Port and Shore Excursions
We had made arrangements with Ulf from Woodwind Bonaire for a two and a half hour snorkel expedition. We had about a five minute ride to the boat along with nine others. It was a short sail to Klein Bonaire during which we were given a safety briefing, background on the island, the national seapark, and some tips on snorkeling. We would be drift snorkeling, which meant drifting with current instead of really having to swim along. At the dive site, we were divided into two groups - newbies and those with some experience. The experienced ones went with Alisha while the rest of us (five) went with Dee. She made sure we were safe and comfortable and led us on a one and half hour expedition to see the sights including big sea turtles, coral, sea snakes, and all sorts of fishes. We can't begin to tell you how much fun that was, even though we were still draining seawater from our sinuses that afternoon. During the time on the boat, we had options of things to eat and drink including adult beverages on the way back to port.
We proceeded through the three locks into Gatun Lake where we anchored and lowered the tenders (lifeboats) that would take us ashore to meet our busses. Since our trip was the longest, we were the first group called. There were 300 or so people on the tour which would take us by small tour boat to the Pacific Ocean. But first we met our guide, Melvin, and travelled an hour back toward Colon and then South to Gamboa which is near the Culebra (Guillard) Cut to meet our tour boat. After boarding we proceeded though the cut - narrowest point and crossed the continental divide which was certainly the deepest and most difficult part of the digging. We passed under the Centennial Bridge and the into the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. During the trip, we had a lunch of chicken and vegetable skewers, Panamanian pork sausage, and potato custard with watermelon and pineapple for desert. Our guide explained that Gatun Lake was at max capacity which permitted us to travel alone in the locks, without waiting for another ship. During the trip we saw lots of work being done to deepen and widen the Culebra Cut along with the approaches in both the Caribbean and Pacific. This is all part of the expansion project that also includes additional larger locks. The planned completion date is 2014, the one hundredth anniversary of the grand opening. Along the way we saw several container ships, a liquid cargo ship, a car carrier, and a bulk cargo ship all headed to the Caribbean. When we reached Panama City, the Panama Canal pilot was picked up by the pilot boat enabling us to enter a small yacht harbor to board our busses back to the Colon 2000 cruise pier. There was a lot of traffic and we were diverted through the free trade zone back to the ship. After being tied up in traffic for a while, we got a police escort through the final mile or so.
Our tour to the aerial tram ride through the rainforest departed promptly at 7:00. During our two hour drive, we saw lots of banana plantations, some pineapple fields, and other agriculture. The two-lane road was being repaired in several places and there are near term plans to make it a six lane highway since it is the main route for containers being transported between oceans. The guide mentioned that the Caribbean side was far less developed (and less expensive) than either the Pacific coast or highlands. At the entrance to the property, we transferred to mini-busses since the road was only one lane paved with bricks. We unloaded and split into groups of six (Terry and Mary from Morehead City, NC and Nancy and Carol - our next table dining mates from Minneapolis) and met out guide who would narrate our 90 minute gondola ride. He explained the different trees we saw including why they grew the way they did. He also had a book with great pictures of the birds, bats, and butterflies that inhabit the area. It was interesting to see the differences in vegetation lower in the forest and in the canopy. (The tram does and out and back loop, but at different levels.) After our tram ride, we met with another group of six and did a 30 minute nature walk on the floor of the forest. Then it was time for a lunch of tropical fruit, salad, chicken, vegetables, and fried plantains - delicious. After a bit of shopping, including buying some local coffee, we headed back to the ship. Along the way, our driver spotted a sloth so we got to see her before arriving at the ship.