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Day at sea – to Strait of Magellan

March 13, 2020 – day at sea from Falkland Islands to Strait of Magellan

2020 South America cruise

I go for breakfast in the main dining room this morning. I am the last to join the table, but the other four people wait for about an hour for service. One couple is from Sydney, Australia, and are veteran cruisers. The other couple are from Burlington/Toronto area.

Captain’s noon report:

  • He will immediately notify us of any changes caused by coronavirus that will impact our cruise
  • Princess Cruises is suspending operations for two months
  • Our position: 52° 40’S 65° 16’ W
  • Arrive at pilot station at 9:30pm
  • Punta Arenas – 5:00am arrival
  • Lots of currents in the Strait of Magellan, so navigation will be challenging
  • Tomorrow’s weather: cloudy, some showers, cool
Heading from Falkland Islands to Magellan Strait
Heading from Falkland Islands to Magellan Strait

Everyone aboard has filled out a health questionnaire for the Chilean government, so hopefully we are clear to enjoy the numerous ports-of-call in that country. From my perspective, we have been on the ship for a week, and everyone appears to be healthy, so I’m inclined to stay on the ship and complete the cruise. I have confidence that Holland America will take care of everyone as best they can, no matter what situation might develop. I refuse to succumb to fear, and I detect the same attitude among most of my fellow passengers, including my travel companion.

As I walk circuits on the Promenade Deck this morning, we are currently sailing through thick fog. The ship’s horn is sounding every couple of minutes, making our voyage feel particularly “nautical”. Later in the afternoon, the skies clear, and we have remarkably calm seas as we approach the Strait of Magellan.

I have a cappuccino and a brownie in the Exploration Lounge just after noon, and find a recliner to sit in. I strike up a conversation with the man sitting beside me about the coronavirus and how it might affect our cruise. Like us, he is sailing all the way to Fort Lauderdale. He is also taking a wait-and-see approach, and trying to remain calm. He lives about 800 miles from Ft. Lauderdale, so he isn’t concerned about getting back home, but the uncertainty of our cruise completing as originally planned is obviously on everyones’ mind.

I go to see the live show this evening in Main Stage: the cello-playing Polish duo Celli and an illusionist who starts the show with a few card tricks. Neither act are too terrific compared with their previous performances. I go outside on deck to see the stars in the clear sky.

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Falkland Islands

March 12, 2020 – Port Stanley, East Falkland, Falkland Islands

2020 South America cruise

We arrive at our anchorage outside Port Stanley on time this morning around 7am, and after anchoring, the tendering ashore starts promptly. I’m up at 6:45am, have breakfast in the stateroom, and take the first tender ashore to meet our excursion operator. We are driven most of the way to Bluff Cove Lagoon in a large minibus, and then transfer to 4x4s for the last 5-10 minutes to get to the penguin rookery.

We see both Gentoo penguins and King penguins with their young. Most of the Gentoos are moulting, so they are pretty miserable, just sitting there trying to survive the unseasonable cold, wet weather (see banner image above). This is Autumn going into winter in the southern hemisphere, and it is only 8°C today. Mind you, we are at 52° South latitude right now, so the weather can’t be expected to be that warm.

Mission accomplished: I saw penguins on the Falkland Islands!

Bluff Cove Lagoon is a small part of a 35,000 acre sheep and cattle farm, where the owners offer access to the penguins and other wildlife. They also operate a small museum, gift shop, and most importantly the Sea Cabbage Cafe, where complimentary sweet treats and hot beverages are served to their guests!

I walk along Port Stanley’s waterfront road, stopping here and there to see some of the quaint buildings and other sights. The Maritime Museum is well worth seeing. Passengers from the Roald Amundsen (Hurtigruten, 500 passengers) are also in town, wearing their distinctive coats. I do no shopping, and return to the ship by 12:30pm, and have a very nice Vietnamese rice and stir fry lunch in the Lido.

I download all the photos and videos I shot today into my computer and start the task of entering titles and locations. Thankfully, the GPS unit I have on my Canon EOS R is working perfectly. Having all the photos geocoded combined with having access to the Internet makes annotating the photos with place names much easier and faster.

The cruise has been wonderful so far. Tomorrow we sail the Magellan Strait to Punta Arenas, then explore Beagle & Cockburn Channels before rounding Cape Horn and sailing through the Chilean Fjords. The upcoming week is looking spectacular!

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2 days at sea – sailing to the Falklands

March 10, 2020 – Day 1 at sea – Montevideo, Uruguay to Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

2020 South America cruise

I’m up at 7am, get cleaned up and dressed and go to the Explorations Cafe for a cappuccino and a couple of chocolate croissants. I decide I can’t live without an Internet connection while at sea, so I sign up for a plan that will cover me for the entire voyage. It is pretty expensive, but worth it for me, since I can now shut off my Canadian carrier’s data roaming I was using when ashore. I’m finding the on-board Internet is more reliable and faster than previous voyages, but perhaps Holland America has also upgraded their satellite system as well.

After the main dining room opens at 8am, I join a table for six for breakfast and have another cappuccino along with a frittata. I meet a woman from San Diego who is seated across from me, and is an experienced solo traveller, so we have a lot to talk about.

Ship's position - 2nd day Zaandam sailing from Montevideo to Port Stanley.
Ship’s position – 2nd day Zaandam sailing from Montevideo to Port Stanley.

The Captain announces that we are sailing south to the Falkland Islands under in uncharacteristically calm seas and winds due to a high pressure system over us. He expects it to break down a bit over the next day and a half, but he isn’t expecting any weather problems, even by the time we arrive in Stanley.

I attend two presentations today. Kevin Saslavchik, the Cruise and Travel Director talks about what we should expect in Port Stanley, and Guido talks about Buenos Aires, describing and showing us the things you may have missed and the history of some of the places you did see. As it turns out, both Kevin and Guido are both young Argentinians. Kevin is particularly cute, and has a dry sense of humour. Guido also jokes around a bit, especially when describing the foibles of Argentina’s various regimes.

Joe dressed for Gala Night with the Moon rise over the southern Atlantic Ocean
Joe dressed for Gala Night with the Moon rise over the southern Atlantic Ocean

We get dressed up and go for Gala Night dinner in the main dining room. My friend has duck breast and Rack of Lamb, and I just have the lamb, which is excellent. We both have escargot to start, wine with dinner, and I have a Chocolate Soufflé for dessert.

Since the skies are clear we go up to the Sports Deck (9) to observe the gorgeous Full Moon and then climb up to Deck 10 forward to observe the Southern Cross and an upside-down Orion in the northern sky. There are no lights on Deck 10, making it quite dark. I help a fellow passenger find the Southern Cross, which she is thrilled to see for the first time.

March 11, 2020 – Day 2 at sea

I sleep in until 8:45am this morning, but get cappuccino and pastry at the Explorations Cafe before attending a presentation by Seth Wayne on his activities as HAL Ambassador in the Crow’s Nest Lounge. He is a former Seattle weatherman and news broadcaster, and is responsible for Holland America’s online social media presence. He is a long-time cruiser, and gets to go on 2-week segments of cruises on a regular basis. I then go to the Lido to have a lox omelette for brunch before returning to the Explorations Lounge to work on my computer and catch up with online news and email.

Uruguayan Chef Amandine Bondoux on the right
Uruguayan Chef Amandine Bondoux on the right

The Port to Table cooking show, hosted by Uruguayan Chef Amandine Bondoux appeals to me this afternoon. She makes two dishes: Pejerrey in Escabeche (a type of ceviche) salty appetizer and Dulce de Leche Rogel – a layered thin cookie with chocolate leche stuffing and Italian meringue on top. The ceviche is made with sautéed vegetables, water, vinegar, oil, and the tuna is cooked in the hot liquid with the vegetables, but the fish is still slightly raw in the centre. This dish can be kept refrigerated for several weeks due to the acidic vinegar, and the flavour improves over time. She makes everything from scratch.

The entertainment in the Main Stage this evening is Celli, two Polish cellists who perform a wide variety of music, from classical, to a Michael Jackson medley, and loud and powerful semi-rock tunes with a 4-piece band backing them up. I enjoy their performance!

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Montevideo

March 9, 2020 – Montevideo, Uruguay

2020 South America cruise

I’m on a standard city tour today, with the Carnival Museum added on at the end. We pass the Graf Spee anchor as we leave the harbour for the historic part of the city. As with Buenos Aires, Montevideo’s harbour is on the Plata River estuary, which is the widest river in the world, and is formed from the confluence of the Uruguay and Paraguay Rivers. Montevideo is on the north shore of the Plata River, and Buenos Aires is on the south shore.

Our first stop is the Plaza Independencia, where the impressive Salvo Palace is located. It is a 1930s colonial building designed by Mario Pisner and is now used for offices, residential and a tango museum. The Embassy of Canada is also located on the edge of the plaza, as are both the new and old Presidential buildings, and the impressive Teatre Solis. The centre of the plaza is dedicated to a monument and mausoleum to Uruguayan hero José Artigas. As found in Buenos Aires, Montevideo is full of neoclassical architecture emulating European cities during that era.

Horse-driven freight wagon outside the Mercado Agricola de Montevideo
Horse-driven freight wagon outside the Mercado Agricola de Montevideo

Our second stop is to visit the Mercado Agricola de Montevideo, or agricultural market. It is raining, so its nice to have a roof over us as we explore the produce, meat, and seafood being offered for sale. A horse-drawn freight cart goes by on the street outside as I return to the bus.

Our third stop is the Palacio Legislativo – the country’s seat of government. Nearby is a Burj al-Arab hotel lookalike and some nice murals. Our guide Lilianna shares that the price of meat is very low since it is the main industry in the country. Consumption is 100kg/person annually. Maté is a national tea-like drink, which virtually everyone drinks. Sharing maté is a symbol of friendship. There is both private and public health care available, and education is compulsory, with university being free for everyone (even foreigners).

Our final stop is the Plaza de la Armada where we get a good view of Plata river shoreline and city skyline. There is also a nicely-designed bronze monument dedicated to the fallen heroes of the Navy.

The tour wraps up at the Carnival Museum, which is back in the dock area of the city. The focus of this museum is the Candombe dancing, which is one of the most popular Carnival themes followed in the country. We are seated and served wine, baked cheese, and beef (sausage, steak, blood pudding) while we watch the cultural show. Some members of our group get up and dance after being given costumes and props!

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Buenos Aires

March 8, 2020 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

2020 South America cruise

I had a good sleep last night and have breakfast in the room. I have lots of time to go to the Explorations Cafe for my all-important cappuccino since my shore excursion doesn’t leave until 10:20am. We start with a city tour in a bus, where we learn Buenos Aires aspired to being “the Paris of South America”. Neoclassic architecture obviously influenced by European design is to be found everywhere in the city. One of the widest streets in the world – Plaza de la Republica is a result of civic leaders ploughing whole city blocks just to emulate the wide streets of Paris. The city also has many huge office towers and other amenities found in all modern cities.

We are then dropped off for our Culinary Walking Tour, where we have a second, local guide to describe all the samples of food, wine and beer as we walk to three local restaurants, representing a variety of the Argentinian meat-focused cuisine:

  • La Carita Cafe & Bar
    • Chimichurri – beef sausage on a bun with two sauces
    • Aperative 14% wine – Bermu or Gancia – sweet
  • La Guitarrita
    • Empanadas – beef and banana
    • 2-wine blend, including a muscat – fruity, dry, white
  • Las Cholas
    • Sirloin and skirt steak – probably the best steak I’ve ever eaten!
    • An Italian cheese designed to not run when grilled
    • Malbec – a robust red wine
    • Andes Origen – a light-tasting lager beer

My travel buddy took the subway from the dock area to downtown and found the wool shops she was seeking with help from some very kind locals, but the shops are closed since it is Sunday. She then ends up marching in a parade marking International Woman’s Day, which she found very moving. Guardian article


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Houston to Buenos Aires flight

March 7, 2020 – Houston, Texas, USA to Buenos Aires, Argentina

2020 South America cruise

Clouds off the coast of Peru lit by the setting Moon
Clouds off the coast of Peru lit by the setting Moon

Neither my friend nor I sleep much on this flight…just half hour naps once in awhile. I admire the Moon setting over the Pacific Ocean as we approach Lima. The light from the Moon lights the clouds below us – very pretty. Later, with a darker sky once the Moon has set, I observe the Southern Milky Way.

United flight path from Houston to Buenos Aires
United flight path from Houston to Buenos Aires

The sun rises as we fly off the coast of Chile, so I can see the thick cloud cover below us. The aircraft has travelled down the coast on a southerly route, but makes a turn to head southeast to Buenos Aires two hours before our arrival. When the heading changes just north of Coquimbo, Chile, we lose our 50 mph tailwind and pickup a 15 mph headwind increasing to 25 mph, which explains why we were flying this heading down the west coast of South America.

We cross over the Andes Mountains and then the Pampas as we approach Buenos Aires. The headwind picks up to 58 mph as we get closer to the airport. Buenos Aires airport is quite large, and our 777 is given the second-to-last gate, so we have quite a hike to get to the immigration hall, where there are well over a thousand people waiting to be processed. We manage to pick a just-formed line, and get through in under a half hour, claim our checked bags, and clear customs. The Holland America reps are waiting for us in their orange shirts to take our checked bags from us, and we board a bus which transfers us to the dock area.

The cruise check-in process is a bit convoluted, since we now have to clear Argentinian immigration again, fill in a health questionnaire about the coronavirus, before being processed by Holland America. We obtain our key cards for the ship, and give our passports to Holland America for safekeeping and so they can clear us at each port-of-call.

Once we go aboard and find our stateroom, we get cleaned up a bit and go for lunch in the Lido. I call home to let my family know I’ve arrived without a problem and I’m aboard the ship. Later, we have dinner in the Main Dining Room. My friend has a pork rib entree that looks great and I have very tasty Flat Iron Steak with grilled onions, and a cappuccino for dessert.

We are both obviously very, very tired after our 22-hour marathon travel session, so a good sleep is welcome! Tomorrow, we get to explore Buenos Aires before our departure.

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Victoria to Houston flights

March 6, 2020 – Victoria, BC, Canada to Houston, Texas, USA

2020 South America cruise

I’m up before 7am, and have a quick breakfast before the Current Taxi arrives at 7:30am to take me to the airport in a Tesla Model 3. My travel buddy arrives an hour later, and we check-in at the Air Canada counter, give them our big bags, and get our boarding passes. They don’t charge for our checked bags, since this is an international flight. Thankfully, I have time in the waiting lounge for a cappuccino from Spinnakers On the Fly.

Our Air Canada Bombardier Q400 prop plane to Vancouver leaves on time, spends five minutes waiting at the stop line, but arrives on time. We make the trek across the airport from the domestic terminal to the USA pre-clearance area, which is not at all busy and a breeze to get through compared to the last time I went through this area. There were no questions about health at the kiosks and the immigration agent didn’t care either. I guess we would have had a more careful inspection if our passports were from the countries currently affected by the coronavirus.

Vancouver airport and the city as we head south

Once we find our gate, we go to a restaurant in the boarding lounge area to have some lunch. We both notice that it is much quieter than the usual expected chaotic crowds. By the time we finish our meal our aircraft is loading, so we walk on board and get settled in our seats. We take-off on time at 12:15pm, flying over Georgia Strait before heading south to Denver, our first stop on United Airlines flight 1184. The flight deck tells us our flying time should be 2:15 instead of 2:50 on this Airbus A319.

Despite being the same flight number, we change planes in Denver, flying in a Boeing 737-900 to Houston. Midway through the flight, the captain reduces flying altitude from 35,000’ to 26,000’ to avoid some rough air over Texas between Dallas and Houston. The Gibbous Moon is visible in the east both before we land in Denver (see laminar clouds and the Moon in the banner image above) and again after we take off for Houston as night falls. The flight crew estimate we will arrive about 10 minutes early, which I’m always happy about.

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Dragoon to Phoenix to Victoria

March 10, 2019 – Returning home – Dragoon Mountain Ranch to Phoenix airport to Victoria, Canada

2019 Southern Arizona Astronomy

Joe driving the Tesla Model 3 north back to Phoenix as we pass Picacho Mountain
Joe driving the Tesla Model 3 north back to Phoenix as we pass Picacho Mountain

We leave Dragoon Mountain Ranch just after 7AM with three of my friends in the Tesla Model 3, heading to Phoenix airport. We make a couple of quick stops along the way, arriving right on time at 10:30AM. I find the Terminal 4 doors where I return the Tesla to its Turo owner. At this point, we split up to find our flights, and one friend going to Sedona for time with family takes a bus.

I’m incredibly early for my 5:30PM flight to Calgary, so end up waiting around in the ticketing area, since I can’t even check my bag until two hours before the flight. After finally checking my bag with WestJet, I have a late lunch downstairs and then go upstairs through security and into the gate area. My flight is delayed from 5:25PM to 5:40PM, but the boarding goes quickly. We takeoff at 5:47PM, and the flight duration aboard our Boeing 737-700 is 2:43 instead of 3:06, so WestJet is obviously trying to make up some time.

Time is tight to clear Canadian Customs & Immigration and find my next gate in Calgary, but full credit to the WestJet staff in the airport, since they have expedited the way for those of us with tight connections. Our Boeing 737-600 takes off at 11:15PM and the flight duration will be 1:14 to Victoria. Once we are airborne, the flight attendant dedicated to our dozen-seat Plus Economy section serves us drinks and snacks more-or-less continuously. I have a gin and tonic, and eat as many snacks as I can before we start our descent!

After arriving just after midnight, I take a taxi from Victoria airport to home – a very long and stressful day, but a wonderful trip overall!

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Dragoon Mountain Ranch – Days 4-6

March 6, 2019 – Tucson & Vail

2019 Southern Arizona Astronomy

Some of us visit the Pima Air & Space Museum today, and others go to downtown to see the Tucson Museum of Art. Since I’m a confirmed aircraft nut, I make my third visit to Pima with my buddies, finding some fascinating new aircraft and equipment to learn about. We meet back at the main building at 12:00 noon to take the tram tour around the grounds, and then it’s time for lunch in the cafeteria before carrying on with exploring the hangers and field until we are picked up at 4PM to return to the ranch.

Lockheed L-049 Constellation airliner
Lockheed L-049 Constellation airliner – Pima Air & Space Museum
RASC members at Argenzianos restaurant, Vail, AZ

We then meet the rest of our group (and others) at Argenzianos restaurant in Vail (Yelp review), which is between Tucson and Benson. This dinner meeting was arranged by one of our fellow amateur astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada who happen to all be staying in the area, with the guest of honour being a fellow RASC member and famous comet hunter David Levy and his wife Wendee. The food and service is great, and the conversation is fascinating. Who knew there were so many RASC members in southern Arizona!

March 7, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Northern Mockingbird at Dragoon Mountain Ranch
Northern Mockingbird

I’m up early to see another beautiful sunrise over the Dragoon Mountains. We stay home today, but some go into Benson to shop. I observe a Northern Mockingbird on the birdbath at lunchtime, and manage to get a pretty good photo through my telephoto lens. This evening we celebrate one of our group’s birthday with steak and a birthday cake.

March 8, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Sunset lighting the Dragoon Mountains with a rainbow in front of the storm clouds

I fly my drone over the observatory this morning, but otherwise I just sit around inside the house. Everyone else is doing the same thing since there is a wicked wind outside – gusting to 60 mph by this afternoon. We have a spicy ground beef casserole with cheese on top for dinner – very tasty! I dash outside for the superb sunset lighting the Dragoon Mountains east of us, and a rainbow appears just to put a cap on it.

The cloud cover and wind dissipates as forecast by 8PM, so the group go out for observing and night sky photography. One of the beautiful celestial targets tonight is the very faint and wispy Witch Head Nebula (see banner image above).

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Bisbee, Tombstone & astronomy

Mar 5, 2019 – visit to Bisbee & Tombstone, and astronomy at Dragoon Mountain Ranch

2019 Southern Arizona Astronomy

Stagecoach on the main street of Tombstone

I drive some of the group across Dragoon Mountain Ranch to St. David, and then to Bisbee and Tombstone in my rented Tesla Model 3. We drive to Bisbee first and have a very nice lunch at the High Desert Market before splitting up to see the historic mining town. (Bisbee photo gallery) Once we meet up again, I drive to Tombstone, where we only spend about a half hour walking the infamous main street, since it is raining.

It is a wonderfully clear night back at the ranch. Tonight, I take images of the beautiful NGC 2174 – Monkey Head Nebula through the superb 20” Newtonian astrograph telescope. This combination reflection and emission nebula is located in the constellation Orion. Since the image acquisition is automated and I’m not feeling too well, I sit inside the house while the imaging runs in the observatory. I go out once in awhile to check on things and join my fellow astronomers to observe visually under the beautiful dark skies.

NGC 2174 – Monkey Head Nebula