Archive | March, 2017

Panama and The Canal 

31 Mar

Finally, we reached the Panama Canal.  The entire focus of this trip was to pass through the Canal locks and to see the workings of this major engineering endeavor. Of course the ports of call were interesting. But this was the impetus of our trip. 

We reached the entrance of the Canal early in the morning and entered the first lock of Mariflores at about 9 am. It was a Party atmosphere as everyone was on deck to view the lock process.

The electric mule at work


It is intriguing. First lines have to be attached to the electric, ‘mules,’ a small train engine, which helps guide the boats through the Canal. 

Entering the first lock.


The water used in the Canal is all fresh water from Gatun Lake and the locks are filled by gravity. There are no pumps that are needed. It helps that Panama has nine months of Rain each year with well over 200 inches of precipitation.  

Since we started by going up, 85 feet over three locks, it was fun to watch the water bubble up and slowly lift our cruise ship! We went through the first two licks, then traveled a short distance to the Pedro Miguel lock, then into the pass where we passed the mountains that has to be cut away to form the Canal. 

Gatun Lack was larger than I anticipated and filled with lovely islands and birds. A beautiful, peaceful sanctuary. 

Finally to the Gatun Locks, where the process repeated, but which slowly lowered us through the three locks to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Two boats in the locks going in opposite directions. The big beige walk is actually a giant freighter

Then on to Colon, Panama. The next morning we returned to the Gatun Locks by land and were able to see the lock process from a different view. Still intriguing and amazing to watch the boats side by side, one going up and the other going down in the two separate lanes of the Gatun Locks. 

One of the two Spanish fortifications in Portobello


But our trip to Panama was not complete till we traveled to the small town of Portobello.  It is here that the Spanish originally brought the gold that they stole from Peru and other South American countries and took overland for the trip back to Spain. 

The black Jesus is in the cabinet adorned with his golden embroidered robe.


It is also here that the Pirates, among them Sir Francis Drake (who died there) and Henry Morgan, attacked the Spanish empire and stole the gold. We visited the Custons House, the destroyed fortifications and the Church that houses the famous Black Jesus that accidentally was delivered to Portobella. Once there it was destined to stay as each time the town attempted to send it back a big storm occurred. 

It was wonderful to see the technology of the Canal used to connect the Pacific with the Atlantic. But also wonderful to see a bit of the history of this region of Panama.  

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Panama Hats and Fibre Sacks Made in Manta, Ecuador 

27 Mar

Our visit to Manta, Ecuador, focused on the country’s rich craft tradition. Like many, I did not know that the famous Panama hat is actually from Ecuador!  The traditional weaving of the hat started here in a town like Monticristi 


Made from the inner leaves of a type of palm, the hat is woven by hand as women and men lean forward over a stone and cushion while focusing on the intricate weaving patterns. 

Weaving a hat. Dyed palm leaves are behind him.


We had the opportunity to see the process from start to finish: watching a young woman slit off the outer skin of the Palm using the thorn from a green guava plant; then the boiling of the Palm; the drying; the dyeing; the weaving; the pounding; the ironing; clipping the extra leaves; and then selling them. 

Almost completed hats


It was amazing to watch this labor intensive craft. In fact, we were told that this traditional craft is yucky losing the experienced weavers. It is usually a family tradition, and many younger people no longer wish to do it. Basically most people who do it now have other sources of income and so it as a way to earn extra cash

Why are hats that are made in Ecuador called Panama hats?  They were used in the early 1900s by people working on the Panama Canal.  We were told that when President Teddy Roosevelt came to see the Canal, he was given a hat to protect him from the sun. He then told anyone who asked that he got the hat in Panama. So it became known as a Panama hat. 

We also saw a traditional family owned company that creates and weaves the bags used for coffee beans from fibers found in green guava plants. Also fascinating!

Revealing the fibers by scraping the leaf.


The fibers are scraped out of a leaf, dried and then carded to soften them. After they are spun into large spindles, set on a loom and woven. 

Spinning the fibre into yarn.


The loom is powered by foot pedals as the shuttle quickly shoots back and forth and the fabric for the sacks is created. 

This man worked the loom with both his feet and hands.


Besides seeing the crafts of Manta, named by the Spanish for the giant manta rays that surrounded the port, we saw the beautiful beaches and lush green scenery. A fun day for those who love crafts. 

A Little Visit to Lima, Peru

25 Mar

Our cruise only stopped for a short time in Lima, so we had an abbreviated, but informative tour of Colonial Lima. 

First I must say that due to the flooding and extensive rain in the Andes, Lima has no portable water. The Rimac River is filled with the mud and filth a flood brings, and so the city is working to get the water treatment plants back on line.

The Rimac River March 24, 2017

When you arrive by cruise ship, you actually arrive in the port area of Callao. Very industrial and looking a bit derelict. Our guide told us that people do not finish their homes all the way, as long as it is not finished they do not have to pay full taxes. Hence many homes have no stucco or an uncompleted top floor. 

Not quite completed buildings in Callao


Then there is the traffic of this large South American city. It does not matter, seeing the Colonia area was worth the ride. 

Our first stop was the original campus of the University of San Marcos. The first university in the Americas, this school was ‘public,’ a student only had to be from a royal family, a good Catholic, be the result of a legal, church approved marriage, and past a grammar test in Spanish and Latin. Oh one student ever got in who was illegitimate, and he was very important to the history of Peru. 

The University was first the school for Jesuit priests. When they were banished from the country, the government took it over. Although the outside is unimpressive, the beautiful courtyards and rooms inside are lovely! 

The exterior of the San Marcos University

The Law School courtyard

Next stop, San Pedro Church, which is not a museum, rather an active congregation. We saw people giving confession and praying. So a quiet exploration is important. We learned that this is the church the upper crust of Lima still uses for its weddings and baptisms.  Inside is lovely with its gold painted arches, ceramic tiled walls and majestic wooden alters. 

A ceramic wall in the church.

My favorite niche altar.


From the church we walked to the main plaza, Plaza Mayor.  We learned that this was the original site of the native Inca outpost.  Where the temple had been, the Spanish destroyed it and built a church. When the leader lived, his home was destroyed and the conquering Spanish built the home of Pissarro. 

Due to earthquakes the two towers were replaced on this church in the Plaza Mayor.


We also saw a home with the lovely wooden balconies. And another building that served as the listening post for agents of the inquisition. They would stand inside screened, wooden balconies, unseen, and listen. If they disliked someone they would haul them off to another building where they would torture them into confessing. I do not like the inquisition. A distant ancestor of mine was burned in Portugal as a heretic in 1618. And it is a shame that the Spanish brought the Inquisition with them to the Americas. 

The final item I found unusual or exceptional was how the local people are just building on the foothills of the Andes with no concern of earthquakes. A hill called St Christopher’s hill truly was intriguing.  

Houses just built into the hill helter skelter

There is much more to see, I just showed our highlights. But definitely was a wonderful experience. 

Arica, Chile, and Its’ Magical Desolate Moonscape

23 Mar

The smaller valley.


The Loa River


Two fertile valleys point inland from the port of Arica, Chile. One contains a river, the Loa River, that flows throughout the year; another larger and greener valley has no continuous river but a better more humid climate.

The larger valley looking all the way to the port.


 I found traveling through these two valleys breathtaking. But not because of the greenery I saw, rather because of the giant mountains of rock and sand and dust that rose on either side of the valleys. The Atacama Desert rises high above.  And looks like nothing I had ever seen before. 


I was not surprised to learn that movies set in space are filmed here. I was not surprised to learn that NASA has practiced using its equipment here. I was surprised that people lived in this harsh dry climate. Nothing seems to grow on these mountains except for one dusty looking plant that gets its nutrients from the air. 

The ancient, native peoples left there mark on this land. On these mountains, ancient people left pictographs of llamas, animals and men.  These stunning designs, as well as the Chinchorro mummies that have survived centuries, bring us to another world. 

The ‘Eiffel’ church in Arica.


Back in the main valley,  we see the more modern world of Arica and the buildings design by Gustav Eiffel and brought to Arica from France. The three buildings I saw stand within easy walking distance from each other.  The most magnificent was the church. 

Arica is an amazing place of dichotomy. A bird sanctuary and wetlands just a few miles from a desolate, high desert. A valley filled with trees and farms beneath giant lumbering beige expanses of rock and sand. I cannot imagine waking up each morning to this world.  But you need to see it and feel it to understand the immensity of nothingness that is this desert.  You must see this beautiful, magical, and desolate moonscape. 

Why I like Chile 

19 Mar

The flower clock in Vina Del Mar


We have just begun our fourth trip to South America, with our first stop of Chile. I must say I love going to Chile. There are several reasons. 

First Chile is a lovely country. Although long and narrow, with both coastal mountains on one side and the Andes forming the border with Argentina, the long lovely coastline is amazing. 

The first time we came to Chile we spent several days in Santiago then cruised south along the coast stopping at several ports along the way. Journeying through the Straits of Megellan and the north to Argentina and Uruguay. We loved it. 

This time when we came, we traveled directly from the airport to the lovely resort city of Vina Del Mar, staying in The Enjoy hotel that connects to the original Casino. Walking around has be a delight. Soon we will travel to our cruise ship and sail north to Arica, Chile, and on to Peru, Ecuador, Panama, the Canal, and Columbia. I cannot wait for these new experiences. 

Second reason why I love Chile:  although it is a 9.5 hour flight from Atlanta, we only change two time zones from our home. So NO jet lag. I love that. I admit that I do hate being on an airplane for that long. But for this trip we end in Miami, so a much shorter flight home. 

The final and best reason for me, my best Chilean buddy. It is really wonderful to travel a country with a friend who is a native. First having friends to experience the adventure makes it more enjoyable. Then there are no issues with translating. She makes wonderful food selections. We want to eat foods we do not find at home and eat traditional South American fare. 

We are off on another adventure. 

Missing Mom’s Passover Recipes

13 Mar

The recipes filled a bag.

There were many little issues that appeared during the year that my parents died. Little things that you do not realize will cause distress. But for my sister and me, one of these issues was my Mom’s recipes. They were gone. We searched the house and could not find them. Most recipes we knew because we continued to make them.

But a few seemed lost forever, these included her Passover recipes. Since we used them only once a year, they were not etched into our memories. And so we had to use recipes from books or from others, or just not make that item. Without her recipes, we felt a bit lost.

My parents would come to me each year for the second night of Pesach.   They did the first Seder in New Jersey with my siblings and their families. Mom would cook her share of the meal, and leave all the leftovers for my brother and sister’s families. Because the next morning, bright and early, my parents would fly out to stay with me for second Seder and the rest of the holiday.

My children went to the Jewish Day School, so they were off that week. It was a perfect time for my parents to have grandparent adventures with the children.

Mom would arrive and join me in cooking. We always spent the first seder with other families at friends. But I alternated second night seder with another friend, and so often it would be at my house. Eventually, second night became my domain.

Whatever the case, there were certain foods I did not make until Mom got here. She knew exactly what to do, even though she might have had the recipes written down. After making seders for so many years, she knew her recipes. Whereas, my sister and I depended on her memory to help us.

So I should have known what happened to the recipes. But it never occurred to me.

About a year or so after both my parents passed away, they did so quickly and within nine months of each other, I finally cleaned out the bedroom in my house where they always stayed. We had already cleaned out their condo apartment in New Jersey; had told the managers of the apartment they rented in Florida to take what they wanted and donate the rest, and we had mostly cleaned out the house in the Catskill. So now it was time for me to do the final cleaning and pack up and donate what they had left behind in my house.

They had their own space, and I had avoided going into it, but my son wanted to move into this larger room, with its own separated entrance.

I finally opened the closet and packed my dad’s jeans and shirts and jackets. I started cleaning out the drawers. Putting tops and items into bags to donate.

There in the bottom drawer, covered by tops, was a small, stuffed plastic bag filled with papers. Recipes. Lots and lots of recipes. She was in the process of rewriting in her beautiful teacher’s handwriting. Passover was back: Vegetarian Chopped Liver, Matzah balls for 10-12 people, Farfel pudding from Sylvia, Baked Gifilte Fish from Lola, Potato Kugel, Stuffed cabbage.

Mixed in were many other recipes, including Hamantasch from Phyllis and my Uncle Stanley’s cookie recipe, which she called Cookies by Stanley. (He was baker and passed away in January 2017, a week before his 90th birthday, on my Mother’s sixth Yahrzeit.)

I would like to say I used these recipes. But I did not.  I put them in my room, in a box, waiting to be used.  I did not share them.  I did not look at them.  I just could not.  Now, I know I need to scan the recipes and send them to my brother and sister. I know that. But for four years they have sat in their bag while I have looked at it as a locked time chest, unable to really sort through the notes left by my Mom.

I decided this year was the time. I was ready.   We are done missing my Mom’s recipes.