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!!!

What We Learned From Circling Birds

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On Lake Erie, when you look out over the water and see birds circling it usually means there are schools of bait fish near the surface, or, depending on the type of birds, it could mean a decaying snack. Today we learned that down here there is a third possibility. Especially when the birds are accompanied by:

Antarctica Part 1 1649The dorsal fin of a killer whale.

Then four:

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Well, it doesn’t take long to figure out they’ve killed something big, and now the feast begins:

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Or, rather, the frenzy:

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At the time of this event, the naturalist on board speculated that the victim was probably a baby Humpback. Well, that had us all bummin’. It wasn’t until we got back and we started going through thousands of these photos that we found the culprits in the act.

In the picture below one Killer is kind enough to bring the victim, most likely a sea lion, to the surface for the dining pleasure of his friends. For good reason, it appears that killer whales don’t care to dive thousands of feet down just for a bite. A large part of their effort went to keeping the corpus delecti near the surface. By the way, I bear no ill will to sea lions, but if it turned out to be a baby humpback, I wasn’t going to tell you. I know how you people are!

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We found that the table manners of Killer Whales could stand improvement. You will see a very large piece hanging from this whale’s jaw:

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What started as a small group of four, by the time the carnage was over became a large group of around fourteen. It would have been something to have a microphone in the water. I’m sure there would have been lots of chatter. At last, dinner was winding down.

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Of course, still pictures can only tell so much. I posted the video on YouTube:

(Sorry for the camera shake!)

As we were crossing the Drake Passage we were informed by lecturers that a team from the US program at Palmer Station would be coming on board the ship on our second day here to tell us what they’ve been doing and how life is in such a place. Later, the captain came on the PA and said he had received a call from Palmer Station and was advised that the weather forecast for tomorrow was not good, so they were coming on board today. As if we hadn’t already had enough excitement!. Sure enough, I went out on the balcony and here came two Zodiaks:

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Soon they were knocking on the door!

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They passed by quite an iceberg on the way in:

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After dropping off the science crew, the two Zodiaks headed back. That is Palmer Station in the background. Apparently an iceberg has come to call in their harbor.

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A lot of people thought that as soon as they got on board they would want showers or laundry or something like that. Not so. They have all that stuff at the station. What they really wanted was salads and fresh fruit. The crew made sure they were well fed before their presentation. The first lady who spoke was introduced as the head of Palmer, but that doesn’t quite match up with the staff list on their web site. She is a scientist and might be in charge of research or of outreach or both. Or she might be the Queen of Antarctica. I should have kept better notes.

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She introduced the team and talked generally about the research being done at Palmer, which has to do with climate, oceanography, penguin studies (they are the canaries in our global mine), and much more. Then she turned it over to one of the scientists dealing with climate:

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This is how the ice shelf has changed at Palmer since 1975. That is not true of Antarctica as a whole, however, as in some areas there is growth. Antarctica is the last, largely unpolluted, area on Earth left for climate study. The impact of the studies done here have a global reach. Except they have apparently not reached Florida yet. Then is was time to meet the team:

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First there was a presentation from the lady on the right, who is not from Palmer, but has some connection to it.

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Then each member of the team had a chance to talk about what they do. All the science people applied for grants through the National Science Foundation and were funded to come here to complete and publish their projects. A few are undergrads but most are Masters or Doctorate level researchers. Some of the people presenting were part of the support team. The guy in the knit cap is a carpenter who came here because he was sick of Minnesota winters. Another of the support team, a plumber, got here simply by Googling “Jobs in Antarctica”. There was a lengthy Q&A which was very informative and funny. Then is was time for them to go back. What an impressive team it was!

If you are interested, here is the link to the Palmer Station web site:

http://pal.lternet.edu/

And, the National Science Foundation site related to Palmer and polar studies:

http://www.nsf.gov/geo/plr/support/palmerst.jsp

Well, what a big day our first day in Antarctica had been! We thought our adventures were over. Not so fast! The Zaandam has an on-board water purification system which produces water of good, but not drinking quality. As a result, we are not allowed to discharge waste into Antarctic water. We had to go 12 miles offshore. Well, as it turned out, the bad weather forecast for tomorrow arrived early. We found ourselves rolling for awhile, then the captain brought out the stabilizers. What a difference! Here were the conditions as noted on our TV monitor:

Apparent wind is the wind you feel when you are in motion. With the data from the screen I calculated the true wind at 64 mph. The waves were running 15 ft. plus. On a small boat, the quickest way to visit Davy Jone’s Locker is to take a wave on the side. But small boats don’t have stabilizers. (Wish they did!). The captain took all the seas on the side and kept us at an angle of heel of about 10 degrees.  How do I know? We were rolling pretty well when we were in the open ocean some time back so I took my ear buds, added some weight and made my own inclinometer:

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On that night, the black thingy extended past the dark stripe on the right. Using sticky notes on this screen I have calculated the sustained angle of heel to be about 10 degrees. Enough to cause slight discomfort, but not enough to have you throwing on your life jacket as you run screaming in your underwear down the hall. At last we were having the weather some of us hoped for!

In The Kingdom Of Ice

Following a disappointingly calm night crossing the Drake Passage, we pulled back the curtains the next morning to see this, our first view of Antarctica:

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Well, we didn’t have to go too far into our memory banks to realize we’d never seen any place like this before. Here was some more confirmation:

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One of the ladies in our group, who has been here before, described Antarctica as “Alaska on steroids.” When we were in Alaska some years ago we already thought it WAS on steroids. But….

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For those of you who like to see maps, here is one from the captain that outlines our voyage. I’ll put it up on each of the remaining Antarctica posts.

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If you want the real BIG picture, here that is also:

Antarctic Peninsula

As you can see on the first map, our first stop was Cuverville Island, famous for its rookery of Gentoo Penguins. All we had to do was step outside to know we had arrived.

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Cuverville Island
Cuverville Island

You will notice a sailboat to the right. Apparently it is now somewhat common for yachtsmen and/or women to cross the Drake Passage and come over here for sightseeing. Best wishes to them all!

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There was quite a lot of chattering going on with these guys!

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Some were trying to decide if this was a good time to go for a little dip.

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After a while we had to say goodbye, and good luck! But I will say, and I’m sure I could find plenty of our shipmates who would agree, there was more than one time I imagined myself being that guy. OK, maybe not in Antarctica, but some place. Now I’m just happy to be here under any circumstances.

It was time to head down Andvord Bay and see the sights: I don’t want to tell you your business, but if were me, I’d pour a nice cup of joe and take my time going through the next set.

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Thankfully, it’s the middle of summer!

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It is always good to know that somebody on the bridge is at least looking out the window!
It is always good to know that somebody on the bridge is at least looking out the window!

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Some day I think it will be discovered that some crazed electrician has secretly been wiring icebergs with blue lights. How else can it be explained?

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We’ve seen icebergs before, but not the size of the Doyt Perry stadium!

But they sure make a convenient resting place!

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Now we were entering Paradise Harbor to pass by the Videla Station, operated by our friends from Chile. There could possibly be some sanitation issues:

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Yes, it’s a research station, but it is also a whoppin’ big penguin rookery!

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I hope the dining hall is air tight!

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But now it was time to say goodbye to our Chilean friends!

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It wasn’t even noon yet and we headed for the Neumayer Channel

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We headed for the Channel, but things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Cape Horn

And mountain waves, like avalanches crashed upon the decks,

The screaming winds snapped ropes and spars,

and tried to have us wrecked.

but she rose and fell through the foam and the swell,

her sails were ripped and torn

Eight thousand tons tossed like a cork,

on the way around the wild Cape Horn.

-Ralph McTell

Here is a little video to help set the mood: (You might have to hit the back button after it’s over)

In the late 1970’s, having no boat, I resorted to the next best thing. I became an armchair sailor. In those years I read tale after mesmerizing tale of ships in the age of sail. Most of these stories could be divided into two categories: those who made it around Cape Horn and those that didn’t. Take the Bounty, for example, famous for the mutiny. For 29 days straight, Captain Bligh tried to round the Horn from east to west. Each day the Bounty was beaten back till finally the Captain turned her around, headed east and rounded the horn of Africa. He was not the only one who did the same thing.

Even as late as 1905, 133 ships left Europe bound for the West Coast of North America. 52 arrived at their destination, 4 wrecked, 22 put into ports of distress after Cape Horn damage, and 53 remain unaccounted for in a winter that brought some of the worst storms on record to a place already quite famous for them.

So, even today rounding the Horn is a sailor’s equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest. True, doing it in a cruise ship is like being helicoptered to Everest, but even veteran sailors on our ship were, like me, simply glad to finally see it.

We began the morning crossing the teeth of the Island of Deceit ( and who hasn’t at some time in their lives?) This is the northern end.

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By the time we reached the southern end, there it was in the distance! Cape Horn!

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My chance had come at last!

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And, it looked every bit as cheerful as we hoped it would!

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As we rounded her, her true nature was revealed:

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Mariners can take comfort knowing that in case of, say, an engine failure, the Cape offers a nice soft beach to land on.

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Antarctica Part 1 1288The Cape dead on, so to speak.

Cape Horn as virtually every great sailor and explorer in history saw her.
Cape Horn as virtually every great sailor and explorer in history saw her.

The first person to see Cape Horn saw it when just the highest promontory was sticking out of the fog. He assumed it was part of mainland South America and so, called it a cape. It is, however, an island, the southernmost in the cluster of islands that make up Tierra del Fuego. Tierra del Fuego translates as “Land of Fire” because when Magellan first sailed up his famous Strait the natives had lit bonfires all along the coast. Those particular natives never exactly took a shine to the palefaced visitors, so that to compound tragedies in this area, survivors of shipwrecks who found their way ashore were often killed by the natives.

The first person to see Cape Horn and understand that it was an island and that waters to the south might be navigable, was Sir Francis Drake. Sir Francis had made it all the way to the Pacific by going up the Magellan Strait. But, as soon as he made it to the open ocean a series of storms came up and blew him so far south that he could look north and see Cape Horn. When he got back he told everybody about the possibility of sailing around the Horn, but people were not much interested, preferring the Strait.

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The Chilean government maintains a naval station behind the cape.

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As you might imagine, Cape Horn is sacred ground for mariners the world over. In 1992 the Cape Horn Brotherhood placed a memorial to men of the sea from every nation who lost their lives struggling to round the Horn. As we rounded the Cape, the captain came over the PA system and said, “In honor of my colleagues who sailed these waters and did not return, I would like to read this poem which is inscribed at the memorial”.

I am the albatross that awaits you
At the end of the world.
I am the forgotten souls of dead mariners
Who passed Cape Horn
From all the oceans of the world.
But they did not die In the furious waves.
Today they sail on my wings
Toward eternity,
In the last crevice
Of the Antarctic winds.
Here is a photo from internet of the memorial, the only picture not mine that will be posted on this blog:
The memorial was built to withstand winds of 125 mph. The reason I used a photo taken by someone else is, this is how the memorial looked on the day we were there:
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Repairs are under way.
Although there was a pretty fair breeze, some of us were somewhat disappointed that the weather was as good as it was. After we rounded the Horn we approached the Chilean station and they sent a boat out to pick up the pilot. No problemo!
It was sufficiently difficult picking up the pilot that they couldn’t get his luggage on. They sent a Zodiak over for that.
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With the pilot safely off the ship, it was time to say goodbye to Cape Horn:
The good seawife, wishing it was just a little stormier.
The good seawife, wishing it was just a little stormier.

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We were now being accompanied on a regular basis by an albatross. I checked my shipmates regularly to make sure none of them had a crossbow.

We had entered the famous Drake Passage. It was more than kind of Sir Francis to treat us to a beautiful sunset:

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Tomorrow, at long last, we would be in Antarctica.

Ushuaia

On Friday, February 6th we found ourselves docked at the beautiful city of Ushuaia, pronounced by the locals oosh-EYE-uh. This city sits on the Beagle Canal in the only part of Tierra del Fuego that belongs to Argentina. Its claim to fame is that it is the southernmost city in the world.

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Unlike its Chilean counterparts, this is a modern and very lively resort city with a very busy private airport. It is also the place where almost all Antarctic expeditions are outfitted. The dock, was very busy.

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This one is part of a Russian fleet of research/tourist ships that operate in Antarctica. Last year a sister ship to this one got stuck in the ice and the tourists had to be helicoptered off.

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This ship is an Italian tourist ship, much smaller than ours, which takes people to the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia Islands, and the Falklands all for a mere $16K per person. Bring the family!

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This is an Argentine fishing trawler. It’s not hard to imagine the world’s fisheries are under stress with these things floating around.

Well, anyway, for our stop in Ushuaia, we decided to book the Travel with Alan tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park. This was a bus tour and we, once again, piled on with our shipmates. Photography on bus tours is always problematic. For one thing, you have a 50/50 chance of being on the right side. Then, the bus only stops at the destination. No scenic turnouts. So, while I would typically start a series of pictures like this with a picture of the sign at the entrance to the park, this time it was on the opposite side and we blew by it so fast it would have been pure luck to get it at all. So, picture this, a sign that says, “Tierra del Fuego National Park”.

We wound down a VERY dusty road for maybe a half hour or so and finally the bus pulled to a stop in front of this lake. Well, NanSea, who is with us on the bus says, you can take a hike around the lake, or just relax, or, there is a post office here that is the southernmost post office in the world. You have 20 minutes.

Well, I had read about this post office and I knew that they postmarked their mail “Fin del Mundo” or End of the World. Well, this is exactly what we wanted for the family, so I made a B-line for the place. But, there were 6 or 7 buses already here and the line was long.

Yes, this is the post office at the end of the world.
Yes, this is the post office at the end of the world.
Since there was nothing around for miles, they made their own lunch
Since there was nothing around for miles, they made their own lunch

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Yes, the line was long and it moved very slowly. Why? There was only ONE guy to wait on all these people! AND he was the most meticulous guy I ever saw. I knew trouble was on the rise.

There were some people from TWA in line ahead of me and they hadn’t even been waited on before NanSea sticks her head in with her all-too-familiar “The bus is leaving!” admonishment. Our friends ahead of me looked stressed, but they held their ground. And I held mine.

The way this place works is, they have a bunch of cards in the rack on the right. You pick the ones you want, take them up there and the guy stamps them with the famous stamp and then sells you stamps to mail them. In time, my peeps finally made it up there. Then more time passed. I was now three people from the finish line, the only person left from TWA. In pops NanSea again. “The bus is leaving, NOW!” I said, “Don’t tell me. Tell HIM!” pointing to the lonesome clerk. Off goes NanSea.

Finally I get to the counter. I got six cards. Then, in Spanish, had to figure out how much postage. We came to a conclusion at last and he slowly and CAREFULLY tore off EACH FRIGGIN” STAMP!. Then he says, “Next!” Whoa! He hadn’t stamped the cards! We corrected that in an instant and I was out the door. Back I go to a very quiet and late bus. Again I arrive at the same simple concept: If you don’t want us to go there, don’t bring us!

Somewhere on the trip from the post office to our next stop, a visitor center/gift shop, I finally had my “Come To Alan” moment, which is this: The most we can ever hope for, traveling in groups like this, is a snapshot of the destination. Forget about leisurely stops at a sidewalk cafe, or a visit to a nice museum. When you travel in groups you have a single, solemn duty: get in and get the hell out.

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We went in, and they had lots of nice stuff. It didn’t matter to me. I was done standing in lines. Here is NanSea guiding one of our friends who was almost late:

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OK, so now that I reached this level of zen, I also found that I had to appreciate the upside to group travel, which is first, of course, price. We were having a far better experience than people getting on that fancy ship in Ushuaia. We may not be getting the depth, but we were certainly getting the breadth. And, as I said at the beginning, we knew nothing about South America and less about Antarctica, a perfect situation for having the buffet instead of the 6-course dinner. I was at peace. NanSea should expect almost no trouble from me for the duration.

Our journey continued:

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Our next stop was Lake Acigami, A beautiful fresh-water lake where the surf was definitely up. Then is it was time to go for a hike to Lapataia Bay

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We started out in the lowlands and wound our way into a forest of trees that were very unfamiliar.

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Finally we arrived at the overlook to Latataia Bay:

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Not too hard on the eyes! From here we climbed down to the water level, where they have a park and boardwalk set up.

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Here are a couple of sketchy road racers trying to convince the tourists that they had just traveled the entire length of the Pan-American Highway, which begins in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and ends right here. Our friend, Ron Shafer, took this slightly more believable shot:

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This sign spells out that the highway does end here, the beginning of which is 17,818 kilometers, or, as we like to say, 11,090 miles to the north. For those of you that have bucket lists, I suggest you add the complete Pan-American highway.

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A very pleasant place to spend some time!

After this stop, the tour was over and we headed back into town. When we returned we found we still had a couple hours so we chose to be dropped off near the shopping district:

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Ushuaia is a clean, modern town with all kinds of nice shops, although it was a little low on tourist goods, probably to their credit

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In Argentina the exchange rate is a little under 9 pesos to the USD. While that was easier on my frazzled brain, it didn’t take long to learn that things are much more expensive here than in Chile. In the early 2000’s the Argentine economy almost completely collapsed, and, while they have come a long way back, the inflation rate is still over 20%. Made me wish I hadn’t converted quite so many USDs. I still have a few pesos so if anybody wants a few for hedging purposes, I’ve got a great rate!

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Summer here is winding down, but the students are not yet back in school, There were quite a few here and just as we were heading back to the ship a rock band was tuning up on a nearby square. So, if you feel like REALLY heading south sometime, I’m pretty sure you could find a rockin’ good time in Ushuaia. Just keep those peso’s handy! For us, it was time to head back to home sweet home:

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The border with Chile is very close by and that night we stopped near a very small village, probably Cabo de Hornos, Chile, to take on the pilot who would guide us to Cape Horn. Ushuaia was the last stop we would make for the next six days.

Glacier Alley

Toward evening we said goodbye to Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan and headed south through the Cockburn Channel. This evening and all of the next day, Mother Nature would steal the show. The South American continent ends at Ushuaia, but across the Strait is the cluster of islands called Tierra del Fuego. This is still Chilean territory. It is where we headed next. We were treated to quite a sunset: Antarctica Part 1 984

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The mists were just starting to rise on the mountains.
The mists were just starting to rise on the mountains.

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The next morning we were at it early! In the night we had entered the Beagle Channel, named after the boat that carried Charles Darwin as a naturalist on a mission to survey Tierra del Fuego. His book The Voyage of the Beagle is a diary of this experience. Antarctica Part 1 988

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A little bit later we were treated to a beautiful moonrise: Antarctica Part 1 999 What a way to start the day. And, it got even better as the sunlight began playing off peaks!

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Finally! A waterfall! Antarctica Part 1 1020 That was a nice one! Wish we could see more!

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WOW!

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Throughout our journey down Glacier Alley the ship’s naturalist kept us informed about the qualities of each glacier, the wildlife in the area, the history, and so on. What an asset they were to the experience! As we have done so many times before, all we could say to ourselves: What a wonderful world! Antarctica Part 1 1072

At last, it was time to leave the channel for our next port of call, the last one before Antarctica. Antarctica Part 1 1074 As night fell, we found the lights of beautiful Ushuaia! We were now in Argentina! But not for long.

The Penguins of Magdalena Island

One thing you quickly experience when approaching a penguin colony is a certain aroma. Let’s just say it can bring tears to your eyes. And, it makes you wish there were a hog farm around just to sweeten the air. But all that is quickly forgotten upon arrival.

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And, they were all waiting to greet us!

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Thankfully there was a dock there, so it was easy to get off the boat. From the dock there is a roped off walkway that leads around the entire island. There are ample rangers there to keep you on the path.

From the time we got off the boat we were surrounded by cuteness:

Magellanic penguins live in burrows shaped like extended triangles. And (awww!) they mate with the same partner year after year. The male somehow finds his burrow from the previous year  and waits to reconnect with his female partner. The females are able to recognize their mates through their call alone. How they hear it above the squawking gulls is beyond us.

At the time of our visit many of the chicks were just finishing molting, while in some nests were chicks not very old.

A burrow with a chick almost ready to leave the nest

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Proud parents showing junior the way to the beach!

Here are some young penguins ready to try the water:

Our walkway led us to the visitor center/lighthouse:

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We saw numerous places on the island where our friends in the animal kingdom were able to demonstrate, in their own way, just how happy they were that we had discovered their nesting place:

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Here is a penguin parent bringing food for the family, something from the nearby sea:

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Some are clearly more into hygiene than others:

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Sometimes it’s just enough to only stand and wait:

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Although, there are others who feel it necessary to organize a beach patrol:

Then there are those who would be happy just to have a pedi:

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Happy Feet!!!

Along my way to the lighthouse I came across a naturalist whose job it was to clean off the signage:

Antarctica Part 1 899         She was more than happy that she had cheated death to come over here!

Soon it was time to say a sad goodbye:

But wait! Our co-captain had a treat in store!

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A small container of cookies and a cup of instant coffee for our long voyage home. I’m not a big instant coffee fan, but it’s kind of chilly, so OK. Hold on!!! What is that by his right elbow? A bottle of Pisco? One shot of that and, whoa!, the best coffee this side of Paris. It was a much more relaxing voyage home.

Adios, penguins!

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The Strait of Magellan

I believe it was Fred Almendinger, history teacher extraordinaire, who first introduced me to Ferdinand Magellan. It was not an introduction that I exactly treasured at the time. But times have changed and now we were about to sail the very waters that he sailed and see exactly what he saw. This was not an experience we took lightly. Here is how it began:

You will notice that the seas have gotten a little rougher. In my little boat it would have been time for a mayday broadcast. Our ship, however, couldn’t have cared less. We entered the Strait in the late afternoon and the plan was to sail through the night to Punta Arenas, our last scheduled stop in Chile. We would not see much more today, but we would see the second half tomorrow afternoon. Here is what was left:

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Toward sunset it finally started to clear.
Toward sunset it finally started to clear.
Good night, Ferdinand!
Good night, Ferdinand!

The next morning, we found ourselves anchored in beautiful Punta Arenas!

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Although there are many attractive natural wonders around here, that is not what we came to see. In researching this area what we found is that there is a huge rookery of Magellanic penguins on a place called Magdalena Island, which is several miles offshore in the Strait. What I learned is, there are two ways to get to this island. One is by commercial ferry, which is a 5 hour round trip. The other is by a private boat company called Solo Expediciones.

I first looked into the ferry and discovered that the day we would be in port they would not even be sailing till 5pm. Since our ship was due to leave a 5:30, this was a no go.

I then looked into the excursion offered through Holland-America and found that what they offered was a trip to the island aboard that same ferry that left at 10 am. Well, that was long since sold out, so I called and had us put on a wait list. A list for a day I was sure would never come.

I called the ferry company directly to see if we, as just plain citizens, could get on the 10:00 run. They acted like such a run didn’t even exist.

Then I looked into Solo Expediciones . Here is a post I found in Trip Advisor:

“Felt like a near death experience”
Reviewed January 13, 2015
P L E A S E Read It completley.

DO NOT Recommend this trip at all

On January 7th we took the trip to isla Magdalena with Solo Expediciones. There were a lot of people that seemed to be unaccounted for, they arrived there without reservations.
We got on the vans that took us to port, and the boat that was there to take us to the island didn’t look anything like the one on the pictures. There was also an extra boat that was very small where they put the rest of the people who didn’t fit on the bigger yellow one.
It was a RIB (Rigid inflatable boat) that seemed a little dodgy. they filled the boat with about 40 people and we all put life vests on which is completely understandable.
The trip to the island was about 45 minutes but the people inside were very scared cause 2 – 4meter (6 to 12 feet) waves were crashing on the boat and completely covering it every few seconds. There were no emergency exits or anything, it felt pretty unsafe, but finally we made it to Magdalena Island.
The penguins were great, it was very windy but its something no one could do anything about of course. We were on the island for about 40 minutes.

The Problem Started On Our Way Back.

First. They Told Us We Were Not Going To The Sea Wolves Island Which Was Also Understandable Because Of Weather Conditions.

Then My Family Had To Go On The Small Boat, Which I Think Is Only Used When They Have More People Than Expected, And Don’t Turn Down For Safety Reasons.

The Way Back, The Weather Wasnt Improving, And The Captain Told Us Not To Worry, We Were Gonna Be Back In 50 Mins One Hour Tops. But It Was 3 Hours

The Worst 3 Hours Of My Life.

Huge Waves Were Coming At Us, And It Was Looking Like The Boat Was Going To Turn Over Or Sink At Any Minute.

The Captain Had To Get Away From The Shore So He Could Try To Approach The Port From A Different Angle. The Strength Of The Wind And The Waves Wouldnt Let Us Any Closer To The Dock.

The Big Boat Passed Us And Didnt Wait For Us To Follow, Or Even Try To See What Was Going On.
The Captain Kept Saying It Would Be Only 20 More Minutes, But It Was Way More Than That.
Everyone In The Boat Was Really Worried, An Old Lady Was Almost Fainted And The Other Passengers Were All Getting Sea Sick.

Waves Kept Coming And My Family And I Even Started Praying And Thought I Would Have To Swim In A 3ªC Almos Frozen Ocean, Which Is Obviously Impossible.

We Were Worried That Gas Would Run Out Because If They Had Calculated 45 Minutes, 3 Hours Was Way Out Of Hand.

The Captain Seemed Nervous And Also Worried But Woulndt Say Anything In English Or In Spanish.

After 3 Times More The Estimated Time Of Getting Back, We Finally Got To Port.

But It Was Definitely Not Worth Risking Our Lives Or At Least That Is What It Seemed Like Just To See Some Penguins For 40 Minutes.

Definitely Not Recommended Or Worth The Money. Even If Some One Payed Me I Wouldn’t Go Again.

Well, even though, as is always the case on Trip Advisor, there were many other posts saying what a wonderful time they had, this one could hardly be ignored. It looked like we would not be seeing any penguins after all.

But, when all seemed lost, an ad appeared from a company called Viator on Trip Advisor offering a trip to Magdalena Island leaving at 10 am. They were charging $145 USD’s per, but that was still cheaper than Holland-America. I booked it instantly and cancelled our forlorn position on the wait list. I received an e-mail directing us to report to an address just a couple blocks from the dock. We were in business!

We actually arrived at the dock about an hour early for a change, and soon we found an internet cafe’.

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This was one of only two times we communicated with our peeps in three weeks. And, the internet was all in Spanish and we could not find a way to switch even Google to English. The 16 year old who ran place didn’t hable Englais and certainly didn’t care to engage in our usual sign language. Still, we managed.

After we struggled for an hour, we headed for the address we had been given:

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Well, well, well. Turns out Viator is merely a broker for services already in place. And, we paid $145 per for what we could have gotten for $88 on our own if we had EVER intended to call them which we certainly HAD NOT! And yet, here we were. It came down to penguins or no penguins. The deciding factor was the weather forecast we had received from the ship, which called for light winds all day. OK. Penguins it is. Soon we were zippin’ down the highway.

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Alright, let’s start looking on the bright side. For one thing, these guys have a dock much nearer to the island. That means instead of a two hour ferry ride, we have a 45 minute boat ride. Of course, the ferry ride is the one that offers a much better probability of return, that is, of returning alive. It all came down to this simple question: WWMD? What would Magellan do?

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I saw no particular reason to bring up the subject to the missus that we were booked with the company in the bad review. She read it, too. And, she could see the calm seas behind us. Everything was looking up!

Then our boat pulled in:

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Dang! We didn’t even get the bigger boat. I carefully grilled the people coming off. They all said they had a great time. So, in we go!

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You mariners will note a few things, that is, in addition to the life jackts: First, the homemade roof is supported by PVC pipe. Second, the exit looks just a little tiny. There is a larger one in back, but not much larger. And, last but not least, the gentleman at the end was one of two crew on board. I presume it must have been Casual Friday in the Chilean maritime trades. Clearly this guy and the captain had been to sea quite a few times, and, no doubt on both sea and land they knew something about survival. Who better to take us out on one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world? WWMD? He’d say full speed ahead! And, that’s what we did:

Although it didn’t seem like 45 minutes (actually it seemed quite a bit longer) we soon found ourselves pulling up, first, to Isla Marta, which is a nature preserve. We couldn’t get off the boat (although we all really kind of wanted to for reasons other than bird watching), but to his credit, our captain took us right up to the shore. Here is what we found:

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Cormorants were everywhere! And, they were quite vocal about their new visitors!

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But they weren’t the only ones! There were sea lions all over the place!

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Although they look like penguins from a distance, all that goes away when they start to fly.

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Clearly these guys have found a happy home.

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And the livin’ is easy.

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But when the boss starts barkin’, it’s time to shape up!

Next, we’ll visit the penguins!

OK Sailors, Let’s Study Our Charts!

You can’t go on a seafarin’ voyage without a good set of charts. So, let’s start with the one above to see where we’ve already been. We started in Valparaiso (not on the chart) and headed south along the Chilean coast till we found the Chacao Canal (number 2 on the chart), we entered the Gulf of Arcud, turned left and dropped anchor in Puerto Montt (3) After a delightful day there we headed south again, past the Castro Island on the right. We dodged numerous other islands, all at night, turned left at the Aysen Fjord and dropped anchor at Purteo Chacabuco. Later, we headed west into the Darwin Bay. And that brings you up to date with previous blogs. Now we headed south again. (I should point out as well that all those little numbers you see all over the white parts represent depth in meters.)

Antarctica Part 1 679So, on this chart you see a black line with the number 7 pointing to it? While I’m sure it’s lovely, we didn’t go there. Instead, if you look to the right of that line to the next body of water labeled Canal Messier. (As you may already know, if you click on the picture you can enlarge it.) That’s where we went. Canal Messier is famous for being one of the deepest fjords in the world, at 4,200 feet.  Here’s what it looked like:

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You may have noticed that in some of those last pictures the water looks cloudy. Apparently this is a result of silt that runs off the glaciers in this area. In fact, here’s one now:

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This one is called the Tempanos Glacier. And, as good captains do when they can, ours took us right up there.

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This one was not much in the mood for calving, but it still didn’t mind showing off its colors.

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We stayed for a while in this area, then continued our way south. This is a national park area and here is the home of one very lonely ranger and his very lonely family. If you enlarge the picture you can see two people on the front porch waving to us.

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You may have noticed by now that since we left Valparaiso, with the exception of a few port stops we have seen very few signs of civilization and we have now covered hundreds of miles. If you were to sail an equivalent distance on the east or west coasts of the US you would have certainly seen some coastal towns and probably resorts. Not here. So, at one of our science lectures somebody raised the question of, where IS everybody? The speaker at the time said we should consider that, although the southern hemisphere accounts for 32% of the worlds land mass, it accounts for only 12% of the world population.Everyone else lives above the equator. If you factor out the populations of the largest cities in South America, South Africa, Indonesia and Austrailia, that only leaves a couple dozen gauchos riding around on the pampas. Well, maybe he didn’t say that last part, but clearly there is nowhere near the population that we are used to experiencing. Alright, enough education. Here is the next chart:

Antarctica Part 1 680Where you see the number 10 (not 10a or 10b) is where we stopped for the Tempanos Glacier. From there we followed the line marked “Bad Weather Route” although the weather was anything but bad. We had expected, and packed for, the air to be much colder by now. Instead it was in the mid-fifties and getting warmer! And by now we were approaching the 50th parallel.

I should point out to you landlubbers, that the ocean in this part of the world is so famous for being rough that the various positions of latitude were given names by the old sailors, as follows: the water from the 40th to 50th line is known as the “roaring forties”, followed by the “furious fifties” and, best of all, the “shrieking sixties”. For us it was none of those things. Of course, we were in sheltered water, but it wasn’t even all that breezy. Nobody was complaining, though.

After leaving the glacier we continued south through the Sarmiento Canal and the Summer Pass. The Summer Pass is notable because at one point there is only 4 meters of water under our keel. I can’t imagine what it would be like for the prop to hit bottom on one of these ships. It’s pricey enough for me every time I do it on Lake Erie. For these guys, ouch!

But we made it through and here’s how things look in that part of the world:

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So, now we were done winding our way through this incredible jigsaw puzzle. Tomorrow we enter the Strait of Magellan. At last, it’s getting close to penguin time!

Puerto Chacabuco (not a typo)

You will notice on the above map that nowhere will you find a number for the taxi service in Puerto Chacabuco. For that reason we booked our first excursion with Travel With Alan. Destination, Rio Simpson National Park. Once again we were tendered to shore, this time to just a little dock that led us directly to our buses. NanSea was there to make sure we a) were wearing our TWA buttons (which we damn well better be), 2) had our color-coded tickets (we did), 3) got aboard the right bus, and 4) remembered which seat we were sitting in, and, most importantly, 5) if we sat in the front the last time we better be seen in the back this time. Since we had not been on the previous excursion we decided to sit in the middle. Once all conditions had been met, we were off! We had a local college student for a guide and he provided some very nice color commentary about life in this part of the world.

The approach to Puerto Chocabuco which is also the beginning of the Chilean Fjords.
The approach to Puerto Chocabuco which is also the beginning of the Chilean Fjords.
This is also the beginning of the area where you find salmon farms, a growing part of the Chilean economy.
This is also the beginning of the area where you find salmon farms, a growing part of the Chilean economy.

As we wound our way through the countryside we passed through breathtaking valleys which huge cliffs on each side. Here was the problem: Antarctica Part 1 481 The windows were so dirty the camera couldn’t focus. Not only that, the bus never stopped the entire way to the park. This was not the driver’s fault. There was no place to pull over. So, people, take my word for it. This area is absolutely beautiful. Maybe you can find some pictures on line. Clearly this is part of Chile not yet ready for the tourist trade. Eventually, we made it to the park. Antarctica Part 1 490 The Rio Simpson park is very pretty and easy to hike. But, we could be just as happy in the Hocking Hills. This is not going to put you on a jetliner headed south. But the road leading here could. There is one feature to the park that is pretty cool, though: Antarctica Part 1 493 If you look on the right side of this rock you will see the outline of a face. We stayed here for about a half hour then went to a nearby waterfall. Antarctica Part 1 500 Again, very nice. It was here that we ran into a couple of Chilean salmon farmers who had stopped by to check their traps: Antarctica Part 1 505 Obviously, they have a lot to learn about the salmon trade. There was also a nearby shrine. Shrines are abundant throughout Chile. Antarctica Part 1 499 From here we wound our way to the village of Aysen. The village lies along the Aysen River, which, the tour guide told us gets it’s name because most of the year there’s ice in it. A welcome play on words, given our language difficulties. Aysen is a very pretty little town, surrounded by mountains.

There is only one bridge across the Aysen, so they made sure it's a good one.
There is only one bridge across the Aysen, so they made sure it’s a good one.
A field just outside town.
A field just outside town.
A very nice park in the town square.
A very nice park in the town square.
A development on the edge of town.
A development on the edge of town.
The view from one side of town.
The view from one side of town.
The view from another side.
The view from another side.

Soon we were headed back to the ship. It is always nice to see that it is still there, where you left it. Antarctica Part 1 544 In no time at all we were on our way home .Antarctica Part 1 548 When we got back there was only one thing we needed reminded of: Antarctica Part 1 559 These are replaced in the ship’s elevators daily. Otherwise, how would we know? On the way out of town I tried to talk Dianne into investing in a little fixer-upper which could easily become our winter home: Antarctica Part 1 556 It was no sale. Once more we were headed down the fjords: Antarctica Part 1 570 This was one of the few waterfalls we saw the entire trip, unlike Norway where they were around every corner. Don’t know why, because there’s plenty of snow. Antarctica Part 1 580The thing that sets the fjords of Chile apart from Norway or Alaska is, they are totally unspoiled. There are no villages, no cell towers (We weren’t kidding when we said goodby to the cell phones), nothing but trees, mountains and the sea. Rarely did we see even a boat, and when we did the first question was, where did he come from? In Alaska, if you were ever stranded in one these places, you could count on being eaten by something in fairly short order. Down here, though, there is very little wildlife. Not even Devil’s Club to poison you. Almost a letdown. But very, very beautiful. Antarctica Part 1 590 As we were talking to our new friends on the ship it was evident that none of us knew much about Chile and really had no expectations one way or the other. As it turned out, all we could talk about was how incredibly beautiful this place is. Surprise, surprise!

Puerto Montt

The cruise ship Zaandam, part of the Holland-America line is 785 ft long, 106 ft wide, draws 26 feet of water below the line, and weighs over 61,000 tons. Most importantly, she has automatic stabilizers. She carries 1,432 passengers and 620 crew, almost all of whom are from Polynesia or the Philippines. Of the passengers, I would roughly estimate that a third were German, a third from the US and Canada, a fourth from the UK and Australia and the rest from elsewhere. Those are some fun facts to sort of set the stage.

We spent our first day out of Valparaiso at sea, which gave us a chance to catch up on some sleep and find our way around the ship. It was easy to meet people and we found ourselves playing team trivia games and so on and generally having a good time.

For this cruise, Holland-America brought on board naturalists and scientists who had spent time in Antarctica and even on the first day they began their series of exceptional lectures on a variety of topics related to what we would experience there. It was not hard to believe we were all part of an expedition.

In the evening there were a variety of performers who put on excellent stage shows throughout the cruise. It was never hard to find something to to, or to do nothing at all if that was our preference.

Because we came to this cruise somewhat late, all the primo (and pricey)  shore excursions through Holland Amerca were booked up. We would have had to go on a waiting list and hope we didn’t get stuck someplace with nothing to do. Travel with Alan offered their own excursions and we booked most of them. But some didn’t seem to offer much, compared to what was in the area. One of those was our first port of call, Puerto Montt. I decided to rent a car instead and strike out on our own.

Puerto Montt
Puerto Montt
Puerto Montt. The circus was in town!
Puerto Montt. The circus was in town!
Turns out Puerto Montt was a little bigger that I thought it would be.
Turns out Puerto Montt was a little bigger that I thought it would be.

The problem with renting a car in Puerto Montt was, we were there on a Sunday. Had it been a weekday we could have rented the car in town and off we would go. But, because it was Sunday we had to rent one at the airport, which, on Google Maps, didn’t look to be far out of town. I reserved a car with Hertz, online.

Puerto Montt is a “tender port”, which means the ship doesn’t pull up to a dock. Instead you ride the ship’s lifeboats to a small pier. This process takes a long time and it is easy to start your day late before you even get to shore.

The tender fleet.
The tender fleet.

As it was explained to us, once we get on shore there will be a terminal where you go through security, then there will be a bunch of people wanting sell tours, then there will be taxis. So, my idea was, we would take a taxi to the airport to get our car. Well, when we got to the shore we found the terminal, and the guys selling tours, but no taxis. From within the tour group, however, was a guy who looked like a taxi driver, so, in my fluent Spanish I walked up to him and said, “Aeropuerto?” We each said that word a few times, then he said “Si!” and motioned for us to follow him. What he took us to was not a taxi. It was a car that was neither clean nor in all that good repair. But, he repeated “aeropuerto” a few times and motioned us in. What could possibly go wrong? We climbed inside and off we went.

Well, Puerto Montt is a pretty good sized city, about the size of Mansfield, and quite hilly. And, it shows few signs of prosperity, although we’ve seen far worse. Soon we were zig-zagging through streets and things were not looking good, when all of a sudden we passed under a green freeway sign with the word “Aeropuerto” on it. That was a relief.

As time went on we passed under any number of such signs and it now became clear that the airport was quite far out of town, and now I was wondering if we were going to the right airport. About a half hour later, lo and behold, there’s the terminal and there’s the Aeropuerto! We pile out and I say, “How much?” In the manner of everyone in Chile, he holds up a calculator with the number 65 on it. So now I’m thinking, 65,000 pesos. How much is that US? (Correct answer $104). Well, I don’t know the correct answer but I do know that it seems like a LOT! Then he corrects me, “No $65 US dollars”. Well, that also seems like a lot. He helps me count that out in pesos and I at least know enough to know the count was close to right. But, I end the transaction still feeling screwed. I consider my options: 1) argue with him in a language I don’t even pretend to understand, 2) bring in law enforcement who well may not be in the Gringo Customer Relations business and who might raise questions about my US leftist activities while escorting me to the REAL Castillio El Diablo. I choose plan 3) None of the above.

So, I’m none too happy, but soon we find ourselves in the car rental section of the terminal where, at the Hertz window there is no one there! The other companies have people, but not Hertz. We wait fifteen minutes, then I start asking the other guys. They say he will show up eventually. A half hour later, he does. In no time at all, I am behind the wheel of a rattletrap subcompact whizzing our way down the highway to Puerto Varas!

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Puerto Varas lies along the shores of Lake Llanquihue one of the largest lakes in Chile. It is a German settlement dating back to the early 1800’s. The dominant feature of the lake is the thankfully dormant Volcan Osorno (top picture), which looks remarkably like Mt. Fuji. But it’s a little hazy and the view of the volcano from this town is not the best and will be likely better from the next place we will stop. We see some of our Travel with Alan buds and find that their tour is just pulling into town. We spend a little time exploring the village, which is very clean and nice.

Waterfront at Puerto Varas
Waterfront at Puerto Varas

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We are just getting ready to leave town, when all of a sudden I look across the harbor and see this:

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Now, people, in the days to come as we round Cape Horn and cross the Drake Passage we will be sailing over the bones of literally thousands of men who tried these waters and never made it home. I have read book after book about them. But there is very little written about those they left behind. Here, in one piece, is all the fear, desperation and anguish of those who would never see their sailors again. She is made mostly of re-bar, we found out when we went out there, but there was not sign. I thought I’d be able to find something out about her on the internet, but so far no luck.

From Puerto Varnas we were soon off to the lovely village of Fruitillar, another German settlement. This is much more of a resort area with a very active arts community, including an art academy, the Teatro del Lago:

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But we also get a good close-up look at Volcan Orsono:

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There are many quaint houses with beautiful flowers

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Great place to grow hydrangea!
Great place to grow hydrangea!

We had a very nice lunch at the

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On the wall are these lines, either from a poem or a play. According to Google Translate, the last lines are, “will you close the door to the past, Mago, tell me, will this finally be the time we have longed for so much?” A pretty heavy message for just a light lunch.

So, we very much enjoyed our stay in Frutillar. We had hoped to visit a nearby national forest that is home to some of the oldest trees on the continent, but it wasn’t that nearby and since we already gotten a late start and the prospect of being left by the ship in our first port was not appealing, we decided to return our racehorse.

When we got back to the airport there was a long line of taxis just waiting for business. I went up to the first one and asked how much to return to the port (I had a map I could point to). He showed me a 45. OK Looked like a bargain to me. On the way in, though, we looked at the time and decided we still had time to visit the seaport area called Angelmo, which is not far from the ship. This was agreeable to him, so he took us straight there. Total tab? About 50 USD’s. So, the first guy was pricey, but it turned out to not be the total pasting I thought it had been. So for about $15 I was able to further my traveling education. I won’t bother to enumerate the many lessons learned.

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Since we had already had a big lunch we weren’t up for the gastronomia side of things, but we did have an interest in the artesanna.

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There was no shortage of artisan shops and they wound all the way up main street. But basically it was all leather goods and alpaca sweaters. We did buy a few small things, but in the mid 80’s you are not thinking sweaters. Plus, it was the age old question of where would be put them?

Soon we were back to the ship and heading for our next port. This night we would not be on the open ocean. Chile has a series of inlets and islands very similar to the Inside Passage in Alaska and this is where we were headed. Now the Andes were showing their snowy peaks:

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It promised to be a fine evening.

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I was on the balcony in our room when I noticed an unusual formation, closer to us than the mountains in the background:

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It looked like a butte, as you would see in the southwest US. We got closer:

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In time we just passed it by. Later I had an opportunity to show this picture to the Captain and asked him if he knew anything about it. To my surprise he told me he’d never seen it before. And he’ been in these waters many times. The reason he has not seen it is there is a Pilot on board in this location and the Pilot takes over the ship. Still…

As predicted, it was a very fine night indeed.

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This was the first night we saw the Southern Cross.

Adios Santiago

For our last night in Santiago we were taken to a club called Los Buenos Muchachos, which was quite a contrast to the previous evening. This one was to feature a dinner and a dance show by local performers celebrating Chilean folk music, or something like that. We, and hundreds of others, were seated in long rows,perpendicular to the side of the stage:

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Not only did this lend to a poor view of the stage (they had TV screens set up if you couldn’t see directly), but we were also packed in like leftist prisoners.

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And, these were very narrow tables also, so dining space was at a premium. Once again the dark Alan cloud started forming. But, the wine started flowing, the food started being served and pretty soon things began to look up. I should point out that a few in our party had been on this cruise before and liked it so much they were doing it again. One of those ladies spread the word to be sure to check out the bathrooms in this place. Well, it wasn’t long before that was more than just a novel idea so some of the guys and myself ventured down the hall. This is what we found:

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Soon some ladies took a similar path with my camera and came back with this:

Antarctica Part 1 149Clearly, this was a much classier joint than we had first imagined. We found dinner to be OK, but by the time it was over the stage show was in full swing, and, much to our surprise, people were up there dancing with the stars of the show. Some were on the stage and some were on the floor in front.

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Before long many of us in the group were up there with them. If at our age you are going to get up and dance there is no better time or place than to be among people you will never see again. It turned out that we had much more fun than we expected. Chalk up another one to Alan!

Now it was time to leave Santiago and we left with a very positive impression indeed. I could think of far worse places to be in January. If the price was right and the timing worked out we would gladly go back and really get to know the place. It was a very friendly city and very much up and coming. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t comment on one thing:

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Why the whole town doesn’t burn down is beyond me. Chile’, like almost all the countries we visit, operates on 220 volts AC. Somehow the idea of stringing high voltage lines and taking drops off them to individual homes and businesses has proven elusive. Instead, it’s like each house is connected to its own power generator and wires are strung for miles. I asked our guide about it. He said they are trying to upgrade things and even run power lines underground. However, given the number of earthquakes (lots!) they have around here, that solution appears to be problematic. Since Chile is one of the world’s leading producers of copper, I guess they figure, what the hell? I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

So, now it was off to Valparaiso to meet the ship. It was a roughly 2 hour trip by bus and we had plenty of time to kill since we couldn’t even begin boarding till 5. Between Santiago and Valparaiso you cross over two river valleys. Things start like this:

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Pretty much like a desert, complete with cactus. But the valleys have been irrigated using a very complicated system. The result is citrus and olive trees as well as an occasional winery.

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About half way we stopped at a quaint little tourist place for empanadas, a meat pie that is quite tasty.

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The flowers were spectacular!

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Soon we arrived on the coast, however we did not head straight for Valparaiso. Instead we visited the beach resort of Vina del Mar.

Here are a couple young Chileans enjoying their summer home on the coast!
Here are a couple young Chileans enjoying their summer home on the coast!

Like most coastal resorts, there’s some money here:

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Eventually, we came across this guy:

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Easter Island is part of Chile, and, naturally somebody decided they had to move some of the moai statues onto the mainland. So far they’ve moved three, Here, obviously, is one of them.

Eventually our travels finally took us to Valparaiso, and what a city it is!

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Before the Panama Canal, this was one of the busiest sea ports in South America. After the canal, though, it fell on hard times. Now it is starting to experience a resurgence as prosperity returns to this part of the world. It has been called the “San Francisco of South America” mostly by people who have never been to San Francisco. While it is hilly, that’s pretty much where the comparison ends. One guy we talked to in Santiago said he would much rather live here and what we have read suggests there is a lot going on and many cool places. We would have no more idea about that than you since our tour did not bring us even close to any of that. We’ll take their word for it.

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One thing that was not totally surprising, Valparaiso is home the the Chilean National Congress. Why? When the city was still experiencing hard times Pinochet built a congress building here and moved the whole bunch of them out of Santiago, the capital. Now they have to drive 2 hours one way every day to do their jobs. It may be great to be king, but it’s even better to be a dictator!

Soon we were at the port, much like the other ports we call on. Incredibly busy!

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At last it was time to board the ship! It took no time at all to feel right at home!

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Soon we were sailing off into the sunset, bound for Antarctica!

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Santiago Continued

Santiago is home to over five million people, or about a third of the entire population of Chile. Of those five million, it appears that roughly a dozen live in actual homes. The rest live in high rise apartments such as these:

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The top picture shows the financial district, where our hotel was located. The Andes mountains are in the background. These are boom times for Santiago and all of Chile. It has the most stable government and, by far, the most stable economy in South America. And yet one US dollar is worth 616 Chilean pesos, a conversion rate that had my head spinning. The most commonly used currency is the 10,000 peso bill (worth about $16). I loaded up on these pesos, and those of the other countries we would visit as well, before we left home. In Chile, for about five hundred USD’s I was close to being a billionaire.  Alright, enough of the fun facts. Back to the tour.

After failing to overthrow the government we got back on our buses and headed out for lunch. For this purpose the bus pulls up on a side street which has a number of hot dog joints and the entrance to a dining plaza. The tour guide explains that inside the plaza we will find a many nice restaurants. And, we have a half hour for lunch.

I should also explain that, because so many people booked this cruise, Alan sent one of his staff, a woman who goes by the name NanSea, to manage things. Many of the people with us, we now learned, had done lots of Alan cruises before and were quite used to NanSea. We, of course, were not. So, the stage was set for the first (and not last) conflict we would have with group touring. Here is the aforementioned dining plaza:

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As you can see, it is clean and on this sunny day very inviting with the choice of multiple restaurants. It took us a little while to choose one, but we finally did. We also discovered that one of the people from our tour, traveling alone, was looking for a place so we invited him to join us. Before we even sat down, however, I found a waiter and made it as clear as I could that we were in a hurry and only had, by now, twenty minutes. There was a lady nearby who spoke English and she repeated what I said. His reply, of course, was “no problemo.”

Here is a customer looking stressed with the smiling waiter in the background:

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Well, it is close to time to be back on the bus. No food. No waiter. And, along comes NanSea advising us we need to get back on the bus NOW! I was finally able to get the waiter to give us our salads to go and that was that. We held up the bus by at least five or ten minutes. And so, for the first, but let me assure you, not the last time I found myself asking this question: “If you’re not going to give us time, why did you bring us here in the first place?” It turns out everyone else ate at the hot dog joints.

When we have traveled in the past, we first do our homework and settle on places we might like to visit. When we go there, we go for the experience and to enjoy the area. This will often involve restaurants or shops or whatever. When we’ve seen what we want to see and done what we want to do we move on. It was now very clear that none of this would happen on this trip. From the moment the bus stops we are on the clock and the clock never has more than thirty minutes on it. Often less. So, on day one there was reason for concern that traveling with Alan might have been a huge mistake.

After lunch, or lack thereof, we did some more touring and it was pretty clear that all of us were feeling the effects of long flights and a long tour. At last the bus pulled up in front of our hotel:

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It is a Best Western property located on a busy street in the financial district. And very near the subway, which I had already studied before we came here. This was a nice hotel, well located and more than suitable for our short stay. We were advised by NanSea to be in the lobby in three hours for our trip to a local restaurant, which was part of the package.

The rest did us good and by our appointed time we were in much more positive frame of mind. Here is the restaurant:

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It was located in a beautiful setting near one of the parks and we were seated outside on a gorgeous summer evening. Finally we had an opportunity to meet, and converse with, some of our fellow travelers, who were all very nice and interesting people. The service was buffet style with offerings of various meats, cheeses, side dishes and desserts. It was a feast. And, on this occasion we were treated to our first, and by no means last, introduction to the Chilean national drink: the Pisco Sour. Heavens! They were tasty! And, the wait staff made sure your glass of wine, or whatever, was never empty! We left in a festive mood indeed. Chalk one up to Alan, this was just what we needed!

The next morning we had to be in the lobby at something like 8:00 to go tour the Concha Y Toro winery. I should note that Chile is two hours ahead of Ohio time, so that wasn’t as grueling as it first seemed. We’ve been on a lot of winery tours, but this one was exceptionally nice, with a beautiful grounds and tasty samples, even though a bit early. (The winery opened just for us, another Alan perk.)

The beautiful Concha y Toro winery. Their wines are readily available in US as you no doubt know.
The beautiful Concha y Toro winery. Their wines are readily available in US as you no doubt know.
We were told a story that neighbors had been stealing wine from their cellars, so the family began spreading rumors that the devil was occupying the rooms. Then they put lighted figures up. Apparently that was enough to stop the pilfering (I'm skeptical). Now the wines stored there are sold as Casillero del Diablo, with which I'm sure many of you are familiar.
We were told a story that neighbors had been stealing wine from their cellars, so the family began spreading rumors that the devil was occupying the rooms. Then they put lighted figures up. Apparently that was enough to stop the pilfering (I’m skeptical). Now the wines stored there are sold as Casillero del Diablo, with which I’m sure many of you are familiar.

After the winery tour we returned to our hotel where we had the rest of the afternoon off. My plan was to take the subway to visit one of the barrios. Dianne had other things to do, so I went out to find the subway and get some day passes. Well, here’s the problem with my Spanish. If any more words are required than “por favor” or “gracias”, then the conversation comes to a grinding halt. A comedian on the ship noted that if you don’t know the local language then what you do is just speak your own language, but louder! Well, that didn’t work entirely. I left the station with two tickets, but not entirely sure if they were what I wanted. I’ve been in enough subways to know I was close, and they didn’t cost very much.

So, I went back and got Dianne and off we went. Santiago, as I read before we left, is divided into a series of barrios, or neighborhoods. Many of them are safe for tourists. A few, however have left tourists in much the same shape as leftists in the days of Pinochet. Those are the ones we wanted to avoid. The barrio we selected is called Bellavista, an arts area near the university. We quickly learned that the tickets I had bought for the subway were one way only. Not a problem and cheaper than a day pass. Off we went!

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In no time at all we found an artisan area with bargains galore which included some nice things to take home to the girls (close your eyes, Emily!) Then, even better:

Antarctica I Phone 025One of the most popular Chilean treats is called a “completo” which is a hot dog covered with every imaginable item, then slathered with, of all things, mayo! This is a tame version, but absolutely delicious! I mean who ever thought of putting shoe string potatoes on a hot dog! That’s why we travel, people! To find out this stuff!

We finished this side trip and a very nice little outdoor mall:

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Then it was two more subway tickets to buy and back to the hotel to get ready for another night out. Next day we leave Santiago and head for the coast.