Thursday, November 19, 2015


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Retrospective On One Of Our Best Ever Adventures

When our ship reached Ushuaia, Argentina, all of us who were leaving that day were met by a bus, driven to a parking area near the city and given an hour to explore on our own before going to the airport for our charter flight to Buenos Aires. Having been there several times, Lisa and I looked out the bus at a windy, cold and drizzling day and decided we would just stay on the warm bus and talk. As we did, we both realized that we had just been party to a truly incredible experience, and that leaving my final blog as a "Whoops" simply would not be sufficient. So, please permit me to finish the end of our trip, and then share a perspective that was easy to lose until we looked in the rearview mirror--so to speak.

After our exciting day at Torres Del Paine National Park, we left from Puerto Natales and headed south winding through the Chilean fjords. We once again had to traverse the extremely narrow White Narrows, but this time was even more of a challenge for the Captain since the winds were quite strong. The only way in which he could guarantee sufficient control of the ship was to make the transit at a rather high speed which simply was incredible. The fjords continued to offer one amazing sight after another until I reached the point of being too tired to take another picture. I did, however, go up on deck as our ship sailed past the ruins of a cargo ship which had run high aground in the late 80's in order to see something that you normally don't get to witness. We spent all day of the 11th of November in the fjords with the exception of a two hour window when we had to venture out to the open water. Let me tell you that was a rough two hours, but thanks to warnings from the crew, we got everything secured in the cabin beforehand. Even so, sleeping was nearly impossible.

The next day, we docked at Punta Arenas which is the southernmost city in Chile. While the ship offered an all day tour to a local estancia, or ranch, Lisa and I opted to have a private three hour tour of the city itself. Once again, we both continued to be impressed with southern Chile. The city was beautiful, mostly clean, and appeared to have just about anything you might find at home. It was a typical day in Patagonia, meaning that you can have four seasons of weather within one day. We began the day with a beautiful rainbow, but along the way, we had cloudy overcast skies with ferocious winds. In fact, in the downtown square, the city had actually strung ropes between lampposts and trash bins in order for people to have something to hold onto. In our three hours, we visited a beautiful old Cemetery(yes, a cemetery of all places), an outdoor nautical museum with replicas of old sailing ships, a Cathedral, and an old historic home that is now a municipal museum. In the process, we walked around the main square, and literally got blown off our feet before returning "home" to the warm comfort of our ship.

Our final day was about as picturesque as it can get. While we were spending time trying to cram everything back into our suitcases, not to mention figuring out how to bring home all the items Lisa purchased, (remember the Panama Hat?), we kept the curtains to our room wide open to enjoy the spectacle of the Chilean fjords which seemed to parade by in an endless procession of glaciers and snowcapped mountains. In late afternoon, the ship traveled up a dead end fjord in order to approach yet another glacier, and to provide us with a surprise opportunity to once again enjoy a 90 minute zodiac ride up close and personal with the beast. For several reasons we opted to play hooky, and instead took a nap. For one thing, we were just about all packed which included all our warm arctic type gear, and for another, it was cold, and of course windy with a little drizzle, sleet, and snow thrown in. No, for the tired old intrepid travelers, it was a time to pass this one by.

While we tried to take a nap, it was obvious that because of the strong winds, the ship was having some difficulty holding position with simply an anchor, so the engines and thrusters were constantly coming to life. Additionally, I kept having dreams that ice was hitting our hull, but when I awoke I found that it was no dream. Chucks of the glacier were being driven down the fjord and striking our ship on the way. What a way to end the voyage.

In the end, Lisa and I found ourselves huddled in our bus, having departed the ship with tears in our eyes. There were so many of the crew who wanted to give us hugs and well wishes as we left that it was in many ways a sad occasion. That little ship and its really fine crew had been our home for over a month, and in retrospect, what a month it had been. Lisa says that this was her BEST cruise ever. So, let me pause for just a minute to pull together an incredible adventure.

Thirty six days earlier we got to drive the length of the Panama Canal in a car in order to join our new home, the Silver Explorer in Colon, Panama. Let us not forget the pure drama of Lisa trying to find a bra on a Sunday in a country in which English is not widely spoken, and the gracious services, so to speak, which she received from our driver. Our day-long cruise through the Canal itself was as always hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes.

With not so much as a day to catch our breath, we were riding in the little zodiacs on the rising tide for 14 miles into the Panamanian rainforest to visit a native village that rarely sees outside visitors. It was like a warp in time. Getting back to the ship, we barely had time to get ready for "recap and briefing" before attending the Captain's welcome dinner. But, no rest for the weary because the very next day we are off to visit a small town, or village really, in Columbia. Still it is hot, humid, and we found ourselves going through our light microfiber clothes and insect repellent. Don't forget it was in that town that I was kidnapped! Well, in a way I was.

Next thing you knew we are off to Isla Gorgona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that I had never even heard of, but was previously home to an infamous prison in Columbia, which is now a National Natural Reservation Park complete with gigantic Boa Constrictors - hence the need for the required rubber boots. Now you can't get this exotic stuff on a traditional cruise, that's for sure!

We then crossed the equator which required the traditional visit by King Neptune, followed the next day by a visit to Manta, Ecuador. Here our entire environment changed. Gone were the moist tropical rainforests, to be replaced by a very dry terrain, combined with moderate temperatures, and no humidity. We were now under the influence of the giant Humboldt Current. And, who can forget "The Mad Hatter" escapade because it was here, that against all my pleadings, Lisa just had to buy a beautiful Panama Hat. Now how in the hell she was supposed to get that home was beyond me, but while it was a real pain, it is now safely home in Kansas City. By the way, remember that Panama Hats actually are made in Ecuador - go figure?

Our first cruise thus ended in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, home to the giant iguanas which dominated the town square. Imagine, we have cute little squirrels, and they have big ugly iguanas - I'll take the squirrels any day.

So, our second cruise started with our ship being held for ransom by a bunch of "guano miners" on the tiny island of Lobos de Tierra. Recall that it took four hours of negotiations and a free lunch before they finally relented and we were allowed to go ashore to visit the nesting colonies of the Blue-footed Booby. Let's get real here!

Finally reaching Peru proper, our ship docked at the city of Salaverry, and then we drove into the historic city of Trujillo, where in my opinion I had never set foot. Well, I was mistaken, but in all honesty, what we came to visit this day was not even known when I was there around 1975. We came to visit the ancient ruins of an Incan city named El Brujo, a complex of structures which rival anything that can be seen in ancient Egypt. The nearby ruins of Chan-Chan that I had come to see way back when, was hardly worth a mention today. Our next stop was at the port city of Lima where we spent an afternoon in a museum, but one of the highlights of this cruise was our flight over the famous Nazca Lines in the desert of southern Peru near the town of Paracas. This is one experience which I have had on my bucket list since I first learned about the famous geoglyphs when in High School. I was not disappointed, although my pictures of the drawings leaves a lot to be desired, the image in my mind is priceless. But as they say, there is no rest for the weary, because barely had we recovered before we were subjected to two grueling days of overland travel and adventure, back to back.

Our first big outing lasted only 10 hours, and had us driving into the Peruvian mountains to visit the UNESCO Historical Center of Arequipa. How can I ever forget Arequipa - for it is here that I became locked into the bathroom of our bus, and barely missed spending lunch sitting in the smelly little room fuming. My best memories of the town included our visit to a monastery which dated from 1579, and that today offers a rare glimpse into the monastic life of days' gone by.

And how can I ever forget our 16.5 hour bus ride to the top of the world the following day! We found ourselves literally on top of the world at the Atacama Desert, which is the driest place on earth. The landscape is unlike any I have ever seen before. Surrounded by snow capped mountains on all sides, it is said that the terrain here is the most like that of Mars of any place on earth. I'll leave it to my pictures to try and convey the awesome beauty of the valley, but I will never forget ending our day high atop an overlook of the Valley of the Moon while the sun set. I mean, it just does not get any better, really.

If you can believe it, that basically ended our second cruise - we were only 2/3 of the way through our incredible journey. Having been to Valparaiso, Chile before, recall that Lisa and I could not make up our minds about going ashore during turnaround day - so we started, then stopped, then started again, and in the end, went to take a nap.

At this point, I am thinking there can't be much more to see on our cruise down the coast of Chile, but as usual, I was wrong. What followed was four days of non-stop adventure that left Lisa and I exhausted. We stopped at Niebla, which was the gateway to the interior of Chile and a lovely community called Valdivia which was founded by Germans. As we were to learn, this was our first real welcome to the charm of southern Chile. It was followed by our visit to Puerto Montt, and a really long day driving into the Lakes District to see the breathtaking vistas created by magnificent lakes which were surrounded by snow capped volcanoes, one of which had erupted just months before and which was still smoking. We drove up the side of a volcano nearby, and Lisa and I rode the chair lift half way up, which was all the time we had. We made it back to the ship tired and weary only to learn the next day would be a 7am departure because we were going to take a local ferry over to the island of Chiloe. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is home to over 150 wooden churches some dating back to 1743. To say the island was "quaint" would be an understatement, and here again, I had never even heard of it.

Finally we get a day to catch our breath before the following day coming up to the face of the Pio XI Glacier, which is enormous. The face of the glacier runs for over two miles. Because the winds were howling, the water rough, and it was sleeting, I decided to just stay on the ship and forego a 90 minute ride along the glacier in a little zodiac. You think Lisa would listen to reason - hell no! So, I had no choice but to get all dressed up to go with her. Well, once again she was right. I got to witness several new things including a giant piece of the glacial wall collapsing right in front of us, preceded by a front of "Rolling Thunder." Indeed our little group with but a single clap brought down a massive chunk of ice with a resounding thunderous roar and a small tsunami afterwards. Well, maybe it was not exactly our clap, but it looked that way.

At this point, I figured that there was nothing left south in Chile, but as usual I was wrong. We visited what Lisa calls "the most beautiful place on Earth" the Torres Del Paine National Park. Frankly, she is pretty much right as my pictures will show. Once again, I had never heard of this place so the majesty of the place took me completely by surprise. After our long day, the ship entered the Chilean fjords, which is pretty much where this blog started. Glaciers, beautiful mountains, and finally the southern-most city on the planet, Ushuaia, Argentina. To go south is to go to Antarctica.

I think you can see why sitting in that bus in Ushuaia over 7,000 miles from home, we felt that looking back and pulling the entire incredible experience together was worth yet another blog.

We are now home, and that was not really a bad experience except for the fact that security was tighter than I have ever seen it at every point. We flew on LAN from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires on a Charter arranged by Silversea. We landed at the domestic terminal and needed a transfer to the International Terminal which was about an hour away. From there we caught a late departing Delta flight directly into Atlanta arriving early on Sunday. There we cleared Customs and Immigration, grabbed a bite to eat, and got on a flight directly to Kansas City. Let me tell you, it feels good to be home. But, we are both a little sad at leaving behind so many friends and great adventures; it still is good to come home!

I do hope everyone has enjoyed this trip, and that you will stay tuned for the next adventure of The Globe-Trotters.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile

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The ship successfully navigated the incredibly narrow and winding passage known as “the white narrows” after which we were to dock at Port Natales in the early evening, spend the evening there, and the following day and evening. Well, our arrival into the port was filled with the usual bureaucratic mish-mash that has become all too familiar on this voyage; originally our ship had been promised the main dock that was right at the center of town. The evening prior to our arrival however, we were denied access to that pier because a ferry would be docked there, and instead we were diverted to an auxiliary dock five miles from town. This meant that the ship had to scramble to arrange a shuttle operation for that evening and the next day for those guests wishing to explore the quaint little port.

That was all accomplished and ready, however, when we did arrive into the little harbor, the auxiliary dock was occupied! Now what? We could see that the there was a ferry in town, and it was staying overnight. Just before dark, the officials cleared the auxiliary pier, and we pulled anchor to finally get to dock, but just as we did so the famous Patagonian winds blew up, and before we knew it, the ship now had a direct 40 mph side wind pushing it towards the pier. Before we could even try to dock, the port officials closed the pier. So, we had to drop anchor, again, and spend the night in the harbor, and because of the late hour, no zodiac service could be established. This also meant that the next morning all of the passengers going on tours now had to be transported to shore first in the zodiacs. Grrr!!

Thus, the next morning’s schedules were adjusted for earlier than normal departure times to account for the hassle of the zodiac ride, and a complete zodiac operation was mounted. There were two tours being offered, both to the National Park, one longer than the other to allow for hiking. We were on the shorter of the two. The first group departed as scheduled, and we were told to get ready to be called--that meant wet bags for cameras, and life vests. After the first group had successfully departed suddenly the ship’s engines roared to life, and we were told to standby. Once again, we were all dressed up with no place to go. We hear the anchor coming up, and before we know it the ship is preparing to dock. It seems that even though the crew had been given multiple times as to when the ferry would depart, it suddenly, and without notice, pulled up its ramp and steamed off, leaving the main pier open at last. So, off come the life vests, cameras are pulled out of wet bags, and we prepare for a normal departure for our tour.

The drive to the Park, while long at 2.5 hours, was at least incredibly scenic. After an hour of driving north on a paved highway, we stopped at an intersection in the road at what could best be described as a small town – well, maybe a village, or a hamlet – well, maybe just a spot in the road named Cerro Castillo. There was a very quaint little wooden café with restrooms. The coffee smelled good and the pastries called, but we were on a mission and alas had no time to dawdle. At this stop, we encountered for the first time the highly unpredictable and at times fierce winds for which Patagonia is famous. On leaving the bus, we were caught by surprise at the strong winds which quite literally threatened to push us over. Walking was difficult and talking was out of the question. As a pilot, I would estimate that the winds were blowing a steady 50 mph with occasional higher gusts. Once back onboard, our local guide warned us to be very careful about the winds, which at one moment can be calm and the next overwhelming. He related how last year in the Park winds had been clocked at over 135 mph and had in fact quite literally blown two tourist busses off the winding dirt roads. So, we took this pretty seriously, I can tell you.

This intersection of roads was interesting. For one thing all of the roads with the exception of the one we had come by now, turned to dirt. If you continued north, the road eventually came to a dead end somewhere in the mountains in front of us. If you travelled east, you quickly came to the border station, since 7 miles down that way was Argentina. Thus, the only logical option for us was to head west which would then leave us on small and at times treacherous dirt roads. In spite of the roads, the scenery was awesome and at times, simply breathtaking. Even before we reached the National Park, we started seeing wild guanacos; this beautiful animal is related to the Llama and the Alpaca. It is native to the arid mountainous regions of South America. We kept wanting to stop for pictures, but the guide said to have patience. Soon there were herds of guanacos some even blocking the roadway. We did stop, and we took plenty of photographs.

Finally, we reached the entrance to Torres Del Paine National Park, one of the oldest National Parks in South America which in 1959, was designated a Biosphere Reserve. It is hard to describe the beauty of what we witnessed in the next several hours. It was at times breathtaking! As we had been warned about the fierce winds, at times they were calm, then suddenly they would roar down the mountains threatening to topple anyone who was not prepared. I really encourage you to look at my pictures of this incredible area.

Besides guanacos, we saw one puma, numerous Chilean condors, black necked swans, and the biggest surprise was when a large armadillo bolted from the bush and ran right along the group. That was the first armadillo I have ever seen outside a zoo, or as roadkill on a Texas highway. By the time we left the Park and headed to a luxury hotel just outside the entrance, we were all tired but pumped up by what we had seen. The lunch, as with every meal we have had in Chile, was really wonderful. Directly outside a large wall of windows which looked over the nearby mountains, was a horse pasture. While we were having lunch, a mare gave birth to a foal, and the entire room erupted into applause.

It took 3 hours to drive back to our ship at Puerto Natales, where we spent the night again at the dock. Many of our guests went into town for dinner, but after a 10 hour day, Lisa and I were just glad to have a great dinner and fall into bed.

This morning we awoke to the most beautiful rainbow which stretched from horizon to horizon and stayed visible for over an hour – must be a good omen for what is to come. Today, the 11th, we are cruising the fjords on our way to Puerto Arenas in beautiful weather. Although at times the winds are so strong that they push the ship over to the point that things start falling, but then again, this is what adventure cruising is all about.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Rolling Thunder!

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Rolling Thunder!

At this moment, and actually for the prior two days, our ship has been cruising deep within the Chilean fjords. If you look at a map or satellite view of this part of the Chilean coast, it appears as a highly fractured landscape, literally crisscrossed with deep fissures and channels. At first glance, I would have assumed that our ship would be going along this part of the coast out in open water, but boy was I mistaken. Because of our small size, we are actually able to spend most of our time cruising deep within this mysterious and beautiful landscape surrounded by deep valleys and towering snowcapped mountains. That was how we spent all day Saturday, November 7th.

On Sunday morning, we continued our journey arriving in the afternoon at the face of Pio XI Glacier. This glacier was named in honor of Pope Pius XI, and it is the largest outflow of glacial ice in all of Patagonia. The massive face of the glacier stretches for over two miles in length.

Now I must in all fairness tell a story on myself. When we arrived at the glacier, weather conditions were far from ideal. The outside temperature was 7 C, or 44 F. The winds were blowing down from the glacier at 35 mph, and just to liven things up a bit, we had a constant drizzle with occasional sleet in our faces, and the water was choppy and full of spray. So, wise old traveler that I am, I announce that this is crazy, and I am not going out for an hour and a half ride along the glacier in a little zodiac-so there! I mean after all, I’ve been there and done that, so what’s to be learned?

All the while I am pontificating, Lisa is busy going about getting dressed in all the gear we bought to handle this weather. Let’s see, first the silk underwear, top and bottom. The heavy socks, over our regular socks. Next we have the waterproof pants, followed by the heavy rubber and insulated boots. At this point, I help her into the incredibly warm and heavy red parkas given to each of us – and this takes some time to do right. Next we have the silk glove liners, the heavy gloves, and oh yes, the synthetic wool caps. Now all that is left is the life vest on top of everything else, and at this point Lisa is red-faced and overheating in our cabin. She looks like a little girl who has been dressed up by her mother to go play in the snow.

Ah, the hell with it, she will not listen to reason, so not to be outdone, I start my own process in order to join her. My one concession to the weather was that I did not take my camera. It is a shame because as I’ll explain later I saw some incredible sights, but the camera would have been ruined by the rain.

Conditions on the zodiac were exactly as I expected, in a word, “miserable!” Luckily, Lisa and I were dressed correctly, but I felt sorry for a number of “first timers” who had no clue and were just plain miserable.

Forgetting my pride for a moment, I will admit to seeing three things which I had never before witnessed. First, we got to watch the spectacle of a sea lion catching an unsuspecting cormorant, and then thrashing about in the water as it tried to tear it apart for food; this went on for the longest time. Second, at the very edge of the glacier, I saw where the ice flow was actually moving over the TOP of nearby trees; a very unusual phenomena. Finally, there was the rolling thunder.

As a glacier slowly advances towards the water, chunks of ice will eventually fall into the sea. This is called “calving.” I have been in front of glaciers many times when chunks of ice would fall off, but what happened yesterday was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. As we cruised along the glacier front, from time to time the sound of loud thunder could be heard, but nothing was happening. I kept thinking perhaps a storm, but at one point it was so loud that I looked up to see if a jet was overhead somehow. The thunder would go on at times for a long while and would literally roll across the water. Suddenly, large chunks of ice would fall into the sea, and the thunder would stop. Ah, ha! So the thunder is actually the sound of the ice cracking apart from the glacier until it eventually falls off. Once I made the connection, every time there was thunder. If I waited patiently, there would eventually be a calving event. Amazing, and yet another first for me.

To end this little adventure, I must relate an amazing story. Our zodiacs were being recalled to the ship when the thunder started up again, and our driver said, “Let’s wait a moment, and see what happens.” Even though you hear the thunder, you could not know where along the two mile face an event would occur, but on this occasion the first person on our zodiac pointed to a spot on the glacier where he said the sound was coming from, and with all of us looking at that spot a giant event did indeed occur, even causing a small tsunami event. But, the ice that had fallen off had removed the base from a gigantic piece of blue ice which looked as if it would fall into the sea at any moment. Our intrepid guest suggested that if we clapped our hands, perhaps it would be enough to dislodge it, and so we clapped, and by golly that absolutely, huge chuck of ice came crashing down right in front of our eyes! This time creating an even more significant wave! Who would have believed in the power of clapping?

On a final note, allow me to point out something absolutely absurd. Before coming on this trip, Silversea advised guests to prepare with proper clothing, and even provided a “supplier” who would be sure we were properly outfitted. Since we left all of our expensive Artic gear on the North West Passage cruise when I had to leave unexpectedly with a broken shoulder, we literally had to start from scratch. So, for this cruise, we were advised essentially that we needed to be outfitted pretty much as if we were going to Antarctica. Acquiring all that gear was a rather expensive proposition, and of course, for our 90 minutes yesterday, it was essential. Now get this – that’s it! That is the one and only time we needed that gear! When that hit me, I was dumbfounded! Yet, to come are two days on bus tours ashore, and another sea day before the cruise comes to an end. So not only did we spend all that money, pack, and carry all that “stuff,” in the end, it was for 90 minutes. If you ask me, that was a damn expensive zodiac ride!

Today is another sea day as we make our way towards Puerto Natales, a place where I have never been. This afternoon promises to be exciting because the ship will transit a very narrow winding passage. In fact, during our trip down the coast we have been followed by a French vessel, Le Boreal. She will not be able to make this course for the simple reason that the vessel is just that much longer and the narrow turns are too much for her to follow. I understand that as we approach the narrows, we will put a zodiac to go in front of us in order to monitor tidal flow, and to insure we will be able to transit safely.

Hope you are enjoying this trip with us.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Another Side of Chile

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When I last had a chance to write, the ship was docked at the port city of Valparaiso, the gateway to the Capital of Chile, Santiago. That was a turnaround day, and it also marked the beginning of our last voyage segment to the southern reaches of Chile, We had been to this part of the world on more than one occasion and thus expected little in the way of surprises, but boy was I wrong. I had never cruised here on an expedition ship, and that has opened up new vistas.

Anyway, Valparaiso was four days ago. Since then we have been on an almost non-stop adventure that has left us exhausted, but also in wonder. So, it will be impossible for me to write about every day in detail, but I can present an overview.

Our first port of call was to the small city of Niebla which I had never even heard of much less visited. However, it was only the starting point for a drive deeper into Chile to visit the city of Valdivia which was founded in 1552, by the Spanish and which today is home to around 127,000 people……………………………….

“Sorry, had to take a quick break. A large pod of dolphins and killer whales was in a feeding frenzy just off the side of the ship, but by the time we turned back there was not much left to see. Pooh! So back to Niebla.”

At Niebla, we visited one of the old Spanish forts, and then drove along the river to Valdivia. Unlike what we had seen of Chile so far, this was a quaint little town with strong German influences and architecture. Even today the German private schools are among the best in the country, and graduates are permitted at no cost to obtain higher education by travelling to the Universities in Germany itself. Apparently the German government funds this little community in an effort to retain its German heritage. Thus, our first stop was the Historical Museum, basically the restored home of one of the German founding families, and now a museum. From there we drove to the city center and stopped at the fish market. The city lies up the river from where we anchored at Niebla, but the river is too shallow to allow our ship to navigate directly here, hence the 10 mile drive. At the market, we had basically an hour to look around, and Lisa and I made our way to the town square, near the McDonalds I might add. We engaged in “people watching” while sitting on a bench, and immediately found this town to be quite alive. It is home to a number of Colleges and Universities, and overall is quite alive. After a stop at a local restaurant to sample some local food, we headed back to our ship. Since we had a very early departure that morning, our arrival back at the ship around 1:30 pm concluded a six hour outing, and we were tired. But not to worry, the next day would have us departing at a more civil hour of 8 am, but then it would turn out to be only a 10 hour day!!

So day two saw us arriving into Puerto Montt, where we had visited before. However, on the previous visits we never saw anything approaching the beauty of what this visit would bring. This was now our second day of bright sunshine in a part of the world where that is a rarity; Puerto Montt was no exception. The city is the gateway to the Lakes Region of Chile, and home to a ring of Volcanos capped year round with snow and literally hundreds of lakes. On previous trips, there was low clouds and drizzle, and so we never saw the real beauty of this region. On this trip we finally got to see the real beauty which we had heard so much about.

We drove inland to the town of Ensenada, and then along the huge Llanquihue Lake which is dominated by the Osorno volcano. Just six months ago, the nearby volcano of Calbuco had erupted and covered Ensenada and the surrounding areas in a thick layer of fine volcanic ash and small pebbles. Even though authorities had done an incredible job of clearing the main roads still at times the dust was so thick that we could not even see the bus in front of us. Numerous times traffic came to a standstill where road construction and repairs were underway. Still once out of that area, the weather was simply beautiful with perfectly clear sunny skies. We entered the Rosales National Park and proceeded to an absolutely beautiful lake called Emerald Lake. Here we boarded a very nice catamaran for almost an hour cruise around the lake and surrounding volcanoes. Let me just say, the pictures were awesome. But then, once back on our buses, we proceeded to climb the side of the Osorno volcano. We climbed above the tree line and to the base of the snow cover at an altitude of approximately 4,000 ft. The top of the volcano is at around 8,500 feet. Lisa and I immediately jumped onto the chair lift which would take us halfway up the volcano, but because of time, we were not able to take a connecting chair lift to the top. They made us walk all around the building to get back on to come down, and while that sounds easy it was definitely not. The little building sat atop a knoll, which required that we climb down a steep hill in loose sandy soil, circle the knoll, and then climb up the other side. As our guide would later say, “this is Chile.” As I am riding down in my little chair, I look across the valley to the nearby volcano that erupted only a few months earlier, and I can still clearly see plumes of steam still spewing from the top. It suddenly dawns on me that sitting on top of another volcano in the same area where one had just erupted may not be the smartest place to be!!

Once back on the bus, we visited on our way back to Ensenada a series of waterfalls which had been cut through the volcanic rock. Now this was comical to the extreme; we now have over 100 of us dutifully climbing a very uneven and sandy surface to reach these magnificent vistas, along the way we were watched over by gun toting police (not uncommon in Chile), but in a National Park – give me a break. Anyway as is usual, I am the last to reach the top of the trail which then makes a sharp left to a narrow little bridge leading to one viewpoint. Almost everyone going down the other side was laughing and shaking their heads and I quickly saw why. This narrow, and short little walkway went out for about 10 ft. and then it was blocked off to further traffic. From the end of the walk, the falls are barely visible and what view there is, is marred by the trees in the way – in short, there was nothing to see. The little walkway did go on, and had we been blocked another 10 ft. down, we would have had a good view, but alas, “this is Chile.”

We drove back to Ensenada for a late lunch (it was now around 3pm), and while late, it was absolutely wonderful. Then back onto the bus to drive to our ship, but wait – they drop us off in Puerto Montt at a handicraft market, and gave us 45 minutes to look around. We were all tired and ready to get back to the ship, but first there was one more blockage. When we arrived at the port, everyone had to get off the busses at the gate and proceed through a “security check.” It was a long walk to the security hut, and once there, they “glanced” at any backpacks, and had us walk through metal detectors that were turned off. “Why?” we asked our guide, and of course you already know the answer, “this is Chile.” We finally did arrive around 6 pm. Just in time to be dressed and ready for the “recap and briefing” at 7 pm. Another, very long day. Perhaps the next day would be better!

But, it was not to be. Because of local ferry schedules, the next morning we had to be ready to get off the ship by 7 am. If there was any good news, it was in the fact that this was to be a half day outing, and we should all be back on board by noon, (Good Luck). We were anchored in the harbor at Castro, Chile, a port I had never even heard of. It is not on the coast, but rather buried among the many islands of southern Chile. Our final destination was yet another island, that of Chiloe. Chiloe Island is famous as being the home to over 150 wooden churches, many of which are designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

We began our day by a quick zodiac ride to shore where as usual, we all had to undergo a check by agriculture officials before boarding our busses. From there, we made a bee line to the local ferry for the short transfer over to the island of Chiloe. The ferry boarding was a hoot. There was no formal pier, but rather a simple sloping concrete ramp to which the ferry pulled up and dropped a ramp. Our group was in three busses, but all three could not fit on one ferry. They got the first two on, and then squeezed on as many cars as they could before setting off for the crossing. When the next ferry arrived, I was amazed that several of the cars and trucks had to come off backwards, and then turn around on the small sloping ramp. It was comical to watch, until our guide said that sometimes even the busses must get on backwards: whoops! Our ride was short, and soon we were passing some rich farmland and beautiful homes while driving on narrow winding roads.

Our first stop was in the shore side village of Curaco de Velez. We drove through the quaint town passing our first wooden church, then stopped along the shore to stretch our legs and to admire the large tidal flats stretch before us. Here they experience a tidal change every 6 hours of over 8 ft. After a quick look around, we again boarded the busses for a drive to the town of Achao, which was founded as a city by the Jesuits in 1743, and is now home to 2,500 people. Here we visited our first UNESCO church, the Achao Church, which is the oldest wooden structure on the island of Chiloe. It was constructed in 1730. It rests on immense rocks, and in spite of all the earthquakes, it has endured over the centuries. It was so well constructed that today it stands as a unique monument. Inside is a beautiful baroque style building still very much in use today.

Departing Achao, we headed off along a country road and stopped along the roadside at what from the outside looked to be a typical Chilean farm home. We were invited into an annex where tables had been set for all of us to enjoy a pisco sour and some local food, while a little man played the accordion, accompanied by a guitarist; locals demonstrated the local dances. It was all quite lively, and many of our guests got into the act. It turns out that the little man on the accordion was indeed world famous, so we had a special treat.

We departed the little island of Chiloe by the same ferry as before, however, this time our bus had to turnaround on the little boat ramp and then back onto the ferry. The ferry, meanwhile, is trying to stay stable in the current causing the ramp to move back and forth along the slick ramp. We scrapped the bottom as we climbed up the steep angle of the ramp, and somehow ended up where they wanted us, and they jammed cars all around us. It was really quite an experience.

After the crossing, we were once again in the city of Dalachue, but this time we went into town and stopped at a craft mall, and from there we walked to the town square to see another of the UNESCO wooden churches. Unfortunately, we could only see the outside because the church had just been renovated. Actually the renovation was completed in July, and every day they expect the church to re-open. So when we asked the obvious question, why is it closed, we got the standard answer, “well, this is Chile after all.” At this point, I think most of us noticed a little problem: our ship was scheduled to sail at noon, and by my watch it was noon already. The tour operator seemed not to notice, but we did set off to return to the city of Castro where our ship was at anchor. All of us assumed that we would go directly to the ship, but no, we went into the town center to see yet another church, a garishly painted tin covered Cathedral, which closed at 12:30. Our guide rushed to get inside as we pulled up exactly at 12:30, and she did convince the custodian to let us have a quick peek. It was well worth the visit, but when we came back outside, our busses were nowhere to be seen. They could not park in front of the church so their only option was to drive around, and the mid-day traffic on this beautiful Friday afternoon was bumper to bumper. They finally made the return circuit, and we all were prepared to literally jump-on, since the bus was blocking traffic.

Now off to the dock we went to get our zodiacs back to the ship, but wait – there were the authorities for another security check. What a waste. Once again we walked through metal detectors which were turned off and thus of no use, but “this is Chile, after all.” The ship was finally able to sail by 1:45 pm, which did not make the Captain very happy.

Today we are heading south, ducking in and out of the little islands. At times we are sheltered and cruising through narrow channels between the islands, and at other times, such as now, we are in the open sea. It is starting to get cold, and by tomorrow we should be at anchor deep in the Chilean fjords for a zodiac visit to the Pio XI Glacier.

Because of where we are, satellite coverage is becoming very sporadic. I hope to get this out today, Saturday the 7th, but it might well be delayed.

Hope everyone is well, and if I can get some time I’ll try to get caught up on three days of photographs.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Dressed Up, But No Place to Go


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After our exhausting day on the bus, Lisa and I were dead tired, so when the next afternoon came around and the ship anchored off the small Isla Pan de Azucar in order that we could spend 90 minutes in a zodiac cruising around looking for penguins, we pulled the sheets up. As it turned out, we are very early into their breeding season; those who went said there was not much to be seen.

The ship sailed all night and into the next morning to arrive at the Isla Chanaral, home to the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. This sounded exciting, and would once again involve sailing around the small islands. However, during the evening, we encountered ever increasing swells to where the bow of the ship was coming up out of the water and afterwards coming down with a resounding thud. Not only passengers, but also many of the crew were under the weather. Our captain made a valiant effort to find enough shelter to allow safe operation of the zodiacs, but in the end, we gave up and headed for our next port, Coquimbo, Chile. Since we had canceled the afternoon and because it was so miserable, the ship sailed at full speed to enter the port in the early evening. Because of this, we spent the night in port getting a good night’s rest rather than being miserable another night.

While in Coquimbo the following morning, the ship offered a bus tour into the Elqui Valley, eventually spending some time in the sleepy and colorful little town of Vicuna which was known for its handicrafts. It turned out that there were several problems ahead. First and foremost, the Captain moved up the ship’s departure, which cut an hour out of a 4 hour tour. Next, it was a Sunday in a very Catholic country so nothing was happening, and just to make matter it worse, it was also a public holiday. So when we arrived in Vicuna, it was as quiet as tomb. In the end, we had done a three plus hour bus ride for essentially no reason.

If there is one inviolate rule in cruising, it is that the ship must be at the port on a turnaround day on time--no exceptions! Too many people have flights, and schedules to meet for that not to happen. Given the poor conditions on the ocean, our Captain was concerned about arriving into Valparaiso on time. As it turned out, he was right to worry. The seas were rough, we had a terrible current against us, and the winds were strong and blowing right at us. At times our speed forward was only 9kts, which is a crawl. In fact, we actually did arrive this morning a little late, but not too much.

Arriving into Valparaiso involved the usual mad rush of activity. People have to leave, rooms must be turned, and luggage off loaded, and then on again, and today is also a major resupply stop. While all this is going on, we were offered an optional half-day tour into the wine country, but decided instead to stay on board.

We watched as local authorities made it very difficult to depart the ship. Coaches were not allowed up to the vessel, but instead everyone and all the bags had to be transported two miles away to the main terminal even though there was an exit gate within an easy walk behind our ship. We debated going ashore on our own since the ship provided a 15 minute shuttle to the main gate, and finally decided to go for it. So we got out our money and jackets, camera at the ready, and all dressed up we exited the gangway when half way down the long flight of stairs we realized that it was raining. Turning around we checked back into the ship and told ourselves at least we tried, then promptly fell asleep until lunch.

During lunch, we spoke to a couple who had gone out earlier before the rain and this once again got our interest up, and so we returned to the room and prepared once again for an outing. Just before we walked out the cabin door we made a quick check to see when we were due back on the ship and found that we had only two hours. From what the other couple had said, it could take up to an hour just to go to the gate and back; if you missed the bus, which worse case would leave us one hour – not worth it. So for the second time today, we were all dressed up with no place to go.

Tomorrow is a day at sea, thus it will be awhile before I have more to share. I have been working on the pictures, but cannot upload them because of some computer problem impacting guests who have stayed on. We are promised they are working on it, but alas, we’ll see.


Friday, October 30, 2015

The Atacama Desert is “Awesome!”


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The Atacama Desert is “Awesome!”

The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the most amazing places we have ever visited even though it took 16.5 hours to go there and back by bus. Yes, you read correctly, yesterday was one of the longest day trips we have ever made, if not THE longest. We departed the ship at 7am yesterday morning and returned around 11:30 pm.

So what in the world would ever be worth such a commitment? Well, the Atacama Desert is without question the driest non-polar place on Earth. It is a plateau which covers over a 650 mile strip of land along the coast of Chile just west of the Andes. It lies at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet, and has an otherworldly appearance which has been compared to that of Mars. In fact, several movies have been filmed in that location, but of greater interest is that NASA has used this huge valley to test out its lunar equipment.

We drove 4.5 hours to the small town of San Pedro de Atacama with only one stop along the way. Along the way, we were witness to the most amazing scenery, however, taking pictures from a moving bus does not really do justice to what we saw. When we arrived, we expected to find a local village which was largely unknown, but boy were we wrong! The little town was jammed with some tours, but mostly young people who had come there to enjoy the many outdoor experiences offered in the surrounding areas. It was full of hostels, hotels, cafes and little restaurants. On literally every corner was located a small travel agency hawking tours to the surrounding areas.

Our free time was limited by our tight schedule, and right after lunch, we left for another hour long ride into the high desert; much of the drive being on dirt road. Our first stop was to visit a nature reserve which is attempting to protect the surviving flamingoes that at one time existed in large number around the salty Lake Miscanti. Two things struck us in this environment. First with the cloudless sky and a burning sun directly above, the white salt flats created a situation in which the UV index was off the scale. It felt somewhat like being in a microwave oven. The second thing which caught our breath, was that at any point on this plateau is that just to the West are the high mountains and volcanoes of the Andes, many of them snowcapped, and that vista literally stretches from horizon to horizon.

All along our little walk were huge salt crystals, and salt flats which stretched to the horizon. In fact, one of our guest pointed to what I took to be a large rock on our path and it turned out to be a single salt crystal that looked to be the size of a cinder block. We did get some wonderful photographs of the surrounding mountains and the huge salt flats, along with seeing some of the surviving flamingoes. No one could stay out very long in the searing sunlight, and so before long the bus was headed back the way we had come. Upon reaching the little town of San Pedro de Atacama, we turned back onto the highway home, but the day was far from over.

Before long, we once again departed the main highway for a dirt road which brought us to the ranger station for “The Valley De La Luna.” After stopping to pay the entrance fees and to take a quick break from the bus, we were soon bumping along a small dirt road which was taking us deeper into the beautiful valley. Everyone in the bus was now fully awake and all were equally awed by the surrounding beauty. There was one fantastic picture after another except we were still on the bus, and I was chaffing to stop and take photographs which we did soon enough. The bus had driven to the end of the long road and then on the way back made several photo stops. The Valley which is famous for its resemblance to the surface of the moon is perhaps even more famous for the truly magnificent vista over the valley which occurs at sunset. When we first entered the Park, it was mostly devoid of people, but as time passed I noticed a huge influx of cars and small vans loaded with people. Like little ants they started to climb the hills in order to be at the top for the “big event,” sunset. At about this time, our bus departed the Valley, and once again entered the highway for our long ride home. Even though we were running late, surely we could have stayed just a little longer!

Surprise! About two miles or so up the road, our bus turned onto a small and from the look of it little used road which headed into the hills. There had been no announcement of another stop, so I could not imagine what this was about until we pulled onto a plateau which looked over the entire Valley and surrounding mountains and parked all alone beyond the crowds. Not only was the view out of this world, but the tour operator had setup a large wine and cheese event complete with local natives demonstrating their sunset ceremony. OK, we were impressed! In fact, there were actually little rock seats that were created for our use.

At one point, I moved away from our little group and sat by myself in relative silence, looking over a truly awe inspiring vista as the sun was setting. Quietly in my mind I heard the words: “Be still, and know that I AM God.”


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

To Touch the Sun


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The last two days have been a blur of activity that has left us exhausted; not to mention, that tomorrow promises to be a 15.5 hour outing. So, excuse me if I am of necessity brief in my describing our experiences.

On Oct. 26th, our ship docked in the port city of Matarani, Peru. From there, we set out on a 12 hour roundtrip journey to Arequipa, Peru. We traveled into the mountains along the main highway from Peru to Bolivia. The road, while a well-constructed two lane highway, was none-the-less a very winding pathway up the steep mountains. It was also filled solid with traffic, most of it being large cargo carriers. I remember at one point, I looked out the window and counted 9 large trucks slowly climbing the road in front of us. Now the entire length of the road was painted with solid yellow stripes – no passing, right? Not in Peru! Our bus managed to pass up to four of the large carriers at once; not only ignoring the double lines, but also ignoring the oncoming curves. At times, the “two” lane highway became a temporary “four” lane one. All the drivers seemed to understand this unwritten code, and we never saw any sign of an accident. Sadly from the perspective of a photographer, the bus did not stop even one time for photographs, and so the only images I got were those taken through a dirty window while moving along the highway.

Finally, we arrived into Arequipa, a UNESCO Historical Center, but not before a funny story. Our bus was equipped with a “small” bathroom, which I was seated directly across from. Every time someone used the toilet and left the door open, the stench was not pleasant. So even after a very long ride, I avoided going into the little room, even though I really needed to do so. As we entered the city, I asked our guide how long after we departed the bus before we would have rest rooms, and he told me one hour. Well, that did it; smell or no smell, some things won’t wait. Up until now, the bus had been driving smoothly on the highway, but now that we had entered the city, it would stop and start, make abrupt turns – in short getting into the little room was a challenge for someone of my size. I managed to enter, and actually turn around all the while being thrown around like a beach ball. Suddenly, the bus quickly accelerated, throwing me against the door, and causing a small clicking sound. Thinking nothing about it, I finished, and by then we had stopped and people were coming off the bus. I went to open the door, and it was locked with no way to unlock it from the inside. So I did the logical thing and started banging on the little door, but of all the people going by, no one heard me. I started to become a little concerned, and turned to a very small one-way window to look outside. Ah, a member of our expedition team was less than 3 ft. away, and so I begin to bang on the glass. Over all the noise, he really did not hear me, but something caught his attention, and he came over to put his nose on the window at which point, I gave the glass a big bang indeed! Finally free, I vowed to never enter a small bathroom on a bus again.

Our guide very quickly stopped at the historic Plaza de Armas with hardly enough time to take a picture. The beautiful white Cathedral was under renovation and was not only closed, but all covered in scaffolding. Pooh! We then rapidly walked to a famous museum which houses two exceptionally well preserved mummies which were young girls sacrificed to the Gods by the Incas and left on the mountain top, where they froze solid; their remains were discovered in 1995. From there we walked to the Santa Catalina Monastery which was founded in 1579 under the Dominican order. It is considered one of the most important and impressive monuments in Peru. The nuns lived in this large complex until 1972 when they moved to modern quarters next door and the monastery was opened for tourism. On first entering the buildings, I immediately thought I had been there before, but neither Lisa nor I could remember ever having been to this city, much less this particular monastery. As we continued, I started to tell our small group what was coming next, and every time I correct. As it turns out, we had indeed been here in 2013 on the Silver Wind. Yet another “senior moment.”

After a wonderful lunch and some free time in town, we made the long drive back to the ship mostly in silence since everyone was tired. We had departed that morning at 7:30 am and returned at 4:30 pm, a day of 9 hours.

Overnight we departed Peru for Chile, and with it came a 2 hour time change – the wrong way – we lost two hours during the night. So imagine our joy at having to rise early the next morning for a 9.5 hour day. Our ship had docked at the small town of Arica, Chile, which we actually did remember visiting previously. However, rather than staying in town, this visit we traveled into the mountains to an elevation of 11,500 ft. in the Andes. Our destination was the small Chilean village of Putre. Along the way, we stopped several times for photographs, and at one stop we were offered Coca tea which would help us in acclimating to the attitude.

At one of our last stops before reaching our destination a most amazing thing happened. We were already at a high altitude where the clouds were few, the skies deep blue, and the sun blazed directly overhead. After we got off the bus Lisa noted a very unusual phenomena and quickly pointed it out to our small group. Directly overhead was a beautiful circular rainbow. This occurred because a thin layer of high ice crystals had come between us and the sun; a condition which would quickly fade as the high clouds drifted away. It was nothing less than the highlight of our tour!

As Putre came into view, we made our final stop to look down into the valley where it was located. It was beautiful with snow covered volcanos in the background. We finally arrived at our destination to find a small village in which the dusty streets were so narrow that our bus barely made it through to the town square. This was a very out of the way place. Not primitive; I mean they had electricity, plenty of water coming off the mountains, and even cell service, but really out of the way. We walked around the square, slowly because of the altitude, and eventually made our way to lunch. Now lunch was described in advance as “basic but tasty.” Well, let me tell you that this little hole in the wall turned out to be huge inside and the food was delicious. Even though I do not eat salads, even I recognized the quality of the salads being served. They were large, fresh, and the ingredients almost shined. I was given a boiled chicken breast, along with new boiled potatoes which were huge in size. Overall another great meal!

Then came the long drive back. Unlike yesterday this highway was not so heavily traveled, and going downhill we made good time arriving back to the ship around 6:30 pm.

I wish I could elaborate more about our two days, but both Lisa and I are so tired that we took this day to take not one, but two naps since tomorrow will be a 15.5 hour day! Yikes! Also, I apologize about not getting photographs uploaded yet, but there simply has been no time. At this point, it might have to wait until we get home, but I hope not.

I hope everyone is well.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Flying High in Peru


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The last two days have been a blur of activity, which have left both Lisa and I exhausted. We have also had some exciting adventures.

On Friday afternoon, October 23rd, the ship reached the port city of Callao. It is the gateway to Lima, and on my long ago visit, Callao was a small city quite distinct from Lima; not so today. Today the population of the Lima metropolitan area has grown to over 12 million people, and one can no longer tell when driving from Callao into the Lima.

Our afternoon tour was to visit the world famous Larco Herrera Museum, located in Lima. This private collection houses the largest and most complete repository of Pre-Columbian artifacts in the world. “Pre-Columbian” is a term used to designate native art which existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish to Peru. For one hour we were guided through the museum by one of the curators, and the exhibit was nothing short of awesome. It included pottery, and mummies, along with Incan gold and silver. This was a special treat, but alas, that was where the tour went sour. After the wonderful tour, the group was told that we had two hours to look at the gift shop, walk around the grounds, or have an included light snack in the restaurant. Basically we were to “kill time.” Here we were in one of the most historic cities in the world, and we were told to “cool it.” I was really disappointed we did not at least drive to the main plaza in Lima. And so enough of Callao, we’ll move on to yesterday, which was much more interesting.

Our ship anchored at the small town of Paracas. Even though Port Authorities had promised that we could anchor close to the marina, on the morning of our arrival, the Captain was forced to anchor over two miles off shore. This was to be a very long day with our being gone from the ship for almost 12 hours. In the morning, Lisa and I had arranged to sign up for an optional, and very exciting tour which flew us out to see the enigmatic and famous Nazca Lines. Then in the afternoon, we would join the rest of the ship driving inland to visit Tambo Colorado, a well-preserved 15th Century Incan Palace.

So first let me talk a little about the Nazca Lines. They were first discovered by an archaeologist around 1929. Located on a high arid desert plateau and until their discovery, they were literally in plain sight, but simply not recognized. To explain, let’s realize that the plateau is composed of a dry and quite hard white base over which is a thin layer of small stones. When the stones are removed, then the white dry desert is revealed. And so, the brilliant discovery in 1929, was that large areas of the desert had stones removed, but not in some random pattern, but in such a way that seen from above they painted patterns; patterns which produce what are termed geoglyphs. There are hundreds of figures in the 50 miles of the plateau, some depicting monkeys, sharks, llamas, and lizards. There are gigantic trapezoidal patterns, many of which look remarkably like dirt runways. I am told that from the ground, these “patterns” are not visible. They can only be seen from the sky. Since there are no high mountains nearby from which native people could have seen these figures, so how then did they produce such excellent and complicated designs, and for what purpose? I will tell you that if you strip away all the hype that has been written about this phenomenon, in truth, no one really knows who or how these lines were produced. The standard answer which is given to tourists is that they were made by the Nazca people between 200BC and 700AD, but there is not a shred of proof to back this up. There is also a theory that aliens were somehow involved, but again there is no proof simply another theory in a long line of theories. Ever since I first read of the Nazca Lines when I was in High School, I had always dreamed I might one day see them in person. Therefore my flight yesterday could be said to be a “bucket list” item.

We were awakened at 6am in preparation for our long day. First there was the long zodiac ride to shore, then the drive to the airport. To my surprise in order to fly anywhere inside Peru we needed our passports, and of course a full security check, for a 3 hour flight in a Cessna Caravan. I figured we would get some airplane banded together with duct tape, however, to my surprise, our aircraft was equipped with some of the most modern equipment available. After takeoff, we climbed to 9,500ft. We flew southeast along the edge of the Andes which towered to our left. After approximately 145 miles we started our descent, and I could see on the electronic maps being used by the captain that we were going to enter some type of restricted airspace, and from his traffic display, I counted 10 aircraft inside that area already. The aircraft had descended to 3,000ft. and stayed at that altitude the entire time we flew over the Nazca plains. The reason became quickly apparent because aircraft were visible both above and below us all doing the same tour, but at different altitudes; popular place!

Sadly, this is where the experience waned. We were only 1,200 feet above the ground so it was difficult to see an entire geoglyph since some of them covered large areas. When we arrived over a figure, our pilot banked 45 degrees into a tight turn to show us the figure, but seeing only parts of lines made it almost impossible to figure out what I was seeing. I’ll also mention that a turn that steep was required because we were so low to the ground, and it was quite scary for most passengers – in fact, some got sick. Adding to the discomfort, when the pilot had circled a few turns left, he immediately swung into a steep turn to the right, not a pleasant experience.

So all in all, I am really glad I finally got to see the famous lines, and fully enjoyed the experience, however, I am a little disappointed we flew so low and did not get a really good view.

Our original plan upon returning to the dock after the flight was to return to the ship for lunch, then join the afternoon tour. However, with the ship so far away and our tour running late, there simply was no time, and so we decided to stay at the pier and join the group when they came ashore. At the pier, there was a small terminal building, inside of which was setup a small café with tables. We picked a table – not hard because we were the only patrons, and proceeded to grab one of our guides to help with the translation of their menu. After deciding on lunch, we called a waitress over, and he helped explain our choices. That bombed because they did not have that item. OK, so we picked another, and another, and yet another, but always the answer was the same – we don’t have that! Finally in frustration, I put the useless menu down, and asked what they did have. Ham and cheese sandwiches, sodas and beer, came the response. Well, OK we’ll have that! As an afterthought, Lisa asked for some potato chips, which seemed to cause some problem, but she left to get our order. The pre-made sandwiches were located in an uncooled plastic display case, but hey, the beer and sodas were cold.

Now before we could get the food, Lisa had to go to the “Cashier,” a women sitting inside a glass enclosure with only a small opening in which to pass payment. Here the fun begins. The waitress cannot figure out how to write up our bill, and so someone else is called over. This continues until we had five women and a man who appeared to be the top dog trying to figure out the bill. Poor Lisa stood at that counter for almost 20 minutes before they completed the transaction. By the time we had finished eating, we noted that we never got the potato chips, but alas our waitress appears with Styrofoam container inside of which is a really nice order of fresh home-made fries, all hot and delicious. Turns out that was the best part of our lunch.

Our afternoon tour drove us for about an hour northeast along the Pan-American Highway to where we stopped at the Incan ruins known as Tambo Colorado. These impressive ruins have only been recently excavated and offered an excellent insight into just how impressive the skills were of the Incan builders in the late 15th century. A Tambo is essentially an administrative center for the Incas, as well as serving as a waypoint on the old Incan Highway. That impressive road structure stretched down the Pacific coast for over 3,000 miles, and Tambos were located along the road at selected intervals.

Tambo Colorado is in an excellent state of preservation, and it is even possible to view the last layers of paint that were used. Believe it or not, they city had water flowing through it which was used for their toilet and bath system. We managed to tour the main parts of the structure in about an hour, even reaching the highest levels open to tourists. I really enjoyed this, and I hope the pictures do it justice.

Tired but in good spirits we made the hour long journey back to the pier from which we could see that the ship had been allowed to move closer in our absence. I figured that would make for a faster return, but sea conditions had changed dramatically. When we had departed that morning, it may have been a long run, but the sea was so smooth it looked like a mirror and there was not a breath of wind. Now the waters had a meaner look, and we had strong winds. In the end, let’s just say it was a wild ride, and everyone was soaked to bare skin. Ah, the joys of adventure cruising.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Déjà Vu, All Over Again

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In preparation for our visit yesterday to the Peruvian city of Salaverry, we had the usual briefing the night before during which a picture flashed on the screen which instantly brought back memories of having seen this structure. I even remembered the name, The Temple to the Sun. How could that be? I had never been to the town of Salaverry. So I started asking some questions of the expedition staff, but all that I came up with was that I was mistaken and confusing this with some other monument.

After our arrival into the small town of Salaverry, we boarded busses that quickly entered the Pam American highway headed into the third largest city in Peru, Trujillo. Again I had a flashback – I knew that name, but why? I actually have a list of every cruise port we have visited, and neither of these cities is on that list. Of course, I did travel before we took up cruising, but I just could not remember.

We arrived into the historic center of Trujillo, where we got off to walk around the Plaza. On our drive in, we were witness to the same development seen earlier on this trip. We had a fairly modern and bustling city surrounded by small one room shanties. We even saw a large area of “dwellings” which consisted of nothing but cardboard and bamboo boxes that stretched in long lines; clearly Peru is in transition.

The Plaza was immaculate however, and very beautiful. A Cathedral dominated one end, and surrounding the plaza were historic buildings. Some were luxury hotels now, some were government buildings, and one was a fully restored residence which we went to visit. However, our real purpose in visiting Trujillo was to go outside the city to the Valley of Chicama where discoveries in the last 25 years have revealed one of the most important archaeological finds in all of Peru-- the ruins of El Brujo, a ritualistic complex of the Mochica Culture, who thrived from around 1 AD until 740 AD.

Leaving the city, brought us to a turn off onto a small winding road with structures on both sides. That creepy feeling started to come back, and I had visions of this as an old dusty road where people walked or rode donkeys, not one paved with traffic. The road came to a sharp turn and there in front of us was the enormous Temple to the Sun, and I recognized it immediately. It is one of the largest adobe structures in the world, and I can vividly remember climbing to the top to survey the surroundings which at that time was just a few small farms. I was told that it was believed that an important city was in the adjoining field, but it had never been excavated. As it turns out, that suspicion was all too true since when digs started in 1990, they located an incredible find. Now I remembered the city of Trujillo, but why had I come there – well, I searched my map and found on the other side of the city, the ancient Mochican city of Chan Chan. Some 40 years ago I had come to this city on a one day excursion from Lima to see the ruins of Chan Chan. The Sun Temple was an afterthought to kill time while waiting for the late flight back to Lima.

What archaeologists have uncovered rivals work by the Egyptians. After our arrival to the complex yesterday, we set out to visit the massive digs which are still very much a work in progress. Our first problem was to navigate the 175 stairs to climb the 300 ft. to where the digs were visible. Slowly but surely Lisa and I made it, only to find that that may have been the top of the stairs but once inside there were many more stairs. Still what greeted our eyes was amazing! Buried beneath the dry desert for hundreds of years was a richly constructed decorated structure that for the most part still retained its brilliant colors. We walked around under the scaffolding simply amazed when a member of our expedition team said, “the best is yet to come.” Climbing further we came to a rather steep ramp down almost 150 feet at the bottom of which had been uncovered a huge wall which was richly decorated with colorful friezes and colored relief panels. I was truly amazed. We were running at that point because touring the ruins had taken longer than anticipated and suddenly we were being told we had 10 minutes to get back to our busses, BUT it had taken me 40 minutes to walk this far. I then heard a commotion and turned around to see Lisa being taken away in a police car while she frantically waved at me from the back seat. WHAT? Lisa arrested in Peru – this is about to get serious. What in the world had she done, step on some sacred stone? I ran to where a crowd had gathered to learn that far from being arrested the police had kindly offered to drive her back to the bus since there was no way she would have been able to make the walk. Quickly I decided to get “arrested” too! It took some effort by the expedition team, but about 15 minutes later the police showed up, and out steps two attractive young women, both armed mind you, and I went up and told them just to put the flex cuffs on and arrest me, too. We all laughed, and they got me back to the bus in plenty of time to spare without the flexi cuffs.

After lunch, the ship anchored off some small islands which were home to huge colonies of birds and sea lions where they offered a 90 minute zodiac tour around the islands. Lisa and I were so tired that we opted to take a nap, and I think wisely so. I went up on deck to take a picture where the smell of guano wafting from the island was so strong – I can’t imagine getting closer.

Tomorrow morning we have a bit of a break before we visit a very famous museum in Lima, Peru in the afternoon.

I am sorry I am so behind on my pictures and e-mails, but this is a really busy cruise, and last night we stayed up late having a private dinner with the Captain.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Robbery on the High Seas

Map picture

Today we were set to visit a small island off the coast of Peru, named Lobos de Tierra. The island is home to large colonies of sea birds, and as such was a large source of guano deposits. In fact, by 1863, it is estimated that over 7 million tons of guano were removed from the island, and sold to the mainland as rich fertilizer. Only small deposit remain today, and our visit was not to see guano, as fascinating as that might be, but to visit the large colonies of the Blue-footed Booby and the Peru Pelican that nest on this small desert like piece of land.

Now I must confess that for whatever reason, I had a crisis of confidence this morning and became quite agitated and nervous. What would cause such behavior? Well, I could not figure out what to wear. You would have thought I was dressing for the prom rather than merely going ashore to a small island.

So first I had the issue of what shoes to wear. We were advised that they would try to have us step onto small stools in shallow water, and hopefully step onto a dry sandy beach. Well, did I wear shoes for a wet landing, or a dry landing? Then I had the issue of clothes. Until now the weather has gone from downright hot and humid to just hot, and then to warm. This morning was a different animal; it was 66 degrees when we awoke, and there was a strong wind. I reasoned that I would be too cold in shorts, so I decided on jeans – but wait, what if the sun came out and the temperature really did rise to 73 degrees as forecast? I’d probably be more comfortable in shorts, particularly if there was a wet landing, or I got wet on the ride over from the rainclouds ominously gathering on the horizon. But, if I wore shorts, then I would need white socks. I mean all this could drive a fella nuts! In the end, I dressed in jeans with my black compression socks, and put on my hiking boots. Then I was freezing in my microfiber shirt so I changed into a warm polo, at least the first time.

Before long, doubt started to gnaw at me. Maybe I was dressed too warmly, and if so, on the long walk along the desert like island, I would be too hot, and if my jeans got wet on the landing, then I would be walking around with wet jeans and squishy socks. Squishy socks! Oh my, that won’t do, and so for the 100th time, I asked Lisa her opinion, and I could tell she was tiring of this game, so with the clock ticking against me with our departure from the ship set for 9:30 am, I decided to completely change my clothes! Gone were the jeans, gone were the black socks, gone the warm polo, and the shoes just were not the right ones. By the time I finally got recycled, it was past our departure time and yet, nothing had happened. Curious?

Well it seems that even though the ship had all the proper paperwork and permissions which would permit us to visit the island, the people on the island refused to recognize them as valid. The “people on the island” as it later turned out were a motley group of men who were still doing a small business of mining guano, and in the process had been given the assignment by officials to serve as the gatekeepers. Our 9:30 am departure slipped to 10 am, and then to 10:30, and as time dragged on, we were simply advised that we would be so advised when arrangements could be made. Phone calls went up and down the food chain, but apparently the miners were standing their ground. Just before noon, an announcement was made that in a spirit of good will, the miners had been invited to lunch, and by the way, we now had clearance and would go ashore after lunch.

Now, I have heard different stories, but I think most people on board suspect that it was not just a free lunch they wanted, but perhaps some other “considerations” too. So in short, the Silver Explorer was submitted to extortion, or as I call it, “robbery on the high seas,” before we could be permitted ashore by a group of guano miners.

Moving on, we finally took our zodiacs ashore, to find a barren desert like island that we were told at one time was covered by guano rising 30 ft. above the ground. Today only small deposits remain which were not visible from our vantage point. We set out in small groups to explore the surrounding area. The shore side was literally covered with Blue-footed Boobies, so much so, that it was a challenge to walk without hitting one. These adorable little birds live their entire lives at sea, with the exception that they come ashore to mate and raise their young. We got to observe and film their elaborate mating behavior, as well as watching them waddle around on their big blue web feet looking for a partner. While on land they may look comical, but at sea they are absolutely amazing. They will dive straight down in large groups on their prey, entering the water at speeds approaching 100 mph. Also on the island were a large number of Peruvian Pelicans. We could see them flying everywhere, however, they were much shyer, and I never actually got near one on the ground.

We had a guide that would walk 10 paces, then stop and talk for 10 minutes. He kept repeating this over and over. It was very boring and so I broke away and headed in the direction of the abandoned building from the old mining days. They were actually quite interesting, and included the twisted remains of the old railroad which was used to haul their product to the long dock nearby.

Having walked for almost an hour on rocky terrain, I was rightfully tired and went back to the ship joining Lisa who had given up earlier.

Well, this is expedition cruising at its best! Unpredictable and interesting which is what we enjoy so much.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Iguanas Anyone?

Map picture

Early yesterday morning the ship completed its long overnight journey upriver to reach the inland city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. This was to be a “turn around day” which is when one cruise comes to an end, and another cruise starts. Our first cruise was almost at full capacity with 115 passengers. There is a group of approximately 24 who are staying on for the next one, and the current number of guests are 90. So as you may imagine, a turnaround day is a very busy time onboard any ship.

For those of us who were “in transit,” Silversea offered a 3 hour morning tour of the city. I was amazed at the size of Guayaquil. It is the largest city in Ecuador, with around 3.7 million people in the greater metropolitan area. Our drive to the main thoroughfare in the city called “9 Ave Octubre,” took a good 30 minutes as we threaded our way through the suburban area traffic. Here we saw the typical small shops which sold everything and offered any type of service from a dentist to a bicycle repair. Most buildings were one story with an occasional two story structure. When we reached the main road of the city, however, the scenery changed dramatically. We found ourselves surrounded by modern shopping malls and large skyscrapers. While stopped at a traffic light, I looked ahead and it seemed that the boulevard stretched on forever in a never ending stream of traffic lights. At that point, I could see roughly 40 traffic lights in a row before they faded into the distance. Clearly, this city is very much one in transition from the old to the modern, and all in all, it was very impressive.

At first, I was afraid that this would be a “spam in a can tour,” in which we rode around, stopping briefly to see some sights, but never actually getting off the bus. That turned out not to be the case, but in truth, I don’t know where the traffic would have allowed us a place to park anyway. We finally reached Bolivar Park, where we could disembark the motor coach, and head out for about a mile walk. First, however we all had to visit the impressive Cathedral which dominates the Park. Then within the park itself, we had to be careful where we walked! Why? Iguanas! Not little lizard type iguanas, but BIG Galapagos type iguanas. They were everywhere. On the walkways, on the benches, up in the trees – just everywhere! It was, to say the least, an unusual sight.

From the park, we walked past the City Plaza, City Hall, and finally to the Guayaquil river. There we headed north along the beautiful river walk, until Lisa finally said that her hips would go no longer. I was not good for much more, truth be told, and so we sat on a big bench together under a massive Ecuadorian flag, and waited for our bus to return for us getting in some good people watching.

And that, my friends, was our day in a nutshell! I usually try to find some amusing story to tell, but alas, nothing unusual happened, and so, we returned to our new home, the Silver Explorer, ready for the coming adventures.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter

Map picture

Yesterday, we docked at the large port city of Manta, Ecuador, where we were dwarfed by the large Holland American ship next to us. In fact, that ship was so large, by comparison, the Explorer looked like a small yacht.

Lisa and I have been to Manta several times, so I was apprehensive that our visit ashore would duplicate something we had already done. Well, we need not have worried about that. Silversea had arranged for four large busses to transport all of the passengers and expedition staff 90 minutes south along the coast to what was described as a “Boutique Resort and Spa, named Las Tanusas.” There we would be treated to a lunch of local cuisine, after which we would be entertained nearby to a sample of The Rodeo Montubio. This was described as “a popular and traditional coastal festival that takes place every year” among the local cowboys, known as Montubios, all of whom will be wearing the traditional “Panama hat.” Now I don’t know about you, but since we are in Ecuador, what can be so traditional about a hat made in Panama?

Our bus made its way through the city traffic, and soon we were headed south on a well maintained two lane highway designated E15. The first thing to strike me was the complete change in scenery from just the day before. Until now, everywhere we visited was replete with lush tropical vegetation, high heat, and humidity. Now the landscape surrounding us was dry desert with moderate temperatures and little to no humidity. What caused this dramatic shift in climate was the impact of what is known as the Humboldt Current, a cold and massive outflowing of water from Antarctica.

As the miles droned on, so too did our local guide. The one thing I remember was that he kept pointing out small communities which were known for their skill at producing the “Panama Hats.” Enough already with the hats! The scenery was what I would call uninteresting and monotonous. For miles and miles was scrub and desert broken only by a small town or village here and there. Soon I found myself nodding off, and I gather that I was not the only one.

Eventually the busses turned onto a dirt road which wound around and around finally bringing us to the resort of Las Tanusas. I must admit that the staff and locals had gone to great lengths to produce a spectacular setting. We were met by a local band known as a Banda de Pueblo. The tables were all decorated and carefully set. The “resort” seemed to me to have only 3 to 6 rooms, I could not be sure, however, it was a beautiful setting with a sandy beach in front of us, and a cool almost chilly breeze. The meal was all seafood which left Lisa and I out, but we knew that going in and arranged for room service before we left the ship. Even though I did not eat the meal, the presentation was excellent and the service top notch. I gather the property was fairly new and we met one of the owners, a young couple with a big dream. Not to throw water on their vision; it is a very small property out in the middle of nowhere, and they want $350 a night for a basic room and $650 for a suite.

As we finished lunch, people wandered out front where the tour operators had arranged for a selection of local handicrafts – and there on display were those pesky “Panama Hats.” Suddenly I hear my name being called, and turning around there is Lisa wearing one of these hats, asking what I thought about it. Having been married for 31 years I knew there was only one answer that I could give, “it looks great.” I should have stopped right there, but I then went on to ask how she was going to get it home, and how much did it cost, etc. Lisa looks up and tells me to just go on to the bus and leave her alone. Whoops – I’d done it now!

Unfortunately, our bus was parked at the end of a long line, and it was very difficult to reach. Finally aboard, everyone is ready to go, but Lisa is not in sight. Suddenly she appears, out of breath and not very happy. She plops down in her seat and scowls. Since no hat is in sight, I politely ask if she is OK. Well it seems that she did indeed find a hat, came to an agreed price, but when she went to pay she did not have enough money and her credit cards were back on the ship. {Secretly I am thinking to myself, Whew!} Without warning Lisa turns to the people next to us, and asked if they could loan her enough money to buy her hat and they quickly produced the funds. Now with the bit in her teeth, Lisa stands up to go back for the hat, but alas, the doors are closed, the count is finished and we are on our way! But, a member of the expedition team grabs the money, stops the bus, and runs for the hat. She returns with the owner of the shop in tow, who has not only reduced the price, but placed the hat into a beautiful bag for safe transport. And to this, the bus breaks into applause!

The Mad Hatter

OK, so I admit, it is a beautiful hat, but now I am curious as to why the hat is not called the Ecuadorian Hat? There are many historical reasons, however the defining moment appears to be when Teddy Roosevelt was photographed at the Panama Canal waving his woven hat to the crowd. Writers of the day mistakenly referred to it as his Panama hat, and the label has stuck ever since. ,

We then drove across the highway to a large dusty area where large corral and a viewing stand had been erected from scratch in order that we could be witness to a Rodeo. At first, I found the show entertaining, but I quickly became bored with all the yelling and amateurish activities. When one of the horses was running around the ring screaming out in obvious pain, I suddenly realized that the cowboys were using spurs. That did it for the performance, and people quickly started to drift back to the busses. As we departed, our local guide apologized for what had happened, and stated that the use of spurs is against the law in Ecuador. So in the end, we spent 5 hours off the ship, and frankly, this was the first time I was disappointed in the adventure.

Moving on, overnight the ship repositioned to the Isla de la Plata, a small rocky landmass which is only 35 miles from Manta. When we arrived, it was windy with a large swell, and left too our own zodiacs, the short trip ashore would not have been a problem. However, local officials did not want us to use our boats, instead the wanted the ship to pay locals to transport us across in their fishing craft. After an hour of trying as best they could, the locals finally admitted that conditions were too rough for them, and so at last we could go ashore using our zodiacs. Lisa and I elected to stay with the ship, since once on shore, small groups would set out for a 2 to 3 hour hike which first involved climbing 175 steps up the steep mountainous terrain to an elevation of 1,500 ft., and then coming back down again. They were visiting this National Park in the hopes of viewing some of the birds usually found in Galapagos, nesting here. I just spoke with one of the guests who returned, and his comment to me was “You were wise to stay on the ship. Yes, it was beautiful, but it was a real bitch!”

So this afternoon and tonight our ship will travel inland traversing the Guayaquil River into the city of Guayaquil. Tomorrow will be a transition day marking the end of one cruise and the start of another. We did sign up for a local tour, so let’s hope that is better than our experience in Manta.