Tuesday, 12 January 2010

DIARY DECEMBER - CHILE, ARGENTINA, ANTARCTICA

iN THE FUTURE I PROPOSE TO POST THE DIARY EACH WEEK SO THAT IT IS NOT SUCH A MAMMOTH READ!


200912


TUESDAY 1 DECEMBER 2009 – Gabriel has left by the time we get up but Juan Carlos is home and prepares us breakfast.  He goes out with the girls who have visited Santiago to do their Christmas shopping.   We leave late morning and walk to the city centre where there is a nice main square with the old cathedral surrounded by modern office blocks.  The nearby market is famous as the roof structure was made in Birmingham, England last century then shipped here and assembled.  Inside the market there are restaurants all round the edge with way too many people trying to persuade you to visit theirs.  We order from the special menu as you get your main course plus soup and an after dinner drink.  First they bring the main courses; Steve enjoys a local seafood speciality Paila Marina whilst I have fish.  Next they bring our bill but we explain that we have not had our soup.  After the soup they try again with the bill and we have to ask for the free after dinner drinks before paying it.  Across the river is a fruit and vegetable market with low prices so we buy some cherries and a fresh fruit juice.  We stroll through the riverside park then head to “Cerro Santa Lucia” in the centre of the city for nice views.  It is a strange hill with lots of walkways and terraces and really interesting.  On the way back we detour to the streets called “Londres” and Paris where there are some nice buildings.  Taking our first journey
on the underground, CP$400 (50p) we do quite well once we have changed direction from going the wrong way!   At Parque Quinta Normal the Natural History museum has free admission and passes an hour.  The boating lake is funny as loads of people are swimming in the murky water in spite of the “no swimming” signs.  We take a large bottle of wine back to the flat to help celebrate Juan Carlos’s birthday.  This goes down well with the cream cake the Gabriel has bought.  The girls join in the celebration before leaving to catch the bus to Antofagasta, 19-hours.   Juan Carlos then serves us some filled courgettes that he has cooked and they are really tasty.  Gabriel & Juan Carlos are very friendly hosts but we wrote to 3 Couchsurfers in Santiago and all invited us so tomorrow we will move on to another couple and spread ourselves around.
SANTIAGO 2, COUCHSURFING WITH GABRIEL & JUAN CARLOS


WEDNESDAY 2 DECEMBER – We take the subway across the city to an area known as Los Condes.  As we emerge from the subway Steve is approached by a man.  It is Pablo our host who is heading home for dinner and to meet us.  At their modern apartment we are introduced to his wife Sol and their dog Pappo.  After a cooked lunch Pablo returns to work and I go to the shopping centre with Sol.  She needs to buy an airbed for us and some blinds for the window.  We are their first Couchsurfers and she is very excited about having us to stay.  In the evening they are out to a friend’s birthday meal (amazingly don’t set out until after 9pm) so we are home alone.  Think it is around midnight when they arrive back.
SANTIAGO 3, COUCHSURFING WITH SOL & PABLO


THURSDAY 3 DECEMBER – A combination of things mean we have little sleep.  At the junction with the city ring road the traffic is noisy all night.  The air bed is not pumped up enough and we keep bouncing around.  With no blinds at the window it is very light and then to cap it all we get a helicopter search nearby with it flying round in ever increasing circles with a huge flood light – welcome to the city.  Join Sol and Pablo for breakfast after which Pablo heads to work (he has his own company) and Sol to college.  The maid is in today so we can come and go as we please.  A few blocks away we visit the supermarket for drinks and groceries.  In the afternoon we enjoy sitting out by the swimming pool, almost feels like an apartment type holiday.  In the evening Sol and Pablo go out to play tennis.  Pablo is keen for Steve to put the blinds up in our room as he is no handyman so whilst they are out Steve gets them up.  We get an E-mail to say Natasha has had an accident; she tripped over her friend’s foot in the playground and has a scaphoid fracture to her wrist.  Sadly she is going to miss some important swimming galas but also Claire has to cancel her planned birthday swimming party that should have been on Saturday.  Around 9.30pm we have our evening meal.  Sol has cooked a nice joint of pork and I have done fried potato cubes and a kind of ratatouille to go with it.  Finding it hard eating so late at night but as they say – when in Rome… 
SANTIAGO 4, COUCHSURFING WITH SOL & PABLO


FRIDAY 4 DECEMBER – With the airbed pumped firmer, black out blinds at the window and ear plugs I manage a better sleep.  We head into the city and catch the changing of the guard at the Palace.  It is surprisingly good with a band marching the new soldiers down the street to the parade ground.  It is really good music and almost sound like a circus parade.  The changing of the guard is done with great precision and lasts almost half an hour.  At Brazil Park we cannot understand the barriers and crowds then realise it is a funeral.  No ordinary funeral but that of the famous Chilean guitarist Victor Jara who was murdered in 1973 during Pinochet’s regime.  His body was recently found amongst others and it has taken until now to confirm which one was his.  He was tortured and shot more than 40 times.  Now they are holding a funeral come memorial service so we join the queue to file past and time our visit to fit in with that of the President of Chile, Michelle, and Victors widow Joan Turner from Britain.  Next we head to the sculpture park north of the river.  In the park nearby there is a kind of outdoor gym with lots of workout equipment which we have brief go on.  It is a cloudy afternoon so we use the time to do some Internet tour planning.   Sol & Pablo are from Argentina so we get lots of information from them also.  In the evening they go out to visit friends.
SANTIAGO 5, COUCHSURFING WITH SOL & PABLO


SATURDAY 5 DECEMBER – Sol & Pablo have suggested a ride out to the coast.  We want to have a few days there so take our baggage along.  It takes just over 1-hour on toll roads to reach the coast.  At Isla Negra we visit the home of Chile’s famous poet Pablo Neruda, $3600 (£4.50) for a guided tour in English.  He has 3 homes but this was his favourite and houses his largest collections.  Loving the ocean many of the rooms have a nautical sea and the lounge with lots of figureheads is amazing.  Further north along the coast at Algarrobo we enjoy a fish dinner sat out behind the beach.  At the far end of the bay is a hotel with the largest swimming pool in the world.  The accommodation in Algarrobo is either full or expensive so we back track to nearby El Quisco.  There we have many choices and settle on Galligo 2 with pleasant motel style rooms at CP$13,000 (£17).  The only rooms available are near the road but the owner says we can change to one at the back tomorrow.  We all take a walk the couple of blocks to the waterfront.  At this end of town there are many granite rocks creating small beaches and it is very attractive.  Sol & Pablo head back to the city whilst we enjoy a quiet evening watching movies on TV.  We are surprised just how cold it is a night but at least it is quieter than in the city.
EL QUISCO, GALLIGO 2
CP$13,000 (£17)


SUNDAY 6 DECEMBER – It is a cold an misty morning so we wrap up for a walk along the coast towards the town centre.  There are loads of houses for sale but most need a lot of TLC.  On the town beach many families are braving the cold.  Walking back along the main road we pass a school building advertising a “grand fish fry”.  Today they are serving fish and accompaniments at CP1, 300 (£1.70).  It is the same fish as yesterday but less than half the price and comes with rice, salad, bread and salsa.  By mid afternoon it is still cold and windy so we settle back into our new room at the back.  When we settle down to sleep we realise the bed base has collapsed and the mattress has sunk in the middle so it is not at all comfortable.
EL QUISCO 2, GALLIGO 2


MONDAY 7 DECEMBER – We are woken by the sun streaming in through the window.  Love the room but not the bed and explain this to the friendly owner who says we can move, again.  With a clear blue sky it looks like being a nice day.  Catch a bus, CP500 (£65p)  to the last town on this stretch of coast, San Antonio, a large fishing port with an interesting fish market and long promenade.  Steve tries the local seafood pasty and I snack on “churros”, a Spanish style doughnut in long fingers.  We eat at a small shack on the waterfront so are quite surprised that the owner speaks good English.  Many times in Chile we are surprised to be confronted by older people speaking English, probably more so than the younger ones who we would expect it from.  Return at lunch time then spend the afternoon on El Quisco beach.  OK so now we are at the back of the building and have a comfy bed, fingers crossed nothing can spoil our night’s sleep. 
EL QUISCO 3, GALLIGO 3


TUESDAY 8 DECEMBER – Today we head north up the cost to Algarrobo, CP$300 (38p).  At the far end is the hotel San Alfonso del Mar with the largest swimming pool in the world, over 1km long.  We walk around the bay and through the village just taking in the scene.  Today is a public holiday so the beach is crowded with people.  We prefer to return and go to the quieter area of El Quisco beach.
EL QUISCO 4, GALLIGO 4




WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER – Catch the Tur Bus back to Santiago, CP2800 (£3.50).  Taking the metro to the end of the line we then pick up a taxi to Las Condes shopping mall area, CP3200 (£4).  Couchsurfing hosts Mark & Di live in an apartment block behind the centre.  Mark is from Liverpool and Di is an Aussie so we are assured of a good time.  We begin with champagne out on the terrace.  There’s a shopping centre next door so I nip round in the afternoon to pick up some beers, essential for Steve & Mark to watch the Liverpool game.  Di has 3 pet ferrets, 2 of which are known to bite your toes so I get pretty good at sitting in the chair with my legs crossed.  We spend ages chatting and drinking wine to the extent that it is 10.30pm before we eat.  Well worth the wait as Mark cooks a delicious roast beef dinner complete with Yorkshire puddings.
SANTIAGO, COUCHSURFING WITH MARK & DI

THURSDAY 10 DECEMBER – Di & Mark work from home on their computers so we try not to disturb them during working hours.  I go to the shopping centre to buy some new clothes for the cruise, travelling light I have almost worn out some of the tops I brought with me.  In the afternoon we enjoy a couple of hours on the sun loungers by the pool.  For our evening meal I cook us chilli pasta. 
SANTIAGO 2, COUCHSURFING WITH MARK & DI

FRIDAY 11 DECEMBER – Late morning we take a brief walk around the neighbourhood but other than the shopping centre it is all just big apartment blocks.  We spend another afternoon by the pool topping up our tans but leave as soon as the children arrive as no one takes any notice when they squirt their water guns everywhere.  In the evening Mark & Di take us for a meal at the Chinese across the street where we really enjoy the beef dish.  The restaurant is packed out with most diners arriving after 9pm.  I understand that when the weather is hot it is nicer to eat late at night but we both find the food lays heavy on our stomachs and now prefer our main meal mid day.
SANTIAGO 3, COUCHSURFING WITH MARK & DI


SATURDAY 12 DECEMBER – We all get up quite late, not surprising as most nights we have been up until almost midnight.  Obviously late nights and mornings are the norm in Chile as many shops don’t open until after 10am.   I start the curry cooking; it is out meal for tonight but always tastes better when it has sat throughout the day.  Realise we have had a different country meal every night since we arrived – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding from England, pasta from Italy, a visit to the Chinese and an Indian tonight.  Whilst the lads are watching football in the afternoon Di & I head out to a couple of markets but can’t get what we want and end up in the shopping centre by their apartment. 
SANTIAGO 4, COUCHSURFING WITH MARK & DI

SUNDAY 13 DECEMBER – Many times whilst travelling people suggest I write a book about it.  I am already running a blog with my diary, http://www.glenswatman.spaces.live.com/ but people still want to know how we can afford this lifestyle etc so I am now starting a second blog with this type of info, http://www.glenswatman.blogspot.com/ All well and good except I feel out of my depth from the moment I start but I am lucky that Mark can get me over some of the hurdles.  Our other friends Kevin & Ruth have just done a similar thing and Kevin tells me it is also possible to make a little money from this by have some web links on the page and getting paid when people click on them so at the end of the day I am rewarded for all my efforts with 23c!   Mark & Steve intend to watch the afternoon Liverpool match so Di suggests we go out to buy some beer and the meat for tonight’s BBQ.  It is at this point that we realise that all the shops are closed.  We had forgotten that it is Election Day in Chile and this must be the reason.  We have recently read a book by “Isabel Allende” talking about Chile’s past in years gone by alcohol was not on sale for the day of the election or the day before and women and men had to use different voting stations.  Di is convinced that some of the smaller corner shops will be open and after quite a tour of the neighbourhood we get a result.  The BBQ is delicious served up with a tasty potato bake.  We shall be a little reluctant to leave tomorrow as we have had such a good time with Di & Mark.  Can’t believe we have had 10 nights in Santiago, considering there are few attractions in the city, but it has been the people that have interested us more.
SANTIAGO 5, COUCHSURFING WITH MARK & DI

MONDAY 14 DECEMBER – Just half an hour before we are due to leave we get a message from our next host to say we cannot visit.  She has just broken up with her boyfriend in France and is distraught.  This throws me into a bit of a panic as I have done no research on accommodation and we won’t be arriving in Vina del Mar until 3pm.  I post a message to the Couchsurfing group in Vina and begin to get replies within minutes including one from our host who has changed her mind and will meet us.  Mark & Di drop us at the metro and it doesn’t take long to get to the Tur Bus depot.  We already have tickets for the 1.10pm bus, CP$3200 (£4) but find we are in time to change to an earlier one.  In less than 2 hours we arrive and are just sorting ourselves out when I realise I have left my cardigan on the bus and it has left.  I report it at the office and they assure me it will be handed in and I can collect it later.  Liliana arrives and actually seems quite cheerful; think she must have written to us the minute the break up happened.  She speaks excellent English and we chat whilst following her to get a colectivo to her home.  She lives there with her family and her parents are motorhomers.  We also learn that later today she has a Turkish family with 3-year old twins also arriving.  The family live in a big house high up on a hill overlooking the city and we are given her brothers room as he is away at university in Santiago.  Lili returns to the bus station to pick up the Turkish family, Muhsin and his wife Nilgun and their boys Alp & Mert.  Lili’s 10 year old sister Catalina is delighted to have new playmates.  Lili’s parents, Jose Miguel and Viviana arrive home; they are also part of the Couchsurfing group in their own right and just love having visitors. Viviana is keen for her guests to try Chile specialities so we drink Pisco Sour and eat empanadas and other traditional foods.  We enjoy some very varied conversation jumping between motorhoming, life in Turkey, travel and living the dream as 46 year old Muhsin and 40 year old Nilgun are also retired.  
VINA DEL MAR 1, COUCHSURFING WITH LILI AND FAMILY


TUESDAY 15 DECEMBER – When we get up all the family have left but “Nana” has arrived and is cleaning up.  The table has been laid for breakfast and we are joined by Muhsin and Nilgun whilst the twins are still sleeping.  They didn’t go to bed until the same time as us and when they were awake they were never still for a moment so reckon they must have been tired out.  We take a bus, CP370 (£50p) down to the city centre and retrieve my cardigan from the bus station.  I’m very pleased to have it as there is a sea mist and it is quite chilly.  We head off towards “Castle Hill” and admire the buildings and peak from outside at the Presidential Palace.  Down on the waterfront there is free admission to “Castle Wulff” which is brilliant inside.  Built on a rock outcrop the bridge to the tower has a glass floor so you can see the ocean rushing in, you actually feel like you are on a ship.  The property next door had taken advantage of this and designed the restaurant and hotel to look like one.  Many of the museums are free and housed in nice Palace buildings whilst Rioja Palace costs CP600 (75p).  Money well spent as not only is it a wonderful building with furnishing but gives us a good laugh.  We have both been given information booklets in English but they differ to the extent that furnishings in one room are classed as both Empire and Imperial and in others they cannot agree on which King Louis it is!  The main square is surrounded by more nice buildings and the Palace in Vergara in the park is a most attractive Moorish style.  Early afternoon the sun finally wins over the sea mist but it is too late to head to the beach so we sunbathe in the park.  There’s a magnificent open area here with most unusual poles suspended over the nonexistent roof.  Steve wants to get back to watch football on TV at 5pm so we call it a day.  The family are back and the boys are enjoying themselves running round, they seem to have so much energy it tires us out just watching and listening to them.  We take “elevenses” with the family in the evening and enjoy chatting. When we phone up to wish Natasha “happy birthday” we are upset to learn that she has just got home and found Jack the hamster dead, needless to say she doesn’t want to talk to us.
VINA DEL MAR 2, COUCHSURFING WITH LILI AND FAMILY


WEDNESDAY 16 DECEMBER – Taking the bus up to the shopping mall it is a short walk to the beach.  We pick a nice quiet spot away from everyone else but far enough back from the ocean that we are not drenched by the spray.  There is a steep drop to the water and the waves are pounding in.   In no time at all we have people surrounding us in spite of the fact there are many other places they could sit.  We get people kicking sand around, other talking loudly and using the phone and the last straw is when a couple of guys plonk down by my feet and beginning smoking.  I’ve offered to cook us all a meal tonight so we visit the huge supermarket on the way back.  Although it is almost Christmas and they are playing traditional music it doesn’t have the same bustling atmosphere as English stores at this time of year.  The spaghetti bolognaise is warmly received and Nilgun has brought a big fruit and custard tart to finish the meal.  We are moving to another host in Valparaiso tomorrow but the family have nothing arranged.  Lili contacts our host Dan and he agrees to take the family in as well. 
VINA DEL MAR 3, COUCHSURFING WITH LILI AND FAMILY


THURSDAY 17 DECEMBER – We are supposed to meet up with Dan in Vina at 6pm so have the day free but it is cloudy and not a beach kind day so we hang around at the house.  Lili’s parents are coming back in the afternoon but Lili arrives first, phones Dan and finds arrangements have changed and we must make our way to his house.   It is quite late when José Miguel and Viviana arrive so we don’t hang around but begin to make our way to Valparaiso by buses, CP370 (50p) and CP$450 (60p) whilst the Turkish family take a taxi as they have a lot of luggage.  We get off at Plaza Waddington and walk a couple of streets down to Dan’s place.  We are at the eastern end of the bay and up a hill so have fantastic views.  We haven’t even got through the door when Muhsin and family arrive.  Dan speaks really good English and seems a very funny man.  The Turkish family seem a little uncomfortable as this is obviously not a house for children and Dan has lots of stuff around.  They set off out for a walk but return a few minutes later in a taxi to pick up their bags to move somewhere else.  At 8.15pm we are hungry so take a walk to the shops on Plaza Waddington to get some stuff to make a meal for us all, Dan has 3 other people who stay with him.  It is a small shop with a couple of people working there and a couple of lads hanging around.  Before leaving I make sure to put my purse away and secure my bag diagonally across my shoulders.  The minute I leave the store I feel a push on my shoulder and the bag being tugged away.  I try to hang on but the youth is too strong.  We turn round and see him running off and by instinct we start to follow.  We are both shouting anything that comes to mind in English and Spanish.  The thief glances back and I see that he has a knife in one hand so shout to Steve, who is ahead of me, to warn him.  We pursue the boy who turns up the hill that runs along the side of the park.  A man in the park with a dog runs over and I am hopeful that he is going to set the dog on the thief but instead he tries to kick the lad.  He backs off quickly when a knife is waved at him in a threatening manner.  We keep up pursuit, I throw down the grocery bag to try and gain speed, but the youth is getting ahead of us, we are unfit and it is all uphill.  Many people come out to see what happens and I shout to them to phone the Police.  The thief is easy to identify with a bright red t-shirt but we lose sight when he turns into a side street.  Steve is still ahead of me and follows.  I slow a little thinking this is the end of the chase but when I reach the street I can see Steve fighting with the man and bringing him down.  I run over and between us we manage to get the knife out of his hand but not before Steve has been cut a few times.  People come out of their houses and another man helps Steve restrains the youth.  Steve tells me he saw the lad hiding under the car with my handbag and he dragged him out, he tells me to get my bag and check the contents.  Other than the strap that was slashed everything is in order.  We are in a dead end street which is why events turned out the way they did.  Another man comes up the street shouting and cursing, walks up to the youth and gives him a kick in the nose.  I try to stem the flow of Steve’s wounds; the worse is a cut to the outside palm of his right hand.  I place my foot above the youths head in case Steve gets too weak to hold him down.  Many people are now around us offering stuff to put over Steve’s wound, glasses of coke and general sympathy.  The Police arrive reasonably quickly and soon assess the situation and put the youth in handcuffs.  The thief is put in the back of the Police truck with us in the front.  Luckily one of the policemen speaks good English so we ask to be taken to call and explain things to Dan before going to the hospital.  In the hospital waiting room the Policeman does the checking in.  Steve starts to feel sickly and faint, looks pale and is obviously in shock.  I have him put his head between his knees but he is still swaying around.  Policeman says to try to hang on for just a couple of minutes.  Steve sits up to speak to me but suddenly starts mumbling and sounds like he is going to start sobbing but instead his eyes roll back in his head and he starts to keel over backwards unconscious.  I scream out for help whilst stopping him falling over.  The Police and few other people help me haul him up and then drag him on his knees into the emergency room.  We soon find a doctor who gets Steve up onto a trolley at which point he regains consciousness.  They take us into the treatment room and begin assessing his needs.  Policemen Miguel is very kind and talks us through everything.  Steve has a mid level cut in his hand requiring a number of stitches and a minor cut just in front of one ear where he has more stitches.  The rest of the cuts are more like grazes so just need cleaning up.  However his left small finger (which he has broken twice in the past) is a mess.  By now the thief is also in the treatment room he has a badly bruised face and obviously broken nose with blood pouring out.  I explain to Miguel that this was nothing to do with us, another man did it, and all we did was restrain him with the force required.  An x-ray shows Steve’s finger is not broken but a Doctor tells him that there is a tumour under the nail and with the new damage the nail and the tumour must be removed or he will (not could) lose his finger.  Fortunately this can wait until we return to England next year.  During our time together Miguel has been asking our version of events and has written down the details.  2 more Policemen arrive to take us back to the station to sign papers.  Miguel says we must keep the story exactly the same as we told him and be sure to say we never hit the boy.  We are put into another car and head to the station but we notice the driver keeps braking heavily and we hear a clonking in the back, on arrival we realise the youth is in there and would have been having a rough ride.  Miguel appears to brief the 3 Policemen who are ready to do the report but then he must leave, but not before giving us Steve’s and the youths x-rays (as souvenirs), getting our E-mail address and taking photos of us as we have been having some interesting chats.  The Police fill in lots of forms that we must sign, all in Spanish so I photograph them as well feeling a bit odd signing something we don’t totally understand.  The Police chat to an attorney on the phone and say we must go to the court at 11am tomorrow to make a statement to him.  We don’t know how things work in Chile and are most concerned that it is because the youth is trying to say we hit him but are assured this is the normal system.  Arriving back at Dan's he has been doing some detective work.  At the shops where it started he has established the name of the lad and this ties in with the x-ray document but hanging around and listening to other youths it seems there are others involved.  Earlier today our attacker Lee and another lad mugged a cigarette salesman.  The boys are all talking about how stupid Lee was to get caught.  When Dan tells us this it makes us feel very nervous about staying in the area as all the buses depart and leave from Plaza Waddington where these youths hang out.  We retire to bed but can’t sleep for ages.  As Miguel says Steve is my “hero” and very “valiant” but we are not sure if this is true and really we were stupid to give chase.  With a knife involved things could have turned out much worse but luckily the lad did not really know how to use one and just had it to cut the bag straps and deter people.   So the first mugging of our lives and overall did not turn out as badly as it might have done. 
VALPARAISO, COUCHSURFING WITH DAN

FRIDAY 18 DECEMBER – Well we did get a little sleep but still feel pretty rough in the morning.  We explain to Dan that we appreciate him hosting us but want to get out of Valparaiso as we are now too nervous to enjoy it and he understands.  The washing machine has removed all the blood from Steve’s trousers and shirt so really we just have my handbag to replace and that will be with a big bum bag (to fit my big bum) instead.  The police arrive to take us to meet with the attorney and are happy to transport our baggage as well.  En route Miguel does his best to be a tour guide by pointing out a few attractions, bet we are the only tourists to get a personal police tour!  Arriving at the court house we are a little surprised to find that this is now a full court session with both attorneys, Lee (the attacker) and his family present.  Christina is our translator and a very nice lady.  Steve has to go in first to be interrogated whilst I have stay in a separate room with Miguel.  When it is my turn I am a bit intimidated to see all the people in the gallery.  I can feel Lee’s attorney trying to place doubt but stick to my guns on the story and keep my cool – until the moment I leave walking past his family when I crack up.  It is very hard to explain but firstly the interrogation is not nice, then you get to look at the lad and of course this makes me think of David and finally I feel for his family.  In fact his sister is outside talking to Miguel and she asks him to tell Steve that the family is very sorry for what has happened and want to apologise.  Steve accepts the apology.  They tell us we can now leave and that should be the end of it from our point of view.  Lili, our host in Vinas del Mar, has kindly said that we can go back there tonight to sort ourselves out.  Steve cannot carry any bags as one hand has the cut and the other an injured small finger so we will have to take a taxi and Christina insists on escorting us.  The police drop us at the taxi station which is in a busy area of town so progress is slow as we watch the meter ticking over.  CP$10100 (£13) later we arrive at Lili’s.  We are just relieved to be in a safe place where we can sort ourselves out, book somewhere for tomorrow and have a sleep.  Lili’s brother Philippe returns from Santiago and initially is not too pleased to find us in his room as no one had told him but seems OK once he understands our situation.  We join the family for “elevenses” then retire to our room whilst the others all go out to different places. 
VINAS DEL MAR, COUCHSURFING WITH LILI

SATURDAY 19 DECEMBER – Viviana is a nurse and cleans up Steve’s hand wound and offers to remove his head stitches on Monday.  I have found out that on the Falkland Islands there is a British hospital with reciprocal arrangements so will try to get his hand ones done when we are in Port Stanley 2nd January.  Catalina is going away on scout camp so Jose Miguel and Viviana are out early to take her.  I borrow and iron to smarten up our clothes, had almost forgotten what clothes looked like without creases!   Philippe and Lili help load our bags into a colectivo, CP400 (50p) pp, which drops us near our new abode.  Hostel Blest Gana is away from the main backpacking area in a quiet side street and nice and clean.  Owner Adolfo is from Argentina and greats us by name and helps us settle in.  CP18, 000 (£22.50) gets us a double en-suite room with cable TV, Wi-Fi and breakfast included.  There’s a street market in the next parallel street so I get myself a good bum bag, CP2000 (£2.50).  There are lots to choose from so they are obviously a necessary item here.  It is my turn to help Steve in the shower, brings back memories of when he had to help me when I ruptured my Achilles tendon.  He feels much better as I am also able to wash his hair.  We get news from Dan and this is what he tells us – “When I went to buy some beers last night the lady at the liquor shop asked me about you two straight away, and I had not told her about it. So I asked how she knew, and she commented that it was the story of the day that every shop owner was talking about that day. And I bet it was also what the guys that hang out at Plaza Waddington kept on talking about. The guy at the bakery told me that he had found out that this boy Lee was encouraged by his friends to do the mugging. He also said that Lee is usually a quiet lad. No excuses, though, but that's the background information on him.  I'm sure it wasn't a pleasant thing to be at the court, but at least you got the little fucker behind bars. Word is at Plaza Waddington that it is so.”  You never know we may even have made the news! 
VINAS DEL MAR 2, HOTEL BLEST GANA
CP18, 000 (£23) Inc breakfasts

SUNDAY 20 DECEMBER – We both sleep so well that the first thing we know is a knock on the door with our breakfast at 9.30am.  It is a really good spread with plenty of different breads, ham, jam, cheese and a fish spread, coffee, juice and some flan – enough to feed us for a second meal.   We take a walk to the nearby hospital to see about Steve’s head stitches and they say to leave for 1 week.  We are getting very contradictory information but will now wait until we dock in 3 days as we hope to meet up with a vet!  Steve still feels uncomfortable out in the open (we really do stand out, me with my blonde hair and Steve being so tall) and although it is highly unlikely that Lee’s mates are out looking for us we are taking no chances and confine ourselves to barracks for the rest of the day.
VINAS DEL MAR 3, HOTEL BLEST GANA

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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