South America Nine - NCL Cruise
28 Mar 2010
Wake up call at 6:30am and Jose was slightly worse for wear from the previous evening. Oh well these things happen and it was helped by a good brekkie and coffee and wasn’t too bad a hangover. Our bags were packed and we were off the Ocean Nova by 8:00am and on the way to the airport for our midday flight to Buenos Aires. Wifi was great at the airport although no power outlet so we relied on battery power for the laptop and managed to get emails done and one blog sent out. Last farewells to our ship mates at Ushuaia and we boarded our LAN flight and although late, arrived pretty much on time at about 3:30pm.
We were picked at from the domestic and taken an hour across town to the international terminal for our 9:00pm flight to Santiago. We arrived to a huge line at the LAN check in and no one on the desks as yet. We then headed to a café with an excellent wifi connection and power outlets so spent a good hour an half here finishing our Antarctic blogs, sending them off and also managed to Skype Norwegian Cruise Lines to ensure all was good for the cruise on the next day. Apparently the port area has been damaged and another ship, the Star Princess, had huge issues when it was here a couple of weeks ago and we actually spoke to a passenger from it at the airport and it was a bit of a debacle by all reports but the deskie at NCL was pretty confident so we had done all we could and had to hope for the best. After our café pit stop we checked in (without any line whatsoever) and then headed through the several airport controls and eventually found our way to the gate with about an hour left so the time between both flights worked out pretty well. Santiago airport has suffered a fair bit from the earthquakes and rebuilding is still occurring and there are temporary check-in areas but arrivals are reasonably unaffected apart from having a walk on the tarmac. Arrival procedures (bags, customs and immigration) was also very quick and we were out of the terminal and walking to the parking area within 15 minutes and soon claimed by Gloria and Hector (guides from our previous tours of Santiago) and whisked away to their rural and rustic retreat. On the way we stopped for a restroom break and Jose withdrew some money from an ATM that liked the card that much that it didn’t give it back so that threw a spanner in the works but nothing we can do so we continued into the countryside aided by a pisco sour that Gloria and Hector had made for us from their own fruit trees and it was delicious and a really nice touch by them. By the time we arrived (half way between Santiago and Valparaiso) and slipped into bed it was about 2:00am so it was a big day of travel and we didn’t take much rocking………..
Did someone say rocking? There was a tremor about 4:30 in the morning – apparently! When we arrived in the kitchen Hector asked whether we had felt the tremor but we were out to it and it was a small one and lasted only about 10 seconds. Probably best that we hadn’t felt it given some of the devastation the big ones have caused! Had a great brekkie of home grown fruit and omelettes and then tried Skype to call the credit card line to cancel the card but the connection was pretty bad and after a few goes we called it quits and would try in Valparaiso later although we did talk with the guys for awhile.
After the calls the four of us eventually headed off into Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar for a look around and quick tour of the port and sea-side areas which are really interesting and fairly eclectic with bright colours used everywhere and the streets leading from the sea to hills very steep and windy but also very appealing. Juanita got her shopping fix from a couple of local artisans here and there along the tour and again were very good bargains and from local artists so at least we are supporting the local community and not the overseas sweat shops, especially with the devastation the earthquake has caused with one of the artists having to sleep in the living room as the bedrooms have been damaged and other accommodation costs increasing due to opportunists taking advantage as hard as that is to believe in a country that while nowhere near third world is not rich and a lot of people are struggling.
We then drove along the coast line and pulled in to do our vodka trick for the next couple of weeks and phone the credit card people who we were relieved to hear had cancelled the card from our earlier Skype calls (very handy to have) so that was good and we will have to wait to see whether all is OK with the account. Lunch was then had at a great place on the esplanade of empanadas (pastie-type numbers with a variety of fillings and good tucker) washed down by a large beer that left us full and now ready to face embarkation. This wasn’t too bad and within pretty good time we where through the process and on the ship with our “water bottles” in tact and juice in the fridge despite being questioned. NCL has a very strict policy about not bringing alcohol on board. Our cabin is great and the largest we have had so far and is directly above the bridge with great views which we took advantage of when we left port. There was a bit of a deal going on a bucket of beers with six for five so we grabbed one of these and headed back to our own private deck as we headed for open seas and to celebrate being on the ship! We knocked off two each and then headed for dinner in the buffet restaurant which was very good and we got our indian fix which was very good and the meals appear to be very good quality and the range is also large so it may be difficult not to indulge - but what the hell. Back to our cabin and the final two brewskies and an early night trying to recover some sleep from the previous couple of days.
Bit of sleep in and first for awhile with brekkie at a very cruisey 9:00am followed by a exploratory walk of the ship and to check out all the facilities the Norwegian Sun has to offer. There are nine restaurants, eleven bars and cafes, shopping avenue, a theatre for nightly shows and various other areas of interest. We are choosing to use the stairs whenever possible to try and burn the food off but will be interesting to see how this goes – at least it’s something and we are on deck eleven so it’s a good six flights of stairs to some of the other areas.
After this workout lunch was on order but it was a very restrained one with only a couple of pieces of pizza each and then another six flights of stairs down and up so we figure this has got to account for lunch! Pretty cruisey afternoon attending to some chores and getting ready for dinner – it had been a few hours since lunch after all – and then to a Latin music singing and dancing show. One of the girls doing the dancing was very agile and could bend and stretch in every position you could think of – she was very impressive and just happened to be from Sydney. There was also another girl doing the latin dancing from Belarus who was very good. The show overall wasn’t too bad with some very good and not so good dancing and singing and it was good to take in a show before heading back to the cabin for a sit outside on the balcony before calling it a night.
Up earlier today for our shore excursion at Puerto Montt and eventually tendered from the Norwegian Sun and on shore about 9:00 and a two hour bus ride through the country side of northern Patagonia to the foot hills of Osorno Volcano. Our shore excursion was a zipline/flying fox through the tree canopy and we were soon kitted out in our harnesses and on our way via tractor driven cart over and up some very rough tracks where we crossed a bit of a home made foot bridge to the first platform of the flying fox. Juanita was the first in the group off and it was a fairly short and easy ride to the next platform and was followed by Jose and then the rest of the group. The second and third lines were about the same as the first but the fourth was over a fairly wide ravine and was a bit longer than the first two. The fourth was about 250 metres and traversed a canyon so it was a significant drop. Jose went first for this one and followed the guides who went first to man the other platforms. A couple of the guides rode upside down which definitely wasn’t a consideration for any of the tour group. This one was a huge ride and once we got over the initial fright of stepping off the platform it was a great view all the way across the canyon and the surrounding country side. From here the other seven lines were shorter but steeper and the “brake” (your gloved hand behind the pulley setup) came into much more use. All too soon we were back down on the ground and being led by Oscar, a youngster from the lodge, back to the starting area where we were quickly out of the harnesses and being seated for a lunch of soup, salmon and some yummy apple pie not to mention the pisco sour on arrival and couple of carafes of pretty good red wine. It was a great experience which we both really enjoyed and one which we will look for more often on our holidays in the future.
At lunch we sat next to a Polish couple (both doctors) who were good value and into the wine as much as we were. We were then on the road again and back on the bus for a couple of hours with a stop at Puerto Varas which is on a lake (second largest in Chile) and is about 40,000 people and very picturesque. It was too short a stop but we did manage to pick up some more juice for our afternoon sessions before heading back to Puerto Montt and tendering back to the ship where we decided to call it quits for the day on our balcony and collecting a plate of cheese and nibbles with a few vodkas as we headed off south towards tomorrow’s stop.
We didn’t arrive in “port” till 9:30 so we had a bit of a sleep in before again tendering to Puerto Chacabuco and a quick bus ride to a private park for a very sedate three kilometre walk around the Patagonian country side with a group of about 24, some of whom need to do a lot more walking to get fit, as it was a bit of a frustrating pace for us. Nevertheless it wasn’t too bad and we traversed beside a river most of the way and ended at a picturesque waterfall which was producing a fair amount of spray so it was time to pull the waterproof camera out for some pics and then back to the bus for about three minutes up a hill to lunch. Was incredible to think we needed the bus ride but that’s life when you have some very unfit people with you and we would have much preferred to walk the very short distance. The oldies across from us said they were ready for a nana nap after all that exertion!
As we arrived we were given a little cheese pastie thingy and another glass of pisco sour. We were also greeted by Southern Chilean folklore music by performers in traditional costume in a large enclosed rotunda (seated about 100 on long tables with bench seats). It was a really good afternoon with the traditional music supplemented by dancing and crowd involvement including both Jose and Juanita being asked up by the performers. Jose was asked to be first up on the floor and in reality had no idea what was going on as it was a traditional dance and was trying to look at both his partner and also the other couple’s Chilean male dancer to see what he was supposed do and didn’t do too bad considering the circumstances! Luckily Juanita didn’t know how to turn on the camcorder so this particular performance will only be remembered in memory! Juanita was the next on the floor however all dances were now waltz-type so the moves and grooves were OK and later in the afternoon Jose was also up again also doing the waltz and this time both were forever captured on video! The meal itself was great with bread, bruschetta and olive oil followed by a lamb BBQ Patagonian style cooked in the centre of the rotunda and served with lots of salad along with heaps of very good Chilean wine that the hosts were more than happy to serve. The lamb was delicious. Juanita was very happy given lamb is her favourite meat. The BBQs in South America are a vegetarian’s worst nightmare with the whole carcass of the lamb being spread out on sticks over the BBQ flames. We asked to look at the wine bottle to see what it was and they just left it with us and as it was nearly full we thought the only respectable thing to do was to finish it off – didn’t want to offend our hosts! The funny thing was that when our glass was empty our hosts continued to refill our glasses from other bottles leaving our “personal” bottle for in between drinks. It was a fantastic afternoon and a lot of fun was had. Alas this came to an end all too soon and we were quickly back to the dock to tender to the ship where it was again a nibbles night with vodka on the balcony as we cruised through the Patagonian channels.
Another day at sea and another sleep in and we headed for a different restaurant for brekkie. As we are very special “Balcony Stateroom” guests we are invited to this restaurant – the plebs aren’t allowed in! This one was al a carte and proved to be very good all round with eggs Benedict and a side of hot waffles with maple syrup and fresh cream! Some retail therapy was then on offer with a watch sale in the shopping area and both Jose and Juanita were successful with a very good purchase of a Fossil watch each and included a very tough decision for Juanita and a couple of walks to the outside decks to ensure she purchased the right one. We then went for another wander around the decks and all too soon it was lunch time and a big salad for Jose and Juanita mostly refraining as exercise is all too hard to come by!
The afternoon saw a very relaxed time with an hour spent in one of the jacuzzis on the top deck watching the fjords sail by and a visit to the library followed by a read - tough afternoon! Not much else happening with us and we headed out for a quick bite and back to the cabin for the night. The nightly entertainment didn’t sound very exciting so chose to stay in.
Another very cruisey day spent doing not much. For something totally different we went for a good hour walk around the promenade deck (12 circuits), did the normal eating, drinking and as another shop opened up for business (everything was $10 – Juanita told Jose to go back to the room as she could be a while) – more shopping and another jacuzzi so all in all it was very relaxing day in preparation for our next shore landing.
We did venture out again for dinner and then to the show for the night which was a very loose interpretation of Peter Pan. While we’re no expert on Pan we were a bit surprised when one of the songs played was Moulin Rouge. Nevertheless it was entertaining and the music good and the dancing pretty good despite the interpretation.
Up early for brekkie and off the ship to Punta Arenas and through customs by 7:45am with a spectacular sunrise on the way over on the tender. Things to do this morning, we have our washing with us, emails to send and a haircut for Jose not to mention buying some “supplies” for the balcony. Unfortunately the laundry wasn’t open at 8:00am so we went for a walk but sleepy Punta Arenas wasn’t stirring yet (they are still on daylight saving time due to the earthquake and we think things weren’t open as it wasn’t sunrise til 8:00am!). We did manage to find an internet at a flash hotel on the waterfront to send the emails and a quick check of the news websites revealed Mackay about to be hit by a cyclone of which we were totally unaware. A few more quick emails sent to family there with the hope we will get a response when we look in Ushuaia the following day. With this done we headed back to laundry which was open so another tick for the morning and then headed for the main plaza where there was a handicraft market with a couple of minor purchases made. A haircut for Jose and supplies bought and camouflaged for entry back on the ship so all good to go. We rounded the morning off with a hot chocolate (one of the best Jose has tested) and then picked up the washing and to the pier for the afternoon tour of the city and Austral Brewery.
We were picked up on time and firstly went to the viewpoint for the city at La Cruz Hill and it was a good spot for video and photos with the now obligatory vendors on the footpath. We then headed for municipal cemetery to view the huge mausoleums of the pioneering families and others. There are also mausoleums for various groups of nationalities and groups such as the Italians, Croatians and police as they form something akin to a benevolent society that includes a burial plot in the society’s mausoleum. There were also a huge number of avenues created by large cypress trees and the whole cemetery was well worth the visit. Note for Alan and Sonya – the size of the mausoleums dwarf the ones in little Ingham and there are huge numbers! From here we travelled to the Sara Braun Museum but before going in we had to don nice little bootie covers for our shoes and very attractive numbers they were too! We then went to view all the various rooms on the top and lower floors of the very palatial house – it would have cost an absolute fortune back in the days it was built which was around the early 1900s. We then had some time to ourselves and we headed back to the main plaza for another look around and then onto the bus. A Swiss couple were missing from our little group of 19 so we went for a ride in the bus back to the museum but still a no show and then back to where we originally parked and lo and behold there they were full of apologies and very grateful that we had come back for them – you’d think their Swiss chronometers would keep better time! Nevertheless we made it to the brewery and we were shown around and saw how the beer was made and then to the most important part – the tasting. We had five beers to taste with the last a very interesting blackberry infused beer called El Calafate. Even with another taste from the bartender a longer session with them is required to work out if it is to our liking, maybe in BA. From here it was a return to the dock for tendering back to the ship and then to the balcony for a vodka or two and then to dinner at the Italian restaurant with our Polish friends which was very good and then to see the show. This was actually very good and was “Gaucho Del Plata” and was a Uruguayan who used hard spheres attached to rope that he danced with and was much the entertainer and was good with the crowd and very fluent in both English and Spanish after which we called it a night after a fairly big day out and about.
Today we were again able to have a sleep in as we weren’t due to dock in Ushuaia til midday so brekkie was a late affair which we decide was brunch in an attempt to have only two meals for the day! Strangely enough we came into sight of Ushuaia about 10:00am but didn’t recognise it for awhile and weren’t really convinced until we started to turn away from the Beagle Channel and into the harbour area. Interestingly as we motored into the dock area we saw that there was something major going on with the dock area filled with sailing ships from different South and Central American countries and flags flying everywhere. All the ships were in very good condition and the pier was full and as we approached we could hear bands playing and there was also a large procession taking place in the port area on shore. It looked like we were lucky to be in port during today!
As soon as the announcement was given we disembarked and were off the ship pretty much at midday. We passed a fairly large ceremony (in Spanish) and then headed for Martial Glacier via a taxi. It was about a 15 minute taxi drive from the centre of town and our taxi driver was determined to get us there in good time. The road was very windy in parts following the contours of the mountain and the driver could have been Juan Fangio the Argentinean racing car driver from many years ago! We then took a very peaceful 15 minute chair lift ride up to the start of the walking area. There were a number of tracks open but we decided to take the “35 minute” walk to the panoramic lookout point. However this turned out to be about a 15 minute walk but was a good spot and we were able to get some wonderful photos and video of Ushuaia and the harbour area with the glacier and snow covered mountains behind us. There was a longer walk to the Glacier itself but as we were short on time and didn’t think we were going to get any better views of glaciers than we had already experienced, we bypassed this walk. We were soon back on the chair lift which in itself had good viewing and then back to Ushuaia via the waiting taxis.
To an internet shop to send a few emails and check on the account with the lost ATM card but all was OK so a bit of a relief. We then did the obligatory supermarket visit for our last balcony supplies (still seven days to go after all) and then to the chocolate shop for supplies as it’s very good quality so we had to stock up! We then headed for the waterfront park where we found a good seat and proceeded to sip a good Argentinean red from our Vodka mugs, which we had brought with us just for the occasion (great planning on Jose’s part but then we wouldn’t expect anything else!) along with a couple of nibbles that we bought from the supermarket and we had a very relaxing time in front of the harbour soaking up the atmosphere and taking a few family photos for the locals who were out in force also soaking up the views of the sailing ships and the bands that were playing on the pier.
As we were also lucky enough that the ship was docked so that our balcony faced the pier and all the goings on, we decided to head back to the ship to take up our position and partaking of the odd vodka and juice while listening and watching the comings and goings of all the people on the pier. And there was heaps – we were packed in a very tight procession of people heading both on and off the pier but eventually made it back to our balcony where we had a fantastic view of what was going on and also of some Latin American music coming from the ships. There were marching bands performing up and down the pier and it was like they were performing just for us with the great vantage point that we had. It was a very festive atmosphere and we sat out there for hours and watched the sun slip over the horizon and after sunset we were greeted by all the ships lights adding to the view. Juanita went a little crazy taking photos with all the action going on and the night lights. We were able to grab some Mexican nibbles from the bistro as we decided it was definitely an eat in night. Shortly thereafter we slipped out away from dock and also from the lights of the ships and of Ushuaia from what was a fantastic day and a departure from dock that rivalled the one from Venice three years earlier. Very, very speckie and a fantastic way to end the day!
Another day at sea and a huge day planned – just kidding as we basically did bugger all apart from eat, go for a wander down to the shops and around the ship, eat again, have another jacuzzi and then chill in our room and on the balcony with a couple of Russia’s best. We couldn’t even be bothered going to dinner but had some potato chips that we had bought in Ushuaia and went to bed early after a day doing pretty much nothing. Sometimes a down day is required and with Iguazu and BA coming up we’ll probably need some reserves!
Up for brekkie at a good time to be ready for the call to tender ashore in Port Stanley in the Falklands – our second visit here. However we caught slightly by surprise when we had an early call by the Captain to say the ship was cleared, so we quickly finished and were downstairs in good time, so good that we avoided the tender ticket line and were again on the first tender ashore. We first walked to the museum at the far (3kms) end of town with lots of stops on the way for photos and videos. The weather was absolutely perfect and in total contrast from when we were last here four weeks ago with the Ocean Nova when it was pretty much crap being rainy, windy and about zero degrees. With the beautiful weather we made the most of it and after what Jose thought was a reasonable look through the museum we wondered around the town passed a pet reindeer and whale bone display to the top of the hills and then back down to the harbour side for a bit of retail therapy at some of the pretty good souvenir shops. We followed this up with a trip to the Anglican Church which was pretty impressive for so small a town and then to the lunch at a café for a pie, peas, chips and gravy washed down by a Bud. A very healthy meal with all the food groups covered and as we had spent about 5 hours walking around we then decided that a reprieve was in order so we took the museum bus to a hotel near there and washed down lunch a bit further with another couple of beers before catching the bus back to the pier and tendering back to the ship in time for a couple of vodkas on the balcony before we headed off from the Falklands for the last time. We were able to soak up the sun on the balcony for a short while with our vodkas before taking off.
The air was decidedly cooler after heading off so we headed inside and then went and had an Indian dinner at the bistro which was very good and way too filling! So much so that an early night was called for after another vodka for Jose (sleeping purposes only).
Another day at sea and another sleep in before heading off to brekkie at the four seasons restaurant which is al a carte and has some of Juanita’s favourite waffles and maple syrup. Not a lot done today – spent a few hours catching up on the blog and then after collecting our passports headed out for a relaxing jacuzzi. We even went without lunch – this is huge for Jose! Another cruisy afternoon and at dinner we caught up with our Polish friends and agreed to catch up after the show for coffee. The show was quite good with a singer and a couple of dancers performing and afterwards went to the observation lounge for a Corona with our friends before calling it a night.
Up early with the ship docking at Puerto Madryn at 7:00am and no tendering so to brekkie and then straight off down the 500 metre pier. Surprisingly the tourist information was open when we arrived at 8:00am (not much tends to open before 9:30/10:00) and we soon had all the info required and a map and headed off to find an internet. The one suggested didn’t open til 9:30 (no surprise) so we started walking on the esplanade towards Ecocentro which is a large building with interactive displays of the areas wildlife concentrating mainly on marine animals and whales in particular. We didn’t find any internet facilities open but came across a brand new hotel so we called in to see if they had any facilities. They did and it was free – the fact that the receptionist thought we were staying there possibly had something to do with it but you go with the flow in these circumstances. Emails checked and sent and we were soon off again and at Ecocentro which turned out to be very good and the exhibits in both Spanish and English proved it to be a worthwhile place to stop. That done we headed back into town (about a 50 minute walk) and called into the Cambio to change money. Unfortunately no passports so no money. A quick trip to the supermarket for juice and then back to the ship for the passport and then to the Cambio and we were cashed up. Last job for the day was to see if we could buy a bag to leave at our friends at the apartments in BA. Juanita found one but on returning they were closed for siesta! Hard to believe but they close from about 12:30pm to anywhere up to 4:30pm. What the hell do they do during this time is a mystery to us and is a huge waste of time from our perspective but does explain why they don’t eat dinner til about 10:00pm! We think maybe they got their daily planning from Brisbane City Council with their bus drivers doing split shifts with hours to wait in between – Pauly I am sure you can agree with us on this one!!
After that shopping experience we decided lunch was in order and we had the recommendations from the Lonely Planet book so we ended up at “Margarita Bar” which strangely enough doesn’t sell margaritas! They do however sell beer (nice large cold beers - 650mls – should be more of it in Australia) and a half half pizza sorted lunch out and pretty good it was too. We then headed back to the ship after a fairly big day and made use of the balcony again, until we left the sheltered dock for a couple of vodkas and an early night with nibbles. You have to make use of the balcony as much as you can!
Another day at sea and off to brekkie at the four seasons for our last time here. We only have brekkie here when at sea so this was the last supper so to speak at the Four Seasons. A few chores on order this morning eg book returns, lecture regarding disembarkation, photos and videos of the ship and starting to pack. We again met our Polish friends and had lunch with them and were invited back to their room for a liqueur!
After having a couple of these and another interesting chat we headed off for another Jacuzzi (it was a sea day after all) and decided to grab another bucket of beers and save the last of our vodka for tonight as our friends were coming over with a bottle of nice red to view our photos of trip and we figured we’d need a little extra in reserve. Sure enough this was the case and Juanita’s photos went down a treat so much so that they requested some and poor Juanita had a big job trying to pick some out over a few hours. It ended up being a late night (for us) and we took very little rocking – lucky we had a late start at Uruguay tomorrow as we were docking at 10:00am!
Up early for brekkie, more packing, a lot of further sorting of photos by Juanita for our friends, a very quick trip to the on shore internet (ship arrived a bit early so we were able to confirm flights for Iguazu and that we could leave bags at our BA accommodation – Yahoo!) and then off to our all day shore excursion in Montevideo including city highlights and lunch and winery tour just outside the capital of Uruguay.
The city tour was very good and Montevideo is definitely a place that we could spend a lot of time at with it’s parks, coastline and large middle class and generally pleasant surrounds which are very appealing with many liveable areas in the city. There also many monuments and sculptures around the city and the Uruguayans seem to have an appreciation of their country and capital. They are also a cultural mix but mainly of European descent and seem to be fairly comfortable in their own skin. This being said the winery experience did have some minor issues but the wine was still good and we did get fed so overall it was a good excursion and on the way back we did happen along a supermarket where a couple of bottles of red was purchased for our last night with our Polish friends who came to visit.. We also had to knock off a couple of beers from the night before and also the last of the vodka which was timed nearly minute perfect for the end of the cruise!
So the last night on board was had in good company with good wine and a bit of cheese from the buffet. Life is good.
Thoughts on the Cruise and NCL ............to follow next blog