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Bucket List # 21 – THE ROCK OF GIBRALTAR

I am not sure why exactly but the “Rock of Gibraltar” is a place I have always wanted to go. Maybe it was growing up listening to all the war movies my dad loved, or reading about it in History class. It sounded like an important place, a place that I wanted to see.

I had two chances a couple of years ago when my cruise ship stopped there, unfortunately the one day it was pouring with rain and the next time I was working. I must admit through the rain that first time I wasn’t overly impressed with “The Rock”, not sure what I expected but it looked a little small… so after my ship left it for the last time I figured that was the end of a dream… until a few months ago when, during our crossing from Northern Europe to the Med, we stopped there and I was given permission to go on excursion… Elated is an understatement, something that confused more than one of my coworkers… Who cares I was getting to go to “The Rock” and knock off another bucket list item.

Since the ship arrived at 7am we were all up at the crack of dawn, or rather before the crack. I had asked to join the early morning German groups for a couple of reasons, but that meant B.F. early…. it also meant I got out of doing the morning disembarkation duties, so I was ok with that.

Earlier than Sparrows Fart

Earlier than Sparrows Fart

The residents of Gibraltar were very welcoming…. ALL the residents…

Morning greetings

Morning greetings

We did a bit of a tour of the island, visiting different sites and seeing a view of the Straits of Gibraltar and it’s shipping routes.

early morning at the Straits of Gibraltar

early morning at the Straits of Gibraltar

early morning at the Straits of Gibraltar

early morning at the Straits of Gibraltar

local Mosque
There is an interesting mix of nationalities and cultures that coexist in Gibraltar and they all seem to get along wonderfully, here is the local mosque.

Finally it was time to go up the rock!!! A fairly intense cable car ride took us straight up and lucky for us the weather was just starting to move in so we were welcomed with the most amazing views and an interesting meteorological lesson.

Top of the Rock with MSC Opera in the background

Top of the Rock with MSC Opera in the background

Didn't take long for an interesting cloud bank to make it's appearance

Didn’t take long for an interesting cloud bank to make it’s appearance

Of course the highlight of any Gibraltar adventure has to be the apes (macaques), there has been a troop here for decades ever since an army officer was forced to choose between his pet and his wife… or so the legend goes.

Just sitting around

Just remember these are wild animals and they are very adept at getting what they want, especially food, so never have food visible or open plastic bags, watch your sunglasses your hats and anything else they might find amusing…
beware

But they are still awfully cute, especially when you find the nursery….
mom on duty

cuteness....

cuteness….

peek-a-boo

In the end we should just relax and enjoy the view…

THE VIEW

 

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Posted by on April 5, 2017 in Travel

 

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Taking a Semi-Submarine in Curacao

Under ‘da Sea

Visiting Aruba was fantastic but the very next day we went to another of the Dutch Antille Islands, Curacao. This time I got the opportunity to do the Semi-Submarine excursion, my first time experiencing one of these.

Driving through the island we finally stopped at this beautiful resort and walked over to the boat.
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Stairs led down to a fairly cramped “submarine” area with windows along the side. Being the escort also meant I was an extra person and there was no space for me on the seats, so I squeezed into the stairwell and leaned forward to get a view.
Curacao

Even being a scuba diver I was amazed at the great views and the fish. There was so much to see, of course it also made me wish I could toss on some gear and jump in.

Coral formations

Coral formations

We were saddened by a net that was draped over some of hte coral, turns out some of the locals sneak in and fish at night, but often lose their nets. Turtles have been seen tangled in them in the past. The guests suggested a petition be started and have visitors sign it and write to the government to prevent or at least limit this beahviour. I felt rather proud of them for wanting to take a stand.
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Feeding Time

Heading upstairs to get some air I saw one of our deckhands gearing up to feed the fish, unfortunately they didn’t have an extra tank but did invite me to come diving if we were ever back in the area.
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Then it was time to feed all the pretty fishies…

preparing the food

preparing the food


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Curacao (10)

After a great morning of staring at fishes we headed off to explore more of the island, in particular it’s contribution to Alcohol, free tasting included….
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Mmmmm Curaçao Liqueur

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

Curaçao is a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curaçao. A non-native plant similar to an orange, the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. The nutrient-poor soil and arid climate of Curaçao proved unsuitable to Valencia cultivation, resulting in small, bitter fruit of the trees. Although the bitter flesh of the Laraha is all but inedible, the peels are aromatic and flavorful, maintaining much of the essence of the Valencia orange.

Curaçao liqueur was first developed and marketed by the Senior family in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added.

The liqueur has an orange-like flavor with varying degrees of bitterness. It is naturally colorless, but is often given artificial coloring, most commonly blue or orange, which confers an exotic appearance to cocktails and other mixed drinks.

Some other liqueurs are also sold as Curaçaos with different flavors added, such as coffee, chocolate, and rum and raisin.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Time to Stroll through Willemstad

Luckily I even had time for a stroll through the port of Willemstad. I really liked this port, more so than Aruba. The multi-colored buildings and small streets felt like I was wondering the lanes of a Delft or Amsterdam.

On the bridge to Willemstad

On the bridge to Willemstad

I think I would enjoy visiting Curacao again, perhaps even a little more than Aruba…..

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Aruba…ooohhh I wanna take ya

Theme Song While You Read

Every time I hear “Aruba” I break out into this song, I can’t help it, it’s automatic. It never crossed my mind that one day I might have the chance to do a tour of this stunning Island.

We docked at Oranjestad (Orange State) and I was excited to hear Dutch, giving me a chance to practice my Afrikaans (South African dialect of Dutch).

Wild Coasts

We drove round most of the island from the calmer more populated side to the wild northern coasts.

Aruba (3)

Even a land bridge, although erosion makes it unsafe to get much closer than this

And yes I am wearing antlers, it was Christmas week afterall

And yes I am wearing antlers, it was Christmas week afterall

Butterflies

To truly explore a place you must know where to look for the smaller things in life, so a stop at the Butterfly Garden was a must. Focusing mostly on native butterflies they also had a few exotics that were brightly colored. I spent a lot of my time chasing a particularly stunning blue one, but am pretty certain the only pic any of got was the postcard from the gift shop. I did however, catch a few others on film…

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We also learnt about metamorphosis, where a caterpillar
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Becomes a stunning butterfly
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All in all it was a great tour, the island was a lot flatter than I expected but wild and beautiful all the same…

So when you visit Aruba
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And remember to look for the little things that will truly make your visit there spectacular
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Perusing Panama

Panama City

During our crossing last year in November from Europe we stopped off in Panama. It was a gloriously cloudy muggy day with humidity bordering on 99% and the temperature hovering around 40C/104F, give or take a degree or two.
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The sunrise over the port was quite stunning…
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I had drawn the Panama City Tour exursion, around 6hrs of exploring and a chance to see some of the locks of the canal for which Panama is so famous for.

Panama City is a place of divergence, from the Old City to the New City to the Ruined City of Panama Viejo….vast differences from a central point.

Panama Viejo

Our first stop was the old capital of the country and part of the Old City, located in the suburbs of the Modern New City, it is a World Heritage Site.
panama ruins

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A settlement was founded here on the 19th August 1519, making it the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean.
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Now you can see the New City on the skyline….
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The New City

After exploring some of it’s history we headed through Panama City’s modern quarter, with it’s stunning architecture.
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Some that defies imagination…
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Old City

Making our way to the Old City we walked the streets and enjoyed a market, listened to a bugler under and umbrella and marvelled at the old colonial architecture.
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panama city tour (5)

Gatun Locks

The driver almost forgot to take us to the canal and the locks, truly the highlight that everyone had been waiting for. Most of us were feeling hte heat and humidity and more than a few of the guests were getting grumpy and agitated, so I was much relieved when we changed direction and headed for the locks.

It was a sight to behold, truly a marvel of modern engineering, even being 100yrs old. I only wished my dad (an electrical engineer) could be there with me. We were also lucky enough to have a Korean Cargo ship proceeding through the locks right as we arrived.
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After filling with water to even out the level the first lock opens to accept the cargo ship, which just barely squeezes through.
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panama lockes (3)

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The “mules” that pull the ships through
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I wonder how many times they scratch the paint work….

Farewell Panama

All in all a fantastic opportunity to explore part of a country that always seemed slightly mysterious to me, I always imagined the canal with small cities along the edge… but discovered a complex place with stunning buildings and a rich history… just wish I had bought a hat!

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reflections in Panamanian Christmas Balls

reflections in Panamanian Christmas Balls

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Touring Tortola

BVI

We had explored numerous islands in the US Virgin Islands but finally we were stopping at the stunning British Virgin Islands, BVI.

Our port of call was in Road Town, Tortola, the largest and most populated of the islands. Legend has it that when Christopher Columbus originally named it Tortola, meaning “Island of the Turtle Doves”. (according to Wikipedia).

Either way the island was stunning. Blue waters, rich history and rolling hills.

View of cruise port

View of cruise port

House with a View

A lot of the places we saw were stunning houses with breathtaking views. I hate to imagine what one of these would cost but we all estimated a million or more.

Island Views

Island Views

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Virgin Beach

Finally we got to the place the tour was waiting for, the virgin beach. We were the first ones there, absolutely no one else, we walked to the water line and for a moment everyone just stared, perhaps sighed a little, a stunning caribbean beach with NO ONE else!!! Woohoo!!!
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Tortola (13)

Now, usually, when I go on tours that have beach time I just sit and wait for the tour to be over. The beaches are super crowded, people are fighting for sun beds…. it’s just safer to be out of the way.
But here, it was so glorious and I had brought my snorkel equipment. So wading in I found myself faced by thousands of tiny silvery fish in a huge bait ball, sea anemones, coral and as I turned around….a rather large barracuda that looked hungrily at the bait ball. I decided to explore a little bit closer to the beach. In scuba gear I have no fear of staring down a barracuda, but with basic snorkel gear….

Time to Go

All too soon our beach time came to an end, rallying the troops normally involves walking around looking for folks trying to get them to the bus…. This time I stood waist deep in the water and encouraged them from there, it was very hard to leave.
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The drive back was as stunning as the drive there, with more views and even some turtles we could spot from up high.
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There is Always One…

It was a perfect day, with perfect weather and great guests. Back at the ship you would expect everyone to rave about it, and recommend it left, right and center… but there is always one!

A couple came and complained that there were no palm trees, and in their opinion a virgin beach should have palm trees.. they wanted a refund. I have no idea how the tour manager kept a straight face…

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship

 

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Lunch at Good Hope Estate

History

Good Hope Estate, located about an hours scenic drive from Falmouth port in Jamaica, is steeped in the rich colonial history found through out Jamaica.

“Good Hope began in 1774 as a sugar estate and grew into a village to support the workers after emancipation. In the 18th century, the Good Hope Estate belonged to John Tharpe, then the largest land and slave owner in Jamaica. Aside from Good Hope, Windsor Estate, the extensive Long Pond Estate and a number of other smaller sugar plantations in Trelawny belonged to Tharpe, who had as many as 3,000 slaves to run the plantations. The small village has some of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the island, and the churchyard has many old and interesting tombstones. At dawn, the Cockpit Country comes alive, and the energetic songs of wild birds float gently on the morning mists.

Although John Tharpe had a choice of four sons from which to name an heir, all four displeased him, and upon his death in 1804, he named his grandson sole executor of his massive holdings. His grandson, however, was rather feeble minded, but then, as is the case now, a feeble minded man with an immense fortune was just as desirable as a smart man with an immense fortune! Several of the colony’s most eligible young ladies vied for his attention, and eventually a marriage to a woman of titled lineage was arranged. Unfortunately, it is said that poor young Tharpe was overwhelmed by the situation, and on his wedding night he became hysterical and practically lost his mind. He was never the same, and although he lived to nearly ninety years old, he never had much to do with the operation of the estates. His sad state plunged the family into a hotly contested battle over his grandfather’s “dead-lef”, and over the years the various properties fell into disrepair and decline.”
(Courtesy of Visit Jamaica)

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Lunch Glorious Lunch

Now I know I must say this about a lot of my excursions, but honestly this one was so peaceful and relaxing, I loved it. The best part was… it came with food, all sorts of local Jamaican delicacies. From Jerk Chicken, to curry, to plantain, to ginger cake…. amazing

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Birds and Flowers

If the food and the charm of the local folks weren’t unique enough the birdlife and garden at Good Hope Estate was a nature lovers Paradise.

I am going to make this a short entry and leave you with all these amazing memories:

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Swallow Tail Hummingbird

Swallow Tail Hummingbird


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Beautiful art work

Beautiful art work


Look carefully for the little lizard on the knee of the goat statue

Look carefully for the little lizard on the knee of the goat statue


There it is

There it is


One final orchid

One final orchid

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Horse Ride and Swim…. Jamaican Style

Jamaica Bound

One of my favorite stops was Jamaica, and we were only there every 2 weeks. We had fabulous excursions there and I got to go on a number of them, from Bobsledding to Climbing Waterfalls. Finally, I got to go on the Horseback Ride AND Swim. The basic premise was you go for a ride and then the saddle is removed and you take a “swim” with the horse, in other words ride the horse out into the ocean.

Now, unfortunately, the location of the Chukka Ride and Swim corral is in Montego Bay, about an hours drive away from the Falmouth cruise port. On this particular trip I got the chance to sit in the co-pilot seat next to the driver…. I became rather religious during this trip as, let’s just say, they drive with enthusiasm in Jamaica.

the bay at Chukka

the bay at Chukka

The RIDE Section

When you first arrive you have to put all your bags and such in lockers (that cost $5 each – I just stored my stuff in the bus). Then you are sized for a helmet and sent to be sized for a horse. Once they call you to your horse you are sent to walk in circles while waiting for everyone else. Now if you had a group of 10 that would be about 15min, but we had a group of 50 and we walked in circles for about 30min… Not that pleasant in the scorching Jamaican sun. Finally we are all saddled and we could head out on the trail.
Jamaica horse and ride through Chukka (2)

The trail was beautiful, about an hour through the surrounding coastal trees. Unfortunately it was a very sedate pace and I did find myself nodding off.
Jamaica horse and ride through Chukka (8)

We were not allowed to pass and when my horse got a little too close to the one in front…it tried to kick me. Luckily it’s hoof hit the stirrup, otherwise I might have had a rather large bruise…
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But the ride was still enjoyable, especially for those who were new to riding.

Just Keep Swimming…..

At the end of our hour ride, all of us hot and sweaty and looking forward to the swim, we were separated into groups of 15. The rest of the group relaxed in the shade drinking red stripe beer and snacking on delicious jerk chicken ($10 for a plate). I was in the first group and excitedly stripped to my swimsuit, put on my floaty belt thing and waited for my horse allocation. Not all the horses swam, so you were not guaranteed to get the same horse as the ride part.

When I was called and climbed onto my horse…. oh my lordy! I think they gave me the thinnest horse. Usually I have an issue with my short legs barely able to reach the stirrups and go around the horse’s middle. With only a saddle pad (all you get between you and the horse) it felt like I was attempting to balance on a fence post… that walked!

balancing act

balancing act

The swim section was soooooo much fun!!!! we got to “gallop” in the water and just whoop it up. It was refreshing and cool and just a whole lot of fun. Once you are in the water balancing on the horse is also much easier.
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Jamaica vs Puerto Rico Horse Rides

Of the two I would say horse riding in Puerto Rico was more fun. Through the jungle, along a river, stunning. Staying in one line is not as important and you also get to gallop on occasion if you want to. However, there isn’t an ocean swim… which made the Jamaican ride well worth it.
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Let’s go swimming again, that was awesome!!!!!

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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