On February 15 we anchored at Punta del Este, a popular resort town located on a peninsula where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the Spanish first set foot in this area in the early 16th century, it was not until 1907 that Punta del Este was first recognized as a village and it became a city in 1957. The area was originally inhabited by the Charrua people, the last 500 of whom were massacred by the Uruguayan government in 1831. Today it has a year round population of less than 10,000, but it balloons during the summer when vacationers, including Argentina’s rich and famous, flock here for the beaches.
After breakfast we boarded a tender for the long ride to the town’s port. It was morning and there were folks dressing the fish from the morning’s catch. Isla de la Lobos, about 5 miles away, hosts the largest sea lion colony in the Western hemisphere, more than a quarter of a million. A handful of them were in the water by the fish vendor, waiting for the trimmings they knew would be coming their way. This must occur every day.
There were birds waiting for scraps as well, some in the water and some sitting on floats.
Leaving all this action we walked around the fairly tranquil port and came upon . . . two sea lions, sunbathing on a concrete platform that tilted down under the water. They looked very relaxed; maybe they had already eaten their fill at the fish vendor’s.
We continued around the harbor and walked down along the beach. This is the river side of the peninsula where the beaches are calm. It is called the Mansa beach (Spanish for “tame”). There were a lot of flowers in this area, and really all over town.
We walked across the peninsula toward the Atlantic side. We found the public library on the way, but unfortunately it was closed. It looked like just a storefront facility, but its always good that there is a library for people who like to read. We also passed a small synagogue, in what was a very sleek but rather uninteresting modern building.
The beaches on the Atlantic side of the peninsula are called Brava (“fierce”) and are considered better for surfing than swimming. On a hill of sand overlooking the beach is a sculpture called La Mano (“The Hand”). The fingers of a giant hand reach out from under the sand, serving as a memorial to those who have drowned near here and a warning to those who might swim. It was constructed by Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal during an open air sculpture festival in the summer of 1982. Made of concrete and plastic reinforced by steel bars, it was completed in six days and has since become perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Punta del Este. The idea is similar to a sculpture called “The Awakening” in Washington, DC (near where we live), which shows the head and arms of a giant arising from under the sand.
In the morning Rick went out on our veranda to look across at the city and a whole flock of parakeets flew closely by. It was too fast for a picture & we didn’t see any more. Quite a sight, since he had never seen parakeets out of a cage before, much less flying in a large flock. But we did encounter a few of them in the trees in a park called Plaza Jose Artigas. Jose Artigas was a leader of the original Uruguayan independence movement and this plaza is known for its art and handicrafts market. Unfortunately, the market was closed but we did see the statue of Artigas and it was a pleasant park to saunter through.
We walked up the rocky Atlantic coastline toward the end of the peninsula. The sidewalk had an interesting pattern of dark and light bars and birds were on some of the rocks. Several places were full of shells that the birds must have dumped there after eating their contents. We also passed a beach on the way, well used even if not the nicest white sand.
We walked up on the peninsula to visit the two landmarks in this area. Faro de Punta del Este is a lighthouse built in 1860. Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria is a Catholic church built in the mid 20th century that is painted an unusual light blue.
We walked back to the port through the residential areas of town. At the entrance we came upon a plaque honoring Astor Piazzolla, the Argentine composer who was the originator of tango nuevo. He spent many summers in Punta del Este and in 1982 composed the Suite Punta del Este. The classical duo on the ship, George and Agnes, usually finished their set before we went to dinner with a tango, introduced by George with “It’s tango time!” More often than not it was a tango by Piazzolla. They missed the plaque when in Punta del Este and seemed to appreciate it when we gave them a photo of it.
Well, that brought us full circle, back at the fish vendor in the tender port where the birds and sea lions were still entertaining the visitors. After spending a little more time with them we boarded the tender for the long ride back to the ship. We were relieved to re-enter the air conditioning on this very hot day.
We were anchored near Gorriti Island, which is close to Punta del Este. From the ship we could see Punta del Este beyond the island, and also the island’s beaches and boat harbor with its own lighthouse as we sailed away. The end of the Punta del Este peninsula, with the lighthouse and the church, could also be seen from the ship.
We reached Puerto Madryn, our first stop back on the continent of South America. on February 14. This city of almost 100,000 sits on the Golfo Nuevo which was shimmering in the morning light.
The town was founded in July of 1865 when 150 Welsh settlers arrived. They named the town “Porth Madryn” after an estate in Wales. This area of Argentina was largely settled by folks from Wales (the largest nearby towns are called Trelew & Gaiman) displacing the indigenous Tehuelche people who had lived in this area for some 3,000 years. Since the 1970’s, when its population was still only about 6,000, Puerto Madryn has been one of Argentina’s fastest growing cities.
There is not all that much to see in Puerto Madryn so we joined a private excursion to Punta Tombo to visit the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in South America. To meet the van we had to walk down a very long dock overlooking the water, where seals and birds were to be seen.
We visited the western part of Patagonia in an earlier stop at Puerto Chacabuco, which was lush with mountains, rivers and dramatic landscapes. https://baderjournal.com/2019/03/24/puerto-chacabuco-chile-2019/ But this part of eastern Patagonia was mostly fairly flat and covered by scrub bushes. It was a very long drive through this less interesting landscape.
When we finally arrived at the Punta Tombo Nature Reserve, there was still a fairly lengthy drive on a dirt road to reach the parking area. We passed a sculpture of what appeared to be penguins, and the grounds were filled with small bushes bearing bright yellow flowers.
From the parking area there was a boardwalk to the beach. It was a long walk, maybe a mile or more. On our last visit to South America we visited a much smaller colony of Magellanic penguins at a place called Otway Sound near Punta Arenas. https://baderjournal.com/2012/02/04/punta-arenas/ But the penguins are no longer at Otway and, in any event, Punta Tombo has the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in South America, somewhere between half a million and a million penguins according to what we have read. The total population of these penguins has declined by more than 50% since the 1980’s due to diminishing food supply among other things (some 40,000 are killed each year by oil spills). Magellanic penguins dig holes in the ground for their nests, which they guard ferociously, and they make a surprisingly loud braying sound. On our way to the beach we passed a large number of them, in their nests, under a bridge in the boardwalk and just walking about. It was very hot out & most of the penguins seemed to prefer the shade.
By the time we were there the chicks had pretty much grown up (eggs are laid primarily in October and November). We did see a number of them molting their dull gray baby down to disclose the Magellanic patterns underneath.
Penguins weren’t the only wildlife we encountered at Punta Tombo. Rheas are large ostrich-like birds that we saw pecking in the sand for something to eat. Guanacos were there as well. These are wild camelids closely related to llamas. In fact, some sources suggest that llamas are actually domesticated guanacos.
We reached the boardwalk overlook at the beach (you aren’t allowed on the beach itself, which is reserved for penguins). It didn’t look like half a million penguins there at the time, but there certainly were thousands. It was fairly late in the season so many may have left already (they winter in Brazil), many were in their nests away from the beach & many were on other stretches of beach. The whole time we were there penguins were walking to and from the beach.
While most of them were standing on the beach many were in the water, probably to cool off on this hot & sunny day.
Time was running short & we still had a long walk back to the parking area, so we hurried on to see one more beach. This one was a bit smaller, but still quite a lot of penguins, many in the water. There were also some molting chicks on the nearby rocks. We passed the first beach again & headed back along the boardwalk.
We hurried along the boardwalk, whose planks were not at all even. Wearing his sandals, Rick tripped on a board and found himself lying face down on the boardwalk. Two guys ran over and helped him up, to his embarrassment (he was neither too old nor too hurt to get himself up on his feet). The fall tore a hole in his pants by one knee and scraped the skin. It took the rest of the voyage for the knee to fully heal and there were some other lingering aches and pains as well. Worse, he was holding his (brand new) camera when he went down and part of one side was slightly bent. But it continued to work just as well, so that was a close one. On the walk back we encountered a penguin who thought it owned the boardwalk and a sign protecting a penguin crossing.
There were few highlights on the long trip back to the Prinsendam. We passed by the city of Trelew, another Welsh settlement. Founded in 1886, Trelew’s population is slightly more than Puerto Madryn’s. Near Trelew is a full size reconstruction of a dinosaur unearthed in Patagonia that was the largest land animal yet known. It is some 90 feet tall and 120 feet long. It is called Patagotitan mayorum (Patagonian giant).
We returned to Puerto Madryn, driving along a road on the opposite side from the water. Caught a glimpse of the Prinsendam sitting at the dock with the much larger Celebrity ship that was also with us in the Falklands. In the square where we were dropped off at the beginning of the long walk up the pier to the ship was a sculpture of a whale’s tail. Right whales breed in this area, but not during the season we were there. And a lot of folks were out enjoying the beach, near where we were walking and all along the beaches in front of the city.
Back on the ship, we watched from our veranda as birds (mostly kelp gulls & terns, or possibly cormorants) and dolphins scurried about on the bay.
We sailed away shortly before sunset. As we left the bay there was a long cliff along the water. It was Valentine’s Day and as we went to dinner we encountered the ship’s penguins already celebrating.
So that is the end of our penguin encounters (off the ship) for this voyage. We saw quite a lot of them, many more than in 2012, and they are always fun. We will leave you for tonight with a watermelon carved for Valentine’s Day & a towel jellyfish (we think).
We spent February 12 visiting Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands, about 300 miles east of the coast of Argentina. Stanley has a large harbor protected by a long jut of land and ships anchor outside, but from the top deck you can see the colorful corrugated iron roofs of the town beyond the harbor. A few days before reaching the Falklands we passed our last large iceberg, which we could see from our veranda on the port side of the ship.
We had signed up for a long excursion to an area where Rockhopper & Macaroni penguins roost, but it was cancelled a few days before we arrived. We were told that the landowner had decided that the penguins might suffer from too many visitors. We quickly signed up for a shorter excursion to another Rockhopper area, but the day before our arrival that one was cancelled as well. We were told later that both excursions had been cancelled because the penguins had already left their nesting areas, so there would be nothing to see. Big disappointment because we had never seen these little guys, who look like members of a tiny motorcycle gang.
Anyway, that left us with nothing to do but walk around the town. This is not a bad way to spend a day, since this is a nice little town, very English (it is a British possession). But we had already done that on our first visit here in 2012:
After breakfast we boarded a tender for the very long and choppy ride into town, the longest tender ride of the cruise. Weather and sea conditions often make tendering here too dangerous but we were lucky about that. Still, the weather wasn’t nice at all: cold and windy and drizzly. On our way into town we passed two other cruise ships, a small Hurtigruten expedition ship with around 100 passengers and a large Celebrity ship with about 2,000 passengers. Stanley’s population is about 2,500, so on this day there were more cruise passengers than residents. Antarctic terns were flying around the ship and the tender. At the tender jetty were six penguin on a sign welcoming us to the Falklands.
As we began walking the first notable place we came to was Jubilee Villas, near the jetty. These were built in 1887 and named for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee that year, commemorating the 50th anniversary of her coronation. They are unlike the rest of the architecture in this town.
Opened in 1892 on the site of an earlier church, Christ Church Cathedral is the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world. It is built of native stone & has stained glass windows from the 19th and 20th centuries that are protected from the elements on the outside by wire mesh screens. It was undergoing some renovation when we were there.
The cathedral has a nice, though small, pipe organ. There is also a collection of dozens of kneeling stools for the parishioners to use, each covered by a scene from the town needlepointed mostly by the women of the church.
In a park next to the cathedral is the Whalebone Arch, a prime symbol of the Falklands. The arch consists of four actual jawbones from two blue whales and is very striking in juxtaposition with the church next door. It was first constructed in 1933 to commemorate 100 years of British rule. When we visited here in 2012 the bones had a beautiful patina but in 2017 it was treated to protect it from the weather and from moisture in the ground where the whale bones are buried to a depth of four feet. Unfortunately the epoxy that was used to coat the bones has left them very white and smooth, so they look almost like replicas. But apparently without this treatment they would not have lasted much longer, so it had to be done. Still a beautiful landmark, particularly if you don’t stand too close. The park also contains many colorful flowers planted in beds in the English manner.
Along the waterfront is a large park called Victory Green. Dating to the end of World War II, it has a nice open view of the harbor & the hills on the other side (over which we took the picture of the town from the ship). On the town side of the hills are the names of five ships that served in this area during the 19th & 20th centuries: Beagle, Endurance, Protector, Barracouta & Dumbarton Castle. The names are formed by rocks that are painted white every few years. The Endurance was due to be withdrawn from the area in 1982, but after the Falklands War broke out she was involved in the retaking of South Georgia Island by the British. She continued to serve in the area until 1991, then replaced by a new ship with the same name. In Victory Green is the mizzen mast of the ship Great Britain, the first deep sea steamship propelled by an iron screw. When launched in 1843 it was the largest ship in the world and also became the first iron ship to cross the Atlantic. Today the mizzen mast is in Victory Green but the rest of the ship is on display in the harbor of Bristol, England.
St Mary’s Church is the only Catholic church in the Falklands. It is made of wood & was built in 1899. Inside is a nice triptych painted by an artist born here showing the church in the 19th century. The town hall contains the post office and a philatelic bureau, where we bought and mailed some postcards. Although a British territory, the Falklands today are self governing with the exception of defense and foreign relations.
The Falklands Islands Museum is located at the historic dockyard in town, presumably opened when Stanley became the capital of the Falklands in 1845. The museum includes a cluster of buildings and has a small but crowded collection with very good explanatory signs. The collection includes a lot about the 1982 war with Argentina, the extensive maritime history of the area (which was an important ship repair station before the opening of the Panama Canal), birds and animals of the region, Antarctic exploration (including a hut used by explorers who wintered over in Antarctica) and a lot more. One item we enjoyed was a Symphonion, a large carved wood music box about 6 feet tall. Very much worth a visit, especially since cruise ship passengers are admitted without having to pay the usual admission charge.
For those too young to remember, Stanley was occupied by Argentine troops for 2.5 months during the Falklands War in 1982. The Spanish have claimed the Falklands, along with South Georgia, for at least 150 years. They call them the Malvinas Islands and in 1982 they decided to press their claim militarily. Possibly under the impression that Britain was losing interest in the islands and would not resist, they invaded and found that Britain did not take such aggression lightly. More than 900 people were killed during the conflict, almost 650 of them Argentines. In 2013 more than 90% of the electorate turned out for a referendum on whether to remain a British territory and 99.8% voted to remain. This shouldn’t be surprising since most of the folks around here seem to have British heritage. Despite all this, Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the islands, as was proclaimed in Spanish and English on a sign we passed on the dock in Ushuaia that proclaimed the islands “are, since 1833, under the illegal occupation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
Memory of the war is still vivid in the Falklands, not only in the museum but in a memorial along the harbor front dedicated to “those who liberated us” in 1982. There is a street named after Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister at that time, and a large bust of her near the road along the harbor.
Further along we came to Government House, the home of the British governor of the Falklands territory since 1845. Looking like a British country mansion, it also has some very nice flower gardens.
Stanley was the site of an important naval encounter early in World War I. After defeating a British squadron in the Battle of Coronel on November 1, 1914, discussed in our earlier post about Robinson Crusoe Island, https://baderjournal.com/2019/03/16/, the German commander, Vice Admiral Graf von Spee, sailed his group of ships eastward to the Falklands with the intent of destroying the British navy’s coaling station and radio station there. As they approached the Falklands on December 8 they encountered a larger British squadron coaling there, which had been sent to avenge the loss at Coronel. Unable to outrun the superior British ships von Spee’s squadron was destroyed. One ship, the Dresden, survived the battle only to be cornered and scuttled by its own crew at Robinson Crusoe Island a few months later. Some 2200 Germans were killed in the battle here, while some 1600 British sailors died at Coronel. We came upon a memorial, erected exactly 100 years later, to the British squadron that prevailed in this battle “thereby saving this colony from capture by the enemy.”
Not too far away was the Stanley community center, situated on a hill overlooking the water with the town soccer field in front. This building houses a school and the only public swimming pool. But we had sought it out because it also contains the public library. Unfortunately the door near the library was locked for a few hours at lunchtime so we didn’t get to see it. On the soccer field in front of the building a number of Upland Geese were browsing the grass for food. The males are white & the females brown & black.
Stanley is famous for its shipwrecks. There are some 20 of them in the harbor, more than any other port in the world. We passed a couple of them on our walk along the harbor. Ross Road along the harbor is lined part of the way with unique light poles, which have a boat through the pole as a decoration. And of course there were birds, including ducks and what we think were Kelp gulls. Sadly, no Rockhopper penguins happened by, but we did see a dapper one on a wine label in a gift shop!
We headed back to town & decided to stop for fish & chips before returning to the ship (British outposts always have excellent fish & chips). But you will recall that there were thousands of tourists ashore today with the result that all the pubs were full to overflowing. We finally found a nice little fish & chips place that wasn’t a pub and although it was pretty full we managed to find a table, where we ate some fine fish & chips & drank some ale imported from Britain. While we were there it started to rain pretty steadily, so after lunch we walked briskly to a gift shop across the street from the jetty (also very crowded). Our reward for sailing on a small ship was watching a long line of Celebrity passengers lining the street outside, waiting in the rain for space on a tender back to their ship. When we were ready to go we walked right past them to our tender, waiting for us on the other side of the jetty. So that was fun.
Back at the ship we took a couple of pictures of mountains near Stanley. The ship penguins were very excited to be visiting a British territory and were fully decked out for the occasion.
On the morning of February 9 we were anchored in King Edward Cove near the abandoned whaling station of Grytviken. There was a welcoming committee of King penguins on the beach nearest the ship.
Founded in 1904 by Carl Larsen (who also captained the ship Antarctic for the Swedish expedition discussed in “Antarctica (Day 3)”), Grytviken was the largest whaling station on the island until it was shut down in 1966 when whales had been reduced to an unprofitable level. Almost 175,000 whales were killed and processed at Grytviken during that time, producing some 9 million barrels of oil.
It is very unusual for a ship the size of Prinsendam (about 850 passenger capacity) to visit Grytviken, and the rumor was that this will be the last time it is allowed. This is due to the extreme environmental vulnerability of South Georgia Island to invasive species. The island has no native land mammals, just birds and sea life. But after publication of Captain Cook’s journal of his visit to the island, which mentioned the abundance of fur seals (some 95% of the world’s fur seals breed here), sealing ships headed there and virtually decimating their population between 1786 and 1802. At one time fur seals were thought to be virtually extinct, but they have made an amazing comeback in the 20th century and today there are literally millions of them breeding on South Georgia. Rats hiding on board these early sealing ships spread throughout the island, since there were no predators to control them, devastating the bird population. In addition, in 1911 Carl Larsen brought a few reindeer to be released on the island for hunting and increase the meat supply. But as they spread they caused a great deal of environmental damage to some of the best vegetative areas supporting bird and sea life, particularly after hunting came to a virtual standstill after the closure of the whaling stations in the 1960’s.
Today there are no rats or reindeer on South Georgia, thanks to very ambitious eradication efforts and continuing vigilance against new invasions. More than 7,000 reindeer were killed between 2012 and 2015, many providing meat for consumers. The rat eradication program has just recently been declared a complete success after follow-up efforts found no rats at all on the island. This was difficult because if even a few rats had been missed they would multiply and reoccupy the area quickly. Meanwhile, the South Georgia administration is anxious to prevent rats, or any other kind of invader, from entering. In our case, everybody intending to go ashore had to have their clothes checked for dirt or vegetation and their shoes washed a day or two before arrival. We were told that for several weeks before our arrival island representatives were onboard searching for hidden rats or mice. And to ensure minimal damage to the site from tramping tourists, everyone was allotted just a two hour interval that we could spend on shore. Also a number of crew members received training to serve as monitors to ensure no one went beyond the permitted area and to protect the wildlife from interference by the passengers.
We had been concerned after the extremely windy and cold weather the day before that we might not be able to tender ashore here. But it turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day in Grytviken. We were told that they have only 2 or 3 days like this per year and that the day after our visit there was a snowstorm. So we were VERY lucky! We tendered to the whaling station in the late morning, passing swimming seals on our way to the tender dock.
There had been some disagreement among the team of Antarctic experts on the way here about whether the seals and penguins would still be here when we arrived. We were told that when Craig Franklin, the naturalist, arrived in the first tender he called out with relief: “They’re here!” (which he had predicted). The first tender carried only crew, to enable them to establish their perimeter positions before the passengers arrived. When we arrived, the area near the dock was teeming with fur seals and King penguins enjoying the rare sunny day.
When the whaling station closed for good in 1966 removing the equipment apparently was not worth the trouble and expense. So most of it is still there, rusting away, although an effort was made to cleanse it of any unsafe or toxic elements. Some areas are still too unsafe to enter (unless you are a penguin or a seal), but there was plenty of room to walk around and see everything. We will not go too deeply into the bloody processing of the whales, but the carcasses were butchered on the flensing platform in the first picture below, then the oil was extracted in boilers and pressure cookers. Twenty five whales could be processed each day, yielding tremendous amounts of whale oil.
Quite a few seals were in the water and a field near the rusting structures sleeping, playing and generally enjoying the sunny weather. There seemed to be a great deal of nuzzling going on, which we presumed to be friendly play. Most, if not all, of the seals we saw were females or pups. The males were pretty much gone by now (not the nurturing type). The pups tend to be darker and the females gray, often with a lighter color on their stomachs. The males are dark brown. The pups are born in November or December, so they were two or three months old when we visited. They are weaned at 4 months and head out to sea alone to fend for themselves.
Some seals were on a rusty girder in the water.
There are three must-see landmarks in Grytviken and we had only two hours total to spend on the island, so we set off for the cemetery. Guess what we saw on the way? If you said penguins and seals you were on the money. King penguins are funny to watch. Unlike most of the other penguins, they walk with their beaks in the air looking very snooty.
Many of the penguins were molting this time of year, which we were told consumes most of their energy. The chicks looked particularly sad, with a lot of their baby brown feathers still clinging to them, revealing the penguin coloring below as they fell off.
As we neared the cemetery we came upon a large group of elephant seals. These were all females, as the males had all left the island for the year. Like the penguins, they were molting. As mentioned above, molting takes a lot of energy and these seals were just lying around looking like they had no energy left at all. Unlike the more distinctive (and several times larger) males, the females do not have a disproportionately large nose. After being hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century by sealers, they have come back to a population of about 400,000 that breed on South Georgia island (more than half the world’s population), about a third of those breeding females. The females are up to almost 10 feet long and weigh up to almost 2,000 pounds.
The Grytviken cemetery contains some 64 graves. Most were whalers living at Grytviken and a few were probably sealers buried in this location during the 19th century before Grytviken was built. Situated on a grassy ledge above the water with a fine view of the whaling station, the cemetery is surrounded by a fence to protect it from seals. Felix Artiso, whose grave cross is in the pictures below, was an Argentine killed when they took possession of Grytviken at the beginning of the Falklands War
The most famous grave here is that of Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer we have discussed in several previous episodes. Of course, South Georgia is where his odyssey ended, after his harrowing trip in a lifeboat from Elephant Island. More about that later, but he died of a heart attack near here in 1922 on board the ship Quest, setting out for another go at Antarctica. While his body was on its way to England for burial Shackleton’s widow requested that he be buried instead at Grytviken. The doctor who attended him in has last days on the Quest wrote: “I think this is as ‘the Boss’ would have had it himself, standing lonely in an island far from civili[z]ation, surrounded by stormy tempestuous seas, & in the vicinity of one of his greatest exploits.” Just to the right of Shackleton’s grave are the cremated remains of Frank Wild, Shackleton’s longtime friend and associate, after whom Point Wild on Elephant Island was named. The small stone identifying him as “Shackleton’s Right Hand Man.” Wild died in 1939 in South Africa and was originally interred in a cemetery in Johannesburg, but were moved here in 201l with a service attended by descendants of both Wild and Shackleton.
Our shore time was beginning to run low as we left the cemetery and we still had two sites to visit. It will surprise no one the hear that as we walked back along the shore the penguins and seals were still there.
About halfway there we were stopped by the monitors at a penguin crossing. A number of penguins were ambling in leisurely fashion between the grass and the water. It was 10 or 15 minutes before we could go on, a big chunk of our remaining time ashore. But while we waited we took some pictures with the penguins. Two more things were near this spot. There is not much in the way of flowers at Grytviken; these Acaena Magellanica were the only ones we noticed. We spoke earlier of the indigenous birds destroyed on South Georgia by the rats. Some survived in small numbers on outlying islands and are now making a comeback on South Georgia. Among these is the South Georgia Pipit, a small brown bird found nowhere else in the world, which nests on the ground (thus the vulnerability to rats). One was wading in the water by the shore.
When we finally got back to the station we walked a little way uphill to visit the Norwegian Lutheran Church. Erected in 1913, it was originally built in Norway then shipped here for final construction. No longer Lutheran, it was given to the United Kingdom in 2013 and is now part of the Anglican diocese. The church had a pastor only from 1913 to 1914, but the community continued to hold meetings and ceremonies and celebrate holidays here. This is where Shackleton’s funeral was held in 1922. It was renovated in 1998.
Two other things to note on the inside of the church. First is the library, through a door to the left of the altar. Even out here people apparently liked to read. It is still stocked with the original books in Norwegian. And on the left of the main room are busts of Carl Larsen, the founder of Grytviken and of the church, and Ernest Shackleton (of course).
It was only a short walk back down the hill to the Grytviken Museum, which was originally built in 1916 to be the house of the whaling station manager, Carl Larsen. Sadly, our time was running out (actually had run out, but we decided that the 15 minutes we lost at the penguin crossing should be restored to our shore time). Thus we didn’t have much time to spend examining the extensive and interesting looking exhibits. The museum, which opened in 1991, also had a very nice gift shop. In the museum was an impressive stuffed (we think) Wandering albatross, a huge bird whose wings stretch from floor to ceiling. There was also a room apparently named after our son in law, Michael Jarvis.
But the best thing there was a full size reconstruction of the James Caird, the lifeboat in which Shackleton and four of his men sailed through rough seas and weather from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island. You may recall from the last episode that our trip between those islands took less than a day, but the Shackleton party spent 15 days in that tiny boat in Antarctic waters before reaching land, having to wait an extra day off shore because of a hurricane. But they were on the wrong side of the island, so they had to hike over the treacherous snowy mountains, at one point sliding blindly down a steep incline in sitting position, before reaching the whaling settlement of Stromness, not too far from Grytviken. It is said that Shackleton refused to take more than four weeks’ rations along, because if they didn’t reach land by then they were goners. And what did they eat on the trip? One biscuit a day for each man. When you look at this boat it is hard not to doubt that it was even possible.
Leaving the museum we began heading back to the tender dock for the trip back to Prinsendam, with a few final pictures on the way. In addition to the rusting whaling station structures in this area there were some old whaling boats grounded near the water. One of them, the Petrel, was built in Oslo in 1928, spent three decades hunting whales, then was used in its final years to hunt seals along the shoreline of the island. The harpoon gun on her bow is now pointed inland, away from any whales that might happen by. Some of these pictures give a pretty good look at the snow capped mountains that surround Grytviken.
Our time was up so we boarded the tender back to the ship. Oddly, we had to have our shoes cleaned again before boarding the tender. We don’t know why, since it is hard to imagine how the island could be damaged when we were leaving it. Back on the ship we found that the local post office (it seems to be stationed in the museum) had sent people on board to sell stamps and postcards. We sent a few of those (they weren’t cheap), then went to a presentation. Right next to where the ship was anchored is a British Antarctic research station. This was a military barracks after the Falklands War but was handed over for civilian use in 2001. Ten or twenty people live there, including research scientists as well as the magistrate for the British territory that includes South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. A few of the researchers came aboard Prinsendam to tell us a little about their research and life at the station.
Late in the afternoon we sailed out of King Edward Cove and headed northwest along the coast of the island. The Captain wanted to take us into a neighboring bay to see the old Stromness whaling station, where Shackelton’s journey ended with a knock on the door of the first house he found. But the high winds and fog were back in force as soon as we left King Edward Cove, making this impossible. So this was the end of our amazing South Georgia Island adventure, and we will leave you here with a last look at Grytviken just before we sailed away.
February 8 found us sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island, about 800 miles away. We were expecting this to be just a sea day since we weren’t scheduled to go ashore on South Georgia Island until the next day. But in the afternoon South Georgia Island came into view in the distance on the port side.
Although it was probably first sighted by Anthony de la Roche when his ship was blown far off course in 1675, the first landing and mapping of South Georgia Island was by the ubiquitous Captain Cook at the beginning of 1775. Landing at Possession Bay, Cook held a ceremony taking possession in the name of King George III and named the island after him “Isle of Georgia.” While mapping the east coast of the island Cook actually thought he had found the predicted great southern continent (Antarctica), but when he rounded the southeast corner and found himself heading west he discovered that it was just a large island instead. He named that corner Cape Disappointment, representing his feeling at the time, and Cape Disappointment is also where we reached South Georgia Island and turned to the north to follow its northwest coast. In the pictures above Cape Disappointment is on the left; the pictures below are from the vicinity of Cape Disappointment, if not the cape itself.
Just before we reached the island we passed the largest tabular iceberg we had seen. We were told it was some two miles long, and it certainly looked it. But we didn’t sail close to this one like we had to the earlier ones we encountered, but merely saw it in the distance.
It was a cold and windy afternoon as we sailed up the coast. The island is about 100 miles long and the mountains reach almost to 10,000 feet. The Captain tried to take us down a large fjord (probably Drygalsky Fjord), but the 80 to 100 mile winds made it impossible. Still, there was plenty to see on this island where the tall craggy mountains rise directly out of the water under the island’s own cloud cover, presenting a beautiful but forbidding countenance.
We sailed by another iceberg. It was big, but nothing like the one we saw in the distance when approaching the island. But it was very distinctive, with two tall towers reaching higher than the ship. It was interesting to see it change shape as we sailed past and the lowering sun cast dramatic shadows as we sailed by it (which actually took quite a while). Notice that as we sail by the tall squared off tower starts on our right and ends up on our left.
A lot of birds were flying around this area (very fast) and a few whales were to be seen as well.
We pulled into a bay (possibly Gold Harbor) to visit a colony of King Penguins. Bigger than the others we had seen, King penguins resemble Emperor penguins that you may have seen in movies, but aren’t as big. More than 900,000 King penguins live on South Georgia (along with more than two million Macaroni penguins) and it seemed like all of them were gathered right here (in actuality nowhere near that many). Like other penguins, they crowd the beaches looking like they are just hanging around with nothing to do. In these pictures you can also see a lot of tussock grass, which accounts for the bulk of native vegetation. There are no trees or bushes on South Georgia.
On a tiny island just offshore was a group of fur seals. It looked like a stage show being watched by a crowd of penguins.
Of course there were also penguins in the water, porpoising as usual. And Antarctic Terns were flying around, some carrying food in their beaks.
The sun was setting as we left the harbor and continued northeast. The spectacular scenery never stops in this place, and the sunset was particularly notable.
So the day ended on what turned out to be much better than the ordinary sea day we had been expecting. Apparently having little else to do while visiting Antarctica, two of the ship’s penguins were stationed on either end of the front desk. They had nametags that changed periodically, but during this period one of them had a particularly fine name tag on. We will leave you with a couple of pictures of that.
We awoke on February 6 in Admiralty Bay at King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands. It was cold, overcast and hazy.
King George Island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands, sitting about 75 miles north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Discovered in 1820, it was named after British King George III. Today it is claimed by Argentina, Chile & Britain (all suspended by the Antarctic Treaty). It is host to the annual Antarctic marathon. We also visited here briefly in 2012 before the captain hightailed it north to avoid a storm, and the weather then was much worse:
Ten countries have science stations on King George Island, four of which are in Admiralty Bay. We think we saw all of them, but are not 100% sure that all the pictures here are correctly identified. But they probably are.
The first one we encountered was Arctowski Station, operated by Poland. When we passed this station in the fog in 2012 the name of the station was painted in big letters on the side of a building, but we didn’t see that this time. Established in 1977, it is named for Henryk Arctowski, a Polish scientist who was a member of the first expedition to winter over in Antarctica in 1897. It houses some 40 people and the area around it is full of wildlife and whalebones left over from the whaling operations that were here at one time. The base welcomes visitors and maintains a tourist information center where you can purchase souvenirs. Of course, we couldn’t go ashore so no souvenirs for us.
Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Station is operated by Brazil. It was first opened in 1984 on the site of an earlier British outpost. But in 2012 most of it burned down in a fire that started with an explosion in the building housing the electricity generators. Two people were killed in the fire and the Brazilians carted away what remained of the base. They have been rebuilding the station, larger than before, ever since. It was scheduled to become operational in 2018 and perhaps it did, but the pictures below show that quite a lot of construction activity is still going on. It is now powered, at least in part, by an array of windmills installed a little way up the hill from the station. Nearby is a graveyard with five crosses, most of which contain the remains of British citizens associated with the old British station that was once here.
Near the station is a skeleton of a Blue Whale. We have read that it was pieced together by a Jacques Cousteau expedition, but aren’t sure about that. Also nearby some Gentoo penguins were hanging around.
We passed two other bases. Peru operates the small Machu Picchu Base, established in 1989. The United States maintains the tiny Captain Pieter J. Lenie Base, situated on Copacabana beach about a mile from Arctowski. It is open only in summer and is devoted to monitoring penguin populations.
We finished sailing around Admiralty Bay before heading out to sea.
About six hours later we caught sight of Elephant Island in the distance. It was originally named by seal hunters in the 1820’s who saw a lot of elephant seals on the island. But today the island’s name is also thought to refer to its shape, which looks a lot like the head of an elephant (with big ears to the west and a long trunk to the east). We think these pictures are all Elephant Island from a distance.
But before reaching Elephant Island we encountered another mile long iceberg. If you look closely at the first picture of the iceberg as we approached from a distance you can make out four extensions on the other side enclosing three bays. Our route to the big iceberg took us through a field of floating ice with a perfectly defined border, all ice on one side and none on the other.
We sailed around to the other side of the iceberg for a close look at the three bays. Pretty impressive; you could definitely sail a pretty good sized boat into those. One of the ship’s penguins was captaining the ship in the window of the bridge one level above us and another of them was assisting in another window. This iceberg may have been anchored on the bottom, as it was taller than the ship and must have extended down quite a way. One of the dining room staff told us he remembered seeing it the last time he was here, three or four years ago. Notably, the pictures here do not really convey how BIG this iceberg was in person.
There was wildlife near the iceberg (not just stuffed penguins). We saw skuas, pintado petrels, southern giant petrels and what we think was a wandering albatross. There were also a few whales nearby and another large iceberg, but nowhere near as big as the one we had just passed.
And so in late afternoon we headed toward Elephant Island. This is where Ernest Shackleton finally found refuge after a harrowing winter spent on floating ice after their ship was crushed. They made the long journey across treacherous Antarctic seas in three of the ship’s lifeboats. The island looks pretty forbidding from the sea.
Shackleton’s party first made land at Cape Valentine, at the tip of the elephant’s trunk. As you can see below, this wasn’t much of a place to set up camp, with little land and mostly rocks jutting out from a mountain. But at least they were on land, after surviving more than a year floating on the seas. Dusk was beginning to fall as we reached this point and the air was pretty hazy.
So Shackleton sent his second in command, Frank Wild, to look for a better place. He found one about seven miles further up the elephant’s trunk at a spot now called Point Wild. There was enough of a land shelf here in front of a mountain to set up camp. Most of the crew, 22 men, spent almost five months on this spot, eating seals and penguins and waiting for Shackleton to return to rescue them . . . if he survived the almost impossible 800 mile journey to South Georgia Island in one of the lifeboats, the James Caird. They made a shelter by overturning the other two lifeboats supplemented with tent canvas. They had no idea whether Shackleton had survived the trip or whether anyone in the world knew they were there until on August 30, 1916 they spotted the Chilean Navy boat Yelcho approaching. This was Shackleton’s fourth try at a rescue, the first three failing because of impassible ice or engine trouble. Amazingly, Shackleton’s entire crew survived the entire ordeal.
By the time we reached Point Wild the sun was setting and the skies were hazy. It would be hazardous for a ship Prinsendam’s size to get too close to this rocky shore and really we could hardly see much when we were there. But happily the pictures turned out a little better so you can see Point Wild in them. We have read that the beach has mostly eroded away during the last 100 years, but the rocky outcropping is clearly visible in front of the huge glacier behind. In 1987 the Chileans erected a bronze bust on the rocks of Luis Pardo Villalon, the captain of the Yelcho which finally rescued the men. This is a breeding area for chinstrap penguins and the small white objects you can see around the sculpture are them. The beach, we think, is behind the rocks to the right of the bust.
So that’s it for our four day Antarctica adventure, although we still have South Georgia Island to go. So we will leave you with the traditional towel animals on our bed and a beautiful sculpted watermelon in the Lido.
The morning of February 5 found us in the Antarctic Sound, at the northeast corner of the Antarctic Peninsula.
The Antarctic Sound is not, as one might expect, named after the continent. Instead, it is named after the ship that transported the 1902 Swedish Antarctic expedition here. The six scientists were to winter over on Snow Hill Island, then the Antarctic would pick them up again in the summer. But the ship was prevented by floating ice from reaching the island the next summer. The ship was locked in by the ice, which eventually crushed its hull. The Antarctic crew was able to reach Paulet Island, where they spent the next winter, surviving by eating about a thousand penguins. The original group had no idea what had happened or why the ship failed to return, and had no option but to spend another winter on Snow Hill Island. The next Spring the two groups met by chance while exploring in Hope Sound. An Argentine ship was sent to find them when the Antarctic failed to return. We heard a slide lecture about this expedition while we were here; quite harrowing and the series of unlikely coincidences that led to the rescue would sound entirely implausible if set out in a novel. But it was real & the stone huts in which the groups wintered are still there, although we didn’t see them.
As we entered Hope Bay we passed a large Argentine science station.
Base Esperanza (“Hope”) was built in 1953 on a spot that had housed a naval post since 1930. Some 55 people live here year round (out of a capacity of 100) . What is unusual is that it is set up as a village, with about 10 families including children. This was part of Argentina’s effort to establish sovereignty over the Antarctic Peninsula (Chile has a similar settlement in Antarctica for the same reason). In 1978 the wife of the station’s leader was flown here when seven months pregnant to record the first birth in Antarctica, Emilio Marcos de Palma, and over the next few years there were seven more births. The community has a regular school, a radio station, an infirmary, a chapel, and a scout troop. There is a stone hut nearby where three of the Swedish expedition spent the winter of 1903, living on seal meat, but we didn’t see it.
The base also has a bust of General San Martin, the liberator of Argentina.
You probably notice a lot of penguins hanging about in these pictures. In fact, Esperanza Base was built in the middle of a large penguin rookery, so the penguins have a pre-existing claim to the space. Hope Bay is actually quite full of penguins, more than 200,000 according to what we have read (down about 17% over the last 25 years). They were everywhere, inside the base and out. Most of the penguins in this area seem to be Adelies. Given how bad penguin habitats smell, living in this settlement must take some getting used to!
In addition to the penguins, seals were lounging on the ice. We think they were mostly Weddell seals, but who knows for sure.
Apart from the wildlife, Hope Bay was full of icy scenery.
Leaving Hope Bay we passed Esperanza Base again. Yep, the penguins were still there, standing around waiting for something to happen.
As we headed out of the bay we spotted penguins in the water and Giant Petrels in flight.
The Antarctic Sound has a lot of floating ice, including large flat icebergs that have broken off from the Larsen ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. These are called tabular icebergs because they are flat like tables. Some are so big they run aground in the Sound, where the can sit for years until worn away by sea and wind forces.
You may wonder how the ship manages to navigate safely among the icebergs. Throughout the Antarctic portion of our voyage there was an experienced ice pilot on board to guide the way. During a Q & A following the Antarctic portion of the cruise he was asked just what his role was on the bridge. He said “I sit there and I say ‘See that iceberg over there? Don’t hit it.’” We are pretty sure he does a good deal more than that.
We approached pretty near that large tabular iceberg you saw above. We were told that it was about a mile long, and it was taller than the ship. That means it reaches pretty far down under the water, perhaps far enough that it was anchored in place on the bottom.
As the ship held its position by the iceberg a small boat was sent out with the ship’s photographer and some members of the Antarctic expedition team. Their mission was to take pictures of the ship next to the iceberg. At about the same time Rick went down to the platform in the very front of the ship to take in the view from that location.
After the photographs of the ship were done, the folks on the boat didn’t want to come right back. They spent some time at a nearby iceberg photographing penguins (who wouldn’t want to do that?).
While he was on the bow Rick took some pictures back toward the ship.
You might have thought we were done with wildlife for the day, but you would be wrong. Still lots of penguins out on the ice. We were told last time we were here that penguins out on the ice probably means there are Orcas or leopard seals in the water hunting. We didn’t see any of those, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t there. We did see some penguins diving into the water from the ice, so maybe that wasn’t the case this time. You can tell when a penguin is about to dive because it first bends its neck far forward.
We also saw some penguins sharing an iceberg with a seal.
Birds — including Cape or Pintado (painted) petrels, giant petrels and what we think were Antarctic shags (cormorants) – were flying around the ship and hunting low over the water. We also saw some whales, although not nearly as many as we had seen on previous days. On grand voyages (ie. these long ones), HAL leaves presents on your bed on many of the gala nights. One that came in particularly handy was a set of matching grey gloves, scarf,, stocking hat and blanket. You can see Rick below sporting the hat, scarf & gloves in the cold & windy weather.
Our adventurous Captain wanted to take us through the Sound into the Weddell Sea. That would have been pretty cool, but it was not to be. I mentioned earlier that the Antarctic Sound is often crowded with floating ice. As we neared the end toward the Weddell Sea, the Captain & the ice pilot concluded that we might well be able to get through into the Weddell Sea, but that we might not be able to get back again through the gathering ice. So we turned around and headed back north as clouds began to close in and the sun fell toward the sea. So all that is left to show you for this day is some more of Antarctica’s never ending seascapes.
When we woke up near Anvers Island on February 4 the weather was the opposite of what we saw the morning before. It was very foggy so there was little to see.
With all the fog we didn’t spend much time outside during the morning, but there was a special event scheduled. The United States has a science station on Anvers Island called Palmer Station. Opened in 1968, it houses some 45 people in the summer and is primarily focused on marine biology. The only US station north of the Antarctic Circle, it is named for Nathaniel B. Parker, the first American to see the Antarctic Peninsula in 1820.
Last time we were here, in 2012, we could see Palmer Station in the distance:
But not today, thanks to the thick fog. Nonetheless, a contingent of personnel from the station came out to the ship in a zodiac. They have an arrangement with Holland America to give a presentation to the passengers on the ship and in exchange they get hot showers and hot meals and supplies to take back to the station. We were not up yet when they boarded the ship around 6:30 AM but we did attend their presentation a few hours later. Several of them gave talks about life at the station and their scientific studies, then all six of them came on stage for a question and answer session. It was all very interesting and gave us a connection to the US Antarctic program. Particularly entertaining and informative was the doctor (in the green shirt), who explained that you don’t want to have a toothache while in Antarctica because he is the only one there who can treat it.
We were at the rail of the ship when they left around noon. The zodiac from the station appeared out of the mist, then pulled up next to an opening in the ship at water level that must be a cargo loading dock. A few of them stepped out from the ship into the zodiac, then they began loading supplies. Box after box came out while we waited to see if there would be room left for all the humans. From our viewpoint it looked like most of the boxes contained wine or soft drinks (lots of them), but there were also some bags of fruits & vegetables. A tall stack of cargo boxes filled the middle of the boat so the people had to sit on the inflated sides as the boat left for the station. A final wave, then it disappeared into the fog.
We sailed northeast along the Antarctic Peninsula, but it was still quite foggy.
But by mid-afternoon when we reached Wilhelmina Bay (named in 1897 for the Dutch queen) we had outrun most of the fog. It was a beautiful area, looking even more so because we had spent so much of the day wrapped in fog.
We came upon some penguins on an iceberg.
Wilhelmina Bay is known for having a large population of whales. It is nicknamed “Whale-mina Bay.” We saw quite a few, many swimming in groups.
Four whales went by, looking like a motorcycle gang cruising for trouble.
Some more penguins were sharing an iceberg with a napping seal.
A bunch of seals came cavorting near the ship, leaping in and out of the water, something we hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately they were swimming away from the ship so mostly we saw their back sides.
Well that was pretty much it for Day 2. We did go into Hughes Bay (according to the map we were given) but not until about 8:30 at night while we were eating dinner. So we think these last pictures are all from Wilhelmina Bay.
After a day spent crossing the Drake Passage toward Antarctica, we woke up on February 3 as the sun rose over a mountain peak in Paradise Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. We rushed to grab the camera & put on enough clothes to step outside, but by that time the sun was already above the mountains.
The day was absolutely glorious, nothing better could be hoped for. Last time we were in Antarctica the weather was bad for all but one afternoon. You can see the first day in Antarctica in 2012 here:
If you wonder why whalers named this Paradise Harbor in the 1920’s (now more often called Paradise Bay) all you have to do is look around.
Wildlife was abundant in these waters. Humpback whales were surfacing and blowing their spouts all around the bay, then showing us their tails as the dove under again.
Penguins were in the water as well. They are strong swimmers, usually in groups. They use a technique called “porpoising,” in which they alternatively swim just under the water and leap into the air. Quite a show. These are Adelie penguins, the most widespread species in Antarctica. They were first spotted in 1840 by French explorer Jules D’Urville, who named them after his wife. They are identified by their all black heads and crazed looking white eyes.
We saw many icebergs floating in the water. A large percentage of the icebergs in Antarctica break off from ice sheets, so they tend to be large and flat, unlike the craggier ones you tend to see in Arctic waters. Although there are quite a few of the craggier ones here as well. Of course, most of an iceberg is under water, which gives you pause when you see one that is taller than the ship and as big as a small city (which we will, later).
We came to a large iceberg with a pool of water in the middle. It was full of Adelie penguins, along with a few Gentoos (white earmuffs across their heads from eye to eye), some bathing in the pool. To see the pool we had to climb up two decks from the lower promenade deck. The penguins watched as the captain turned the ship to the right to bring us as close as possible for a good look, then all of a sudden they turned tail and hightailed it to the other side of the iceberg, out of sight. Guess they thought we were going to ram them.
Yet more whales & more scenery.
Returning to our room, we spotted a zodiac from our balcony carrying three people, out among the whales. The whales came quite close; it must have been pretty exciting. We weren’t sure where such a small boat could have come from, but then we spied a Hurtigruten expedition ship in the shadow of a glacier. They are small enough to enable passengers to go ashore in zodiacs (inflatable boats); the limit is 100 passengers for ships to be allowed to disembark in Antarctica, we believe.
More scenery. You would think that would become tiresome, but it never did. As you probably know, icebergs are mostly under water, but if the water is clear and the iceberg close enough you can see some of the underwater portion looking like a luminous blue halo around the iceberg. The edges of the mainland where the glaciers break off as they reach the sea, leaves an infinite variety of beautiful, though temporary, patterns in the ice walls.
We came upon some leopard seals (we think) relaxing on an ice flow. The second largest seal species in Antarctica, these nasty guys eat penguins, among other things, and their only predator is the Orca. They grow up to 11.5 feet long and have been known to attack humans on rare occasions.
In an earlier episode we mentioned that Argentina and Chile both claim sovereignty over the Antarctic Peninsula, the location of Paradise Bay. They are two of the seven countries that have made claims to parts of Antarctica. But the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 by all the nations with claims in Antarctica, suspended those claims and established an international system to preserve Antarctica for science and eliminate all military activity there. Today 54 nations are signatory to the treaty, most of which do not recognize any of the suspended claims, and some 30 of them have scientific stations in Antarctica. All told, there are some 45 year round stations and another 30 open only in the summer.
Argentina has a station in Paradise Bay named for Admiral William Brown, father of the Argentine navy. It was first built in 1951 as a naval base but in 1965 it was converted into a biology laboratory. In 1984 the station’s doctor burned down the entire facility because he was disgruntled at having been ordered to stay there for the winter! The personnel were all successfully evacuated to the U.S. Palmer Station. Argentina rebuilt the facility in the late 1990’s and since 2007 it has been open in summer only.
Excursion ships, like the Hurtigruten we saw earlier, often land their passengers here for a visit. They can climb up the hill behind the base and many then slide back down sitting in a sort of luge track worn in the snow. About 250 yards from the base is a refuge house built by the Argentine navy in 1956.
On a rocky outcropping near the station was a group of birds we thought were penguins. But on closer inspection it turned out they were not penguins, but probably Antarctic Shags (or cormorants).
We encountered a particularly beautiful glacier with a craggy ice wall sporting ice caves & peaks & crevices, all reflecting in the remarkably calm water.
More wildlife – there was so much of it! We saw much more wildlife the first morning than we did in the entire three days of our first visit to Antarctica. Here are some seals and swimming penguins.
We sailed past what we believe to be the entrance to Paradise Bay. The tall mountains peeking out from the clouds in the distance are probably part of Anvers Island. Pretty spectacular view.
Chile has a science station in Paradise Bay named after a former president, Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, who in the 1940’s became the first head of state of any country to visit Antarctica. Built in 1951, it was active until 1958 then again during the 1980’s. Today it is sometimes visited during the summer by tourists and Chilean delegations. A sailboat was moored nearby when we were there, so somebody must have been home.
Gonzales Videla Base sits on a small outcropping of land called Waterboat Point, which is an island at high tide. Its name came from a two man British party that spent a year here in 1921-1922 in a shelter made of an old whaling boat they found here.
The waterboat expedition generated the first scientific study of penguin breeding. Today the entire base is occupied by Gentoo penguins. Usually when you see a large colony of birds they all seem busy: building nests, caring for chicks, flying around looking for something to eat. But not penguins. They look like they are just standing around in fancy dress hanging out, like a crowd of theater goers waiting for the doors to open. There sure are a lot of them though!
One notable thing about large penguin colonies like this is that you can smell them before you actually see them. Not really just standing around, the penguins do eat and, like everybody else, they poop. And they do it right where they happen to be standing. When thousands of them are close together, that makes for quite a lot of excrement and the foul smell really carries. You may be sailing toward a picturesque crowd of penguins when, all of a sudden, the odor hits you like a brick wall. We wouldn’t want to live near them, but it is tolerable when on a ship that will soon be further away.
A group of penguins porpoised by, very close to the ship. We were able to look almost directly down on them and the water was clear enough that we could see them under the water as well as when they leaped out.
We passed more seals out on the ice and a large brown bird, probably an Antarctic skua.
We had a special wildlife encounter with a friendly whale. It swam by, rolled over to extend its fin in what looked like a greeting, then dove under the water.
We encountered one more large penguin colony today.
During the afternoon we saw a hillside covered with reddish snow. Since there were penguins around we thought it might be their poop. But it turns out this is called “watermelon snow,” and is caused by an algae. It reduces the amount of light reflected by the snow, which makes the snow warmer and promotes quicker melting. Some scientists are beginning to worry that this effect may spread and help speed up climate change. Not quite so pretty when you think about that!
We continued cruising for the rest of the afternoon, passing more mountains and icebergs and ice walls. Really, the beauty never stopped all day long. But being of a certain age, we eventually tired out and went inside until dinner time.
Although we remained inside during the evening, the wildlife did not stop. We saw whales and penguins through the window as we waited for our dinner table to be ready at 8:00. Not the best pictures because it was late & the window wasn’t very clean, but here they are anyway just because they were there. Finally, this was not only our first day in Antarctica, but also Super Bowl Sunday. The ship’s penguins were, as always, dressed for the occasion.
Thus ended a very long and unbelievably spectacular day. Is it possible to have a better day on a cruise ship in Antarctica? We think not. We had, in just the first day, seen everything we had been hoping to see and then some. A great beginning to our Antarctic adventure.
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world (Puerto Williams, Chile, which sits nearby across the Beagle Channel, is further south but has fewer than 3,000 people). It sits on the southern coast of Isla Grande, the largest island of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and of South America. Officially founded in 1884, a little more than a decade after the first missionaries arrived, Ushuaia today is a small city of 60 to 80,000 people (depending on the source) in a spectacular setting surrounded by the imposing Martial mountains and the Beagle channel.
Although indigenous people had lived in the area for some 10,000 years, Tierra del Fuego was discovered for Europeans by Fernando Magellan in 1520 during his global circumnavigation. Seeing smoke from so many fires maintained by the locals in this cold area, Magellan called this Tierra del Humo (Land of Smoke). It was the king of Spain who (correctly) concluded that Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) would be more evocative.
When we were here in 2012 the water conditions were bad enough that the harbor master would not let us dock or tender, even though we were almost close enough to the pier to swim:
This time the weather was a whole lot nicer, though still pretty cold & very windy. The worst part was walking down the long pier to shore, during which it felt like you might just be blown into the water. One of our cabin stewards told us he intended to go ashore, but turned back when he encountered the cold wind on the pier, which was nothing like he was used to at home in Indonesia. We were booked on a private tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park during the morning, so we had to be up and off the ship pretty early in the morning.
Our guide drove our small group in a van to Ensenada Bay in the Park. Our first stop was at the Post Office At The End Of The World, the southernmost post office in the Americas (there is one further south at Port Lockroy in Antarctica). It is a corrugated metal shed that looks like a shipping container with a slanted roof, sitting on top of a stilted wooden pier that extends into the bay. The walls are covered with stickers, pictures and advertisements, and there is a wood stove near the door to provide warmth in this frigid environment. As you might expect from such a remote yet popular tourist attraction, the prices in this tiny post office are usurious: $5.00 US to buy and send a postcard to the United States! It is in a beautiful spot though.
Our first hike was along the shore of Ensenada Bay, then up into a forest. The sea views were very nice, including some windblown trees known as “flag trees” because they extend in only one direction.
The forest in this area is primarily populated with Lenga beech trees, but there are other species as well. Our guide told us quite a bit about the flora and fauna, but unfortunately too much time has passed for us to remember much of it. We saw a beautiful bird that we think is a Chimango Caracara.
Some of these trees had what looked like tumors around the trunks. It seems that this is Pan de Indio (Indian Bread), a fungus that was an important part of the diet of the Yamana people who lived here before the Europeans came. Apparently bright orange globes of fungus grow out from it, but not while we were there. It is still used in salads and to make jam.
One of the most interesting things in this forest was the wide variety of lovely lichens, often several kinds growing together. The only one whose name we know is “Old Man’s Beard” (Usnea), the fuzzy one that looks a little like Spanish Moss.
And of course there were some woodland flowers too.
We drove in the van to Roca Lake, then walked along the Lapataia River. The lake is large with a mountainous backdrop.
As we set out on our walk (toward the left in the pictures above) we came upon a group of Upland Geese. The darker females were too busy eating to pay any attention to us, but the white headed male kept a wary eye on us the whole time we were nearby.
As we walked along the river there was much flora, including a variety of mistletoe hanging from the tree tops. On our right was the lush marshy river and on our left was a fairly dense lenga forest.
The river walk took us to the Alakush lodge, which had a small buffet restaurant where we could eat (but didn’t). It also had a small museum discussing the history and ecosystem of the area, but it was all in Spanish so we mostly just looked at the pictures. A statue of a penguin stood in the hall just outside the large gift shop.
Outside in and near the river was quite a bit of fauna. We saw black necked swans, a Southern (or crested) caracara and ducks that may be pintails that are known to live around here.
We drove from there to a place called the Green Lagoon, which had a nice wooden overlook of the lagoon with a beaver house in the middle. It also afforded a spectacular view of the mountains in the distance, which we think is the Cordilla Darwin.
We continued on to Lapataia bay, where there is a wooden walkway out to the scenic water front. We stopped at an overlook, then walked down to the sign marking the end of the Pan American Highway, the other end of which is in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, some 19,000 miles away. We saw the bridge where it crosses the Panama Canal, but further south in Panama is the Darien Gap, where a rainforest breaks the highway’s continuity. People routinely have their pictures taken with the sign & we were no exception.
We walked across the wooden walkway that protects the environment from tourists’ feet to the dock. From there we could see a family of Steamer Ducks in the water and a group of Upland Geese on the land.
We walked back along the wooden pathway to re-board the van, in a spot where there was a stunning view of the distant snowy peaks.
At the end of World War II the economy of Tierra del Fuego was in a slump. “I have a great idea” someone said to the Argentine Navy Secretary, “lets get some beavers down here & we can start a fur industry!” We don’t know whether the conversation actually went like that, but we do know that in 1946 the Navy Secretary imported 20 beavers from Manitoba, Canada, and released them into the wild for just this purpose. It turned out to be a really bad plan, however. The fur industry never developed but the beavers did and today there are a couple of hundred thousand of them busily destroying the old growth lenga trees in this area. The population became uncontrolled because the alien beavers have no natural predators down here. They are destroying trees by gnawing them down to build dams (as anyone could have predicted they would). Unlike their favorite trees in Canada, the lenga trees do not regenerate after being cut, and the dams built by the beavers have flooded large areas filled with lengas that cannot live in a watery location. So the beavers have changed the ecosystem of some 15% of Tierra del Fuego so far, the largest alteration here since the last ice age.
We visited a site typical of the beavers’ work. There is nothing here but whitened tree stumps and branches, really an image of devastation. Argentina and Chile have recently begun a program to control and hopefully reduce the beaver population, but most experts seem to think that eliminating them is not really possible. An object lesson that a lot of thought is needed about possible consequences before introducing an alien species into a new environment.
Leaving the park we returned to the ship, stopping on the way to take the picture at the beginning of this episode. We changed our clothes & spent the afternoon exploring the city. Walking up the two steep blocks to San Martin street, the main commercial thoroughfare, we turned left & found the Iglesia Nuestra Senora de la Merced (Our Lady Of Mercy Church). Billed as the southernmost Catholic church on the planet, this simple but brightly painted church was built in 1898 by convicts from the prison (Ushuaia began as a prison colony & the prison was in operation until 1947). The bell tower was added during a restoration in the 1940’s.
We walked a good way further out this commercial street, full of shops & restaurants, to find the public library, the Biblioteca Popular Sarmiento de Ushuaia. Brightly painted on the outside, it is open and airy inside.
As we walked back toward the city center we passed some colorful flowers, then stopped for a late lunch at a place called Tante Sara’s. We had huge and delicious Argentine steak sandwiches (we should have shared one) along with Beagle Beer from (you should have guessed it by now) the southernmost brewery in the world. As we sat by a large street window watching the action on the boulevard, a tall fellow came along wearing a penguin suit. When he saw Rick’s camera he stopped an posed for a picture. You just never know what you are going to see!
Quite a few birds were flying and swimming around the ship when we returned., including cormorants, kelp gulls and (probably) sooty shearwaters.
From the ship we could see the red and yellow church, the old government building (now a museum) and the current government building behind it. Off to the right we could see the old prison, shaped like the spokes of a half wheel and sitting behind some more conventional red roofed buildings. Beginning in the 1890’s Ushuaia served as a penal colony, modeled on the British one in Tasmania & the French one on Devil’s Island. Situated this far from civilization in a forbidding environment, escape was unlikely (only two prisoners managed it, and then for only a few weeks). The convicts actually built the prison, which opened in 1902 and was closed in 1947 by Juan Peron. Today it houses the Maritime Museum.
As we sailed away heading South away from South America, we had a nice view of Ushuaia in its storybook setting.
During the night we exited the Magellan Strait and by morning we were sailing down the Beagle Channel. While there were a lot of clouds, most did not appreciably obscure the dramatic scenery as they had done last time we were here:
During the morning we sailed along Glacier Alley, a series of glaciers falling from the Darwin ice sheet on Tierra del Fuego island. Some reach the water and some don’t and most of the large ones are named for European countries (Romanche, Alemania, Francia, Italia, Holanda, Espana), We can’t really identify which is which in the photos, but all are quite beautiful.
The Beagle Channel stretches 150 miles between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is 3 to 8 miles wide and separates the main island of Tierra del Fuego from the more southerly islands in the archipelago. It is named after the ship on which Darwin travelled around the world, which discovered the channel for Europeans on its previous voyage.
When he visited here during the Beagle’s next voyage in 1833 he wrote "It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow." From our vantage point most of the glaciers looked more white than blue (of course they may well have changed some in the intervening 185 years), but they were beautiful nonetheless.
Some 50 years later Darwin wrote this apt description of this scenery:
As we proceeded along the Beagle Channel, the scenery assumed a peculiar and very magnificent character … The mountains were here about three thousand feet high, and terminated in sharp and jagged points. They rose in one unbroken sweep from the water’s edge, and were covered to the height of fourteen or fifteen hundred feet by the dusky-coloured forest.
The western part of the Beagle Channel is in Chile, but the eastern part forms the border between Chile on the south and Argentina on the north. We passed a Chilean border station that appears to be a lonely spot to be stationed at.
We passed by Ushuaia, Argentina, our port for tomorrow, but this time only saw it from a distance. Closer to the ship was the airport, which is apparently on a peninsula extending a bit into the channel. Ushuaia is surrounded by stately mountains, but they were obscured by clouds as we sailed by.
On a small island near Ushuaia was the distinctive Les Eclaireurs lighthouse. Some have identified it as the “Lighthouse At The End Of The World” that gave this title to a book by Jules Verne. But we have read that this is erroneous & that Verne’s lighthouse was probably one attached to the prison in Ushuaia. We believe the birds crowding the island are cormorants.
We saw another clearly visible shipwreck today after we passed Ushuaia. The MV Logos ran aground near Snipe Island on January 5, 1988. It was a missionary ship, carrying about 120 people and a lot of bibles and other religious literature. It had visited more than 250 ports in more than 100 countries over a number of years. Apparently the ship sailed without a local pilot because they could not determine whether the pilot should be Chilean or Argentinian, which proved to be a big mistake when a storm came up. All the passengers were rescued but the ship & its cargo are still there sticking out of the water.
In 2012 we sailed to Ushuaia but were not permitted to land because of water conditions. So we left early for Antarctica and passed Cape Horn at night when we couldn’t see it. This time the Captain decided to take us to Cape Horn before Ushuaia, so we continued sailing south toward that island, with the scenery continuing to be pretty spectacular.
The Beagle Channel is reputedly full of interesting wildlife, from whales to dolphins to to sea lions to penguins, but we didn’t see any of that. We did see a number of interesting birds, but other than the cormorants near the lighthouse, they were all too far from the ship to get a sharp picture. Nonetheless, here are a few of the better ones, including what we think are South American Terns, some Black Browed Albatross, Southern Skuas and a Giant Petrel.
Tonight was Dutch Night in the main dining room, during which everybody was encouraged to wear something orange in honor of former Dutch Queen Beatrix’s birthday. Among others, the ship’s penguins were suitably attired.
During our dinner, around 8:30 PM, the Captain announced we were approaching Cape Horn. Discovered in 1616 by a Dutch captain who named it after the Dutch city of Hoorn, this island marks the beginning of the Drake Passage across the Southern Ocean to Antarctica. At Cape Horn the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans all converge, and the convergence of strong ocean currents and high winds make it one of the most dangerous sailing routes in the world. It has been estimated that since its discovery more than 800 ships have been wrecked here, costing the lives of more than 10,000 seamen. We passed some rocky islands before reaching Cape Horn, as did Charles Darwin:
Running past Cape Deceit with its stony peaks, about three o’clock [we] doubled the weather-beaten Cape Horn. The evening was calm and bright, and we enjoyed a fine view of the surrounding isles. Cape Horn, however, demanded his tribute, and before night sent us a gale of wind directly in our teeth. We stood out to sea, and on the second day again made the land, when we saw on our weather-bow this notorious promontory in its proper form—veiled in a mist, and its dim outline surrounded by a storm of wind and water.
Once we got there, Rick went out on deck to take these photos as we approached. There is a small lighthouse with a caretaker’s cottage, a small chapel and what appears to be a radio antenna atop a promontory about 130 feet above the sea. Luckily for us, the weather was much better than it was for Darwin, with the Cape standing out clearly for the most part.
The object you can see in the first two pictures far out to the left is the Cape Horn Monument. Built in 1992 to commemorate the many sailors who died here, it is a steel diamond with the outline of an albatross in flight cut out of the center. It is 22 feet tall and designed to withstand winds of 200 mph.
One of Prinsendam’s boats went ashore, which meant landing on a rocky beach then climbing to the top of the promontory. We didn’t know why at the time, but it turned out that, in addition to perhaps delivering supplies, they took our passports ashore to be stamped, a nice touch. We thought maybe some misbehaving passenger was being put off at this next stop!
As the sun was now falling rapidly we finished our dinner, said goodnight to the orange haired penguins and retired for the night since we had an early call for an excursion in the morning when we reached Ushuaia again. If the weather is decent the sail down the Beagle Channel is really spectacular, one of the best we have seen anywhere. And if we hadn’t been going to Antarctica it might have been the highlight of the entire cruise. But, of course, we were going to Antarctica!
We woke up on January 30 in our last Chilean port:
Founded in 1848,, Punta Arenas is the southernmost city in Chile. With a population around 130,000, it has often claimed also to be the southernmost city in the world but Ushuaia, Argentina, is further south. Punta Arenas has previously fudged this, calling Ushuaia a town rather than a city, but with Ushuaia growing by leaps and bounds over the last decade this position is becoming ever harder to maintain with a straight face.
Punta Arenas sits on the Strait of Magellan, fist discovered for Europeans in 1520 during Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. Running 534 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Strait separates the island of Tierra del Fuego from the mainland. Until the Panama Canal opened this was the main route from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and Punta Arenas was an important refueling stop for ships making that journey. This was particularly lucrative during the California gold rush. After starting out as a penal colony, Punta Arenas grew through the influx of immigrants from Spain, England, Germany and Croatia, among other places, and by the end of the 19th century it was a major producer of lamb and wool. Today it benefits from the tourist trade and is an important jumping off point for trips to Antarctica.
When we visited here in 2012 we visited a Magellanic penguin colony at a place called Otway Sound. You can see that here:
But the penguins have mysteriously disappeared from Otway and this time we decided just to walk around the town instead. It was cold and windy, even in the middle of summer, and you can see in the pictures that follow that we were bundled up. As we left the port, though, we passed another passenger out in shorts and a tee shirt. As we began walking up a hill toward the center of town we came upon a plaza with a statue of Bernardo O’Higgins, considered the liberator of Chile. Nearby was a plaque stating Chile’s claim to the Antarctic peninsula (which we would soon be visiting) in a pie cut shape all the way to the South Pole. Some seven countries claim sovereignty over parts of Antarctica, but all of these claims were put on hold by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. All of the claiming countries signed the agreement, which sets aside Antarctica for scientific research and forbids military activity there. But Chile still maintains the claim, in case the treaty lapses or is changed.
At the top of the hill we found the very green Plaza de Armas, also called Plaza Munoz Gamero. It is supposed to contain a bustling handicrafts market, but not on the day we were there. Maybe it was too windy. What it does have in the center is a monument to Ferdinand Magellan, the leader of the first European expedition that came through these parts. Magellan stands on top facing the Strait with his eyes toward the sky, with several Fuegian Indians arrayed around the base. The legend is that kissing (or rubbing) the foot of one of the Indians gives good luck and/or ensures that you will return to Punta Arenas, and sure enough one foot is shiny bronze with the patina worn off. Asleep at the foot of the monuments were some stray dogs, not an unusual sight in south western South America.
The plaza is surrounded by impressive old buildings. Across the street is the Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral, built in the 1890’s. It is modest for a cathedral.
On another corner is the Sara Braun palace. The Braun family were Jewish immigrants from what is now Latvia. One daughter, Sara, married a wealthy Portuguese shipper & sheep farmer and when he died in 1893 she took over the businesses. She was a leader in the community and died in 1955. Her house is one of the best examples of architecture at the height of the sheep farming boom. Today it houses a hotel and a restaurant.
Another old house, now the town hall, sits nearby.
We walked quite a way to find the library, in a largely empty neighborhood away from the center of town. And while it is always good to find that a town has a library (not every one we visit does), this one was kind of drab and we didn’t see many books in it. Great statue near the entrance though!
Mirador Cerro De La Cruz is a scenic overlook high on a hill behind the main part of the city. We walked up a steep hill, then a couple of long stairways to get there. There was a sweeping view of the city and the Strait, including our ship at the dock. We picked out the tower of the cathedral as well.
On a landing just below the very top was a round mosaic design consisting of indigenous people of the area. I have added a couple of pictures that show what these people looked like, wearing nothing but paint and masks (and its really cold here!). We stayed here a little while, not only for the view but also to catch our breaths!
The municipal cemetery of Punta Arenas is about a 9 block hike north of the central plaza. First opened in 1894, it contains a number of elaborate crypts of the leading families of the time interspersed with rows of simpler graves outlined in stone for less illustrious residents. The grounds were donated by Sara Braun & today it is named after her. An entry portico and walls were added in 1919. Sara Braun reputedly requested that when she died she be the last person to pass through the main entrance, and so that entrance has been closed since 1955. You have to enter through a side portico, which contains a large oil portrait of Sara Braun. The cemetery is decorated with rows of carefully pruned cypress trees, some with wild tops that may be intentional or maybe just haven’t been pruned yet. This was named by CNN in 2012 to be one of the world’s 10 most beautiful cemeteries.
Perhaps the most interesting item in the cemetery is the monument to an “Unknown Indian.” It seems that in 1929 a locally formed marble company decided to start a quarry on Diego de Amagro island, which was inhabited by small groups of Alacalufe Indians. They left two employees to guard the site while the ship returned to Punta Arenas to recruit workers. The guards were attacked by Indians, one of them killed on the spot and the other hiding out in the woods until the ship returned. At the campsite two bodies were found, the company employee and an Indian. They were returned to Punta Arenas and, since no one claimed the bodies, they were buried in the cemetery in a single casket. Some time later a small headstone was erected reading “Unknown Indian.”
People began leaving burning candles and offerings of money and other things at this grave, along with written thanks for the Indian supposedly having granted favors, such as recovered health or financial security, but many left more ambiguous. In 1969 a new monument was built, with a life size bronze statue of an Indian at the center of walls covered with thank-you plaques and a secured box for monetary offerings, many of which had been stolen in the past. When the casket was exhumed to be moved to the new location it was discovered that there were two skeletons, neither of which could be identified. So they were buried together again under the new monument. People still come to pay their respects, pray, leave offerings and apparently touch or kiss the Indian’s hand, which is shiny and patina free. When we approached it there was a woman on her knees in front of the statue apparently praying, and you can see in the picture that flowers had been left there. On the ground in front of the statue is a plaque with a poem, which reads in English:
The Unknown Indian arrived
from the mists of doubt
historical and geographical.
and lies here sheltered in the
patriotic love of Chileans.
We left the cemetery in a bit of a hurry because it began to rain fairly hard. When it let up we stopped in a café a couple of blocks away for lunch and to await the end of the rain. We had the local Austral beer, brewed at what is billed as the southernmost brewery in the world. We couldn’t understand anything being said in the café, but it was interesting to watch the Chilean news on the tv as we sat there. After lunch it was sunny again, so we strolled town toward the waterfront and came up a monument to Chilean national hero Arturo Prat, who seems to have a statue in every city in Chile. Nearby was another plaque with a map setting out Chile’s Antarctic claims.
The first thing we encountered at the waterfront was a monument built in 2014 to the “trip of the schooner Ancud,” which first laid claim to this region for Chile in 1843. It depicts the landing boat apparently pushing aside (or being helped by?) some sea nymphs as it heads for shore.
As we walked along the waterfront we passed, in addition to the sign at the beginning of this episode, a large mural on buildings across the street from the water. On the water side was a host of cormorants, and possibly other birds, on the shore and on top of an old dilapidated dock no longer connected to the shore.
We reached the port (named for Arturo Prat) before long. Outside was a small green clock tower. It is apparently an antique with windows showing the works and additional information in addition to the time. As we entered our dock we passed a large sculpture of a whale’s tail, next to which was a guy dressed up in a penguin suit.
From the ship, after we reboarded, we had a good view of the whale tail with the penguin suit guy, and also of the cormorants crowded together on the old docks. This was a tiring day, so we were glad the next few days would be sea days.
We spent January 28 cruising along the beautiful Chilean fjords. The bottom part of South America is riddled with fjords, channels and other waterways. The biggest is the Magellan Channel, discovered for Europeans (indigenous people were already living there, of course) during his voyage around the world in the early 16th century. But we didn’t get there until later.
Our itinerary said we would visit a glacier here, either El Brujo or Amalia. In 2012 we had visited Amalia Glacier during the Chilean Fjords part of our trip, which you can see here:
This time Captain Schuchmann, who, happily, goes out of his way to show us all the sights during scenic cruising days, took us to visit both glaciers. We visited El Brujo first, right around sunrise. Having sailed down the Sarmiento Channel into Peel Fjord we turned into Asia Fjord, at the end of which is El Brujo glacier, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The glacier is more than a mile wide.
As you can see from the pictures, the day was quite overcast, so if the ice field is visible from the water we didn’t get a chance to see it. But the clouds moved a lot so that, as the above pictures show, sometimes the ice mountain right above the glacier glowed in the rising sun and sometimes it was hardly visible. As always with tidal glaciers, the blue & white ice front studded with crevices made for interesting patterns. The water in front of the glacier and surrounding the ship was filled with floating growlers and even smaller pieces of ice.
We stayed a while at the glacier as the Captain turned the ship 360 degrees to give everyone a good view. Then we sailed away from the glacier and out into the fjord.
We sailed out into Peel Fjord, then turned into the Amalia Fjord, at the end of which is Amalia Glacier.
The clouds were still heavy, but they were high enough to see the mountainous ice field behind the glacier and the separate wavy channel of ice descending on the right. The Amalia Glacier is more than 2 miles wide and has receded more than 5 miles since 1945. Actually, just about all of the Chilean glaciers are receding at different rates and climate change will likely accelerate that. There was no floating ice at Amalia during this visit, unlike last time. We were told that was because the line of rocky islands you can see on the right side was preventing the fallen ice from spreading. We were skeptical, since the ice wasn’t spreading from the left side either, but we can offer no better explanation.
The snow capped mountain on the right that the glacier is curving around is the Recluse Volcano. Its last recorded eruption was in 1908 and the glacier is slowly eroding its sides away. The volcano is about 3300 feet high.
After viewing the glacier (it was cold out & intermittently drizzly) we went on to breakfast in the warm & enclosed dining room. We could still see the glacier from the windows as the captain again slowly rotated the ship to give everyone a good view before sailing on.
Leaving the fjord we turned south and sailed down the Sarmiento Channel. It was lined with magnificent mountains most of the way. The highest peaks in this area reach about 1500 feet or more. As you can see the weather was pretty overcast most of the way.
Sometime after noon we sailed into the Smyth Channel, which is wider than the Sarmiento. We aren’t sure just when that happened or which pictures are from which channel, so we are making our best guess. More mountains here, reaching higher than those lining the Sarmiento. When you see each of these vistas alone it is pretty impressive, but when they appear one after the other in succession it is less so.
The weather got better in the afternoon, with intermittent sun among the clouds. We passed a number of very small lighthouses, which we have read are there to steer ships away from dangerous submerged rocks & shipwrecks. We didn’t hit any of them.
Shortly before we reached the Strait of Magellan (& we left for dinner), we came upon a visible shipwreck for which we needed no lighthouse (although one was nearby). This is the Santa Leonor, which ran into the rocks on March 31, 1968, apparently because of pilot error (at least that is what the court concluded in the subsequent litigation). No lives were lost among the few passengers and crew but the ship and its entire cargo were unsalvageable. The ship started life in 1944 as the USS Riverside and participated in the very end of the war against Japan. It was decommissioned in 1946 and sold several times before its fateful encounter with the rocks in 1968. It still sits there, more than 50 years later, rusting in the sun and water, a startling sight for those passing by. It is interesting how different it looks from different perspectives as you pass it.
So that is it for today. As we had dinner and slept, we sailed down the Strait of Magellan toward Punta Arenas, our last stop in Chile. We will leave you here with a picture of a couple of the penguins on duty in the Lido restaurant today and a towel animal.
On the morning of January 27 we were anchored near the end of Aisen Fjord by Puerto Chacabuco.
Puerto Chacabuco was named after an important battle in 1817 during Chile’s war for independence and it is the ocean gateway to northern Chilean Patagonia. While a few hundred people live in the area, there is nothing really to see in Puerto Chacabuco beyond the scenery. Last time we were here we went on a delightful private driving tour through the area, which you can see here:
This time we signed up for a HAL bus tour through the area to Coyhaique, the capital of the region. We drove along the Carretera Austral, a road completed in 1976, for about 50 miles, watching the marvelous scenery, with mountains, valleys, rivers and waterfalls, pass by. The day was mostly cloudy and gray, providing some atmosphere to the landscape. We saw a number of isolated farms and ranches near the road.
Our first visit was to the Rio Simpson national reserve. The visitor center included a museum of exhibits about the history of the area and the plants and animals to be found. Best was a giant condor hanging from the ceiling. Around the visitor center grew giant rhubarb plants, with leaves as big as a person.
A short walk down behind the visitor center we came to the Rio Simpson, a very beautiful river with clear water flowing past stone cliffs.
We left the Simpson River Reserve and travelled on toward Coyhaique. The Simpson River continued in the same direction and we caught sight of it a number of times. The landscape continued to be quite beautiful. At one point we went through a tunnel in a mountain and came out to a magnificent overlook, where the bus stopped for a long look. We crossed the Andes at a height of 1,476 feet.
Our first sight of Coyhaique was from the Alto Boguales viewpoint. There is a large and long mountain called Cerro McKay on the other side of it.
Coyhaique is the capital of the region, with a population of about 50,000. We drove directly to the Plaza de Armas, where we had about half an hour to look around. The plaza is pentagonal in shape and very green, with many trees, bushes and roses. There is supposed to be a handicraft market in the plaza, but it was Sunday and almost none of them were there. We walked across one street and looked through a couple of shops that were open. We walked all the way around the plaza, but unlike in Castro we found no bust of the Chilean naval hero Arturo Prat. Only one of Bernardo O’Higgins, liberator of this part of Chile. Then on the way out of town we passed a bust of Arturo! But we were past it before we could take a picture.
We drove up into a nearby mountain area for a lunch/snack that included wine and very good meat and cheese empanadas. From the deck was a very nice view of the neighboring mountain and valley, along with a large carved wooden bird.
After lunch we drove back along the same road with the same great views. We stopped briefly for a view of the Cascada La Virgen, a two level waterfall. On our first visit to this area we stopped at the shrine next to the waterfall called, you guessed it, the Virgen la Cascada. People were there today as we looked at the waterfall from the bus.
We drove through Puerto Aisen, a town about 10 miles from the port. Founded in 1904, Puerto Aisen was the main port for this area until about 1960. Forest fires and logging of forests in the area, exacerbated by a volcanic eruption nearby, caused the Aisen River to silt up to the point that ships could no longer navigate to the city. So the port was moved 10 miles down to its present location in Puerto Chacabuco. There is a story about the town’s name that says the pioneers built their settlement at the edge of where the glacier was at that time, thus “ice end” became Aisen. Of course, that only works in English, and then only as a “sounds like,” so we have our doubts. We stopped in Puerto Aisen on our previous visit but this time we just drove through it, crossing the Aisen river on what we were told is the largest bridge in the region.
It wasn’t long before we reached Puerto Chacabuco, where we tendered back to the Prinsendam, still waiting faithfully in the harbor. It was a bumpy & wet tender ride, but the area was still beautiful in the late afternoon light. And although we missed Arturo Prat in Coyhaique, we found him here in Puerto Chacabuco, guarding the Arturo Prat playground near the water’s edge.
So that was all for our visit to beautiful northern Patagonia. We will leave you for today with a cantaloupe mouse looking a lot like Mickey and another that looks like a rabbit or maybe a fat-cheeked Goofy. There is also a look at one of the lovely orchids that regularly grace the dining tables in the Canaletto area.
January 26 found us anchored off Castro on Isla Chiloe. We first visited here in 2012, which you can see here:
While indigenous people have lived here for 6,000 to 7,000 years, the Spanish founded this city in 1567, making it the third oldest continuous town in Chile. A hundred years ago it had only about 1300 residents but has grown to about 40,000 today.
The center of town is the Plaza de Armas, right in front of the bright yellow & purple church you can see in the picture above. We took the tender into town after breakfast and walked up the very steep street to the plaza. It is steep enough that the pedestrian benches are set one above another, rather than parallel to the street.
Most of the buildings in town are relatively new because Castro has repeatedly been virtually destroyed by earthquakes and fires over the centuries, in addition to being sacked by Dutch pirates twice during the 17th century. The most recent was a devastating earthquake in 1960 that was accompanied by a tsunami.
The Church of San Francisco, built in 1910, is the tallest building in town & there is a law preventing building one higher. Contrary to outward appearances it is not built of stone, but entirely of wood covered with corrugated and embossed tin, then painted yellow and purple. It was painted these colors for a visit by Pope John Paul II. Its bell towers are 130 feet tall and were used by ships at one time to guide them to the port. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and can dominates the skyline of Castro.
Inside the church is almost all wood as well. The carving was done by local people. It is an impressively large space.
We walked over to see the library. It was fairly large and spacious with an open feeling enhanced by large windows overlooking a sizeable inlet. They were setting up for some kind of presentation.
Outside we looked over the inlet, which we think is called Fiordo Castro. There were a lot of white birds in the water and the other side was lined with palafitos – brightly painted wooden houses built on stilts over where the water comes at high tide. These are emblematic of Castro and there were quite a few more of them lining the shore before the 1960 earthquake. They have dual facades, one facing the water and one the street, and many were built in the 19th century when fishermen would moor their boats to the stilts and climb a ladder to their homes. The water was low during our visit.
We walked back to the Plaza de Armas, past some colorful wall art and a number of backpacker hostels. We also visited a small regional museum that was interesting, probably more so if you could read Spanish, but no pictures.
The Plaza de Armas is a very pleasant space with a lot of trees and flowering bushes. There is a bandstand, a fountain and busts of several notable military leaders, including Simon Bolivar, Bernardo O’Higgins (the liberator of southern Chile) & our old friend Arturo Prat, the hero of Iquique.
Our last objective was the Feria Artesanal, which required us to walk down the hill to the water front. This is a maze of stalls selling a variety of souvenirs and handicrafts along with a huge variety of knitted goods. We noted what we think is a much greater number of machine made woolens than we saw last time, but the beautiful hand knitted items were abundant. And they were amazingly inexpensive: we bought a heavy hand knitted jacket for just $20.
So we tendered back to the ship after visiting the market. As we sailed away we passed a large fish farm and some local birds, looking dramatic against the dark blue water.
It was Australia Day & the ship’s penguins were outfitted for the occasion. At dinner we watched an other worldly panorama of snow capped Andes peaks pass by our window as the sun went down. Last time we were here those peaks were pink in the setting sun. Not so pink this time, but they were beautiful nonetheless. And so to bed.
After a very rough crossing of more than 400 miles we arrived in Cumberland Bay by Robinson Crusoe Island at dinnertime on January 23. We were scheduled to arrive on the 24th but the Captain took it at high speed to minimize the bad weather and rough waters, and once we reached the bay everything turned pretty calm. The craggy peaks and green valleys of the island were quite beautiful as the sun went down.
This island is one of three in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, named for . . . you guessed it, Juan Fernandez, who first discovered it in 1574. The islands were uninhabited and there is no evidence that humans had ever been there before. He named this island “Mas a Tierra,” which means closer to land, and the second largest island Mas Afuera (Farther out). Pirates and buccaneers used it as a refuge & watering spot off and on for many years, then the Spanish took control in the mid-18th century & used it as a penal colony. The first permanent settlement, San Juan Bautista, wasn’t established until the second half of the 19th century.
If you have read the novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe you know that it is actually set far from here on a fictional island in the Caribbean. While there is no direct evidence for this, many think that the ordeal of a buccaneer named Alexander Selkirk was the primary inspiration for Defoe’s novel. Apparently something of a pain in the rear, Selkirk kept complaining about the condition of his ship. So the captain put him ashore on this island alone with very few supplies. He lived here for four years and four months before being rescued by a British ship in 1709. He ate fish and goats, which had been introduced to the island by Juan Fernandez, and reputedly climbed the mountain every day to scan for ships. Bad as this was, Selkirk was lucky for he was right about the ship he was on: it sank a month after he was marooned taking the lives of many of the crew.
After his rescue Selkirk returned to buccaneering, dying of fever in the tropics 14 years later. A book about his experience was published in 1712, just a few years before Robinson Crusoe. So in 1966, in a blatant attempt to exploit this history for tourist dollars, the government of Chile changed the name of Mas a Tierra to Robinson Crusoe Island and the name of Mas Afuera to Alexander Selkirk Island. There you have it: Robinson Crusoe never set even a fictional foot on Robinson Crusoe Island and Alexander Selkirk never set foot on Alexander Selkirk Island.
But we did set foot on Robinson Crusoe Island. After breakfast on January 24 we boarded a tender that took us to the pier at San Juan Bautista. Almost everyone in the archipelago lives in this town, some 800 people.
Our first stop was in the town square right next to the pier, probably called the Plaza de Armas. Here are a few small shops and a bust of our old friend Arturo Prat, the hero of the Battle of Iquique.
These islands are more than 400 miles from the nearest mainland, so it isn’t surprising that it is home to many endemic plants and animals that can be found nowhere else. Among the animals are the Juan Fernandez fur seal, hunted almost to extinction in the 18th century but now making a successful comeback, and the Juan Fernandez Firecrown, a tiny hummingbird. We didn’t see either of these during our visit, but the Firecrown fertilizes and feeds on the nectar of the Cabbage Tree, an endemic tree related to the sunflower that is only found on this island (there are unrelated plants elsewhere with the same name). Both the hummingbird (of which only about 200 are left) and the tree are endangered species; we did see some cabbage trees in the town square, blooming with large yellow/orange flowers. Alexander Selkirk ate these when he couldn’t find goats. Some 70% of the approximately 200 native (ie. not introduced by man) plant species on the island are endemic, found nowhere else. As you will see, we saw quite a lot of flowering plants during our visit, but we have no idea which ones are endemic, other than the cabbage tree.
In 2010 the town of San Juan Bautista was mostly destroyed by a tsunami estimated between 10 and 30 feet. About 16 people were killed (10 known dead and 6 missing) and all the buildings were flattened. It would have been much worse, but a 12 year old girl noticed the water receding from the bay and knew that was a sign of an impending tsunami. She rang the emergency gong in the town square in time to save the lives of most of the inhabitants. On our visit the town looked like it was mostly rebuilt, but tsunami evacuation routes are plainly marked and they are pretty steeply uphill so it wouldn’t take long to reach safety with a little advance warning.
We walked down to the end of the town and visited the cemetery. It is in a beautiful spot, with cliffs on one side and the seashore on another. It is not crowded, we understand, because a number of graves were washed away by the tsunami. Here there is a memorial for the 16 people lost in the tsunami.
Walking a short way down past the cliffs beyond the cemetery we came to the small lighthouse and a wooden platform built up against the cliff. In 1914 a German navy squadron under Admiral von Spee (of whom we will hear more in a later episode) gathered here before defeating the British at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile. They continued on to the Falklands where British cruisers sank most of them. The Dresden, the only German cruiser to survive that battle, returned here in the beginning of 1915 and was cornered in the bay by the British. Rather than allowing the British to seize their ship the Germans scuttled it, and it still sits deep under the water about 700 yards from this wooden structure. A number of the Dresden’s sailors (either killed in battle or settled here after the battle and died later, depending on the source) are buried in the cemetery with a stone memorial maintained by the Chilean navy. We have read that you can still see unexploded shells embedded in these cliffs, but we did not (we must have unknowingly walked right past them).
Having pretty much exhausted the town, we walked back to the central square & began walking up one of the mountain paths that might take us to the old fort. Instead, we ended up at a nice scenic overlook complete with park bench. On the way there we passed quite a few interesting flowers.
Still determined to find the fort, we walked back down the path and took the other fork. A fellow came out on his porch a good ways away and showed us two spiny lobsters he had caught. He was far away and the picture isn’t very clear, but it was a cool moment and it’s the only one we have. These lobsters are among the mainstays of the island, not only consumed locally but exported to mainland Chile. We saw a few passengers on the porch of a small guesthouse on one of the mountain paths enjoying one.
Fort Santa Barbara was built by the Spanish in 1749 to protect the island from pirates and privateers. We have read that it was heavily restored in 1974, so we don’t really know what it looked like originally. Today it is basically a large grassy platform supported by stone retaining walls containing several old cannon, which may be the original ones. It has a very nice view of the bay (which it would need to fend off pirates) and is surrounded by a lot of flowers, some of which we have seen before.
After leaving the fort we tried to climb up to Mirador Selkirk, the spot where Alexander Selkirk reputedly watched for ships every day. It was pretty steep, though, and got much steeper. Not only that but there was very loose dirt & gravel, so every time we took a step up we would slide right back down. So we gave up on that (good thing since it would have been a much longer climb than we anticipated) and hunted out the Cuevas de los Patriotas (caves of the patriots). We could see them above the town, but getting there involved climbing some hazardous wood and dirt steps that had been badly eroded, presumably by rain. The story of these caves is unusually confusing because different sources give different accounts. They were certainly inhabited by some soldiers in 1814. Some say these were Spanish patriots who fled the mainland after Chile declared its independence. Other sources say these were Chilean patriots removed to the island by the Spanish. Take your pick. Whoever they were, they soon tired of living in caves but we don’t know whether they settled there or found another way out.
And so we ended our visit to beautiful and isolated Robinson Crusoe Island and tendered back to the ship to await the sail away. If you are a nature lover (who isn’t ?) & your legs are up to a challenging climb, this would be a lovely place to spend a few days, although it is not an easy place to get to if you don’t happen to be on a cruise ship that is going this way. As we sailed away, the island (of course) got smaller & smaller and we began the long journey back to the Chilean mainland.
We docked in San Antonio, Chile early on January 22. Until recently most cruise ships in this area docked in Valparaiso, an important old port city about an hour and a half away. But labor troubles, or a new port owner who thinks he can make more from container ships, or something else (we have heard several different stories) has resulted in most cruise ships now docking in San Antonio instead. That’s a shame because Valparaiso is a very interesting city with a long and colorful history, while San Antonio has little to offer beyond a working port.
So we spent no time in San Antonio, instead joining a private excursion to Valparaiso. In 2012 we docked in Valparaiso and witnessed sunrise over its beautiful port, but spent the day instead on a trip to Santiago. You can see all that here:
Founded in 1536 by an associate of Diego de Almagro, Francisco Pizarro’s partner/rival, Valparaiso remained a small village until the early 19th century. In 1810 the first pier in Chile was built there and after Chilean independence in 1818 it became the primary stop for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific, most of which had to sail through the Strait of Magellan. Its importance grew as miners flocked to California from the Atlantic coast in the 1850’s and it developed into a cosmopolitan city containing communities of German, English and Italian immigrants. This lucrative sea trade mostly dried up when the Panama Canal opened in 1914. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
After the long drive from San Antonio our van dropped us up near the top of one of the hills surrounding Valparaiso’s large harbor in what (if memory serves) was once the German community. There were splendid views of the bay.
As you can see from the pictures above, Valparaiso is a very colorful city with buildings painted a variety of bright colors. It is also known for its amazing graffiti. There is more graffiti here than anywhere we have been. It is not the stuff of midnight taggers, but publicly approved works of art. Part of what pulled Valparaiso out of its long decline after the opening of the canal was its emergence as a center for the arts and artists, with many having studios in this city. Our guide told us that one way for young artists to become known & successful is by painting public walls and staircases. They seek permission from the landowner, many of whom are glad to have them because of public approval of these works. We saw many of these during our visit, most of which were quite interesting and well done.
As we continued walking down the hill we came upon a children’s library . . . pure serendipity. And, of course, a lot more wall art.
We came to the end of a street that continued down with wide stairs. It provided a nice view of the bay. But our guide borrowed one of our cameras and ran down to a lower level and took a picture of the group standing on the top. The steps looked entirely different from below, of course (although it’s a lie; we really are aging hippies).
On our way down we passed two impressive old mansions built in 1916, the tail end of Valparaiso’s golden age. First was an impressive yellow mansion and then the Art Nouveau style Palacio Baburizza, which became an art museum 1971. After passing the Palacio we came to a viewing point over the harbor.
We had a nice walk down one of the hills, but walking up would be an entirely different matter! To alleviate this the city has a number of “ascensores,” or funiculars, that will take you up or down the hills on rails (for a small fee). They were built between 1883 and 1916. At one time there were 30 of them but today 16 remain and only 7 are in operation (the others are being restored). We rode down a funicular (not sure which one) to Plaza Sotomayor.
We walked through the Plaza Sotomayor, the central square of the city built entirely on reclaimed land. It is a large and impressive plaza, with the headquarters of the Chilean navy spanning one side & a monument to the heroes of Iquique in the center. The remains of Arturo Prat and some of his men are in a crypt below the monument. The navy headquarters used to be the legislative building or the presidential palace (we can’t remember which), but now the navy refuses to give it up for any other use.
Valparaiso (and really all of Chile) relies on volunteer fire departments to protect the city from fires. The city’s tradition of cohesive ethnic communities led to fire brigades being organized by each community, beginning in the early 1850’s. Today there are still American, British, French and Italian fire brigades, among others. To join a brigade you have to provide proof of your ethnic descent. The overall headquarters of the fire departments is in Plaza Sotomayor, and the building houses two brigades on its first floor; if memory serves, the garage on the left is the English and the one on the right American. Plaza Sotomayor has a lot of typical vendors’ kiosks in its central area, and we visited a modern building that has what appears to be the most expensive restroom in the world (actually 300 Chilean pesos amounts to a little less than 50 cents American).
Refreshed after the pit stop, we walked over to the lower station of another funicular, the Ascensor Artillería. We rode it up to a plaza overlooking the harbor.
We walked from there to where our van was waiting. Nearby was an awning with a Coke ad that looked like it was from the 1950’s or earlier; we had seen a number of these old fashioned Coke ads in Peru & Chile. Then we drove up one of the hills through what was the English district. We had to reverse course several times because of traffic jams (we were glad we weren’t driving), but we passed several old buildings representative of this neighborhood and, inevitably, some more wall art.
We stopped at a cul de sac overlooking a beautiful bay with surf breaking on volcanic rocks. Several dogs were sleeping there, looking like they were having a lazy afternoon. Our guide pointed out to us a shrine on the rocks below, which was dedicated to a girl who died there. We can’t remember the story about her, but got the impression it was well known in these parts. Small shrines for dead friends or relatives can be seen all over this part of South America, particularly along roads and highways.
We drove to Vina del Mar, a nearby resort town. But it is a large one: Valparaiso has about 280,000 people within the city but Vina del Mar has about 325,000, Chile’s fourth largest city. It was founded in 1878. There is a large river running through the town with many bridges and high rise residential buildings lining the banks.
We exited the van by the Palacio Carrasco. It was built in 1912 and is now the site of the municipal library as well as hosting art exhibitions. In front is a sculpture by Auguste Rodin called “la Defensa.”
We walked down to the Fonck Museum, but didn’t go in. We were there to see a moai statue from Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the only one in mainland Chile (Easter Island is actually owned by Chile).
The last item on our brief visit to Vina del Mar was the floral clock, an obvious tourist attraction but pretty nonetheless. What we hadn’t expected to see there was Groot!
After this we started the long drive back to San Antonio. When we scheduled this excursion we were a little concerned that the long drive in both directions would leave insufficient time to see the city. But in fact we had a very enriching visit to Valparaiso, mostly thanks to our guide, Juan. About half way between the two cities we passed a church that Juan told us is the site of pilgrimages in which the roads are blocked off and many thousands of people walk, and even crawl, to the church to express their devotion. Here is a picture taken from a moving vehicle, so it isn’t a very good portrait of the church.
Despite the distance from Valparaiso we reached the port in ample time for “all aboard” and set sail west across the Pacific to our next port. As we say good night we will leave you here with a carved watermelon and a towel animal for your enjoyment. Some of the crew on this ship are very talented!
We spent January 20 in Antofagasta, a city of about 400,000 in northern Chile that looks a lot like Iquique from the ocean: sitting on a narrow shelf between barren mountains and the water. This is still the Atacama Desert; Antofagasta gets about 0.1 mm in annual rainfall making it the world’s driest city.
Antofagasta started life in 1869 as a Bolivian town, built primarily as a port for nitrate exports from the mines in the desert in the region. But that didn’t last very long because in the settlement of the War of the Pacific in the 1880’s the town was ceded to Chile. This left Bolivia landlocked, but the settlement provided that Bolivia would have free access to the ports of Antofagasta & Iquique for its exports. Not sure how that worked out, but to this day these two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
We visited here during our 2012 South American voyage, and you can see it here:
As you can tell if you look at that posting, we weren’t too impressed then with this port in the desert. Seven years later it was a little better, so they have made some progress, but still not a place to put on your bucket list. HAL’s location guide, Heather, told us (as if this made the stop exciting) that this is the first time since 2012 that they have visited this rarely visited city. Lucky us, hitting it both times.
We took the HAL shuttle to Plaza Colon, the central square of the old city. Presumably named for Christopher Columbus, this is a very nice & very green space. In the center is a clock tower contributed by the English community of the town. It is said to be a replica of Big Ben in London, but doesn’t really look like that to us.
It was Sunday morning, but the cathedral, on one side of the plaza, was open to visitors. It is modest as cathedrals go but pleasant. While we were there a dog walked in with a HAL tour group and sat down quietly in one of the back pews until they were ready to leave. He looked like he was a veteran of such occasions. There are quite a few loose dogs walking around in this city.
On the opposite side of the plaza was an old distinguished looking building that housed the post office and the regional library. It was Sunday, so the post office was closed, but surprisingly the library was open. It was a very nice library too, with many comfy looking chairs and skylights at the top of the high walls. Even the children’s room was open.
In 2012 we left the plaza toward the south, finding nothing but dusty streets and lazy packs of dogs. This time we turned north & walked to the old port, where they used to ship the nitrate. This was a much better choice. On the way we passed a couple of museums, closed on Sunday, and some nice flowers. At the small port were a few vendors (mostly closed) and a fish market.
The one accessible museum was the old railroad station which, we think used to connect Antofagasta with the Bolivian interior.
We walked back to Plaza Colon, where we found on the first corner an unlabeled monument that we think must be Ferdinand & Isabella. Makes sense on a plaza named for Christopher Columbus, right? At the lower left of the monument was a lion, but we aren’t sure what it was supposed to represent.
January 21 was a sea day, but there were a couple of events worth sharing. First there was a medals ceremony. HAL hands out (fake) copper, silver, gold & platinum medals for passengers who have spent certain total numbers of days at sea on HAL ships. We think this is pretty silly; after all, the only “accomplishment” being honored is being a particularly good customer of the company (not sour grapes, we have received two of them). But a lot of folks really like this and on this day our friends & tablemates Robert, Bill and Sharon were among those receiving medals. The ship’s penguin squadron looked really proud of their medals too.
The second notable event was the Filipino crew show. Most of the crew on HAL ships are Filipino and Indonesian; HAL has a crew training facility in Indonesia called the MS Jakarta where they learn their trade. The professional and friendly crew are one of HAL’s best calling cards for repeat customers. On every grand voyage each of these groups of crew members take time from their unbelievably busy schedules to rehearse & present a show of their national song and dance. They work very hard at this and it shows; the crew shows always attract a large and enthusiastic audience of passengers. Here are a few images from the Filipino crew show that was presented on this day.
So that is all for this episode. We leave you here with a couple of cantaloupe sculptures and a pair of bedtime towel animals.
We spent January 19 in Iquique, our first port in Chile. We were a little sleepy when we pulled the curtains back to see the city because when we crossed into Chile we lost not just one hour but two, all at once. We assume that this change was mostly a political difference between the two countries, since Iquique isn’t really east of Matarani.
With a population of about 200,000, Iquique sits on a narrow flat area tightly bound by 2500 foot mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. The mountains are mostly sand, this being a desert.
The population here never exceeded 100 before the 19th century. Iquique was part of Peru until the Pacific War of 1878-1883, fought among Bolivia, Peru & Chile. When the smoke cleared Iquique was part of Chile. Its growth was fueled by the nitrate boom of the late 19th & early 20th century, when Iquique was one of the wealthiest cities in Chile. That ended with the development of synthetic nitrates and the city suffered a decline.
HAL’s shuttle bus took us to the Plaza de Armas, which in this city is called the Plaza Prat. In the middle of the square is the Torre Reloj, an 82 foot tall white clock tower built in 1877 by the city’s English community. It is white & looks like stone from a distance but is actually made of wood, specifically Oregon pine. This apparently was the building material of choice for the nitrate barons of the late 19th century.
In the center of the clock tower is a bust of Arturo Pratt, for whom the plaza is named. Arturo Pratt appears to be one of Chile’s greatest heroes. During the Battle of Iquique in the Pacific War Pratt commanded a ship called the Esmeralda. He refused to retreat during the battle & his ship was sunk by the Peruvians, with Pratt and most of his men perishing. He is honored for being willing to sacrifice his life (not to mention all of his men) to defend Chile’s interests. It is rarely mentioned that the Chilean interest involved was seizing a Peruvian city rather than defending his homeland, but nonetheless he is a great hero.
One thing we really wanted to see in Prat Plaza was the Teatro Municipal. Another wooden building that looks like stone, the theater was built in 1890. It is reputedly very interesting inside but we didn’t get a chance to find out because some kind of platform was under construction in front and it was closed to the public.
On the other end of the plaza is the Casino Espanol, built in 1904 by the city’s Spanish community. It was closed in the morning but we were able to wander inside a bit in the afternoon before returning to the ship. Its façade is in Moorish style and inside it is filled with Spanish tile and mirrors with columns and a series of 9 paintings of scenes from Don Quixote. Today it is an opulent restaurant, where we gawked but did not eat.
Leaving the plaza, we walked down Avenida Baquedano toward the sea shore. We looked through a market that had nothing we wanted and then we found the library! Unfortunately it was closed on Saturday (one might think this would be the best time for schoolchildren and working people to visit the library). It was located on the tsunami evacuation route. From the avenida we walked down you could see the sandy mountains looming over the city.
Avenida Baquedano is pedestrianized all the way from the plaza to the seashore, with palm trees down the middle and a streetcar that runs down tracks in the middle. It is lined with old mansions built of Oregon pine by the nitrate barons in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of which have been restored and painted bright colors. We stopped in one called the Palacio Astoreca that is famous for its painted glass Art Nouveau ceiling, but the ceiling was covered with wood for some restoration work. The wood paneling and grand staircase were nice, but the ceiling was what we had come to see.
We visited the Museo Regional, an interesting little museum (it would be more interesting if we could read Spanish). The museum was quite eclectic, with skulls of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that presumably lived in this area and a large exhibit about the Santa Maria de Iquique Massacre of 1907 in which up to 2,000 striking miners and their wives were shot by the Chilean army as they assembled inside the Santa Maria school. But the exhibit was all in Spanish so we could only look at the interesting pictures. Best of all was an exhibit of mummies of the Chinchorro people. A sign (in English!) said that some were up to 7,000 or 8,000 years old, thousands of years older than the oldest mummy found in Egypt. They are well preserved because of the extreme dryness of the Atacama Desert. Some ancient textiles (but not quite that old) were displayed here as well.
The day was sunny & the ocean was very blue. Lots of people were out in it swimming and doing water sports, since it was the weekend. We walked down the seaside promenade for a while enjoying the ambiance. Among other things we passed a fountain full of ducks, strangely still because they were made of stone.
We walked back to the plaza to catch the shuttle back to the ship and had a final view of the plaza from the bus.
From the ship we had a good view of the large container port next to where we were docked. The modern city extending up to a sharp boundary on the sandy mountain was also an interesting sight from there.
As we sailed away the city diminished until it was little more than a line separating the mountains from the ocean.
January 18 found us in the port of Matarani, on the edge of the Atacama desert. This is one of the driest areas in the world. When we were here in 2012 we were told that there is a town not far away where no rain has ever been recorded. You can see that earlier visit here:
There is not much to see or do in Matarani beyond its scenic coastline, so we signed up for an excursion through the desert to Arequipa, a city of more than 800,000 located more than 7,500 feet high in the Andes.
We drove through the desert & mountains for many miles, about an hour and a half each way. There was a lot of cactus among the mostly barren mountains. There had recently been an election and party logos were painted right on the mountain rocks, a desecration that probably won’t go away soon.
As we crossed the high desert we passed several settlements of shanties. These shacks were built by squatters and many have no access to running water or electricity. But the government has a program permitting these people to buy the land they are living on for, if memory serves, $150 that can be paid over time. Eventually water and electricity will be provided as well, though it can take a long time. Its hard to imagine living in these conditions unless you are pretty desperate.
Finally we reached Arequipa, driving into town past terraced fields built before the coming of the Inca in the 15th century and a giant statue of Jesus overlooking a neighborhood. We also saw shanty towns reminiscent of the ones we saw in Lima.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the location of Arequipa has been occupied by people for at least 10,000 years. Legend has it that when the Inca arrived here in the 14th century the soldiers liked the area so much they asked their king, Mayta Copac, if they could stay here. He replied “Yes, stay,” which in the Inca’s Quechua language is “Ari quepay.” Thus the name of the city.
The Spanish under Pizarro founded their city here in 1540, usurping the natives. This is Peru’s second largest city (less than one tenth the size of Lima) and the residents have a reputation for condescension toward other Peruvians. It also has a history as a right wing political stronghold.
We left the bus at Mundo Alpaca, where we learned about the production of alpaca products. There were several llamas and alpacas that we were encouraged to feed, including a baby llama born just the day before our arrival. Llamas and alpacas are difficult to tell apart without some familiarity with the animals.
A woman in traditional attire was demonstrating how they weave the wool & there were examples hanging on the wall. The designs are very intricate & it looks like demanding work.
Then came the main event: the gift shop. It featured alpaca yarn and finished sweaters, coats, etc. Nothing was cheap! We spent some of the time wandering through the gardens.
From Mundo Alpaca we walked to the Plaza de Armas. Arequipa is known as “the white city” because so many of its buildings are constructed of white lava blocks called “sillar.” The city is actually surrounded by three volcanoes, one of which (El Misti) is still active. We have read that this is the signature aspect of Arequipa, with the volcanoes rising to more than 20,000 feet (more than 10,000 feet above the city) behind the buildings of the town. But on the day we visited the low cloud cover made the volcanoes completely invisible (sigh). If we hadn’t read about them we would have left Arequipa without knowing there were any high mountains, much less volcanoes, near the city. So when you see the clouds above the buildings in the pictures, imagine the spectacular mountains behind them.
As we walked to the Plaza de Armas we passed the Monasterio de Santa Catalina,a convent established in 1580 and one of the most important religious buildings in Peru. There are still a few nuns living there and it is supposed to be quite interesting, but we didn’t have an opportunity to go inside. Like many of the buildings here it is constructed of sillar blocks, the white stone created by nearby volcanic eruptions. Outside the convent was a woman selling hats.
Arequipa has a really nice Plaza de Armas, full of flowers & palm trees with a bronze fountain in the middle. One side of the plaza is occupied by the cathedral & the others by rows of arched portals looking like cloisters and containing shops and restaurants.
The first church in Arequipa was begun in 1640 at the founding of the city and was consecrated in 1556. It was destroyed by earthquakes in 1583 and again in 1600, when reconstruction was almost finished. Completed again in 1656. it survived three more earthquakes & a damaging fire, then in 1868 several parts of the cathedral were seriously damaged by yet another earthquake. Finally an earthquake in 2001 destroyed the left tower & damaged the right one. Restoration of the cathedral to its current state was completed in 2002. But really, with that history, how long can it be before it happens again?
The cathedral was closed to the public all afternoon until 5:00 PM, almost as if they wanted to exclude any day visitors to the city from entering. But the façade was quite impressive, dominating the Plaza de Armas.
Across the plaza from the cathedral is the Jesuit Iglesia La Compana (church of the company), much smaller than the cathedral but open to the public and quite beautiful in its own right. Originally built in 1573, destroyed by (what else?) an earthquake in 1584, then completed again in 1660, it has a fabulous doorway façade that was completed in 1698. It is sculpted from stone in the intricate Mestizo Baroque style, considered one of the finest examples of that style. The work force was comprised primarily of indigenous people and their local flora and fauna are included in the stonework and decorative work inside.
Inside the church was quite elaborately decorated, with an impressive carved and gilded altar under a dome with skylights built in. It is filled with old sculptures & paintings and has a number of side altars (the one pictured below appears to be dedicated to St James the apostle).
We spent about an hour walking around the vicinity of the Plaza de Armas before it was time to go. We visited some shops & had an ice cream cone. It started to drizzle at the end of that time, so we walked to the bus to begin the long ride back to Matarani. Herewith a few random photos that didn’t fit in anywhere else.
We drove back to the pier through the mountains, pretty much the same route by which we had come but it seemed much longer because we were a lot more tired. The mountains were a rich color of brown, largely devoid of vegetation, with what looks like snow on the top and sides of many of them. This is not snow, however, but the white ash from the volcanoes, the same stuff as the sillar blocks in the city are made of.
Back at the port we got some needed rest before it was time to sail away. The shore line is quite beautiful, boasting cliffs, desert & mountains. There were fishing boats in the harbor near the ship. Altogether, this was a very full and interesting, but very tiring, day.
We got up bright and early on January 16 for our second Lima excursion. Our first visit was to the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology & History of Peru. It was Peru’s first public museum and has the biggest collection, although the items we saw on display weren’t all that numerous. The museum is housed partly in an 18th century mansion where Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin both stayed (but not at the same time). In front is a huge bust of Bolivar, a gift from former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and the courtyard has many colorful flowers.
The museum’s collection contains many thousands of artifacts reaching back before recorded history, to at least 10,000 BC. It includes textiles, a great deal of pottery and even a recreated burial site.
Most of the rooms we visited contained collections of pottery from the Incas and several pre-Inca cultures. Each is listed separately below.
Amazingly realistic Moche Pottery (this is the culture that built the Temples of the Sun & Moon in Trujillo):
Wari (or Huari) pottery:
Chimu pottery (this is the culture that built Chan Chan in Trujillo):
This was a very interesting museum and we wished we had a good bit more time here to explore it in greater depth. But our time was limited because we had to proceed to our next stop, the ancient ruins of Pachacamac. This is an important archaeological site & the main reason we chose this excursion. On our last visit here in 2012 we were on a private excursion that was supposed to include this site but when we reached the gates they were locked because an important automobile rally was scheduled to pass nearby. So better late than never!
Pachacamac apparently began around 200 AD and was dedicated to the local creator god Pacha Kamaq. It was a site of pilgrimage & was occupied by a succession of cultures until 1470, when the Inca took over. The Inca incorporated Pacha Kamaq into their pantheon, subordinate to the sun god, and built several new buildings at the site, including the massive Temple of the Sun.
Francisco Pizarro sent his brother Hernando with 14 horsemen to pillage Pachacamac of all the gold and silver he heard was kept there, but none was found. Legend has it that the priests received advance warning and hid a great deal of gold and silver objects, but they were hidden so well they have never turned up. Anyway, a disappointed Hernando and his men trashed the place and it lay fallow until the end of the 19th century when archaeologists showed up (and found a lot of it had been plundered by looters). As at so many of these sites, a great deal of “restoration” has occurred, so that a lay visitor cannot really tell what is original and what is a modern reimagining.
We briefly visited several of the structures at Pachacamac. First was a pyramid with terraces connected by a central ramp. This was an administrative center and/or possibly a palace.
Calle Norte-Sur (North-South Street) was a long street providing important access to the pyramid.
The Mamacona complex was built by the Incas to house the virgins of the Sun Temple. These women were picked out at a young age and taught skills like textiles and gardening. They serviced the temple and periodically were sacrificed in an important religious ceremony. A couple of llamas were hanging out nearby.
And here are some random ruins we can’t identify any more.
Lima is home to vast squatter settlements called “pueblos jóvenes,” or young towns. Lima has experienced rapid growth from folks moving in from rural areas, particularly during the war with the Shining Path guerillas during the last two decades of the 20th century. In the 1930’s Lima had about 300,000 inhabitants, rising to about a million in the 1950’s. Today there are some 11 million people here. Many of them live in these shantytowns, many lacking water and electrical service (except what is pirated through patched in lines). There was a very large one (or maybe several of them) right next to Pachacamec.
We had lunch at Hacienda Mamacona, presumably named for the Pachacamac structure that is right next door. Peruvian Paso horses are bred here and we were treated to a show of horsemanship and dancing. The grounds were beautiful, with many lovely flowers.
Paso horses are descended from the ones brought here by the Conquistadors. Apparently due both to natural selection in this isolated desert area and breeding by owners, these horses have developed a natural four beat gait that gives a very smooth ride. They walk, rather than trot, and their backs remain steady enough that no posting (bouncing in the saddle) is necessary. They brought out a month old colt, too young to train, to demonstrate that this gait is natural and not learned. This characteristic was valued by the folks here who had to travel for days to cross their plantation lands. The horses tend to lift their front feet high as they walk, and some move them outward at the same time. A brass band played while the horses went through their routines.
There was a dance performance in the horse ring, then a dance between the woman & a mounted rider (which was a little weird).
The dancers and band were back, performing on a wooden stage platform, while we had a delicious Peruvian meal. Some of the dances appeared to be the same as some we saw the night before on the ship. Altogether a very enjoyable visit.
We drove back to the ship through Lima’s still congested traffic, passing through Miraflores for one final view of the beach below the cliffs. Thus ends our extended visit to Lima, as we retired a bit early because we had a long excursion scheduled for the next day in Matarani, Peru.
We pulled into the harbor in Callao, the port for Lima, around noon on January 15. Callao is an old city in its own right, having been founded in the early 16th century and served as Spain’s primary west coast treasure port for quite a long time. The Spanish retreated into the fort here (which is still there, though we didn’t see it) near the end of the war for independence in the 1820’s. Today it is a commercial port, although we passed some fishing boats on our way in.
Lima is by far the largest city in Peru with some 11 million inhabitants. It was founded in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro who planned the street layout himself. You can see our last visit here in 2012 here:
With half the day gone before we arrived we decided to take an excursion to see the Plaza Mayor, also known as the Plaza de Armas, the historic center of the city. The bus trip through Callao was unexceptional (apart from the dense traffic), but we did get a few random pictures through the bus window on the way. In Peru one often sees fully inhabited buildings with rebar sticking out the top like there is more to be built. This is a graphic example of the law of unintended consequences: because unfinished buildings are not taxed, people often leave their buildings visibly “unfinished.”
Our route through Lima took us through two important plazas. The first was Plaza Dos de Mayo, named after an important battle in 1866. It is situated near what was once the city wall and in the center is a statue topped by a figure of Nike, created in France in the 1870’s. Its outstanding characteristic upon passing through was the bright blue buildings.
The second square was Plaza San Martín, named for General Jose de San Martin, liberator of Peru in the 1820’s. The plaza was dedicated in 1921 on the 100th anniversary of Peru’s independence. In the center is an equestrian statue of General San Martin. On one side of the square is the venerable Hotel Bolivar, which has hosted numerous important diplomats and movie stars. The Rolling Stones were thrown out of this hotel for misbehavior. Imagine!
We exited the bus and walked to an imposing Franciscan monastery called Basílica y Convento de San Francisco. This church is famous for being about the only building in central Lima to survive the devastating earthquake of 1746. We toured the museum in the convent but not the church itself. Photography was not permitted inside, which is unfortunate because it was filled with beautiful 16th century Spanish & Moorish tile work, as well as a number of paintings and frescoes of similar age. We did not get to tour the catacombs, which are famous for the elaborate designs made from the bones of some 70,000 people that were buried there.
We walked from the Convent of San Francisco to the Plaza Mayor. It was not far & we passed the church of Nuestra Senora de la Soledad on the way.
We entered the Plaza Mayor by walking past the Archbishop’s Palace, notable for its beautiful carved cedar enclosed balconies. Housing the residence and offices of the Archbishop of Lima, the current building was built in 1924 on land set aside by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 for the residence of the head priest of the city.
The Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas is the center of Lima and was the first part of the city. We have read that Francisco Pizarro actually paced out the outlines of the square himself, but whether this is true or not he certainly was the one who selected the site & determined its dimensions. His house was located on one side of the plaza. In 1821 General San Martin declared Peru’s independence in this square. It is a beautiful park-like plaza still today. In the center is a fountain erected in 1651.
Next to the Archbishop’s palace is the Basilica Cathedral of Lima. Begun in 1535 and originally completed in 1649, it has had a number of renovations since after damage by earthquakes. Francisco Pizarro (who else?) laid the first stone and carried the first log on his shoulders.
Inside the cathedral seems quite huge and elaborately decorated.
Chapels line both sides of the cathedral. One contained a statue of Mary contributed by the King of Spain. Another paid homage to the holy family. Many of these chapels have been destroyed several times by earthquakes and rebuilt. A plexiglass cover allowed a view into the crypt, where thousands of remains were found. And there was a beautiful pipe organ in a loft along one side of the room.
The first chapel on the right as you enter the cathedral houses the tomb of Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro was assassinated here in 1541 by relatives and followers of his erstwhile partner, Diego de Almagro. He was apparently interred in the crypt but in the 1890’s a body identified as his was put on display in the cathedral. It turned out not to be Pizarro, for in 1977 another body was found in the crypt labeled as him and forensic analysts determined this was the real thing. These remains were moved to this tomb in 1985. There is a skeleton on display in the chapel, but we were told that this is a reproduction and the real skeleton is in the tomb. Some of the walls are covered in nice mosaics,.
On the north side of the Plaza Mayor is the Government Palace, containing the residence of the president and the executive offices. It sits on the spot where Francisco Pizarro built his governor’s residence in 1536, but has been expanded and rebuilt after fires and earthquakes a number of times since then. The current building was completed in the mid 1930’s. Before Pizarro this was the site of a huaca containing a shrine to the last local indigenous ruler. We did not get to enter this building.
We left the Plaza to the left of the Government Palace and walked a couple of blocks to meet the bus. From that spot we could see the pinkish tower of the Iglesia de Santo Domingo & a large shopping arcade covered with a glass roof.
From here we drove through Lima’s incredibly congested traffic to Miraflores, a wealthy neighborhood situated above an ocean cliff. We visited the Parque del Amor, a popular hangout for young couples. Apparently this has been known as a place for young lovers for a number of decades, but now there is in the center a large statue of a couple kissing called “El Beso.” A brightly colored mosaic wall runs near the edge of the cliff, reportedly inspired by the work of Gaudi in Barcelona. Paragliders pass above the cliff in a never ending parade. The park also has many beautiful flowers.
This evening after dinner there was a folkloric show with a Peruvian music and dance group. They were very colorful & very good. A lot of energy was expended in the performance of several representative Peruvian dances in very colorful costumes. Here are excerpts from the first three dances:
Then the drummer, who also appeared to be the bandleader, came out front for a solo spot drumming with his hands on a box on which he sat. His fingers really flew and it looked like his hands should be very sore afterward, but he resumed the drum chair for the rest of the performance without any apparent detriment.
Then there were two more dances to end the performance.
After the show we went to bed to rest up for another day in Lima tomorrow.
(Note: This is being uploaded from Antarctica. When we were here in 2012 there was no internet in Antarctica, but its been much better this time so