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NOTE: Clicking on the dates will take you to the corresponding photo album page for the day, while clicking on the place name (if it is a link) will take you to the track for the day. Clicking on the activity will take you to the corresponding diary entry, which is recorded later on this page.
Note that the link to the track for the day will download a file. You will need Google Earth to open this file. The track is not always complete due to technical problems in following the GPS satellites, and in some cases (due to overnight cruising) includes data for the previous day. So if a day appears missing, click the next day and follow the track backwards. (Note: due to poor internet connectivity, downloads of these have been deferred until return to Oz.)
Within the blog, the date in the title is a link that takes you to the photos for the day, and the day of the week will bring you back to the itinerary.
All dates and times are local times. This can give anomalous results when travel across time zones is involved.
|Place (Track)||Time||Activity (Blog)|
|0||22 Dec||Melbourne||Park Royal, Tullamarine|
|2||24 Dec||Seattle||all day||garage tidying, choir singing and Christmas Decorations|
|3||25 Dec||Seattle||all day||Christmas Day|
|4||26 Dec||Seattle||all day||Boxing Day|
|5||27 Dec||Seattle||all day||Woodinville, Johnsons|
|6||28 Dec||Seattle||all day||Nathan postlude, Ballard Market, Theo's Chocolate Factory|
|7||29 Dec||Seattle||all day||Boeing Museum of Flight|
|8||30 Dec||Seattle||all day||Union Bay and Gasworks Park|
|9||31 Dec||Seattle to Anacortes and Whidbey Island||all day||Anacortes and Whidbey Island|
|10||01 Jan||Seattle||all day||Re-shingling the Garage|
|12||03 Jan||Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US||2300||Ship Departs|
|13||04 Jan||At Sea||all day||At Sea|
|14||05 Jan||At Sea||all day||Prinsendam at Sea|
|15||06 Jan||Isla de Providencia, Colombia||1100-1730||Morgan's Head|
|16||07 Jan||was to be: Puerto Limon, Costa Rica||0700-1600||Ship Arrives-Departs|
|actually: San Blas Islands||1200-1830||San Blas-ting|
|17||08 Jan||Transit Panama Canal Cristobal-Balboa||0500-1530||Panama Canal|
|18||09 Jan||At Sea||all day||A Languid Day - Not!|
|19||10 Jan||Manta, Ecuador||0600-2000||Manta|
|20||11 Jan||At Sea||all day||At Sea|
|21||12 Jan||Salaverry (Trujillo), Peru||0500-1600||Off to Machu Pichu|
|22||13 Jan||Callao (Lima), Peru||1200-overnight||Ollantaytambo and Pisaq Archaeology|
|23||14 Jan||Callao (Lima), Peru||all day||Machu Pichu|
|24||15 Jan||Callao (Lima), Peru||overnight-1700||Return to Prinsendam|
|25||16 Jan||General San Martin, Peru||0800-1700||General San Martin|
|26||17 Jan||At Sea||all day||At Sea|
|27||18 Jan||Arica, Chile||0700-1600||Arica, Chile|
|28||19 Jan||At Sea||all day||Life Savers|
|29||20 Jan||Coquimbo (La Serena), Chile||1000-1900||I Love My Soccer Team!|
|30||21 Jan||Valparaiso||1000-overnight||The Four Stop Special|
|31||22 Jan||Valparaiso||overnight-1700||It's Not Safe!|
|32||23 Jan||At Sea||all day||Mariner Presentations|
|33||24 Jan||Isla Robinson Crusoe, Chile||0800-1700||Tsunami Plugholes|
|34||25 Jan||At Sea||all day||At Sea|
|35||26 Jan||Puerto Montt, Chile||0800-1700||Puerto Montt|
|36||27 Jan||At Sea||all day||Darwin Channel Chilean Fjords|
|37||28 Jan||At Sea||all day||Chilean Fjords|
|38||29 Jan||Punta Arenas, Chile||0600-1800||Magellan Penguins|
|39||30 Jan||Beagle Channel and Ushuaia||1400-2000||The Train to the End of the World|
|40||31 Jan||Cape Horn and Drake Passage||0830||Cape Horn and Drake's Passage|
|41||01 Feb||The Palmer Archipelago||1000||Antarctica and the Neumayer Channel|
|42||02 Feb||Gerlache Strait and Paradise Harbour||1000||Antarctica, Paradise and Wilhelmina Bays|
|43||03 Feb||The Antarctic Sound||0600-1200||Antarctic Sound and King George Island|
|44||04 Feb||At Sea||all day||Drake's Passage|
|45||05 Feb||Falkland Islands and Stanley||0600-1500||Magellanic, Gentoo and King Penguins|
|46||06 Feb||At Sea||all day||The Word of John|
|47||07 Feb||At Sea||all day||Never a Dull Moment|
|48||08 Feb||Montevideo, Uruguay||0800-1700||A Pleasant Stroll through Montevideo|
|49||09 Feb||Buenos Aires, Argentina||0700-overnight||Iguazu Falls|
|50||10 Feb||Buenos Aires, Argentina||overnight-1730||Internet and Interdict|
|51||11 Feb||Punta del Este, Uruguay||1300-2000||Wifi and Wiffy|
|52||12 Feb||At Sea||all day||Food and Movies to Take Your Breath Away|
|53||13 Feb||At Sea||all day||Food Frolics|
|54||14 Feb||Santos, Brazil||0800-1700||Steamy Santos|
|55||15 Feb||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||0800-overnight||All Quiet in Rio (not?)|
|56||16 Feb||Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||overnight-1700||Christ The Redeemer|
|57||17 Feb||At Sea||all day||Busyness at Sea|
|58||18 Feb||Ilheus, Brazil||0900-1800||Illness in Ilheus (Sylvester only)|
|59||19 Feb||Salvador da Bahia, Brazil||0800-1700||Salvation in Salvador|
|60||20 Feb||Maceio, Brazil||1100-1800||Arty or Anal?|
|61||21 Feb||Recife, Brazil||0800-1700||Ole in Olinda|
|62||22 Feb||Natal, Brazil||0800-1700||We have seen the Natal Star|
|63||23 Feb||At Sea||all day||Mariners Marinating|
|64||24 Feb||Crossing the Equator||all day||What a Mouth, What a Mouth, What a North and South!|
|65||25 Feb||Cruising the Amazon River||all day||Brazil - where the nuts come from|
|66||26 Feb||Santarem, Brazil||1200-2000||Cold Beers are Welcome|
|67||27 Feb||Boca da Valeria, Brazil||0800-1400||Bout of Malaria - Not!|
|68||28 Feb||Manaus, Brazil||1000-overnight||A Playstation Performance|
|69||01 Mar||Manaus, Brazil||overnight-1600||Meeting of the Amazonian Waterways|
|70||02 Mar||Parintins, Brazil||0800-1400||Boi Bumba|
|71||03 Mar||Cruising the Amazon River||all day||Chats with the Cohens|
|72||04 Mar||At Sea||all day||Buy cheap watch? Cheap, very cheap!|
|73||05 Mar||Devils Island, French Guiana||0800-1700||The Devil It Isn't!|
|74||06 Mar||At Sea||all day||A Smile Was All She Gave To Me|
|75||07 Mar||Bridgetown, Barbados||0800-1700||Snorkelling with the Turtles|
|76||08 Mar||At Sea||all day||Trivia Triumph!|
|77||09 Mar||St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.||0800-1700||More Snorkelling with the Turtles|
|78||10 Mar||At Sea||all day||A Start on Packing|
|79||11 Mar||At Sea||all day||On The Last Day|
|80||12 Mar||Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US||0700 ship arrives||Everglades|
|80||12 Mar||Fort Lauderdale-Toronto||1545-1857||AC939|
|81||13 Mar||Waterloo||all day||City Cafe|
|82||14 Mar||St Jacobs; Fergus -- Waterloo||all day||The Fox Hats|
|83||15 Mar||Waterloo-Cambridge||all day||Cambridge breakfast and Canadian dinner|
|84||16 Mar||Waterloo-St Augustine||all day||Maple Syrup Day|
|85||17 Mar||St Augustine; Goderich; Ice Culture -- St Augustine-Waterloo||all day||Ice Culture Day|
|86||18 Mar||Waterloo||all day||Scotland and Ireland in Canada|
|87||19 Mar||St Jacobs and Elmira||all day||apple fritters, yum!|
|88||20 Mar||Toronto-Melbourne; cross date line||all day||a day in darkness|
|89||21 Mar||return to Melbourne||all day||We see the light at the end of the tunnel|
It was just as well we asked for a wake-up call this morning at 6am, since, although we woke up well before dawn, we must have drifted off again, because the phone ringing woke us up with a jolt! However, we quickly readied ourselves, and walked across to the airport terminal (so nice not to have to hurry and fret about traffic), where we checked in (so nice to go through the business class short queue), and then repaired to the Qantas Business Lounge.
Board the aircraft on time, but had to wait on the tarmac a bit, and did not take off for 20 minutes. Just as well we got the earlier flight, we thought! But it did not matter - on arrival at Sydney, we discovered the Air Canada flight was delayed 1 hour!! Interestingly, the flight took almost exactly 1 hour - 1:00:29 to be exact.
Thanks to the Business Class, we short-changed all the queues, and headed for the Qantas Lounge. But no! Air Canada, we were told, uses the Air New Zealand Lounges, which were miles away!! We headed there, only to be told that no, Air Canada uses the Singapore Airways Lounge!!! The good news was that it was not back by the Qantas Lounge, so only a short walk, and they did let us in at the Singapore Lounge.
The plane in fact took off at 1:30, and we settled in for the 13-hour flight. Barbara, against my express wishes, declared that she could take to travelling business class in a big way. And I have to say, it is what I always imaging air travel should be like! The food was excellent, and after lunch, we experimented with pushing all the buttons to make the seat sit up and take notice. We took the hint to retire early (like about 3:30pm Melbourne time), since the plane was due to arrive at 2:40am Melbourne time, and we knew we would not be compos mentous unless we did get some sleep. Barb declared that there we no movies she wanted to watch, but John found one: "Anatomy of a Murder", an old classic starring James Stewart. That helped to stretch the hours. But we did also get some sleep, much more than would have been the case in Economy. The air stewards all wore Christmas "bling", which added to the occasion.
Arrival in Vancouver was in fact 10 minutes before the scheduled time, in spite of the fact that we took off 65 minutes late. The flight took 12:45:38. Just thought you should know that, too. We got through the US transit lounge without John getting the SSS treatment, so Vancouver has that as an additional advantage over entering the US through Los Angeles. However, they did want to do "some tests" on John's laptop, and John was asked to open the laptop up. Why, I have no idea. The inspector did nothing to it. Strange, these "Customs and Border Protection" people. Is that where Morrison got the name from? His treatment of refugees is modelled on the aggressiveness of their US counterparts, and indeed, goes several steps further.
The flight to Seattle, on a Dash-8 (if that means anything to you - if it doesn't, it is a turboprop that is so small that you cannot fit your carry-on luggage into the overhead lockers), was delayed due to the "non-arrival of the crew" on a previous flight. We eventually took off at 12:30 for a 35:47.58 flight, but then had to wait another 45 minutes at Seattle for Lynne to arrive. So it was well into the afternoon before we were at 2819 NW 58th Street, Ballard, where Nathan and Lynne showed us around their new home, which we had not seen previously. Small, but comfortable, is how I would describe it. Nathan was particularly keen to press me into service finishing off the garage floor, but given how jet-lagged we were, I dissembled until the morrow.
We did get enough second wind to go for a walk after dinner around the neighbourhood (in the pouring rain), to view all the Christmas decorations, which are quite widespread. Nathan had several theories about the social strategies of people with decorations, which I will not attempt to reproduce here. Suffice to say, it involves aspirational middle-class people!
Then to a welcome bed ...
Due to jetlag, we had a very late start this morning, and it was well past 0930 when we arose. Nathan made us french toast for breakfast, which was very enjoyable.
The first task was to tidy up the garage. There was some suggestion that Christmas Dinner might be held in the garage, because it had more room, but the downside was that it had more stuff. In any case, Nathan wanted to pour some self-levelling concrete to finish the space off, and this required moving lots of "stuff" out of the way. We had most of it done by lunch time, and then after lunch completed tidying enough for the first pour. By then we had decided that lunch would be inside, given the vagaries of the weather, and the possibility we would have to move food or people or both between the garage and house in the rain. Pretty obvious decision in the end!
At 1600, we set off for the First Methodist Church, where Nathan was to sing with the choir in a Xmas Eve service. This is the place where last year we rocked up to a service with the choir, and not only did we both get roped in to sing, but their regular conductor was off sick, and so they roped Barbara in to conduct as well! (It was a piece we had done before.)
So this time we were not allowed to be spectators either! They were singing two pieces, The Sussex Carol (in a rather different arrangement, but similar enough in the vocal parts), and a piece that neither of us had seen before, called The Work of Christmas. No one in the regular choir had sung it before either, since it had been written during 2014, so it was the first Christmas it has been sung. It is commercially available, so I suspect other choirs around the US were doing it for the first time too.
It went off well. Both of us were able to sight read both arrangements well enough to fool those around us, and we were warmly welcomed for our participation! It was good to take part in a choral service on the other side of the world, in spite of all the jokes we had about having to hold the music upside down! It was also nice to wear gowns again for the occasion.
It was interesting to note that the FFMC held two Christmas Eve services (we were invited to sing in the second one as well, but we had other things to do), but no Christmas Day service. That seems to be the norm here, although it did seem very strange to us.
After dinner, we installed the Christmas Tree, while Lynne decorated it, and then we went out, this time without rain, to view more Xmas decorations. Home and to bed at 2300!
We managed to be up slightly earlier this morning, although you probably would not call 0845 early. Nathan and I leapt into action, although "leapt" is probably not the right word either. We got busy in the garage, pouring concrete to level the floor. Nathan was using a very runny but fast setting style of concrete, so we had to work fast. That entailed making sure that everything was in place before we mixed the concrete. We managed to complete about 60sq ft, or about half of the space to be done. Nathan and Lynne had previously tackled a similar sized section, so we are about two thirds of the way there.
Before lunch, I tackled getting my photos sorted out. I thought I had done this in Melbourne before, and I had, only to undo all the good work when I reloaded the photos from a backup disk that had the same corruption in it. Duh! Anyway, I am getting good at repairing the damage.
Dinner was very late - guests did not arrive until after 1430, for a 1400 start. Should I name them then? On the basis that no one reading this blog will know them, there was Kit (whom we had met before), Brittany, a friend of Jason, who himself was an ex-colleague of Nathan at Amazon (as was Kit).
Dinner itself was very pleasant, and the company interesting. Kit is an extrovert computer expert, which sounds like an oxymoron, but isn't! He kept us in jokes and merriment almost single handedly! At 1600 we decided a walk before pudding was appropriate. So we walked down to Shilshole Bay to see a glorious sunset. Just as the sun had set, there was a diesel toot from the railway line behind, so we (Kit, Nathan and I) rushed back and were able to see a BN&SF loco drop off a string of full cement wagons for the Ballard goods line (sorry, "freight" line), and collect the empties. A few photos and movies later, we walked home to pudding - actually pies, one berry and one apple. We were full enough after that!
In the evening, after the guests had left and we had cleared up the mess, we settled down to watch "This Old House", an American version of Grand Designs, but much more practical (i.e., full of useful building tips), and much more successful than Grand Designs (i.e., no unforeseen disasters). But (unlike Joe Hockey) they never mentioned the budget!
We are clearly still jet lagged, as we did not wake up until 0950 this morning! After breakfast, we got stuck in to pouring more concrete in the garage. In spite of the large deviations from level (up to 1 inch in some places, two bags of concrete seemed to make a vast improvement in the look and feel of the floor, and we are now reasonably confident that the final result will look OK, even if it is not 100% level or flat.
In the afternoon, we went to Swanson's Nursery in nearby Ballard, a) because Lynne was looking for some new plants for the garden, and b) because they had some pet reindeer there! I'm not sure I have ever seen reindeer up close and personal before, and learnt one intriguing thing that I did not know before: they have a tendon in the foot that clicks as they walk! It made watching them walk around quite intriguing. Apparently it is a signal in the herd that keeps them flocking together for protection. The feet are quite large in comparison to other cattle, which helps them walk on the snow. Swanson's also had a pet camel on display, whose name was Curley, and we got to feed Curley a carrot or two! Very prehensile lips and tongue, camels have.
Then on to Macy's for some evening shopping. I bought a pair of new shoes (at about half the price in Australia, even allowing for the exchange rate!), and Barb bought some slippers. Nathan bought a new jacket, and Lynne some socks, so we all came home suitably retail therapied up.
In the evening Kit (see also Christmas Day) came around, and we (Nathan, Kit and I) worked on our Beaglebone Blacks. Nathan gave me two of these for Xmas. What's a Beaglebone Black I hear you ask? It's a small development computer, a bit like an Arduino, but better. It runs Linux, has an ethernet port, and can host things like a web server (all better than the Arduino). It is planned to use one to re-implement our house computer server so that it will be much lower power, and much more compact. All good, so far.
We headed off for the Porterage Cafe in the morning, but they were full up when we arrived, and we had to wait for half an hour. This was too much for Nathan, who complaining that he was too hungry to wait that long, went home for breakfast. But Lynne, Barb and I killed time by walking down to the Hiram J. Chittenden Locks, and watched the boats locking, and the cormorants fishing.
For breakfast I had a Chorizo and Brussel Sprouts Frittata (really an omelette) which was a very interesting blend of flavours. Barb had boring ole french toast.
After breakfast, Nathan and I did more garage floor concreting, before we headed off to Woodinville, and Beth's cousin Andrew, his wife Angela and their two kids Alexander and Cassandra. We were early, but as it was pouring with rain, we took a punt and laded at the door a quarter of an hour early. Andrew welcomed us in (Angela was out), and we sat and chatted around cups of tea before heading off to the winery that we had visited last time, Domaine St Michelle.
Angela turned up while we were tasting wine, and commented that we werein exactly the same place as last time she saw us there! So more chatting, this time over glasses of wine. We bought a couple of bottles, not because we didn't like the wine, but simply because we could not carry much with us.
We kicked on to the Columbia winery and more tasting, and another purchase. Then to the Redhook Brewery next door, not so much for the beer, but because they had a restaurant which Andrew said was good.
It was not so much a restaurant as a huge great chow house, but the food was good, and there was plenty of it! I had a "pulled pork plate" and Nathan a "Boss Hog", and it was more than either of us could eat! The pork was excellent. N. and I both had a beer sampler, and that was also enough beer for each. So we went away feeling very replete!!
Then back to the Johnson's, where we chatted until about 10 and took our leave. It was great to meet up with them again, and Nathan and Lynne had a good time chatting with Andrew and Angela respectively, so hopefully we can do more of the same in the future!
Nathan wanted to get to church early this morning to practice his postlude, so Lynne took him and me around to First Free Methodist Church, where N. spent the next 45 minutes practising on the organ in the chapel. John then took up a position on the balcony floor to get a better camera angle, while Lynne and Barb joined N. in the second front row for the service itself.
The sermon was very interesting, being about our (in)Ability to Lament, and based upon the story of the Magi not telling Herod where the baby was, and Herod flying into a rage and bumping off all the baby boys. The preacher, Pastor Allison Coventry, linked all this to injustice in our modern world, with the idea that we are too good at saying "all is well" (Jeremiah 6:14). How many times do we reply "fine" when people ask us how we are? Coventry's point was that worship must be the place "to publically name life's contradictions", and that we are the poorer for trying to put a good spin on things. Matthew told it like it was, and so should we. Politicians come to mind as one of the first groups for whom naming life's contradictions would be a good step.
Nathan's postlude "Prelude in Classic Style" by Gordon Young (1966) went off well, and he made a good decision in choosing to play it at a slower pace than he had done in rehearsal. His organ teacher Justin gave him good praise at the end of it, and now has an even more challenging piece for N. to try next time! The irony of playing a prelude as a postlude did not go unnoticed.
After church we went to the Ballard Street Market, where we bought some lunch burrittos at a Mexican stall: I had a "Capa Cabra" (?), Barb had a slightly less challenging name and item "Steak and Eggs". Then back home, where we each indulged in our own private catch-up times.
Late in the afternoon we set off for Fremont (the next suburb over from Ballard), where there was a chocolate factory, called Theo's. However, Lynne got the time wrong, and we were an half hour early, so we wandered around the banks of the Shipping Canal until it was time.
The factory was very interesting, and fattening. We had samples of everything along the production line, except for the dried cocoa beans themselves. Like coffee, they are not much delight until roasted, when they start to take on the flavour we know and love. We particularly enjoyed the "nibs", the partly crushed roast beans before any sugar or other "inclusions" are added. After the tour we bought a couple more blocks of chocolate for Ron, and returned home via the Ballard Market (a large supermarket store, not the street market we visited earlier in the day) to stock up for dinner and Ron as well.
Home for dinner, and started to work on building Nathan's computer controlled milling machine. This is a kit form, so we went through all the parts list to check that everything was there, and then wired up the Arduino controller and stepper motors to check that they worked correctly. (They did.) Then to bed.
Quiet, yet significantly earlier start to the day. The jet lag finally seems to be abating. The plan for the day was to head off to The Museum of Flight, located next to the Boeing Engineering Works. We got there about 1230 and had an absorbing time wandering around the history of space flight exhibit, before deciding it was time for lunch at 1400. Then, a half an hour later, more wandering for another hour and a half, this time around the Space Shuttle, then the air park, which including historic aircraft like the Concorde, the first 747, and Air Force One, the plane used by Nixon, Kennedy and Eisenhower in their globetrotting diplomacy junkets.
John declared that the Museum was "almost as good as the Cite du Train" in Mulhouse, France. But he would not be biassed.
By then the sun was setting fast, and Lynne wanted to take us to West Seattle to see the sunset. We made it in time to get some impressive photos across Puget Sound, including some very dramatic photos of Seattle in the late afternoon light.
Then back to Ballard for dinner.
Both Nathan and Lynne had medical appointments during the day, so we did not go on a specific trip anywhere. However, Nathan and I did some more work in the garage, while L. and B. went shopping. It was a lovely sunny day all day, but bitterly cold. During the day, we saw lots of ice on the ground, and many puddles were frozen over.
After lunch, Lynne took Barb and me into Union Bay, where we started to walk along the lake shore. At about the time when we thought we should be turning back, Lynne appeared! It was the wrong day. Apparently, she rang yesterday to confirm, and asked "was it tomorrow?", to be told yes, but there was some misundertsanding, and it now is "tomorrow".
So we got in the car and drove to the Gasworks Park, a disused town gas suppy site that has been turned into a park with lots of intriguing pipes, tanks and machines. We wandered around there for half an hour, then drove up to Fremont Peak Park, a lookout with a view over Fremont and Ballard, and to the Olympics beyond. Then home.
Big day touring today. We headed north at around 11am, up the I5 to Burlington, where we turned west to Anacortes. We had been here before, when Lynne took us whale watching in Aug 2012. We had lunch at the Adrift Restaurant, John had Curry Poached Catfish, Barb had Clams with Drunken Sailor (white wine and garlic!) Then walked around Anacortes, with the girls looking for postcards and the boys looking for the hardware shop that sold old hardware (gauges, blocks and tackle, and the like), but it was shut!
Then down south to Deception Pass, stopping to admire the double bridge over the raging current that was the tide ebbing out between the two islands of Fidalgo and Whidbey. Then we made our way down Whidbey Island, stopping to look at various points of interest, and the sunset.
We got to the Mukilteo Ferry at 1645, in time for the 1700 ferry and a short ride across back to the mainland. Then back to the I5 and southwards to home.
After the excitement of touring yesterday, much quieter day. John helped Nathan with more tidying up of the garage, working on the shingles on the damaged corner. "DeDwayne-ing it" was how Nathan described it. Dwayne was the contractor he employed to help reconstruct the garage, and Nathan said that while Dwayne was very cheap, Dwayne's self-assessment of his abilities was very over-optimistic. This corner of the garage had been damaged by Dwayne driving the bob-cat into the corner, knocking off the power point and scrunching several of the shingles around it.
Unfortunately, if you know shingles you will know that once you take one off, you sort of have to take the lot off. Some of them were stapled on so vigorously (thanks to Nathan's previous efforts) that taking them off demolished others in the process. So in the end we decided to just re-shingle the whole section of wall! You can see the end result and judge for yourself. The new bits are the slightly darker grey ones around the full height window.
In the evening, John helped Nathan build his computer-controlled milling machine. We got it working to the point where it was able to write "SHAPES2015" on a sheet of paper. Well, it would have, but for the pen not reaching the paper properly for the middle 4 letters. Nathan still has a bit of adjustment to do, but unfortunately, we shall not be around to see that. But you can see a video of this action - at least, when I figure out how to include a video on this blog ...
At John's special request, we breakfasted again at The Porterage Cafe. It really is an amazing place. John had Buckwheat Pancakes with Berries, and Barb had Wild Mushroom Benedict. Both extremely yummy.
Then off to the airport. A few hugs all round at the drop-off point, and we said farewell to Nathan and Lynne. We did have to pay for our luggage ($US25 each), in spite of what we were led to believe. Ho hum. The rip-off merchants get you every which-way!
A comfortable 2:14:33 flight to Phoenix, where we had a 1 hour layover, then 3:54:38 hours to Fort Lauderdale, slightly bumpier. We did fly over the Grand Canyon on the way to Phoenix, and there was lots of snow around on the higher ground. Arrival in FLL was on time at 10:20pm local time, but we had to wait almost an hour for the luggage to come out, which meant we didn't get to the hotel until about 2345, just in time to get some bar snacks (calamari and artichoke hearts) for dinner. Although it was late, it was still 9pm by stomach time, and we had survived without lunch on the basis of the big breakfast!.
There was no particular hurry this morning, as the transfer to the ship was not scheduled until 11am, but we did have to get our bags ready by 9am for collection, which meant getting dressed before then! A leisurely breakfast (John: Crabmeat Benedict; Barb: Porridge), then some sitting around waiting for the transfer bus. What was promised as a 10 minute trip took over an hour, since there were 8 ships in port, and they were all loading in the morning! Add to that the fact that the place was swarming with security people/sheriffs/traffic wardens, but none of them seemed capable of directing traffic! But we successfully embarked in time for lunch (at about 2pm), and then set out re-orienting ourselves with the ship. After travelling on the Volendam last year, a ship that carries some 80% more passengers, we found that we did not know the ship as well as we thought we did!
We met lots of new people - beside Roger, whom we met at the airport last night, there was Mark and Bonnie (from Oregon), Kerry and Cheryl (from Perth), Mitch and Maggie (from Fort Worth, Texas), and at the dinner table: Jack and Karen (from Las Vegas), Bob and Laurie (from Reno?), and Arthur and Roberta (from California, but originally from Boston). Dear reader, I bore you with this list of names, not so much as an exercise in name dropping, or demonstrating my powers of recall, but more simply as an aide-memoire for myself. Bear with.
The waiter service at dinner was not particularly good. It was not until after 10 that we got dessert (the sitting started at 8, and while the company was good, we all felt that our pangs of hunger were not being addressed rapidly enough, especially Karen, sitting next to me, whom I decided (as did some of the others in a later confession after she and Jack had left) was in for a bit of a surprise. I say this because she was on her first cruise, and had signed up for the whole 10 weeks. When she told me this, and of her misgivings about being without the internet for 10 weeks, I said "Well, you can always jump ship!" (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), she replied, in all seriousness "Where would you recommend that I do that?"!! She did spend most of the meal on her smartphone, so I am guessing that she will be in deep internet withdrawal sysmptoms fairly soon!
Roberta, whom it turned out was a 5-star mariner, and had travelled on the Prinsendam 8 times in the past, did take the Maitre d' to task over the poor service. The wine waiter did not come near our table, and we were about the second last table to leave. Not the sort of service we have come to expect from Holland America, even with our limited 3-star status! But we agreed to put it down to first night bedding-down problems, and the Maitre d' agreed to look after us tomorrow night. We shall see!
Our first day at sea, and a chance to relax and regroup after the process of getting here. We had breakfast in the dining room with Ann and Pat, and after a few moments of conversation discovered that Pat (who was from Vancouver, but born in Adelaide, and had an Australian accent) had been on the same Volendam cruise around Australia as us in 2013! It's a small world after all! We had a long conversation, and almost had to be thrown out of the dining room as breakfast time had long expired.
Had coffee in the Explorer Cafe, and we bought new jackets in the ship's shop to replace the ones we had left behind in Seattle.
Lunch was in the Lido, where we met another nice couple, Susan and Peter (from Sheffield, UK). Then off to the Showroom, to hear a talk by Dr Michael Bikerman, ex University of Arizona, on Plate Tectonics. This was a good introduction to some basic geological terms, and he was a good speaker. I warmed to him when he said that he welcomed any questions, and if he knew the answer, he would tell it to the best of his ability, but if he didn't know, then he would say so and shut up! Very good advice for any teacher!
To the Observation Deck just before sunset, where we prepared to take some photos of the sunset. Imagine our delight when we saw a school of dolphins ahead of the ship's prow, leaping out of the water, two and three abreast. I tried taking some photos, but they were jolly quick. Next time I shall set the camera to movie, and just hold the button down! Then down a deck to the Crow's Nest, where we met Cheryl and Kerry (who turned out to be really from Christmas Island, and they have two houses, one on Christmas Island, their real home, and one in Perth, where they stay when not on Christmas Island). While we were talking with them, we were joined by Mitch and Maggie (from Fort Worth), and we stayed talking until it was time for dinner.
Dinner was much better this evening, in terms of the service. As it turned out, Kerry and Cheryl were seated at our table - there was some stuff-up the previous night, and tonight they had 10 settings for dinner, rather than 8, so we all fitted. We did get to talk to the wine waiter, and indeed, the Beverage Manager, Andrew, who promised to look after us. But they did not have any record of the wine packages that we thought we had ordered. Andrew organized a bottle of wine for us in the interim (NZ Marlborough Sav Blanc), and said that we could "sort things out later". Dinner was good: John had St. Louis Shrimp and Seafood (prawn cocktail by another name), French Onion Soup, Grilled Swordfish Cutlet, and Coffee Cheesecake; while Barb had Crab and Artichoke, Chicken Breast, and Chocolate Decadence.
John tried getting his local ethernet working in the evening, but he was obviously too tired as he could not get it to work, and gave up before retiring.
Breakfast in the dining room, where we met Susan and Nate (who was born in Bakersfield, California), and who are "dyed in the wool" Holland America cruisers. Had a nice time chatting to them, and almost got thrown out of the dining room again.
At 1030 we went to have a chat with Andrew, the Beverage Manager and Somelier. He was very pleasant, in spite of having to deal with the difficulties of getting organized. He explained that the difficulty we had with getting our complimentary bottle of champagne was that there had been a change of supplier, and the delivery system had not yet been bedded down. Anyway, he was able to organize the package of wine that we had thought we had ordered, at the same pre-cruise discounted price. So all is well on the wine front! (Just as well, I hear you say, dear reader, or we would never have heard the end of John's complaints.) Andrew also booked us in for this afternoon's wine tasting session.
Went to Michael Bikerman's second talk on Plate Tectonics, which was just as fascinating as yesterday. Learnt all about plate subduction (two plates colliding, with one going under another), rifting (two plates splitting apart, recalling the amazing scenes we saw in Iceland, which he specifically mentioned), and transforming (two plates sliding past each other). Next time, volcanoes!
After lunch in the Lido, we went to the wine tasting. I have to say, I was impressed with Andrew's wine knowledge, and his ability to explain it in simple terms. For example, he explained how, as the temperature of the wine is reduced, the acidity is softened to the taste (effectively, the acid taste buds are numbed), and the wine takes on a more refreshing taste. This explains why beer must be chilled, especially if it is bitter, and why warm beer is revolting. Remember warm English ales? They survive because of the reduced bitterness and increased flavours of malted barley, which work better at warmer temperatures. Much the same comments apply to champagne, which must be dry and chilled to be at its best. But as the acid weakens, the wine sshould be served at warmer temperatures to bring out the more subtle flavours.
We tasted four wines: Piedra Negra Torrontes 2014 (Argentina); Hayman & Hill Chardonnay 2013 (California); Remole Toscana 2012 (Italy); and Mendoza Malbec 2012 (Argentina). Barb did not like the last one, which was very intense and full of tannin, but John did. It had an almost port-like nose, but without the sweetness and fortification of port.
Then straight across to the Showroom to hear Brett the Tour Guide talk about the history of the Panama Canal. Fascinating! Then some time to relax in our cabin, when John managed to sort out his network problems, and get his web page server on his Ubuntu laptop working. He was happy.
Rather than going to the Crow's Nest, we stayed in our cabin and had the first taste of one of our four bottles of gin, before heading off to the Showroom again to hear The Captain's Toast, and an introduction to the Senior Staff. Straight on to the first formal dinner, which John found a little disappointing - in terms of the food, the company was good, I hasten to add! John had Carribean Fritters (good), Fettucine Putanesca (not hot enough), and Torte Tatin (pastry was feeble). Barb had Caesar Salad (OK), Tornedos Rossini (brilliant, she said), and Torte Tatin.
Then kicked on to the Wajang Theatre to watch the movie "The Hundred Foot Journey". Barb had read the book, and liked it, and the movie did not disappoint her. Certainly worth watching, is my comment.
Breakfast in the Lido this morning. We discovered that the two serveries on either side of the ship served different things. (Didn't we know that already? We have been on this ship before, and I think we did know that, but it must have been swept aside in last year's fraternising with Prinsendam's big sister, Volendam. Besides which, we have been on the Aranui since last travelling on the Prinsendam, so there are too many ships to be keeping track of - sorry, little Prinsess dame.) So we made a mental note to try the other side tomorrow morning.
We readied ourselves for the shore excursion, and were in plenty of time to be early to the Showroom. John decided that taking a bit of money ashore might be useful, and went back to the cabin, where he found a letter to us stating that due to rough weather, the shore excursion (the snorkelling we had brought a mask and snorkel pipe half way round the world to do) had been cancelled! We have a unenviable record: on every cruise we have been on, at least one of the pre-booked excursions has been cancelled!
But we went ashore anyway, on the first tender (I did say we were early), and had a very bumpy ride. It was compared to a number of fun park rides, but the one we thought most appropriate was the log ride in the Sunway theme park at KL, where the signs at the start said "You will not get wet on this ride". They lied. The poor young officer driving the tender got thoroughly drenched by the waves crashing over the bow of the boat, and many people in and around him (including Barb) got quite wet as well!
Once ashore, we headed across the bridge to Santa Catlina Island, and followed the signs to "Morgan's Head". This was about half-an-hour's walk, for the first half along a well made level concrete pathway, and for the second hald, along a narrow hilly track through the tropical jungle. It was worth the walk, because at the end, not only did we see Morgan's Head (a rock formation in the shape of a pirate's head), but also a beautiful tropical coastline view.
On our way back, we stopped for a swim at the so-called Fort Beach, which unfortunately did not have much sand. According to one of the locals, the sand comes and goes. "Come back in March", he said, "better then". But the water was refreshing. Then back to the ship, and a late and well-earned beer and hot dog on the Lido Deck by the pool. Since Barb still had her bathers on, she decided to have a quick dip in the pool to cool off.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin, with a gin and tonic to help the relaxing. Lying on the bed was itself a massage, as the ship sailed into some pretty rough weather - a storm, as the captain later described it. The rough weather continued all night, and has only just abated as we have sailed into the lee of the San Blas islands (I'm writing this a day later).
Dinner with the usual crowd, minus Karen and Jack, whom we had seen swimming at Fort Beach, but did not turn up for dinner. Arthur was in his usual fine form, with lots of stories (particularly about cruise ships!), and Roberta did comment at one stage that he had a "photographic memory".
A rough night, although we slept well. John has this theory that when to boat is arockin', it is like one of those vibrating beds that sends you to to sleep. Well, he thought so. It was so rough that the two bottles of wine that we had wedged into the shelves fell over, fortunately without breaking, or popping their corks, Sue. The cans in the minibar fridge got re-arranged, too.
We elected to dine in the La Fontaine Dining Room rather than the Lido, and were glad that we did, as we were seated at the same table as Mitch and Maggie from Fort Worth, whom we first met a few nights ago. Also with us were a couple we had not previously met, Don and Gail from Bocceraton, Florida. They alerted us to the terrible events in Paris that took place today.
From breakfast we went straight to the Showroom to hear Brett talk about the Panama Canal, this time in terms of what we will be able to see. There was not much technical detail, other than that the locks have a length of 1000ft (304m) and a width of 65ft (19.8m). Doubtless we shall discover more tomorrow.
Barb then went off to the cooking demonstration, while John worked on his (this) blog. After lunch in the Lido, we took the tender across to the San Blas Islands, a group of very small islands populated by South American Indians, who are known for their matriarchal society, and the very colourful needlework. You could buy samples for $US10-30, but we didn't. John lashed out and paid a family $1 to take their photo, but that was all we spent. Barb thought the place was worse than Lombok (Indonesia), but John thought is slightly more interesting. At least the pain was over more quickly, and we caught a tender back after an hour or so of wandering.
Drinks in the Crows' Nest at 6, where we met Mitch and Maggie, and were joined by Roger. We dined with the usual bunch, and everyone turned up. John had Herring Sampler (very good), Pitou Soup (disappointing), Roast Lamb (good), and Chocolate Tart (good), while Barb had the same except for dessert, where she went for the cheese board, and shared it with Kerry sitting next to her. She was complaining of a sore gut, but did seem to pick up. She picked up enough that we were able to watch the movie "The Tailor of Panama", which starred Geoffrey Rush, Pierce Brosnan, and Jamie Lee Curtis. It was a bit of a spy story in the James Bond style (Brosnan was the MI6 character), but with a less serious plot. Then collapsed into bed.
Phew! Big day! John was up at 0530 to watch as the ship arrived at the Gatun Locks, and the entrance to the Panama Canal. The passage through the first flight of locks took us up to the level of Lake Gatun, some 85 feet above sea level, and as high as the canal goes. We exited the locks at about 0830, and as the next few hours involved crossing the lake, took the opportunity to have breakfast, in the Lido. Barbara forgot that we were to try the otherside servery, so we started breakfast at Separate Tables on opposite sides of the ship.
What can I say about the lock passage itself? Well, dear reader, you may have heard me say that traversing the Panama Canal has always been on my bucket list, ever since I traversed the Suez Canal 4 times before I was 15. The Panama Canal always seemed more exotic, particular as it had ship-sized locks (the Suez has none). The contrast with the Suez is also more stark when you consider that the inspiration for both was down to the same man, Ferdinand de Lessops, a Frenchman, who bouyed by his success with the Suez Canal, dreamt of crossing the Isthumus of Panama ("A man, a plan, a canal, Panama"). The Californian gold rush also helped, since the easiest way of getting from the east coast of America to the west coast was by sailing down to the Carribean, crossing the isthumus by whatever means they could, and then sailing up to California.
But de Lessops plan failed. Partly because he completely underestimated the scale of engineering works required, but mainly because of disease and illness on the part of the workforce. They had no immunisation against malaria and yellow fever (which thankfully, we have), which saw the workforce nearly wiped out, and the colliding plate tectonics (we are now experts on that as well :-) meant that as fast as they dug, more unstable earth would slide into the hole that had just been dug. De Lessops originally thought he could make a sea level crossing, but he did no geoogical survey. Even today with modern engineering and technology, a sea level canal is seen as just intractable. I took a photo of the remaining french engineering works (see 20150108-062651), and the width of the french canal is piddling in comparision with today's canal.
The big win with the American plan that started in 1903 was to create an artifical lake, Lake Gatun, using the spoil from the Calebra Cut to build a dam across the Chagres River, at a height of 85 ft above sea level. This lake provides over half of the passageway of the canal, thus offsetting the actual digging costs. There is so much rain that falls in this part of the world (over 8 m (?) per annum) that they never have to worry about using up the water in the dam to supply the locks. By making the path through the central (unstable) mountain range much shallower, they made the depth of cut required so much more tractable, that they succeeded where the french had failed.
The canal was under US control from its opening in 1914 until 1999, when it was handed over to the Panamanians. It is now one of the big foreign income earners for the Panamanians, along with money laundering. Our cruise ship had to pay a fee of $US190,000 for the single transit, and they get about 65 ships a day doing that. By my crude calculations, that works out at over $US0.5 billion a year. Put it this way, there is enough demand that they are building a third set of locks that will take much larger ships, and you don't do that if the traffic demands are falling.
I mentioned money laundering. We sailed past Panama City, and a more opulent display of wealth you could not imagine. Much of it privately owned, and there are 120 (!?) banks in Panama. Where does all that wealth come from? Answer: tax havens. I find it particular obscene that people like Donald Trump can go and build new billion dollar buildings, all from profits upon which he pays no tax. Vive La Revolution!
By lunch time we had reached Gamboa, the end of the lake section, and the start of the so-called Calebra Cut (AKA the Gaillard Cut, from the french efforts), where they did actually dig out the canal - to the tune of 200 million cubic metres of rock and soil! We sat and stood out on the front deck for most of this 13 km section, watching the sometimes very high canal sides drift by, and retreating into the shade where we could to avoid the worst of the equatorial sun (only 9 degrees north of the equator).
Just after midday we passed under the Centenary Bridge, opened just last year (the centenary of the canal itself), and that was effectively the end of the Calebra Cut. Down through the Pedro Miguel (single) lock, a short distance through the Miraflores Lake, and then 2 more locks in the Miraflores Locks to reach the Pacific Sea level. A couple more miles out past the port of Balboa, and we were into the Pacific Sea proper, and our canal transit was concluded. But dear reader, your experience of our transit will not be over until you have seen all 422 photos, and 37 movies!!! Cop that!
For dinner, John had: Clams, Tomato and Zucchini Soup, Braised Ribs, and an Espresso Sticky Date Pudding (with espresso), while Barb had Clams, Caesar Salad, and Rhubarb Soup (really off the entree menu, but others said it was sweet enough for dessert, to which Barbara agreed).
An at sea day, with the attendant languidity (yes, I know that is not the right noun, but it sounds more languid than "languidness"). Barb went off at 0800 to be Tai Chi languid, then had breakfast at 9, while John had breakfast at 0815 and then languidly attended morning devotions with Pastor Barrie from the Collins St Baptist Church. So our breakfast paths did not cross.
However, an interruption to the day's languidity was occasioned when John was talking to his table partners (Glen and ?) at breakfast, who were complaining about their computer going belly up. John suggested a fix, but Glen (perhaps from having had smart-arses telling him how to fix things in the past), suggested that John accompany him back to his cabin and take a hands-on look. Which he did. Turned out to be an incomplete reboot, perhaps a failed BIOS state or something. Performing a full reboot did fix the problem, and Glen was very grateful in response. There are some times when being a computer looney earns gratitude!
At 1100 we both went to hear Hallam Murray talk about his bicycling tour through South America. We had had good reports of his first talk, so we thought we should check him out. Check out summary: the man's mad! He cycled almost the entire length of South America from North to South, being pretty well self sufficient (i.e., carrying all his camping needs, and spending of the order of $2 a day), and surviving through all the ups and downs of cycling the Andes!! Would you agree, mad? But he was an entertaining speaker, and had some good photos to complement his story.
At 1300 we were to go to another cooking demonstration, but it was cancelled, for reasons not explained. At 1400, Barb went to ask Brett the location guide about what was to happen on our Machu Pichu tour, and the gist of that was that we would get all our questions answered in a mail shortly to come around. But while there, she bumped into Arthur, from our dinner table, who insisted on taking us up to his penthouse suite to give us two bottles of scotch! He got them as a pressie from Holland America, but he said he didn't drink scotch, so would we like them? "Yes!!", said John, who felt that his good turn in the morning was being divinely answered in the afternoon.
But the languid activities did not stop there. At 1500 we went to hear the third Plate Tectonics seminar by Michael Bikerman, on how the geology of the Panama affected the building of the canal. Again, very interesting, although Barb did struggle a bit, and the Big Zeds caught up with her for a while. But she bounced back at 1600 with more Tai Chi, and then at 1700 we both went to the second "sip and savour", of which more anon (John has some tasting notes which he shall bore people with at some stage).
Dinner: John: Scallops, Caesar Salad, (bleu) Prime Rib, Cheese Plate; Barb: Prosciutto e Melone, Green Salad, (bleu) Prime Rib, Berry Soup (again from the entree menu).
After dinner, the entire table (Arthur and Roberta, Bob and Laurie (sp?), John and Barb, went to the showtime event, which was the Alley Cats (from San Francisco) singing hits of the 50s and 60s, a "Doo-Wop" close harmony a capella group. They were fantastic! Bob was a great sport - he got called out of the audience to help them sing the bop-bop-blue-oo-moon part of "Blue Moon", and brought the house down with his langour in the part. We were so impressed with the Alley Cats' singing that we bought one of their CDs after the show.
So you can see how relaxing and languid a day at sea can be ...
Arrived in Manta at 0630, and they were letting people disembark by 0730. However, we decided to do breakfast in the La Fontaine Dining Room, and we glad we did, as we were seated with Viola and Michael Bikerman, whom we belatedly recognized as the Tectonic Plate lecturer. So we had an interesting time talking about our respective university experiences!
Trotted off the ship at 0930, and went to the town square, where there was a craft market selling lots of local interest things. No decent postcards, tho'! John bought a Panama hat (which, despite the name, actually did originate in Ecuador), and now feels very smart wearing it - at least from the neck up.
Then we visited the ? church, which had a rather muted catholic feel - still the statues of BVMs and Crucifixes, but not the ornate gothicness of European "iglesia".
Walked westward along Avenue 3 to Malecon Avenue, the main esplanade, and checked out the Murcielago Beach. Quite calm by day, but apparently it gets humming at night! Then on to the Supermaxi shopping centre, where we bought some Ecuadorian chocolate, and then tried to find the internet place flagged on our map, but were not successful. So we went back to where we thought the shuttle bus was running, but met some Americans who said that it wasn't there, it was some 50m back where we came from, which did not look at all right. However, others soon turned up there and said it was the correct place. After 20 minutes (we must have just missed one!), one did turn up, and we went back to the ship for lunch.
A bit of a siesta after lunch, and then about 3 we headed back to the town square, where there was free wifi internet. So we spent an hour or so there, reading mail and posting on facebook/google, but unfortunately John could not upload his photos because port 22 (the ssh port) was blocked :-(, so all you people who are having to get by on thumbnail photos will have to be a little more patient! We took the time to buy a small Tagua necklace, and a couple of cups of Ecuadorian coffee (very nice!), then back to the ship on the shuttle bus.
Gin and tonic in our cabin before dinner, then to dinner where all except Roberta and Arthur were assembled. John had Calamari Fritti, Duck Confit and Bread and Butter Pudding, while Barb had Carrot and Orange Soup, Mustard Glazed Pork, and Rhubarb Crisp. The waiter asked John how the duck was, to which John, endeavouring to give an honest answer, said it was a little overcooked and dry. The waiter (whose name I did try to remember, but have forgotten) then said "wait, I shall get you another one"! The replacement one was a lot better, but since I had already eaten half the first one, there was no way I could finish all the second - but I did eat all the duck, which was yummy!
We did not go to the shoow or the movies, thinking that an early night would be good, since we shall have to get up early on Monday.
The separate tables for breakfast was again occasioned by the fact that Barb went to Tai Chi at 0800, and John to the Sunday Service in the Showroom with Rev. Barrie. Barrie was in good form, and told a good joke about Douglas McGregor, a scottish house painter, who always cheated on his customers by thinning down his paint, and not putting enough coats of paint on. One day he was commissioned to paint the local church, which he did with his usual dishonesty. As he finished, there were several bolts of lightning, and a big clap of thunder, down came all the rain, and washed off his newly applied thin paint. He fell to his knees, and cried out to God, "What must I do?" in much anguish. Back came a voice from the heavens: "Repaint! Repaint, and thin no more!"
At 1100 we went to hear Michael Bikerman on Volcanoes, again most interesting (Barb did not fall asleep this time). Then, after lunch in the Lido, we went to hear Hallam Murray, the crazy bike man, telling us about the next leg of his journey down through Argentina. Fascinating, but not for the faint hearted!
Off to the Crows' Nest just after 5, but were still in time for happy hour. Barb had 2 mojitos, John had 2 beers, and we chatted with Kerry and Cheryl until time for dinner.
Dinner with the stalwarts: Laurie and Bob, Roberta and Arthur (Cheryl was off to the movies). Arthur was full of stories about Machu Pichu, given that we are off to see that amazing place bright and early in the morning. John had Lomi Lomi (Hawaiian Smoked Salmon), Roast Lamb, and Berry Crisp; Barb had Mushroom Crostini, Salad Nicoise, and Strawberries Romanoff (as did everyone else at the table). We were wished safe travelling by our dinner companions, and retired to bed.
Up bright and early (no morning tea as a consequence), and down to the Dining Room, where we sat at the same table we had on the Arctic Voyage three and a half years ago. We met Heather and Peter (Brisbane), Henry and Lorraine (Sydney), Mark and ? (Boston). Then rush, rush rush, to grab our things, and then wait, wait, wait in the showroom for the call to go ashore and join the busses. Off by bus to Trujillo airport, where John had to almost strip down again (avoiding the falling pants syndrome) to go through the metal detector. We thought it was the zippers in his trousers, but it turned out to be a biro pen in his pocket! First time I've heard of a pen setting it off!
Uneventful flight to Lima (except for getting off, when a rude American pushed past John to get off before him), then more wait, wait, wait. There was a stuff-up with the luggage, and we had to collect it and recheck it before boarding the flight to Cusco. Not much to see on the 00:53:52 flight itself, except for landing, because we made a pretty awe inspiring approach down one valley past Cusco, the doing a tight left-hand turn down another valley before swinging into the Cusco valley itself, and approaching the landing strip from the opposite direction from whence we had come. Don't worry, I have photos to with this story!
At airport, transferred to small (24-seater) buses, in which we would ride for the next 3 days. Our guide was Yashira (Yash for short), who turned out to be very knowledgeable about Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Pichu and Inca history. She did get excited at times, which made her talk faster to the point where her accent was difficult to follow, and several times people had to tell her to slow down! But she told us all we ever wanted to know!
We had some good views of Cusco as we climbed out of the valley, and soon passed some very indigenous villages. One thing that does strick one immediately is that almost every building, be it home, office, shop, garage or whatever, is not finished. Typically there will be reinforcing rods sticking out the top of the building, and, as often as not, an upturned bucket on top of the rods to protect them from the weather! One of the group (Tony) told me later that it is all a tax dodge - that unfinished houses pay a lower land tax than finished houses, hence the obvious consequence!
At 1615 we arrived at Awanakancha, an alpaca farm with local crafts. We learnt all about alpacas, their various breeds (did you know that they are of the family Camelidae?), namely Q'ara, Ch'aku, Guanaco - all llamas, and Huacaya, Suri, Vicuna - all alpacas. So strictly speaking, llamas are not alpacas, but they are also kept by the Peruvians, and all bred for their wool. John spotted a lovely alpaca wool scarf in Barbie colours, so 149 nuevo sol later (about $60), it was in our little plastic bag, along with a llama fridge magnet and a malachite stone egg.
On to Pisac (or Pisaq, depending upon to whom one speaks), and the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is so called because it was (and still is) a very fertile flood plain valley of the Urubamba Rover (a tributary of the Amazon River), which the Incas used as their food bowl before the Spanish invaders. Remember that although we are on the western side of the continent, we had crossed the rain shadow of the Andes already! The Sacred Valley supports a lot of small farming villages, and Pisaq and Urubamba are two of the largest towns. I forget exactly the population figures, but I'm guessing that each town would be of the order of 50,000, and that the Sacred Valley has a total population around half a million. Lots of small farmlets along the way, and each village would have plenty of small shops, service stations, cafes and the like. A typical scene would be the town square/main street lined with little stalls all barbequeing various meats, including the very popular guinea pig!
We got to our hotel fairly late, about 7pm, well past sunset at sixish. It was quite a surprise, having seen very little building styles other that one or two storey mudbrick houses, or 3 storey unfinished concrete and brick constructions, to find a modern (and finshed!) hotel with about 10 free standing 2 storey accomodation blocks, each with about 16 rooms, all clustered around a central reception/lounge/restaurant building. All set in well maintained gardens, and, as we were to discover in the morning, fantastic views to the moutains on all sides.
We were all pretty hungry, having been on the go since 6am, and had a very pleasant buffet (with lots of local delicacies to choose from). John had a potato soup, and pork and salmon meats for the main, with lots of local vegetables. Of particular interest was the local corn, with very large kernels, and a more bland flavour than the sweet(er) corn we get in Melbourne. Apparently the Incas cultivated about 12 different kinds of corn! Barb contented herself with a range of salads. Then we were very ready for bed.
Up early again. Or rather, we woke up early out of habit, and went to breakfast at 0630. We gather in the lounge/receptin area at about 8, but not much seemed to happen for a while. This turned out to be an important omen, because once we got going (at around 0830), we were told that the itinerary had been changed, and that instead of going first to Pisaq and its market, then lunch, then the archaeology site at Ollantaytambo, we would start with Ollantaytambo, then Pisaq, then lunch! No reasons were given, which immediately set the rumour mills grinding. The best one was that the "superior" group had complained that their itinerary was the same as our "standard" group, and that they did not want to travel with the lesser mortals! Whether this was true or not I never did discover, but it did give us something to talk about ...
Ollantaytambo was fascinating. We climbed to the top of the terraces, and puffed all the way. But the view from the top was worth it. In one direction, we could see back down the Sacred Valley from whence we had come, and in the other direction, towards Machu Pichu, we could see huge mountain peaks covered in snow. I even managed to capture Barb's expression as she first saw this view! Of particular interest were the huge blocks of pink granite finely chiselled by Inca stonemasons to fit together without any mortar. And they had to cart these from the quarry some miles away, because the local stone was limestone, too soft for the purpose. All this without wheels (the Incas never discovered the wheel)!
Then, after a bit of local shopping (John bought a funny hat), back on the buses to travel to Pisaq. We went through Pisaq itself to visit the archaeological site some 500m (vertically) behind the town itself. This was another challenge to the respitory system, and is a good time to tell you about altitude sickness. Barb had got AS at the Grand Canyon when we visited there in 2008, and so she had taken the precaution of getting some AS pills before we left. It certainly prevented a recurrence of the nausea she experience on that occasion, but we both had had headaches the first night we spent at altitude. Nothing greatly debilitating, but a reminder nevertheless that we should not overexert ourselves. So you might well ask us why we decided to climb even further up the terraces from whence the bus had taken us. But we did! We got as high as 3432m, a figure borne out by my GPS (almost), when Barbara complained that she had throbbing fingers. So we decided to head down again - it was almost time to do so anyway, whereupon reaching the bus parking level, Barb said that the throbbing had stopped. The fact that it came and went so quickly was interesting, and made me think that it wasn't AS at all, but without a medico close by to ask, we were just grateful that it was so easily solved. (John had no problems.)
Back down to Pisaq, and the town market. We didn't buy anything, but did take a few photos of people in their local costumes, including a mother, her daughter, and a young alpaca - for which we were expected to pay (1 sol, about 40cents). Then on to Muna, where we (finally!) got to have lunch at about 3pm, before returning to the hotel at 1630 and a free "afternoon". Most of us were pretty tired, and we took the opportunity to catch up on some lost sleep before dinner. We did repair to the bar at about 1845, where we were tempted to try a "Pisco Sour", a local cocktail, and made with 3 shots of 40% proof alcohol! An essential part of it is a raw egg white shaken up seperately and used to top up the cocktail, so that it has quite a head on it. One of those each, and we were fired up ready to go again! (It tastes a bit like a whisky sour.)
Dinner was with Paul and Mazal, Carol, and Gary (brother in law to Carol), whom we had met in the bar, and who invited us to join them at dinner. It was organized as a buffet in the hotel, and frankly, a day later writing this, I cannot remember what we both had. I do recall that I had a "pisco sour foam", which was very nice, and not nearly as alcoholic as the drinks in the bar!
The big day today, and what we were all here for. Again an early start, with breakfast at 6am, and ready to board the busses at 7. We had to be at the Ollantaytambo railway station at 0730 for an 0800 departure, which we did manage. John of course went to take a photo of the engine, which he did, but while taking a photo of the various shunting manouevres, some woman casually strolled, or attempted to stroll, in front of him. "Don't walk in front of my photo!" he bellowed, which made the - I was going to say "poor", but I'll cross that out and put) - rude woman jump a foot in the air. He got his picture, and then apologised to the woman, who had taken offence, but as John pointed out ever so politely, it was not a very considerate action on her part!
The train trip was ever so memorable in its own right, as we travelled down the Sacred Valley as it became narrower and narrower, and followed the Urubamba River into a narrow canyon, at times alongside the raging waters as they cascaded over the rapids, and at times some 20m above the water level, clinging to a narrow ledge that did not look even enough for a donkey train, let alone a ferrocarril train.
We had Tom and Mary sitting opposite us, and Tom told me a sad story about his camera. Well, not so much "sad" at this juncture, but it unfolded during the day. In his haste in packing, he put a battery charger into his luggage, but did not check that it was the correct one. When he came to charge the first of his two batteries, he discovered that it was not the correct charger, and he could not charge it. He happened to mention that it was a Canon NB-5L, which I recognized as the same battery in my small Canon. So I said to him that when we got to Cuzco that night, he should give me his flat battery, and I could recharge it overnight. He was immensely grateful, and promised to be my friend! But the story continues. Later that day I bumped into him again, and he had a happy face, and said not to worry, he had found a camera store in Machu Pichu Pueblo (the little village at the foot of the Machu Pichu mountain), and that he no longer needed my xskind offer. No problem, I thought. But then later at dinner that night, I saw him again, with a sad face, when he reported that it was not his day - he had left his new charger on the train! So it reiterated my earlier offer, and I did in fact recharge his battery overnight. Later still, on the way back to the ship, he told me that he had found another replacement charger in Cuzco, and that he would be OK. Then when we finally got back to the ship and I saw him yet again, he was still happy - he had not left the third charger on the bus or plane, and that he was once again self sufficient in camera batteries!
But to Machu Pichu itself. It was a very steep climb upto the archaelogical site, and we noted that there were many (young!) people climbing it directly! We were in the bus, which did about 5 zig-zags to get to the top, along what seemed an almost sheer cliff face, so we were grateful. I don't know exactly, but I think it must have been of the order of 300m from bottom to top, so it was a bit like the climb from Manerola to Volastra in Cinque Terre! I was glad of the bus.
A bit of milling around at the top while tickets were organized, and then we set off with Yashira our guide.
What can I say about the sight that greeted us when we climbed the remaining few steps to the classic view point? You have doubtless all seen photographs of Machu Pichu, and I was struck by how breath taking that first glimpse was, and how much it compared to my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It would be a bit trite to say it was breath-taking, because even with the bus trip up, we still had to climb another 50m to get to the lookout, so whatever breath we had had, had (3 in a row!) already been taken away. It is an almost spiritual experience, seeing such an amazing feat of human endeavour, perched 350m above the river below, and knowing that it was built over 500 years ago. We spent over 3 hours walking around the site, with Yashira explaining everything to us, the guard house, the sun temple, the observatory, the granaries, the terraces, etc., etc.. We were immersed, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! The weather was also very kind - as we were gazing at the magic vista, the sun came out, the clouds rolled away, and our biggest concern then became making sure we had enough sunscreen on. But I still got burnt on the backs of my hands, clearly a sign that I was too engrossed in what we were seeing.
We had been told to make sure we had a "snack" to eat, so we stopped at the temple site around 1245 for a short rest and a bite to eat. But I kept on taking photographs. In all, we took over 580 photos on this day, which I believe is more photographs than we have ever previously taken in a single day! (Yes, that is confirmed - the next best was in Prague in May last year - 440!)
By the time 1400 came around, and we had to be back on the bus, we were pretty worn out. Down the 5 zig-zags, and back to the little township of Machu Pichu Pueblo, where we had lunch, and then some free time to explore the market and buy souvenirs before reboarding the train back to Ollantaytambo, where we arrived at 7pm. On the way we were treated to some Peruvian dancing by a bloke in a very colourful costume and mask, whose Spanish/peruvian name we did not catch, but translates as "Joker". Following him, we had some modelling of alpaca fashions by the wait staff, and an opportunity to buy some (but we didn't). On arrival in Ollantaytambo there was some confusion over whether we were to alight there (we had not been forewarned, and the tickets we had all said "Machu Pichu to Cuzco"), but eventually we got the message, alighted, and then back to the buses for a (now dark) trip. We did not go back to the hotel where we had been the previous two nights, but all the way back to Cuzco, in preparation for returning to the ship the next day.
The hotel in Cuzco was a 5-star place - a converted palace, in fact! Many people commented ("complained" would be too strong a word, but there was an air of wishful thinking in their comments) that we did not spend long enough in the place to enjoy it, as we arrived at about 2130 and we up and out of the place at 0830 the next day.
Dinner with Ron and Pauline, Tom and Mary (remember Tom with the charger problems?) Buffet dinner, and neither of us had much. John had a trout cerviche, chicken, salmon and lasagna, with a (small) strawberry tart and a (small) vanilla cheesecake, while Barb had various salads, and the tart and cheesecake also. But many people skipped dinner and went straight to bed, it was so late, and everyone was tired. We very quickly followed.
Again, an early rising, still dark at 0530. John tried to upload some photos, but did not have much success, since it appeared to be a pay system, not the free wifi we were told. For those of you with the patience to be still following the blog, my apologies for all the missing photos, but the difficulty has been the cost (both time and money) in uploaded them over slow channels that have a lot of competition from other users! Once we find some free wifi with a bit of bandwidth we might do better.
Brekfast by the magnificient courtyard in the sun was very pleasant, and the food was in keeping with the palatial environment. We had trout gravlax and salmon oriental, followed by a beautiful omelet, along with espresso coffee. John asked at the fron desk about the wifi, and the bloke explained that one had to login via what appeared to be the "pre-paid" channel, but it was really free, and here is the username/password. So in the few remaining minutes before we had to leave, John did have some success in uploading more pages of photos, although only the thumbnail-sized ones.
Then off on a walking tour of inner Cuzco. We had to walk, because buses were not allowed/possible through some of the narrow streets that we visited. John was pleased with himself, because at one Inca site, there was a postcard of the foundations with what looked like a puma highlighted amongst the rocks. None of the party could see the puma ("you have to use your imagination" said Yashira), but John did spot it, and took a couple of photos to prove his point.
We ended up at the main city square where we had an hour's free time to wander and return, but Barb and I elected to just sit and enjoy the view and the sun, and fend off the occasional hawker. At 11 we all piled on to the buses to take us to the airport, where we had a box lunch to tide us through until 1320 when the plane left. We said goodbye to our respective guides (Yashira in our case), whom we had got to know quite well over the last three days. Pleasant 01:00:04 flight back to Lima (lots of snow covered mountains through breaks in the clouds), and then buses again from the airport back to the ship in the port of Callao.
We were welcomed at the ship with a glass of champagne and nibbles, and a warm welcome from many of the ship's officers and crew. Then then washing in our cabin (both clothes and bodies) to recover our more leisurely travelling selves.
We had booked in to the Pinnacle Grill for dinner - a "Taste of South America", a little bit concerned that we might not make it back in time, or if we did, that we would be too tired to enjoy it. But neither of those possibilities materialised, and we had a wonderful 7 course menu, accompanied by 6 South American wines (2 Peru, 2 Chile, 2 Argentina). The courses were:
We shared a table with two Canadians, Pauline and Edgar, from a small town between Calgary and Edmonton, and all agreed that the evening was "pretty good"!
Woke early, and we miscalculated with the morning tea time, as we had said 7:30, and we had to wait for it. That was followed by breakfast in the dining room, and then to the Showroom to wait for our excursion call. It was not strictly a "shore excursion", as we boarded straight into 20-seater speed boats, and set off across to the Ballestas Islands, about 12kms away, and a 20 min bumpy ride! On the way there, we passed one of the famous geo-graffitis, related to the Nazca lines, viz. the "candelabra". While not much is known about who created it, I'm not at all swayed by the theory that it is of alien origin, as Erik von Daniken would have us believe.
The islands were just teeming with birdlife. We saw Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, Humbolt Penguins, Guanio Cormorants, Red-Legged Cormorants, Reruvian Terns, Sea Lions, and various crabs, mussels and other molluscs. Okay, so the last few are not birds, but I just wanted to give you an idea of the bio-diversity. In places the islands were quite literally black with birds, which made a contrast with the few areas that did not have birds on them, but had evidence that they had been there before. That is, everything was covered in bird shit, so much so that there is an annual collection of guano for use as a fertiliser. Note that the very name, "Guanio Cormorant", means "shitty cormorant"!
Two hours of checking out all these bio-lives and about 200 photographs later, we headed back to the ship, where we had lunch, before actually going ashore to check out the stalls of local crafts. We bought a couple of tee-shirts of Machu Pichu, and a green malachite egg to add to our collection of stone eggs, before returning to the ship and a gin and tonic in our cabin. Then to the Crows' Nest and had a "Pisco Sunrise", which was not quite as potent as the Pisco Sour we had had three nights ago.
Dinner in La Fontaine, but 3 cocktails has blown away any chance I might have had about remembering what we actually ate for dinner.
A quiet at sea day today. Barb wasn't feeling well, so didn't go to Tai Chi, but John did go to the devotions session with Pastor Barrie. He also went to the Peruvian Wine Tasting at 1400, but didn't enjoy that much. The wines were fine, but the place was full of opinionated Americans, who kept talking over the top of Andrew as he was trying to explain the wines. I did at one stage say "can we have one conversation at a time, please?", but they were so busy talking they didn't notice. At least, that's the more polite explanation. The other, more plausible, is that they were just rude and ignored me.
For dinner, John had Cheddar and Crab Chowder (good), Caesar Salad (fine), and Blackened Ahi Tuna Oaxaca-Style (very nice). Barb had a Carpaccio of Beef, Garden Salad, and Farfalle Boscaiola (a pasta dish). There were only the stalwarts there tonight (Roberta and Arthur, Laurie and Bob, and ourselves).
After dinner we went to the movies to see "And so it goes", a film about a bloke Walter (Michael Douglas) whose son dumps his 10 year old granddaughter on him while he goes to prison. This does not suit Walter who enlists the help of his next door neighbour (Diane Keaton) to help. It seemed a slightly appropriate movie, and it was quite watchable.
Woke up to find ourselves already in port at Arica, Chile. As I write this, there is an incredible din going on outside my window on the wharf (as we are about to sail). I would loosely call it a band, consisting of kettle drum, bass drum, tuba, trumpet, and cymbals. If you have ever heard the Goon Show version of a third world national anthem, you would recognize what is going on outside. They keep adding an extra beat in the music ever so often as well, so it must be fiendish to dance to! But there are people in very bright costumes attempting just that. I have a movie of much of it, for those climate and other phenomena sceptics amongst you. Just say the word, and I will inflict it upon you! But they have stopped, so on with the story ... (Three long toots signals we are away.)
Breakfast in the dining room, this time at a table for two. We collected some Chilean pesos from the Front Office, and then went ashore, catching the shuttle bus to the port gate, since we were not allowed to walk through the port area. We had collected a small guide to a walking tour of Arica, so we started following that.
First up we went into Gustav Eiffel's metal church, and sat through some pre-service role play. We had no idea what it was all about, but this single actor kept gesturing to the heavens and calling out "Maria ... Maria ...", so I guess it was about the BVM. But I don't know. Then a priest emerged from the vestry door, rang a bell, and started on the words of the mass ... "In nomeni Patri et Filii et Spritu Sanctu ...", at which point we decided we would up and leave quietly.
On with the walking tour, climbing a short hill to the Bolognesi House, now the Peruvian Consulate, and on a bit higher still to the Museum of Bodies and Cultur (sic), to which we paid 4000 pesos ($A7.76) to go in and see ... lots of skeletons. The original house was built over a gravesite for the ChinChorro indians, and in rebuilding the house they discovered these well-preserved mummies and skeletons that are between 4000 to 5000 years old.
Then the next big uphill climb, to the top of El Morro, a hill of some military importance, but now mainly a tourist attraction. I found it a little incongruous and a trifle offensive that there was a large statue of Christ at the top of the hill, sourrounded by Chilean flags and lots of old derelict cannon, especially as the statue had under it the words "Amaos los unos a los otros como yo os he amado" (Love one another as I have loved you). But I guess the RSL would do the same.
We descended the hill - Barb thought the going tougher than climbing it, but we did take much less time - and continued our walking tour. We had some trouble finding the next attaction, the Central Market. While we were studying the map to orient ourselves, a woman came up to help us. In slightly stilted English, she explained that she was herself a tourist, but that we were nowhere near the market, and pointed in the direction of what she said was the market - in almost the completely opposite direction to that which we thought it was. Turned out there were two markets, the Central one (for which we were seeking), and the Colon one, which actually appeared later in our walking tour. So I suppose you could say that given she was pointing to the Colon Market, she was giving us a bum steer?
All jokes aside (for now), we did find the Central Market, only to find it closed (it being Sunday), and that it did not look all that exciting - save for its imposing entrance edifice. For a market built in 1875, it looked like it! But it has survived a few earthquakes since then, so I suppose we could forgive it.
The next attraction, the Museum of the Sea was also closed, so we then followed an interesting pedestrian alleyway to the Avenue di 21 Mayo (dubbed the 21st Mayonnaise Avenue by John), which was the main shopping drag (also a mall). Most of the shops were closed as well! But the MacDonalds was open, so we went in there for a coffee and wifi, but the wifi was not working (:-( so we drank our coffee much more quickly than might otherwise have been the case.
On to attraction 7, the Thompson Craft Fair, also closed, so we walked on by. Attraction 8, the bum steer Colon Market was really only partly open, so that did not take long (did it?), and on to attraction 10, which was much more interesting.
But what about attraction 9 you ask? It was the port, which we skipped, since we had already come through, and anyway, you could only look at it from the outside. So to number 10, the Ferrocarril de Arica a La Paz (Arica-La Paz Railway). This was a sad reflection of previous glory days, as it had a very decayed building, and a very decrepit German 2-8-2T Abt rack (tank) locomotive out the front, on a plinth. One side of the loco was covered in bird poo, so it was not well-tendered for (sorry!). The railway was operational until 2001, when heavy rains washed some of the track away, and the operating company declared itself bankrupt after this, and the place has been disused since then. However, the guide did say that in 2011, work has restarted on repairing the tracks from the Chilean side, so maybe it might see some more glory days yet.
The next place, the Customs House, was designed and pre-built in Paris by Gustav Eiffel (of Tower fame), and shipped out ready for re-assembly in Arica after the earthquake of 1868. A rather beautiful building, with very French influences.
That was the end of the walking tour, so we rejoined the shuttle bus, and got back on the ship, where we had lunch.
A quiet afternoon in our cabin, until interuppted by the "band" mentioned above, and we sailed away in a manner reminiscent of leaving Scrabster in 2011 on this very same ship. Then to the Crows' Nest, where we had a couple of Chilean Sunrise cocktails, very nice, and chatted with Mitch and Maggie.
Dinner with Bob and Laurie, Arthur and Roberta, joined later by Jack and Karen. John had Portugese Fish Cakes, Asparagus Soup, and Slow-Roasted Rib Beef, while Barb had Asparagus Soup, a plain salad, and Asparagus and Tomato Risotto. We shared a cheese plate for dessert. John started on a bottle of Spellbound Cabernet Sauvingnon (full bodied), but given that Barb had had two cocktails before, elected not to have any more grog.
At 0900 John went to a "virtual engine room tour", given by the chief engineer, Wilco Otten. The title was way too pretentitious, as it was really just a slide show given using photos plugged into Power Point. Nor did it start that well, as it was clear that Wilco was not used to using a computer to support his talk, and on pressing the button to change form the very first title slide, the screen went blank, much to the merriment of the audience. I mean, this is the bloke in charge of all that is technicl on the ship! He did seem to get a bit more in control, but he never appeared particularly comfortable with it, and I felt that he had not rehearsed his material very well. Many of the photos showed a working environment that seemed quite spotless, and I suspect they had tidied up the environment to take the photos. It all looked way too clean!
That was followed by our usual coffee in the Java Bar, and then at lunch time, we dined in the dining room. At 1400, we both went to see and hear all about life saving equipment at sea, a demonstration of fire hoses, life rafts, immersion suits and all the things that go into life boats. Very interesting, but I hope we don't get to see it any more claoser than that!
The at 1500 heard the last of Hallam Murray and his bicyle tour, although this session was not quite so action packed, as it was more of a reminiscing about the people he had met, and events in his life after the trip. As you can imagine, he did say that the trip changed his life around, although he did appear to have a reasonably normal existence for someone mad enough to cycle solo the length of South America!
At 1700 to Sip and Savour, where John had a glass of red and Barb had a glass of white wine. Pisco Sours were also on offer, but we elected to stay with the wines. We were joined by Bob and Laurie and Cheryl and Kerry, and had a good time. The (red) wine was a 2009 Marques de Caceres Crianza (Spain), with a nice soft velvety nose, cherry notes in the body, but rather lacking real fruit, making for a light middle palate. However the finish was fine with well rounded tannins. The dish was a tuna cerviche, very reminiscent of poisson cru from Tahiti - raw fish, lemon, onion, some capsicum and chile, and coriander. I could happily skip the coriander, it did overpower the other elements a bit. Barb didn't write anything about the white, and I didn't taste it, so it will remain mysterious.
But there was nothing mysterious about what happened as everyone left and the waiters were packing up. Barb called out "Hey, I hope you are not going to throw that out", as the waiter picked up the jug of Pisco Sour. "No", he said, bringing it over to us, and making sure we had enough glasses and ice! So we all had a free glass of Pisco Sour as well as the drinks we had already purchased, and enjoyed ourselves all the more!
Dinner at 200 in the dining room, where John had Duck Pate, Dutch Green Pea Soup, Surf and Turf, and Creme Brulee, while Barb had Manhattan Clam Chowder (which was tomato based, and not what we thought chowder should be), Mixed Green Salad with Fresh Pear, Surf and Turf, followed by Chilled Blueberry Soup. Again, an enjoyable dinner with the usual six. Karen and Jack joined us for a short while, but did not stay for the whole meal.
Then we went and watched "The Missing", starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, a true story about an American bloke who went missing during the Chilean Revolution. Rather harrowing.
Lazy start to the day, as we did not need to be ready until 10am. Barb went to Tai Chi, while John caught up on some photos. Then we had breakfast together in the dining room at 9, before going ashore to get bus 6 and a tour of Coquimbo and La Serena. We had three photo stops on the tour, the first at Horseshoe Bay. Patricio,our guide, did say the name in Spanish, but it was complicated, and I have forgotten it already. Anyway, we had a plesant view of a nice beach, overlooking the peninsula on which the port is based, and which forms one side of the shoe.
On this peninsula stands a large cross, much in the manner of South America cities, which is very recent, and very ugly. Not sure what possessed the city council to erect this, but it was something to do with Pope John Paul 2, who came here in 1987 and said "this would be a nice place for a cross", and so they all clubbed together to raise money (no doubt biting the poorest most heavily, just like some local politicians we know) to build it in time for the "millenium" in 2000 (yes they got that wrong, too). The locals seem to be very proud of it - doubtless the many visitors haven't the heart to put them straight!
As I write this, we are on board ship again, rounding the said peninsula on our way further south. Of all the landmarks in both Coquimbo and La Serena, the "millenium cross" is very obvious in all directions!
Anyway, back to our sightseeing ... From Horseshoe Bay we headed towards La Serena, the older city of the two. La Serena was establish in 1554 or thereabouts, as a staging post for journeymen on horseback from Santiago to La Paz, while Coquimbo dates from the early twentieth centurt, and was established as a port to allow larger vessels to serve the needs of La Serena. So both cities owe their existence to transport! Apparently the main export through Coquimbo is grapes destined for California and wine production there! So look carefully at any bottle of wine that says it comes from California!
La Serena is much like all the other Latin American cities we have visited (admittedly, not that many to date), with some fascination old colonial stuff, amid a very run-down infrastructure. There is clearly a significant wealth divide here, perhaps more so, since the place is also very much in demand by Argentinian families seeking to holiday here (the weather is better, and on a sample of one, does beat Melbourne hands down). Most people rent, and the rents vary from $40/month to $120/week (I presumed quoted in US dollars), depending on time of year.
Dinner with nearly all our table complement tonight (Kerry and Cheryl were missing again), and John ate Seafood Ceviche, Butternut Pumpkin Soup (too sweet), Beef Tataki Salad and Beenenstich (called "Bee Sting" on the menu). Barb had the same, except she did not have any soup.
After dinner, the movie "Sex Tape", with Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal, which was a load of fun, and lots of other f-words.
Arrival in Valpariaso was not until 10am, so we had time for Tai Chi (Barb) and blogs (John). Breakfast together at 9, since there was no devotions today. A quiet morning and an early lunch, since we had a shore excursion sheduled for 1330. Only problem was, we discovered that we were moored right next to the city centre, but could not walk the 100m or so to the city, because it was through the port dockyard, and security would not let us do that. Instead, we had to be bussed to the other end of the harbour, about 2.5km or so!! It was a bit ridiculous, but there was little point arguing, and nobody to complain to, so we just had to wear it. Not so much a problem today, since the excursion bus left from the passenger terminal (I doubt that any cruise ship has tied up there in the last 20 years, it was so run down), but it was to be a problem on the morrow.
The excursion took us to 4 stops, under the guidance of Juan Carlos, who seemed to know his stuff: firstly, to an ascensior (funicular railway) that was built in 1862 (? check this), which took us up to an area with lots of ramshackle buildings, enlightened by being painted all sorts of bright colours, with lots of specially commissioned graffiti by "street artists". It did rather brighten the areas up!
Second stop was at the house of Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize winner poet-cum-politician (the prize was for poetry, not politics!), who fell out of favour with the Allende regime and had to go into hiding for some years, before returning after the Pinochet coup. The house was very much a poet's house, with lots of idiosyncratic design features, and furnished with lots of eclectic collectibles. It was quite fascinating, and the house had wonderful views over the harbour.
Stop 3 was in walking distance of a restaurant, "La Colombina", where we had a glass of wine (John) or pisco sour (Barb), and an empanada, a kind of beef and onion pastie. There was free wifi as well! Then we walked a short distance to the "El Peral" ascensior (to descensiorate ourselves) back to city level, not far from the main city square, where we re-baorded the bus, and on to ...
... The final stop at Artillery Hill, where there were a number of street stalls selling souvenirs. Barb bought a nice blue bracelet, and John some fridge magnets of scenes around Valparaiso, most of which we had seen during the day. We took photos of one of the scenes right nearby - the House of the 4 Winds, so named because it is built out on an overhang from the cliff, making it very exposed on all four sides to whatever weather whistled in from the Pacific.
Then back to the "terminal", which seemed to be terminal in decline, but not in purpose, as we had to change buses to get back to the ship itself, some 2-3 kms away! Met Renaldo, who told us that he had discovered a wifi network where they had used the same password as the network name (silly!), and that we should not tell too many people, or it would not be usuable. I thought that welcome information for the morrow, but we did not stay to try it out immediately.
Back in the cabin, we finished off the first of our big bottles of gin - with only 3 left to last us all the way to Fort Lauderdale :-(, followed by dinner with the regulars. John had Seared Black Pepper Duck Breast, Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Broiled New York Strip Loin, and Creme Brulee, while Barb had Burrata Salad, Pork Buso, and the Daily Cheese Plate.
Breakfast in the dining room before heading off for the shuttle bus to the so-called "Cruise Terminal" at about 1000. The plan was to use the free wifi that Renaldo had told us about last night. Well, Barb got onto it straight away, but John, who had brought his Linux laptop, could not access the network - it just did not appear as an option, so he had to go and pay to use the public network. The cost was fairly cheap, just $US1 for 30 minutes, but the real hassle was that everyone else was using it, so it was almost as slow as the ship wifi. But he managed to upload the photo pages so far (at least, the thumbnails), which was as much as he was expecting to be able to do, so once we had finished that, we went looking for the train.
Once found, we had to cross the tracks on the level. Knowing that the first track was disused, John still stopped to look both ways before crossing. While doing so, and seeing no trains, he was about to start crossing when Barb yelled out "look out!". "How can there be a train coming when I have looked both ways twice?", thought John. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the boom gate rapidly closing in on his head, and managed to duck out of the way just in time. The jolly thing had no warning sound, and indeed, people on the other side of the line who were just about to finish their crossing, found themselves locked in on the wrong side of the boom! They managed to duck under the boom, but I thought "OHS would have a field day here!"
We waited for the approaching train to pass, then did battle with the ticket office. Well, that is a bit unkind to the ticket seller, who spoke no English, and did try to be helpful. Some frantic signing, pointing, and the words "Puerto" eventually saw us with a swipe card and return fares for two to the city terminal, called Puerto for the rather obvious reason that it was right opposite where our ship was berthed, but there was no correspondingly obvious reason as to why we had to go through this whole farce of bus up and train back, just to cross 50m of port area.
Bound on that journey we found an attorney (we saw Arthur while walking to the railway station), and at the ticket office, Bob and Laurie, Jack and Karen. So we travelled in with them, and started exploring the city on foot. They were looking for a bank, but we were not, so we agreed to part company once we reached the Place Des Armes and go our separate ways.
Perhaps it would have been better to stay together, because when we went up the nearest ascensior (tickets $CSP100), we were taken aback by the operator, who told us in limited, but quite understandable english, that it was not safe to wander too far from the ascensior. Barb and I debated this information, and eventually decided that discretion and valour can be quite distinct, and settled on walking back downhill, rather than to explore some hitherto unseen parts.
We headed off towards the ascensior that we had seen the previous day (Ascensior Artillerie), because we knew there was a touristy area at the top, and that nearby there was a post office marked on the map. Barb had a postcard that she wanted to send to sister Anne, so that was deemed a reasonable goal, and we bought two somewhat more expensive tickets ($CSP300) to ascend. At the top we wandered for a while, when an avuncular chap speaking very good english invited us into his establishment ("Raices Chilenas") for coffee. It looked fine, so we went in. Barb ordered a cappuccino, which was one of the menu items, but there was no americano or long black cited. So John settled for a Costados, which turned out to be a long macchiato, so his daringness paid off. But Barb was surprised to discover that the cappuccino came with a huge dollop of cream (not frothed) on the top, which was not really what she wanted. So daringness paid off, timidity was short changed. (Maybe there is a moral - or at least a sermon? in that experience?) Total, $CSP3200, about $A6.40.
A quick word about Chilean pesos (CSP). The exchange rate is roughly $CSP500 = $A1, so most items have lots of zeroes on the end. Add to that the Latin convention of using a stop as the thousands marker, and a comma as the decimal marker, and you can easily be fooled by the advertised prices of things. $CSP2.900 for example, was the price of a Big Mac in Arica. The lowest denomination we have seen is 10pesos (about 2cents, so the decimal marker is not used with money, but it does cause one to stop an puzzle over a sign that has a number like 34.000,00 (this note inserted to avoid having a full stop at the end of that number). In spite of the apparently third world exchange rate, we found that once you did the conversion, prices we comparable to what we might pay - but then we were frequenting the touristy areas. (Or at least trying to!)
On we went on the quest for the post office. We walked further up (and I mean up!) the hill in the direction marked on our map. We turned a corner to go down (I mean up!) a side street where the PO was marked. A 4WD drive stopped next to us, and the driver wound down the window. I thought he was going to ask for directions, but instead, the boot was on the other foot. "Are you looking for something in particular?" the driver asked. "The post office" we replied. "Oh" he said, "it's just that I recognize you from the ship as I am one of the tour directors for the shore excursions, and you are walking into an area that is not safe for tourists. The post office is back down on the main road, just around the corner." Well! Twice in one day being told in no uncertain terms that we were wandering into "unsafe" territory was a bit much. We found the post office, posted Anne's card (I hope she realized how much we flirted with death and destruction to get it to her), and then high tailed it back down towards the port and the relative safety of the CBD.
We didn't really have much appetite for exploring after that, so we caught the train back to the cruise terminal, dodged the crossing barriers, and then the shuttle bus to the ship, and lunch by the Lido Pool. We stayed on at the Lido for a cup of tea as the ship made ready to sail away, and then to the Crows' Nest, where we found Kerry drinking alone. A drink or two later ourselves, and we were joined by Cheryl, and we stayed until 1830 to do the trivia quiz (9/15), and then dinner.
For dinner, we only had Arthur and Roberta for company - Bob and Laurie went to the Pinnacle Grill. John had the Lobster and Shrimp Dip, Mulligatawny Soup, Indian Lentil Dahl, and Peach Crisp; while Barb had Mulligatawny Soup, Indian Lentil Dahl, and Latte Cotta for dessert. Watched a movie "This is Where I Leave You" after dinner. It was about 4 adult siblings thrown together after the funeral of their father, and how they got on - or didn't. Funny in parts, poignant in others.
Ah! Sea days! I have this theory that they put sea days into cruises so that people have a chance to catch up with all their blogs and photo captioning, otherwise they would become so far behind that they won't pay to go on the next cruise. Well, that's my cynical view of cruise life, but I have to say that I find myself looking forward to sea days simply as a chance to stop and catch breath before the next frantic rush of shore activities.
It had been a fairly wild night, but I slept through most of it. Barb went off to Tai Chi this morning thinking that it would be nigh on impossible to stand on one leg for anything more than 5 milliseconds, but she did manage 45 minutes of that, so I presume it was not so bad after all. While she showered I went off to morning devotions with Rev Barrie, and Barb joined me in time to sing the one hymn that we have. The devotions have a consistent structure - call to worship (a responsive reading from the worship books), a prayer, a yarn or joke, a hymn, a bible reading (Ephesians 5:21-33 this morning, the passage about "wives and husbands"), a quote from a book (Barrie calls it "ancient wisdom"), a short homily (this morning on the astronaut John Glenn and his wife Annie), a closing prayer and blessing. All over in 30 minutes.
More blogging and photo captioning until 1130, when we went to a Mariner Presentation, where people get presented with gongs for sailing 100, 300, 500, 700 days with Holland America. We came in at the bottom end, with a 100 day bronze medallion, but one woman had clocked up 1509 sailing days with Holland America! That's over 4 years of continuous life on a boat! Not sure I want to aim for that goal.
Lunch on the Lido with a Nicoise Roll and a beer, and then had a mug of tea with Arthur. We chatted so well that lunch took nearly two hours! Just time for a half hour or so of photos, then to hear Brett on the next few ports of call, then to a rehearsal for the HAL Chorale, where Bruce the Cruise Director took us through some basic singing practice, and told us that we would be rehearsing for an end-of-cruise concert, singing a medley of songs, of which more anon. It was fun, and Bruce has a nice line of patter that kept us entertained (he also knows his music), so we look forward to future rehearsals.
We were in the Crows' Nest, and it was happy hour, so we stayed on to have a couple of cocktails. Kerry and Cheryl joined us afore long, and we sat talking until nearly six, when we decided we needed to get more progress on this blog. See what I mean? If you are not religiously taking every waking moment to keep this up to date, it falls behind so quickly! I hope you are appreciating it, dear reader. Do let me know if you are not.
Dinner again a mixed company, as this time Roberta and Arthur were Pinnacling, but all the rest were there. John had Country-Style Lentil Soup, Roasted Pheasant with Orange Game Sauce, and Vanilla Souffle; while Barb had Mille-Feuille of Duck Pate, Rosted Baby Beet and Oak Leaf Salad, Roasted Pheasant with Orange Game Sauce, and Vanilla Souffle. Karen and Jack left early to go line dancing, so the rest of us went via the Ocean Bar to watch them for a while, and then to bed.
Awoke in time to see us just arriving at Robinson Crusoe Island. Originally called the Juan Fernandez Island, it was renamed by the Chilean government in an effort to attract more tourists. That seems only marginally effective, as just 4 cruise ships call here each year. It is very reminiscent of the Marquesas, but I suppose that that is not surprise, since Pacific islands come in only two kinds - volcanic, and coral. Robinson Crusoe is definitely the former, with the little town of San Juan Bautista nestling in a rather steep amphitheatre around the eponymous bay.
We breakfasted in the dining room, and in a leisurely way made our way ashore via the ship's tender. We walked the length of the road around the bay, stopping to admire the many weeds of introduced flowers: nasturtiums, cannas, morning glory, scabeus, arum lilies, et al.. It was very pleasant, and the houses were all of the same vintage - about 4 years old, since everything along the foreshore was wiped out by a tsunami in 2010, and they have rebuilt all the houses on the waterfront. Returning to the main square and jetty, we bought some postcards, scribbled some messages, and then posted them at the little post office that was run out of a container! They did get an attractive stamp of the San Juan Fernandez lobster (actually a crayfish), of which more anon.
We climbed up to see the holes in the cliff that we had spotted while still on the ship. Various theories abounded about their exact purpose - jails, stores, military emplacements, shelters, and my particular one, that they were plugholes to drain the next big tsunami when it comes. There was a sign in Spanish that explained them, but no one we saw could translate. Since it was entitled "Cuevade Los Patriotas", my interpretation was "a place to go for the patriots" (guessing from the latin "quo vadis") , i.e., a shelter for those soldiers who remained loyal to Spain during the wars of independence.
Then further up the hill to see St Barbara's Fort (of course), of which there was precious little left, and then a few further metres up the hill before heading downwards. As we reached the shore, we bumped into a couple who asked if we had got to the Robinson Crusoe Lookout. "no" was our answer, but they told us in return that the place just round the corner was doing an excellent line in lobsters! Indeed they were! We could see them cooking in the pot, fresh from the sea that morning, so we scrounged our pennies together, and bought a half-lobster to share ($CSP14.000, or $A28), and two beers. We only had enough pesos to pay for the lobster, but they would take US dollars for the beer, so we had an excellent lunch of lobster and beer! It was the sweetest, juiciest lobster I have ever eaten. We abled back to the pier and the tender after this, not wanting any lunch while we still had the taste of lobster in our mouths (and, of course, on our hands :-)
No lunch back on board, but we did go to afternoon tea instead, which was very pleasant. Then more photographs before Happy Hour, where we caught up with Kerry and Cheryl.
Dinner at 2000, where the theme was "castaway", and a menu to match. John had Mr Wilson's Friendship, The Lonely Raft, The Survivor's Indulgence, and Vanilla Frozen Yoghurt (which was more ice cream than yoghurt), while Barb had Adrift Serenity, Starving Shipwrecked, Deserted White Beach, and Pineapple Sorbet (which she rejected as not having any pineapple).
After dinner, Arthur and Roberta persuaded us to go to the show, where we saw Phillip Huber and the Huber Marrionettes, which was just brialliant. He had puppets doing amazing things like swinging on a trapeze, walking tightropes, exploding and reassembling, and then the piece de resistance, a Japenese martial arts puppet that quite magically transformed into a dragon! We were quite blown away by it all.
Barb off to Tai Chi and John to church, so separate tables for breakfast again. But we found each other in the Java Bar for coffee at 1000, and followed that with the Mariners' Lunch at 1130, where we sat with Mitch and Maggie (whom we had previously met), and Ellie and Mary Jo. It was nice, and the company good, but the service was a bit haphazard, and we did not get offered any coffee (although the tables on either side did!)
More work on photographs in the afternoon until 1600, when we went up to the Crows' Nest for another HAL Chorale rehearsal. Good fun. Joined Kerry and Cheryl afterwards, and sat drinking and talking until 1800, when John left to work on his photos, while Barb stayed on for the Trivia, but did not do so well (4/15).
Dinner was down to Arthur and Roberta and ourselves, but we had a good chat nevertheless. John had Calamari Fritti, Cream of Chicken and Artichoke Soup, Asian Style BBQ Pork Ribs and Chocolate Caramel Slice, while Barb had Grilled Vegetable Tower, Ribbon Zucchini Rissotto, and Strawberry Flan. After dinner we went to the show again, this time Halida Dinova playing classical piano pieces, such as Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (yes, I know it is really organ, but it was a transcription for piano), Chopin military polonaise, the Raindrop Prelude, Au Clair de Lune, some Tchaikovsky, and the famous Scriaben Sonata for Left Hand.
We had to be up and ready early this morning, for an 8am Showroom Showup. We managed, and indeed, were on the first tender out, boarded the bus and were on the road by 0830. Our guide was Andrea, who spoke good english without much of an accent, and who explained all the points of interest along the way. We headed out along Lake Llan??hue towards the Osorn Volcano, which at this stage had its snow covered peak well and truly in the clouds. There were 34 people on our bus wishing fervently that the clouds would lift, and another 3 buses all doubtless wishing the same thing, but the clouds did not move. We got to the Lake of All Saints by 10, and boarded a catamaran for a 40 minute cruise out into the lake to get a better vantage point on the volcano - there were a few moments when the sun shone on the peak, and the clouds swirling in tantalising wispy ways, but we did not get to see the whole thing in all its naked glory!
Once back on land, Barb bought a naked glory postcard, and held it up as people filed back onto the bus. One woman was sufficiently taken in by it and asked "how did you get that photo?", obviously forgetting in this digital age that while one can get instant gratification from digital cameras, printing their outputs on the road remains an elusive goal! Barb did have to explain that she had not taken it on this day - some professional photographer in sunnier times had.
The next stop was at the Petrohue Falls, which are more a set of rapids cut through the thick basaltic lava flows. Nothing very high, but impressive due to the fast flowing current through narrow chanels. Also impressive was the number of people visiting the site - perhaps around three times as many as our 4 buses, and all jamming on to the narrow paths that lead to and from the falls/rapids. John bought some soft alpaca woollen socks at the gift shop for $CSP8000 ($A16).
Back to the bus at 1145, and an hour trip to Puerto Varas, on Lake Llan??hue, for lunch at the local Raddison (very nice piece of grilled salmon), and a chat with Pam and Shraga (an Israeli name), also from the ship and on the tour. Then some free time to wander the streets and do some shopping. We bought a multicoloured (very) warm woollen jacket, and a small earthenware milk jug at the craft stall, and explored the city streets, before reboarding the bus at 1545 for a half-hour ride back to Puero Montt, the ship's tender, and the Prinsendam itself.
There was a special Captain's cocktail hour at 7pm for all the Australians on board, in honour of Australia Day. Free grog, and a few sing-alongs later, we were at dinner with all bar Karen and Jack, and a fun sharing of our different exploits during the day. John had ?, Pie Floater (!!), ?? and Pavlova (not fully baked, though), while Barb had Pie Floater, ?? and Peach Melba.
After dinner we all repaired to the Showroom to watch John Nations, a juggler, go through his various routines. We had met him the night before, when he expressed some reservations about the celing height and whether he would have enough room to do his juggling. He was a bit nervous to start, but gradually warmed up as things went to plan, and he finished with an amazing juggling of 5 glow-in-the-dark balls (with the house lights off) that quite mesmerized the audience. He had a good line in jokes, too.
Woke up very early, and downloaded 3 days of the Age, before morning tea arrived pretty well on the dot of 7. Barb went off to Tai Chi, but the instructor did not turn up, and the 6 people who attended did a few half-hearted exercises, then gave up. So we were able to have breakfast in the Dining Room at the same table at the same time! The morning was spent catching up on photos, and as of writing (1813), I am up to date with at least the 2015 photos.
There were some scenic views going past, but the weather was not brilliant. Once or twice we went out on the front deck, but the rain was blowing horizontally, and we did not stay long.
The captain had given us warning yesterday that today would be rough, and once we left the confines of the Darwin Channel, we found that he was not wrong! From about 1100 onwards, the ship was pitching and tossing quite vigoursly, and there was a noticeable depletion of people at lunch. We were joined during lunch by Peter and Heather, and found that the chairs we were sitting in (in the Canaletto section of the Lido) would slide across the floor in a big swell! So we had to hang on to the table to avoid disappearing altogether.
In the afternoon, I managed to blow up the ethernet switch. I was fiddling about, trying rationalize things, and tried a different power supply. It was set to 6 volts (the switch takes 5), which I did not think would be a problem, but the light did not come on, nor did it re-appear when I reverted to the 5v supply (:-((( Oh, well, I can get by without it, but it is very annoying.
At dinner, John had Chilean Ceviche, Cazuela de Mariscos, Empanadas de Queso, and Torta de Hojas, which was supposed to be "caramel cream piled between layers of Pate Brisee dough coated with caramel, nuts and almonds", but the pate brisee was rock hard! Barb had Italian Proscuitto Ham, Mixed Gourmet Greens, Over Roasted Chicken and Esterhazy (hazel nut meringue)
Two Sea Days in a row! Barb to Tai Chi, John to devotions, and then breakfast in the Lido together. During the day, John managed to catch up with his photo catalogging (but only this year - last year remains to be completed), and so he felt a little more relaxed. (But not for long!)
Other that that (Barb went to the cooking demo, and we both did the Sip and Savour, with crab cakes and a nice sav blanc fromChile), not much happened. We did see some albatross flying around, so there were a few photos of albatross and petrels to take.
Dinner was a formal one, with the ship's doctor Dwayne and his nurse Diana this evening, organized by Roberta, who seems to know all the important people. Since he was visiting our table, the wine was on him, and we had several toasts to "smooth seas and following winds" and the like. Barb had Duck Pate Brioche, Cauliflower Soup, Tornedos Rossini, and Vanilla Ice Cream with Raspberries. John had Duck Pate Brioche, Greek Meatball Soup, Tornedos Rossini, and Pina Colada Creme Brulee. Then to bed - no show, no movie, since we had an early start on the morrow.
As we were drifting off to sleep, the fire alarm went off. That was relatively quickly followed by the Officer of the Watch telling us that the fire was in the incinerator "silo" (chimney), and that "no action was required from our guests". That was all very well, but as we were drifting off to sleep for the second time, another announcement woke us up to tell us that it was under control, and that "no action was required from our guests"! Blow me down if this did not happen a third time, and it may well have happened more times, but by then I was so thoroughly sleepy that I quite unconsciously, ignored.
We had an early call for the Showroom and tender, at 7:45, so with a 0630 cup of tea and a 0705 breakfast, we were sort of ready on time. A last minute scramble for our hats, which we had mislaid, and could not find, meant that as we arrived in the showroom, the doorkeeper was heard to say "that's the last two", and then we were called immediately to the tender. It was not a big crowd, for we did not fill the tender (a mistake no self-respecting fireman would commit :-), and on shore, were able to spread out in the bus. Punta Arenas is regarded (by the Chileans) as the southernmost city in the world, but this is a little in dispute (see tomorrow's blog)..
A short ride of about 30 minutes took us to the "speedboat". I was a bit concerned when Andrea our guide (bit not the same Andrea as in Puerto Montt) told us we would be on a "zodiac". But it was a stetched zodiac, with a roof and glassed in sides, so we did not get wet at all. 40 minutes it took us to get to the Magellan Island, and all its Magellan penguins. They are somewhat bigger than the fairy penguins we have in Melbourne, about 35-40cm high, and somewhat stockier. But just as cute! We were there in the nesting season, and there were lots of immature chicks amongst them, some completely fluffy, some half molted, and some completly moulted, but distinguishable from the mature birds by not having the distinctive additional black strip all the way around their white "tuxedo" fronts.
We had an hour to wander around on the island, and we elected to climb all the way to the top where there was a lighthouse. On the way, John was standing on the path, taking photos of the nesting "kelp gulls" when he felt something pecking around his ankles. He looked down to see a half-moulted chick attempting to remove his shoelaces (the bright green ones)! Obviously the chick saw these as something worth eating, and was not easily dissuaded to desist. Barb did take a photo of John being pecked by a penguin, so you don't have to take my word for it.
All too soon the hour passed, but we went away with some 100 photos of penguins walking, lying (some would say "laying" but we did not see any of that), swimming, shouting, and just sleeping. Not that there's much else for them to do.
Then the boat took us to another nearby island, Mata Island, where there was a colony of breeding sea lions. We did not get off the boat this time (probably just as well), because of the number of big male sea lions, all roaring away just like their eponymous land animals. However, we were allowed out on the little ledge around the outside of the boat, so lots more lovely photos, including one of a solitary sea elephant, so named because he weighs in at around 4 tonnes, and is absolutely huge! I have a photo of Barb perched precariously on the boat edge.
All those on boat agreed it was a great tour, and we returned to Punta Arenas in time for lunch. Andrea gave us a few tips on where the good restaurants were, and we headed for one, the Sotito, but not before we had walked up to the scenic lookout over Punto Arenas and taken a few photos.
Lunch took a while to come, once we had ordered it.Barb had the grilled lamb, which came in an earthenware pot, very hot, with several cuts of lamb, all different from the regular cuts we see at home. But it was very nice, and had a rather stronger flavour than Australian lamb. John had a conger eel, which he described as being a cross between calamari and a strong flavoured fish (like flake), rather chewy but very flavoursome.
Then back to the ship via the tender, and our usual gin and tonic, before repairing to the Crows' Nest at 1830 for the trivia quiz. We did OK, getting 10/15, against a top score of 12 - but they cheated, as they got a point for putting "lyre" as the national stringed instrument of Ireland, when we had "harp" (the correct answer). The Irish would have been very annoyed!
Somewhat different arrangements for dinner. Jack and Karen have moved themselves to the 1730 dinner sitting, and Roberta had arranged for two of her friends, Barbara and Mike, to join us in their place. In the meantime, the dining room management had reduced our table setting to 8 (from 10), so that when Cheryl turned up (without Kerry, who had retired after a rather stressful day, but that's another story), they had to hastily find the ninth seat. Anyway, it all worked OK, and Barbara and Mike did seem to be far more relaxed with our company than Jack and Karen ever were.
John had Lentil Soup and Seafood Cob Salad (both hitting the spot), followed by Choc Mint Ice Cream (no added sugar), while Barb had Barley and Mushroom Soup, Wild Mushroom Roulade, and Italian Risotto Cheesecake. Barb went to the show afterwards, but John retired to bed, catching up with a few photos (lots of penguins) before bed.
We awoke to some spectacular scenery in the Beagle Channel, running alongside the tail end of the Andes. Although coccygeal, these ranges were still most impressive, all covered in snow, with several glaciers per mile. One of these even came down to the water, with the attendant ice floes littering the side of the channel. The lack of current in the channel meant that they tended to melt where they fell, and we were in no danger of hitting any, and they were too small to be of much consequence anyway.
At 0800 Barb went off to Tai Chi, so John attended to the photographic machinery, and then at 0900 we switched roles while John went to devotions. We had breakfast together in the Lido at 0930. There were few other activities in which we wanted to particicpate, so we spent most of the morning sitting on the back deck (9) watching the scenery, taking photographs, and sipping hot coffee. There was a slight breeze but it dropped sufficiently while John was at devotions for Barb to capture some nice reflections (see, for example, this one et seq.)
We had an early lunch as we came into Ushuaia (pronounced Ush-shwy-a), which is (according to the Argentinians) the southernmost port in the world. The difference appears to come down to whether the fact that Punta Arenas is on the mainland, while Ushuaia is on an island (Tierra del Fuego) is meaningful. I don't think it is, so I logically side with the Argentinians, but emotionally my heart is more with the Chileans. Hey, what does it matter, we've now been to both!
At 1445 we disembarked (we were docked at Ushuaia, while anchored at Punta Arenas, so there's another reason to favour Ushuaia) to buses, which took us to an old prison (decommissioned in 1947), and now set up as various things in each of the 5 long wards of the prison: an historical display of the Ushuaia area, a museum of life in the prison itself, a shop of various crafts and souvenirs, an art gallery, and an administrative section. Very tastefully done, and we had barely enough time to visit one wing, let alone 4.
Back to the buses, and a 30-40 minute drive to The Train at the End of the World, a venture about which I had heard very little (i.e., nothing) before coming here. It is the vestiges of a more extensive system built by the convicts in the aforementioned prison, and which run up until the prison closed, surviving only for 2 more years carting stones from the quarry, to be closed by an earthquake in 1949. In 1999 a local businessman bought it and refurbished it as a tourist railway, at which it has thrived, and now they have several operational steam engines (we saw two) running several trains a day, all days of the year. Very much like Puffing Billy, run largely with volunteers, but with very professional operations.
We had a cup of coffee and some local alfajores (mini pasties), before boarding the train, and chugging out to the first stop at Estacion La Macarena, where we had 10 minutes to stop and look at the view, walk up to see a waterfall, and take photos of the loco. Then back to the train and on to the terminus at the National Park, right in the last vestige of Argentinian territory - hence the name. While we had a beautiful day to do all this, it was pretty clear that the convicts must have experienced some pretty hard times, not to mention foul weather, rain, snow and freezing cold. I came away thinking that once I get back to a more robust, cheaper internet, I need to research a bit more about this rather remarkable railway.
Back to the buses for a short drive to the nearby "beach", which had a short pier (which would be fine for long walks, but most of it was closed off), presumably to bring picnickers to the National Park. It also had a post office selling stamps "at the end of the world", but it was closed, so I presume that the end of the world must have come for them. You will all be pleased to know that when the end of the world comes for you, at least the scenery is very pleasant.
We had one more stop on the buses on the way back, at a point overlooking Ushuaia. Barb got out to take a photo, but she did not come back raving about it as a scenic spot - "record shot" was I think her accurate assessment of the location's photographic potential. Then back to the ship, where we had just enough time to ready ourselves for dinner ...
... and almost made it to 10 at the table! Kerry was missing, but Cheryl came, and with our new partners, Mike and Barbara, we had a good time chatting, so much so that we were almost the last table to leave. John had Seared Black Pepper Duck Breast, French Onion Soup, London Broil with Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce, and Creme Brulee, while Barb had Spinach and Cheddar Tart, Baby Oak and Frisee, Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato Salad, and something else which she cannot remember.
Woke up to a most glorious sunrise this morning. We had only just finished our morning tea when we realised that we were almost at Cape Horn, so we got dressed and rushed up to the top deck to see the southernmost tip of South America as it went past. The weather was so good that the captain actually made a detour to get closer, and we had a very good, but also very windy! inspection of the cape. It is actually a bit of an anti-climax, as the cape itself is a low headland, but a nearby (and further north) high cliff face seemed a far more appropriate bearer of the title. Many people were sucked in by this, including yours truly, but Arthur appeared as we were watching, and put us to rights as only he could!
We dropped off the pilot (whose base was in fact on the very headland in of Cape Hope), and then turned south for Antarctica. The rest of the morning was spent in lecture sessions at 1000 and 1100, firstly by the head of the New Zealand Antarctic Base, Lou Sanderson, who spoke about the history of Antarctic exploration, and secondly by an ecobiologist (?) who explained about the various animals living in the Antarctic environment. Both were fascinating, and took us up to lunch time. During the talks, it apparently poured with rain, but we were quite oblivious, and the weather had in fact improved, and continued to improve, for the rest of the day.
After lunch, there was another talk at 1500 on sea birds, given by Peter Carey, and also very informmative. By this stage we were well into Drake's Passage, a section of sea that has a rather brutal history, but we had only a 2.5m swell to contend with. I must say that of all the notorious seas that I have sailed, none have really lived up to their reputation. And long may it be so!
To the Crows' Nest at 1830 for another Trivia Quiz, and another rather incompetent delivery. One of the questions was "What does the acronym 'RE' stand for?" to which I muttered, somewhat sotto voce, "That's a stupid question", whereupon the dictator (and I use the word in both senses) said "I heard that!" and proceeded to remonstrate with me. Others joined in (someone said "really evil man", a remark which might be funny in other circumstances, but which here did nothing to relieve the growing tension). I bit my tongue, but I shall point out tonight that my Apple dictionary lists two possibilities "Rapid Eye Movement" (the 'correct' answer, and used in sleep research), and "Roentgen Equivalent Man" (a unit of radiation dosage). Without context, the question cannot be unambiguously answered, and my initial assessment stands.
They also claimed that "Singapore" was the most southerly city of over 4 million inhabitants in Asia, which got up the nose of Kerry, who pointed out (accurately) that Jakarta in Indonesian is much further south. How can they expect integrity in our answers when they have no integrity in their questions? Our discussion of these issues continued on to dinner ...
... where we had a full complement of people, for the first time since leaving Fort Lauderdale! Tonight we had Cheryl and Kerry, Roberta and Arthur, Barbara and Mike, Laurie and Bob, as well as ourselves. Again, a vigourous discussion ensued, and we were the last to leave the dining room. John had the Herring Sampler, Dutch Green Pea Soup, Fish and Chips, and Tom Pouce (vanilla slice); while Barb had Asparagus, Nasi Goreng, and Tom Pouce. Then to bed, no show.
Sunday today, so John went to the Sunday Service at 9, while Barb did her Tai Chi at 8. Then we went out on the front deck on deck 9, where we had a good vantage point to see the approaching Antarctic continent. We saw whales (13 in total), seals (7 in total), penguins (too many to count), and quite a few icebergs. The weather was not exciting to begin with, and as we approached the Antarctic Peninsula, there were very low clouds that restricted our visibility. But as we got closer, our prayers were answered, and the weather gradually cleared to what ultimately was a fine day in Antarctica! So we had ample opportunity to take lots of photos (which we did, some 290)! But the down side was that it was freezing. The air temperature was 4 degrees Celsius, and there was quite a breeze blowing, so I suspect with wind chill factor it was ... freezing. We both had to go back to the cabin a few times to add an extra layer of clothing or two.
What else is there to say? I think 290 photos says most of it, but it was quite a spiritual experience, ranking up there with seeing Machu Pichu for the first time, and certainly satisfying the bucket list ambitions we both had had.
The usual other things happened during the day - we had lunch, we went to another talk by Lou Sanderson on the history of the Antarctic Treaty (again, fascinating), and then we had dinner. John had ..., while Barb had ...
Fabulous day of cruising Gerlache Strait and Paradise Bay, then Wilhelmina Bay, where we saw bucketloads of whales, right up close. There were two pictures that I was particularly excited to get: one with 5 surfaced whales in it, and the other (actually a nmovie) of three whales side by side, blowing one after the other! Such experiences rank up there with the once-in-a-lifetime ones - although it would be nice to do it all again, as St Thomas would say, "Lord, show us the whales and it sufficeth us"!
We did the Trivia Quiz with Kerry and Cheryl, Bob and Laurie, and scored 11, so we felt pleased with ourselves. The same groups keep winning it every night, so we cannot help feeling that they must have some secret weapon! We are all agreed that the questions are very US-centric (I mean, who cares about when some baseball team got fined?)
Dinner with all except Kerry and Cheryl. John had Chicken and Corn Soup, Tortellini, Strawberry Cheesecake; Barb had Broiled Paraille of Beef, Chocolate Seduction. After dinner we went to the show, and saw a comedian, Frank King, who was quite good. There were some US-specific jokes that I did not get, but by and large, he was quick on his feet, and able to return anything the audience threw at him. Barb and I laughed a lot.
These mornings when the sun rises at 0430 are not amenable to catching up on lost sleep. Somehow, when you wake up at 5am and the sun is already high, going back to sleep does not seem to be an option. Fortunately, we had advanced the morning tea service to 0630, so we did not have long to wait, especially as I tried to a) download the Age (absolutely no joy), and b) catch up on some 1000+ email messages!
The exploit on the church wiki meant that I had hundreds (literally!) of messages saying that a new wiki user had been created, and since each one had to be manually selected and deleted, I came nowhere near cleaning up the mess that was made. Each delete cycle would take up to a minute to process, and it was sooo frustratingly slow. I am seriously thinking I should just delete everything and wait until returning to a more sane internet environment before attempting anything again. Boy, if I were to catch up with the vandals who caused all this, I would put their testicles in a blender and whizz them up (while still attached), and feed the result to the nearby sea lions! So DLM, if you are reading this, that is the reason I cannot make any progress in dealing with the wiki meltdown. :-(
The main scenic attraction this morning was the Antartic Sound, where there was a giant "tabular" iceberg, so called because it has a flat top. This one was fairly rectangular, over 600m x 800m, and 25m high. Add to that the ice below the water line (all tip and LOTS of iceberg, to misquote Paul Keating), and that means a solid chunk of 120 million cubic metres of ice! The captain took us in fairly close, to about 1.5km away, but it still seemed awfully close (in both senses of the word).
After that rather transcendental experience, we went to breakfast in the Dining Room, and sat at a table with several other people, including Barbara and Mike, our new dinner companions. We both had Eggs Royale, and stayed chatting to the people for some time. Then we went for a walk around the deck, equivalent to walking to Syndal and Karizma before having our morning espresso in the Java Bar. Currently we are in the library, John typing this blog, and Barbara reading a book.
At lunch time there was a ceremonial "swim in the Antarctic" in the Lido pool. About 20 people were mad enough to take the plunge, and in younger days I might have done the same. But we just watched and took photographs of others this time. Then to a 1400 talk by Peter Carey on the 1902-04 Swedish Antarctic Expedition (check this out on Wikipedia), very interesting, but the talk at 1500 was postponed because we had arrived at the South Georgia Islands, and Admiralty Bay in George V Island. So more scenic cruising, which meant going outside on the front of the ship, where it was bitterly cold, with a biting wind, even though the sun was shining. John had to go and try out his new "hat" because his ears were so cold. The realization that this was the last bit of Antarctica that we would see made me at least feel a twinge of sadness, so we had been so awestruck by the natural unspoiled beauty of it all.
Then the talk at 1600 on the various scientific discoveries that have arisen from Antarctic research. There were a surprising number, not the least being the better understanding of how the Antarctic continent is so pivotal in the determination of weather in the southern hemisphere - the "driver" of our weather, as Lou Sanson put it.
Sip and Savour at 1700, pub trivia at 1830 in the Ocean Bar (because of the scenic cruising), where we scored 8, rather poor. A full complement for dinner, where John had Smoked Salmon Tartare, Beef and Chicken Satay, Bucatini with Duck, and No Sugar Added Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream; while Barb had Bourbon Street Chicken Gumbo, Master Chef's Favourite Braised Short Ribs, and Devil's Food Cake. There was a bit of commotion over the fact that the short ribs were short on ribs - there were none! We agreed that the dish had been misnamed, and should have been called braised back-strap, or similar.
Another at sea day, crossing Drake's Passge again, with much the same weather, a persistent swell of about 2m, which meant that the ship was pitched fore and aft fairly consistently. There was a bit of fog about as well, with the attendant fog-horn tooting. Breakfast in the dining room, and the "On Deck for The Cure" walk was held while we were eating. This had the potential to be a bit guilt-making, but we quickly assuaged that by cheering and waving to the walkers as they went past the window - them in the cold, us in the warm!
Talk on "Threats to the Antarctic" by Craig Franklin, ostensibly followed by a talk from Lou Sanson, but which got rescheduled as a talk on the natural history of Antarctica by Peter Carey. Barb left before the substitution was announced, and went and had coffee, but John stayed to hear an interesting talk about the very significant role of ice in the Antarctic.
In the afternoon, Barb went to the talk on "Women in the Antarctic", but John stayed in the cabin to catch up on photos. Then at 1500 he went to hear Dr Philip Wagenaar on "How I escaped the Germans during the Holocaust", which was packed out (it was in the Stuyvesant Room, a fairly small room). It was a harrowing story, but one which was told in a fairly factual and dispassionate manner by Dr Wagenaar. Somewhat in contrast to the display by the German women on board, who took exception to the talk, and complained to the management that it should "not have been allowed". I don't think they got very far with their complaint.
In the meantime, Barb went to hear Peter Carey on the "Natural History of the Falkland Islands". Then Sip and Savour at 1700 with just Kerry and Cheryl, followed by the trivia at 1830, also with just the four of us. Bob and Laurie (and Roberta and Arthur) were at the Captain's Table in the Neptune Lounge, too posh for us "standard" people. But we did OK for just 4 of us, getting 10 right.
A very cosy group for dinner - just Barbara and Mike for company, but we had a somewhat more intimate conversation as a result, and the evening went quickly. It was a formal night, with a theme of "A Night in White" but the four of us honoured that very much in the breach - we were completely in black, not having brought anything white that was also formal! The menu had all the items with somewhat odd names. John had intended to have Southern Lights over the Cap (Cape?), but got the same as Barb, namely "Sear's Indulgence (tomato and goat cheese tart), followed by "Freezing Nightfall" (beef tenderloin with lobster tail0, and a dessert of "Icebergs (white chocolate truffles floating on an ocean of blue caracao JellO)! Barb had the same starters and mains, but a dessert of Tiramisu instead.
Had to get up so early that we forwent our early morning cup of tea, but instead repaired straight to the Lido for breakfast, so that we could be in time for a 0700 appearance in the showroom. A rather long tender ride into Stanley, where we found our driver and guide for the day, Tony, who called himself "English", but then said that he had lived in the Falklands for 42 years!
The transport was a Land Rover that had seen very good service, but was still in very good nick (are you listening, Lloyd?). It only took 4 passengers plus driver: Tony, ourselves, and two other Australians, Peter and Rhonda, from Lakes Entrance. Tony was not your usual sort of guide, and did not give a running commentary of points of interest as we passed, but nevertheless was very knowledgeable about things. Turns out he has had a go at most things, including running a farm, a business, and being a photographer and artist - with sufficient skill at the latter to the extent that he has been commissioned to design several series of Falkland Island stamps.
All of which was good, as it took 2 and a half hours to reach ourr destination - the first hour over mainly gravel roads in varying condition (general the worse as we got further away from Stanley), and the last hour and a half over open grassland. Well, "grassland" would give you the wrong impression - better to call it a "peat bog". The track (if one could call it that) would its way from one muddy watercourse to another, and several times there was some fossiking around by the lead cars (we were about 8th in a line of 10) to find the "bridge", a pair of planks across the deeper and/or wider watercourses. Bumpy? You betcha! Fortunately, there were handles to hang on to, and plenty of headroom, so we did not collide too often with immovable objects in the car. But it did mean an exciting ride, so the point where I said towards the end "Forget the penguins, let's turn around and do that again!"
But we could not forget the penguins. There were three different types at "Volunteers Cove": Magellanic (the sort we had seen at Magellan Island in the Magellanic Straits), Gentoos (recognizable from the former by their bright orange beaks), and King Penguins (much larger than the other two, and with bright orange patches on their heads and throats). The Kings breed in the same way as the Emperor Penguins, with the male and female sharing the task of carrying around their egg on their feet until it hatches, and then doing much the same with the chick once it hatches. However, the Kings have the distinct advantage over the Emperors in that they are doing it in an average temperature of 0-10 Celsius on land, rather that -80 to -60 in the snow and ice.
The hour and a half we had there went very quickly indeed, but we did take a lot of photos, and some very funny movies as well. Barb took a wonderful movie of a "happy feet" Gentoo chick, waving his flippers, and then running around in circles, before falling over his own feet! Everyone to whom we showed it laughed out loud (LOL) at the images! The king penguins were just so absorbing to watch, with their beautiful plumage and Ministry of Funny Walks. But I need to do some work on the blog before I can include movies in it - they are expensive to download!
A quick sandwhich for lunch, then back in the Land Rovers for the two and a half hours bumpy ride back to Stanley, accompanied by Tony's wit along the way. We stopped at the wreckage of an Argentinian Chinook helicopter destroyed by the Brits in 1982 - there was not much left, although the wreckage of the two large rotors and associated motors was easy to see.
We said goodbye to Tony at the Post Office, and walked along the "front street" past several souvenir shops and museums, including a mizzen mast spar from the SS Great Britain, which was holed up in Port Stanley in 1886 for 80 years, before being recovered and returned to Bristol in 1970 (and is now restored). But as neither of us had brought our wallets, we could not buy anything, and just took photographs instead.
Trivia Quiz at 1830 (score 11), then dinner with full complement at 2000, with a Falklands/British theme. As I commented to Roberta, "I think Holland America is thumbing their nose at any Argentinian passengers on board!" Incidentally, any doubts I may have had about the justification of Britain going to war with Argentinia over the Falklands did rather evaporate on the basis of my experience here. There seemed to be intense loyalty to things British, even more so than in Britain itself, and the result of a recent (2013) referendum on whether the Falkands should remain under the protection of the British showed that there was a resounding affirmative for so doing - over 1700 votes for "yes", and only 3 (three!) for "no"! If ever there was a mandate, this has to be it!
The dinner menu was, for John: Fritto Misto, Stilton Cheese Soup, Roast Pork with Crackling, and Upside Down Apple Walnut Cake, very nice; and for Barb: Mixed Gourmet Greens, Mulligatawny Soup (not enough curry), Grilled Tuna and Haricot Verts, and Upside Down Apple Walnut Cake. After dinner we went to the show to hear and see Kenny Byrd do an amazing ventiloquist act, culminating in a very funny performance with two audience members acting as dummies.
Lost an hour of sleep this morning due to advancing the clocks, but I don't think it made a huge difference - we were awake when the tea tray arrived at 0700. Barb off to Tai Chi at 0800, and then John went down to the Showroom early (where the Tai Chiers were practising) to ensure that all was OK for the bible reading, as he had been asked by Barrie Sutton to read the lesson - John 1:1-14 - which he did at the appropriate time, throwing in a few words (with Barrie's permission) about what the word "Word" meant in this profound passage. (For those of you who may be interested, (this) John likened the word "Word" to a "Life-Light", which indeed is a phrase used in the Message translation, or the "Divine Presence" of theologians like John Bodycomb and Michael Morecroft. As Martin Luther King put it, "darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can drive out darkness ...". Barrie had told his opening joke segment about signs, such as this room service sign in a hotel "If you want breakfast, please ring room service, and you will have your food brought up" ... so John pointed out that the Greek word for "Word" is "logos" which we use to mean sign or brand or symbol - a neat segue, don't you think? Anyway, for a quick ad-lib, I thought it neat.
Then breakfast in the Lido, followed by John going to the Question and Answer session on post-Antarctic cruising - interesting enough to keep him there until the end, when we were treated to some of the funny questions people ask, like "Where does all the ice go when the iceberg melts?"; "Is the moon that we see in the Antarctic the same moon as we see in Texas?"; "Are there any female sperm whales?"; and so on. Lou Sanson also finshed with a lovely story about an English schoolteacher working in the Falklands, and her correspondence with the headmaster of the school about accomodation arrangements. The story hinged on the misunderstanding of the term "WC" (used in the UK to mean "water closet"), whereas Falkland Islanders apparently use the American term "bathroom". The headmaster did not know the term "WC", and asked his friend the parish priest, and together they worked out that it must mean "Wayside Chapel". Well, you can see where this misunderstanding might lead. Lots of double entendres about the number of seats in the "WC", and how Mrs Smith had been unable to go to the "WC" for 6 weeks because she had broken her leg, and how they were currently raising money to buy new plush covers for the seats, because the old ones had holes in them, etc., etc.! Apocryphal or not, we were all left in jolly happy laughing mood.
A quiet lunch in the Lido, as we had booked ourselves into the Pinnacle Grill for this evening's South American Dinner, and did not want to overdo the eating thing. Today is day 35 of the tour, the first day of the second half, and we are thinking that to continue to put on weight is not a good idea. So there is a growing awareness that tightening belts should be an intentional and active pursuit, rather than a lassez-faire passive one. We shall see.
We had a blast at the Pinnacle Grill. I rang Laurie at 1800 to see what their plans were, as we knew they were planning on going. They invited us to join them, and we needed to be there 10mins early to arrange seating. We met them as arranged, but the other people they were expecting did not show up. But it did not matter - the four of us had a ball, and the wine and food, while most enjoyable, took rather a back seat as we talked on and on about life in general, and children in particular. We were the last table to leave - again! I think that says something about the company, and the fun we were having. Barb admitted that she felt drunk, and we worked out that during the course of the afternoon and evening, we drank 22 glasses of grog between us! But amazingly, we did not suffer any after-effects ...
... as we both awoke at around 0630 with nary a headache to be seen. However, Barb had a bit of a stomache ache, which she thought might be a presage of Diverticulitis, so she did take things quietly for the morning, and did not go to breakfast. John took the opportunity to catch up on this blog and his photo cataloging.
I must admit to some misgivings about this project, about trying to keep up-to-date with all the photo captions, and about keeping this blog. It has been cutting into the time to do other things, and on days where we have a full day ashore, almost impossible to keep up, a) because of the lack of time in the day, and b) because we take so many photographs that it feels like one step forwards and about three back! However, the good news was that I did get up-to-date today, both on the blog, and on the catalogue. (But an admission: I write this on the 11th, now 4 days behind, and a further 602 photos in arrears!)
Lunch in the Lido, and then walked around decks 12 and 13 for a while. This circuit is not like deck 7, where you can walk right around the outside of the ship proper. Instead it is higher, so the circumference of the superstructure is shorter, and secondly, the front half of the walk is on deck 13, while the back half is on deck 12. So it means one flight of steps up, and one flight down, on each circuit, which makes it a little more taxing. But we did 5 such laps, which augmented my daily stair count.
Did I tell you about the stair count? We both decided that in the interests of not getting too much like many of the guests here, we should shun the lifts altogether. So far, I have only used the lifts to change floors once, and that was when (on 9 Jan) I went to a chap's cabin (Glen was his name) to check out his computer at his request. Since I didn't know where his cabin was, I had to follow him, and he used the lift. But otherwise, my conscience is clear (well, at least in terms of lift usage it is). So each day, to see what sacrifice is made by this undertaking, I count the number of deck changes I make. It does not matter whether it is up or down, because at the end of the day, the number has to be even since we get back to our cabin to sleep, and the number up and the number down are the same - half the daily tally. So all this is like counting steps, and goes towards checking that we are keeping up with some exercise at least.
A bit of the usual routine for the afternoon, as Barb was feeling better by this stage, so she did Tai Chi at 4, then we went to Sip and Savour at 5, then to the trivia quiz at 1830, where we scored 9/15, one off the pace for the winning score of 10.
Dinner with the usual crowd, sans Arthur and Roberta, who were Pinnacle Grilling. Apparently they have travelled on Holland America so often that they have a tally of free/discounted Pinnacle Grill dinners, so they are using them up. But the rest of us enjoyed ourselves too!
John had Smoked Duck Carpaccio, Dover Sole Meuniere, and Warm Espresso Sticky Date Pudding, while Barb had Chilled Apple and Pear Soup, Dover Sole, and Lemon Tart.
After dinner, we went to the movie with Bob and Laurie to see "A Good Lie", an interesting film about a Sudanese family fleeing the brutal civil war, and ending up in Kansas City. Based on a true story, the film had moments of both pathos and humour, with a palatable Hollywood ending, that is to say, it ended on one of the happier moments.
We arrived in the port of Montevideo at 0730, half an hour ahead of schedule. It was a docking, so an easy transfer to land and we set off on a walking tour, guided by a map we received as we went through the port gates. There were quite a few touts looking for business - taxis, small tour companies (which may be flattering them), and others. One of these, once we had made our intentions clear that we were not interested, then offered the comment that we should not walk around alone: "it is not safe", she said. I decided, and Barb agreed, that this was just a bit of emotional blackmail to make us think twice about not taking her tour offer. So ignoring all of these distractions, we headed into the city streets and came to absolutely no harm. Bearing in mind that pickpockets were still a risk, we did keep a certain presence of mind, but at no time did I feel "unsafe".
There was not much open at 0930 on a Sunday morning, but we did find a "Mercado de los Artesanos" (Market of the Lost Artisans?), where Barb bought a guess what? Yes, another milk jug. I think that makes about the 325th one on this trip. How we are going to get all these home in one piece is a future puzzle.
Two other things we found open: the cathedral, which we inspected, and McDonalds, where we coffeed and internetted. Barb chatted to Pam and Donna, who were both online at the time, and John uploaded photos and blog.
As we strolled on, and the time got to around lunchtime, things started to open up, and there were lots more people around. And rats, looking at the photos, I have just discovered that Barb's photos all have the wrong time zone setting, so I have a bit of work to recover from that. Bugger!
We finished the walking tour at about 1345, and decided to lunch back on the ship. At 1700, we joined Bob and Laurie in their suite (004) for drinks with all the people at our table, both past and present, as well as two others that were friends of B & L. We had the usual good time - to liven things up, barb wore her snowflakes head piece from the Night in White dinner a few nights ago, while John wore his owl hat from Ollantaytambo. That kicken on until 1930 or so, when it was time to go and get ready for dinner.
Dinner with the whole mob - John had Parfait of Salmon and Tuna Tartar, Cream of Broccoli Soup, Five Spice Shrimp, and Esterel Cake; while Barb had Parfait of Salmon and Tuna Tartar, Salad Nicoise (but no tuna and no anchovies!), and Chocolate Cheesecake (which was really a mousse, not a cheesecake)
Then to the showroom to see a variety of Frank King (comedian), Claudia Tesorino (saxophone), and Kenny Bird (ventriloquist), at the conclusion of which we said goodbye to Bob and Laurie, as they disembark in Buenos Aires tomorrow morning.
A very busy day! We met in the showroom at 7:45, but were delayed in getting off the ship because the Argentinian Immigration authorities took their time in clearing the passenger list to disembark. So it was a tight squeeze in a) taking the port shuttle bus to the port terminal, b) changing to the bus to take us to the airport, c) getting to the airport, d) getting through security before boarding the aircraft. They had to hold the plane for us (thank heavens for Holland America Shore Excursion clout!), but we did manage to fly out almost on time (0930 instead of 0920), arriving in Iguazu at around 11. Then another bus to the National Park, where we had an OK buffet lunch in a sit-down cafeteria place ("Fortin") before heading off on foot to catch the train to Estacion Garganta. The train was a narrow gauge diesel hauled push-pull setup, installed to manage the large crowds which visit the place, and to reduce the impact on the environment.
From the station, we then walked about 1500m across a bridge that crossed the very wide Iguazu River to the largest part of the falls, called "El Garganta del Diablo", or "The Devil's Throat". How do you describe a sight like that? Those who have seen the falls will know that words cannot do it justice, not can pictures, so perhaps I should not try. But given that this is very much a bucket-list-ticking-off trip, it must rank up there with Panama Canal, Machu Pichu, and the Antarctic. Niagara is just a trickle in comparison, so much so that I am tempted to say that Iguazu is "Niagara on Viagra", but you will all groan at that, so I won't. Lots of my fellow travellers thought Victoria falls a much better comparison, but I am not in a position to gainsay them. Suffice to say that with a frontage of 3km, and a height of 80m, and a flow rate of ?? million cubic metres per second, it is very very impressive.
But the falls are not just the Devil's Throat bit. We had an hour or so to take them in, then headed back on the train to take first of all the Upper Circuit walking trail ("Paseo Superior"), which took us past a troupe of monkeys to the various subsidary falls: Dos Hermanas, Chico, Bossetti, Adan y Eva, Goque Bernabe Mendez, Mbigua, San Martin, and Escondido. All most impressive. On the way back we saw lots of coatis, an animal that has learned that humans have food, and consequently is very unafraid of approaching humans - often to their pain and disappointment, as the little buggers bite!
Then to the Lower Circuit, or "Circuito Inferior", which involved lots of steps. The sign at the top said it was 2500m long, but it did not seem that far, as there were, like the trails above, many vantage points where one could see close up the each of the falls mentioned in the previous paragraph, and the time passed rapidly as we gazed in awe at each of them. Most of these were smaller, more intimate falls than the Devil's Throat one, but still quite impressive, especially when seen in the grander scale of the whole system. Along this track we stopped to watch one of the speedboats in the river below go zooming up to the base of the San Martin falls, so that everyone on the boat gets drenched in the spray and mist. What fun!?
The ultimate experience (certainly for Barb) was the final set of falls, the Salto Bossetti. These are the falls used in the film "The Mission", in which the canoe is seen to go over the falls, and up which the star Robert de Niro climbs. (We go to see the movie again tonight, 12 Feb). Barb found this very moving, and was heard humming the theme music all the way back.
Finally we wended our weary way back up the track to come out at the Hotel Sheraton, where we were to have dinner. But first a chance to have a drink and enjoy the cooling (and dehumidifying) air conditioning. For we must have looked very bedraggled as we emerged from the forest - I for one was bathed in sweat, suffering from dehydration, and had walked over 11000 steps during the day. So the beer was very well earned, even if it did take a bit of effort to pay for it, since I could not remember the correct PIN for the credit card which I had! Fortunately, they accepted it on the strength of a signature, or we might still be washing dishes!
Dinner was a buffet affair and soon over. We were bundled back on the buses at 1915, half an hour early, as the tour leaders did not want to run so close to the plane timing as the morning. But it was quite unnecessary (and I for one would have much preferred to stay in the airconditioned hotel), since the plane was delayed and we ended up waiting in the airport for over 3 hours! We left just after 11pm, and arrived back in Buenos Aires very tired at 15 mins past midnight. It was a quarter to one before we were back on board, and we both felt like a shower - but there was no water, and the toilet would not flush! Barb rang the office to be told that "they were working on it, and did we want to be called back when it was working?"!! "Not at this hour in the morning!", said Barb, and we left it at that and got ready for bed. When John went to clean his teeth, he discovered that they had fixed the water, so we were able to have that much desired shower at 0230 in the morning. Then bed, leaving the toilet for daylight hours.
At 3am, the toilet flushed, all by itself.
Bugger! We forgot to put a "Do NOT Disturb" sign on the door, so we were awoken by Aswar coming to clean the room at 0730, when we were both fast asleep. He apologised, but the damage was done, and we got up, rather reluctantly. Because of the lateness in getting back, we did not order any morning tea, so we got dressed and went to the Lido for tea and breakfast.
Then at 10ish, we caught the shuttle bus to the terminal, and from there, the shuttle bus to the city (confused? so were we!). The bus dropped us at Galeria Pacifico, a name I did not understand, as Buenos Aires (last time I looked) is on the Atlantic coast. Ah, these quaint South American customs! Pat and Ann were on the same bus, and told us that we had to go and see inside the Galeria Pacifico, and it was quite impressive. A big dome, all frescoed out with classical ceiling paintings (et ff). We wandered around, comparing it with the Lafayette Gallerie in Paris (which is better, but Pacifico gave it a good run). All comparisons stopped, though, when Barb spotted a wi-fi sign, so we checked it out - free! - and fast! So we settled down, bought a cup of coffee each (which was not without its translation difficulties, especially as we could only pay in US dollars), and spent a happy hour transferring files, reading emails, composing facebook messages, and generally catching up.
During all this frantic internet activity, an email comment from Geraldine did boost my spirits, saying that she enjoyed reading my blog, and was impressed with the many and varied things we have done. And I guess that reflects why we do enjoy cruising. There is never a dull moment, and excitement of one sort or another always lies around the corner!
Then we continued our embryonic walking tour. We had a map, but no clear route to follow, so we wandered as the whim took us - and had no dull moments in so doing! Along the way we got a number of comments and/or acknowledgments for our Seattle tie-dye T-shirts, but the one that really floored me was a Japanese tourist woman who asked if she could have her photo taken with us! It made my day!
Eventually at about 2 we ended up in Puerto Madero ("have some Madero, m'dear?") with its wonderful harp-like pedestrian bridge. Near there was a delightfully unprentitious "resto-bar", so we stopped to have an empanada and beer each. The beer was particularly nice, especially as it came in 1 litre bottles! More walking ensued, and we were delighted to find that the Argentinians had some very sound advice for our Prime Minister! I must put that on Facebook :-)
We walked back to the ship via the Railway Station, and were back on board just after 5pm, too late for the "compulsory" life boat drill. So we were handed a little note from the captain chastising us, and insisting that we attend a replacement session at 1930, or we "would not be permitted to continue on the cruise past the next port"!
At the trivia quiz, we did very well, coming equal first with a score of 11/15! And without Bob and Laurie, too :-) The lifeboat drill at 1930 was mercifullt short, and enliven somewhat by the safety officer who took it with a sense of humour, without diminishing its importance. He explained that, by law, the ship is required to get all passengers to undertake a lifeboat drill on embarcation, and at least once a month on long cruises. It sort of makes sense, even though as on planes, you have heard it so often that it is a little unnecessary.
Dinner at 2000 with all the crowd, and we swapped stories, not only of today, but also of yesterday (since we missed dinner), and of the water saga on return from Iguazu. John had Seafood devilled Eggs, Potato and Leek Soup, Fettucini Puttanesca, and Rhubarb Crisp, while Barb had Eggplant Caponata, Carne Asada, and Rhubarb Crisp.
The water saga continued in the morning. Barb went off to Tai Chi, and John decided to have a shower. No water. No toilet (a slightly more worrisome event). So he said, "bugger it, I will just get dressed without a shower!" Underpants and one sock later, the shower started gushing - I had forgotten to turn it off when no water came out. But it was not a cause for rejoicing, because the water came out black, and slowly, but only slowly, changed to brown, then began to clear up. When it was clear, I tested the temperature, and it was good. Off with the sock and underpants, and in I hopped, soaped up, and then - it went cold! Barb came back from Tai Chi to find me singing the Song of the Freezing Men. In the midst of all this, the tea waiter came back for the tray, and told us that we had been lucky to get tea, because just after our tea tray was prepared, the galley hot water went off, and others later than us got no breakfast!
Apart from the water saga, it was also a slightly unusual day today in that we did not reach Punta del Este until 1300, and then left late, at 2000. Consequently the morning was free, and Barb went to Tai Chi and John to Devotions, after which we both had breakfast. Some blogging and photo catchup in the morning, and otherwise not fussing around. We even skipped lunch, since we had a late breakfast, and we wanted to go ashore in a relaxed way. So we waited for the first rush of people for the tenders, then went ashore at 1400.
At the wharf we were handed a walking tour brochure, so it took five milliseconds for us to decide to do just that. We saw the lighthouse, parish church, Great Britain Square (which also happened to be where the sewage outfall was, pong!), a shrine called the Image of Our Lady of the Candelaria, which was oh so kitsch. And just what connection Our Lady had with the Candelaria was not all that obvious. We then headed up to the main drag, where we found a MacDonald's and free wifi. We bought a "cappucino frappe" each, which was a frozen coffee drink, and took ages to drink, as it did not melt very quickly. But that did not matter, since we took ages to sort out our internet needs anyway.
On to the famous "installation" of The Hand in the Sand, which I thought a little overrated. Of course, it had swarms of people posing in front of it, climbing on it, and generally preening themselves that a photo without distraction was impossible. One particular woman, who was not what you would call photogenic, insisted on positioning herself in a variety of poses in front of the various fingers. I would have been happy to give her a metaphorical finger, but I contented myself by just taking a photo of her, at which she did seem to take offence, but nevertheless did get the message!
We had some trouble finding the next landmark, the 100 Years of Punta del Este, but we did eventually manage to cross about 5 carriageways of traffic, all screaming in opposite directions, to find the thing.
At this point Barb Barb was having trouble with a blister on her toes, so we decided to head straight back to the ship, via one of the ship's tenders. We saw a sea lion perched on one of the harbour piers on the way, but it was on the other side of the tender, and a photo was difficult to take, as I had put the camera away! And I had just said to Barb as I did put it away, "if I put this away, we will see something interesting"!
We got back just in time to mix a gin and tonic, and head up to the Crows' Nest for Trivia Quiz. We missed Bob and Laurie, but did OK with just the four of us - 9/15. The irony is that one of the questions was "What was the 14th state to join the US?", to which I said Vermont, but the others preferred Alabama, so that was what was written down. But Vermont was the correct answer!
Dinner with all the usual crowd, sans Bob and Laurie. John had Crab and Asparagus Quiche, Cream of Cauliflower Soup, Hungarian Beef Goulash, and Italian Ricotta Cheesecake; while Barb had Crab and Asparagus Quiche, Orange and Mixed Green Salad, Wild Mushroom Strudel (but more spinach than mushroom), DAM Devil Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream.
Barb off to Tai Chi, but for a change, John went to the Learn Portugese class at 9. He was not expecting to learn much, but he came away with a better understanding of how Portugese words get pronounced. Similar, but certainly not identical to, Spanish, while still reflecting a lot of commonality with Spanish, French and Italian. But I guess y'all knew that?
Then more photo cataloguing, this time in the library where we could check out a few things. We did identify two birds out of four, which was something, I guess, but I did not find a great deal of info about the Iguazu Falls, for example.
Lunch at the Lido Pool with Arthur and Roberta, with very pleasant weather, in the mid 20s, and a refreshing breeze blowing, just right. In the afternoon we went to hear Andrew Johnson (not the same one, Beth!) talk about "Divided by a Common Language", all about how words (and signs) can mean quite different things to different audiences. Interesting, but I had hoped for a bit more linguistics in it.
Trivia Quiz in afternoon, where we scored 9/14 - 14 because Samantha, the quiz master, misread one question and referred to "miles" when the question meant "metres", presumably because the abbreviation "m" was used! That was bad enough in itself, but one team claimed to get the right answer anyway! Did they know the real question? And if they did, why did they not correct it?
Dinner was a formal night, with the theme of Valentine's Day - hearts everywhere! Barb was presented with a red rose as she sat down, and the menu was full of romantically themed dishes. John had "Forever My Valentine" (pate), "Your Velvety Caress" (pea soup), "Lover's Whispers" (steak and lobster), and Daily Cheese Plate; while Barb had "Take My Breath Away" (seafood chowder), "Lover's Whispers" (steak and lobster), and Chocolate Espresso Souffle.
After dinner, we went to see the movie "The Mission", which Barb had seen previously, but wanted to see the Iguazu Falls sequences again. John decided he had not seen it previously - or else he is suffering from dementia. For those who haven't seen it before, it has a very powerful ending (I don't think that is giving too much away, is it?)
Barb did Tai Chi, but John skipped both Portugese and Devotions. Barb went to the Location Talk about Santos and Rio, but came away thinking that Rio sounded like it was going to be very very crowed, and we had second thoughts about going ashore there. In the afternoon we went to hear a talk by Andrew Johnson on Carnival, but apart from a brief introduction to why Carnival, it descended into a travelogue of Carnivals I have attended around the world, and not very interesting. So we left early.
In the afternoon there was a South American Wine and Food Festival on the outside Lido Deck. There were wines for the tasting, $4 per drink, $25 for 8, so we shared an 8 drink ticket and had 4 each. John had a Peruvian Cristal Lager beer, Uruguayan Peublo Del Sol Tannat Rose, Argentian Vinterra Winery Omnium Malbec and Chilean Terrapura Vineyard Carmanere, while Barb tried the Uruguayan rose, Argentinian Vinterra Winery Omnium Torrontes, Uruguayan Peublo Del Sol Sauvignon Blanc, and a cocktail, Caiphirinha, made from a Brazilian rum-style liquor called cachaca (pronounced "cashasha"). "Not as good as a Pisco Sour", was her verdict. At the next table was a bloke sitting by himself, so we struck up a conversation with him. His name was Martin, from The Hague, and joined the ship at Buenos Aires. We talked about the wines (there were lots more than we could taste), and about the Netherlands and Amsterdam.
HAL Chorale at 4, and a short rehearsal, over by 25 past. John stayed on in the Crows' nest to have a Happy Hour Mojito, while Barb went back to the cabin for a rest. Joined by Kerry at 5, and we talked until the women joined us for the Trivia Quiz - in which we did poorly, scoring 7/15.
Dinner minus Roberta and Arthur (Pinnacling again), at which John had Herring Sampler, Asparagus-Tomato Risotto with Goat Cheese (actually a main course, but we asked for it as an entree size), and Quail with Apricot Bread Stuffing; while Barb had the same, with a Pineapple Sorbet for dessert.
After dinner we went to the show to see Lee Bradley, an operatic tenor, do a very good variety act, mixing opera arias with comedy and pop. We were impressed enough to buy his CD afterwards, and he kindly signed it for us.
We arrived into Santos in rather steamy weather. We thought we would walk into the historic town centre, rather than take the ship shuttle which only went to a shopping mall (which we later heard was not worth it). John was happy walking in, since the road ran alongside the railway line, which was very busy with light engines chugging up and down, and lots of shunting. Also lots of photos.
The road, running as it did through an industrial area, was not all that exciting, though, and we searched in vain for some sort of street name to give us a check on where we thought we were. A couple of locals came us to us, presumably to help, but since we had no Portugese and they had no English, that came to nothing. Eventually a street name appeared, and we relaxed a little - only half way there, tho'!
But by putting one foot in front of the other, we did make it into the historic part of the city, and inspected the cathedral - a bit drab - and walked through a square (with people), when a passer by pointed to my camera, and said one word of english - "danger"! Not sure what to make of that, but with some circumspection, we pressed on and found the City Square with its imposing City Hall, and a tourist office.
With directions from the tourist office, we found the Coffee Museum, only to find that one of the Prinsendam tours had beaten us to it, and the place was packed. So we detoured into the in-house cafe, and had - coffee! Not our usuals, admittedly, but a very nice "Cappucino Gelado", which was coffee and milk whizzed up with ice, and no sugar! So the taste of the coffee was quite unmasked, and it was good.
Soon the tour crowd evaporated, and we had the place almost to ourselves. We spent an hour wandering around, aided particularly by story boards in English, so we were able to follow the whole story of coffee from seed to cup without having to guess at the portugese.
After the Coffee Museum, we walked towards the wharves, which looked interesting, but a taxi driver stopped, reversed, and said to us (in English), "don't walk along here, it is not safe"! So back to the City Square, where we elected to board a tourist tram that ran around the same parts of the city that we had hoped to explore. It was a bit of a challenge tho', as the commentary was in portugese, with occasional bursts of english. But the english was so distorted by the audio system and tram acoustics, that it might as well have been in portugese. We enjoyed the trip, nevertheless, on a toastrack tram and trailer, both with fixed wheelbases (so that they went around sharp corners very sharply!). At the conclusion of the trip, we debated what to do next, bt Barb had burst the blister on one of her toes, so she was not keen on more walking. So we caught a taxi back to the ship - $BRL28 (about $A13), where we had lunch "Lido Poolside", as the Yanks say.
The afternoon we spent resting from the morning's activity, and went to the Crows' Nest for Happy Hour, then the Trivia Quiz (7/15). During this time, the heavens opened, and it absolutely bucketed down, to the point that we could not see the ship moored in front of us!
For dinner John had Mussels a la Mariniere, Gazpacho Andalusia, Sauerbraten, and Daily Cheese Plate; while Barb had Mussels a la Mariniere, Roasted Baby Beet and Oak Leaf Salad, Pan Seared Barramundi with Ancho Chili Sauce, and Chocolate Souffle. We finished off the Estacion Pinot Grigio, and Barb continued with the Peublo Del Sol Tannat Rose, while John had the Spellbound Cabernet Sauvignon with his beef and cheese.
After dinner, showtime and the UkeBox Boys with a repeat performance, playing such things as Delilah and Beatles Medley. A bit of fun.
We had a very quiet day today - Barb had worn a hole in her toe, and did not feel much like walking - besides which it was very hot and humid (35/97), and we had other things to do (like catch up on the photographs), so we did very little, apart from the usual meals and stuff. We did go ashore briefly to get a map (success) and to explore the wifi (failure), but went straight back on board afterwards, because it was just too hot to do anything alse! John did go to the worship service at 1630, but did not get that much from it.
To the Crows' Nest at 1730 to meet Kerry and Cheryl, and we were joined just before the Trivia Quiz started by Peter and Heather, who had lost their regular group. They add something - we almost won, with our best ever score of 14/15, but we pipped at the post by the Team That Does Not Play Fair. Well, we have our suspicions. They always seem to get the right answer, even when the questions are wrong, and we suspect that they have access to the same database of questions that the ship is using. The question we got wrong? What was the book that Forest Gump carried everywhere with him on his travels? Answer: Curious George. Of course, TTTDNPF got that right!
Dinner at 2000, missing Arthur and Roberta who were off to see the Carnival - unfortunately for them, it poured with rain all night :-( Barb had Carribean Island Fritters, Boneless Lamb en Croute, and a Pineapple Sorbet; while John had Carribean Island Fritters, French Onion Soup, Boneless Lamb en Croute, and a Daily Cheese Plate. We finished off the Pueblo Del Sol Tannat Rose, then John had the last of the Spellbound Cab Sav, so the three bottles of wine we had on the go are now all finished!
After dinner, we went to the show, which was a Brasilian drum group, some very scantily clad women dancers, and some bare topped acrobatic men. Quite fun, but 40 minutes of that was enough for John, in spite of the very bare women !
Up very early to be ready for the 0715 Showroom call for our trip to Christ The Redeemer statue, and indeed, we were out of the ship and on the bus by 0725. There was very little traffic, so we were at the rack railway by just after 8, and we caught the 0820 train up this very steep line (don't know the actual gradient, but it must be of the order of 80% (about 40 degrees). Lots of photos, and a video. Some 100 steps from the top station to the base of the statue, where we oohed and ahhed and took lots of photos, as did lots of other people. The CTR statue is an icon of Rio, and it is easy to see why. A classic art deco statue, it is a very soft rendition of Christ, with outstretched hands, and it exhudes welcome to those both near and far. The area around the base of the statue was not as jam-packed as others had warned us, no doubt due to a) the early hour, and b) the carnival the night before, but it was still comfortably full of people.
Then back down the rack railway, and to the bus - after having to wait for the next train down because two people had missed the train. We drove around Ipanema (but did not see the cafe where the song was written), and then to Copacabana, where we got off the bus for a 40 minute sojourn, time enough for us to walk to the water's edge and for Barb to take her shoes and socks off and paddle in the water, which she exclaimed was quite warm.
After Copacabana, back to the city of Rio, where we stopped at the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was unfortunately shut, no doubt due to Carnival. Very reminiscent of the Catholic Cathedral at Liverpool, and of gasholders.
Back to the ship for a BBQ lunch at the Lido, where John had an acerbic comment from a man behind him in the queue. The queue was moving slowly because the salad bar did not want to cooperate, and everyone was having trouble spooning out the salads. When I got to the spooning stage, and had the same trouble, the man behind me said to his partner "You can jump the line, but this man will go ballistic". I exclaimed "Excuse me?", and he then launched into a diatribe about how I disrupted the Trivia Quizes, and got upset when he sat in front of me in the movies (his own admission!) I pointed out that he was the one going ballistic, and that if it upset him so much, why not go in front of me? I called his bluff. He backed down, saying, "I'm not that much in a hurry, I'm planning on living a lot longer" - to which I replied "Well, other people may have different views on that!" and left with my BBQ. What a Richard Cranium!
Whether it was the annoyance at this person, or just plain american bias questions, we did badly in the trivia - 3/15! I did get the real name of Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), but you had to have his middle name as well to get the point (Leghorn), which seemed very arbitrary. When I do know the full name of people, the acceptable answer is always just the surname!
There was some exciting news on return to our cabin - we have been upgraded to 4-star mariner status! Wow! That means we get free laundry, and half price drinks from the minibar and Java Bar (but not alcoholic ones, which would be more exciting). We had to go to the office to get new ship cards printed with our new mariner status up them.
Dinner was with everyone at the table. John had Crispy Seafood Roll, Double Baked Potato Soup, Saltimbocca alla Romana, and no dessert; while Barb had Crispy Seafood Roll, Baby Oak and Frisee, Almond Crusted Salmon, and an ice cream. Barb went to the show afterwards (a bloke playing a "vibraphone" electronic gadget), but John had an early night.
Usual sea day stuff - Barb to Tai Chi, John to Devotions, and then breakfast. Several talks on this morning, the first about the politics of Brasil, from colonisation to empire. The Portugese do not have glory poured upon them by history, they were into the slave trade in a very big way, pre-dating the slave trade into the US by half a century. They also gave the Jesuits, who were doing a good job of civilizing the natives, a really hard time. I don't mean "civilize" in a patronizing way, they really did do lots to improve the standards of living amongst the indigenous peoples. If you have seen the movie "The Mission" you will know what I mean. That was an accurate reflection of what really happened. And all this from a very devout catholic state!
Unfortunately, this interesting talk was marred by poor lecturing techniques from the presenter, one Tommie Sue Montgomery. She did say that she had taught at universities in the US, and I wondered whether she jumped or was pushed from those jobs, because she could not lecture for sour apples. Her worst failing was the use of a Power Point reveal for the text on the slides, a reveal that was not in synchronism with what she was trying to say, and which was completely distracting from what she was saying, with the result that you did not take in either stream of information adequately. I must be getting picky in my od age.
The following talk was better, and had some overlap. This was a different woman, Ida (surname not given), who was missing for the first 15 minutes of her talk! She explained about the influences of the different settlers in Brasil - the portugese, the dutch, the spanish, and the french.
In the afternoon, there was a special interest group on trains, which John went to. It was OK, but rather monopolised by one gentleman, Mike, who seemed to have ridden every train anyone mentioned, and who had driven every steam loco in Australia! (He was a Yank.) I did go one better than him - I had driven a larger steam engine than he had, namely the garratt in Canberra!
Meanwhile Barb went to the information session on the next few ports, and collected some useful notes to guide our planning. We have 5 port days in a row! At 4pm, we both did the HAL Chorale rehearsal, and then at 5 another Sip and Savour wine tasting. Trivia was better tonight, with a score of 10, and more to the point, TTTDNPF did not win!
With scissors borrowed from Kerry, Barb gave John a beard trim, which had become rather necessary, and improved his appearance no end. Sort of thing you tend to forget about on a cruise!
Dinner with all the table present. It was Mardi Gras night, with lots of masks worn by both waiters and diners. John and Barb both had Samba of Lobster and Shrimp, Grilled Beef Sirloin "Copacabana", and abstained from dessert.
We went to the show after dinner, a British comedian called Martin Beaumont, who was very good. That was followed by the Indonesian Crew Variety Show, in which our waiter Firman played in the orchestra, and the ice cream lady Trees (pronounced "Tris") sang the lead role. Then to bed after a very busy sea day.
Awoke very early this morning, because the clocks had been set back an hour. Apparently the northern provinces of Brazil do not observe daylight saving, while the southern ones do, and we have just crossed the boundary. Tried using the internet, but it was not working properly, and I didn't get very far. No mail, no ssh.
Arrived in Ilheus at 0855, and we we ready to disembark by 0915. We had been led to believe that the town was within walking distance, which it sort of was, but 2 kilometres in 30 degree heat was a little taxing. We were later told that they announced a shuttle bus service at 0930 on the ship, but that was too late for us. Anyway, we needed the walk!
We made it to the cathedral, and checked out inside - not all that exciting. It was only completed in 1967, and it looks like they ran out of money! Then to the Vesuvio Bar, a well known landmark, where we had a local Caiphirinha cocktail, very limey and refreshing. Then we set off to find the local Cristo Redentor, but when we found it, it was a bit of a fizzer compared to the Rio thing, because it was only about 3m high!
Then to find a little church marked on our map, the Cave of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was hardly worth the effort when we did find it, almost at the top of a hill, and poorly signposted. The view from the top was somewhat mitigating. Then down the hill and back to the Vesuvio Bar, where we did get on to the internet while drinking a beer or two. We also had a quibe each, rather like a big falafel and made from minced lamb. The internet brought news that our puss, Sylvester, has had an ear infection, but is being cared for by Steven our house sitter. Get well soon, Sylvester!
On for more exploring. We walked around the city center, seeing the Palace Paranagua and the house where Jorge Amado lived (famous Brazilian writer), and St George's Chapel. At this point we were close to where we had been told the shuttle bus ran, so we headed for the spot. There were buses there, and we asked which was the Prinsendam shuttle, only to be told (by someone from the opposition cruise company MSC) that those shuttles went from opposite the cathedral. So we walked back to the cathedral, where we found - nothing. Or at least, no sign of any Prinsendam shuttles. So back to the first spot (where I gave the NSC operatives a piece of my mind), where we found other Prinsendam passengers also waiting, so we knew we were in the right spot. The bus took its time, and when it arrived, it was only a small minibus, so the large queue that had built up would not all fit! Talk about lack of organization! Although I suspect that it was not all down to HAL, and that they in turn had been stuffed about by the Brazilian authorities. After all, it is Latin America, and I suspect the MSC mob had greased some palms more generously than HAL had.
In the afternoon, Barb had a massage, while John went to the Crows' Nest for happy hour and to work on this blog. We were joined by Kerry and Cheryl for trivia, and we managed 9/15 tonight. 5 teams won, each with 11 points, so we were not far off the pace.
Dinner with Roberta and Arthur, Barb and Mike, with the usual repartee. John had Chilled Mango Gazpacho (very nice), Mediterranean Salad, Fillet of Beef Wellington, and no dessert. Barb had Seared Asahi Carpaccio, Mediterranean Salad, Fillet of Beef Wellington, and no dessert also. Then to the show afterwards to head Phillipa Healey, a leading lady in various musicals. She sang a collection of songs, such as Che Sera, Sera; I Dreamed A Dream from Les Mis; and Memories from Cats. She was very good.
Up early again. Damn this no daylight saving regime! Even though we had shut the curtains, the daybreak still came in and woke us at 0530. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, we had a leisurely run in getting ready to go ashore, and disembarked at 0915. It did pour with rain at about 9, but as Barb remarked, it was here and gone very quickly.
We had some good advice from a bloke who stopped to help us while we were reading the map in the terminal, and made a beeline for the "elevator", a Salvador land mark in its own right, and a very art deco set of lifts from the waterfront level to the historic town above. This is very much the city of churches. Salvador has more churches per square foot than any other city I have ever visited. Adelaide, eat your heart out! Why, around the town square there were 4 huge "igrejas", and in every direction we looked, we could see at least 2 more in the immediate line of vision! So today's photo list is just churches and their interiors from one end to the other! And all of them over the top in terms of BVMs, blessed saints, and crucified Jesuses.
That's it, really. Not much else to say.
We did stop after descending the elevator again at the Mercado Modelo, a huge market building, with restaurants on the first floor. We repaired there, repairing ourselves with a beer each. Barb did manage to say "Due cerveja", but then got a whole stream of portugese in reply! The gist was, big or little? John pointed to what he thought were little bottles on an adjacent table, and said "that size". The trouble with that was that the bottles were in a cooler, which obscured their size - they were large! 600ml (a pint) of beer each. John could take that in his stribe, but Barb demurred on the last glass and handed the rest of her bottle to John. So she drank 450ml, John 750ml, and re-paired, we both repaired back to the ship fully repaired.
The usual nightly activities followed, and they were in darkness, now that daylight saving has ended, and we are back to equatorial day lengths. Gin and tonic in the cabin, then trivia, where we were joined by a new partner, Maria (from Peru, but living in Oz for the last 35 years!), who helped us to a respectable 12/15. Then dinner with all: John and Barb both had a Chinese banquet menu, in respect of the fact that it was the Chinese New Year, with lots of "Nee hows" everywhere.
Barb went to the show (a magician who was also a pianist and comedian, and good), but John collapsed into bed and snored.
We had debated about whether we would disembark today, since Maceio seemed to offer very little to see. But after our usual morning rituals (tea, Tai Chi, breakfast, Java Bar), we decided to go and see something. So we caught the shuttle bus which went from the ship straight to the Mercado do Artesano, a place full of trinkets, souvenirs, lacewook, you name it, and none of it very exciting. Barb said she saw on one piece of lacework the label "Made in China", so not very artisanal! (More anal than arti, I would say.) So we left that and walked to the beach, where we headed north along the sand. The beach was not that exciting, although there were bucketloads of people under umbrellas and sitting in rented chairs. The water looked murky and uninviting, too.
We walked all the way along the Pajucara Beach to the end, and then on to the Ponta Verde Beach. We didn't go far along here, because it all looked much the same, and by then we had had enough, anyway. So we walked back to the Artisans along the esplanade (easier walking than on the sand), and when we got there, there was a shuttle bus waiting, so we caught that back to the ship.
And that was Maceio.
Dinner: John: Calamari Fritti, Crispy Duck Confit with Braised Lentils, and a Cheese Plate; Barb: Chilled Green Asparagus with Overn-Roasted Tomatoes, Grilled Salmon with Ginger-Cilantro Pesto, and no dessert. After dinner we went to the show, a dual act of Martin Beaumont (comedian) and Phillipa Healey (soprano). Both very professional and enjoyable.
We had a ball today. We caught the compulsory shuttle to the terminal, from whence we started walking. In the terminal there was a bloke doing a very exhausting (to watch) Brazilian dance, while twirling a little umbrella in Carnaval colours. We watched for several minutes, thinking he would stop soon, but he just kept on going! In the end we were so exhausted that we left him dancing away.
Walked into the historic part of the city, a much shorter distance this time than many of the other ports. Bumped into some other prinsendam passengers who told us that the building opposite had wifi, but when we went there - nothing. In the meantime, we also came across Pat and Ann from Vancouver (see 04 Jan), who had found out the bus numbers to catch to go to Olinda, the old Portuguese settlement, and would we like to join them? We said yes, so we set off to catch the bus.
Well! As Pat said, it was a 15 minute trip, but we did it in 3 minutes! I have never known such a wild hectic bus ride. We were thrown from side to side in our seats, and yet the locals seemed to take it in their stride. Apparently all the buses behave this way! We got to Olinda, and caught our breath before planning what to do.
First to the Our Lady of Carmo church, which we inspected. It seemed to be having several baptisms under way, and we left as the priest came out and started the service - in portuguese of course, so there was little chance we would know what was going on. Then up the hill to the Church of Our Lord the Saviour of the World. Both of these were very catholic in style and decoration.
Someone suggested a beer, so we wandered on in the lookout for a suitable premises. Much of the place seemed to be recovering from continuous parties over the last few days (Carnaval), so there were distractions everywhere. But we found a place, called Clube do Choppo, where they had a good wifi service, so we all got very antisocial and talked to our iPhones and iPads while consuming a couple of bottles of beer each!
Then we wandered back down the hill, stopping to admire (is that the right word?) several other churches, graffiti, and colourfully painted houses. We caught the bus back to Recife, and had some moments of concern as the bus did not retrace its forward route, but instead did a Cook's tour of the city proper (the modern area). Fortunately an english speaking man reassured us tat all would be well and to hang in there. Which we did, and eventually reached the very same bus stop at which we boarded on the forward journey.
As we were walking back through the historic town, we saw a couple from the ship, Gary and Deanne, from Quebec, drinking at a cafe. They waved us over, and we had another couple of beers with them, and then walked back to the terminal.
We got to the terminal just as it was starting to rain, but thought nothing of this. As we reached the other side of the terminal, and a short walk to the bus, the heavens opened, and we all got drowned in the space of about 5 metres!
Then, to add insult to injury, when boarding, they had just switched the gangway from deck 5 to deck 4. As we went on, there was a bunch of crew in front of us. But they did something wrong, and the chief security officer ordered them all back. So I was the first passenger through the new setup, which hadn't been. I had my wallet in had to place in a tray, but there were no trays, so I went through the metal detector with it still in my hand. Of course, it set off the alarm, because there were coins in the wallet. While trying to work out what to do, I had 3 security guys all yelling at me to go back, do this, do that, so I stopped, and said, rather vigorously, "one at a time please!" Silence. Then I asked politely, "what do you want me to do?" to which one guy responded "give me the wallet." Which I did, went back through the metal detector, and no alarm. The irony was that I realised later on that I had a pocketfull of coins, which did not set off the alarm the second time. So much for their security system! It really points out the fact that it is more about being seen to be doing something, rather than actually preventing any security breach.
I was sufficient annoyed about this that I went and made a complaint to the Front Office, who took my details and the circumstances down, and promised to get back to me. (They did. I had a message the next day when I returned from shore to say that they apologised for the distress, and that the security officers had been "spoken to". I had no problems on returning the next day, they were all very deferential to me!)
At trivia, we scored 11/15, but the marking team has been a bit generous and gave us a point for an answer that we did not really have right. But since we didn't win, we let it pass.
Dinner with the whole clan tonight. John had Sashimi of Alaskan Cod with Wasabi Mayonnaise (but it had very little wasabi in it), Argentinean Style Chicken Soup, Veal Parmigiana, and No Sugar Added Apple Strudel; while Barb had Sashimi of Alaskan Cod with Wasabi Mayonnaise, Gourmet Greens with Herbed Goat Cheese Crouton, and Pesto Linguin with Italian Sausage (very tasty, nice!). She kept up her no dessert for Lent regime.
To the movies after dinner - we saw Gone Girl, a rather suspenseful movie with an unexpected ending.
Arrived in Natal at 0700, passing under the impressive Ponte Newton Navarro. a large cable-stayed bridge. We docked at the passenger terminal, so we could walk ashore, but caught the shuttle bus because a) we did not know where to go, and b) the area did not look all that salubrious. The shuttle bus dropped us at the Mercado do Artesano - again! Some passengers remarked that the goods were the same stuff that we had seen in Recife, and they just truck them up overnight. Perhaps a bit cynical, but it gives you a flavour of the style of stuff on sale.)
Not wanting to peruse the artisan stuff - a lot of which is wood and unable to be taken back to Australia - we walked across to the beach, and started walking along it. We walked for about a kilometre, and decided to walk back along the road. Barb wanted to walk all the way to the fort we had seen as we entered the harbour, but John wasn't keen. Then we bumped into Pat, Ann, Gary and Deeanne from yesterday, and rethought our plan. Gary and Deanne opted out (Gary has a bung leg and walks with a stick), but Pat, Ann and Barb all said "let's walk to the fort!", so John was outvoted.
We encountered little impediment to our perambulations, some 5kms along the foreshore to the Fort of Reis Magos (or "King Maggots" as John would have the translation), which to our delight was free entry for those over 60! Well, hardly a cause for much celebration, because the entry fee for normal people was only 3 BRL, about $A1.50, which would have hardly broken the bank. The fort, built in 1598, was pretty interesting, and we were able to walk all over it, and wonder at the living conditions of the Portugese in the 17th century.
We were warned by a taxi driver against walking back - "peligrosa" he said. Usually that is a ploy to tout for business, but he had a carful of passengers already, so he didn't stand to make anything out of his warning. Perhaps he was in league with another driver, since an empty taxi turned up within seconds of him driving off. Anyway, we had walked enough, so a taxi ride to improve on the drinking time was deemed a good option, and it was only 15 BRL ($A7.50) between the four of us.
The taxi dropped us back at the Artesano, where we found a bar and ordered beers all round. Most welcome, for even though it was not that hot (only about 28 degrees), we had done a lot of walking, and it was very humid (about 83%, IIRC). Then we found the free wifi - although the four of us had mixed success: for example, I was able to upload lots of photos, but could not get mail. Barb and Pat could not connect at all, yet Ann had no problems.
After some frustrations because of this, we gave up and caught the shuttle bus back to the ship, in time to have lunch in the Lido Dive-In just on 1500. Then a bit of a snooze for the rest of the afternoon, getting up to watch the ship sail out of the harbour, and enjoy a G&T on our balcony, before heading off to trivia, and a score of 9/15.
Dinner with all the mob. It was an Oscar-Award-themed evening, and all the dishes had Hollywood-inspired titles. John had "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" (from "Dirty Dancing, but actually crab cakes with an indian spiced chutney), "The Hollywood Glamour" (salad), "Elementary, My Dear Watson" ("Sherlock Holmes", pork medallions with mushroom sauce), and plain old Creme Brulee; while Barb had "After All, Tomorrow is Another Day" ("Gone with the Wind", ham, salami, melon and figs), "... And Take the Cannoli" ("The Godfather", chicken and wild rice soup), "May The Force Be With You" ("Star Wars", but really pan fried bass with crab salad), and Watermelon Sorbet (since it was Sunday, and Lent does not apply). Then to bed.
A sea day, with Barb off to Tai Chi, but no devotions for John (presumably since there was a sunday service yesterday which John did not go to because it clashed with sail away from Natal). Then breakfast in the dining room, followed by a talk on the next shore excursions. Barb had a hair appointment at 1030, while John updated this blog, and then at 1100 we had another mariner presentation, followed by a Mariner Lunch, at which we received another pair of Delft tiles. At the table was a bloke, Justin, from the University of Delaware, who knew Ernie Tuck, from whom both Barb and John had had lectures while at Adelaide University. Apparently Ernie had spent some time at Delaware where Justin got to know him. Ernie apparently died a few years back, which Barb knew, but John didn't. Also at the table was Pat, so we got to know a bit more about her, too. She was born in Border Town and grew up in Hazelwood Park. So "it's a small world after all"!
After lunch we went to the Shore Excursions talk at 1500 to hear all about the Amazon River ports. Then at 1600, Barb went to Tai Chi while John did pkotos and blog. Then at 1700 we went to the movies to see "My Old Lady" with Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith - a wonderful movie with an unexpected ending.
Because of that, we missed trivia quiz, but got ready for the formal night with a theme of "Al Capone" and 20s gangsters. We had our photo portraits taken, we were so dressed to kill! For dinner we were joined by Duane (the ship's doctor) and Laurie (but not the one that got off at Buenos Aires). John and Barb had the same courses, "Lucky Luciano's Icy Touch" (tomato and gin soup, which was brilliant!), "The Rifle Verdict" (roasted beet salad), "The Al Capone Angry Byte" (lobster thermidor and filet mignon, beautiful!), followed by Vanilla Souffle (John only, Barb was back on her lenten dessert fast).
After dinner we went to the show, which was a Beatles cover, playing all the original Beatles hits, and getting the audience to sing, clap and dance along! Great fun! (Even John was seen to be doing the actions, Belinda Clear!)
The excitement this morning was the traditional Crossing the Equator ceremony, which John remembers doing in 1961 when he was 13. Due to "operational reasons" (i.e., everyone was in bed asleeep), we did not have the ceremony when heading south, about the night of 9 Jan. Operational Reasons again meant that the ceremony did not coincide with the actual crossing of the equator. That we recorded at 0645 this morning with the aid of our two GPS-equipped cameras, together with the shipboard display of GPS tracking (like in aircraft). The ceremony, on the other hand, started at 1000.
For those of you who have not participated in such events, it involves someone dressing up as King Neptune (and in our case, Queen Neptuna as well), and inspecting the ranks of "pollywogs", i.e., ship's crew who have not previously crossed the equator, and then deciding on some appropriate punishment/initiation - which invariably, regardless of the decision, leads to being lathered with foamy stuff and thrown in the swimming pool. The foamy stuff turned out to be beaten-up egg whites coloured with food colouring, so it was not too gross, it just looked very messy. I recall that when I first crossed the equator, kids could join in, and we got covered in cold spaghetti. But apparently that clogs the pool drain holes, so they don't use it anymore. Perhaps just as well.
It was all a bit of fun, but I didn't take quite the photos I had planned, as after I had taken two on my SLR, it decided that the battery needed changing, so rather than go back to the cabin, I used my iPhone camera instead - which doesn't have a telephoto lens, so the photos were not quite the action shots I had planned.
The morning was relaxed, but the afternoon hotted up a bit. At 1500 we went to hear about the forthcoming ports of call, and the amazing river system that is the Amazon River Basin. Did you know that the area of the ARB is just a little larger than the area of Australia? It is just HUGE! The water at sea is fresh for up to 200 miles from shore where the Amazon flows out, and where we are as I write this (some 100kms upstream), the main channel is over 12km wide, and the broader river, counting all the side anabranches, is over 100kms wide! Its flow rate is an incredible 209,000 cubic metres per second!
Then at 1600 to another HAL Chorale, where we finally finished learning the piece we are to sing at the talent night. Bruce, our Conductor, says he plans to do the "polishing" of the piece over the remaining rehearsals.
1700 was a Sip and Savour, where we joined Kerry and Cheryl to have an Indian Lassi (savour) and a Beaujolais (red sip), which John had, or "Pot Luck", a mixture of all sorts of white varietals (white sip which Barb had. We both agreed that each went much better with the rather sweet lassi than we expected.)
1800 was our appointment with the Black and White portraiture sitting to view the portraits from last night. We were both very impressed with the quality, and ended up buying 10 of the images. We get the copyright and copies of the digital images, so we can use them for all sorts of purposes later on (Christmas Cards comes to mind as one possibility!)
1830 to trivia, where we were joined by a new member, John, a Scotsman, living in Florida for 40 years, but still with a Scottish accent.. We scored 9, but had we listened to John's offerings a little more closely we could have scored 11. We had fun.
2000 and dinner was the last appointment for the day. We only had Barb and Mike for company, as Cheryl wanted to go to the movie, and apparently Roberta is still not well. John had Smoked Mackerel, New England Carrot Soup, Braised Guinea Fowl and Chocolate Banana Strudel; while Barb had Smoked Mackerel, Mixed Gourmet Greens, Roasted Lamb Loin and no dessert (isn't she being good?)
No show or movie tonight - we retired early.
Cruising up the Amazon today, an almost surreal experience. I keep wanting to compare it to travelling the Murray in a houseboat, but that is too much of an apples and oranges comparison. There is nothing to compare it to! We are now (5pm) in a narrower section of the river - the channel is less than 2km wide here, and the river does split into several channels here and there. The jungle on the banks looks pretty impenetrable, and we think we have seen one or two brazil nut trees. What I did not know is that the unshelled nuts that we see actually come in a much larger shell, about the size of a coconut without its husk. Each such shell contains a couple of dozen of the smaller shells, so they can be quite heavy. We have been warned not to walk under a brazil nut tree, as a nut shell hitting you on the head can be fatal! So far we have not had any unpleasant experiences, but Barb as been complaining that something has been biting her. Presumably not mosquitoes, since they much prefer John's blood, and he has not had any bites.
We went to the talk this morning about the indigenous American tribes, and their history. There is (controversial) evidence that they migrated here over 10,000 years ago, but accepted wisdom is that they migrated slowly on foot from the North American Indian tribes, perhaps as recently as 2,000 years ago. Whatever, there is still a lot that is unknown about them, including how many there are. Estimates of about 4 million before european "civilization" arrived, but disease and systematic persecution and abuse of them has dwindled their numbers to about 250,000 today. It is thought that there are some 67 tribes with whom no contact has yet been made by europeans (still!), and this number has been arrived at by aerial surveys of the deepest jungle areas.
One thing you do notice about the river - there are small boats traversing and following the river almost as often as you look out the window. Very little sign of habitation, apart from the odd riverside shack, and a small plume of smoke to indicate someone at home cooking. Occasionally (4 times today) we see a large cargo ship pass by. The river is the highway here.
Trivia with Kerry and Cheryl, and Maria - we scored 7/15, but on count back, gave ourselves 8, because in answer to the question "what is the width in feet of an American Grid-Iron football pitch" both Kerry and I agreed that it was 50 yards, so Barb wrote down 50 without qualifying it, so we got it wrong. But the correct answer was 150 feet, so we did in fact have the correct width, just not in feet (bloody imperial measures!)
Dinner with all the table present tonight. Several of us have commented about the dynamic of social interaction at the table, as we get to know each other better. Leading the way has been Kerry with his openness about incidents in his life that most people would probably prefer to keep private. Foremost among these was his story about overdosing on marujana biscuits and nearly killing himself! There have been many others, prompting the rest of us to be more willing to share about ourselves. Each of these has helped to establish a bond between members of the table, and I think it is one of the great things to come out of these cruises. To some extent we get to choose these friends, but they come from widely different backgrounds, and it is a lesson in tolerance and acceptance of each other. Almost like family.
John tonight enjoyed Tomato and Zucchini Bisque, Caesar Salad, Wild Mushroom Strudel, and Esterhazy (a hazelnut based slice). The latter was too sweet, but once I removed the icing, it was quite palatable. Barb plonked for Vegetable Tart, Mixed Lettuce, Orange-Ginger Pork, and no dessert.
We went to the show after dinner to hear Spencer Robson, billed as a singer and impersonator. We all agreed that he should stick to singing, and leave the impersonations out - they did not work for either the Australians (us) or the Americans (Roberta and Arthur). I think that was a more widely held view too - there were not many people lining up to buy his CD afterwards!
Santarem today. We were not doing any excursions, and elected to just walk around the place, so we caught the shuttle into the city proper, arriving at the so called "Fisherman's Place", a small square with not much going for it save a tourist information place across the road. So we checked that out - more artisan markets, but there was at least a man speaking English who had run out of maps, but had a large display board with a map on it, to which he referred in giving us directions. So Barb took a picture of it, and we managed on that digital copy for the rest of the day!
We walked along the esplanade as far as the local cathedral, but it was in use, with crowds standing at the door engaging with the service, so we could not even peek in. Walked further to find the fish market (where we saw piranha for sale), and then decided to find the rubbity dub. We headed for the two watering holes marked on the map, but the first was closed, and the second was a derelict building, and looked like it hadn't sold beer for some years. So much for the map! So back we headed towards the shuttle bus, intending to return to the ship - but found Mike and Barb also looking for a beer sales outlet. Some advice from a fellow traveller pointed us in the right direction, and we found a nice air conditioned place, right on the square at which we had been dropped earlier! In my defence, I think it had opened in the meantime, and now there were people in and around it, it being well past lunch time (about 2pm!).
The beers were cold, and went down a treat. We did not have far to walk and were back on the ship in time to get a hamburger for a rather late lunch, that is to say, about 3:30pm. After lunch, a little rest and relaxation before the trivia quiz (8/15), and then dinner.
For dinner John had Satay Sampler, Caesar Salad, Gnocchi, and no dessert; while Barb had Cilantro Salmon Tartare, Gourmet Greens, Veal Cordon Bleu, and no dessert. Then to the showroom for a Beatles reprise, every bit as good as the first time. There is even a video of them singing "Yellow Submarine", slightly marred by John (and others) singing along!
When we woke up this morning, we were travelling very slowly, and then stopped, a bit past 6am. "We cannot be there, there is nothing here, and we are too early!" we both exclaimed. But we were, both early and at Boca da Valeria (aka "Bout da Malaria" as the pessimists said). The shack that we could see was at one end of the village, and just around the corner, there was one more! Well, maybe half a dozen, but the place was not big.
A short tender ride to a very makeshift pier put us in the heart of the village, next to the church, itself little more than a box, but at least made of brick. There were swarms of children, all clamouring for attention, and showing off their "pets". Apparently they come from miles around when a cruise ship calls by, and the purpose of the pets is to pose for photographs, and money. There were sloths, alligators (mouths taped shut!), lizards, turtles, parrots, and the one we did succumb to, a toucan.
We had arranged to meet with Peter and Heather, Robin and Cynthia, and do a boat ride together. There were many, many boats, none more than about 10 people in size, so we picked on with a roof, thinking of protection from the sun, rather than rain, and clamboured aboard.
The cruise in and around the waterways was magic. Unfortunately, the driver spoke no english, but did point out a few birds as we mosied along. He basically took us along the waterways to the next village, which was slightly larger than the first one, and I'm not even sure if it had a different name. But it had its own church, so I guess it was a different community.
You need to understand that "waterways" really refers to a section of water that doesn't have reeds and grass growing on it. It is also complicated by the fact that the grass grows hydroponically, meaning that it can drift around with the currents, and the skill in navigating is knowing when you can motor through a patch of reeds, and when you can't. Much of the area was flooded (it is the wet season), and the water level will get higher come June and July. In the dry season (Aug-Dec) the place becomes somewhat less navigable, and the waterways can run dry. Fortunately, none of us had to get out and push.
Back to the little village of Boca da Valeria, where walked out to the point to watch for pink dolphins. We did see a couple, but they surface so briefly that taking a photo of them is nigh on impossible. But we had fun trying! Curiosity satisfied, we found the local watering hole, and promptly sat down for a few beers. It was made all the more fascinating by being joined by "Paul McCartney" and "John Lennon" from The Beatles evening last night (but we never did discover their real names). "Paul" was the producer, and apparently there are 6 such groups touring the world, playing mainly to cruise ships, and from his account, doing very well at it. He said he only had to work 5 months of the year!
After an enjoyable beer or twenty, we took the tender back to the ship in time for lunch, and a quiet afternoon of catching up on various activities (mainly sleep and photographs). Barb did go for a swim in the pool.
We came close in the trivia quiz, with 10/15, only one point off the winning total. The difference was the lack of US-specific questions, for a change.
Dinner was rather special - it was Cheryl's 66th birthday, and Kerry shouted the table with bottles of champagne to celebrate, and to thank us for being supportive of Cheryl. He commented that she had found new reserves of confidence, in coming on this cruise, and the evening dinners were significant in this. (See also my comments on the 25th.) Roberta had also organized a wonderful chocolate mud cake (very rich!) to celebrate, and of course, we had the Indonesian Happy Birthday sung to Cheryl by the waiting staff. John had Pumpkin Soup, Apple and Pear Salad, Fillet of Sole, and Cheryl's Birthday Cake. Barb was slighly different, having Pumpkin Soup, Apple and Pear Salad, Lasagna, and Cheryl's Birthday Cake. Fun time by all!
We reached the so-called "Meeting of the Waters" at around 0900, so we went out on the front deck of deck 9 to see this phenomenon. It is where the muddy waters of the Amazon meet the clear waters of the Rio Negro (so called because it looks quite black in comparison to the Amazon). The Rio Negro has its headwaters in the Andes, so snow melt water is its main source, whereas the Amazon flows much further across the central plains, collecting a lot of sediment as it goes. Both the temperatures and acidity are quite different, and this helps to keep the flows separate for some distance downstream, as well as at the confluence.
We went ashore after breakfast to stroll around the town. With the aid (?) of two maps, one useless, the other totally useless, we found our way through the municipal markets - the buildings were designed by Gustav Eiffel - where John bought a small bag of brazil nuts, the first we had seen. They were clearly much fresher than the ones we get in Australia, and somewhat softer and sweeter, with a taste and texture more like coconut.
Then the fish market, which was huge. We wandered around taking photos of the various fish, all of which were locally caught. Mainly catfish and something unknown, but which looks like a fish! We walked on through the market, the surrounds getting seedier by the step, and the sun came beating down. We came across the old power station, now a culture museum - there is a certain irony in that! It did have an old streetcar (tram, to you Melbournites) preserved (if that is the right word) in the garden, so we have got a photo of one of its exhibits, because the rest were shut up inside. As luck would have it, it was closed on Saturdays! So we trudged on ...
... and came to a nice little park, called Senator Jefferson Peres. It looked new, and had some interesting sculptures cut from 3/4 inch steel plate, including one of an old "streetcar" (tram, to you Melbournites). At the end of this nice park was the Rio Negro Palace, but it too was shut on Saturdays! So we walked on ...
... down the Seventh of September Avenue to the city Centro, and then up the hill to the Opera House. While wandering around the outside, whom should we see but Rob and Cynthia, Peter and Heather, having a beer in the Opera House Cafe. So we joined them, and had a beer or two ourselves. They told us that the tour of the inside was very worth the $BRL10 per senior, so we bought some tickets, and toured the inside of the Opera House. Not backstage, but we did get to see all the front of house stuff, including the Noble's Room, reserved for the rich and wealthy in the days of the robber barons ... oops, I mean rubber barons! The place is beautiful and we took lots of pictures!
From the Opera House we set off down the hill back to the ship. We went past lots of bustling activity, particularly in the side streets, which seemed to be completely taken over with street stalls. But we were hungry by this stage - it was half past three! - and lunch was calling. We were back in time to get a toasted sandwich at the Lido, and that sufficed, since we would be having an early dinner. Indeed, we only had an hour or two of quiet time before belting off to a BBQ on the Lido deck for dinner so that we were ready in time to catch the bus to the Opera House for the concert tonight. So no dinner menu or photographs to report!
Here is the programme we heard and saw. I say "saw", because the nusic was based on computer game themes, and a large screen above the orchestra showed scenes from the game while the music was playing. My understanding, and this is a bit of a read between the lines, is that the themes for the music where built around the themes for the games. At least, this is what someone said, and it seemed logical, so I relay it here for what it is worth.
It went over a treat! Most of the audience (apart from the cruise ship people) were under the age of 30, and it was right up their alley. A few ... no, a lot, really ... of us oldies were pretty much at home too. It was stirring stuff, and if I were to characterize it in any way, I would say listen to Carl Orff, and you would have a flavour of the music. It was written for a fairly large choir, too, just like Orff's Carmina Burana - which we both thought was definitely plagiarised in one passage of music.
It was pouring with rain when we emerged from the Opera House, but we didn't much care. It was a great night.
Early start this morning, as we had a tour starting at 0845. It was on a boat, a double decker people carrier, that took us to some Amazonian waterways, where we changed to 10-person canoes. These canoes took a little bit of manipulation getting into them, as they had a roof, and the space between the gunwales and the roof was less than a metre, meaning that you had to stoop, sit, crawl or otherwise bend to get through that gap and step into the boat proper.
While we were waiting for the other boats to load, we sat bobbing in the water, and I said to Barb, "wouldn't it be nice if a pink dolphin just popped up to say 'hola!'?", and one did! Well, he didn't say "hola", but we did get a good glimpse of him, unfortunately not long enough to swing the camera into enough action to capture him. But I do have a nice picture of the ripples he left behind.
The trip through the waterways was very interesting, and a little more informative than the Bola da Valeria one, simply because we had a guide who could speak english. There were six boats, but he kept hopping between them so that each boat would get some explanation. We saw water lilies, egrets (lots of them!), "Jesus" birds (so named because they step from twig to reed to log as though they are walking on the water itself), and plenty of jungle.
We learnt the difference between the two main types of waterways in the Amazon. Sections of forest or marsh that have been flooded, either permanently or not, are called "igapo", meaning "flooded, and too dense (or shallow) for canoes", whereas channels through the forest that tend to retain their water for longer in the dry season are called "igaremo", meaning "flooded, but suitable for canoes". You can see the difference in the photos of both igapo and igaremo that I took.
We cruised the waterways for an hour and twenty minutes, then back on board the "paraiso Verde" for the return trip to Manaus, via the "meeting of the waters". This was an opportunity to see them at much closer hand than from the ship, and was again very interesting. The guide even passed around two jugs of water where the colour difference was very obvious, and we all had a chance to dip a finger in and feel the temperature difference as well. Then back to the Prinsendam, and we departed Manaus 20 minutes late, as one of the tours was late returning. Trivia score? 9/16.
Dinner with the full table, where we heard of everyone's exploits, including in particular Kerry and Cheryl (who were on the late returning tour) and their "night in the jungle". John had Fritto Misto, Creamy Carrot Soup, Beef Bourguignon, and Wild Berries and Butter Pudding, while Barb had Fritto Misto, Baby Oak and Frisee, Baked Cannelloni Serrentina, and as it was Sunday (no Lent), the Fresh Fruit Tart.
Today was our last port day on the Amazon, and we arrived at Parintins at around 8. Because it was a tender operation, we decided against going ashore early, and held off until about 11. Not that we had anything better to do, we just didn't want to fight the early crowds jostling to be first ashore. Those of you who travel frequently by air will know the syndrome. People will queue up many minutes before any boarding announcement is made, so that they can be first on the plane, and then at the other end, jump up out of their seats and jostle and shove to be first off the plane. So we tend to take a more relaxed approach, and just sit until the first rush dies down, and then make our way. This turned out to be a mistake.
The plan was to go ashore, see the town, wander round, have a beer, maybe some lunch, and then return to the port in time to meet our shore excursion at 1330, which was the Boi Bumba show (details to follow). We had a couple of hours, but recognized that there would not be time to do anything more elaborate.
The weather for the morning up until then was fine, however it started to rain at about 1130, just as we landed at the port! One couple on our tender put on their ponchos, turned around, and went back to the ship. Maybe they knew something we didn't. The rain intially was not too bad, and seemed to clear, so we set off to find the church we had seen in photos. Maybe we should have noted the fact that the church was about the only thing appearing in the photos. The map we had was worse than useless. It did not show the port, so apart from knowing that we were somewhere on the river bank, we had no idea where we were, and headed off in the wrong direction. The church had a tall bell tower, so we thought we would be able to see it, but nothing came into view. Eventually we stopped and asked a shop person - who spoke no english - and through various gestures, ascertained that we had been walking in the wrong direction, and should have turned right when we turned left. So we retraced our steps.
As luck would have it, we found a supermarket on the way. It was airconditioned, so we went in and browsed. We needed new deodorant and toothpaste, so we bought them (a princely $BRL3.90, about $A2). Then the heavens opened! We had not experienced a full-blown tropical downpour, except within the safety of the ship (see Santos, 14 Feb). Here we were, fortunately under cover, but feeling somewhat cut off and at risk of missing our excursion deadline. We just waited.
The weather cleared after 15 minutes or so, we put on our ponchos, and headed off through streets that were now rivers. We found the church. It was basic. As I said to Barb, it was a two photo church - one of the exterior, one of the interior, just to show we had been there. Hardly worth getting wet for. But as someone with a positive perspective said later, at least it was humble, and not over the top like St Francis in Salvador!
We wandered on - there was not much else to see - and came across some Australian friends, Graham and Gail, drinking in a bar. So we stopped and joined them in a beer, but didn't feel like tackling any food. Then it was time to make our shore excursion deadline.
Well! What can I say! The show was quite fantastic, and the costumes and dancing were very impressive. Most breath-taking were the large display pieces, worn by the dancers, and some so big and heavy that they had wheels, and the dancers stood inside them, and pushed them around with appropriate choreographed puppet-like movements. It had to be seen to be believed! The story is about a bull, which comes in a blue version and a red version. There is some sort of tribal warring over these two bulls, attended by lots of dancing, by both people and animals, and the end result is a peaceful white bull. At least, that is what I have gleaned. Nobody seems to have a more coherent view, and everything was in portugese anyway. Those of you able to Google the story may well know more than I.
We took lots of pictures, of course, but so did everyone else, and I coud have cheerfully throttled the person that decided that viewfinders were a thing of the past. They did issue a warning at the start that "people using their iPads as cameras, please keep in mind the people behind you", but of course, that was absolutely futile. No sooner would you get a nicely framed shot than an arm, hand or camera would shoot up out of the audience in front, and ruin your photo. But it was a spectacle and a half, and when it finished, we all had a chance to pose and take photos of the cast. Barb took a very sleazy shot of me with my arm around one of the dancers, but I am so embarrassed by it I won't give you the link to it here. The corresponding one of Barb was with the bull's head, sans dancer inside, so it can be quite public. It was very worthwhile, in spite of all the grumpiness of the day.
After the show we bought some souvenirs at the local "artisan market", trying to use up all our Brazilian Reals. I bought a Brazil shopping bag, and a DVD of the real Boi Bumba (unfortunately, it is all in portugese!), while Barb bought some dried fish scales (you have to see and feel them to appreciate why we would buy them!) and some postcards. We had enough money left over to buy another round of beers, post the postcards, and still have 20 reals left (about $A10). We will save that for next time we are in Brazil.
Back on board, it was a Farewell to Brazil sailaway around the Lido Pool, with free grog! So there were lots of people there!! We both lost count of the number of Mohitos we drank. Suffice to say that I have a photo of the 8 people around our table, with 12 Mohitos visible at the same time. All of this, and we had not had any lunch, remember.
So trivia was kind of fun, too, since most of the others were similarly jollified. But the score was inversely related to the fun, since we managed only 7/15, almost our lowest score since we started (which was 6).
Dinner with the full complement. John had Potato Soup, Apple and Pear Salad, Carne Asada, and Summer Berry Pudding. Barb tucked into Crispy Seafood Spring Roll, Apple and Pear Salad, and Carne Asada, but no dessert.
Showtime afterwards, with Naomi Edemaniam, who played most virtuosically, although, as Barbara pointed out, with a bit too much rubato. Still it was good, and the 3/4 hour went very quickly, even though I did not fall asleep.
Interestingly, the last 5 port days seemed to go much more quickly than the previous port days (18-22 Feb). Whether that was because they were intrinsically more interesting, or whether it was the Amazon experience, or just being closer to the end of the cruise is hard to say. But back to a few days at sea, before the end of the cruise starts to loom much larger. There is still over a week to go!
So the usual sort of sea day activities: Barb to Tai Chi, John to Devotions, then breakfast, then to a talk by Tommie Sue Montgomery on the politics of the Amazon deforestation. Interesting content, but as I said before, she was not an engaging presenter. Barb said she fell asleep after the first two slides, and only woke up for question time! I did go up to her after the talk (oh, yes, and she ran over time) and made a suggestion that she "remove the progressive reveal" in her slides, as it was very distracting. I don't think she knew what that meant, so I'm not confident that much will change.
We had lunch at 1315, that started by the Lido Pool, but we were forced indoors as a rain squall came up, and started to wet us even under the eaves of the Lido deck. By this stage we had been joined by Roberta and Arthur, so we all moved undercover. We were then joined in the Lido by Phil and Rhonda, so we stayed there talking until 1445, when we had to re-organize ourselves for the talk on forthcoming ports. After that we had time for a cup of coffee in the Java Bar before Barb went off to Tai Chi, and John to buy some tickets for the shore excursion on Barbados. We have to get our snorkelling experience in the Carribean in somewhere!
Sip and Savour at 1700, without Kerry, who was ensconced on his balcony with a beer, and did not feel like moving. We other three all agreed that the savour item, brie wrapped in filo pastry with cranberry sauce was the best ever savour, and that Kerry lucked out. The white wine was a white zinfandel (sweet rose, really), and it went most beautifully with the brie parcels. John had the red, a beaujolais from France, and it also went surprisingly well, although not perhaps as perfectly as the rose.
Dinner was a formal, with a theme of black and gold. John did not have anything gold, so we stopped by at the shop, where they were having a sale of ties, including a nice gold one, for $10! So that was easy. Roberta had organized for an officer to turn up at our table, but he/she was a no-show - "too busy on the bridge" was the explanation. I think Roberta was rather put out at this, but we had fun anyway. John had Terrine du Canard en Croute, Salade Nicoise, Chateubriand au Pate de Foie Gras, and Creme Brulee; while Barb had Veloutee Argenteuil, Salade Nicoise, and Canard a l'Orange, no dessert.
There was a ball after dinner, but we did not go to that, instead the Cohens and Hursts went up to the Crows' Nest for Explorers' Coffee, coffee with Baileys and Kahlua. John didn't have one, but tasted Barbara's and judged it very nice! We continued our dinner time conversation (talking about US and Australian sporting codes) until 2315, and then retired to bed.
Sea Day, and Barb went to Tai Chi, but John skipped Devotions, so we were able to breakfast together in the dining room for a change, where we met Paul and Sandy from Montreal, Bob and Kathleen from Jacksonville, and old friends, Barb and Mike from our dinner table.
After breakfast, we did a laundry tour, checking out how the ship's laundry works, down on deck 2. It was quite interesting, especially the washing machines, of which the biggest does 300 lbs (136 kgs) of washing at a time! Also intruiging is the linen tableware washing machine, which drys and folds whole table cloths in 10 seconds or so.
We went to the presentations on the next 3 port days given by Brett to get the good oil on what to do, and followed that with a talk from Andrew Johnson on "From Grand Tour to Grand Voyage", which John found interesting, but Barb found the inside of her eyelids more interesting. The rest of the day was quiet, save for a splurge at the shop, when we discovered that they had watches on sale for $10 each. Not only that, but buy 4, get one free, so we bought 5! Three for John, two for Barb. Doubtless they will die quickly, but what the heck. Better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick, as they say. Barb also lashed out and bought an underwater camera for $40, but unfortunately, it didn't come with batteries, and the shop did not sell batteries. We have to hope that we can buy some in Bridgetown before the snorkelling adventure.
Then to the rehearsal of the HAL Chorale at 1600 - as it turns out, the last one! The performance is in two days' time.
Stayed in the Crows' Nest until trivia time, when Arthur and Roberta joined us - not that they made a great deal of difference, since we still got only 6/15. Dinner with all the table mob, when John had Herring Sampler, Spinach and Feta Tart, Crispy Sweet and Sour Shrimp, no dessert; and Barb had Spinach and Feta Tart, Mixed Italian Garden (salad), Broiled New York Strip Loin, also no dessert. Then to the showroom to hear Sally Jones singing Edith Piaf songs, very good.
We had the opportunity to rush the tender transfers this morning, now that we have 4-star mariner status, and get priority tender access. But we didn't. After a leaisurely breakfast at 0800, we got ready, and went to the showroom - which was empty! As we got to the tender ticketing desk, Bruce came over on the intercom asking were there any more people to come, to which Samantha replied "Two people right in front of me", so we hurried down to deck 4 with our tickets, and walked straight on to the tender, which took off almost immediately. We didn't need any priority!
Devil's Island isn't. That is to say, we actually landed on Isle Royale, the island from which Devil's Island was administered. Devil's Island itself is not open to the public. But there was much to see on Isle Royale. We had hardly begun our walk around the island when we saw some squirrel monkeys, and then, a bit further along the track, some agoutis. Further on, more monkeys, this time a different type (sorry, don't know their name, but they have "old men faces", including one that looks a bit like Bob Hawke). We also saw a rather large pig, but it did not seem wild.
Fairly soon we were at the penal colony amongst the old cells, so we explored them. Barb got thrown into solitary confinement, although she did not seem too unhappy about the prospect!
Walking on, we came to the updated part of the settlement. There has been an attempt to develop the island into a bit of a resort, though it must be a hard ask, given that the place is so small and that there are no beaches. Still, they are trying, and the guest house and restaurant looked acceptable enough, although certanly not 5 star! But we found the Archers (Rob and Cynthia) and Heather and Peter (?) there having coffee, so we joined them. The coffee was not cheap ($US3.50 for espresso), but it was very good, and a welcome taste of home. We then checked out all the buildings around the settlement, some restored and occupied, some still very much ruins from the 1950s when last used by the French.
Then we continued on the walking circumperambulation (I think that is a tautology!) of the island, back to the pier where we alighted. But Barb said that we had not seen the Asylum, and that she would go mad if we didn't go there. John thought it madness to walk all the way to the top of the hill again in this heat, so between us both, at least one of us should be there. John agreed to accompany Barb, thus resolving which one of us was mad. We did see another monkey at the top of the hill, so it was not complete madness.
Back to the ship via the tender, and then hamburgers lunch at the Lido Pool where we were joined by Peter and Heather, and chatted with them for a while. Returned to cabin for a snooze, and then watched the last hour and a half of Papillon on our TV. Neither of us remembered much about it, but now we have seen Devil's Island, it had a bit more relevance.
Trivia of course, where we did slightly better without Arthur and Roberta (!), scoring 9/15. Dinner with full table complement, where there was a "prisoner" theme, with all the waiters in striped prison clothers. The menu was all prison-themed as well. John had "Breakout" (duck breast), "The Green Mile" (pea soup, very nice, and we got the recipe), "The Shawshank Redemption" (pot roast), and a slight wickedness, The Midnight "Expresso" (vanilla souffle). Barb went for "Breakout", "Jailbird Salad", and Pork Escalope "Guantanamo Bay". At dinner, Roberta quietly slipped us a couple of AAA batteries, so we might be able to use the underwater camera after all.
After dinner to the showroom to see Taffy Spencer (comedy magician, quite good) and Sally Jones from last night, but singing more conventional songs, such as "Memory". Good fun.
A slightly nervous night and morning, as we found that the toilet would not flush when we came back from last night's show. Not too much of a hassle overnight, except for some slight concern that the water level might rise too high. But when it came to the morning's ablutions, things took a more serious turn. John rang for assistance, which was a while coming. Fortunately, the problem was elsewhere, and not in the pan itself - although that does somewhat depend upon your definition of the problem. However, all was well, and suddenly, while having our tea, the toilet flushed all by itself and the problem literally went away. Fingers are crossed that it is not a recurring problem!
With that problem out of the way, John turned his attention to the underwater camera. Not that it would have been much use to the previous paragraph, but tomorrow is our snorkelling adventure, and we wanted to know if the camera would work. It does - at least, I think it does. With Roberta's batteries in it, the on/off light comes on, and all the functions described in the handbook seem to work. Only we cannot tell if it is taking pictures or not, since it uses proprietary software to download the images, and (of course) that software only runs under Windows. We shall have to take things in trust until we return to Aus, as we only have Mac OSX and Linux with us.
Barb to Tai Chi again, and John met her at the dining room for breakfast, choosing not to go to Devotions yet again. I have been finding Barrie a little ranbling in his delivery, and much of what he says lacks real punch. I know he means well, but I have the feeling that his sermons (homilies is perhaps a better word) are recycled from his army days. They are all fairly innocuous, and scarcely challenging. I shall go to his last service on Sunday out of duty, more than anything, and that can be interpreted how you like.
We breakfasted with Paul and Sandy, whom we have met before, and had an interesting conversation. Turns out he is a mathematician (we presume at the University of Montreal), and we talked about Erdosh numbers.
To a talk by Andrew Johnson about Pirates, Privateers, Corsairs and Buccaneers. Very interesting - I can now tell you the difference between them all, and did you know that each pirate captain had his own flag? Yes, the Jolly Roger was often part of it, but any pirate captain worth his salt would have a unique flag, to appropriately strike fear into his targets. Indeed, Barb found it interesting enough to stay awake this time.
A quick lunch, as we had a short rehearsal of HAL Chorale at 1345, and then the Talent Time show at 1430. There were 5 solo acts (2 female singers, one male one, a drummer and a very short one act/3 character play by a bloke with a single prop of a piece of paper fan folded! As it happens, Paul from breakfast this morning was the male singer, and he sang "Old Man River" - but while he sang competently enough, he wasn't a proper bass.
The the HAL Chorale did its stuff, which seemed to go over well. We had a number of complimentary remarks afterwards, and we had fun, so it left us feeling like we had "done good", as they say.
Straight on to afternoon tea at 1500, which was a Dutch Chocolate special, and I think everyone on the ship was there. It took ages to get in, and we were there until well after 1600. We felt it was not as good as previous such functions on other cruises. There was only 1 chocolate fountain, and that was milk chocolate. No white or dark chocolate ones. And very few other chocolate goodies, either, like mousses, mud cake, petite fours, etc.. But we had a nice chat with Arthur and Roberta, as well as Barrie and Julia. Then a few minutes of time to catch up on this blog before ...
... Sip and Savour at 1700, at which we had an interesting pate and rhubarb concotion. Kerry didn't come, but Jack and Karen were there, and Karen was rather put out that she didn't here what it was, and thought it horrible. I ended up having three, because Cheryl wasn't keen on hers, either! Wines were a Grace Lane riesling, which we had in the dining room one night, and a Meridian pinot noir.
Trivia scored 9/15. Kerry wasn't feeling well, and elected to skip the rest of the evening, so Cheryl said she would retire with him to look after him, "for a change", as Kerry somewhat ungraciously said! We chatted on with the other Aussies at the next table after they left, and listened to Andy on the piano until dinner time.
Dinner then with only 6 of us. John had Golden Baked Brie in Phyllo Dough, Scandinavian Style Seafood and Potato Chowder, Orecchiette with Italian Sausage and Escarole, and no dessert; and Barb had Mediterranean Mezze Plate, Scottish Delight (salad), Bourbon Glazed Beef Tenderloin with Grilled Portabella Mushrooms, and no dessert. We skipped the show, but Arthur told us later that we missed a good one. It was the Prinsendam Orchestra playing a pot-pourri of music.
We skipped breakfast this morning, since last night's dinner was still fresh in our minds and stomachs, and went ashore just after 0800. We had time until the 0900 departure of the tour, so we tried out the wifi, but it was not working well - all its bandwidth swamped by people like us getting off the ship and searching for an internet fix! Had a very good cup of coffee from a small shop that advertised "Best coffee in Bridgetown - better than the ship (just ask the crew)"! However, Barb complained that he had burnt the milk, so she was not as impressed.
We boarded the bus at 0900, and a short ride around the back of the port to the catamaran wharf, where we boarded a clean and uncluttered catamaran, and were immediately plied with drinks. I guess we were on board at about 0920, but we did not get going until after 10, as the tour was not exclusive to Holland America, and we had to wait for other guests to arrive.
A very pleasant sailing (with the sails up and the motor off) up the coast to the first snorkelling stop, where there was a sunken barge, and lots of tropical fish. John tried out the new underwater camera, which seemed to work OK, but without a mechanism to view the taken photos, was a bit of a throwback to film days.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the new watch, which John, believing the statement on the front of the watch said "30M WATERPROOF", wore into the water. When he got again, there was a tell-tale pool of water sloshing around inside the glass, and no digits visible! It did not come good, either, even after it had dried out, leaving a tell-tale ring of dirt on the inside of the glass. Ah well. It was only $10. "A Genuine Fake", as one of Andrew Johnson's funny signs had said.
On to the next snorkelling spot, where there were turtles swimming in the water. They were great to watch, swimming around as though there was no one there watching them, rather than the 30 or so who were. Again, John took a few underwater photos, hoping that they will turn out OK. Another impressive sight was a large manta-ray, who would "appear" out of the sandy bottom, swim around a bit, and then "disappear" back into the sand. Hopefully got some photos of him, too.
After that, a pleasant lunch of chicken, fish, rice, salads and macaroni cheese, all accompanied with free-flowing beer, wine and cocktails. A bit of sitting around post-prandial, and then Barb and I (and a few others) went back in the water for just a swim. The water was wonderful!
All too soon we upped anchor and headed back to the port, again sailing under wind power. The captain, Peter, took us up alongside the Prinsendam, so that we could take photos, before heading into the catamaran dock, and the bus back to the cruise terminal. The bus was an old open-seat, open-window school bus, very "air-conditioned", and added to the happy, relaxed atmosphere of all the passengers. But still no wifi in the terminal.
We did buy a few things (until we ran out of money) in the terminal, including a very cute soft turtle for Jemima, which John rather succumbed to. When we got back to the ship, we discovered that it was marked "not suitable for children under 3", so John might just have to look after it until Jemima turns of age!
We came second in the trivia quiz, with a score of 12/15. Given that the team that won was the usual one (TTTDNPF), and they only scored 13, we felt we had a moral vistory, especially as John was the only one in the whole room who knew the answer to "What two words describe the shape of an NFL ball?" Answer: an "oblate spheroid"! (Well, I have to admit to a little fraud here. "oblate spheroid" was the term that came to mind, but on looking it up in a dictionary, I find it should have been "prolate spheroid". Whether it was my accent, or whether Samantha just had the wrong answer in front of her, I don't know, but who am I to reject the 2 extra dollars she gave me for my answer?)
Dinner with Cheryl and Kerry (who was feeling a little better), but not Mike and Barbara, who were going to the Canneletto tonight. John had Sweet Potato Soup (very nice), King Crab Legs, and a dessert of Creme Catalana. Barb had Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, Mixed Seasonal Greens, and King Crab Legs. The crab legs were very nice!
Last Sunday, so John went to the Service, and Barb to Tai Chi, meaning we breakfasted separately this morning. But we did have coffee together, and while we were on deck 8, John went back to the shop to complain about the waterproof watch that wasn't. "No problem", he was told, "just bring us the receipt". Which of course, John, being just slightly anally retentive, had indeed kept. So he was quite chuffed to get his $US10 back, and that made the 5 for the price of 4 deal even better - now 4 for the price of 3!
We also decided to book for the shore excursion at St Thomas on the catamaran double snorkel trip, since we had such fun yesterday, and John still had some photos left on our underwater camera. So that is something to look forward to, to ameliorate the pain of our last port of call! 65 days on this ship, and it has become a way of life. It will be good to get back to our normal existence, yeah - making the beds, cooking meals, doing the washing, paying the bills, etc. In a way, perhaps 68 days is too long. It is certainly too long to be away from friends and family.
And indeed, we had some bad news via email that our cat, Sylvester, is not well - a cancerous tumour in his mouth. That has saddened our hearts somewhat, and we hope our delay in returning will not be too long for Sylvester.
Lunch was a BBQ on the back deck on 7, and we were in two minds about it. But it was worth going to - the menu was seafood - fish and lobster. Yum!
After lunch at 1500 there was a piano recital, put on by all the ship's pianists: Bruce, Irving, Roger and Andy. Each played in his own inimitable style, with Bruce playing a virtuoso piece that he wrote himself, Irving doing some fooling around (playing lying with his back to the keys, and hands over his head!), but also playing various sea-inspired pieces by Debussy, Ravel and Chopin, Roger playing his own interpretation of "How Great Thou Art", and Andy in his own style, a medley from "Bewitched", and "Fascination". Bruce reprised with "Till There Was You". Very enjoyable!
Sip and Savour was a bit different, as there was a beer to taste as well- Guiness. John had that, and Barb went with some Argentinian fizz, to accompany smoked salmon on pumpernickel. Then Trivia. I spell it with a capital "T", as we won! Well, equal first actually with two other teams, both Australian. It was not so much that the questions were Australian biassed (there was one, which Australian woman won 4 grand slams in 1970? A: Margaret Court, which we did know), as that there were few American-only questions. There were two, "What concert hall was saved from destruction in 1964?" A: Carnegie Hall, which Maria knew, and "What sort of bank in Iowa took its first deposit in 1982?" to which we guessed "Sperm Bank", and that was right! All this for a total of 13/15, and equal first! And the best bit? TTTDNPF was not one of the winners, did not applaud the winners, and slunk off very quickly. Suck on that, you cheats!
Dinner with all tonight, with a pirates theme. John had Latin American Style Gravlax, Smugglers Cove Cream of Cauliflower, Jack Sparrow's Indulgence (chicken cordon bleu) and a Mango Sundae. Barb had Smugglers Cove Cream of Cauliflower, Fresh Greens with Pear and Brie, and Jack Sparrow's Indulgence and a Mango Sundae (it being Sunday!)
After dinner, the show, which was a comedian called Carl Guerra from New York. He started out with very American-specific jokes, and I was actually think of walking out (I didn't find any of them funny, and they relied upon a more intimate knowledge of american culture which I don't have and don't want), but 15 minutes into his act he did improve, and I found my self laughing out loud, so we stayed. He ended with an hilarious piece of audience participation, getting three people out of the audience to act out a music hall melodrama.
We had to be ready early today, as we had to go through the US Immigration bulls*t before we could leave the ship, and our tour started at 0845. It was the usual unorganized chaos, being told at the door that we needed only one card per family, and then at the end of the queue being told that we had to have one per person. Then there was the hassle of having to have a copy of the ESTA approval, you know, the one that says in big bold print "It is Not Necessary to print this form"! Well, it was necessary! Fortunately, they accepted the pdf version on my laptop, or it might have been embarrassing for someone.
A quick breakfast after that, and then to shore to meet with the tour. We boarded the catamaran just after 9, and set off for a "deserted island". That we reached around 10, and had nearly an hour's snorkelling, looking at a sunken wreck (which was actually a smugglers' boat that was scuttled when the smugglers were sprung) and tropical fish. Then we moved to another spot where there were turtles swimming around, and a reef with lots more tropical fish. I used up all the photo storage on the underwater camera. I do hope they come out, since a big turtle swam within 60cm of me, and he was so close that I could not fit all of him into the frame.
Then back on board, and we headed back. The bar was opened, and the rum punch flowed freely. They claimed they had made enough for eighty, but we were only sixteen on the boat, so there was plenty to go around!
Once back at the ship, we had a Dive-In hamburger lunch, then back to shore to check out the wifi. It cost $4, and was pretty useless, running perhaps even slower than the ship, the difference being that the $4 bought unlimited time, so in a sense we did not care if it was slow. But we did, and gave up after having our patience strained waiting for downloads. We left St Thomas about 5pm, and John watched the departure manouevers from the observation deck (the top deck).
At 1830 we were dressed for tonight's "Murder Dinner", a bit of fun in the Pinnacle Grill. It centered around a mythical cruise line that was going broke, and the CEO was bumped off when it was announced that all crew had lost their jobs and their shares in the company. One by one we heard each suspect's account of their doings, and there were supposed to be enough clues for us to interpret whodunnit. But I'm not sure we did ... since the real culprit said very little, and was never cross-implicated by any of the other crew. Still, it was all good fun, and we retired at 2140 in good spirits. (I won't go through all the courses for dinner, as that is documented elsewhere, and it was a fixed menu with matching wines.)
We had breakfast in the dining room, as neither of us did our regular sea day activities (Barb to Tai Chi, John to Devotions). The rest of the day was similarly disengaged - we did not go to any of the organized activities (except Trivia). We made a start on the packing, and sorting out all the accumulated "stuff". We managed to fill one of the two bags given to us by Holland America (thanks for that!), to the tune of some 15.4Kgs. John got up to date with his blog and photos, so we were feeling fairly relaxed about things, although a little weary.
Lunch was in the Lido, and we sat with a couple we had met on the Machu Pichu tour, Reynard and Julie (?). While we were eating, we were joined by mutual friends, Arthur and Roberta, and later after Reynard and Julie had left, a friend of the Cohens, Jim Munro. But it was a quite lunch, foodwise, since we were saving ourselves for the formal dinner tonight.
At 5pm we joined Peter and Heather in their suite (048), about half as big again as ours, which was just as well, since we had about 14 people to help drink the left-over grog!
Then to Trivia. We scored a raw 12/15, but on countback, one answer we had marked incorrect not only scored a point, but Samantha offered a bonus point as well. So we had a moral score of 14/15, but we were still only runners up, since one team scored a perfect score (but not TTTDNPF, who scored only 8!) The important thing was that we had fun. Oh, and the question that was challenged? "What is the original acronym of GOLF stand for?" Kerry said "Gentlemen Only, Ladies F...off", and Samantha thought that funny enough that she not only allowed it, but gave us a bonus point for originality. As I said, I suspect it is actually the original meaning, but it has been bowdlerised for more general consumption. A bit like SNAFU and RTFM. There's two trivia questions for you. "What do the acronyms SNAFU and RTFM really stand for?"
It was a formal night, with a pirates theme (we were in the Carribean, after all), and Kerry made the supreme effort and put a tie on for the occasion, so that we could all be there. Mind you, he did keep saying that it was really Cheryl's tie, awarded to her as part of her Endeavour Award into the teaching of Aboriginal children (I think I have got that right, but I'm not sure, too many other things have happened between this night and when I am writing this, early on Friday morning).) John had Duck Pate, Country Style Lentil Soup, Surf and Turf, and Chocolate Souffle, while Barb had Mixed Greens Salad with Fresh Pear, and Surf and Turf.
Our last full day on board, and we share mixed feelings about things coming to an end. On the one hand, there is the pleasure of new adventures (going to see the Robinsons, and Waterloo in the snow) and getting home again (fast internet and grandchild); on the other, the end of such much being waited upon, having meals cooked for you, beds made, drinks mixed, and just new sights and explorations in ports. I know we will return to normal, but I was surprised at how quickly the 68 days have gone by, and we are still happily married!
As it was the last day, we both made a particular effort to go to Tai Chi and Devotions for the last time. After breakfast we redeemed our Grand Dollars (all 216 of them) for various goodies. It was well organized, as we had pre-ordered what we wanted, and it was all ready for us to pick up when we fronted up. Quite painless, in fact, with virtually no queueing or jostling. Then had coffe, and inspected our photos to choose the best 11 to purchase. We did have a bronze package ($99.95, 5 photos only), but decided to upgrade to a silver package ($199.95, 11 photos). And we bought one of the formal portraits.
Most of the day was occupied in packing, of course, and we had to deploy the two extra bags that we were given by Holland America - mainly to accomodate all the extra stuff we were given by Holland America! China plates, Delft tiles, stuffed penguins, phone chargers, ponchos, cold weather gear, and so on. Add to that all the stuff we have bought along the way, and you can see that those two extra bags came in really handy! We have organized one suitcase at least to hold stuff that we will not want again until we get home (shorts, T-shirts, and the like), so that case at least will not need repacking at the Robinsons. Incidentally, I managed to repair the damage done to the towing strap on the Samsonite case, or at least, fix it so that no further damage was done. Not sure though, how robust that will be.
Lunch with Pat and Ann on the Lido deck, and then lazed around in the afternoon, reflecting on what we might have missed. Nothing much came to mind, so we headed off to trivia at 1810 with a clear conscience. We did OK, getting 12/17 with quite a few guesses, but were thrilled to see the other Australian team win (Peter and Heather, Rob and Cynthia, Henry and Lorraine) with 13/17! They won two bottles of champagne, since the grand dollars had already been redeemed, while we settled for the last of our gin with a can of tonic from the bar.
Dinner had everyone there again, and we again had a pleasant evening of chatting. John had Goat Cheesecake with Red Onion Jam, Green Chile and Corn Chowder, Veal Fillet with Bourbon Peppercorn Sauce, and Creme Brulee, while Barb had Tomato and Salmon Carpaccio, Chopped Farmer's Salad, and Veal Fillet with Bourbon Peppercorn Sauce. After the main course, there was the traditional farewell parade of staff, but no sparklers or bombe alaska. Hence the creme brulee, as the next best thing.
Then it was time to say goodbye to the friends we had made, and in turn promised to "keep in touch". It was a sad but happy moment, a bit like the mixed feelings with which I started today's entry. But these things come to an end, and we are glad for the additional experiences in our lives.
No problem about sleeping in on our last morning - we were awake at 0500, and busied ourselves with sorting out the last minute stuff, before the morning tea arrived at 0630. After morning tea, breakfast, where we were joined by Daniel, a chap in a wheelchair whom we had met once before, and who had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He seemed in much better spirits this morning, although he was not looking forward to returning to Boston and the cold.
We were supposed to disembark at 0830-0845, but apparently we came in late and everything was delayed. I didn't believe the late theory, since we were docked at 0700, and that was the scheduled time of arrival. Having watched the luggage unloading process, I leant more towards a theory that the unions had locked up the luggae unloaded process, because it was just so inefficient. Each bag had to be handled three times just to get it into a container for transport to the arrivals hall. The end result was that we did not disembark until 0930, an hour after the scheduled time.
But it got worse. Because of the extra two bags, we now had 6 items of luggage to manhandle between 2 of us. It meant two trips to move everything, and after I had moved the carry-ons to the customs/immigration queue (and pointed out to the people in fron that I was returning to get the other bags), I went back to collect Barb and the orphan 2 items. We returned to the queue where I had left the other bags, only to be rounded on by an offcious official, who demanded to know "Did you bother to get permission to push in front of these people?" - to which I replied (leaving aside the ethics of asking 'permission' to jump the queue) "Did you bother to ascertain the facts before launching a broadside at me?" The people around me backed up my story, so the official had to slink away with his tail between his legs, but he was clearly not happy about me having called his bluff.
Then we had to get the bags to the bus, which was miles away, and of course, there were no trolleys. Again, my union theory was borne out - there are no trolleys for passengers to use, so as to force them to call for a porter. By this time I had worked out how to stack 3 bags on the one suitcase with wheels (bear in mind that the other suitcase had had a disaster with its towing strap, and could not be used for this purpose). But it was highly unstable, and at the first bump in the footpath surface, the whole lot spilled everywhere, blocking the path. This time, I have to say, the surrounding officials were more human, and helped us recover the load.
Once on the bus, we waited for the remaining passengers (again demonstrating that they did not have the disembarcation properly organised), and then set off for the Everglades, with a very chatty guide, Natalie, who kept laughing at her own jokes. She meant well, but her racous laugh did not really improve the funniness of the joke, and it tired after a while. After 25 minutes or so, we got to the Everglades (or part of them), disembarked, and then waited for another 20 minutes while they got the boat ready. The boat ride itself was enjoyable, and we did see one alligator, and lots of birds. Then back to base, and a tour of the small zoo of alligators, pythons, and sundry other animals, before reboarding the bus to the airport.
There was free wifi at the airport, although not particularly fast. It was fast enough that we managed to download two copies of The Age, so we had some reading material for the flight itself - which was quite pleasant, and include a full bar service and three course meal. As Barb says, "I do like being Business Class".
Landing at Toronto was relatively painless, apart from the crush to go through the "nothing to declare" channel. But on the other side were Jim and Donna waiting for us, and after embraces and hugs all round, we started chatting - all the way back to Waterloo and Tatlock Ct.. It was only at 11pm that we started to wilt, then declared it a day, and retired to bed.
Still waking up early! and we had to make our own cups of tea. The room service here is a bit down in the basement. But by 8am there was stirring upstairs, so we wandered up to talk about plans for the day, and continuing the chat catch up from last night.
At 0930 we set off for the City Bakery Cafe where we had breakfast of croissants and bagels. Every bit as nice as I remember from 2009! Then spent the rest of the morning driving around, check out how Kitchener-Waterloo had changed in the six year since. We stopped at the Conrad Grebble College to view the photographic exhibition they had there of 1950s and 60s Mennonite activities, and then returned to Tatlock Ct for lunch and an afternoon snooze.
In the evening, we went over to Iain's place to check it out, and collect him on our way to the Monty's on King Tapas Cafe. We elected to go with the "banquet" option, which started well with a nice charcuterie, but it did not carry its potential all the way through to the penultimate course. We did not even eat the last course, as we were full, but as it was pizza, we got it packed in a box-to-go, and gave it to Iain for lunch tomorrow! Then farewelling Iain, we returned back to Tatlock and bed.
I woke up feeling a little groggy, and not because of what I drank last night. Seems I have a dose of the ship cough.
We headed off to St Jacob's Market a bit before 10 and were soon enjoying a dozen apple fritters, that well-known gourmet-mark of the Mennonite community. Gee, they are good! Then some strolling around the market, buying a few things, including bread for tea and booties for Jemima. A particularly nice touch were some wooden bookmarks, each inscribed with one of the elements of the periodic table. We bought three "Einsteinium" (AN 99), particularly appropriate as it is Einstein's birthday! And then we found the good coffee place, so we had to stop there. That used up all our money, so we also had to stop at an ATM to re-cash.
Then on to Fergus, where we stopped for lunch at The Brew House on Grand, where Jim and Donna meet every couple of months with some old teacher friends: Bill and Leanne, Mike and Candace; also known as "The Fox Hats" (for reasons I won't go into now). They were great fun, and welcomed us as "honorary Fox Hats". I had Cheese and Ale Soup, followed by Fish and Chips, and it was more than I could do justice to. Barb had the same soup, and a Fergus Club Sandwich.
On the way back to Tatlock Ct we stopped by at the picture theatre to buy tickets for tonight's showing of "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". It was just as well we did, since when we went back at 6 for the 6:30 showing, the queue was out the door and down the street, and the session was sold out! The film was appropriately named - we all agreed that it was not as good as the first Exotic Marigold Hotel, and was indeed, "second best". I'd give away the plot, but there wasn't any. Only the cast saved it from ignomy.
We had had dinner (meat and veg soup made by Donna, and bread from the morning's market) before we went, but saved dessert for after the movie - rhubarb pie and ice cream. The pie was in honour of the North American custom of "Pi Day", the 14th of March, because of the way they write their dates: 3/14/15, and at 9:26:53.58979... it was precisely Pi to its exact value. Of course, this only works if you reverse the month and day from the normal sequence. In Australia, Pi Day happens on the 31st of April (31/4/15) ...
A quiet day today, although we did start by driving to Cambridge to meet up with Iain at a diner called Toasters for breakfast. Apparently this is a weekly thing that Jim and Donna do to keep in touch with Iain, who does seem to lead a rather hermitic life. I had pancakes, and three of them was a little too much. Barb had a mushroom omelette, but after the number of omelettes I had on the ship, I was looking for something a little different.
Back to Tatlock afterwards, searching on the way for the Greyhound Bus Station, to no avail. Due to the size of breakfast, we delayed lunch until 3, after which Jim, Barb and John went for a walk around the local paths and Lake Catherine. Saw lots of wildlife, and plenty of snow. John found a pristine patch in which he made a snow angel, getting quite a cold and wet bum in the process because he had no waterproof pants on.
Jim cooked a Canadian dinner for us tonight - marinated bison, then baked Artic Char, together with the two bottles of St Michelle that we had carted all the way around South America (they were worth it!) We followed that with the left-over rhubarb pie from yesterday.
We watched a little of the game show "Jeopardy", a sort-of trivia game where they give the question in the form of an asnswer, and the contentants have to answer in the form of a question! Then to bed.
Breakfast at the University Staff Club, which was very good. Jim obviously knew the maitre d', and he looked after us very well. John had a quiche, while Barb had an eggplant roll. The coffee was good, too.
We set off at about 1030 for St Augustine, a small farming community in SW Ontario where Jim's mother June, and his brother Bill and wife Sue live. Bill is the brother that runs a maple syrup farm, and a brother more different from Jim would be hard to imagine. Bill is a very pragmatic type, down to earth, and not at all the (occasionally) absent-minded professor that Jim is.
It took us an hour and a half to get there, just in time for lunch with June. She lives on her own, on a farm that is adjacent to Bill and Sue's house, perhaps a kilometre away. She is also a feisty lady who knows her own mind, and is not afraid to speak it. We had some of her home-made soup, before setting off to see Bill at work in his "sugar shack", which was actually some distance away, nestled in the heart of a maple tree forest. It was fascinating to see all the trees connected by small blue plastic pies back to the shack, where vacuum pumps suck the sap into holding tanks.
In days gone by, this raw sap had to be distilled down through several stages to get to the right concentration, but nowadays, osmotic membrane filters separate the syrup from most of the water, getting it from the raw 2% concentration, up to 15% concentration, a factor of 7.5 times, before a single distillation gets it to the required 66%, a factor of 4.4 times. Bill said that the newer processes made life a lot easier, particularly as the osmotic process did not need the same oversight to run (and hence was less labour-intensive). The make about 15000 litres a year, but this figure does vary each year. Bill does all the technical and logistic operations, and Sue runs the business side, taking and making up orders and shipping them out.
Then back to June's farm (she has internet :-), and prepared for dinner. Bill and Sue joined us, and we had a good time talking about this and that, maple syrup, Australia, and cruising. Bill and Sue left us, and the rest of us retired to bed, sleeping overnight in two of June's 4 bedrooms.
very slow beginning to St Patrick's Day. Barb and I went downstairs to find June dressed and Jim up, and breakfast underway. Barb made a pot of tea, so we had our usual morning ritual in that sense, but not our usual morning breakfast, even by Prinsendam standards! Jue was making waffles, and they kept on coming. We had waffles with the fruit salad from last night, waffles with butter, waffles with maple syrup, waffles with Canadian Bacon, and just plain waffles. I'd don't want to waffle on, but we rather did!
We managed to get organized in time to leave just after 1030, and set off for the Lake (Lake Huron, that is). We went through Goderich (where we bought some Tim Horton's coffees), then Bayfield, then Saint Joseph, and finally, Grand Bend (which is not a bend anymore - they straightened the river!).
From Grand Bend we headed back north, detouring via Dashwood and Zurich (original names, aren't they?) where we stopped at a "market store", described by Donna as a place where you see lots of interesting things, none of which you need to buy", before arriving at Hensall, where we had a tour through the ice factory booked.
The ice factory, called "IceCulture", was fascinating. They make special blocks of ice, with no air bubbles or impurities in them, so that they are completely transparent. From these they carve all sorts of ice sculptures and gadgets, some for special occasions like weddings and birthdays, and others for various exhibitions, advertising, and marketing. For example, they showed a movie of a Ford truck chassis with an ice body as an advertising gimmick for car batteries that work in freezing weather. The carving is all done with tools like chain saws, grinders, sanders, chisels, and they even have an ice lathe! We were all very impressed!
From Hensal we headed north-west via Clinton, back to St Augustine, where we had a sumptuous afternoon tea laid on by June. Then we said our farewells, and headed off back to Tatlock Ct, without my computer battery charger! This I only discovered on returning to Tatlock, but it was rather a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I recall packing up in the morning and thinking "I must not leave this behind", and then carefully putting the iPad cable in the blue bag, but not the charger! Bummer! There's good news and bad news on this. The good news is that I have a spare one at home, the bad news is that the spare charger is at home.
But it gets worse. I went to use the Linux laptop, only to suddenly realise that it has an Australian plug, and the adapter was still plugged on the end of the missing battery charger. So we cannot charge anything! Well, that's not quite true, Jim lent us his battery charger, and by swapping that around between Barb's and my apple machines, we rechare the computers, and through their USB ports, recharge all the phones, iPads, etc.. But it does mean there will be a power void on the flight home.
We had a dinner of lasagna, which we had bought at Zurich during our travels, and finished off the St Michelle wines. Donna and I both retired early, as neither of us had slept well, Donna had done several hours of driving, and I was still feeling rather poorly (a fact to which I ascribe my charger oversight).
Light breakfast (for a change!) this morning of just cereal, and then a bit of computing around until David and Karen and kids (Wesley, Edward, and Clara, who is 3 weeks younger than Jemima) turned up. We had morning tea with them, and chatted about family life. Wesley has many similarities to Nathan at the same age: very bright, and very active! Karen admitted to the fact that at times he was a handful, but at least they are forewarned with more sensible advice than we ever received with Nathan.
The Wilsons left before lunch time, and the four of us headed over to another City Bakery Cafe for lunch. Jim and Donna shared a pizza and tuna melt, Barbara had a pizza, and John had ... a bagel! Suitably nourished, we returned to Tatlock, where the afternoon was spent quietly (several of us having a nap), before John and Jim went off to explore local beer outlets. John returned with a 6-pack of Flying Monkeys Smashbomb Atomic IPA, and three various cans: a Sleepers honey beer for Barb, a Lablatt Blue, and a Rickard's Red. We had a couple of these for dinner between Barb, Jim and John (Donna does not like beer), and enjoyed them with pigtails (literally), another Canadian dish, and very yummy. The leftover lasagna also got demolished.
Then off to a concert in the Centre on the Square, in Kitchener, to hear John MacDermott, a local Canadian tenor with Irish and Scottish roots. He sang an eclectic collection of Irish and Scottish songs, such as "With my Ain Folk", "the Skye Boat Song", "Danny Boy", and so on. He was backed up by a small group of drummer, bass and guitar, as well as the full Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony orchestra. Very enjoyable, and he had a touch of Dave Allen in his segue comments between songs.
Back to Tatlock, cup of tea, and bed.
We headed off early to St Jacob's Farmers' Market for a last special deal of apple fritters, yum! If you are ever in Waterloo, do make a point of heading out to St Jacob's for the best apple fritters in the world! You will not be disappointed. We also made a point of returning to the T-shirt stall to buy the special "I'm RETIRED, this is as dressy as I get!" T-shirt for Kerry. The woman had it handy, and the transaction was easily concluded.
Then we headed north to Elmira and for a quick look at David and Karen's place, and the school at which David teaches. All very modern and in a rapidly growing area. Then back to Waterloo to finish packing.
We were lucky - we spotted a pair of red cardinals as we were driving into Tatlock - they are amazing birds, almost as brightly coloured as some Aussie ones (but not as good :-).
The afternoon was spent packing. We farewelled Jim early, as he was going to Montreal with Iain to watch some ice hockey games, some tournament or other. Then Donna took us at 4pm off to Lester Pearson airport, where we bid a very fond farewell to her, and then checked in. We spent the remaining time before take-off in the Business Lounge (Barb says this travelling Business Class is the way to go!) A pleasant flight to Vancouver, where we had a lay-over of an hour and a half, and then re-boarded for the long haul to Sydney (15 hours)
Today did not really exist for us, as we were in the air for all of it - a shortened day anyway, and we also crossed the date line, so it sort of just vanished in the night. We went from late at night on the 19th in Vancouver to early in the morning on the 21st in Sydney, with darkness all the way in between. John watched 3 movies: A Hard Day's Night (The Beatles); Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin); and The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking). Barb watched A Life of Pi, Modern Times, The Theory of Everything, and Boyhood. Other than that, we slept, thanks to the long lie-down seats that you get in Business Class.
Landed in Sydney around 0930, where we had to collect our bags, take them through customs, and then recheck them to Melbourne. I will say, in Sydney's favour, that having free trolleys to assist in this process was welcome. The logic of requiring people to pay $4 for a trolley I find frankly insulting, and airports that allow such exploitation get a big black mark for me. Are you listening, Melbourne?
That done, we then had to walk miles to the domestic transfer point, where we caught a bus to the domestic terminal, and then ensconsced ourselves in the Business Lounge until departure. A one hour flight to Melbourne passed quickly enough (certainly in comparison to the previous 15!) and we were soon recollecting those bags (but NOT putting them on a trolley!) While waiting for the last bag, Beth turned up, and between the three of us moved the 6 items of luggage to where David was waiting with the car, and Jemima. Hugs and kisses all round. We were home.
What remains to be said? Nothing, and yet, a lot. It is good to be home, but you are a different person for all the experiences. And in this trip, there was such a wealth of experiences that I suspect it will take a while for us to return to some sort of "normal" behaviour.
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