ancient civilisations and sandy beaches
My first canal holiday was, in many ways, a typical one. I enjoyed the scenery as we moved through a series of locks and kept an eye on the other vessels as we cruised along.
But it just so happened that the greenery was rainforest, populated by hooting monkeys, and the closest I got to the Norfolk Broads were two friendly ladies who were with me on the P Adonia cruise ship as we steamed through the legendary Panama Canal.
I had embarked on Adonia in the colourful seaside town of Valparaiso as she was making her way up the coastline of Chile, which stretches 2,500 miles from its southernmost tip up to Peru.
We docked at Coquimbo and huge cacti lined the highway as we drove out of port, giving the scrubby landscape a Wild West look fit for any cowboy movie.
Signs for papayas and 'queso' appeared on roadside stalls and I started to question my Spanish I thought that queso meant cheese, but there didn't seem to www.warriorsteamproshop.com/david_lee_jersey.html be anywhere to raise cows in the rocky landscape.
The queso turned out to be cheese made from goats' milk, and we soon started to see other signs of life especially in Limari Valley, Chile's new wine region, where the rows of grapes at the Tabali vineyard make a green splash against Cheap Chris Mullin Jersey the desert.
During a wine tasting, I noticed that Tabali's logo is a drawing of a man, taken from a rock engraving found in the nearby 'Enchanted Valley'. The site was used 2,000 years ago by the Molle people, who drew pictures of men and animals on the rocks and made holes in the stone that align with constellations such as the Southern Cross. Back at port, the local wildlife had come out to say hello. Enormous sea lions tussled on the quayside and, from the rooftops, a line of pelicans looked down their beaks like nosy gossips.
Endless vista: Vicunas roam the scorched dunes of Chile's Atacama Desert
Heading north, we reached the port of Arica, Chile's northernmost city, 11 miles south of the border with Peru and the driest city on Earth. The grey dunes of the Atacama Desert stretched in all directions from the Pan America highway as we drove out of town, with only the world's largest Coca Cola logo (made of 70,000 bottles laid on the ground) to break the monotony.
Trucks carrying ripe tomatoes and yellow corn looked out of place until we reached our destination, Azapa Valley a strange oasis of colour in the grey sand, where guava, mango, olives and bananas thrive.
We returned to our ship and dolphins came alongside as Cheap David Lee Jersey we steamed out of Arica. When night fell, I went on deck to see the luminous clarity of the stars.
Adonia is P smallest ship, carrying 710 passengers, but has everything you need, from a pool and spa to lounges and restaurants, including Marco Pierre White's Ocean Grill.
The port town of Callao gave us our introduction to Peru and our entrance to Lima. Founded by the conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535, Lima's old town is a mix of bright blue and canary yellow colonial style buildings with wooden balconies.
Handcrafted: A woman weaves a Panama hat around a frame in Montecristi, Ecuador
Miraflores ('to watch flowers') was the original residential district of Lima and our excursion there stopped for pisco (brandy) sours in the courtyard of the Art Deco Casa Garcia Alvarado, where Anna Maria, the granddaughter of the original owners, gave us a fascinating glimpse into Peruvian high society in the 1920s.
We delved further back in time near the small port of Salaverry, where we visited the Rainbow Temple built by the Chimu civilisation more than 1,000 years ago.
The temple's walls are constructed of adobe and carved with murals that suggest sacrifices were made there to bring rain.
Chan Chan, near Trujillo, was a 9th to 13th Century pre Inca city, once home to 30,000 people. In the wellpreserved royal palace, I felt like Indiana Jones as I explored the ceremonial squares and the burial chamber and examined the geometric designs of waves, fish and sea birds decorating the palace walls.
We said goodbye to Peru www.warriorsteamproshop.com/chris_mullin_jersey.html and headed for Ecuador, where we had a colourful welcome in the city of Manta a giant mosaic depicting tuna fish marked the entrance to this capital of yellow fin fishing.
Brightly painted houses and buses peppered the town. Our visit to a tagua nut button factory was also riot of colour white buttons are fashioned from the nut and coloured to make jewellery and trinkets.
The hillside town of Montecristi is where Panama hats originated. The misnomer came about because they were sent to Panama to be shipped to the rest of the world the black bands were introduced by Englishmen mourning Queen Victoria.
The ladies at Montecristi showed us how they make the hats by boiling the palm like leaves, then weaving them around a rigid frame.
Most of us couldn't resist buying ourselves one of the hats so that we could have them at the ready when we awoke and saw the outline of the high rises of Panama City puncturing the skyline on the approach to the fabled canal.
Awesome spectacle: An aerial view of Gatun Lock on the famous Panama Canal
Next year is the centenary of this great waterway's completion and work is under way on a second, broader channel next to the original. As we cruised under the iconic Bridge of the Americas and entered the first lock, a small train came to carry our ship's ropes and secured us opposite a gigantic tanker which we squeezed next to with what seemed like only inches to spare.
It took more than nine hours to sail through all the locks and lakes and, as we cruised through Gatun Lake, we showed off our new headgear in a Panama hat parade. Soon afterwards, we were out into the blue of the Caribbean.
Colombia's Cartagena was our first port of call it boasts both a Miami Beach like stretch of modern buildings and areas filled with older houses set among huge banyan trees.
At Plaza Bolivar, named after the revolutionary South American politician and flanked by the Inquisition Palace and the Cathedral, street vendors sold coconut juice, mangos and pineapples underneath crumbling balconies dripping with bright pink tropical flowers.