In January and February lots of people in the northern U.S. go South for a couple of weeks or so. But few go so far South as Cape Horn. We did.
Monday, January 17, 2000. We left our apartment in Chicago about 3:00 for a 7:00 flight to Miami, partly because we wanted to allow plenty of time, and partly because of a snowstorm that we knew would delay traffic. It caused some flight cancellations, but not ours. As our plane was being de-iced we saw a phalanx of snowplows removing snow from a runway. The plane, a Boeing 777, left a little late, but not so late as to endanger our connection. United operates a hub at Miami where planes from various North American cities converge shortly before 11:00 PM with passengers that they trade and then continue on to various South American cities. We were traded to the 777 bound for Santiago, Chile.
Tuesday, January 18. We were met about 10:00 AM Chilean time (two hours ahead of Miami) at the Santiago airport by Holland America agents. They had already rescued our luggage (bearing Noordam tags) from the baggage carousel, and led us to a bus that took us and a score of others to the Sheraton Hotel on Avenida Santa Maria. There we checked in both for one night at the hotel and for boarding Noordam tomorrow. This included completing a form needed to disembark at Rio de Janeiro two and a half weeks hence.
After naps we took a walk around a nearby handsome residential neighborhood and noticed that all houses were protected by high, fierce looking, security fences or walls.
Dinner in El Cid Restaurant in the hotel was excellent - avocado and "river shrimp" (crawfish) soup and grilled fresh sea bass with sea food and vegetables and sauce plus 1999 Santa Rita Reserve Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.
Wednesday, January 19. We put our baggage outside our room before 8:00 AM to be picked up and taken off to the Noordam in Valparaiso. After breakfast we saw many suitcases being loaded into a great 18-wheeler destined, we hoped, to the ship. We sat around in the hotel's public spaces or the Holland America Line's hospitality room until our 11:55 bus departure time. Around 2:45, the bus stopped for several minutes because we were too early for orderly boarding of the Noordam. I had left in my suitcase the supply of dried fruit I carry when travelling, and was feeling effects of low blood sugar by time we reached our cabin and found a bowl of fresh fruit from which I took an apple. Then we went to the ship's ice cream parlor where I had 2 small cones. Then I felt better.
Our cabin was an inside one, #517, on A Deck, just below the Main Deck. The carpet showed evidence of stains and wear. There was no safe and of nine drawers, six had locks, only one of which worked properly. Into that drawer went valuables, such as money, camera, binoculars, computer and whiskey. The toilet did not work, but was repaired in a few hours.
The Noordam was scheduled to leave at 5:00 but waited 40 minutes for two busses of passengers. We were given tickets to table 2 at the early sitting, but one of the couples originally assigned to that table who had requested a move to another table stayed for the first dinner. We ended up at another table with a horse-farmer from Kentucky named Bill.
Thursday, January 20. At sea. This being Luigi's birthday, a bouquet of red roses was delivered to our compartment mid-morning thanks to Zora, our American Express travel agent.
We attended a good 45-minute lecture on the history of Chile by a professor from Stanford. Throughout the cruise there were interesting lectures about the countries we were visiting and about various astronomical topics. The astronomer who delivered the latter promised that, whenever the evening was clear, he would be on the top deck to show people the South ern constellations, including the South ern Cross. However, we did not have any night that was clear, even though many of the days were clear until late afternoon.
In the evening there was the Captain's champagne reception. This was the first of the four "formal" evenings on the cruise. A revolving dress code published in the daily schedule specified either casual (no jeans or T-shirts), informal (jacket but no tie required) and formal (dinner jacket or dark suit with necktie).
At dinner we were seated at Table 2 with a pleasant couple from Atlanta named Mike and Mary. We never did learn their last name or names, but enjoyed their company anyway. Mary had a succession of attractive dresses and jewels that changed daily. Further in accordance with the instructions of Zora, the wine steward told us that a bottle of Champagne in honor of Luigi's birthday was to be presented to our table. We asked that it be delayed until the next evening as we had already had our quota at the captain's reception. Several members of the staff sang "Happy Birthday" to Luigi, an attention she had told me that she didn't want, but I told Zora anyway, considering that the roses and Champagne more than compensated for the singing. Besides, there was a good cake with a candle on it. At least one other birthday celebration was held that evening; with 600 passengers at each sitting, any given date is likely to be the birthday of one or two people.
After dinner captain announced over the loudspeaker system that, due to technical difficulties, the ship would be traveling at reduced speed and shore time in Puerto Montt (our first scheduled stop) would be cancelled.
|Friday, January 21. We cruised through Chile's inside passage. It was nice and smooth, with land on both sides.|
Luigi's Champagne was served to us at dinner. Mike and Mary don't drink, so we had it all to ourselves.
Saturday, January 22. Cruising along the Chile coast, we found that the land to port was often visible, and often obscured by clouds. There was a lecture on history of Punta Arenas, the Southernmost city in Chile, on the Strait of Magellan. It grew rich on wool and, before the Panama Canal, inter-ocean traffic. Luigi went on a tour of the galley. Naps after lunch.
The weather was cool and very windy with a rough sea. Thanks to its stabilizers, the ship did not roll or pitch much.
In addition to gulls, we saw many albatrosses. As it is hard to judge size and distance combined at sea, it was easy not to appreciate the great wingspan these birds have as they glide along, relying on air currents generated by the wind to keep them airborne.
|Sunday, January 23. Cruising between islands and mainland, early in the morning we passed some magnificent glaciers. Some of the scenery was spectacular, the rest was just beautiful. A little sunshine appeared now and then.|
After dinner we saw and enjoyed the movie, "The Thomas Crowne Affair" about a rich art connoisseur and a beautiful, determined insurance company detective.
Monday, January 24. The Noordam arrived at Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan about 7:00 AM, and tied up to a pier. A water supply system malfunction left the ship's faucets dry or emitting air and a few drops. The water was back on after breakfast. Supposedly busses would be available to take passengers to town from a paved area at the base of the pier, but we could see many people standing unprotected in the cold wind waiting and no bus, except one that was waiting to do something else. Later several busses showed up. We went ashore briefly after lunch for a walk, but it started to rain so we re-boarded after walking along the pier to land and back. The temperature was about 50 and very windy. Later the sun came out and the wind fell, so reading outside in a deck chair was pleasant when I wore a sweater and light jacket. Luigi noticed that one of the ship's cranes was not working and several crew members were standing about in perplexity.
Tuesday, January 25. We sailed by several imposing glaciers between 6:00 and 7:30 AM, reaching Ushuaia, Argentina, about noon. A former penal colony, this purports to be the Southernmost city in the world at 54.8 degrees South latitude (Edinburgh is 55.7 degrees north).
The toilet did not work after lunch.
We walked into the city and along one of its three horizontal streets. They are crossed by a dozen or so streets that run uphill. Snow-capped mountains are visible even in midsummer.
Wednesday, January 26. We arose early to watch ship sail around Cape Horn, 55 degrees 59' South . The temperature was 51 degrees Fahrenheit, the wind was strong and, surprisingly, the sea was moderate. I am not sure how the ship threaded its way through the many islands of Tierra del Fuego from the Strait of Magellan to Cape Horn.
|An albatross monument could be seen on Islas Hornos, the island on which Cape Horn lies. According to legend, people who are lost at sea rounding the Horn return as albatrosses.|
We noticed a single masted sailboat headed in the opposite direction from the Noordam's.
The port lecturer talked about Falkland Islands, the next day's stop. Among other bits of advice were, "Don't cross fences around minefields." In the casino I saw a woman in wheel chair with oxygen tubes running to her nostrils playing a slot machine.
At Bourbon time we drank happy birthday to the 102nd anniversary of my father's birth.
After dinner we saw the movie, "Elizabeth," about the first reigning English queen of that name, and found it overplayed.
Thursday, January 27. The ship anchored off East Falkland, in the Falkland Islands, before breakfast. From the deck Luigi saw two penguins in the water. At first she thought they were otters; their feathers were so dense they looked like fur.
After getting tender tickets in the lounge, and staying there until called, we took the 20 minute tender ride to the dock in Stanley.
|A harbor, too small and shallow for large ships, lies in front of the town and holds a wrecked vessel bearing a red cross, presumably a relic of that war.|
On the grounds of the local church appeared a monument of crossed arches of whale jawbones erected in 1933 to celebrate 100 years of British rule.
Many flower gardens were blooming but the lawns were mostly parched. Various ingenious containers were used to grow flowers, used sneakers being the most memorable.
The chief building material for houses and most other buildings seemed to be corrugated steel.
The weather was sunny and windy with a temperature about 50 F. The latitude is 51.3 South . London is 51.3 North.
The Noordam weighed anchor and left about 4:00, immediately encountering dense fog. I hoped that the frequent blasts of a loud horn came from our ship, not from another or a lighthouse.
Friday, January 28. At sea. The weather was windy with occasional showers. At noon our course was North, 6 degrees East; we passed the 45th parallel. Minneapolis is 45 degrees North latitude.
Saturday, January 29. At sea. A moderate gale from the North made the decks windier than usual; they even roped off the bow portion of the upper promenade deck on which people generally walked for exercise. We maintained the course North, 6 degrees East to the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, then westerly upriver. According to the daily program, "The Rio de la Plata, with Uruguay on the Northern Side and Argentina on the South ern side, is in general very shallow with a riverbed that consists of mud. The river is 200 miles long, 60 miles wide at the entrance and has its origin in the Rivers Rio Parana, Rio Paraguay and Rio Uruguay." Because of the mud that accumulates here, it is necessary constantly to dredge a channel and to mark it with buoys to keep ships from grounding.
We saw the movie "Instinct" about a psychiatrist working with a homicidal naturalist who lived happily only with gorillas.
|Sunday, January 30. The Noordam entered Buenos Aires Harbor and backed into a berth on a busy industrial dock before breakfast.|
From the upper promenade deck we watched fresh fish, wine and other provisions being loaded. The fish was in boxes about 18" X 24" X 9" H, open on top, and covered with ice. After dinner (that included very tasty fresh Argentine snapper), we went onto the top deck and observed a colorful sunset and the simultaneous loading and unloading of a container ship ahead.
Monday, January 31. Luigi felt sick. I watched the port operations and read.
|It was fun to watch the stackers, machines that outgrew the forklifts from which they appear descended, lift shipping containers the size of busses from one stack and deposit them on another. Sometimes the containers were placed on flatbed trucks that took them to ships.|
We sailed for Montevideo at 8:00 PM
Tuesday, February 1. We reached Montevideo about 8:00 AM. Luigi and I joined a busload of others to see the highlights of the city. Our guide was law student named Carmen. One highlight comprised a couple washing clothes in a fountain. Another was a great 19th century casino that we were told is for sale. We were taken into the national capitol, tasteful and impressive with many kinds of marble. Folding chairs were stacked on the sidewalks along one of the major streets in readiness for carnival, which they celebrate a month or so before Mardi Gras to avoid conflicting with opening and conduct of school. On returning to the ship Luigi returned to bed. I took pictures of the anchor of the Graf Spee that is exhibited in the port area as the only remaining item from the German World War II battleship that sought refuge here and then was taken out to sea and scuttled after her crew was saved and interned.
At 8:00 we sailed South from Montevideo harbor to the marked channel in Rio de la Plata, then east to the ocean, then northeasterly toward Rio de Janeiro. During the night the ship's clock was set ahead an hour.
Wednesday, February 2. At sea. Another rough sea with a North wind. We had the opportunity to enjoy much pitching but little rolling. This is relative, of course, to normal sailing on this sort of ship. From the Crow's Nest observation lounge I looked in vain to see even spray landing on the exposed deck at the bow. On a Destroyer Escort it would have been different. Due to the size of the Noordam and its stabilizers, the motion was never enough to make a glass slide across a table.
I gave ship's library my partly read hardback copy of Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation and six paperbacks we'd read, and returned Chrighton's Timeline, which I had enjoyed.
The last of our formal dinners occurred, featuring baked Alaska. We saw the movie "Double Jeopardy" with Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd about a woman who was wrongfully convicted of killing her husband, goes to prison, and after her release then kills him.
Thursday, February 3. At sea. Calm and mostly sunny. At 10:30 AM the cruise director gave a talk in the Admiral's Lounge about the disembarkation procedures we were to follow upon leaving the ship in Rio de Janeiro. Luigi attended this; I watched on closed circuit television.
Friday, February 4. Luigi and I rose about 6:00 AM to watch as the ship entered Rio de Janeiro harbor at dawn. Scaffolding around the statue of Christ the Redeemer diminished the effect somewhat; it was so far from where we sailed that it was less impressive than when one is closer. We sailed north past several beaches and Sugarloaf peak on the port side as the street lights were being turned off, then turned into the harbor near the city's business district.
The temperature was in the nineties and the air was very humid, so Luigi and I did not go ashore. We had visited Rio previously, and this time we were not acclimated to the heat.
Mike and Mary from Atlanta, our table companions at dinner, had arranged to go on a dinner and show program in Rio, so bade us goodbye last evening. They do not drink and we did not order wine while eating with them. For this evening, we ordered a bottle of Walnut Creek Chilean Merlot, partly in view of our having finished the pre-dinner whiskey the evening before. However, they decided not to go on that program, and watched us drink the wine by ourselves. One of our criticisms of this cruise is that, although we stopped at two major wine-producing countries, the wine steward did not bother to stock any of the wines of those countries, yet we saw cases of French and American wines being loaded. Walnut Creek, though from Chile, is mostly sold in the U.S.
Our bags were packed and in the hall before we went to bed. To prepare for this we got undressed and into our nightclothes so that we could pack the clothes worn during the day. After we retired, it sounded as though others were holding a pajama party in the corridor.
Saturday, February 5. Luigi and I rose about 6:00, dressed, breakfasted, and were out of our cabin before 9:00. We went to the lounge to wait to be called for disembarkation according to numbers we had been given previously. The bus to the Sheraton Rio Hotel (where we were to wait until time to leave for our 8:55 PM flight to Sao Paulo) took a two- or three-hour tour of the city with narration by a very good guide as we passed various buildings and neighborhoods.
We got an excellent South American lunch in the hotel buffet. It comprised South American dishes mostly unknown to North Americans, including something that looked like dried caterpillars. Also we got some good Antarctica Beer, which has a picture of a penguin on the label.
The flight to Sao Paulo was slightly delayed, but we got there in good time for the flight to Chicago. About midway, the plane made an emergency stop in Caracas for 2 hours. One of the passengers, who had been cheerfully standing in line ahead of us in Sao Paulo, suffered some sort of medical problem that required her to be taken off the plane in a wheelchair, treated, and then wheeled back on.
We arrived at O'Hare about 8:00 AM (noon Rio time). All the passengers waited in their seats until the ailing woman was taken off; then we scrambled.