cruise wrapup part ii

I’ve been back in Decorah for less than 24 hours, its been a little more than 48 hours since we got off the cruise ship in Valparaiso. It was great to get a good nights sleep last night after having an overnight flight from Santiago to Dallas. Boy do I wish I could sleep on airplanes.

The Celebrity debarkation process was about as painless as you could make it. We woke up, showered and dressed, got some coffee at the Cova Cafe, checked our email one last time, and then walked off the ship. Like Buenos Aires, the port in Valparaiso is not really designed for cruise ships, so we got off the ship and then took a bus through the containers to the actual terminal. We found our luggage right away and realized that this process was so efficient we still had about 45 minutes to wait before our guide, Mac, from La Bicicleta Verde It was a little odd this morning because Chile was supposed to go off daylight savings time at the same time the US was supposed to go on daylight savings.  So, in one day we would go from being 3 hours ahead of home to just one hour.  Strangely the government of chile decided at the last minute not to go off daylight savings time, so some people were really off.  Mac showed up just after 9:00, and we got our tour underway.  We started by exploring the hills of Valparaiso.  Its an old shipping town, started when Nitrates were a big natural commodity that was shipped out of here.  Before the Canal, and before artificial nitrates had been invented.  So there are many beautiful old shipping houses owned by the british that have been converted into small hotels.  Here you can see one last view of our ship from the hills:

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We continued on past the first Lutheran Church in Valparaiso, and then had to avoid a pack of street dogs.  All chilean cities are full of street animals that are well feed and mostly well behaved.  The problem this morning was there was one female in heat and four males that were trying to get her attention.  Things got a little violent, so we headed off in the opposite direction hoping to lose the pack.

Mac told us that the day before this whole area of the city had been without power.  Now as you can see from this picture Valparaiso has a very modern system of electrical distribution:

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We were told that whenever there is a power loss, rather than trying to untangle the mass of wires and fix the problem, they simply find an area of the city that has power and then run a new wire to the blacked out area from there.

After the hill tour we headed down the coastline to visit some of the beautiful coastal towns, suchas Vina del Mar.  This would be an awesome place to come back and visit on a land tour.  The beaches are spectacular, and there are some really awesome restaurants looking right out over the water.  Mac got us number one at the most popular restaurant along this stretch.  People literally line up outside this restaurant waiting for a table.  Something that is unheard of in Chile.  We started off with a couple of apetizers:  Machas ala parmesan (razor clams smothered in a parmesan cream sauce.)  The only way to sum up this dish is:  To Die For!  We also had Camerones pil pil (little shrimp scampi).  Then for the main course we had freshly prepared fish.  They have about 7 different kinds of fish on the menu, each one with several different preparations.  I had Albacora (swordfish) grilled, and Jane had the Corvina (chilean sea bass) also grilled.  We had a side of Arroz and thought we were in heaven.  What a great last meal of the trip.  Oh, lest I forget , I also had my first Pisco Sour.  Pisco Sour is a great chilean drink made of a distilled wine (kind of like brandy) served with lime juice and simple syrup.  Just one please!

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After our delicious lunch we headed out to wine country.  The Casablanca valley is between Valparaiso and Santiago.  We stopped at the Emiliana Organic Vineyards, for a wine tasting and a walk around the vineyards.  We had a great wine steward, named Joshua, who served us samples of their premium Emiliana Adobe line.  This is sold in the United States under the Emiliana Natura label because of  a trademark dispute with the Adobe software company.  Please lawyers find something more productive to do with your time.  The highlight was their Gewurtztraminer, its not nearly as sweet as the German Gewurtztraminers and was very refreshing.  In addition to being organic they also practice Biodynamics (you’ll have to look it up).  This sounds like a lot of hokum to me, but you can’t argue with the results.

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Finally, what trip would be complete without some cute animals.  The vineyard also raises Alpacas, which we learned are part of the Camel family.

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With the vineyard tour over, our last stop was the Santiago airport.  We had lots of time to kill, since we got there about 5pm and our flight wasn’t supposed to leave until 10:05.  Of course at 5:00 the American Airlines counters were not even open yet. Then at 6:00 when they opened it was a mad house.  hundreds of tired cruisers all anxious to get home, and all accustomed to being pampered for two weeks were now forced to stand in extremely long lines like so many commoners.  It was not pretty.  An interesting thing about flying out of Santiago is that all the outgoing flights leave in the evening, this is partly because you want to time your flight to get in to the states at a decent hour of the morning.  Say 6:00 AM or so.  But all the incoming flights get in to Santiago at 7 or 8 in the morning anyway, so why not have an outbound flight at 10AM?  By Chilean law, all outbound flights must have a complete mechanical inspection within 12 hours of their flight by a Chilean mechanical team.  The reason for this law dates back to 1972 when the Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.  The Chilean legislature wanted to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again so they passed this inspection law.  The result is that the flights that leave in the evening are never delayed for mechanical reasons, because they’ve had all day to inspect and fix everything.  Nice, makes you feel safe.

Well, that brings us as far as our last flights, which were pretty uneventful.  A bit of turbulence somewhere between Santiago and Dallas is about the only thing worth mentioning.  This was an awesome trip.  Thanks again to all the great new friends we made on board the ship for making it a fun time!


cruise wrapup part i

Its the last day aboard ship, and it has been a day of mixed emotions. We are excited to get back to our friends and family in Decorah, yet we have had so much fun on this cruise, and we have actually met some great people as well. Some of these people get to stay on the ship for the next leg of the cruise and as we think about our long day tomorrow and our overnight flight we are a bit jealous that we don’t get to go through the Panama canal, and then fly home from Fort Lauderdale. I’m amazed that I could even consider staying onboard for another two weeks, but we’ve learned that its really all about pacing (note to self, next time do not buy the unlimited drinks package.)

The cruise critic message boards really provide a great service. Not only can you find good reviews and recommendations of the non-ship excursions, but we’ve met a lot of fun people, and have been able to enjoy excursions with people that we met online prior to the cruise. So to Carol and Mike, and Carol and Ralph, and Scott and Gai, and Kristine and Craig (our aussie friends)… Thanks!! To Jonathan and Nancy and Jo, we look forward to the final Martini rankings, Aloha! And to Shila and Yogi, Kim and Rico, Rachel and Howie, thanks again for the fun dinners! Hopefully we’ll cross paths with some of you again on a future cruise.

So, where have we been? Here’s the super-fast summary of our travels:

Decorah to MSP with Jenkins, Thanks for the ride guys!

MSP to Dallas

Dallas to EZE (Buenos Aires) cross town transfer to Jorge Newberry and then on to Iguazu

Two fantastic days at Iguazu falls. If you are looking at this cruise or planning a trip to South America, do not skip Iguazu. The views are fantastic.

Iguazu back to BA and on to the ship!

BA to Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo to Punta del Este

Punta del Este to Puerto Madryn – Desert like climate but great penguins and sea lions.

Puerto Madryn to Cape Horn and the Ushuaia (Ushuaia gets my vote for favorite city of the trip) Its the southernmost city of the world, and the hiking and views on our hike in Tierra del Fuego national park were just phenomenal!

Ushuaia to Punta Arenas… OK, but not that spectacular. If you haven’t seen penguins by now, you should definitely do the trip here to see the penguins.

Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt. The port area is not spectacular, but once you get out into the country or to one of the other smaller neighboring cities its great. Beautiful scenery…. second favorite city. Of course the zip line ride really made this stop worthwhile.

Puerto Montt to Valparaiso to Santiago

Santiago to Dallas

Dallas to MSP

Ride home with Sandy Larsen! Wow gone 16 days and no parking charges at the airport!

Other stuff:

While on board, we used up 435 minutes of internet time.

We drank 2 bottles of wine :-) or more…

Jane won $700 at the craps table

We really enjoyed many of the shows onboard the Celebrity Infinity! We had become pretty much jaded about cruise line entertainment, but the quality here was really high. I missed having a magic show, but the music was mostly really great, except for the aging former Argentine star, who just doesn’t realize its time to hang it up. When you are on a cruise ship and you have to start your show with a video about how great you used to be, that is not a good sign! Travis, from Nebraska, you rock. The a cappella group top shelf was great too. It was hard to listen to this recently graduated group of young guys without thinking about Kaia’s future as a musical performer.

No summary would be complete without some room pictures, so here are a few pics of our Celebrity Suite. This suite will be redone when the ship is Solticized in November, but we thought it was perfect for this cruise. Not only was the room spectacular, but our Butler, Teguh, was the most Amazing person. No job was too big or too small, he really made our cruise seamless. From sneaking into the room before I was awake every morning so that my coffee was hot and fresh on the table, to organizing a part for 20 in our room one night. He was the best!

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Jane says I can type and read at the airport tomorrow, so I think its time to get dressed for dinner one last time!

tsunami warning!

This is weird, but I woke up this morning wondering about the question:  ”what are the ships procedures in case of a Tsunami?”  Would we head for the open sea and ride out the giant fast moving swell there, or would we seek safe haven in a harbor of some kind.  Then, when Jane checked her email and the news she told me about the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan, and the Tsunami warning issued for the entire Pacific Ocean.  I didn’t really give it much thought, because after all we are a LONG way away from Japan.  However, when we were in the tour bus this morning, our guide told us that they were evacuating Easter Island and some of the other Chilean Islands.  OK, maybe this is more serious than we thought.  Now I was thinking what kind of damage could be done to the harbor in Valparaiso?  Will the tsunami have an impact on our trip home?  When we returned from touring we noticed that they were essentially evacuating the harbor, all of the ships we already towed out or in the process of being moved out of the harbor to more open water.  Score one for the open water solution.

As far as we know, this is not going to have a big impact on our trip. Out at sea, the tsunami is nothing but a big swell that we would ride up and over like any other large swell.  Its only when it gets toward land that it becomes the giant wall of water you see on the news. The captain is going about business as usual and we are on our way out of the harbor at Puerto Montt as I write this.  We have about 650 nautical miles from here to Valparaiso, and tomorrow we will spend a relaxing last day at sea.  If we were the tsunami, we would be able to get there in just a little over an hour!  According to news reports the wave traveled from japan toward Hawaii and the west coast of the US at over 500 mph.  The pictures of Japan on the news are just unbelievable, but again it appears that distance will sufficiently weaken the tsunami to the point where we will not be affected at all.

So, lets turn our attention to our fabulous day here in Puerto Montt!  We got to check off a bucket list item today.  What could that be you ask?   Zip Lining!  The highlight of todays tour was going to the top of a volcano, and then riding a series of zip lines to the bottom.  When we arrived on the pier this morning it was quite overcast and the owner of the tour company warned us that with the rain from last night and the wind today we might be out of luck.  But we took off in our little bus and headed for Lago Llanguihue, this is a huge vacation lake that sits below the volcanoes.  And when we arrived at the base of the ski lift on the volcano it appeared that we might in fact be out of luck.  Here’s a view of what the side of the volcano/ski area looked like:

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We were clearly in and above the cloud line, and it was really eerie to see the wisps of clouds, that looked like steam rising from the dark sides of the volcano.  Our guide told us that we would not be allowed to go because of the wind.  So, we just hung out for a while looking at the clouds and suddenly we noticed that the sky towards the top was starting to clear.  Suddenly the chair lift even started running.  Our guide came out and said OK team lets head down and we’ll go into Puerto Vargassafsf for some shopping and a nice lunch.  Wait!  a couple of the women (including jane) said.  Can’t we at least ride up the chair lift?  Of course I’m thinking you guys are mad, why would we want to ride higher up into the clouds to just see more clouds.  So our guide told us to wait and she would check.  Miraculously, now the ‘experts’ were out checking the zip lines to see if they were safe.  The verdict came back that it was safe, so a few of us decided to follow the original plan and go for it.

When we reached the top of the ski lift we were treated to the following view:

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Clearly you can see the clouds had dissipated and we had a fantastic view of the top of the volcano, and its glacier.  It took us a few minutes, as the guy working at the top of the lift did not speak any english, but we eventually located our zip lining guides.  They got us into our harnesses and led us to the top of the launching pad for our very brief (10 seconds?) safety briefing.

Him:   hold

Me:  Si

Him:  break

Me: Si

Him:  No touch the cable, only here and the break

Me:  Si

And off you go!

Here’s Jane and our friend Scott before we got our helmets.  Those harnesses are certainly stylish.

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And now here’s Jane on her first run of the day.  Yes kids thats your mother hanging by a thread from a long thin piece of cable..  Don’t worry she’s having the time of her life.

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And now here’s one of me coming in for a landing after our longest ride.  The span of this ride was 600 meters!  The total ride time was about 38 seconds which means our average speed was 15.78 meters/second or about 35 mph.

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In all, we got to go on four different runs, each was great and very exhilarating.  We had an adrenaline rush for a good hour after we were all done, talking excitedly in the bus all the way back down the volcano.  A great day and a lot of fun.  Can’t wait to try it again sometime!


on the high seas

We are sitting here having our morning coffee and hot chocolate watching the waves crash and roll.  We left the Straits of Magellan sometime in the middle of the night and entered the Pacific Ocean, where we have high winds and, as the captain says, “Big Waves.”  I took some video looking out our window, but I’m not sure you can get the real sense of how much we are rocking and rolling.  I’ll post the video when we have a faster internet connection.  Meanwhile I just walked down the stairs to the Cova Cafe to get some of their great little croissants for breakfast, and I noticed that the crew has strategically placed barf bags along the stairwells and in other places.  According to the captain, who just updated us, we are experiencing winds at 50-60 knots with gusts of 70 knots.  In addition the waves are 15-20 feet high.

I just got back from the workout room.  walking up the stairs was quite an adventure.  At times I felt like I was floating up two to three stairs at a time, and at other times, I felt like I was carrying an elephant on my back as I was trying to go up a single stair.  Bootcamp was postponed this morning due to the high seas.  I decided to go ahead on run on the elliptical, which was kind of fun with all the dipping and plunging the ship was doing.

We will be at sea today, and tomorrow, although later today and all of tomorrow we will be cruising through the Chilean Fjords. The Fjords will be much calmer than the open ocean.  I’m not sure whether or not to even attempt to go to bootcamp workout in these high waves.

Yesterday we were in Punta Arenas.  It was our first stop in Chile.  We did not do any kind of excursion or tour.  We just took the tender to shore and walked around the town a bit.  There was a nice park square with trees, and a statue of Magellan, and handicrafts.  Apparently you are supposed to kiss the toe of Magellan and you will come back again, but with the crew having you sanitize your hands every five minutes, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kiss the toe of a statue and share the germs of a hundred other travelers that way!

While we were in town we found an internet cafe, where for the price of a cup of coffee we could get all the free internet we wanted.  It was nice to have some high speed internet for a change.

We just got back from a tour of the bridge.  It was very interesting and one of the officers confirmed that the wind was very strong this morning.  He said the maximum gust was 99 knots.  Thats about 113 mph for you non-nautical types.  So what do you do when you have a twelve story floating building and the wind is blowing against one side of the building at 113 mph?  Several things, it turns out.  The ship has stabilizers that can be deployed to counteract the forces of the wind.  These protrude out of the ship under the water at an angle like long wings that are under the water.  In addition there is water ballast that can be pumped from one side of the ship to the other to counteract the wind and the seas.  So when you consider that we had a strong current, 15 foot waves, and strong winds gusting to over 100 mph its amazing how little rocking and rolling the ship actually did.

Here are a couple of photos I snapped while we were on the bridge:

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Since we are back we are also getting ready to host a little party in our room for some of the people we’ve met on board.  The party will start here, and then we’ll also visit some of the rooms and suites that others have.  This is a great way to see what kind of room you might like to have the next time you come on board.  Here’s a shot that I took on the balcony of our friends Jonathan and Nancy.

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Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world.  It is in the Patagonia region, and the Tierra Del Fuego province of Argentina.  Thats a lot of geographical trivia for you in one statement.  Another fun fact about Ushuaia is that the Pan American Highway comes to an end here.  You can see Jane and I standing by the sign marking the southern end of the highway.  It doesn’t look like much of a highway at this point since it is gravel, but nevertheless you could get on this road and start riding and 17,848 km later you would find yourself in Alaska.  Now that would be a bike ride.

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Although Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world we are not as far south as you might imagine our latitude is only as far south as Washington DC is north, so there are no issues with permafrost or any of the other problems that plague the far north cities.  Interestingly though, there are glaciers very near the city, and we cruised by them and hiked near them today.  Ushuaia is located on the Beagle channel.  This is the channel that the famous ship carrying Charles Darwin discovered.

Our day in Ushuaia was full of hiking with people we’ve met from Cruise Critic.  There were 11 of us that had joined in a private tour with Christine and Craig from Australia.  Our driver and guide, Edgar, was very pleasant, and knowledgeable.  He stayed awake the entire trip!  He hiked with us and pointed out interesting plants and things along the way.  Our main hiking was in the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Here are a couple of photos to give you an idea of how pretty it was.  Jane and I are going to try to find an Internet Cafe in Punta Arenas so hopefully with some speedier connectivity I can get some larger versions uploaded to Flickr.

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One of the interesting things I discovered on the hike was how similar this area is compared to northern minnesota.  Its striking how the effects of the glaciers leave exactly the same marks even though we are in completely different parts of the world.  In some places you would think you were on the shores of lake superior instead of standing next to the Beagle Channel.

After hiking in the national park all morning, we got in the van and drove to the ski area above the city.  Here we were able to take a ski lift up the mountain to another hiking area.  If we had more time we could have continued to hike up the mountain to the glacier.  Sadly, the hike was too long and we didn’t want to miss the ship!  While we were doing a short hike at the top of the lift we were lucky enough to see an Albatross soaring in the sky.  These birds are huge, with wingspans of up to 3.5 meters!  Sadly it was too far away to get a decent picture.

Here’s a shot of the view on the way down the ski lift.

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And here you can see our ship on the pier with the city in the foreground.

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So far I would say that Ushuaia is my favorite city of the cruise.

my name is ferdinand and i'll be your waiter

We have great table mates this cruise!  Kim and Rico from Houston, Shyla and Yogi from Ohio, and Rachel and Howard from New Jersey.  We look forward to sharing stories of our day with them each night at the late seating.  This is worth remarking on because we have seldom had good luck with our dinner companions.  From the guy from Hutchinson who kept asking me “you gonna eat that?” to Marge (not sure thats her real name) from Jersey (definitely sure she was from Jersey)  who complained every night.  Here’s a sample of one conversation:
Marge:  They never have any good soup on this cruise!
Brad: What kind of soup do you like?
Marge: Cream of Mushroom
Brad:  Well, we had that last night
Marge (exasperated): But I didn’t order it last night!
This sort of luck has continued for us cruise after cruise, until this one.   Except for the cruises we have taken with our great friends Brian and Holly!  Anyway since it is just the two of us on this trip, we are grateful for the companionship.  Now lest you think this post is going to be about dinner and our waiter, I’m going to shift gears and tell you about our day.  We were in Puerto Madryn, but the excursion we had planned was a trip to the Valdez Peninsula.  This was an excursion that we booked outside the ship through Forastero Tours.
We were among the first 20 people off the ship this morning, wanting to get ahead of all the big tour busses that were heading the same place we were.  We met our guide and driver on the pier and hopped in their car.  Our guide introduced himself – I’m not going to tell you his name, because I’m convinced he will be an excellent tour guide someday and I don’t want what I’m about to relate to you to harm him in any way – and proceeded to tell us that this was his first time leading a tour, and that he was still studying for his certification as a guide.  He also hoped his english was good – it was passable.  The next thing he should have said was, “so you’re in luck, your tour today will be half price!”  But that isn’t what he said.  In fact he didn’t say all that much, period.  He did tell us that there are four main economic industries in Puerto Madryn, The Aluminum factory is number one, something, something, and then tourism.
Now, its a long drive from the port to our destination on Peninsula Valdez, about 169km in fact.  The other interesting factoid about this part of the world is that the ecology around Peurto Madryn is steppe or steppe-like?  A large unforrested region of grassland.  This was a combination of small shrubs and sand.  In other words there is really nothing interesting to see on this drive, except for the occasional Guarananca or Piche – but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Well, not really, there were two destinations for todays trip.  First, the San Lorenzo Penguin Colony, and second Punta Norte Sea Lion and Elephant Seal colonies.  Oh yeah, the last 76km to the Punta Norte are on gravel road.
So after riding most of the way in silence, we are approaching the Penguin colony and our guide says.  “In a few moments we will be at the penguin colony, here is a penguin”  At which point he pulls out a picture of a penguin.  He continues:  “Penguins are black and white, with a white band up here (pointing to the white band on their head) and a black band here (pointing to the black band).  I think both Jane and I were struggling to keep a straight face at this point, but one of us managed to say “interesting.”  Of course what he didn’t know is that this was “interesting” in the Iowa/Minnesota sense of the word.  Here concludes the fascinating section of the commentary on penguins.  To summarize:  They are black and white and have two bands.
Let me add a bit more detail that I learned on my own, and from the lecture given by the naturalist on board the Infinity…  The penguins that we were about to see are called Magellanic Penguins, named for Magellan who sailed these parts back in the late 1500’s.  Maybe now you are getting a sense for the title of this post? Ferdinand?  Ferdinand?  anyone? anyone?  Yes, Ferdinand Magellan!  I’m so clever.
I know I’m sounding a little snarky about the tour today, but it really turned out just fine.  because we were just the two of us on our own tour, we got to the Penguin colony well ahead of the masses, in fact we had the place all to ourselves, and that made it worth it right there.  Would I have liked some more insightful commentary?  Sure.  But the kid was sincere and earnest so its hard to be too upset with him.  If I’m upset with anything its with Forastero tours for sending us a rookie.
Anyway, without further ado, here are some penguin pics for you!  yes, we were up close and personal with the penguins.
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This little guy was not happy.  I think he was hungry and Mom was not coming through.
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After the Penguins we continued further up the road to Punta Norte where we saw both Sea Lions and Elephant Seals.  Punta Norte is the only place in the world where you can see the Elephant seals.  At other times of the year, and at high tide, you also stand a chance of seeing an Orca coming into try and catch a baby Sea Lion, but no such luck today.  Anyway, here’s a shot of the beach, you can see the Sea Lions down below.  the Elephant seals are way on the far right end of the coast here and we could see them with the binoculars, but not so well with the camera lens.
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After watching the Sea Lions we found a nice place to sit and enjoy some sandwiches for lunch.  While we were eating lunch the friendly neighborhood Armadillo (piche en espanol) came around hoping we would share with him, or her Im not sure how you tell with Armadillos.
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The last and final episode with our young guide happened on the way back to the ship.  We had to take the exact same route back to the ship that we followed to get to Punta Norte, but lets just say the ride seemed shorter for some people than for others.  Yep, he actually fell asleep on the ride back!  I think the driver was ready to reach across, open the door and push him out.
Its funny how all of our excursions involve both a driver and a guide.  In each case we are led to believe that the driver does not speak english.  In this case I’m pretty sure the driver was much more experienced than the actual guide, as he seemed to know many of the other guides at Punta Norte.  Furthermore I think he understood and probably spoke english just fine.  He also did an excellent job of scanning the countryside and the road ahead for interesting animals.  We could tell that he was the one who would spot them and then tell our guide what was coming up.  His job today was to give junior some feedback on his first outing.  I’m pretty sure he got an earful!
The day ended on a very positive note.  Jane got on a roll at the craps table and ended the night over $400 ahead.  She made a lot of other people at the table very happy too.

biking punta del este

The city of Punta Del Este has about 10,000 regular inhabitants, even though when you look at the picture of it you could easily imagine that it hosts ten times that number.  This is because Punta Del Este is a huge vacation getaway for much of South America.  All of the apartments in the high rise buildings are vacation homes.  Punta Del Este itself is mostly situated on a big peninsula with beaches on both sides.  The beaches on the west side are at the Platta river, the same one that starts in Brazil and flows through the Tigre Eelta north of Buenos Aires.  The beaches on the east are on the Atlantic ocean, and you can see the fresh and salt water mix together off the tip of the peninsula.

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We didn’t have anything in particular planed for our day in Punta del Este, so we just took the tender ashore with the idea that we would walk around and check things out.  However when we got off the ship and started our walk through town, there it was, Bike Tours!  One lone woman holding a bike tour sign, of course we had to check it out.  Her name was Alice and she said she could take us on a two hour tour of the city, tell us about the history and highlights of the area, and of course we would do it all on bike.  Yay!  The price was very reasonable too, so here’s my digital shout-out to Bike Tours Uruguay Its a great way to see the town, and Alice even has other longer tours that will take you north into some of the other outlying areas.

After we got our bikes, helmets, and water our first stop was the most famous work of art in Punta del Este.  The “hand in the sand”  This was a sculpture that won a big art contest sponsored by the city back in the mid 1980’s.  It is literally a giant stone hand coming out of the sand on the beach.  Here’s Jane and I in front of the middle finger.

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We continued our tour down the atlantic side enjoying the sites and sounds of the beaches.  The picture at the top is taken looking north back up the beach.  When you get to the point of the peninsula there is an observation deck to go out on, where you can enjoy the view looking back up the river as well as out to sea.  On the atlantic side there is an island where many hundreds of sea lions live, that is another tour for another day…  Some of our dinner table mates took that tour and said it was fun but pretty smelly when you get in amongst all of the sea lions.

When we got to the point our guide pointed out the island, and a small marker right off the point, and then another landmark off the the west.  According to the guide there is a large but rather narrow triangle  described by these three points.

Within this triangle is one of the places on earth that has amazing energy.  Oops, now I’m thinking what kind of strange new age mumbo jumbo guide did we get ourselves mixed up with.  But stay with me for a minute.   This triangle also encompasses the Punta del Este lighthouse, seen below.

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Now, right next to the lighthouse is a little park area with a compass rose made out of stone.  You can see Jane standing on the compass rose facing south.

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Here’s the remarkable thing.  When you stand on the center of the compass rose and begin to speak you experience something really amazing.  Its like your voice echos inside your head in a really strong resonant way.  When our guide told us about this I was extremely skeptical.  I could just hear her telling me,  ”What you couldn’t feel it?  Its so strong I can’t believe you didn’t experience the power….”  But when I stood there and started talking it was amazing.  I’m not sure what causes it, but I did do some googling and apparently there are some strong magnetic forces that converge in the Punta del Este area that have been scientifically investigated.  When I get home I’m going to have to do some more research to see if I can figure out what might cause this internal acoustic effect.  (unless of course Mike has it figured out for me first)  If you have any theories of your own, please leave them in the comments!

We continued to bike around the peninsula, and up the river side.  We stopped at the fish market to see some sea lions, getting a late lunch, and from there we also had a great view of our ship as seen through many of the ships in the marina.

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Sea Lions at the fish market

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For a day where we had absolutely nothing planned this turned out to be a great adventure.  Seeing a city by bike is great, it gives you a good perspective and allows you to see the sites from outside, rather than being stuck inside a car or van.

Today we are at sea the whole day, on our way to Puerto Madryn.  There are lots of activities scheduled, and lots of time for reading and relaxing today.  We are looking forward to a nice quiet day – After we go to our first boot camp workout!  The ship is also hosting a get together for all of the people on the Cruise Critic message boards, so that will also be a chance to meet some people in person that we have only communicated with electronically.  So, goodbye for now, I’ll give you an update in a couple of days when we are through Puerto Madryn.


montevideo, uruguay

I’m sitting here watching the sun come up over the city of Punta del Este.   The water is perfectly calm except for the waves created by some of the tender ships taking the earliest of early passengers over to the pier.  There are plenty of clouds in the sky today, but there is still the occasional blue patch.  We are close enough to shore that we can see the beaches spread out in all directions.
We don’t have anything planned for today except to tender ashore and walk around for a bit.
Yesterday we were in Montevideo, we had arranged a tour with Marta along with a group of people from the cruise critic message boards.  It was a driving/walking tour of the city, along with a stop at the Bouza Winery just outside the city.  The winery is only about 10 years old, which is about the average age for wineries in Uruguay.  Since it is getting toward the end of summer here they were just starting the harvest, so we got to see some of the equipment they were using for squashing and processing the grapes.  There were also a lot of very ripe grapes on the vine.IMG 2027
Here is the aging room where they age some of their wines.  Some of the barrels are made of french oak, and some of american oak.  The winery is pretty scientific about how they keep track of which batch of wine comes from which section of the vineyard.  They also keep 20 bottles from every harvest for every different kind of wine they make.
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After the tour, of course we had to do a tasting. We had a white blend, along with a rose, a merlot, and a red blend.  We asked to try their Chardonnay and their Malbec, unfortunately they only had the chardonnay left for tasting; it was good but I actually liked the white blend we tried originally better.
After the tasting, we were all tired… Big surprise right!  But we had a little more touring left to do.  We climbed montevideo’s only large hill where we were treated to a great view of the harbor and our ship.  Its right in the middle of the photo below.
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Overall it was a nice tour.  Last night was the first formal night on the ship, and it was fun to get out the old tuxedo again and enjoy some good food and a nice show, iBroadway.  Jane and I can both check frog legs off the list of foods we have tried.  Guess what?  They taste like chicken.

buenos aires

It was a beautiful two days in Buenos Aires.  Lets start with moving in to our room on the ship.  Other than the taxi driver overcharging us dumb Americans for the ride from the airport to the Puerta de Crucera everything about the checkin process went very well.  Our room is great, we have this curved wall of windows that makes you feel like you are just suspended out over the water.  Our sitting area is really a great place to just hang out and watch the sea go by.  The luggage all arrived intact, and we were even able to smuggle a few bottles of wine we picked up at the airport onto the ship.

We had two nice surprises on checkin:  First, our room is close enough to the Internet Cafe that we actually get a wireless signal in the room, and because we are in a suite we get 180 minutes of free wireless.  That may not last the whole trip but its a good start.  The second surprise was that we had a complimentary meal at the SS United States for our first night on the ship.  This is the only specialty restaurant on board, and it is definitely a good one.

It was hard to choose from the menu there were so many good options.  I had Diver Scallops wellington with truffle emulsion, Lobster Bisque, Surf & Turf (more lobster tail for the surf part) and of course chocolate souffle for desert.  Jane had similar except she had a pear and goat cheese tart instead of the diver scallops, and a salad instead of the bisque. We washed it all down with a nice bottle of Far Niente Chardonnay.

When we were leaving the restaurant the cruise director happened to be outside the door taping a segment for the next days onboard news and information channel.  We waited until we though it was safe for us to sneak by him inconspicuously, but that was not to be.  He spotted us and pulled us over for a quick on camera interview about our dining experience.  So, now we are famous for a few days.

Our second day in BA was even better than the first.  The main activity for the day was a delta river cruise.  Just north of Buenos Aires is a huge river delta, formed by the Plata river as it finishes its journey from the mountains of brazil and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.  We met our tour guides out front of the cruise terminal and they drove us through the city, pointing out interesting sites along the way.  Actually our driver and the owner of the company, Gaston, didn’t say too much since he did not speak English, but our guide and interpreter did a great job.

We arrived at the Marina and got on board the boat.  It was a beautiful new 30 foot cabin cruiser, perfect for river cruising.  We took off up one of the main channels and just cruised along enjoying the sun and warm weather.  We laughed a bit at the fact that there are actually billboards along the side of the channel.  This gives you an idea of the amount of water traffic that uses this part of the river.  In fact the delta is home to a lot of people who commute by boat, and is the equivalent of going up to the lake for many other BA residents.  Everything in the delta uses water for transportation.  Everything from grocery delivery to garbage pickup is done by water.

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Need some groceries?  You just put a bag over the end of a pole on your dock and the grocery boat will stop for you.  On garbage day you just hang your bags of garbage out on the end of the dock and the garbage boat takes them away.

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After cruising through some residential areas we anchored in a very peaceful side channel to have some lunch… A nice local cerveza and some meat and cheese.  It was good, and light, which was perfect since we were still plenty full from our meal the night before.  Note to mike and Sarah, We signed up for six sessions of boot camp while we are on board, and although the first session was during our tour, we did work out before hand!

After the tour we got dropped off in downtown Buenos Aires where we walked through the busy city streets, and looked at the shops and bought a souvenir for Josh.  Josh:  check out the Buenos Aires football clubs.

Of course we had the obligatory lifeboat drill, but then we enjoyed our sail away from Beuenos Aires in our room:IMG 1981

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At dinner we went to our regular table in the main dining room, its located right next to the windows on the very back of the ship next to the captains table.  There was a little mixup at first with 10 of us thinking we belonged at this table for 8.  The waiter got that sorted out by moving this english couple to their proper table.  It seems that they were seated at our table the night before when 6 of us were eating at other places.  We really seem to have a nice table:  One couple from Houston TX, another from Ohio, she is the dean of a small college,  and another couple from New Jersey.  We had very good conversation, and it looks like it will be fun to get together and compare notes with them each night.


hiking in the iguazu national park

Have you ever had an experience where afterwards you said, “it took my breath away!”?  Today was one of those experiences for me.  I was awake, with the sun, at about 6:30 this morning;  3AM back in Decorah, but we were so tired from the previous two days that we were in bed before 10, and slept soundly through the night.  After having some coffee and breakfast in the hotel, Jane and I took off on the “Inferior Falls” hike.  The inferior falls trail is the lower trail that takes you down to the base of the falls and the river.  We were literally the only ones on the trail, and it seemed that around each turn there was a view of the falls more beautiful than the last.  I posted a bunch of photos to my flickr account, its a lot of waterfall pictures, but you just can’t capture the beauty of it all with a camera.  I’ve been experimenting with the exposure bracketing feature of my camera, and so some of these are three images combined into one using the HDR editor on Aperture.

As we neared the bottom of the trail we spotted a pair Toucans up in the tree, along with several other interesting birds. You can see the Toucan in the picture below.   At this point we were also able to buy our tickets for the boat trip under the falls….  But first there was a walkway that went right up to the falls.

Toucan Sam

I am the person in the mist in the picture below.  This was one of those wild kingdom kind of moments..  In your best Marlin Perkins voice you can say:  ”While Jane stays safely dry at the beginning of the platform Brad will tame the raging river and get drenched.”  And this was the experience that literally took my breath away.  You just can’t believe the force of the falls until you get right up to it like I did.  The wind that is created by the crashing of the water is like being in a thunder storm, and before I even realized what was going on, I was completely soaked from head to toe.  Between the force of the wind, and the perceived force of the water my breath just went right out of my lungs.


Brad in the falls

As I think about my own experience standing at the end of the platform, I have to wonder about the people that built this thing!  Who in their right mind would go to work each morning,  to build something where you were thinking that if you slipped, (and I’m sure that during construction it was plenty slippery) you would get smashed against the rocks below you by water with thousands of pounds of force.

There is lots of wildlife in the park, we saw many species of birds, and a little hamster size rodent.  Others in our group saw a snake eating a frog – sorry I missed that one.  But the most prevalent creature were these little things that we though were ringtail lemurs, but the locals had a different name for them.  Here’s one of them begging lunch off another tourist.  Their snouts are quite long, and we were told that they are a member of the anteater family.


After our experience on the platform, our next goal was the boat ride.  On this ride you get some great views of the falls from the river, and assuming you have a waterproof camera, some good pictures.  Then after you have seen the beauty of the falls the captain of the boat plays a game called “lets see how close to the falls we can get without going under.”  In the picture below you can see the boat ahead of us headed into the falls.  I’ll admit that when I was standing on dry land and watching this I was thinking to myself, “who in their right mind would get into a boat and do that?”  But, when we were actually in the boat it seemed perfectly safe, and the boat was very stable.

Into the falls

Jane had the Flip video camera inside a waterproof bag when we got on the boat but mostly the video is a wall of white, and sound.  Here’s a little bit of video from when we are near the falls, but not yet in the roiling water:

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We were really glad we did the boat ride, as we got to see the even larger Brazilian falls that you can’t see from the hiking trails in Argentina.

After hiking back up to the hotel, we picked up my camera and got a new battery for the waterproof camera and set out for the train ride to El Diablo, this is another cool little hike where you go out to the top of the very large falls, and stand and watch the water spill over.  The water levels are quite high this year which makes everything even more spectacular.  Here’s a couple of shots from the top of the falls.  Again, there are more without me in them on flickr.


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After all of this hiking in the Jungle heat and humidity, we were quite tired and hot, so we headed back to the pool at the hotel to relax and rest up for a while.  Our final stop of the day was back in the city of Puerto Iguazu where we had a dinner reservation at Aqva restaurant.

We booked a round trip cab ride (200 pesos) at the front desk, which turned out to be a great deal.  We had a very personable cab driver named Ronny, who took us for a little site seeing and shopping before dropping us off at the restaurant.  After dropping us off he waited for us to eat and then took us back to the hotel.  Before dinner we had a beautiful view of the river from the city, where you can see Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay at the three corners of where the river splits.

The restaurant is decorated in Pacific Northwest style, and the food is a great blend of Argentinian and Italian cuisine.  We had a fantastic meal of Argentine steak and a lovely bottle of Malbec.  My steak came with a leak tart which was surprisingly delicious, and Jane had potatoes that were stuffed with cheese and ham.  The service was top notch, and we had the opportunity to chat with the owner, Jorge Antonio, who was very nice…. We topped off our dinner with a tiny bit of Limoncello.  The Limoncello was quite possibly the best we have ever tasted, so we asked the owner if he made it himself or imported it from Italy.  He said he made it himself and promised to share his top secret recipe with us if we sent him an email.  Just when we thought we were ready to leave the owner brought us a complimentary glass of Argentinian champagne to keep us happy for the ride back to the hotel.  If you get to Iguazu you should definitely check out Aqva.



south american beginnings

And so it begins.  Another travel adventure.  This one just Jane and I.  The itinerary is a South American Cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina around Cape Horn and up to Valparaiso, Chile; with many stops along the way.  Here’s a summary of Days one and two.

We left Decorah with our friends John and Llew at 8:00AM to drive to the airport, we have several plans for getting back from the airport – the nice thing is that we didn’t need to park our car at $20 per day for 16 days.  While we are away Josh and our God daughter Liz are in charge of the house.  Decorah friends take note of that last sentence!  We are flying American all day, and of course the first face I see when we get to the American Counter is the infamous Cat – see my first post from JTerm travels.  Luckily we got our luggage checked in just fine without her.  When we got to the gate we checked with the gate agent to see if we could change our seats on the Dallas to Buenos Aires portion of the flight.  I really wanted to find a seat with a power port.  Nine hours in the air could require a recharge of the iPad.  She was so nice that she moved us to a bulkhead/exit row seat – nine hours of legroom!!

The rest of the air travel was uneventful, and we arrived in BA right on time.  Jane and I both managed at couple of hours of napping during the night, but nothing particularly restful.  BA is 3 hours ahead of central time so jet lag is not going to be a big factor.  Once off the plane we had to go through immigration and passport control.  We have to pay $140 each to visit Argentina, this is listed as reciprocity for the Visas that we make the Argentinians pay.

The plan was to get through immigration as quickly as possible and get on our car to the other airport (Jorge Newberry) where we are taking a flight to Iguazu for two days before the cruise.   We had reserved the 3:05 flight but were really hoping to get to the airport in time for the 11:35 flight.  We knew it would be tight but were hoping to avoid spending valuable hours in the airport.  Here’s where the plan started to fray…  After paying our reciprocity fee we got shunted out of the line for people from the US into the line for Argentinians and other visitors.  This line ended up being much longer and slower.  As the minutes ticked away we resigned ourselves to an afternoon in the airport.  We did meet two very nice women who were traveling alone, one was going to antarctica as part of an academic expedition and the other was celebrating her birthday by going horseback riding.

We ended up sharing our car with Denise – the horseback rider – The drive from BA International to Jorge Newberry is supposed to take anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours depending on who you read and what time of day, our drive was a harrowing 45 minutes.  Drivers here make up their own lanes and rules as they go along.  We got to the airport just after 11:00 which we were sure was too late for the 11:35 flight.  But luck was with us and the flight was delayed by an hour, so we were able to change to the earlier flight  – with no change fee!

We cleared security and found our way to gate 3 where we met up with several people from the cruise critic message board, I’ll just call them the CC people until I get to know them better.  Jane has been conversing online with some of these people for almost a year, and it was fun to meet up with some fellow americans to pass the time.

We arrived at the Iguazu airport, and the plane parked at one of the two gates.  We waited forever for Jane’s bag, and then got a cab to the Sheraton, which is located in the Iguazu National Park.  To summarize, we left Decorah at 8:00AM on the 24th and we arrived in Iguazu at 3:00 on the 25th.  A long days of travel! Just as we left the airport it started to rain, hard!  But, by the time we got checked in to our room and started to think about what to do with the rest of the day the rain stopped again.

Iguazu is amazing!  The falls here are huge, you just can’t believe the volume of water that pours over these things every second.  For those of you as old as me who are into movies at all, these falls are the sight of the movie The Mission.  Here’s one picture to whet your appetite.

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I took this one on what is called the upper falls hike.  Its probably the driest hike we are going to take.  Next up is the lower falls hike which I will do in my swimsuit, and a boat ride that goes right up to the falls.

To finish off the story of our first day, we met up with the CC group again to have a drink in the hotel bar and dinner together.  I think this is going to be very nice to know a few people going into the cruise.  The dinner was pretty good.  Jane had seafood risotto and I had a nice Argentine steak.  The funniest thing was that Jane got dripped on through a leak in the roof when the rain started up again.