Deception Island

After leaving Half Moon Bay, we continued on to Deception Island.  It is a circular island, shaped like a donut.  The interior is the collapsed caldera of a volcano that is not extinct, though not active.   There is a very narrow channel through which a not-too-large ship can enter to the center part. The walls of the island are basalt, and I was quite fascinated by the patterns and texture and the variety of color of them. IMG_7638IMG_7640IMG_7641IMG_7645IMG_7647IMG_7652

These serve as reminders that this area was once used as a whaling station.  In more recent years, though, Argentina has set up a scientific station here.

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There are no trees or grass or shrubs in Antarctica, so seeing basalt walls that were kind of green was really fascinating.  Lichens grow there and some Antarctic algae, which would explain the color.

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Some of our shipmates on the shore of Deception Island.

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South Shetland Islands: Half Moon Bay

Our first landfall was in the South Shetland Islands, just off the very northern tip of Antarctica.  You can imagine our excitement at arriving at this point.   To preserve the very pristine enviornment of Antarctica, the travel company had us vacuum our clothes before getting ready to go ashore for the very first time.  We suited up in our red parkas, Gore-tex pants and knee high rubber boots, with warm layers underneath, although the temperature on any given day we were there was probably in the 40’s Farenheit.  (I had packed for below zero temperatures!)  Before getting off the ship and into a zodiac (an inflatable rubber raft developed by the French for military use) we had to walk through a long container of disinfectant so that we would not take anything infectious ashore.   Since we would visit colonies of penguins at most of our stops, we had to reverse the process coming back onto the ship.  In addition we had to scrub down our boots with disinfectant as we re-boarded the ship, since we would inevitably step in penguin guano.  Where there are penguins, there is guano!  The certainly didn’t want us tracking that stuff through the ship!

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IMG_0173IMG_0176Most of the penguins at Half Moon Bay were called “Chin Strap Penguins”, which have a black line below the beak that looks like a smile.  There were also fur seals and some terns in the area, and white sheathbill gulls, who are scavengers, picking up any food the penguins drop.  None of the animals seem to have any fear of humans.  The penguins are especially friendly and very curious, coming up to visitors and cocking their head from side to side, as if to ask, “What are you?”  “What are you doing here?

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You will notice a rather unseaworthy boat in the background of one of these shots.  It’s left over from whaling days, when there was a lot of intense activity in this part of the world.  Since the climate is so dry and cold, things get preserved very well.

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IMG_0188IMG_0200Although most of the penguins we saw at Half Moon Bay were Chinstraps, there were also a few Gentoo Penguins, which have a white stripe across their heads.  They were friendly, too.  The waters in this part of the world are very rich in krill, which is the base of the penguins’ diet.  Parents go out into the water and swallow a lot of krill, then come back to shore, find their chicks and regurgitate the krill, which the chick will eat out of the parent’s beak. You can see in the photo of the chicks ( the ones who still have their fluffy down) who have obviously just fed, that they have krill spilled down the front of their white bibs.    It may seem a bit gross to us, but for penguins, it works!

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On to Antarctica: The Drake Passage

We boarded our ship, Le Soleal and prepared to leave Ushuaia.   The first order of business on  any cruise, of course, is the safety drill.  We all donned our life jackets and gathered in the auditorium for the safety talk and did a walk through of where to go to abandon the ship.  As we pulled out of the bay at Ushuaia, we met our sister ship, Le Boreal, almost an identical twin, who probably took the berth that we had just vacated.  The scenery was quite dramatic.  Even at this end of the mountain chain, the Andes are quite majestic!

That night the ship stopped in Chile to refuel.  I expect it would not be pleasant or fun to run out of fuel in Antarctica, and the next morning when we awoke we were sailing in the Drake Passage.

The Drake Passage is reputed to be one of the roughest stretches of water in the world.  At this latitude, it doesn’t encounter land at any point, so there is nothing to stop its furious flow.  The captain told us that it was relative calm, although the waves were as high as 24 feet.  The ship was relatively stable, equipped with the latest in stabilizers.  None of the passengers had their sea legs yet.  There is a passage it the Psalms describing the sea, which was to the land dwelling Israelites, a place of great instability: “They reel and stagger like drunken men…”  Not a bad description of our attempts to ambulate on board.

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My sister, Cheryl is a passionate bird watcher.  In preparation for this trip she had studied books about the birds the dwell in the places we hoped to visit.  Evidently there are birds that live in the Drake Passage that don’t live elsewhere, sea dwelling birds, like albatrosses and petrels.  She didn’t like the idea of missing any birds that might fly past the ship.

IMG_0155Someone asked if we might like to visit the bridge, and of course we accepted with great glee.  The bridge is a high tech place with an amazing array of equipment.  The guys who sail this ship are very focused and intense, not a bad quality when you are sailing in the vicinity of icebergs.

We also discovered that the bridge is where the naturalists hang out and keep watch for interesting wildlife.  Cheryl had found her niche! Whenever I wondered where she might be, I figured she would be on the bridge with her binoculars.

 

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On the afternoon of our second day in the Drake Passage, we saw land in the distance.  These are my first views of Antarctica, and although it was out there in the haze, it was utterly thrilling to know that this was the first sighting of our destination.  We had made it to Antarctica!

 

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Ushuaia, the end of the earth!

We flew to the southern tip of Argentina, to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.  It is a remote place, a little piece of Argentina surrounded by Chile.  It began as a penal colony, which would make sense, since it is so remote and hard to escape from.  The Andes mountains end here, and tower above the town.  They have both mountains and sea.  This is the main port for ships going to Antarctica!

IMG_0112The main economic activity of Ushuaia is assembling electronic devices.  There are lots of huge containers of the component parts that have been shipped from China, which eventually get shipped out as electronic devices.  There is pretty much full employment in this place, and it is thriving.  It continues to develop and sprawl.

Our ship, Le Soleal, docked here in Ushuaia, is the last one on the right. It is a French ship and carries about 200 passengers, a nice size for exploring Antarctica.  My sister, Cheryl, and I, slightly out of focus in the bottom right photo, were all primed for a great adventure and thrilled to be in Ushuaia!

Back to B.A. February 10

 

In some of the plazas there are some very old and large Ficus trees, with an interesting configuration of trunks and branches.  In this one they’ve even inserted a statue to hold up one of the branches!

Eva Peron, of course, is a real legend in Buenos Aires.  Evidently there was some controversy concerning her burial, but this is, in fact, her official tomb.

Although there are many elegant neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, and obviously over the years a lot to wealthy people lived there, my favorite neighborhood is called La Boca, where a minor river meets Rio de la Plata.  This is a very zesty neighborhood, a real melting pot where immigrants from various parts of the world settled, all in one neighborhood.  They built houses of available materials that they could find among the trash at the docks, often corrugated metal, which they lined with wood to keep their homes from getting too hot in summer. A number of years ago a prominent artist suggested that they paint the buildings bright colors, which makes the neighborhood a very bright artistic experience.  Lots of artists exhibit their work along the streets and in the plazas, and sculptures make these very pleasing, even funny exhibits.  I love the brightly colored school, which would be a pleasant kind of place to work.  This is also the section of town where the tango was invented, and tango dancers abound.

The pope is a very popular and important person here, because he comes from Buenos Aires, a local guy.  In this section of town he is portrayed over and over in these great sculptures.

There are other caricatures of popular icons, such as soccer players and other cultural heroes.

As we drove away from La Boca neighborhood, we happened to pass a shanty town, which of course, after seeing the elegant mansions from the last century in another part of town, interested me.  I’ve seen shanty towns in various parts of Asia and Africa, and was very interested to see their role in South American culture.   Usually the inhabitants have come from the country to seek their fortune in the big cities and arrive with nothing.  They scavenge various places to find building materials, although there is no code, and cobble together a dwelling.  Then they have a family and they never get to the point of moving into a proper house.

Francis Schaeffer used to say that if Jesus were to be born today it would probably be in a shanty town somewhere.    Some really amazing, creative and even godly people live in places like this, but you don’t usually meet them on bus tours!

 

Uruguay

After spending a night in Buenos Aires to recover from the long plane ride, I took a ferry across the river to Uruguay.  The Rio de la Plata, means silver, but in fact it is quite a muddy brown.  It has the largest mouth of any river in the world, and crossing it from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay, takes three quarters of an hour.   It is fun seeing the tall buildings of Buenos Aires disappear over the horizon as we head north to Uruguay.IMG_0036

Once arrived in Colonia, evidently the oldest city in Uruguay, founded by the Portugese, I boarded a lovely, modern bus to Montevideo, the capitol city, two hours to the east of Colonia. Evidently Montevideo was founded by the Spanish to establish a foothold that was not Colonia.  We rode through lush green countryside, well watered, with farms having lots of cattle.  I remarked to my friends that it seemed a lot like Vermont, sparsely populated with more cows than people.  He replied, “Last count it was 6 to 1.”  Although there were some very nice houses along the way, there were also signs of poverty, such as shipping containers that had been transformed into residences.  Some of it was quite ingenious.

As we neared Montevideo, there were factories, oil refineries, and what appeared to be car assembly plants, all signs of prosperity. I recall glancing through some investment advice recently and an article that caught my eye recommended investing in Uruguay.  Evidently this was well founded advice.

Just before leaving from Buenos Aires I got an email from my friends, the Richlines, with whom I had hoped to stay, saying that the whole family was down with a stomach ailment and they didn’t think it was a good time to have other people in the house. I had agreed to stay in a hotel but the latest email said that their colleagues, Ray and Michelle Call had

offered to have me stay in their guest room.  The Calls are amazing people.  They have 8 children, of whom 7 are living at home: ages 17  years to 8 months.  The oldest daughter is in California at college.  They are very loving, hospitable people, who seem to enjoy having company.

While I was with them the Calls had dinner guests from Brazil.  A young couple, Joao and Gigi, had just arrived to work at the Brazilian Embassy in Montevideo.  They ate fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and English, which they learned as visitors in Tennessee and Arizona.

Ray Call and Mark Richline are co pastors of a new Presbyterian Church in Montevideo.

Ray and Michelle and I had lots of good talks about various aspects of Christian ministry.  One of my goals in visiting them was to do a prayer walk through the neighborhood where the church meets (they meet in a local community center) and accordingly the last full day that I was in town, Ray and Mark and I started at the meeting place, praying for the Lord’s blessing on the new little congregation and for a real sense of God’s presence in their meetings.  As we walked through the neighborhood we prayed for the people who live there and for local businesses.  Interestingly, we met a man whose business–glass working, both replacing panes of glass and more artistic pursuits of making glass trays, ornate mirrors, etc–had been relocated to a large garage on the street behind the community center.  There was a woman, an Evangelical Christian, who was displeased that this gentleman had to work outdoors in all kinds of weather and offered to rent him the large, empty garage next to her home.

Why start a Presbyterian church in Montevideo?  Isn’t Uruguay a Catholic country like others in South America?   Actually, no.  Evidently Uruguay is a very secular place, and to people who believe the gospel, that means that they need to go and share the good news with people who live there.

Montevideo is a beautiful city, with tree lined streets and green plazas, and  a lot of coastline along the Rio de la Plata.  We drove along the road that parallels the river, and the most exclusive section of town seems to be the riverfront condos across the street from beaches, although I think I’d rather swim in the ocean!  The architecture and the atmosphere are very reminiscent of Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrived in Buenos Aires: it was a long, long trip!

It took a long, long time, but I have just arrived in Buenos Aires. We touched down a couple of hours ago, but after an hour in line for Migraciones (interesting linguistically that we use “immigration” and they use “migration”!) to be photographed and finger printed (I think they are on to something!) I have been officially admitted to Argentina.

The flight left Toronto at midnight. The flight from Boston to Toronto was late so I went over to the desk and said that I had a connecting flight out of Toronto to Buenos Aires at 10:30, and the reservationist looked at the schedule and assured me that arriving late in Toronto would not be a problem because the flight to Buenos Aires was also quite late. These things do work out!

Since a lot of our flight was at night and I was seated in an aisle seat in the middle section, I didn’t see much, except the lights of Toronto as we took off, which like most cities at nighttime from an airplane, look like jewels scattered on a black cloth.  (It’s trite but true.)

The first thing that I saw as we flew along the Pacific Coast of South America, was the Andes mountains, and then only as we apr0ached Santiago, Chile.  They reminded me of the landscape in southern California: dry, brown and sprinkled with green places, especially along what are obviously streams.  Somehow I expected them to be green and lush like the Alps. We did see a few glaciers on the higher peaks.  I expect that the range looks different in different places.

After an hour’s layover in Santiago, we took the 1 1/2 hour flight to our final destination, Buenos Aires.

Having arrived at the exit from customs–if you have nothing to declare you just walk right out, but they do re-xray all bags and purses, although it seems more a formality than a real check, I wondered how I would get to my hotel. At the exit there was a person saying “Taxi!” so I went over to her desk and paid in advance with my trusty credit card. My taxi driver was a young man in a white shirt and tie, so I was really impressed.. The “taxi” was a black private car and it happened to be a Renault, of which there seem to be a lot on the road.

My first impression of Buenos Aires: it’s expensive. I know that inflation here has been rampant for many years now, and prices are high. The climate here seems to be sub tropical, the temperature today is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there are palm trees. This is a big city. Mostly it looks very modern, very European.

My boutique hotel, booked via Trivago on Orbitz, is on a cobblestoned street, that reminds me of streets I walked down in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It calls itself a luxury hotel, and indeed it seems to have been a once very elegant home, now converted into a hotel. My “suite” is small but nice. There is a small living room on the ground floor with a sleeping loft upstairs. It looks like it was once a very high ceilinged (maybe 20 feet high) room with beamed ceilings. In fact,it is taller than it is wide or long. It looks out onto an internal tiled court with a fountain. It reminds me of Italy in that elegant appearance seems to count for a lot!

When I have stretched out, rested and otherwise recovered from 15 hours in an airplane, I will go exploring.  More later!