Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

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Two relaxing sea-days after which we were quite excited to arrive in Mexico at noon, Tuesday, 27 March, at Puerto Vallarta, established in 1851 with a population of 850,000.

The ship docked right near the shops which was great for the staff who had managed to get some time off.  Most of them were heading to Walmart!

We decided on a tour to see the highlights of Puerto Vallarta and we weren’t disappointed. We were dropped off at the newly renovated Malecon, a boardwalk at Banderas Bay, lined with shops, restaurants and artists selling their wares.  The weather was perfect as we strolled along admiring the ornate sculptures.  Peaceful and pretty with outstanding views of the ocean and Sierra Madre mountains.

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Our tour guide told us an interesting little story about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  She followed him to Puerto Vallarta, where they had their famous affair and he bought her a home in Gringo Gulch, the Beverly Hills of Puerto Vallarta next to his, joined with a bridge so they could meet at night.  They were married at the time, just not to each other!

We visited the beautiful Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe with its ornate concrete dome, saw beautiful ocean views of Olas Altas, several shopping opportunities to buy silverware, leather, jewellery or pottery from local vendors, a snack and complimentary drink at a local restaurant.

We must not forget about the tequila – we found a little place next door to the restaurant to do some sampling of the many different flavours – out tour guide had to hustle us along, we could have stayed there for quite some time!

We thought this was a great introduction to Mexico and it’s a destination we’d love to explore in more detail sometime.  We enjoyed our day here very much.

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San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

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Saturday, 24 March:  We headed out this morning, very keen to learn something about Nicaragua, of which we knew nothing much at all!  It’s the land of volcanoes and lakes and very pretty countryside.  There seem to be many lakes in South America that look as large as an ocean, and Lake Nicaragua is no exception, stretching 99 miles long and 45 miles wide.  It even has waves!

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Interesting facts:  1) San Juan del Sur has no names on the avenues and uses an indigenous method for finding addresses.  Instead of numbered houses, directions are given from nearby landmarks, for example, lakes, churches, trees and even where previous buildings once stood.  So, the address might be “the third house after the coconut tree”!  Our guide said that letters addressed in the conventional way would take much longer to be delivered.  2)  This is a very safe place – our guide told us there is no crime here.  (Not a claim that many cities could make these days!)

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Our coach took us on the 90-minute trip to Granada, stopping at the Catarina Viewpoint for a look at Apoya Lagoon Natural Reserve along the way.  Lunch was a Nicaraguan buffet of pulled chicken, pork and vegetables in a corn tortilla and a sweet treat at Le Gran Francis Hotel followed by a walk around parts of the 500-year-old city of Granada, with its ornate churches, narrow streets and rich architecture, in the shadow of the Mombacho Volcano.

This city certainly warrants another visit to explore more deeply into its amazing history.

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Puntarenas, Costa Rica

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Friday, 23 March:  After two more days of smooth sailing and nice weather, this morning we arrived in the familiar port of Puntarenas.  We visited here in 2013 on our world cruise and once again we enjoyed walking around the craft market next to the ship.

Last time we did a boat cruise looking for crocodiles and macaws, so today we decided just to do some exploring on foot to get a feel for the town.

Typical small town with church and museum, a bit shabby.  The local people are very friendly to tourists and there were many exchanges of “Buenos Dias” as we walked around.

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Interesting to note that most houses had bars on the windows and doors and many properties were surrounded by barbed wire and razor wire.  I don’t think I would like to walk around these areas after dark.

Lima (Callao), Peru

Today, 19 March, we’re spending overnight in Lima because one of the excursions leaving this morning is going to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, and not returning to the ship until tomorrow morning.  Would be nice to do, but due to the level of activity and issues with the high elevation, we’ve decided that this excursion is not for us.

Yesterday, we got some info about security issues in Lima, with reports of armed robbery and other street crimes against foreign tourists and have been advised to use the shuttle buses rather than local taxis.  Unfortunately, we made a bit of an error and thought that the shuttle bus we took would take us to a market.  Instead we were dropped off at a shopping mall, very similar to what we have at home.  So nothing much to do there.

We were also advised to only visit the popular tourist areas in large groups and to minimize the amount of jewellery worn and that the area next to the pier was not safe.  In view of this, we were quite happy to get back on board.  Not a place we would go out of our way to visit again, so Lima was a bit of a non-event for us and our general impression of the city was gained in our 40-minute bus trip to the mall and back.

Pisco (San Martin), Peru

We’ve just had two more sea days – which we enjoy so much.  There are a lot of activities going on around the ship and the weather is getting warmer, so many passengers are taking advantage of the sun to swim and lounge around the spas and three swimming pools.

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This morning, Sunday 18 March, we headed off to see some of Peru.  One of the few counties where the desert goes right down to the ocean.  Once again, quite a long coach ride of about 90-minutes each way to reach our destination of Tambo Colorado, to explore one of Peru’s best-preserved examples of Inca coastal architecture, dating back to 1470.  Once home to about 200 special women, who may have been sold or sacrificed, there was much still intact, even down to faded bands of red, still visible on the outer walls.  We walked through several living areas on different levels, bed chambers, bathrooms etc while the guide told us how the Incas came to reign over such a vast empire.  Very interesting history.

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We passed through the town of Pisco, where the very poor live in shanty town, with no electricity or water connected; others in small square houses, flat roofed with unfinished upper floors to avoid paying taxes.  The result is depressing, with lots of rubble on top of the houses.  Some buildings are collapsing and left as is.

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Even though we had driven through sand dunes near the ship, there were green areas further along where farmers have utilized bore water to grow fields of corn, asparagus, cotton and grapes, using centuries-old irrigation techniques.  We also saw nomads with their goat herds who eke out a living by selling goats cheese.

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Something of interest was our guide’s mention of Pisco Sour.  We told him we’d tried it several times already, to which he laughed and said that this drink is really the national drink of Peru, not Chile!  Who knows?  We did pass through the town of Pisco, after all!  It sounds like a bit of rivalry between the two countries about this special brandy.  When we got back to the ship, there was a market set up outside and, on his recommendation, I found someone giving out sample shots and tried it straight, without the lemon – it had quite a kick.