Thursday, February 16, 2017

They Fought A War Over Them The Falkland Islands?

Map picture

When I first saw the Falkland Islands in 2007, I simply could not understand why two great nations would go to war over these barren rocks far out into the Atlantic Ocean. However, a war was indeed fought between Argentina and Great Britain in 1982, with the resulting loss of many lives on both sides. In a nutshell, even though the Falklands Crown colony since 1841, Argentina had long asserted their ownership of the territory, and in 1982, they launched an invasion which was successful in their assuming control of the islands. Great Britain responded by dispatching the Royal Navy, and in a series of decisive battles once again regained control over the islands. Sadly 649 Argentine military personnel were killed along with 255 British personnel and two Islanders. Even to this day, Argentina refuses to recognize the Falklands as a separate legal entity, and it has employed multiple strategies in an attempt to strangle the island economically. So for example, our ship having made a call in the Falklands cannot then proceed directly to Argentina, but first has to sail to another country.

But understand what the Falkland Islands are like. They are a barren, mostly treeless windswept landscape. There are two main islands, East Falklands and West Falklands, and then about 200 smaller islands all contained in the landmass slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut. Under the influence of the strong currents welling up from Antarctica, they have a cold Marine climate. The island is swept by strong westerly winds on most days, and it is cloudy and humid. Rain occurs roughly 50% of the time in these islands. So, the question is, why in the world would you fight a war over these islands?

Well, there are really two answers to that question. Back in 1982, Argentina was controlled by a military junta, and the country was generally in a state of economic decline. What better way to rouse the population than to start a war that was widely popular. The second reason is quite simple, money. At the time of the war, the island was probably home to more sheep than it was people. But an earlier survey that had been done by the British, showed that the island possessed significant economic resources if those resources were properly developed. First, and foremost among them, was control of the vast resources in the waters around these islands.

On the day that we visited, we had absolutely the best tour that I could imagine around the main City of Stanley. The sun was out, the winds were calm, and it was an absolutely beautiful day. The woman who was conducting our tour just happened to be chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce. She was an encyclopedia of information on Falkland Islands history and economics. She pointed out all of the things that the island had undertaken since the war to gain control of its economic resources and to implement the economic plan outline so long ago by Great Britain. Today the island maintains a reserve on behalf of its residents of over $400 million. It has taken control of its economic zones in the ocean, and is receiving huge amounts of income from the sale of fishing rights to foreign entities. Oil has not only been discovered, but is being commercially exploited. The government has spent a great deal of money in the development of infrastructure for its people, and of resources to support tourism. All of these factors combined have produced a dramatically different city today than what I first encountered in 2007.

I’m sure that the beautiful weather helped contribute to my sunny attitude, but I was also quite impressed with what I saw, and with the rapid growth that is obviously occurring on the islands. We have departed Stanley and will be spending two days at sea towards our next destination which is the City of Montevideo in the country of Uruguay.

After I finished writing the other day, Lisa told me that she did not think I had done a good job of closing the story on my medical episode, and I’m guessing from what I’m hearing that is in fact true. So before rumor festers into fact, let me share the findings of my visit ashore in Ushuaia.

I underwent a urinalysis and blood work along with a CT scan of my abdomen. The urinalysis showed no blood, but some evidence of protein. The blood work had an increased white count, along with a higher than normal SED rate, but was otherwise unremarkable. The CT scan ruled out any abdominal issues, particularly there was no evidence of a tumor in neither the kidney nor the bladder. The conclusion of the local doctors was that I needed to be on a stronger antibiotic to treat a resistant urinary infection. When I returned to the ship, the Doctor here placed me on Cipro, and I can tell you that all of my symptoms have markedly improved today and that I think we’re definitely on the right track.

For those of you who are still scratching their heads wondering where all of the blood came from – I have an interesting story. Lisa and I spent many hours off the ship yesterday in Stanley and when we returned we both went to separate bathrooms to urinate. Afterwards, I appeared to once again have blood. Believe it or not when I got to Lisa, she had experienced the exact same situation. So – there is no way that each of us has some major problem. I haven’t completely figured out the answer, but there appears to be some chemical interaction with the cleaner this being used by the ship.

In any case we are both just fine, and at least I got my current CT scan to say that I’m in good health.


All pictures are up to date:

Blog library is current:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Thrown Off the Ship in Argentina!

Map picture


Yes, I was actually thrown off the ship in the southern port city of Ushuaia, Argentina. For me, the cruise just about ended that day. However, since I am writing this blog, I must have somehow managed to get back on board – and therein lies the story. But of course in the telling of any story, it’s best to proceed in a progression, so let’s go back to my last blog when we were set to cruise the Chilean fjords for two days before arriving at Punta Arenas.

Well, as I said last time the first of our two days in the fjords was actually spent at sea. It was well into the second day, when we pulled into the narrow channels that mark the entrance to the Magellan Straits. While this passageway would take us to our next port, Punta Arenas, most people do not realize that had the ship merely continued onward, it would have exited into the Atlantic. For centuries, this was a well-known alternative for shipping to avoid having to go all the way around the southern tip of South America, but of course with the advent of the Panama Canal, most of the traffic has disappeared.

In any event, our primary interest was not in the actual city itself which we had seen before, but instead it was focused on an exciting all day excursion to the world famous Torres Del Paine National Park. Several years ago we had had the opportunity to visit this Park, and I remember that I was blown away by its spectacular beauty. If memory serves me correctly, this was the first national park ever established in Chile. Getting there and back to the ship was not going to be an easy task. The tour itself was advertised to last 11 ½ hours, and was set to depart the ship at 10 AM. Truth be told, we barely climbed back onboard at midnight.

Things immediately started off on bad footing when we were told that our flight was delayed an hour. Therefore we received a complimentary one hour tour of the city. Ending at the city center where I was able to take a photograph of the historic residences of each of the four primary founders of the city, I was very quickly reminded that in this part of Patagonia you have to learn to live with strong winds. The residents fully expected that the winds each day will be 40 to 50 mph on a steady basis with gusts even higher. As we reached the park, we had winds of over 80 mph. I recall that just two years ago, they had an incident when the winds were recorded at 120 miles an hour tipping over two tour buses onto a hillside which they were parked against. Luckily no one was injured seriously, but it is a reminder that Patagonia can be an unforgiving environment, and one that can change at a moment’s notice.

After our city tour, we headed for the airport only to learn that our flight had been delayed once again. We were flying on some airline I had never heard about, in an airplane that was painted like a penguin. Even though our flight to the small airport near the park was a charter, the aircraft was still running a normal schedule and working us into its day. Finally, we boarded the aircraft and made a short flight to Puerto Natales. The crew informed us that they would be pick us up later that evening. Since it was already after 2 PM, I really wondered whether or not we would see them again that night. After landing, we drove from the airport towards the park. After about an hour we stopped for a wonderful lunch at a resort that offered a spectacular view of the upcoming park. Finally, at 5:30 in the afternoon, we reached the park’s entrance. The good news is that the clouds of the early morning were being blown off the mountain peaks, thus revealing the full splendor of the panorama for which the park is famous. The sad news is that in the lateness of the day came shadows, and by the time we reached the most spectacular viewpoint which the park has to offer, the mountains were in shade and any photographs were useless; not all was lost however. There is one photograph of the park which is very famous and which I have been using for my screensaver for several years. We did arrive at that view point in time for me to obtain several pictures which were better than I previously had, so I am now the happy owner of a new screensaver.

Tired and grumpy we made the long trip back to the airport in the dark. When we arrived it appeared that the airport was closed and no aircraft was visible. Still we exited the bus, and to my surprise someone showed up to open the front door and allowed us to enter. Once inside, we found a security team waiting to examine our belongings before boarding our little penguin that was sitting there in the dark just waiting for us to arrive. Even though our flight home was only to be 35 minutes, it was very obvious from the winds in the clouds that this flight might be a little rough. That was confirmed when the captain came on the PA system to inform all of us that he would leave the cabin lights on during the flight because he expected some rough conditions, and advising that all of us to keep our belts tight the short trip. Honestly, I think this spooked the living daylights out of a number of passengers who could be seen praying as we flew into the dark evening sky. Yes, it was a little rough, but, as a pilot I have certainly seen worse. In the end, we were driven directly back to the ship arriving at midnight, and awaiting us in our room was the dinner order that we had left with our butler. It was all set out, and it was freshly prepared. We later learned that the staff had to stay up late to ensure that all guests were taken care of when they returned.

The next day was purported to be one of the highlights of our cruise as we would sail by the three main glaciers of Chile. The front cover of our daily newspaper had a magnificent photo of the glacial field. However, we had to return down the Magellan strait and then enter into the famous Beagle Channel. This would take us to our destination at the bottom of South America to the city of Ushuaia. It would also be along this route that we would see the famous glaciers. However, I have to tell you that whatever pencil pusher back in home office at Silversea came up with the timing for this transit should be hung. Yes, we did go by the glaciers, but at 1 AM in the morning!!

Ushuaia is the southernmost city in Argentina, and has been successfully marketed as the southernmost city on the South American continent. Actually it is not the southernmost city, that honor actually goes to Puerto Williams, Chile, but not many people seem to be aware of this distinction. Also, the fact that we traveled down the West Coast of South America and crossed over to the east does not mean that the ship went around the famous Cape Horn. The Cape is actually an island at the very southern tip of the continent. Most cruises that I have been on make an effort to go down to the Cape so that people may at least say they have been there, but that seems to be another thing that the pencil pushers at home office forgot to include.

In any event I don’t mean to be critical or nitpicky because overall the cruise has been a very enjoyable experience. Now we come to the memorable events of our day in Ushuaia.

To tell the truth, for the last week I have on two occasions urinated a large amount of blood. I have seen the ship’s physician, and have been diagnosed with a probable urinary infection for which he put me on an antibiotic. When we arrived into port yesterday morning, I was not feeling well and I had experienced another incident of bleeding the night before. I suggested to Lisa that she be our representative in the report on Ushuaia bringing back her stories and her photographs. Bravely she accepted the challenge albeit with a great deal of nervousness about going out on her own. Meantime I assured her that I would be fine and that I would go see the doctor to see if he wanted to make a change in my medication. So, Lisa departed the ship with her phone, and I headed down to the medical center.

Before I could shake a stick, the doctor was telling me that he did not feel comfortable and that we were setting out into the wilderness over the next five days without a better understanding of what was going on in my situation. He stated that if I were to incur a blood clot in my urinary tract, given my history, it could be a life-threatening situation. While he was very nice about it, I also knew that the ship’s doctor had the absolute and complete right to ask me to go ashore for an evaluation at his sole discretion. I was told to go to my room and get ready, and that they would call when they had transportation arranged.

Imagine my surprise when in less than 15 minutes the phone rings and they asked me to come downstairs immediately to meet my ride. Waiting for me was a physician, and who had been consulted on my case, and who now would take me to the local clinic. As we drove, he explained that in Argentina I really did not want to go to a public hospital, and that the best way to receive care was through a private clinic. Arriving at the clinic, my file and my person were delivered to yet another physician, an internist. She spent the next three hours shepherding me through the process. I underwent a urinalysis, blood work, and a CT scan. This doctor never left my side except while I was having a procedure she would run to see other patients for whom she was responsible that day. She also explained everything that was happening in great detail, and when it was all over she and another physician drove me back to the ship. During that time, I counted no less than six physicians having been consulted in evaluating my case, and I honestly don’t know how the care could have been any better. What I knew, but what was never discussed openly, was that in the folder she had been given was a form that required her to sign whether or not I was medically fit for travel. The only way that I was going to continue with our ship is if I came back with that form signed. If that had not happened, then I would have been sitting “on the dock” watching this ship sailed away, and trying to figure out how I’m going to get home from the end of the world. In late afternoon, the doctor returned to the ship with my folder which included a complete translation into English of everything that had been done, and the disk containing my CT scan. He apologized for having taken so long, but since it was a Sunday and he had some difficulty getting a radiologist to read my film. Plus I was responsible for the bill! I had fallen asleep in the room, and Lisa had gone to receive the papers when they called. She was presented a bill for $25,000! As she tells it, she was about to have a heart attack until he explained that that was in Chilean pesos, but in US dollars the bill was only $1,600. I can’t believe that I had the care of so many physicians, and so many tests done so quickly, and the total bill was only that amount. In any case, they decided that I was going to continue, so I am today at sea with Lisa on our way to the Falkland Islands and its capital city of Port Stanley.

What follows is Lisa’s story of her day in Ushuaia, and I will try to do my best job at sharing with you the story. Lisa departed the ship around 8:30 AM, about the same time I headed down to the Medical Center. She met on the pier with her group and then proceeded by bus to a waiting catamaran. The catamaran then sailed back down the Beagle Channel to the border with Chile where it offloaded passengers in a picturesque area of the Tierra del Fuego National Park. During the catamaran ride Lisa tells me that at times their small vessel was simply surrounded with thousands, if not millions of birds. The most common of these were the Cormorant. She has some outstanding photographs of them which I strongly encourage you to view. She also got some very good photographs of giant sea lions. After disembarking the catamaran, the group then boarded the antique narrow gauge train for the journey back into town. The ride took them through the National Park and was extremely scenic. Each little car could hold only four people, and once the car was loaded, the exit door was locked. The little engine could travel at best 5 mph so that the journey home seemed to take forever. And so yesterday was one of their rare sunny days in this part of the world. As a result, each of the little glass-enclosed cars rapidly became an oven. They had no ventilation and no way to open the door, and as I understand it most people were pretty miserable. Now I really felt sorry for Lisa because as soon as the doctor told me that I needed to go to the clinic, I tried to call her but got no answer. I then sent her a text message. By the time she found my message, it was too late for her to return to the ship, and so she spent her day on tour being frightened about what was happening to me. So I would like to give a tip of the hat to Lisa for doing the blog and camera duty, and for hurrying home as quickly as she did.

Today our ship is experiencing the high winds and waves for which this region is noted. With any luck we will anchor at Port Stanley tomorrow, and be able to go ashore in a tender. Let’s hope in the end, the weather calms down.

Hope everyone is well.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Gone, But Not Forgotten


Map picture

It has been four long days since I last wrote that we were boarding our ship in Valparaiso, Chile; and while we have been gone and quiet these several days, I have not forgotten about finding time to bring you along on our journey southward along the coast of Chile.

After our departure, we had a full day at sea before reaching our first port of call, Puerto Montt. During that period of time, we experienced a very definite change in our climactic conditions. While in Santiago, it had been very warm, in fact almost hot; as we sailed south, we came under the influence of what is known as “The Humboldt Current.” This is a massive outflow of water from the Antarctic region that flows northward along the coast bringing cold nutrient, rich waters far up the South American coastline. Even so, Puerto Montt was experiencing an unusually warm sunny day, but still much cooler than we had experienced further north.

Puerto Montt clearly shows its German heritage, but at the same time, it has become the provincial city that serves as the hub for local fishing, textile, and tourist activities. Today the city is the fastest growing one in Chile! While we did stop at the main square to take pictures of the historic church with a copper dome, our journey was not so much to visit the city itself, but rather to use it as our Gateway to the second largest lake in Chile, Lianquihue Lake. If you have a particularly good memory, you may recall that we drove to this Lake on a previous trip. Upon reaching the southern shore, we turned east and drove up the side of Calbuco volcano. From there, I was actually able to take a chair lift off the side of the volcano for a magnificent view over the entire Lake. Directly across from me was the Osorno Volcano, which had erupted only weeks before our arrival. I distinctly remember how the roads were covered in ash at that time.

Our drive today was not to the volcano, but instead we drove northward along the western side of the lake to the large city of Frutillar. We were all given tickets to enter the Settlers Museum which appeared to be a large area in which old buildings had been placed as a monument to the early people who settled this region. Lisa and I instead skipped the Museum and walked out to the lake’s edge to take photographs of the lake and the volcanoes clearly visible on the other side. It was a Sunday, and the lakefront was filled with family traffic. People were coming out of church, and then they could be seen going out to the beach for a picnic in the unusually warm and sunny weather. Like virtually every place I’ve seen in Chile, the town was clean, peaceful and very welcoming. After our hour-long visit, we reported back to the bus, and rather than taking the Panamanian Highway back south, we drove instead on the small roads around the lake itself. In the process, we passed several communities and many vacation homes until finally 45 minutes later, we stopped at Puerto Varas. This time we were let off in front of the town’s casino and were told that we had 45 minutes to explore. This community was home to several large and expensive hotels and once again the beaches were full of the locals enjoying their sunny Sunday afternoon. I got some magnificent photos along the lake before we boarded our bus and drove back to our ship. While I say that we drove back to our ship, I need to add a slight addendum for you to appreciate the entire experience. Since we are now on a larger ship than our previous visit, it was necessary for us to anchor and then to travel ashore on one of the ship’s shuttles. While that does not sound too bad, from the time that we gathered in the theater with our tickets to await the call to our shuttle, until the time that we were actually able to board the bus on shore took approximately one hour. So when they advertise a shore excursion of 3 ½ hours, you probably have to add at least 90 minutes simply to go to and from the shore.

I will tell you a little side story – when we were at Valparaiso directly across from our small ship was the Silver Princess. While we can travel with roughly 550 guests, I am guessing that the Princess ship carried closer to 2000 guests. When we arrived in Puerto Montt, we found the princess ship already there. That means on that sunny Sunday afternoon, there were approximately 2500 tourists trying to visit the small towns around the Lake at the same time. As if traffic in these little towns was not bad enough on a Sunday afternoon holiday, it was a snarl with all of the tour buses.

clip_image002After a night at sea, we pulled into a small port that I have never visited, Puerto Chacabuco. From the brochure, this promised to be a most interesting day. It was billed as being a 5 ½ hour excursion during which we would make the picturesque drive across the lower part of the Andes to the town of Coyhaique. Imagine my surprise and disappointment, when we arrived into this picturesque little port only to find that the Sea Princess was already there and had offloaded her passengers. This of course produced the shortage in suitable busses so we were switched around to a later departure of 2 PM. Once again, we had to go through the shuttle routine to reach the bus, and there we apparently drew the short straw. They always warn you that in small communities you cannot always rely on the quality of the equipment being used, and in this case, we got exactly that! We were assigned to an old bus that did not even have a ventilating fan to provide circulation. It was an exceptionally warm day, and the bright sunlight was heating the bus as if it were a solarium. As we started our drive up the steep hill from the parking lot, our little bus groaned and shrugged to the point that I actually did not think it had enough power to reach the top of the drive. Slowly we crested the hill and began our drive which was pretty uncomfortable and at times just downright hilarious. Our tour guide was trying to carry on a constant babble when shortly after leaving the pier the PA system shutdown. So true to his profession he spent the remaining time on tour screaming and walking up and down the aisle in an attempt to carry on his duties.

Now even though our tour had been delayed until 2 PM, by the time we gathered and went ashore on tenders, it was not until 3 PM that we were finally pulling out of the small port for our projected 90 minute drive. I must admit that the drive took us through some absolutely stunning scenery. We left behind the small port surrounded by snowcapped mountains and slowly, but ever so slowly, climb the hills of the lower Andes. There were dozens of waterfalls and rivers along our way as well as charming and rustic lodges which were home to herds of sheep and cattle grazing on the vibrant fields of green. Our little bus, according to my trusty iPhone, was traveling anywhere from 25 to 30 mph. On the winding mountain roads we became an instant impediment to traffic. There were not many places where traffic could pass so a long line began to form behind us. We finally pulled over at a ranger station so that we could use the restroom. After stopping, we could watch a long line of traffic finally moving on. While stopped, we were able to visit a nearby river where a big picture or two was available before we moved on to the town of Coyhaique. Before dropping down into the town, the bus pulled over by the viewpoint which allowed us to take a magnificent picture of the little town nestled in the Valley down below.

When we finally arrived, we were all offered a small snack and a drink even though it was already 6 PM. Then we had some free time to walk around. Because of the beautiful sunny day, the central Park was alive with people. In the center, various groups took turns in providing entertainment; there was a group playing pan flutes, some acrobatics, a juggler, and a wonderful program of native dance. Each of the groups took their turn, which started by putting a hat on the ground so that people could contribute. I was amazed how after each performance the groups did amass what appeared to be a significant amount of contributions from the appreciative crowd.

The drive home at the end of a long day seemed to take forever. We finally arrived back at our little tender and to reach the ship around 8:30 that evening. We had long since lost our dinner reservation, and because the evening dress code required that men wear jackets, we had to go to our room and completely change clothes before chowing down to a late dinner.

After a short overnight cruise, the ship dropped anchor at the entrance to Laguna San Raphael. At the end of this rather large lake, there are several magnificent glaciers. From reading the material in advance, I assumed that as we had done on previous occasions, the ship would be sailing up to the glacier front for us to see. However, the entrance into the lake was extremely shallow, and therefore, the ship could not go through into the lake itself. In order to see the glaciers, first it was necessary to take a three hour catamaran ride. We were so exhausted from the late evening before that when we realized we were scheduled on the first catamaran at 8 AM that morning, we both agreed to take a day at leisure. After all, given the number of times that we have cruised up along the front of glaciers in small zodiacs, going on a catamaran with 125 people didn’t seem all that exciting. Unfortunately for them, the weather was overcast and cold, and during the day we had intermittent rain which at times was quite heavy.

So that brings everyone up to date on our adventures. At this point, the ship is cruising South. It is important for this next phase of our trip, that people understand the nature of the coast along this part of South America. Unlike cruising up the coast of California where a large ship like ours would of necessity travel well off shore, the coast of South America is highly fragmented with multiple channels, lagoons, fjords, and islands such that it is possible to go from Puerto Montt all the way south to the bottom of Chile without ever having to go in the ocean except for the few places where a short ocean excursion is necessary. Cruising among these islands and channels is an experience not to be missed. On the one hand, there are the snow covered towering Andes Mountains, there are many fjords with glaciers at the end, and usually a low mist hangs over it all creating a moody atmosphere. Today and tomorrow were designated as days that we would cruise the Chilean fjords. I cannot explain, and so far no one else seems to know the explanation for why we are sailing along the coast. We even spoke to some of the ship’s officers, and they too were baffled as to why we were not cruising among the fjords. So stay tuned and we’ll see what happens. At this point, there is actually nothing unique to photograph, so I guess I’ll go back to reading a good book. I do hope to finish and update my photographs this afternoon, and if you would like to see what we’ve done so far you can direct your browser to the following: I don’t think we have any really great pictures yet, but at least you can see what we’re saying.

I hope everyone is doing well. Our hope that people would be fighting on our front lawn to buy our house have been dashed. So at this point, if you know anyone who wants a good used home in Overland Park Kansas send them our way.