While enjoying lunch on the uppper deck, we spot our first iceberg. We are cruising in the South Shetland Islands, off the Bransfield Strait.
First landing on our trip is on Halfmoon Island. The lonely structures are the remnants of an Argentine research base. This is our first look at the chinstrap penguins with a few scattered seals on the ice.
The sounds of rain wake us at 5:30 and the sun is bright since a 4 AM sunrise. We enjoy the rare phenomena of the “Drake Lake”, a calm crossing for this historical turbulent waters. We spend the day becoming educated regarding ship protocols, biodiversity, geology, landing instructions, photography tips, food, food, food. Tonight we cross the Antarctic Convergence Zone, the zone in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica, roughly around latitude 55 degrees S where the cold waters of the Antarctic circumpolar current meet and mingle with warmer waters to the north. This creates the biodiversity observed in this region.
Early 5 AM, we wake up to a quick breakfast and bus trip to the domestic airport for our flight down the coast to Ushuaia. The weather was mild and sunny on the way down until we reach our destination. It is cooler and cloudy. Upon arrival we are bused down to Parque National Tierra Del Fuego in which the highway dead ends at the tip South America. Here we walk through a forest area to the water’s edge and jump on a catamaran for lunch and deposit at the dock where our ship, Explorer, awaits.
Parked in front of the Explorer is a Hurtigerten boat preparing for it Antarctica departure. Our crew is ready to go at 5 when we arrive and we are whisked to our cabin where our luggage was earlier deposited. Our parkas are in the room and the other rental gear, boots, poles, wind pants, are waiting for us downstairs in the mud room. The ship is well appointed and quite comfortable. It is staffed with plenty of naturalists, photographers, doctors, every one you need for a well planned down-under excursion.
A visit to the open bridge introduces us to the technology and the paper maps that are still used to make this journey. Every plan is made with the weather in mind – so it is projected to be a calm Drake’s passage.
Our departure is delayed for someone’s missing luggage; however, we leave at around 10:30 pm to calm seas and light winds. It is still daylight when we go to bed at 11.
This day our expedition group will start to arrive. We sleep late and make it to brunch before setting out on any discoveries. At 2, we jump into a city tour with National Geographic and visit some of the same sites we experienced in our last visit. As usual, there is protesting taking place -today at the Pink House – so the area around the square is closed to all vehicular travel. We do a drive-by and continue on to the Recoleta Necropolis for a quick tour of the Evita Peron tomb, etc. Much of our time is spent manipulating around the city one-way streets.
We motor over to San Telmo/La Boca area to compare the growth of tourism in this poor neighborhood. The Junior Soccer stadium borders this area with a 40,000 game population potential. Unfortunately, the number of tourist shops has increased without an increase/upgrade in quality of substance, housing, etc.
Of note in this trip is the ongoing reminder regarding security concerns. Ever since our check-in at the hotel and receipt of the Lindblad/NatGeo materials, we have been made aware of the need for heightened mindfulness in all public places. Cameras must be held close and purses/wallets are prey for thieves walking or by vehicle. Very different prospective from our initial trip to BA. However, the country suffers from a 30% poverty rate.
Following a cocktail party hosted by Lindblad, we jump into a cab for dinner in Puerto Madero, the gentrified wharf-district barrio, that has been given over to high rise residential smart buildings, boutique restaurants, nightclubs, etc. As early as 1998, the city elected to name the streets after women. The Parrillas, steakhouse, is a repeat occasion for us. It didn’t disappoint although this time we chose not to order our beef so that it is hanging over the sides of a plate.
Beautiful blue skies and 80 degrees. The city woke up and so did we. Following breakfast, we do what every red-blooded suburbanite does, we go to the mall. But this not an ordinary nondescript box for shops, the Galerias Pacifico is a beautiful Parisian (Bon Marche aspiration) inspired all-in-one emporium built in 1889 by Seeber and Bunge,architects. The building was taken over by the state railroad at one point with offices on the top floor. Over time it has undergone a remodel in 1945 at which time a series of frescos by Argentinian muralists were added to the central cupola. In 1990s another major makeover was completed to accommodate its current mall function as well as the Centre Cultural Borges art center.
Across the street from the Galerias is the Centre Naval, a beaux-arts building of 1914 complementing the naval profession with its ornate doors and architecture.
Along side of the Galerias is Calle Florida with its 10 blocks of uninterrupted shops, street peddlers, tango dancers and other misc entertainment.
Feeling like a need for more quiet, we walk over to Recoleta for coffee at the Park Hyatt. It’s gardens are beautifully landscaped and perfect for a slow morning break. Our lunch ended up as street food off of the July 9th Boulevard where the police were massing to clear out the latest protests.
At 2PM, we move to El Querandi, a cafe, restaurant and theater. We arrive for our tango lesson upstairs in a large studio area. We were worn out after an hour but ready to return in the evening for dinner and the fabulous tango show. We were in the front row for the dancers. It was fun to see the costumes, hear the music, and see the tango moves from a historical perspective.
We are getting ready to leave on Christmas Eve. W For this adventure, we even bought a scale so that we would meet the weight limitations on our flight to Ushuaia. Actually it was to relieve my stress level.
We arrive in Buenos Aires (BA) on the morning of the 25th; however immigration took a big chunk of time. It was shockingly warm when left the arrival hall. Fortunately our room at Alvear Art was ready so we cleaned up and went exploring. The city was very quiet with most shops and restaurants closed. We were greeted by some wayward Santa’s helpers, horses in this heat, along the way.
Dinner was a cross between Italian and Argentinian. Now for some real sleep.
We have an early start in the Summer Palace. Even at 7 AM there are tours lining up and people exercising, dancing, and walking throughout the grounds. The air is cool and it is noteably quieter without the crowds. We head over to the long corridor and the marble boat. Then we hike up the back of the hill to take in the view of the lake.
As we wander back, we discover a small lake and tea area that abuts the Aman grounds. Tucked away, one has to wander in that direction in order to discover it.
Late morning, we head out to the 798 ArtZone. As it has been some 12 years since Jon has visited it, needless to say it has grown tremendously. It is a very interesting use of an old warehouse district. Although it originally was occupied by working artists, it has now morphed into gallery’s, coffee shops, more coffee shops, retail and car (Audi) offices. Gone are the working artisans per se.
After spending the afternoon there, we returned to the hotel to read until our Chinese dinner. The Aman manager has been enlighting us on the hotel history, food, etc.