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Stow Away with Bill & Mary Ann for 181 days on Amsterdam's So. Pacific & 2020 WC

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Great reporting!  We're now on the Volendam (Grand SA/Antarctic) and will start our Antarctic Experience cruising from Ushuaia departing on February 2nd and at sea from February 3rd until arrival in Port Stanley on February 9th.

 

Wondering if the the Volendam & Amsterdam will come close enough to see each other.  Just hoping.

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Report # 86   Antarctica Scenic Cruising   Day # 2    January 31, 2020   Friday   Mostly cloudy & 34 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

Today our path would take us to the Antarctic Peninsula, by way of the Gerlache Strait.  We are in the Palmer Archipelago now, where the Neumayer Channel exists.  We were out on the bow by 6:30am with a handful of eager folks to view this passage.  The scenic narration began at 7am, as we began to see sightings of a few birds, Gentoo penguins, shags, and one minke whale.  These are the whales that are 35 feet long and weigh 9 tons.  Several years ago while on a Norway cruise, we had the chance to taste smoked minke whale at the outdoor fish market in Bergen.  Hesitant at first, we tried the sample of the meat to find it was very similar to beef.  It was smoked, so it tasted more like beef jerky, and we actually liked it.  We can understand why whale meat was a part of the diet for the natives in this part of the world. 

 

With the islands on both sides of this channel, it seemed protected from the worst of the winds.  As the ship zig-zagged through the passage, we saw Anvers Island and the beautiful peaks of Mt. Francaise at 9259 feet in elevation.  Weinke Island was on the port side.  An unidentified expedition ship was in the process of doing zodiac landings with their guests near the Port Lockroy Research Station, belonging to the UK.  It is the most popular tourist destination where no more than 60 visitors are allowed ashore to see blue-eyed cormorants, and a Gentoo penguin colony.  There is also a composite reconstruction of a whale skeleton on the shore, like we saw yesterday.

 

By 9am, we were slightly frozen and in need of some very hot coffee.  So we set off for breakfast in the dining room for our usual meal.  Decorations for this evening’s winter wonderland and great white way party were hanging from the ceiling, like we used to see on many evenings.  Even though it was not going to be a gala event, it sure looked nice.

 

By 11am, we were bundled up once again to view the sights of Paradise Bay from the bow.  We finally decided that getting photos from here gives us more opportunities to go from side to side without having the bow floor in our pictures.  Of course we had to do the walking carefully, because the deck was wet from rain and a few snow flurries.  The first sightings of humpback whales feeding happened right away, and close to the ship.  Gentoo penguins and shags were eating and diving side by side.  A few Weddell seals were laying on the ice floes, oblivious to the ship passing by. 

 

We had to stop for about 15 minutes to let another expedition ship, the Ocean Nova, pass through the gap before we could continue.  Then we came upon the Gonzales Videla Research Station, built on bare rocks below a bare cliff.  Three little islands where the station is located were full of nesting Gentoo penguins.  They made themselves right at home nesting within feet of their buildings.  Nearby cliffs of solid ice had fields of emerald green mosses, blue-green copper deposits, and orange lichens.  Once these plants take hold, they are fed by the constant supply of penguin guano, which provides all the nutrients they need to survive in this climate.  This station, built by Chileans, kept livestock for fresh meat and milk in the early years.  The base was abandoned in 1964, but re-appeared in the 1990’s.  Today it is staffed by 8 to 12 members of the Chilean Air Force. 

 

We did see a few crab eater seals, although they do not eat crab, but dine on krill, as do most of the humpback whales.  “Krill” is a Norwegian word meaning young fry of fish.  It is a small shrimp-like crustacean measuring 1 to 2 ½ inches long.  And it is the primary food for many Antarctic species.  These krill have an estimated biomass or collective weight of over 500 million tons.  Incredible.

 

A small flock of snowy sheathbills dive-bombed the ship at one point.  These are not a true seabird, but actually a scavenger.  They will feed off of penguins and shags, much the way the frigates intimidate other birds to give up their catch.  The white chicken-sized sheathbills also dine on bird eggs and young chicks.  Their wingspan is 30 inches, and they only weigh 1 ½ pounds. 

 

Lunch was one Dive-In burger and hot dog, enjoyed in the warmth of our room.  This was the best time to begin downloading the 100’s of photos from the morning viewing. By 3:30pm, we made our third trip outside, once again on the bow.  By now, there were only a handful of folks willing to brave the cold temps of 1 degree C or 34 degrees F.  Our destination was Wilhelmina Bay, a wide open bay without the tall ice-covered peaks.  In other words, there was little shelter from the winds, which were penetrating even our Arctic-rated jackets.  At one point, we were surrounded with rather slow-moving humpback whales feeding.  There were some fur seals, some birds, and two very inquisitive chinstrap penguins that climbed on a bergy bit to watch us.  It was not uncommon to see groups of four to six whales surface feeding, or doing shallow dives.  We were reminded to be careful walking across the wet deck, because one man took a sudden fall earlier.  The drizzle was becoming heavier, so we decided to come inside.  It had been such a full day of scenic touring, and we needed to warm up.

 

Back in the room, Captain Jonathon came on the speakers with an important message regarding our normal stop near Palmer Research Station, which might have been planned for our fourth day of scenic cruising.  Due to the spread of the Corona virus, all cruise ships have been stopped from having visits from the scientists coming onboard for the remainder of the season.  Surely a disappointment for all, it is understandable.  In the meantime, they will be working on some alternate viewing, as there is plenty of it.

 

And it is time for a few interesting facts about Antarctica.  Many sea creatures here, like the ice fish, have an antifreeze substance in their bloodstreams.  It enables them to survive in the extreme weather conditions.  The Southern giant petrel, Chatham albatross, and the Southern right and blue whales are some of the endangered species.

 

Dinner had a couple of good things to choose from like crispy spring rolls, soups, and salads.  Entrees were a bit harder to choose, so one of us  had a pasta dish, and the other the alternate salmon, always a good choice.  Dessert was a chocolate tart, and one fresh fruit plate.  All of the berries are gone now, and will not be replaced until we reach Punta Arenas.  Sweet pineapple and watermelon are still plentiful, so we will not go hungry.

 

There was no  live show this evening, but Planet Earth II in Concert.  We have seen this on other cruises and found it well done.  In fact, we would have no objection if this was done more often on the grand voyages.

 

The internet reception has been extremely touchy, and at times, totally not functioning.  So there will be delays with sending the reports.  And we had a notice that there are only a few days left to purchase the internet packages to last for the remainder of this cruise.  After February 4th, the rates will be on a monthly basis.  The Social plan will cost $180, the Surf plan will be $260, and the Premium plan will be $330.  We are sure glad we got into the Premium plan from day one.

 

Two more days of scenic cruising is like being on an African safari…..we are loving it.  The main difference is that at 10:30pm, the temperature was 0 degrees Celsius and still lite out, 

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report # 87   Antarctica Scenic Cruising   Day # 3    February 1, 2020   Saturday   Light rain, snow, & 34 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

The ship’s plan for the day was supposed to begin with a sailing through the Lemaire Channel at 8am, followed by more scenic cruising in Errera Channel at 12pm.  Finally, a visit to Charlotte Bay at 4pm would end the day’s exploration.  Sounded like a good plan, until Captain Mercer came on the speaker and announced that Lemaire Channel was totally blocked by ice floes, and we could not possibly transit it.   Drats….we recall that Lemaire Channel was one of the highlights of our first sailing here in 2010 on the Prinsendam. 

 

Lemaire Channel is 6.8 miles long and 5249 feet wide.  It is located between Booth Island and the Antarctic Peninsula.  This steep passage is the most photographed one with the nickname of “Kodak Gap”, for the cameras that traditionally used real rolls of film.  Remember that?  Oddly enough, this channel was named after Charles Lemaire, who never set foot on this continent.  Unfortunately, we will not be seeing this impressive scenery today.

 

Instead, a tender boat was dropped with some photographers to take photos of the ship as we sat there outside the entrance to the channel.  We did see kelp gulls weighing 2.6 pounds with a wingspan of 53 inches.  They have a diet of limpets, which are mollusks eaten whole.  The shells are regurgitated.  This gull remains in the Antarctic during the winter and will not migrate north.   

 

Some of the smaller birds we saw were Antarctic terns, the most common tern seen here.  They are small, weighing only 1/3 of a pound, and have a wingspan of 30 inches.  The oldest banded Arctic tern was 26 years old, and the estimated flight distance in its lifetime was 620,000 miles.  These birds have the longest migration on earth, from pole to pole.

 

We also spotted Wilson’s storm petrels, a small bird weighing 1 ounce, the size of a sparrow.  Their wingspan is 15 inches, and the predators are skuas and kelp gulls.  With a wingspan of 50 inches, the South polar skua has the edge on these small birds.

 

After a few runs around the Amsterdam, the tender boat was loaded and secured, and we were off to our next destination of Errera Channel at 10:30am.  Perfect time to go to breakfast.

 

Even though we were supposed to be at the second spot at noon, it turned out to be earlier.  But this time the weather was bone-chilling with winds of 20 knots or more and the temperature of 32 degrees.  For the first time, we spotted leopard seals laying on the ice bergs.  The males are 10 feet and weigh 660 pounds.  These are the most dangerous seals, and they do prey upon the seals and penguins, in particular, their young chicks. 

 

Two expedition vessels passed us going the opposite way.  One was Hapag-Lloyd’s Hanseatic Inspiration, and the other was Quark Expeditions, the Ocean Adventurer.  Since we have been unable to get online to research the statistics on these vessels, we have no info.  Suffice it to say, they were much smaller than us, and probably able to get into areas that we do not fit.

 

We had more bird sightings here than whales.  We only saw one humpback in the distance.  But we did have the good luck of seeing snow petrels, which are 13.8 inches long and weigh ½ to 1 pound.  They breed further south than any bird species on the world, and nest in rock crevices on the bare mountain cliffs.  They are the only all white petrel in the world.  And our narrator mentioned that it was rare to see them.

 

While we were moving slowly though brash ice, we could hear the loud snap, crackle, and pop of the melting ice.  It was like being in a sea of Alka-Seltzer.  Soon we spotted Gentoo penguins, which number 317,000 breeding pairs in all of Antarctica.  They can dive to depths of 495 feet, and are the least aggressive of the penguins.  Both sexes will incubate and rear the chicks.  They will travel about 2 ½ miles from their nests to eat krill.  

 

While passing by some very steep ice-covered cliffs, we witnessed some avalanches sending ice down the face of the mountain.  Although in the last couple of days while sailing in these passages, we could hear the explosions of cracking ice, but did not see any calving.  Nothing like you see in Alaska.  It is much colder here, so the ice does not melt at the same rate.

 

At one point while at the end of this bay, the winds about blew us off of the deck.  It was so cutting, one of us had to go inside from the bow to get out of the freezing, painful temperatures.  We cannot begin to imagine what winter can be like here, especially in a storm.  It was time to take a break for lunch in the Lido.  We realized that it was important to drink liquids, since it is easy to become dehydrated here.

 

The final scenic sailing was at 4:30pm with a visit to Charlotte Bay.  This was a large open body of water, protected from the winds, with medium-sized mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula.  It was a great spot to see humpback whales eating, which is what they do best this time of year.  Besides individual sightings, we also saw groups of two or three possibly bubble netting and surface feeding.  Many of them were diving, and the cameras of the passengers were going off constantly.  By the time we left at 6pm, it began to lightly snow, much to the delight of the crew, many of whom have never seen snow.  Happy with all of the shots we got, it was time to get ready for a cocktail party at 6:30pm.

 

This party was hosted by our travel agency, and our total number of guests was around 245 people.  Some we knew, most we did not.  We took our places at the stand-up tables, and were soon joined by Shiv, Roland, and Christel, who was still in her “woolies” from being outside taking pictures.  It had been nice to see all of them pop outside with their cameras or cell phones to snap some shots of this incredible part of the world.

 

Our dinner for five was good, as always.  A complete turkey dinner was very satisfying and unexpected.  Usually tastes better when it is not Thanksgiving.  The fellows, Greg and Heo, went to a special champagne dinner in the Canaletto this evening.

 

Here are a few more facts about Antarctica.   The largest glacier in the world is Lambert Glacier, located in East Antarctica.  It is 60 miles wide and over 250 miles long.  Now that’s what we call a glacier.  Antarctica is the only home in the world for the Emperor penguins, which breed during the winter.  They are further inland, so we will not see them here.  The first Antarctica wedding took place in February 1978 at Argentina’s Esperanza Station.  Happy 42nd anniversary!  Lastly, the first tourist ship left for Antarctica in the 1960’s.  We are betting it was not the Love Boat……

 

One more day of scenic sailing will complete this portion of the trip.  It has been fascinating, but oh so cold.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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I am so enjoying your wonderful trip report.  Thank you for sharing so much.

 

Just one question:  How does the narration work while scenic cruising in Antarctica, in light of the fact that noise must be kept to a minimum?  Is the guide just out on the bow for those who choose to go there?

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Report # 88   Antarctica Scenic Cruising   Day # 4   February 2, 2020   Sunday   Foggy & 34 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

Well, we got up very early this morning, because the scenic narration was scheduled to begin at 7am.  But looking outside our window, we could see nothing but fog, and sort of knew the intended destination of the Antarctic Sound and Hope Bay were doubtful.  Thinking positively, we went to the bow, and found that we were the only ones out there.  And was it cold and windy?  Extremely so, as we waited until 8am for the commentary to  begin.  At least we did get some good photos of the Cape petrels that were following the ship.   Sure would have been nice if someone gave us all a clue as to what was happening.  Speaking of the commentary, it has been happening on all outside decks VIA the loudspeakers.  However, the speaker’s voices have been very controlled, and at times, very difficult to hear.  And if you chose to stay inside your room, the commentary was also on TV.

 

We figured we might as well go to breakfast, and that was when Captain Jonathon announced that due to zero visibility, the scenic cruising had been cancelled for the day.  In addition, he added that two Argentinian naval vessels were sailing near us, even though we could not see them.  They may have been assisting us with our sailing.

 

So what did we miss today?  The Antarctic Sound is famous for their tabular icebergs.  They can be very large.  This area is whipped by strong winds called “katabatic”, which scream downhill from the polar ice cap.  It is reportedly the best sight-seeing in the entire peninsula, best viewed from inside the ship.  However, with this dense fog, we could run into them before we saw them.  Thoughts of the Titanic flashed before our eyes briefly.

 

Hope Bay is the area where the Chilean Esperanza Research Station is located  at the mouth of the bay.   It is Argentina’s largest station, housing 50 men, women, and children.  Originally staffed by Argentinian army personnel, it is a year-round facility these days.  Families are based here for one year, and there is even a school with teachers for the kids.  In fact, the very first baby was born here in January 1978, and since then, seven more have been born. 

 

It is probably a good time to mention the political and operational situations in Antarctica, as they are quite unique.  Because of the Treaty of 1959, military activity is banned on the continent.  Antarctica is to be utilized for scientific and peaceful purposes.  Several countries have territorial claims, but the management is carried out cooperatively.  As long as the treaty is in force, in accordance with international law, all sovereignty claims are deferred.

 

One of the highlights for many guests was the Sunday brunch Sampler, with a three-course set menu.  We do not participate, because many of the choices are not to our liking or compatible with allergies.  Better stick to our favorites in the Lido.

 

We kept busy all day trying to catch up with three days of back-logged computer work.  Breaking for lunch, we had a nice chat with Bill and Leta in the Lido.  Normally, we catch up on news while at the Seaview Pool, but the only folks outside are the dedicated smokers.  And few of those, since it is so cold out there.  

 

Around 5:45pm, the Captain came on with an announcement that we should be coming upon two gigantic icebergs on our way sailing around the tip of King George Island.  So we threw on the jackets and gloves, grabbed the cameras, and headed for the bow.  Passing through the Mainstage on deck four, we saw the room decorated for the upcoming Super Bowl football game beginning at 7:30pm.  For a change, it was nice to get some pictures of the lounge before it got filled with customers. 

 

Heading for the bow entrance, we found the hatch was closed.  But we know how to open the latches, and soon we had the door opened and secured with the hook.  Several of us went outside into the coldest and windiest conditions so far this trip. Even though the sun had peeked out, we could barely stand up when the blast of frigid air hit us.  But we did get to see those massive ice bergs, one on each side of the ship.  Some birds were flying past us, then quite by surprise, we spotted whales.  Some very close to the ship.  At least the day was not wasted, and we did get to see the last views of Antarctica as we sailed northwesterly towards the Drake Passage.   

 

And with that, our final word on this continent of Antarctica is that it is a land of extremes…..the coldest, windiest, driest, highest, most remote, and least understood continent on earth.  – Martin Glassner -.  To that, we say…Amen.

 

We had just enough time to defrost, and get ready for dinner.  Barb, Susie and Woody were attending the game festivities in the Mainstage, so we had company for dinner….Leslie and Handler, who we have known since 2005.  We sure enjoyed their visit, giving us all a chance to share info on the trip so far.  Wanting to taste some of the football game food that was being served in the Mainstage, Leslie took the time to go there and get a plateful of goodies.  She brought back sliders, chicken wings, and a lobster sandwich to share with the six of us.  That was good for starters, but our meals of breaded chicken tenders and prime rib were even better.   Most all of us had light desserts of frozen yogurt or ice cream.  By the time we left the room, it was empty of diners.  Everyone either went to the show lounge or to their rooms to watch the rest of the game.  At least the TV was cooperating, and not rolling with annoying lines like it has been since the trip began.  Perhaps ESPN comes in through a different source, like streaming.  

 

We will have two days at sea now as we head for the next port of Ushuaia, a charming city in southern Argentina.  In order to get there, we have to transit the Drake Passage, which has been known to be the most turbulent waters in the world.  Sure hope it behaves.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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Report # 89   Day at Sea   February 3, 2020   Monday   Overcast and foggy & 36 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

The weather was looking up early this morning with some sun showing through the clouds.  It has been a while since we have seen sun, or felt the warmth from it.  All of us were saying that when the heat returns, we will be complaining about it as much as many have been unhappy with these frigid temperatures.  We did get in a good walk around the deck, before working in the room most of the day with photos….lots of them.  It was also a good time to catch up on reading the detailed Antarctica book we received.  Even though we have visited this continent twice in the last 10 years, there is so much more we are learning this time. 

 

For the first time on this cruise, we ordered a room service lunch.  We shared a club sandwich, which was good as ever, and one chicken Caesar salad.  And it only took 15 minutes to arrive.  After that, we took a walk outside, and were surprised to find that the fog had enveloped the ship, so much so, that the foghorn was going off every 5 minutes or so.  That has to be the eeriest sound ever, and stirs the imagination of the possible reasons why we are using it.  We are sailing through the Drake Passage now and we do not think there is a whole lot of ship traffic here.  Knowing that the seas can possibly reach 33 feet in this area, we are lucky to have fairly smooth sailing.

 

After yesterday’s football game festivities, it looked like most of the passengers were laying low today.  Especially those who bought the $55 “drink all you can drink” in the Mainstage’s special reserved seating.  We don’t believe the hangover would be worth it the next day, but what do we know?   It has been some time since we took to our chairs on deck five, so we went after our walk to enjoy the band playing.  People that know we sit there, tend to stop and say hi.  Tonight was no exception.  Barb came by, and told us all about the football game last night.  Not many in our circle were picking teams to win, but they went mostly for the fun food and flowing drinks.

 

The only lecture today was about the port essentials in Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, and Puerto Montt.  It has been a long time since we were in these ports, so we definitely need some information on what to see and do.  Yes, we did take tours, but this time we intend to explore the cities instead.

 

Dinner was in the Pinnacle Grill, but with the Tamarind menu instead.  The restaurant was filled to capacity, and we did have to wait before we could be seated at 8pm.  We were not alone, however, because the Captain, his wife, Karen, and her cousin, Karen, were in line in front of us.  At least we had a chance to visit with them for 15 minutes before our tables were ready.  Apologies were made, but we did not mind, since we were not going anywhere afterwards. 

 

Our meals were excellent, as always with this venue.  Our favorite assistant server, Faya from Thailand, admitted that the food in here was not really Thai, but we already knew that.  The spring rolls and Thai beef salad were just like we remembered, and the mains of wasabi-crusted filet were cooked perfectly.  Tender and juicy, and not quite as hot as usual.  They were light on the wasabi, which was fine.  Shrimp crackers with three varieties of sauces kept us busy in between courses.  We did have sides of rice, mushrooms, and stir fry veggies, but we could not do all of that justice.  It was necessary to save a bit of room for the desserts of chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell, and one chocolate-dipped fortune cookie with a scoop of ice cream.  Happy campers, we were done by 10pm.

 

The show of the dancers and singers performing “A La Mode” was in progress, but we only listened to the singing for a while before retiring for the evening.  Tomorrow we should be arriving very early at Cape Horn.  Hope the fog is gone by then…..

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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We love the Tamarind Restaurant food.  That is so great that the ships that don't have the restaurant offer a night at the Tamarind in the Pinnacle Grill once in a while.

 

I have yet to ever finish one of those fortune cookies.  They are so good.

 

Hope you don't encounter any more fog.

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Report # 90   Beagle Channel & Ushuaia, Argentina   February 4, 2020   Tuesday   Mostly cloudy & 45 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

Out on the bow by 6:30m, we were ready to watch the pilot board the ship for the sailing around Cape Horn and entering into the Beagle Channel.  It was still very cold and windy, but not icy.  Flying all around the ship, we saw dozens if not hundreds of black-browed albatrosses.  These birds weigh about 7.7 pounds and have a wingspan of 8 feet.  Feeding on krill, squid, and salps (small floating gelatinous animals), these birds can live for 40 years.  There are an estimated 700,000 breeding pairs.   We also spotted sooty shearwaters that weigh only 1.7 pounds with a wingspan of 39 inches.  There are sizable colonies near Cape Horn.

 

We circled the actual little island of Cape Horn, where one side was extremely windy.  A few passing showers drove most of the folks from the bow to the inside of the ship.  Passing by this island, we were literally sailing in the South Pacific Ocean, then entering the South Atlantic Ocean.  As we left the tip of the island, the narrator pointed out the house on the top where a family resides with three young children.  They will stay here, tending the lighthouse, until November. 

 

Besides the black-browed albatross, we also saw hundreds of Imperial shags or cormorants.  One small mound  at the base of the cape was covered with those birds, who left their guano turning the rock white.

 

A fitting poem was read by the narrator at this point.  It was written by a Chilean woman by the name of Sara Vial in 1992.  So here it is:

I am the Albatross

That waits for you

At the end of the earth.

I am the forgotten soul

Of the dead sailors

Who crossed Cape Horn

From all the seas of the world.

But they did not die in

The furious waves.

Today they fly on my

Wings to eternity

In the last trough of the

Antarctic winds.

 

Scenic sailing of the Beagle Channel began around 1:30pm.  This channel is located in the extreme south of the South American continent.  The Beagle Channel is 175 miles long and between 3 to 8 miles wide, creating a natural boundary between Argentina and Chile.  This archipelago is home to sea lions, penguins, cormorants, albatross, and petrels to name a few.  We did watch this sailing from the bow once again, but only saw the birds.

 

Beagle Channel is named after the British ship, HMS Beagle, which conducted hydrographic surveys in the early 1900’s.  On their second trip here, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz Roy, a young naturalist was onboard.  His name was Charles Darwin, a mere 19 years old at the time.  And the rest is history.

 

Around 2:30pm, the Captain stopped in a bay outside a picturesque village on a Chilean island.   We picked up the Chilean authorities to get our clearance papers for the Cape Horn sailing, as well as for the upcoming Chilean ports.  We would receive these forms  to fill out and sign later in the afternoon. 

 

Our estimated time of arrival was set at 6pm, but it was obvious we could not dock because another ship was in our spot.  We had to wait until that expedition ship moved, before we could take their place.  That was closer to 7pm.  Originally, we were supposed to have one day here, February 5th, but a decision was made to stay overnight.  For that reason, a new shore excursion was added for a 7:30pm departure for a panoramic ride and a grilled lamb dinner.  Bet there were a lot of takers, since we have been ship-bound for many days now. 

 

For most of the day, we had problems with both the TV reception, or lack of, as well as continued internet problems.  We can receive, but we cannot send.  Sure hope this gets resolved soon, as we are well aware that the reports and pictures have backed up for several days now.

 

The dining room seemed a bit empty tonight, as several guests must have gone ashore.  We will take a walk tomorrow, but will not stay long.  All aboard is at 1:30pm, a very short duration.

 

Oh yes, we did fail to report that we got gifts last night, or sort of gifts.  It was two maps of the Chilean Fjords and surrounding areas we will be traveling.  We got these same maps 8 and 10 years ago, and just happened to bring them along with us. At that time, they were just maps, not gifts.  And another notice regarding health issues has shown up on our mail slots.  This time it is about how to cover your cough.  Come to think of it, we have been hearing a lot of coughing and sneezing throughout the ship, and now wonder if this cold or flu is spreading like wildfire?  Sure hope not…..

 

Bill & Mary Ann

 

 

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I decided to check you out here .  I've been following you on your blog, and as least on my computer, it's frozen with  Jan.31 as your last entry.  Glad to find you both again!

Edited by Flyingfish

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Report # 91   Ushuaia, Argentina & Scenic Sailing Glacier Alley   February 5, 2020   Wednesday   Partly sunny & 42 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, closest to the Antarctic Peninsula, and capital of the province of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  The population went from 7100 in 1975 to 57,000 today, due to government tax incentives given to boost the economy.  Tourism has continued to flourish, which has contributed to the area’s prosperity. 

 

Temperatures can range from 50 degrees in the summer to -4 degrees in winter.  Summer days have 17 hours of sunlight, while winter has only 7 hours.  The forests have several varieties of beech trees and shrubs called coihue, an evergreen.  Penguins and albatross can be spotted in the channels, and condors, eagles, and upland geese can be seen in the interior.  Guancos, a type of llama, and foxes roam freely in the National Park, while dolphins, seals, sea lions, and occasional whales can be seen in the Beagle Channel. 

 

Until the mid-1900’s, Argentina ran a penal colony for their most hardened criminals in Ushuaia.  Today a museum is located in the former prison. 

 

After spending the evening docked here, we realized our day would be quite short here.  The all aboard time was 1:30pm, and even though the sun did peek out off and on, the highest temperatures would not go beyond 45 degrees.  

 

We had our usual breakfast in the dining room, and as you might expect, it was not too busy.  Our waiter Gan mentioned he and his buddies had gone off the ship last night, and found a Hard Rock Café there.  With the internet not operable, we did not even think to look for one of those restaurants here.  But then, looking outside, we realized how much this place has grown in eight years.  The crew members sure appreciated getting off last night, mostly because they made good use of the free WIFI. 

 

So today many of the guests took tours that were from 2 ½ to 5 ½ hours for scenic sight-seeing and museums.  There were several types of drives through Fuego National Park with forests, rivers, lakes, and peat bogs.  That is the one we took 10 years ago.  You can also see it by taking a vintage train ride.  One unique excursion included a visit to a local family’s home for a crab lunch.  This adventure included a boat ride where they casted nets to catch fish, shellfish, and crabs for instance. 

 

Before we left the ship, we made a visit to the internet manager, and did get some helpful hints for sending emails.  Henk is still trying to work with the IT guru to fix this issue.

 

We went off the ship by 10am to discover that three small expedition ships were in the process of taking on ample supplies for their Antarctic sailings.  There were two fishing boats, two container ships, and several ferries docked here.  With the Amsterdam tied up on the end slip, this was one very busy dock area. 

 

We walked through the narrow terminal building, then past a row of souvenir shops selling t-shirts, knit caps, sweatshirts, scarves, and a large variety of figurines made with local polished rock of pink, green, or black.  The majority of the pieces were penguin-related, and fairly expensive.

 

Locating San Martin Avenue, by going up 25 de Mayo Street, we remembered that was where the majority of the shops, pubs, and restaurants were located.  There were also wine and cheese shops, ice cream stores, and chocolate shops.  A common treasure to purchase here are mate cups made from small gourds with a metal straw called “bombillas”.  Mate is a type of South American tea which is jammed tight into the cup, then hot water is added.  When you empty the tea, more hot water is available in most of the cafes and restaurants.  If you think about it, the Argentinians were ahead of their time.  The gourd is a type of vegetable, so they are organic.  The straws are metal, therefore, re-usable.  And when the tea has lost its flavor, it can be used as compost in the garden.  How about that?

 

We hiked as far as the military area, uphill all the way.  Ending up at one of the highest hillside streets, we made our way back down.  Believe this – it is far easier to climb uphill, than go downhill.  Just took a little longer to get there, especially with the condition of the streets and sidewalks.  It was obvious that the winter snow and ice does a number on the concrete and asphalt.  We had to mind every step we took on these side streets.

 

Back on the main drag, we ran into Susie, Ellen, and Barb, who was celebrating her birthday today.  She got big hugs from us of course.  They were off to do some shopping, then later finding a good spot for a king crab lunch.  The aroma of wood-fired grilled lamb filled the air, and it did smell really good.  These large barbeques were made with the wood fires on the floor of the restaurants with skewered half lambs facing the flames in a circle.  A chimney is located directly overhead to vent the smoke outside.  Not only do they cook the savory meat, but they heat up the restaurant up at the same time.

 

We continued with window-shopping and perusing the street vendor trinkets, some of which were rather nice silver jewelry sets.  We came across the Hard Rock Café, where we did purchase two city t-shirts.  For us, it was still too early for lunch, although we did see that our favorite haystack salad was on their menu.  Had the ship stayed later in this port, we would have enjoyed lunch there.

 

The dock was even more hectic with containers being loaded on trucks with heavy equipment.  Other containers contained frozen boxed  fish products, and were also being transferred to the waiting exploration ships.  We had to stop more than once so we did not get run over by the big rigs.  That was one thing we did notice.  The car traffic was horrendous in town today.  Crosswalks for pedestrians did not mean the locals will stop for you.  They preferred to beep their horns, and cut you off, insisting on the right-of-way.  Good thing there were a few traffic lights working here and there.  As in many villages turned into cities, the streets were never meant for this type of traffic.

 

Back on the ship, we had Dive In Grill food in the form of a cheeseburger and one hot dog and fries.  The sail away was held in the Crow’s Nest, so we went to the bow once again to watch the ship pull out of the harbor.  Scenic sailing of the Beagle Channel began around 3:30pm, which led into more scenic sailing of Glacier Alley at 4:30pm more or less.  For some of the trip through the Beagle Channel, we stayed on the lower promenade deck, going back and forth across the front.  Then when the scenery got really impressive, one of  us went back up to the bow, and the other stayed in the shelter of deck three. 

 

The rewards were great for both of us, as we spotted two whales while in the Channel.  They must be a smaller breed like the minke whale, since the diving revealed much smaller tails.  Once we began to see the string of glaciers, we knew we were in for some awesome sights.  The names of these glaciers were Holanda, Italia, Francia, Rongaglia Alemania, Romanche, and Espana, with Picos Azules in the distance.  More whales were lazily feeding on the shoreline near the glaciers.  The weather turned out to be fantastic, although cold, the sun had come out and we did have plenty of blue sky to give much-needed color to the photos.  A little bit of high fog added to the majestic peaks that appeared from behind it.

 

We stayed until 6:30pm, taking too many pictures.  Now the work to catch up on these last couple of days will keep us busy.

 

It was birthday party time for Barb tonight at dinner.  Ellen, her longtime friend, joined us, making Barb’s day even more special.  The theme for this evening was “Dinner with Darwin” with the menus printed with descriptions of the local cuisine, dating back to Darwin’s days of his specialized work on evolution.  Even the wait staff dressed for the occasion with brown woolen vests and sport’s jackets to match.  Both of us ordered the tuna entrée, but thoroughly cooked.  For us, it was much better that way.  Dessert was a huge carrot cake, which Barb really ordered for the rest of us, since she knows we like it best.  Not a sweet eater, she only had one bite of it.  Our waiters were more than happy to polish off the rest of it with their dinner later on.

 

The entertainer tonight was Ruben Vilagrand, a comedian with musical magic and impossible escapes.  Not sure what that means, but Greg and Heo will let us  know tomorrow.  The rest of us were too bushed to attend, as it had been one very long and active day.

 

Punta Arenas will be our stop early tomorrow.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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Report # 92   Punta Arenas, Chile   February 6, 2020   Thursday   Sunny & 48 degrees   Part # 1 of 4   80 Pictures

 

Although we have been to this port perhaps twice in the past, not much about the actual pier area looked familiar.  This is a working commercial dock, and access to the downtown area of Punta Arenas was by a complimentary shuttle.  Which was a good thing.  While sailing on the Tales of the South Pacific last fall, we did not have the convenience of these shuttles.

 

A city of 110,000, Punta Arenas is located in the Strait of Magellan, named after the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who circumnavigated the world in the 1500’s.  Difficult to travel to, this area has a vibrant fishing industry these days.  After WW II, many Europeans migrated from Germany and Croatia to Chile, bringing with them sheep for wool and mutton, and the vines to plant wine grapes.  That industry has certainly sky-rocketed.  And to increase the economy, Chile has recently made this a duty free zone, making the tourists happy. 

 

There were several ship tours that took folks on the usual sight-seeing bus rides in and out of town.  One such tour took the folks to a working sheep ranch, located on another island.  Here at the ranch, the guests got to see a sheep shearing demo, and also see the sheepdogs at work.  Lastly, you could learn how to milk a cow.  Never know when you might need this skill.  A trip to a national park, and one to islands full of Magellan penguins were offered.  But the one excursion that stood out was the 11 hour tour to Antarctica on a 2 ½ hour plane ride to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands, where we already sailed around.  This time the excursion would allow the guests to walk on the continent, and take a zodiac boat ride ……all this for the price of $3600.  Will have to inquire tomorrow to find out how many people did that tour. 

 

The best thing we saw today was clear blue skies, and sun, although the temperature was still brisk, it was tolerable.   The surrounding waters looked more like a placid lake, instead of a bay.  At least the all onboard time was 7:30pm this evening, so we had plenty of time to go to town.  Breakfast first, then some internet work would give the tour groups a chance to board their buses, and clear the gangway. 

 

The shuttle bus filled, and we were off for a slow ride to downtown by 10am.  The road took us along the waterfront of the bay, with housing on one side, complete with walkways and bike lanes. Now it was starting to look familiar as we neared the downtown area.  At one time, we had docked or tendered right near the base of the main drive, making the walk to town quite close.  Today there were two ships there.  One was the Balmoral, a Fred Olsen vessel, carrying mostly British passengers.  The other smaller ship appeared to be a ferry.  The town was going to be busy today.

 

The drop-off point was at Plaza de Armas, or the main square.  An elaborate statue in the center of this square was that of Ferdinand Magellan looking towards the strait.  A statue of a Patagonian native was below him, and the legend is that if you kiss the toe, you will be immune to seasickness, travel in calm waters, and return here in the future. The monument was surrounded with a park of mature trees.  When we arrived, there was a group of local dancers performing a ritual-like native dance to the music of the Andean flutes and drums.  On the side street, there was a row of handicraft and souvenir stalls selling alpaca knit items, penguin knickknacks, which are becoming redundant now, and plenty of the blue lapis lazuli jewelry.  It was so full of potential customers, we decided to hike to the next site.

 

That was the Cerro la Cruz Viewpoint, located a few blocks uphill from the square.  Climbing up a series of steps, you can see the panoramic view of the Strait of Magellan, the city below, and the island of Tierra del Fuego, where we were yesterday.  Only one of us climbed the last set of stairs, while the other enjoyed the view from down below.  There were a few small houses on this rocky, unpaved road, and a pretty female calico cat came for a visit.  Much better than the dogs that chased us while in Rarotonga last fall.  Bill reported that the same vendors were on the top street, selling the same souvenirs that we saw 8 and 10 years ago.

 

Back down to the square, we saw the Braun Menendez Palace, home of a wealthy family that lived here.  Inside this building was a restaurant as well as a pub.  Had it been opened (it was only noontime) we would have gone inside for lunch.  But a sign in the window said they would open at 1:30pm, and we did not want to wait that long.  Following the ship’s map, we took a walk towards the main street, but could not locate any of the cafes on the map.  In fact, a whole corner building had recently burned down to the ground.  The smell of the smoke was strong, so it must have happened within the week.  One of the tenants in this building happened to be a pizza place.  Figures.

 

Had we been able to listen to the entire port talk on this town, we may have known to head for the waterfront, as we heard later that many restaurants were located there.  Many people were lined up to go back to the ship, where lunch was waiting for everyone in the Lido or the Pinnacle Grill.  It was a Lido salad and sandwich for us.

 

Back in our room, we worked on photos until we got a phone call from guest services offering to connect us with the IT tech to try to solve our computer problem.  Meeting at the office on deck four,  we spent at least an hour with the assistant tech, but eventually solved nothing.  We do know that many of our friends are having the same problem with sending emails, so we know the glitch is not with our computer, but with something that has been tweaked onboard.  Hope this gets resolved, because the photos are backing up.

 

Dinner found only four of us tonight, since Barb, Susie and Woody went to another birthday celebration for a mutual friend.  It was nice to be able to visit with Greg and Heo for a change, and since there was no live show in the Mainstage, we stayed in the dining room until 10pm.

 

We have a few days at sea now, which should be nice.  And maybe the days will heat up slowly.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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The closed pub in the Braun Menendez Palace sounds like Shackleton’s Bar. Had a lovely lunch there in that cozy little place. The soup and sandwiches were great. It’s decorated with pictures from Shackleton’s famous voyage.

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Nice long day you had in Punta Arenas.  That 11 1/2 sounds intriguing but too long for us.

 

Hope you do get warmer weather.

 

That is a shame about the e-mails and pictures and internet.

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Report # 93   Scenic Cruising Nelson Strait   February 7, 2020   Friday   Mostly sunny & 54 degrees   Part # 1 of 4  80 Pictures

 

For a day at sea, it turned out to be a pretty nice one at that, and for several reasons.  To begin with, the sun was out and the skies were cobalt blue, something we have not seen recently.  That sure does a lot to boost everyone’s mood.  It was showing in the dining room at breakfast time with not only the guests, but the crew as well.  Of course, it did help that we all had enjoyed being in port after so many days at sea.  And we learned when we went to check up on the progress with the internet glitch (again), we discovered that most all of the crew as well as passengers, had to use the free WIFI onshore to do their emailing.  So we are not alone with this problem.  Sure hope it gets resolved soon.

 

Listening to the news this morning, we found out that several cruise ships have been involved with this new outbreak of coronavirus.  Most of them are or were sailing in the Orient, or had infected people flying home from the same areas.  Even one HAL ship, the Westerdam, was denied access to several ports in Asia.  Forced quarantines for 2 weeks have been imposed on some Princess and Royal Caribbean guests we heard.  That could be a problem in many ways, especially with passengers with limited medications.  Who would expect that a 10 day trip might turn into a 24 day trip?  This is the first time all of us agreed that we are glad we are not going to Hong Kong this year.  The closest we will be is in Singapore, and now we are concerned about our 2 day stop there.  Hope we are not turned away, not that we have that virus, but we probably have something going on.  For about the fifth day in a row, we got a notice on how to properly sneeze or cough.  And we have to add here that many folks do not know how to do this.  The message to wash our hands and use hand sanitizer has been repeated over and over.  Now we are fortunate that we packed two quarts of antibacterial hand soap with us for our room.  Every time we leave our room, we wash our hands upon coming back.

 

Early this morning, we must have left the Strait of Magellan, and entered the Pacific Ocean.  The ship began rolling with the giant swells, which we did not experience while in the straits and channels of the hundreds of islands.  Around 1:30pm, we entered Nelson Strait and began the scenic cruising through the inside passages.  The deeper we got, the scenery of the inlet revealed placid waters with views of the many active volcanoes that exist down here.  Soaring high in the distance, we saw snow and ice-covered peaks that were part of the Andes, the range that runs like a spine down the center of the continent.  Majestic is the only word that ran through our minds as we enjoyed the wildlife sightings along the way. 

 

Even though the hatch was not open for access to the bow, we knew how to open it.  For a while, we had the deck to ourselves.  Yes, it was breezy with a coolness to it, but the sun made up for it.  One of us went forward, and the other took a seat on the pontoon towards the back.  No need to go from side to side, as the birds and seals were all around us.  And due to our slow speed, it was as quiet as we have ever heard.  Antarctic terns flew overhead, chattering as they checked us out.  Never knew they made that much noise.  Very small sea birds were sitting on the water, then flying as the ship got closer.  They left streaks in the smooth bay as they flew close to the surface.  It was so mesmerizing, we ended up staying until 4pm, missing lunchtime.  Sometimes, food is not as important as taking in these sights.  Our port lecturer reminded all of us that today’s weather was something that happened only about 5 days a year.  We seem to remember wind and fog the last time we did this sailing.

 

The itinerary had Amelia or Brujo Glacier site-seeing as well as Canal Sarmiento.  However, something must have changed with that schedule, because we saw no glaciers.  Could be due to the swells we ran into, the ship was slowed down, and the time for the deep inland sailing was reduced.  If this was a substitute, then we were happy with it. 

 

Sailing in a northerly direction, we got closer to the actual mainland of Chile.  Then passing a very green and large island, Esperanza, we think, the lecturer described how sheep had been introduced to the island, and raised for meat and wool.  There was no sign of them today, but it would have been a nice setting for them. 

 

One small fishing boat passed by the ship, after having set two fish traps or nets close to the shoreline.  With the amount of fur seals in this area, the fishing must be very good.  These seals popped up every now and then, but dove pretty quickly, making it difficult to film.  These days, the fur seals are protected, so they flourish in the fjords and channels. 

 

We spent the remainder of the afternoon working in our room, which was warmed by the sun.  Our plants are loving it. The soil we used was a rich mix for seed-propagation, so it holds water.  However, with the dryness of the controlled air in the ship, the pots tend to dry out quickly.  They require watering daily.  The clue was watching the water level of the vase of flowers we have.  It can go down four inches in one day.

 

Dinner was

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Report # 93   Scenic Cruising Nelson Strait   February 7, 2020   Friday   Mostly sunny & 54 degrees   Part # 1 of 4  80 Pictures

 

For a day at sea, it turned out to be a pretty nice one at that, and for several reasons.  To begin with, the sun was out and the skies were cobalt blue, something we have not seen recently.  That sure does a lot to boost everyone’s mood.  It was showing in the dining room at breakfast time with not only the guests, but the crew as well.  Of course, it did help that we all had enjoyed being in port after so many days at sea.  And we learned when we went to check up on the progress with the internet glitch (again), we discovered that most all of the crew as well as passengers, had to use the free WIFI onshore to do their emailing.  So we are not alone with this problem.  Sure hope it gets resolved soon.

 

Listening to the news this morning, we found out that several cruise ships have been involved with this new outbreak of coronavirus.  Most of them are or were sailing in the Orient, or had infected people flying home from the same areas.  Even one HAL ship, the Westerdam, was denied access to several ports in Asia.  Forced quarantines for 2 weeks have been imposed on some Princess and Royal Caribbean guests we heard.  That could be a problem in many ways, especially with passengers with limited medications.  Who would expect that a 10 day trip might turn into a 24 day trip?  This is the first time all of us agreed that we are glad we are not going to Hong Kong this year.  The closest we will be is in Singapore, and now we are concerned about our 2 day stop there.  Hope we are not turned away, not that we have that virus, but we probably have something going on.  For about the fifth day in a row, we got a notice on how to properly sneeze or cough.  And we have to add here that many folks do not know how to do this.  The message to wash our hands and use hand sanitizer has been repeated over and over.  Now we are fortunate that we packed two quarts of antibacterial hand soap with us for our room.  Every time we leave our room, we wash our hands upon coming back.

 

Early this morning, we must have left the Strait of Magellan, and entered the Pacific Ocean.  The ship began rolling with the giant swells, which we did not experience while in the straits and channels of the hundreds of islands.  Around 1:30pm, we entered Nelson Strait and began the scenic cruising through the inside passages.  The deeper we got, the scenery of the inlet revealed placid waters with views of the many active volcanoes that exist down here.  Soaring high in the distance, we saw snow and ice-covered peaks that were part of the Andes, the range that runs like a spine down the center of the continent.  Majestic is the only word that ran through our minds as we enjoyed the wildlife sightings along the way. 

 

Even though the hatch was not open for access to the bow, we knew how to open it.  For a while, we had the deck to ourselves.  Yes, it was breezy with a coolness to it, but the sun made up for it.  One of us went forward, and the other took a seat on the pontoon towards the back.  No need to go from side to side, as the birds and seals were all around us.  And due to our slow speed, it was as quiet as we have ever heard.  Antarctic terns flew overhead, chattering as they checked us out.  Never knew they made that much noise.  Very small sea birds were sitting on the water, then flying as the ship got closer.  They left streaks in the smooth bay as they flew close to the surface.  It was so mesmerizing, we ended up staying until 4pm, missing lunchtime.  Sometimes, food is not as important as taking in these sights.  Our port lecturer reminded all of us that today’s weather was something that happened only about 5 days a year.  We seem to remember wind and fog the last time we did this sailing.

 

The itinerary had Amelia or Brujo Glacier site-seeing as well as Canal Sarmiento.  However, something must have changed with that schedule, because we saw no glaciers.  Could be due to the swells we ran into, the ship was slowed down, and the time for the deep inland sailing was reduced.  If this was a substitute, then we were happy with it. 

 

Sailing in a northerly direction, we got closer to the actual mainland of Chile.  Then passing a very green and large island, Esperanza, we think, the lecturer described how sheep had been introduced to the island, and raised for meat and wool.  There was no sign of them today, but it would have been a nice setting for them. 

 

One small fishing boat passed by the ship, after having set two fish traps or nets close to the shoreline.  With the amount of fur seals in this area, the fishing must be very good.  These seals popped up every now and then, but dove pretty quickly, making it difficult to film.  These days, the fur seals are protected, so they flourish in the fjords and channels. 

 

We spent the remainder of the afternoon working in our room, which was warmed by the sun.  Our plants are loving it. The soil we used was a rich mix for seed-propagation, so it holds water.  However, with the dryness of the controlled air in the ship, the pots tend to dry out quickly.  They require watering daily.  The clue was watching the water level of the vase of flowers we have.  It can go down four inches in one day.

 

Dinner was with Leta and Bill at their table for four.  What a nice time we had visiting with them.  We have sailed with them ever since 2007, and most all of the world cruises since then.  And shared a lot of laughs as well.  At 10pm, we decided we better leave, since the waiters were yawning by then. 

 

There was a show this evening, but we missed it.  A mentalist by the name of Alan Chamo performed his award winning show.  He will be back for an encore, so we will check him out then.

 

One more day of scenic cruising in the Chilean fjords tomorrow, then we will be on our way to another port of Puerto Montt.  And we do expect the temperature to be going up gradually as we sail north.

 

Bill & Mary Ann

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