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South America and Caribbean

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Diary Entries

Tuesday, 07 August 2012

Location: Cheltenham, England

OK, we're off again - US and Australia, starting on 21 August....

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Location: France

Well, we've struggled through the Caribbean - the beaches, the palm trees, the turquoise water, what a bore - and we'll be arriving in Southampton tomorrow. Check out the last few photos.

Monday, 07 March 2011

Location: Panama Canal, Panama

The ship ground into action at 3 in the morning as it took its turn entering the canal. Passage through, from Pacific to Atlantic, takes about 8 - 10 hours and each lock is a fairly lengthy process, the ship being kept to the middle of the lock by locomotives ('mules') on either side drawing the ship by steel hawsers. Sea levels are of course both the same on either side but the country itself rises and falls and the canals are therefore necessary. (Prior to its construction ships had go all the way round South America - including dangerous Cape Horn - to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific.) Very weird to be in the cabin and see a concrete wall immediately outside the porthole, and then to slowly rise up it as the water fills the lock. When not in a lock the ship sails through quite wide lakes, often bordered by rain forest, which are part of the canal. We were through by mid afternoon and then quite suddenly in the Caribbean sea.

From here, our route will take us up to Fort Lauderdale, then down to Barbados and up the Caribbean again before heading out across the Atlantic. We'll be mostly relaxing on the beaches of various islands and then reading our way across the ocean, so the blog may not be updated so much. We're due back in Southampton on 1 April.

Sunday, 06 March 2011

Location: Panama, Panama

Before our boat went through the Panama Canal itself we had a chance to visit one of the locks on land and see other vessels going through: amazing to see these huge container ships going through what seems such a very narrow space. Then visited old Panama City, which we'd been warned against by personnel on the ship as too dangerous to venture much beyond the main square. In the event the old quarter turned out to be perfectly safe and completely charming - it's the oldest Spanish colonial city in the whole of South America. The heat somewhat overwhelming but we found some great local Indian craft stalls selling 'mola' (appliqued textile). Tried to score some Panama Red for certain members of the family but were told they'd already been sent their usual consignment.

Friday, 04 March 2011

Location: Manta, Ecuador

Manta not much to write home about but a few miles away lies Montecristi, the rightful home of the 'Panama' hat. The locals weave the material for this hat from some vegetable we never fully identified, to varying degrees of fineness and cost. The big deal is that the hats are supposed to spring back into shape after being rolled up but, naturally, the one we bought hasn't. Back in Manta after the trip to Montecristi we found a beach-side restaurant for lunch where a number of strolling bands competed to play to customers, drowning out a pretty good blind guitarist we were trying to listen to over the cacophony - felt like paying them to go away. Walking down the beach afterwards we stumbled across the best penguin colony yet - see pic.

Friday, 04 March 2011

Location: Manta, Ecuador

Manta not much to write home about but a few miles away lies Montecristi, the rightful home of the 'Panama' hat. The locals weave the material for this hat from some vegetable we never fully identified, to varying degrees of fineness and cost. The big deal is that the hats are supposed to spring back into shape after being rolled up but, naturally, the one we bought hasn't. Back in Manta after the trip to Montecristi we found a beach-side restaurant for lunch where a number of strolling bands competed to play to customers, drowning out a pretty good blind guitarist we were trying to listen to over the cacophony - felt like paying them to go away. Walking down the beach afterwards we stumbled across the best penguin colony yet - see pic.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Location: Peru

Mon 28 Feb, Tues-Weds 1-2 March

Anne: Lima. Checked out the main square, called Plaza de Armas apparently in accordance with South American law - every single main square throughout S America has been called Plaza de Armas and all have had a cathedral, a government building and a hero on a horse. Lima no exception but the architecture is interesting: overhanging Elizabethan-looking wooden balconies built in Spanish colonial times. Long lines at a monastery as people waited to go in with flowers for a particular saint's day. On our second day in port, visited some wonderful museums crammed with pre-Columbian pottery, gold and silver and textiles - such amazing cultures which go way back even before the Incas, the existing culture at the time of the Spanish conquests. The geometric pottery and textile designs seem so modern. Two more facts about Lima - it never rains there (ever) and the local drink is called Inca Cola.
Before the ship sailed about 50 children came on board from two orphanages supported by the shipping line to be treated to a barbecue and ice-cream and organised games. Played a couple at ping-pong - completely destroyed by an 11 year-old.

Martyn: Cusco. 0430 start to fly to Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire and at 11,000 feet altitude. Two cups of coca tea to ward off altitude sickness, then tour of city and local ruins. Interesting mix of Inca and Spanish architecture in town, though of course all the gold was removed and melted down in the 16th century. Inca walls were made of huge blocks of stone carved to fit precisely and lean in such a way as to survive earthquakes. Although the Spanish made the locals copy their style in building new churches, the locals inserted their own touches, like a plate of guinea pig (local delicacy) in a painting of the Last Supper, and naked ladies carved into pews. Guinea pig is indeed on the menu today, with or without head, but I chose alpaca steak instead, which is lean and tasty.

Martyn: Machu Picchu. Another early start next day to wend our way across beautiful Andean scenery and along the Sacred Valley as far as the village below Machu Picchu, then up the steep and winding road to M.P., which only becomes visible once you have shown your ticket and entered the site. A breathtaking view, already familiar but stunning in reality, and the weather was perfect. Tour was led by a very informative local guide, though some of the symbols he pointed out stretched credibility ('look at those hills, imagine them sideways and you can see the Inca king's face'). Got the de rigueur photo of a llama in front of the ruins. Back at the hotel below, my room overlooked the river, which was a raging brown torrent and as noisy as Niagara, but I slept well with the help of earplugs. Treated myself next morning to a soak in the hot springs outside the village, and an 'Inca' massage (no, they don't tear your heart out). More alpaca for lunch, then back to Cusco. Next day, 3 flights to reach the Ecuadorian coastal city of Manta, where I was due to rejoin the ship (and Anne). Doorman at this hotel had a gun, so I decided to eat in.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Location: Peru

At General San Martin port in Peru, Martyn leaves the boat for his 5-day trip to Machu Picchu. Anne visits Tambo Colorado, an Incan settlement complete with altar for human sacrifice. Some original colours still visible on the buildings after thousands of years. The surrounding country is very, very hot and dry and in fact a continuation of Chile's Atacama desert region. The area is pretty poor - people live in shacks with woven walls and roofs.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Location: Valparaiso, Chile

Only Martyn went to Santiago, the capital of Chile, as I had the mother of all tooth infections and had to stay on the ship. Santiago is at the foot of the Andes - great views from the city, though the mountains were not snow-capped at this time of year. We both walked around the old capital Valparaiso the next day (when the antibiotics had kicked in). The newer part a bit characterless - apart from the statue to national hero Arthur Prat - but the older part more interesting. Built on 12 hills, you ascend by one of several rickety Victorian funiculars. Colourful houses and flowers. Talked at some length to a Chilean of Mapuche Indian extraction in his shop who told us the Chileans think the English are boring. Told him he was right. Stocked up on Chilean wine and Pisco Sour.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Location: Chilean Lake District, Chile

A day in the Chilean lake district: very scenic. The region was dominated by a snow-capped volcano very reminiscent of Mount Fuji. Visited cascades, lakes and a former German colony town, Frutillar, where the Spanish and Indian population milled about the beach and the gingerbread houses eating kuchen - we didn't try any ourselves, of course. A statue in the town showed the rugged and Aryan-looking settlers attended by the Indian servant who chopped their wood for them.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Location: Chile

A day at sea travelling up the Chilean fjords - supposedly. In the afternoon a glut of krill in the sea, which drew a number of whales, caused the ship to stop. The krill got into the ship's systems and we had to circle in one spot for several hours while a clean-up was mounted. Prawn cocktail for dinner that night.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Location: Punta Arenas, Chile

Punta Arenas similar to Ushuaia yesterday but a bit of a highlight in that we met up with old friends. Visited a Magellanic penguin colony in the morning, where the penguins seemed very blase about the hundreds of humans standing a few yards off staring at them. These penguins lay their eggs in burrows, going back and forth to the sea to get fish and taking turns staying in the burrow. Constant honking going on (the penguins, not the tourists). In the afternoon we successfully met up with old university friends Hugh and Pauline, who have been biking round South America for the last few months and were coincidentally going to be in Punta Arenas at the same time, if they made it according to plan. We had arranged to meet in the main square at 2 but were not sure it would come off, so it was a real Stanley and Livingston moment when we caught sight of them coming towards us. Spent the afternoon in a bar and taking a look at their bikes and gear etc in the hostel they were staying in - bit of a contrast to our own luxury existence. Took them some stuff off the boat to alleviate the guilt.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Location: Ushuaia, Argentina

Rounded Cape Horn yesterday - surprisingly calm. Arrived Ushuaia (Argentina) this morning: the southernmost town in the world. (The southernmost city is Punta Arenas in Chile tomorrow.) Took a taxi to the Terra del Fuego National Park - scenic but a lot of other tourists. Checked out the town's museum and found out about the local Yamana Indians, who were virtually wiped out by European settlers, a huge surprise. They used to live in the park areas. The town was initially a penal settlement and is now existing on tourism by the look of it. Strangely similar to Port Stanley in style of housing etc.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Location: Antarctica

Valentine's Day - big deal on the ship where you can buy several hundred dollars' worth of diamonds and gourmet dinners to mark the day (we didn't). A number of young scientists from Palmer Station, a US research base on Anvers Island, came on board from the base on small dinghies called zodiacs. They received haircuts, fresh veg and fruits to take back and so on in return for giving talks on the work of the base and the life there - very interesting. The base is manned all year round with temperatures falling to -10F in the winter; other bases nearer the Pole fall to -122F. In the afternoon the ship was scheduled to sail up the very narrow Lemaire Channel but was forced to turn back because of pack ice at the entrance. Turned to head north in the evening towards Cape Horn; end of the Antarctic 'experience', with the icebergs and amazing scenery disappearing very quickly. Tomorrow is a day at sea - lashing ourselves to the mizzen masts come evening in anticipation of the Cape Horn 'experience'.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Location: Antarctica

Second day in Antarctica (which the Americans on the ship pronounce without the first 't' or middle 'c'- anartica). It's becoming quite normal to look up and see an iceberg with penguins on it pass the cabin window. The ship sailed to Paradise Bay, further south on the Antarctic peninsula, where there's a small Argentinian research base and also a Chilean base. Amazing snow-covered mountains, glaciers and blue-tinted icerbergs passing by all day. Too windy for the ship to get in close to see the Adelie penguin colonies, although we did see a few jumping around in the water. Couple of whale sightings. More wind later in the day and then much excitement when it started snowing in the evening (who'd have thought it - snow in Antarctica).

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Location: Antarctica, Elephant Island, Antarctica

12 Feb

On deck at 5 this morning to catch Elephant Island, where Shackleton's men were marooned for 4 months while he sailed 800 miles to get help. Very very cold as we stood on deck while the ship circled round the island. The rocks leading to the beach where they were stranded were visible although not the beach itself. I expect like us Shackleton was glad to get into the warm and get a cup of tea.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Location: Falkland Islands, Falkland Islands


Arrived to find the weather very windy and the captain in some doubt as to whether we could go ashore (many ships are totally unable to land passengers because of the weather). Two tenders were eventually launched to ferry people in groups into the harbour, which was too small for the ship itself. Our turn came about two and a half hours after the time we'd booked a tour with a local guide, but luckily she was still waiting. However, we could only drive to a nearby penguin colony where the penguins had moved to a spot on a mined beach instead of accessible rocks. We couldn't get close but could view them through our binoculars and took some zoomed photos. Drove back for a walk around Port Stanley, which proved to be remarkably similar to Dunoon on a grey Sunday morning. People very friendly though (with a strange West Country/Australian accent). Bought jam for everyone made from local diddledee berries - expect it for Christmas presents. Strangely, they wouldn't accept our leftover Argy pesos.

11 Feb

Sailing towards Antarctica and noticeably colder. Walked on deck OK early in the morning (although no sightings, as previously, of dolphins or whale spouts) and read a bit outside later on, but by lunch it was too cold to stay out. Our new heavy-duty coats are now getting used. During the afternoon the fog got thicker and the sea is hardly visible; hopefully this will dispel by tomorrow so we can see Elephant Island (where Shackleton's men were marooned for 4 months under upturned boats on the beach). The ship is now manning look-outs for 'growlers', rogue icebergs capable of sinking us. Not that we're worried or anything.

Wednesday, 09 February 2011

Location: Near Falklands, South America

Getting into the Falklands tomorrow - have booked a yomp across country. This new ship a lot better.

Friday, 04 February 2011

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

On Friday, explored Palermo and then walked to both the Museum of Latin American Art (appalling) and the Evita museum, which was interesting - never mind the achievements, check out those dresses. Strangely, nothing about her Nazi sympathies. Shopping day on Saturday, although only picked up some leather coasters for a souvenir. Sunday our final day; catching up on this blog and other online tasks before we hit our second ship on Monday, the 'Prinzendam' , to head for the Falklands and the Panama Canal.

Thursday, 03 February 2011

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Packed up to move to a 'boutique' hotel in the Palermo part of the city - fed up of the hot and noisy flat. Did a river trip in the Tigre area in the morning first: quite a pleasant area of so-called millionaire houses backing onto the river Plate, although they seemed pretty modest. Then finished moving. The hotel is over-designed minimalist - lots of art, space, blank walls etc. but nowhere to actually hang your clothes or the towels. However, there's a great balcony for watching the street life in the shady street outside. A much nicer area.

Wednesday, 02 February 2011

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gaucho ranch trip - Estancia La Susana in the Pampas just outside BA. An old ranch house from the 19th century, now a museum, to visit; some tango and folk-dancing after an 'asado' barbecue lunch (what a surprise - a lot of meat, including blood sausage); and afterwards an exhibition of gaucho skills performed by the waiters at lunch. To be fair - very good: picking up a ring from an overhead post at full gallop. Martyn went for a horse ride - on a very docile horse - see pics.

Tuesday, 01 February 2011

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Went to the cemetery and took a tour round its numerous streets of mausoleums, including Evita Peron's - flowers still being laid there, and much pro-Peron graffiti throughout the city (and anti the current president, Cristina Kirchner).

Monday, 31 January 2011

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Checked out the former 'English Tower' - renamed since the Falklands War, when it was reportedly covered with graffiti and attacked with explosives. The monument to the Argentinian dead in the 'Malvinas War' was nearby. Went with some friends off the ship to a 'milonga', a tango dance hall for locals. Brilliant - passionate tango by ordinary people.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Visited San Telmo, an older part of the city, during the day, and then off to a tango evening, including a tango class to start with. We'd already had a go at learning the tango on board ship - hopeless - but the Argy instructor on this occasion managed to teach the basics to his disparate class of tourists (us and a big party of Chinese Americans). M and I were picked out to demonstrate the steps to the others! Very good tango performance by professionals afterwards.


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Recent Messages

From Cat
Glad to see you turned out of the Pacific before the 11th. Everything ok? My brother is fine as is his house, but the harbor was destroyed. That's nothing, comparatively speaking.
Response: Glad to hear all's OK for your brother on the west coast. Hawaii was damaged too, we hear.
From Antoninus Pius
to El Gringo:-
Stop pestering these poor pensioners and get on with your fkn boat
From chippie McNish
to El G:
stop pestering them, and get on with your effing boat.
Whatis it going to be called ?
Caird ?
Response: Or Titanic
From El Gringo
Like the Antarctic pix. Think you should tell that very odd looking pair who keep getting in the way of the camera to eff off out of it as they're spoiling the view.
Response: I know, they insist on being in every pic. We call them the gruesome twosome.
From db
thanks for the blog
reminds me of Bert Fegg's tome
"Across the Andes by frog"
(damn...that's another one squashed)

Hmmmm
Response: So, db, feeling better?
From Steve Ps.
Sounds like you are having a great time, I have always wanted to visit Antarctica, especially in the summer when it must be light virtually 24 hours? Nice photos - we will show Finlay! Good luck for the rest of the trip - buen viaje!
Response: Antarctica now just a memory, now sweating our way across Inca sacrifice sites....
From Titus Oates
Presume the phrase 'I'm going outside now, I may be some time' never left your lips?

Can you ask the captain about the procedures for disposing of the mountains of guano your ship must produce daily in the pristine polar environment? Or maybe it's not so pristine any more?
Response: That phrase was heard approximately 330 times in our cabin. This is a very refined cruise, no guano produced.
From Cat
Reindeer and penguins and icebergs, oh my! ANARTICA looks beautiful. ;-)
Response: Yes, these Americans have very weird pronunciation.
From Alan and Kate
Very interesting to read of all your adventures and seeing your pics especially from the comfort of my own sofa!!
Response: Good to hear from you. I've now put all the Antarctic pages up.
From El Gordo
Your floating geriatric home must go at a fair old lick to get to Sicily from the south Atlantic so quickly. Hang onto your gin, granny.
Response: Yes, and who are you? Sicily? Are you reading the right blog? I think you'll find that Palermo is in Buenos Aires.
From Cat
Wow, the pictures are great, lots of info here. The Brazilian beauties cracked me up! Looks like you're having a wonderful time. Miss you both!
Response: You'd knock 'em for 6. We miss you too - looking forward to seeing you in the States - may have to hijack the boat...
From Ed
Hey, sounds like you're having a good time. Is this your first message? Cool pictures and good write up. I like that local art you've bought. Keep updating cos I am reading it, an email reminder helps though
Response: Hello Edward - only just thought to look at the messages. Yes, we're updating when we can, but internet access is difficult. xx Mum.
From El Chino
I know Wandsworth Common when I see it
Response: Most amusing.
Mamcita
From Rob
We get it pics will be loaded later!
From Brother Athanasius
This site is rubbish
Response: Thanks. Who are you?
From Boris
Fascinating, I'm sure.

Mary just told David is fully recovered, gets out of hospital tomorrow.

Now get back to your dental floss.