1/31/09 I will start writing this blog entry today and refine it a bit tomorrow, our last sea day on this leg of the journey. The day after that, we will dock in Valparaiso, Chile and be there for 2 days as one leg ends and the last leg begins. Apparently quite a few people will be getting off in Valparaiso and we are not picking up that many, so the last leg should be “sparse”. But there are conflicting reports so we shall see. Most of the people we are spending time with are on for the duration, so there won’t be any tearful farewells coming up until we arrive in Los Angeles.
Although I threw in a few hurried comments when I last posted in Ushuaia, I didn’t tell you everything so I will pick up there. We awoke to a beautiful sunny day which gave us incredible views of Ushuaia with the towering mountains behind it. Although it is summer here, it was still cold and there are large snowy areas on the mountains. We had to be tendered in and although they had several very large and comfy local boats to do this, it was still a slow and frustrating experience. Rick & Kathy Howe were waiting for us and there was another couple from the ship meeting them too. They are very warm people who make you feel like old friends right away. We gave them the “treats” from home and they were quite happy about getting them. They walked us over to their RV and we took some pictures of it and sat around inside it talking about their trip, and ours. Their journey started in Dec. 2007 in Alaska, so they have driven the entire way from north to south now. They said they will take about another year to get back because they will wander around and try to see all the countries and South America is such a big continent! They have had a few problems on the way but the worst was a few weeks ago in Bariloche, Argentina when their rig was broken into and all their electronic stuff was stolen as well as some cash. Luckily, they were at the internet place with their computers or those would be gone too. They have replaced their camera but were unhappy about losing the other memory card. It was very nice to meet them and have some visiting time but we had things to do in town so we reluctantly said goodbye.
Then we went to an internet place to read and send e-mail. It was 10 pesos per hour, which was reasonable (about $3) so I paid and started. Then Elaine returned from the bathroom and started reading with me. The guy came over and hassled us about having more than one person on a computer, and we explained that we share an e-mail account. He wouldn’t put up with it and finally went over to the cash register, got a 10 peso note, threw it at us and told us to get out. It was such a surprise because everywhere in the world people share computer use and it is no problem. It was definitely the first time we have ever been throw out of an internet place!! We walked down the street and found another place where we could share and it was only 8 pesos per hour. Because we only have sporadic internet access, we have been reading messages and posting a blog entry but not answering any e-mails individually. So if you have e-mailed us, thanks, and we will get back to you after Feb. 19 when we get back to CA. A special thanks to those of you who sent Elaine a birthday e-mail.
By the time we finished on the computer, it was raining outside. One of the common sayings down here is, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait about an hour”. We didn’t really want to wait for the weather to clear because Ushuaia has kind of lost the charm it had in 2001 when we were here, and it was quite a bit smaller. The streets are filled with stores to suck in tourist dollars. We had already been to most of the places outside of town where people go when they first get there, such as the Martial Glacier, or the national park. The other popular place to go is to the penguin colony, but you have to go by boat or it takes too much time. We had already seen lots of penguins by the time we arrived in Ushuaia in 2001 – the best place to see them is near Punta Arenas anyway. We usually don’t eat out when the ship is nearby because we have great food there. So we stopped at a pharmacy to get some antibiotics before returning to the ship. Elaine has been calling this the “plague ship” because so many people have been sick. The people who had to go to the ship’s doctor were reporting that it is expensive, so we stocked up on antibiotics in case we need them in the days ahead. The weird thing is that in the pharmacy, the guy who waited on us sold us 2 boxes of them, while the clerk waiting on the guy next to us refused to sell him any. She kept telling him that he shouldn’t be taking them unnecessarily. Sure enough, within an hour or so of our return to the ship, the weather had cleared and it was sunny again, with more great views.
The evening before this, we had gone to Chops, which is the upscale restaurant on the ship which charges extra. The food was absolutely incredible and we spent about 3 hours over dinner because our table was right next to the window and we were watching all the amazing scenery as our ship headed up the Beagle Channel towards Ushuaia. Ken Kimpton was out on deck and claimed that he saw quite a few penguins on some of the smaller islands we passed, and also lots of other birds.
The evening we left Ushuaia, we headed out using the Beagle Channel again and headed towards the Straits of Magellan. The scenery was really great and we spent the whole evening at a table near the window in the Windjammer Restaurant on the starboard side taking pictures of the snow covered mountains which seemed as if they were right alongside our ship. Then there was a series of 5 beautiful glaciers, each about 5 minutes apart. One of them came all the way down to the water, and the last one was the most incredible. It was huge and spread across the slope with the lower part of it throwing out a large waterfall flowing right into the channel near our ship. It was twilight by this time, so we didn’t get really great pictures, but we could see them clearly. Going outside for pictures was a very frigid experience, even though we thought we were prepared by bringing warm jackets, alpaca scarves, and knit caps.
Yesterday, as we were going through the Straits of Magellan, and today, as we went through the Chilean fjords, Elaine and I were working out on the equipment in the gym because it is located in the front of the ship and there were great views. The forested slopes of the hills on the banks and islands on each side periodically gave way to barren slopes if the mountains go high enough. And there are a myriad of channels in the Beagle Channel, the Straits and the fjords, so we have had 2 Chilean pilots on board every since Buenos Aires to guide this huge ship safely through these narrow passageways. When we signed on for this journey, we had no idea that it would be so scenic down here. Now we are in the Pacific, with the Chilean coast in the distance on the starboard side and we are glad that the sea is fairly calm.
2/1/09 Today it is sunny and warm outside so we can really tell that we are heading north rapidly. It will probably be time to put away our warm clothes until we get back to the USA. Today we have been taking it easy because Elaine tripped on the sheet last night when she got up in the middle of the night and fell, hitting her side and ribs against the edge of our glass-topped coffee table, and she has a deep bruise. Soon we will be going to Joe and Carla’s cabin for a cocktail party for part of our group. This is possible now that people are well again. They can’t have everyone in all at once because the rooms are too small! Maybe some liquid painkiller will help Elaine. Joe & Carla’s new room is a handicapped room and it is about twice as large as usual. Now we all want one of those!
The entertainment on board has been phenomenal, especially the soprano we had a few nights ago, and there have been some special events too. For example, for the Superbowl there will be a party in the same place as the ice skating rink, with cheaper beers and special food and the game on a huge screen.
Tomorrow we will arrive in Valparaiso where some people will take tours into Santiago. We have spent a lot of time there, and also been in Valparaiso before too, so we will probably just poke around the town, and at a fairly slow pace due to Elaine’s injury.
2/3/09 We have had a great two days in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar and I will write about it next time. If I get a chance at a faster internet place than this one, I will also add some pictures. Otherwise, you will have to wait until we get back in 2 weeks. Bye.