Trail’s End

The flights home for the Travel With Alan group didn’t leave Buenos Aires till late at night. Ours was scheduled for just before midnight. So, Alan included as part of the package (not a side trip) a day at the beautiful Estancia Santa Susana, located about 50 miles from the port, out in the pampas. Arrriba!

So, off we went!

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Soon we ready for adventure!

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Once we got inside we were met by the staff of the estancia who presented us with a several different options of things to do. One of the options was horseback riding. Our friend Ron Shafer professed to be an accomplished rider and I, although I’ve not been on a horse for maybe 35 years, figured it’s probably just like with a bicycle. You never forget. Our wives declined, so off we went!

I requested a horse who might be in the very last stages of a quiet life spent munching grass. Instead I was given one which only a few weeks before may have been roaming free on the pampas having escaped from his earlier career as a race horse.

Regardless, It took no time at all to recognize that the biggest challenge would not be riding him, it would be getting on. My horse and I were led into a more open area by one of the gauchos who runs the ranch. I quickly learned that this guy’s background was more in the area of cattle roping and less in the customer relations arena. He quickly observed that the stirrups were set too high for me to reach so he lowered them to cowboy level. I was barely able to get my tootsies up there and the idea of hoisting myself onto the saddle seemed like an Olympic dream. But then the gaucho came back, and rather than offering an assisting hand, simply said, in a voice that meant business, the Spanish equivalent of “GET YOUR ASS UP THERE!”

Well! That worked wonders!

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I may not have looked as graceful as I had hoped. Ron rode up and said, “Did you say you’ve been on a horse before?” Well, not to be deterred, soon I was tipping my hat to the beautiful Senora Dianne!

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Thankfully, as we rode off there were about twenty other horses, so I made sure mine was well boxed in, in case he decided to re-live his adventures on the pampas. The whole thing lasted about a half hour. Then is was time for lunch. And, in typical Alan fashion, it was a feast!

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After this, there was a tango/folk dancing show which was entertaining, but after the previous evening we were a little spoiled. Then, we went on a tour of the restored original ranch home.

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The ranch dates to the early 1900’s.

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They even built their own chapel for the gauchos, who no doubt were in need:

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And, they have a fine collection of hats of the day:

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After this tour, the gauchos put on a demonstration of horse rustling, uh, I mean roping:

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Quite a show!

Then it was time for just a little relaxation before we headed to the airport. Antarctica Part 2 766

A great way to end the day and our South American adventure! On our way to the airport it started to rain:

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In our tour of Buenos Aires I forgot to mention that even though it was Tuesday, the country was still celebrating Carnival. Today is the day everyone returned to work! Even with traffic delays, we got to the airport in plenty of time. So, here’s a helpful tip. If you fly American out of here, get to the airport WAY early. The place was a zoo. Fortunately, American put us on LAN airlines and we got through the line in a hurry. Of course there is still customs to go through and passport verification and security. We had plenty of things to do till midnight.

Throughout the ticketing process, NanSea, who was flying to Chicago, was very helpful to us all. We parted friends, and, we can say without reservation, that Travel With Alan is everything it claims to be.. Incredible prices for an incredible experience! So long as you are willing to be tied to a group. Naturally, we have some future destinations in mind. We will be happiest to be on our own. But, if Alan comes up with another destination off our radar where a snapshot is better than missing it, we’ll be pleased to be back on board.

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And so, our story ends. Ohio welcomed us in its usual fashion. We would not have expected less. Thanks to many of you for you kind comments. Now I’ll have to figure out what to do with this blog!

It is great to be home! (Seriously!)

THE END!

Bueno! Buenos Aires!

On a corner of the Plaza de Mayo is the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where, until recently, a guy named Jorge Bergoglio served as Archbishop, then Cardinal. Then, surprise, surprise! He became Pope Francis!

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So, our bus pulls up in front and in we go!

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Naturally, we show up in the middle of a service.

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Of course, it was all in Spanish, so we had no idea what was going on. It seemed to involve these ladies. I was just glad I wasn’t wearing my usual shorts and ball cap.

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The cathedral has its typical 14 stations, each of which is a work of art.

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Unique to this cathedral, and what sets it apart from all the others in the world, is this:

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This is a tribute to all the victims of the holocaust as well as the more recent victims of the attack on the Israel Embassy and the AMIA bombing. This case contains prayer books and other artifacts rescued from Auschwitz and Treblinka.

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The AMIA (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) building in Buenos Aires was bombed in 1994 and 85 people were killed. Somehow, the government just couldn’t quite figure out who might have done such a thing. You may have noticed, then, the recent headlines regarding a prosecuting attorney who just happened to turn up dead in his Argentine apartment, victim of a tragic suicide. Except, hold on now. It seems that he was just about to testify that he had found a link to the AMIA bombing, and a cover-up of the involvement of Iranian perpetrators, by the current president of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner. Indeed, he had gone so far as to draft a warrant for her arrest!. Who wouldn’t blow their brains out when you’re under such stress? The day after we left Argentina another of those famous mass demonstrations was held demanding the truth. Good luck!

To get back to the cathedral, here is the only evidence we found that the first non-European Pope had come from here:

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OK Time to leave the Plaza de Mayo. Let’s take a look around town. Keep in mind, however, that this is a bus tour with limited photo ops and only lasts 4 hours, of which we have already used up plenty. I will say, though, that this was, by far, the best of the tours Travel With Alan put together. Off we go!

Just to give you my impression, Buenos Aires is as exciting and interesting as I expected it to be. It is a city worth a very long airplane ride to experience. And, we just got a small sampling. Here is a message, though, that I have for President Kirchner if she manages to stay out of hot water: Drop the reciprocity fee! Right now it costs $160 USD’s per person, just to come to Argentina. True, that fee is good for 10 years, but I’m sure I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I might be in Argentina in the next 10 years. By the way, this fee only applies to the US citizens. Canadians and Australians have to pay too, but their fee is less. Chile dropped their fee some time ago. Argentina should do the same. I would have organized a march about this at the Plaza de Mayo, but NanSea said I didn’t have enough time.

Parts of Buenos Aires are reminiscent of Paris.

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Some parts are shiny and new, with a lot of construction going on.

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So, we had a very delightful tour of the city. Then the bus pulls up here:

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Caminito is in the heart of the barrio called La Boca. And quite a place it is:

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Oh my! Do you want to dance the tango? No problemo:

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Actually the dancing goes on here throughout the day. You can join in if you like. We probably would have liked that and much more, but in our allotted 30 minutes we couldn’t even order a beverage. So, we shopped:

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Dianne bought a purse. I got a colorful magnet for the fridge. We would have loved to spend more time here. But, just to be on the safe side, instead we went back to our pick-up point and hung with NanSea.

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Caminito is only a few blocks long, then it becomes poorer.

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Our tour guide later told us that around sundown all the restaurants and shops close and the sidewalks are rolled up. It is very safe during the day, but we better not have our gringo fannies down here after dark. Well, OK then! Next!

Well, what was next was even worse. But let me add, when I get a tour I don’t just want the good news. I want to see what is really going on. This tour delivered:

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So, you might say, this is interesting, the poor have brick homes. Well, I wouldn’t go asking for a bill of sale from some brick yard. Instead I might go looking for a report of items missing from the local ship yard.

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Then, there is this:

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Juan Peron was forced into exile in the early fifties. When this happened factions from labor groups and various left-wing organizations began to organize and arm themselves. The ruling junta hunted them down and killed many of them. There never was much stability. Then, in the late seventies Peronists won election and Juan eventually returned and was himself re-elected. He only lived a year, however, His then-wife and vice-president, Isabella took over. She created the first of what would be many death squads targeting the extreme left wing. But, as so often happens, It wasn’t long until Isabella was ousted by yet another military coup. And so, around 1978 began what in now known as the Dirty War. From then until 1982 the ruling junta began targeting not only the left wing, but anyone perceived as sympathizing with the left wing, including labor leaders and students. Their victims became known as “The Disappeared” How many disappeared? Nobody knows. Few who have provided estimates put the numbers below five figures.

One day, on their way to work, passersby were horrified to find bodies stacked like cord wood under this overpass. Each white sign represents the name of a victim. In time, the mothers of The Disappeared began to organize and, putting their own safety aside, they began to demonstrate on the Plaza de Mayo by banging pots and pans in front of the Casa Rosada. The junta, already losing favor with the public. dismissed them as crazy at first. But the public did not.

In order to distract their detractors, they turned to that time-honored favorite among failing governments. They started a war! Where? The Falkland Islands! What finally removed them from power? They lost the war! So now, history fans, we have come full circle. The tour’s over.

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The afternoon following the tour Dianne and I began the much-dreaded task of packing our bags.This would be our last night in South America.  Because we were scheduled to attend a Tango show that night with our TWA group, we were allowed to delay putting our bags out till after midnight. A true blessing.

At 8:00pm our bus pulled up in front of Esquina Carlos Gardel, one of the more popular tango clubs in Buenos Aires. (Alan got us a fantastic deal for this dinner and show!) We had made plans to sit with Ron and Mary Shafer, our best friends from the cruise, but unfortunately by the time we got in there were no longer four seats available. So they spit us up and put Dianne and me with a group of Canadians.

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While the seats were empty when we got there, by the time the show started they were full. And, this was a Tuesday night! We were served very nice dinners. Then the wine began to flow. It never stopped! Good one, Alan!

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Then, it was time for the show!

The tango, they say, is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire. Properly done, they say, it is slow and tragic; a love that cannot be. Well, this show had it all!

Here is a very small sample:

OK people! Shut off those computers, get out there and dance!

I wanna be a part of B.A./ Buenos Aires, Big Apple

As we made our way toward Buenos Aires I was treated to yet another reminder of how the world works.

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The gentleman to the left is our captain, PJ van Maurik, an excellent captain indeed. Earlier in the afternoon he announced that paper charts were being discontinued after this voyage as all ships now are using e-charts. So, in the evening they would be auctioning off six charts used in our voyage in Antarctica. And, each of the charts were autographed by the ship’s officers.

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The charts were put on display so we went to take a look at them. Now, I have a similar paper chart of my Lake Erie stompin’ grounds downstairs in the pool hall (which I have not yet bothered to sign). So I thought, what a nice complement one of these charts might be. I realized, of course, that there were plenty of people on this ship who could easily outbid me, but when the charts were displayed we saw very few people who even seemed interested in them

For that reason, I found myself seated on the edge of the pool on the Lido deck along with maybe a dozen other guys, ready to participate in the auction. I decided I would go as high as $50. OK, maybe a little higher, but only if caught up in the heat of the moment. So, the auction began.

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Well, the bidding started at $100 so I just sat back and relaxed. But as soon as somebody came in at a hundred another guy holds up his hand with one of the auction flyers in it and he just keeps his hand up. Other guys would bid and the auctoineer would come back to this guy whose hand remained up the entire time. By the time the figure reached, say, $1,500 the other guys dropped out and the guy with the flyer won. OK next chart. The bidding starts and the same guy does the same thing all over again. SOLD! Again well over a thousand.

The highest price I recall for any one chart was well over $2,000. Didn’t matter. That one guy took them all. Final price tag: well over $10,000. And, I’m talkin’ USD’s! We have now reached an age where even the rich can’t keep up. A guy sitting next to me who also did not bid simply said, “A fool and his money are soon parted.” True, except when you have so much you can be as foolish as you want to be. When we got home I found a paper chart of The Antarctic Peninsula for $27. Hand us $10K and Dianne and I will both gladly sign it.

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Not exactly the skyline we were hoping for. Buenos Aires has one of the busiest seaports in South America, as you might imagine. So, cruise ships and freighters all compete for the same dock space. As a result, we had to take a bus to the terminal so we could get on our bus. But, soon we were off to see the city!

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We started out with this clock tower, a gift of the British apparently before the Falklands War. If you’ve been to Chicago and seen The Bean, this will look kind of familiar:

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This is the Floralis Generica, a gift to the city by a local prominent architect. When working properly, the petals close at night.

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This is the Spanish Monument, typical of hundreds of monuments all over the city.

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On the way to our next stop we passed this recent statue of Eva Peron. More on her a little later Actually, Evita plays a prominent role in our next stop as well, Recoleta Cemetery.

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Recoleta is one of the most popular tourist sites in Bueno Aires. I can’t say this for sure, but I wouldguess that you won’t find many places like it outside New Orleans.

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Unlike most cemeteries where people try hard to stay out, this place they are clamoring to get in

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Recoleta Cemetery occupies several city blocks and consists entirely of mausoleums built by and for the rich and famous of Argentina. Clearly, they spared no expense

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It just goes on and on. And, of course, there is not shortage of sad stories to go along with it. For example,

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This young lady died in her teens and was interred here. Later the family came to add the ornamentation and to place mementos inside the coffin. When they opened it, they found the coffin lid had numerous scratch marks. As they later found, much too late, she suffered from catalepsy. Since then, you don’t get in here until you’ve been, shall we say, processed. Of all the tombs, though, there is only one that many people come to see

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This is the final resting place of Evita Peron. Eva Peron died in 1952, but her well-traveled and oft-times buried mummified earthly remains did not find their way here until 26 years later. It is a long and bizarre story, too long for this blog. If you want the details they are easily found on line.

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Eva’s family is the Duarte’s which is why she is buried here. Juan Peron is located elsewhere in Recoleta.

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This place is as much a shrine as it is a tomb and at certain times of the year flowers are everywhere

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The tomb itself was designed by a company that specializes in bank vaults and her final resting place is said to be 20 feet under ground, twice as deep as Lincoln. It seems fairly certain she’ll be staying put for a while. But around here, who knows? Although this cemetery is a huge tourist attraction, you don’t have to look far to be reminded that it is solemn ground

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This is the tomb of a young lady killed in a skiing accident. Below the statue is this plaque:

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It is a poem written to her by her father. It is in Italian and if you haven’t had a good cry yet today, go ahead and translate it. If you’d rather not, all you need to know is the word “perche?” means why?

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From here, we went to the heart of Buenos Aires, the Plaza de Mayo.

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The Plaza de Mayo is the political center of Buenos Aries. If you are unhappy about something, this is the place to let everybody know. A more or less permanent protest is this one. These people are the, as yet, unpaid veterans of the Falklands war.

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Some choose to live here, although my guess would be that if you push the envelope too far you might end up thinking you’re back IN the war. By far, the most iconic building on the Plaza de Mayo is this one:

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This is the Casa Rosada, or as we know it, The Pink House. This building serves as the Presidential Palace. What better place to protest!?

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This is the balcony from which Eva Peron gave her final address to the nation, before dying from cancer at age 33. She, of course appeared here many times with Peron as well. Some may find it more famous as the place where Madonna, cast as Evita to the horror of of Peron’s many worshipers, sang “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”, in the movie.

On this quiet, sunny day, it was hard to imagine the Plaza de Mayo looking as it did in the early fifties:

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Juan Peron was not a dictator in the traditional South American sense. He was freely elected to two six-term presidencies and another toward the end of his life. Juan and Eva championed the cause of the poor, much to the dismay of the upper class. And, although Peron was not a dictator, he knew how to act like one when he considered it necessary. He put down student protests, took over the media or kept a thumb on the media he didn’t control.

It was Eva, called affectionately Evita by the working class, who solidified Juan Peron’s power base. After Juan’s election she created a foundation. The poor would stand in line and she would personally write checks to them. Some said she used her foundation to buy votes. And so on. To this day people love her or hate her passionately. Regardless, all agree she could work a crowd:

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In the early days of the Peron presidency Argentina was flush with cash, having inflated prices of beef, lumber and other goods to sell to a starving post-war Europe. However, by the the time of Evita’s death, the cash was running out. Within a year of her passing, in that grand South American style, Juan found himself looking down the wrong end of numerous guns pointed in his direction. What a surprise! A military coup!

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Following the coup, Juan decided to take his leave for an extended vacation in Spain where, another surprise!, he just happened to remember the numbers of a few bank accounts in his name over there. Later, after several more coups, he once again won election, but by now he was almost 80. He died within the year.

Evita Peron was as close as the poor have ever gotten to having a true champion.What’s more she was a strong advocate for women’s rights. Rags to riches, she led a Cinderella life. There are far less deserving heroes around.

It has now been roughly 63 years since Evita’s  passing. You might think Argentina has moved on.

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Well, maybe not entirely.

In the Land of the Charrúas

Poor Dianne! The bug that accompanied her to the Falklands remained with her for our next two days at sea. Unfortunately, one of those days was Valentine’s Day, for which we had made reservations at the swankiest restaurant on the ship. We got all spiffed up and put in an appearance. We each placed an order from their special Valentine’s menu. But, gamer though she was, she could not eat a single bite. The day wasn’t a total loss, however:

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Thankfully, by the time we hit Uruguay, the bug was gone. And, also thankfully, she was not contagious.

So, here’s what two days at sea look like:

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And, we saw plenty of it. We often kept our TV tuned to the ship channel and this is the news it had for us:

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You will note our position and the sea depth of 5,098 meters, or, as I like to say it, 16,696 feet, or,  3.162 miles. That’s deep water. Over two days you have time to ponder what must be down there. Who knows, really?. When we finally moved onto the continental shelf the depth was often only a few hundred meters. Well, anyway I always laughingly tell my passengers on the lake, it’s only the first few inches you need be concerned about anyway.

Over those two days the weather was clear and the seas generally calm. I spent a lot of time either on our balcony or on one of the decks. In all that time i never saw a passing ship. One morning though I was looking out a sea and near the ship, all of a sudden a little head pops up out of the water. It was a sea turtle! A big one. He took a quick look around, decided he didn’t like what he saw and disappeared. What he was doing all the way out there I had no idea.

There are certain perks to being out there, though:

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On Monday, February 16th we awoke to find ourselves in Montevideo, Uruguay.

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And, the buses were down there waiting for us! For the remaining three days of our journey, here and in Buenos Aires, all of our excursions would be with Travel With Alan.

True to form, NanSea was at the buses directing traffic. By now, though, it seemed that she had finally come to the conclusion that our group was not the nimrods she apparently was accustomed to dealing with, Plus we had spent some time with her on the ship while at sea. We all now knew what to expect from each other. And, things were winding down. Everyone was as relaxed as we probably ever get.

So, off we went to see the sites!. We started at the Constitution Plaza::

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This is in the oldest part of the city, so many buildings have been converted to government offices. The most iconic building in Montevideo is this one:

Antarctica Part 2 294This is the Palacio Salvo, originally designed to be a hotel. Now it houses offices and a few condos. Unfortunately, on the same square the architectural splendor of the city’s colonial past takes quite a spiritual nosedive with this little beauty:

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Each year this building says to thousands of tourists: “Central air? Never heard of it!”

Not all that much better is the President’s office space.

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What must certainly be an unsettling consideration for any aspiring politico on a continent rife with military juntas, is that the president’s office is LEASED! Good luck!

And, speaking of the military, what South American capitol would be complete without a general on horseback!

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This one honors José Gervasio Artigas, the father of Uruguayan nationhood. He is quite a colorful character if you want to look him up.

Speaking of Uruguayan nationhood, this is something that even in recent times has not always been a given. Our tour guide said that originally, there was no interest in this area because it had no gold, silver or anything else of value. Both Brazil, to the north and Argentina to the west had their own problems and plenty of them, so they left Uruguay alone.

Later, however, it was discovered that cattle really liked the grass around here and cattle farming became all the rage. Since then, one or the other of its neighbors have rattled their sabres nearby, but so far, none have crossed the border.

Today it is a liberal oasis. Think of a liberal cause and here it is either championed or outright written into law. And this in a country that is predominantly Roman Catholic. So, it may have become like Switzerland, a convenient place to do business, shall we say, on the side.

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Next we went to a very pretty nearby park. This is a monument to the last four indigenous Charrúa people who survived several massacres that killed all the others. These four were taken to Paris and exhibited there, where they all soon died as well. A nearby plaque commemorates the courage of the Charrua’s in fighting off the Spanish and may others for over 300 years. In situations in which Uruguayans display bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, they call themselves “gara Charruas.” The Uruguayan national football team is called the “Los Charrúas”. So, like the native Americans on our own continent, they are remembered for their bravery, but, at least in North America full-blooded descendents remain. Not so, the Charruas who were wiped out entirely.

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Well, we were enjoying the nearby trees when all of a sudden a couple of Montevideo’s finest pull up on motorcycles in front of our bus. The driver, in the middle, engages in a long conversation with them including several cell phone calls to the bus company. Turns out we only had a sticker that allows them to give tours of the country, not the city. Apparently headquarters provided the proper assurances and we were eventually allowed to continue. Most of us, including the driver, were surprised they would stop us. I, on the other hand, was even more surprised that NanSea wasn’t out there chewing their asses for holding us up.

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Our next stop was the Legislative Palace, much more in keeping with the colonial style of the city.

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Quite the place! More like a cathedral than a hall of congress.

On our way to our next stop, another park, we passed by this building:

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Depending on which side of the political fence you happen to be sitting on, this building is either a national treasure or a pork-barrel extravaganza. Our tour guide apparently took the latter view. This is a building that houses the nation’s telecom operations. The architect, she said, had only previously built hotels and built this one in the same fashion (I do, however, think there are a few others involved who might check on these things.) Well, apparently when they started moving all the heavy telecom stuff in there, the floors started to crack and windows started popping out. Turns out they had to spend millions more pesos (or, probably about three hundred USD’s) to shore the place up. Whoever the party in charge was had egg on their faces over this one. Ha ha ha. OK let’s move on

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This is the Estadio Centenario, home to the Uruguay national football team. For a country that is by far the smallest to play in World Cup competition, they have won it twice and have won the Olympics as well. AND, in winning the Cup they beat both Brazil AND Argentina!. Since they are not likely to prevail on too many battlefields, this is one happy way to stick it to the rest of the world.

Antarctica Part 2 346Our next stop was a local park, where the tourist business was good. On this table you see what looks like cups. Actually, they are either gourds, or fake gourds with a stainless steel straw sticking out of them. These are used for the Uruguayan (and South American) national drink called Mate (MAH tay). It just so happened that our tour guide had a container of fresh brew right handy. It is the custom in these parts to take a sip and pass it around the room. So, she passed it to me and, you know, why not?

Well, this is a tea made from the leaves of the yerba mate and the flavor is pretty much like our standard tea, BUT, compared to coffee it would be much more like espresso. VERY strong. One sip was more than plenty. Our tour guide is a social worker as well and she said sometimes she has to make several home visits in an afternoon. At every house, before the conversation begins, out comes the mate and around the table it goes. To decline is an offense, so an afternoon of that and one might become just a little jittery.

This park is also home to one of the country’s most famous sculptures:

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This is called “La Carreta” or, The Cart. It was done by the Uruguayan sculptor Jose Belloni to commemorate the struggles of the early settlers. The team is pulling the cart out of the mud.

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Very impressive!

Next we headed east and up the coast for a view of the city from one of the nicer areas:

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Montevideo is home to 1.3 million people, about a third of the national population. These are boom times, since their banks went down the tubes with the Argentinians about 10 years ago. Uruguay has the makings of a resort area. To the east of the city, on the Atlantic coast there is an exclusive beach area populated by the rich and famous of South American (and, no doubt North America as well.) Our tour guide said there are lots of movie stars there, but did not make it clear whose stars were likely to be in attendance. South America has plenty of its own stars in the various arts and, believe it or not, it’s not hard to find people with no interest in our own American popular culture whatsoever.

OK, so I know there are some bird enthusiasts who read this blog from time to time, so here’s a quiz. Who’s nest is this?:

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Need a hint? Well, just find the birdie!

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You got it!

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Parakeets! To our surprise, these birds are both wild and abundant and are generally considered to be pests. One thing for sure, they are NOISY!. It was hard to carry on a conversation in the park they call home. What fun!

Antarctica Part 2 414Sorry for the blurry tour bus picture. On the way back into town we passed by this sculpture which, we were told, is a gift from the people of South Korea. As generous as they were, unfortunately this guy has failed to win the hearts of an adoring public. Why? It took no time at all for the populous to realize that something was either missing, or drastically not to scale. Let me search my Spanish for just the right word. Ah yes, this is it: cojones!

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All around Montevideo there is a huge beach. We were there the Monday following Carnival, which is still a national holiday. Otherwise these people would be hard at work. The water, by the way is from the huge Rio del la Plata. Some say it its the widest river in the world. Apparently those people have never heard of an estuary. But regardless, it is very wide (140 miles at the mouth) and very muddy. I can’t speak to the water quality, but thousands of people use it. However, considering that it drains the no doubt pristine effluent of both Montevideo and, farther upstream, the 15.5 million souls in Buenos Aires, I believe I would prefer to join the movie stars out on the Atlantic.

Our tour had come to an end and, incredibly, we still had some time left before we had to be back on the ship! So, the driver dropped us off here:

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Our tour guide noted that it wasn’t much to look at on the outside (true), but if we opened the door under the red awning we would find a culinary carnival of our own! So, in we went:

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Incredible! It was like a mall of meat! All of it was being roasted on an open flame. AND it was lunch time. Not only that, see those bottles in the front of the picture? Some are white wine, some are champagne. Apparently the national drink around here is called the half and half. Half wine and half champagne. AND you get to mix your own for free while you are waiting in line at one of the restaurants.

Well, it all smelled so good and Dianne was ready to try out her recently recovered tummy, so all we needed was a line to stand in. We saw some people waving. Turned out is was some of our friends from the ship. In no time we found ourselves inside. Well, our friends were originally New Yorkers where patience is not always a strong suit. And, we were in South America where lunch is an opportunity explore the depths of one’s experiences in the most infinite detail. Well, we had an absolutely fabulous Uruguayan steak feast, which was done beyond perfection. Fortunately, we were finished before the cultures clashed over the wait time to get the bill. Dianne and I were more than happy to stay out of that particular go-round. Finally, the perspiring owner wrote and the checks and we were out of there!

Here are more restaurants to choose from:

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Care to dine outside? No problemo!

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What a great way to end our time in Uruguay! Now, it was back to the ship. Tomorrow, at last, we would be in Buenos Aires!

Four Wheelin’ the Falklands!

The only thing I knew about the Falkland Islands was I remembered their war back in the early eighties when Argentina decided they would like to have them and the British, who had claimed them long ago, took exception to that idea. But, when I found out we would be going there I got on the internet to see what was going on.

The Falklands consist of three large islands and many smaller ones. They have one principle village, Stanley, and some very rugged countryside. Mostly it is an island of large private farms, one of which might have, say 10,000 plus acres. But, when your principle crop is big rocks, you better have 20,000. Fortunately, between those big rocks enough grass grows to raise sheep and that’s mostly what they do.

BUT, at some of these farms that extend to the sea, and at some public parks, there are penguin rookeries. Naturally, at one of the most distant points from Stanley lies the biggest of the rookeries, a place called Volunteer Point. And, it features King Penguins, the biggest of the penguins outside Antarctica!

Well, as had happened on all other previous occasions, the ship’s excursion to Volunteer Point was sold out long ago. And, Travel with Alan didn’t have any excursions in the Falklands at all. So, the search began. Fortunately, through Trip Advisor, I found a company, Estancia Excursions,  that gave highly rated tours. So, I sent them an e-mail right away and, to my surprise, they had space for us. The deal is, we have to be on the earliest possible tender off the boat AND we would need to pay them cash in British pounds. Dang it! i had already exchanged currency for Chile and Argentina. Since we were only going to be in places like the Falklands and Uruguay for a brief time I saw no point in going through the currency hassle. Those good ol’ USD’s speak a universal language! Everywhere, that is, except the Falklands where, after another exchange of e-mails, I was advised that there is only on bank on the whole island and they charge big fees for everything. So, yes, they would take my Yankee Dollars, at a mere 20% extra!. So, British pounds it would be! And off to the bank I went again.

Sometimes when cruise ships visit Port Stanley the weather is so bad they can’t maneuver safely in their port and they end up having to pass by. That has happened to the Zaandam on previous voyages this year. But, once again, the weather favored us and in we went!

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Well, we were far from being the first people off the boat. It took so long to get to shore that I had given up hope the tour people  would still be waiting for us. But, sure enough, there they were! Before long we were piling into a Land Rover. These vehicles will seat four people comfortably. There were five of us. Off we went!

We were only a few miles out of town when we came upon this:

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Not a very good picture, but what you see are some guys in neon suits out in a field. Turns out they are locating and removing land mines left over from the Falklands War. Incredibly these guys have come from Zimbabwe all the way out here to clear mines. I mean, how bad does the economy back home have to be to make this job seem even remotely like a good idea? But there they were.

To make things even more challenging, the mines are housed in plastic, so metal detectors don’t work. The British themselves attempted to remove them right after the war, but the casualty rate was so high they gave up and just roped off large areas which have remained closed now for 35 years. Fortunately the Argentines left behind maps showing where they had put the mines. There are over 20,000 of them in various locations, including one of the best beaches on the islands. Now wouldn’t you think that if you lose a war you should have to clean up your own mines? Apparently that’s not how things are done.

Well, we passed the mine field and then got a look at some of the local terrain:

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Each of these rocks is about the size of a dining room table. Their value as an export item has yet to be discovered.

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The nicely paved road on which we were traveling soon became a nice dirt road. We continued on our way for about an hour. The driver was in radio contact with his other drivers, one of whom was his daughter. Finally we came to a farm house. He said we would wait here until she caught up with us.

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About ten minutes later she showed up in her Land Rover and our driver looks at me and says she has an open space in her vehicle and the going would be easier if there was less weight in his. What the….? You know, he could have said, sir, there’s an open space in the other vehicle and you’d be much more comfortable, etc. Well, Dianne decided she could manage without me, so off I went. I even got to sit in the front.

What our first driver also should have said when he pulled up the the farm is, “This is the end of the road”, because that, in fact, is what it was. For the next seven miles it would be this:

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Dianne’s Rover ahead of us.

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View from Dianne’s Rover

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Off we go! What was it like for over an hour? Here is a small sample:

So, I asked her if this is public land. Turns out it’s not. It’s somebody’s farm; someone who, I assume, gets to supplement his rock income with tourist dollars. Also, he might make some money selling peat, which most of the land is made of. Some people still burn peat in the winter, but most have gone to the hydrocarbons, or, electric as wind farms are beginning to develop. We found no shortage of wind in our time here.

There has been little or no discussion about putting a road out here. It would be bad for business and, besides, peat doesn’t make a very good road bed. Although I know where they might find some rocks that just might!

At last! We arrived at Volunteer Point!

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We were pleased to see that we were not alone:

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Who were these other guys? They were the people who had booked through the ship! (And who paid about twice what we had. Ha Ha Ha)

But enough about them. Here’s what we came for!

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We started out with the Gentoo Penguins. Many of the chicks were molting and there were feathers everywhere!. We said good morning to them and then headed off to the main attraction, the Kings:

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They had an oval shaped area set up that humans couldn’t enter and many of the penguins chose to stay there. But others couldn’t care less about us and went where they pleased. We were quickly captivated by a group of three adults who stood together. The one would use his flipper to whack the other and then the other would do the same. Dianne calls them Larry, Curly and Moe. You will see them in the following videos:

Here is a brief introduction:

Then a more prolonged engagement.

What goes on in a penguin’s brain?

Shortly after the last video ended the one who tried to leave the other two, tried again. This time he was rewarded with a sharp peck between the shoulder blades. Assuming penguins have shoulder blades. What fun these guys were!. But there were also some standout individuals:

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Here is a young penguin herder tending to her flock!
Here is a young penguin herder tending to her flock!

Soon it was time for a penguin work break!

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They pick themselves up and let themselves down with their beaks!

It's good to be King!
It’s good to be King!

And of course, there is always the required Penguin Patrol!

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There is a beach nearby where all the penguins have access to ocean. With great facilities like these, the Kings stay here year-round:

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We’ll leave you with a family video:

Was it worth it coming all the way out here? It would have been worth it even in USD’s!!!

Although we were late getting off the boat, the captain never changed the time when we were supposed to be back on board. But we knew for certain he would not leave with his own ship’s excursion out slogging around in the peat bog they call a road. As long as we knew where they were, we knew we didn’t have to rush back.

So, our guide gave us a quick tour or Port Stanley.

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This is a clean, well-maintained community

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A memorial to those lost in the Falkland War. Britain lost 255. Argemtina lost 649. 3 civilians were killed. Our guide told stories of grandparents hiding in a barn without food and other stories like that. The war is still very much alive here and, as we later learned, in Argentina where these Islands are called the Malvinas. Recently a statue of Margaret Thatcher was unveiled nearby. 99% favor British rule.

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The police station, which has been at this site since 1873.

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Shops recently converted to condos. Or, perhaps it’s the other way around. We zipped by so fast I was surprised to even get the shot.

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The last tender was supposed to be 4:00. We all knew better than that. We got on about 5:30 and we were not the last. Having arrived back on the ship, Dianne began to experience the ill effects of a bug of some kind. For the next two days we would be at sea, so, hopefully there would be time to recuperate .

Hope, Admiralty Bay and Farewell

Magellan discovered his famous strait in 1520. For the next 300 years ship after ship followed after him. It was not until 1820 that a Russian ship got down there and the captain said, “Hey, let’s turn left!”, that Antarctica was discovered. For most of the 19th century very few tried to turn left again. It wasn’t till a little over a hundred years ago that Scott, Amundsen, and others attempted to reach the South Pole. So this is new territory. Even today there are only around a thousand year-round residents on the entire continent and most of them are on the peninsula where we were. Why? Well, they say the winters can be a little harsh.

The US has three research stations in Antarctica, Palmer, McMurdo down on the Ross Ice Shelf, and the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole (a fascinating place if you want to look it up.) Today at Amundsen-Scott, even though it is the waning days of summer, the current temp in -63F. I did not see any cruise ships excursions on their web cam.

Our last day in Antarctica began with much larger icebergs.

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Also, the deck upon which we had been slopping our fruity drinks only a few day prior, was now a skating rink. An excellent opportunity for the crew to practice its “Man Overboard” drills.

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We were also beginning to see the first small signs of pack ice. this was at the tip of the peninsula,

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In the mean time the aforementioned crazed electrician had been busy at his work.

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We arrived at Hope Bay (Named after our granddaughter. Thanks, guys!) about 7am.

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Soon the Esperanza. Antarctica Station, operated by Argentina, hove into view.

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This is the nicest looking station we encountered on the whole trip.

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Wait a minute! Just past the station, what’s that moving around out there?

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They’re everywhere!

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These were Adelie Penguins (uh-DELLY). I don’t know if they found our ship to be upsetting in some way, but they certainly had something going on in their crazy penguin brains. They started out by walking back and forth to these two locations although they could have swum there in half the time.

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Then somebody said, “Hey! Let’s go up the hill!” So, up they went!

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No questions asked!

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But even among penguins there will be splinter groups.

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In time we had to leave them and the Peninsula behind, though Antarctica seemed dreamlike on account of this frostin’.

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We turned from here and headed west toward the South Shetland Islands, where, I can assure you, you will not find any ponies. Along the way we encountered the biggest iceberg of the trip:

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What we could see was lager than the ship. And, of course, around 90% of it is under water.

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It does make a nice rest stop, if you’re a penguin.

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About 1pm we hove into Admiralty Bay.

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In Admiralty Bay there are four research stations. This is the Macchu Picchu Station run by, guess who?

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Not a bad place to set up shop!

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Here is a look behind us across Admiralty Bay.

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The captain decided to take us up close to one last glacier, always a crowd pleaser.

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Looking around, it was not hard to find traces of some of the sad history of this place. Whale bones.

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In the old days the ships used to set up their processing stations on these beaches

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On the way out we passed the Commandate Ferraz Station operated by Brazil

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As we left, two humpback whales passed us by. We saw humpbacks frequently in Antarctic waters, but rarely saw much more of them that this. We might see an occasional tail or spout, but we did not see any of them breech as they did in Alaska. The simple truth is, they could care less if we have Met Life Insurance or not. They’re still pissed about all those bones on the beach!

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As we were leaving Admiralty Bay we passed the last station, the Henryk Arctowski research station run by the Polish Academy of Sciences

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Even more whale bones! And, something else:

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This seemed a little odd. It’s understandable to have a work boat on hand, but we saw no indication at any of the other stations that there was too much yachting going on. As I later found out, this yacht sailed out of Poland to commemorate Shackleton’s epic voyage and ended up running aground nearby last December. The crew of four was rescued by the Chilean and Argentine Coast Guards in heavy weather and they were brought here. They stayed for several weeks. They were actually taken off the station by our ship, the Zaandam, on an earlier voyage, and transported to Buenos Aires. I’m sure it will be cheap to come back down here and effect repairs.

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At last it was time to say goodbye to Antarctica

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As we have be fortunate to find on some of our previous trips, there are some places you go that you just don’t quite get over.

For the next two days we would be at sea. Then, we visit the Falkland Islands. Why go there? One reason only: A penguin extravaganza!!!

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

As you’ve seen  many countries operate stations in Antarctica. And, it should come as no surprise that certain nearby neighbors (and some not so nearby) have staked out claims to Antarctic territory, all of which are now ignored. Ignored? How is such a thing possible? It is possible because Antarctica is the only place on planet Earth that ALL the countries of the world actually get along and live in peace and cooperation.

How is such a thing possible? All you kids out there will remember the IGY, or International Geophysical Year of 1957-58. (I actually do, or, I think I do.) It was the height of the cold war. But people, by some miracle, took the IGY seriously. One of the great outcomes of this event was a treaty was drawn up preserving Antarctica for scientific and non-military purposes. There were 12 original signatories, including the US, USSR, and the UK. There are now 51 countries participating, including China. How did they do it? Eleven simple rules:

  • Article 1 – The area is to be used for peaceful purposes only; military activity, such as weapons testing, is prohibited but military personnel and equipment may be used for scientific research or any other peaceful purpose;
  • Article 2 – Freedom of scientific investigations and cooperation shall continue;
  • Article 3 – Free exchange of information and personnel in cooperation with the United Nations and other international agencies;
  • Article 4 – The treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force;
  • Article 5 – The treaty prohibits nuclear explosions or disposal of radioactive wastes;
  • Article 6 – Includes under the treaty all land and ice shelves but not the surrounding waters south of 60 degrees 00 minutes south;
  • Article 7 – Treaty-state observers have free access, including aerial observation, to any area and may inspect all stations, installations, and equipment; advance notice of all activities and of the introduction of military personnel must be given;
  • Article 8 – Allows for good jurisdiction over observers and scientists by their own states;
  • Article 9 – Frequent consultative meetings take place among member nations;
  • Article 10 – All treaty states will discourage activities by any country in Antarctica that are contrary to the treaty;
  • Article 11 – All disputes to be settled peacefully by the parties concerned or, ultimately, by the International Court of Justice;
  • (Source Wikipedia)

This all came as news to most of us on the cruise and the science guys were repeatedly asked about things like law enforcement, verification, and, like what happens if a country who has not signed on decides to set up camp? (Answer, the other countries would put the squeeze on them. And, as you have seen, this is a place where it helps to have friends.) There is no central government, only a treaty administration office in Buenos Aires. Most countries handle their own law enforcement. The US, for example, keeps a couple US marshals down there in case somebody murders somebody at one of the 3 US stations or there is some other foul play.

Well, enough fun facts! We survived the night and woke up to a somewhat hazy and breezy day. Let’s take a look outside!

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Well, the weather had deteriorated from yesterday, but visibility was still good for a while. We could tell by the spray off the icebergs that the breeze had picked up.

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For the bigger icebergs, though, it was business as usual,

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As you can tell from the last picture, fog was starting to roll in. Soon visibility dropped to very low levels. As a result, the captain decided not to visit some the the bays and traded them for others. Later in the day we arrived at Deception Island. While, perhaps, many of you think you’ve already been there personally, it was probably some other place. You’d remember this one for sure:

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Now, I said I was not going to post any more pictures that were not my own, but they didn’t have a helicopter on board and unless you see this place from the air, you don’t quite get what’s going on here, so, a big thank you to tripscout.net:

Notice anything unusual? Well, no, this is not one of those Caribbean atolls. No, no. This is the caldera of a volcano. And, not just any volcano. This one is quite active, the most recent of many eruptions being in 1970 and with a lot of seismic activity as recent as 1990. But today the green light was on, so in we go!

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It wasn’t long till we noticed movement on the beach!

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Turns out this place is home to the largest population of Chinstrap Penguins in the world! You will also notice quite a few seals and sea lions lounging on the beach. I later learned that some of the smaller cruise ships that come here will let you off at one of the nearby black sand beaches. They say if you dig in the sand just a foot or two the water becomes so warm you can make your own mini-hot tub.

We were happy just to see the penguin-palooza!

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I mean, we are talking penguins everywhere!

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The look even better animated!

What a place!!! Hope she doesn’t blow!!!

But, we had to move on!

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The red comes from lichens, one of the few plants that even grow down here.

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That night, the room stewards had a surprise waiting for us!

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Penguins everywhere!!!