On a grand voyage of 74 days there is simply too much to cover in one post. This post will share some images and experiences of the first half of our journey from Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires.
Ocho Rios Jamaica. We had visited many years prior and so we felt no need for a tour or anything more than a walk around town. The town seems to be struggling now perhaps due to the pandemic. We had jerk chicken in a nice bar and enjoyed people watching.
Puerto Limon Costa Rica. Here again we felt no great need for a high priced Holland America excursion but found a Trip Advisor recommended company on the pier offering a reasonably priced tour which included a boat ride on the Tortuguero Canal. We saw birds, monkeys, sloths, alligators and other lizards. It was fun.
Cruising the Panama Canal. The canal always involves an early start, this time 5am! The captain opened up the bow deck so we could all see the sunrise as we entered the first lock at Gatun. It is exciting to traverse the famed canal. There is so much ship traffic and this time we were accompanied by our sister ship Zuiderdam on her cruise around the world. It was extremely hot and humid. So hot our phones stopped working. After the all day transit of the canal we docked at the new cruise terminal at Fuerte Amador Panama. The next day we grabbed a taxi/walking tour of the modern big city of Panama City as well as the old town, Casco Viejo. From here we head south along the west coast of South America crossing the Equator.
Manta Ecuador. The tuna capital of the world, Manta is home to many expats due to the pleasant climate and low cost of living. The official currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar. The cruise terminal had nice crafts and folk dancers. We bought a Panama hat (they are made in Ecuador) and a beautiful embroidered ladies top.
Callao (Lima) Peru. At the time of our visit Peru was experiencing political turmoil and there was a possibility we would not be able to dock in Callao, Lima’s port city. We docked without incident for 3 days and 2 nights which allowed some guests to take overnight excursions to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu. A local craft market setup on the pier and we found beautiful Alpaca yarn and sweaters as well as jewelry and other gifts. Our travel agent Cruise Specialists provided a complimentary tour of Lima Then and Now. The first stop in the center of old Lima was Casa Solariega de Aliaga Lima’s oldest house. The original owner was one of the early conquistadors from Spain and the home has been in the same family since. After a walking tour where we saw the Presidential Palace, City Hall and Cathedral we traveled to a 60 year old mansion Casa Luna in the exclusive San Isidro neighborhood. The home while still lived in had museum quality collections of nativity scenes from all over Peru and the world. They served Pisco Punch a local favorite alcoholic beverage. There was heightened security but no disturbances while we were in Lima. Since the port of Callao is an area of poverty and street crime the cruise line offered a free shuttle bus to a good area to tour. Here we visited Miraflores, an upscale suburb with many craft markets and the 2000 year old site of Huaca Pucclana. We had a great tour of this amazing archeological site built 14 civilizations before the Inca. It is a very large pyramid structure built of vertical adobe bricks. One reason the site is so well preserved is that Peru is a very dry place. We learned it had not rained in Lime since 1972! There is plenty of water though due to rivers from the Andes. Afterwards we enjoyed a lunch of Peruvian cuisine at the adjacent restaurant. The craft vendors on the pier had great deals on Alpaca yarn and sweaters. Our cruise continued to General San Martin which is a port city near Paracas and Pisco Peru. We had hoped to visit the Tambo Colorado archeological site but it was closed for restorative work. This is also the area of the mysterious Nazca Lines and we good a good look at the Paracas Candleabra from the ship. This geoglyph was carved 2 feet into the hillside, stands 600 feet tall and has been dated to 200 BC. The meaning and purpose of the site remain a mystery.
Coquimbo Chile. Coquimbo was a port city adjacent to La Serena, the second oldest city in Chile. Its a popular vacation destination for Chileans and Argentinians. We hired a taxi and toured the Museo Arceologico and enjoyed the colonial architecture of this old place with its churches, civic buildings, street music, empanadas and beautiful lighthouse.
San Antonio Chile. San Antonio is the major port for the Chilean capital of Santiago. Santiago is a huge city and with the traffic it is no longer possible to do a day excursion from San Antonio. Instead we took a HAL tour to Valparaiso another busy port. The tour was lackluster other than a funicular ride up the hill to a good restaurant. We could see a Princess ship in the harbor there unable to dock to to the Pacific Ocean swells. Our own ship docked in San Antonio hired 2 tugboats (at a cost of $100,000) to push us against the pier all day because of the swells.
Isla Robinson Crusoe Chile. Located over 400 miles west of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean. From 1704 to 1709, the island was home to the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, who at least partially inspired novelist Daniel Defoe‘s fictional Robinson Crusoe in his 1719 novel. It is a rugged island where we hiked to the top of a mountain. We also explored caves formerly inhabited by political prisoners. Our departure was delayed several hours when a passenger had to be medically evacuated from the island to a hospital in Chile.
Puerto Montt Chile. Our first stop in southern Chile was established by German colonists during the 1850s and still has many German restaurants and shops. We took a local bus to the resort town of Puerto Varas in the lake district inland surrounded by active volcanos. This was a very nice area. Puerto Montt had the great Angelmo craft and seafood market and is the second largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. Our ship’s chef picked up salmon for some great dinners on board.
Puerto Chacabuco Chile. This place felt like an outpost in the Alaskan panhandle. Rainforest all around, we enjoyed a hike where we learned about local flora and enjoyed a rustic lodge feast of barbeque lamb and local wines.
Cruising Chilean Fjords. Here the captain took our big ship up close to the many glaciers in the Patagonian district of Chile. We got close to Fjordo Glacier and El Brujo Glacier.
Punta Arenas Chile. This was one of our favorite stops in Chile. Much of the history of exploring Antarctica started in Punta Arenas. Fortunes were made here in sheep and wool. We had hoped to take a local boat to Isla Magdalena to see a penguin colony but the winds were so high no boats went out that day. Instead we walked to Plaza de Armas, Magallanes Regional Museum, the Sara Braun house, the Borgatello Museum, cemetery and sheep monument.
Ushuaia Argentina. After cruising glacier alley and the Beagle Channel we arrived at another outpost known as the southern-most city in the world. It was once a penal colony and we toured the former prison turned museum. The harbor here was teeming with expedition ships making their last port before Antarctica. We enjoyed Submarinos (hot milk with chocolate sticks) at Laguna Negro cafe. The hokey Train Trolley gave us a nice tour around town although we wished we could have been riding the “Train at the End of the World” tourist train. This was a rare South American tourist town where English was widely spoken. The Argentine Peso is a story in itself. The official exchange rate was 185ARP per dollar but on the street we received 350ARP/USD. Credit cards were a little scary but at least our cards gave us a good rate.
Cruising Cape Horn and crossing the Drake Passage. Leaving we passed Cape Horn in rough seas. We crossed 60 degrees south latitude. On board entertainment featured Duo Siqueira Lima a classical guitar husband and wife duo who wowed us with their skill and stage presence. Our crossing the Drake Passage was as good as we could expect.
Antarctica. This was one of the main attractions for taking this cruise and while it wasn’t quite what we expected it was spectacular and memorable. We had 3 scientists and 2 ice pilots on board for all our days there. We had a 6am start for our first day in Antarctica. It was cold and foggy which then turned into cold and snow and wind. Cruising Dallman Bay and Paradise Bay we saw some humpback whales bubble feeding, gentoo penguins and orcas but not as many as we had hoped. The crew had fun building snowmen on the pool deck. By the end of the day ice conditions caused us to abort Lemaire Channel but we did get to see Palmer Station, the US research station. The second day we cruised Neumeyer Channel, Wilhelmina Bay and Errera Channel where we heard singing whales saw lots of cute Adelie penguins. The third day we headed to Hope Bay to see whales but the ice again blocked our way. We had to turn around in winds that had picked up to 100 mph! This caused a great listing of the ship, dishes crashing and anxiety among passengers. No one was seriously hurt because the Captain had sternly warned all to SIT DOWN. It was memorable. The fourth day we visited Deception Island, a volcanic caldera which is home to over 100,000 chinstrap penguins. We saw lots of icebergs and calving glaciers. At this point the weather was deteriorating with one low pressure storm after another. The captain regretfully cancelled our stop in the Falkland Islands, there was no way with 40 knot winds and we had to time our passage back across the Drake Passage to miss the worst of it. We still had the roughest seas of the cruise with waves up to 40 feet top to bottom and regularly hitting deck 3. It was exciting.
Puerto Madryn Argentina. This is where we got up close to the Magellinic penguins. The Tombo Preserve here is home to thousands of penguins rearing their young. These penguins live in ground burrows and stand about 2 feet tall and weigh about 8 to 14 pounds. They are totally unafraid of humans and wander freely around the tourists. Don’t get too close though, they have wicked beaks. We also saw the unique guanaco, a wild llama like mammal. This is also the area where orcas are seen snatching dinner off the beach. Lots of wildlife here.
Punta del Este Uruguay. This was a summer resort town for the middle and upper classes. Nice beaches, hotels, restaurants. Many yachts. Very clean, very safe.
Montevideo Uruguay. Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and a very nice historic city. We enjoyed the architecture, plazas and just walking around. We felt like we could live in Uruguay.
Buenos Aires Argentina. Buenos Aires was the end of the cruise for many and the beginning for some just joining us. It is a huge city of over 15 million. Again since the port area was not the best, HAL offered a shuttle to the center of the city. We saw churches, monuments, the clock tower, a railroad museum and a shopping mall with great frescoes on curved ceilings. A HAL tour showed us Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried and the El Ateneo bookstore/cafe built in a former opera house. As we were staying overnight we were able to attend a tango show at one of BAs tango cafes. It was spectacular with 10 dancers 2 singers and a live band. The next day we took a hop on hop off bus tour where we saw different neighborhoods. La Boca neighborhood was especially lively with colorful shops, restaurants, impromptu tango dancers and 3 dimensional street art.
At this point of our cruise we began to feel part of a community. We were accustomed to life at sea. Our daily life had settled into comfortable patterns which we enjoyed. New guests arriving gave us some pause as we wondered how they would fit in. We were excited about the next chapters.