Posted by: glenswatman | January 3, 2010

20091121-31 Chile Antarctic cruise

MONDAY 21 DECEMBER – It is only a short walk across the main road to catch a bus to Valparaiso, CP$450 (60p) and we leave at 11.45am.  The bus stop and train stops of Muelle Baron are just a couple of hundred yards walk from the cruise terminal check in.  The lady behind us in the queue is an Aussie lady in her 60’s who has also back packed down through South America.  Amazingly she is in the cabin next to us.  HAL are very efficient and by 12.45pm we are checked in and on board enjoying our first meal.  MS Veendam is a beautiful ship with around 1400 passengers.  We are really happy to be here and to relax after our ordeal.  Our cabin is excellent, very spacious, has a bathtub, bathrobes, lounge area with big sofa and DVD player with free movies at reception.  We also have a complimentary bottle of bubbly, 2 vouchers for meals in the Pinnacle Grill and a canvas bag.  Through Facebook I have made contact with 2 other couples on this cruise and poolside we meet up with Garry & Jessica from California who are on honeymoon.  Lifeboat drill is without life jackets as it sounds like there have been accidents in the past  There are lots of Christmas decorations around the ship and the crew are all wearing Santa hats so suddenly it feels like Christmas, even if we are lying out under clear blue skies in blazing sunshine.  Unfortunately it is a different story in Europe and we learn that more than 80 passengers are stranded there and will not arrive in time for our sail away.   We are on early dining at 5.45pm (earlier than we would have liked but the late dining is later than we want).   Our table is probably the best in the restaurant, by a panoramic window with our seats facing the direction we are sailing and on the left hand side so we can see the coast.  It is a table for 4 but our table mates don’t show up.   As usual on board there are many things happening at once so you have to make choices.  We watch the lighting of the Christmas tree and carol singing, think Steve is only there for the free “egg nog”.  The evening show consists of an introduction to the main singing cast, including a guy off American Pop Idol plus a few light-hearted games to break the ice.  Wandering round exploring we spot a guy who looks just like our son in law Daz.  It turns out Dave is from Derby, is manager of one of the stores and very happy to chat to us whilst we drink the free champagne his store provides.

HOLLAND AND AMERICAL LINE (HAL) MS VEENDAM – SAILING FROM VALPARAISO TOWARDS PUERTO MONTT

TUESDAY 22 DECEMBER – We get a phone call from the infirmary to say they have heard about our “incident” and that any treatment Steve requires including removal of stitches will be done at no charge – brilliant.  This turns out to be very helpful as the doctor finds out that his hand is not healing as well as it should be and quite red and swollen so he cleans and redresses it and will check it in a couple of days.  Mid morning we spot lots of small dolphins playing in the waves alongside the ship.  We have a go at the boules then golf competition and I come close to winning both and do way better than Steve!  This is classed as an expedition ship so there are many specialist lecturers on board, some good and some a bit padded out with waffle.  It is the first time the Veendam has been down to Antarctica and we have a specialist “ice breaker” crewman from Canada on board to guide us through.  There is a special computer room with a “texpert” so I go along to the blog making lecture and find that it is a sneaky way of getting on line for anything other than direct E-mailing.  At our evening meal we have table companions Gail & Gordon from Vancouver.  The show is reasonable with some nice 60’s songs.

HAL 2

 

WEDNESDAY 23 DECEMBER – We are late arriving in Puerto Montt and due to the swell, winds and rain it takes a long time to tender everyone ashore.  We are now in the region of Patagonia.  By the time we get off it is 10.45am and pouring with rain.   It would be no fun walking around and the tours offered by the touts are pretty expensive.  At the point when we are considering a taxi tour we look to see if others want to share and spot an American couple.  Michael and Meenakshi had intended hiring a car but at $80 think it is rather expensive.  We find out that as Michael has insurance backed by his credit card the price comes down to around $60 so we agree to go halves.  Michael is a confident driver and with my navigation we are soon out of the city and heading up towards Lago Llanquihue.  Frutillar is an attractive German style town on the lakeshore but it is raining too heavily for us to want to get out and across the lake the views of Osorno volcano are nonexistent.  It is much the same in Puerto Varas and we are not sure that even walking around it would be that impressive.  At least we were not booked on the expensive ships tour and having to go kayaking or climbing the volcano!  We are back on board just before 3pm and half wishing we had brought some booze with us as the return checks were minimal.  By the time we are due to sail at 5pm it has brightened up a little so with luck our scenic cruising tomorrow will be good.  The evening show of Latin American is pretty good.  Back at our cabin we have lovely views during sunset. 

HAL 3, PUERTO MONTT

 

THURSDAY 24 DECEMBER – I get up early to enjoy the spectacle of our entry into the narrow Darwin Channel.  We’ve ordered room service breakfast and the tray arrives heavily laden with our choices so Steve can stay in bed.  My stomach is a little upset and after my 5th visit to the toilet I am getting a little worried.  An announcement goes out that there is a GI (Gastrointestinal) outbreak on board, already 80 cases and anyone with symptoms should report to the medical centre and isolate themselves.  Shortly after I throw up so think I may have a bout.  The telephone lines to the medical centre are busy so I put myself to bed whilst Steve takes up the days entertainment programme.  He visits the Doctor who takes out a few stitches and squeezes a lot of puss out of the wound and gives him tablets.  Steve watches the Christmas movie Elf and tells me it is very funny and I should do the 6pm viewing as I am feeling much better.  I’ve only been in the theatre ½ hour when I am shaking with cold and have to return to bed.  HAL are taking good precautions to prevent the spread of infection and have closed the hot pools and thermal area and no longer do self service at the café but have crew serving everyone so hopefully it will soon be under control.  In fact HAL do seem to respond very well to all problems as passengers whose luggage still has not arrived are given a free 2-hour laundry service and lent dinner suits and evening dresses for the formal evenings.

HAL 4

 

FRIDAY 25 DECEMBER – I’m feeling much better when I wake up and after a light breakfast we spend time on deck admiring the Amalia Glacier.  Santa has done a great job flying all the way down from the North Pole and his sleigh lands on the Veendam deck in time for the welcome party.  The children and given presents and some of the big children have their photo taken sitting on his knee.  The day is spent scenic cruising along the Sarmiento Cruise with snow topped peaks on both sides of the ship.  “Four Christmases” is a very funny movie and keeps the festive spirit flowing.  Evening meal is a formal night starting at 5.15pm.  A little earlier than normal to take into account the extended menu and to allow us longer to listen to the violin quartet!  Whilst traditional options are available I really like the chocolate snowman dessert.  The evening show is pretty good, a couple that used to work in Vegas and do lots of Argentinean dancing mixed in with rope tricks and jokes, kind of hard to describe but fun to watch.

HAL 5

 

SATURDAY 26 DECEMBER – Having sailed through the infamous straits of Magellan we wake up in Punta Arenas, the most southerly city in Chile.   At 8.30am we rendezvous with Couchsurfing friend Manuel.  He takes us off in his car to show us the city highlights.  The cemetery is very interesting with huge mausoleums, many British graves and others from shipwrecks.  Steve suddenly stops walking as he hears Christmas music emanating from a grave.  Closer inspections reveal a musical Christmas card that someone has left open.  From the viewpoint we can see that Punta Arenas is very spread out, has few high rise buildings but lots of attractive multi coloured tin roofed homes.  Steve steps back out of the way of a photographer, steps on a sleeping dog that yelps and tries to jump out of the dog’s way to avoid getting bitten.  He loses balance and ends up having to put his injured hand on the rail to save him.  Excruciatingly painful but maybe it has helped squeeze the last of the puss out!  Manuel tells us about the styles of homes in the area, the industry (lots of petrol and oil and fishing) and lifestyle.  We arrive at his beautiful wooden home within a mini forest on the hill side.  He has stunning views and is only minutes from the city centre.  We meet his wife Katy, his two small children, Amelia 3 and Bruno 18 months and nana Sandra.  Manuel enjoys red wine so serves up a couple of different very good ones during the 2 meals that we have with them.  He has a picture on his wall taken when with him in costume acting in the 1991 film “Discovery” about Magellan.  Whilst they live in a beautiful place we could not cope with the climate here with only 2 seasons, winter and autumn and strong winds but have really enjoyed our time with the family in preference to battling 2 cruise ships full of tourists around the sights.   We watch and evening movie in the cinema and have a good laugh at the show “Who am I”.

HAL 6 PUNTA ARENAS

 

SUNDAY 27 DECEMBER – We awake to find our ship in the Beagle Channel with the best scenic cruising so far.  It is a beautiful morning, a few clouds but plenty of sunshine to highlight the magnificent spectacle of the Valley of the Glaciers.  We are now in Patagonia ARGENTINA and early afternoon dock in Ushuaia, “the end of the world” and the southernmost city in the world.  It is an attractive city built up the slopes of the hills and framed by snow capped mountains.  We dock next to the large NCL Norwegian Sun cruise ship at the pier right in the centre of the city.  We’ve arranged to meet Couchsurfer Diego and make our way through the narrow streets up to his home in the hills.  He is really friendly and has a special cheese and onion cake in the oven.  He works for the parks and forestry and says we have made a good decision not to visit the national park as with over 4000 cruise passengers on land today it would be crazy there.  He tells us about life here whilst we partake in the traditional mate drinking and eat the delicious cheese bread.  His family live in the north of Argentina so he is able to offer us information on that area as well.  We leave to explore the city but although it is all very pleasant it is really quiet being a Sunday.  Many signs are advertising last minute bargain deals with 10-day Antarctica cruises going for less than half price at $3000.  This is still almost twice the cost of ours as these are real expedition cruises and you go ashore.  At the waterfront we spot 3 motorhomes parked up and realise that this is another country that could have been visited that way along with Chile.  We pose by the range of tourist signs saying the end of the world and others pointing to Antarctica before re boarding the ship.   Just a few hundred metres from the ship we see the Turkish family heading back to their cruise ship Norwegian Sun.  They are enjoying the trip but not thrilled by the food and also they don’t get to sail to Antarctica so we know we made the best choice.  We sail for a few hours then stop at Puerto Williams for the ships to register back into CHILE.  When we wake in the morning we should be making our way around Cape Horn. 

HAL 7, USHUAIA  

 

MONDAY 28 DECEMBER – Captain wakes us up around 7am to announce our approach to the Horn.  We are lucky to have good weather and visibility and it is an amazing sight.  A lonely lighthouse on a rock with the lighthouse keeper’s home and an albatross memorial on the hill nearby.  Even as we look ahead to the Cape itself the weather closes in with rain and low clouds.  It is amazing just how quickly things change here.  The Norwegian Sun is also at the Horn but it turns east to head to the Falklands whilst we make our way south.  We join Mike and Meenakshi for the formal breakfast; this is waiter served in the main dining room and if you have time to spare a nicer option.  I am lucky to be the joint winner of the golf competition with the prize being a very nice HAL sweatshirt, fine reward for so little effort.  The morning talk is by the Canadian Ice Pilot Captain Pat Toomey and very interesting and informative.  He points out what our plan “A” is but says that as we are the first cruise ship to go down this season we have to be guided by conditions on our arrival.  Friends we met on Facebook, Alex and Monika from Mexico City, join us for lunch.  Now that we have a number of days with no shore excursions it seems easier to meet up with people.  During our crossing of the Drake Passage we have incredibly calm seas even though it is foggy in the evening.  Think they were expecting rough weather as the evening show has been replaced by a showing of the movie “Angels and Demons”.   Notice that the on board priest is not impressed as he walks out after about 15 minutes.

HAL 8, AROUND CAPE HORN THEN THE DRAKE PASSAGE TOWARDS ANTARCTICA

 

TUESDAY 29 DECEMBER – When we wake up and open our curtains we are amazed to see some “Wilson Petrel” birds swooping past our window and a huge iceberg just beyond.  Captain tells us it is 3 times the size of our ship.  We are in the Wilhelm Archipelago and beginning our scenic cruising.  We meet up with Canadians Vic & Gwen from Thunder Bay in order to play cribbage in the morning.  At lunch time we pause beside the Palmer Research station on Anvers Island to pick up a couple of scientists who are hitching a ride back to the mainland.  HAL have an agreement to detour a little to pick them up if they pay for the cruise passage and do a couple of talks on board so a bonus for all concerned.  Director Bob Farrell and Lab Manager Tracey Baldwin do an interesting lecture with an overview of the US Antarctic programme highlighting the fact that it is more of a sacrifice to work here than a privilege.    We manage to make it part way into the beautiful Lamaire Channel, with huge snow covered rocks either side of the ship, before solid ice blocks our way.  This was half expected and the planned route was to pass through it and return anyway.  Already we have ventured far enough to see stunning ice bergs and small ice floes with penguins on.  During our evening meal we get a change of scenery, first more amazing icebergs but then the spectacle of an ice field with the water full of small ice floes.  We also see whales in the distance.  The evening show star is Celeste Francis an entertaining singer from England accompanied by her husband John on the piano.  He has worked with many famous musicians including Phil Collins and had a hit with a piano tune “Clog Dancing”.  Later on we meet with Vic & Gwen to play cards but make sure we have a table with a window view to catch the iceberg show as well.  The scenery becomes more intense as the sun drops and we linger on deck taking way too many photos.  During the night our ships heads out into open waters to make full speed ahead in order to produce the 200 tons of fresh water that the passengers require each day.  A far cry from the 20 litres that Steve & I can exist on in the motorhome.

This is how the day turned out according to the data sheet prepared by Captain Patrick Toomey, Ice Pilot

1315       Arrived at Palmer Station for Personnel Transfer

1440 Departed Palmer Station

1550-1740 Lemaire Channel Southbound and Return

1650 Furthest South at Latitude 65 Degrees 04 Minutes South

1755-1900 Neumayer Channel Northbound

1810 Port Lockroy Abeam

1900-2— Gerlache Strait Northbound

2000-2145 Schollaert Channel and Dallmann Bay, Northbound

Overnight Off North Coast Anvers Island

HAL 9, ANTARCTICA CRUISNG INTHE WILHELM ARCHIPELAGO

 

WEDNESDAY 30 DECEMBER – There is so much to see here and with around 22 hours of daylight we are afraid to sleep in late and miss anything. We are rewarded by the view of an absolutely beautiful iceberg with lots of tunnels in it, so attractive you could be forgiven for thinking it was made by Walt Disney.  This area is known as the South Shetland Islands.   It is bitterly cold out on deck but the scenery passing Danco Island more than compensates.  Gentoo penguins and seals float past on the ice floes whilst whales play around nearby.  For us the ice bergs are the stars of the show, beautiful shapes with incredible blue sections.  Really words cannot describe the beautiful scenery and we spend most of our day either up in the "Crows Nest" or on the outside promenades enjoying it all.  We get two lots of evening entertainment; comedian Jack Mayberry followed by “Call my Bluff”, both very funny shows.

Data Sheet

0500-0700 Dallmann Bay & Schollaert Channel Southbound

M/v “Crystal Symphony” passed South in Gerlache Strait

0745-0810 Cuverville Island Penguin Rookery

0810-0900 Ferrera Channel Southbound

1000-1156 Paradise Bay Cruising to Almirante Brown Station (Argentina), then Gonzalez Videla Station (Chile)

1145-1925 Cruising Gerlache Strait and Croker Channel to Bransfield Strait to Deception Island

1835 passed m.v “Vistamar” Southbound, m/v “Professor Molchanov” & m/v “Minerva” entered Neptune’s Bellows, Deception Island

1925-2030 At Deception Island, Neptune’s Bellows and Baily Head

Overnight cruising Bransfield Strait

HAL 10, ANTARCTICA CRUISING

 

THURSDAY 31 DECEMBER – The last day of the year and the Antarctic Sounds is an incredible place to be spending it.  We are again up very early to sight see.  It sounds strange but the ice bergs are mesmerizingly interesting.  Of course you have no idea what is coming up or when you are going to see a particularly interesting one so must be constantly alert.  During breakfast we pass through “Iceberg Alley” and unbelievable place with massive ice bergs both sides of the ship and often places where we cannot see a way through ahead.  We are unable to make it all the way to volcanic Paulet Island but the journey towards it is awesome as we pass many platforms with different penguins and seals on them.  We lunch in the Rotterdam restaurant with Alex & Monika who are also extremely impressed by the cruise.  Leaving the islands to head north we have a long enough gap for a quick nap before the evening meal.  It is formal night and we have an excellent meal to round off the year and as a bonus get a couple of whales breaching just by our window.  The “Symphony Show” is very good with lots of show songs – this really is a very special new years eve.  Our last scenic point is “Elephant Island” where explorer Shackleton was stranded one winter.  It may be famous for its history but is certainly not a scenic highlight.  Since leaving Cape Horn we have seen no other ships at all as we were led to believe there would a number down here although the Captains log tells us otherwise.  Apparently the Antarctic treaty are going to be banning the large cruise ships in the near future so it is a good thing that we decided to do the trip now.  The countdown show in the main theatre begins at 11pm and we fit in a number of dances before the midnight celebrations.  New Year is heralded by the ships bell and we toast with champagne.  Moving upstairs to the Crows Nest we continue to party and dance until 3.30am.  Entertainers Celeste (real name Kath) and John join us and we hear how they earn a living by putting on shows on different cruise ships with Celeste also giving music lessons back in England.  Not quite as glamorous as it sounds as they have huge problems if connecting flights are altered and spend many hours in transit or at airports.   So time for bed after cursing from one year to the next and being very privileged to spend the time in the Antarctic. 

Data Sheet info

0530 Enter Antarctic Sound southbound, m/v’s “Le Diamant” and “Polar Pioneer” ahead, “Iceberg Alley” full off icebergs and drift ice in patches

0855-1010 Cruising Weddell Sea, turned back by ice 13 miles from Paulet Island

1010 Northbound in Antarctic Sound

1145 Arrived Esperanza Station (Argentina), unable to enter due to icebergs blocking entrance, depart for Elephant Island

2050-2215 Cruising south shore of Elephant Island

2215 Departed Cape Valentine for Stanley, Falkland Islands

Entered Antarctica – 28 December 2009 at 2130 hours, Position 60.00S, 66.06W

Departed Antarctica – 01 January 2010 at 0145 hours, Position 60.00S, 54.56W

HAL 11, ANTARTIC SOUND  

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Responses

  1. What an amazing adventure you are having. It sounds like a wonderful cruise…thanks for all the details. I was completely overwhelmed by the glaciers and icebergs I saw in Greenland….I took lots of photos too.I had a good chuckle reading your comment, "…time for bed after cursing from one year to the next".xoxoJanice


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