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.

Written October 26, 2023, at Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Our course to date.

We previously visited Cozumel in February, 2022. We stayed in a tiny remote “resort” that depended upon a generator for electricity, typically on only 4 hours each evening. It was charming with a “Robinson Crusoe” vibe. Then we were able to dig deep into the island culture.

Traveling on a cruise ship is entirely different. Instead of becoming part of the local color, one “samples” it. It is kind of like dining at a smorgasbord. Many varied “dishes” (ports-of-call) from which to assemble your meal (journey).

Our preference has typically been to dive into the culture and meet the “locals”. Nevertheless, the cruise version of travel has its place. This is especially so for those wishing to be pampered, or who are up in years, physically challenged, or who have a desire to visit an array of places that would otherwise make for an impractical journey.

This may again be us as we have a desire to someday “sample” the South Pacific and perhaps Southeast Asia. At this point trying to see multiple countries for longer individual stays would not be practical, it would stretch (or break!) our budget, not to mention that we certainly are getting up in years. I recently flirted with physical challenges from which I have thankfully recovered, “one day at a time”.

Today we visited the mercantile district of Cozumel (island pop. 60,000) which is the heart of this island’s tourism and drives the local economy.

Members of our group in the tourist district.
The clock tower is the center of the harbor plaza.

The tourist shops abound. You can feel an invisible hand trying to suck the dollars out of your wallet. We did in fact indulge in the purchase of a silver necklace and an obsidian carving.

A modern monument in the Mayan tradition.

Our delightful tour guide, Patricia, gave excellent local knowledge and arranged for us to see black coral which grows only on local reefs.

This is the second largest reef complex in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Black coral grows at a rate of about an inch a century. It is protected, but four divers are licensed by the government to harvest pieces that have broken off in accidents, storms, and hurricanes. This coral makes excellent jewelry and its rarity commands a steep price.

We also enjoyed an energetic exhibition depicting Mayan and Aztec ritual dances in a small arena setting.

The arena was otherwise dedicated to local pro wrestling matches, known as Lucha libre (“free fight”) where the contestants wear colorful masks (available for purchase as souvenirs, but we passed).

The waters in the vicinity of our ship were frequented by a variety of tour boats, speed boats, dive boats, catamarans, and even transparent boats through which passengers could view the reefs.

Before dinner I attended the first of four daily lectures on the history, design, technology, and politics of the Panama Canal by Ian MacLachlan, PhD. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge, currently a visiting professor at Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School. Fascinating!

Did you know (I did not) the following:

The tide range on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal is 2 feet, but on the Pacific side it is over 21 feet.

The impoundment of fresh water from the Chagres River created Gatun Lake which is part of the canal and feeds the canal 85 feet above sea level. Gatun Lake is the largest artificial lake in the world.

Between 1881 and 1899 France made the first effort to dig the canal, a venture that went bankrupt but not before over 20,000 workers died in the effort.

In 1855 a “trans-continental” railroad was built across the Isthmus of Panama. It was 47 miles long and cost over 5,000 lives. This was 14 years before the golden spike was driven in Utah which marked the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, and nearly 60 years before the canal was finally opened.

The United States’ successful project to build the canal took 8 years, concluding in 1914. It cost another 5,000 lives.

These are just a few of the many challenges and marvels I learned about today.

Here on Cozumel there is a wonderful site of Mayan ruins. We did not visit them this time as we spent most of a day there in 2020. However, for those of you who wish to see those pictures and “dig deep” into that history here is a link to my 2020 post:

The Mayan Ruins at San Gervasio.

Tomorrow and Saturday we are at sea, bound for our next stop, Columbia.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Tonight the Viking Star should be named the “Barbar Ann” : “…You got me rockin’ and a rollin’ rockin’ and a reelin’ Barbar Ann.”

Written October 24, 2023, aboard the Viking Star, in the Gulf of Mexico.

We departed Fort Lauderdale harbor yesterday evening. The wind had been up all day so it was no surprise that there was a chop to the waves that grew to significant swells as we cleared the breakwater.

We were pursued by the Harbor Pilot boat, tasked with retrieving the Pilot who was aboard Viking Star to direct our exit from the channel. From our balcony we watched the small vessel gain upon us, crashing through the waves. It was amazing to watch the boat finally snug against our ship’s hull and then the pilot carefully time his leap onto the pitching boat’s small forward deck. Dramatic!

Earlier in the day we attended the mandatory ship safety lecture, unpacked, and took a moment to breath. One advantage of this mode of travel is that one need only unpack and pack a single time over the course of the journey.

We have never considered ourselves “cruise people”, but here we are on our 4th Viking Ocean cruise. The first was in 2018, 15 days, Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain. The second in 2019, 22 days Buenos Aires Argentina, around Cape Horn to Santiago, Chile. And the third, last year, was 18 days from Barcelona to Buenos Aires.

The highlight of this 18 day trip is a transit through the Panama Canal.

Relative to other cruise ships, this one is small at only 900 passengers. Yesterday we saw the throng waiting to board the Regal Princess (3,600 passengers, 1,600 crew) and were thankful not to be among them.

Each of our cruises, this included, follows a set formula: No children, No casino, No dress-up night, All inclusive. The atmosphere is casual elegant. The service is expertly attentive yet friendly. This continuity suits us. “If it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

Our stateroom is attended twice each day by Guna from Bali, and Unray from Bermuda. Should we require additional assistance they are also available to us 24/7.

38 year old Unray (on the right) has previously sailed these waters and beyond as a passenger. He is certainly gaining a different perspective now.

Last evening Christine and I enjoyed a relaxing dinner. With consideration to the vessel’s motion and Christine’s tendency toward early voyage motion sickness, we ate lightly.

We also attended an excellent one-hour lecture by the ship’s resident historian, William Whobrey, PhD, on pre-Columbian civilizations.

Doctor Whobrey’s resume includes 25 years in the US Army, 20 years as an instructor and Dean at Yale University, and he is currently translating a medieval German saga. He will be presenting throughout the voyage, as will 4 other expert guest lecturers in the fields of geography, history, architecture, culture, and biology.

Later, Christine returned to our room to take a Dramamine and stave off nausea. I, however, attended a showing of the 2022 movie, “Avatar: The Way of Water”.

At over 3 hours long this movie that grossed over 2 billion dollars is a tour-de-force of animation. It is visually stunning in its realism. I found myself occasionally smiling as the water images that played out on screen seemed synchronized with the rolling motion of our ship.

I often have wondered what Wilbur and Orville Wright would say if they could see the current technology in aviation. Last night I had the same thought as I reflected upon Walt Disney’s 1928 ten minute animated short, “Steamboat Willie”, and the 1982 dawn of computer generated feature films, Tron.

“Steamboat Willie”

While I’m on the subject: for those who subscribe to Netflix, I highly recommend “Love, Death, and Robots”, a series of animated shorts that are not kid appropriate.

“Love, Death, and Robots”

Tomorrow we make our first port-of-call, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Until then, Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. It is remarkable to me that these posts are read by folks from around the world. I can’t see who reads them, but I can see where they are read. Yesterday’s found itself read in 19 countries, posts from our most recent journey were read in over 50 countries. To my knowledge I don’t know anyone in Czechia! I read all comments and reactions. Time allowing I try to respond. Please know that I deeply appreciate you who follow us. Pete