Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

Part 11: South America – Rio de Janeiro and Petrópolis, Brazil.

January 26th, 2019

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March 9, 2018. The Amazon and Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Today we were leaving the ship and flying to Rio de Janeiro.

We were up on deck at 6am to see the Meeting of the Waters. This is where the black waters of the Negro River joins the muddy waters of the Solimöes River to create the mighty Amazon. 

The Negro River has a ph balance of 6.2 and a temperature of 28°C, while the Solimöes River has a ph of 4.6 and a temperature of 22°C. On joining, the the two rivers run side by side for about 6 kilometres without mixing.

When the waters meet, the fish from one river can’t survive in the other.

The other big difference is in the colour of each river. The Rio Negro is like black tea, while the Rio Solimöes is the colour of milk coffee. 

After we docked and had our bags put into storage we went for a walk around Manaus. Which was rather silly as it was 32°C with a humidity of 90%. 

The Manaus Municipal Market, Adolpho Lisboa was our first stop. The market stalls weren’t that interesting but the architecture was. There were two distinct pavilions. The first was built in 1882 and was constructed with wrought iron. It had wonderful stained glass windows at the entrances. The other was built in a Neo Classical style in 1906, with an imposing painted brick facade. 

From there we walked to the Palacio Rio Negro. Completed in 1911 by the German ‘Rubber Barron’ Karl Waldemar Scholz and originally named as Scholz  Palace. It was renamed in 1918, when it was acquired by the government and used as the seat of power.

Built in the architectural style known as ‘Eclectic’ it borrows its features from many different eras.

Unfortunately it didn’t open until the afternoon, so we only got to see the outside. 

After that we walked back to the main square for a cup of coffee. 

Then it began to pour. This was tropical rain that made the tin roofs shudder and Thea got trapped in the toilet, which was outside, during the second deluge. 

Not wanting to get soaked we opted to get a taxi back to the port to collect our bags and then head to the airport. 

All in all we walked over seven kilometres in the heat and humidity. But it was good to get out after having been virtually confined to the boat for four days. 

It was almost a four hour flight from Manaus to Rio de Janeiro, and that included a one hour time change. 

This would be our last stop before heading home later in the week. 

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March 10, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

We were staying at the Best Western Premier Arpoador Fashion Hotel. The ‘fashion’ aspect of the hotel was delivered by a series of photos of fashion models that were around the hotel. There was also a catwalk video playing in reception.

It was a good hotel with an excellent restaurant that served a great breakfast.

The restaurant was also open in the evenings for dinner. We ate there on our first night and I had a very tasty seafood with black rice.

The hotel was very close to Ipanema, a small shopping area near the famous beach.

After breakfast we walked to Praça General Osório, a park close to the hotel, then onto Ipanema Beach. 

On the way we found D.O.N. Barber Beer, where I had a much needed haircut. When we walked in the door it seemed to be more about the beer, until we discovered the barbers shop was upstairs. 

I decided that we should return, as they had a good range of Brazilian craft beers. Unfortunately we never did.

Overlooking Ipanema Beach is the Arpoador Rock. From there you can get a great view of both the beach and Sugar Loaf, one of the granite and quartz monoliths that dominate the Rio skyline.

It was 30°C with 60% humidity so we stopped for lunch at Copacabana Beach. While having lunch we were hounded by vendors selling everything imaginable.

In the evening we had dinner at Carretão at Ipanema. This was a classic steakhouse with a fixed price and an all-you-can-eat buffet on the side.

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March 11, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

There is an excellent Metro system in Rio, so we hopped on the train and went to see the Museum of Modern Art. 

MOM, as you would expect, is full of abstract art, with many of the artists choosing not to title their work.

I have an issue with this. 

By titling abstract art the creator can give it an extra meaning, especially if the title is in itself abstract and needs thinking about. 

So the question is, should an artist title his art or leave it untitled?

The exhibitions at MOM we all created from works owned by the gallery. The curators cleverly themed each exhibit and chose gallery art to complement their idea.  

There was one original show by José Bechara. These featured his paintings as well as metal and glass sculptures. 

Apart from a Jackson Pollock print, a Henry Moore sculpture and a few other internationals, the majority of the work was from Brazilian artists. 

The building is also a notable example of Brazilian Modernism. It was was designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and completed in 1955. 

The gallery is situated in Flamenco Park, an urban planning project, on the coast of Rio.

After visiting MOM we walked back through the Flamenco Park area until we found another Metro station.

There are constant warnings about safety in Rio, especially for tourists. We never encountered any problems but we were told on several occasions, by concerned locals, to keep our cameras out of view.

However there must be serious security issues in the city, as everyone seems to live in a cage. All apartments, shops and businesses have very strong looking steel grills in front of the buildings and CCTV is everywhere.

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March 12, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

We booked through the hotel to go on the ‘One Day in Rio Tour’.

In the morning we only visited two sites, Sugar Loaf and the Cathedral. The rest of the time was spent picking up and dropping off passengers. 

In the afternoon we only visited one site, Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. We took the train through Tijuca Forest National Park to get there.

All in all it wasn’t good value for money, as the rest of the sites that were promised on the agenda were just a ‘drive by’ visit. 

Then to rub salt into the wound they took us to Carretão for lunch, the same restaurant we had been to two nights earlier.

They need to use smaller busses, to reduce the pick-up and drop-of times, rather than trying to ferry large groups around in full size coaches. 

We would have been better off using taxis and just paying our own way at each of the sites we visited. In fact by doing that we would have been able to get a lot more out of the day than we did. 

And it would have been a lot cheaper. 

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March 13, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

After doing a ‘drive by’ of the city centre on the previous day we decided to see it in more detail. 

Re-charging our Metro cards we headed into central Rio de Janeiro. 

No sooner had we arrived than it started to rain – this was becoming all to predictable.

Like many cities, Rio’s street names reflect the history of the city and the people who created it. 

The authorities have made this a feature in Rio by including dates and accomplishments along with the name of the person. This is all contained within the street sign.

For example, Rue Martim Alfonso (1500-1564) commemorates the Portuguese explorer and colonial administrator who was the first Royal Governor of Brazil.

The rain cleared in the afternoon and we continued our city tour. We then hopped back on the Metro and went to the Botanical Gardens, which is near the very posh suburb of Leblon. 

Founded in 1808 by King John VI of Portugal, the gardens were originally intended for the acclimatisation of spices that came from the West Indies.

There are now 6,500 different species in 54 hectares of very well maintained area. 

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March 14, 2018. Rio de Janeiro and Petrópolis, Brazil.

On our last day of touring we took a trip to Petrópolis, or The Imperial City. 

The town’s name means City of Peter in honour of Pedro II, the last Emperor of Brazil. Petrópolis is the spiritual home of the Brazilian aristocracy. Founded in 1843, it was the summer residence of the Brazilian Emperors

The area was first settled by Emperor Pedro I who found the mountain climate a good change from  the heat of Rio. His son, Pedro II, ordered a settlement be build with the assistance of the newly arrived German immigrants. 

It’s about 70 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro to Petrópolis, an alpine town of over 300,000 inhabitants. 

Leaving the city we got a feel for how big Rio really is. With over 12 million inhabitants in the metro area alone, it’s not surprising.

Our guide to Petrópolis was Julio, a retired history teacher. He knew his facts and gave a good commentary. 

Our first stop was at a German inspired café, Casa do Alemão where we stopped for a coffee.

Palácio Quitandinha was next, but we could only see it from a distance. Designed by the Italian architect Luis Fossatti, and built in 1946, it was a luxury resort hotel for the rich and famous of Rio. Today the hotel rooms have been converted into privately owned condominiums. While the public areas, originally decorated by the famous American designer Dorothy Draper, have been fully restored.

Part of our tour took us past the Imperial Museum of Brazil. Built in 1845, it was the former summer palace of Emperor Pedro II (1831-1889) and is one of the most visited museum in Brazil.

Germans have had a huge influence on Brazil, especially in Petrópolis. German immigration started in 1824, decades before other Europeans came to the country. The population of German/Brazilians rose rapidly due to the highly successful birthrate among women of German origin.

In fact about one third of the population of Petrópolis have German ancestors.

The last stop in Petrópolis, before heading back to Rio, was the House of Santos Dumont.

Santos Dumont (1873-1932) is regarded, especially in Brazil, as the first person to fly a practical airplane in 1906, preceding the Wright Brothers.

He is a national treasure with countless roads, schools, monuments and of course airports named after him.

He spent most of his adult life in France, designing and flying lighter-than-air balloons and heavier-than-air flying machines.

He believed so much in the future of powered flight that he freely published his ideas and designs without every patenting them.

On our last night we again ate at the hotel restaurant, as we had a very early flight to catch the next morning.

March 15, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Melbourne, Australia.

We were up at 2:45am to get our flight home. 

It was raining again in Rio de Janeiro so a good time to leave. 

Our flight took us across South America, over the Andes and back to Santiago in Chile. This was only a stop-over before getting a connecting flight back to Melbourne. 

This route took us south, very south. In fact we passed closer to the south pole than we had been on our Antarctic cruise.

Part 10: South America – Foz do Iguaçu to Manaus, Brazil.

January 6th, 2019

February 27, 2018. Puerto Iguazú, Argentina to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil.

Today we were crossing the border into Brazil, the last new country on this trip. 

We walked the kilometre or so into town to get money and try and find a coffee.

We then took the long way back to the hotel along the Iguazú River. 

It had been raining and was now hot and steamy, we haven’t had tropical weather for a long time.  

Puerto Iguazú is a very tired and rundown looking place. It suffers from the fact that all the big hotels, catering to the many tourists, are out of the town centre. 

They are mainly self sufficient and the punters have no reason to come into town. 

Also many of the restaurants in the town centre only open at lunchtime and not in the evening, when the tourists normally eat. 

During the middle of the day the tourists are visiting the falls.

Crossing the border was very easy. The hotel booked us a taxi and he took us from Puerto Iguazú to our hotel in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil. 

The immigration leaving Argentina was at a kiosk, where we didn’t even have to get out of the taxi. 

We went over the Tancredo Neves Bridge (1985) and crossed in Brazil. 

Our biggest problem was remembering our limited Portuguese. 

When we arrived at the Viale Tower Hotel it started to rain again. Once it cleared we had a wander around the town area close to our hotel. We also needed to get some Brazilian Reals so needed a bank. There were none open so we ended up a a money changer.

 

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February 28, 2018. Foz do Iguaçu and Iguaçu Falls, Brazil.

We took Public bus number 120 to the Iguaçu National Park. 

It was a slow 14 kilometres. 

There were evacuation signs on the emergency exit, which had a number of graphics showing who had priority. Obese people were first, which was a sure signal that obesity is part of life in Brazil, as it is in much of Central and South America.

We were in Foz do Iguaçu to view the Iguaçu Falls from the Brazilian side – it was a very different experience. 

There were fewer people and the experience seemed less hectic.

From the visitor’s centre we caught a double decker bus down to the falls and from there we walked around the Devil’s Throat, this time viewing it from the Brazilian side. 

We put on our wet weather ponchos (plastic bags) and ventured out into the mist. 

The walk to get there is pleasant, with many viewing points along the way. 

The Iguaçu National Park, created in 1939, was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. It has an area of 185,262 hectares and borders the Argentinian side of the falls. Together the two National Parks are about 260,000 hectares in area.

In the end we decided that it was really worth seeing the falls from both sides. 

In the afternoon we crossed over the road, from the National Park entrance and into Parque das Aves.

This Bird Park has a wide variety of tropical birds, with many of them being rescued from smugglers. A highlight was seeing the Tocu Toucans. The park was opened in 1994 and is about 16 hectares in size.

 

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March 1, 2018. Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil.

Having now visited the falls on both sides we decided to do something completely different.

The Itaipu Binacional is a huge dam and reservoir, on the Paraná River, just outside of Foz do Iguaçu. The dam has a volume of 12,300,000 cubic metres.

The name Itaipu was taken from an island that was near the construction site and means ‘sounding stone’ in the local Guarani language.

It’s a joint project between Brazil and Paraguay. Construction starting in 1974 and was completed in 1991. 

It has 20 generators producing 103,098,366 megawatt hours of electricity, more than any other dam in the world. Ten generators produce electricity for Brazil and the other ten for Paraguay. Interestingly the Paraguayan generators produce more than the country needs so they sell it back to Brazil.

March 2, 2018. Foz do Iguaçu to Brasilia, Brazil.

Most of the day was spent travelling, as we were off to Brasilia. Unfortunately there were no direct flights so we had to go via Sao Paulo. 

I have come to the conclusion that budget airlines are fooling themselves by putting profit before people. 

Good evidence of this was our flight to Brasilia. We were charged Brazilian Real 80 (A$30+) each to check our bags into the hold. It was cheaper if we had done it online. However it wouldn’t accept our international credit card. 

This exorbitant cost means that most passengers opt to pack everything into their cabin baggage. 

They are often larger than the official size. Then some passengers even carry two bags, where they should only have one. 

Just prior to boarding there was an announcement asking if passengers would like to check in their hand luggage – at no charge. 

There were a few takers with most opting to take their cabin bags on board. They then had to fight for overhead locker space.

Then there’s a repeat of the bun-fight once you land.

Now everyone, who was forced to put their bags in lockers that were behind their seats, had to scramble to get them. They usually do this before the seatbelt sign is turned off, causing more confusion. 

If the airlines didn’t charge, there wouldn’t be a problem and flights would be much more enjoyable, for everyone. 

But then the airlines wouldn’t make extra profit by carrying cargo. Which, to them, is far more important than the safety and comfort of their passengers. 

There needs to be a point where business has to balance their profits over the well-being of the consumers and their staff. 

That night we ate at Coco Bambu in Brasìlia Shopping, a mall just over the road from our hotel, the Culling Hplus Premium.

It was a very pleasant restaurant with great staff. They didn’t speak English but alerted us to the fact that we had ordered too much. 

How many restaurants do that?

 

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March 3, 2018. Brasilia, Brazil.

Brasilia is the capital of Brazil and situated in the Brazilian highlands. It’s a modern city, purpose built to be the nations capital, much like Canberra in Australia.

Founded in 1960 it is now Brazil’s third largest city. The city was planned and developed in 1956 by the urban planner, Lúcio Costa and the modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer.

We were in Brasilia for the architecture. 

The hotel booked us a day tour and we hoped that we would get to see some of the most famous buildings. Our guide was Ira and our small group raced around trying to get a feel for this most contemporary of cities.

In 1987, only 27 years after its foundation, Brasilia was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the youngest city in the world to be given that honour.

Some of the building we visited were; Mané Garrincha Stadium (1974), Juscelino Kubitschek Mausoleum (1960), Dom Bosco Church (1970), Our Lady of Aparecida Metropolitan Cathedral (1970), National Congress Building (1970), The Three Powers Square and the Alvorada Palace (1957).

The highlight for me was the JK (Juscelino Kubitschek) Bridge, constructed in 2002 and based on the idea of a pebble skipping over a pond.

Concrete cancer is the scourge of Brasilia.

It is a particular problem with modern, reinforced steel and concrete buildings. The steel begins to rust within the concrete causing it to expand. It then becomes brittle and cracks and in some cases falls from the structure.

Evidence of concrete cancer is everywhere in Brasilia. There has been some restoration but much more is needed, especially considering the cities heritage listing.

The day was marred by us both getting a touch of food poisoning. 

Ira suggested that we all go and have lunch at a local Brazilian restaurant. It was the kind that you only pay for what you eat. You select what you want and then they weigh it. 

There was obviously something in what we chose that we didn’t intend to get. 

For the rest of the afternoon and the night we felt very sorry for ourselves. 

No dinner that evening.

March 4, 2018. Brasilia to Manaus, Brazil.

Felling better but not yet over our upset stomachs, we were grateful that we had arranged a late check-out. 

The only flight we could get to Manaus, on the Amazon, was at 11:30pm so a day to ourselves in the hotel was welcome. 

We did return to Brasìlia Shopping and had a light lunch but that was about the extent of our travels and our food intake.

 

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March 5, 2018. Manaus and the Amazon, Brazil.

After checking into our Manaus hotel at 3am we tried to get a few hours sleep. 

After a late breakfast we went for a walk around the town. 

As we came out, the rain came down. 

We were on the Amazon and 3° south of the equator so it was to be expected. 

The main feature of Manaus, apart from being the gateway to the Amazon, is the Amazon Theatre.

The Amazon Theatre was built in 1896 during the ‘Belle Époque’ period of the rubber boom. It was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by the Italian architect Celestial Sacardim. The dome is covered with 36,000 ceramic tiles painted in the colours of the Brazilian national flag. 

Manaus is the capital city in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. It is on the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. It was founded in 1669 as the Fort of São José and became a town in 1832.

Manaus is slap bang in the middle of the Amazon rain forest and the embarkation point for boat trips into the Brazilian Amazon. Which is exactly what we had planned to do.

Part of the afternoon was spent trying to book our return flight to Australia.

We have used LATAM Airlines a lot in South America and found that they were the fastest and most economical way to return to Australia. 

Booking this trip wasn’t without its issues. 

As I have winged about before, nothing comes free with these low cost airlines. 

That’s fine if you can work out how to actually pay for the extras. 

Thea spent an hour trying to pay for our seats on the trans Pacific leg from Santiago to Melbourne but couldn’t get the credit card to work. She even phoned the help desk and they were no help at all. 

After battling unhelpful help desks, we got a taxi down to the port at 3 pm and checked in to the Iberostar Grand Amazon. 

Our cabin on the boat, especially the bathroom, was larger than some hotels we have stayed in. In fact it was more like a hotel suite than a ship’s cabin. 

It also had a Nespresso machine and a range of pods. 

For a couple who have sworn off ‘cruising’ here we were, on yet another ship, only a month after we were sailing in the Antarctic. 

The Iberostar Grand Amazon was sold as an all inclusive tour – meaning everything is included in the price. 

Of course there is a caveat on that. 

Everything, doesn’t include the two indulgences we enjoy. 

Good wine and craft beer. 

You could buy wine by the glass, but this was limited to a house red and white, of dubious origin. 

There were four beers on offer, all of them Pilsners. 

What the!

At dusk the ship headed north west, up the Rio Negro, for our first night on the water. 

Compared to the SS Expedition travelling to Antarctica, we were barely moving. 

It was hard not to compare the Antarctic trip to this one within the Amazon region. 

Both were small ships on an adventure cruise, with a large crew. 

However they were very different. 

Antarctica was English language oriented while the Amazon was very much Portuguese. 

Antarctica was wilderness, wildlife and conservation, while the Amazon was more about the indigenous people, experiences and shopping opportunities. 

We didn’t actually sail on the Amazon River until the final morning. 

Which in a way was good for me. 

Because of the ph balance of the Negro River, apparently mosquitoes don’t breed on the water. They only reproduce in the bromeliads, up in the tree canopy. 

Whereas on the Amazon River there is no such issue. 

I liked the Negro.

It was a good theory, until a few days later, when I discovered that there still are things that bite on the Rio Negro. 

And naturally they found me. 

 

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March 6, 2018. The Amazon, Brazil.

In the morning we walked through the Jaraqui Stream area and Luis was our guide.

It wasn’t about animals but about the life, death and regrowth of the Amazon Rainforest. 

Everywhere we looked there was dead, dying or decaying plants and new life springing up. 

The rain held off for the morning but it looked very threatening for the afternoon. 

The itinerary was changed about, as we had to return to Manaus. Apparently one of the generators needed replacing. 

They assured us that none of the activities would be effected. 

Our afternoon boat trip to Trés Bocas was therefore cancelled and replaced by a visit to Cambebas, an indigenous village. 

There was a lunchtime talk about the Amazon Forrest and the effects of the wet season on the water levels, as well as the plant and animal life. 

Thea’s technical problems have followed us to the Amazon and are now effecting everything around us. 

When we first arrived, our room safe wouldn’t work and needed a new battery. Then our cabin door wouldn’t open and we were locked out. 

Even the ship’s breakdowns continued with the outboard engine on our tender dying on the way back from Cambebas Village. 

 

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March 7, 2018. The Amazon, Brazil.

The morning adventure was the boat trip to Trés Bocas and this time Jefferson was our guide. 

This is part of Anavilhanas, the second largest fluvial archipelago in the world. It’s a huge collection of river islands and beaches. 

Tres Bocas is one of the largest islands in the Archipelago. 

This trip was more about being on the river and experiencing Amazonia. We saw Toucans, Macaws, Green Parrots as well as Dolphins. 

This was all done at a distance and made good photography very difficult. Especially as the cloudy skies caused everything to be backlit . 

At one point Jefferson stopped the boat and we just listened to the jungle. It’s too easy to spend time on photography and forget to enjoy the moment. 

In the afternoon, as part of the on-board program, there was a talk on the fish of the Amazon.

Entertainment seemed to be a very important part of life on board the Iberostar Grand Amazon. 

On our first night, after dinner, there was a magician. Then the staff band performed after dinner on night two and then again at lunchtime on the third day. 

The South Americans, especially the Brazilians, love to dance. The performance was definitely aimed at them. 

I can see why Carnival is so popular. 

There was a group of Germans and they were always holding a drink. They never let go of their glasses during lunchtime, while the band was playing and even when they were in the pool.

They were definitely making the most of the open bar policy. 

The afternoon activity was Piranha Fishing. 

We decided to participate in this for two reasons. Firstly it was catch and release, so no fish were actually taken and secondly I wanted to see this mythical creature in close-up. 

Apart from the thrill of being on the river and in the backwaters it was a frustrating experience. 

Firstly it poured down and everything got wet. But worse than that, I didn’t catch a thing. 

And I was the only one. 

There was yet another performer after dinner. This time it was an indigenous member of staff. 

His specialty was flutes and he played at least six different types. 

It was cleverly done as a soundtrack to a documentary video about Brazil, the people, culture, animals and land. 

This played on a screen behind. 

He concluded the short show with his own rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ 

The background video, to this classic song, featured indigenous people from around the word. 

It delivered a very powerful and poignant message. 

In the evening we went Caiman spotting and only managed to get a glimpse of one reptile scurrying into the water – that was it.

 

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March 8, 2018. The Amazon, Brazil.

We were up at 5:30 am for the sunrise.

The sun didn’t rise but Luis had a surprise for us anyway. He took us to see the Ariaú Jungle Tower, an abandoned eco resort.

When it was operating it had about eight kilometres of elevated walkway through the jungle. The guests could drive golf carts from one part of the resort to the other. There were six tower blocks and 288 rooms elevated over the jungle.

It only closed at the beginning of 2016 and very quickly the jungle has reclaimed the site.

After breakfast we were to visit the Pink Amazon River Dolphins. This was with Jefferson, our guide guide from earlier in the week. 

However because of the number of people wanting to do the dolphins trip, we did a nature cruise first. 

There were monkeys, sloths and a variety of birds. 

We also passed through the abandoned resort again. This time from the other side. 

After about ninety minutes we arrived at a small floating platform that was very close to the ship, and our original starting point. 

This is an a opportunity to be in the water at the same time the dolphins are being fed. 

It is supposedly an eco and environmentally conscious activity. However these are wild animals that now rely on humans for their food and therefore survival. 

I was disappointed that Jefferson also fed the monkeys on our way to the dolphins. 

It was great for the tourists but not good for the monkeys. 

At lunchtime the band played again. They normally only play twice, but it was International Women’s Day and the ladies loved to dance. 

The last off-ship experience was to the Rubber Tapping Museum. 

This part of the Amazon region was the heart of the wealthy Brazilian rubber industry, during the late part of the 19th Century. This was the golden age for rubber and there was a large expansion of European colonisation in the Amazon Basin. The rubber was extracted from trees in a very random way, as there were no plantations as we now see in South East Asia. The trees were in the jungle and rubber tappers would spend days at a time out tapping the trees. Slavery, murder and brutality were widespread.

The Rubber Barons got rich but at the expense of the indigenous population.

The Vila Parasío Rubber Museum is built within a film set for a Portuguese movie, titled, ‘The Jungle’. 

The movie was about these barons and their excesses.

 

Part 9: South America – Argentina again.

January 4th, 2019

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February 20, 2018. Buenos Aires to Mendoza, Argentina. 

After a late arrival back into Buenos Aires the previous night it was a very early start for a 6:55 am flight from Buenos Aires to Mendoza.

We were back in Argentina again.

Fortunately our accommodation, Solandes Apart & Wine, allowed us to check-in at 9:30 am, so we could have a bit of a rest before we headed out.

Mendoza is the capital of the Argentinean wine district and everything is geared towards that.

There is also skiing, mountain biking and hiking but we were there for the wine.

The area around Greater Mendoza is the largest wine growing region in Latin America. Mendoza is one of the Great Wine Capitals off the world. The others are regarded as: Adelaide in Australia, Bilbao and Rioja in Spain, Bordeaux in France, Lausanne in Switzerland, Mainz and Rheinhessen in Germany, Porto in Portugal, SanFrancisco and Napa Valley in the USA, Valparaiso and Casablanca in Chile and Verona in Italy.

Mendoza was founded in 1551 by the Spaniard, Pedro del Castillo and named after the governor of Chile, García Hurtado de Mendoza.

 

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February 21, 2018. Mendoza, Argentina. 

Thea’s technical woes continued. 

Two computers had died and now her back-up drive had surrendered to the gremlins. We were now down to one computer and one back-up drive. 

Not a good situation to be in. 

Then, due to the total incompetence of Thea’s website provider, Host Sailor, her site was shut down. 

And they hadn’t even backed it up. 

We felt very vulnerable so decided we urgently needed a second back-up drive. 

In the morning we took the Mendoza Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to explore the town.  

This was a gruelling three hours, on very hard seats. There was a wait of one hour between buses so we chose to stay on. They didn’t follow the route on the map and only about one third of the narration was in English. 

By the time we were back in Mendoza the shops were opening again, after siesta, so we went off and bought another back-up drive. 

To add to our tech frustrations, when we got back to the apartment there was a message from Kate. 

The DHL package had arrived from Buenos Aires, without the broken computer. 

Will this saga ever end?

 

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February 22, 2018. Mendoza (Wine Tour) Argentina.

Main income for the Mendoza region comes from olive oil production with wine next. 

We were staying at Solandes Apart & Wines and, as the name suggests, they had involvement in a winery and could also organise wine tours. They had a arranged for us to have a wine tour with Jorge, a local driver and guide.

Our first stop was at Budeguer a very contemporary winery with great labels and an obvious love of art and good design.

CocaCola is still widely consumed in Argentina and some of the locals do very we’ll out of it.

The Budeguer Winery was started by a wealthy sugar cane grower, Juan José Budeguer from Tucumán in Argentina. He is obviously doing very well out of selling his sugar and this is evident in his extravagant gallery and winery, both of which are run as a hobby.

Interestingly the advertising for CocaCola is still stuck in the 1950s’. Their strategy is all about putting the product on a pedestal – it’s almost a brand worship approach.

Our guide at Budeguer was Jorge’s daughter, who had excellent English and a good understanding of the Argentinian wine industry.

We then had lunch at La Azul, a winery with a pleasant restaurant under a canopy of vine leaves and set with the Andes as a backdrop.

The final stop for the day was at Salentein. This was a much more traditional winery with huge cellars and an abundance of an art in their onsite gallery, all housed in a very contemporary building.

Apart form a great experience we leant two very interesting facts on our Argentinian wine tour.

Wine fact 1: In Argentina they don’t produce champagne in the same building as their still wine.

Wine fact 2: Between tastings, don’t clean your glass with water, as the minerals effect the wine. Use wine instead.

 

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February 23, 2018. Mendoza to Córdoba, Argentina.

Even though we had a kitchen in the Mendoza apartment we couldn’t find a decent supermarket nearby. 

We did manage to get some basic breakfast supplies but they were very average. 

Providing your own breakfast can be one negative when staying in an apartment. It’s much easier at a hotel, especially where breakfast is included.

We arranged to get Jorge to take us to the airport for our flight to Córdoba, our next stop in Argentina. 

There was a small scrap of good news regarding Thea’s broken computer. DHL emailed that, for safety reasons, they had separated the computer from the rest of the package. 

Apparently it was on its way. 

We arrived in Cordoba in time to check into the Hotel de la Cañada and still do some sightseeing in the afternoon.

We were out of the old town area but it wasn’t too far to walk there.

We visited the Córdoba Cathedral, which was originally constructed in 1582 and renovated 2007-2009. Next to San Martin Square, in the centre of the old town. Then down towards Plaza España, past the Church of the Sacred Heart. Built in 1928-1932 and designed by the Italian architect, Augusto Ferrari. It is an interesting construction as it’s not made from stone but concrete.

It was then back into the old city to do the tour of the former Jesuit Block, Convent and Society of Jesus Church which was built around 1600.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, it contains the University of Córdoba, one of the oldest in South America.

As well as the university the area contains the History Museum, Jesuit Community, History Archive and Historical Library.

To tour the complex you have to have a guide, which was great as it gave us a good insight into the history.

One of the last pieces we came across was a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary. What made it unique was that she was visibly pregnant.

 

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February 24, 2018. Córdoba, Argentina.

Córdoba is a strange town and seems to lack a soul.

It is the second largest city, next to Buenos Aires, with a population of over 1.3 million. It was founded in 1573 by Jeronimo Luis de Cabrera and named after Córdoba in Spain. It has many historical buildings and of course the Jesuit Block.

Maybe we were comparing it to Buenos Aires, which is probably unfair, but it just seemed to be rundown and lacking character, compared to the capital.

For example Bicentennial Park, like Plaza España, was a garbage dump of tagging and spray cans. 

Lake Crisol in Sarmiento Park wasn’t much better – there was rubbish everywhere.

We were looking for some culture so we wandered into the Emilio Caraffa Museum. Entrance was free as the air conditioner was broken. 

The museum featured works from five Argentinean artists. The program even had an English narrative which was a change.

There were two painters, Aníbal Cedrón and Adrián Doura as well as a photographer, Franco Verdoia and a sculptor, David Rivolta.

The gallery was a pleasant change and the exhibition was well curated with a wide variety of styles. However when we reached the top floors of the gallery it was hot.

They certainly needed the air conditioner up there.

You can tell if you’re not in a good restaurants area, just by Googling, ‘Good restaurants near me’. If McDonalds and Subway come up on the top of the list, you are in trouble. 

We were in trouble in Córdoba, as there was nothing but bars and a huge disco near us. And of course Maccas.

Surprisingly there were 35 brewpubs in the area, so finding a good ‘pinta’ wasn’t difficult. 

Finding wine was another thing.

Córdoba is a university town and in general students are poor and don’t drink wine. Getting both wine and a craft beer was a problem. 

The women drink beer, so wine isn’t in demand, especially in the brewpubs as they cater for the younger market. 

The only students who drink wine come from Mendoza and that understandable – its in their blood, so to speak.

We eventually did find a great brewpub that served both wine and beer and also had an excellent menu as well. It was here that we got the lowdown on how Córdoba ticks from the manager, who was in for a chat.

Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest has never been more evident than in South America.  

Especially when it comes to the breakfast buffet.

It’s a battleground.

They push, they shove and when they eventually get to the buffet, they pile their plates with Andean size mountains of food.

Then they come back for more.

 

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February 25, 2018. Córdoba to Iguazú, Argentina.

We had almost an entire day, after checking out, before our flight to Iguazú. 

And it was raining. 

What else do you do on a wet Sunday but visit a shopping mall. 

Patio Olmos was originally built as a boy’s middle school in 1909. It was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1977, then redeveloped into the mall in 1995. 

There is over 25,000 square meters of retail space, which includes a cinema run by Hoyts. 

I thought that it was strange that the Australian cinema chain would be running a shopping mall in Argentina.

Then I did some research.

Hoyts is actually owned by the Wanda Group, a Chinese multinational based in Beijing. It is the world’s largest property developer and owner of the world’s largest cinema chain.

 

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February 26, 2018. Puerto Iguazú and Iguazú Falls, Argentina.

After getting the public bus to Iguazú National Park we bought our day tickets to explore the Argentinean side of the falls. 

They wanted to know our nationality at the ticket office. When we got our tickets we found that they thought we had said we were Austrians, not Australians as we were even greeted with ‘Guten tag’ when we went through the gate. 

We took the train to Devil’s Throat Station and walked from there to Devil’s Throat. We weren’t the only ones as there we hundreds walking along the path with us.

Devil’s Throat is a spectacular section of the Iguazú Falls and the lookout puts you right over the edge.

The first European to record the existence of the falls was the Spanish Conquistador Álvar Núñez de Vaca in 1541.

He must have been overwhelmed.

Between Niagara, Victoria and Iguazú, I think Iguazú Falls are by far the most impressive. 

Victoria Falls maybe larger but it’s the views that you get from all the vantage points that sets Iguazú apart.

After spending many hours at the falls we took the bus back into town and then walked back to the Three Borders Lookout, which was jut near our hotel. This is the spot that you can see both Brazil and Paraguay while standing in Argentina.

Our hotel, the Raices Esturion, was a fair distance out of down so we were confined to the area surrounding it. On our first night we couldn’t be bothered looking around so ate at the hotel.

It was a buffet, even though the booking.com blurb proudly boasted an À la carte menu.

On our second night, determined not to eat another ‘buff’ we discovered the Amerian Hotel. It was right next door and did serve À la carte, which was excellent.

Part 8: South America – Uruguay.

December 21st, 2018

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February 15, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Colonia, Uruguay.

After spending longer in Buenos Aires than expected we were moving on. 

This time to Uruguay. 

Our side excursion package included two ferry rides, a bus trip, accommodation and daily excursions. 

Our ferry from Buenos Aires was the Francisco. It was large, sleek, fast and carried both cars and passenger. 

The ferry terminal was run like an airport with check-in counters and baggage drop. There was even a baggage carousel at the Uruguay end. 

Both on the ferry and the bus transfer to the hotel, not a word of English was spoken. 

There wasn’t that much English when we arrived in Colonia del Sacramento or simply Colonia as it is known. There were only two tourist buses a day that had an English guide. 

Colonia faces Buenos Aires, across the Río de la Plata and was once a Portuguese colony.

Colonia del Sacramento was founded by Manuel Lobo in 1680 under the direction of King Peter II of Portugal.

Over history Uruguay has been ruled by both the Spanish and the Portuguese, however the official language is Spanish. It gained independence from Brazil in 1828 and today is one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America.

It is ranked first in  regard to peace, democracy, press freedom and the perception of low corruption. It also has the most prosperous middle class, with economic freedom and income equality.

Voting is compulsory with 92% of the Uruguayans opting to go to the ballot box. The army is voluntary and mainly used for natural disasters and peace keeping. Marijuana and cannabis are also legal and gay marriage was legalised in 2013.

They certainly are very progressive in Uruguay.

Dinner on our first night was at Típico Nuestro and it will probably go down as one of the worst meals we have had in South America. 

The kababs had been pre cooked and were tough – the beef was inedible. 

There was an extensive list of local craft beers but it took me five choices before they could actually find one in stock. 

I ordered a glass of red wine but, like the beer, it wasn’t available. So I chose another one. The waiter poured what was left in the bottle, which wasn’t nearly a full glass. 

He was content to leave it like that. 

When I ordered another glass of the same wine, it was switched to a different one. 

Do they really think we are that stupid? 

When we came to pay our bill the waiter expected a tip – he got nothing. 

So much for the quality of life and high living standards in Uruguay. We certainly didn’t see it at Típico Nuestro.

 

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February 16, 2018. Colonia, Uruguay.

After breakfast in our hotel we walked back down to the port for our first excursion. 

In Colonia we had both a walking tour and then a days worth of travel on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. 

The walking tour of the old town was first, however they gave us a drive around the bus circuit before we started. Here everything was explained in English. 

Apart from this trip at 10am and another at 3pm, all the other Hop-On Hop-Off Bus services were only in Spanish. 

Our guide had excellent English and a great sense of humour. 

An interesting feature of Colonia is the contrast between the Spanish and Portuguese heritage. This is most evident in the architecture and, strangely, the construction of the roads. 

The Portuguese didn’t bother about drainage or sewerage, they just prayed for rain to wash everything onto the roads and then into the river. 

Their roads are concave with a central channel to help with drainage. 

The Spanish roads are convex with drainage in the form of gutters on either side. 

Their more formal approach is probably due to the huge influence the Romans had in the Spanish part of the Iberian Peninsula. 

The housing was also different between the Portuguese and the Spanish. 

The Portuguese use adobe and their houses were usually limited to one storey. While the Spanish built with bricks and we usually two storeys high. 

Another interesting feature of Colonia was the street dogs. (This is the subject of a separate blog)

The historical centre of Colonia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many tourists make a day trip from Buenos Aires.

After our walking tour around the historic quarter we jumped onto the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.

A fair drive out of town was the Bull Ring and Casino.

The bull ring was opened in 1910 and could hold up to 10,000 blood thirsty patrons. It only hosted bull fights for eight events before it was closed by the Uruguayan National Government in 1912.

Today it lies derelict.

The bull ring was part of an ambitious tourist project that also included a racecourse and casino. Only the racecourse is still in operation.

 

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February 17, 2018. Colonia to Montevideo, Uruguay.

The morning was taken up with a bus trip from Colonia to Montevideo.

We were staying in the Hotel Aloft, a haven for the tech tourist, with power and USB points everywhere. We were very close to the water, which was great for a stroll after the bus trip.

It wasn’t in the centre of Montevideo but there were good restaurants and coffee shops within the very upmarket area surrounding our hotel. 

This was good as it was Thea’s birthday, so we needed to find somewhere interesting for dinner.

Also just near our hotel was the Punta Carretas Shopping Mall. It was a former prison built in 1910 and designed by Domingo Sanguinetti.

The site was redeveloped and became the mall 1994. Now not much of the prison remains, except the entrance.

Interesting there was a mass break-out of the prison in 1971. A tunnel was used as part of the escape plan and the exit was in El Berretin, the restaurant where we celebrated Thea’s birthday.

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and the largest city. It was established in 1724 by a Spanish soldier, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. This was a strategic move during the constant Spanish-Portuguese conflicts.

 

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February 18, 2018. Montevideo, Uruguay.

We again used the Hop-Off Bus around Montevideo and stopped at Plaza Cagancha (Stop 3) and walked back to Plaza Independencia (Stop 2). We then picked up the bus again and from there we did the rest of the trip back to our stop (Stop 7). 

In Plaza Independencia there was a very impressive statue of General José Artigas (1764-1850).

Artigas was born in Montevideo and was a national hero of Uruguay. He was a democrat, federalist and opposed to monarchism (The Spanish).

In 1850 he died in Paraguay, aged 86, after a long period of self exile there. It wasn’t until 1977 that his remains were returned to the Artigas Mausoleum in Montevideo.

We were fascinated to see so many Uruguayans drinking Yerba Mate Compuesta (A strange drink that requires a thermos with a cup and straw) Yerba mate is a herb used too make a tea beverage known as mate. It was first cultivated by the indigenous communities of the Guarani people in southern Brazil, before European colonisation.

There is also a chilled version which is prepared with cold water and ice rather than with hot water. 

There were four football teams staying at the Aloft Hotel. They were playing in an under 20 competition, the ‘River Plate’ which was hosted by Uruguay. 

The small pool table in reception was never un-occupied.

 

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February 19, 2018. Montevideo, Uruguay to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The ferry trip back to Buenos Aires wasn’t until 7:30 pm so we had another day in Montevideo. 

Unfortunately the good weather ended and rain was forecast. 

The rain held off and we caught a taxi to the Mercado Agrícola de Montevideo. 

Built between 1906 and 1913, it is regarded as one of the largest covered market in South America. 

After a wander around and then a coffee we walked back to the Parliament building. 

The legislative centre of Uruguay is in a massive Neo-Classical building. Construction started in 1904 and it was inaugurated in 1925 to celebrate the centenary of the declaration of independence. 

We then returned to the market and had lunch – it was still a long time until the ferry left.

Part 7: South America – Buenos Aires, Argentina.

December 13th, 2018

February 9, 2018. Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It was great to get a good night’s sleep on the ship without it rocking. 

Now it was back to the business of travelling. Initially to to Buenos Aires for four nights and from there we would plan the last part of our trip. 

It was a long day of travelling. 

Firstly waiting to get the bus to Ushuaia Airport, then waiting for the plane to actually take off and finally waiting to disembark at Buenos Aires. 

When we arrived it was a balmy 25°C and didn’t drop much below that in the evening. 

I do prefer the warmth to the cold. 

We were staying at the Hotel Pulitzer in the heart of Buenos Aires. On our first night we weren’t wanting to venture too far so we found a great Spanish restaurant, just around the corner.

The hotel had a rooftop bar and we did go there a few times during our stay in the city.

The staff were friendly and there was a real mixture of tourist and locals. In fact the Hotel Pulitzer was a delight, everyone was friendly and went out of their way to help.

Even the breakfast was good.

 

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February 10, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

After eight day without the Internet in Antarctica, we found that our hotel in Buenos Aires was ‘down’. So much for how good the hotel was.

Florida Garden came to the rescue. 

This large café not only had good internet but excellent espresso and it was also just around the corner. 

We then did the The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour of the city. 

There were three lines, Red, Blue and Green and took about 3.5 hours to complete all three. 

It’s a city of wide avenues, parks, statues and Neo-Classical architecture. 

Buenos Aires sits on the Río de la Plata. This is the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers and considered as the world’s widest river span at 220 kilometres. 

A fact disputed by Brazil who believe the Amazon is wider. 

Only in the incredibly Catholic South America would you find a theme park dedicated to the life of Christ.

Tierra Santa or Holy Land claims to be the world’s first religious theme park. Here you can walk the streets of Biblical Jerusalem. They even have an 18 metre high likeness of Jesus who rises from behind a rock every hour.

We didn’t bother to go but just read about it.

Despite this over-the-top religious extravagance there are very few grand cathedrals within the city.

This might have something to do with the size and devoutness of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the land before the Spaniards arrived. 

Unlike the west coast of South America, there were no large civilisations such as the Aztecs or Incas. In the east there were only small groups of hunter-gatherers. 

Typically the Spaniards built their churches over the sites of the indigenous temples, thereby offering a continuity of location. As there were no large temples in Buenos Aires, there were no corresponding cathedrals.

Just down the road was Galerías Pacífico, a mall devoted to the religion of shopping. This was as grand as any church we had seen. There was even a central dome with excellent frescos by the local artists, Berni, Castagnino, Colmeiro, Spilimbergo and Urruchúa.

The building was designed in 1889, in the Beaux Arts style, by Emilio Agrelo as a department store for a store known as the Argentine Bon Marché.

It was used as a torture centre by the military junta from 1976 to 1983 and declared a national historic monument in 1989.

Having been abandoned for years it was remodelled and opened as a shopping mall in 1991.

 

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February 11, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

As we still had a few hours remaining of the 24 hour Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket we caught the Red Line down to Palermo. We found a great café near the Armenia Gardens and after a coffee started the walk back to our hotel. 

It was about 10 kilometres and we stopped at the Botanical Gardens and the Floralis Genérica, among other spots, on the way. 

In the evening we caught up with the remaining Antarctic group members for dinner. 

 

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February 12, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Thea’s new computer, that was only 58 days old, had a fit in Antarctica and wasn’t working. 

After some research she discovered that there had been a recall of that model in early January. 

There was apparently a problem with the battery. 

For Thea, being without a computer is like being without air. 

We had to get a replacement of some kind so we booked another night in the hotel to give us time to see the sights and to shop. 

On the Sunday night we discovered there was a public holiday on the Monday. 

All the computer stores were closed, so shopping would have to wait until the Tuesday 

We continued on the tourist trail and found ourselves in the old part of the city. Much to our surprise we stumbled across of yet another The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.

This must be a least the fourth we have seen on our travels.

 

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February 13, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Expecting to spend most of the day sending our package of clothing and Thea’s broken computer home, then buying a cheap replacement, we were shocked to find that it was yet another public holiday. 

Carnival goes for two days, not one as we thought. 

In the morning we wandered around Puerto Madero. This development, in the waterfront area, is relatively new and there is a mixture of modern architecture and old warehouse buildings.

It runs along the banks of the Río de la Plata and covers an area of about 2.1 square kilometres.

Work started on the port in 1882 and was carried out by the local business man Eduardo Madero, hence the name.

After completion of The New Port of Buenos Aires in 1926, Puerto Madero became superfluous. Then in the 1990s there was a massive redevelopment along the river bank. Now there are shops, restaurants and apartment blocks.

We stopped and had lunch overlooking the river.

In the afternoon we went on a walking tour with Nicolas Hidalgo Frigo, an enthusiastic local guy who runs walking tours as a living and gets paid according to what the tourists think he is worth.

Under the banner of ‘Critical Thinking Tours’ it covered 400 years of Argentinean history, from a Buenos Aires perspective. 

We started and ended near the Pink Palace, the seat of Presidential power. 

The reason, according to Nicolas, that all the public buildings in Buenos Aires are so grand can be attributed to gloating. 

After gaining independence in 1816, the new Argentina wanted to prove to the world that they could build anything the Europeans could – but bigger and better. 

The Argentine War of Independence was fought from 1810 to 1818. This was between patriotic forces, looking for independence, against those loyal to the Spanish Crown. The independence movement was under the command of Manuel Belgrano, Juan José Castello and José de San Martin.

This guy just keeps popping up.

 

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February 14, 2018. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Now the shops were open, this was going to be the day to get the chores done. 

First cab off the rank was buying the trip to Uruguay. This meant a walk down to the ferry terminal and visiting the Buquebus travel agent. 

Then we went shopping for another computer. 

It was a balance between memory, size and cost and was a lengthy, drawn-out process. 

Next was the DHL to send our Antarctic jackets, thermals and waterproof pants home. 

And of course, now the non functioning computer. 

After a very long day walking up and down Calle Florida and some side trips we managed to get two of the three tasks completed. 

A new computer was just too hard. They were either too large, too expensive or the stock was too old.

There appears to be no market for small, relatively inexpensive PCs in Buenos Aires.

I wonder what the students use.

Calle Florida, the main walking street near our hotel, should really be called Cambio Street. There are money sellers every few metres and on every corner. All you can hear is, “Cambio, cambio.”

Antarctica, the last continent. (The highest, driest and coldest continent on earth)

November 24th, 2018

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February 1, 2018. Drake Passage to Antartica.

There wasn’t much to do today, as we were sailing south towards Antarctica. 

We received a briefing on what birds we might encounter and another on ‘Zodiac operations aboard the G Expedition.’

There was a safety drill and we were then checked for ‘bio security’. We were then given our waterproof boots and G Adventures expedition polar jackets in the ‘Mud Room’. 

The jackets were ‘free’ and bright red – we certainly wouldn’t get lost in the snow.

As Antarctica is a wilderness area, great care is taken to ensure that we tourists don’t contaminate it. Everything that you wear on leaving and boarding the ship is cleaned. We even had to dip our boots into a disinfectant wash. 

I felt like a ram going through a sheep dip.

Normally we don’t do escorted or group tours but Antartica, like Egypt in 2012, was different. And like the Egypt trip we had booked this trip through Hampton Travel and Cruise.

They in turn had gone to G Adventures, who specialised in small group adventure travel.

G Adventure was formally known as Gap Adventures and was established in Toronto Canada in 1990.

Gap which stood for Great Adventure People was forced to change its name in 2018. This was after Gap Inc, the American clothing company, sued Gap Adventures for appropriating their name.

How litigious are the Yanks.

I don’t think it did the company or its founder, Bruce Poon Tip, any harm, as they currently employ 1,500 people and travel to 686 destinations in 134 countries.

They certainly do live up to their old name as Great Adventure People as the staff aboard the SS Expedition were fantastic.

As was the ship.

Formerly a car carrier, the SS Expedition has been converted into a fast, sturdy and well appointed cruise ship.

There are only 145 passengers, which meant that everyone had an opportunity to get off the ship and explore. There were also 69 crew so we were well looked after.

Our off-board adventures were done both on land and in the Zodiacs.

There were also the creature comforts, like a private ensuite in every cabin and excellent views of the rolling seas through a large panoramic port hole.

There were two bars and an excellent restaurant serving international cuisine. 

I even tracked down where to get a half reasonable espresso.

G Adventures pride themselves on their environmental credentials, which was very important considering where we were going.

Antartica is the last wilderness.

It was also the last region on earth to be discovered and was unseen until 1820.

It is governed by the Antarctic Treaty System, which was ratified in 1961 and currently has 53 signatories. The treaty prohibits mineral mining, nuclear explosions or dumping of nuclear waste and military activities.

It does support science, as there are currently about 4,000 scientists conducting research into its delicate ecosystem.

The treaty is due to expire in 2048 and it will be interesting to see what takes its place. Especially considering the expansionist ambitions of countries like China and Russia.

 

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February 2, 2018. South Shetland Islands, Antartica.

We made a very fast journey across the Drake Passage, which enabled us to get our first trip ashore much earlier than usual. 

Our first stop was at the Aitcho Archipelago, South Shetland Islands, where we visited Barrientos and Cecilia Islands. 

Both were very different experiences. 

Barrientos Island was all about the penguins and there were thousands of them. 

Their smell reached us on the ship, well before we arrived on the island. 

There was also a group of moulting elephant seals lazing on the beach as we landed. 

From there we caught another Zodiac to Cecilia Island. This one was all about the birds and also involved, for those who were willing, a short walk to the top of the island. 

The walk was good as we had been on the ship for almost 48 hours and needed a bit of exercise. 

The most we had done so far was walk from our cabin to the dining room. 

For some of the passengers this was a very regular trip. 

After our island excursion, the ship set sail again and we headed for Errera Channel in Antarctica proper. 

We were now at 62° south and heading towards the Antarctic Peninsula.

 

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February 3, 2018. Antartica. 

The morning Zodiac adventure was to Danco Island in the Errera Channel. 

Even though there were plenty of penguins, the views were the hero of this outing. 

It was a slippery walk to the top of the island, but well worth it. 

Apart from the ship and the attendant Zodiacs there were icebergs, islands and mountains in the background. 

On several occasions it started to snow. 

In the afternoon we sailed to Georges Point and had another trip in the Zodiacs. The point was named, like so many places in Antarctica, by people involved in their discovery.

Georges Lecointe was the second-in-command of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897 to 1899.

Here we came face-to-face with the brutal reality of life and death on the ice. We were witness to an attack of a Skuas on a penguin chic.

Penguins are not the brightest birds on the ice and the poor chic had no chance against the relentless predator.

Skuas are strong and aggressive birds living off carrion and the occasional ‘fresh’ penguin.

Later in the afternoon we sailed to Leith Cove In Paradise Bay. We were here for the evening as this was our night on the ice.

I have always held the belief that you really haven’t visited a place, unless you have slept there.

After dinner all those that were going ashore hopped into the Zodiacs and took the short ride to the   ice island in Leith Cove.

We had been equipped with a tent, ground sheets and a sleeping bag, which we had to lug up the hill to the camp site.

Then we had to pitch our tent.

At this point I was wondering if sleeping in Antarctica was such a clever idea.

I hadn’t pitched a tent since I was in the scouts and I had certainly never done it on ice. We only hoped that it would stay up for the night.

There were 23 tents, each with two people, all arranged in a large circle. There were two portable toilets off to one side. I had made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t need to visit them during the night. The temperature was about -4° to -5°C and my sleeping bag was where I intended to stay for the duration. 

A few younger campers joined Blaise, the resident ‘muso’, in a number of songs around a non-existent campfire.

We remained in our tent, in our sleeping bags, with our legs crossed.

 

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February 4, 2018. Antartica.

We were woken at 5:40 am and had to quickly pack everything up. Then it was down to the Zodiacs to be taken back to the ship.

The rest of the morning was spent at Leith Cove. We then cruised through the Lemaire Channel and back again as our path to Pléneau Bay was blocked by icebergs. 

In the afternoon our Zodiac ride was with Sergey Nesterov, the captain of the SS Expedition. The sky was blue, the sea calm and as one of the crew said; “This is just the sort of day that the captain likes to pull rank and take out a Zodiac.” 

It was an experience with amazing icebergs and lots of seals – I think Sergey knew many of the seals personally.

He also had a typical Russian sense of humour which made it all the more enjoyable.

That evening we had an Antarctic Barbecue Dinner and like all good BBQs, it was outside.

There was flame grilled meat of all varieties as well as salads and hot vegetables.

We all sat at the stern of the ship, wrapped in our bright red G Adventures jackets, and ate as quickly as we could, before the hot food got cold.

An experience never to be forgotten – or repeated.

 

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February 5, 2018. Antartica.

Breakfast onboard catered for everyone. 

There were even jars of Vegemite for the Australians and Marmite for the Poms. 

Which isn’t surprising as the Aussies, then the Brits, made up the largest groups. 

The morning was spent in the Zodiacs, cruising around Paradise Harbour and then we visited Brown Station.

We were now on mainland Antarctica.

Brown Station was surprisingly not British, as you would expect, but Argentinian. Named after the ‘Father of the Argentine Navy’ Admiral William Brown (1777-1857). Brown was an Irish born Argentine Admiral who was creator and first admiral of the country’s maritime force.

Brown Station was established in 1951 and is one of 13 Argentinean research bases in Antarctica.

Many of the group made the difficult walk to the top of the hill overlooking Brown Station. The views were spectacular.

I think we were all dreading the descent, as the snow was deep and looking down, it seemed like a long way.

That problem was solved brilliantly by some of the crew who suggested that we didn’t walk down, but slid down.

It was an exhilarating trip, sliding on our bums, down the hillside.

In the afternoon we went to Port Lockroy to visit the British Antarctic Survey’s historic Base A and the Penguin Post Office.

Situated on Wince Island, Port Lockroy was named after Edouard Lockroy, a French politician and Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies. He assisted Jean-Baptiste Charcot in obtaining funding for the French Antarctic Expedition of 1904 to 1907.

Today Port Lockroy houses a museum, souvenir shop and the Penguin Post Office, the most southerly one in the world. We, like most of the passengers, sent post cards or letters home.

From there we went to Jougla Point, on Wiencke Island, just around the corner from Port Lockroy. There was a colony of Blue Eyed Shags and a collection of random whale bones that had been arranged into an almost complete skeleton.

The Polar Bear Bar on the SS Expedition was very popular, especially with the young North Americans, after dinner. They were ‘whooping’ to music that was at least a generation older than they were. 

Blaise, who had entertained us on the island sleepover, performed hits from Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stephens, Don McLean and even Leonard Cohen. 

It was being lapped up by the ‘kids’ and they could sing the old stuff – word for word. 

 

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February 6, 2018. Antartica.

When referring to the weather, Alex, our English tour leader often said: “Antarctica has the last word”

For our final day on the continent we were greeted with foul conditions. 

Forty knot winds, gusting to sixty knots, rain and low cloud. 

Not ideal for launching and landing the Zodiacs. 

Our planned afternoon trip to Hannah Point, Walker Bay and even plan B, to Elephant Point, were all cancelled. 

We then opted for plan C and sailed to Deception Island, which is still regarded as an active volcano.

In the morning Thea accidentally slid down one of the external stairways on the ship and bruised her back. 

The ship’s doctor suggested she rest up, so I went ashore alone.

The bay of Deception Island is a caldera, with a very narrow entrance. This means that it is considerably more protected than the surrounding sea. 

The volcano last erupted in 1969 and then again in 1970 and has left a large crater. 

That’s what we were on Deception Island to see. 

It was foggy when we set out from the ship and got worse as we climbed up to the crater lip. 

It was an eerie sight as the passengers appeared out of the mist, all in their red coats, walking along the crater’s edge. 

We were warned that crossing back over the Drake Passage wasn’t going to be as easy as when we came six days ago. 

The swell picked up over dinner and by the time we retired our beds became a moving target. 

The ship actually provided wedges to put under the mattress. These were designed to stop you falling out of bed with the big swell. 

After dinner there was a Black and White themed fancy dress. Some people made an effort, I wasn’t one of them. 

We then went to the Polar Bear Bar where the Monkey Eating Eagles were playing. 

This is a six piece band with five of the group staff members from the Philippines. 

Apart from passengers, there were a  lot of staff in the bar. 

I had a feeling that this was their night off. 

It was interesting to watch the band perform, with the ship rolling from side to side. But even funnier was seeing people trying to dance. 

February 7, 2018. Crossing the Drake Passage from Antartica.

It was a rather turbulent night as we forged our way north into the Drake Passage. 

We awoke to blue skies and rough seas. Half way through the morning the captain decided to shut the deck. This meant I couldn’t get my daily shot, over the bow of the ship, looking forward. 

To keep us entertained there was a series of lectures. They covered topics like Antarctic animals and birds, history, geography, geology and photography. 

Most of the staff seem to be an expert in one or more of these areas. 

The SS Expedition is small, compared to some cruise ships, and in rough seas this presents unique challenges to passengers and staff. 

Staying upright is one of them.

Showering, cleaning your teeth, getting your buffet meal, or just walking around, are all that much more difficult. 

The only people who could handle us bobbing around like a cork in a bottle were the waiters. In classic waiter style, they could still carry a tray, loaded with dishes, all balanced in one hand. 

By now the conditions had got much worse, there were seven metre waves and 60 knot winds. 

On board the G Adventures staff are divided into three sections.

The ship’s crew, including engine room, navigation and deck hands. They look after how we travel.

The adventure and activities people who look after organising excursions, landings and lectures. They are in charge of what we do. 

And finally the hotel staff, who run the accommodation, laundry, kitchen, restaurant, bar and accounts. They look after how we are housed, fed and make sure we pay for it all at the end. 

And, as we found out, there is also a doctor who is there to look after your physical wellbeing.

At the start of the cruise we were told that the Drake Passage was going to be rough. The doctor suggested that we take sea sickness tablets.

The last time we had been in rough seas was back in the mid 70s’, crossing the English Chanel in a force nine storm. We were OK then but didn’t know how well we would travel now, so we took his advice and swallowed the pills.

We didn’t feel any sea sickness, only hallucinations.

On the return trip, across the Drake, we decided to leave the pills. This was the right choice as we were both fine, even though the crossing was far rougher.

 

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February 8, 2018. The Drake Passage and Beagle Channel.

We were ‘weathering the storm’ all night and in the morning we were still not allowed up on deck. 

At noon the captain headed the ship towards the north east. This resulted in two things, firstly the rolling almost disappeared and secondly we rounded Cape Horn, sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 

We were now headed towards the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, with hopefully much calmer weather. 

On our last evening, after a cruise de brief, we had a group dinner, then a few of us headed to the Polar Bear Bar for one more evening of ‘classic’ music.

We were now back in Ushuaia and would disembark after breakfast in the morning.

We had travelled 1,695 nautical miles and seen one of the most remote places on earth.

What an adventure.

 

Part 6: South America – Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina.

November 1st, 2018

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January 21, 2018. Santiago to Puerto Montt, Chile. 

The drive from the hotel in central Santiago to the airport was done at breakneck speed. Most of it is on freeways, which seemed to have no speed limit. 

We covered the 19 kilometres, door-to-door, in 15 minutes. 

The flight to Puerto Montt was a relatively easy 2:45 hours, as was picking up the Peugeot 301 from Avis at the airport. 

Puerto Montt is in the Lake District of Chile and it seemed like a good opportunity to self drive for a few days.

We were now a lot further south, and the days were stretching out, so we had an afternoon drive to get a feel of the area. It also gave me an opportunity to get my ‘driving brain’ activated. 

We drove about 20 kilometres east along the Pacific coast to Quillaipe. 

In the evening we walked along the Puerto Montt waterfront and found the Club de Yates for dinner.

The food was good, the location excellent, but it was empty.

 

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January 22, 2018. Puerto Montt, Chile.

Today was devoted to lakes and volcanos. 

First we drove towards Lake Llanquihue, with the very imposing Osorno Volcano looming over the lake.

Lake Llanquihue is the second largest lake in Chile and covers an area of approximately 860 square kilometres. We drove around the edge of the lake and got some spectacular views of the volcano. 

Osorno Volcano is described by some as the Mount Fuji of South America and you can see the similarities. It has a classical snow-capped peak standing 2,652 metres above sea level. It is also one of the most active volcanoes in the Southern Chilean Andes.

We drove to the foot of Osorno and took the chairlift to the top-most lookout. The views of both the volcano and the valley with lakes below were stunning. Apart from the Orsorno Volcano we could also see the Calbuco Volcano, which erupted as recently as 2015.

We continued our lake drive on to Lake Todos los Santos and the Petrohué River. Then it was back to Puerto Montt in the late afternoon.

Puerto Montt is an ugly town, but that is to be expected as it suffered a massive earthquake in 1960. The quake destroyed the port, train station and much of the civic and domestic buildings.

The resulting ‘modern’ architecture lacks the style and substance that you get from the colonial era.

The port rose to prominence during the 1990s and 2000s as Chile’s second largest salmon producer.

 

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January 23, 2018. Puerto Montt, Chile.

More nature today as we headed off to the Island of Chiloé to see penguins and other bird life. 

We crossed the Chacao Channel and then stopped at Ancud for a coffee.

Ancud sits on the banks of the Chacao Channel which has been dredged out by glaciation, separating Chiloé Island from the mainland and the Pacific Ocean.

The 30 minute boat excursion was a very slick affair. 

No sooner had we paid our money, than we were fitted out with life jackets and sent off to board an inflatable boat. These were moored in the shallows and we were pushed out on specially designed wheeled platforms to reach them. 

At Point Almenao we caught glimpses of penguins, various sea birds and South American Sea Lions, as we motored around the the Puñihuil Islands.

There were both Humboldt and Megellanic Penguins on the rocks but I couldn’t really tell the difference.

We drove 551 kilometres around Puerto Montt and each day was a totally different experience. 

It was well worth the car hire.

 

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January 24, 2018. Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile.

We awoke to find the window, in the hallway outside our room, hanging precariously from its hinges. 

Who knows how it got like that. 

Today’s flight, from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, would take us even further south, at 54° below the equator. 

Our hotel in Punta Arenas, the Cabo de Hornes, was right on Plaza de Armas, the main square. 

There were a lot more colonial buildings and had obviously not suffered from earthquakes like Puerto Montt. 

The Cabo de Hornes was alive with expectant people, all waiting to board their ships to sail to the Antarctic. Punta Arenas was a major embarkation point to the frozen continent.

This gave us an insight into what we should expect when we reached Ushuaia in Argentina in a few days time.

Using what was remaining of the afternoon we wandered around the town and the waterfront. 

Apart from the old colonial buildings the rest of the town was rather pedestrian, except for the graffiti. 

Some of the waterfront buildings had spectacular murals painted on their facades. 

 

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January 25, 2018. Punta Arenas, Chile.

We had hired another car, this time a khaki coloured Renault Duster from Avis. It was a good colour for tanks, but not cars.

The day was spent at the Straits of Magellan Park, which is about 55 kilometres south of Punta Arenas. 

Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) was a Portuguese explorer who, in 1520, was the first European to find a navigable sea route between Chile, in the north, and Tierra del Fuego, in the south. This allowed sailors to safely navigate from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.

This was a very important part of the history and development of the New World, especially southern South America. It allowed for sailors to circle the globe, without having to venture into Antarctica and the dangerous waters of the Drake Passage.

Fuerte Bulnes is situated on the Straits of Magellan and is 65 kilometres south of Punta Arenas.

The fort, built in 1843, was designed to help Chile ward off attempts by other nations to claim the straits for themselves.

In 1848, after the founding of Punta Arenas, and due to the remoteness and harsh conditions of the settlement, the fort was abandoned and the buildings destroyed. Between 1941 and 1943 the government ordered a reconstruction be built of the historic site.

Today the replicas include the church, chaplain’s quarter, jail, gun powder room, post office and stables.

 

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January 26, 2018. Punta Arenas, Chile.

This was our second day of nature.

About 8 kilometres out of town was the Magellan National Park. Yes more things named Magellan. 

Created in 1932 this national reserve of 13,500 hectares is on the coast and offers great views of the surrounding area.

We walked about 8 kilometres through forests, bush-lands and windswept pathways. The wind was gusting to about 80 kph and a couple of times we nearly lost our footing, especially when we climbed to the Mirador Zapador Austral. 

Our hats did find themselves in the bushes on a few occasions. 

 

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January 27, 2018. Punta Arenas, Chile to Ushuaia, Argentina.

Our international flight from Punta Arenas, in Chile, to Ushuaia, in Argentina, was in a Beechcraft King Air 100.

It was an adventurous flight with a lot of turbulence on take off and landing. 

The in-flight briefing consisted of the pilot turning around from the cockpit and explaining all the procedures. 

It’s strange how even a one hour flight, in a light aircraft, can still take an entire day. 

Even though the six of us on the Beechcraft had our own immigration officer in Punta Arenas and Ushuaia, it still took time. 

We even had our own baggage claim on arrival in Ushuaia. 

The Beechcraft King Air 100 did look rather small on the tarmac at Ushuaia Airport. Especially in comparison to the nearby jets.

After settling into our hotel we went out into the main shopping street of Ushuaia. We needed a few things for our Antarctic trip, so a visit to the local outdoor stores was needed.

 

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January 28, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina. 

El Tren del Fin del Mundo (The Train of the End of the World)

It operated between 1910 and 1947 and was primarily used to transport freight, especially timber, to the prison in Ushuaia and is now a tourist railway.

We travelled 7km, of the original 14km, that was once the originally track.

At the end of the hour’s journey from Ushuaia we walked from the station down to Ensenada Zaratiegui Bay, which is on the Beagle Channel. From there we did a short walk along the coastal path in the Tierra del Fuego National Park. 

It was then the long haul, back up the hill to the station, and the return train trip to Ushuaia. 

This only took 40 minutes as there were no stops. 

There are a number of ‘ests’ in Ushuaia.

It is the most southern city in the world, as is the international airport and golf course. The railway is the world’s most southern functioning line.

Ushuaia was founded in 1884 by Augusto Lasserre, an Argentinian naval officer, and is on the shores of the Beagle Channel.

Today Ushuaia is a key access point for tourists and scientific expeditions to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.

As an interesting aside, in 2014 the cast and crew of Top Gear, who were filming in Ushuaia were chased out of the city. Apparently reference to the Falklands War was encoded in the registration of Jeremy Clarkson’s vehicle.

January 29, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina.

“Don’t cry for me Argentina.”

Just next to our hotel there was a monument to Eva Peron (1919-1952). Eva was born into poverty and rose to become the First Lady of Argentina in 1946 until her death. She was immortalised in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita and is a loved figure in Argentina, even today.

There are Eva Peron monuments everywhere.

Other than a brief walk around our hotel, it was a quiet day. 

Over the next 48 hours the Antarctica tour group would start to arrive, so we decided it was time for a day of organising. 

Backing up computers and sorting out paperwork was boring, but it had to be done. 

 

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January 30, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina.

This was the last full day of being on our own (freedom) before joining the Antarctic cruise. 

The others, who arrived the previous day, were off doing the ‘El Tren del Fin del Mundo’. 

We spent some time on last minute shopping for the cruise and a bit of sightseeing around Ushuaia. 

On the edge of the town is a memorial to the Falklands War.

As mentioned previously, this is a very touchy subject in Argentina. 

The only people to call it the Falklands War are the Brits. The Argentinians refer to it as Malvinas War, in reference to their name for the Falkland Islands, or Guerra del Atlántoco Sur, meaning South Atlantic War.

Just off the coastline is the wreck of the Saint Christopher. Originally built in the US in 1943, as a rescue tug, she was transferred to the Royal Navy and was renamed HMS Justice (W140). She returned to the US at the end of WWII and then sold for commercial service in Argentina and re named the Saint Christopher.

After suffering engine trouble and rudder damage, she was laid up and eventually beached in Ushuaia in 1957.

 

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January 31, 2018. Ushuaia, Argentina, then sailing towards Antartica.

After breakfast we packed and left our bags in reception. The next time we would see them would be on the ship. 

Even at ‘The End of the Earth’ you can get good coffee. On our first day in Ushuaia we discovered Dali Café, it was just around the corner from our hotel. 

We made one last visit – who knows what the coffee would be like on the ship.

We then had one more sight seeing excursion.

The End of the World Prison in Ushuaia holds four museums and an art gallery. The Prison Museum, Maritime Museum and Antarctic Museum. 

The ticket gave us 48 hours to visit and you would certainly need all that time if you wanted to read all the notations. 

Every cell in the prison was an exhibit. 

They covered everything from the prison itself to prisons of the world and a raft of other topics. 

There was an entire cell dedicated to Australian prisons. Even Pentridge in Melbourne was featured. 

Antartica, explorers, aviation, natural history, oil exploration the armed forces and police, all had exhibits. 

It was a big prison. 

Then there was the Historic Pavilion, which had left the cells in their original, cold, condition. 

Even the gallery and gift shop utilised the cells to exhibit art and souvenirs. 

The building was an amazing complex with five radiating arms of cells, each with two levels. At the centre was a large enclosed hall which was used to muster the prisoners. 

After the cultural experience of the prison/museum we returned to the hotel and joined the group.

Next was boarding and the start of our Antarctic adventure.

Part 5: South America – San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, Chile.

October 30th, 2018

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January 15, 2018. Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz, Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

I got up at dawn to get the early light over the High Dessert, before we crossed over into Chile. We were told that the there was no rush over breakfast or checking out of the hotel – so we didn’t.

Poor planning and a selfish attitude by Lillian, who wanted to sleep in, meant that we were chasing our tails all morning. 

There seemed to be a degree of panic between the driver and Lillian. We were then told that we had to be at the Bolivian, Chile border by 1pm, before it closed for lunch.

Now we were driving way to fast on roads that were not designed for speed.

We felt rather unsafe so I told the driver, to slow down.

Lillian was probably one of the worst guides we have ever had. So much so that she could be the subject of an entire blog.

However I won’t be that cruel.

We were very glad to reach the Chilean border and see the last of Lillian.

Before we arrived in Chile we did get to quickly pass by a few interesting places.

Lake Colorada was alive with more flamingos, the Sun of Tomorrow Geysers or Geyers Sol de Mañana and the Thermal Springs of Polques were squeezed in before we had to cross into Chile.

Entering Chile the road suddenly changed from a dirt track to a sealed road. 

And there was no Dakar Rally.

 

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January 16, 2018. San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Max was the guide for our tour to Salar y Laguna/Piedras Rojas con Entrada. 

We were on the edge of the Atacama Desert, the driest, non polar place, on earth.

This plateau is a 1,000 kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast. It’s aridity is as a result of a constant temperature inversion of the cool Humboldt ocean current meeting a Pacific anticyclone. This causes the temperatures to rise with altitude, not fall as they normally do.

Our first stop was to see the Jére Oasis, a verdant patch of green in the brown of the desert. This small strip of land is well farmed with fruit trees and crops running along the river’s edge.

Next was Chaxa Lake in the National Flamingo Reserve. 

The name Flamingo comes from the Portuguese and Spanish and means ‘flame-coloured.’ Their colour ranges from pink to bright red. The brighter the colour the healthier the bird.

The species dates back to the Cretaceous Period, 130 million years ago.

For at least 20 million years Flamingos once wandered Australia. About one million years ago they disappeared as the centre of the country dried out and their watery habitat vanished.

Back then there were more species of Flamingos in Australia than there are currently in Africa or South America.

There are a number of lakes within the reserve and we wandered around the edge of Altiplanic, Miscanti and Miñiques Lagoons.

This was relatively ‘soft’ travel compared to what we did in the High Desert of Bolivia. 

A lot of It was in paved or salt roads. There was some corrugated dirt roads as well, especially on the climb to the Flamingo Reserve, which was at 4,272 metres. 

We had lunch at Cocinería Bartolomé, in the small town of Socaire. The tour group was made up of a number of nationalities and not surprisingly most of them spoke English.

Mining towns like Socaire received bribes from the mining companies like new churches and schools. This is a small compensation for the environmental damage that they cause. 

The town had two churches, the newest being funded by the El Laco iron ore mine.

On the return drive to San Pedro de Atacama we stopped off at Toconao. The main feature of this small town is Saint Lucas Church and the nearby bell tower which was built in 1750.

 

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January 17, 2018. San Pedro de Atacama to Santiago, Chile.

Yet another early start, this was for a 4:30am pick-up, as we were off to see the sun rise at the Geysers del Tatio. 

We were rugged up for below freezing temperatures, even though it was mild in San Pedro de Atacama. 

The drive to the Geyser was about 90 minutes, in the dark.  

Most people slept and so did I. 

When we reached Geysers del Tatio and got out of the bus, it was rather chilly so we were glad of the warm clothes. 

Our guide was Francesca and she had very good English. We were the only non Spanish speakers on the tour, so all the English commentary was directed at us. 

After being escorted around Geysers del Tatio for 35 minutes we returned to the bus for breakfast. 

This was a rather meagre spread. 

We were then given time to explore the Geyser field. The sun had risen by now and the early morning light behind the billowing plumes of steam was stunning. 

El Tatio sits at 4,320 metres above seal level. It is the third largest geyser field in the world and the largest in South America. 

Geyers are caused by a build up of hot subterranean water pressure. This is released through cracks in the earth’s crust. The water can reach temperatures of 85° C. The fumaroles or steam vents are created when the steam meets the cold air. They can reach a height of 10 metres.

El Tatio is part of the Central Volcanic Zone and there are over 50 volcanoes in the surrounding area.

From the geysers we then visited the Putana Wetlands, an oasis in the dry desert. It was swarming with water birds and there was even a group of Vicuñas who came down for a morning drink. 

Vicuñas are related to the Llama and one of two wild South American camelids, the other is the Guanaco. They have been a protected species since Inca times. They are valued for their wool, which can only be shorn every three years and has to be caught in the wild.

Vicuñas wool is both soft and warm and therefore very expensive.

Next was the Village of Machuca with just 20 houses. The people of this tiny settlement seem to rely on the tourists, who pass by after visiting the geysers. 

There were far more tourists than villagers, who were busy selling, singing, cooking and generally finding ways to separate the tourists from their Chilean Pesos. 

The village did have a quaint white church, San Santiago and the tourists were also swarming over that. 

After that it was a short stop to see the flamingos at the Machuca Wetlands. 

We were a little over flamingos by now.  

We returned back to the hotel around noon and went to our new room to change, as our old room had been booked out. We were flying to Santiago late in the day and needed a late check out. Firstly to get out of our cool climate clothes. It was 30°C+ when we arrived back and we both had thermals on, we also needed to re-pack for the flight. 

There was confusion at the airport in Calama. We didn’t get a boarding pass and our electronic ones didn’t have the departure gate indicated – and there were no monitors. 

Fortunately there were only five gates, so I wandered around until staff turned up and then I asked them where they were going.

 

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January 18, 2018. Santiago, Chile.

We were in Santiago for four nights. We needed to do some ‘housekeeping, as well as sightseeing. 

Thea needed a trim and I a haircut. We also had to book the last of our trip before Antarctica. 

Then there was a power cut, apparently the entire city centre was effected. We later discovered a truck had flattened a power pole.

It’s a good thing that hairdressing is predominately a manual operation.

However we had to pay for our haircuts with cash as the credit card machine wouldn’t work and Thea had to leave with wet hair as the dryer needed power. Then we couldn’t get any more cash out as the ATMs were closed. 

We couldn’t afford lunch with the money we had left, so we went for a walk instead. 

Santiago, the capital of Chile, has a population of nearly 8 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the Americas.

There are nearly 18 million people in Chile, so Santiago is an important social, economic and political centre. 

Santiago produces over 50% of Chile’s GDP. 

It was founded by the Spanish in 1541 and sits within the central Maipo River valley, about 500 to 650 metres above sea level.

This was an enjoyable change from the high altitudes we had experienced over the last few weeks.

Time to breath easy and no hallucinations.

Our walk took us to Santa Lucia Hill which is situated in the centre of Santiago. There is a 65,300 square metre park containing buildings, statues, stairways, fountains and a viewpoint, sitting 69 metres above the city.

The hill is a remnant of a 15 million year old volcano.

 

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January 19, 2018. Santiago, Chile.

We had booked a wine tour in the Casablanca Valley which involved visiting three different wineries, including lunch at the last one.

Our guide for the day was Ayelen, which means Blue Ribbon or The Girl That Smiles.

It was foggy and rather chilly when we arrived at Bodegas Re, our first vineyard. Ayelen assured us that the weather would get better during the day. 

The Casablanca Valley is situated on the coastal plane between Santiago and Valparaiso. It is the newest and fastest growing wine region in Chile and produces some of their best wines.

Cool climate whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are a specialty. They also make some excellent reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. 

The climate is similar to parts of the Napa valley in California but the prices are no where near as inflated as they are there.

The Humbolts currents, which plays such an important role in the Atacama Desert, also influences the style of wine that is produced in the region.

The Spanish conquistadors and missionaries first brought vines with them from the newly conquered  Peru around 1554. There was then an influx of French winemakers in the late 20th century. Now Chile is the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world and the seventh largest producer.

Only a very small number of Chileans consume wine with most of it being exported.

Bodegas Re prided themselves on their individual style and alternative approach to wine making. They employed the old methods of clay barrels and hand crafted wines, similar to what we had seen in Georgia.

They only keep 8% of their grapes and only 10% of their wine is for export.

Next was Loma Larga Vineyards or Long Hill, which was an entirely different story. 

Their approach was typical of the area with a very contemporary approach using modern methods and stainless steel tanks.

80% of their wine is for export.

Lunch was on the verandah at House (House of Morandé Casa de Vino), overlooking the vineyard. As promised the sun was now shining and the sky blue.

We returned to Santiago late in the day and had a brief walk around the Bellas Artes district near our hotel.

In fact the Academia de Bellas Artes was almost opposite.

This Neo Classical building was designed by the Chilean architect Emile Jéquier and built in 1880, It was the first art museum in Latin America and currently there are over 3,000 pieces in its collection.

 

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January 20, 2018. Santiago, Chile.

Today was set aside to explore more of Santiago, so we joined the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. We purchased the Premium ticket which included the Teleférico up to Cerro San Cristóbal. This has an excellent view of this sprawling city. 

Normally you would take the Funicular but that seems to have had more downtime than the Arthur’s Seat chairlift. 

It takes 2.5 hours to do the complete trip and it was well worth it. The tour not only covered the central city area but also included a number of the more interesting inner suburbs. 

The bus is run by Turistik, as is is everything else on the tourist agenda in Santiago. 

They run both the Teleférico and the Funicular as well as operate a large number of tours around and out of the city. 

Santiago is the most European City we had visited so far in South America. Due to the warmer climate and huge Spanish influence there are many parks, gardens and outdoor cafes. 

We tried to eat outside every night we were there.

Part 4: South America – Bolivia.

October 23rd, 2018

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January 10, 2018. Puno, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia.

Yet another early start. This time on the ‘Tourist Bus’, read backpacker bus, from Puno to Copacabana and then La Paz in Bolivia. 

It had rained all night so the skies were grey – again. 

At least we got mainly fine weather for our Lake Titicaca tour. 

It was about three hours from Puno to the Peru and Bolivian border points. 

We were offloaded from the bus to go through Peruvian immigration. Then we walked up the road and went through the formalities on the Bolivian side. 

Apart from the queue, it was rather painless and fast. 

Another stamp in the passport. 

It was a short drive from the border to Copacabana. 

We were picked up at the bus station and transferred to the Hotel Rosario. There was about 45 minutes before the bus to La Paz, so we had a short walk along the Titicaca waterfront. 

It was geared up for the local tourists with dozens of boats waiting to take the punters onto the lake. 

When we returned to the hotel we found that we were in a 12 seater mini van to La Paz, not a coach as we thought. 

The views of Lake Titicaca from the bus were stunning. 

We were driving on a peninsular and the lake would appear on either side of the van as we snaked our way along the ridge. 

As we had seen in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru gum trees were everywhere. 

At the end of the peninsula we reached San Pedro de Tiquina and then crossed by ferry to San Pablo de Tiquina. 

The coaches, vans, trucks and cars all went on large barges, while passengers took a power boat across. 

Titicaca was now only on our right. 

We finally arrived into La Paz at 5:30 pm, Bolivian time and 4:30 pm, Peru time. 

We had made our first time change since arriving in the US. 

In La Paz there was a mix up with our hotel. We thought we were staying at the three star Casa de Piedra but instead we were in the five star El Presidente. 

I liked the look of the Casa de Piedra. 

Searching for our hotel we had to walk through a street demonstration and on the way back to the El Presidente we walked through it again. 

Apparently demonstrations are a daily occurrence in La Paz. 

 

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January 11, 2018. La Paz, Bolivia.

Jimena was our guide for the La Paz city tour and Lucas our driver. 

As we were driving to our first site Jimena told us that there are 200 rivers running through the city. They don’t have earthquakes but they do have many landslides caused by flooding. 

Much of the city is built on clay and this is where the working class have to build their homes. 

They are the ones who suffer most. 

La Paz is an ‘est’ city.

Apart from being the highest major world city, it also has the highest golf course, football stadium, ski field, tennis club and international airport.

As we were told: ‘The football club in La Paz win games, not with attitude, but altitude.’

The 2018 Dakar Rally was again being held in South America, this was its tenth time there. The course took the competitors through parts of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

They race everything.

Cars, bikes, quads, UTVs and trucks race over gravel, dirt and sand for 14 days. They started on January 6 and were going until January 20.

And we were right in the middle of the Bolivian stage.

Our city tour with Jimena  took us to the Valley of the Moon. This is a popular tourist attraction and there were plenty of people there to share the experience with us.

Erosion has worn away a large part of the mountain, which is composed largely of clay. This leaves tall spires, similar to Göreme National Park in Cappadocia, Turkey, but not nearly as dramatic.

Mi Teleférico or My Cable Car is a public transport system that has been uniquely designed to suit this mountainous, high altitude city.

It’s a brilliantly simple and inexpensive answer to moving the people of la Paz around with the minimum of fuss.

I was so taken by Mi Teleférico that I wrote a blog specifically about it. You can see ‘The subway in the sky’ here.

On the way back to the hotel we wandered through the Witch’s Market. There are stalls full of weird and wonderful items all devoted to the spiritual well-being of the people. Run by the local witch doctors you can buy dried frogs, potions and medicinal plants. The most popular item of them all was dried llama foetuses. These could be seen hanging in a lot of the shop windows.

Apparently many Bolivian house have these buried beneath the foundations, as an offering to the goddess Pachamama.

We got back to the hotel and it started to pour. Lucky we took the morning tour.

The Dakar Rally was due to pass our hotel at about 2pm. There were a few people who braved the rain to watch the first of the vehicle pass by.

The majority of the crowd was made up of protesters. 

They were determined to cause strife and get publicity for their cause.

Then the police and army arrived. It was a cat and mouse game between the two sides.

We watched in amusement from the safety of our hotel room on the 13th floor.

The protesters tried to interrupt the proceedings as best they could. They pulled down banners and threw chairs onto the road in front of the passing rally and support vehicles.

Then the army arrived on motorcycles and drove through the crowd, scattering them in all directions.

This continued for some time.

As more and more rally vehicles arrived the crowds of supporters increased and the protesters lost interest.

By 5pm most of them had gone home.

We had a late afternoon coffee and another wander around the streets of Le Paz. We then went out for dinner.

When we returned there were still rally and support vehicles passing and honking their horns. Only a handful of spectators remained.

We hoped they wouldn’t go on all night.

 

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January 12, 2018. La Paz, Bolivia. 

Today was a day off as we had been on the go for weeks. 

Since we starting the 13 day tour of Peru and Bolivia we have had some very early mornings and long days.

It was also a day to plan the last of South America before the cruise to Antarctica. 

Our only real tourist adventure was to the Coca Museum, which was just around the corner from our hotel.

Its main goal was in presenting the differences between the use of the coca leaf, among indigenous South Americans, an it’s illegal use as cocaine. 

The display reinforced the belief that coco helps people in adapting to life in high altitudes and that there are a lot of medicinal values to the plant.

It also points out that it wasn’t until the Spaniards arrived that the evil side of coca, cocaine, was discovered.

One display pointed out that, “Coca leaves have been consumed for almost 5,000 years without damage to the human body. This suggests, or rather should prove, that the problem arose once the Western world left its mark on the coca leaf – and converted it into cocaine”(J. Hurtado 1982)

It also made the point that the US represents 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 50% of the cocaine that exists on the planet.

The exhibition also mentioned that Coca-Cola originally contained cocaine and it wasn’t until 1929 that it was removed as an ingredient.

Even today coca leaves are still one of Coke’s ‘secret’ ingredients.

Bolivia is a landlocked country bordered by Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Chile.

At last count there were 11 million people, with 70-75% of them being indigenous Bolivians.

Before the Spanish conquest Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire. The first call for independence came in 1809. There was then a 16 year war before the Republic was named Bolivia, after Simón Bolívar. This gentleman was also a key player in the establishment of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia as sovereign states, independent from Spanish rule.

 

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January 13, 2018. La Paz to Uyuni, Bolivia.

It was another early start, this time for our flight to Uyuni. 

We weren’t the only ones up early, as the Daka Rally were also on the road. 

Ironically they were also headed to Uyuni. 

When we first arrived in La Paz our guide, obviously knowing our love of coffee, recommended Alexander Coffee. 

It was about 100 metres from our hotel. 

We returned there twice more over the time of our stay. 

Imagine our joy when we found an Alexander Coffee at the airport. In fact there were two and one was right next to our departure gate. 

It was only a 45 minute flight from La Paz to Uyuni. 

When we arrived there was an honour guard of police and security waiting for us at the airport, plus one very playful police dog. 

I think he was a sniffer dog in training. 

Once all our luggage had been off-loaded, and lined up, he was instructed to sniff. 

His handler used a tennis ball as an incentive. 

He had a ‘ball’ – pardon the pun. 

No sooner had we left the airport than we ran into the Daka again. 

All the streets were blocked off, waiting for the rally to pass through in the afternoon. 

Lillian was our guide for the next couple of days. 

Our first stop was Colchani, a salt town with about 500 residents. This doubles easily each day with the number of tourists that pass through.

Lunch was at the Palacio de Sal, the world’s first salt hotel. 

This part of the Bolivian trip included breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

I was going to be ‘buffed’ out by the end. 

The salt flats at Uyini, or Salar de Uyuni, are the world’s biggest measuring 10,582 Square kilometres and sit at 3,656 metres above sea level. This salt is exceptionally rich in lithium, in fact the salt flats contain 50-70% of the world’s known reserves.

The afternoon was spent driving around Lake Minchin, as it is known locally.

At 6:00pm we went and found a spot, facing west, and waited for the sunset. 

It was a long wait. 

The wind had sprung up, so any chance a getting good reflections were gone. 

Once the sun dropped so did the temperature. 

 

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January 14, 2018. Uyuni to Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz, Bolivia.

It was a normal ‘working’ day as we had a 9:00 am start.

Due to the Daka Rally, which had now passed through, we had to return to Uyini. This was so we could visit the Cemetery of Locomotives, which we should have done the previous day. 

We started to get a feeling that Lillian hadn’t really planned our tour and was just winging it. 

She seemed very surprised that the Dakar Rally was interrupting our travels. Which was strange considering that it would have been planned, and known about, for a long time.

The Bolivian Railroad was active between 1842 and 1879. It was primarily developed to transport minerals to the Pacific coast for export. 

The war with Chile (1879-1883) or the War of the Pacific, resulted in Bolivia loosing access to the Pacific. An important area was known as the Litoral Department.

Most of the railroad system became redundant and the result is the Cemetery of Locomotives. 

The experience was somewhat spoilt by the ‘Selfie Generation’ who climbed over everything trying to get the perfect shot of themselves – not the trains. 

We stopped at San Cristóbal for lunch. This is one of the villages on the Pueblos Magicos or Magical Villages tourist route. 

Due to the Daka Rally we were off road again. 

We had 400 kilometres to cover to get to our next overnight stop. Much of the main road was closed so we had to take the alternative route, which ran along side. 

We realised that we should have started much earlier in the day.

Racing to get to our hotel we briefly visited Stone Valley, made from petrified laver. We then saw flamencos on Lake Hedionda, altitude 4,121 metres and then finally a stop at Lake Honda at 4,114 metres.

When we finally reached the Hotel Desert Tayka Ojo de Perdiz the sun was low and it was time for dinner.

There was no Wi-Fi, no mobile coverage and the solar electricity was only available between 6pm and 10pm.

We were in the High Bolivian Desert, the world’s highest, and both of us were feeling the altitude.

I didn’t dream that night but hallucinated.

Part 3: South America – Peru.

October 15th, 2018

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December 29, 2007. Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru.

Our flight from Guayaquil to Lima in Peru was at 8:25am, so it was an early start at the airport. 

Our hotel in Lima, The Best Western Urban Larco, was about 100 metres from the Larcomar Mall, the Miraflores shopping and restaurant area. 

We actually had a view of the Pacific from our hotel room. 

After settling in we then went for a wander around Larcomar Mall. The mall is perched right on the cliff edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a long way below.

Because of their height, the cliffs are a favourite spot for Parra Sailing over Miraflores. I was fascinated by the reflections of the flyers in the windows of the Marriott Hotel and Casino, that was just opposite the mall.

 

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December 30, 2017. Lima, Peru.

We were in Lima for a few days and staying at a hotel that was a little more upmarket than we were used to – well it was New Year. 

Lima is as huge city with over 10 million inhabitance – that’s one third of the population of Peru.

We felt it was just too large to explore by foot, so we hopped on the Lima City Tour. This was three hours, sitting on a bright yellow bus, being herded from site to site by our guide. It wasn’t the Hop-on-Hop-off sort but just a lot of driving around the city streets.

There were parts we couldn’t even get close to, like the main square, Plaza de Armas. It was closed due to the Pope’s visit, which wasn’t until January 18 – almost three weeks away. 

Saint Francis Church, which is very close to the city centre, was built in the Baroque style in the late 1600s. The associated Catacombs were part of the the original cemetery in Lima. It is estimated that there are 75,000 bodies buried under the church.

Lima was founded by the Spanish in 1535 and is home to the National University of San Marco, the oldest educational institution in the New World.

Lima was always the principal city of Peru but became the official capital following the War of Independence which ran from 1811 to 1826. Peru claimed its independence in 1821 and secured it in 1824. This was following a successful campaign by José de san Martín and Simón Bolívor at the battle of Ayacucho.

We were to hear a lot more about these two gentlemen, as we continued our journey in South America.

With numb bums from the morning bus ride we headed out, on foot, to explore the area around our hotel.

There are walks along the Miraflores cliff top, through parks and along winding pathways. 

The cliffs are 64 metres above the beach, so you really get the feeling of being high up. 

It was dusk and there were many people enjoying the last of the day. 

Lovers Park was very popular with cuddly couples. There were hints of Park Güell, Barcelona, in the tile-work.

Another fascinating aspect to the coastline was the surfers. There were waves full of them, all trying to get a ride on the rather small swell.

It did make a great snap at dusk.

 

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December 31, 2017. Lima, Peru. 

New Years Eve in Lima was something of a mystery. We wanted to be in a large city, as we figured there would be more on offer. 

This wasn’t necessarily the case. 

After asking the hotel staff and wandering around the Larcomar Mall we settled on Mangos, a restaurant in the mall. 

We ate there on our first night and it was great. 

Mangos offered dinner and dancing. The dinner started at 9pm and the night went through until 5am.

I didn’t think we would last that long.

As the mall is built on the cliff tops, most of the restaurants have spectacular views. Unfortunately they are spoilt by the constant sea mist rolling in from the Pacific.

It was dark when we were in Mangos, so it didn’t really matter. 

Our dinner wasn’t until late so we went for another cliff top walk in the afternoon. The sun did break through but there was still a sea mist.

Walking in the opposite direction to the previous day, we discovered the less attractive part of Miraflores. 

Descending off the cliff top we got down to sea level. We then wandered along the pebble beach area to the pier and surfers at Makaha Beach. I felt sorry for the surf school pupils as they made their way awkwardly over the rocky foreshore. We are spoilt in Australia with our sandy beaches.

Down on the shoreline it was interesting to see the Larcomar Mall from a different perspective. 

Mangos was decorated for New Year’s Eve with balloons, streamers, silly hats and horns.

We were seated on a table for four people but had no idea who the other two would be.

Then Oliver and Olivia turned up.

They were English, so at least we weren’t going to spend the rest of the night playing charades in an attempt to be understood.

They were a delightful, well travelled, couple who were in Lima for a friend’s wedding and were making a bit of a Peruvian holiday out of it.

Oliver was educated in the US and had friends around the world. 

And they were all getting married.

They had ten wedding invitation in 2018 so more travel was on their agenda.

At midnight there were fireworks on the Jose Olaya, the headland facing Larcomar Mall.

It was a good evening and even though the restaurant was open until 5am, we were back at our hotel by 2.

 

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January 1, 2018. Lima, Peru.

It was a slow start to the morning even though we hadn’t had a particularly big New Year’s Eve. 

Heading inland from the coast we wandered around the urban areas of Miraflores. 

Being a public holiday the streets were crowded as were the public parks. 

We visited the John F Kennedy and 7th of June Parks, then walked down the Diagonal back to the water. 

Late in the day we went to the mall for an afternoon drink.

During our stay in Lima I discovered Curaka, a local Peruvian craft beer or Artisanal beer as it’s known locally. 

And very nice it was too. 

Great label with foil printing and excellent graphics. A real break from traditional beer labels. 

Another find, unfortunately on our last night, was Barbarian 174 IPA.  This was an India Pale Ale in the US style, hoppy with a lot of citrus overtones. 

 

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January 2, 2018. Lima, Peru.

The outing for the day was a visit to the Larco Museum (Museo Rafael Larco Herrera) This was a pre-Columbian Museum about 11 kilometres from our hotel in the district of Pueblo Libre – a taxi was needed. 

The museum is in an 18th century colonial house and built on the site of a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid.

It was a very comprehensive and well curated exhibition that covered the indigenous cultures, from before the Spaniards arrived. 

There was a small section, dedicated to the post-Columbian era, concentrating on how the indigenous cultures adapted. 

History has concentrated on the Incas as the dominant civilisation in the New World. 

It’s true that the Incas were in power at the time of the conquistadors but there was so much more that preceded them.

For 400 years, from the 16th century to the start of the 20th century, mention was only made of the Incas in Peru. They only governed for the last 150 years, before the arrival of the Spanish. In fact there were cultures in Peru 10,000 years before that.

The museum was created in 1925 by Rafael Larco Herrera who bought a collection of some 600 artefacts from his brother-in-law, Alfredo Hoyle.

The arrival of the collection sparked the interest of his son, Rafael largo Hoyle who proceeded to become one of the pre eminent academics on pre-Inca civilisations.

He discovered and researched a number of cultures that pre dated the Incas. Among these were the Virú, Cupisnique, Moche and Salinar cultures.

As described in the exhibition: We live in the here and now or the ‘cult of life’ while ancient cultures, including Peruvian ones, practiced the ‘cult of the dead’. 

In these times there were three divine worlds on earth. 

The Sky, where the rains came from, the Land, which had to be worked and the Subterranean World, where growth came from and where the dead went, known as the Underworld.

They also worshipped various species from those words. Birds from the sky, animals on the land and serpents beneath it. 

One of the interesting aspects of the exhibition was how symbolism changed from the pre-Columbian to post-Colombian eras.

Symbolic images on pottery and artefacts started with a feline attacking a deer, (the feline representing a god) then moved to man carrying the deer (man controlling the world) and ended with man carrying the feline (man ruling over the gods).

This empowerment of humans is known as the Extirpation of Idolatries.

Later in the post-Columbian period there was an attempt to amalgamate the European and indigenous cultures. This was done by introducing symbolism from the very Catholic Spanish Church. This is known as Syncretism.

Metals such a gold and silver were thought to contain supernatural powers. Gold represented the sun while silver the moon. 

They were only allowed to be worn by the ruling class. 

Rare gemstones and shells were also valued and only worn by the elite. 

The entire exhibition was an eye opener. Not just the history but the diversity and craftsmanship that was evident in the exhibits.

Visitors even had access to the storage area of the museum. There were hundreds, in not thousands, of pottery artefacts stored away.

They claimed to be the only museum in Peru and one of only a few in the world that allowed this.

 

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January 3, 2018. Lima to Cusco, Peru.

Today we were flying to Cusco to start the second part of our stay in Peru.

After much searching we found a local tour company that could provide a bespoke itinerary, covering the places we wanted to see.

After a delay leaving Lima and arriving in Cusco we got to our hotel, the Hotel Royal Inka 1. 

It was a classic colonial building with balconies, verandas and internal courtyards. 

It was only 100 metres to the main city square, Plaza de Armas or Armoury Square. 

This was a vast square, in the Spanish style. Free of traffic with churches and colonnades on four sides. 

After a wander around we ended up at Norton, a motor cycle themed pub. There I discovered another Peruvian Craft Beer, Sierra Andina Shaman IPA.

Part of the tour was a pick-up and drop-off service from the hotels. The guide taking us to our hotel in Cusco had an interesting take on Lake Titicaca, the famous high altitude lake south east of Cusco.

Lake Titicaca, is ‘tities’ for some and ‘caca’ for others. It all depends whether you’re from Bolivia or Peru. 

I’m from Peru so we get the ‘tities’.

We ended up at Tunupa grill, bar and restaurant, all with a very Inca theme. I had the Guinea Pig and Thea had the Alpaca – we ate like a local that night.

The evening was over by 9:30, a big difference to Spain that doesn’t start until then. 

Sometimes a piece of music gets stuck in your head and it just won’t go away.

The introduction to the Simon and Garfunkel hit “I’d Rather be a Hammer than a Nail” featured the Pan Flute – we heard it everywhere.

 

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January 4, 2018. Cusco, Peru.

Today was set aside to explore Cusco before we headed off on our 13 day Peruvian tour.

We wandered around the church complex, which was just off the Plaza de Armas. 

The Basilica Cathedral of Cusco definitely suffers from the, ‘Mine is bigger than yours’ syndrome. 

Built over the site of an Inca monument, it’s huge. 

The Spaniards destroyed these sites and used the materials to build their own edifices. They also superimposed their own Catholic meaning over Incan festivals. 

Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the church. 

Ironically in the centre of the Plaza de Armas is a fountain, featuring an Incan warrior. He is faced, on two sides, by churches. 

I wonder if he is paying homage to them, or vice-versa.

We sat in the square for a while and were entertained by the number of hawkers who approached us. 

They were selling sunglasses, jewellery, shoeshines, fruit salad, art, selfie sticks, umbrellas, ponchos, dolls on a key ring, hats, scarves, tours and restaurants. 

All this was despite the fact that there were officials everywhere trying to stop them.

 

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January 5, 2018. Cusco to Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Adriel was our guide to the Sacred Valley. He was an enthusiastic native of Ollantaytambo and a devout believer in the powers of the Incas. 

He continually reminded us of this.

Our first stop was at Mirador Taray which overlooked the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This gave us a good opportunity to view, from above, the area we would be travelling through.

Next was the Pisaq Archaeological Park with its fine examples of Inca terraces.

The terraces were multifunctional, they offered protection in times of conflict, enabled agriculture in steep locations and helped stop erosion. Terracing was developed in South America by the Wari culture before 1000 AD. This was centuries before they were adopted by the Incas.

Terracing made more land available to produce food, which was important to feed the Inca Empire at that time.

The Incan Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America and possibly the largest in the world in the early 16th century.

It has been estimated that there were 10 million Incas when the Spaniards arrived. A number that was soon reduced by war, destruction of their habitat and introduced disease.

Pisaq or Pisac was a mining town for gold, silver and brass. Today it is better known for its souvenirs, weekly markets and the Inca ruins that are nearby.

The bus stopped in Pisaq for a shopping opportunity.

There was a Canadian couple sitting in front of us on the bus. He was more interested in drinking beer than shopping. I agreed with him, but at 11:07am it was far too early for me, so I let him go and find a drink on his own.

We didn’t want to buy souvenirs either, so we went to the produce market. There is usually no pressure to buy there. 

Driving along the Urubamba River, a tributary to the Amazon, we headed to Ollantaytambo. This is another archaeological site and as Adriel described it, “The icing on the cake.”

Ollantaytambo, located on the Patakancha River, was where the Incas made their last stand against the invading Spaniards. The Battle of Ollantaytambo took place in January 1537 and resulted in a win for the Incas.

The Incas were finally defeated in 1572.

It was a 1 hour 40 minute trip, most of it running along the Urubamba River. 

The scenery was spectacular. 

Inca Rail offer a very efficient service and even provides soft drinks and nibbles along the way. 

We were staying at the Inti Punko Machu Picchu Hotel, which was right next to the railway station. It was only a short walk into the main part of Aguas Calientes. 

This is a tourist town. 

Catering to western tastes, there are any number of places to get an espresso, eat pizza and drink craft beer. 

It’s very easy to get around as there are no cars. Everything is transported by hand, wheelbarrows or hand carts. 

Being Australian we were intrigued with the number of Eucalyptus trees we had seen so far in South America.

They were first introduced into Uruguay by Antonio Lussich in 1896 and came to Peru in the first part of the 20th Century. They were initially planted to replace the native Andean trees that were disappearing as a result of European development.

The Eucalypts were used as a building material but later the oil was used for medicinal purposes. As the trees spread, their timber was used for firewood and in the charcoal industry.

 

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January 6, 2018. Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, Peru.

It was a 6am start for our visit to Machu Picchu. Nelly, our guide, said we needed to start early to miss the crowds. 

Everyone else had the same idea.

When we got to the bus station there was a queue, stretching for 130 metres, of anxious people who’d also got up early.

It was about a twenty minute ride to the Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu. Climbing higher and higher into the clouds, around tight bends with treacherous precipices at ever turn.  

Just after we arrived the clouds turned to rain. 

Tourists are very silly people. There were thousands of us visiting Machu Picchu, in the rain. 

Not just drizzle but at times, heavy rain. 

The poncho sellers were making a killing. 

We finished our morning guided tour with Nelly but opted out of staying for the afternoon. 

We were soaked to the skin and she didn’t think the weather would improve. 

Machu Picchu is situated 2,430 metres above sea level. This Incan citadel was built in approximately 1450 but abandoned a century later, at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Unearthed and revealed to the western world by Hiram Bingham in 1911, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

In 2007 it was made one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, the Colosseum in Rome, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

Once we returned to our hotel the main task was to change our clothes and get the wet ones dry. 

Fortunately there was a small portable radiator in the room, so we managed to hang everything around this. 

Our room looked like a Chinese laundry.

 

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January 7, 2018. Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo and Cusco, Peru.

Today we were returning by train, back to Ollantaytambo and then by bus to Cusco. 

This time we were on Peru Rail rather than Inca Rail. This was a win as it was much easier to get from our hotel to the Peru Rail station. 

When we arrived on Inca Rail it was a struggle, as the platform was at the bottom of a long, steep set of stairs. Fortunately one of the train passengers took pity on us and effortlessly carried Thea’s bag to the top.

A lot of the railway line runs besides the Urubamba River. This is a raging torrent that descends from the Andes, flowing north and eventually joining the Amazon near the border of Peru and Columbia. 

This water is destined to flow into the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. 

The drive back to Cusco was along the Sacred Valley again. The clouds were still blanketing the mountains. 

There seemed to be a lot of old VW Kombi Vans and Beetles still on the road in South America. This isn’t that surprising, as the last ‘old style’ Beetle rolled of the production line in Mexico in 2003. While in Brazil, production of the Kombi, or Type 2 Microbus, only stopped in 2013.

We turned off at Urumbamba and climbed to Chinchero at 3,750 metres. 

The closer we got to Cusco the more ‘Chicken Buses’ slowed down the traffic. (A Chicken Bus is local transport that carries everything, including livestock)

After arriving back in Cusco we went looking for lunch for Thea and a coffee for me. 

We found Jack’s Café on Google. Purportedly owned by an Australian, it had Avocado on Toast and a ‘long black’

The avocado was fine but the long black was an Americano and the staff didn’t know the difference.

We were told that, being a Sunday, all the museums were closed, then we discovered Museo Quechua. It wasn’t really a museum but a shop. 

However just up the road we found the Convent of Santo Domingo – Qorikancha. This was a real museum and it was bursting at the seams.

No wonder all the other ones were closed.

The museum is a combination of an old Inca temple and the St Dominic Priory of Cusco. Founded in 1534, it was the first Dominican Priory in Peru.

Qorikancha also known as Coricancha was the centrepiece of a vast astronomical observatory. The Convent of Santo Domingo is built over the top and you can still see parts of the old structure.

The Spanish who first entered Cuzco tell of the temple and describe it as, ‘beyond belief’ There were reportedly 4,000 priests, working around the clock, at the site. The carved granite walls were said too be covered in 700 sheets of pure gold, each weighing 2 kilograms.

The gold was very quickly acquired by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro, who melted it down and then built the church.

St Dominic Priory of Cusco, founded in 1534, was the first Dominican Priory in Peru.

 

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January 8, 2018. Cusco to Puno, Peru.

It was 395 km from Cusco to Puno, in a large, bright green tourist bus. 

There were four scheduled stops along the way, plus lunch.

Marita was our bi-lingual tour guide, however I think she may have a few more languages up her sleeve.

There were about 30 people in the group and we were herded like a flock of Llamas. Marita was our teacher and we were her unruly students on a school excursion. 

She delivered her commentary with passion and an obvious belief in the spirituality of the Andean cultures. 

Mysticism has been a constant theme in Peru. A belief not in the here and now but in a world that goes beyond an earthly realm. 

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, at Andahuaylillas, was our first stop. Due to it’s richly decorated Baroque style, it is referred to as the ‘American Sistine Chapel’ 

The paintings, murals and sculpture were all done by locally trained artists. 

No photos were allowed but we were given a CD containing some shots. 

How good they are will remain a mystery until we find a reader and download them. 

The CD was produced by the Society of Jesus in Cusco and the Route of the Andean Baroque. 

They are involved in the restoration of churches along the Andean tourist trail. The money that is raised in tourism goes towards social work amongst the local people. 

Just next to the Church was the Alien Mummy Museum. 

This was a very questionable exhibit that believes they have the mummified body of an alien. 

Yet another example of their spirituality. 

Next was a stop at the Inca archeological site of Raqchi, also known as the Temple of Wiracocha. It was believed to have been built sometime during the 12th or 13th centuries.

Our last stop was the tiny Pukara Museum, unfortunately no snaps were allowed, yet again. 

Pukara was a pre-Incan culture north of Lake Titicaca. It dominated the lake region but was most active from 500 BC to 300 AD. As well as hunting, agriculture and fishing they were artisans. creating finely made pottery, textiles and ceramics.

Some of this work was on display in the museum.

It didn’t take long to see this very small museum, so there was time for a coffee. Fortunately there was a reasonable espresso available, just up the road. 

Their tiny automatic machine was working overtime. 

After about 10 hours on the road we reached Puno. Positioned on the banks of Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 3,827 metres, it is one of the world’s highest cities. 

It was founded in 1668 by the Viceroy Count Lemos and named ‘San Carlos de Puno’ in honour of King Charles II of Spain.   

 

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January 9, 2018. Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Yet another early start, this time to explore Lake Titicaca. 

This alpine lake borders both Bolivia and Peru and is the largest lake in South America and the world’s highest navigable lake.

Five major river systems feed Lake Titicaca, with over twenty smaller streams also flowing into it.

Our guide today was Bloody. As he said, his parents made it up but didn’t know what they were doing.

The Uros floating islands, made from a type of papyrus, were our first stop. There is one family per island, consisting of a number of different generations. 

They are a pre-Inca culture and speak their own language, Quechua, plus an Inca derivative, Aymara, and Spanish. 

There are 97 of these islands holding 1,200 people. They have an overall leader who is the the president, plus every island has a chief. 

The island we visited had the only female chief. 

The Uros tribe developed their island communities to defend themselves from rival tribes. 

We were given a demonstration of how the islands are created and shown how they live. 

There was an opportunity to buy at the end. 

We were then taken by the island’s reed boat to another island where there was a chance to buy snacks and use the WC. 

This was followed by a two hour boat ride across Lake Titicaca to Taquile Island. 

Due to its high quality textiles (knitting and weaving) it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

On Taquile the women weave while the men knit. 

This community operates on three principles. Don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy. 

The lake is rich in fish, with Llamas and Vucuna grazing on the shores. Various civilisations have been in the area for over 3,000 years.

By the time we arrived at the island the rain had as well. 

After a very steep climb we reached the village perched on the summit. As was to be expected the views from the top were spectacular. 

The local woven and knitted products were all for sale in the craft market. 

From there we walked around the island to the other side. This was on a good stone path and nowhere near as steep as the the one we climbed up on. 

Again the views of Lake Titicaca were amazing. 

Lunch was in a local restaurant, that seem to be suspended on the cliff face. 

There were about 25 in the group and we all sat at one long table overlooking the lake. 

The rain had vanished and we could enjoy the bright blue sky and lake while eating our lunch. 

After lunch the family who ran the restaurant put on a show. They demonstrated making soap and then proved how well it worked by washing some dirty sheep’s wool. 

Then there was a bit of singing and dancing before we descended to the wharf below. 

The boat ride back to Puno was much brighter than the ride there. 

We were dropped off in the town square, Plaza de Armas de Puno, and then wandered back to the hotel. 

It had been another long day.