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Statendam Cruise Review by Nine and a Half: The port of calls, the price per day and the time of year was good.


Nine and a Half
1 Review
Member Since 2013
41 Posts

Member Rating

Cabin 2.0
Dining 3.0
Embarkation 2.0
Enrichment Activities 5.0
Entertainment 3.0
Family & Children Not Rated
Fitness & Recreation 5.5
Public Rooms 5.0
Rates Not Rated
Service 2.0
Shore Excursions Not Rated
Value for Money 5.0

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The port of calls, the price per day and the time of year was good.

Sail Date: November 2013
Destination: South America & Antarctica
Embarkation: San Diego

We were looking forward to this 31-day Inca Empire cruise south of the equator to see 7 new ports and revisit 5. On all of our previous cruises with other lines we would schlep our luggage up to the terminal entrance where a port employee would take the luggage put it on a wagon to be taken to the ship. Next would be the long lines of passengers waiting to check in. After boarding the ship was the usual offer of drinks to start the celebration. In San Diego we schlepped our luggage to the terminal entrance to be told that we had to carry the luggage from the terminal entrance across the parking lot to the taxi stand or lug it on to the ship. As it was an equal distance to schlep the luggage we chose to continue on to the ship. Much to our surprise we were the only passengers in the terminal and received our cards without fanfare. We received no assistance with the luggage from the gawking staff until we reached the gangway were Bagun of the dining staff was applying hand sanitizer More cheerfully took the larger bags to our cabin. We had made the mistake of following HAL’s boarding time information and found that we now had to choose between tracking down a waiter for a drink or seeing the ship while it was open to explore. Those that have cruised HAL before knew to show up when it was convenient for them and were onboard hours before their recommended boarding time.

It is clear to see the Statendam is a grand vessel with luxury to be enjoyed. The teak wood decks are far superior to the bare or tiled metal decks of the newer ships. The deck chairs are wood instead of plastic. All of the furniture on board was superior to that of the other ships. The fitness center was well above average and with the forward view made it a great place to exercise. The indoor swimming pool is magnificent to see and a pleasure to use.

We are any time diners, which permits us to dine when we want and gives us the opportunity to meet new and different people. The person assigned to show us our main dinning room table for the evening could not find it without asking the waiters. The table was next to an air conditioning vent that blew directly onto the table making it very uncomfortable. Bangun asked how we were and arranged for a different table. Our appetizers and soup were served and 45 minutes later the waiter asked if we wanted desert. As the Lido restaurant closed at 8 pm we had no choice but to wait for the kitchen to find our order. This made us long for the ships that actually have at least one restaurant open all the time.

Fortunately the fellow passengers really make this cruise enjoyable. While agreeing this mishap is avoidable, our fellow diners continued sharing stories and expectations of ports to come.

The Lido restaurant offers 5 different eggs benedict for breakfast and I do love eggs benedict when prepared properly. I found that the Swiss style mussel was my best option for breakfast and sitting on the starboard side so Ira could smile as she repeated each passengers name as she served them fresh juice or picked up their plates. Many of the wives could not decide if they wanted to mother the cute sweet little Ira or despise her squeaky little girl voice.

One of the great expectations about this cruise was having Thanks Giving at sea on a luxury cruise. Our Traditional Thanksgiving Turkey dinner consisted of processed turkey roll and vegetables. No mashed potatoes, no gravy, no stuffing and no cranberry sauce. Couple that with the Brits at our table having beef and mashed potatoes with their usual gravy and we all wondered about the cook’s sanity. As for the Pumpkin pie, even the Brits agreed it was from some place other than North America.

When we sailed into one port it was like riding a Navy escort, as we heeled to starboard and then rocked to port, then back and forth a few times. Not sure if the crew was effect more than the passengers or just enjoying the ride like me. The captain did come on the PA when we docked to let us all know that due to the shallow waters the stabilizer fins had been retracted for safety.

Schedules were dutifully posted in the pretty four page daily bulletin that is far better than any of 2 page photo copied bulletins on our previous cruises. Just do not believe the schedule, as it is not followed. Time and again posted events did not happen at the appointed time and sometimes did not happen at all. This lack of following their own schedule only resulted in many of us missing some sights because the captain chose to arrive late at the port.

As this was our first crossing of the equator the wife was looking forward to seeing if the line was real or another one of those imaginary male lines. So I asked the front desk what time where we scheduled to cross the equator, as it was not posted anywhere. She informed me we had already crossed it per her 3 pm staff meeting. I asked her if she understood what the 3 degrees north latitude meant in our current location? She called the bridge and allegedly was told they were to busy and she would send the information to our cabin as soon as she got it. Surprised the information was never forth coming. We watched the local position on the TV and I calculated it my self so the wife could see there was no line on the water. There was no Neptune Party for the southbound cruise but they did have a good one for the crew on the northbound cruise.

Upon our docking at Lima we learned the crew had no real ideal of how the passengers were to get from the ship to the terminal. The only information they had was, vans were supposed to come, and it was not their job. This was repeated at two more ports to prove it was not a fluke.

On other cruise lines we were constantly asked if we would like to purchase a drink. Partly because the tips are the only pay the waiters allegedly receive. This is clearly not the case with HAL as the best way to get a drink was to become friends with the staff so they know your name or track down the staff and ask for a drink. At the beautiful inside pool I watched the mimosa cart go around and learned that I was not part of the usual group so I was not asked if I wanted one. And this was the waiter I had to track down the day before, go figure.

Our fellow passengers on this Statendam were the best we have seen on a cruise. We have been on cruises were we knew no one on embarking and new no one except the staff when disembarking. On this Statendam cruise the passengers were extremely friendly and looking to make new friends to the point that just sitting any where on the ship for five minutes and someone would sit down next to us and start a cheerful conversation. These casual meetings resulted in more people wanting to join us on private shore excursions or us joining them because our plans for a previously visited port were open. I was amazed at how many people had no real plan for when they get off the ship at the next port and was just going to see what, if any, local tours were available.

The Statendam did have a Catholic priest (Father Vincent) for daily mass, a Protestant preacher for daily services and a self-led Jewish congregation. We met Father Vincent at dinner and learned of his position on the ship and according to him is the only cruise line with a Catholic priest.

The casino was very open to players of all levels. Beginners’ tables were often set up and the players played for half price, which kept more than a few passengers returning. For the whales, they make whatever reasonable request they can. One gentleman brought a new game to the casino the some enjoyed and seemed to provide sufficient returns for the house. The Texas Hold’em table was beginners at least twice a day and an evening of open play.

The Statendam also offers computer classes in a wonderfully set up computer lab with professional instructor and cooking classes from one of the chefs in a beautifully arranged theater with its own fully functional kitchen. Sewing classes were offered for those that still sew. Lectures on the cultures and ports were twice a day at sea.

For the music lovers there is live music from classical to pop, top 40, jazz, etc. at several locations including the indoor pool. For the dancers there is an excellent floor in the ocean bar great for the before dinner twirl.

The show room entertainment on the Statendam was a soprano, a violinist, 2 pianists, a flutiest, a saxophonist, ballroom dancing couples, 2 comedians and a gymnast. On the other cruise lines the crew performs their artistic talents on the last night. For this cruise the Filipino crew show was only performed while most of the passengers where in Machu Picchu. The Indonesian show was only done on the return leg and was extremely good. Ira led the 40 hands dance and when the others made a mistake the dragon lady (Ira) yelled at them to stay with the music. Bangun was the assistant director and helped the performers with their props. In the finally Bangun was the life of the show. The last night of the cruise the entertainment was fellow passengers doing the Dancing with the Stars.

We chose to leave the ship at our own convenience and even then it was a long line at the security station with people standing in the stairways and the elevators bringing even more down to the point they could not get out of the elevators. So we used this as an opportunity to say goodbye one more time to our fellow passengers.

Probably the most important thing we learned from this cruise and from our fellow passengers is, book an HAL cruise when the port of calls, the price per day and the time of year is good for you. Less


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Cabin review: Statendam 042

Cabin 042 is directly under a bus station of the Lido Restaurant. When the crew starts its evening cleaning we could hear the vacuum cleaner rolling across the floor above us as we tried to sleep. In the morning the staff is setting up and the noise reverbs the morning air far earlier than we wanted to wake up. Calls to the front desk only resulted in promises that were never kept. Despite the crews best efforts the air conditioning could not keep the room cool when it was warm outside or warm when it was cold outside. So the crew provided a circulating fan on a stand but did not know where to plug it in for power. I unplugged the DVD player that we had no intention of using and plugged in the fan that blew air over us at night so we could get some sleep. For the cold nights they provided an extra comforter. The balcony is nice but not as nice as the brochure. It is comparable to the mini suites we have used on other cruises. The room stewards kept the cabin clean and honestly tried their best. Would recommend one of the cabins on deck 9 the Verandah deck to get away from the noise of deck 11 and save some money to boot.

Port and Shore Excursions


“Baja Jeep Shore Excursion” with Baja Outback Drove a new model air-conditioned hard top Jeep Wrangler on dirt farm roads from Cabo San Lucas to the village of La Candalaria. Stops along the way for the Naturalist guide explained the local plants, animals and shifting tectonic plates that will eventually result in this area becoming the island of Baja. Visited the local school that boards children during the school week and the local church. Four Wheeling from outside La Candalaria down a riverbed to the ocean. This is fun for those that have never four wheeled or seen true rural subsistence living before. Down loaded a digital recording of the experience from their FTP site. A great day off the cruise ship.

4x4 Adventure

“Baja Jeep Shore Excursion” with Baja Outback
Drove a new model air-conditioned hard top Jeep Wrangler on dirt farm roads from Cabo San Lucas to the village of La Candalaria. Stops along the way for the Naturalist guide explained the local plants, animals and shifting tectonic plates that will eventually result in this area becoming the island of Baja. Visited the local school that boards children during the school week and the local church. Four Wheeling from outside La Candalaria down a riverbed to the ocean. This is fun for those that have never four wheeled or seen true rural subsistence living before. Down loaded a digital recording of the experience from their FTP site. A great day off the cruise ship.


3 days with “Lima Mentor”, Cynthia Caceres is the founder and general manager. Cynthia is a very modern tech savvy lady who answered every one of our emails in a prompt and courteous manner. We combined her Two Day Shore Excursion with her One Day Modern City Tour and the Junius Peruvian Fiesta. Cynthia had warned us of the construction work at the Port of Callao (Lima) that would delay our shuttle from the ship to the gate.
Day 1 of the Two Day Shore Excursion we met Cynthia’s brother who is the driver and all around good guy outside the Port of Callao gate. He introduced us to our guide Vanessa who was extremely knowledgeable of all the Lima attractions and pleasing to the eye. We first drove to the Historic Center where we changed dollars to soles in case we find something we cannot pay with in dollars. Vanessa explained the most important monuments at the Historic Center such as the Main Plaza, the Cathedral and the Government Palace. Our group decided on the spot we wanted to walk through the Cathedral so we changed the itinerary without any hassle. We learned our guide Vanessa was well known here in Lima as several people came up to her, shook hands and started talking. Next we visited the Convento Santo Domingo, which is a very impressive convent that Vanessa knew extremely well and could answer every one Father Vincent’s questions with ease. We walked up the tower to great views of the Historic Center of Lima. In the tower are photo stops including boards painted for the people to poke their heads through and get their picture taken in traditional Lima periodic clothing. Friends say it makes me look to thin for my face. Highly recommend seeing both the Cathedral and Convent Santo Domingo in the same day.
We walked through the local streets to see the old town stores and where the locals shop.
Next a stop for lunchtime in Chorrillos, historical and traditional district where we had lunch in a local house converted into a restaurant. The traditional furniture still remains and the tables are well spaced so everyone is comfortable such as at a large family reunion. We chose the courtyard so we could watch the cooks and socialize with the local cat that desired attention. Their Pisco Sours were great with or without the raw egg whites that the cruise ship had warned us not to have because Salmonella serotype Enteritidis (SE) can be inside perfectly normal-appearing eggs. Even without the Pisco Sours we could have stayed there for hours enjoying the perfect weather and all the historical sights in the restaurant. But we had to move on to Huaca Pucllana, a pre-Inca site, in the middle of the modern city in the district of Miraflores. Next we walked around the Shopping Center Larcomar (Centro Comercial Larcomar) on the cliffs overlooking the coast. This is a not to be missed sight on the sand cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The women chose to shop and complain about the high prices or that they could not communicate with the shop attendants. The men got some excellent drinks, fantastic view of the sun setting on the pacific ocean and the opportunity to help some young Peruvian women with their photos. The wives did choose to go shopping and leave us by our lonely selves with Peruvian women strolling by that say they are so different from the "cold" North American and European women. We recommend at least 90 minutes to 2 hrs to see this lovely place, fantastic sights, especially at sunset and make sure the wife wears a jacket so she is not “cold”.
Next we were on to the Peruvian Fiesta at Junius Restaurant, part of El Pardo Double Tree by Hilton. The price includes a Peruvian buffet with all of the dishes labeled in English for us non-Spanish readers and they let you taste small samples before selecting. All this intended to stop the wives from asking what is that, but they still had to ask what was in it before trying. The folkloric show is performed using the entire restaurant and cumulates on a tiny stage that already has 10 very good musicians on it. By my count there were 11 different dancers the night we attended. The dancers performed for up to 10 minutes in the same costume then a new group came out in new costumes and danced for their 10 minute set. The only break from this routine in the 90 minute show was when the drummer got up to perform different styles of tap dancing to give the dancers a chance to change costumes and catch their breath. I took so many pictures that I ran my camera battery dead. The finally includes all the dancers and the audience as they make the audience part of the show. Those with cameras that still work were busy taking pictures with the folkloric group in their magnificent costumes on the tiny stage and around the restaurant. Cynthia’s brother arrived during the finally and waited patiently outside to drive us back to the ship. Seeing Lima in the night is another not to be missed sight.
Day 2 of the Two Day Shore Excursion we met Cynthia’s brother and our guide Vanessa outside the Port of Callao gate at the appointed time. As neither the driver nor Vanessa had ate breakfast yet we stopped at a street vender to get a warm local fruit drink and snack that was shared with those of us brave (stupid) enough to try them. Now comes the mesmerizing 40-minute ride to the Pachacamac Ruins. Vanessa talked nonstop as each of the different areas we pass through is explained in detail. We learned that the Pachacamac Ruins is a hugely important archaeological find containing pyramids from pre-inca times. Teams of scientists have determined this location was home to people from as far back as 200A.D. and civilization prospered until around 1533 AD. Thanks to the scientists still working the area there are signs everywhere for the school children and tourist to read. As we walked and the non-walkers rode in the vehicle, our guide Vanessa continued explaining in great detail about the Temple Pintado ( coloured temple) and Temple Viejo ( old temple) as well as the Temple del Inti (Temple of the Sun) which contains a stone staircase we climbed leading up to a terraced area with a great view of the surrounding lands that has modern civilization fast encroaching upon this ancient monument. Vanessa explained the Acllahuasi temple or the house of Mamaconas (name given to a particular group of women, sent from Cusco or other important cities to come to the place and take care of the religious ceremonies and the production of fine textiles for the nobility). The Pachacamac museum and vendors located at the entrance of the ruins provided a good rest stop after all that walking. The giggling school children were a blessing for some of us. In the museum we were able to see various ancient relics found at the site during archaeological excavations. Among the remains, we will see various decorated ceramics, textiles and carving woods representing Pachacamac God.
The ride to Café del Museo was quiet as Vanessa had already explained all the sights and some tourists were recharging their energy with their eyes closed. Café del Museo serves excellent food with correct portions to fill the average appetite, especially after all that waking and giggling. The cafe is in what some giggling ladies described as the sexually explicit exhibit area of the Larco Museum. And the ladies did check each nook and cranny for what ever was tickling their fancy. I stayed with the free Pisco Sours and enjoyed the pleasant day until it was time to move on to Barranco.
Barranco, which is the bohemian district with art galleries and pleasant tree lined streets that is a nice area to walk and has two very good handicraft shops that we explored. The shopkeepers treat them as museums and guided us through the different sections explaining what was not obvious to the untrained eye. This attention to details did seem to help with the sales. I took as many pictures as seemed prudent. With the sun setting we headed back to the Port of Callao pass the Navy base.
Day 3 in Lima was our One Day Modern City Tour. We met Cynthia’s brother and our guide Vanessa outside the Port of Callao gate at the appointed time. As neither the driver nor Vanessa had ate breakfast yet we stopped at the same street vender as yesterday to get a warm local fruit drink concoction and snacks that were shared with the men as the wives said they already new what pain is. The lady operating the stand was so happy to see tourists drinking her product she gave all the men free refills. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
With warm male bellies we are off to see the one of Lima’s most defining characteristics, the massive urban population of the city, caused by a constant migration of people from rural regions in the Andes in search of work. However, unemployment is still a serious problem, which leaves most people in this sector with no option but to work in the informal economy or underground economy off the government records. That means we are headed for the slums on the edge of town. From the highway we could see the shanties built from left over construction material, packing material and shipping material. Up close they have constructed walls that surrounds the house or houses. Broken bottles cover the top of the walls, as a form of protection from would be perpetrator of crimes.
We are now on to the La Molina district at the other end of the financial scale of Lima. There are 14 universities in the La Molina district and our guide Vanessa points out every single one of them. This consists of pointing to a high wall and stopping in front of the entrance gate to see the name of the University. That is all we could see, a high wall, a name and a small piece of the insides through the barred gate. Some of the most exclusive Peruvian social clubs are located here: Rinconada Country Club, La Planicie Country Club and Hebraica Club.
Next we come to a gated community to see how the rich and famous live. To get past the guard Vanessa showed her tourist guide ID and her tourists sitting behind her. Not sure if the ID or the foreign faces was the key to enter. We got to see high walls with electric fences on top and beautiful vegetation on the outside. We were assured the homes inside are impressive as well as immaculate.
As a couple of us wanted to purchase some non-tourist Pisco we were taken to Wongs a typical grocery store for this high end bedroom community. It is Chinese owned and Pervuin operated. The lady operating the liqueur section went into great detail as to the different qualities of Pisco, so much so, that even Vanessa learned something new. They had gift sets of Pisco available with glasses and a wooden case that was half the price of a bottle the same size at any of the tourist gift shops.
On to “Cerro San Cristobal”, the highest populated hill of Lima (400masl). The drive up is a unique experience with colorful houses and panoramic views on every curve. On a clear day like today, the whole city can be seen from the top!
We are given a choice of restaurants to choose from and we want to try the middle income neighborhood restaurant that is open 24 hrs a day known for being a place that husbands or boyfriends can be found in the hours before work after a night of celebrating the football teams win or loss or a simple hard night of male bonding or drinking. I think Vanessa may have been here before. Sandwicheria Macario is so popular it is on Face Book, You Tube and Foursquare. They serve more than one fantastic fully dressed sandwich. The ladies commented that the sandwiches are so big only a man would eat that much at one sitting. Sitting with the locals going through their daily lives made the sandwiches all the better. Moreover, as we came to the end of our delicious sandwiches the locals were ready to ask questions and tell us of their lives. Vanessa explained that the wives retain the family name of their mother's and pass their family name on to their children. Another difference is property is kept in the woman's name. I think I see why so many of the men are not interested in marriage. The single men did admit to thinking about marriage but Vanessa’s translation offered no reason as to why they are single. This is a male sanctuary so it is not recommended for the ladies to use the establishments one and only toilet. The seat is gone so you can’t be hit on the back of the head. The tank top is gone for reasons not remembered. Toilet paper is on the handle of the plunger safe off the wet floor. The ladies did get advice on some local stores for shopping before we had to head back to the ship.

Read 23 Lima Reviews

City Tour

(3)

We first drove to the Historic Center where we changed dollars to soles in case we find something we cannot pay with in dollars. Vanessa our "Lima Mentor" guide explained the most important monuments at the Historic Center such as the Main Plaza, the Cathedral and the Government Palace. Our group decided on the spot we wanted to walk through the Cathedral so we changed the itinerary without any hassle. We learned our guide Vanessa was well known here in Lima as several people came up to her, shook hands and started talking. Next we visited the Convento Santo Domingo, which is a very impressive convent that Vanessa knew extremely well and could answer every one Father Vincent’s questions with ease. We walked up the tower to great views of the Historic Center of Lima. In the tower are photo stops including boards painted for the people to poke their heads through and get their picture taken in traditional Lima periodic clothing. Friends say it makes me look to thin for my face. Highly recommend seeing both the Cathedral and Convent Santo Domingo in the same day.
Next we are off to see the one of Lima’s most defining characteristics, the massive urban population of the city, caused by a constant migration of people from rural regions in the Andes in search of work. However, unemployment is still a serious problem, which leaves most people in this sector with no option but to work in the informal economy or underground economy off the government records. That means we are headed for the slums on the edge of town. From the highway we could see the shanties built from left over construction material, packing material and shipping material. Up close they have constructed walls that surrounds the house or houses. Broken bottles cover the top of the walls, as a form of protection from would be perpetrator of crimes.
We are now on to the La Molina district at the other end of the financial scale of Lima. There are 14 universities in the La Molina district and our guide Vanessa points out every single one of them. This consists of pointing to a high wall and stopping in front of the entrance gate to see the name of the University. That is all we could see, a high wall, a name and a small piece of the insides through the barred gate. Some of the most exclusive Peruvian social clubs are located here: Rinconada Country Club, La Planicie Country Club and Hebraica Club.
Next we come to a gated community to see how the rich and famous live. To get past the guard Vanessa showed her tourist guide ID and her tourists sitting behind her. Not sure if the ID or the foreign faces was the key to enter. We got to see high walls with electric fences on top and beautiful vegetation on the outside. We were assured the homes inside are impressive as well as immaculate.
As a couple of us wanted to purchase some non-tourist Pisco we were taken to Wongs a typical grocery store for this high end bedroom community. It is Chinese owned and Pervuin operated. The lady operating the liqueur section went into great detail as to the different qualities of Pisco, so much so, that even Vanessa learned something new. They had gift sets of Pisco available with glasses and a wooden case that was half the price of a bottle the same size at any of the tourist gift shops.
On to “Cerro San Cristobal”, the highest populated hill of Lima (400masl). The drive up is a unique experience with colorful houses and panoramic views on every curve. On a clear day like today, the whole city can be seen from the top!
We are given a choice of restaurants to choose from and we want to try the middle income neighborhood restaurant that is open 24 hrs a day known for being a place that husbands or boyfriends can be found in the hours before work after a night of celebrating the football teams win or loss or a simple hard night of male bonding or drinking. I think Vanessa may have been here before. Sandwicheria Macario is so popular it is on Face Book, You Tube and Foursquare. They serve more than one fantastic fully dressed sandwich. The ladies commented that the sandwiches are so big only a man would eat that much at one sitting. Sitting with the locals going through their daily lives made the sandwiches all the better. Moreover, as we came to the end of our delicious sandwiches the locals were ready to ask questions and tell us of their lives. Vanessa explained that the wives retain the family name of their mother's and pass their family name on to their children. Another difference is property is kept in the woman's name. I think I see why so many of the men are not interested in marriage. The single men did admit to thinking about marriage but Vanessa’s translation offered no reason as to why they are single. This is a male sanctuary so it is not recommended for the ladies to use the establishments one and only toilet. The seat is gone so you can’t be hit on the back of the head. The tank top is gone for reasons not remembered. Toilet paper is on the handle of the plunger safe off the wet floor. The ladies did get advice on some local stores for shopping before we had to head back to the ship.

Pachacamac Ruins

Mesmerizing 40-minute ride to the Pachacamac Ruins. Vanessa our "Lima Mentor" guide talked nonstop as each of the different areas we pass through is explained in detail. We learned that the Pachacamac Ruins is a hugely important archaeological find containing pyramids from pre-inca times. Teams of scientists have determined this location was home to people from as far back as 200A.D. and civilization prospered until around 1533 AD. Thanks to the scientists still working the area there are signs everywhere for the school children and tourist to read. As we walked and the non-walkers rode in the vehicle, our guide Vanessa continued explaining in great detail about the Temple Pintado ( coloured temple) and Temple Viejo ( old temple) as well as the Temple del Inti (Temple of the Sun) which contains a stone staircase we climbed leading up to a terraced area with a great view of the surrounding lands that has modern civilization fast encroaching upon this ancient monument. Vanessa explained the Acllahuasi temple or the house of Mamaconas (name given to a particular group of women, sent from Cusco or other important cities to come to the place and take care of the religious ceremonies and the production of fine textiles for the nobility). The Pachacamac museum and vendors located at the entrance of the ruins provided a good rest stop after all that walking. The giggling school children were a blessing for some of us. In the museum we were able to see various ancient relics found at the site during archaeological excavations. Among the remains, we will see various decorated ceramics, textiles and carving woods representing Pachacamac God.


San Sebastian Walking Tour

(5)

We queued up to board the "Vallarta Adventures" motor coach in the parking lot of the Cruise Terminal to see Mexico the way it looked in the 17th century. The town of Saint Sebastian is named after a Roman soldier who became the patron saint of athletes and soldiers after he survived being shot with arrows and left for dead.
Our guide starts this tour by letting us know we are not in Mexico, we are in the United States of Mexico. He stated that the three most important holidays in USM (United States of Mexico) is All Saints day, The Virgin of Guadalupe day and Mother's day. This is because women are held the highest of regards due to the fact that women rule USM. He was very serious and not one of the tourists was objecting.
After leaving Puerto Vallarta our guide explains San Sebastián del Oeste is located in the Sierra Madre Mountains, at 1,500 meters or 4,921 ft above sea level. There are radical changes in the flora and fauna (think pine trees) and to expect chilly temperatures.
San Sebastián was founded in 1605, made a fortune from the gold, silver and copper deposits in its vicinity, before lapsing into quiet lassitude and a ghost town status once the ore reserves were exhausted. The situation was not helped by a miners' strike in 1888.
Salt used in the silver processing was brought on horseback over the mountains from a tiny primitive port called Puerto de las Peñas, at the mouth of the River Cuale, a port that is now known as Puerto Vallarta.
San Sebastián's population dwindled from a high of several thousand in the nineteenth century to just under 600 today. The town is coming back to life, however, as more and more tourists, charmed by its picturesque setting, tramp its cobblestone streets to discover the character-full nooks and crannies and marvel at its resurgence. In 2003, San Sebastián was formally proposed for membership of the exclusive list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The rejuvenation of the town has resulted in the small airstrip being paved for the first time. San Sebastián is advertised as a destination for jeep and horseback trips from Puerto Vallarta. Light aircraft (14-seater Cessnas) bring visitors daily from the coastal resort for lunch and a few hours exploring the town.
It may be hard to believe, but 300 years ago San Sebastian was called the “Paris of America” and the elegant women of the day wore expensive perfumes and satin dresses. Today, history buffs and celebrities often spend a night or two at the 180 year-old Hacienda Jalisco (no electricity or telephones) and stroll around the town square, exploring small shops and restaurants that cater primarily to locals. For us, it is still a pleasant way to spend the day ashore in “old Mexico.”
Los Arrayanes Restaurant Bistro is our first stop in San Sebastian for lunch. We walked through the front room to the court yard/patio where fresh tortillas where being made by hand. Hot shredded pork, chile relleno, bisteca rancheros, chicken mole, guayaba, rojo (red) rice, quesadilla, frijoles (beans), and baskets or fresh warm tortillas on a buffet table. Four person tables each with chips and salsa were nicely spaced across the patio all the way to the bar. The mountain air in the open patio under ancient trees that shaded the area perfectly made the warm fresh food even more succulent. The ice cold expertly prepared margarita completed our meal and ambiance. Strolling out we noticed this beautiful restaurant had a sign saying it is also the Real De San Sebastian Hotel with 4 rooms to rent for those who love peace and the forest. The proprietor explained the smell of wood dominates this place and conveys a sense of freshness and simplicity to our guests. In honor of the history of San Sebastian, he points to the furniture and decorations in the front, we have several ancient objects that are sure to catch your attention and will result in conversations and longing of times past. The rooms are named Madrono, Coastecomate, Tuaquiniquil and Chicalote.
We stopped at the “Casa Museo de Dona Conchita Encarnacion”, where boys were playing games outside a 300-year old house that is next to the Residence Presidency. When San Sebastian was successfully mining gold and silver there were three principal families. Only two members of these formerly prosperous families still survive. Although the “museum” is actually the family’s living room, it is open to the public.
Dona Conchita Encarnacion daughter and proprietor Maria Guadalupe Bermudez Encarnacion explains that Don Encarnacion father was a prominent man but not so much as his mother. Pointing to a picture on the wall she continues; in order to show himself worthy, Don Encarnacion wears a distinguished mustache that demonstrates he is Spanish, not Indian or Creole. He searched far and wide for a proper wife and found only one who happens to be his relation by blood. By applying to the church for permission to marry the only proper woman in USM could he finally marry a woman of prominence? Maria Guadalupe Bermudez Encarnacion ran through the family tree for us and the branches are very inter-tangled. The family tree looks more like a basket than a tree. She explains that over the years, to control the family’s wealth, the children had to intermarry. Maria Guadalupe Bermudez Encarnacion’s daughter is the first child in 100 years to not be fully of Don Encarnacion Noble blood and his Spanish mustache. She pointed to particular interest in a 150-year old Chinese silk baptism dress that has been worn by six generations of Encarnacion.
We were given free time to explore the town. We went over to El Pabellón de Singapur Del Hotel (The Singapore Pavilion Hotel) or Hotel El Pabellon for short to save money on the sign outside. The Pavilion Hotel is off the southeast corner of the town square. We asked the nice young clerk standing behind the desk for the banos and he responded by pointing to the back. We went through the main courtyard, very impressive, flowers, bushes and trees. The grass perfectly manicured with children playing on the other side. As we approached the doorway it led to another walkway up the hill and an untrained courtyard with cages of fighting cocks. There was a third courtyard with more roosters and the toilets. The wife was not impressed; especially when she found out the ladies side had no paper. No problem, the men's side does so I am OK. Can you believe she had me steal from the men's side? I wonder what penance Father Vincent will give me for stealing TP for the wife. Took time to learn this hotel is actually one of the oldest houses in San Sebastian, built around the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
“Taller y Platería” (Workshop and Silversmith) – A local artesian that makes items with silver. There is jewelry, candlestick holders, money clips, chains etc. The silversmith took time to show the tourists how he works with silver from melting to different methods of plying it.
“Church of San Sebastian” is just north of the town square. The Augustinian friars, dedicated to San Sebastian Martyr patron of the town, built the first church in the late eighteenth century. In 1868 the church suffered major damage and when resources permitted, the bishop of Guadalajara was asked to rebuild. On January 2, 1871 the work was completed and blessed in March 1886. The walls were made of lime and the roof of wooden beams. In 1899 it was demolished and beamed vaults that exist today were built. Inside the church is a statue of St. Sebastian, apparently made in Querétaro, which replaced an older one made in 1882.
“La Quinta” is a farmhouse dating from the nineteenth century located in "The Romance" at the entrance of San Sebastian, a large house with a beautiful garden and is the resting place of the owners of the "Pavilion". La Quinta is currently inhabited by descendants of the owners family and the coffee region is of good quality to be rated "high" and we are told is processed with only organic components.
The general stores in town use a single truck to go to the distributor for goods in Puerto Vallarta. Each store agrees to only carry specific items to prevent competition with another store in the town.
On the way down the mountain we come upon torchbearers running with a torch to the church to ask for intersession of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. We are told these teenagers are taking turns to run with the torch from their village to the Church as a sign of their faith, devotion and desire to help others less fortunate. Please forgive an old sailor, but I see teenagers riding together in the back of a pickup truck on a Sunday afternoon. The boys get to show off what great athletic powers they have to the girls and others. As a reward the boys can bump up against the girls in the truck or watch the back of a girl running. Of course none of the girls know the boys are looking and they do not enjoy the occasional brush of the boys as the truck bounces down the road. This is a respectable religious act and we are to believe no one is hoping for kisses at the end.
We stopped at Restaurant Raicilla Mescal Distillery producers of El Parral Raicilla to stretch our legs and a facility break. The old tourist did not want their free samples so the gentleman handing the samples out gave the samples to me, making for a very happy ride back to the ship.


Mangrove River Tour

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At the commercial shipping dock we boarded our "Swiss Travel Costa Rica " motor coach and head to the Tarcoles River in hopes of seeing mangroves teeming with exotic birds, crocodiles and iguanas.
We stop along the way to see cattle, birds, flowers, plants and homes for sell. Twenty years ago these lots were sold as ocean side homes from an office down on the beach. The ocean can be seen from the lots if you use binoculars and cut down some trees. The owners have become disheartened and want to sell cheap.
Upon our arrival at Tarcoles River we are given watermelon, fresh cut pineapple, ice tea and beer. The wives are shopping and the beer is included in the price. Some of the men are drinking extra beer because it is free and tastes better while discussing the intelligent things their wives have to say. The winner is the wife that wants to go home now because her brain is full.
On to the boat so we may see crocodiles, birds, iguanas, crabs and butterflies. For me sitting in the middle was best so I could take pictures out either side with equal ease. However, watching us old people trying to see the birds and crocodiles was often more entertaining than the wildlife. We were told several times how lucky we were to see so many different species in a single day.

Train ride

We boarded our "Swiss Travel Costa Rica " motor coach and headed to what is advertised as a travel back in time, deep into Costa Rica’s culture were we are to board the historic Pacific Railroad that was used to transport the country’s valuable coffee harvests from the highlands to the coastal ports.
According to our guide, in 1991 there was an earthquake that broke the east coast to west coast railroad tracks in two different locations. The Costa Rican President decided it would be better to truck the products from the east to west coast than to repair the train tracks. Fortunately for the country he owned a trucking company that could do the job. None of the new administrations have wanted to repair the tracks. The wives want to know if we are going to ride the train to the east coast, how can we ride the train if the tracks are broken, what cargo does the train carry and will we be back in time to catch the ship?
The train consists of one engine, one caboose, two passenger cars and a teenage girl selling drinks for her brother's college tuition. Not all of the wives are happy with this arrangement. Where are the men with bare chest carrying the coffee beans? I think they are somewhere else; I will have a beer to help the brother's education and enjoy this traditional passenger car.
It starts out as a standard train trip through a typical third world community. Homes with smiling faces, children running to see the fat rich foreigners, dogs, pigs, chickens, clothes hanging to dry and people trying to repair things in the yards. We came across a tribe of howler monkeys in some trees. The train stopped and I went to the caboose to see from the rear. Too many tourists standing between the cars so I was given permission to climb up into the caboose and use the observation area. Got as many pictures of the monkeys as was possible in the time allowed.
Our guide saw I was enjoying being in the caboose so he got me permission to finish the ride in a functional caboose, something I will most likely never get to do again. The view is so different than from the passenger car. Watching the engine and the other cars make the turns, pass through bridges and tunnels is a fantastic experience.
Arriving in Ceiba, famous for its tropical fruit orchards, we boarded our motor coach for the ride back to the ship. Our guide takes this time to explain how the previous president of Costa Rica thought the $2 an hour salary for the coffee pickers was too low and raised it to $4 an hour. That Costa Rica has gone from an economical haven for foreign retirees to the most expensive Central American country today. As for immigration issues, the fruit pickers are smuggled in from Nicaragua because allegedly the Costa Ricans will no longer do the work for the salary offered. And we thought we were only going to get a Tropical Train Ride.

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