Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Day Thirteen: The Panama Canal

It was an early start, a very early start, in fact an extraordinarily early start, which happened to coincide with our early morning loo call at 4.30am. We pulled back the curtains to see lights on the horizon, some of them very bright and realised that we were approaching Panama. A quick shufti through the cabin door and we saw all kinds of people heading past with their cameras and binoculars so we nipped back in and put some clothes on. We knew from looking at the TV the weather would be mild so in my case it was a polo shirt and shorts while Hilary slipped on a white top and skirt. Oh and I did put on my bright orange Crocs – the only colour in my size when we delayed buying them after they went on sale.

Earlier in the week we realised that the deck above the Crows Nest, Deck 13, would be a good viewing platform and we worked our way up 4 levels from our cabin and at each level we met more and more people heading the same way. By 5.15am many of the prime spots were already taken but we gathered a couple of chairs and plonked ourselves in the front row. Good job that we did too as before long it was almost impossible to get out because of the crush behind us as I soon found out when I realised that I needed to get back to our cabin to pick up the binoculars.

Dawn came around 6.30am as we entered the first of six locks and each of us by then had already shot several digital pictures and several minutes of movie film. As we entered the first lock the excitement was literally buzzing around the deck, every square inch of suitable viewing area was covered and people were standing along both sides of all the decks, I reckon that at least 80% of the passengers were out and about to see the first lock gate open and watch us rise up 30 feet from the Caribbean. They continued to watch, photograph and film all the way through the first three locks, some filming the lock gates opening and closing at the prow and some at the stern. Then most of us filtered away to get some breakfast for by now it was getting on for 10.00am and legs and bums were getting tired. I took the opportunity to have my swim a short time after breakfast and it was a good decision as there were not many people in the pool and I got in 22 of those short lengths breaststroke and 6 on my back before the pool started to fill up. I had left Hilary in our normal recliners by the pool but because our ship was constantly changing direction as we manoeuvred across the Panama Lake our regular seats were exposed to the sun and Hilary became very hot so we decided to move. We headed for the Crows Nest as you can get good views from there, albeit behind glass but it is air conditioned. I was determined to take some film of the locks closing behind us and headed to the stern in the belief that I had about 40 minutes to get a good spot; as it turned out it was over 2 hours because a ship coming the other way had some kind of problem. I got some good footage of the tug behind us that was used to keep Oriana in the channel but for a lot of the time we were stationary and I was breathing diesel fumes, not at all pleasant. Mission accomplished I headed for the Crow’s Nest, saw a familiar head and said “You’re still here then?” only to be astonished when an unfamiliar face attached to the head looked at me blankly.

The next hour was spent wandering the decks looking for my wife. I started on Deck 14 where we first met at 5.00am and worked my way down deck by deck, circling each in turn from stem to stern and peering at each passenger carefully as I wandered past. An hour later and I was starving and knew that the restaurant was about to close for lunch and start serving afternoon tea, so I nipped in and grabbed a plate of salad, a cup of tea and a glass of water before venturing out again. I forgot to add that while I was on my wanderings I did just check the cabin to see if Hilary had decided to have a nap but she wasn’t there so it was back to checking the decks again. One more circuit of all the decks and then I had a brainwave – just in front of our cabins there is a very small deck, big enough to hold about 15 people and there she was! We were reunited again and we were able to watch us go through the final lock into the Pacific Ocean together. Actually it is not unreasonable that I couldn’t find her as yesterday we got completely lost and couldn’t find our dinner restaurant. It’s never happened before and we must have had a total brain malfunction but it happened because we were late. Hilary wanted to wear a new dress and at the last minute realised that the petticoat that she had brought was too long and on the spur of the moment pulled out the scissors, removed the elastic and commenced sewing. Well it took far longer than she thought and when we heard the Tannoy announcing that dinner was being served we panicked. She threw on the closest thing to hand and nearly 10 minutes late we headed out the door. Walked to the wrong deck and ended up at one of the entertainment rooms, realised we were wrong and ran up stairs into the wrong restaurant, got re-directed by their waiters and went up another deck before breathlessly arriving at our table. The wine waiter had been over 3 times looking for us – it was my turn to buy – we had no water in our glasses and no bread rolls, menus were thrust at us for instant decisions and of course in our panic Hilary had left her glasses behind so I had to read the menu to her. All in all a right cock-up. Tonight we intend to be more relaxed about it, in fact it is only 5.30pm at the moment and Hilary is already dressed for our 6.30pm dinner. I just need to throw something over my Homer Simpson undershorts – yes use your imagination that is all that I have on while I type this magnum opus – and I too will be ready for dinner. That is my first stint, I may add a bit after dinner but that is unlikely, there are few shows tonight because of the Panama transit so I may just upload this straight after dinner. Incidentally, congratulations to President Obama, he is the only show in town on our CNN channel, we watched him copy Queen Elizabeth with his walk abouts but I didn’t see him diving into the crowd and accepting bunches of flowers. Let’s hope that he can live up to half of what people are expecting from him and that he survives what will undoubtedly be a difficult presidency. Goodbye and good night President Bush.

Tiz I. May I just add to the above that Sam was gone from about 11 am til about 3 30 pm while I sat in the Crows Nest and that I was falling asleep waiting for him to return so I headed down to our cabin to dump the swimming stuff and my bag and I went out onto the nearest deck to photograph the final locks. He had been gone from the time I decided I couldn’t sit in the sun on the pool deck until the final lock. I met some interesting people though to talk to and learned a lot about the various buildings and history of the canal from them. Some had travelled the Panama several times! I saw a flock of pelicans – fantastic. We passed several crocodiles in the water and on the bank but I managed to see only one of them in the water – not a place to swim for people then! I waved to the webcam camera from my little deck and got incredibly wet whilst doing so. We had a heavy shower of rain just as the lock with the camera on it came along – what could I do? Miss the camera or go in and get an umbrella – no brainer, hey ho I got wet. Later, when I was absolutely soaked through I went back to the cabin and changed and took my ‘London Eye’ cape out with me – its dark blue so against the white ship I could not be missed. The official photographers on board ship made a DVD of the passage through the canal so we may be somewhere on that too! Well I’m taking longer and longer to figure how to type so I think that I will call it a day and brush my hair and go down to dinner after which I will be retiring to bed! I didn’t get lunch today because I was waiting for Sam to return!!! Talk again tomorrow and catch you up with the latest metamorphose of the drummer model.


samw7 said...

Wow it sounds like a spectacular voyage, and now you must be in the Pacific heading up to Mexico. It's hard to imagine that Grandma did that same trip 35 years or so ago. Glad that things are going well. I love all the updates from both of you. Love you lots, Sam

jeff said...

Glad you two are having fun. Sam and I (and maybe Kelly) are exploring the possibility of a visit to the UK in August (blackberry season!). Will you two be there at that time?

Julian said...

Hi sounds like you enjoyed your trip through the canal. Hope you didn't fall for the the old trick they play on cadets where you send a cadet to see the chef for a bag of carrots for the 'mules' that pull you through the canal locks. The course is going well and everyone is well at home. Love Julian Moira Carl and Kelly