Monday, November 30, 2009

South America Day 12: A Lazy Day At Sea

We were up bright and early at 6:00 AM, despite the fact that Dad started sneezing last night. (We're going to try to thwart his incipient cold with Sudafed and Zicam.) Last night elves decorated the whole ship for Christmas:

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We got to the Garden Cafe just before the rush and secured a good position to see when we round Cape Horn. We're able to feel the motion of the waves again after three days in the smooth water of the straits and channels, but it's really nothing much. Nothing like Thanksgiving Day!

It was pretty awesome rounding Cape Horn,

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although it was COLD on deck! The ship's position, 55 degrees 59.31 minutes South, and 067 degrees 22.91 minutes West, is probably the farthest south Dad and I will ever get

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unless we ever go to Antarctica proper. I would LOVE to do that - Dad, not so much.

When we returned to our cabin, we found that we could still see Cape Horn:

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On top of the cape we could see signs of human habitation - I think they said it was a radio transmitter of some kind?

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It turns out we are sailing a 3/4 circle around the Cape before heading northeast on a beeline for the Falklands. We'll be quite far from the coast today - I think the older maps said "Here Be Dragons" on this part.

The rest of the day passed quietly. In the bulletin for today they announced a knitters circle in the Observation Lounge, so I went and met a half dozen nice fellow knitters. Then I lunched alone with my book - heaven! - and returned to the cabin for a nap. Dad and I dined with Betty and John from Dallas and went to a flute concert in the Stardust Lounge.

Tomorrow, the Falklands!

South America Day 11: The Southernmost City in the World, According To Argentina

November 29, 2009

We docked at Ushuaia at noon - there's a real dock here, too, so no riding in tenders this time!

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We just went on down to deck 3, stepped ashore, and walked toward land with the Sun looming over us:

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There was quite a walk to shore, the dock being very long, and there was a lot to see, including mountains,

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fellow tourists (I volunteered to take a picture of these two together)

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more mountains

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and a pretty little town with its back to the mountains.

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The streets were steep, and the buildings well designed to shed the snow:

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Winter here must be entertaining. We found another internet cafe and checked email, then wandered the quaint streets,

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enjoyed a penguin mural,

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and posed for pictures in front of stuff.

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The weather was chilly, breezy and bright, but not cold. It made me all cheerful.

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We picked up some postcards, scribbled on them and posted them to ourselves so they'd be postmarked Ushuaia; this is the southernmost post office we'll have access to. The folks that sprung for the $2400 optional tour to Antarctica get to mail their postcards from the southernmost post office there is (actually it's just a postal drop, but they'll still have Antarctica postmarks if their postcards arrive at all.)

Back in our stateroom I discovered that we had a really nice view of Ushuaia tucked up between the water and the rock:

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

South America Day 11: Brr, It's Cold!

November 29, 2009

Today we're halfway through our cruise. I can't believe it's been a whole week since Valparaiso! We are halfway up the Beagle Channel now and heading for Ushuaia, Argentina this afternoon.

We got up extremely early and went immediately to the Garden Cafe to snag a table. We'll be passing by a group of five glaciers on the port side of the Beagle Channel at around 6 AM, and I wanted a place to sit indoors rather than shivering on the fantail between glaciers.

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When we neared the glaciers, the cruise director came on the loudspeaker to tell us the details about each one as we approached it, at which point everyone dashed outside and snapped photos madly. We successfully scored a table the perfect distance from the door to the poop deck: far enough to be out of the draft but close enough to dash over and not miss any good photo ops. We had a good time identifying geological features like this hanging valley:

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There are four glaciers along the north side of the Beagle Channel: the Italia, Francia, Alemania and Romanche. To be perfectly honest, I didn't annotate my photographs, and I haven't been able to find a detailed map of "Glacier Alley" in my Googling, so I'm not perfectly sure which is which, but I believe the order given above is the order in which we passed them. What I do know for sure is that they are pretty cool to look at (pun! Didya see the pun?!)

Our first glacier:

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You can tell this glacier is receding rather than growing because it doesn't reach all the way to the waterline.

The second one we passed was wider and much flatter:

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Neither of these showed as much glacial blue color I was anticipating, but the next ones did:

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This last is my favorite (the color is more intense in real life).

Even after passing the Avenue of the Glaciers (the "hifalutin" name for Glacier Alley), the scenery through which we moseyed on our way to Ushuaia was spectacular. This is one gorgeous (if bleak) part of the world.

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Why, yes, we are having fun!

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

South America Day 10: La Ciudad de los Muertos

November 28, 2009

I walked on, following the map, another ten or twelve blocks, where I arrived at the cemetery. Yes, that's right, the cemetery - it's one of Punta Arenas's main attractions. Trust me!

It doesn't look like much from outside

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but inside that long, blank wall is a serene space that resembles an admittedly eccentric neighborhood

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more than a graveyard. (The neighbors are just very quiet, I guess.)

I walked up and down the paths of the pretty little necropolis

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enjoying the absurd and beautiful mausolea

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as well as the landscaping, which featured some tormented topiary cypresses:

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They are so odd looking that I can't decide what they remind me of - upside down ice cream cones? Karst mountains like the ones we saw in China? Dunce caps?

This cross with an anchor at its base

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marks the grave of one Captain Adolfo Andresen,

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a whaling captain who was the first to bring the Chilean flag to Antarctica. He was accompanied on his travels by a lady named Wilhelmine Schroeder, who was the first woman to live in the Antarctic. The signage doesn't specify the relationship between these two intrepid explorers, but I like to think they were great and good friends.

Once I was done enjoying the city of the dead, I walked back to where I'd left Daddy, passing some typically understated Chilean political discourse on the way:

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We returned to the ship and returned to our grueling routine of resting, before dining at Las Ramblas, the little tapas restaurant on Deck 12. I could happily make a meal of appetizers anytime, so I was delighted. We ate with Pat and Tony, and stayed together trading stories until 9 PM, when they deserted us to snag front-row seats for tonight's show. At that point, we chose to retire, since we have a very early day tomorrow: We finally get to see glaciers!

South America Day 10: The Southernmost City in the World, According to Chile

When we awoke we had already arrived at Punta Arenas, well up inside the Strait of Magellan. For some odd reason the ship wasn't anchored; it just kept shuffling back and forth along the center of the harbor.

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There's a lot of sky out today!

Dad and I aren't going on an official tour; we just planned to walk around the town and see what it's like. About midmorning we moseyed down to the Deck 7 casino to get tickets to ride the tenders ashore. On the way down, we heard an announcement: "The crew will be having an emergency practice drill." When we arrived at the casino there were no employees in sight! We assumed they were off doing their drill, but fortunately a fellow passenger came by and clued us in. It turned out that you don't need tender tickets after the first rush, which had already left. We just needed to go down to Deck 3 and wait our turn.

The water felt way choppier in the little lifeboat than on our big old cruise ship. We chugged in a long way, and they let us out right in front of a little tourist welcome center. Delightfully, there was an internet cafe right in there; we instantly logged on like addicts looking for a fix. (If we'd gone farther into town we might have found a better rate than the $2-per-30-minute rate here, but the price is so much cheaper than what it costs on the boat that it seemed very reasonable!) We spent maybe 45 minutes reconnecting with the world.

Next, we muddled our way through customs inspection, where we got in line right after an enormous shipful of tourists, toting all their luggage and arriving in the country for the first time. At last we were through, and loose in Chile for what, now that I think of it, is our last day here.

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Punta Arenas bills itself as "the most Austral city in the world" - aka the farthest south. This is one of those debatable points - it's certainly the largest city anywhere near this far south - their population is more than 130,000, and the next bigger city is almost 500 miles farther north. On the other hand, Ushuaia (in Argentina) is over a hundred miles farther south, but it only has 64,000 inhabitants. It's a definitional question.

Punta Arenas is one of those thin cities like Valparaiso, sandwiched between the coast and the hills. A statue of Bernardo O'Higgins

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waved us inward and upward as we climbed a steepish sidewalk to the main street. The architecture has a frontier flavor,

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but I guess they live in the 20th century too: I spotted the logo of a familiar security company on one house:

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(We use ADT at our library too.)

A lady at the visitors' center had given us a map with some of the local attractions marked on it, so we walked six blocks to the east and arrived at the charming town square

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whose centerpiece is a large statue of Ferdinand Magellan:

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Notice the shiny foot of the able seaman sitting crosslegged on the lower part of the pedestal? Apparently the thing to do is to kiss it. I declined.

There was a curios/handicrafts/flea market set up on tables around the square; I wandered among them but didn't buy anything. Instead, I kept a lookout for the town dogs. Punta Arenas, like Santiago, is well populated with genial Chilean free-range dogs. They are friendly and sociable, and assume they are welcome anywhere including right under one's feet.

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I don't know any of these folks, but the point is, neither does that dog! I saw one dog sleeping beside the curb, all four paws up on the curb and his head lolling in the gutter. I asked him, "Are you alive?" Turned out he was. I saw another, very pretty one, and said "Perro! Perro!" ("Dog! Dog!") to him. He opened his eyes, tucked up a front paw and showed me belly. I patted it - what else could I do?

Dad's knee has been bothering him, so we grabbed a sandwich at the "Downtown Cafe"

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to give him a chance to rest it. After a little more walking he was still in some discomfort, so he elected to wait on a sunny bench while I walked on to see more of the town. The bench he selected was right on a corner where they were holding a tiny political rally, so he could listen to the music and watch the speakers exhorting the crowd (all 12 or so of them).

Blogging from the End of the World

Realtime posting - how very odd!

This morning the Norwegian Sun pulled into Punta Arenas, billed by Chile as ¨the Southernmost City in the World¨. (Tomorrow we dock at Ushuaia, billed by Argentina as ¨the Southernmost City in the World¨ - guess which city is where?) We boarded our lifeboat (cruise ships use their lifeboats as tenders to ferry passengers in to shore) and spilled onshore, directly into an internet cafe! Soon we will detatch the umbilical cord and head into the city to shop, sightsee (if we can find some sights) and perhaps dine. It´s a rough old life...

Friday, November 27, 2009

South America Day 9: A Day in Shorthand

Today Black Friday: Every time Dad turns on TV, all advertising shilling for door-busters, all news anchors discussing economic status of Xmas shopping season. Fortunately, all moot - shopping done before departure.

Very rough seas this morning - waves 10 feet plus. While walking down corridors, ship shifts beneath feet resulting in wall contact; similar exhiliration to drunkenness without metabolic consequences. Giggled a lot on way to breakfast.

In library after breakfast, failed to find bird book to research mysterious birds seen last night but succeeded in locating crossword and Sudoku. Dad still helping a lot with latter. Lazed morning away in napping and puzzling (really, this life is so hard to take.)

Dad enjoying plotting route on South American Explorer map. Have come 891 nautical miles from Puerto Chacabuco as of today! Entered Strait of Magellan by midmorning. Always pictured Strait of Magellan as wild seas wracked by violent storms (influence of youthful reading choices no doubt). Reality is quiet, chill, bleak:

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(note tiny, forlorn sign of human existence: red/white channel marker? lighthouse? on lowest rock.)

Really respect early sailors' courage: 1) Is summer here now; this is best possible weather; sometimes not as nice! 2) No depth sensors, proximity alarms; archipelago islands not all above water, some lurk just below surface ready to savage fragile wooden hulls.

Am enjoying self; like it cold!

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Spanish lesson today covered "port visiting" words, phrases: restaurant ordering, taxis, etc.

Running late to all meals today and found dining rooms very crowded at lunch, especially Garden Cafe. Seems to be favorite hangout for passengers in tomblike internal cabins: warm, well lit, tables and soft chairs for card players, readers, plus food and coffee always available. In warmer climate, probably deck chairs serve purpose, but Patagonia incompatible with deckside lounging.

Lines too long there, Seven Seas Restaurant, Pacific Heights. Getting cranky going up, down elevators when hungry, seeking quick meal. Dad had moment of inspiration: One restaurant for sure will not have a line! Right, too:

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Great Outdoor Grill, barely screened from Patagonian winds, deserted; servers behind counter shivering in parkas. Perfect! Ate delicious burgers and fries, although public health hysteria meant was forbidden to dispense own ketchup; held out bun for gloved server to squirt. Even better, didn't have to eat out on deck; snagged table inside while getting drinks!

Since tables at premium, gregarious Dad invited Brazilian gentleman to share ours. (He was travelling with friend, but friend was at art auction. At sea?) Although linguistic overlap minimal, had nice time chatting, and were moments of actual communication. Doesn't seem too thrilled over Brazil getting next summer Olympics. Lives in Bahia, but originally from Rio; indicated was much corruption there.

Afternoon similarly energetic as morning. Did, for once, get exercise: took half-hour constitutional around Promenade Deck.

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Heckuva wind on stern!

At dinner, German couple at next table told us we would be passing southernmost tip of continental land mass shortly. Finished meal, ran to get cameras, ran to Promenade Deck


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to capture experience. Glad I did, even though very cold and windy. [BTW, is still much land south of here but is all islands, archipelago. Tierra del Fuego not actually attached to South America.]

Nights getting pretty short. Still light out at 10:21 PM although sun set half hour before, and tomorrow sunrise is at 5:30 AM.  Still 800 miles north of Antarctic Circle, though, so not quite Midnight Sun.