AROUND THE HORN - AND A BIT MORE
South America 2001
Faithful readers of this extended travel series have probably tired of my complaints about air travel. It seems that each one of these epics starts out with some sort of complaint about the air line experience. (If only we could find a trip that starts and ends at the LA harbor.)
To reach Lima, Peru, we had to fly from LAX to Atlanta, then change planes to fly to Lima, all courtesy of Delta Air Lines. The flight in business class from LA on a Boeing 767 was pretty good. The food, service, and seats were quite acceptable. We were late leaving LAX because of air traffic control delays going into Atlanta. This didnít seem to be a problem since our outbound flight would also be delayed. When we reached Atlanta we found our outgoing flight was located at the adjacent gate; we didnít even have a long hike.
After a long delay the flight boarded. Business class on a Boeing 757 is quite a step down from the 767. Although the seats are leather and wide, the pitch is not great. The seats do not recline very much, and there is no foot or leg support. The flight finally departed 1Ĺ hours late, not due to ATC delays but to failed equipment on the plane. Early into the flight the captain announced that we had had a generator failure (there are two on the aircraft) and we were going to turn back rather that press on using the auxiliary power unit. This decision was probably driven by the availability of good repair facilities in Atlanta vs. questionable ones in Lima.
Upon our late return to Atlanta we found a vacant terminal with lights being turned out. We were told to take everything with us since we were going to change airplanes. We sat and watched as the cabin crew shuttled stuff from the old to the new. The meals were shifted by the catering staff. We hoped that our luggage would be shifted also. Eventually, 5 hours late, we again departed Atlanta. The rest of the flight was uneventful, with the exception of a medical emergency that occupied all of the cabin staff so that our "dinner" was served 12 hours after our lunch.
The Sun was well up before we landed at Lima. Immigration and Customs were a very slight delay. There is apparently some sort of lottery system involved with Customs. As you are about to exit you are directed to push a button. Ours came up with a green arrow pointing toward the exit. We could also have been directed to have a complete search, as the lady in front of us experienced.
We found our prearranged shuttle which took us to our hotel, the Swissôtel. The hotel seems to have a fleet of Hyundai cars and drivers available to take guests to and from the hotel, for a $20 fee. We were checked in, in our room, with baggage, by 10:30 AM. Since the breakfast buffet lasted until 11 we went down and had breakfast for lunch. I then passed out on the bed after going 24 hours with no sleep and having become incoherent. After my nap (Jodie slept in a chair) we strolled about the neighborhood a bit.
All of the guide books say Lima is completely safe - however - make sure that your long sleeves cover your watch, donít wear any expensive jewelry, leave all valuables and your passport in the hotel safe, and finally, there are armed guards wearing bullet-proof vests everywhere! All factories and many homes are surrounded by high, barbed-wire fences. Some are electrified. Between safety concerns and our fatigue, our stroll was rather short.
We could see some sort of archeological work from the hotel elevator so we wandered over to see what it was. It appeared to be a large Incan-type pyramid. It wasnít open for visitors so we didnít learn anything more about it.
Then we found a large shopping center that seemed to be on its last legs. I would estimate that it was 80% vacant. There was a rather pretty park nearby that was filled with very old olive trees. There were also a couple of old olive presses there, unfortunately surrounded by a fence so you couldnít see them very well. We found a small food shop near the park where we bought some red Chilean wine for Jodie and some agua con gaz (soda water) for me to consume with the small bottle of Scotch we brought along.
Rather than having some sort of local cuisine, we decided to really fly in the face of tradition and had dinner at the Swiss restaurant at the hotel. It was an excellent meal. Apparently Swiss dining hasnít caught on in Lima. For a while we were the only guests. Toward the end of our meal two other couples came in.
2/14/01 Happy Valentinesí Day
We awakened around 7:30 after an excellent nightsí sleep. After long showers we partook in the included breakfast buffet, went back to the room and did a little rearranging in the luggage and put it out for the 11 am pick-up
The Swissôtel was quite nice. The bathroom seemed larger than our cabin on the Clipper Adventurer. It was all marble tile. There was a separate shower and bath tub; quite generous shelf space and bottled water available. A comfortable king-sized bed rounded out the accommodations.
Checkout time was 1 pm so we wandered down to the lobby at 12:45, checked out, and selected comfortable chairs to await our 2 pm transfer to the ship. After 2 pm, and a bit of a Peruvian fire drill, we headed off to the ship on the third and last bus.
The first impression of the Radisson Seven Seas Navigator is that someone has pushed a large apartment building off of the side of the pier. From that level it seems to soar into the sky. Since all of the suites above the fifth deck have balconies, it looks even more like an apartment. We were rapidly and efficiently processed, given our cruise cards, and shown to our suite.
This is a truly elegant ship! Our suite has a king-sized bed, a walk-in closet, a marble-tiled large bathroom with large tub and small shower stall. There is a couch, table, and two chairs at the balcony end of the cabin. On the opposite wall from the couch there is a shelf unit with the TV set, VCR, refrigerator, a writing desk, and four drawers. We have received our complementary two bottles of booze and the refrigerator is filled with soft drinks and water, also included in the overall cost. There were also two bottles of Dom Pèrignon champagne plus several bottles of wine, complements of Radisson, American Express, and Joy, our travel agent. The ladies also received a red rose.
One significant item that will become increasingly convenient as the voyage continues is the free passenger laundry just across the hall. Although the machines are a strange European model, they work well. The supplied soap is automatically dispensed from a reservoir on the wall.
We are to view the Nazca Lines today. You donít know what the Nazca Lines are? No one else does either. These mysterious lines and gigantic figures were scraped in the desert surface by unknown people between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D. They have lasted since there is no rain in this area so they havenít been eroded. No one knew of these lines until the late 1920s when the first airplanes flew over them. Roads were unknowingly built through some. Their sheer size makes them impossible to view from the ground, leading the flying saucer nuts to claim they were either built by outer space aliens or by ancients who were contacted by UFO people and were trying to contact them. (Archeologists believe that they were created by the ancient Nazca people since the figures resemble figures found on Nazca pottery.)
To ease our 8:30 am departure we ordered breakfast from room service. Promptly at 7 am it arrived. I was expecting to balance the stuff on my lap. Not on the Radisson Navigator! The waiter arrived with our order on a tray, set it on the bed and pulled out a large table top from behind the drapes and placed it on our smaller coffee table. He then covered it with a table cloth and set the table for us. We had an elegant, delicious breakfast.
The busses and guides we had in Lima journeyed to Pisco to take us on the dayís tour. The first sight that greeted us when debarking was a Korean ship loading fish meal, a very significant product from this area. It is made from anchovies. About an hour after leaving the port area we arrived at the airport in Ica, pronounced "eeca." Our guide was a knowledgeable young lady named Rocio.
After a potty stop we boarded a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, a 12 passenger turboprop. The seats are 3 across so we were concerned that we would not be able to get a window since we were among the last to board. Boarding is through a rear door; walking in the cabin requires bending almost double and passing through a very narrow aisle. Perhaps for this reason, the forward seats were vacant. We selfishly claimed the window seats on either side. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the high desert area of the lines. The pilot would first make a pass around one of the figures for the passengers on the left side, then repeat for the right side. He would point the wing tip right toward the figure. The opportunities for photography in this high wing plane were excellent. We saw The Spaceman, a hand, a tree, a parrot, a condor, a monkey, a dog, a hummingbird, a spider. The condor was by far the best. These figures were all in the order of 100 m in length.
After the flight we visited a very good, small museum and then had lunch at a local hotel. After lunch we visited a Pisco winery or distillery. This is the national liquor of Peru, also Chile and perhaps Equador. It is very similar to the Italian brandy called grappa. At this place it is made with very crude facilities, cement tanks and ceramic fermentation vessels, called piscos. Everywhere you are offered Pisco Sours which are made from this 40% alcohol with powdered sugar, lime juice, and egg whites.
This area is one of the most arid deserts I have seen. There is seldom any rain - ever - in this area. Traditional sand dunes abound. At random intervals groves of shrubs and other green growth crop up. These are located in areas where there is a high water table, underground water flowing down from the highlands where rain falls. There is quite a lot of agricultural activity near Ica, all based on irrigation from the aquifer and mountain lakes. One very popular crop is asparagus. The water is 10 to 12 M underground, however most of the irrigation water at Ica comes through tunnels from lakes in the mountains.
The people named the Incas by the Spaniards called themselves the Quechea (ketch wa). The Inca was the name of their leader. Nazca was their word for place of suffering since there was absolutely no water. Ica is land of underground water.
Weíve spent today and yesterday at sea on our way to Chile. Last night was the Captainís Welcome Cocktail party in the Seven Seas Show Longue. All the sequins and tuxes came out. We avoided meeting the captain and also the mandatory photo by entering the show longue on deck 6. He was receiving people at the deck 7 entrance. During his speech he pointed out that all of the deck officers hold captainís licenses. As the cruise continued we learned that he is a pretty down to Earth sort of person.
Coquimbo, Chile. We opted out of any tours and took the free shuttle into town. Since it was Sunday the stores were all closed. There were, however, many handicraft stalls about Plaza de Armas, the point where the shuttle dropped us off. We walked a few blocks to the Mercado la Recova. It was all very pleasant with many families shopping or just walking around. The mercado was also quite busy.
We took the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and found that the traffic was quite heavy as we approached the beach area. Part of the heavy traffic was the trucks moving shipping containers to and from the dock area. After lunch we made our way over to the fish market. There were many vendors along the way. Civeche seemed to be very popular at the market however there were a couple of open air restaurants doing a brisk business in fish-and-chips. We also encountered two men running the old shell game or 3-card monte. They were using disks that were about 3 inches in diameter. They were brown and rounded on top; white and flat on the bottom. One of the three had a picture on it. The object, of course, is to successfully identify the disk with the picture after the rapid movement of the disks.
There was also a quite large open-air market across from the beach. All manner of fruits and vegetables were for sale, along with a lot of other merchandise.
We had been warned about Valparaiso. "The harbor area is just a sailor area," and therefore dangerous. We left the ship in the morning and strolled through the business district. It was a conventional, older business district with many small businesses. Hardware stores display their wares in the windows. We saw displays of various sized washers, screws, nuts & bolts. We found a bottle shop and bought 6 bottles of Chilean wine. We asked for, "Bueno blanco vino," and "Bueno rojo vino." The guy behind the counter pulled some down from the shelves. We havenít tried any yet so we donít know how bueno they are. We strolled past a fabric shop and Jodie spotted some lace curtains in the window. We went in and eventually she found some she liked and took it to the counter. They placed it on a scale; the price is per kg.
At no time did we feel any safety concerns.
In the afternoon we took a tour of the town and Viña del Mar, the adjacent resort area. The beaches were jammed but not too many people were in the water, the cold Humboldt current must have something to do with that.
Another day at sea. I must report about our TV problem. The screen has been excessively green so yesterday I went to reception and asked to have it fixed. I was told that since the ship had crossed the Equator the magnetic lines had changed!!! I should turn power off completely rather than using the remote to put it in standby and leave it off for a half an hour. (This triggers a degaussing which solved the problem.)
When at reception I also requested a bridge tour which occurred today. The hull started life as a Russian freighter. It is stainless steel and 1 inch thick below deck 7, aluminum above that. It has a 1A1 ice rating which would allow it to venture into polar regions. I imagine when the Soviet Union collapsed the hull became available for the Navigator although they had to add ballast during sea trials. The bridge is quite large and typically modern with everything housed in industrial slope-fronted consoles. The ship has 320 crew for the 490 guests. The space ratio is 61.2 somethings/guest.
The Chilean fjörd pilots are already on board and they and the captain are planning our tours there.
Yesterday we were in Puerto Mont. We took the half day morning tour which wound up at Fruitellar (Fruit-e-yar) which supposedly means "place of strawberries" in some dialect. There once were many wild strawberries around however they are now gone. This part of Chile was settled by Germans. They didnít have to contend with indigenous people since they had been mostly exterminated by the Spanish by this time. The German who promoted this immigration had to promise the Chilean president that the immigrants would all be Catholic. Of course, they were all Lutherans.
At the end of the tour we left the bus to shop the craft market near the dock. Jodie has managed to spend all but 3,100 pesos. That is about $5.50.
We had a brief view of the Osorno volcano as we left Puerto Mont. Since then we have been cruising an inside passage. It reminds me very much of the SE Alaska inside passage. Our current latitude is equivalent to SE. There has been a lot of fog and some light drizzle.
The Chilean fjords are similar to the inside passage but have some significant differences. Probably because of the much cooler climate the vegetation is more sparse or stunted, although there seems to be a lot of moisture. Another difference is that the passages seem, in general, to be more narrow.
The big event of the morning was passing through the very narrow English Channel to approach the Pius XI glacier. It was named in his honor since he brokered a peace treaty between Chile and Argentina. We approached to within 2Ĺ miles of the face. It is 2.3 miles wide, 25 miles long and has a face that rises 115 feet above the water level, which added to the underwater portion of 230 feet gives it an overall height of 345 feet. There are a few bergie bits and brash ice covering the surface near the face however none of it is very dense. It does not seem to be very active. The weather conditions have not been conducive to easy viewing. Rain, low clouds, and occasionally brisk winds discouraged a lot of deck time. We will cruise the fjörds all day tomorrow and arrive in Ushuaia Sunday. Part of todayís trip was through the Straits of Magellan.
Our day in Ushuaia was pleasant and uneventful. We did a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park in the morning and the did a bit of shopping in the afternoon. The park is pretty however the tour was an average sort of trip.
The day was Sunday, so most of the town was closed. Since we and another very large ship were in town many souvenir shops were open. Most of the stuff was the same from shop to shop and comparatively expensive to boot. Ushuaia is a town of 40,000, and as a tariff-free zone, has a developing electronics industry, according to the tour guide. I saw no evidence of factories however there were many nice homes being built around the town.
We had a very placid visit to Cape Horn. We departed Ushuaia at dinner time and cruised down the Beagle Channel, stopping at the Chilean town of Puerto Williams to clear back into Chilean waters and pick up a pilot. We approached the Horn over flat waters at around 7 am. The low overcast gave way to a shower, however the clouds broke to the East so we were treated to a rainbow over the cape. We actually didnít "round the Horn," in the traditional sense since we came down the Beagle Channel behind it. Upon exiting we turned West and crossed in front of the Horn, pivoted, and headed back East, then turned almost straight North to drop off our pilot before heading off to the Falkland Islands.
The Beagle Channel is the line of demarcation between Chile and Argentina. Tierra Del Fuego is split between the two countries, also. The virtue of having a Chilean pilot on board is that we could approach the Horn to within 1 mile. The Norwegian Dream, the other big ship that was in Ushuia did not have a pilot so she had to remain 3 miles away. We could see her in the distance as we passed. The overcast has given way to high scattered clouds with a lot of Sun.
Captain Alfredo Romeo seems to be a gregarious individual. His frequent announcements from the bridge open with, "Hello, its ME from the bridge," or, "Hello, its Captain Me from the bridge." People must have been complaining about their perceived roughness of the voyage at times. He has taken to apologizing for any bouncing.
2/27 Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.
When we were here on the Clipper Adventurer we learned from the Chef that he procures fresh vegetables from a hydroponic grower in Port Stanley. I wrote to the grower when we were home and received an e-mail from him yesterday stating that he would meet us at the dock and give us a tour. We then found that we probably wouldnít be able to get ashore until after 11:30.
After some difficulty Jodie was able to get us on an early tender that was taking the dock crew plus a sick passenger ashore. (Large ships are unable to enter the harbor and must remain outside. They fear being caught by a storm.) The Navigator crew seems to have some problem with tender operations, getting people on and off, and docking. As it was, we were at our appointed meeting place early so we had the Tourism Office people call Tim Miller of Stanley Growers. He picked us up in his Land Rover and drove us out to his facility. It is located quite near to the wharf where we boarded the Clipper Adventurer.
We entered the first Quonset-hut shaped row of buildings. It was quite warm since the Sun was shining, and also quite humid. He explained the water control process then we entered the growing area and found we were in a pepper forest. The densely packed plants were at least 8 feet high and all laden with peppers in various stages of maturity. As the plants grow they are supported by strings attached to the roof. The tomato plants were similar. After our tour he took us to his home which is located in the same complex and we had tea and saw his and/or his wifeís flower garden. Their land extends all the way from the road to the sea.
The facility was built shortly after the Falkland War by the economic development office. Someone came down from England to set it up and spent 18 months here teaching them how to operate it. Tim had sold his sheep farm shortly before the wool market collapsed and eventually bought the facility. Heat is provided by burning waste motor oil or other waste or contaminated petroleum products in a boiler. His first customer was the British military. He bought his fuel from them at a very low rate. (They would have had to ship it back to England for disposal otherwise.) He also gets waste motor oil from the town. He sells lettuce (salad greens) to the military at a reduced rate. Approximately 50% of his sales in the Summer go to cruise ships but overall they comprise 30% on an annual basis. The loss of summer cruise ship business is offset by the winter fishing fleet, although they donít demand the same level of quality. The hydroponics comprise 50% of his income; the remainder comes from a wholesale fruit and vegetable importation and from 20 acres of potatoes, cabbage, etc raised outside in the summer. Pest control by parasitic insects.
He raises tomatoes, peppers, egg plant, several kinds of lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini. The seeds are started in a fibrous growing medium. When they are several days old each plant is moved, with the medium, into a long, shallow tray in which the nutrient-laden water flows. This water is circulated from a large sump. A conductivity monitor continuously determines the pH of the solution. Whenever it gets too low it turns on the pumps on the concentrated nutrient tanks until the proper pH is achieved. The nutrient mix is different for the various crops. Heaters control the temperature of the liquid. Some plants grow better when the fluid temperature is greater than the air temperature; for others the reverse is true. The temperature differential promotes better uptake of the fluid. The air is heated by pumping warm water through PVC pipes laid between the rows. These pairs of pipes also provide tracks for the harvesting trolleys. Some greenhouses are heated by hot-air furnaces. There are kerosene burners whose function is not heat but the production of CO2. Many of the smaller cruise ships that call here are his customers. His e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. There are three full-time employees plus various numbers of temporary.
There was a Japanese squid "jigger" in the harbor, procuring a license. Fishing licenses are the primary source of income for the islands. I donít know where tourism fits in. The jigger fishes at night and illuminates the area with intense flood lights. They lower hooked conveyer belt like things into the water and just haul the squids out of the water.
After a day at sea we paused at Camarones, the first visit there by a cruise ship. It is a community of 1,400 people however after being there I think that is an inflated number. The purpose of our stop was to visit a nature preserve, Cabo dos Bahías, specifically to see the Magellanic Penguin rookery. I viewed the trip with some trepidation since it involved landing by ship tender. Boarding tickets were available at 15 minute intervals. We went down to the side gate at the appointed time and found quite a line. Both tenders were shuttling passengers ashore. Finally, only 20 minutes late we boarded.
Most of the town was gathered around the pier as we arrived and immediately boarded our bus. There were several tour busses that had been brought in from larger towns in the area. The drive to the rookery was 30 km, 1 hour because of the gravel road. Along the way we saw several Guanacos and some Darwin Rheas.
There was already quite a crowd of busses and people at the rookery when we arrived. It was a long, slow process to walk out the narrow board walk to see the birds. (Many of our fellow passengers are quite tottery and many more are unconscious, just stop in the middle of the walk to take a picture, then tottle along.) The boardwalk was quite new; it had been finished at 4 am that morning, especially for our visit.
The rookery is quite a bit larger than the one we saw in the Falkland Islands. Most of the chicks have lost their down and have feathers. The adults are in the process of molting. After 45 minutes we made our way back to the parking lot, had a hot chocolate, and boarded the bus. We were the first off so we didnít need to eat the dust of others. Our progress halted abruptly when the bus bogged down in a soft patch of gravel. Eventually the remainder of the fleet caught up with us but could not pass. A shuttle bus came out and we crowded on and returned to the ship. They were able to get the remainder of the buses around our stuck one and so all returned to the ship, over an hour late.
We now face all afternoon and all day tomorrow at sea on our way to Buenos Aires.
The most noteworthy event yesterday is that we finally won at trivia again. We won the first time we played and thought this was going to be a repeat of the Island Princess however there is a group of three female college professors who have won almost every game. We have added to our collection of coffee mugs that canít be microwaved or placed in the dishwasher.
At 8:30 this morning we picked up a river pilot and officially entered the estuary of Rio de la Plata. Montevideo, Uruguay is just visible on the starboard side. The low lying coast of Argentina is 50 miles to port and therefore below the horizon. We will reach Buenos Aires at 6:30 or 7 pm. Our departure for the Tango Show is scheduled for 8 pm so I hope we donít experience any more delays.
When we did our 3 mile walk on the upper deck this morning we could smell land. In addition there were a number of moths and grasshoppers sitting and flying around. I even saw one land bird. All this was before we could see land. This morningís walk was far more pleasant than yesterdayís. The very strong wind that has delayed our arrival in Buenos Aires was blowing salt spray onto the open 11th deck. We became quite covered with water. This morning was much more pleasant with no appreciable wind. We still got wet, because of higher temperatures and humidity.
While we were walking we saw quite a number of freighters and I was struck by what a waste of resources a cruise ship is. The only useful product we carry from port to port is money. I shudder to think of the resources wasted to build these floating palaces and then to drive them and their overweight, overfed passengers from location to location.
Some days have transpired since last I wrote. I will resume with the visit to Senior Tangoís. Iíve been trying to think of a good comparison, however, failing that, Iíll just have to resort to describing this old warehouse converted to a show club. As we arrived, the exterior was surrounded by tour busses and taxis. The front was a rather garish display of neon. The circular stage was offset toward the rear of the three-story high room with the band in a sunken pit at the rear of the stage. Tables lined the whole ground floor surrounding the stage. There were, in addition, two balconies wrapped around the room.
With some difficulty we found room at a table at a corner near the band. We ordered our first included drink just before the show started with some stylized native dancers who were immediately followed by a live horse trotting onto the stage ridden by a "Indian." He was followed by another horse ridden by a non-native. All this was accompanied by very highly amplified music from the band, sections of the stage going up and down, and smoke issuing from the stage.
Finally the tango dancers took to the stage. They were magnificent! Unfortunately they were interrupted by a male singer who might have been the owner. His voice was so over amplified that it was actually painful. We had to cover our ears to be able to stand it. After too much of his singing, the dancers came back. The stage began rotating, the center one way and an annular ring in the other. Then we had a brief bit of something like Cirque de Solè; a guy performed on two hanging white sheets and strangely costumed dancers moved about. The finale was more outstanding dancing and too much more of the singer.
We returned to the ship around 1 am. Since we are going to Iguazú Falls tomorrow, all we will see of the city is what can be seen from the bus. One thing we saw that I would have loved to visit was a very large Home Depot. How would it vary from those in the US? Iíll never know.
Our trip to Iguazú Falls departed the ship at the civilized hour of 10 am. The domestic airport is fairly close to the port so the bus ride wasnít long. The flight was uneventful; our snack consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich plus complementary wine.
Another bus with local guide met us at the Iguazú airport and quickly wafted us off to the Sheraton hotel located inside the park and with a view of the falls. For $75 extra we could have upgraded our room to have a view of the falls. We chose to remain with our view of the parking lot. Check-in was rather confused - check-in first then eat - no, eat then check-in - no, fill out the papers and give them to the guide, eat, then pick up you keys - no - no - no. We finally wound up filling out the papers and checking in then eating at the mediocre buffet lunch.
After lunch we set off in the bus to go to the Brazilian side. The Brazilian park is closed on Mondays there so we had to do it right away. The trip to the falls consumed 1Ĺ hours, partly because we stopped at a giant souvenir store. When we arrived at the park visitor center we had to exit the bus and go inside. There was what appeared to be a nice souvenir store there however we had no time for that. The guide bought our tickets and handed them to us. We had to file through a turnstile and hand in our tickets and then reboard our bus on the other side of the building. (Efficiency isnít a South American trait.) The bus took us to a trailhead where we set off on a good, paved path that offered many superb vistas of the falls.
There are 275 individual falls along a serpentine curve. (Who counted them?) The total width is 2.5 m and they average 60 m in height. On average, 1,750 m3/s of water flows over them. Because of recent heavy rains there probably was much more while we were there. It is not possible to do more than photograph individual elements. Our hike led us down into the gorge where we eventually reached a causeway that went out to near the base of one fall and offered a good view of many more. Unfortunately photography was somewhat difficult because of the heavy spray from the falls. The spray had a welcome cooling affect, however. We finally tore ourselves away and returned to the upper level and the bus via elevator.
Our drive back to the hotel on the Argentinan side took much less time than the drive over. We had an expensive drink in the bar then went down to the buffet which contained the exact same selection as was available at lunch. This is quite a come-down from the Navigator.
We set out at 8 the next morning and drove out of the park to a place where we left the bus and transferred to a truck with benches on the back and drove several miles over gravel to a place above the falls. We got into outboard motor boats that took us out into the rapid current to the remaining stub of a bridge that we could walk to an overlook at the Devilís Throat. The bridge used to reach the shore however it was destroyed by a flood 3 years ago. It was quite exciting to see the seething waters diving into the mist. During the boat ride over and back I tried not to think about what would happen if the motor failed.
We were besieged by butterflies during our whole visit (not an unpleasant experience). One rode on my hat all the way from when we boarded the truck until we boarded the boat. I guess they are attracted to salt.
After the visit to the Devilís Throat we drove back into the park and hiked along the top of several falls then down many steps into the bottom of the gorge again. The hike ended with a long, straight ramp that wound up at the hotel where we had another inadequate buffet lunch. Perhaps the meals wouldnít have seemed so poor if we hadnít been being fed on the Seven Seas Navigator for several days.
The flight back was uneventful.
We sat on our balcony, enjoying a chilled bottle of Dom Pèrignon champagne as the ship left Buenos Aires and the Sun set. During the night the ship moved to Montevideo, Uruguay. We had been docked in the picturesque container terminal in Buenos Aires.
When we woke up in Montevideo we were once again at a container terminal. Our tour of the city was about as good as you could expect. At each scheduled stop we noticed that there was at least one armed police man or security man. The guide said that there was no danger, this was just something that the tour operators thought was a good thing. At one stop Jodie and I wandered away from the group to get a different view of the statue and the guard discretely followed us. We later learned that a tour bus from the Norwegian Dream had been hi-jacked the day before our visit and the passengers robbed at gun point. Fortunately we had no such excitement.
Our second day in Rio. We woke up at 5:30 yesterday morning to watch the entrance to the harbor, touted as the most beautiful in the world. Our approach began before Sunrise, however we could not mistake the prominent silhouette of Sugar Loaf. When we were closer we could discern the features of Christ the Redeemer on the peak of Corcovado. When it eventually became light enough the air was filled with the clicking of camera shutters. Fragments of rainbows filled the sky however no rain fell on us.
With trepidation we left the ship at 8:15 for our tour to the top of Sugar Loaf. There have been almost constant reminders about the likelihood of being robbed. There is also a Japanese ship here. As we were filing off down the dock and through the terminal to our waiting buses we saw a line of Japanese tourists trooping off their ship, being led by a flag-bearing guide.
The traffic in Rio is terrible however we eventually made it to the bottom cable car station and boarded the gondola. In three minutes we had reached the top of the first hill, Urca, at 700 feet. We followed the guide up a hill, through a souvenir shop, and back down to the entrance to the second gondola. We quickly reached the top of Sugar Loaf at 1,300 feet and had a half hour to look around, buy souvenirs, take photos, and use the facilities. The views could have been spectacular however there was a rather thick haze or smog that obscured the vistas.
The ride back down was uneventful. A quick bus tour of the famous beaches and we were back at the ship for lunch. In the afternoon we took the shuttle into the Rio Sol shopping center. This is quite similar to US malls except it is vertical. There are well over 100 shops and many restaurants/fast food shops. The only familiar name we saw was McDonaldís. We went up at least four floors and strolled each before we tired and went back to the shuttle. Jodie succeeded, with some difficulty, in obtaining some Brazilian money from an ATM. I succeeded in buying a samba CD. No one attempted to rob us however one of our fellow passengers had an encounter with a clumsy pick-pocket at Copacabaña Beach. The passenger was carrying his wallet in his shirt pocket and the thief went for his hip pocket.
The smog is quite bad here, probably from the number of cars. Perhaps because of the obscuring fog/smog/haze, the city is not as beautiful as itís reputation. Sydney and Hong Kong harbors are far more attractive. The upper cable car station on Sugar Loaf mars its spectacular profile much as a large pimple would mar the nose of a beautiful woman.
Our second morning in Rio was spent going up Corcovado to visit the base of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. We rode up on a very crowded cog railway. The cars sped up a steep, narrow lane between houses and eventually reached the temperate rain forest that cloaks the base of the mountain. After about 20 minutes we reached the top station but then had to climb about 100 steps to reach the base of the statue. At each landing on the steps there were convenient souvenir stands.
The statue is placed on the top of the mountain, as you would expect, and is surrounded by walkways. A promontory projects from the front of the base to allow people to get far enough to perhaps get a photo of the whole thing. Photographers were plastered along the inside of the fence in several layers, sort of like plaque on the inside of a diseased heart artery. Some were wanting to take photos of the statue; others were wanting to take pictures the other way, of the city below. In addition, there were people posing everywhere to have their picture taken with the statue in the background, many in what they hoped were humorous poses. It was impossible to stay out of otherís photos so we stopped trying.
A day at sea on the way to Salvador de Bahia. We had another chat with the Captain. He described the ship hull as an icebreaker and said it was originally intended by the Russians as a spy ship. (I prefer to believe what I had previously heard that it was intended to be an ice-rated transport. The bow has the typical large bulb below the water line that increases the efficiency of going through the water. An icebreaker couldnít have that.) Whatever existed on the hull they bought was removed down to deck 4. This included the engines. Total construction cost was $250,000,000. Its construction in Italy was subsidized by the Italian government which must be why the deck officers are all Italian. (The construction of the Paul Gauguin was subsidized by the French, built in France, and all her officers are French. The same is true of the new M/S Seven Seas Mariner. The M/S Seven Seas Voyager is under construction in Italy.)
The ship consumes 80 tons of fuel a day. We and the ship consume 320 tons of water a day. The osmotic desalinization system can not keep up with this consumption so water is bought whenever we are in port. Some quotes; "A ship is a cow milked by everyone," and "The Panama Canal is also known as the Marlboro Canal since many cartons of those cigarettes are required to expedite passage."
We had been warned that Salvador de Bahià was dangerous so we had some trepidation when we went ashore. The shuttle bus took us a short distance to the Mercado where we shopped a bit. This is a old building that must have been something else at one time. Now it is filled with small vendor stalls, mostly selling souvenirs. We then rode the elevator, for 5 centavos or 2ĹĘ each from the lower city to the much older upper city. Tourist police were most obvious in their presence. So were locals dressed in "native" costumes who would pose for $1. There were many shops, quaint old buildings on narrow cobble-stone streets, and old churches. After strolling about, we took the elevator back down and returned to the Mercado to really shop. The duration of our shopping was extended by the arrival of a intense tropical rain shower. Finally we gave up and boarded the shuttle bus in the rain. When we arrived back at the port we had to wade through curb-high water to reach the terminal building. The Cruise Director, Jamie Logan, was waiting there with ship umbrellas for us to use on the walk to the ship. They didnít help much. We got soaked from our chests on down.
The population of Salvador de Bahià is quite different than that of Buenos Aires and Rio. Those cities have a strong European influence. This area was heavily populated by African slaves. The music, religion and culture reflect this.
The following material was culled from a magazine and one of the Passages (the daily schedule/bulletin placed in our cabin every evening) that announced the beginning of construction for the new ship, the Seven Seas Voyager. A picture of interlocking organizations and a fragmented operational structure for the ships emerges from this.
Carlson Companies was started by Curtis L. Carlson in 1939 as the Gold Bond Stamp Company but now has become something else again. This privately held company owns Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, Carlson Hospitality Worldwide (Regent International Hotels, Radisson Hotels Worldwide, Country Inns & Suites), Carlson Restaurants Worldwide (T.G.I. Fridayís, Timpanoís, Samba Room), and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Marilyn Carlson Nelson is the current CEO.
Apparently, Radisson Seven Seas is organizationally under Carlson Hospitality Worldwide (President and CEO Curtis Nelson). The newest Radisson ship, the Voyager, is being built by a joint venture between Radisson Seven Seas and V. Ships. V. Ships is located in Monte Carlo and provides ship management and related services. It is part of the Vlasov Group (former owners of Sitmar Cruises) and is owned by the Vlasov Family Trust, Vlasov senior management, and GE Capital. Radisson Seven Seas is located in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Carlson may be located in Omaha.
We are beginning to suspect that the Peter Grey Terhune singers and dancers are from the same organization that produces the "gala" shows on Princess, since the shows are so similar. (I later verified this with one of the performers.)
We are over an hour late arriving in Fortaleza. We were an hour late leaving our last port because of problems with ship clearance and adverse currents prevented making up any of the lateness. We have been in Brazil for several days, however, we must clear into and out of each port or sometimes even areas of the sea or river. Brazil must love their bureaucrats.
It was about a 20 minute shuttle bus ride from the dock to the Mercardo Central. This is a 5-story, eye-shaped building with very small shops or stalls all along the perimeter. Although there are some food items for sale, local handicrafts are the primary item. Perhaps handicraft is the wrong term. There were lots of leather items - shoes, purses, suitcases - embroidered table cloths, lots of cotton clothes, and lace. We shopped all five floors then set off to find another market located in an old jail. The same items were offered there.
We got some money from an ATM near the building. It was enclosed in an all glass building. To open to door you had to swipe your card through a reader. The machine offered English as an option so it was no challenge.
Yesterday was an uneventful day at sea. When we awoke this morning we were already entering the waters of the Amazon even though we were still at sea. The sea color was grey-green or olive however the wake of the ship was the color of chocolate milk. There are only 2 or 3 feet of water under the keel. (It became much deeper later on, 70 to 100 feet after we passed over the bar at the river entrance.) As we did our laps on the upper deck in the light rain, the water color changed in patches to all chocolate milk. We must stop somewhere this morning to once again clear the ship with the Brazilian authorities. We have been officially in Brazil for several days now so I donít know why it is necessary to repeatedly clear the ship. Probably each local authority needs his envelope of dollars.
We learned some of the problems with ship clearance from Chief Purser Robin Mauer. She was interviewed by Jamie in the Galileoís Lounge. The ship is experiencing some difficulties since it has run out of Marlboro cigarettes. Some "officials" expect to be allowed to free-shop the boutiques on board. Since there is no liquor or cigarettes sold in these shops, they have no right to go in although sometimes they must be given T-shirts and hats. The ship must present them with a complete inventory of everything and everyone on board. The material list includes not only food and alcohol, it also included spare engine parts, for example. India is the worst place for clearance. Sometimes over 100 "officials" plus even their children show up and expect to board. (By-the-way, Robin is a very attractive young blonde from Ohio. She has worked on ships for 6 years.)
Actually, we didnít reach the city where clearance was to take place until 6 PM. Clearance took well over 2 or 3 hours. Our late arrival was caused by strong downstream current. The mighty Amazon is in flood stage because this is nearing the end of the rainy season and there have been very heavy rains lately.
Our afternoon visit to Santarem yesterday became an evening visit. The cause for our late arrival was the aforementioned excessive clearance time plus the strong current. Adding insult in injury, we had to wait for clearance after the ship was alongside in Santarem.
Our slow progress up the river has caused several changes. Our scheduled stop in Boca de Valeria today has been cancelled and we will blast on towards Manaus. Since we arrived after dark in Santarem, the tours wouldnít be too worthwhile. The tour office dropped the charges and made them free tours. In addition, all ship bars were open at no charge. The charges for one of the tours in Manaus has also been dropped.
Our original intention had been to wander around town in Santarem. Our very late arrival eliminated that option so we signed up for the river boat tour. There wasnít much to be seen since it was quite dark. We made one stop at a local house and the kids brought out a sloth, boa constrictor, turtle, snake skin, and a spotted cat skin. One of the features of the trip was that we were to fish for pirana however we didnít do that due to the late hour. They were going to give a prize to the person who caught the largest fish so they raffled it off instead. I won a very large pirana, preserved by dipping in shellac!
As we approached Manaus early in the morning the decks were crowded so that all could view the merging of the waters of the Rio Negro, a black-water river, with the Rio Solimões, a muddy river. The demarcation line between them was quite plain for several miles. The ship tied up about noon to the floating pier along with scores of river boats. They are of all sizes and colors. When you book passage to a specific point you donít know when the ship is going to leave. It doesnít go until it has a full load. You are assigned two hooks on which to hang you hammock. Thatís where you sleep, about 10" from you fellow passengers.
Our first tour was to the nature center of the National Institute of Amazonian Research. This is an unspoiled rainforest that has many trails through it. There was a total of 4 passengers who signed up for the tour. It was quite good.
At six pm we boarded buses for the famous Teatro Amazonas (Manaus Opera House.) This sumptuous building was built by the rubber barons during the 1800s. Extensive use was made of Italian marble in its construction. It is quite elegant. We had a little cocktail party then filed in to hear a concert by the Amazonia Philharmonia.. (We later learned that 60% of the orchestra are from Belarus.) The concert was excellent and a fitting finale to the cruise.
Up at 6, out of the room by 8, off the ship for a city tour at 9. We again visited the Teatro Amazonas but this time visited more than we saw the previous night. We also visited the Armyís zoo. They have a nice collection of indigenous animals, all kept in tiny cages. The tour ended at a hotel where we caught a cab to the airport.
The two Brazilian airports we used have a strange layout. There is a glassed-in passage that surrounds the perimeter. The boarding ramps exit from this passage. Doors along the inside allow access from the terminal where the waiting areas are located. The gate assigned to your flight isnít necessarily near where you actually board the airplane.
When we reached the Manaus airport we couldnít find where we were to check in. I asked a woman at the Variag ticketing desk where we should go. She pointed to some closed double doors and said that they would open two hours before the flight. There was already a line formed which we joined. At the appointed hour the doors opened and we were admitted to a typical check-in area. It was necessary to pay a $7 departure tax and have your ticket stamped before you were issued your boarding passes. After leaping this hurdle we went to the business lounge and waited for our flight to board.
We flew a long way south to São Paulo so we could board our Delta flight to Atlanta. When we left the airplane we walked three quarters of the way around the aforementioned glass corridor before we got into the main terminal. After a very long hike we found the Delta terminal and checked in. The departure tax there was $35 each. The agent gave us passes to the Air France lounge where we waited for out flight to board.
Our MD11 departed pretty much on time at 11:45 pm. The business class seats were the best we have ever experienced on any airplane. We actually got some sleep! I wonít discuss the flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
This cruise was a very nice introduction to South America.