Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The rest of the flight we were over the desert-like mostly flat terrain of southern Argentina.
Arriving in El Calafate, we were surprised to find that there is no public bus service from the airport to town. The only option was a shuttle bus for about $10 US, or a taxi for about $20 US. The new airport is strategically located about 15 miles out of town, so if you don't use these options, you are stuck.
Friends had given us the name of a hotel they used. It's not on the internet, so we didn't book ahead. We just used the Tourist Information service at the bus station. There are several small hotels right near the bus station that are nice and haven't jacked their rates up to full 'tourist' level yet. (see our Argentina Travel page).
Ours is an 'entirely adequate' facility a block from the bus station, and cost us $28.50 US for a room with twin beds and a shared bath, no breakfast (this is pretty cheap for Patagonia). It looks newly-built and well maintained, was quiet and had heat and hot water. Not a bad deal, but Dave found a cheaper one around the corner for only $22.
The first thing we did after getting settled in our hotel room, was to go look for Hostal del Glaciar, to book their 'Alternative Moreno Glacier Tour'.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
So, to get out to the park from town, about a 30 mile drive on gravel roads, we had to pay $15 USD per person for the r/t shuttle bus, and another $15 per person for the park entry fee. This is pretty outrageous for a 3 hour non-guided hike. They are really milking the tourist trade.
However, the park was 'improved'... a maintained path, with some markers, and some small bridges over the marshy areas.
It was a really nice hike... we barely made the '3 hour trip' in 4 1/2 hours, and almost missed our 5:30pm bus back into town. We stopped for lunch in a little glade (out of the wind) along the Beagle Channel, and took lots of pictures.
And then there were 'knee stops'. Though the trail was mostly level along the shore, there were some ups and downs. My old knees, punished by years of jogging and triathlons, and genetically inclined to arthritis, complain a bit when I do a lot of ups and downs.
The only major tourist thing we didn't do was a boat trip out on Beagle Channel. Though we would have like to do it, the combination of outrageous prices and expensive meals in town, we just decided to skip it and move on.
So we booked a one-way flight on Aerolineas Argentina from Ushuaia to El Calafate (about $140 per person). The distance to Calafate is about double the distance from Punta Arenas, so we figured we'd be paying close to $100 per person and in for a 24 hour bus trip if we did it by bus.
Monday, March 23, 2009
When we woke up in the morning, the view out our window was breathtaking. Snow capped mountains, everywhere we looked.
Our hostal had good internet, so we spent a little time getting caught up on email, blogs, Facebook, etc.
Then we set off for Glacier Martial, a short taxi ride from our hostal. At the foot of the mountain, the views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel were already pretty spectacular, and it only got better.
We opted to take the chair lift for the first third of the way up the mountain. It was a little expensive (about $15 per person), but with my weak knees, well worth it.
This hike is supposed to be 2 hours, but we stop and rest and take so many pictures, that it took us about 3 to do the hike.
We never did actually get to the glacier. It has been receding, and has receded right up a steep cliff face. We met some hikers who had scrambled up all the way, and they said it wasn't worth the climb, so we opted to stop at the base of the cliff. There was a snow bank down low, though, and we took a few shots of Dave 'in' the snow.
The views in every direction were stunning, and we took lots of pictures. A few are here and the rest will eventually get posted on our Picasa photo album.
From the mountain, we could see the harbor and could see a number of sailboats anchored and docked in the harbor. So on our way down, we had the taxi take us to the 'marina'. The dock had about 15 boats, rafted 3-deep along a single pier.
The first boat we came to was SSCA member 'Diesel Duck' with Benno and Marlene aboard. We had looked on the SSCA Members Map page and seen them in Patagonia, and were delighted to actually see them. They were aboard reading (waiting for weather), and when we knocked to say hello, they greaciously invited us aboard for some nice Agentinian red wine.
We enjoyed several hours hearing of their adventures coming down from Ecuador by boat, and swapping boat stories in general. They have done a lot of cruising in the same areas we have, and we have several mutual friends.
We also saw Skip Novak's famous Antartic exploration/charter boat Pelagic Australis. It is a very impressive 60 foot aluminum boat, purpose-built for high latitude sailing.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
There were so many lame excuses given by others when I served in December, I can't believe that 'I just served 6 months ago' and 'I am semi-permanently out of the country' didn't work!!! And that they really expect me to fly back from South America for jury duty!!??
I have showed up to serve every other time that I've been asked, and have never actually served on a jury... after a day or two of screwing around, I have always been dismissed. I can't believe they wouldn't let me off ahead of time with a fairly legitimate excuse.
It was a big inconveniece for me to show up to serve in December, but the main reason I did it was to them be less likely to be called up later.
There is not an easy way to argue our point--the form letter we got back said that any additional requests have to be taken up with the judge on the day we report. I can't find a fax number. So we are going to mail a paper letter with a Chilean stamp and basically just not show. Let them send the court officers to get me.
Punta Arenas is still about 200 miles north of Cape Horn, on the Straits of Magellan. We debated whether to go further south, to either Puerto Williams, Chile, or Ushaia, Argentina. We were yes/no for several days. Partly due to the expense, and partly due to the time and effort required to get there. The good roads and regular schedules end at Punta Arenas. It's either a flight or a long bus ride to get to Ushuaia, and a 36 hour ferry ride to get to Puerto Williams.
We finally decided to go ahead and go on down to Ushuaia. For $50 each we booked a 12-hour bus ride, which included a ferry trip to cross the Straits of Magellan, at a narrow place on the eastern end. We will stay for 2 1/2 days and then take a flight north to El Calafate for $140 each.
Ushuaia is still about 60 miles north of the actual 'Cape Horn'. But it is located on the famous Beagle Channel.
The bus ride was long, but the bus was pretty nice, so it wasn't too bad. Miles and miles and miles of prairie-like terrain with sheep and cattle and llamas. Then as we got close to Ushuaia it started getting more mountainous. Dave took a lot of pics out the window of the bus, but the light was failing. We got into Ushuaia itself after dark. We can't wait to see what there is to see tomorrow.
Car Ferry Crossing the Straits of Magellan
The Gravel Road (Part of the Way)
Friday, March 20, 2009
Punta Arenas is right on the famous Straits of Magellan.
One of the 'must do' things here is to go see the penguins. There are 2 standard trips... one is an all day affair in a big Zodiac, out to Isla Magdellena, where there is a large penguin colony--30,000 penguins. The other is shorter, a shuttle bus out to a smaller colony on the mainland--'only' 5,000 penguins.
Though we would normally have opted for the Isla Magdelena trip (who would turn down a boat ride?), they quit running that trip on a regular basis on March 15. Partly due to changing weather (it's Fall here now) and partly because the penguins migrate north starting in mid-Mar.
So we booked the shorter Seno Otway Penguinera trip at a cost of about $20 per person. It leaves daily about 4:30pm from Punta Arenas (several tour agencies arrange the same general trip). We had 6 people in our very nice new van. After about an hour drive on succeedingly worse roads, we got to the waterfront on the other side of the peninsula. We drove on gravel roads across miles of 'Estancias' (sheep and cattle ranches), and past a coal mine, before arriving at the small Penguin preserve.
Though the weather was reasonable in Punta Arenas, it was cold and very windy out at the Penguinera. We estimated that it was blowing about 25-30 knots. The Penguinera reserve has about a mile of boardwalk winding through a penguin colony. At sunset, the penguins surf in from their afternoon fishing trip, and hang out on the frigid beach, before making their way to burrows slightly inlad. So we saw some penguins on the beach, some standing around outside their burrows, and several we could see by peeking into the burrows.
It was fun watching them, and we got some great photos.
After an hour of wandering around in the freezing wind in search of Penguins, we were happy to meet back up with the driver of our van, who had hot chocolate and coffee waiting for us.
Another side trip we made was to the Naval and Maritime Museum in downtown Punta Arenas. There were old photos of the shipping activity and the waterfront, and models and mock-ups of Navy ships and equipment. We also watched the Mystic Seaport documentary 'Around Cape Horn' which is really good, showing real onboard movie footage of one of the last sailing ships still sailing a commercial route between Chile and Europe, in 1929.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
We saw some beautiful sights out the window of the airplane as we flew south... at least one erupting volcano, some snow-topped peaks, and a glacier. Dave got some great shots out the window.
The Punta Arenas airport is about 10 miles from town. Transportation options were to take a private taxi for about $12, a shuttle bus for $5, or a bus for $3.50. Since we weren't in a hurry, we opted for the bus. This bus also provided a connection to another bus in Punta Arenas, to Puerto Natales.
We found our hostel without much trouble. We had pre-booked by telephone with Hostal La Luna, and asked for a downstairs room (as instructed by some other travelers we had met). We had a nice comfortable room, and after a glimpse at the upstairs rooms, were glad we'd asked for downstairs. Etienne the owner was very hospitable and informative. Young backpackers would probably think this place boring, but we thought it was a great place for couples.
The only complaint I have at La Luna was that we were sharing the bathroom facilities with 5 other rooms, with no 'relief toilet'. There was sometimes a wait to get in. But the hot water worked well.
The other complaint is that there is no internet at La Luna, and I couldn't pick up anything 'open' on the wifi. We could live without it, except for the fact that we still needed to make onward reservations, etc. So rather than handle those in the late evening and early morning, we had to do them in the middle of the day at an internet cafe. We trudged all over town looking for a restaurant/bar with wifi, but this didn't seem to be a concept that's made it to Punta Arenas. (I guess few travelers down here are traveling with their own laptop).
Punta Arenas surprised me a lot. I had envisioned a one-street town in the wilderness with few services. But it is actually a small city with quite a bit of activity and regular businesses, including some light manufacturing. We were delighted to find a big modern supermarket (better than anything in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador).
And we finally found a good steak. We quit buying steaks in Central America because the beef is so bad (unless you can confirm it is aged beef imported from somewhere else). But here we are so close to Argentina, that a 'steak sandwich' is a common menu item and we found them quite good.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
We managed to make our way to the airport by public transportation, at about a third the cost of our trip in from the airport by shuttle bus.
We checked the forecast this morning, and there are a series of storms starting to roll into Patagonia. Tomorrow it's supposed to be blowing 35 knots!
This image is courtesy PassageWeather.com
Unlike most of the museums we have been to in the rest of Latin America, both of the Chilean museums we went to had English subtitles, making it so much easier for us to enjoy the museum.
We were hankering for something different for dinner, and tried to find the Chinese restaurant that we had walked past a few days ago. We found 2 bars that sold Chinese food, but there were smokers in the bar and Dave wasn't having any of that. We finally stumbled on a very nice Japanese restaurant (Miyako), and had a nice sushi dinner.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
But we still managed to see lots of Valpo, as the locals call it, and totally wear ourselves out.
Valpo is kinda similar to San Francisco... waterfront surrounded by lots of hillsides. All the roads are higgledy-piggledly, so it's easy to get lost. Most roads either go up the hills or across the hills. There are 14 'ascensors' (elevator kinds of things) that you can take to get up the steep hills. Most were constructed in the early 1900's, and are kind of creaky. UNESCO declared this a World Heritage Site in 2003.
One of the tourist things to do is to take all 14 up to the various hills. We only managed one--the one our hotel is on.
Another ascensor we tried to take today was closed until 4pm, so we walked up the stairs instead, to get to the Cochran Museum, which we thought was the only museum open on Monday. It wasn't, but since we'd walked up about 500 steps to get there, the caretaker let us in anyway, and gave us his spiel.
Lord Thomas Cochran was a Scotsman who essentially founded Chile's Navy back in the early 1800's, after they became independent from Spain. It wasn't as much of a museum as the residence of a famous guy, with a good view. So the spiel didn't take very long. The view was wonderful, and there were cannons there. A successful visit, I thought.
Then we went down to the fish market and found Restaurant Anita, on the 2nd floor over the fish market. It was a great seafood meal and for a reasonable price. As you wander around the restaurants on the 2nd floor, each of the proprietors tries to get you to come in to eat in their place. Anita was a good talker, and in the end, as we still hesitated, offered us each a free Pisco Sour with our meal. This clinched the deal for us. We didn't regret eating there. About $10 for the two of us to eat there.
After lunch we took a tourist launch out into the bay. For 1,500 pesos per person (about $2), we got a half hour ride out into the Valparaiso Bay. We saw the ships from closer up, a better view of the waterfront and the surrounding hills, and some sea lions. It was worth $2. But a little cold out there on the water.
Then we took the Valparaiso Metro train, which starts right near the pier we took the tourist launch from, and goes over toward the sister city of Vina del Mar. We bought a round trip ticket, for about 50 cents per person each way, just to see what there was to see. It was a little disappointing when the train went underground halfway thru the trip, but we did get to see a few things from the train. We got off at the Vina del Mar station at the other end, and walked back about a mile down the route, covering on foot above ground, the area that we went underground in the train. We walked through the heart of Vina del Mar down to the sea, and then along the shore, just to see a little of Vina del Mar and the waterfront there.
We were also trying to see what waterfront facilities there might be for sailboats. We had seen none along the waterfront in Valparaiso, but thought we'd seen some masts over toward Vina del Mar. While we were walking, we saw what looked like a marina or yacht club, and about 6 one-designs out sailing. There was a least one cruising-sized boat out on a mooring, and 20-30 masts of boats either docked or dry-docked along the road. We didn't actually stop in, though, so it's hard to tell exactly what was there.
Our next stop was an antique store called something like Grandfather's Old Stuff. Dave has been re-bitten by the coin collecting bug, and wanted to visit this place, which was mentioned in the Lonely Planet. He ended up buying a 1775 Spanish half-Real coin for $15. If you're an antiques buff, there was lots of other interesting things in this store. But since we are homeless people, buying more stuff we have to store, in hopes we might display it in some house in 10-15 years, didn't seem to make sense.
Then we took a 'collectivo' (shared taxi) for about a dollar, up the hill to La Sebastiana, one of the highest places in Valpo. It is the home of a famous artist, and also museum, but it wasn't open today. (We knew that). But it was also the starting place of a nice walk along the ridge in Valparaiso. Lots of scenic overlooks, etc. Also much artwork on the walls, which Valpo is also known for.
More examples on our Picasa site
We walked for about an hour, winding around, following Via Alemagne, gradually going downward, and ended back at our hotel on Cerro Concepcion about 6pm.
Unfortunately, the quirky French Restaurant we wanted to eat at for dinner is also closed on Mondays. So we went back down the hill into the working part of town (as opposed to the tourist district we are in on Cerro Conception) and had an inexpensive meal in a bar/restaurant. Seafood for two, with a beer, for about $10 for the both of us. That's a real bargain anywhere in Chile.
Tomorrow we head back to Santiago (after visiting the Naval Museum, which will be open tomorrow), and on Wednesday, we fly further south to Punta Arenas. At Santiago/Vaparaiso, we are already at 33 degrees south latitude. Punta Arenas is at 53 degrees south, another 1,200 miles further south!
Monday, March 16, 2009
We had an easy trip over from Santiago to Valparaiso... a short walk to the Metro station, off at the University of Santiago stop, and up to the bus station. From there we bought tickets on the TurBus bus to Valparaiso.
The bus was really nice... nearly brand new, clean, air conditioned, and lots of leg room. About $7 pp one way, with a 20% discount on the return trip.
When we arrived in Valparaiso, the first bus stop was in the middle of a big flea market. Dave and I looked at each other and said "Why not?", and hopped off the bus to check it out.
It was jam packed with people looking for bargains... could have been anywhere in the U.S. And people selling all kinds of stuff... junk and not so junk.
We didn't buy anything but a few Chilean old coins, for less than a dollar each, but we had fun looking. When we were thru, we asked 3-4 people before we got consistent answers on which city bus to catch to get close to our hotel. It's always useful to ask more than one person... we have often had very helpful people tell us with great assurance exactly the wrong direction to go!
Our hotel, the Residencia En El Cerro, is a very old house with drafty old rooms, but we have a great view of the harbor. Our room is fitted out to sleep 5 people, but the owner assured us we were only paying for a double (22,000 pesos, or about $35/night). Hot showers (shared) and continental breakfast included.
We took the 9:30 bus from Bahia to Guayaquil. The trip took about 6 hours on mostly pretty good roads (for Ecuador). Some of it 2 lane, but it turned to 4 lane as we approached Guayaquil.
The bus terminal in Guayaquil was simply amazing. It was a combination huge transportation center, but also had a mall-like flavor. As we had about 8 hours to kill, we went up to the food court on the top floor. We found a table with a wall plug nearby and Sherry plugged in our external wifi to see if we could pick up any free wifi. Yep, we found a free wifi signal (I think from the internet cafe the next floor down). So while Sherry checked email, Dave wandered the bus station/mall.
A few hours before our plane was to take off, we got a taxi over to the aiport. It is literally right next door to the bus station, but there is no pedestrian walkway or shuttle bus (that we could find). So we took a $5 taxi ride... and it was quite a long ride, because there's no direct road between facilities... the taxi had to go way out and circle around to get on the airport approach road.
The flight was 6 hours on paper, but only about 4 in actuality, as we moved 2 time zones. We took off about midnight from Ecuador and landed about 6am Chile time.
The LAN flight was nice... we got served a free meal complete with metal knives and forks, and a free glass of wine. And a movie with free headphones. No surcharges for checked luggage, etc.
But we paid a $56 Departure Tax from Ecuador and a $132 PER PERSON 'Visa Fee' on arrival in Chile. This arrival fee in Chile only applies to Australian, British, Canadian, and US passports. It is in direct response to the US fee charged to Chileans arriving in the USA. The guy we paid the fee to said we should consider ourselves lucky. Our fee is good for the life of our passport, the visa fee for a Chilean visiting the U.S. must be renewed every 90 days!
The Santiago airport is really nice. We had to go buy an airplane ticket on Sky Airlines for some friends who are going to meet us down south in Chile, so we got a chance to wander around the airport for a bit. The airline, Sky Airlines, apparently has had so much trouble with international credit card transactions that they quit accepting credit cards over the phone or on the web.
After asking several people advice on the cheapest way to get from the Airport to downtown, Dave managed to suss out the best compromise. As you exit the baggage claim area, there are tons of taxi drivers holding up signs that say 'Official Taxi'. They are NOT official taxis. There is an official taxi... you go to a desk, pay the fee, and get a slip to give to the official taxi drivers. This is the most expensive way. Next expensive is a non-official 'official taxi driver'. Below that are the
shuttle vans, and below that, the public transportation. Because we were tired and lugging quite a bit of luggage, we ended up on a shuttle van for $16 USD. The taxis wanted to charge us $25. Public transportation is about $6 via a bus and then the metro.
Anyway, by about 10 am we were at the Green Hotel, a place recommended to us by another cruiser (we booked via HostelWorld.com). Reasonable, clean, quiet hostal only 2 blocks off the Santa Lucia Metro station downtown. Near the University of Chile and all the downtown sights and scenes. We are paying 17,000 Chilean Pesos per night (about $28 USD) for a double/shared bath, free wifi, free breakfast, helpful family with some English running it.
We are also able to leave the luggage that we don't need while we are traveling elsewhere. We plan to park one big bag here that has our US stuff, while we're down south in Patagonia.
At 3/12/2009 11:57 PM (utc) our position was 33°43.99'S 070°19.12'W
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I still haven't had time to finish posting our Cocos pics! Oh well, maybe later.
At 3/5/2009 12:58 PM (utc) our position was 00°36.41'S 080°25.28'W
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Saturday morning we went out to explore the local market. In Bahia de Caraquez, it is 'downtown', and is a combined veggie, seafood, and meat market, with a few 'dry goods' shops thrown in.
After the relatively poor veggie situation in Golfito, Costa Rica, we are delighted to find plentiful and inexpensive veggies here. We bought a lot of veggies for just a few dollars. We checked out the meat and seafood markets, but didn't buy anything... we are still trying to 'eat down' our freezer, to get ready to go traveling inland.
After we got through with our shopping, we found the Coco Bongo Hostel, a few blocks away. A friend had recommended their breakfast to us. So we ordered up a great breakfast (juice, fruit, eggs, fresh bread, coffee) for $2. We enjoyed chatting with the proprietors, Suzanne and Nick (an American and an Aussie) who gave us a lot of tips on touring in Ecuador. Their rooms look nice and are reasonably priced--we'd definitely stay here if we were land traveling thru Bahia.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
A few days ago we heard from our friends on s/v Infini, still in Panama, that the the Panama Canal Yacht Club had been shut down. This wasn't a huge surprise, as there were rumors of it's demise when we went through the Canal in September 2008.
However, we just got an email from them with the details of how it happened. And all we can say is ... only in Panama.
Here is an excerpt from an article in the online publication Panama Guide. It is attributed to "Fran", obviously rent-paying resident of the (former) Panama Canal Yacht Club.
"On Thursday afternoon (the day after we paid our dock rent for another month), after the club manager left the office the sleezeball lawyers for Panama Ports Corporation whose stacks of containers have for years surrounded and steadily encroached on the club's land arrived and told the meek, mild, timid elderly little lady still in the office that they had an "order signed by the government" and were there to "simply do an inventory" and she would have to follow them around while they did it."
"Unfortunately, as they planned, she certainly would not know any better - like to say "no way" - as the manager would have. So having done the inventory, with a witness, made it legal rather than a "break and enter", and at 0300 hours Friday morning, the gated entrance to the club was sealed off by two massive containers, and the fence into the club was breached for access."
"The demolition crew arrived with huge spot lights, wrecking balls, trucks and back hoes and started bashing down the buildings. Sealing off the club may or may not have been legal - wrecking the place we've been assured is an illegal - probably criminal act. By 0800 hours, the water main had been busted, and the power lines downed.
"Now Friday was "Colon Day" another of many official holidays making a long weekend so naturally, as the Ports lawyers had calculated, there was no recourse that the Club or its lawyer could take, as all government offices and judicial offices were closed.....no way to get an injunction to stop .....very slick on the part of Panama ports."
"When we all started waking up and seeing this incredible destruction and walking around asking questions we were told that they were only taking down one old empty shed that the workers had been using - to send a message. But as the day went on the demolition never stopped. It was dismal with all our the friends we've made among he workers (the real people) who showed up for work as usual, sitting stunned in shock and tears."
"All the contents of the office, the bar, the restaurant, the storage rooms, freezers and the workers lockers were being carted away and locked in containers which were moved to unspecified and unknown locations "for safe keeping" - uh huh."
"Now this morning...it has begun again...there really won't be anything left standing by the end of today."
"Yesterday we were told that we had six weeks to empty our shed that contained virtually everything we keep on the boat....YEAH, right! I said.....I should believe them???!!!!!!....after all the lies so far???..(they didn't seem to appreciate that observation)....anyway we almost emptied everything in one day that we were planning on working on for a month at our usual pace."
"But I will be dammed if we are removing OUR lock from the storage shed...because these sheds hold personal (customers') stuff that was not part of the club operation inventory and they will need each boater to sign off before they can touch the sheds and their contents."
"Well...they can send us a telegram to the San Blas Islands...we will be leaving our lock on the shed when we leave...right now we are being very difficult and fighting to have our power and water turned back on on the dock."
There was more in the article, but the sheer audacity of the Panama Port Authority to come in in the middle of the night and forcefully demolish the Panama Canal Yacht Club... amazing... will be interesting to see how it develops... I guess the cruisers are still at the docks (at least temporarily), but there is no longer a Yacht Club facility!