Ushuaia and Punta Arenas

After our trip around Cape Horn we tracked north to the Beagle Channel and into Ushuaia where we spent Tuesday. It is a busy little community and the centre for Antarctic expeditions and fjord cruises. I could remember that the main street was parallel to the port but up a hill. 

I managed to push Jane to the top only to find that a German lady who we know had collapsed in a shop we were about to enter. She was rushed off to hospital, but within hours she was back on the ship, apparently none the worse for the experience (except for the US$500 the hospital had extracted from her credit card). Imagine how much they would have taken had she been British!
We are not popular in Argentina. Large signs called Ushuaia the “Capital of the Malvinas” and other large official signs stated that the occupation of the Falklands by the British is illegal.

Our next call was to be Punta Arenas in Chile. Overnight we would cross the dividing line between the two countries (the middle of the Beagle Channel) which regularly causes delay. For those of you with maps we left Ushuaia in a westerly direction along the Beagle Channel as far as the Pacific and then nipped back into the fjords before turning directly north up the Magellan Strait. I will incorporate a copy of the map showing our route, which I have just been given.

We were at anchor off Punta Arenas which meant that Jane had to stay aboard. I went ashore in one of the tenders and Jane had her nails done. I wandered around the town, bumped into some of our chums from the ship, had an excellent coffee and free fast internet and returned to the ship to find that Jane was still having her nails done! I knew that we should have brought Hannah Maunsell with us!

For the next couple of days we are cruising in the fjords and will take in the Amalia Glacier and the Pio XI Glacier today and tomorrow.
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Cabo de Hornos – Cape Horn

Last time we were at Cape Horn it was early evening – darkish, cold and windy. On that occasion we were sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic, west to east and it was only during a lecture the day before that I heard that cruise ships rarely travel round Cape Horn by the obvious route around the bottom of the continent. 

The winds and currents are considered to be too wild and changeable to risk the simple route. It was reported to me that for 200 days a year there are gale force winds and 50 foot waves in the region where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet and 130 days when fog and icebergs abound.

So I was resigned to the fact that on this occasion we would be using one of the other routes. Captain Inger Thorhauge managed to get the timing spot on despite the Argentinian authorities delaying our departure from Puerto Madryn by a couple of hours. She told us that we could expect to arrive at Cape Horn at about 1630 hours on Saturday and that she intended to travel round the island, on which Cape Horn sits, in an anti clockwise direction.
The bottom part of S America, Tierra del Fuego, is a vast island surrounded by hundreds of small islands. Cape Horn is on the southernmost of those small islands and there is a navigable channel round it.

The sea was calm and the sun was shining as we approached the Cape. We could see the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers home alongside. He lives there with his family on a six month contract. We could also see the Cape Horn Monument which sits 1400 feet above the sea. The monument’s two triangular bronze halves form the outine of an albatross. It stands there in memory of all those who have lost their lives in the waters off Cape Horn. More than 1000 ships and at least 15,000 lives have been lost there.

We could see two people by the lighthouse and they waved a flag and then climbed down a set of wooden stairs to a small beach. At the same time a high speed rib left the ship and sped across to the beach to record the QV’s visit there. We left them there and carried on round the island eventually facing the rockface of the Horn itself. After about 2 hours in the vicinity and after collecting the crew of the rib, we set sail for the Beagle Channel and our next port, Ushuiai. It was a great spectacle and we were very lucky to be there on such a beautiful day.
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Admiral The Right Honourable Baron West of Spithead

Last night we were less than 100 miles from the Falkland Islands. It was appropriate that in the major lecture yesterday that the former First Sea Lord should deliver it.

When I took my seat in the theatre the lady alongside pointed at Lord West, waiting at the side of the stage, and said to me “Thats my husband”. Presumably she was ensuring that I didn’t make any derogatory remarks! What me?!
I quickly ascertained that she grew up in Portsmouth (and knew people there we know including Jeremy Lear!) and that her father was a Solicitor in Portsmouth.
Lord West’s presentation was his perspective on the Falklands War. It was beautifully crafted, packed with anecdotes and just the right balance between humour and sensitivity for those who were killed or injured in the conflict which he described as a “bloody war”. He commanded the frigate HMS Ardent which was sunk by the Argentinians with a number of his men being killed.
Lord West is not the only inspirational speaker aboard. Richard Cowley delvered a lecture a few days ago on the famous 1939 Battle of the River Plate and today, as we approach Cape Horn, he talked about the 3 ways of crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific – round the Horn or through the Beagle Channel or the Magellan Strait.
The Captain has announced that we will circle Cape Horn anti clockwise (many do not realise that Cape Horn is an island) so we will party on the balcony of our friends the Wilsons from north of Aberdeen who are on the port side of the ship. My report on Cape Horn to follow!!
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Don’t cry for me Argentina!

Instead we cried as the lovely, brilliant flautist Gillie Poznansky and the wonderfully talented pianist Mark Tanner left us in Buenos Aires at the end of their contract. They had given five superb recitals over the previous two weeks and had captivated us all. They were also great dinner companions.

So here we are in Argentina. First, Buenos Aires, then Puerto Madryn and then the southernmost capital in the world, Ushuaia. Our arrival in BA was accompanied by torrential rain – a heavier but warmer variety than that falling in the UK recently.

Buenos Aires is a large and beautiful city – too large to cover in one day. We took a taxi because one of the shuttles organised by the ship was not wheelchair friendly. The first, from the gangway to the terminal was fine. It could tilt and had a ramp but the second from the terminal to the city had neither. We took a taxi but as roads were closed because of a noisy demonstration a ten minute journey took mpre than an hour.

Regrettably we did not see much that BA has to offer. We did not get to see Eva Peron’s grave nor did we see some of the museums that we had hoped to visit – the rain and traffic problems curtailed our plans. We did, though, have a lovely lunch in a pavement restaurant once the rain had cleared and the sun had started to shine.
And in the evening we were treated to a beautiful Argentinian tango by the onboard professional dancers.
We will return to BA for a longer visit one day.
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Problems for our Lady Captain

Our next port is Puerto Madryn, Argentina where we are due tomorrow, but there are apparently problems there including some sort of blockade of the port. The Captain reported in her regular noon broadcast that there was a potential difficulty. The problems that she faced were that she has a number of passengers who are due to leave the ship there, she also has a group who have booked a 4 day tour of Patagonia returning to the ship in Ushuaia. And she needs to take on 2 Chilean pilots to assist her in navigating the waters off Cape Horn and through the Beagle Channel.

I know there were problems for cruise liners last year in getting in to Puerto Madryn if they had been to the Falklands or were going there later but whether this is related to that we do not know. We are not due to go there on this trip.

The Captain has updated us. We will go into the port in the early afternoon and we have apparently been given assurances that the ship will be allowed to leave! It will allow those who are due to leave the ship to disembark and importantly it will enable us to get the Chilean pilots on board. We will not, for our own safety we are told, be able to go ashore.
While we were in Buenos Aires on Tuesday there were massive traffic jams which meant that our taxi driver only received US$10, the agreed fare, for a ride that should have taken 10 minutes but in the event took an hour. When he dropped us off there was a large demonstration nearby which blocked the road and the flags being waved referred to Navales – which I think related to the present dispute. No doubt your access to the news is better than ours and if you could email me to let me know what it is all about – or make a comment in the appropriate place on the blog, that would be even better because it would update the 74,027 readers of the blog!
I think I have a photo of the demo in BA which I will add.
No wonder Captain Peter Philpott, who left the ship in Rio to go on leave will be pleased that he has avoided this hot potato!

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Montevideo

Montevideo is on the north shore of the River Plate (which separates Uruguay from Argentina) with Buenos Aires being 140 miles to the west on the southern shore.

We were here back in 2006 on Queen Mary 2 and took an organised tour on that occasion, so this time we decided to go on Smithy’s Walking Tour. The capital of Uruguay was just across the road from the berth and as a Holland America ship, Zaandam, was also in port the locals were out in force with their market stalls.

It was a lovely day and we were soon away from the port with Jane map reading. We reached a small well maintained square – Plaza Zabala – with a large number of gardeners and cleaners in evidence. Montevideo is a clean and tidy place and boasts about its welfare state system said to be the first and to a great extent the only welfare state that still exists in the Western Hemisphere. It has been in place since the 1900’s with free medical care, 8 hour working days, paid holidays, legal aid and nationalisation of essential services.

Jane guided us along a pedestrianised shopping area to a further beautiful square with a temporary antique market in place. Not a tatty place with some of the jewellery priced in the US $1,000 price category. Form there it was on to Independence Square which we remembered from our earlier visit.

Museums were plentiful, but sadly they were not equipped with lifts (elevators) and we were restricted to the ground floors.

Before returning to the ship we bumped into our dining companions, Gillie and Mark, and enjoyed a coffee with them. We walked some 6 or 7 miles over fairly uneven pavements with very few dropped kerbs!
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Rio de Janeiro

What a great day! This was probably our best port visit ever. Carole Gordon was recently in S America with Ian, and told us that the Brazilian jewelllery firm H Stern offered tours of the City incorporating a visit to their headquarters.

We went ashore at 9.30am. It was a beautiful day and almost immediately we were introduced to a young man, Hugo, from Stern’s, and were told that he would be with us for the day. A new black shiny Toyota then appeared driven by Philip. Getting the folding wheelchair into the boot/trunk was tricky because the car was fuelled by natural gas and the gas tank was located in the boot! But we managed to do it.

Hugo asked us what we would like to see. As we had been up Sugarloaf in the cable car on a previous visit and as we could see the statue of Christ the Redeemer from most parts of the City, with Hugo’s help we decided on the route we would take. First stop was a private boys school which had formerly been a monastery. The chapel was almost completely built of gold. The walls and ceiling were gold as was everything else. An incredible building.

From the Monastery we drove to the cathedral. Not a pretty building from the outside but inside it was stunning with stained glass windows stretching from the floor to the top of the pyramid shaped building. The cathedral can apparently hold more than 20,000 worshippers at one time.

Hugo turned out to be a perfect host. A 23 year old, due to graduate in International Relations next Friday from Rio’s University. He speaks 5 languages and is about to apply for internships in the UN with an emphasis on African affairs. He was a charming young man and took us next to the districts of Copacabana and Ipanema with their multi million dollar homes and beaches with the same names. 
The Girl from Ipanema was to be seen on the beach with her beautiful girlfriends, but the Copacabana beach was not as busy as it was when the Pope was in Rio last year. Millions of people flocked to see him on the beach.
By then we were ready to face the H Stern selling experience. It was not a hard sell and we felt no pressure to buy, although Jane did buy a smallish piece. After an hour there we returned to the car and were then driven to the massive botanical gardens. Hugo knew his trees and plants and the history of the gardens created by King John VI of Portugal in 1808 and opened to the public in 1822. We spent an hour in the beautiful gardens before returning to the ship. By then it was 6.00 pm and we had been out, courtesy of Stern, for 8 hours.

A brilliant day.
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John McCarthy

John McCarthy was on board for the second segment and gave two lectures and also took part in a Q&A session. You will recall that he was kidnapped in Beirut in 1986 and held as a hostage for 5 years. He is a brilliant speaker and talked about his capture and imprisonment, his time in solitary and his relationships with others – Brian Keenan, Terry Waite and three Americans.

He spoke without a note and kept full houses enthralled on each occasion. It came out during the Q&A session that he had been at school at Haileybury. Janes brother, Nigel Atkinson was also at Haileybury and when we spoke to John later, it appeared that they overlapped for 2 years, Nigel being his senior by 3 years.

John is a successful radio and TV presenter and frequently reports in the Middle East and from time to time returns to the Lebanon.
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Dinner companions

One of the highlights of each day is dinner in the Britannia Restaurant. With a little help from some friends (they know who they are) we were allocated the table that we had used in the past and which we like. For the first segment from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale, we enjoyed the company of Geoff and Pam from Harrow, who were intending to spend a few days in Florida, before returning by air to the UK. Henry and Marlene made up the table for 6. They were using the ship as a ferry to get them to their holiday home in Boca Raton, Florida. They were all in great form.

After Fort Lauderdale we were joined by Kim Brumpton, originally from Brisbane but now resident in California and his ‘boss’  Deidrie Ihlam who runs a travel agency in California. Deidrie, with Kim’s assistance, is hosting a group of her clients on QV. 

We were also joined by the classical musicians, Mark Tanner and Gillian Poznansky, who are giving 5 wonderful recitals during the segment between Ft Lauderdale and Buenos Airies. They are a lovely couple except that they can both do Super Fiendish Sudokus really rapidly (so they say!). Jane and I thought we were pretty good, but we are clearly in a different (lower) league!

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Fortaleza

Fortaleza was a maiden call for QV. The first time here and probably the last. QV is apparently the largest passenger ship to call, but that is not surprising because the facilities were poor. We moored in the commercial port (which in itself is not unusual in a port where there are no passenger terminals). It was dirty and uneven with railway lines crossing the dockside. The locals appeared to be totally disorganised and unable to cope with the large number of coaches and people.

We had been told that we would not be allowed to walk out of the port to find a taxi but that a vehicle would be available to take wheelchairs to the port gate. A van was parked near us on the dockside but the driver showed no interest in us and shook his head when I pointed out Jane in her wheelchair. After about half an hour the Port Agent arrived and indicated that this was indeed the van we were to use. It had no ramp and no hoist. By then Dan and Maureen Downey had arrived with Dan in his wheelchair. The van was high but I managed to bundle Jane in. Dan was a big man and Maureen a small lady but we pushed and shoved to get him in for a journey which turned out to be only some 400 yards to the gate.

At the gate a few taxi drivers argued between themselves about who should take us. They produced a number of unsuitable vehicles, but eventually a young man with a smattering of English and an honest smile arrived in a slightly battered taxi. A price was agreed to take the four of us and 2 folding wheelchairs to the centre of the city.
The 40 minute ride was interesting. Fast and furious with frequent lane changes and close shaves took us to the massive market on four floors. Dan decided to stay in the car with the driver despite no common language. The market was clean and the sellers surprised to see Europeans in their city. Jane managed to find some miniature dolls but we spent very little.

Then it was back to the taxi before another dangerous ride took us across town to the new football stadium. Reports in the UK have tended to give the impression that the stadia in Brazil are not ready for this summers FIFA World Cup, but Fortaleza is ready apart from a few roads near the stadium which need surfacing.

Fortaleza is a ramshackle, grubby place but its stadium looks magnificent. I asked the taxi driver if he would be going to any of the matches but he said he couldn’t afford to do so. A shame because no doubt many of the matches will be played before half empty stadia.
The drver then took us to his home to introduce us to his wife and 3 month old baby. The flat was sparcely furnished but a large flat screen TV took pride of place! Then it was off to the beach. A wide expanse of beautiful sand stretching for several miles. Fortaleza may one day sell itself as a tourist resort, but it has some way to go before it can make such a claim. It needs to clean up it’s act.

Everyone appeared to be pleased to be back aboard the ship after their day ashore. Home sweet home!
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