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Just to Let You All Know . . .

Hello dear friends and family members. We just want you to know

that Carolyn and Mary Jane have arrived back to South Carolina

on Tuesday, January 21, about 11:30 PM.  We are sorry we were

unable to take you on an exciting journey around South America,

but sometimes things are just not meant to be.  Mary Jane had

hoped to catch up with the ship in Santiago, but plane schedules

and ship schedules did not mesh together to make it feasible.

We want to thank you all for your uplifting comments and best wishes

during our difficult ordeal in Panama. We met some very amazing people

along the way. And it will always be our Unforgettable Adventure.

 

A Good Reason to Learn Spanish

I had so many years during which I could have learned to speak Spanish while I was teaching at the University of New Mexico. . . but I failed to take advantage of this opportunity.  Now my sister and I are in Panama and almost no one speaks English.  Luckily my two doctors do, but none of the nurses. All of the nurses have a translation program loaded onto their smartphones.  This greatly facilitated our ability to communicate. 

I knew of the existence of these programs but had never used one. What an amazing/helpful invention!  One either types or speaks into the smartphone and their words are immediately translated.  Not to be melodramatic, but when you are trying to communicate important matters that verge on life and death, one needs to be confident of being heard and understood.

For example, Mary Jane went to the hospital pharmacy to purchase prescriptions for my stay in both the hotel and the trip home.  She had prescriptions for two different blood thinners written by two different doctors.  MJ became worried about taking two different blood thinners at the same time and asked the pharmacy counter attendant if doing so would be dangerous.  But the attendant did not know any English and did not know how to work the translator program on her smartphone. 

MJ asked everyone who walked through the door if they knew English.  No-one did.  MJ didn’t know I was supposed to take a five-day course of the shots to my stomach and then switch to a second blood thinner to be taken orally.  Indeed, taking both blood thinners at the same time would have been very dangerous. This is where “the happy people” come in.  Let me tell you about them.

Another very positive feature of this particular hospital, which is affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic, is that it has a program known as “the happy people .”  We didn’t learn of this program until a few days into my stay.  I simply had to press the “happy face” on my telephone and that connected me with a person (six in all)  who speak both Spanish and English and whose responsibility it is to assist patients with any non-medical issues they may have.  When MJ had to move my suitcases to the hotel, Jeanette, who was part of the program, was in my hospital room and offered to help her.  MJ indicated that she could do it herself.  Jeanette said, “Then what am I, your body guard?”  And off they went with the suitcases!!

I have my final visit with the pulmonologist at 11:30 on Monday morning. We believe he will be releasing me from his care which will allow us to make plane reservations for the trip home. YEAH!

 

A previous blog post contained a photo of a room similar to ours.  In the background one can see a small image of the F&F Tower.  We looked at this beautiful skyscraper every day.  Interestingly, this office building was ranked 7th out of ten for the Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2011 for its architectural excellence regarding building design and functionality.

 

 

Unforgettable Journey (part 3)

We have reached a new milestone. The doctors allowed Carolyn to be discharged from the hospital; however, she must stay near by in the hotel until Monday the 20th when she will meet one more time with the pulmonologist for his final okay to resume our trek homeward.

Carolyn has been told to rest and to stay on her blood thinning regime. Though it is hard to stay focused and engaged, she is reading her Kindle, playing Sudoku, as well as walking around the hotel room counting her steps. I have kept busy talking with the insurance company, updating our older sister back in Michigan, running errands to the pharmacy to get medical supplies and prescriptions filled for our journey home, and trying to keep the doctors on track filling out the status reports that have to be filed with the insurance company on Carolyn’s progress. I find the doctors hate to fill out the questionnaires.

Carolyn misses her little dog Eddie terribly. We keep in touch with Abby Bird (who is caring for Eddie during the trip) asking for pictures of him that will make her smile. She is just supposed to rest.  She never thought of resting as boring, but she says it definitely can be!!! 

 

The hotel across the street from the hospital is quite nice and they offer families with members in the hospital to stay for just $90 per night. From the looks of the hotel from the outside I thought the rate would be closer to $300 per night so the special rate accommodations were a wonderful surprise. 

The hotel is a high-rise with up to 28 floors. Thankfully we are only on the 17th floor and even that floor gives us some moments of pause when it feels like we are swaying with the ocean’s waves when we walk across the room.

Our room overlooks the banking district in Panama City and the sky scrapers are unique in design and covered with ornamental lighting which presents a colorful array as the sun goes down.

This hotel is a true 5 star hotel when it comes to the service and food. We have enjoyed some Panamanian inspired cuisine which has been creative and delicious.

We especially appreciate the included morning breakfast buffets which include many bowls of fresh grapes, pineapple, melons, papayas not to mention every flavor of fruit juice you can imagine.  All the artisan breads are made at the hotel as well as the unique miniature dessert cakes.  Omelets and waffles are made to order in any flavor you desire.

Unforgettable Journey (part 2)

Panama City is a major metropolis with many streets and avenues winding their way through parks and major banking regions. There are many man made humps in the streets that control the speed at which the cars may travel. Thus our slow travel time from the port to the hospital.

The emergency room staff got Carolyn situated in a curtained area of the treatment hall. The nurses stripped off her clothes, then re-clothed her with the usual backless hospital gown. Then they inserted a port in the left wrist (ignoring the port already placed by the ship’s medical staff in the right wrist) to draw vials of blood and to facilitate, if need be, the injection of contrast for her CAT scan. She was then left alone with screaming children on the right side of her, a snoring man on the left, and operating theater lighting overhead on maximum. There were monitors loudly beeping every 40 seconds which were driving Carolyn crazy. Finally they moved her into the walled gynecology room where she was able to rest a little. Thank goodness no one showed up to deliver a baby.

At last, the hospital doctor reviewed the records that had come with Carolyn from the ship and it was determined she needed a CAT scan to establish a treatment plan. We were informed that the scan would cost $900 and we needed to pay up front. This is about 9:30 in the evening. I told the staff that we had to get approval from the travel insurance company first before we could authorize the scan. However the hospital was unable to get the the insurance company on the phone for me. Time was getting tight for me to make the payment before I had to leave to catch the last tender back to the ship which was scheduled for midnight, so we took a chance and and put the cost of the scan on her credit card. The scan was scheduled for about 11:30 PM though I would not be there as I was scurrying back to the ship.

Before Carolyn received the results from her scan, she was visited by two women who wanted her to pay a deposit on her hospital bill in the amount of $8,000. Before I had left Carolyn there on her own, I warned her not to sign or agree to anything until I got back the next day.  And the next day, when I returned from the ship, I was asked to pay a $15,000 deposit. Because the women earlier had only asked for $8,000 we figured we had some wiggle room here. So the negotiations began. We went round and round for quite some time bargaining back and forth. In the end we got the limit to be

$8,000 which included an upgrade to a single room in the main part of the hospital.

About 4:00 AM the doctor visited Carolyn with  shocking news: She had a large blood clot in her right lung. The next day the pulmonary specialist told Carolyn that many people in her situation would have died. He also said that the quick diagnosis and activation of a treatment plan by the ship’s physician saved her life.

UPDATE ON CAROLYN

Carolyn is feeling much better. She continues to be on blood thinners and will continue for about 6 months. She has started some physical therapy and will be discharged from the hospital on Wednesday January 15th. At least that is the plan for now. She will stay in the high-rise hotel that is across the street from the hospital and then have her final followup visit with the Pulmonologist on Monday January 21st.

When we will arrive back in South Carolina I am uncertain as it depends on flights, necessity for oxygen, and immigration issues with Panama.

Carolyn is very thankful for all the people who have worked so hard to make her well. All the prayers and best wishes from our friends makes times such as these easier to bear, knowing you are there for her.

We wanted to go back to the ship, but we thought it best to concentrate on getting Carolyn home safely. Our extra luggage is finishing the cruise for us in our stateroom and will be sent back to SC when the ship arrives in Manaus Brazil.

Love to you all ~

Mary Jane and Carolyn

Unforgettable Journey (part 1)

All of our preplanning for this trip did not prepare us for our newest adventure . . .

When we got off the tender in George Town in the Cayman Islands, Carolyn suddenly had a great deal of trouble breathing. But after 5 minutes of rest she was ready to visit the shops, checking off our To Do List.

People we met in the Caymans were very friendly and we enjoyed our walkabout in the harbor area. We tendered back to the ship and enjoyed the evening with our gregarious table mates, LuAnn and Mack from Mississippi.

After breakfast the next morning, we walked from the elevator to the lecture auditorium to hear the talk on the operation of the Panama Canal lock system. Just before entering the hall, Carolyn again experienced very serious issues with breathing. There was a chair nearby  where she sat until she could get her breathing under control.

We enjoyed the lecture, but as we left the auditorium, we decided Carolyn should visit the ship’s infirmary. The nurse was quick to take Carolyn’s vitals. The only abnormality was her pulse-oximeter reading was  very low at 81.

The ship’s infirmary is set up as a complete Intensive Care Unit with 3 beds. The physician began running other tests and Carolyn was passing every test with flying colors except for one of the blood tests that measured the coagulation factor in the blood. That test was a disaster! We do not know all the technical jargon, but the reading for someone Carolyn’s age should be around 700, but her reading was above 4,600 – – – In other words she was in real trouble! She was immediately hooked up to an oxygen tank and given blood thinners as well as antibiotics.

The ship’s doctor was quick to say that Carolyn needed to be in a hospital; however, the ship was scheduled to navigate the Panama Canal lock system during the next day so we would have to wait until 8 PM Friday night when the ship would be at anchor off the Panama City port.

We suddenly realized we had many decisions to make and each one had its own ramifications.

Friday night arrived. We met at the ship’s infirmary as there was a second passenger who also needed evacuation. His problem was a broken hip. Masterfully the ship’s crew managed to get both patients safely onto the tender along with family members and miscellaneous pieces of luggage. When the tender reached the dock, there were two ambulances waiting to transport each passenger to the hospital. It took us over an hour to reach the hospital because of the traffic congestion even at that time of night.

Itinerary for 77 Days Around South America on ms Volendam

 

Just a quick post for you to see graphically how this trip looks as a map. As you see we still have a long way to go.

Thanks to all of you who are following the blog. Please feel free to comment as we sail along.

Mary Jane and Carolyn

77-day itinerary

Lace Making and a Tour of Fortaleza, Brazil

South America Map

South America Map

Brazil is a huge country in terms of landmass, being the fifth largest in the world. The country borders every other South American country except Chile and Ecuador. The population today numbers about 200 million people and the majority of them live in the larger cities. The major exports of Brazil include orchids, coffee, bananas, citrus fruits, and sugar.

The Amazon River lies mostly within Brazil and extends some 4,000 miles in length. The clear cutting of the Amazon rain forests and unsuccessful farming operations have caused the light, unproductive soils to erode; thus, the river is highly polluted with chemicals and soils and the highly visible plume from the contaminated waterway extends over 200 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean from its mouth.

Fortaleza, which is a modern city and major seaport for Brazil, is located on the northeastern coastline of the country, whose chief exports are coffee, cotton carnauba wax, beans, rice, sugar, fruits, rubber, hides, skins and rum. Tourism plays an important role in Fortaleza’s economy as well.

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Copyright Leoz Photos

Mary Jane took the shuttle bus to the old Victorian-styled jail, which has been converted into a craft center, and did a bit of shopping. Here she saw a multitude of local crafts for sale, but most eye catching were the beautiful examples of lace garments as well as dining and bed linens trimmed in lace and embroidery.

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One of our fellow cruisers, Tina, models a handcrafted vest.

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In the May 18, 1993 edition of the New York Times, Elizabeth Heilman Brooke wrote an article that describes the development of this craft.

Portuguese colonists brought their native tradition of weaving renda, or lace, to Brazil in the early 17th century. Designs and stitches were influenced by the regular visits of Spanish and French merchants, who distributed models of new kinds of lace popular in Europe. The traditions, techniques and lore of lace making are passed informally from one generation of women to the next. Wives and daughters of fishermen or farmers create lace collars, doilies and tablecloths to sell to supplement their families’ income.

These bone lace makers sit on simple wooden stools before a cylindrical fabric pillow, which varies in size depending on the type of lace to be made. Filled with grass or banana leaves, the pillow rests on a wooden cradle that can be adjusted to suit the comfort of the rendeira, or lace maker.

Unlike the Portuguese bobbins of old, which were made of blackwood, bone or ivory, Brazilian bobbins are often fashioned from small sticks of fine white wood from the tuberose or the quince tree. The sphere that tops the spindle is often a seed from the Brazilian wine palm; the pins holding the linen thread in place may be thorns from native cactus. A sheet of cardboard pierced with a design — perhaps flowers, birds or geometric shapes — serves as model for the lace maker.

The names of Brazilian stitches, translated from the Portuguese, are richly evocative: eyebrow, shell of the beetle, donkey’s ear, crazy rooster, good night, remember me. Poor man’s happiness is a simple lace that can be quickly made and is thus affordable to the less than prosperous. A sinuous design in the center of a piece of lace is called pig’s intestines.

This article was written in 1993. Twenty years later it is sad to say that the art of weaving lace by hand is dying out. In the market that Mary Jane visited, she spoke with a woman who came most days to the market to demonstrate this dying tradition. It was amazing to watch her weave the lace using the methods established so many generations ago.

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Barb chose to take the City’s Highlights tour. She rode through several parts of the city-some very nice, and some not quite so nice. There was evidence of a great deal of urban re-development in progress and many buildings that looked to be habitable were destined for demolition. The residents of this area do not seem to have a sense of history and pride in older structures. The impetus for this development is the upcoming World’s Soccer Cup Championships and the Olympics both of which will be hosted by Brazil in the near future.

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Her guide mentioned that in general many people do not want to work, although unemployment is low. Drugs are a big problem here especially for those between the ages of 14 and 34. Education is not a priority in this area and wages for teachers are less than a bus driver can earn.

She went to the Central Market – Mercado Central and had a good time exploring the wrought iron building with four floors of little shops featuring lots of local handicrafts, food, clothing, table linens, native hammocks, shoes, and other things as well, connected by ramps, staircases and elevators.

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Her next stop was the relatively modern, neo-classical cathedral that was completed in 1980 with beautiful stained glass windows. The reigning Pope was in attendance when the church was dedicated, and there are several stained glass windows recognizing various Popes along one sidewall.

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Next she visited the Art Nouveau style Jose’ de Alencar Theater, which was built-in 1910 as a memorial to the famous Fortalezan poet and is still used for theatrical performances. The ornate ironwork throughout this facility came from Scotland. It was an interesting place to visit with lovely interior decorations.

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All Desert Surrounded by Water ~ General San Martin, Peru

Desert in Paracas National Preserve

The city of General San Martin is south of Callao (Lima) and close to Chile.  Both seaport cities have coastal desert-like characteristics and are cool and arid receiving less than 2 inches of rain a year. The weather patterns are influenced by the strong Humboldt Current that sweeps northward in this area from the south bringing plankton, which supplies rich and plentiful food for the marine life in the area. Anchovies and tuna are abundant in these waters adjacent to Peru.

We chose to visit the Paracas National Reserve, which is reputed to be a masterful reserve of ecology in the coastal desert. The new, modern interpretative center featured pictures, information and models of the different species that are protected in the area. On the way to the Reserve our guide told us about the 400+ mummified bodies that had been found dating from thousands of years ago. The fully clothed bodies were in fetal positions and wrapped in cotton.

It is believed that the people were buried in this position so that they could be reborn in the afterlife.

Many of them died from tuberculosis and the skulls of some of the individuals, especially babies and young children, were misshapen by tightly wrapping boards at the sides and front of the skull to force it to elongate upward from the eyes as the child grows.

Some of these prehistoric people were also headhunters and removed the eyes, and brains of their victims and then suspending the skulls from around their waists.

Next we visited the Red Reach, a unique beach because of its red sand, which derives it color from iron in the soil.

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Marine sediments formed all of the soil in this reserve and we saw several prehistoric fossils.  Our guide explained that the land on which we were standing had at one time been the bottom of the sea and showed us fossils that dated back 30,000 years.  A shift in the Tectonic plates and many earthquakes in the area have radically changed the topography in this part of the world over thousands of years.

Turritelas Snail Fossils

Turritelas Snail FOSSILS

 

  Unusual rock formations that were shaped by wind erosion were interesting and were named “Moon Surface” and “The Cathedral.”  An earthquake destroyed the top of the Cathedral in 2007.

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 Paracas Bay is reputed to have the highest concentration of marine birds in the world, but we did not see that many during our visit.  We had expected to see Pelicans, Humboldt Penguins and Pink Flamingos, but all seemed to be elsewhere.  We did see gulls and terns in numbers.

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Wind and water erosion continues to shape and reshape this part of the landscape with frequent sandstorms, sometimes dropping great quantities of sand and burying roads and landmarks.

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Paracas Reserve

We left the Paracas Reserve area and traveled a short distance on the Pan American Highway, which is said to extend from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. We saw several agricultural fields along the way that are utilizing drip irrigation to grow avocadoes, seedless oranges, and asparagus in this arid, desert region of Peru.

Our last stop was at Sumaqkay, which is a Quechua word that means “quality and beauty.”

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Sumaqkay is surrounded by citrus groves, grape vineyards, and asparagus fields, but they are also engaged in weaving textiles that are incorporated into a number of products: wall hangings, garments, throws, handbags, and rugs.

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The men and women employed there work part time raising and picking produce for market and part time learning and perfecting their artistic skills in the production of fabrics and handicrafts for resale.  It is hoped that by providing these people with support and training it will help preserve the ancient textile industry and reinforce their identity.

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Epicurean Lima

On our second day in Peru, rather than going into Lima to visit churches and museums or to gain some knowledge of the archaeology of the area, we decided to learn how to cook Peruvian style and signed up for Market to Table: A Taste of Peruvian Cuisine.

Peru mixes native culinary traditions with the cuisines of Europe, Arabia, China, Africa and Japan.  The result is a collection of unique flavors that make Peruvian cuisine exciting and varied.  People of all races call themselves Peruvians and impact the local culture and cuisine with their own unique accents and flavors. The land has taught Peruvians generosity by placing endless delicacies within easy reach.

Our first stop on the tour was to the Minka Market, which Mary Jane decided was a super-duper, giant Costco grocery store.  This huge establishment, housed in multiple buildings, is located in Callao not far from the ship. We visited the fish terminal early in the morning to see fish and seafood, including octopus, scallops, sea bass, kingfish and marlin fresh from the briny waters. People can buy a whole fish and have it filleted or cut up finely for ceviche or whatever dish they are planning to make, or they can buy a portion of a large fish, such as a marlin or tuna, by the pound.  The variety of fresh fish and shellfish was amazing. Nothing goes to waste in Peru from the fish or meat market.  They eat things that we don’t eat back home and use bones and parts of the fish and animals for all sorts of things.
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Over 3,000 varieties of potatoes are raised in this country in addition to many varieties of corn with which we were not familiar at all. We saw black corn that looked like our U.S. field corn and white corn that had huge round kernels. The corn kernels were the size of a cherry, tasted like corn but were slightly sweet – but not as sweet as Michigan sweet corn.

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They had on display numerous varieties of garlic and onions, two of the staple items that seem to be in every Peruvian meal.  We saw cauliflowers that were soccer ball sized.  And we never knew there were so many different types of peppers and limes.

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At the meat market you can buy just about everything – from chicken feet to pigs tails to cow stomachs and chicken innards.  Unbelievable.  They do not let anything go to waste.

This is Tripe (cow's stomach)

This is Tripe (cow’s stomach)

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They eat all parts of the chicken including the feet.

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The innards of the chicken that are included in their purchase.

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Beautiful quail eggs

Beautiful quail eggs

The displays were outstanding throughout all of the buildings. Several of us commented on how clean everything appeared. Only a small amount of ready-to-eat items were offered for sale.

Our next stop was the Senorio de Sulco, an elegant restaurant that takes a thoughtful approach to traditional Peruvian cooking, that is located in Miraflores, an upscale part of greater Lima.

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Here the Head Chef gave us a cooking demonstration in the restaurant’s wine bar area.  He prepared each of the items we were going to eat at lunch:  Ceviche, Causa Limena, and Lomo Saltafo.  After he prepared a dish, we each got a taste, so by the time he had completed the lesson; we all had started to fill our tummies.

Then we went upstairs to the main dining room where our table for 17 was arranged.  We were served a welcome drink, a Pisco Sour.  Pisco is about 40-50% alcohol so it packs a punch.  Mary Jane managed about 3 sips but Barbara drank the entire glass.  They also gave us another Peruvian drink, this one is nonalcoholic and pomegranate in color, but made from the skins and pulp of a number of native fruits and heavily laced with cinnamon.  It was delicious. These two drinks were followed by the four-course luncheon that included the dishes we had been instructed on making.

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Our bus then took us to the Queirolo Tavern, a traditional old tavern, for a Peruvian style ham sandwich snack.  Needless to say, Barbara and Mary Jane skipped the ham sandwich and just had water, enjoying our historical surroundings.

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Palomino Islands in Peru

Callao is the seaport for Lima, Peru and one of the main fishing and commercial ports in the country.  For our first day in Callao (Lima) we chose to take the Wildlife-Lover’s Paradise trip. We were delayed leaving the ship for our excursion because the fog was too dense, but finally the port authorities gave us permission to head toward the marina where we transferred to a speedboat that took us out to the Palomino Islands.
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On our boat ride out of the harbor to the rocky islands, we saw numerous birds and local fishermen plying the waters near the islands. The islands exhibit a variety of scenery, sandy slopes, and irregular dark-colored rocks that rise out of the ocean in many shapes and forms.

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Guano covers the rocky slopes on the Islands making them appear as though they are snow covered in this tropical desert area. Every seven to eight years the national government hires workers from the Andes to come to the Islands to scrape and collect the accumulated guano.   Ultimately it is mixed with fishmeal and used as organic fertilizer for the crops up in the highlands and other areas.  The last time it was collected, the Peruvian government made over $80,000,000 on the process.

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On a couple of the islands we saw Humboldt penguins. The penguins had several chicks about to fledge but we did not see any in the water.IMG_6154

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The other major inhabitants of the Islands are sea lions (thousands of them).  The penguins and the sea lions live in complete safety, as there are no predators in the area.  We enjoyed seeing the sea lions play, swim, jump and dive around us.  One of the young sea lions took a starfish up onto the rocks and several of them played with it tossing it in the air and snatching it from each other.

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Three of the people on the trip went into the water and swam and photographed the sea lions.  The sea lions showed no fear of the swimmers or the boat in fact quite a large group followed our boat as we left the area and headed back to port.  They were various curious animals and would also approach the divers very closely and occasionally touch or nibble on them. The videographer from the ship, who was one who swam with them, was warned not to get too close to the cliffs as a seal lion might land on her if it jumped into the water.  A jellyfish that was swimming in the area did sting her on the foot however.

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We had lots of fun seeing the penguins and sea lions cavorting, but had to get back to the ship as the fog was beginning to roll back in towards the harbor.

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