I like having four seasons, I like when the snow lies on the ground 'deep and crisp and even,' and I don't mind sunny days with sub-freezing temperatures. Nonetheless, a mid- winter break to a warmer place is always welcome, and often that means a Caribbean cruise.
This year's cruise started in Panama, followed the Central American coast north, and visited Cozumel and Key West before ending in Ft. Lauderdale. We chose it because the itinerary included places we'd never been before.
We started with a couple of days in Panama City. Located on the Pacific coast at one end of the canal, it's a glistening metropolis with lots of skyscrapers and condos with spectacular sea views. (A fun fact: the Pacific end of the canal is actually farther east than the Atlantic end.)
What makes Panama particularly interesting is its long and complicated history with the US, which encouraged the province to break away from Colombia and become independent, after which the US said, "How about you let us build a canal that will connect the Atlantic and Pacific and save ships from having to sail clear around South America to get from one ocean to the other?"
People had been wanting to build a canal across the isthmus since the sixteenth century. (Yes, really--Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, 1534.) But it wasn't until the dawn of the twentieth century that engineering science advanced enough to make a canal possible. (These days, the civil engineers association considers the Panama Canal to be one of the seven engineering wonders of the world.)
The canal succeeded and became one of the world's most important crossing places, and it was recently expanded to accept more and larger ships. It's hugely important to Panama, a source of wealth and aggravation. We'd sailed through it once not long after Panama took over running the canal, and it was fascinating.
This time we hired a driver who showed us the land side working area of the canal, and that was fascinating, too. A reminder of the fact that vast amounts of the world's goods still travel by sea.
As a side note, I'm told that my maternal grandmother, her sisters, and her mother were carried across the isthmus in sedan chairs before the canal was built. The family's furniture was sent around Cape Horn to California and the father traveled west by land. I wish I knew more about this!
At any rate, we picked up our ship at Colon on the Gulf Coast and headed north. The Silversea Wind is part of a small ship fleet owned by an Italian family, which meant that the food was excellent, lots of pasta dishes were served, and it was easier to get your wine glass refilled than your water glass. <G>
We visited Trujillo, in Honduras, which is the first place Christopher Columbus landed in Central America. There was a cute, stubby wooden statue of him gazing out to sea. At one time the world's largest exporter of bananas, the city is now a quiet place working to develop more tourism.
Particular fun was Roatan, a resort island that's part of Honduras and a mecca for divers, among others. We had a fun island tour which included a visit to an iguana farm. Slow, herbivore, and incredibly ancient looking, iguanas demonstrate the dangers of spending too much time in the sun. <G>
We were looking forward to stopping in Santo Tomas, Guatemala, but when we woke up it looked like the ship had taken a hard right turn and ended up in Glasgow in a heavy winter rain. We looked out our balcony at the rain, rolled over and went back to sleep. <G>
A particularly fun visit was in Key West, well know as a party spot with a terrific climate and laid back inhabitants. It's called the Conch Republic dating back to 1982, when the US Border patrol erected a roadblock and check point across US 1, the main access to Key West. (Needless to say US 1, which begins in Maine, ends in Key West. There is a sign that says, "US 1 End." It's frequently stolen.)
So they declared themselves to be the Conch Republic, declared war on the United States, surrendered one minute later, and asked for a billion dollars in reparations. <G> As our guide cheerfully told us, it's the first war to be won by humor without firing a shot. The barricade came down very soon thereafter.
Key West has an amazingly laid back atmosphere, and lots of stories. For example, there are sleek chickens and roosters everywhere because a long ago law designed to stop cockfights made it to illegal to kill chickens within the city limits. As the guide said, "Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he knew nothing would happen to him. If a car hits a chicken, the driver is subject to a $500 fine." <G>
Mary Jo in explorer mode in Roatan