Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cruising to South America, The Center of the World, Quito, Ecuador

January 16th 2012.  Our 2nd day in Quito took us to the Center of the World park, just outside Quito.  This location marks where the Northern and Southern hemisphere meet and the Equator runs through it.  The Latitude is 0.00.  This monument was established years ago, when square riggers crossed the ocean and before GPS and satellite navigation.  A monument was built in 1936, then a few years later the 'real equator' was established about 240 meters down the road.  So another park was established.

The monument to the Center of the Earth

This monument salutes explorers from all over the world, the history of travel and the efforts explorers made to map the world.

The interesting thing about the whole equator location becomes even more complex after a discovery a few years ago was made public. A small plane/ultralight flew over a mountain and found a monument to the equator, put there by ancient peoples thousands of years ago.  A GPS fix confirmed that this monument was also on the equator.  Another piece of lost knowledge that raises questions about how the ancients knew what they knew.

Linda, one foot in each hemisphere

Further down the road is the true spot.

Entrance the museum/park
 The 'true' equator has a small park/museum, managed by the native inhabitants with educational displays and examples of tribal homes, totems, etc.  Here, you can straddle the equator, balance an egg on a nail, observe water going straight down a drain, then revolve clockwise, or counter-clockwise when the drain is moved from one hemisphere or the other.  The magnetic field of the planet is balanced here therefore almost non-existence.
Samples of the historic tribal rituals

 The ancient culture practiced ancestor worship.  Mummies have been found, entombed in a fetal position within excavated villages.  The living relatives would visit the tombs, leaving offerings of food and other items for the family members on the
'other side'.

A totem park.  Totems from ancient cultures around the world or collected and displayed here.

Standing on the equator
 Spent the day visiting the park and trying to balance an egg on a nail.  (Never did do it.)  While some would find the displays and exhibits a little 'hokey' the effort to show the science behind the planet's rotation and magnetic field is real.
One of the totems dedicated to the Mayan gods.

 Samples of the tribal homes and artifacts from the various tribes in the South American jungle.
Inside a tribal home

Samples of shrunken heads

The methods and knowledge of how to shrink a head is alive and well.  The guide through the exhibit was very knowledge of tribal lore.  At the end we actually saw a shrunken human head.  No photos allowed.   Talk about disturbing!

Our reception when we got back to the shi
 We flew back from Quito, taking a bus to meet the ship at the next port, Guayaquil.  The ship kept going while we were in Quito.  We were greeted at the dock by music, champagne and a reception line.

There was a big banner on the ship 'Welcome Home'.  The reception, music and champagne actually acted as a distraction and camouflage.  While all of us leaving the buses were being welcomed back with champagne and music, behind us drug sniffing dogs went over our luggage, baggage handlers took our luggage to the ship, and anything suspicious was set aside.  Discretely uniformed police, along with the dogs went thru the suspicious luggage before the bag was allowed on the ship.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cruising to South America, Ecuador

 January 15th, 2012.  The ship pulled into Manta, Ecuador.  Manta is a relatively new port for the cruise ship as the city tries to woo the cruise ship industry.  There's not much to see or do here: it's claim to fame is that it's a large tuna fishing port.  A new museum has been built that we got a brief tour of.  The museum is trying really hard to tell the history of the area, from tribal times to now and wasn't expecting a couple busloads of cruise ship passengers to arrive on a rainy morning.

  As we were driven through the rainy streets the bus driver wanted us to see the bustling port, the ship repair facilities and all the 'new industries' coming to the area.  I was reminded of Seward, Alaska.  A small city trying to expand and grow and not knowing which way to go.

Ships hauled out for work along the road.
 Ship repair facilities were in their infancy.  

The big reason we were in Manta is so a group of us could fly to Quito for an overnight.  Quito is the capital of Ecuador, and it located about 8000 feet up in the Andes mountains.  The city has a population of several million people and is a completely modern city.  I didn't know anything about the city or the country.  I need to study so many things about South America.

View from the Swissothel, our home for the night.

 The Swissothel is a 5 star hotel located in the heart of the city.  Buses met us at the airport, brought us to the hotel where a buffet lunch was waiting. 
 Roses are a huge export for Ecuador.  We were greeted with beautiful roses, roses were left on our pillows and there were huge bouquets all over the hotel.
 The lobby of the hotel.  The staff of the hotel are decked out in long tails and top hats.  You can't push a button for an elevator, open a door, carry a bag larger than a purse, or walk across the lobby without being intercepted and asked if you need something.

Our beds were turned down at night, chocolates and roses on our pillows, terry cloth robes and slippers in the bathroom.
The inner courtyard and small swimming pool.
The inner courtyard.

Anna at one of the many parks and sculptures in the city. 
 We were taken on a tour of the city that really emphasized the beauty of the area, the volcanic history and the art and culture.  Quito is surrounded by volcanoes that are dormant but have erupted in the past city. 
 A view from one of the overlooks.  This cathedral is huge and ancient.  Built hundreds of years ago it was the center of the city for a very long time.
The city is dense with millions of people on the flanks of dormant volcanoes.  There are 7 volcanoes ringing the city.

At the top of one of the ridge is a winged angel statue that is the pride of the city.

The city streets are very narrow and people usually have right of way over vehicles.

Restoration work was being done on one of the cathedrals in the city.

 Me and Mary Kay in the lobby of the hotel waiting for the bus that was taking us to a monastery for dinner. 

 The San Francisco monastery in Quito where we had dinner.  This is still an active monastery and the huge dining room is often used for large groups of VIPs.  (We're VIPs?)   There is a museum within the monastery that was opened in the evening during our visit.
San Francisco monastery

While we wondered through the monastery and was served with drinks and appetizers, discretely stationed monks and/or their staffs directed us to places, like restrooms.  The building was all stone, lit dimly throughout with uneven rock floors that were difficult to walk on in heels.  It didn't take long to get turned around in the long stone hallways, especially in the almost darkness. 

The dining room.

Our dinner menu

 The hotel provided the servers for the dinner.  White gloved, bow tied staff served each table.  I was really impressed with how smoothly everything went, from dinner to dessert to after dinner coffee.
Our dinner expertly served by the staff of the Swissotel.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cruising to South America, Panama Canal

 January 13th, entering Panama Canal.

This is the first time I've been through the Panama Canal.  I'd read about it, how it was built, how it was transferred from US management to Panama management, all the issues with ships transiting it.  But seeing it was so incredible.  This is a series of locks that raise and lower massive ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa, all using gravity and pumps to move the water. 

Entering the canal.

A tug meets you at the entrance of the canal.  
The tugs are there for safety, to make sure the ship enters the lock in the center, etc.  Once the ship is actually in the lock, the tug goes to the next one.

All sorts of ships maintain the locks, from dredges to freight haulers.

 Once in the lock the ship is pulled along by engines on either side known as mules.  They travel up and down on tracks.  While the captain of the ship is always in charge, pilots control the ship as it moves thru the canal.

One of the series of huge gates that hold the water, lock to lock.

There are a series of gates that open and close, allowing water and ships to move either up or down.  These gates and the entire canal system was designed and built in the early 1900s.  Except for maintenance and  repairs, the major components are still the same.
 The largest of the ships on the ocean's waters don't fit into the Panama Canal as currently built.  A third, larger lock system is being built and is due to be open in 2014.

The largest ship that has passed through the lock to date had 11 inch clearance on each side.


 Electric engines pull the ships the length of the locks.  They're called 'mules' and they have never been live animals.
Cargo ship in the lock.

Because the largest of the cargo ships no longer fit in the canal, and the length of time as well as the weather condition rounding the Horn, a train track has been built the length of the Canal.  Cargo ships offload their containers onto the train, the train moves the cargo to a ship already on the other side of the Canal, and the ship continues on  to the cargo's destination.  The train track was built by Chinese companies moving cargo to the US.
The gates in the locks.  When the water level is even on both sides, the gates open.

 I'm on the bow of our cruise ship as we go through the locks.  I'm one of the few on board who haven't done this before.
A panoramic of the Panama Canal.

 The Freedom Bridge as you enter the Pacific Ocean.  Again my ignorance of South America and Panama Canal is showing.  This bridge is huge.

Panama City.  Once again I'm blown away by what I don't know.  I had always visualized Panama City as a small city at the end of Panama Canal.  This port puts San Francisco to shame.