Cruising the Panama Canal – Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Today we pulled into Puntarenas, Costa Rica. The Norwegian Star was also in port. I have never been on an NCL ship but I must admit they are very adventurous when it comes to the exterior paint design. The Norwegian Star was in Los Angeles the day we arrived for the cruise and they are also on a 15 day Panama Canal tour. This was the first time we had caught up with them again since we left over a week ago. There was one other ship in port today as well and it was a Princess ship but I am not sure which one. She was docked on the other side of the bay.

Today our excursion was planned via Celebrity. We had struggled with what to do in this port. This area of Costa Rica was known for its zip lining and tropical jungle retreats and we have zip lined before in Alaska so we just weren’t feeling that for this stop. We opted for the a leisure river boat tour on the Torcoles River. Our  meeting place was in the Celebrity Theater at 7:55 am. The early night we had,  paid off with the early start. The weather today was a bit cloudy and the temperature was 85 and very humid and I do mean humid! As the day went on we would feel the humidity closer than we had hoped.

The pier in Puntarenas is very long. If you were going into town there was a shuttle you could take if you wished. The port itself is not really anything spectacular. In fact, I heard many passengers wonder why we even stopped at this place. I will touch a little on the port in a bit. The tour buses pulled up to the cruise ships along the pier. We boarded our bus, which was rather small and the entire group was no more than 20 I would say. Then the adventure began….

Our tour guide (can’t remember her name)

The bus ride to the river should have been about 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. Not so bad or so we thought…. About 20 minutes into the ride the air conditioning on the bus started to break down and continued to come on and off for the rest of the trip to the river. Of course, there were no windows to open so it became a little stuffy as the humidity began to rise. There was an opening in the roof (emergency hatch), so we were able to get some air flowing, albeit warm air. By the time we arrived at the river, the air conditioning was back on.  After the air conditioning issue, our next problem arrived.  Apparently we had a new bus driver who was not familiar with the route or something and well… we were lost.  Yeah that’s right…. he couldn’t find his way to the River.  So we drove.. and drove… and turned… and turned…we even ended up at the real spot we were supposed to find our boat and then turned around and left because both he (the driver) and the host didn’t think we were at the right spot.  After another 20 minutes or so, we once again turned around and went right back to the previous spot we had left.

The route along our very long drive was nice and we did get to see a lot of the landscape, fields, waterways and jungle of this area of Costa Rica. These are not my best pictures but give a little idea of the landscape as we traveled on our long bus ride. I snapped these from inside the bus as we were moving.

A Princess Cruise Ship:

Once we finally arrived at our destination we got off the bus and headed for the River boat. As you get off the bus there was a small market where you could by some local souvenirs etc and there was also fruit and tea coffee or water available.  The river boat tour was actually very interesting. We spent about an hour to hour and an half on the boat as we slowly moved along the Tarcoles River.  This Mangrove area was abundant with wild life from birds and crocodiles to monkeys swinging through the trees.  There had recently been some major flooding along this river and thus the banks along the river had been torn away by the rushing water during the floods.  As we made our away down the River, on either side, the banks were green with the natural landscape of a tropical rain forest.

 

The boats moved extremely slow as we etched our way along the murky, almost chocolate-brown water. The guide spoke to the vegetation we were seeing as well as the different types of birds of which there were many. They actually provided us with a chart with all the different species of birds.

A pair of Toucans sit in a tree blending with the background while only a dark Shadow of  a Sloth moves from branch to branch..

Then we came upon the most fearsome of the animal life in the area, the Crocodile. After touring the river for a bit, our boat driver headed for a small bank in the middle of the river. He then pulled the boat up on to the sand and proceeded to get out on the bank. Once on the bank, he began to slap the water with some meat. Within a matter of seconds, less than 10 feet away from us, was a crocodile moving up on to the bank. This was an incredible sight, we had a great view and I am not sure whether this driver was full of courage or simply crazy… in any case the cameras were in full action!

 We also saw other Crocs sunning on the sand and shoreline:

Here are a few more shots from the river boat tour

 

Once back on shore we would begin the third part of our disastrous bus ride. As we were heading back to the ship, about 5 minutes in, the air conditioning broke for good. The humidity and heat from outside combined with a bus load of 20 or so adults became unbearable. By the time we were back at the ship, close to an hour later, we were drenched in sweat and it was actually becoming hard for some of the elderly folks on the bus to breathe. When we arrived back at the Port everyone wanted off the bus, however the regulations said the bus had to actually drop us off where they picked us up along the pier. This caused many complaints as people just wanted off this furnace of a bus. Finally, the bus driver just pulled over and let everyone out and we made our own way down the pier to the ship. Now, I have mentioned about the wet towels you are always greeted with when returning to the ship, right? We actually took so many and squeezed every ounce of coolness out of them as they were so refreshing. This we appreciated more today than any other. In the end, aside from the mechanical problems with the bus, this was a great tour and well worth the money we paid which was around $56, I think.

After returning to the ship and enjoying a sponge bath with the cold wet towels as we walked back onboard we headed straight for the Oceanview grill and some lunch. Later,  we ventured back out to explore the port area. Now I must say, there was not much to this port in my opinion. The town that surrounds it was, well for lack of a better way to explain, run down. Not much really to see at all.  As you come to the end of this long pier you will find a beach on either side. The sand on this beach was a grey/black sand that my research tells me is extremely common in this area. Clearly volcanic and reminded me of the beaches we experienced in both Hawaii and Santorini. Although, the latter were much more intriguing.

The beaches to the Starboard side of Infinity, were filled with debris from the recent flooding that had occurred in the area and you could see the workers doing their best to clear and clean the beach. On the port side of the pier, the beach was crowded with many local families who were all enjoying a warm and pleasant Sunday. As mentioned before, the pier stretched a fair distance from the beach to where the ships were docked. You can get a feel for this in the pictures above.

The two ship at the pier:

Once you make your way past the beach,  a number of vendors set up along the sidewalk which backed on to the beach. This area seemed to be where most of the action was and many cruisers were shopping in the tarp covered shops. This actually reminded me of being in a flea market. We never bought anything and found most of the vendors were all selling the same things. Outside of T-shirts, what do you really do with the souvenir type things you buy in these places? I find much of it to be a bit ‘tacky’… I prefer my souvenir to be the experience of being there and of course the pictures I take. I am sure many would disagree with me on this and I can respect that for sure.

I do want to say that I was pleasantly surprised that despite the number of vendors along the beach no one was hounding or harassing you to buy whatever it was they were selling. In fact, the people were very polite and pleasant to talk with.
Just a few more pics from our stroll around the port.

After returning to the ship, Vanda decided she would go back to the room and rest for a bit. We were very lucky on this day because just after we arrived back on the ship the sky opened up and the rain began to fall.  Infinity was not leaving until 8 pm today but I wanted to be on deck 11 when the sun was going down, so while Vanda was resting I headed for Deck 11. Once on deck, the first thing that happened was I ran into my favourite bar guy, Donovan, who had actually spotted me first and brought over a refreshing Lava Flow for me. I then took a stroll around the deck (my exercise program… you remember 1 drink -1 lap!).  As I was walking, I was also taking a few snap shots here and there. I also noticed that the NCL ship was getting ready to leave so I strolled over to the railing to watch for ‘runners’.  I love to watch for these people arriving late. On a couple of cruises, we actually had the ship begin to move away from the dock and then reverse back in to pick up the late arrivals. I can never understand how people manage to miss departure time. I would be horrified!

After the sun had set and I had got myself ready for dinner, we went to see the 7 pm show. Tonight’s was the variety show with the group Ontap, the acrobat duo and two female singers from the Dance Troop. Once again, I have to say that Celebrity left a great impression on me on the shows. Although the group Ontap is very good (Acappella group), I can really only take a few songs from them as IMHO I felt there sound was very repetitive and only the words changed. I am sure however, many would disagree with that assessment (my wife included). The two singers from the dance troop were fabulous. One was a bit dramatic, but had a booming voice and the other was also very good. The acrobatic duo of Charlie and Viola are amazing. The performance they give is something to see. Overall, another big hit for me on the entertainment side of things. A very enjoyable show.

After our cocktails in the Rendezvous with the sounds of the Baires Quartet and then dinner, we again ended the night in the Constellation Lounge on Deck 11 with the evening theme party called ‘Sizzle”. The theme for tonight was Salsa and once again the the party band “Fusion Wave” did not fail to impress. If these guys sold a CD, I would have bought it.

Tomorrow is another sea day. I wonder it that will hold for us! Thanks again for your patience with me as I continue this long review, I hope you are enjoying the journey toward the Panama Canal. In two days we will be there!

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