A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Swenigale

WORLD CRUISE 2014 PREPARATIONS HAVE BEGUN!

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Hasta is all set to explore the world! If you're planning to follow our blog we will begin posting in December. Crystal Serenity sails from Miami on December 21st. Oh boy!

Posted by Swenigale 05:56

OUR VOYAGE ON CRYSTAL SERENITY STARTS TOMORROW

OUR VOYAGE ON CRYSTAL SERENITY STARTS TOMORROW

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Suitcases, check. Panama hats, check. Hästa, check. We’re good to go!

Posted by Swenigale 16:36 Archived in USA

PORT OF MIAMI


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Saturday afternoon we moved into our stateroom and enjoyed a last view of Miami from our balcony, and then set sail later in the evening. We live at the very front of the ship, starboard side, 10th floor. Our home away from home.

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A Nativity scene is at the entrance to the newly refurbished Palm Court with its beautifully replaced dance floor. In November the Crystal Serenity was in dry dock in Spain for 10 days. An amazing 17 million dollars was spent on redesigning and refurbishing. The results are wonderful.

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Here you can see a small portion of the makeover of the 12th floor casual dining areas; the green stuff is one of the “living walls” Crystal has installed. Or should I say “planted”?

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Yes, the plants are real – providing ambience and oxygen 

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We enjoyed the tree lighting ceremony that evening, hosted by Cruise Director Gary Hunter, entertainment provided by the Galaxy orchestra. We were to sail through the night and all day Sunday with a worship service at 9 am before reaching our first port on Monday. The adventure continues.

Posted by Swenigale 11:46 Archived in USA

SEA DAY AND GRAND TURK, TURKS AND CAICOS


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Welcome to our room – yes, we have Christmas lights, too, strung around the cabin

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Somehow we were able to “stow” all of our belongings- everything in those suitcases- for our 4 months at sea!

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We are sailing .in the path of Columbus’ explorations. This is Dr. Anthony F. Aveni, professor of Astronomy and Anthropology and Native American studies at Colgate University who is our destination lecturer. Also giving presentations are Bill Miller, expert on ocean liners, and Special Interest Lecturer Farajna Qazi, currently a Senior Instructor to US military officers, specializing in counter-terrorism.

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We had some very rocky nights at sea- easily managed if you stay in bed! Our stop in Grand Turk was brief, due to an emergency medical evacuation from the ship and our subsequent late arrival. The Serenity anchored offshore for the afternoon, and we enjoyed the sunset from our balcony as we set sail.

Posted by Swenigale 09:46 Archived in Turks/Caicos Islands

CHRISTMAS EVE AND DAY


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The ship is beautifully decorated for Christmas and the young ladies in the Astoria Quartet are the loveliest of them all. Our Christmas Services were at 5:15pm and 12 Midnight with a special Christmas Show by the Crystal Ensemble of performers presented in-between.

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Wanting a quiet Christmas Eve dinner we decided to sample the new menu in the Serenity’s redesigned “Tastes” restaurant.

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Merry Christmas from Willemstad, Curacao! We docked farther up St. Anna’s Bay this time – almost under the bridge.

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Merry Christmas to our grandchildren from Opa and the Elves!

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Bon Bini means welcome! Our one aim today was to call home to our family to wish them Merry Christmas – and we did!

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From our “home” to your home –

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Good-bye to the beautiful Willemstad waterfront.

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Our skillful Norwegian Captain Egil Giske backed us (!) safely out of the harbor.

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Opting again for an intimate setting, we enjoyed our Christmas dinner for two at Silk Road, Crystal’s specialty restaurant with Asian cuisine by Nobu Matsuhisa.

Posted by Swenigale 10:46 Archived in Curaçao

AT SEA & SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA


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The chefs of the Crystal Serenity received well-deserved applause before guests enjoyed the Christmas Grand Gala Buffet.

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On Friday morning we sailed into Santa Marta, Colombia, founded in 1525. The great South American liberator, Simon Bolivar, died here.

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The Cathedral of Santa Marta was built in 1765, one of the earliest basilicas built in Latin America.

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Wonderful-looking fruit, but we still opted to eat fresh fruit on our ship.

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The seafront boulevard is named for the city’s founder, Rodrigo de Bastidas.

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A bus tour took us high into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta foothills where we saw dwellings of every shape and size!

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Looking back to the city nestled by its bay

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High in the hills we looked down on the fishing village of Taganga. I think the heat was in the 90’s today, in case anyone is wondering ;)

Posted by Swenigale 09:31 Archived in Colombia

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA


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Welcome to beautiful Cartagena, founded in 1533 and named after Cartagena, Spain.

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We have been fortunate to have been in this port several times in the past few years, usually sharing the pier and getting a close-up education in the loading and unloading of container ships.

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The small but beautiful cruise ship terminal is home to flamingos and parrots.

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We hired a taxi to take us from the port to the Old City. We stopped for pictures at the Fortress of San Felipe with its massive walls. The fort was besieged five times in the 16th century as it protected the Spanish gold.

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The walled city and fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site, probably not a big deal to the kids playing soccer near the wall – but we were thrilled to be here, able to pose our little Hästa mascot on the imposing walls.

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The lovely Old City streets need no further decoration because of the beautiful flowers. Still, it is fun to see the artificial evergreen Christmas garlands! Must be a cold country transplant living here!

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The Gold Museum houses valuable pre-Columbian gold artifacts and information about the Zenú Nation’s native people.

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The San Pedro Claver church and the cloister courtyard is where St. Pedro baptized thousands of slaves. After our couple of hours in the heat of the city we retreated to the coolness of the Serenity, where we celebrated our wedding anniversary with fine dining in Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant.

Posted by Swenigale 13:21 Archived in Colombia

ROATAN ISLAND, HONDURAS


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Roatan Island is the largest of the three islands in Honduras Bay, but it is still just 37 miles long and 5 miles at its widest point.

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Columbus was in the neighborhood on his 4th Voyage in 1502, but the Paya Indians were here already for thousands of years. Although fishing is a major source of income tourism is now the major industry, replacing piracy and treasure hunting!

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Small buses took us from Coxen Hole, our port town, into the beautiful Roatan countryside.

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The surroundings are idyllic….

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….or not…….

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……. depending on your point of view. Today was definitely wash day.

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A brief excursion on a small boat took us to the mangrove trees that protect the island and the great reef that surrounds it. We also circled around a few rusting shipwrecks – an interesting shore excursion for passengers on a cruise ship!

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Descendants of Black Carib Indians, the Garifuna, who settled here in 1797, demonstrated their music and dance.

Posted by Swenigale 15:46 Archived in Honduras

BELIZE CITY, BELIZE

82 °F
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We stayed on and under the water today off the shores of the tiny country of Belize in Central America. (We grew up calling it “British Honduras”.) We tendered to land, bought a snorkeling tour, and sped out to the reef….

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….in this! Surprised us, too!

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Goff’s Caye is a small island that sits on the world’s second largest barrio reef. Some folks stayed on the island and then the crew brought us to where we jumped in the water with our gear and followed our guide for 45 minutes over awesome corals and fish.

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Back at the island to rest

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Not sure what was happening with these small crabs but we got a kick out of watching them in their pirated shell houses.

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Hey – anyone notice the change in the color of the sky?

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Rain came down hard – but this pelican loved it.

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Our crew secured the boats and the wind and rain where soon over. Blue skies and turquoise waters once again.

Posted by Swenigale 22:16 Archived in Belize

COSTA MAYA, MEXICO

sunny 90 °F
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Smart of Mexico – they have created a cruise ship-only port in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan peninsula, the “Maya Coast”.

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This is the only Mexican state on the Caribbean Sea and the cruise center they have created offers access to the many nearby Mayan ruins as well as fun in the sun if walking around ruins in 90 degree heat isn’t your thing.

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Lunch in “Carlos and Charley’s” – yeah, we wimped out

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Serenity and Holland America shared a pier.

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No complaints

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No shortage of handicrafts

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It’s all about perspective

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Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!

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Happy New Year, everyone!

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What a life!

Posted by Swenigale 15:51 Archived in Mexico

COZUMEL, MEXICO

rain 78 °F
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I opened our curtain and what to my wondering eyes should appear…but the “Disney Wonder”!

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Pulling in close to us…

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Really close!

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We could even watch their on deck movies!

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Today’s rain and our need for Wi-Fi to pay bills and make phone calls led us in search of free Wi-Fi instead of snorkeling or exploring Mayan ruins.

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The rain let up after our return to the ship and we walked the deck to reach our goal of 10,000 steps a day.

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We watched the Disney ship pull away and… how cool – their ship’s horn plays the first seven notes of “When You Wish Upon A Star”!

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Is that Huey, Dewey or Louie about to cut Unca’ Donald’s safety rope?!

Posted by Swenigale 09:41 Archived in Mexico

KEY WEST FLORIDA, USA

rain 70 °F
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Docked on a rainy day in Key West –tomorrow will be the last day of the Christmas Cruise and new guests will arrive for the cruise through the Panama Canal. Ed and I will move to a Staff Cabin as the guest cabins are fully sold-out for the coming cruise.

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Harry Truman’s “Little White House”, seen from the water.

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The whole day was windy and wet -

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Not great for sightseeing or swimming. (Here’s a picture of the oldest bar in Key West).

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But just right for Coffee And….

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Key West in the rain

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Another Disney ship, the “Disney Magic”, pulled away just before us.

Posted by Swenigale 18:26 Archived in USA

MIAMI, GRAND CAYMAN AND CARTAGENA

sunny 88 °F
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Hola! We have started the “Voyage Between Two Seas” cruise and it has been a few days of rocking and rolling since we posted anything – and a few days since we have set foot on land! On Tuesday we were scheduled to anchor at Grand Cayman, but the sea swell was too high to safely use the tenders to get to shore. The crew managed to pick up a few guests who had missed the ship in Miami (due to the storms that caused many cancelled flights) and who then flew to Grand Cayman. After that, the tenders were pulled back up and we set our course for Cartagena, Colombia.

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We are back in Cartagena, escorting tours – by now I think I could lead one! If you have followed our blogs over the years, you will recognize the imposing San Felipe Fortress.

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I just realized that these fruit ladies wear the Colombian flag colors – yellow for the wealth of the country, blue for the sea and red for the blood shed by martyrs.

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The Rafael Nuñez House and Museum. Nuñez wrote the words to the National Anthem, created the Constitution of 1886 and served as President of Colombia four times.

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What is that children’s book about the man with the many hats? Does he live in Colombia?

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The beautiful balconies of the Old City

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This is the detail above the entrance to the Palace and Museum of the Inquisition.

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The interior courtyard of the San Pedro Claver church and museum.

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San Pedro, a Jesuit, fought for the rights of slaves, working in the slave markets of Cartagena.

Posted by Swenigale 08:36 Archived in Colombia

PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT

sunny 85 °F
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We arrived right at our appointed time, 7:30am, for our over $200,000.00, fifty mile, nine hour transit of the Panama Canal. Structures you see silhouetted by the morning sun are some of the new lock doors which will be installed upon the completion of a third lane of traffic. Now scheduled for completion in 2015, the expansion will double the capacity for shipping and allow for larger ships to use the canal.

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Today is an unusual one, as more than 95% of ships using the canal are cargo – cruise ships are rare. Today we are one of five cruise ships transiting this remarkable waterway.

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These ships just fit the current locks which are 1000 feet long and 110 feet wide, the same as when they were constructed 100 years ago. The lock gates are hollow and because they are so well balanced it only takes a 40 horsepower motor to move them! The water in the locks is moved by the force of gravity flowing from one level to the other. In these first three lock steps, the Gatun Locks, it takes over 26 million gallons of water from Lake Gatun (in the center of the waterway) to raise ships 85 feet above sea level.

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Folks living on land cross the canal between the openings and closings of the gates.

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Did I mention we are in a staff cabin for this cruise? Here is our porthole view. What was really cool was looking out our porthole on the 5th floor at the walls of the lock as the ship was raised and lowered. Those walls came within what felt like inches of our noses!

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Twenty mile Gatun Lake was formed by flooding a number of villages and the islands you see are actually the tops of hills. The Continental Divide runs through Panama, and the Atlantic and Pacific tidal differences are such that the Canal needs locks instead of just a straight cut like the Suez Canal. The Chagres River through which the Canal was created, according to the Panamanian narrator who came on during the transit, is the only river in the world that crosses the Continental Divide and has continuous flow to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

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Remember Manual Noriega? He ended up here, in Gamboa prison. And he’s still there.

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All of the locks have double sets of doors. They are made of riveted steel, 65 feet wide, 7 feet thick and range from 47 feet to 82 feet high.

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One of the operators of one of the six “electronic mules” that guide our ship waits for our ship to rise in the lock before he is called into action.

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Construction is massive for the new locks and water-reutilization basins on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Canal.

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We are lowered the final 54 feet at the Miraflores Locks.

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We are about to pass under the Bridge of the Americas on our way to the Pacific Ocean.

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Camera zoom – we get waves from workers on the top of the bridge.

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Panama City is in the distance, as we turn north for two days at sea before our first stop in Mexico. It was a perfect transit.

Posted by Swenigale 13:11 Archived in Panama

HUATULCO, MEXICO

sunny 88 °F
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Ahh! Land! Our days at sea have been filled with excellent lecturers and evening entertainment. Sunday morning’s Protestant Worship Service in the Hollywood Theater was well attended and we’ve met some very interesting people. Today, though, was a day in Mexico. The Mexican Tourist Board has chosen this area for development because of the nearby five beautiful beaches.

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Captain Egil Giske backed in alongside Santa Cruz Marina’s new pier – guess that is preferable than having to turn around when leaving a port.
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The Marina and the surrounding area were developed by the Mexican government’s Tourist Board about 20 years ago as a tourist destination with the majority of vacationers flying in from Canada.

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The nearby village of La Crucecita was built to resemble an “authentic Mexican village”. It was created for the small population that was displaced by the development of the marina.

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Inside the village church is the largest mural depicting the Virgin of Guadeloupe.

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The colorful Museum of Handcrafts

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The Copalita Point Eco – Archaeological Center was the main destination of our tours today. Excavations here were begun in 1997. The dig consists of pyramids (not the Egyptian kind!), a ball court and burial grounds dating from 500 BC.

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It is believed this area was the main building of the complex which was in use for a period of 900 years.

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Excavations could continue another 40 years. Here workers remove one of the park’s paths because they discovered more ruins and artifacts underneath.

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The sun sets over the calm Pacific. Days like these make it easy to see why this ocean was named Pacific (peaceful). We hoped for the sight of the elusive “green flash” at sunset. Sorry. Not today. I’m starting to wonder if it is a hoax!

Posted by Swenigale 16:31 Archived in Mexico

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