Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Punta Arenas Chile - February 28

The skies are clear as we sail towards the harbour of Punta Arenas which means Sandy Point.  This city was very important, this was the refueling stop for ships when travelling around the horn.  Then the Panama Canal was opened in 1914 and this city languished until oil was discovered nearby in the 1940s.  The city is quite large spread over the flat terrain which reminds us of the Okanagan of B.C. 

During the summer the wind blows incessantly, today the weather is beautiful around 14C and the winds are low.

It is a tender port and we have a private tour organized with to the Magdalena and Marta Islands.  There are 9 of us in our group and we arrange to meet at the International Café at 9 am and head ashore as a group.  Thankfully the tender ride is not very long.

We pose for the pictures on the pier and make our way thru the port terminal. Note here you have to fill out the form the ship delivers to your cabin the night prior with passport # and declaration that you are not bringing fruits/vegetables etc.  They take this very seriously and you can be fined $250 if you do bring something ashore, this is to protect their fruit/vegetable industry.  One parasite could do serious damage to their livelihood.
There are numerous people on shore offering us tours of the city but we have plans so we get directions to the office of Solo Expedicions which is two blocks up and two blocks East on José Nogueira road, which is the main street.  We pay for our tours ($78 each) and we are told to come back in around 45 minutes 10:15 for departure.  We venture out on foot to explore a bit.

We walk to the church and then cross the street to the square – Plaza de Armas which is a lovely plaza lined with trees and spring blooming gardens.  In the center is a bronze statue of Magellan perched precariously on a galleon cannon.  In front of him is a reclining aboriginal, legend says if you kiss the big toe you will return to the area one day.  Bernie rushes up and kisses it, yuck but hey he will be coming back!  I rub the toe for good measure and hope that I will tag along when Bernie returns. 

There are a lot of vendors in the square but we don’t have much time so we make our way back to the tour office for our departure.

The entire group consists of around 22 people made up of a few passengers from our ship, the Adonia as well and many tourists visiting the area.  We later find out there are people in our tour from Northern Ireland, Iceland, Germany and the US and Canada.

We are transported in large vans (two) to the dock which is about a half hour drive away.  We board a very nice vessel that has benches and lots of windows and is enclosed, note there is a head on the vessel in case you need to go to the washroom.  We are introduced to the Captain and his assistants, Herman and Cesar.  Cesar sits up at the front with us and speaks very good English and fills us in on what is happening, what we are seeing and we learn about his country and he learns about ours.

The seas are so calm and the sun is shining and we are told that these conditions are the best they have seen in a long time.  We did come prepared with layers and a good gortex jacket but we don’t really need the outer jacket but glad we have it just in case, and it comes in handy later when we visit Marta Island.

We pull up to the dock at Magdelena Island and the penguins come out to greet us, well everywhere I look I see penguins.  Here we encounter Magellanic penguins, and I am guessing cause I can’t count that high that there were maybe 100,000 penguins on this island spread out everywhere!  They are not as clustered as they were at Volunteer Point but there are about 200 X the numbers here. 

The island is a Natural Park for the penguins, it was created in 1966 and it is formed by two islands, this island Magdalena (210 acres) and Marta Island (29 acres), it is located 22 miles north east of the city of Punta Arenas at 52o Latitude and 70o Longitude.

The Magellanic penguins have a black beak with a grayish border, the head, the collar and the upper parts are all black.  Both sexes are very similar, but males are longer than females and the differ in weight is approximately 144 oz for females, with males coming in around 121 oz.

The penguins arrive in the colony around September, laying eggs in October, the eggs incubate for 40 days hatching their eggs in November.  The chicks become independent in January – February.  The adults shed their feathers and depart in April to coastal waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans feeding in high seas and migrating until they return to the same colony to find their mates and start the cycle again. 

The penguins nest in caves that are dug by themselves, and they normally lay two eggs.

We walk around the island for around an hour posing with the penguins, taking lots of pictures of the penguins and having a great time.  Even watching the birds, the kelp gulls were fun to watch especially those with their babies fighting for Mom’s attention and wanting food. 

We board the boat and we head towards Marta Island where we all put on life jackets and head out on the deck of the boat as we slowly approach the islands we can hear the seals!  The island has Eared and Fur seals… they are making a grunting noise and the males are very dominate protecting their area and trying to impress the ladies… so similar to adults.

The seals in the water are playing around us and popping up and down right beside the boat. 

The fauna on Marta is vast with different types of cormorants, common seagulls, dolphin gulls and Chilean skuas. 

We are blown away but the wildlife and we are all giggling like schoolkids.  And while traveling back to the mainland a group of dolphins swims and plays along side our boat and again we are all giddy and laughing.  What a treat!

We all thank the crew for their amazing job and I can say I highly recommend Solo Expdediciones tours, you can find their tours at the tour we took was Magdalena and Marta Island which left at 10:15 and returned around 14:30.  You do need to provide a credit card number and your passport number when you book (which is common in Chile) but they did not charge our credit card until we got there.

When we arrive back in town we head towards the Plaza again and we are able to get great bargains as this is the end of the season.  We pick up lots of sweaters for around $15 each for the solid colored sweaters and $20 for the more detailed sweaters made out of Apache wool.  The vendors sell everything here, trinkets, magnets, scarves, hats, jewelry, postcards, and in the background we are listening to a local sing karaoke – Elvis, a little odd but a good laugh.

Bernie buys some sweaters

lots of items with penguins on them

Our next stop is to find a washroom and we find one in a small mall that you have to pay $1 to use but trust me right now I would pay lots more.  Not many locals speak English and we are trying to find a grocery store to get some wine and soda and the attendant at the washroom doesn’t understand us.  But we find someone on the street who directs us to a large grocery store called UniMarc that had everything and lots more of what we needed.  The wine is cheap!  But then again Chile is known for their wine.  We get four bottles of wine and some soda to take back on board. 

We start walking back to the port, about a 15 minute walk but made more difficult because of the weight.  And just a block or two away from the port is a UniMarc grocery store that we could of went too, but it is smaller but I am sure you can get all everything you need there too. 

We stop on a beach at the pier to write up our postcards and post them from the tip of South America.

Back on board and we are hungry so we head up to the Horizon Court for a meal and decide that we will skip dinner and eat enough here to tie us over for the evening. 

Back in the room and we can’t believe how hot the sun is!  We head over to Connie and Derrick’s cabin for sailaway and we all have a good laugh and talk about the great day we had.

We wander the public decks but it is so quiet!  There is not much going on in the evenings on board, a lot less than you would find in the Caribbean.  But then again our days are busy and truly we are happy to just sit and enjoy a drink and watch and chat with fellow passengers.  We do head up to the photo department to talk to the crew there who we have become good friends with on this voyage.

We are asleep around 10:30 after another GREAT day.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ushuaia February 27

this is as close as we got to Ushuaia

Bernie had planned to go golfing at the most Southern Golf Course in the world today and Alice and I were planning to head ashore and head up the Beagle Channel.  But around 7 am the Captain announces in all the cabins that unfortunately our stop in Ushuaia has to be cancelled. 

This is politically motivated and there is a group of Argentinians that are occupying the port and don’t want our ship or the Antonian from P&O to stop because we stopped in the Falklands.  We are disappointed but we also understand and we refuse to have this ruin our day.

The one great thing is that originally we were suppose to leave Ushuaia around 4 pm and we would have been going up Glacier Alley around 6:30 pm to 8:45 pm but now we will arrive mid morning and the Captain will take it very slow so we can really enjoy the beauty.

I call Alice and the three of us head for breakfast in the Capri dining room.  After breakfast we bundle up and head up to the sun deck so we can check out the scenery.  We grab some hot chocolate (spiked with some Baileys) and then we invite Alice and Connie and Derrick over to the balcony to enjoy the glaciers. 

We first past Devil’s Island and slowly make our way towards Holland’s Glacier, next Glacier is Italian Glacier which is stunning we even got to see ice fall from it.  We saw killer whales too.  The whole area is beautiful and reminds us of home. 

I took this reflection shot from the balcony looking into the sliding door

We figured since we save $25 in port charges today but not being able to dock in Usuhaia we figured why not use that towards a dinner in the Crown Grill with Connie and Derrick and Alice.  It was a little longer than normal, our waiter is a smoker and kept disappearing but we had such great table mates we didn’t care.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sea Day and Around the Horn – February 26

After a great sleep we are feeling refreshed, after a latte and a bite in the International Café we sit up in Crooners and chat with friends.  Lots going on around the ship, especially shopping.  Bought a nice fleece jacket with penguins on the back for $18 and Bernie got a nice windbreaker with fleece lining. 

Bernie wants to do trivia and I am not really interested so I relax and read and chat with fellow passengers.  For lunch we head to the dining room and I had a lovely stuff pepper. 

Gail and Russell meet up with us in our cabin for a trivia game and some good laughs until we hear we are coming close to the horn so we bundle up and head up on deck.  It is cold and windy but wearing appropriate clothes helps. 

Gail and I

Now it is confusing to explain how we go around the horn, we are going east to west and we are just passing deception island, the island is called this because many times ships thought this was the end of South America when in fact it is not, therefore called island of deceit.

We are sailing on the north side of Cape Horn going around the horn counter clockwise.  Joe Mae our speaker is talking over the loud speaker about what we are seeing and the history of the area.  Have to say we really enjoy his talks.  His lectures are well attended but we choose to watch them in the cabin as they are replayed there.  Then when I do fall asleep it isn't so obvious and I am comfy in bed.

The ship photographers are out and they are trying to get their quota of pictures so we are trying to help by posing and getting our friends to pose too.

After about an hour up on deck we head back to the cabin to change and get ready for dinner.  Tonight’s menu is called Candlelight menu, one we have not experienced and it looks good.  I had the mushroom stuffed chicken, but they did have a lobster tail and lobster cake that looked very good. 

I should note that the Captain did come over the in cabin speakers to notify us that we may be delayed in our arrival tomorrow in Ushuaia as there is a political protest group occupying a ship at the berth that we need to dock at.  Word is that they have agreed to leave the berth at 7 am so our arrival will be delayed by an hour.

our waiter even got in on it

Tonight is Oscar night and we have arranged to have a group of us sit together in the Vista lounge to enjoy the show together.  Just prior to the show is Oscar Trivia for which we didn’t do too too bad at but still did not win.  A group of us gather and we bring out the feather boas for the show.  Great fun, good laughs and great people.  The show starts around 10:30 but sadly the sound is just so overpowering that we can’t really hear well.  After about 45 minutes we decide to head back to the cabin and we watch a bit on the t.v. but we are both having a hard time staying awake.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Stanley, Flakland Islands - February 25

We are docking early and as we head south towards Stanley numerous people are out on their deck – we are freezing our butts off with just our robes on but we can’t help it the wildlife is amazing. 

We first notice whales which we later note are sperm whales.  We have a few sightings of whales.  Bernie is excited to see the smaller albatross and then he shouts penguins!  At first we thought they were fish swimming at the surface but looking closer we see they are penguins diving down and back up to the surface to welcome us. 

that is a penguin in the water on the left

Today is a tender day and thankfully the waters are calm which will make the longer tender ride more comfortable.  The cruisecritic gang is all meeting in Explorer’s lounge for a group tender and we are directed off right after the ship’s tours.  We brave the elements and head up to the open area on the tender.  Sure it is cold but we see so much more and we are excited when pods of dolphins jump and play along side the tender.

As soon as we arrive in Stanley (the town dropped the Port name a while back since they don’t have a port) we see our name on a sign and introduce ourselves to Owen our driver.  He is one of Patrick Watt’s respected drivers and is coordinating things.  The tour we organized can be found at

Each driver takes four passengers and note that means three in the back seat and the ride is long so be prepared.  You drive for about 40 minutes on gravel road then 1.5 hours off road thru fields and it is bumpy but Owen was very professional and a great driver.

I've posted a video up on Youtube on the King Penguins here, you can watch it at

You arrive at Volunteer point and make sure you dress in layers.  The temperature isn’t that bad it is the wind that is cold.  Here you will see three varieties of penguins but the time of year that we are there there are only two the Gentoo and King penguins.  The King have some that are still with their eggs and some newly hatched penguins.  The area is large and you can wander around but they do ask you not to go past the white stoned area as this is where the penguins are nesting. 

After an hour and a half here we grab a provided lunch and we are back in the vehicle for our trip back. 

If you are interested in this tour to Volunteer Point to see the penguins make sure you reserve way in advance as the number of drivers he can coordinated is limited and spaces fill fast.  We paid in pounds and that was 115 pounds each, some paid in US and that was around $195 each, but the ship’s tour was $329 each and was sold out.

The town of Stanley is not large but reminds me of many fishing villages on the East Coast and many of the stores are open cause ships are in port.  We walk to the West Store (grocery store) and pick up some club biscuits (as we can’t find them at home and love them).  We cross the street to visit a few shops and pick up many items, t-shirts, post cards, penguin earrings, four limited number prints that we will frame when we get home, and a small stuffed penguin.  You will find almost everything possible with a penguin on it here!

There are a few pubs in town too where you can get a beer and fish and chips.  The whole area is easily walkable and we enjoy about an hour here before heading back on the tender.  This time our trip on the open area is a little colder as it starts to rain, but rain here is really sleet and it is cold! 

As soon as I get back on board I head up to the horizon court with my large mug and hot chocolate mix to make a hot chocolate and enjoy that on my balcony.  We head out around 6:15 pm and again Bernie and I are watching the wildlife, dolphins, penguins, whales, and birds.  We are tired, there isn’t much going on tonight and we both agree a quiet night is in order.  We order room service and watch a movie and we are both asleep at 9:30 pm.