By David Liddle and Susan McKinley, Becketwood Members
In March Susan McKinley, Jack Heule, Lorene and I enjoyed a 15-day cruise from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale by way of the legendary Panama Canal. We traveled aboard the MS Volendam, a mid-sized ship of the venerable Holland America Line accommodating 1400 passengers and 600 officers and crew. We traveled 4,450 miles, stopping in Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Caldera (Puntarenas), Costa Rica; Cartegena, Colombia; and Half-Moon Cay in the Bahamas. It was a smooth passage with warm temps and sunny skies—a perfect time to be away from Minnesota’s frigid, snowy winter!
In addition to spending several days at sea on an elegant ship with a friendly and attentive crew, first-rate entertainment, an array of fun activities and myriad delectable dining opportunities, we ventured out for shore excursions in several ports of call.
Cabo San Lucas – We anchored in the bay where tenders ferried us to the pier. There we engaged a friendly driver who chauffeured us to Flora Farms, an organic restaurant in the hills overlooking the Pacific where we savored a delicious, sun-splashed al fresco lunch and wandered the lovely gardens and grounds.
Puerto Chiapas – We heard about the history of Mayan civilization as we explored the ruins outside the ancient village of Izapa. In Tapachula, Mexico’s bustling southernmost city, we took a walking tour of the vibrant town square and visited the Planetarium where we saw an outstanding program about Mayan cosmology.
Puerto Quetzal – Our time was limited so we stayed close to the harbor, browsing the shops at the lovely Visitors Center, drinking fresh coconut milk from freshly cut fruit, bargaining for souvenir tee shirts and enjoying a cold bottle of Gallo, the local brew. Back on the ship, the Saga of the Hearing Aid Batteries began abruptly as Susan and Jack discovered to their horror that they were about to run out!
As Susan tells it, “We embarked on our cruise with the Liddles with enough batteries to last both of us three weeks, but somewhere we lost the pouch that contained our supply. I only had two in my purse, and before long I needed to use those. What to do? Jack can get by, but I’m sunk without a way to augment my hearing. The Guest Services desk onboard our ship was unable to help, so we were out of options only a few days into our cruise.”
Corinto, Nicaragua – The next day we squeezed into a four-person, one-man powered pedicab for an hour’s personalized tour of this colorful coastal village. And here the Saga resumed! Susan describes what happened: “On the main street we passed a ‘Farmacia’ and, thinking they might have batteries, I shouted at our guide to stop. He did, and with much gesturing and pointing to my ears he seemed to grasp what I needed. In the store the gesturing continued in earnest until the clerk showed us a selection of assorted batteries in a small basket. We were excited to find some that fit, so we bought a package for $1.”
Puerta Caldera (Puntarenas) – Here we took a tranquil boat ride on the Tarcoles River into the heart of dense mangrove forests where the sun sparkled through the thick tree canopy and we glimpsed exotic birds, crocodiles and iguanas. We then boarded the restored Pacific Railroad, once used to transport the coffee harvest from the highlands to local ports, for a short trip through Costa Rica’s verdant countryside to a small village famous for its fruit orchards and a colorful dance performance by local school children.
Panama Canal – After two days at sea we arose early for our arrival as dawn broke over the misty skyline of Panama City. We spent the entire day in transit through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks on the Pacific side, the Culebra Cut, Gatun Lake, and the Gatun Locks into Limon Bay at the Port of Colon on the Atlantic (Caribbean) side. The morning and late afternoon were clear, sunny and hot (!), with a few clouds and sprinkles midday to provide respite from the direct sun (the isthmus is 10 degrees north of the equator), ideal conditions for our passage. The Canal is an awesome engineering marvel which, despite its staggering financial and human cost, has become an unrivaled conduit for maritime trade. It has earned from the American Society of Civil Engineers the well-deserved sobriquet of one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Cartegena – Our shore excursion here took us to the island of Baru and the National Aviary of Colombia, where we spent several hours walking through beautiful landscapes dotted with palm trees and waterfalls and observing a myriad of tropical birds and other wildlife arranged by habitat and species.
Half Moon Cay – Two more languid days and balmy nights on the Caribbean brought us to Holland America Line’s private island paradise in the Bahamas. A noon barbeque on the beach was the highlight of several lazy hours of sun and sand before returning to our ship for the final evening our cruise.
But then and there the Saga of the Hearing Aid Batteries resumed once more as the last of the batteries Susan had purchased in Corinto gave out. But, as she describes it, “I got a burst of gutsiness and approached a woman by the elevator. ‘Pardon me, but do you by chance wear hearing aids with size 312 batteries?’ Well, she did! Just like that she gave me four, and Jack and I were back in business.” We retired happily for our overnight crossing to the mainland, Fort Lauderdale and our flight home.
Last spring, when the four of us discovered over a glass of wine that a Panama Canal passage was on all of our bucket lists, we decided then and there to book a cruise. We acknowledged that two weeks onboard ship, no matter how opulent, with all manner of things to do, meals to share, events to attend and choices to make might well be the test of any friendship. But after our voyage and the experiences we shared, we’re happy to report that we’re still friends—perhaps even more so than before—blessed with happy memories and the satisfaction of having shared a remarkable journey.