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Home > Member Reviews > Nine and a Half's Port Reviews of Cabo San Lucas, Lima, Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Puerto Vallarta

Nine and a Half's Port Reviews of Cabo San Lucas, Lima, Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera), Puerto Vallarta
Statendam cruise in November 2013
Member Name: Nine and a Half
Cruise Date: November 2013
Embarkation: San Diego
Destination: South America
Member Review: Nine and a Half's Statendam Review
Cabo San Lucas
4x4 Adventure Rating: Not Rated

“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.

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City Tour Rating: 3.0 out of 5+

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 Rating: Not Rated

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.

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Puntarenas (Puerto Caldera)
Mangrove River Tour Rating: 4.0 out of 5+

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 Rating: Not Rated

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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Puerto Vallarta
San Sebastian Walking Tour Rating: 5.0 out of 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.

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