Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ushuaia, Argentina--The End of the World

Ushuaia, formerly a whaling station and an Argentine prison colony is a gateway to the southern most city in the world, Fin del Mundo.

We celebrated stepping foot on land after 6 sea days, including one night being tossed by hurricane-force winds, by taking a rigorous three hour hike crossing a valley of peat bog, often sinking up to our knees and then climbing the very tail end of the Andes. Felt good to stretch!

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Click on this pix to zoom in to notice the flower-like parasites in the tree-tops.

Cape Horn

Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile and marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage. The fierce gale-force winds, 6-10 meter waves, and icebergs have made it notorious as a sailor's graveyard. IMGP1645
Click on the pix to zoom. The cathedral-like rocks splintered many a sailor's vessel before completion of the Panama Canal which offered a much shorter and safer route from East to West and back again.

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Not a startling picture to look at, but it is the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

6 Days of Antarctic Cruising

Neumeyer_Blue SkyWe left the land of Stanley on The Falklands on Wednesday and didn't touch land again till the following Wednesday when we arrived at Ushuaia, Argentina whose byline is "Fin del Mundo", The End of the World; it is, indeed, the southern most city in the world.

Sea days are surprisingly easy to fill with at least 2 lectures daily by scientists who have spent years on the frozen continent; hours on deck spotting ice bergs, penguins, seals, whales, and Antarctic birds; personal reading and writing; daily excursions to the fitness center; leisurely meals with 4-6 people from elsewhere in the world; and quite passable evening entertainment.

Neumeyer_Gerlache Strait

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Esperanza & Arctowski--Scientific Stations In Antarctica

Most of the ship was awake and on deck for our arrival in Hope Bay on the Trinity Peninsula, home to Esperanza Station, an Argentine Research Base. I've never seen so many monstrous camera lenses assembled in one place, ever! My little point and shoot seemed truly like a toy. 

Temperature today was in the high 30's, but the wind was 40-50 mph. Of course that's tame compared to the winter weather when it hits -50 Fahrenheit with 100-120 mph winds. Imagine a baby seal being born, wet, slithering out of its amniotic sac landing on an ice berg under those conditions. Within a week it is ready for its first swim where the weather conditions are actually warmer than on land, never getting below -1.

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Click on the picture to zoom in. The orange buildings at the edge of the water is the research station.

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Again, click on the pix to zoom in. These little "bergy bits" floated by our balcony about the same time a whale did its blow, showed his broad back, and gracefully slipped his tail back under the sea.

One of the Polish scientists from the Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station boarded our ship and talked about the work they are doing in the fields of marine biology, oceanography, seismology, geomorphology, glaciology, meteorology, climatology, seismology, magnetism, and ecology. The station can accommodate up to 70 people in the summer and 20 during the winter.

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Click on the pic to zoom in. The yellow buildings are those of the Arctowski Station.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Elephant Island, Antarctica--January 23, 2009

Elephant1

Our weary Captain broadcast his apologies for our "hard" night. Turns out he and his crew had to navigate through hurricane force winds that advanced 10 meter swells against the ship's hull. Temp 34 Fahrenheit.

At breakfast passengers were swapping tales of being bonked on the head at 2:00 a.m. by flying water bottles and needing to awaken housekeeping for a change in bed linen for bedside glasses of water rudely awakening them. We are on Deck 8 and awoke to our balcony floor covered in water--not from rain.

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How can any of this begin to even merit mention when compared to Shackleton's epic journey when his ship, Endurance, was crushed by pack ice in November, 1915? He and his crew dragged and rowed their lifeboats across the ice to Elephant Island where the crew spent four grim months there before being rescued surviving on penguin and seal meat.

By the time we cruised by Elephant Island the wind and waves had moderated significantly and the fog had lifted enough we could see land masses, one of which Elephant Island.

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Chin Strap penguins by the hundreds did that little arching dolphin dive long side the ship. I was surprised how small they were, 7 decks up. they looked the size of good-sized bass or large crow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stanley, Falkland Islands

The Falklands lie 400 miles off the south eat tip of South America. Stanley, the Capital, is a tiny city of 1,900 on the eastern tip of East Falkland Island. In addition to East and West Falkland, there are 740 tiny islands. The Falklands remain a British protectorate after the 1982 Conflict between Argentina and Britain. If you're talking to an Argentine it is insensitive and inflammatory to refer the Islands as The Falklands; Isla Malvinas is the politically correct name. A number of unexploded ordinances and land mines remain still today.

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Whale Rib Arch as entrance to the tiny town.

3,000 folks, mostly Brits, call The Falklands home; the penguin population outnumbers the people by 10 fold.  Its harbor is dotted with the hulks of whaling vessels that succumbed to the fierce winds and waves of the South Atlantic en route to and from Cape Horn.

Our cruise ship dropped anchor 2 miles out. The 150-person tenders (life boats) ferried passengers to and from the ship to the island. 

Kirk and I decided to walk to Gypsy Cove to catch a glimpse of some penguins up close and personal. We stopped to chat with an old chap out tending his flower garden. His hands were massive and his body and beard would qualify him as a perfect Santa. Having been on Island for 22 years, he gave us directions via a shortcut to Gypsy Cove although he wasn't able to tell us how far it was by time or distance. We asked every returning cruise person we passed, "How much further?" In German, English, Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish accents it was always--"A hard hour and a half, at least an hour, if you walk fast, maybe 45 minutes." We had given ourselves until 2:30 at which time we knew we must turn around and head for the tender, especially since today's high wind would be a head wind on our return.

At 2:30 a young Japanese couple said it's only 10 more minutes. As we crested the brim of the next hill we could see the cove and taxis and tour busses waiting to carry returning passengers. Perfect. Kirk ran ahead and saved us a seat in a taxi while I hunted out a shot of these cuties.

Baby Burrowing Penguins_Falkland

We considered ourselves fortunate to have landed on one of the The Falklands' 115 days it doesn't rain or snow, the sun shines, and the wind is only high, rather than the other option--fierce. 

All the cars on Island are Land Rovers, and, of course,  they are driven on the left side of the road. Provisions are flown in from Chile or England on one of the two incoming weekly flights or by freighters that come ever month or two.

There are no trees on The Falklands, something about being in the rain shadow of the Andes than makes tree growing nigh impossible.

Roofs are made of corrugated steel and most often painted in Central American bright blues, reds, or yellows. I can only imagine what 250 days of rain sounds like on roofs of steel.

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Standing "O" For The 44th

January 20th 2009, the day most Americans and most nations global-wide have been waiting for, for a very long time.

January 20th 2009 found us somewhere between Montevideo, Uruguay and The Falkland Islands on the Star Princess carrying over 3,000 passengers and crew.

By 1:30 Atlantic Time, 10:30 Eastern Time, every lounge and bar outfitted with a TV was packed to SRO.

How many times in any of our life times will we be sharing such a momentous event elbow to elbow with people of every nationality and every language? The lounges erupted in applause several times throughout President Obama's inaugural address; and when he finished his oath of office with, "...so help me God" the people stood giving him a virtual standing ovation.

President Obama is off to a very good beginning unifying the world's people with hope and inspiring confidence in his leadership.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Montevideo, Uruguay--a missed adventure

The 100 miles from Buenos Aires to Montevideo should have found us docked in the wee hours of Sunday morning. We set a wake-up call for 7:00 to be ready for a private tour of the city--not a Cicerones-type tour, but an already-paid-for-it-type tour.

A good clue should have been the screech-screeech-screeeeching of the whole boat's anatomy that made falling asleep a little challenging. And then there was the premature wake-up call at 3:40 a.m. And finally, the Captain's announcement during breakfast that we never made it into port at Montevideo due to gale-force winds in the channel. We would be anchored an hour and a half from shore for an undetermined period of time.

Port we did, at 5:00 p.m., 8 hours after we were to have met our tour guide.  I was duly impressed with Kirk's negotiation skills in Spanish that yielded the promise of a 50% return on our booking fee.

We found a self-guided walking tour map of the historic city which was a montage of past glory, abandoned present, and 3rd world dogs whose ribs were as visible as their poop-on-sidewalks. Even McDonalds and Burger King were closed on Sunday afternoon.

Glory-past Abandoned

Past glory, abandoned present

Montevideo Waste Management

Montevideo Waste Management, maybe?

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Teatro Solis Montevideo                                 Hope for renaissance

El Cisne For Breakfast

Before leaving for the port to board the cruise ship, we breakfasted at El Cisne, just a block from our hotel. We entertained ourselves to the point of disruptive laughter reading the earnest translations from Spanish to English:

Spanish

English Menu Translation
Postre Desert Prostrate
Entrada Appetizer Entrances
  No idea Chopped and Charts
  No idea about a span or blow Spans, blows, anchovies, and olives
  Still no idea Spans with Golf Sauce
  Presumably a salad bar Salt Bar he/she chooses
  Your guess Sandwiches of it crumbs
  Maybe fried egg? Egg to the iron
  Stuffed Pizza and Calzones Padded Pizza and Shorts
    Specialties in meats and pigs
  Glazed fish Fish taken a bath in candy, with bottom of greeness
  Pork Medallions Locket of meager loins

Cicerones In Buenos Aires

Good to know that in many large cities world-wide you might be able to request a personal tour directed by a volunteer guide (Cicerones); a tour of your choosing and better yet, it's free! There are those who love their home so much they want to share some of their city's richness with you.

So Mariana (I don't think we ever knew her last name) met us, Kirk's Rotary friend, Mario from Arrecifes, (about 100 miles from Buenos Aires), and Mario's 26-year old son Sebastian. We spent about 3 1/2 hours walking and cabbing as many high sites as we had energy for after a 13 hour flight and a gain of four clock hours.

Memorables included:

  • Recoleta Cemetary--home now to Eva Perone
  • The Pink House--Ceremonial House of the President
  • Gran Cafe Tortoni--150 year old Coffee House where the intellectuals and notables (like Hillary) sip coffee and discourse
  • Subte--the subway that only cost 70 cents (US)

Pictures will follow when Mario emails me his pix.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Looking Back 2008_Looking Ahead 2009

Annual Comp_2002-2008

(Click on the graph to zoom in)

2008 was a good year, despite scary global weather patterns, the economic downturn, continued war, and the arrogant cluelessness of our Governor, Rod Blago...

Our confidence in our nation's leadership has been restored through the election of Barack Obama; we had two new grandsons born--Jet in June and Kalil in December; I enjoyed two solo, cycling tours one from home (Chicago) to Columbus, GA and one from home to Stoddard, NH; and, for the 3rd year in a row, and I averaged more than 1,000 miles per month.

Looking ahead to 2009
January--South American Cruise (no bike)
March--PAC Tour Desert Camp--the Chiricahua Challenge
April--Indianapolis Centuries and 200k Brevet in Wisconsin
May--300k Brevet in Minnesota
June--Celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary in Scottsdale with all our children and 6 grandchildren
July--Transcontinental with PAC Tour from Portland, OR to Savannah, GA
September--Self-guided group ride from home to Washington Island, WI