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  • Will

5,000 nautical miles sailed: transiting the Panama Canal.

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

I traveled 5,000 nautical miles by ship over 18 days last Feb/Mar 2023. I sailed aboard the Norwegian Joy during the ship's repositioning via Panama Canal.

I'm packed up and ready to go off on another adventure.

The flight to LAX was long and exhausting. We arrived 4 hours behind schedule and were thankful for the few hours of sleep in a hotel before meeting up with the ship. The day we sailed out of the Port of L.A. the entire west coast of California was having extreme weather. It snowed in L.A. while we walked on the docks, making it feel more like Boston rather than L.A.

Once onboard we found our tiny inside stateroom and checked out the views of the angry ocean we were about to sail into. The waves were crashing over the pier at San Pedro. This was my very first cruise and I didn't know if I'd get sick.

Yup, I got sick! Thankfully, it only lasted those first few days while I was adjusting. That first night we were rocking really bad and they hung up puke bags all around the ship and hallways. I guess everyone was getting tossed about pretty bad.

The first full day sailing was sunny and we moved south of the storms. I was one of only a handful of kids on the entire ship. This was a long cruise and the ship was repositioning for the Spring Break crowds in south FL.

We had many activities to keep us occupied as we sailed in the Pacific Ocean. We golfed, I took a painting class while I had time away from mom, we watched nightly movies like DUNE on a massive screen. Although we had lots of days at sea on this trip I never was bored.

My first port in a foreign country was Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We had booked a private whale watching tour on a small zodiac boat to be able to watch whales and not scare them away.

I enjoyed watching the cruise ship arrive in Cabo San Lucas. We were amazed by the sharp cliffs but the temperature was FIRE hot. I didn't like the feeling of sun lotion at first, however, I got sun burn and regretted that choice later on.

Entering the harbor of Cabo San Lucas on the whale watching tour made me fell anxious because we had strange kids on the ride with us. I thought it might be over whelming at first, but as we left the shore I relaxed and had fun. We talked about sea myths on the way out until we saw a couple of whales off in the distance. We all shuffled to the side of the boat and we saw a gray whale spewing water out its blowhole! We also saw a humpback do a tail slap on the waters surface to communicate with other whales.

A grey whale fluke up close.

Whales use the Sea of Cortez to have babies because the infant whales are poor swimmers and the Sea of Cortez has a high salt content called salinity. This helps the whales with buoyancy and the mother's have an easier job helping the calf up to breath.

A close up photo of a humpback whale doing a tail slap on the surface of the water.

My favorite part of the whale watching tour was the waves tossing us into the air. It was like riding a roller coaster.

Our tour was over and we returned to our ship. We thought of getting a grilled cheese and quick snack. Mom was tired so I took her photo for a memory.

That evening we got some nice soda to sip and I read some of my books from home. We enjoyed looking at the beautiful lights on other cruise ships as the sun set.

This was my favorite spot hang out and watch the ocean.

Adventure during a day at sea exploring the new ship.

Our second port was Acapulco, Mexico. We arrived early in the AM before I was awake. We walked to breakfast and noticed the heavy security posted on the docks.

The police were carrying big weapons. It was a new experience for me because I never seen that much security.

The feeling of sun burn was horrible as we strolled through the streets. I was able to ignore it when we finally made it into some shops. I bought some souvenirs like a purse to store the money I carried during the trip. I also bought a porcelain 'Day of the Dead' skull that was painted orange.

I observed how run down the local streets appeared. I saw a lot of stray cats and dogs that I thought looked cute and I wanted to pet them, but mom said they probably have mange or fleas all over them. I asked to a picture of one mom agreed. We snapped a photo of a stray tabby cat resting on the sidewalks in the shade.

The sun was melting me like ice cream. I tried to stay out of the sunshine whenever possible. We had a chance to speak with a few local merchants and Mom practiced her Spanish. We were told which streets were safe and which ones to avoid. We decided to walk on foot and not take a taxi back to the pier so we could see daily life beyond the tourist locations directly at the pier.

The ship was docked next to a 16th century Dutch fort that was in the shape of a star.

Here's a picture of the burning and fatigue I experienced almost every evening after getting sunburned. You can see the exhaustion and pain on my face as I slowly recovered. It was hard to ignore the burns as they started to peel off. The thing that I hated most about the sunburn was the itching and tingling all over my body. Imagine having thousands of bugs crawling all over your skin because that was the exact sensation I was feeling! I love SPF sun lotion now.

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

We are off the ship once again and exited to begin another expedition into another country! I have never been to Guatemala before so everything was exciting to see. I was really concerned about more sunburn, but I started rubbing the SPF lotion on my body much better at this point. I was actually getting used to the slime feeling but still hated the feeling of having wet skin.

We had a long bus ride up into the UNESCO heritage city of Antigua, Guatemala. We had the entire day to tour the town on our own and explore the shops and parks.

We needed to drive around the Vulcan De Fuego and we saw multiple small eruptions during the day. Fuego is currently very active and erupting. Around every 20 minutes it spews out ash and chunks of lava. This is known as strombolian eruptions. Fuego is a stratovolcano which is different than the volcanoes we saw in Hawaii. One fact that I learned was that Fuego had a massive eruption in 2018 and thousands of people were in the way of the pyroclastic flow and many hundreds died. This volcano has a cinder cone shape because it formed at the junction of tectonic plates not like the hot spot volcanoes in Hawaii.

It was amazing to witness another active volcano and see it's eruptions. I'd love to return and take a hike up it, but it would be backbreaking and very dangerous.

Many years ago the city of Antigua was the capital of Guatemala. Devastating earthquakes hit the area in the late 1700's and the towering Fuego volcano looming over the city forced the capital to move an hour away to Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Antigua, Guatemala is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many historic old churches and monasteries sprinkled around the town. The arch over the cobblestone street is called the Santa Catalina Arch.

Antigua was full of crazy beautiful colors and textures all around. I don`t know Spanish yet, but I could figure out the meaning of the 'STOP' sign and also the direction that traffic was using. That was fun to try and decipher on my own.

Guatemala was full of tiny miracles I thought I'd never see. One example is the gravity defying baskets full of items that the women balanced on top of their heads.

I remember feeling HOT HOT after walking around town for the afternoon! I needed a drink and to rest beneath some shade! My mom had a lot of trouble buying snacks in town because they didn't want to accept the U.S dollars. We were not told that the currency exchange would be so difficult here. We tried to go to a bank to exchange our cash, but they had armed guards and we didn't have the multiple required forms of ID needed to exchange cash. Each bank had a long waiting line. We finally found a store that would take our money and we bought a few t-shirts. Mom asked for the change in the local currency which is the Guatemalan Quetzal. Mom told me that the shop owners have trouble bringing dollars to banks to exchange just like we had, so many don't feel it's worth the amount of time they needed to stand in line at the bank and exchange money.

My favorite museum in Antigua, Guatemala was the Jade Museum. I found actual skulls with jade rocks drilled into the teeth as decorations! I personally would avoid visiting the dentists during the ancient Mayan civilization. Those dental depictions around the museum were spine tingling. The gardens at the center of the Jade Museum were filled with beautiful plants and fountains. I thought it was a spa at first, not a museum.

Hanging out on a street corner while enjoying Pringles. This completes the perfect recipe for my expedition snack break.

Scenes around the town of Antigua Guatemala. We noticed many stray pets around that was a new sight to behold. Thankfully, all the stray dogs were chilling around on the cool sidewalks.

I made a ten dollar bet with my mom that I could pet a pigeon. Guess who won? Hint: The birds are very fast!

My heart stopped when I thought this dog had died in front of us! These sights are easy to overlook, but I noticed a ton of stray animals all around. We checked him out and want to reassure everyone he was only sleeping.

Another gravity defying basket. We learned that many Mayan decedents still carry out traditional ways of living in Antigua. I felt like I was watching a magician.

I was visiting a church in Guatemala. While listening to the catholic priest give mass I noticed a couple of local Guatemalan women crawling on their knees up the hard stone aisle. They were praying. To show respect I took my hat off. I remember checking out the amazing decorations on the ceiling of the church. Gold covered parts of the walls and they statues all around. The organ music was beautiful and I was amazed by the entire experience.

I found my first Tuck Tuck! It's extremely tiny and sorta cute, probably gets great gas mileage.

What a nice day. I couldn't ask for more relaxing in the shade with my Coke.

Photos from our day wandering the streets together. Finding new hidden sites to duck inside and check out while also searching for air conditioning or shade. I noticed how thick the church walls are built and how the building look like they have been squished down to help support them during the frequent earthquakes.

Ruins of the old Antigua pre-1700's. They have left old examples of the damages the earthquake created. The new buildings look nothing like this shell of a church.

Resting again in a neat little t-shirt shop courtyard. Antigua was very neat with hidden treasures behind walls that were open to the public.

Antigua, Guatemala 2023. Santa Clarita archway and the Vlucan De Fuego behind me.

We both enjoyed Guatemala very much. The people were very kind and helpful.

Mom looks so tired all the time. I laughed at her and then took her photo to show proof.

Walking around the Norwegian Joy ship and really starting to learn the layout. Here is the midship atrium.

During the many days at sea we did enjoy the slide and pool. I believe I ran around a dozen times straight with nobody riding and I could jump right in. There was one unfortunate thing about the ship water slides, I wasn't able to use the floor drop slide over the edge of the ship because I needed to be 120 pounds to gain enough speed to not get stuck in a loop. I tried the entire cruise to eat more so that I could ride it.

it was a hot day onboard the cruise. mom said she's going to rest so she let me explore the pools and water parks. I realized the water was filled with salt so it tasted horrible every time I went underwater. my favorite part of the top of the ship was the slide that was salty but it was much easier to avoid it being splashed in my face. the slide went over the side of the ship.

Mom always got out of bed very early during this trip. She was crazy! She could noticed that our ship was almost part of a group of container vessels heading south. This was the first sign that we must be near the Panama Canal entrance. We did not see any other cruise ships.

These are large car carrier vessels. We saw many like these once we were sailing near the busy cargo shipping lanes.

This is where the trip got interesting! I was amazed to see this crazy cargo ship parking lot.

These massive ships were stacked out as far as my eyes could see.

We watched the Captain and the pilot bring our massive ship into Panama City, Panama. They maneuvered the Joy very carefully around many small obstacles. It was like pulling into a highway rest stop of cargo freighters.

Panama City, Panama looks like the largest city I have ever visited. I was excited to have our ship parked here for a few days while we waited to transit the canal.

We had the best marine life escorts follow our ship as we slowly sailed into Panama City. We saw dolphins and rays everywhere near the port.

We luckily had multiple days to explore Panama City while our ship waited for it's turn to cross the canal. We had multiple letters from the captain that said our ship needed perfect tide conditions to safely pass underneath the Bridge of the Americas before entering the canal zone.

Here is an example of what happens when you look over the rail and into the wind all day while the ship moves very quickly. Mom saw sharks, manta rays, sea turtles.... but had a funny looking eye for a few days.

I enjoyed lazy evenings relaxing and chatting with friends we met during our first week on the ship.

I went as high up as I could to watch the "bunkering" process of our ship being refueled. It took almost 17 hours to fill up the Norwegian Joy! This was a very dangerous time and they locked off the entire side of the ship for the day. They had crew looking for people sneaking a smoke! Mom wanted to know the gas bill afterwards. This night our PM movie was DUNE... again! We started to noticed that our repositioning trip was much longer than Norwegian's typical cruise offerings and they started repeating activities. Just a funny little observation.

Oh man, what on earth has mom planned for me next!

We left the Norwegian Joy early and found our bus into Panama City.

We could see the old US military base structures and some looked very run down and must be condemned.

Fun US military history fact: John McCain was born here in Panama while his family was stationed at the canal zone.

We finally arrived at the national park following a very long bus ride. I met native Embera Tribe members who were allowed to live deep inside the national park. The Embera Indian villages cover lands located near southern Panama and into northern Columbia.

There's a spot where you can buy a ride on a dugout canoe and visit their villages. They have dozens of different villages located all along rivers in Panama/Columbia. We drove an hour south into the Chagres National Park to meet our guides.

This started out as such a neat adventure.

We noticed how the tropical rainforest became thicker as we traveled on

We cruised past a dozen or so little villages with handmade huts and kids playing outside.

Water started to splashed inside the boat and splashed up into my face. I was not amused.

It's NEVER a good sign to see the wooden boat spring leaks while traveling in crocodile habitat rivers deep in the rainforest. Mom had soaking feet and her shorts were in water, but I was on the lighter side on the boat and stayed dry for most of the part.

Just keep smiling.