Friday, 16 May 2014

Penguin Rookery, Ushuahia, Argentina

The trip was advertised as a catamaran adventure to a penguin rookery.  On the ship you have a ticket that tells you the meeting place and time and someone with a white paddle held high walks you down to the motor coach or boat.  In this case by the time we got there another group ad loaded before us, so of the 225 seats not many were left.  Greg sat on the top of the boat which is like sitting on the top of one of the hop-on hop-off coaches – pretty windy when the wind motor is started and the trip heads off for a 2 ½ hour ride up to the rookery.  We were promised that there would be places that sea lions slept out on rocks and told that we were to watch for whales, but all of that would be dependent on the animals.  “Which side of the boat to the whales like,” someone had asked.  “If you are on the starboard side, they are on the port side,” was the answer.  Truthfully, we saw a family of beautiful orca whales, which is unusual for that bay.  And the sea lions could be smelled first and seen later.

The trip reminded me of a trip I took on the barge at Shuswap in the early 1960’s.  The hills and mountains roll by.  The water changes colour.  The pace is leisurely.  We watched an albatross fly back and forth over the tail of the boat, swooping down, turning, flying back over us – magnificent for those who braved the cold outside the deck:  Wyona, Greg, me, a German traveler and his dad who came out occasionally, a disabled woman who tucked herself  into the corner where the cabin met the deck.  She only moved when someone would help her get up.  After an hour Wyona and I had everything we had brought in the way of clothing, wrapped around us, and she was sharing one of her gloves, so that we both had one warm hand and one cold hand.  The art teacher from the boat huddle between the three of us for a while, since we were using the body heat that would transmit itself hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder between us.

“Do you want to go inside yet,” Wyona kept asking.  I like the adventure to all of the senses: the wind on my skin, the sound of the water, my hair blowing across my mouth or flying straight behind.  Greg went inside and bought a sandwich – just one, for old time’s sake.  It was $5.00 and must be a sandwich that is well known, since it is the one that we ate when we went to the other penguin rookery.  “No.  You can’t make me eat that.”  I could still remember the first one I ate.  “This one is different,” said Greg. “No mayonnaise.”

Wyona, today with a buffet tucked away in her travel bag, provided cheese, rye bread, cake, Coke.  Any surprise I can think of she can pull for somewhere.  “I bet you don’t have any chocolate.” 

“Oh yes, I do.”

Those who had the preferred seat in the cabins were 4 across on each side of a table with no room to bend or move.  They sat that way for 5 hours – worse than an airplane.  Now we froze on the outside, but had all of the other advantages – really living in nature!  Our toes so cold we didn't know if we would ever feel them again, our faces windburned from the sun, our best logical powers heightened as we tried to figure out how to maximize a blanket we borrowed from someone inside, making a blanket for one cover all three of our legs.

In the elevator and then again at a pre-dinner reception, I asked people what trips they took today.  Both couples had taken the Penguin Rookery Adventure and said politely, it was nice but I don’t think we would do it again.

Not us.  We would do it again.  With more blankets.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Speaking a Different Language

There are huge groups of people travelling together – like the French Canadians on board who have come under the auspices of the CAA.  That is a wonderful way to travel – The Canadian Automobile Association makes the arrangements and the only like-minded qualifications is that a person wants to go around South America.  There is also a big group of German-speaking people on board, some Swiss.  Well, the bottom line is people from 47 different countries.  Now here is one of the tricks of the voyages.  The head waiter has to find a way to get all of these people at dining tables where everyone speaks the same language.  And the menu has to go to them in their language of choice.  And something can go wrong even when all of the above gets done correctly.  For instance, I wanted the Rasperberry Meringue, but the waiter snatched the menu from my hands and said, “Somehow by mistake you got tomorrow’s menu.” I had to begin to deliberate on today’s choices but it put me behind.

I make the mistake of speaking to people – in halls, on elevators, while climbing stairs.  I forget how multi-national the passenger list is.  And English just doesn’t work for everyone.  I really notice in the market how difficult it is when there is a language barrier.  It just doesn’t help much to say the same word slower, or louder, or over and over again.  We were shopping last night in the loveliest market.  After the organized tour, the bus guide told us that if we would come back to the main street, turn left and walk 200 metres, we would find a 3-block long market. Greg is the perfect companion for this kind of event.  He walks along beside us, waits at the stalls as we go right to the back of them. Sometimes Greg is right out on the streets, for small cones have been put out there blocking off the parking lane, to let busy shoppers pass each other stepping off the curb for a while and then back onto the streets.  Their cone-shaped devices must be their way of trying to preserve the lives of the tourists making their way up and down the streets.. 

The guide had told us during our excursion that people in Chile are allowed to have as many dogs as they wish.  Some people have 3 or 4.  They roam the streets freely. I think he was explaining to us why there were so many dogs – I saw them all over – for example, three just sleeping side by side in the crevice between the road and the curb outside of a busy shop, people stepping over and around the dogs, back out into the road, around them, back to the side-walk.  Wyona buys a cape.  I buy a colourful knitted sweater.  Greg quietly comes by each of us, takes the bags we are carrying.  We are empty handed again – able to admire the beauty of the alpaca scarves or check out tooled leather purses that have Chile written on a pocket, or embroidered into the flap of a finely woven bag.

Greg is quiet.  He pulls more money out of his wallet as we run out. He did buy himself a sandwich one day.  A sad day. Wyona’s last shopping moment in Argentina was when she wanted to buy a pitcher for her grand daughters to pour water out of this summer.  She was short of money – just the amount he had spent on the sandwich.

My highlight of the market was Wyona buying a poncho for $20.00.

“No forty,” said the vendor.
“Why?,” said Wyona, wrinkling her brow.

“Chile.  Chile.”  Then she pointed to other products in stall saying dismissively as she touched them, “Synthetic.  Uruguay. Peru.”  Then smiling and touching the shawl Wyona wanted, saying “Chile.  Chile.  $40.”

That the moment was well worth $40. 

When we got home at night, Greg asked if we could stop in Miami and go to the post office.

“What do you want to buy there?”

“I was thinking that we could stop and ship some of the items you have been buying to Calgary.”

Saturday, 8 March 2014

You Can't Make Me Paint

The day is March 8, 2014.  It is possible for cruisers not to know what day it is, even the the Daily Schedule announces the day, the temperature and lists possible things to do.  To read the list was overwhelming.  I began to cross of choices I would not take.  One was Painting with Watercolours. 

“You can’t make me paint,” I said to Wyona.  “I tried that on two cruises.  I was so happy the choice wasn’t here on this trip.  And now they have it in the bulletin.  A big no from me.”

I was right about making a choice that was in my best interess and this morning I knew that choice was to get out and walk the deck, to catch up on that good feeling that only a brisk walk can bring.  I tried to sneak out the door, putting my exercise clothing on in the bathroom so as not to wake Wyona and Greg.
I was successful getting my first leg in the pants I was wearing.  The second I tried while leaning against the vanity.  The four foot waves outside gave the boat a lurch and I slid toward the shower.  No problem, I would just slide down the wall of the shower door.  No door there, unfortunately.  Only a shower curtain that gave way.  I made the fall as quietly as possible, no sound passing my lips but thinking, wow, that was a lot of weight to hit the ground just now.

The noise must have bolted sleeping Wyona right out of bed. Greg was also upright when I came out of the bathroom to tell them, no, I was still conscious, just embarrassed to have wakened them. I slipped right out the door. 

This is a different cruise.  Different people in the dining room, ones I have not noticed before in the lectures and now on deck at 8 am.   It is not the professional joggers on deck.  Only people like me.  Walking for good health. Someone doing tai chi stretches in one of the corners. All of us walking gingerly over the wet parts of the deck where the ship maintenance workers are keeping the windows and walks clean with their hoses and squeegies.  I try not to look at my watch, but to keep walking, stretching tall and tightening muscles in the back and front of my body – holding them, then giving them a soft relax as I walked.  The soft relax feels better than the real exercise.

An hours walk was up and I headed for the cabin, but saw some people already going to the Constellation Lounge.  Even though dressed in my exercise wear and with wind-blown hair, still I wanted to know what would be going on so early in the morning.  Which is the reason why I walked into the Painting with Watercolours class.  The teacher was starting in a class really for beginners.  I stopped to watch her pedagogue which was so artful.  The second time she said, “Now does anyone else need a kit?”, I raised my hand. 

Now I have a picture of a glacier.  Done by me.  Not a glacier that Greg could recognize, but Wyona got it on her first try.  I am prouder than punch.  Third time with water colours, the charm.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Puenta del Esta, Uruguay

I thought Greg was making a mistake, taking his rain jacket on his add-on trip when we were in Puenta del Esta.  We had enjoyed a 3 hour day trip on a coach – seen the Atlantic and the Rivera de la Plata on the side of the peninsula, driven to the Ralli Museum, gawked at the upscale neighbourhoods of the city, heard explanations about the poor neighbourhoods we had driven through and then gone over the iconic bridge of Puenta del Esta – its shape is like the curves of a woman’s body.  Imagine a group of 40 retiree’s being asked if they want to do the bridge again, this second time at high speed.  All had to agree which put a lot of pressure on the timid and those with pace makers. There was so much happiness among the old as the driver began to pick up speed. I suspected he would come to a full stop, but no – he hit the highway at full speed, the bus load of oldies screaming as though some could remember a time when they did this at the fair on holidays.

Greg walked around the island without us.  He was right to take his jacket.  The thunder clouds rolled in and poured rain.  The tender boat loaded up for the last trip back to the boat.  As Greg tells the story, the crew took in the last of the poles, the huge canisters of water and cool towels that they greet us with on the shore when we are returning to the boat. But as the fully loaded tender took off, a crew member slipped into the water, the boat moving up against him and crushing his leg against a tire.  The captain rushed to the back.  They took the crew member on top of the tender to look at the wound at which time he fainted.  So off the tender came all 160 passengers and the equipment and the tender went high speed to the hospital, the passengers waiting for the next boat.

That day, our tour guide had apologized for talking so much – she said that people only remember 10% of what they hear on tours.  That will be difficult to prove by Greg, Wyona and me.  We talked for a long while about the depth of the information we learned about Uruguay’s economy, politics, and government.  Did you know that there are 3.2 million people in Uruguay and 12 million cows.  Fewer sheep.  Only 3 per person.  Wyona and I were ready to buy leather, but it is exported for car seats and beautiful leather coats sold elsewhere.  “You are more likely to buy Uruguayan leather in another country than in ours,” she told us.

The Ralli Museum had many pieces by Salvador Dali.  Janet and Wyona spent a day in London looking at a Dali exhibit and Wyona could still  remember what to look for in a Dali painting.  I spent a day in Catalonia doing the same thing at the Dali Museum.  Now was a chance to see some of his travelling work.  Wyona took on my job –keeping the group (of two) moving.  I was in a linger longer space.  She knew that the bus was pulling out of the museum parking lot in 40 minutes and we had a lot of pieces to see.

A day to always remember.  Even though I have already forgotten to tell you about the Pablo Atchugarry work we saw.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Finally, on Board

The taxi driver told us that 9 pieces of luggage and 3 passengers were too much for his cab.  I could understand that much from his body language.  I didn’t have to speak Spanish.  Somehow Wyona fit all of us in, and Greg offered a generous tip, so the driver left the port happy. 

We proceeded to get on board.  For us – entering the day of final miracles – no need to unpack again until we leave for home.

The same delicious Sunday market was in full swing and Wyona and I had pesos to spend at the market. Knowing that this would be that last of the really big markets for us we proceeded to the best market of all.

Greg found coins that had been carved so as to leave the interesting figures still in the circle of the coin and the rest cut away.  If only he were a jewellery wearer.  But he couldn’t bring himself to buy one of those, nor lls one of the purses that other men carry.  But to give him his due, he happily carries any of Wyona’s bags, often two or more at a time.

At the end of the day the church bells were ringing at the San Telmo Catholic Church.  We stopped in to watch a priest dressed in jean light the candles getting ready for the service.  Then we headed for the bus, only to be stopped by Spanish music coming from a derelict hacienda.  The front courtyard was full of musicians.  A sign said, come in, stay, free, the musicians are not being paid so give what you can.  At first we watched through the spaces in the high wrought iron fence.
from a website for One Day Cafe in San Telmo

Then we could smell the grill where chorizo sausages were grilled, split, and place on buns that were only vehicles to get meat into the mouth.

I would have stayed forever.  Greg and Wyona forever and a day.  The end of a dream day.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Five Days in One

A grand day.

1. We saw a military band and procession on horseback.

Just beautiful.

"I think this is a usual military show -- the band are on horses.  Something one might see in London," said Greg. 

... drummers for the social protest ...
2. Following the horses we found ourselves in the middle of well organized protest about the political regime in Argentina.

Thousands of marchers.

We took pictures.

We tried to get people to tell us what was going on.

Our Spanish is non-existent.

Their English is the same.

 One man did a gesture for us.

He touched his tongue and then hit the bottom of his foot as though it were sizzling.

... looking at the bus schedule ...
no buses come because protestors are on the road
3. We caught a bus – our first local bus with our new cards.

We put $10 each on our cards.

I think the rides cost us $1 a piece.

We have a lot of rides to take yet.

... the blue group walks by ...
4. We got off at the MNBA Museum.

We couldn’t find it.

Greg walked right around a beautiful Greek looking building with fantastic pillars.

 He could find no entry.

We gave up and crossed the street and tried to get in another entry.

... the yellows come next ...
No luck.

But the people ahead of us trying to do the same thing were shooed around to the other side of the building.


We entered on that street.

A marvellous building full of treasures: Manet, Monet, Rodin, Goya, Rembrandt and the early 20th Century Painters.

We had a 2 pm tour in English.

 Greg hates tours but loved this one.

 Free admission to the building.

Not even a donation box anywhere.

... now the greens ...
5. We left to go home but passed by an artisan market that was not to be missed.

 I will always regret not buying the beautiful large leather bag I saw at the start of the market.

Wyona says this.

Catherine Jarvis says this.

I know it myself.
"How lucky are we to see this," Greg says.
If you find something you love, just buy it right then, for you may never find it again.

And you will remember forever that you left it behind if you don't buy it.

Ah well.

Some other shopper will buy it but knowing that, doesn’t make me much happier.

I wanted that bag to go with my other 10 bags I don't use.

6. We ate – we needed food by now, but we also needed to sit down.

The serve was s-l-o-w but we didn’t care. We needed to rest.

... a protestor asks Wyona to take his picture ...
7. We went to see Evita’s gravestone.

Just as we were to enter the gates, they closed them.

Six pm on a Saturday.

Too late for us.

8. We took another bus ride home. We don’t know where to touch our loaded transit cards. 
... a soft drink at a 25 hour store ...
I was hitting it everywhere on the unit from which you can buy the cash tickets.

Other passengers on the bus are very helpful.

They can see us doing it all wrong and one will get out of their seat and pantomime the right move, for which I am very grateful.

... drinks spilled ...
filet for Wyona, empenadas for Greg and Arta
9. We get off the bus and walk through the Place de Mayo to our favorite gelato shop.

Wyona noticed that the price has gone up on the half litre of gelato.

She tells the owner that we want the old price -- $60, not $70.

He thinks we want to upgrade to a larger container.


We have shopped all over Buenos Aires for the lowest price, and now, tonight, the price has gone up here. 
... Wyona focuses for another shot for the protestor ...
Still, we are happy, have had a day never to forget and know that we are moving out of our spacious digs to a small room on a ship where we will be stepping all over each other for 28 days.

I hope we are still friends on March 30.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Wyona spotted the Carrefour, an international chain grocery store on our way home from looking for tours. I have been having cravings for fruit and vegetables. There was only one small isle at the back which took care of both fruits and vegetables. The potatoes still had lots of dirt on them. That is a good way to know they are organic. There were only 8 mangoes for sale. No papayas. No fresh berries, though lots of grapes. I had imagined a steady diet of mangos and papayas in South America.  I was wrong.

We bought the standard oranges, apples and bananas. “We wouldn’t buy those at home,” Wyona said looking at the blemishes on all of the fruit. I reminded her that the oranges we buy at home are waxed and dyed. That makes look good to us but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy for us or any better than the blemished ones.

Then Wyona wanted to go up and down all of the isles of the stores to look, as though we were shopping at home. I liked that idea so I did the isles as well. That is where I saw lots of canned vegetables. And every home must be making lots of pizza and pasta for there were large cellophane packages of oregano, turmeric, and paprika, bigger amounts than I see at home in my own grocery store. I would have to go off to the speciality Indian spice store to get packages that large.

I am not used to seeing so many shelves of alcohol in the grocery stores. There are no isles of whole grain products – mostly refined white flour. And no specialty isles where you can pick up frozen or fresh ethnic entrees and take them home. label on coke to the left...

At the check-out we saw Green Coke Labels – now that was confusing. "What is going on with the labelling," we were asking one another. Someone with limited English, (which feels like a lot of English to us, since we haven't been hearing much lately)  overheard our conversation and popped into the discussion, explaining to us that in the Green Label Coke, the sugar is natural. We don’t know what that means so I goggled it. Regular Coke: 250 calories. Green Coke: 100 calories. Diet Coke: no calories. Apparently one of the Argentinian efforts to combat obesity. 

We were remarking that at this point in our trip, it doesn’t seem to matter than very few people we meet can speak English. I wonder how it is that we are getting along. Maybe the guide books that we brought with us. And commerce can go on in markets whether people can speak the same language or not. The people who stop to talk to us are so kind. No merchants are over-bearing. As we walk along the streets we hearcambio every few steps. I don’t think hearing that word from 10 people per block on the tourist walking street would be an exaggeration, men and women, maybe 8 out of 10 men. But some women along the side doing money changing.

Some salespeople are out on the streets selling tickets to dinner and dance shows – usually  a Tango Show. I saw a woman approach Wyona, who didn’t slow down for one step to hear her pitch. The girl walked along, sideways, trying to keep up with her, trying to get eye contact, get some word out of Wyona.

 “Oh, you don’t speak,” were the girl’s final words as she dropped behind to find another tourist.

I was not that tourist. 


Monday, 24 February 2014

Planning Tours

We don’t know exactly how to use up these days in Buenos Aires in the best way – we like the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus as a general rule, but the reviews for the buses here are so brutal that we are afraid to get on one. “The ear phones don’t work ... the incessant tango music will drive you crazy ... there is no substance to the description of what you are seeing ... you have to listen to the translation in so many languages ... just don't do it ... save your money. " 

Not giving up on getting a quick start into touring, Wyona found some good reviews of private tours, so we took the address of one such office and walked down Corvientes street, stopping along the way to take our own pictures beside statues on the street. “This street must be the Broadway of Buenos Aires,” Wyona said. Yes, we saw musicals advertized, we stopped in at the opera to find out if there were performances this week, we saw movie theatres, and we stopped at the grocery store and at La Pasta Frola, which is a blog post of its own.

... the realities of candids ... passers by obscure the original subjects
We began to see statues along the way.

A baker outside of a baker.

A barber at another store.

We sat in the barber's chair for our picture.

We got the idea from a 2 year old and a 4 year old who did the same thing. 
a small rest on a hot sunny day -- 28 degrees ... warm
There is a police presence wherever we walk.

There is always a security guard at the door of our hotel.

As we walk along the streets at night, every bank is guarded by someone at the door.

Greg is the mapper. 

He knows which way to turn and we finally found ourselves in front of the building, a locked building and no tour guide office there.

... getting posed for the shot ...
Greg hesitated in front of the door. 

 A distinguished gentleman was keying himself into the building, and offered to help. 

“That is my office number. Come up.” 

We entered the office of two lawyers, explained our plight and they both got on phones, looking for help for us. 

... now in fantastic comfort ...
Finally Wyona discovered – the lawyer who spoke only Spanish has a son who runs tours, but those tours are booked on the internet. 

Apparently tourists just don’t go to Buenos Aires and drop in at the office. 

Drop-in’s aren’t that easy to do, even in the best of buildings. 

For example, we are finding that there are no more than 3 people allowed in an elevator, and 3 doesn’t work in our building if you are carrying groceries. The elevator just won’t go if the load is too heavy (that would be 4 2.25 litres of Coke and 3 bananas, apples and oranges).

In the case of the elevator in the prestigious building, the elevator just wouldn’t stop at the landing. Wyona and Greg had to climb up a couple of feet to get out of the elevator and onto the 5th floor. “Shades of Lagos,” ... those words might have come quietly from Greg’s mouth.

We did get hold of the tour guide. He couldn’t offer more than our tour guide books and our local guide (Greg) could deliver.

Tomorrow we are going down for a dock tour – at the very least. And a lot of fun, at the very most.


Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Flight

Wyona says that it has been 28 hours between when we left home and when we got to the Hotel Sarmiento in Buenos Aires. I was wondering where the night went, but that is hard to tell because on the plane the windows go down and the passengers cover over their eyes with black-out glasses, or they plug themselves into non-stop movies. The stewardesses go up and down the isles giving drinks of water to those who are still awake. I saw movies on screens one that was either inches away from my face, on the back of Wyona’s seat in front of me, or so far away that I had to unbuckle my seat belt and move forward to touch the screen since I was right in the bulkhead. A large reach for such a small screen.

There was one small toddler on the plane. His mother let him walk up and down the isles. Many passengers were like me, noticing the single child stretch his legs on the flight to Toronto. That was in contrast to the connecting flight to Buenos Aires. Children in the arms of many of the young couples. My guess was that there were over 300 passengers on the plane. Well over. The connecting corridor through which we walked after our showing our boarding pass was lined with 2 wheelchairs and then so many strollers and baby carriers that I burst out laughing. Not just the old and the very young need special wheels. I couldn’t help but notice the even the very fit on the plane use special equipment. Thick socks and sturdy hiking boots made them stand out, as well as their elaborately designed backpacks buckling securely at the hips. With a single flourish of one arm, I watched a slight middle aged woman grab her backpack off the luggage carousel and buckle on her travelling pack. I wondered how many hours of training she had done before being able to do that.

I stood in the isles at the front of our section of the plane, looking down at the ground before landing in Santiago – my first glimpse of the Andes: small sections of farm land, green at the bottom of valleys where rivers run; winding switchback brown roads crawling to the top of some of the dry, yellow peaks. Just as I have seen in books, so why such a surprise to see that in real life, to want to stand there for long minutes as we flew over the mountains. 

Calgary was cold when I left. Plus Wyona had warned me there would be some cold days going around Cape Horn. I brought mitts, hats and coats for sub zero weather. The temperature on the plane was cool and I covered up with a sweater, a scarf, the airplane blanket and wondered when I would warm up. I was peeling off layers by time we got in the taxi for the ride down the causeway into Buenos Aires, a lovely 28 degrees above, such a surprising burst of heat. 

I pressed my nose to taxi window on the way into the city, watching the buildings of the suburbs, never really able to stop watching how families in apartments take care of their wash by hanging it in so many different styles on their balconies. The weathering of the cement buildings was noticeable – Greg said it is the climate that gets at the cement.

This evening, he took a walk around the streets of our hotel. Wyona stayed behind and asked the clerk at the desk where tomorrow’s market would be held. He gave her a map, drew some lines a few blocks over and then said, “Somewhere around here – if not this street then one over, but in this vicinity, somewhere. You will find it.”