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Cruising Through the Panama Canal

Although I’ve visited Panama before via land (around thirty years ago) and peered at the canal from the shore, I was looking forward to actually sailing through. A small part of me wondered if I might get bored—I mean, an entire day of canals then lake then more canals before we hit the ocean again. I needn’t have worried because there is a lot to see and photograph.

We watched the men driving the mules, which are large vehicles that are used to keep the ships centered in the lock. They’re a bit like train locomotives since they run along tracks on the edge of the canal. We spotted birds and crocodiles sunning themselves on muddy banks and we watched the canals fill and empty of water, lifting and lowering our ship. It was also interesting watching the ship that sailed in the adjoining canal.

Here are a few facts about the Panama Canal:

1. The canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

2. It was built by the Americans and opened in 1914.

3. Complete control of the canal passed to Panama at the end of 1999.

4. Each ship is charged a toll, depending on their freight weight or passenger capacity.

5. The toll must be paid before the ship enters the canal.

6. Gravity feeds the flow of water that raises the level of the locks.

7. The average transit time to pass through the canal is ten hours but this can depend on the volume of shipping.

8. Pilots board each ship at the start of their journey through the canal.

9. The French attempted to make the canal first and lost over 20,000 workers to tropical diseases. Yellow fever and malaria in particular.

10. Once the Americans took over, they still lost 5609 workers to disease and accidents.

11. Nicaragua was also considered as a place to build the canal. The volcanoes in Nicaragua were part of the reason Panama was the preferred choice.

12. A swimmer swam the canal in 1928. He was charged 36c for his weight of 68kg. The toll charge for most ships is in the hundreds of thousands. The toll for our cruise ship was around $300,000.

Bridge of the Americas

Almost at the canal. It’s time for our adventure to start.

Ferrying lines

Despite our high tech times, these two men row out to the ships with lines. The big ships dwarf the tiny boat.

Entering the Miraflores Locks

Entering the first lock – the Miraflores. I was wondering how we’d fit as the lock didn’t look very wide!

Inside the canal lock

We’re partially inside the lock. It became more obvious that we would fit, but it was a tight squeeze.

One of the mules

One of the locomotions or mules that are used to guide the larger ships into the locks.

Crocodile Enjoying the Sun

A grazing deer

Some of the wildlife we saw while on the canal.

Inside the canal

We’re just about fully inside the canal and ready for the gravity-fed water to lift us up a level.

The gap between the canal wall and ship

Mind the gap! Check out the tiny gap between the wall of the canal and the ship. The rail tracks are those used by the mules.

Mimosa Time

Mimosa time! It was hard work watching and photographing the trip through the canal.

Gutan Lake

This is Gutan Lake, the man-made lake between the two sets of locks.

Gutan Lake Traffic

This is a shot of some of the other shipping traffic waiting on Gutan Lake for their turn to go through the locks. If you’re in a hurry, you can pay an extra fee to get through faster.

The last set of locks

This is the Gatun Locks, and it was easier to see because the locks went “downhill”.

Almost through the Panama Canal

Almost at the Atlantic Ocean. The final part of the Gatun locks.

Traveling through the canal on a cruise ship was a fun way to experience the workings of the Panama Canal. In truth, I thought the engineering and technical stuff would get boring, but the day went surprisingly quickly and I enjoyed it immensely. If you ever have a chance to do this cruise, I highly recommend it.

Cooking Class in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico #Adventure2019

Cooking Adventure 2019

Our cuisine in New Zealand is a fusion of European, Asian and Pacific influences with an emphasis on our fresh produce and seafood. We don’t get much in the way of Mexican food in New Zealand, and Mr. Munro and I decided to attend a cooking class when our cruise ship visited the port of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. We both love to cook, and this seemed like the ideal way to immerse ourselves in Mexico food.

I eat a mainly vegetarian diet with a little seafood, so we were in luck when our visit coincided with seafood day at the cooking school.

Chef Enrique runs these cooking classes from his home. According to him, one day he was lying in his hammock and he thought there must be a better way to earn a living. He loved cooking and food, he liked meeting and talking with people and the idea for his cooking school was born.

The class starts with an excursion to the local market to buy supplies. We visited a tortilla factory where the tortillas are made from corn. Our next stop was the fish market where we purchase a white fish, octopus and prawns. Eek! Who buys octopus? What does one do with all those tentacles? Well, I can confidently tell you that I’ve learned how to deal with an octopus, and even better, it was delicious.

A grinding machine at the tortilla factory

First stop – the tortilla factory where corn is ground into a paste to make tortillas. Something learned. I had no idea that proper tortillas do not contain flour.

Red snapper at the fish market

The fish market was spotlessly clean with not a fishy stench in evidence.

We purchased fresh vegetables and fruit including tomatoes, avocado, limes, lots of fresh herbs, chilies, and pineapple gaining tips along to way as to what to look for in fresh produce.

So many chilies!

There are so many varieties of chilies of all colors and sizes. Chef showed us his collection of dried chilies and I have no idea how he keeps them straight. Many, many chilies.

Starting to fill up the shopping trolley

We soon filled this trolley!

Our shopping done, we piled into our van and headed off to Chef Enrique’s home to start cooking. On our arrival, we were introduced to his family, given an apron to don and made to feel at feel. Mi casa es su casa. Drinks including tequila were available but most of us wanted to learn and stuck to the non-alcohol drinks in order to concentrate.

Chef put each of us to work. I squeezed limes and chopped onion while Mr. Munro cut the fish into cubes for the ceviche.

Chef and his family

Our fresh cooking ingredients

Our fresh ingredients are ready for class to commence.

The first course consisted of ceviche, guacamole, fresh pineapple with spices and two sauces. Our second course was a cactus salad, prawns, octopus, and more sauces. Our meal ended with a slice of beautiful caramel tart made by Mrs. Chef. It was glossy and almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Chopping the snapper

Mr. Munro chopping the red snapper for the ceviche.

Making the ceviche

The ingredients for the ceviche.

First course ready to eat!

This is our first course, and it was yummy!

Experiencing the tortilla press

The tortilla press – an amazing gadget but not one we use a lot in New Zealand.

Octopus and prawns ready to eat.

Prawns and octopus ready for eating.

We had a fun day, and if you’re ever in Puerto Vallarta please check out Chef Enrique at Cookin’ Vallarta and his cooking class. You won’t be disappointed.

Ernest Hemingway House, Key West, Florida #travel #writing

When we visited Key West, I noticed the Ernest Hemingway House Museum and suggested to my long-suffering husband that this could be our bit of “culture” for the day. Although I know of Hemingway, I’ve never read his books (I know. Big gasp.) but, other writers interest me and seeing their offices is always fascinating.

Ernest lived and wrote at his Key West house for around ten years. He purchased the property in 1931 after he and his wife fell in love with the area.

The house, as it stands now, is full of furniture collected by the Hemingway’s during their time in Europe plus paintings and copies of his book. Descendants of Hemingway’s cats also have free run of the property. It’s said he acquired his original six-toed tom cat from a sea captain after he took a liking to the cat.

He built a swimming pool at a cost of around $20000. Very expensive at the time and the only one in the area.

There is a writing studio out the back of the house, which I adored. I wanted to move in and start writing straightaway.

Hemingway divorced his wife Pauline in 1940 and moved to Cuba with his third wife, returning now and then to Key West until his death by suicide in 1961. He was very productive during his time in Key West writing books such as A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Death in the Afternoon, The Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not and Islands in the Stream.

Source: https://www.hemingwayhome.com/

Hemingway House

Me outside the Hemingway Museum.

Hemingway House

The front view of the house.

And me again!

A painting of Hemingway

A painting of Hemingway.

Hemingway Books

Some of Hemingway’s books.

Interior

Bedroom

This is the main bedroom with one of the descendants of Hemingway’s cat.

Writing Studio

These are the stairs that lead up to Hemingway’s writing studio.

Writing office

Hemingway wrote in this office. It was bright and light and airy, and I coveted his office. I’m certain I could write great masterpieces in this office. :-)

Dogsledding, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada #travel

During our visit to Churchill, we spent a morning at Wapusk Adventures, the largest dog sled kennels in Canada.

The owners are passionate about their dogs and sledding, and I found the owner’s talk both interesting and inspiring. After learning about the dogs and the sport of sledding, we got to meet the dogs and do a mile circuit with a team of sled dogs. Fun times. After our sled ride, I had to purchase a T-shirt to add to my collection. I am now the proud owner of an Ididamile T-shirt.

If you’re ever up in Churchill I recommend a visit to Wapusk Adventures.

Watch for Mushers

Some of the local signage…

Dogs

The dogs knew that some of them were about to go for a run. They barked and jumped around trying to grab attention. It was the doggie version of pick me! Pick me!

Shelley and one of the locals

Me with one of the locals.

Time for a sleep

I didn’t get picked. I think I’ll have a snooze.

Hubby and I with our dog team

This is hubby and I during our sled ride. So much fun!

Polar Bear Jail, Churchill, Canada #travel #animals

The locals in Churchill do their best to deter polar bears from wandering into town. Conservation officers patrol during the season and attempt to scare bears away from the Churchill township if they get too close. They use noise to scare them such as fire crackers and air horns and as a last resort set traps.

Once a bear is trapped, the conservation officers take them back to the polar bear holding facility, also known as polar bear jail. Here they stay until the end of the season when they are relocated. During their incarceration, the bears are not fed. Originally, the bears were fed, but this seemed to draw more bears to town, so the decision was made to follow nature and only give the bears water.

Guard

This was our guard at the the parking lot where we transferred from the tundra buggy to the bus.

Bear Trap

Bear Trap

These are the traps used to catch bears that come too close to town. Once the bear walks inside the trap, the door comes down behind it.

The polar bear jail

Hubby and I posing outside the polar bear jail. The public are not allowed inside to ensure as little contact with the bears as possible. They want the bears to remain wary of humans and stay away.

Polar Bear Jail

This is the mural painted on the side of the polar bear jail. Cool, isn’t it?

Polar Bear

A final photo of a polar bear. This one stayed far away from the traps!

Fiona’s Mates: The idea behind the story and Cover Reveal #paranormal #romance #reverseharem

In October 2017, hubby and I visited the small town of Churchill in Canada to see polar bears. The remote town and its relationship with the polar bears fascinated me. When I learned that the town was only accessible by plane, due to the storm damage of the railway, ideas for stories flew through my mind.

Our trip ended in Fort Lauderdale in Florida and we went sightseeing via water taxis when we were there. That destination also made an impression on me, and got tossed into my story idea pot.

My paranormal romance Fiona’s Mates is the result of my visit to Churchill, the polar bears and hearing about the ice road. I also added in Fort Lauderdale, since the journey on the water taxis was so much fun.

Fiona's Mates

Here is the blurb for Fiona’s Mates:

A woman seeking change meets five sexy brothers…

When Fiona catches her callous, chauvinistic husband with another woman, she puts a full stop on their marriage. No longer prepared to put up with his abusive behavior, she kicks him out the door, determined to start afresh. A vacation is the perfect way to attack her adventurous new life.

Stig is the youngest of five polar bear shifters, and his scheme to start an ice trucking business puts him and his brothers on an untraditional path. With everyone in Churchill against them—humans and shifters plus their matriarch—it’s a challenge to get their ice trucks on the road.

Fiona meets the sexy Stig and his gorgeous brother in Gillam. With their bulging muscles and stunning Nordic looks, something about the smiling duo imbues trust. Then, she meets their three older brothers, each charming and handsome, and her libido is in overdrive. She has a dilemma since they’re openly interested in her, and it is impossible to choose one.

Now that Fiona’s vacation is ending, she’s talking about returning to Florida, but that might not be the worse of the trouble when danger stalks into Churchill and threatens to end their reverse harem forever…

Coming 22 March at Amazon.

Other Animals on the Tundra #travel #Churchill #animals

The tundra has plenty of wildlife. It’s finding and seeing the birds and animals that is the tricky thing.
Along with polar bears, we saw Arctic hare, ptarmigan, Arctic fox and an owl.

Here are some pics of the animals we saw during our visit.Ptarmigan

This is a Ptarmigan. We saw quite a few, some whiter than others. The ones that weren’t white yet still had some of their summer plummage.

Owl

An owl. So majestic.

Arctic hare

The Arctic hares were very cool. They just sat there in the snow and stared back at us. They were hard to spot in the snow.

Arctic Fox

This little Arctic fox just wanted to snooze but he had a buggy full of tourists wanting his picture.

Polar Bear

And finally, a polar bear, the animal we traveled all the way to Churchill to see.

Exploring the Tundra #travel #Churchill

Most people who visit Churchill to view the polar bears go on an organized tour. The tour companies have special vehicles known as tundra buggies. They have huge wheels and are high enough off the ground for tourists to view curious bears without putting themselves in danger.

The roads through the tundra are not maintained and can be quite rough but the tundra buggies slog through the mud and deep ruts, mostly without problem.

The cabins of the buggies are heated and set out like the interior of a bus. There are toilet facilities. At the rear of the vehicle there is a deck area, which is perfect for taking photos.

I found the buggies comfortable and because of their height, they’re perfect for photographers. We had morning and afternoon tea plus lunch during our day-long trips.

Here are some photos…

Tundra Buggy

See the big tires of the tundra buggies? They’re perfect for dealing with the conditions and for keeping passengers safe from bears.

The interior is like a bus. It’s warm and comfortable with big windows for keen photographers. Each buggy comes with an experienced guide and a driver. As well as seeing polar bears, we learned a lot about the bears and their behavior.

Me on the rear platform. When the wind was blowing, it was pretty cold out there!

In Fiona’s Mates, Fiona doesn’t sightsee from a tundra buggy, although she does see the buggies when the Swenson brothers take her on a tour of the area.

Polar Bears – Things I Learned During My Churchill Visit #travel #bookresearch

One of the things I love about travel is learning new things. Travel is an excellent educator. Before our visit to Churchill I knew nothing about polar bears, apart from the fact they are white. I even got that wrong because while the cubs can be quite white the adults are a vanilla color.

Things I learned about Polar Bears:

1. Polar bears inhabit the Arctic in areas where they have easy access to sea ice such as Canada, Alaska, Russia, Norway and Greenland.

2. Around 60% of polar bears live in Canada.

3. Polar bears are perfectly adapted for the cold weather of the Arctic from their fur, their black skin to their claws.

4. Polar bears rely on the sea ice since they feed on seals and they are strong swimmers.

5. Polar bears communicate with body language, the way they vocalize and with scent

6. Polar bears keep themselves clean, which helps keep them insulated and warm.

7. The bears sleep for seven to eight hours at a time, much like humans.

8. They sleep in shallow pits or sheltered areas. During the summer, they’ll seek out ice to keep cool.

9. Mating takes place between April and June while the bears are on the sea ice.

10. The eggs do not implant until the following fall. If the mother does not have enough body fat to sustain her cubs and herself, then the eggs do not implant at all.

11. Most cubs are born in December. A mother can have 1 – 4 cubs. Twins are common.

12. Newborns are blind, toothless and covered with short fur. They are completely dependent on their mother and nurse for around 20 months.

13. Cubs stay with their mother for 2 – 3 years and she teaches them to hunt, feed and swim.

14. The ringed seal is their main prey, although they will eat whales, eggs, and other small mammals.

15. Polar bears don’t hibernate, apart from pregnant females who den up to have their cubs and stay in the den until the cubs are strong enough to leave.

16. Polar bears can go up to eight months without eating.

Source: Polar Bear International

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Where is the Town of Churchill? #travel #bookresearch

Ask most people living in Canada or the United States and they have problems stating the exact location of the town of Churchill. As a New Zealander, I didn’t know anything about Churchill until I picked up a National Geographic Travel magazine. I flicked through and stopped at the pictures of polar bears.

“We should do this,” I said to my husband when he came home from work.

I half expected him to say, “No, that doesn’t sound very appealing.”

I was wrong. We investigated further and booked. This was my introduction to the remote Churchill, the town billed as the polar bear capital of the world.

Churchill is a small town, situated on the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada. The town can only be reached by plane. (They used to have a railroad but storms damaged the line and the owners have decided not to fix the track)

Each year, the polar bears congregate in the area to wait for the sea ice to form on the bay. The bears sometimes wander into town, searching for food, which makes life in Churchill dangerous for the unwary.

The town started life as an outpost. It grew in the 1920s once the railroad brought people into town and the addition of a shipping port. The military came to town in the 1950s and 1960s, further bolstering the population.
These days the permanent residents number around 1000. This number is boosted by tourists who come to visit the polar bears (Oct – Nov) or the beluga whales that mass in the warmer waters of the Hudson river during the June – September period.

Although remote, the town has cell phone coverage and internet. They even have great coffee!
We enjoyed our visit very much, although I suspect it isn’t as pleasant during the dead of winter. We had snow during our visit but found the temperatures comfortable. The locals are friendly and hospitable, and hubby and I are eager to visit again during the summer to see the beluga whales.

Source: Everything Churchill

Churchill Town from Air

This is a view of the town and the bay from a helicopter.

Churchill

Churchill and my fave cafe

These are both views of the main street of Churchill – Kelsey Boulevard.

View of the Tundra outside the town

A view of the tundra outside the town of Churchill.