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By Tom Blake
In my previous column, I wrote about seeing penguin Glenn Miller near Punta Arenas, Chile, while on a 34-day cruise from San Diego around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, and north to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In the final week of the cruise, our Holland America ship, the MS Zaandam, stopped in five ports, before arriving in Rio.
The main takeaway from the cruise: how fortunate the passengers, including my partner Greta and I, were with the weather and sea conditions in this part of South America. We were prepared for rough seas and ice-chilling weather; neither materialized.
Our first port after Punta Arenas was Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. To get there from Punta Arenas, we cruised for two days on the Strait of Magellan, through Glacier Alley, viewing snowcapped mountains, waterfalls and beautiful glaciers with a blue hue.
We had been briefed on board that Ushuaia might be almost a ghost town since we were arriving there on a Sunday, when many businesses close, plus it was Election Day in Argentina. Bundled up in winter coats, gloves and scarves, Zaandam passengers were prepared for the worst in going ashore, aware that weather there can change in minutes.
But what a surprise. The sun was out and the temperature in the high 50s. I saw a few passengers go ashore in shorts, which was more for bravado than fashion.
The first place in Ushuaia tourists go is the “End of the World” sign, located in a park near the shoreline. It’s the busiest place in town for photos.
After stopping there, Greta and I walked the downtown streets for nearly three hours. The place was teeming with folks. Bars, restaurants and shops were open, happy to see the first cruise ship of the season in port.
Most of the time, we carried our winter coats. When the sun ducked behind a cloud, we put them back on. Ushuaia is a hip city with delightful, friendly people.
The next stop was Stanley, Falkland Islands. A steward in the ship’s dining room told me that in 2015, in the five Holland America cruises that scheduled a stop in this port, passengers could only go ashore once due to treacherous winds. Stanley is a tender port, where passengers can only reach the city from the ship by taking smaller boats; the ship dropped anchor two miles away.
When Greta and I stepped off the tender boat at the dock in Stanley, we couldn’t believe our luck. The sun was out; we had to unzip our winter coats.
Stanley is British through and through. We stopped for coffee and to use WiFi at a café called Bittersweet.
While walking around this attractive, quaint city, we checked out the Globe Tavern, a true British pub. It was packed with Brits; you couldn’t move in the place.
England retained control of the Falkland Islands in the war with Argentina in 1982. Christ Church, the most southern Anglican Church in the world, is filled with memorial plaques of Brits who fought in WWI and WWII, and in the war with Argentina. It was interesting to read the messages on the plaques.
The next port was nearly 1,000 miles north of the Falklands, Montevideo, Uruguay. Greta and I visited there 10 years prior. We decided to walk into the city from the port. Within 10 minutes, the rain started. We entered a restaurant that advertised coffee on a chalk board. Turns out, the restaurant, Urbani, served the best hot chocolate we’ve ever had.
The rain was coming down in buckets with wind gusts of 60-70 mph. We stayed for lunch. We had been there for three hours hoping the rain would let up. We asked our server to call us a taxi, to take us back to the ship. The cab company wouldn’t answer their phone—too busy.
The ship was scheduled to depart in two hours. We had no choice: put the rain ponchos on and walk back to the ship.
Once on board, we made a beeline to the hot tub. We didn’t see much of Montevideo.
The next day was a sharp contrast to the previous day. In Buenos Aires, the sun was out, temperature near 70—a welcome change to Cape Horn.
Buenos Aires is known as “The Paris of the South.” It’s big, diverse, beautiful and fascinating. We only had a few hours so we decided to take a Hop On, Hop Off bus around the city. We sat in the upper, open deck. This is a greatest way to see as much of a city as possible in a limited time. Commentary about each building, neighborhood, park, statute and monument is described via earphones.
For three and a half hours, we never left the bus. When the tour ended, we both felt exhilarated. We saw the “pink building,” where Eva Peron lived and addressed thousands from an upstairs balcony. We saw the oldest restaurant in Buenos Aires, Café Tortoni (founded 1858), where we had seen a tango show on our previous visit.
As the ship sailed away, we raised a glass of wine, while standing on the stern deck, saying, “To Buenos Aires, one of the great cities in the world.”
Our final port, before arriving in Rio, was Punte del Este, Uruguay. This is a resort city, with hundreds of high-rise apartments on sandy beaches.
We visited its most famous landmark, a statue in the sand called, “The Hand,” named because four huge fingers and a thumb stick out of the sand.
We had a wonderful trip with amazing weather. After disembarking in Rio, we rented a car and drove 180 miles south to Itamambuca Beach, where we are staying at a beach house for two weeks.
You get spoiled on a cruise ship: three meals a day, all you can eat, ship’s personnel waiting on you hand and foot. At the beach house, reality hit me. Who is going to prepare our meals? Oops, time for me to put on an apron and head for the kitchen, Greta would like her morning coffee.
Tom Blake is a Dana Point resident and a former Dana Point businessman who has authored several books on middle-aged dating. See his websites at www.findingloveafter50.com; www.vicsta.com and www.travelafter55.com. To receive Tom’s weekly online newsletter, sign up at www.findingloveafter50.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.