at 4pm, but at 4pm they are calling for missing passengers.  About 4.15pm a tender arrived with six strays, and we then left.  They were still calling for another two passengers who we assumed had been left behind, as they were an hour late. At a later Q&A session, they assured everyone that no-one had been left behind this trip, but a crew member told a different story.  The company policy is to always tell the passengers that everything is fine, so you never get a straight story about late passengers, deaths etc.   

Cabo San Lucas is definitely a mass tourism mecca, with lots of time-shares, bars etc, but we’ve enjoyed our day here, though I suspect we’ve seen just about everything it has to offer.

 Dianne stays in the spa with a fair-sized group while Murray takes photos of our departure and the coastline north of Cabo, and the sunset. We have an early dinner at 5.30, table of 6, then hit the sack, Murray basically sleeping through till morning, Dianne doing a four hour early morning session on the computer. We’ve had so many time changes in the last 8 weeks that our body clocks have no idea what time it is.

Saturday 30th March Cruise day 15 At sea between Mexico and California


    The novelty has definitely worn off. The routine has been established - have a meal, walk the decks, back to the room to do chores or watch a movie on our computer, sometimes do the bean bag throw, have dinner and sometimes lunch, with people who are pleasant company, but they are starting to all look or sound the same. Time we were out of here. Additionally, the chefs are obviously scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of ingredients and inspiration.

   For reasons known only to the management, and not communicated to the customers (us), the ship stays well out to sea, and we can only get glimpses of the coast, through clouds or sea mist, never close enough to get a definitive photo or any indication of habitation.

               Dianne goes to the “Future Cruise & Travel Talk” for something to do.  The room is almost full, and the speaker admits he’s already done the exact same talk twice before on this cruise, and the majority of the audience admit they’ve been to those talks???  Surely they can’t be sitting through this talk just to get a free raffle ticket IF they sign up for a credit card? Definitely time to get off this ship.

    We pack most of our bags in the afternoon, finish off after dinner, and put the major bags in the corridor with Group 25 stickers on them. 
    Have our one and only try of the Pods in the Serenity, Adults Only section about 5pm.  The fact that someone's not hogging them must have something to do with the cold weather, and a strong wind blowing.

After dinner have a last visit to Sam’s Bar, and give Dave, the best entertainer on the ship, a good tip, then to bed after setting the alarm for 8AM.

Sunday 31st March   Day 16 of the cruise     Long Beach Terminal-Los Angeles

    We are awake early enough to see the shore of Long Beach a long way off in the closed circuit TV in our room.  By the time we get up the top for breakfast, we are inside the breakwater and manoeuvring to pull up to the domed passenger terminal beside the Queen Mary Hotel, with the container terminal on one side, and the CBD on the other. We learn the sad truth about Group 25, namely that after all the platinum and diamond people, and the people carrying their own bags off, and the early flight people, we’re in the 25th group, out of 26, off the ship! We didn't claim an early flight, or even an early hire-car booking, so we were basically last off out of 2,100 people. At immigration, we only had half a dozen people behind us.

    At least the luggage was easy to find in the abandoned hall. Outside there was more bad news, with a taxi queue of a hundred people, and taxis arriving in groups of five, but filling one at a time. While Murray held a place in the line, Dianne went looking for some alternative, but returned defeated. For a while it looked like our 2PM Sunday cut-off for picking up the car we’ve hired might be in jeopardy, but the process sorted out, and we were on our way by midday for our 10 minute trip to the Long Beach CBD.

       We fly out of LA at 10pm tomorrow night, and want to go the Getty Centre today (it’s closed on Monday’s). We’ve booked accommodation in Del Rey, not far from the airport, for tonight, so decided the only way to do all this was to hire a car. The Avis office is in a high rise building. We check-in, after waiting for an Australian man and his daughter, then borrow a phone to call our hosts to make sure we can drop off the luggage before carrying on to the Getty Centre. We get maps from the tourist brochure rack, not from Avis. There seems to be some conjecture as to where the Centre actually is, even though it is clearly marked on the map (due to the fact that there is the Getty Centre in Brentwood, and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, near Malibu, both of which Dianne knew about, but Murray thought there was only one).

  We also get directions to the 405 interstate, and perfunctory information on how to find the car and drive it. We query the use of two identical keys permanently linked, find this is policy, and there is a massive, but not described up-front, penalty for separating them, even if you pay the premium for two drivers.

    Finding the car is made difficult because it is parked in the Budget car park, and the car doesn't respond to the key button by blinking its lights, but we do recognise the colour, then the number plate. We are given some vague instruction about not locking the car when you are too close to it.

    We find the car is a sporty Nissan 2-door Altima Coupe, and the trunk is so small the Beast will only fit right in the middle, and the extra bag has to be compressed in on one side. The key arrangement is also a mystery, as there is no actual metal key as part of the plastic fob, and there is nowhere to insert it. By intuition, we figure it must be one of the new remote key systems, and look for a start button, which we find obscured by the steering wheel.

    Experience tells us it won't start without the gear change in Park, and the foot brake depressed, and we manage to get under way, somewhat gingerly, but we have four floors of car park to negotiate, so by the time we reach the street, we are getting the hang of it

    We get onto the 710, then the 405 without a lot of trouble, and are able to keep up with the speed limit, but not necessarily the traffic. Have to hold the middle lanes for left or right merge options, and have to make a fairly radical shift to the left to pick up 90 and follow the clear directions to our home.

    We’ve booked another room through airbnb (A$117 per night including airbnb fee) with Johnny and Mark (https://www.airbnb.com.au/users/show/2926347) who describe themselves as follows: “a super-fun, committed (almost 20 years) and married gay couple in our early 50s. We live on Ballona Creek in Del Rey, 3.5 miles from the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. We share our beautifully and recently renovated home with our 2 hilarious and well-behaved dogs, Sigi and Wolfgang (we hope you love dogs) and you're welcome to join us on one of our daily local hikes. We're right on the famous Ballona Creek Bike Path; you can grab one of our beach cruiser bikes and head out to the Playa Del Rey beach or to the Marina or Venice”.

               We are met by Johnny, one of our two hosts, who welcomes us in, shows us the ropes and around the house, and we leave most of the gear, taking just light clothes, no raincoats, but umbrellas. We get directions on how to get back onto 90 East, but it is not explained that where the road coming toward us splits 3 ways, the lights are unresponsive to us wanting to turn right onto the major Centinela Ave, and we have to wait several cycles before daring to turn right on the red.

   We follow the directions to the Getty Centre, but nearly miss the turn as there are road works and unclear signs, but make it to the entrance to pay our $15 parking fee, so we can go to the free museum.

  Trouble starts in the car park, which has really tight spaces, as it is difficult to get out of the car, and when we do, the car won't lock, being completely unresponsive to the buttons on either of the key fobs. There is an instruction tag on the key ring, but it mentions numbers 1 and 2, but these don't appear on the fobs. Murray gets in and out a couple of times, tries to lock from a distance, while Dianne asks a Nissan owner, but he can't help, as he has paid extra to have a button on his trunk handle, and we don't have one. Eventually we establish that the car won't start without the key close, so we leave it unlocked, and go to catch the hovercraft shuttle train up the hill to the Getty Centre.

   There is a garden tour assembling under the sycamore trees, but it starts raining heavily, and we have left the umbrellas, and Dianne's warm jumper, in the car, so we repair to the main building, surrender a licence to get I-phone electronic guides, then notice an architecture tour is starting, so pick up a couple of loaner umbrellas from a bin, and join it.

    The architecture tour is a celebration of having carte blanche to spend 1.3 billion dollars (now valued at 5 billion) on whatever the architect (Richard Meier) desired. The updated estimate of cost in 1990 had been $350 million, and the building was opened in 1997 after eight years of building. The buildings at the Getty Center are made from concrete and steel, with either travertine or aluminum cladding.  Around 1,200,000 square feet (110,000 m2) of travertine was used to build the centre. The effect is pretty good, but not nearly as European as they think.

The gardens are lovely, particularly the Central Garden, which has only recently re-opened after renovation. The waterfall running down to the geometric maze of azaleas in the sunken garden, plus the reinforcing rods supporting structure for the Bougainvillea trees are particularly impressive. There are great views to the hills and all the way past the CBD to the beaches, impaired by low cloud, rain and fog. 

    After the tour, we check out the art, Van Gogh's Irises in particular (the one Alan Bond paid  US$53.9 million for) ,with a typically effusive arty reading of Van Gogh’s mind on what and why he painted. There were also a lot of European minor masters, but not many of the real masters. The main attraction of the site was the building and the garden, the art coming in third. We’d definitely recommend the Centre as a “must see” if you’re going to LA.

We retraced our route to near home, then carried on towards the sea, ending up at a park on the south side of the main section of Marina del Rey, before backtracking to a mall to look for food. There was another good supermarket, with all sorts of precooked and packaged food, but we settled on a design-it-yourself sandwich shop, which has a few outlets in LA, called Mendocino Farms - very LA, with a million choices of sandwich and soup, very strange fruit drinks, all very organic, but not bad, and plenty of it. We took the remains of our meal down towards the point, stopping in a paid parking area. Were about to pay when a motorist leaving handed us a ticket with time left on it. We walked down the marina to a park on the point which looked out on the broad reach leading to the marina. There were a lot of people and families in the park, on good grass under paperbark trees, enjoying the now-fine weather on a late Sunday afternoon.

   We head back to the B&B, to find Johnny in the process of mixing martinis, and he invites us to share a drink and dinner. Say we’ve already eaten, but will have a drink - Dianne a VERY large martini, while

Murray settles for white wine. Sit around talking. Conversation gets more and more animated as martini gets less and less. Johnny had already had one before we arrived, and is well on the way. Wolfie, the bull terrier takes a considerable shine to Murray, who has a hard time discouraging him. The martinis eventually get to Johnny and he goes to bed, Dianne has also probably had enough with just one Martini, but we sit and talk to Mark about LA and show biz for a while before retiring.

Monday 1st April         Los Angeles, then flight to Sydney

   We are up fairly late, have our very organic breakfast (Johnny and Mark are vegans).  Johnny reckons we could get into the Getty Villa today, even though we haven’t booked in advance, and helps us get (free) tickets.  Takes a while, but finally get printed invitations for 1PM. We have plenty of time, so follow given directions through the main streets of Marina del Rey, with some trepidation, then find the minor street along the beach at Venice Beach, and drive north a while, seeing glimpses of beach, but there is nowhere to park.

   We drop back to the next parallel street, a bit larger, with two-way traffic, and some actual free parallel parking. We walk to the beach and along, seeing the sweep of sand, and an actual paid parking lot right on the beach. Carry on past Muscle Beach, and a shopping centre, then cut inland to a larger street, and Dianne happens to see something which looks like a bridge, so we have a look, and find it crosses the end of one of the canals of Venice. We walk the canals, finding them very small and shallow at low tide, but still quite pretty, with mostly well decorated and maintained houses, and lots of colourful flowers.

   We find the car unmolested, talk to a friendly local woman loading the car in front of us, then head north to pick up Pacific Coast Highway 1 (the highway we followed when we drove from Vancouver to San Diego in 1977). We look for places to park and take photos, but the road is wide, and there isn't a lot to see from the inland side of the road, so we look for a side road, and at Will Rogers State Beach, find Temescal Canyon Road, running uphill, with some major construction work shoring up the hillside. We get off this into the suburban streets of Palisades (Pacific Palisades), and wind our way around the edge of the plateau and back towards the coast. Get some good views, then find the road right at the edge of the cliff closed off, so walk the last 50 metres to Palisades Park, right on the crest, for good views up and down the coast.

The barrier across the road has photos and protests about cell phone towers, and each house has a protest notice in its yard. We walk the edge of the escarpment, noting a lot of collapse at the edge, and a major crack across the tarred road, hence the closure. Back at the car, Murray notes that hIs glasses are missing, so we do a patrol on the park area, and at the previous spot we stopped, no luck, but finally find them at the bottom of a deep pocket.

 We carry on up the coast to well beyond the Getty Villa, checking out how to get to it on the way. Turn around well beyond Malibu, then return, stopping where possible to look at the beaches, and walking down to the sea at one point to look up at houses cantilevered out over the beach on large timber trussed frames. Near Malibu the road turns inland, and the only apparent road back to the waterfront has a no-entry sign. First possible entry is a few kilometres back at a shopping mall.  Determine to come back and explore more after our 1pm appointment

Back past the Getty Villa, we do a semi-illegal U-turn to get back to the Villa, pay our $15 and check in to the parking.

   It is a fair climb up to the operating area of the Villa, then down to the floor level of the amphitheatre to join the Architectural Tour. Most of the group, including the young boys (it’s Spring Break, and there are LOTS of them) have headsets and receivers to capture the lecture, but we have missed out, so we have to stick fairly close to the volunteer lecturer.

  The Getty Villa, between Pacific Palisades and Malibu, is an educational centre and museum dedicated to the study of the arts and cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. The collection has 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD, including the Lansdowne Heracles and the Victorious Youth.  It opened in 1974, but was never visited by Getty, who died in 1976. In 1997, portions of the museum's collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities were moved to the Getty Centre for display, and the Getty Villa was closed for renovation. The collection was restored during the renovation. It re-opened in 2006..

The Getty Villa is modelled after the first-century Roman country house of Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus - the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, with much of it still unexcavated. Our lecturer explains the form and function of the rooms and open spaces on the ground floor, and the garden and pond enclosed by cloistered wings, opening out to the view beyond.

   After the tour, we do the rounds of the exhibits, including upstairs, where there are good views, a good range of historic and artistic exhibits and “the victorious Youth” the famous Grecian bronze recovered from the sea, but now in a legal battle to give it back to Italy.

    As we have plenty of time, we return to the Malibu shopping centre, look at another monster supermarket, and this time we buy bread, roast chicken, chicken tenders and coke for a lunch on seats outside the mall. After, we find a minor seaside road which takes us North past the absolute beachfront section of Malibu, which you often see in movies. There are several places where we can see the beach through fenced off vacant blocks, but we have to wait to get right to the end of the housing before we get access to the beach. We walk along roughly on the "mean high tide line" as instructed by numerous signs, to keep off the private property. High tide is under the verandas of some of the properties. All of them have massive timber piles and braces, some in better condition than others. Anything which looks like metal is heavily corroded. Some of the buildings have inhabited rooms only half a metre above the sand, but most have the lowest floor at least 3 metres up. The houses, like Sydney harbourside pole houses, are not pretty from below, but would be pretty pleasant to live in when weather is reasonable. The frigid temperature of the water takes a fair bit of the "living in paradise" aspect away from it.

   Not wanting to be late for the plane, we head home fairly early, past the Santa Monica pier, and the complicated streets near the beach, before finding the same Main Street to Venice Beach and heading back to the B&B. We pack our gear and take our leave, in spite of our hosts offer to stay longer as it is "only a few minutes to the airport" via the larger local streets. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay with Johnny and Mark, who have been incredible hosts. As we said in our review of their b&b -  “We travel to see the world, but more importantly, to meet interesting people and share good times. Johnny and Mark are wonderful hosts, and provide much more than a comfortable bed, and a lovely house and garden - they provide themselves! Unfortunately we only had one night in LA, but they went out of their way to help us, especially as we wanted to arrive early (after a cruise) and leave late as we had a 10pm flight. Stay with them and see hosting at its best!”

 We are still pretty early, but we have to find a gas station, fill the tank, find the airport, return the car, and get the shuttle, so early is better than later.

    We find a gas station quickly, but the concept of getting gas and then paying for it and getting a receipt is unknown here, so, after negotiation with the woman behind the counter, Murray puts $40 on the credit card, fills the tank, then gets $14 credited off the bill. We then get advice on how to get to the Airport, which is on Lincoln Bvde, which we have used going north yesterday, so we are in good shape. Find an airport sign, and get to the Hire Car Return lane. It should be straightforward from here, but the signage gets very indistinct, with lots of possible options to cover a single arrow sign, but we eventually see the Avis lot, well away from the airport, and have a very quick check-in.

    This time, we don't have a single thing to which Avis could object, but the inspection is very perfunctory. We could have had a wheel missing and they wouldn't have noticed.

In a short time we are at the United check-in, have checked the "Beast", and our new budget tartan brattice bag full of winter gear, and are on our way through security, with the remains of our lunch OK, but not so the water bottles.

   We hole up in the familiar last card in the pack boarding gate complex around Gate 77, and find a power point and do our electronics thing waiting for the plane. We are way down the back, second last triple seat, where the tail wags like a tuna's. Our seat partner is a good sleeper, so access to the toilets is only by request, which has its moments, particularly as the flight is as rough as we have encountered on a long overseas flight, and even the flight attendants are in their jump seats for long periods.

   The food is pretty ordinary, but the male attendants have been to comedy school, so the one-liners help us see the bright side of aircraft meals. Wine and beer is free, but spirits are not. We arrive over Sydney just on daybreak, through bumpy heavy clouds, breaking through to see dense patches of cloud low over the city, making it difficult to trace out the true shape of the harbour and orientate ourselves. On the ground, it is raining heavily, and blowing hard, a great welcome back. Murray's passport gives problems as usual, but causes Customs more hassle than us, as we still make it to the baggage in time.

      The taxi on the way home is held up by flooding in the streets (there was over an inch of rain in less than an hour), and to cap off a delightful reintroduction to Sydney life, we open our front door to the sound of bleating from a fridge which has carked it, and is full of rotting food. To add insult to injury, Dianne's computer, which is often dicky after a long shut down, refuses to start. The next day Murray’s computer does the same.   Welcome home!


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