Saturday, January 28, 2017

Round Cape Horn - Twice!!!!

Something that few people have ever done, we have sailed around Cape Horn from East to West then we turned around and sailed from West to East!!!  Eat your heart out Captain Bligh!!!  Captain Bligh spent over a month with the Bounty "trying" to sail around Cape Horn.  He eventually gave up and went to Tahiti by going around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope - his crew was not amused.

Apparently, this is the first time that the Seabourn Quest has done this as well.

This entry is out of order, because we have been doing the typical cruise itinerary, eating, drinking and sleeping, punctuated by the occasional excursion.  There are more entries to come, but I have to have a break from all this inactivity.

We had some fantastic excursions to Antarctica itself, more on that later.  The place is a sea of cocktail ice overrun by thousand upon thousands of short waddly things in tuxedos - aka the "Penguin Set".  On the first excursion, Karen lost her identification arm-band (lovely purple one with Karen's name and room number) and we have had a picture in our minds ever since that outing that there is a penguin on board with the arm-band impersonating Karen and having all sorts of cakes, ice cream and cookies.

After four excursions to Antarctica we had to cut short the portion of the trip to Antartica as two of the passengers became ill.  The problem with being in a remote place like Antarctica (is there any other place like this?) is that it literally can take days before you arrive at a place where help can be provided.  We do not know exactly what happened, but we are fairly certain that one of the passengers did not make it.  A very sobering and somber experience.

We arrived a couple of days early to Ushuaia, Argentina, the Southernmost city in the World - sometimes called the "End of the World".

At Ushuaia, we had rebooked to an earlier date the prison/train excursion.  Ushuaia was originally a prison colony as it was a natural island and was remote from everything else (sort of like Devil's Island, Australia and Roseburg, Oregon).  Hardened criminals and political prisoners were lodged there.  The place was very dark, cold and depressing - the local guides seemed to love it as there did not appear to be any other reason for Ushuaia to exist and the prison has now been closed for close to 70 years.  The setting of Ushuaia is very beautiful, but the town itself is a bit on the used side of disrepair.  It is one of those places which appear nicer the further away you are - we are testing this theory by heading far away.  Ushuaia promises to be lovely when we return to Oregon.

Because of the change in itinerary, we ended up in the area of Tierra del Fuego with an extra day.  The weather promised to be fairly nice (for this area, winds around Cape Horn of 60 nautical miles per hour - lovely Summer's day) so the Captain told us we were going around the Horn.

We woke up early (around 6 a.m.) to the Captain telling us we were approaching the Horn.  We went from East to West first, so the Horn appeared on the Starboard side (and our cabin is on the Port side) so we went up to deck 10 at the bow of the ship to see.  I went outside, but the wind made it difficult to even stand.

At the Horn (well, technically, on an island near the Horn island), there is a permanent residence lighthouse manned by Chileans (part of the Chilean navy) who stay there for a few months at a time.  There is also a beautiful monument to the many sailors who have lost their lives at the Horn (thousands of ships have wrecked on the Horn) which is a huge metal sculpture of two albatrosses.  We made it all of the way around the Horn and then the Captain brought the ship around and sailed from West to East.  At that point, we went back to our cabin and were able to view the Horn from our private deck (where it was just the two of us and the wind was not as much of an issue).

The experience was amazing!!!!

Frankly, I thought that Cape Horn was named Cape Horn because of its shape.  We come to find out that it is named after a town in the Netherlands, Hoorn.  Who knew?

Buenos Aeries - a Heck of a Town

We met our friends, Roger and Helen, at the Buenos Aeries airport - not a mean trick where two couples are coming from the Northwestern United States and Southeastern United Kingdom.  We managed to get all of our luggage - which was an impressive amount (we had packed for the Antarctic and Summer in Argentina - plus fancy close for formal nights and extra clothes just in case) - and went to the van that was waiting to take us to the hotel.

The hotel was the Hotel Panamericano, an impressive older structure with numerous people to take your requests and sit on them for hours.  Our rooms were not ready, "but would be ready soon - possibly as early as the designated checkin" - which was four or five hours later.

We had just arrived on an overnight over-long flight (16 hours or so, but who's counting), so the thought of actually collapsing in a bed had not occurred to us.

Fortunately, there was a lobby bar in the lobby.  There were also lobby bar people waiting to serve us at the lobby bar in the lobby - or so we thought.  The lobby bar people at the lobby bar in the lobby apparently had other chores to take care of - like talking at the lobby bar, ignoring possible customers and just generally being lobby bar people in the lobby.  They rushed about like rooted plants, unaware of everything.

Finally, one of the lobby bar people in the lobby pretended he had noticed us and he oozed in our direction.  It took some time, but he eventually took our order and disappeared - for a long time.  He reappeared much later without drinks but with nuts, which seemed appropriate.

I went in search of a bathroom, which usually causes drinks to be delivered, questions to be asked, paging me on the intercom and other activity, but even that failed to bring anything.  The lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby eventually showed up with the drinks.  We had those drinks and, even though our rooms were not yet ready (they apparently took a long time to prepare for people like us), the lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby felt that his job was done.

Karen and Helen eventually went to the reception and demanded to see our rooms (or the manager, they were open for suggestions).  This apparently worked since as soon as you could say "I wonder if the lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby has had an injury or is in a coma" we were given our keys and the bell hop person with our luggage woke up and whisked our luggage away (he sort of ambled, in an Argentinian hotel staff person - waiting for the union to go on strike - kind of way).

The room was just that, not quite worth the wait, but it had a bed and a bathroom, so it fit all of the requirements of a hotel room.  We freshened up (as much as possible) and met Roger and Helen to go in search of food.  We did have a very nice meal with a tango-show at a classic restaurant in Buenos Aeries, but this was not that night.

One of the lobby staff people recommended a restaurant close by (I know, we were insane, but we were tired and did not want to go very far).  We should have gone farther.  The place was like an Argentinian cheap diner, but without the class or good food and the service was glacial (probably getting us ready for Antarctica).  The restaurant did allow beggars to enter the restaurant and come to our table asking for money, food, clothes and possibly drinks from the lobby bar person - which was festive and nice.  It made us yearn for third world countries where they limit this activity to the streets.

We made it back to our rooms, which had managed to stay ready for us, and retired for the evening.  Karen said she did not feel well.  I told here we were lucky to still be alive after eating that food.

The next morning, Karen thought that staying in the hotel bed was preferable to anything she had seen the day before - she was even willing to relocate to a different country.  I ignored Karen's sage decision and ventured out with Roger and Helen to see the sights of Buenos Aeries - or "the City of Fair Winds" or "the City that Saint Mary Never Showed Up To".

We walked to a ticket booth for one of the ubiquitous "Hop-on Hop-off" Buses which have taken over the World.  Behind the glass was a ticket booth lady who took our order for three tickets and appeared to process it, and process it, and process it - Roger had been waiting for Helen and I at the bus - with people sitting on the bus waiting for us and a bus driver waiting for us.  The ticket booth lady in the ticket booth made the lobby bar person at the lobby bar in the lobby look like a lightning bolt.  Eventually, tickets were produced and we were shown to a different "Hop-on Hop-off" Bus - since the people and the driver from the first bus wanted nothing to do with us.

We were given little plug-in earphones which provided a commentary of the sights while the bus went through Buenos Aeries.  Actually, it provided a commentary of the sights you would have noticed if the commentary came faster.  True to the Buenos Aeries "provide as little service as slow as possible" - ethic, the commentary told you what sights you had just missed.

The city of Buenos Aeries is lovely - or rather - appears to have been lovely about 30 or 40 years ago.  It apparently became tired of being lovely and decided to see how long the buildings could remain standing if nothing was done to them for decades.

The driver took us around all of Buenos Aeries - I do not think he missed a single corner or street - while the commentary went on with "had you been aware of it, you could have seen the statue to Eva Peron which was constructed 50 years ago and has not been cleaned since, but we passed it about two or three blocks ago".

We tried to Hop-off the Bus and went to a bar for a beer.  This bar was actually a bit dingy on the outside, but quite nice in the inside and the bartender brought the beer and offered seconds - pretty impressive.  Of course, now we had to figure out how to Hop-on the Bus.  The Hop-on Hop-off Bus Company provided us with a map of Buenos Aeries which showed us quite clearly that Buenos Aeries was located in Argentina and the Argentina was in South America.  It was less clear on where you could Hop-back on the Bus - we started walking, waiting, walking some more and finally spotted a Hop-on Hop-off Bus which was leaving, but we figured that another Hop-on Hop-off Bus would appear and we were right - about 30 minutes or so later.

We made it back to the hotel after about five hours - Karen was about ready to send out an alarm at our absence.  I calmed her down and showed here the photos of our trip which convinced her for certain that she had not missed anything.

That evening we had a seriously lovely time at the Esquina Carlos Gardel - a classic old theater which provided a tango show which was quite spectacular, including a live orchestra, and a fixed price all-inclusive dinner.

The next morning we also went to the top of our hotel which had a pool and a lovely view of Buenos Aeries (which looks just fine from far away).  We agreed that we should have just stayed there instead of hopping on and off buses the day before.

We were off to the Seabourn Quest and Antarctica!!!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

To Buenos Aires

Monday - January 9:

So the day started with Karen asking, "are you going to wear the shirt you wore last night?"

I replied, "Yes, I'll change when we arrive in Buenos Aires."  How often do you get to say that?

The hotel shuttle driver got us smoothly to the airport, we glided through security (having, among other things, become one of the TSA permanent approved a month or so ago) and went to our gate.  The flight was non-eventful (though Karen would note that it did have some bumps).  We arrived at Dallas - Fort Worth on time and had a 3 hour layover (reduced from 6 hours through the involuntary changing of the original departure city from Portland to Seattle.

Since we had international business class tickets, we were able to gain entry to American Airlines Admiral Club (though there was a First Class Dining room which they did not allow business class riff-raff to enter, allowing only First Class people or real Admirals).  We comfortably spent the next few hours there.

We ambled towards are gate almost an hour ahead of time and were surprised to see that they had already got the boarding process in full swing, they had gone way beyond the "unfortunate people with young children" and the "people who need help they won't get", past those "lucky people who sit towards the front with seats that turn into beds" and "people who fly all the time so have lots of credits and people who own a military uniform" and they were all the way to the "tired, poor and hungry yearning to be free" - we boarded with them even though we were able to stop at the comfy seats while they just shook their heads at us with clear envy.

We snuggled into our travel forts, the only real problem being that the cocoon-like structures did not lend themselves to conversation between Karen and I.  Still, the seats were comfortable by airplane standards, making you feel like an astronaut readying for takeoff.

Since I was able to lie flat, I was also able to fall asleep (only waking up to the occasional bathroom trip and to answer Karen's inquiries as to whether or not I was asleep).

As we approached Buenos Aires they woke us up for breakfast.

At the airport, we were greeted by our luggage after an appropriate delay, made it through customs and then located our friends from the UK who had first suggested the trip now a year ago, Roger and Helen.

It was an amazing feat of coordination and luck, both couples arriving with all of their luggage from 6,000 miles apart (Oregon to UK) and traveling respectively about 7,000 miles each to get to Buenos Aires.

We had arrived!!!

The Barnums Off to Penguin-Land!!!

We are off on another trip!!!

Of course, it was a typical Barnum departure.  As the day of the flight neared, the weather worsened.  We knew that bad weather was a possibility, but had taken comfort from the early weather reports that said it was going to be the high 30's or low 40's.

They were wrong.

We were to fly out Monday morning, so it snowed and rained ice on Saturday which continued to Sunday.  Sunday morning, we received a helpful text message from American Airlines saying our flight had been cancelled, "if you need assistance, please call".  If we had had our own large jet to take to South America we would not have needed assistance, but I was short one large jet.

The lady on the telephone said no flights were leaving for Dallas, Texas (our first stop on the way to Buenos Aeries) on Monday and we had the choice of flying out of Seattle or waiting until Tuesday when a flight "might" be leaving Portland.  The word "might" caught our attention, so we decided to book the early morning flight from Seattle on Monday and figure out how to get to Seattle.

Cousin Ken had agreed to take care of the puppies while we were gone on this trip, the only problem was retrieving him from an icy hill.  That could wait until later, first to pick up a rental car from Hertz.

I walked through the snow, ice and slush through downtown to the local Hertz (the buses and Max were on "reduced" schedule - as in, could barely be seen).  There the initial question was "is this covered by insurance?" Apparently, 15 people had come ahead of me and all of them involved wrecks in the ice and snow with replacement rentals while their car was being repaired.  My thought was, "they're okay with us taking these rentals out?"  I normally pass on the collision-damage waiver.  This time I thought, what the hell, let Hertz fix anything.

I picked up the car, they had no 4-wheel drive SUVs or tanks, so I picked up the largest sedan they had - a Hyundai (I had been hoping for a Cadillac or a Lincoln).  I made it back to the Condo and transferred to the Explorer to pick up Cousin Ken.  The Explorer did just fine heading up the hill to get Cousin Ken and we made it back to the Condo where Karen and I finished packing, said a tearful goodbye to the puppies (they seemed fine, though Dolly was a bit concerned and was very needy with Karen before we left) and we were off!!  Well, almost off, first Karen said upon arriving at the garage, "you got a Hyundai?"  I think I said something like "Korea is lousy with snow".

The drive to Seattle was not too bad, considering the snow, ice, rain and poor visibility.

We arrived at the airport Hilton, settled Karen into the room and I took the Hyundai (still intact) back to Hertz, followed by a practice bus ride to the terminal, followed by a bus ride to the hotel.  My lovely bride asked me to bring up drinks from the bar on arrival (which I did) and had ordered up steak and wine from room service, so all was well.

We were ready to begin our trip!!!!