Philip M. Haggerty
Occupation:Retired city attorney
Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: January 20th, 2002
Itinerary: South America - Cape Horn
The Celebrity website has an in-depth presentation of all its shore excursions. You can look at these anytime, and once you have paid for your cruise, you can order available excursions up to 30 days prior to sail date. Some people love shore excursions, others stay on the boat the whole trip. We love to get off and see a new country or have a new experience. There are potential problems with cruise line ordered excursions however. In the first place, they may be more expensive that ones you can locate yourself. The most aggravating possibility is that a planned and desired excursion is cancelled due to an insufficient number of persons signing up. We lost one we looked forward to in St. Thomas because of this, although our need to shop to replace lost clothing prevented going on this excursion anyway. We also lost at least two excursions on the Commodore Lines cruise, as well as one entire port call. Some people like the cruise placed excursions because they arguably are safer and with tour providers known to the cruise line. In many ports you are hustled, if not hassled, by vendors of every imaginable product and/or service as soon as you clear the pier. If you stick to your guns, you can do what you want, not what the local chamber of commerce thinks you should do,
I looked carefully at all the Celebrity excursions, and read a number of travel books about the places we would visit. Many of these books assume that the visitor is staying there, not just stopping by on a cruise ship; but often they describe “day excursions” that are useful. Some give prices also, and have comments about the value offered. The result was that we did not sign up for any Celebrity sponsored excursions, and “went to the net”. As you might imagine, this became quite an exercise. Our basic methodology was to use information from the tour books, especially the Lonely Planet, and then, with “Google.com” we put in the names of the companies. Once there, we could browse around. We did not plan on any tour type time in Santiago to do our first real South American stop was Puerto Montt. The Lonely Planet indicated that a nearby town called Puerto Varas was more interesting, so we tried that. We came up with a tour company called Aqua Motion, which ran a river rapids trip on the Petrohue River. We confirmed this by E-mail. Our contact, whose name was Matthias Holzmann confirmed that the company was in fact German, like him. They wanted only our passport number to hold the reservation. The web site was fairly informative as to what to expect and what was provided. The price was $40.00 per person, (with a 4 person minimum), a good deal less than anything offered by Celebrity, and much more interesting. We assumed we could find two other interested cruisers.
Our next stop was Punta Arenas, the major Straights of Magellan port, and a city with a population of 150,000. There are a number of tours to the penguin rookeries, but we decided to take up an offer from one company to combine a tour to the penguins with a visit to what was described as Nandu Park. We did not want an extremely lengthy tour, and our e-mail correspondence with the company representative assured us that we would be back to the boat on time. This company wanted faxed credit card information which was a little expensive, but once again at $40.00 apiece for the rookery and $40.00 for the park, it seemed a better deal than the Celebrity tours.
The next stop was Ushuaia [pronounced “Ushwaya”]; the southernmost city in the world; and in Argentina. The main attraction is the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. There is a narrow gauge train that travels part of the distance to the park from town called “The Train at the End of the World”. This seems appealing. Forget it. The Lonely Planet called it a rip-off at its land price of $20 some dollars. The cruise price was $84.00, including admission to the park. However the park admission was $5.00 [remembering that at the start of all this the Argentine Peso had been fixed for many years at the dollar - 1 to 1.] The books also said that there were local buses to the park which is only 10-15 miles out of town. So it seemed to us a waste of time to book on the net.
Our next stop would be the Falkland Islands. Celebrity offered no shore excursions at all. The information over the net was limited, but after many efforts I found someone who suggested that I contact a man named Patrick Watts for a guided tour. We exchanged e-mails with him. He could not accept a credit card, and the price was for $160.00 for four people, but is sounded good, so we confirmed.
Puerto Madryn on the east coast of Argentina was next. While Peninsula Valdez is a wildlife conservancy, the tour books indicated a lengthy, dusty and expensive trip. The Celebrity tours also indicated mostly more penguin rookeries, and we decided to defer any plans for later. Montevideo was next, and we simply decided to wander around on our own. We had looked at a lot of maps of the city, and it seemed that most of the interesting parts of town were within walking distance of the pier. We also decided not to do anything about pre-booking anything in Buenos Aires until we got there, since we would have one and a half full days.
The Journey Begins
Day 1 - Phoenix to Santiago
The flights, which as I mentioned, I had booked directly with American Airlines for $770.00 round trip, Phoenix to Santiago, per person; went perfectly smoothly. The plane from Dallas to Santiago was a Boeing 777, with individual TV screens on the back of the seat in front of you. Like all overseas flights, you could locate your position, speed and time to arrival at any point. The plane was probably 100 percent full or close to it. Most of the flight was at night, but as we approached Santiago, it was morning and we could see the Andes. Getting out of the Santiago Airport is a hassle. There is an “entry fee” charged Americans of $61.00 per person, which must be paid in cash. Fortunately the Celebrity materials had warned us of this. The material didn’t say that your bills must be absolutely perfect. The clerk rejected my first $100.00 bill, although it was virtually brand new from my bank! [Canadians pay a little less, but their bills better be perfect also]. Fortunately this fee is good for the life of your passport, so we paid no fee returning from Buenos Aires, After getting past this as well as customs we met the transportation which had been arranged for us by the Hotel Kennedy, and went directly there. It is a ways outside the downtown section, in a very nice residential neighborhood; although we could see a large Marriott even farther out. It is a mid-rise hotel of about 15 stories, but with only about eight or ten rooms per floor. The room was nice with windows in two directions. Although we got to the hotel about noon, there was no problem with getting into our room. While the language skills of the staff were limited; this is a professionally run hotel in the continental manner, and would rate four stars in Europe. We decided to explore a little and found out that by walking about 3/4 of a mile we could connect with Santiago’s subway system. This was a Saturday, with a lot of auto traffic on the streets. We noted passing one apartment that there was a rather sour looking young man in military fatigues and an AK-47 like machine gun guarding the entrance. We then passed the National Military School, and it became apparent that the guard was probably one of the students, the “apartment house” a residence for teachers. and that his grim expression was due to the fact that he was stuck on guard duty while his buddies had the weekend in town! Soldiers are the same all over the world. The Santiago subway is clean and fast, and we got downtown in about 15 minutes. The downtown area typically has streets closed to auto traffic so pedestrians have store access. The downtown area was jammed, and a little hot. We could not find a real restaurant, only fast food places; but did settle on a “heladeria” an ice cream store with delicious ice cream at a reasonable price. We did visit a cathedral which was very impressive, and then returned to our hotel by subway, and a taxi at the end of the line back to our hotel, since we were a little weary in the heat. We had read about several restaurants on the lengthy review I mentioned earlier, and settled on a place called Isla Negra, named after a retreat owned by Pablo Neruda, a poet who is one of two Chileans to win the Nobel Prize for literature. He died in 1973 immediately after being appointed Ambassador to France by Allende, and is regarded as a political hero as well as a great poet. In any event, we arrived at the restaurant, also in a nice, moderately upscale neighborhood, at about 7:30. Restaurants in Santiago are barely open at that hour, especially since this was summertime, and the sun would not set until just about 9:00 P.M.. So we walked around the neighborhood and went back about 8:00. There was one other couple seated, and eventually five or six groups appeared. I do not think there was a single Chilean among the customers, only Americans, French and Germans. Our meal was absolutely delightful, as was the service and entire atmosphere. When in Santiago - go to Isla Negra! The total charge, with tip, was about $30.00 and as a meal, could not be bettered.
After dinner we returned to the hotel and a note saying our driver would pick us up at 9:00 the next day to get us to the bus terminal. This was a somewhat lengthy trip costing about $20.00. The bus fare to Valparaiso was about $6.00 apiece! The bus was a decent inter-city Greyhound type and the terminal was pleasant and efficient. We sat down, and found out a few moments later that seats were assigned, and we were occupying someone else’s seats. This turned out to be a most pleasant Canadian couple, also bound for Mercury, and they insisted that we remain put while they took our seats. The trip to Valparaiso is about one and a half hours, and the country looks like Southern California; or at least like the road from San Bernardino to Riverside appeared in the 1950s before it was swallowed up in red tile roof homes and WalMarts, Then we went over the coastal hills into Valparaiso. Unfortunately the valley in which Santiago rests is prone to pollution trapped between the coastal hills and the Andes, which limits good views of that magnificent South American range.
In Valparaiso we switched to a taxi to go to the Muelle Prat; the pier at which all cruise ships dock. We rolled up to the entrance with Mercury clearly visible in front of us, only to be told by a pier guard that we had to go to a place called The Sports Club. Our driver was unsure of the direction, but the cab occupied by the Canadian couple proceeded ahead of us and we followed. It soon became clear that we were leaving Valparaiso and were in Viña del Mar, a neighboring city which was more of a resort town. After about a twenty minute ride we pulled into a race track, which was the “Sports Club”. Here were a number of buses, and a crowd of people bound for Celebrity. Our taxi ride was about $20.00+, and we were provided with a receipt and assured by a Celebrity spokesperson that we would be reimbursed. We went through a brief check in and were offered a light lunch as it now was past noon. Eventually we found a bus and loaded our luggage for a return trip to Valparaiso. Our tickets from Celebrity clearly gave directions for those driving from Santiago that told them to proceed to Muelle Prat. The trip back included a guide with amusing patter on the neighborhood. Viña del Mar is a pleasant town, while Valparaiso is very commercial, but interesting since it is built largely on a hillside overlooking the port, with funicular like trolleys to take people up to their levels.
Once at the pier the check in was fairly rapid with the now common baggage screening. As usual with Celebrity, we were greeted up boarding and escorted to our cabin, a nice touch. We were actually in our stateroom at 2:00 P.M. We had no table assignment card in the room, so I went to the dining room to get our assignment, and was directed to a lounge area where there were a number of people with the same problem. We proceeded in order, and there I became aware of the fact that the passenger make-up was different from our prior cruises, with a much more apparent European and Canadian component. This component included a number of French passengers, including a couple in the seating assignment line ahead of me. They wanted a table for two, and became incensed when told that there were many more requests for such tables and there were such tables. The man was loud and insulting, and spoke only French of course. He was singularly unpleasant. A man behind me had some amusing comments. He was German, but like virtually all the German tourists I have run into, and they are legion, he spoke good English and was quite cheerful until the delay caused by our French guest became annoying. But even then his comment to one of the other staff present was low key and appropriate. Eventually we got our assignment and returned to await the arrival of luggage.
Our cabin was the same type as on Galaxy, a “standard” cabin with a small veranda. While not overly large; it was easily adequate for all our purposes. The closets held all our clothes and we were able to stow several fairly large suitcases under the bed. The Celebrity bathrooms, also small, are a model of efficiency, with four door knobs to hang toilet bags or other articles, and plenty of shelf and cupboard accommodations. The shower is of adequate size with a removable shower head that also can be slid up and down a pole, providing the maximum versatility for any size person. A few weeks after our cruise we stayed at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a most opulent hotel. While the bathroom there had probably four times the area of the bathroom on Mercury, it was not nearly as efficient. Hotel architects could learn a lot from cruise ship architects. Both hotels and ships need better electrical outlets, and I recommend bringing an extension cord with at least two sockets for plugs.
Our dinner seating was early as usual. This is a matter of choice; although I have been told that if you really want early seating you should request it when you book your cruise, as we did. They had made a mistake on our Galaxy cruise, but were able to correct it; and on Mercury we had no trouble getting early seating once the Frenchman left.
We were assigned a table for six, and were joined by Bill and Pauline from Smithers, BC, and Nancy and Mary Ann, both widows from Toronto. I noted in my journal that night that it seemed we would have a pleasant mix for dinner. How right I was! We would be dining by daylight all the way, but the window shades were well controlled. Our seats were slightly forward and on the lower level, and we did not have the open feeling in the location we had on Galaxy, but were pleasant anyway. Dinner was up to Celebrity’s usual high standard. I had tomato bisque, fruit cocktail, veal piccata and an apple dessert; all excellent. Edith had a fish called hake, and said it was delightful. You will have no report on salads from me, since I do not eat them.
After dinner we checked out some books from the library, which was in a much more convenient location than on Galaxy, and went to the introductory show, which is pretty brief. We received most of our luggage fairly promptly, although my large suitcase was late. When we were walking back from dinner we spotted it in a luggage holding area with many other pieces. I simply went in and grabbed it since we were not that far from our cabin. To bed by 10:00.
2nd Day - Monday - Sea Day
We made a tour of the gym since we both have exercise programs which we like to maintain. The gym is forward on the 12th deck, past the expensive spa set up; but there was not too much of a sales pitch, unlike the ones on Carnival. We had discussed the Puerto Varas raft trip with our Canadian bus partners, Laurie and Norm while we were waiting for the ride to the ship at the Sports Club; and they confirmed that they wished to join us. We also talked to a couple from Sun City, near our Phoenix home. We had some e-mail contact with them prior to sailing, but they traveled by air arranged by Celebrity through Los Angeles, so we did not meet until on board. We went to lunch in the main dining room as it was easier to arrange a meeting there than in the buffet. We had a little trouble getting a table for four, which was ridiculous, since there were a number of tables of this size available. In fairness, this was the only time we had any static, and we had lunch with Al and Judy several times on the trip. Lunch was very nice, but perhaps a little too filling. It is difficult to say “no” to some of Celebrity’s presentations.
The weather was cloudy and cool in the A.M., but cleared up in the afternoon. We did note that the ship had several charts which mapped our progress. Galaxy had none, and we think having charts is a real plus. We had been concerned about what we should wear, and the general climate conditions, so we probably bought too many clothes, but we knew from net based climate research that we were facing some fairly extensive temperature changes en route.
This was formal night, and we dressed for the Captain’s reception in the Celebrity Theatre. The event was marred when a waitress spilled a tray full of drinks on me, Edith and another lady. It could have been a lot worse for us; the lady’s dress was probably ruined by a wine stain. We were assured that the cleaning bill was on the ship. The sunset was beautiful, but they had to draw the curtains in the restaurant. Dinner was a terrine; onion soup [not enough cheese], duck a la orange and chocolate mousse cake. Except as noted, all was excellent. We noted that we were not visited by our headwaiter much during the trip. On Galaxy his counterpart always showed up, often with announcements about events or news. Our waiter seemed nervous at first, but soon settled in and did a fine job. His assistant was a Russian girl, and one of the few female “waitpersons” we have ever seen at sea. This was her first cruise, and it showed, although she was obviously trying hard. The show was “On Broadway” consisting of the usual high energy, Las Vegas style acts, reprising portions of some of the more recent Broadway shows. Like most cruise shows, it lasts only slightly more than 50 minutes. The sun set at 9:30 and we were in bed by 10:00.
3rd Day - Tuesday - Puerto Montt & Puerto Varas
We tendered to the pier with Laurie and Norm and met Danielle who drove us by car to Puerto Varas. This part of Chile was settled by German immigrants in the middle of the 19th century, and their influence is still felt with German restaurants, German names etc. The countryside could well have reminded them of home. The homes and farms looked like Germany or Denmark, neat and prosperous. Danielle said the area was also a vacation spot for people from Santiago, which is about 1020 kilometers north. There is a highway connecting the areas, and of course it is served by Lan Chile, the Chilean airline. The general area is referred to as the “Lake District”, and in addition to the lakes, has volcanoes and other mountains. Puerto Varas is 20 kilometers from Puerto Montt on Lago Llanquihue, a sizeable body of water roughly triangular in shape about 30 miles wide and 30 miles north and south. The town has about 20,000 people, very continental in appearance, and quite pretty. We were dropped off at the Aqua Motion office, told there would be a short delay while others arrived. A German employee showed up and he and Edith were able to chat since she is German by birth. We wandered around town a little. It is geared towards the tourist trade, and has a few small, neat hotels. Our van arrived and we were joined by an American girl from Colorado who had spent some time there with her mother and brother. They had returned to the States, and she was planning to start a hike down Patagonia with a group the next day.
After about a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the starting point. The river runs between Lago de Los Santos and Lago Llanquihue. There were three rafts, two with about ten passengers and a guide, and one for us and the American girl plus our guide. It turned out that the other rafters were all crew members of Norwegian Dream which had docked with us at Puerto Montt. Since they were all young and spoke English, we assumed they were entertainers. Our boat guide was Richard from Provence, France. Aqua Motion supplied wet suits, wet shoes, helmets, life vests, in fact everything we needed. The trip was a lot of fun, the only drawback being some biting, flying bugs. The views of Osorno Volcano and other mountains was spectacular. We were actually in a national park. The water was a little chilly, but not freezing. Laurie and Norm had left weather of 25 below in Regina, Saskatchewan, and thought it was warm. It all depends on your frame of reference. The whole raft trip lasted about an hour and a half, including a light snack; and was certainly a bargain at $40.00 apiece. The Norwegian Dream crew was a little concerned about their return time since they had to be on board by 4:00 P.M., but we easily made our 5:00 tender boarding time, in fact we were in time for tea. This was a thoroughly enjoyable day. Dinner was excellent as usual and the show, a trumpeter named Gary Guthman who played jazz/swing selections from the 20s through the 40s, was quite good.
4th Day - Wednesday - Sea Day
The gym was too crowded in the morning to use. We went to a talk given by the Captain’s wife. Since Celebrity was originally a Greek Line, and all the officers and sailing crew were Greek, we were surprised when the Captain’s wife turned out to be Joyce from Sacramento. She had been in the travel business all her life, and worked cruises for many years. She was accompanied by their five year old son. She had written a book about the cruising experience from the crew’s point of view, which I bought. It was very enlightening, although you wonder how they had time to sail the vessels amid all the changing partners/staterooms/beds/ activity. Captain Adamidas had added his own comments, which indicated a more serious nature and outlook. We lunched again with Al & Judy, and went to the first art auction. Some people hate these, and resent the advertising; but we think they are kind of fun. This auctioneer was very good, and on the first day at least he sold almost every item. We had a very good dinner at which I opted for 2 appetizers rather than soup. As most veteran cruisers know, it is possible to order two of everything, or perhaps even more, if you are so inclined.
Incidentally we had learned from our table mate, Bill, that this was his second trip around the Horn. The first had been in 1952 in the early stages of his 37 year career in the Royal Canadian Navy, and the trip was on board a naval cruiser. They mentioned that swimming in the ships pools was very good. The Chilean Fjords had been in sight most of the day, and it was sunny and warm until later in the day. It was still light at 10:00 P.M.
The evening entertainer was Lindsay Hamilton, an English female vocalist who did mostly show tunes very well. Since she had appeared in a West End production of “Evita”, she closed with a great version of “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”. The day before our cabin stewardess had asked for our clothing from the accident so she could get it cleaned. This indicates very good organization and communication. The items were returned today, with no cleaning bill as promised.
5th Day - Thursday - Sea Day
Fairly quiet day. We had breakfast in the main dining room. The selection is of course much less varied than at the buffet line, but it was reasonable and very pleasant anyway. There was an informal talk by the singer from the previous night, and she was very pleasant and amusing. We started through the Straights of Magellan in the afternoon and this “show” was spectacular. We traveled a short distance off our straight route to see a glacier meet the sea. Part of the time it rained, but there were clear patches, rainbows and the mountains were very close, beautiful and imposing.
That night we switched dinner tables with Laurie and Norm, and ate at the late seating as a result. It was a nice change of conversational pace and worked out well for both of us. We went to the show, but it was the same violinist we had not enjoyed on Galaxy, so we skipped it.
I should note that the daily newssheets delivered to our cabin had a substantial amount of valuable information about the territory through which we were passing, including its history. It also provided sunrise and sunset for each day.
6th Day - Friday - Punta Arenas
We were up at 6:00, and had breakfast at 6:30, but had to wait until almost 8:00 to tender in with Laurie and Norm who had agreed to share this tour with us also. We were met by Marcella, who was only expecting two of us and who then had to send for a van and driver. Punta Arenas is a city of more than 120,000 people, and was a major port for around the Cape travel and shipping prior to the opening of the Panama Canal. It still acts as a major port for fishing fleets, shipping the local agricultural products, and tourism. We drove around the city, which is quite attractive, with a very pleasant city square, lots of solid, middle class housing, and like the rest of Chile, an air of reasonable prosperity. We were told by Marcella that the world-wide drop in wool prices had hurt that industry. She said her father and uncle owned an “estancia” or ranch, and when Norm asked how many sheep were on their property, she said about 100,000; and that it took at least 10,000 head to break even. We then went to the Seno Otway penguin rookery. “Seno” means “sound”, so it is a salt water bay. On the way were able to see a group of Andean condors very close, simply floating on currents above our heads. The rookery is a grassy area with small hummocks filled with burrows for nests. These are Magellanic penguins, and are about 18 inches tall. They come up almost to the pathway without fear. It was very cold and windy with occasional rain showers. We walked down to the waters edge viewing area where the birds jumped in to the bay without concern and with much splashing.
On the way back we went to the Nandu Park which was actually a small private farm with sheep, some guanacos, a small relative of the llama, vicuna and alpaca; and rheas, an ostrich-like bird. We were able to pet these animals, but the trip to this place was not worth the $40.00 apiece in addition to the normal $40.00 trip to the rookery. Norm found an internet cafe back in town. These are fairly prevalent in each town, and a lot less expensive than using the net from the shipboard site. Back on board we had an excellent dinner with rack of lamb, and went to the show which consisted of a magician who also is a classical pianist. This was reasonably entertaining.
6th Day - Saturday - Ushuaia
Up at 5:00 A.M. to look at the glaciers as we sailed down the Beagle Channel [named after Darwin’s boat] to Ushuaia. Went back to bed and got up again at 7:30 for a quick breakfast and then to shore at 9:00. This time we were at a dock, which is much easier for debarkation, of course, than using the ships lifeboats (impressively seaworthy though they may be) to tender to shore. We were docked opposite a strange vessel. It had a pointed heavy prow, and a midships which contained what looked like a seven story block building. It had a flat stern area, with a helicopter visible. We found out it was Kapitan Khlebnikov, a Russian cruise ship which also was an icebreaker, capable of traveling deep into Antarctic and Arctic waters for true ice adventures. It carried Zodiacs for landing passengers as well as the helicopters (it carried two).
We walked in to the city and found one of the local van/buses to take us to Tierro del Fuego National Park for $16.00 round trip for both of us. Admission to the Park was $5.00 apiece. We arrived at the park at about 11:00 and walked around it for 2 1/2 hours. Although Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, (with a population of about 40,000), the weather in the park was not at all bad. The surrounding mountains are not only beautiful, but protect you from the winds which chilled us at Punta Arenas. The only drawback to walking around was the number of tour buses, with accompanying noise and fumes. We regretted that we did not have more time to explore the park which attracts a number of campers as well as day tourists. We ran into two of our dinner companions, Mary Ann and Nancy, who had driven out in a taxi. Tierra del Fuego is an island south of the Straights of Magellan, and is split between Chile and Argentina, with both Ushuaia and the National Park being in Argentina.
Back in town we strolled around for a while. Ushuaia is a clean, pleasant town with a number of pleasant looking single family homes and seemed both busy and prosperous; not yet affected perhaps by the country’s currency crisis.
Back on board we had to wait almost an hour for several Cruise booked tour buses to finally show up. Since these tours had been booked by Celebrity, the line evidently felt they had to wait. As an aside, Joyce had told us of one trip where, as a junior associate she had been assigned to help the ship’s captain’s wife with her on shore shopping. Despite her urging, the wife’s delay result in them arriving at the dock to see the vessel under way. The captain would not wait for his wife. The two ladies managed to persuade a pilot boat to take them out, but the captain was so annoyed at his wife that he merely lowered a rope ladder to the pilot boat and both Joyce and the wife had to climb up in full view of all the passengers; Joyce naturally being stuck with carrying the shopping bags filled with the wife’s acquisitions of the day.
We enjoyed excellent coq au vin for dinner. The show had singers and dancers in a routine based on 007, James Bond themes, and was not bad.
7th Day - Sunday - Cape Horn
We sailed out of the Beagle Channel and then west past the actual cape which constitutes Cape Horn. The Cape has a Chilean Naval and weather station manned year round, which was clearly visible since we were only two miles off shore. We the did a leisurely turn around to resume our eastward course. We were passed by a smaller cruise vessel called “Bremen”. It looked about one tenth our size, but had very nice lines. It also had Zodiacs plainly visible; and we later found out from a fellow passenger who had sailed on it several years earlier that it goes deep into Antarctic waters, and lands passengers on the continent for exploration. It also went right up to the Cape and evidently landed passengers there so they could sign a book showing their presence. We received a certificate that we had rounded Cape Horn.
Later we attended a lecture by a man named Ronald Sampson. He had been a British Army Officer who secured a retirement job as the Chief Executive of the Falkland Islands. This sounds pretty much like a City Manager position. His lecture was on Falklands Wildlife and was very amusing.
Prior to that we had received a phone call from the Captain’s wife. She asked us to meet her at 2:30 on Deck 10 at the forward elevators. We went there and were joined by three other couples. Joyce then arrived and told us we were to do a “no-no” - visit the bridge. I had been on a bridge tour on Elation and Enchanted Isle, but on Galaxy last October we were told all such visits were cancelled as part of post September 11 security procedures. To reach the bridge we went past the Senior Officers quarters and offices; all very nice. The bridge is most interesting. There are stations on both the port and starboard sides from which the ship can be controlled while docking and debarking. There is a glass plate in the floor so you can see straight down the side of the ship. You cannot see the stern with this ship’s design, so there is always an officer at the rear communicating with the captain at this time. The main “wheel” which controls the rudder and hence the direction, is really quite small. Despite the fact that the ship has all the latest satellite global positioning equipment, the Captain insists that the location is “shot” each day by sextant the old fashioned way, so the officers know how to do it just in case. They did the same thing on Elation and Enchanted Isle. The course is plotted on a chart with triangles and rulers and by pen. There also was a traditional Greek religious Icon affixed to the wall at the rear of the bridge. There also was a ship’s motto on the wall indicating that safety came first. The actual crew on the bridge consisted only of four people, and it can be sailed by one person. If there is only one person on the bridge he has to strike a small bell, like the old fashioned bells used to summon shopkeepers or hotel desk clerks, at least once every three minutes. If he did not, an alarm goes off to make sure he is awake! Joyce talked a great deal about the safety concerns, with details like the fact that seamen went on regular inspections of the entire ship that required two hours to make sure all the ship’s fire alarms were working, since fire at sea was the greatest danger. She noted that the seamen and sailing officers, the ones responsible for making the ship move, including the engine room crew, all operated on the traditional four hour watch system. She also mentioned that the Chilean Naval Station was upset that we came as close to the Cape as we did - two miles. We had all been invited for various reasons, one couple because the man had assisted Joyce’s son visit the men’s room while on shore, one couple because their daughter was one of the ship’s dancers on her first trip; and us because of my review on this site of Galaxy’s Caribbean trip. We were also asked not to mention the visit to other passengers lest there be too many requests for special favors. All in all it was an enlightening experience. Incidentally, just as Elation, built in Finland with all Italian officers and mostly Italian seamen, had all its bridge equipment marked in English; Mercury, built in Germany with all Greek officers had its bridge equipment directions in English also.
Unfortunately, after the bridge visit I came down with flu-like symptoms and went to bed, missing the formal dinner and the show also. Edith, of course, went to dinner and pronounced it fine as always.
8th Day - Monday - At Sea
Felt much better and went to Ronald Sampson’s lecture on the Falkland Islands. He showed a picture of our guide, Patrick Watts, at the microphone of the Falkland Islands Radio Station, and mentioned he had been awarded a Member of The British Empire (MBE) medal by the Queen for keeping the station broadcasting during the Argentine invasion of the Islands in 1982. I had mentioned to Mr. Sampson that Patrick would be our guide, and he said that we could find no better although that “Patrick was not one of his fans”. Incidentally the Celebrity Theatre was almost completely filled for his lecture. The chicken at the buffet lunch was a little dry, but otherwise the food was good. We read a lot and went to the art auction. The action was slow and the quality of the paintings not as good. Dinner was a truly excellent pork tenderloin. The show was a vocalist from the regular troupe and Argentine Tango dancers who were pretty good. The sea had been a little choppy during the day, but cleared at night and the moon was beautiful over the ocean.
9th Day - Tuesday - Falkland Islands
Fortunately the weather was clear and sunny, with only normal breezes, so we were able to make a twenty minute tender in to Stanley, the only town on the Islands. There are two main islands which in total area comprise slightly over 6,000 square miles, or slightly less than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. One island, the East island where we landed has a population of about 2400. The West Island a population of just 87 people. We were joined this time by our table mates, Nancy and Mary Ann and met Patrick quickly. Almost all the vehicles are 4 wheel drive Land Rover types, although Patrick’s was a more luxurious Mitsubishi. Patrick told us his great-grandfather was a German sailor who either was shipwrecked or jumped ship to arrive there. His daughter married Patrick’s grandfather who came from London. He showed us a beautiful group of four town homes, which could have been straight from England, that his grandfather had built. We had seen pictures of this group during Sampson’s lecture. He then drove us north and slightly east to the Cape Bougainville, the northern coast of the East Island, about 60 miles. Only the first few miles were on paved road and the rest were dirt but well maintained. The land is completely open, with low rolling hills. The only trees are a few protected ones in town, the wind preventing their growth anyplace else. The ground is covered with low lying vegetation which supports a huge sheep population. There are fenced off areas near town which contain Argentine landmines from the invasion. We also saw evidence of the war in the form of crashed helicopters out in the country, and fortified bunkers. Farther out there was no evidence of the war. There are a number of rivers running to bays, and Patrick said the fishing was marvelous. There were a few scattered farmhouse compounds dating back to the pre-invasion times where the Falkland Islands Company owned virtually all the sheep farms and hired tenant farmers to work them. Later the Islands government purchased the farms and sold them to individual farmers who now own them. Unfortunately the generally lower prices of wool have badly affected their value. Now, however, the Islands make a good deal of money licensing international squid fishing vessels to allow them to take squid up to 200 miles off shore. We turned off the dirt road and went overland, opening and closing several gates in fences. The farmers give permission to small vehicles like ours, while the big tour buses remain on regular routes. We arrived at the cape area and there was probably not a single human being within 15 to 20 miles of us. The stark beauty and loneliness of the area was magnificent. The cape was inhabited by several herds of large sea lions, rock-hopper penguins and the Greater Cormorant. There was a sizeable group of sea lions, one male and his harem, sleeping close by and we got fairly close.
The penguins and cormorants were so friendly they came right up to us. Edith was able to pet a penguin chick, almost full grown in size, but covered with a downy fuzz rather than the normal feathers. These rock-hoppers got their name because of their very amusing two legged hopping gait and they are further marked with bright yellow eyelash type feathers above their eyes. The are small compared to the king and emperor penguins of the Antarctic, running about 18 inches in height. Their curiosity and fearlessness was delightful.
We had lunch and returned to Stanley. Patrick gave us a succinct but detailed portrait of the invasion. The Argentine claim to the Falklands is based on a Papal decree in the 1500s which was designed to settle colonial exploration disputes between Spain and Portugal. The Pope decreed that Portugal could have everything east of a north-south line drawn a specific distance west of the Cape Verde Islands, and Spain could explore and colonize everything west of that line. This is why Brazil is a Portuguese speaking country, while everything else in South America is Spanish. The Falklands are west of this imaginary line and thus Argentina claims them, even though their existence was unknown at the time and Argentina made only one, abandoned colonization attempt. Actually the French were there before the British, but gave up because of lack of water. The British thus became the only permanent settlers, and the Islands are completely British in makeup as well as language. Despite this, there was talk prior to 1982 of Britain ceding some control at least to Argentina, but the armed invasion ended all that. There were 75 Royal Marines comprising the only military garrison on the islands when several thousand Argentines invaded. For a while the islanders were uncertain of what would happen, but eventually the British mounted an expeditionary force consisting of Royal Marines, a Scots Guards regiment and paratroopers, all regular soldiers accustomed to meeting NATO training standards. While the Argentine conscripts fought well under their professional officer corps, they were no real match for the British pros. The Argentine missile forces sank some British Navy ships however. Of historical note, a major warship of the Argentine Navy, the cruiser General Belgrano, was sunk by the British in the first naval action of the war. This ship had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and continued to have an heroic and extremely successful wartime career in the South Pacific, earning nine battle stars and credited with participating in sinking six Japanese warships, with only one crew man lost. It sailed then as the U.S.S. Phoenix.
Prince Andrew fought in the Falklands as a Naval fighter pilot, despite the Queen’s misgivings. On the way back he evidently stopped in the Bahamas, and took some flights around there, piloted at one time by our cruise companion Norm; who is a pilot among his many accomplishments.
Patrick told us that on the occasion of the tenth anniversary off the invasion he, as one of the two civilians decorated by the queen for their service, was invited to a ceremony attended by Margaret Thatcher who had authorized the retaking of the islands. He tried to beg off but was “ordered” by Ronald Sampson to show up. He felt that Mr. Sampson had no such authority, but when his job at the station was threatened, he went to the Royal Governor. The Governor’s wife, an American who was also not enamored with Mr. Sampson’s military way of doing things, supported Patrick, he was excused from the ceremonies and his job was protected. A tempest in a small island teapot. But it is fascinating to consider the history of the islands and their people. Patrick’s daughter attended college in England. All islanders who achieve certain grades under the English educational system - “A” levels, are sent to England to college at Island Government expense. Most come back, like his daughter, who now teaches in the school. He has several grandchildren who are now sixth generation islanders. They will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the invasion very soon, and expect Lady Thatcher to show up. We stopped at a local store and then reluctantly said farewell to Patrick. If anyone reading this ever has a chance to travel to the Falklands, do so, and look up Patrick Watts. I know I have spent a lot of time on this one day visit; but this was not just a cruise tour, it was a true visit to a people and a culture at close range and with great insight. Edith and I feel we know the Falklands well.
Back on board we had an excellent dinner, a melone con proscuitto appetizer and fish for the main course. We chatted briefly with the Captain and his wife after dinner, and decided to skip the “Newlywed” game show,
10th Day - Wednesday - Sea Day
This was a quiet and relaxed day. One reason we really liked this cruise was its alternating sea and shore days. Sometimes you just like to float; and our previous day had been so adventurous that this day came as a welcome respite. There was a chat session with the singer/dancer group. They were all either American or Canadian and very nice kids. We had a lecture on our next stop, Puerto Madryn, by the cruise director, which contained some information on the fact that it was settled by Welsh colonists in the mid 1800s, but not much data on the city itself. Our buffet lunch had excellent beef roulade. Edith went to the scarf folding class, the highlight of any cruise. We were invited to a Captain’s reception. It was very crowded, and difficult to hear what was being said. After another excellent dinner we went to a classical piano concert by the magician/ pianist. He is no Emanuel Ax or Andre Watts, but a couple of the numbers were not bad and it was overall a pleasant show.
11th Day - Thursday - Puerto Madryn
The weather had turned noticeably warmer when we docked at 7:00. It requires a bus to go to town, and we waited until 9:00 since we had no definite plans. We simply walked around town for a couple of hours looking at the homes and local businesses. It is not a tourist oriented city. We had coffee at a local restaurant on the water and could see a very large “edificio” which looked like a hotel a couple of miles south down the bay. We asked about it and were told it had been started as a hotel redevelopment project with a lot of government money, but the developer either underestimated costs, or, as was suggested, siphoned the money in to other projects so the nearly completed building has never been finished or opened. I think this was a much too typical story of Argentine governmental management. We went back to the ship for lunch and returned for another short walk in the P.M. and a view of the seals that hung around some sea steps at the end of the pier.
The Cruise Director said they were bringing local talent on for a special show at 3:30. The dance group was mostly high school students, and pretty amateurish. The singers however were an a capella choral group in the great Welsh tradition of group singing. There were 11 singers, well balanced with good voices and arrangements. Altogether they were very enjoyable. Dinner was beef tournedos, which can exactly as ordered with an excellent sauce. I indulged in two very fine appetizers again, and of course soup and dessert. The show was Lindsey Hamilton, the British singer, and we enjoyed her very much for the second time.
12th Day - Friday - At Sea
This was the last sea day, and it turned a little choppy, but not enough to cause discomfort. We had the usual debarkation lecture. Edith went to Ronald Sampson’s lecture on Eva Peron, but thought he was guilty of British prejudice. There was a pleasant Captain’s Club reception before lunch, and we ate in the main dining room with Laurie and Norm. The lamb curry was excellent. Dinner was the last formal event, with lobster and the standard Baked Alaska parade routine. The show was a variety show and the best yet.
13th Day - Saturday - Montevideo
We disembarked at a pier and walked though the old town to the main business section. There are several squares, as is customary in South American cities, and some of the old architecture is striking. The main business section is pleasant enough; no hustling of tourists since most of the patrons are locals. It seems like a pleasant city, but not terribly prosperous. We went back to the ship after a quick lunch and I went into the ship’s pool for the first time. The water in the pool was warm, and the jacuzzi, as usual, was not hot enough. Dinner was okay, but I thought the lamb was a little tough.
We had sailed out of Montevideo to cross to Buenos Aires via the mouth of the River Platte. We could see a lot of brown water beneath us and felt a strong vibration. Bill, our Canadian sailor dinner companion said that this was because the mouth of the river was so shallow that the propellers pushed water into the river bed which then “bounced” back up to cause the vibration. He told us that when he made the trip on the Canadian cruiser in 1952, the Argentine pilots brought on board to bring them in to Buenos Aires harbor actually ran the ship aground. Juan Peron came out with his entourage (some carrying machine guns) to visit the ship, and when the Canadian Captain offered him a drink, he had someone in his group taste it first! Needless to say, Bill did not think much of Peron. We all exchanged addresses, went to the final short show, packed and to bed.
14th Day - Sunday - Buenos Aires
The debarkation routine was as usual. We waited in a lounge with our back packs until our color was called, and then went to the dock to pick up our bags and go to town. The Argentine immigration officials had boarded the ship earlier, I think at Puerto Madryn, and cleared everyone through. I should note that this was the first trip in which the ship had taken our passports as we boarded, and they had been returned to us in Montevideo. So the customs clearance in Buenos Aires was virtually non-existent. Then disaster struck. I was approached by a cab driver in the madhouse outside the pier. We followed him and loaded up our belongings. He was quite cheerful, and proceeded on a reasonably direct route to our hotel. However he stopped about a half block away and pointed to it up a street which was a one way street, running against us. He said he could not drive there and told us we would have to get out. We did so, and in the confusion, forgot my camera bag, with the camera and 12 rolls of film. He jumped back into the cab and sped away. Since he had insisted in loading the camera in the trunk out of the way, this was a set-up from the beginning. I honestly don’t think I minded losing the camera as much as losing our pictures. 3 months later it still bothers me.
The hotel people were sympathetic, but since we had not a cab number, there was little we could do. Be advised, only use “Radio” cabs of transportation actually arranged for by your hotel.
It was only about noon, so we decided to walk around and walk off some of our anger and upset. We went about a block to the Avenue 9 de Julio, supposedly the widest city thoroughfare in the world, with a famous obelisk in the center of town only a few blocks away. Since this was a Sunday, the streets were almost empty. We passed a couple of young girls with a small camera. Right after we went by them, they shouted that birds had gotten us with bird droppings and proceeded to try to wipe off our clothes with pieces of tissue. We could see stains on our clothes. But I put my hand on my rear pocket and realized my wallet was gone. I grabbed the nearest girl, none to gently, and told her to give it back or I would call the cops. The other girl came back and dropped my wallet at my feet. I managed to check it quickly and nothing was missing so I let the other girl go. They jumped in to a cab that just happened to be at the curb, and drove away. We went back to the hotel, where I told the clerk that “esta es un ciudad de ladrones” - “This is a city of thieves”, The stuff they had sprayed on us seemed to be a mixture of water and mustard, and while Edith was concerned that our clothes were ruined; we did get everything out in the laundry back home.
We called some cruise companions, Cassandra and Bill who were from Oro Valley, near Tucson, since we had agreed to meet earlier. They suggested we join them for a City tour, and as it was only about 2:00 by then, we did so. The four of us boarded a bus at their mid-city hotel as the first passengers, and then arrived at the large Sheraton near the dock area. There a large number of people got on, including Mary Ann and Nancy, our dinner companions. They were very sympathetic about our camera loss and also said the hotel had warned them about this scam run by “the cleaners” as these girls are called. The tour was quite extensive for the very moderate cost, although a little warm. We did see a lot of the closer in barrios, and ended up in the somewhat swanky “Recoleta” neighborhood. Unfortunately we could not visit Eva Peron’s grave in the Recoleta Cemetery as it closed at 4:00 on Sundays. After we returned to the hotel, we had dinner at no charge, I am not sure why, maybe because of our difficult arrival. The hotel, The Cambremon, is a fairly new, comfortable, business oriented and relatively small hotel in the commercial district. If someone is staying in Buenos Aires with a weekday arrival and departure, I am sure there would be none of the problems we had.
15th Day - Monday - Buenos Aires