Written November 4, 2023, in the Pacific Ocean @150 miles west of southern Mexico.

The weather has gradually deteriorated since we left Panama on October 31st. Today winds are near gale force and seas are approaching 20 feet.

A passenger leans out from his stateroom. Bigger waves chased him inside.

The Captain has indicated conditions may continue to worsen. Barf bags have been deployed.

The waves are crashing into the ship at a height greater than our state room.

Fortunately, conditions still favored us as we made port in the protected waters of Puentarenas, Costa Rica on November 2nd.

The long narrow cruise dock looked quite fragile compared to other ports that we have visited.

Our outing for the day was titled “A Walk in the Clouds, Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest.” We were transported by luxury coach 90 minutes into the mountains. At an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet the temperatures were moderate but the humidity contributed to periods of dense fog. We were literally driving in the clouds.

Our guide, Exon, provided us with an information and humor filled lecture en route.

The drive time passed quickly, punctuated by a bathroom break at a large crafts shop where souvenirs could be purchased and coffee sampled. There was a beautiful garden and best of all, an enclosed butterfly habitat.


There were dozens of butterflies fluttering about. Christine visited with a caretaker who was busily harvesting butterfly eggs.

At our destination there was another bathroom opportunity before we descended into the “Cloud Forest”, lead by Exon. Here are some images:

This is a “walking palm tree”. It is believed by many to move in the forest by putting down roots on the sunlit side while those roots on the shady side wither. It is a myth.
This large pine cone shaped plant holds water in its upturned cavities. The water takes on antiseptic properties and smells like shampoo.
Look closely! This snake, hidden next to the trail, is a pit viper. It is one of the many varieties of poisonous snakes in Costa Rica.

Afterward we enjoyed lunch consisting of beans, rice, and roast pork richly seasoned with garlic.


As Exon explained, if one prefers an alternate dish, just ask for rice and beans instead of beans and rice.

We departed port shortly after dark with 4 at sea days ahead. The original itinerary included a day in Nicaragua, however the government has currently closed the ports to cruise traffic.

Like the weather, and sunsets, some things are beyond the control of our our Captain and crew.


Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. What is within the control of the crew is the remarkable service provided by personnel. In just a few days many members have worked their way into our hearts. These are hard working people who are dedicated to the comfort of the passengers. To me they are more like friends.

Christine and Hiep from Vietnam.
Myra from the Philippines, Christine, Princess from Zimbabwe, and Ika from Bali, Indonesia.
Ika from Bali, Christine, Nanci from Mexico, and Princess from Zimbabwe.
Christine and Princess from Zimbabwe.
Christine and Sasa from South Africa…
…and Guna from the Bali, Indonesia with Unray from Bermuda.

Written November 1, 2023, offshore in the Pacific Ocean.

Yesterday, October 31st, we made our passage through the Panama Canal. Before I discuss that remarkable experience I must visit October 30th.

As we approached Colon, Panama, there was a remarkable increase in ship traffic. Many vessels were anchored waiting their turn to enter and transit the canal.


We were advised that shore excursions were cancelled due to widespread protests. Viking Star would dock for 6 hours solely to refuel and provision. However, at dock port security informed the Captain that passengers would be permitted to disembark if they remained within the secure port zone. Christine and I took the opportunity to “stretch our legs” and wander through the duty free shopping area.


Later that evening Dr. Ian MacLachlan gave his third lecture on the Canal, this time focusing upon the Neo-Panamax. (Last night we shared table and a delightful dinner with Ian and his wife Diane.)

The Neo-Panamax is a significant expansion to the Canal that opened in 2016.

Exclusas de Agua Clara, Gatún, Canal de Panamá, Wikipedia

It features new locks that have a capacity for much larger vessels and has doubled the capacity of the Canal.

Vessels sized to fit within the original locks are deemed “Panamax” vessels, while those larger ones that fit the new lock system are “Neo-Panamax” ships.

Here are some facts that compare the old and new lock systems together with how our ship “measures up”. Viking Star is 748 feet long, 95 feet wide, and has a draft of 21 feet. She is easily accommodated within the confines of the original locks which are capable of handling vessels up to 965 feet long, 106 feet wide, and drafts up to 39.5 feet deep.

The Neo-Panamax locks allow passage of ships 1,201 feet long, 168 feet wide, and 50 feet deep. While the numbers may not seem that significant, the VOLUME of a Neo-Panamax ship is much greater, more than double the capacity. The significant constraint not yet addressed is the Bridge of the Americas which limits the height of vessels to no more than 205 feet.

From Wikipedia

As an aside, the toll for Neo-Panamax vessels to transit the Canal can exceed 1 million dollars. Our toll for Viking Star was approximately $50,000 dollars. The cheapest toll ever was charged was to Richard Halliburton in 1928, 36 cents. The adventurer swam the 48 mile length of the Canal. It was still required that he be accompanied by a pilot boat!

Since we fit within the original locks, that was our transit.

I awoke at 4:45 a.m. on the morning of October 31st and was on-deck in the pre-dawn by 5 a.m.. I was not alone.

My camera has a setting which allows me to take pictures without a flash in extremely low light conditions.

Looking aft at the Atlantic Bridge

It really came in handy. Other passengers trying to use their cell phones and less capable cameras were audibly frustrated.

At this point in my narrative I will mostly rely upon captioning the pictures for details:

We approached the Gatun Locks that through three chambers would lift us 85 feet to the level of Gatun Lake.

The arrow directs us to the right or left chambers.

Daylight broke as we waited to enter the locks.

One of the six “Mules” that would keep us centered as we proceeded through the locks.

After over 100 years the Canal operators still find that rowboats are the most efficient way to transfer lines to and from the vessels.

We were assisted on our 36 mile passage across Gatun Lake by an onboard Pilot and accompanied by a tugboat, in case anything went wrong.


Passage through Gatun Lake was through a well marked channel. This was shared by ships in both directions.

The markers seen on shore to the right of this ship are aids to navigation. By keeping them lined up the pilot is assured of being in the channel.

Dredging is critical to the continued operation of the Canal. Silt and hillside erosion are an ongoing problem.

The dredging operations base for the canal.
Dredging underway.
This is the 375 foot tall “Herman the German”. A huge floating crane taken from Germany at the end of WW2. During the War it was used to lift submarines. Today it aids in the maintenance of the massive lock gates and can lift nearly 800,000 pounds.

The Panama Canal is number one on The American Society of Civil Engineers list of The Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Among the greatest challenges faced in building the canal were conquering malaria and yellow fever, creating Gatun Lake (at that time the largest dam and man-made lake in the world), and digging through the continental divide (known as the “Culebra Cut”).

The Centennial Bridge is seen here through the Culebra Cut..
One side of the Culebra Cut.

60 million pounds of dynamite were used by 6,000 workers and a vast array of equipment to open the cut!

Past the Cut and the Centennial Bridge we reached the Miraflores Locks. Again configured in three descending chambers, these lowered us 85 feet to the level of the Pacific Ocean.


Finally our transit of the Canal was complete with the passing under of the Bridge of the Americas.

As we left the breakwater the skyline of Panama City gleamed white on our right…

…while ships on the Pacific side waited for their turn to cross to the Atlantic.

I spent 11 hours on deck watching our transit unfold. Over 16,000 vessels make the crossing each year.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Earlier in the voyage I heard a surprised voice call our names, “Mr. Pete, Ms. Christine!!” It was Sasa from South Africa, who is an officer in Guest Services. We developed a close friendship with her on our earlier voyage around Cape Horn in 2019. She has been following our travels through my posts ever since, and was visibly relieved to see me in “in the flesh” and in good health.

Written October 30, 2023 in the Caribbean nearing Colon, Panama.

Yesterday we arrived for the day in Cartagena, Columbia. Columbia (pop. 50 million) is a prosperous nation, 25th in size among countries and roughly equally between the size of California and Alaska. It is the third largest economy in Latin America (after Brazil and Mexico) and features one of the finest heath care systems in the world.

The local currency is the Colombian Peso, 4,200 to the dollar. It is a bit of a shock to see the price of gas, but converted it’s about $3.50 a gallon US.

Geographically, it is remarkably diverse. Near the equator, it still has mountain peaks with permanent snow caps (Mounts Cristobal Colon and Simon Bolivar are each 18,800 feet high), yet broad expanses of the country are Amazon tropical rainforests. It has shores on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Finally, its flora and fauna are the most bio-diverse per square mile in the world.

Cartagena is Columbia’s 5th largest city, with a population of about one million. It was founded by Spain in 1533, but indigenous peoples have inhabited the area for at least 6,000 years. It is a major seaport and once the site of a significant slave trade.

A container ship docking.
Containers being loaded and unloaded.
The tug that accompanied us to our berth.

Its historic center, where I spent most of my day, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of the colonial era fortification encircled by a 7 mile long defensive wall.

Image from Wikipedia

We arrived in port in the late morning. 90 degrees Fahrenheit and over 90% humidity, the “feels like” temperature was over 100. I left the air conditioning of the ship to go on deck to take pictures.

The first shot was fine, but within a minute condensation fogged my lens both outside and inside the camera. It took 15 minutes for the camera to “warm up”.

On my tour we visited an area of artisan shops.


Walking through the old city our guide, Ender, provided both historical local knowledge, seasoned with humor.


Here is a door knocker that actually has historical significance. The Iguana marks the door of a family of political importance. The lion denoted military association. (See the above image)

We visited Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, built between 1580 and 1654, (Church of St. Peter Claver) where his earthly remains are seen through glass at the main altar.


St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit, is deemed the patron saint of enslaved peoples. He dedicated his life to opposing the slave trade while ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of slaves.

The Convento de Santo Domingo (1630) featured a small non-climate controlled museum. It is a wonder that the works of art, many hundreds of years old do not rot.

This Dominican convent was also a center for local prosecution of the Spanish Inquisition.

Cartagena is mere feet above sea level. As predicted ocean levels rise due to global warming I wonder it this will someday become Atlantis (one of many) of the New World.

The square in the heart of the old city.

Christine and I usually take shore excursions together. Today was the rare exception. While I wandered the old city she visited an emerald school where young people are trained in the art of emerald gemology and jewelry making. As part of Christine’s experience she made herself emerald jewelry, a ring, bracelet, necklace, and earrings. The stones are emerald, rough, uncut, and unpolished.

We left port after dark. My vantage atop the ship provided the opportunity for some beautiful pictures.


Peace Everyone. Pete

Written October 28, 2023, in the Gulf of Mexico.

This post presents three bits of news that you may find of interest.

Colon, Panama.

Today the Captain made an announcement that current events in Colon, the major port on the Atlantic side of the canal, will limit our shore leave to refueling and provisioning Viking Star.

Protests that began in August have grown in intensity. The streets of Colon, Panama City (the capital), and other population centers, are gridlocked and the United States Embassy has issued a warning to US citizens to avoid the protests.

The unrest focuses upon issues of corruption, the environment, and continued copper mining operations that represent 4% of the country’s gross domestic product.

We could ignore the Captain and US Embassy and venture out, but prudence dictates otherwise.

“Panama Canal 101, continued.”

We attended the second shipboard lecture about the Panama Canal yesterday. Highlights included:

Vessels such as Viking Star are tendered through the locks by 6 “mules”. These are in the nature of electric cog-rail engines, 2 on each side of the bow and 1 on each side of the stern.

From Wikipedia

Their sole task is to keep the vessel centered. In the case of our ship there is only 7 feet of “play” on each side. Larger vessels measure that in inches. All forward motion is provided by the ship.

Three bridges cross the canal. The Atlantic Bridge, completed in 2019, is over 9,000 feet long and has a vertical clearance for ship traffic of 246 feet.

From Wikipedia

The Centennial Bridge was completed in 2004. It is located on the Pacific side, is 3,451 feet long and gives ships 260 feet of vertical clearance.

From Wikipedia

Finally, the Bridge of the Americas was completed in 1962 and is 5,425 feet long. This bridge is problematic as it provides only 201 feet of vertical clearance at high tide.

From Wikipedia

The largest cruise ships will fit the length and breadth of the locks, but with over 20 decks they cannot clear under this bridge.

After the three locks on the Atlantic side and before the three locks on the Pacific side the Panama Canal is 85 feet above sea level. It is fed by freshwater from the impoundment of Lake Gatun. That huge man-made freshwater lake is critical to the operation of the canal. It supplies hydroelectric power to run the locks, pumps, “mules“, and the general electric needs of the entire area. More importantly, without that continuous supply of freshwater the upper level of the canal and the locks would dry up. It takes 52,000,000 gallons of freshwater to facilitate the passage of each ship through the canal from ocean to ocean. Since 2015 Panama has experienced unusual drought conditions, especially so in 2023. Ship traffic has been reduced accordingly.

Our Granddaughter, Paisley.

We received a telephone call today (we have cell service aboard) from our daughter, Alexis. Today, our 14-year-old freshman granddaughter, Paisley Cook, competed in the Missouri State High School cross-country regional tournament.

She is the only female runner in her school, Academie Lafayette, and was pitted against girls up to and including seniors in high school. She placed 13th, medaled, and beat her previous best time by over a minute and a half! She has now qualified to compete at the State Tournament.

My mother passed away in March 2020, age 94. Reflexively, I wanted to reach out and share the news with her. She was intensely proud of all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This is precisely the sort of news she lived to hear in her final years.

Picture taken 6 years ago. Paisley is to the immediate left of Mom.

Mom, if you are reading this over my shoulder you know how proud we are of Paisley and how much I miss you.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written October 27, 2023, At Sea in the Gulf of Mexico.

Strictly speaking this will actually be a tour of “Viking Jupiter” as originally published by me in November of 2022. However that “sister ship” is the twin of this one and the ships’ routines are virtually identical. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I am reprising my earlier effort:

November 17, 2022. At sea off the west coast of Africa.

At 3 o’clock in the morning it was my good fortune to find enough bandwidth to upload the images that I had taken of various areas of our cruise ship, Viking Jupiter.

This is a vessel in the “small ship” class. At 745 feet in length and with a beam of 94.5 feet the Viking Jupiter can host up to 930 guests.

An identical “sister ship”.

I recently read that Royal Caribbean is preparing to launch a ship that is capable of hosting over 7500 guests. Including crew that would be a complement of over 10,000 people making it the world’s largest passenger vessel ever afloat. Thank you, but that’s an experience that I will let others enjoy.

Key features of the Viking ocean “experience“ are the things that are missing: no children, no dress-up nights, no picture nights, no casinos, and no “nickel and diming“. What we have found is a thoughtful adult experience. I have previously shared images of a daily calendar. There is a wealth of relaxation and recreational activities but also enrichment opportunities that include a variety of lectures and presentations on topics relevant to the cruise.

Mornings begin with wake up in our well appointed state room. All rooms aboard Viking Jupiter include a balcony. There are no interior staterooms.

Depending on The ship’s direction and whether your accommodation is port or starboard, morning may feature sunrise, or evening may feature sunset.

At the topside center of the ship there is a main swimming pool. The glass roof above it can be opened or closed depending on weather conditions.

At the rear of the ship is another swim area with hot tub that features an “infinity pool“ which presents the illusion of floating off the end of the ship.

Surrounding both of those two swim areas are couches, recliners, and tables where one can eat or simply take a break to relax with a good book or a drink.

A third swimming option is presented in the ship’s spa. The spa includes hot tubs, a large circulating pool, sauna, steam room, ice room, and other amenities.

Other relaxation areas include The Explorers Lounge which provides a forward view of the ship,

the Wintergarden where afternoon tea and entertainment may be enjoyed,

various windowed halls, some of which include Nordic themed displays,

an amphitheater for entertainment, lectures, and group presentations,

and of course no cruise ship would be complete without plenty of areas to enjoy adult beverages.

There are three restaurants available for elegant dining, two of which require reservations. “Elegant casual“ is the dress code, suit coats are not required.

A central grand staircase features a video rotation of art. It leads down to a venue where live classical music plays in the afternoon and evening.

My morning experience typically begins in the well-equipped gym.

There is also a top deck recreation area and a quarter mile open deck walking track around the vessel. When seas are a bit “up“ it makes for an interesting alternating uphill/downhill experience made all the more challenging by a stiff breeze.

I have found that I enjoy the “at sea” days just as much as the “in port” days. This current sailing is scheduled for 22 days. Our prior two were of 15 and 21 days duration. We have discussed future cruises, even speculated that an around the world cruise would be a fitting celebration for 50 years of marriage. Whether or not those thoughts become “next things” remains to be seen.

For now (2022) we are enjoying this experience and… Peace Everyone. Pete


Back to 2023: We are still enjoying the experience and I still bid you Peace. Pete

A panel taken from the Bayeux Tapestry, images of which are displayed in all the ship staircases.