Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ocho Rios Ride, 24 April 2010


Marilyn stands on the pier with the new Ocho Rios in the background

Ocho Rios was nothing like I remember from 41 years ago at Marilyn and my honeymoon. We couldn’t identify either the only hotel in the area from 1969 or the “villa” we rented for the week. They were the only modern construction in the area at the time, save the town of Ocho Rios off the coast of the bay with no paved roads, no houses with hard roofs, and with chickens running in the streets. Instead, we spied from the boat a grand bay with many sandy beaches, four or more large resorts, condos climbing the hillsides and thousands of villas accompanying them throughout the hills, and a town of around 40,000 over a 5 by 20 block street array.

Our old villa was in the hille just behind the beach here

The ship docked at 8am and we were off the ship by 945am on a partly cloudy humid day with temperatures reaching the high 80’s. The narrow pier connected to the beach over a several hundred yard long walkway. Ashore, we stopped first at a coffee shop for the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and an internet session. The session turned out completely unsuccessful when we tried to connect over Skype. A few locals set up nearby were using up all of the bandwidth downloading movies. We gave up after 45 minutes of trying. The coffee was good, though.

The locals around the pier were impressed that we were riding bikes around town. Traffic was moderate on this Saturday morning, but our fellow cruise mates were liberally spread around town after their early start. Many had tried the excursions to Dunn’s Falls, the tube rides on the river, the cable car rides along the coastal forest, or other visits through the forest. Except for the resorts, we saw few tourist quality restaurants or bars, but many establishments frequented by mostly locals. We passed through 20 blocks of stores and stands, many with no more real estate than a table and a fence to hold the merchandise. A few stores sold souvenirs, but most sold a small assortment of socks, t-shirts, and sandals. But the salespeople seemed friendly and I called good morning to most of them and got a smile and a “Good morning” in response. The people were mostly young, with few older than 40. I talked to many people at the pier and a few on the streets, asking about our villa on the hill. I found no one with any knowledge going back that far. The only road to Montego Bay they knew of was along the coast rather than along the crest of the hills along the coast. They knew nothing of a banana plantation in or behind the village of Ocho Rios. But they seemed interested that anything like that had existed as long as 40 years ago.

We rode west and north for about 4-5 miles and eventually ran out of town and into a sparsely populated section of road entering into a more hilly area. We decided to turn back and try for another internet café. After trying a few seedy restaurants and finding them empty and with no internet capability, we found a bar/restaurant claiming to be connected. A table in front of the hardware store next door held a few CDs and a loud stereo pounding out Jamaican music. We decided to verify the internet connection before testing any food. The connection to the router worked fine, but the bar mistress identified a problem with their own internet connection and finally fixed it on the third try. We moved onto the back porch to avoid the music and spent the next 90 minutes on Skype with a series of relatives.

We headed back through town seeking a place for lunch. The one way street setup forced us to use different streets than on the way out, but the general appearance was the same. Inadequate restaurants, closed bars, and a thousand small merchants passed by as we approached the ship. Then we spied tables in garden, customers at an adjacent bar area, and what could be a restaurant behind a gate manned by a single guard who turned out to be a DJ selling CDs of music playing at a reasonable volume in the background. We checked with a waitress and received menus. I noticed a table near the gate holding coconuts and a few bottles of what turned out to be rum. The place was called the Coconut Café. We ordered Conch/Shrimp fritters and a Jerk Chicken wrap to share along with a local beer and a Planter’s punch (lack of tomato juice spiked a first request for a Bloody Mary). The coconut salesman also convinced us to try the fresh coconut. He lopped off the top of a green coconut, stuck in two straws and convinced us to drink out half the liquid inside before he refilled it with rum.

The remains of the conch/shrimp fritters and jerk chicken wrap lay before a sated Marilyn

In sum, the meal was magic. The fritters and their accompanying special sauce were the tastiest and most unique food I have had so far on the trip. The wrap came with a spicy hot sauce and was, in sum, excellent. The shared three drinks left us with just enough buzz and we met a series of characters that made the trip to Ocho Rios memorable. The guard/DJ was really friendly and talked about the new Ocho Rios. The coconut salesman gave us his card describing Harvey Miller’s taxi service, complete with tours. He also opened up about the best of Ocho Rios.

A street dancer appeared and wowed this crowd of three with contortions, dancing, and facial manipulations to the tune of the Jamaican music played by DJ. And a friend from the ship (revealed to be an Israeli retired Navy ship captain with eight bypassed heart veins) joined him in a dance-off. We cheered and laughed and snapped photos, then called to other ship patrons to come in and enjoy the fun. By the time it was time to return to the ship, our memory banks were full. Great place, that Ocho Rios!

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Puerto Limon Ride, 21 April, 2010


Puerto Limon from the NCL Sun in port

The ship docked in 87 deg F heat at Puerto Limon next to the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas at 7am and we were on the pier by 930am. The day was partly cloudy and humid. Before us lay a broad parking area fronting a small customs zone and an area of small shops under a single roof. Behind this area lay a town of 60,000 persons running up the gentle slope toward the hills in the distance. The 300-500 foot high hills were clad with housing areas and communication towers. No high rise buildings were in view. I searched unsuccessfully among the shops for a map of the town and went into a specialized tour building behind the shops, eventually securing a map of the area with few details about the immediate port area. As I returned to the bicycles next to the shops area, one of the shop owner asked about my bike helmet and went on to describe himself as a biking enthusiast who even ran bike tours in another part of the year. He was extremely helpful, suggesting first a discomfort with my security with my choice of a ride through the north part of town before attempting a ride along the road closest to the north beaches. Upon further discussion, he became comfortable with my choice. He drew a map for me to show the way out of the port area and described the ride north. He agreed it was a good choice for our level of riding expertise and our goals for the ride.

Bicycle advisor with Marilyn at Puerto Limon shop area

On the way out of town, we passed a three story high hotel with a wifi-capable restaurant on the ground level. We decided to stop to relieve ourselves of our email and telephone responsibilities. No luck. We ordered coffee and coke light but were never able to successfully connect on the internet. We did see a special method of making coffee utilizing a tower mounted fabric filter pouch which held the coffee and through which hot water was poured. I learned later on the ship that this was a common way of making coffee in some parts of Europe. I later saw one of the tower stands in the shops area. The Costa Rican coffee was very good.

We left the hotel after a half hour and headed out for our ride around a seawall and through the light commercial area, past first a hospital and then a school, and then through a gradually density diminishing housing area. Most of the commercial establishments were not open, likely because we were too early.

Road through the forests in Costa Rica

We rode through heavily forested areas with an occasional glimpse of the shoreline for the next hour. The shoreline was 100-300 yards from the road in most places. The shores were rocky but flat over as much as 100 yards to the water. The rocky areas looked like coral or very dry mud. At only a few of the dozens of visible shoreline areas did we see any use of the shoreline. Those few areas contained snorkelers or scuba divers. The forests contained trees 100 or more feet high. Clumps of bamboo were sometimes as much as 50 feet high with 5 inch diameter canes. We saw few birds but heard many of them. Some of the birds were long-tailed black robin-sized birds. Some of the birds in the forests sounded like parrots. I saw turkey vultures circling 300 feet overhead and occasional single or paired medium-sized split-tailed long legged black and white birds.

The ride was over a two lane highway, relatively well paved, with few vehicles coming opposite us but a few more coming behind us. About half of them were busses and trucks with the remainder taxis and private cars. Most honked as they passed to indicate their presence. They all gave us adequate room to continue on the road. There were a few gentle up and down slopes along the road and a single longer, steeper area including one switchback which necessitated some walking over about 100 yards at the top.

We continued for about 5-8 miles past a second port area for commercial ships, some of which were banana boats as the road slowly rose to a point about 200 feet above the coastline. Here, we stopped for some photos and sat for a twenty minute bus stop conversation with a father and son duo. We talked about our origins and recommendations for restaurants in the area, following up with recommendations for specifics about food to order. This is a good shrimp fishing area and other saltwater fish are plentiful. Part of the commercial port area below us was a seafood packing plant.

Shrimp, plantains, and Yuca lunch on the beach

Downhill ahead laid a beautiful long, sandy beach with several hotel and resorts with restaurants. We decided to turn back here and try a restaurant, grocery store, beach area we had passed on the way out. Upon sitting down, we recognized many members of our own crew using the restaurant and the beach. We found that they had received this recommendation from other crew members with experience in the area. Crew from the second cruise ship in port also was using this beach. The veranda under the trees was inviting and comfortable and the beach was crowded with swimmers and sunbathers. We settled on shrimp for lunch accompanied by baked mashed plantains and baked Yuca, local specialties all. This was accompanied with a local beer served with an accompanying glass of ice. I dumped the ice into Marilyn’s Coke Light glass and poured the beer, which turned out not to be cold enough. It tasted fine, however. The shrimps were large and perfectly cooked, and were accompanied by a spicy hot sauce. I gave the food an A- and the service a C+. The overall effect was a B+.

After lunch, we searched the grocery store for cheap soft drinks in bottles or cans but found those available to be too expensive. We checked for Costa Rican coffee and decided to purchase that which had been offered earlier in the shops near the ship. But the store was air conditioned and we lingered for an extra minute before heading out into the 89 deg F heat and the bikes for the return trip. Traffic was a little heavier for the return, but the ride was uneventful except for the return of the hill which required some bike-walking and another spot where a walker warned us to use the opposite side of the street when walking the bike. I agreed with him and moved over for the 100 yard walk. The rest of the ride was substantially downhill and went quickly.

We returned along the same route we had taken on the way out and saw the stores now open and crowded with the after-lunch patrons. We had to modify our route back to the ship because the original route used one way streets which we could not now use to get back. The new route took us through a larger part of the town. Here, we also encountered more traffic but had no problems with it. The stores were small, mostly specialized ones in older buildings. A few contained a more extensive array of products like household items and food. We saw no sign of anything like a modern mall or even a modern building.

Returning to the shops near the ship, we purchased a few souvenir wood puzzle boxes and the coffee from Costa Rica, whole beans at about $5 per pound. Marilyn stopped for a shoulder massage. This massage and manicure shop did an amazing business among the cruise patrons who found their $15-25 prices for manicures, pedicures, and massages preferable to those costing in excess of $100 on the ship. I struck up a conversation with the shop owner as I waited 20 minutes for Marilyn. She giggled that some of the patrons were crazy, seeking bright, unusual colors for both fingers and toes.

Upon leaving the shops area we headed back to the ship through the usual gauntlet of passengers with questions about the bikes and their handling aboard the ships. This time, we got questions from both our own cruise ship passengers and those of the RCCL ship on the opposite side of our pier. We were soaked with perspiration from the heat of the day and the effort of the ride and headed immediately for the top deck cafeteria where we could rehydrate with iced tea. I had four glasses myself.

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Port Limon Costa Rica Plans, 22 April 2010


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lim%C3%B3n

http://www.govisitcostarica.com/region/city.asp?cID=168

The wiki and Port Limon sites description are at the two links above. There is a beautiful road alond the beach past the airport to the south. We plan to take that ride and see a few sites along the way.

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Salaverry Ride, 18 April 2010


The ship docked at Salaverry harbor at 9am and we were on the dock with the bicycles by 945am. No other large ships could be seen, but a few tugboats and some small fishing boats and skiffs were moored to buoys nearby, 100 yards offshore. In the background lay a 500 foot high hill with a lighthouse atop it. To the east lay a sea level short plateau beneath another plateau 500 feet above it with a large portion of farm fields green with crops. I wondered whether the visible small bushes 2miles away were grapes for a new Peruvian wine industry. Our handout for the day from the NCL Sun indicated, however, that the area was well known for export of white asparagus. Certainly, the bush-like crop laden fields were not asparagus, but they could have been other crops like citrus. The weather was warm and dry but a haze lay in the air along the coast and into the hills. As the morning progressed over the next 15 minutes, higher mountains began to spear out of the mist behind the higher plateau.

Marilyn starts out from Salaverry with the port area in background

Our ride began with the ride around the pier area and into the customs area which was minimal. We obtained a map from one of the 10 or so taxi drivers and passed out of the controlled area effortlessly. We started down a long four pane divided road out of the harbor area accompanied on the right by low adobe buildings, some containing commercial establishment s like food shops and restaurant/bars, and some containing homes. A few streets opened toward the mountains, revealing adobe homes stretching 1000 or more yards up a shallow slope. Few people were out this Sunday morning. A few curious three wheeled vehicles passed in both directions. These were driven by motorcycle engines and were completely enclosed. Some were used as taxis and some carried merchandise for sale. A strip of curio stands attracted the cruise passengers not planning to go to the city of Trujillo 15 miles away or scheduled to visit the archeological sites nearby.

The ride out of the harbor stretched on for more than five miles. On the seaward side, deep unoccupied beaches eventually gave way to warehouses, many completely enclosed by ten feet high walls. I don’t know whether these were for security purposes, but I surmised that tides, floods, and tsunamis might have convinced owners to protect the contents from water in this area no more than 10 feet above sea level. On the land side could be seen similar walled-in warehouses, some small farms, and some roads deeper into the residential part of Salaverry. The farms were small, some with a few cattle or sheep and goats, and even one with a mare and her colt.

Typical adobe homes and farms outside Salaverry

All construction was with a brick-like material I later realized was adobe. Roofs varied from cardboard covered by dusty soil to corrugated metal. All were flat. This was the first time I realized that adobe is actually sun-dried mud bricks. At one point down the road, I saw a wet muddy area from which someone was actually cutting the mud bricks for adobe. The shape of the bricks was marked out in rectangular oriented lines spread over a half acre area and I could see that the exposed bricks had been cut three deep in the mud. Aside this area was an area of stacked damp bricks drying in the sun. Further down the road, I found a 20-30 foot high structure, also made out of adobe, which contained open areas at the bottom, 10 feet apart. I surmised that fires could be lit in these pits to assist or complete the drying process. As I understand it, adobe is not as strong as fired bricks and cannot be used for multistory buildings, certainly not anything more than two stories. Thus, 99% of the buildings I spotted over the next 15 miles were one story adobe brick structures.

Walled warehouses outside Salaverry port

As the road angled away from the coast, I could see larger farmed areas on the seaward side and realized later that an entire small town, Mochi lay along the coast on this side of the road. This road was not crowded on the way out, although a few taxis and busses passed. At an intersection 5-7 miles from the harbor, a single road met our path at an angle. The path to the right was marked as going to Lima, while our path to the left was marked for Trujillo. A gasoline station lay at this intersection, in fact two and I realized as we rode toward Trujillo that the number of stations was much larger than I would have expected for the area. Stations lay every half mile or so. Each station was more a truck stop than a station, containing 6-9 pumps, a small office with bathrooms for customers, and a very small shop selling snacks and sodas. We looked in vain over the next 10 miles for a coffee-selling establishments containing wifi capability. This road stretched on for five miles with only farms on both sides, occasional businesses like repair stations, tiny restaurants, and a few hostels. A park at one point indicated an ecological area and presented a few rides for small children along with a not-open-yet restaurant. The roadside was also littered with trash and garbage. We also passéd at least two carcasses of dogs, apparently killed by traffic. We have seen none of this anywhere else in our South American travels. Peru began to take on the appearance of a third world country.

The first circle we approached contained four gas stations, none with a decent-sized restaurant, several closed. We moved on toward Trujillo and the next circle. The area became more urban with more traffic, residential areas spreading out on both sides of the road, and more people on the streets. At the next circle, only a mile from downtown Trujillo, we encountered a very busy bus station and many stands selling food along the street. One common sight was a cart carrying sugar cane sticks and a press to create a sweet sugar-laden liquid. These were very popular. We pushed on toward town, looking above the myriad of one story adobe homes for taller buildings which might house the kind of establishment we would be willing to relax in, particularly if it contained a wifi connection. To make a long story short, we never found one. Each taller building in the distance turned out to be empty, either under construction or destruction. After chasing two or three, we decided to find the main streets. We passed a few small two story churches and came to a busy commercial district with mostly dilapidated stores. The streets became very busy with people and traffic. We did find a few newer buildings, some as tall as three stories, but none had more than 20% of the stores open even in the mall-like stores. Apparently, Trujillo opens late on Sunday. We also found several government buildings (also closed) and several statues and billboards describing historical sites. We stopped at a few.

Downtown Trujillo neighborhood

We searched for a place to purchase sugar free cola, either Coke Light or Pepsi light, but neither restaurants nor retail food stores had what we wanted. We decided to turn back for the ship. Three blocks into our journey back, we spied a corner restaurant which appeared to be open and which appeared to be relatively clean. Upon entering we found the product they sold which was a sugar free cola was called Coke Zero. Perhaps I had made the error in all of my earlier searches by asking for the light product. Nevertheless, we locked the bikes in front of a guard who indicated he would watch over them and relaxed for 15 minutes with our drinks. The food being sent out to adjoining tables looked very enticing, but I could not convince Marilyn to share any with me, so we didn’t eat here. My effort to pay revealed they would not accept credit cards, didn’t want dollars, and would also not accept the Argentine bills I still carried. Eventually, I convinced them to accept two of my dollar bills and they gave me 1.60 Peruvian Solis in change. As we were leaving, we noticed that the two managers continued to peruse my bills. I don’t know whether they were checking for counterfeits or were simply amazed by US bills.

We were disappointed that we had not made it to the ancient sites at Chan Chan but we thought time was running short. Our ride back to the ship was unremarkable except for the wind which had picked up and was now in our faces. But Marilyn began to slow down half way back to the ship and I began to worry that she was either dehydrated or running out of energy. I therefore took up position behind her, rather than in front of her as was our usual practice. She slowed down considerably, sometimes to as slow as 2-3 miles per hour, and occasionally drifted across the road, but she reacted to my shouts to keep on the right side of the road, and we made it back to the ship successfully.

NCL Sun in sight as we reenter harbor area

I am left with the impression that this part of Peru is indicative of a third world region. I believe the roadsides contained open sewers. I found running water wherever I stopped, but the hardware was crude. I found no hotel I would like to live in comfortably for more than a night in passing. The people were dressed to indicate jeans and shirts were readily available, but nicer dress was available only to a third or fewer of the population. The children were schooled and I think they had occasional access to computers and the internet, but nowhere near the degree as was available elsewhere we visited. The streets were littered with trash and garbage. The bike ride was safe but hardly enjoyable except from the aspect of seeing people living in ways I have rarely seen before. I found the people comfortably friendly and helpful. The weather was warm, but the haze was a little bit depressing. Trujillo has a long way to go before it can call itself a tourist attraction.

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Salaverry Plans 18 April 2010


Here are links to the About site and the Maplandia site for Salaverry:

http://cruises.about.com/od/southamericacruises/a/salaverry.htm

http://www.maplandia.com/peru/la-libertad/trujillo/salaverry/

Salaverry is the port city for the city of Trujillo, the second largest city in Peru. It is the gateway to several archeological sites. We will try to get to several of them but keep to the coast north from the port after we get inbto Trujillo.

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Callao ride, 17 April 2010


Marilyn looks out at the Miraflores beaches in suburban Lima

This will be short and sweet. The day broke warm but hazy. We didn’t ride in Callao because the ship’s crew and the local officials warned us that the area was unsafe because of rampant crime and security problems. We took the bikes outside even after listening to the warnings of the crew and ran into a series of local officials who made it difficult first to even get the bikes outside the port and then convinced us that we would be taking our life in our own hands. We decided not to ride, but to put the bikes back on the ship and to take a free shuttle bus to a shopping center in Miraflores.

The ride out of the port went through the offending Callao area and I saw only a poor industrial/residential area with less than moderate traffic on relatively wide two lane streets . The people on the streets also seemed unthreatening. Many were parents and children walking this Saturday morning. Some were old men. I saw no single drunks or groups of people who seemed like gang members. Also on the ride back into the district after Miraflores, the area seemed like a normal low income area. We passed through a large hospital area and a “rehabilitation center”, but neither of those area were particularly threatening. The roads would have allowed us to pass through at relatively normal speed and I doubt if anyone could/would have been able to interfere with our ride unless they accosted us at a traffic stop. I think I would choose to ride the bike next time I had an opportunity in the area. I might not stop much in the area, but I think the area is completely rideable.’

The bus took us through the area and then turned back toward the coast to the road on which we would have ridden. The road skirted the coast for 20 miles near sea level. For most of the way, construction vehicles were moving earth for most of the 20-200 yard wide area between the road and the water. This is apparently a very dry area. The surf is brown with the color of the local dirt. After about 15 miles of ride, we began to pass beaches covered with 2-4 inch diameter rounded stones. I don’t know whether these were natural or brought in to cover the dusty beach. The bluffs rose 200-500 feet above the beaches. The area called Miraflores topped this bluff. Below the bluffs, the newly constructed beach/recreation area contained small cement soccer practice areas complete with goals and dozens of users playing this morning. A few jetties jutted out from the shore and at least two of these contained resorts. Below Miraflores, surfers worked two separate areas on either side of one of the resort-clad jetties. Beyond Miraflores turnoff, lay another 3-5 miles of beach with large residential areas complete with tall condos.

Monument in Miraflores with Marriott Hotel in background

The bus topped the bluffs and stopped at the Marriott Hotel which housed the trading company which provided the free busses. The hotel was very new and modern. We noted the second floor restaurant’s wifi availability but took the staff’s direction to a Starbucks shop at the three story shopping center built into the bluff across the street. We had coffee at the Starbucks and used their wifi for 45 minutes for a few telephone calls. The coffee was free after the staff was unable to sell us decaf coffee beans because their supply was tenuous and they doubted their ability to hold out until the next shipment. People were nice.

We walked around the very modern shopping center, purchasing Peruvian chocolate and a Vicuna sweater for our grandchild. The entire center was very upscale and a bit expensive. We took lunch at an outdoor café with a spectacular view of the coast and the surfers. Lunch was a three ham sandwich and a wonderful version of corvine en papillote. I learned from the English translation on the menu that corvine is Chilean Sea Bass. The accompanying Chilean beer and Pisco sour were perfect. Miraflores strikes me a sthe Palermo of Lima. The area was replete with restaurants and coffee shops and upscale stores serving a large condo-living population.

Bob enjoys lunch at the shopping center in Miraflores

After another walk around the center, we returned to the bus and eventually to the ship. The visit to Lima/Callao/Miraflores was pleasant except I felt guilty that we had not ridden the bikes. Perhaps next time we will.

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Callao, Peru Plans, 17 April, 2010


Callao Peru Plans, 17 April, 2010

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callao

http://www.enjoyperu.com/peru_travel_tours_information/peru_travel_destinations/peru_lima/lima-peru-callao.html
Callao Peru is a suburb of Lima and 8 miles from the town center. There is a shoreline ride south of the port which we may try. We may also try the ride into Lima if iit isn’t too hilly. We’ll decide soon after we arrive.

We’ll see the fish market in the pier area and the King Felipe Fortress in Callao before we embark on the shoreline ride.

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