A Travellerspoint blog

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Let's Tango!

Tango is a social dance and a musical genre that originated in Argentina and Uruguay.

Another day with no "down time." We were up and out after breakfast to head to the Tigre delta, just north of Buenos Aires. Our bus left at the height of morning rush hour, so the 18 mile drive took about an hour. That meant we needed to take a "technical" stop halfway (because there was no biffy on the bus). Just to make that stop more interesting, we parked in front of an ice cream parlor. Well, people often say you shouldn't drink before noon, but no one said you can't have some chocolate chip gelato! So we did.
Once we got to the town of Tigre, we were loaded on to a long, wooden passenger boat. The Tigre delta* is composed of many small islands formed by the silt deposited where the Parana River enters the Rio de la Plata. It is a haven for city people to build their weekend "cabins." A large number of people actually live there all year round as well, which accounts for the river taxis, river school buses, a river postal office, and even a floating river grocery store! We cruised past many homes — large and small, the elementary and high schools, an amusement park, and bars and restaurants.
Included in our trip was lunch at the Gato Blanco ("White Cat"). We sat on the veranda with the folks from Wisconsin (all of them are presently warm and accounted for...) and we had a nice chat. For you Irish Fest goers, one couple has a daughter who dances with a Milwaukee dance school.
On the return trip, some of our group got off the bus downtown to shop at 3 pm.
We, on the other hand, continued back to our room for a bit of a nap. ..because at 5 pm we jumped back on the bus and headed for El Viejo Almacen for TANGO. The shows here involve traditional Argentine-style tango Before we watched, we had to learn — so everyone had a 1 hour tango lesson (champagne was served for those who needed some liquid courage). Then we walked across the street for a 3 course dinner at the restaurant. After dinner, it was back to the dance hall to watch a 2 hour show of dancing, Latin and South American music, and tango ballads. It was long day... enough to tire us out and send us directly to bed upon our return.
We have to rest up for tomorrow!

  • More on the Tigre Delta: The Parana River delta is a 14,000 square kilometer area where thousands of islands and inlets, water channels, rivers and backwaters form a sub-tropical wonderland about twenty miles northeast of Buenos Aires. The Parana is South America's second longest river, after the Amazon. It originates in southeastern Brazil at Paraiba and Grande Rivers, flows 1,600 miles (2,570 km) through Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and when it joins the Uruguay River to form Rio de la Plata estuary, the delta region is known as Tigre. Long before explorers and settlers came into the delta region, the Yaguarete, the American jaguar or tiger, tigre made this area its habitat. Along with mosquitoes, birds, fish, and abundant vegetation, the Yaguarete was a common sight. It attacked humans and cattle and was rightly feared. Now almost extinct, the yaguarete is a national treasure and gives its fierce name and reputation to an area now famous for rest and relaxation.

Posted by jeburns55 22:06 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Head 'em Up, Move 'em Out: Beyond Buenos Aires

An estancia is an Argentinean ranch. These ranches are usually several thousand acres. Gauchos are Argentine cowboys. The horse is the gaucho's most prized possession; we were told that a gaucho would rather share his wife than his horse!

Our guide Susanna rounded up about 50 of our group this morning at 9 a.m. and herded us onto a bus for a long ride out of town. We headed into the pampas ("plains") about 146 km (79 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires to a large estancia (ranch). On the way, we listened to tour leader Sylvia tell us about the politics, culture, economy, and agriculture of Argentina. As we listened, the city turned to suburbs and then to large flat fields. Much like western Iowa and Minnesota, soybeans and corn are planted in long straight rows; cattle dot the pastures; and herds of horses graze on the horizon.
The estancia we visited is owned and operated by a wonderful couple who raise crops, beef (Herefords and Aberdeen Angus) and...polo ponies! We were welcomed at the front gate by a group of five gauchos bearing the Argentine and US flags. Our host Poncho is a retired lawyer. He and his wife hosted a greeting party in the back yard with fine Argentine wines, beers, sodas and fresh baked hot empanadas. Once we were refreshed, Poncho walked us to a covered set of bleachers near the polo grounds where we watched "The Gaucho Games." The five riders competed in a series of four games. The first was a race against time, riding around a series of poles; the second was to catch a small ring (the size of a wedding ring) on a pointed stick while galloping on their horses at full speed; third was to throw a bolo (three rawhide ropes with leather covered stones tied at the ends that are thrown around the legs of running cattle to catch them — the Argentine lasso); and, finally, there was a regular horse race. The winner of two out of the four competitions was Julio Ford, 4th generation Irish-Argentinean! The title of "most elegant" gaucho went to a 78 year old cowboy.
The games were over, and it was time to eat. We were set in a nice air conditioned room and served a multi-course pafilla (barbeque). Each table was set with two kinds of green salads, cold cubed boiled potatoes with parsley, and bread. Then the parade of meat began. Our first serving was a small thick link of sausage. Next were pork ribs. Next, we had chicken. The fourth serving was flank steak and the final course was tenderloin. Poncho challenged us to cut it with our fork: "If you cannot, I will send the cook into the fire!" The cook was safe; the meat was most tender. After all that, were we filled up? Yes, but no matter because to top off our meal, we were all given ice cream and strawberries.
All of us now full and satisfied, it was time for more entertainment. Two gentlemen — one on guitar and the other on accordion, violin, or flute — played music while a very young couple demonstrated a variety of dances. At one point, Susie was asked to waltz and later John was invited to join a group doing...something like a ceili dance.

After the dancing, we said our good-byes to our host and hostess and boarded the bus. Sylvia said her experience has been that everyone nods off on the way back.. .and, true to form, we did! That nap will come in handy, because we will rise at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow morning to get to the airport and fly to Ushuaia in Terra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina.

Tomorrow night at this time, we will be sailing for Antarctica...at the end of the earth.

Posted by jeburns55 23:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

End of the World, Beginning of Adventure

Argentinean Patagonia

Today had us more tired than any jet lag could cause. Our wakeup call was at 3:45 a.m. so we could eat breakfast and get on the bus by 5:00 a.m. The bus took us to the smaller Buenos Aires airport for our three hour flight to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. On the plane, a fellow from the Norwegian government's environmental agency sat with us. It's his job to monitor the environmental practices of Norwegian ships in Antarctica. (While on the job, he will spend the next 3 weeks on our ship, the sister ship M/S Fram, and one more smaller exploration ship...nice!) The flight was uneventful except for some substantial turbulence just before landing.
At the airport, we transferred to a bus (after "ooh-ing and aah-ing" at all the mountains that surrounded us) that toured us through part of the city of Ushuaia, and then carried us out to *Terra del Fuego National Park (also called Ushuaia National Park by the locals.)
What a beautiful place. Surrounding us were beautiful, snow-capped mountains, lots of beach trees and other greenery - and thanks to good weather - plenty of blue sky. We took several hikes, including one that took us down to the end of the Pan-American highway where a sign states that from that spot, it is 17484 km (10,937 miles) to the other end of the western hemisphere land mass in Alaska. If you're up for a long road trip, this is the place to start!
Terra del Fuego is the largest island at the end of South America. We saw quite a few birds that are native to the area and evidence of many animals who are not. For example, rabbits are everywhere. North American fox and mink were introduced in order to control the rabbit population. North America beaver were also brought in and have flourished to the point of becoming pests. It was all quite interesting.
From the park we were shuttle back to town. There was time for some souvenir shopping before heading to the ship. Once on board, we checked in and went to our cabin. We've been treated to a bit of an upgrade, from a 2nd deck room with a porthole to a 6th deck room with a large window (that is partially obstructed by a life boat...but that's OK). There were the mandatory safety drills and then a late buffet dinner. Now that we've joined other groups and individuals on the ship, we find we are with a lot of Germans and Norwegians.
The ship is very nice and well kept. With only about 300 people on board, we should get to know almost everyone. But for now, with our sea sickness patches behind our ears, we're ready to crawl into our bunks and call it a night.

  • The Land of Fire: It is the forbidding image of Tierra del Fuego that paradoxically lures travelers to the southernmost tip of South America. The name "land of fire" was given by the Spanish explorer Magellan, who saw mysterious flames in the darkness when first passing the island. What he saw were the many fires of the natives living on the island. For centuries afterwards, Tierra del Fuego was feared by sailors for the powerful Antarctic winds that blew their ships towards the area's jagged rocks.

Posted by jeburns55 00:08 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Sailing, Sailing...Over the Bounding Waves: Drake Passage

Ships in the Drake Passage are often good plafforms for the sighting of whales, dolphins and plentiful sea¬birds including giant petrels, other petrels, albatrosses and penguins.

John was up early this morning, going to the forward observation lounge on the top deck in order to get a panoramic view of the *Drake Passage. A gun-metal gray sea surrounds us as far as the eye can see. The passage is "smooth" according to the captain and some other seasoned travelers, but the ship rolls and dips on the four to five foot swells enough for most of us to lose our balance once in a while. In mid afternoon, the waves got larger, but they soon subsided.
We ate breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Breakfast and lunch are open seating buffets, as will be most of the dinners because of groups of people being shuttled back and forth from our landings. Four diners will be at assigned tables. The food is excellent and plentiful. Along with hot entrees, there are always cold cuts and cheeses for sandwiches.

There were several presentations hosted throughout the day. The first was about the geological history of Antarctica, hosted by a retired German professor. He explained how Antarctica was once connect to South America, Australia, India, and Africa in one giant continent. The other two presentations were hosted by the naturalists who are on staff here. One show was specifically on penguins and the other was on the other wildlife we may encounter — birds, seals, and whales.
After lunch, both of us went onto the aft deck and watched the birds swim around the wake of the ship, gliding down to the water to pick out any fish that are churned to the top. We've seen wandering albatross (with wing spans of up to 10 ft.), black-browed albatross, and many different kinds of smaller sea birds called petrels. Most of these birds rarely flap their winds; they just constantly glide on the wind (and there is a lot of wind down here).
In the evening, we were invited to a reception hosted by our captain. Champagne was given to everyone in order to toast to a successful journey. Then we went to dinner. We've chosen the late dinner at 8:00 p.m. vs. the earlier one. Only eight of us from the Vantage group opted for the late dinner; this way we get to meet some of the other travelers, many of whom are from Europe.

Off to rest up for tomorrow and our first landing!

  • The Drake Passage is the body of water between the southern tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean and extends into the Southern Ocean. It is named after 16th century English privateer Sir Francis Drake, although he never sailed the passage, opting instead for the less turbulent Strait of Magellan. The first recorded voyage through the passage was that of the Eendracht, captained by Willem Schouten in 1616.
  • The 810 km (500 miles) wide passage is the shortest crossing from Antarctica to the rest of the world's land. There is no significant land anywhere around the world at the latitudes of the Drake Passage, which is important to the unimpeded flow of the Antarctic circumpolar current which carries a huge volume of water (about 600 times the flow of the Amazon) through the passage and around Antarctica.
  • Seas in the Drake Passage are famously rough, with waves over 30 feet high not uncommon. Located between 56 and 60 degrees south latitude, the passage is undoubtedly the source of the sailors' maxim that "Below 40 degrees, there is no law. Below 50 degrees, there is no God."

Posted by jeburns55 01:09 Tagged passage drake Comments (0)

The Unpredictable Antarctic: South Shetland Islands

King George Island is the largest of the South Shetland Islands. Eight separate year- round research stations are maintained by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, S. Korea, Poland, Russia, and Uruguay.

This morning we awoke to exciting news — we were nearly through the Drake Passage. It had been a very tolerable journey.
On our way out of the breakfast room, we spotted our first iceberg. One of our guide estimated that it was about 300 feet high! After that, we plunked ourselves down in the 7th Deck Panorama lounge to view our approach to the continent. More bergs appeared and we began to see pods of penguins "porpoising" through the water on their way to their favorite fishing spots.
At 11:00 a.m. the naturalist/ landing manager gave us an orientation on the landing protocol. All of the passengers are divided into 10 groups; each group will be called — one at a time — to board the PolarCircl landing craft. When reporting for debarkation, we need our ID card (they scan in as we go out and return, to insure that no one is left behind), our lifejacket, waterproof pants and waterproof jacket. Once on the second deck, we put on knee high rubber boots, check in, walk through a trough of antibacterial liquid (they want no new germs in Antarctica), and head down the ship-side steps into the landing craft.
Our first scheduled landing was to be in Admiralty Bay on King George Island at the Arctowski Station; however, rough surf made landing impossible. So goes life in the wilds at the end of the earth. So that his passengers would not be too disappointed, the captain cruised around to the west side of the island to Maxwell Bay. It was here that we made our first landing in Antarctica. At the end of the bay is a Chilean base and a Russian base. Permission being given, we were allowed to land at the Chilean base of Eduardo Frei. Despite the fact that no penguins reside there (everyone on this ship is penguin crazy), it was wonderful! We had finally set foot on Antarctica.
The two of us visited the base souvenirs shop (yes... since Antarctica now has about 30,000 visitors per year, even these remote bases have a shop...) and then we walked up the hill to the Catholic chapel to thank God for getting us here — and with such good weather!
We had about 45 minutes on land and then it was time to head back to the ship. By the time our turn came around it was 7:00 pm. After a celebratory toast (of a hot coffee drink...despite the warm temperature of 35 degrees F, our feet were cold...), we headed for the dining room and ate a big dinner. All of the getting in and out of boats and walking through shin-high, wet, heavy snow definitely stimulates the appetite.

Once dinner was over, it was time to retire. The ship was already on its way to the Antarctic Peninsula, where we have two more landings scheduled for tomorrow. Sleep came easy, but we woke up around 4:00 a.m. to find the ship bouncing around like a cork — and it was snowing like mad. But as we were powerless to do anything else, we went back to sleep. (There are elastic straps on the beds that can be used to fasten oneself into your bunk so you don't fall out of bed in real rough seas, but we didn't need those.)

Tomorrow promises to be even more exciting — we are headed down the Gerlache Strait for Cuverville Island where we hope to visit the world's largest Gentoo penguin colony.

Stay tuned!

Posted by jeburns55 02:10 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

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