Panama hats aren’t made in Panama. Who knew? They’re actually from Ecuador, which is convenient, because that’s where we are today, and I needed a hat.

Yesterday we had a great day at sea. I spent some time in the art studio in the morning ripping off Henri Talouse Latrec with a charcoal drawing, and in the afternoon ripping off Degas with an acrylic. It was my first attempt at acrylic, and I was impressed with the materials, but unimpressed with my ability.


In the evening we went to one of the four specialty restaurants on board, Red Ginger. It was spectacular. Great decor and great food. Highlights were the summer rolls, which included pomello, an asian fruit similar to grapefruit, and the miso glazed sea bass, one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever had. It put Le Bernardin in New York to shame.

Speaking of which, yesterday the list of the top 100 restaurants in the world came out, and we’ve been to quite a few. And of course we disagree with the list. For example, we’ve been to six of the top 20, and hated three of them (Le Bernardin, Alinea and L’Arpege)! Two of our favorites we have already booked for our upcoming New York stay (Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges).

Anyway, today we toured Ecuador. The country seems much more prosperous than Peru, and the people were extremely friendly, waving to the buses as we passed. My very limited Spanish was good enough to read the environmental billboards around town; it’s nice that they are taking pride in–and taking care of–their country.


The ship is docked in Manta, a tuna fishing port, and there are massive amounts of tuna being unloaded right next to us. Amazingly, it doesn’t smell, I suppose because it is so fresh.


Our first stop was at a house where they make buttons and knick knacks out of the seeds of the tagua plant. These seeds, when dry, are about as hard as ivory, and can be dyed to any color. It was a bit scary watching them saw and grind the pieces with no finger protection.


Then we drove up the local mountain, Montecristi, to see Panama (Ecuadorian) hats being made. It’s quite labor intensive, with the better hats taking up to six months to make, and costing as much as $1000. I bought the much less expensive $80 version, which was demonstrably better than the $25 version. The vendor showed me how to roll it up(!) and put it in its balsa wood box. Linda got a better deal in the nearby shopping area, buying shawls at three for $10. And yes, the official currency of Ecuador is the US dollar.


Our next stop was an agave factory, where they were turning the plant leaves into twine, and then weaving it into cloth to make burlap style bags. Personally I prefer my agave to be turned into tequila, but it was very interesting to watch the process: stripping the fiber from the leaves, drying, spinning, and weaving.


On the way back to the port we passed a shipyard where they build and repair boats the old fashioned way: with lots of wood. Our final stop was back in Manta at a small archaeological museum that displayed a few clay artifacts.

We really liked Ecuador, and there was a lot packed into this three hour tour.

Chan Chan, Peru


Salaverry is a northern port in Peru near the city of Trujillo. Our tour took us on a short drive through Trujillo to the Dragon Temple, a pyramid surrounded by a high wall. Our guide, Elver was quite informative, as we walked around the pyramid and then climbed the ramp to its flat top.


Then we drove on north to Chan Chan, a nine square mile walled city built of mud bricks, and about 1000 years old. The place was quite a labyrinth. The walls, some as high as 30 feet, are original, but 85% of the decoration has been restored.


On the drive back through Trujillo I observed the irony that the modern construction wasn’t much different than the ancient. It is a city of many walls, but few roofs. Most walls are left with rebar sticking from the top, so that another story can be added later. But a large percentage of the walls seemed to enclose nothing, much as in Chan Chan.


Lima, Peru


For this year’s trip Linda and I set our goal to visit the last continent on our list, South America. (We’re not expecting to get to number seven, Antarctica, any time soon.) It seems ironic that the only inhabited continent we haven’t been to is the closest to our home.

Our friend, Pamela, from Australia, flew to Orlando to join us for a week before the trip, and then we all headed south. Well, actually we headed north, to Atlanta, and then south. Lima Peru is due south, oddly enough. It doesn’t seem like the east coast of the US should line up with the west coast of South America, but it does, hence no time change (except they don’t need to observe daylight savings time in a country so close to the equator).

The flight was surprisingly quick, just six hours to go about 3000 miles. That was a good thing, because the “flat” beds on this A330 were anything but. In all fairness, I think mine was broken, because it kept recoiling from the flat position, but the design doesn’t even attempt to level the bed, so you keep sliding off the bottom. Delta has won an award for some of the top beds in the industry, but I bet it wasn’t on this plane, which was inferior to the two other Delta designs I’ve seen, which we had on flights to Sydney and Istanbul.

We arrived in Lima and cleared immigration and customs before midnight. Since Pamela hadn’t booked her room through the cruise line, I’d called to arrange her transfer, and he dutifully appeared. I’d also called the cruise line to confirm ours, and they assured me the hotel was handling it. Nope. So we hired a taxi for the trip to the JW Marriott in Miraflores Lima.

Lima is criss-crossed by four lane roads, but they don’t seem to form a useful grid, so the half hour ride involved much jogging through back alleys to get from one road to another. Finally we followed the beach for a few miles, then climbed the steep palisade to Miraflores.

The Marriott is a very nice hotel. It’s a high rise located at the top of the bluffs, overlooking the bay upon which Lima is situated. During our Sunday in Lima the weather was a bit socked in with low clouds, but we could still see from one end of the bay to the other.

Pamela and I met for breakfast and then she retired to her room to rest up for a day while Linda and I went out to explore the multi-level mall that clings to the cliff face in front of the hotel. We had lunch there at an outdoor cafe appropriately named Cafe Cafe. Linda had a mixed ceviche dish she proclaimed the best ever. It must have been good, because she even scarfed down the octopus.


In the afternoon I took a three-hour nap (ahh, vacations) and then for dinner we went to a restaurant recommended by Diego, an Alcorn McBride intern whose mother is from Peru.

Taxis in lima are interesting. There are no meters, and the fare is subject to negotiation. The trip to the restaurant cost 10 Nuevo Sole ($4) and the trip back cost twice that. The restaurant is actually about two blocks from the hotel, but it is several hundred feet below, on the other side of a busy highway.


La Rosa Nautica is located on a jetty, so waves constantly break below as you walk out to the place past some cute tourist shops. Inside the spaces are quaintly decorated with flowers, mirrors and lacy white woodwork reminiscent of the Carnation Pavilion at Disneyland. We were seated in a round room with a 270 degree view. There are many dining areas in the restaurant, but ours seemed to be reserved for American tourists, which was very practical, as all the servers spoke English.

We had their tasting menu, which was three courses of three items each. Everything was beautifully presented, and quite tasty, and the price of $65 per person seemed very reasonable. To accompany dinner we had an Argentine Chardonnay that was quite dry, and a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon with an interesting charred wood nose.



After a good night’s sleep, we transferred to our ship midday on Monday. The process at the hotel was inscrutably disorganized, with no one knowing when or where the transfer would be, no luggage tags to direct bags to the cabin, and no boarding documents. But somehow we ended up on a shuttle with our luggage, and got to the ship, where boarding and check in were quick and efficient. And despite all expectations to the contrary, our luggage showed up at our cabin, even with no cabin ID tags.

We are on the Oceania Marina, a ship about twice as large (1200 passengers) as our previous Oceania ship, the Insignia. This suite isn’t quite as nice as the one on the Insignia, or as spacious as the one on Celebrity last year, but the ship has much more to offer in terms of restaurants and public spaces. We certainly got a good deal on our suite, which was priced at under $650 a day for two including insurance, far below the usual half off rate, and even includes a $400 cabin credit. That plus the new unlimited Internet offering discounted to $20 a day make this a very economical luxury cruise.


We went to the main dining room, where the host invited us upstairs to the Polo Grill, one of the specialty restaurants (which tend not to be busy on embarkation day) for a nice dinner.

The ship overnighted in the Port of Lima (which is very noisy–thank goodness for earplugs) and then on Tuesday Linda headed out for a visit to two museums. Since they were right back where we came from in Miraflores, I decided to opt out of this tour and have a restful day on the ship. Linda enjoyed the trip, and reported much pottery, including this one that reminded her of our cat Tucker sleeping on her (although I think this guy is being eaten by the cat).