Friday 7 February
Day 36 Puerto Madryn, Argentina
We had booked an excursion today but it is always difficult to get accurate information as to the amount of walking, number of steps and the type of bus we 're going to travel in. The excursions are graded as 1, 2 or 3 level but if often has no real correlation to the real difficulty for me. So some of the excursions are great and others have knocked us both out. Puerto Madryn is only a small port and the cruise ship berth is new and within walking distance to the town. The tour buses were waiting at the bottom of the gang plank, which was great. The bus steps are always really high but with a bit of pushing and shoving from John I made it - poor John! Still once done we were able to sit in the front seat and get a really good view of everything around us.
The Argentinian guide was really good and both she and the driver pleasant and helpful. Our excursion was described as a visit to sea lion colony then to a ranch to see a sheep sheered. We'd been warned that being late in the season we may not see as many sea lions as earlier in the season. However that was so wrong. It was an incredible day and we enjoyed every moment of it.
Puerto Madryn was a small isolated port until it built an Aluminium smelter. That is now the largest in South America and uses Bauxite shipped from Australia. In the past ten years or so the population and prosperity of the town has increased exponentially. It gave the impression of being a tidy, well set out and wealthy town. This part of Argentina (Patagonia) only has 180mm of rain a year so the town has very little water. There is some River water but most of their supply is from artesian sources. There are a few street trees and some grass but everything needs irrigation. It is positioned on the shores of a very sheltered gulf called Golfo Nuevo. It has warm, sheltered and calm waters all the year around and is popular as a tourist destination for water sports especially diving. Our guide, Adriana, was excellent and she gave a really informative description of everything we saw and would be seeing during the tour. She had a strong accent but her English was excellent and she spoke slowly so was easy to understand.
Initially we drove west around the Gulf along the coast and it was quite picturesque but we quickly got into the desert, the Pampas, which reminded me of parts of the west coast of WA with the sea alongside desert. The sea lion colony was positioned in a very sheltered cove protected by high cliffs either side. It is in the Punta Loma, a National Park. It was amazing. It has a small research station there as well and was well set up for tourists with a viewing platform on a flat walk only some 50m from where the bus dropped us off. We had a wonderful view of the cove and there were wall to wall sea lions. There were several big bulls with their harems of female seals and lots and lots of pups. The pups are black when they are born but lose that coloring within a couple of months. The gestation period is 11 months and the females feed them for nearly a year after. They are usually suckling while pregnant with the next year's pup.
It was an absolute joy to see them and we took some great photos of them lying around, fighting, swimming and doing all the things that sea lions usually do! There were also an amazing number of rock cormorants which were nesting in the cliff crevices. They are a black and white birds with a bright orange area around the eyes - quite spectacular. Again we took lots of photos and will have to prune some when we get home! We spent half an hour watching these delightful animals and then got on our way to San Guillermo, the sheep ranch we were visiting to see the sheep shorn.
It was a half hour run on dirt roads through the pampas where there was just some low grasses and salt bush growing. The desert looked very much like many of the deserts in Australia and I'm amazed that they can graze sheep on it. The sheep are all Merinos and are bred for wool. Like Australia you require very large areas to support only a few beasts. The ranch (estancia) we went to supports only 500 sheep and they had a single Murama dog to protect them. Only a couple of gauchos live at ranch to keep the buildings in order and manage the flock. The shearing is also done there but this particular one had been organised for tourists. We were shown about 20 sheep in a pen, a couple of goats, the Murama as well as the shearing shed which had tiers of straw and timber seats, saddles, bags of wool of varying classes, sorting tables and the shearing machine with four heads much like some of the Australian shearing demonstrations.
We had a chance to took around the ranch ourselves and then we were told about all the aspects of running an estancia, given facts about their sheep and how they look after them as well as the shearing demonstration. They got a large sheep in (with the help of four of the tourists, including John) and then the shearer did half of the sheep with hand clippers and the other half with electrical ones. Apparently hand clipping produces a better fleece, but it is so much slower the electrical clip that it is just not economical to do it the old way any more. The show was very amusing and entertaining with the manager of the estancia talking rapidly in Spanish to explain things, and the guide translating it into English. After the show, we were shown to the dining room where we were given tea, coffee or their traditional herb tea as well as traditional foods the names of which escape me. There was plenty to eat but I don't think it was very healthy.
After we left the estancia we drove back to Puerto Madryn and shown around the town as well as shown the massive aluminium company facility. There was a Welsh Village which was developed when there was a mass migration of Welsh people at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is a very Welsh influence throughout this town and there is still one school that teaches the Welsh language, they have a Welsh choir and a Rugby Union team! That was a great tour and we were given a heap of interesting information.
It had been a really entertaining tour and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Tomorrow is a sea day towards Montevideo in Uruguay but had nothing specific planned.
Saturday 8 February
Days 37 Sea day towards Montevideo, Uruguay
Another sea day and half way through our trip. I don't know where the time has gone! I had my first swim since the Antarctic. It was good because one of the pools was heated. I need the swim to keep any level of fitness and I usually do it while John does his mile around the deck and his Pilates in the gym. We've been pretty disciplined with our eating so we at least still fit into our clothes and the scales aren't screaming too much!
It was cloudy but much warmer today so a lot of the winter clothes are being shed now. It's more humid as well so we can start to see mozzies at our ports now. Still we are free of them on the ship so are protected at the moment. Montevideo will probably be a different story!
I went to my usual chorale practice and were informed we were giving a short performance at the show tomorrow. That was a bit of a shock. A few people were leaving at Buenos Aries so Robyn, the musical director, had though it would be a nice idea. We arranged a couple of practices that day and I thought it sounded pretty awful but Robyn said she was happy with how we sounded.
We also redeemed our cruise dollars (we had over 200) which we had won playing trivia and golf and actually got a couple of quite useful things. We got a useful little back pack, a plug which coverts to almost every power supply in the world, a torch and a teddy bear for Carla, for her birthday. However what with those and the gifts we get every time we have a formal dinner night (nine total on the cruise) we are going to have an extra suitcase worth to take home. We continue playing trivia twice a day and really enjoy it. It's treated as a lot of fun by most of the people in the teams and there's a lot of cheerful banter between the teams. We are meeting a lot of really nice people.
The show tonight was an amazing American trumpeter, Cecil Welch. He played all sorts of different genres of music but he was absolutely brilliant especially with the jazz. The band was exceptional especially Robyn who is rapidly getting amazing reviews for all the work she is doing. Not only can she sing but she's an amazing pianist as well as well. We really have heard some exceptional musicians on this cruise. John went to bed after the show but I stayed for the Indonesian Cruise show. It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed it. There wasn't a lot of talent, but lots of enthusiasm which was infectious. I didn't get to bed until half twelve so I'm going to feel it tomorrow when we get into Montevideo.
Sunday 9 February
Day 38 Montevideo, Uruguay
We woke to rain and cloud and we had already docked at Montevideo. It was much warmer, really humid and even on deck there were mozzies and heaps of other bugs. We weren't booked onto a tour and weren't really sure if we wanted to go ashore. But the Port is virtually in the middle of the city so after my swim, John's walk and breakfast we ventured ashore to do a bit of sightseeing ourselves.
Security was pretty lax and we'd been warned about being alert to pick pockets, being mugged, having things stolen so we took nothing ashore apart from a few American dollars and an umbrella! We walked up into the main shopping area and followed a suggested walking tour. However being a Sunday, apart from a few tourist kiosks, everywhere was closed including cafés.
There were a few crossovers for the scooter but more often than not I had to get out of the scooter and get John to take the scooter up and down the curb. It was hot and humid with a heap of mozzies, so we'd sprayed ourselves liberally with sunscreen beforehand and dressed appropriately. We did see two attractive squares - Constitution Square and Independence Square with massive statues of famous people in Argentinian history. There were a lot of very grand buildings but none seemed to be in great repair. Certainly the roads and pavements were in need of repair! There were a lot of derelict building interspersed with well maintained ones. It was a bit if a hotch potch really. They are obviously encouraging the tourism but our first impression was a bit disappointing. Still if we'd wanted to see more of the surrounding area you are obliged to take a tour. Still we had a chance to have a bit of a look around and it was good to get off the ship.
Overnight we sail to Buenos Aries where John leaves for his flight to Iguazu Falls. I'm booked into to a short cruise on a River boat into the River Platt delta but I was a bit apprehensive about my managing on my own.
We had a dress rehearsal in the show room for our choir concert and it was truly awful but you know what they say - bad dress rehearsal, good performance!! We had an early tea with some American friends who we usually do Trivia with and then had to dash to the show lounge to 'perform' with our 16 person choir!
We sang the the Mozart Ave Verum, Sunrise, Sunset and To Life from Fiddler on the Roof. It wasn't the greatest and the To Life was awful so I hoped we would do better next time around! All the singers got off the stage and then John and I listened to the real artists of the evening. First it was the comedian Lee Baylis, who I'd missed first time around, and Cecil Welch, the brilliant trumpeter from last night. Both were great and we thoroughly enjoyed it. After that we had the repeat performance of the choir and it went better this time. At least we got a lot if clapping and a few cheers!
Monday 10 February
Day 39 Buenos Aries
We got into port at eight and it was pouring with rain, very hot and humid as expected. There was distant thunder so it didn't bode well for our two trips. I just hoped the boat I was going on was covered! John left early for his excursion to Iguazu Falls. Again I was really sorry I couldn't go with him, but it looked as though it could be pretty heavy going as it was an eleven and a half hour trip and as well walking along two trails. I was still apprehensive about going on a tour by myself but I wanted to at least get a bit if an idea about the country. John had the camera of course but I took my iPad because neither of us wanted to miss any of what the other had seen.
My tour wasn't leaving until the afternoon and it was still pouring with rain. The first bit was a short tour of a Buenos Aries and then we drove to San Isidro where we had a look at its cathedral. I gave that a miss and stayed in the coach because I'd already walked quite a way on and off the shuttle, around the port building and to the tourist bus and walkers don't go well on cobbles either. I'm glad I did because everyone got soaked! At least at that stage I was dry!
Then we drove to Tigre and Delta y Rio de la Plata where we were meant to be getting on a boat to take us into the Delta. We got to the River port and had to walk a couple of hundred metres to where the passengers got on the boats. We had to wait over thirty minutes for our boat to come aside while everyone had to stand in the drizzle so by that time we were all wet! Negotiating the boat was interesting but I managed it in the end. I did worry as to how I was going to get out again though!
The Delta splits into several arms near Diamanté and ends up flowing into the Rio del la Plata. The Delta is made up of more than 5000 waterways over 21,000 km2. It has a population of 3000 people in its multiple islands. The islands support Cellulose, paper and timber industries for furniture, arts and crafts as well as a lot of tourism. It is meant to have a wide variety of fauna and flora but I didn't see a single bird and the flora had been disturbed with the heavy population on the islands and their lawns and gardens. The waterways were chock full of boats all moving at high speed and thousands of tourists. It is called an undeveloped tourist paradise only 30km from downtown. We were encouraged to 'experience with your senses the communion between man and nature'! What we saw was gross overdevelopment and total ruination of what could have once been a lovely place. Obviously we only saw a very small part of it but I must admit I was a bit disappointed.
It was a 90 minutes journey back to the ship but it took me a couple of hours because of the long walk back to the ship from the tourist bus. I was really tired when I got back and knew John wouldn't get back unto near midnight so it was a really early night for me!
Tuesday 11 February
Day 40 Buenos Aries
John had arrived back at half eleven and I hadn't heard him come in. He'd had a fabulous time and had taken a lot of photos but was really tired. He told me all about it and it sounded wonderful. He skipped his walk because he was a bit stiff and sore so while I had my swim he downloaded all his photos onto my iPad. Some of them were amazing and they certainly showed how spectacular the Falls were. He also took some good wildlife photos so at least it gave me a flavour of some of what he had experienced. He'd had brilliant dry, sunny weather except it was about 38 degrees C and 80% humidity so walking around was quite hard work.
Iguazu Falls means 'big waters' in Guarani language. Millions of years formed the basaltic rock canyon where the Iguaco River falls, coming from 1320 km away in a place called Serra do Mar and 20 km downstream the canyon joins the Parana River , where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet in a triple frontier line. The Waterfalls vary in number depending on the rainy season during the year from 270 in the wet to 150 in the dry. The falling area is 2700 sq M and water volume 6500 cu M per second in the wet season. Devils Throat was truly impressive with its drop and vast amount of water going over it. John went along several of the walk ways to various aspects of the Falls and that's when he took most of his photos.
About 140 people got off the yesterday and forty new guests got on so before we departed at midday we had lifeboat practice again. It was still pouring with rain so it was pretty unpleasant. Then the captain put a message out on the loudspeaker to say two passengers were not yet back on board and our departure was being delayed as a result. In the end we didn't leave until half one. We had a pretty quiet afternoon after that and John caught up on his sleep.
We did our usual Pub Trivia at six and won and on our way to dinner we met a young woman who turned out to be Claire Langan, the flautist who is playing tonight at the show. She is English and actually knew and had been taught by Trevor Wye, who was my flute teacher, many years ago. We chatted for a while. She was really interesting and we are looking forward to hearing her tomorrow night.
We have two more sea days to Rio de Janeiro so we can have a bit of a rest on board! John's still recovering from Iguazu Falls!
Wednesday 12 February
Day 41 Sea day on way to Rio de Janeiro
The time is going so quickly. We have only 30 days to go now.
It was hot and humid and even at sea we are getting a few mozzies on deck. It rained on and off but I had a chance for a swim anyway. Our days at sea are very similar so I won't bore everyone with describing what we do but there is a chance to recharge our batteries. Choir has restarted with some new people which was great. We lost 2 and gained 3 people. 140 people got off at Buenos Aries but only 40 got back on so the number on board is about 690. It's actually quite pleasant with the fewer people.
We did play bingo in the afternoon - not really John's cup of tea! One lady won three out of the four games! It was a formal evening this time dedicated to Valentine's Day so everywhere was decorated in red, pink and white steamers, drapes and balloons and we were asked to dress with a romantic theme. After dressing up to the nines we went to dinner
As we entered the dining room, all the ladies were given a red rose which was a nice touch. The waiters were dressed up in sparkling red hats, waist coats and bow ties. They looked a picture! We joined our usual British friends and as usual we had an hour and a half lively conversation, but we still haven't been given a third couple to fill the table up. One couple missed the departure of the ship at Buenos Aires so will be flying to Rio to join the ship. They may be joining us but it's possible we'll remain a table of four until the end of the cruise unless any of the people we have met wish to join us at some stage.
The show was magnificent. The flautist, Claire Langan, we'd met the previous night was the performer. She played a large variety of melodies from folk, pop, musical to classic and it was very polished. She is a superb virtuoso and she played a large variety of incredibly difficult pieces. Some of the pieces she played took me back to my days learning with Trevor Wye and all the things he got his students involved in. We met her afterwards and talked a bit, purchasing two of her CDs. We were very late to bed and John has developed yet another cold and felt pretty lousy so he dosed himself up and we hoped he would feel better in the morning.