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twangster

ūüéĶPanama! ūüéĶ Vision of the Seas Oct. 30, 2019

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Today's excursion in Costa Rica is "Pacific Train, Boat and Bus Adventure" booked through Royal.

We start by boarding an ultra modern motorcoach for a 25 minute ride to a train.  This Sandy Point area back in the days contained a cargo terminal to handle the growing coffee trade that Costa Rica was becoming known for.  Completed in 1914 trains carried the coffee to the port.  Today much of track is no longer used or serviceable but we ride the train along section of the old tracks that once was used to transport coffee to awaiting ships.

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Along the way we spot a monkey in the tree. 

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The motorcoach pulls up very close to the stairs of the train so it's a quick transfer from bus to train.

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Soon we start down the old tracks.

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Along the tracks are shanties put together with whatever materials people can find.

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As we pass through some mangroves a termite mound is spotted.

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The people are very friendly waving as we pass by.

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An opportunity to try a local beer, Imperial.  La Cerveza de Costa Rica. $3.

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More friendly people waving to us.

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The train cars were refinished in original materials when they started using the railroad for passengers.

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Forty five minutes later we've gone roughly 5 miles and it's time to re-board the bus for the next adventure.

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They pull the bus right up so we never touch the ground.  Maybe because it's still rainy season they do this to avoid tracking dirt and mud into their coach, I'm not really sure but it makes for an easy transfer. 

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As we drive off to our next stop we pass the train reversing back towards it's starting point.

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While not fast moving the train is a nice way to see some of the countryside we otherwise would have never seen.

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During our drive over to the boat ride that comes next our guide tells us many facts of Costa Rica.  This includes the fact that Costa Rica has the highest density of biodiversity of anywhere.  It's unique position bridging North and South America combined with it's numerous climatic regions has created different areas that can support a wide variety of species.  

As we approach our destination our driver tells us to get our cameras ready.  As we cross over a river we spot several Crocodiles on the banks of the river below.

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We're going on a Crocodile Boat Tour.

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The Crocodile Tour base area has several restrooms for the hundreds of guests coming and going on motorcoaches just like ours.  

The grounds are nicely kept and the path to the boats is quite nice.

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An Iguana sunning nearly oblivious to the dozens of guests walking past. 

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Our boat tour will take place on the Tárcoles River.  There are different types of boats used by different tour operators in this section of the river, this was the type of boats we'll use today.

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With three boats loading we are directed as groups based on the motorcoach we arrived on.

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It doesn't take long to spot our first Croc.

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The view upstream.

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Local operators offer birding tours as well as crocodile tours.  There are dozens of species we'll see today and I could easily turn this from a crocodile tour into a birding tour.

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We were given a handout with different species of birds that we could use to identify them.  We quickly started running through them like bingo. 

A Tricolored Heron, a Snowy Egret...

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A juvenile Great Blue Heron...

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Iguanas...

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Crocodile on the left bank...

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Another Tricolored Heron (I think)...

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Another Croc swimming away from us...

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A pair of Snowy Egrets flying around us...

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I could go on and on.  In fact I had to ignore dozens of photos just to keep these posts reasonable.   

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We continue upstream.

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The sightings continue.  A crocodile on the right bank...

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A large crocodile on the left sunning itself...

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We turn to head back and in a place where we were just a few minutes ago a crocodile has appeared.

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Continuing back a herd of cattle appear.

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Seeing this I suddenly feel like I am in one of those nature shows where a crocodile bursts out of the water and the cattle run for their lives.  That didn't happen but it sure felt like it could.

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A Willet...

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Great Blue Heron...

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The notes for the excursion stated "Wildlife sightings not guaranteed".  That wasn't an issue today.

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Back to the tour base...

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"No swimming" - no problem, I'll gladly comply.

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Our two motorcoaches from the train were gathered to take in a few cultural dances of Costa Rica.

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Fresh local fruit was available as well as some free Costa Rica coffee to sample.   

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Shopping is also available.  Of course I bought some Costa Rica coffee from a small farm to take home.

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Back on the motorcoach we begin the drive back to the port and cross the river again to see... more crocodiles.  

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Day 10 - Sea Day

We changed time last night.  We are now on Eastern time.

Our progress...

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We've reached the Southernmost point of¬†this¬†cruise.¬†A mere 6¬į 52.44' North of the Equator or just over 400 nm.¬†¬†

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Now we're heading due East.

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Once past the lower tip of Panama we'll turn North towards the canal and meet the pilot at 5am.  If all goes well depending on ship traffic we'll be entering the locks of the Panama Canal at 7am.  

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Day 11 - Panama Canal

This is going to take a few posts, bear with me.  

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In the early morning light you could see a virtual fleet of ships at anchor waiting their turn.

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Panama City was becoming visible through the morning fog.

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I was surprised by the number of high rise buildings.

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We continued to glide through the flotilla of ships until we approached the Bridge of the Americas.

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This bridge is the lowest of three bridges that now span the canal.  This is the original and lowest of the three.  The NCL Bliss as the largest cruise ship to ever transit the Panama Canal squeaked under but only at low tide.

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Vision was built within Panamax standards so there is no question we'll slide under quite nicely.

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Once past the Bridge of the Americas our adventure really begins.

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I noted our seamen in the bow looked different.  That's because the ship crew who normally handle the lines got the day off.   When transiting the Panama Canal local seamen come on board to handle the lines.

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In the last photo of my above post you can sort of see there is a split or fork in the channel.  

As we moved forward it became clearer the path to the left are the new locks for neo-Panamax larger vessels.  The fork to the right leads to the original locks for vessels meeting the original Panamax standard.

Here is a neo-Panamax ship being helped into position to enter the new locks.

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An old locomotive possibly from the Panama railroad that used to run between the coasts.

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The new locks on this side of the canal. 

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Those pools of water in the foreground are part of the water conservation approach used by the new locks.

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As we continue on towards the right and the original locks we can begin to see the Miraflores locks around the bend.

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A little bit about the Panama Canal.

In order to make it from one ocean to the other the ship needs to reach the man made Gatun Lake that lies in middle of Panama.  That involves three canal locks that are used to lift the ship a total of 85 feet (~26m) to reach the level of Gatun Lake.  Once across Gatun Lake another series of three steps in canal locks lower the ship back to sea level.

From West to East we will go through the Miraflores locks, across the small Miraflores Lake and then into the Pedro Miguel locks.  Once through those locks we will be at the level of Gatun Lake.  On the Atlantic side of Gatun Lake the Gatun Locks will lower us in three steps to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. 

Miraflores Locks

There are two steps in these locks.

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These tugs are an important part of the canal operation. Ships our size are assigned two tugs.

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Two people in a row boat...

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They bring "messenger" lines over to the ship that will be used to haul the steel cables from the locomotives over to the ship.  Ship lines are not used in the transit.

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The crowds at the front of the ship do become somewhat thick.  An opportunity to meet new friends. 

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The Miraflores locks will lift us two of the three steps required to reach the level of Gatun Lake.

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The locomotives on each side will help guide the ship into the lock channel and keep the ship centered. These have been upgraded over the years but their function remains the same as it was in 1914 when the Panama Canal first opened.

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The locomotives are nicknamed "mules" and operating under guidance from the control room,  the onboard seamen and the pilot they keep the ship moving centered in the lock chamber.  The ship uses it's own propulsion to move forward.

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As the ship moves forward we approach the lock door that hold back massive volumes of water.  Behind us a set of lock doors will close creating a chamber for us to ride in.

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Once the doors behind the ship close the lock is flooded with water.  The spray seen here is normal leakage, the chamber is actually filled from below. 

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As the chamber fills we can sense we are gently rising.

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It's a subtle rise that can be hard to notice.  The water line against the lock doors can be used to see how far the water has risen.  

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With our first lift complete the lock doors in front of us open and we advance into the next lock chamber.

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The ship before us is already moving into Miraflores Lake.

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The orange ship in the new locks has already reach the level of Gatun Lake and is starting to move forward to continue the transit.  The Borinquen Dams separate the new Pacific access channel where this ship is from Miraflores Lake.

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These Miraflores locks were originally completed in 1913. 

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A visitors center allows people to view the locks (and us) in operation.

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One more lift to go to reach the level of Miraflores Lake.

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