Strange times in Argentina

imageThe sun was hot, the sea was blue and, thanks to some shenanigans by the Argentinians, our port trips from Puerto Madryn had been cancelled.  Therefore, the only thing to do in the circumstances was to enjoy the weather and an additional sea day… we thought.

Suddenly, the Captain announced that the disputes had ceased, the threat to safety had gone away, we were docking in port and could get off the ship.  It would be a much shortened day but a stroll in the sunshine through the town seemed like a good option.  Right!

 

We docked at 2 pm and waited eagerly for the ‘cleared for disembarkation’ announcement.  The queues for the gangways got steadily longer and still we waited.  3 pm came and went and we were due to leave again at 4.30 but still the Argentine authorities did not give us clearance.  Finally, at about 3.15, with the lines of passengers snaking around the ship, came the permission.

By that time, I had noticed a distinct change in the weather and a guy standing on the dock could be seen holding onto his bus for dear life as the wind filled his clothing making him a passable ‘Michelin man’.

Black clouds had gathered and across the bay the port was disappearing.  The soaking received in Buenos Aires was still fresh in my mind and this was the point at which it took a nano-second to decide whether a half hour walk into Puerto Madryn was a great option.  Which is how I came to enjoy a delightful cup of tea on the ship, some great conversation whilst some of my fellow passengers took until 4.15 to get off the ship and then had to get back on it…in the rain!!

The prospect of rounding Cape Horn now looms large and it is at this point the weather will be cold for a couple of days.  We must hold onto our hats as the Southern Ocean can produce mountainous seas.  What fun – just like being on a roller coaster!

First (and last?) Tango in Buenos Aires

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Where were the rain jackets, the umbrellas and wet weather gear? Why, back in the cabin!

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“Don’t cry for me, Argentina” but this morning Buenos Aires wept buckets.  The forecast was for an occasional shower but between waiting at the ship’s muster point and setting off on a trip which involved quite a lot of walking around BA, the heavens had opened.  Where were the rain jackets, the umbrellas and wet weather gear… why, back in the cabins?!!

It became more and more farcical and laughing was all you could do.  We got off the bus during a slight lull in the deluge at the cemetery to ‘visit’ Eva Peron.

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However, by the time we had paid our respects, marvelled at a cemetery with nothing but extravagant mausoleums and made a dive into the shelter of the entrance, we were in the middle of a tropical storm of monumental proportions.  The path became a river and steps down to the road provided a cascading waterfall.  Hilarious.  Outside stood a young man selling umbrellas.  He named his price, I named mine.  He went lower and so did I, but in the end $3 bought me some shelter and I was fractionally less of a drowned rat after the 100 yard dash to the coach.
We got off the bus again to look at the artists’ area with the brightly coloured shops and houses.  I got as far as a coffee shop and enjoyed the strongest espresso coffee I have ever drunk anywhere.  Hours later, I am still flying!  It certainly helped with the tango.
DSCN3859 DSCN3858This is such a beautiful city with fabulous buildings, monuments and parks and I would have loved to soak it up, as opposed to getting a real soaking.  I did have to peer hard through the rain drenched windows to see anything.
Fortunately, I am blessed with a sense of the ridiculous and whilst being in awe of the driver as he negotiated the by now flooded avenues, I found myself laughing at the sight of a tiny rowing boat coming towards us being washed quickly from a side street.  It was a young boy having fun.  At about the same point, a woman had taken off her shoes, hitched up her dress and was wading thigh deep along the pavement.  The water must have been over the axles of our coach but the driver kept on going and we made it to a less flooded area.
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Then it was time for a few of us who had booked a tango demonstration and private lessons to get to grips (!) with our allocated partners.  “The tango is very sexy… relax, give me your body and I will make it sing”.  Blimey!!  What fun though.  I am not going to go into detail here… ask me when I am home… I am still laughing (and blushing)!!!  If you have ever watched ‘Benidorm’, think about Mateo, the Spanish barman, making you wrap your leg around him as he gets up close and very personal.
And what do you think had happened by the time we left the dance floor and were just a short ride to the ship?  The sun had come out and was cracking the pavements.  A look to the heavens, “Thanks, Pal, you got me this time”.  It was different (very), the Argentinian tango was a new experience (hmmm!) and what’s a bit of rain to a northern lass?!

Down in Uruguay: football and…

B472291C-B0AE-40DF-B552-FAF9402F9CE6.jpegThe rough seas of yesterday were all forgotten as we came face to face this morning with this very small South American country. Uruguay is the size of England and Wales and apparently the total population of the country is only 3m – but half of the people live in Montevideo. Montevideo means “I see a mountain” but I had to chuckle because the highest hill in the country is only about 400m high! The country is famous for…football and the tour guide could list every single player exported to play for other countries. Impressive. Amongst the facts and figures coming our way were all the usual historical and geographical ones and, of course, like much of South America, the country has been fought over and conquered numerous times. I laughed when I heard that the English also came and conquered in the 16th century but only stayed one year. However, we left a legacy… newspapers!

The traffic pouring into Montevideo was chaotic and, in the circumstances, it was probably a wise move to opt for a tour to the very upper class Punto del Este, which turned out to be 85 miles away. I confess to having the horrors when it was announced we would go to two museums along the way but they turned out to be the highlight of the tour for me.

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They were actually art galleries and were exhibiting some of the most wonderful pieces of modern art I have seen. You were encouraged to explore and get up close, take photographs, etc. Not quite like ours then!!

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There were statues by Salvador Dali held in a private collection and works of art from both the famous and the not so famous. One of the collections was in a beautiful, white, quirky building high up on the cliffs, with quiet terraces to drink in the natural beauty as well as that created and collected. The other “museum” was one of the now quite well known Ralli Museums and that was also truly fabulous. Alright, I wouldn’t want to hang the paintings at home but they were incredible. Various parts of various anatomies seem to appear in strange places.

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I noticed an unusually titled shop on the way home and wonder if the locals have a bit of a fixation!!

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Punta del Este is a beautiful beach resort where the country’s rich and famous have summer homes/holiday apartments. There is an active move to “sell” the benefits of Uruguay to Europeans and North Americans as it is currently reasonably priced, has a stable government and is expected to boom. Allegedly… a high percentage of all who visit Uruguay take a tour on a bus. 20% return to take a holiday in a hotel or rent an apartment. 80% of that last group will buy a house here. I can see the potential… a beautiful climate (today was 29C), lovely houses/apartments, great beaches which are nowhere near as crowded as in Brazil, rather interestingly attractive gauchos who ride their horses across the Pampas and through the lush green countryside. But… no direct flights from the UK and a very long way for a summer break. A great day out but doubt I will come back.

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The return to the ship proved a little tricky. Members of the group wanted to buy fridge magnets (!) and instead of arriving back at 5, it was 5.30. That was the time the ship was due to leave… our Captain will not be happy! Thank heavens for organised tours when the ship is guaranteed not to leave without you. On the other hand, Buenos Aires is not far away.

“We are sailing…”

ALL ABOARD!!

 

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There are all sorts of benefits to cruising but one that stands out is the luxury of saying goodbye to your luggage at your hotel and the next time you see it is in your cabin. Sadly, the service does not include unpacking!! Nevertheless, coaches brought, direct from the hotel, as many of the 500 people due to embark Queen Victoria as were staying there. Having left at 11, I had made the 1 hour transfer to the other side of Rio, checked in, met Dennis, my room steward, had lunch and unpacked by 2.30.

First impressions of the ship…it is “proper posh” and a definite step up from my previous experiences. However, looks can deceive and the passengers seem just the same sort of mix, if slightly more cosmopolitan. I have already been invited to “come and visit with us” by a couple from Kansas City, been told a slightly off-colour joke by a Cockney guy (whose wife promptly hit him with ‘Hello” – ouch), and had a cup of tea on deck with some Australian people I met at the hotel.

 

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image.pngThere is a bottle of champagne on ice in my room, as a welcome from Cunard, but that is bothering me and I may ask Dennis to pop it into my fridge. There is something a bit sad about sitting on your own in your room getting quietly wasted on champagne. But given the price of drinks on board, I may be quite glad of it at some point!!

I have only met two of my dinner companions, a very pleasant couple, but the others were apparently living it up in Rio, as sailing is not until 10.30. One discovery I did make was the fact that the Captain is a woman. I wouldn’t mind betting that she took some stick about ‘parking’ the ship! Later tonight we set sail for Montevideo and tomorrow night there is a big celebratory ‘Burns Night’. Special offers on whisky available, one of which is $125…for a glass!!! Good job I don’t like it!!!

“They tell me it’s only a dream in Rio”

When I set out at 7 am this morning to join the tour “A Day Out in Rio”, I had no idea that I would only arrive back over 12 hours later!!  The temperature early this morning was 35C and stepping off the bus this evening, I noticed it was still 31C.  Is that why I feel rather drained, or is it simply the awesome spectacle that is Rio de Janeiro had left me weak at the knees?

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The first stop was the Cathedral… and after all, this is a good Catholic country.  It is an unusual building with some significant stained glass but I felt it was somewhat lacking in soul.  I, for one, did not complain that the stop was just 15 minutes.  And I have to say that we went from the manufactured appeal to our Christian ethic onto a blatant encouragement to come and feast the senses at the Rio Carnival in March.  We did a drive by the route for the Samba Parade and everywhere advertises this (because sex sells), along with invitations to the World Cup and the next Olympics.  But here is the challenge for Brazil (and Rio in particular)… nothing is ready, nothing looks as though it will be ready any time soon and the Brazilians themselves reckon they may lose at least the World Cup matches in Rio.  I can’t believe how they can get there in time having seen what has been done/what is still to do.

Then it was off to the serious stuff.  A trip in two cable cars up Sugar Loaf Mountain for some of the most spectacular views of Rio (at least that is what I thought at the time).  From the top, Corcovado Mountain (with the statue of Christ the Redeemer) is right there in your line of sight before you do a sweep to take in the islands, the clear blue sea, the fabulous beaches and the city that houses 6 million people.  It is all laid out at your feet and, at each turn, there is something new to look at.  But it’s a long process to get to the top, to see, to explore and to take hundreds of photographs.

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imageThis afternoon’s big event was a visit to Jesus!  At least it was to the top of Corcovado (hunchback) Mountain to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer. This time it was via a train up the incredibly steep, almost vertical, track.  The track is cut through the dense undergrowth of the Tijuca Forest but looking at the widely varied foliage at least took your mind off wondering whether the train would actually make it!  We then faced an exceptionally steep upward stagger to the lifts which decanted us to stare upwards at the rear view of Jesus.  To meet him face-to-face, so to speak, there were a couple of elevators and some more steps in order to look down and see what he sees day after day.  That’s when the view from Sugar Loaf Mountain got relegated to second place in the vista stakes!  Incredibly, it was difficult to move at all on the very top of this mountain.  Apparently everyone wanted a photograph with Jesus and it seemed the best place to achieve this was from lying on the floor.  Therefore, it took some considerable agility to step over, step around and between the legs of these bodies on the ground.  I was happy to see the statue’s fingers had been repaired after one was sheared off during an electric storm.  You couldn’t see the join (!), nor could you see evidence of repairs to the face.  In fact, Jesus was in great shape and my lasting ambition to see this fabulous statue was finally achieved.  It was even better than I imagined and hard to tear myself away in the setting sun.image

 

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3D7777C5-B1CE-4B99-8701-B5107BC0C028.jpegSo that was Rio.  Tomorrow my suitcases will be collected at 7 am and later in the morning I will be taken to join the ship to begin another epic cruise.  Much as I dislike the packing/unpacking process, it will be good to hang up the frocks, establish my base for a week or two and share a few more adventures along the way.  Watch out Queen Victoria!!

“My name is Rio and I’m dancing on the sand…”

Rio de Janeiro – up close and personal with the “beautiful people

After yesterday’s long, and exceptionally bumpy, flight, I promised myself a gentle and relaxing day today.  That meant I was having breakfast at 06.00 (8 am UK time) and getting myself organised for a big trip of the Rio sights tomorrow.  How lucky that I did this early as, apparently, I grabbed the last available place on the tour.

That left me with the prospect of a visit to the beach – and why go to one when there are two famous and fabulous beaches here.  By the time I had walked from my hotel to Ipanema Beach, I was ready for a drink and noticed that at the numerous bars a coconut seemed to be the favourite.  Oh my!  These hugeDSCN3641 coconuts are kept in ice cream freezers and, when you order, they hack off the top and serve it to you with just a straw on the side.  Ice cold coconut milk is definitely one to enjoy.  They do offer a rather savage looking knife if you want to attack it and get at the flesh but I was heading down to Copacabana Beach.  I have to say that this is a long walk and, by late morning, the temperature was way up in the 30’s, but I was having such a great time wandering along the water’s edge, avoiding the pounding surf (most of the time), ‘people watching’ and more than entertained along the way.  There were all kinds of sports going on – beach volleyball, beach tennis and…hugging!  It seemed to be the thing to do… to stand at the water’s edge in a very long hug before rushing off to an open air gym, stretching exercises, press-ups or just looking glamorous.  (There was a vast amount of that.)  I was so relieved at times to see ‘normal’ bodies lining up with the ripped, honed, toned and those that were merely “incredible”, that I made a point of ensuring they featured in my photos.

This long beach has zones all along the way.  Each appears to be significant but I couldn’t work them all out.  I did know that one was for the wealthy and beautiful, one might be for the available, and one is certainly very sports orientated.  I thought I had a personal welcome party going on at another with lots of ‘Rainbow’ flags but this zone was distinctly “gay pride”.

By the time I got to the point where I knew I could get a shuttle bus back to the hotel, I was much in need of another drink.  I don’t know more than a couple of words in Portuguese but, after lots of fun with the waiters trying to order things like sparkling water with lime (which they pretended not to understand), I managed to convey, “You choose a drink for me”.  And that, members of the jury, is how I came to be drinking a ‘caipirinha’ Brazil’s national cocktail.

IMG_0482Absolutely fabulous (it certainly contained lime) but is somewhat powerful and I was, therefore, grateful to be going back on the shuttle bus.  The remainder of the afternoon was then truly lazy with a swim in the pool and reading in the shade.  Now gearing up for tomorrow’s eight hour tour of this truly spectacular place.

 

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2014 – The World may just be enough!

I've got the travel bug
Another cruise in January and this time on board Cunard’s Queen Victoria: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil;  Montevideo, Uruguay;  Buenos Aires, Argentina;  Puerto Madryn, Argentina;  Cape Horn;  Ushuaia, Argentina;  Punta Arenas, Chile;  Amalia Glacier, Chile;  Pio X Glacier;  Puerto Montt, Chile;  Santiago (Valparaiso), Chile;  Easter Island;  Pitcairn Island;  Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia;  Cross the International Dateline;  Suva, Fiji;  Noumea, New Caledonia;  Brisbane, Australia;  Sydney, Australia.

Photographs of this voyage… Rio to Sydney via…

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Another rainbow
Not quite the top of the world but the tallest building in Sydney!
Not quite the top of the world but the tallest building in Sydney!
Fabulous harbour views
Fabulous harbour views
A different view of the Opera House
A different view of the Opera House
Such a beautiful day you could see forever!
Such a beautiful day you could see forever!
As in London, the new buildings have dwarfed some of the city's heritage
As in London, the new buildings have dwarfed some of the city’s heritage
Back on the water
Back on the water
You can't see this and not say, "Wow!"
You can’t see this and not say, “Wow!”
All sorts of boats were out
All sorts of boats were out
Team Australia looked very impressive
Team Australia looked very impressive
At the Maritime Museum
At the Maritime Museum
Goodnight Sydney....and Goodbye
Goodnight Sydney….and Goodbye
People queue all day long at this cake shop/cafe
People queue all day long at this cake shop/cafe
The healthy option
The healthy option
Other forms of transport always available
Other forms of transport always available
Fun and games for all ages on the beach
Fun and games for all ages on the beach
I thought I was just having a gentle stroll
I thought I was just having a gentle stroll

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St. Paul's Cathedral with its 3 spires
St. Paul’s Cathedral with its 3 spires
A rather magnificent railway station (and so clean)
A rather magnificent railway station (and so clean)
The pit lane - ready and waiting
The pit lane – ready and waiting
The race track
The race track
Melbourne from Williamstown
Melbourne from Williamstown
Even the Vikings were out on the river!!
Even the Vikings were out on the river!!
Where people leave locks (and keep the key to their heart)
Where people leave locks (and keep the key to their heart)
Melbourne from the banks of the Yarra
Melbourne from the banks of the Yarra
Luscious lips made for....sitting on
Luscious lips made for….sitting on
Just look at the Rainbow ice cream
Just look at the Rainbow ice cream
Lots of promotional F1 souvenirs
Lots of promotional F1 souvenirs
Home of Australian Open Tennis
Home of Australian Open Tennis
High above Melbourne
High above Melbourne
Very young buskers and look at the drum kit!!
Very young buskers and look at the drum kit!!
One of the mosaic sculptures along the riverbank
One of the mosaic sculptures along the riverbank
Melbourne from the banks of the Yarra
Melbourne from the banks of the Yarra
How good to live in one of these apartments!
How good to live in one of these apartments!
The Fun Fair across the harbour
The Fun Fair across the harbour
I have climbed it, crossed it by road and taken the ferry under it!
I have climbed it, crossed it by road and taken the ferry under it!
Crossing the Harbour Bridge
Crossing the Harbour Bridge
The beach may be deserted but they still have lifeguards
The beach may be deserted but they still have lifeguards
At Palm Beach - this is the sort of beach the Aussies really like
At Palm Beach – this is the sort of beach the Aussies really like
Paddle surfing
Paddle surfing

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The Harbour Bridge turned golden by the sunrise
The Harbour Bridge turned golden by the sunrise
The city begins to wake
The city begins to wake
Queen Victoria docked between the bridge and the Opera House
Queen Victoria docked between the bridge and the Opera House
Manly
Manly
A different look at the Opera House
A different look at the Opera House
Yachts galore
Yachts galore
Sydney's golden sunrise
Sydney’s golden sunrise

DSCN4666“You’re next!”

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“Woolly jumpers? I’ll jump all over you!”
Not Shaun the Sheep but 'Shorn' the Sheep
Not Shaun the Sheep but ‘Shorn’ the Sheep
"Orinoco"
“Orinoco”
Brisbane - such a beautiful city
Brisbane – such a beautiful city
Weeping fig trees everywhere
Weeping fig trees everywhere
Amazing buildings
Amazing buildings
Brisbane
Brisbane
Just one of the harbours of Noumea
Just one of the harbours of Noumea
Part of the welcome committee - the drummers and one of the warriors
Part of the welcome committee – the drummers and one of the warriors
Warrior with attitude!
Warrior with attitude!
My 'wheels' for the sight-seeing trip
My ‘wheels’ for the sight-seeing trip
Queen Victoria safely in port
Queen Victoria safely in port
Horse racing is very popular
Horse racing is very popular
Endless bays and beautiful beaches
Endless bays and beautiful beaches
Promenades and palm trees
Promenades and palm trees
Rollin' down the river to Noumea
Rollin’ down the river to Noumea
Intensely humid Fiji
Intensely humid Fiji
Welcome to Fiji
Welcome to Fiji
Even the Tour Guides wear skirts
Even the Tour Guides wear skirts
The warriors were waiting for us
The warriors were waiting for us
The village ladies dance a welcome for us
The village ladies dance a welcome for us
"Come to share our Kava with us!"
“Come to share our Kava with us!”
This is what drinking Kava can do!
This is what drinking Kava can do!
Every large shop comes complete with warriors and a band!
Every large shop comes complete with warriors and a band!

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Time traveller's time to travel
Time traveller’s time to travel

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The early morning clouds begin to lift
The early morning clouds begin to lift
Villagers provide a welcome
Villagers provide a welcome
A land crab
A land crab
Enjoying the lagoon... and... and... 🎼🎶🎤 "Some enchanted evening..."
Enjoying the lagoon… and… and… 🎼🎶🎤 “Some enchanted evening…”
It really is like this!!
It really is like this!!
But our ship was waiting to sail...
But our ship was waiting to sail…
Bali Ha'i... was calling!
Bali Ha’i… was calling!

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The smile says it all...
The smile says it all…

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Ginger Plant
Ginger Plant

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