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.


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