Cruising to the Antarctic Peninsula, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Chilean Fiords, Puerto Montt, Valparaiso and Santiago.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - December 17
After 19 airline hours and 5 time zones, we finally arrived at our hotel, the Sheraton Rio, which is situated in a quiet zone between Copacabana and Ipanema on a somewhat secluded beach.
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Boarding the Ship - January 18 We arrived at the cruise ship terminal a little before noon. The lines to check in were short. Most of the check-in process had been completed on-line days before. All we had to do was present our passports, have our security pictures taken and in just minutes we were on board enjoying a conversation with some new friends we had just met.
Our ship was the Holland America Rotterdam and she was to be our home for the next twenty days. We had cruised aboard the
Rotterdam on two previous occasions and the ship has begun to feel like home. This time "home" was a starboard veranda cabin way back near the stern. Our Captain for this voyage was Rik Krombeen. The Captain's wife, Susan and daughter were aboard for this holiday cruise. The Chief Engineer was Joop Holtzer and Joost Eldering was the Chief Officer. The Hotel Manager was Willem Cruijsberg and our Cruise Director was Andrea Korff.
Santos, Brazil - December 19
Santos is the busiest port in all of South America. Santos is probably best known for being the home of Pele, the legendary soccer player.
It is probably least known for being the entry point for Brazil's bubonic plague in 1899. Santos is not a beautiful city and on our day there it rained.
Our pre-booked ship-sponsored tour consisted of a ride to the top of the city's mountain on a quaint old funicular railway and a visit to the dimly lit and crowded Coffee Museum.
At Sea - December 20 and 21
There's lots to do (or not do) onboard a cruise ship on sea days. One can attend lectures, seminars or a cooking demonstration, visit the gym,
get a massage, learn to dance, watch a movie, go to church, buy gold by the inch or play bridge. There's volleyball, ping pong, golf, basketball and shuffleboard.
You can eat, drink, gamble, read a book or you can just walk around the ship and take pictures.
Buenos Aires, Argentina - December 22
On the morning of the fifth day of the cruise we awoke already docked in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The ship was quickly cleared by Argentine authorities so that we were able to get an early start for our all-day sight seeing and photo adventure. We found a taxi driver who spoke passable English and gave him a pre-printed list in Spanish of places and things we wanted to see. We saw them all and more: Buenos Aires' central shopping district, the Avenida Florida, the Plaza de Mayo, the Casa Rosada, the tomb of San Martin, the Recoleta Cemetery with the tomb of Eva Peron, the colorful buildings of La Boca, the bridge at Paseo del Rosedal, the dog walkers in the parks and the widest street in the world, the Avenida 9 de Jul 10.
Montevideo, Uruguay - December 23
Montevideo is in stark contrast to Buenos Aires. Where "B-A" is bursting with energy, Montevideo is laid back and passive.
We chose to do the ship sponsored city tour which turned out to be something of a letdown compared to our previous day's experiences.
The high points of our tour were the central square and its surrounding architecture; the Capitol Building and the memorial to the
Admiral Graf Spee, the German pocket battleship scuttled within the view of the city after the Battle of the River Plate in
1939. In addition, we saw a lot of old homes, parks and some impressive statuary.
At Sea - December 24 - 25 - 26
We sailed out Montevideo and the Rio de la Plata estuary into the Atlantic and set out on our journey to Antarctica. On the day after Christmas we passed through the Falkland Sound that separates East and West Falkland. Each day the weather gets a little cooler. Christmas Day was in the mid-50s and by the morning of the 27th is was in the low 40's.
Elephant Island - December 27
At 2:00 PM, on this tenth day of our cruise, the Rotterdam entered into the Antarctic Treaty Zone at 60º South Latitude. About the same time we sighted our first icebergs. An hour later Elephant Island came into view still about 50 miles to the south. As we approached the island we became surrounded by more and bigger ice. The temperature was now just a degree or two above freezing and would remain there for the rest of our antarctic cruise segment.
CAPTAIN ALBERT'S BOG
The Captain Albert writes daily of what it's like being the captain of one of Holland America's cruise ships.
Antarctica - Notes
The Antarctic Treaty which was signed by 45 countries in 1959 bans any kind of commercial mining and prohibits all military activity. The treaty protects the ecology and supports scientific research. The Antarctic Treaty Zone includes everything below 60° South Latitude.
The sheer size of Antarctic is awesome. It's the 5th largest continent. Its 5.5 million square miles is covered with an ice cap which has an average thickness of 1 mile. This ice cap represents 90% of the world's ice and 75% of the world's fresh water. If it were all to melt, it would raise the level of the world's oceans by 200 feet.
Admiralty Bay & Deception Island - December 28
We cruised close by the Brazilian base, "Commantante Ferraz", then later we encountered the Norwegian ship, "m/s Fram", at the the Polish base, "Arktowski".
Anvers Island & The Lemaire Channel - December 30
Personnel from the United States Scientific Station on Anvers Island came aboard Rotterdam via rope ladder. They were guest lecturers while we sailed the Lemaire Channel. Palmer Station is named for Nathan B. Palmer, who in 1820 was one of the first to see and experience Antarctica.
The Lemaire Channel is popularly know as "Kodak Gap" for the obvious reason. Hardly anyone out on deck was without a camera.
On this day, the sea and air temperature were just about the same, 33° F. A slight head wind plus our cruising speed added up to a finger
freezing wind chill factor.
At the end of the Lemaire Channel the Captain turned the ship around and returned in the direction from which we had come. That marked the southernmost position that the Rotterdam had ever ventured before. Geographically it was 65°07' South Latitude, 80 miles from the Antarctic Circle and 1,493 miles from the South Pole.
The Gerlache Strait & Paradise Harbor - December 30
About 8:00 AM we cruised past the Argentine station,"Almirante Brown" and observed the bark,
"Europa" making landings at the station. The Europa is a steel hulled Dutch training and exploration ship.
Later we observed the Chilean Station, "Gonsalez Videla".
This was our last day in Antarctica. After cruising the calm waters of the Antarctic Peninsula we headed north for the Southern Ocean and set a course across the stormy Drake Passage to Cape Horn.
At Sea - December 31
The night of the 30th and throughout the day of the 31st we experienced some heavy seas en route to Cape Horn through the Southern Ocean and the Drake Passage. But, the Rotterdam handled it all quite easily.
Ushuaia, Argentina - New Year's Day
In case you're wondering how it's pronounced , it's "oosh-why-ah".
It bills itself as the southernmost city in the world, but this is disputed by both Puerto Williams and Punta Arenas. Ushuaia is the port of embarkation for
many of the small-ship Antarctic cruises and explorations. It has an international airport with direct connections to Buenos Aires and Santiago. During the Summer season, the docks are usually crowded.
We chose the "Penguins & Beagle Channel" ship-sponsored tour. About 7:00 AM we boarded a large fast catamaran which took us back into the Beagle Channel past the lighthouse named "Les Eclaireurs" Headlight, also known as "Fero del Fin del Mundo".
Our boat stopped at an island rookery, home to sea lions and black and white cormorants, which, from a distance, can be mistaken for penguins.
A few miles farther out the channel was Hammer Island, the seasonal habitat for a colony of
Magellanic penguins which are here from October into March.
We returned to Ushuaia a little after 12:00 Noon. Since Rotterdam was scheduled to leave the dock at 12:30 PM, we had no time to explore the city.
The Beagle Channel - New Years' Day
From Ushuaia we proceeded northwest in the Beagle Channel and soon crossed the border into Chile. By mid-afternoon we were cruising by the four magnificent Chilean glaciers, " The Italia", "The Francia", "The Alemania" and "The Romanche". It became immediately clear why we had
not remained longer in Ushuaia. Had we, we would have missed the impressive grandeur of this magnificent scenery.
The Beagle Channel varies in width from three to eight miles and is about 150 miles long. It was named by Captain Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle in
1830 while on a exploration expedition. On subsequent voyages by the Beagle, Captain Fitzroy was joined by the young naturalist, Charles Darwin.
The waterfall is the runoff from the Romanche Glacier.
Punta Arenas - January 2
Punta Arenas, a city of about 120,000 faces out over the Straits of Magellan. It is a city of past glories. Before the Panama Canal was opened
it was an important stop for the ship traffic between the Atlantic and Pacific. Punta Arenas also claims to be the southernmost city in the world.
We chose to take the Otway Bay and Fitzroy Estancia tour. Seno de Otway is the home of a large colony of Magellanic penguins, also called the "Jackass Penguin" for the braying sound they make. From April through August these penguins are at sea. They return here in September to breed and care for their young. They live in burrows dug in the sandy soil near the coast line.
Access to the colony is by controlled admission and designated walkways. The penguins seem unaffected by the presence of humans and will approach visitors within a few feet.
The other half of our tour was a visit to the Estancia Fitzroy, also located on the Otway Sound about an hour's bus ride from the penguin colony. The owner of the estancia is the owner of the bus line and is also the tour operator. The estancia was absolutely beautiful. The restaurant and the tour-included meal was delightful. The lupines were in full bloom and the weather was perfect
The Chilean Fiords - January 3
In the early afternoon we sighted the Isla Saumarez in the maze of Chilean fiords and channels. Soon we were gazing at the magnificent Amalia Glacier and the ice field which it generates.
At Sea - January 4
Puerto Montt - January 5
Puerto Montt is the regional capital of Los Legos (The Lake District of Chile). It was settled by German immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century. Today it has a population of about 175,000. It was our only port-of-call where teh Rotterdam did not dock. The passengers were taken ashore by the ships tenders.
Our ship's tour was an all day adventure. We started with an hour's boat trip around Lake Todos los Santos. Then the waterfalls at Petrohue Rapids and lunch at a quaint German Inn. Our last stop was in Puerto Varas, a resort town on Lake Llanquihue. Everywhere we went that day the scenery was dominated by Vulcan Osorno, a 9,000 ft, perfectly shaped, snow-capped inactive volcano.
At Sea - January 6
Disembarkation - Valparaiso - January 7 -
Santiago - January 8 & 9
Getting off the ship was just as easy as getting on. Luggage is collected from outside the cabins the night before and is sent ashore before passengers get off the ship. Groups of passengers are called in a priority order, depending upon the passengers' travel schedules. We had pre-arranged for transportation to our Santiago hotel. So when our group was called we boarded the bus that would take us there, but first we were given a short tour of Valparaiso and Vina de Mar. It's 75 miles from Valparaiso to Santiago and we made the trip in good time. When we arrived at the Sheraton, our room was ready for us.
The following day we took bus tour of the city of Santiago plus a visit to the Concha y Toro winery several miles out in the countryside.
The Rotterdam is the Holland America flagship. It's the right size at just under 60,000 tons and 1250 passengers. The public areas never seem crowded and the cabin sizes are quite generous compared to some other ships.
She handles the sea quite well. In the crossings between South America and Antarctica, we were hardly aware of the rough seas.
As usual, the service aboard ship was outstanding. Our room steward and our dining room waiters were efficient, helpful and friendly. And special thanks and commendation to the wait staff in the Ocean Bar, Gilbert, Anabel and Leonardo.
Without any doubt, the the high point of the cruise, and the main reason many of us were aboard, was the once-in-a-lifetime four days we spent in Antarctica. The magnificent grandeur we experienced was vividly enhanced by Holland America's Antarctic Team, five professionals whose lectures, descriptions and on-site comments added to our understanding and appreciation..
Click on Any of the Links Below for a Lot More Pictures from that Segment of the Cruise