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    South America Travel

    The Hat That is a Work of Art – The Panama Hat

    Location: Monticristi Ecuador

    Right off the top(hat) let’s clear one thing up.  The Panama Hat is NOT from Panama.  It is from Ecuador, and specifically originally from Monticristi, a small village in the mountains near the port city of Manta.

    In 1835, Manuel Alfaro, a man who in many ways is considered the grandfather of the Panama hat, arrived in Montecristi to make his name and fortune in Panama hats. He set up a Panama hat business with his  goal being exportation. Most of the exports went through Panama, thus the name.

    But hat making had been an indigenous occupation long before Alfaro arrived and exploited it. Since the early 1600’s coastal and mountain Ecuadorian peoples had steadily perfected the art of hat weaving.

    Known locally as Toquillo Straw Hats, Panama hat construction uses the toquillo palm, which is not actually a palm but a palm-like plant.  In fact, you might recognize this plant as many in the USA have this as a houseplant.  I have had several over the years.

    Loved for the lightweight texture and breathability, Panama Hats are more popular now than ever before, particularly to wear in hot weather.  The authentic hand-made hats from Ecuador can take months to construct, and depending on the intricacy of the design can sell for retail in the USA from $200 to $10,000.  Purchased direct from the weaver in Ecuador (before the multiple middle man markups) hats cost much less, anywhere from $50-$300.

    We watched a couple of local weavers in the mountain village of Monticristi.  It was fascinating to see the process.  Most of the expert weavers are women.  They stand for hours hunched over a wooden support that they lean their breast bone on.  I’m sure these women have a permanent bruise on their sternum.  From this position they weave the hats, basically from an upside down position, while the hat is right side up.

    We watched one hat under construction.  The young woman had been working on it for two months.  She told us, through an interpreter, she expected to be done with it in another month.  The quality of the hat comes from the tightness of the weave.  Two styles of weave are most commonly used; the Cuenca weave has the appearance of a herringbone pattern and utilizes slightly more straw;  the Brisa weave has the appearance of small diamonds/squares. This type of weave is less intricate but perceived as finer than the Cuenca weave by some as it is lighter.  Both are very beautiful and the hat we watched being made was absolutely magnificent with its intricate design.  Perfection. She expected to sell it for $300.

    Of course today you can buy imposter Panama hats from Taiwan.  They look about the same and cost decidedly less.  But if you want the real thing from the real and authentic Ecuadorian artists, be sure you are buying a real Panama Hat.

    I did not buy one, since I wouldn’t be able to take care of it during our full-time travels.  Although designed to fold up with out damage, I still didn’t want to take a chance.  I expect to return to Ecuador in a couple years and I will surely buy one.  A quality purchase that will last a lifetime.

    I’m so glad I got to witness this art form first hand.  A wonderful cultural, artistic experience I will not forget.


    (Source for this blog Wikipedia

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    Honored to Accept The Liebster Award Nomination

    My Fab Fifties Life

    I was so excited and honored to learn while I was on the cruise that  A Trip With a View had nominated me for the Liebster Award!  If you are not already familiar with A Trip With a View I encourage you to head over and check out her amazing travel blog.  Nicole is a travel blogger with a vision to inspire affordable travel for all.  She offers honest reviews of real-life places and wonderful tips and insights into how to travel affordably and happily! Isn’t that what we all want to do?

    It’s always nice to get recognition, and I work hard on my blog so it’s a nice warm fuzzy for me in the New Year.  So without further ado let me fill you in on the details of this award.

    About the Liebster Award

    The Liebster Award is an award for bloggers by bloggers. It recognizes new blogs with great content. It brings attention to blogs that have presented a fresh perspective on travel blogging. It’s bloggers supporting other bloggers. 


    1. Thank the blogger who nominated your blog and include a link back to their blog in a post.
    2. Answer 10 questions asked by the nominator.
    3. Nominate other blogs with a fresh outlook and great content, then ask them 10 questions.
    4. Display the award logo in your post and list the rules associated with the award.

    10 Questions from Undercover Travel Agent:

    1.) What is one piece of advice you would pass down to other new bloggers? 

    Content is King.  Don’t write for the sake of writing.  Write quality over quantity.  Find a niche and stick to it, with really good writing, even if it means taking an online writing course.  I’ve seen too many poorly written blogs, I’m sure you don’t aspire to that group!

    2.) What was the first foreign country you visited and why did you choose it?

    Well I am ALOT older than many bloggers out there so my first foreign country was Canada when I was a little girl in the 1960’s. I went there several times with my family for vacations from our home state of Washington.  I still love Canada, even after traveling now to 91 countries, Canada is still one of the prettiest, kindest and most interesting places. 

    3.) What is your favorite destination that you have traveled to?

    This is a hard one, as I said above I have been to 91 countries.  But I would narrow it down to two surprising countries; Bulgaria (cheap, delicious, beautiful and friendly) and Namibia (fascinating!)

    4.) Do you ever run out of ideas for blog posts and if so how do you break through that writer’s block?

    As a full-time traveler I have a lot of material to choose from, but sometimes I want to write something a little different.  I always have several ideas floating around in my head, often based on other things I’ve read.  My blog is personal, and I make a point of keeping it that way, so I might drop a personal piece about family or health into the travel blog from time to time.  Just to mix things up. I also do a weekly book review, since travel provides lots of opportunity to read.

    5.) What inspired you to start a blog?

    Before I became a full-time traveler (2.5 years ago) I was using the blog to inspire middle-aged woman to feel confident and the best they can. When I retired from my career in marketing I wanted to reach out to other women my age and encourage them to look at retirement and being in our fifties as the greatest time in our life, unburdened by the things that caused us stress in our younger years.  So that is how My Fab Fifties Life began.

    6.) Share your favorite travel photo that you have taken and explain why it is your favorite. 

    I took this photo in Namibia just as the sun was setting and we were hurrying back to camp in Etosha National Park because you aren’t allowed outside of camp after sunset.  This beautiful beast almost looks unreal – like a statue.  Covered with grey mud to keep cool, he is just one of my favs.

    I love this photo of a bull elephant I took in Etosha National Park, Namibia

    7.) Are there any places that you visited that you would never want to go back?

    Hmmmmm.  Well, this is also a hard question.  There are pro’s and con’s to every destination.  But if I have to choose I would say Santorini.  I’ve been there twice, eleven years apart.  On my second visit (this past October) I was so very disappointed at how much it had changed – and not at all for the better.  It’s still pretty, but overcrowded, overbuilt and ridiculously expensive.  There are so many other Greek Islands that are beautiful and much less expensive.

    8.) Have you ever visited a destination that really surprised you?  For instance, a place that either far outweighed your expectations or a place that really disappointed you?

    I could list several but I will say Bangladesh far outweighed my expectations.  Bangladesh is NOT a tourist destination and I was actually a bit afraid to go there.  But we went to visit someone we know who is a teacher, and then we took a three-day tour.  The tour was amazing.  Nothing fancy or first class but it was so incredibly authentic.  The people were so kind and interested in us.  Even the poorest people we met invited us to have tea.  It was just a remarkable time.  I loved it and I am so glad I went.  

    9.) What is a destination that you have never been to but want to go and why?

    Israel, Madagascar, Malta, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, Myanmar are all on our list for 2019-2020.  Israel for the history, Madagascar for the nature, Malta for the beaches, Zimbabwe for the falls, Bhutan for its unique approach to tourism, Myanmar for EVERYTHING.

    10.) What is one thing that you must have in your carry on?

    You might be surprised to learn that a full-time traveler suffers from extreme motion sickness.  So I always carry Meclazine.  This little pill has become a life-saver for me.  I don’t know if it’s available in all countries (I’m from the USA), but it’s similar to Dramamine but it does not put you to sleep.  Me and my Meclazine are very good friends.


    My Nominations

    My 10 Questions for the Nominees are…

    1. How many sleeps until your next trip and where are you going?
    2. How old are you and what age were you when you realized travel was a fabulous way to live?
    3. Thinking about your writing experience, what advice would you give to someone considering blogging as either a hobby or a career?
    4. Shoes – oh girl how do you decide what shoes to pack?
    5. Do you have any travel horror stories or near misses you would like to share to help others avoid the worst case scenario?
    6. Travel fatigue is a real thing (I know!), how do you deal with it and how do you explain it?
    7. Favorite travel destination and why?  
    8. Solo travel – do you? could you? would you? Why?
    9. Do you collect anything when you travel? (magnets, mugs, art, jewelry, shoes 🙂
    10. Finally, what is one piece of advice you can share for successful travel and successful travel blogging?

    Thank you again Nicole for giving me this honor!


    South America Travel

    The World’s Greatest Shortcut – Crossing the Panama Canal

    Location: Panama Canal

    What a fascinating experience it was to cross through the Panama Canal on board the Norwegian Sun.  I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I was going to.  Absolutely a fascinating experience, in a life full of fascinating experiences.  My Fab Fifties Life.  

    Panama Canal

    Approaching Gatun Locks

    Incredibly we had a glorious sunny and hot day (the next day was cloudy, wet and stormy), so we felt lucky as we stumbled out of our stateroom a little after 6:00am, for what would be about an eleven hour excursion through the 80km  canal – an engineering wonder of the world.

    Panama Canal

    Inside Gatun Locks

    The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, cut through one of the narrowest saddles of the isthmus that joins North and South America.  The Canal uses a system of locks with entrance and exit gates that function to raise the ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake (a man-made lake) 26 meters above sea level.  

    We began on the Atlantic side passing first through the Gatun Locks (named for the town located here) at 7:00am.  It took about two hours to pass through this first set of three locks (see video). 

    Our ship, the Norwegian Sun, is a relatively small cruise ship, just under 900 feet long.  The locks we passed through are the original locks – the longest ship that can pass through these locks is 1000 feet (304.8 meters).  Curiously the Panama Transit Authority uses feet and inches rather than meters in all transit communication.

    Panama Canal

    Panama Sunrise

    A new set of locks (opened in 2016) now can accommodate larger vessels,  up to 1200 feet long and 158 feet wide known as Neopanamax ships.  Norwegian’s newest ship, Bliss, which is 1100 feet uses the new canal.

    Panama Canal

    Our stateroom view when the water was lowered

    The water used to raise and lower the ships in the locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity; it comes into the locks through a system of main culverts that extend under the lock chambers from the sidewalls and center wall.  The narrowest portion of the canal is the Culebra Cut, which extends from the north end of Pedro Migues Locks to the south edge of Gatun Lake.  It is approximately 8.5 miles carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide. 

    Panama Canal

    Jockeying for a good view

    The Panama Canal is a saga of human ingenuity and courage that dates back to the early 16th century when the Spaniards arrived to the Isthmus.  Since then, the idea of building a route that would link the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans was discussed.

    The French began the first effort in 1880, but abandoned the effort when financial problems as well as tropical diseases made it impossible to continue. 

    At the urging of the United States, Panama broke from Colombia and declared its independence in 1903, resulting in the partnership with the USA to begin construction once again on the passage.  The canal was completed in August 1914 and as per the original agreement the USA administered the canal until December 31, 1999 when Panama assumed full operation.

    The world’s greatest shortcut provided a boost to world trade and transit, by cutting transit time from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vice versa) by approximately three weeks.

    A private yacht may pay $2000 or less and a large commercial ship up to $150,000. The cost is still less than sailing around South America. Interesting fact: Panama Canal authorities used to charge swimmers 36 cents to pass through.

    Panama Canal

    Culebra Cut

    Toll for crossing through the canal for a ship the size of the Norwegian Sun is approximately $250,000 (1500 passengers).  A giant cruise ship such as the Bliss, will pay $890,000 (4000 passengers).  The tolls are calculated with numerous factors including size, revenue earnings and number of passengers.  A universal measurement system is used, taxing every 100 cubic feet of passenger space (cabins, dining, entertainment areas) but not bridge or crew areas.  Usually $5 per cubic foot.

    Panama Canal

    The Norwegian Sun

    Cruise operators will often include in the cost of the cruise approximately $140 per person as a surcharge.

    Panama is now one of the fastest expanding countries in world trade.  The canal generates 2 billion dollars for Panama annually.  The canal is vital to the world’s prosperity and is clearly an enormous feat of humanity, linking the world.  

    As we exited the final locks on the Pacific side (Pedro Miguel) at 5:30pm we completed more than ten hours of transiting through one of the wonders of the world – the world’s greatest shortcut.  As the world moves through the challenges of nationalism versus globalization, as well as the impending and potentially disastrous effects of climate change, new and expanded canals are being considered.  The wildly successful Panama Canal has sparked interest in Nicaragua for possible construction of a new canal there.  China is poised to capitalize as a world power in potential new canals around the world,  with the construction knowhow and trade-savvy chops to lead in the building of such a canal.  

    Cruising through the Panama Canal was certainly the highlight of our 15 days onboard the Norwegian Sun.  Fabulous !

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review – The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel by Ruth Hogan

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednesday

    Well I have been searching for a book with a new and surprising plot – and I found it in The Keeper of Lost Things.  I was intrigued from the very first captivating opening lines – “Charles Bramwell Brockley was traveling alone and without a ticket on the 14:42 from London to Brighton.  The Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin in which he was traveling teetered precariously on the edge of the seat as the train juddered to a halt.” And with that – my imagination ran wild!

    A bit love story, a bit paranormal, a bit family drama – Hogan combines a witty tale with a fun and intriguing cast of characters whose lives become entwined in both coincidental and mystical ways in The Keeper of Lost Things.

    Laura – a sad divorcee who has lost direction in her own life stumbles upon a job as an assistant to Anthony.  Anthony harbors his own love lost, a sadness within him that has haunted him for 40 years.  Eunice spends her life in love with a man who she will never have, but nonetheless he is her best friend, even in the end when dementia takes him.  Bomber, endures his nasty sister, loves movies and books and his adoring parents.

    One of the most endearing characters is a young Down’s Syndrome girl named Sunshine – a name which perfectly describes her.  Not only does she bring a ray of sunshine into everyone’s lives, she also has an uncanny ability, perhaps clairvoyant, to touch an object and know it’s past.

    Intrigued?  How do all of these people and a handful of others come together to create a sweet and sentimental novel, with a heartwarming message? You’ll enjoy finding out with this whimsical story.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four Stars for The Keeper of Lost Things

    Read last week’s review of The Plum Tree

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    South America Travel

    A Day At Sea Onboard the Norwegian Sun

    Location: Onboard the Norwegian Sun

    Fifteen days onboard the Norwegian Sun is done.  We had a great time.  This ship, smaller and older than any recent cruise ship I have been on, had both its pros and cons. The ship was not quit full, carrying about 1400 people of its 1900 capacity.

    Fewer people meant things were not overcrowded.  Staff was good for the most part, food was also good with a few exceptions.  Our room steward was brand new and it showed.  But he was trying.

    The Norwegian Sun performance cast and band was one of the absolute best I have ever seen on a cruise.  But the additional entertainers brought on board (hypnotist, Latin singer, magician, and female trio) were just meh.  We did like a Beatles group..

    We had several sea days, which I always enjoy for relaxation and fun.  We have put together this short video about how we enjoy a day at sea onboard the Norwegian Sun. I hope you enjoy it.

    Watch for a blog about crossing the Panama Canal and other blogs coming soon!


    Everything Else Fabulous

    A Very Merry Christmas

    From My Fab Fifties Life

    Location: Rio de Janeiro Brazil

    Christmas is here again. So fast! The years roll by, another one gone. And another opportunity for gratitude is here – time to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

    For the fourth year in a row we are spending Christmas outside of the USA. For the

    A Very Merry Christmas

    Our 2018 Christmas Card

    second year in a row, I will not be with my children over the holidays. That is surely my

    A Very Merry Christmas

    2018 tree

    greatest regret.

    But we will be together in March, when we will celebrate Christmas in March. The date is less significant than the moments together so I look forward to that time.

    A Very Merry Christmas

    Our 2013 Christmas in Italy

    I have found Christmas outside of the USA is celebrated quit differently.  In the past decade I have celebrated Christmas in Italy, Burkina Faso, Thailand, South Africa and this year in

    A Very Merry Christmas

    Handing out Candy Canes in Burkina Faso, Christmas 2015


    Most countries focus less on gifts and spending money than we do in the USA. Outside of Europe decorating is minimal.  The holiday revolves around family and church.

    A Very Merry Christmas

    Thailand tree, 2016

    Each year that we are out of the USA we have found a way to have a tiny tree.  A tiny bit of holiday cheer wherever we are calling home at the moment. This makes me happy.

    Happy and content in this crazy life we are leading.

    Our year has been bursting with joyful experiences and merry adventures. We are

    A Very Merry Christmas

    South Africa 2017

    completely blessed. And each of you are a significant part of that blessing.

    Thank you. Thank you for the love and support you give us. I hope we give even the tiniest bit back.

    A Very Merry Christmas

    Merry Christmas!

    Wishing you all peace and joy, time with family, safe travels and warm embraces.

    From Brazil with love,

    Feliz Natal

    Arne and Laureen Lund

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    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

    Reading Wednesday

    Location: Reading Wednsday

    Book Review The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman

    I had this book on my library waitlist for a long time.  So long I had forgotten about it.  So when it came available I had to go read the preview to see what it was about.  I was really disappointed.

    Another WWII story.

    Now, don’t misunderstand.  I have read some remarkable WWII stories (All The Light You Cannot See), and have extreme compassion for all the suffering that occurred during this terrible time.  BUT, ever since All The Light You Cannot See, the market has been inundated with WWII stories.  Many of them with nearly the same plot – the struggle to survive while lovers from different faiths find their way through this terrible time.

    Which is exactly what The Plum Tree is about.

    Wiseman has a beautiful writing style, and once I got into the book I enjoyed the story, mostly, although I felt it was longer than it needed to be.  Following the lives of Christine, a working class German christian girl and her one true love Isaac, the son of a wealthy Jewish family.

    You can only imagine what happens, and both of these characters endure incredible hardship and loss.  One of the best things about this book in my opinion is the courage of Christine to stand up and speak out, as a German, against the Gestapo, and after the war is over to help bring to justice many of those who were leaders in the Gestapo.

    If you aren’t tired of this theme yet, then you will enjoy The Plum Tree.  I’m hoping to find some fresh new plot lines and novels in 2019.

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for the Plum Tree.