On Saturday, February 11, we arrived at Montevideo, Uruguay. It is much smaller than Buenos Aires, but still a big city at about 1.8 million people (including suburbs). It had a much more relaxed and friendly ambiance than Buenos Aires (of course, it was a weekend, but still . . .), and we liked it very much.
We were supposed to arrive at 8:00 AM. Since Montevideo is just about 150 miles down the Rio Plata from Buenos Aires you would think we would have no trouble arriving on time. But you would be wrong. Because of the problems with the river traffic I explained yesterday we didn’t arrive until noon. But we still had plenty of time to explore this city on foot before the ship left that evening.
Montevideo is a very walkable city (at least the old town & the main part of the new town, where we went). Leaving the ship, we passed the anchor from the Graf Spee, a German warship sunk in the harbor here in 1939 in an incident that was famous at the time. It seems the ship was chased into this harbor by several British ships. Uruguay was neutral, and the rules were that ships of belligerents could only stay 3 days, so the British ships just waited outside the harbor for the Graf Spee to come out. Instead the captain scuttled the ship in the harbor, where it still resides (they say you can see the top if its conning tower above the water if you go close enough), and the captain committed suicide rather than being sent back to face Hitler’s wrath. It’s still a big deal around here. Just outside the harbor area is the Mercado de Puerto, an open air craft & souvenir market next to a very large warehouse type building housing a plethora of open restaurants. Even on Saturday it was bustling.
We walked through several streets & plazas up the hill from the harbor (Montevideo means something like Mountain View, although you would hardly call this gentle hill a mountain). The streets of Montevideo are interesting, with old & new buildings interspersed. The streets were pretty quiet on Saturday, presumably they are more crowded on business days but nothing like Buenos Aires I am sure.
At Plaza Constitucion there was a Saturday flea market being held. It is a very pleasant tree covered square, with an elaborate marble fountain in the middle (commemorating the establishment of the city’s water system) and a number of interesting buildings and the Catedral Matriz around the perimeter. At the flea market they were selling everything from antique cameras & cameos to old victrolas & glassware.
We walked on to the much larger & more impressive Plaza Independencia, which is essentially the center of the city. To get there we walked along a pedestrian-only street with vendor stalls and through a gate which is a restoration of one of the original gates to the city.
Plaza Independencia was surrounded by interesting buildings. The Palacio Salvo, with its bizarre tower section, is the tallest building in Uruguay and was the tallest in South America when it was built in the 1920’s (you can see it on the right in the city skyline at the top of this blog entry). The Palacio Estavez was the center of government until 1985. And the lovely Teatro Solis, the opera house, is on a corner of the Plaza called (at least on our map; we couldn’t find any sign at the site) “Plaza Golda Meir.” I’m not sure what Golda Meir might have had to do with Uruguay, but there it is.
One of the biggest pleasures of exploring Montevideo is the beautiful old architecture you find all over, often mixed in with more modern or even pedestrian buildings. Below is a selection of some of the architectural details on the buildings, which includes a variety of sculpture, balconies, mosaic decorations and old ornate buildings reflected in a modern glass building (a photographic cliche, I know, but still pretty).
And so, as the sun sinks slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell to beautiful Montevideo. Last night was the Valentine’s Day Ball aboard Prinsendam (even though it was February 12, which ought to have involved Lincoln’s birthday instead). I have no pictures of the Ball (Cinderella didn’t make it this time) but below I have included the latest towel animals. As I write this, we will be arriving in Rio de Janeiro early (6:30 AM) tomorrow morning for a two day stay, then two days in small resort towns with little to do but look at the sand & sky & sun (assuming the sun is actually out) so it may be a few more days before there is another posting. And happy birthday to Linda, if you are still following this.
Buenos Aires is a huge, crowded, loud city, which reminded us in many ways of New York. There are about 3.5 million living in the city & about 14 million (!) if you include the suburbs. It is sometimes called the “Paris of South America” & many seasoned travelers say it is their favorite city, but we couldn’t see why. Of course, we didn’t eat in its restaurants, which are supposed to be outstanding if you like steak (and lots of it), and we didn’t stay in any of its hotels, some of which looked pretty fancy. But still: big, loud, crowded; not our cup of tea.
We arrived on Thursday, February 9 for an overnight stay. We were supposed to be able to go ashore about 8:30 AM, which would have given 2 full days (& 1 night) there, but we actually didn’t arrive until after 2:00 in the afternoon. Buenos Aires is not on the ocean, but a 9 hour cruise up the La Plata river. It seems that the La Plata river is pretty shallow so you have to take ocean going ships through a channel, and to make matters worse there was a disabled ship halfway up the channel. As a result, river navigation was only one way at a time so they were scheduling ships for convoys each way, kind of like when one direction on a two-way road is under construction so that one line of cars travels in one direction while the other direction is stopped. Well we were two hours late leaving the Falkland Islands so we missed our place in a convoy going up the river, resulting in our arriving about 6 or 7 hours late.
We had booked a private tour that would have taken all day and involved walking around in a number of areas of the city & lunch in a restaurant. However, that tour was cancelled because of our late arrival so we scrambled to get on a “Buenos Aires Highlights” bus tour (it was too late to do any worthwhile exploring on our own since it took about half an hour to get downtown from the port, involving two shuttle bus rides). This was a 4 hour trip around town by bus with a guide, including two stops, at the Recoleta cemetery (where Evita Peron is buried) & at the La Boca neighborhood.
The Recoleta neighborhood is an old, wealthy part of town. The cemetery there is old & is for the wealthy aristocracy of Buenos Aires. Apparently Buenos Aires has historically had a very haughty aristocracy. Anyway, this cemetery is a creepy city of above-ground mausoleums, many with grand statues & architecture (and thus very expensive). Seventy of the mausoleums are national monuments!
But today this cemetery is famous, and a mandatory stop on all tours, because Evita Peron is buried there. Our guide told us that before the musical Evita! came out (and it has never been performed in Argentina), none of the tourists were interested in Evita & most had never heard of her. But now, she says, she would be killed by the tourists if she skipped this spot. Evita was an illegitimate child in a poor family but her mother claimed (I don’t know if its true) that a wealthy aristocrat named Duarte was actually her father. When Evita died of cancer in 1952 she was buried in the Duarte family mausoleum in Recoleta, over their objections (since they didn’t recognize her as part of their family) because her husband was President (and she was really the power behind the throne because of her extraordinary popularity). But when Juan Peron died in the 1990’s, no longer holding that power, he was buried elsewhere (for a while outside the country) because the aristocrats wouldn’t have him in their cemetery. At least this is the story we were told. Anyway, here is the Duarte mausoleum (it’s one of the less conspicuous ones, on a small side street in the cemetery) with one of several plaques outside honoring Evita. We were told that there are fresh flowers placed on the door every day.
There is also a statue of Evita in the Recolleta district, erected (we think) in 2002 on the 50th anniversary of her death.
La Boca is the Italian neighborhood of Buenos Aires. It was also the location of the original port (the new one is much bigger). It has a mixture of bohemian, poor and tourist ambiance, but I think the last one probably predominates. But it is colorful and enjoyable and some of its features look like they would be at home in Disney World.
Buenos Aires is, of course, famous for the Tango. There are tango shows all over town & people even dance it on street corners in La Boca (although we missed one that was going on near where we were). It is an interesting & a sexy dance, but the cult is really a bit overblown. Still, here are a few tango paintings that were for sale in La Boca that I thought were interesting.
That night there was an Argentine folk dancing show on the ship. We thought it was quite good (except for the lame narrator, who kept injecting himself into the middle of the music). Notable was a tango (of course), performed by a couple who we were told were the tango champions of Argentina 5 years in a row. The pictures aren’t very good, since the light was low & they were moving fairly fast, but you get the idea.
Also there were some interesting gaucho dances, with guys in balloon pants & gaucho hats acting very macho. Particularly good was one in which a guy (the same one who did the tango) danced with bolas swinging in intersecting circles in each hand, and finally with him holding them between his teeth. I’m guessing there were some some nasty bumps raised on his head while he was learning how to do that!
On our second day in Buenos Aires, Friday, February 10, we walked around town by ourselves. As I said, it’s a loud & crowded city & we walked quite a way. There are many beautiful old buildings in the city, many with lovely wrought iron balconies, often right next to boring modern ones.
We walked by the Teatro Colon, a huge & ostentatious opera house, which appears to be made of marble. Nearby is the Obelisco (which looks like the Washington monument) in the Plaza de la Republica, erected in 1936 on the city’s 400th anniversary.
The Avenida 9 de Julio is one of the widest boulevards in the world. Not far from it we saw the impressive Ministry of Justice (we think), for you lawyers out there.
We walked up to see the Congresso Israel, which we think is the oldest synagogue in the city. Buenos Aires has a large Jewish community, the second largest religious community in the city (far behind Catholics, of course). There is a Jewish museum nearby.
Then we walked all the way back to the Recoleta area to find the Biblioteca National (national library) so that the librarians in the viewing audience won’t feel left out. It was quite a long walk and we had a lot of trouble finding it. In the end, it was impressive, but I sure wouldn’t say beautiful (particularly in a city full of beautiful public buildings). The sign in the second picture, which is probably too small for you to read, says that this is the library’s 200th anniversary.
Finally, we didn’t see any notable fauna here, but there were some interesting trees. In the first picture the slim attractive tree in the foreground with the pink blossoms is the male & the ones with the white blossoms and fat tummies are the females (this seems to be how nature works in all species but humans). I didn’t catch the names of these trees. Also in a park we saw these trees with massive root systems above ground that looked interesting. And last (and probably least) is another clock tower reputed to resemble Big Ben in London that really doesn’t. Maybe no Latin Americans have actually seen Big Ben.
So ends what was supposed to be 2 days in Buenos Aires but turned out to be only one day plus 2 hours. The full 2 days would have been plenty to see this city, huge as it is, but we thought we did pretty well given the time limit. Amazingly, this is not the biggest city we will have seen by the end of our trip.
On Monday, February 6 we reached the Falkland Islands. This is a very windy area with lots of choppy water & we understand that less than half the cruise ships that come here are able to land. Two or three years ago the Prinsendam was able to tender its passengers ashore, but then the weather turned nasty & they couldn’t bring them back to the ship, so everyone had to stay overnight in Stanley. The townspeople (its a small town, around 4,000) turned out & took the passengers into their homes & put them up in churches & schools, then the next day the weather moderated enough to get them back to the ship. Fortunately for us the weather was nice and, although quite windy, we were able to tender into town & back (although tender service was suspended several times because of weather). The waves were pretty high for the small tender boats & water did get into the tenders & make a lot of people wet (including yours truly). But we were quite glad (& surprised, given our experience the last week or so) that we did actually get to shore here.
As I said, Stanley is a small town with a substantial whaling history. And, of course, there is the 1982 Falklands War between Britain & Argentina which has left its mark here in the form of war memorials, not to mention Thatcher Drive.
Stanley is a very colorful town. Houses are made mostly of wood & corrugated metal (which we were told is either salvaged from wrecked ships or shipped from England) & are painted bright colors. Its a very British town, with British style telephone booths (where else do you see telephone booths in the age of cell phones?), pubs specializing in fish & chips (& a saxophone shaped beer tap), & all the souvenirs are actually made in Great Britain.
The most famous landmark is the Whalebone Arch, which is next to Christ Church Cathedral. The Whalebone Arch was erected in 1933 & is made from the jawbones of two blue whales. The Cathedral was built in 1892 & is the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world.
Inside the cathedral was a pipe organ, which looks vintage, & some very nice stained glass windows, protected on the outside from flying debris during storms by a system of screens loosely enough constructed to let in light through the windows. Note that their picture of St Nicholas looks nothing like Santa Claus (another illusion shattered).
They also have a collection of kneeling stools needlepointed by the ladies of the church, beginning in 1992 when they had the centennial of the building.
Other landmarks in town include Government House, where the British Governor lives, Jubilee Villas, a housing unit built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, the Penguin News (presumably the local newspaper), and a memorial to the Battle of the Falklands in 1914.
There are many old shipwrecks in the area of Stanley’s inner & outer harbor (lots of bad weather hereabouts). I was able to get pictures of two: the Jhelum & the Lady Elizabeth.
The only wildlife we saw were birds: some kind of duck & I think a goose of some kind. Not much in the way of wildflowers but we did see some sea kelp (eaten, as you might imagine, by the Kelp Gull).
Finally, a couple of random things we liked. The SS Great Britain was, we were told, the first ship with a screw to push it through the water. This remnant is erected in Victory Park, commemorating the 1982 war. Then there were the streetlights, mounted on bases with boats through them.
So that’s Stanley, or at least what we saw of it. We left at 4:30 and the seas were extremely rocky again that evening, but it calmed down after midnight to moderately bumpy. We have two sea days, then Buenos Aires on Thursday & Friday. So, toodle-loo for now (this is the signature sign-off of our cruise director, who makes announcements a couple of times a day).
We were woken early on Saturday, February 4 ,by an announcement that we had reached King George’s Island (at least that is what most people call it; the Argentines call it Isla 25 de Mayo, which I think commemorates some battle). The weather was pretty bad again: foggy, cold & very windy. But up I got to go outside & see the sights (Mary wasn’t feeling well, so I let her sleep a little later).
There was a Polish station on the island; I know it was Polish because the name of the station (Arctowski) is printed on the side of one of the buildings.
At the end of King George’s Island was Penguin Island. It is a former volcano & you can see the crater in the middle where the top of the mountain blew off.
Well, we were supposed to continue cruising Antarctica the rest of the day, including sailing by Elephant Island where Shackleton’s crew spent half a year on the beach waiting for his return. But the Captain concluded that bad weather was headed our way so he decided to cut it off and head directly north toward the Falklands. We were, obviously, quite disappointed by that. But when the weather gets bad down here you can’t see much anyway. We passed within 35 miles of Elephant Island on our way north so I thought it shouldn’t have been that much of a problem to go by & see it, but what do I know about sailing? (answer: not much.) So this is all we saw this day. The irritating thing is that for the last 2 or 3 years at least the Antarctic portion of this cruise has been sunny & beautiful throughout. The Antarctic experts on board (there were several, & they were quite knowledgeable & impressive) told us that we had been able to experience the REAL Antarctica because this is what it is like most of the time, but I don’t think anybody was buying that line. Oh well, what we did see of Antarctica was pretty fabulous. Maybe we will get back here again one day.
The sail north to the Falklands was very rocky. Take everything I told you earlier about being on a ship in rough seas, then double it. We had to hold on to something pretty much all the time to avoid falling down (fun to take an adventure shower, holding on with one hand at all times) & waves hitting the ship were splashing well over our room window, which is the equivalent of about a 5 story building above the water level. Everything was tied down and no one was allowed to go out on deck.
On Sunday there was a Super Bowl party & it only cost $50 per person to attend (we passed). But the good news is that the towel animals were back. Several were repeats of things we have already seen but there have been a couple of new ones. You may not agree with my interpretations in the captions, but they don’t tell us what kind of animal they are supposed to be.
The whole Antarctic region is protected by aninternational treaty providing that it is neutral territory, that it will not be militarized & that any country that wants to set up a study station anywhere in Antarctica is free to do so. More than 15 countries have scientific stations in Antarctica (including such unlikely ones as Poland and South Korea) and the United states has several, including a base at the South Pole. You may recall that in the early days of the 20th century many men (including Scott & Shackleton) died trying to make it to the South Pole but today members of Congress fly there to have their pictures taken in a few hours.
Anyway, one of the US science stations is called Palmer Station and it is on Anvers Island near the Antarctic Peninsula where, by no coincidence, we were on Friday, February 3. We got up early that day because a group of the staff at Palmer Station was due to arrive at the Prinsendam by Zodiac boat at 6:00 AM, which they did. They have an arrangement with Holland America, which brings them supplies (including fresh fruit) & transports staff (we brought a scientist named Donna who left us at Palmer Station to study penguins) in return for the Palmer Station crew coming aboard to give a presentation on their work (& get a hot shower & meal while they are on board).
We enjoyed their presentation and have learned quite a bit about the science that is being done in Antarctica and the experience of living there (take our word for it, you wouldn’t like it). We cruised around the Anvers Island area until it was time for them to leave. You will note the weather was much better; the sun was even out for much of the time.
You can see in the last picture that the coastal face of the glacier has large cracks in it; those pieces will eventually break off and become icebergs. The bright blue in the cracks, we are told, is from the great pressure on the interior ice, which causes it to form crystals with that deep blue color. Interestingly, as you will see in pictures below, the portion of an iceberg that is under water (80 to 90 percent of an iceberg is under water) also displays a bright blue color, though not as deep as this.
In early afternoon the Palmer Station crew left, returning to the station in a zodiac.
We spent the afternoon cruising northeast toward Deception Island. It was a beautiful afternoon & we had front seats in the Crow’s Nest, which is basically a bar and dancing venue at the very top front of the ship, with panoramic windows all the way across from Port to Starboard. There was a lot of dramatic scenery and interesting icebergs, but first let’s talk about the incredible wildlife viewing.
Several times we saw penguins “porpoising” along the side of the ship. A group of penguins swims along together, leaping into & out of the water like porpoises do (hence the name). I got a short movie of this, which is more evocative, but of course I can’t post it here.
We also saw a couple of seals resting on bergey bits (this is the technical term for floating pieces of ice that aren’t big enough to be icebergs).
We saw Orcas (killer whales, which aren’t really whales) & a bunch of Humpback whales. They are very hard to photograph, because you never know where they are going to surface next & they re-submerge very fast. Also, my camera battery died before most of the Humpback surfacing, which even included one whale that breached high into the air then splashed back down on top of the water (very dramatic!). The first picture is a pair of Orcas; the second is the tail of a diving Humpback whale. Both were lucky blind shots.
There were some birds too. Not too sure about the identifications, but I think the first is a Sooty Albatross, then a Skua sitting on an iceberg.
But best of all, of course, were the penguins. We saw quite a few penguins hanging out on icebergs and bergey bits, so I will put several of them here. If you look very closely in the third picture, there is a line of penguins trooping up the slanting surface to the right. We were told that so many penguins were out of the water because Orcas were in the vicinity.
And of course there was dramatic scenery, with mountains & icebergs, out in the sun for a change. We were struck by how different things look as you move to a different location; a good example is the first two pictues, which are of the same mountain (left in 1st picture & right in 2d).
In the evening we reached Deception Island, which is what Ernest Shackleford & his men were trying to reach after spending most of a year marooned on pack ice. But they couldn’t make it because of the wind & ended up instead on remote Elephant Island, where the crew spent another half year on the beach living under overturned lifeboats while Shackleford made his epic 800 mile trip in a lifeboat to South Georgia Island for help. If you haven’t read a book about this amazing journey you really should. If it had been written as a novel you would dismiss it as an impossible fantasy, but it really did happen.
Anyway, Deception Island is the remains of a volcano. It is a circular piece of land with a large harbor in the middle and only a narrow opening that has too many submerged rocks for a ship our size to get inside. The harbor is the caldera from the volcano. It was quite beautiful, especially since the sun was setting when we were there. The first island/rock we passed looked to me like a whale, & even had a hole on the lower left where they eye of a whale would be, though you probably can’t see it in the photo. The second photo is the entry to the caldera/harbor; the snowy mountains in the center are the opposite wall of the island.
We saw a lot of Pintado Petrels at Deception Island; they flew all over the port side of the ship & landed together in the water in a big group. There was another bird that may be some kind of Albatross, perhaps a Wandering Albatross since upon close inspection it has dark wings & a white head.
Finally, a note. I looked at the blog yesterday, and was disappointed to see that the photos are not lining up the way they do in my drafts, with the small pictures two abreast rather than each on a separate line. Take my word for it, the layout looks better on the drafts than what you are seeing. I also was disappointed to see that in the “In Patagonia” post several of the pictures were badly distorted. I would fix that if I could, but won’t be able to figure out how until I get home (if then). That entry took a particularly long time to post (almost an hour) so I am thinking maybe the distortion was caused by transmission glitches. I hope that hasn’t happened on any of the other blog entries, but internet time is too expensive to review them all. On the chance it was a transmission glitch, I will try to avoid that in future by posting entries only when we are in a port, where internet reception seems to be a little better. I hope you are all enjoying this anyway, despite the technical difficulties. [Note: these issues were finally fixed, long after the voyage ended].