It all started innocently enough; I was to be the Study Leader for a group of 37 through the Panama Canal from New York to Los Angeles. The group of Road Scholars consisted of a wonderful multi-generational mix of travelers interested in learning. Love it! Everything was according to plan until little white swirls started to appear on the images taken by weather satellites high over the coast of Florida. As those swirls grew progressively larger the media had already dubbed it, “Frankenstorm!”
Coming up from Montevideo to New York was a twenty-seven hour flight. Like thousands of others I got delayed and rerouted avoiding the NYC area entirely.I was lucky I eventually flew to Charleston where the ship - Crystal Symphony - was now waiting. My fellow Road Scholars were not so lucky; many had already flown into New York and were stuck. The ship could not enter New York Harbor so it was directed to go to Charleston from Boston.The group in New York had to charter a bus and drive to Charleston. When they finally arrived I was waiting to greet them at the entrance of the Mills House; after flying 27 hours I was hoping for an early night - but as they trudged past me I could see that is exactly what they wanted as well! Miraculously everyone arrived in relatively good humor thanks in a large part to the buoyant spirit of Group Leader Valerie Hershfield.
The next day we boarded the Crystal Symphony along with all the other passengers who had been rerouted. I had the pleasure of touring the Symphony in Alaska last year during a book signing; I was impressed then and was again once back onboard. Cruising as a guest was an unexpected delight. I now can understand why people like this whole thing - it was pretty nice!
I gave one or two talks every sea day in addition to the host of formal lectures by other enrichment speakers onboard. Having never worked with Road Scholar before I was impressed by the interest level of the group which was multi-generational. Road Scholar - aka Elderhostel - is reaching beyond its prveious demographic to attract younger travelers with an ardent interest in travel as an educational experience. I think many were disappointed in the cruise aspect of the trip - not that the ship wasn’t exceptional - but the many independent options available onboard seemed to dilute some of the cohesiveness created on other trips. Nevertheless we had a great transit through the Canal which was the focus of the program.
Dining together as a group I had a chance to learn more about everyone and Road Scholar. Many within the group have taken upwards of 70 trips. Due to the educational aspect of the organization Road Scholar programs include some very interesting, non-traditional destinations like Cuba! I was fascinated to hear about week long trips that focused on a stately home or an art exhibit. Programs include land-based trips as well as cruises on large and small ships. For more information contact: www.roadscholar.org
One would not usually associate drought conditions with the rainforest but it does happen. In the past decade The Amazon has been hit hard by two years of devastating drought conditions in 2005 and 2010. Not only did smaller tributaries dry up stranding isolated villages but dry conditions were responsible for some of the largest forest fires ever recorded. The photos are of Boca de Valeria in February 2011 and ten months later in December 2011.
We will hope that this year’s rainy season is plentiful and river levels are restored to normal levels.
After leaving left Punta del Este, Uruguay, our first stop in Brazil was Rio Grande do Sul. Advertised as the “play ground of the rich and famous” I wondered if they meant the sand-box of the rich and famous as the port and town was covered in a cloud of blowing sand. In a matter of hours little dunes collected on the deck chairs. I got exfoliated just walking down the pier. Now, I know this city is an important city, famous for its agricultural exports but it was not the Brazilian hot-spot hoped for by many. It paled in comparison to the previous day in beautiful, sunny Punta del Este. The town lacked value for visitors and for me it was an unfortunate “miss.”
After Rio Grande do Sul I feared that the next port of Santos may cause people to question what was so special about Brazil? Santos is the largest port in not only Brazil but all of South America! It serves the 19 million people of São Paulo. Santos has some nice residential areas along the beach but for the most part it is a huge city and an enormous industrial port. Most of the ship took the 8 hour excursion to São Paulo; I did not. I was extremely lucky to be invited by one of our guests Isabel Penteado, who drove down from her historic 140 year old farm outside of São Paulo to take Bob and Honie Geis and me to the island of Guarajá. We spent the day in a national park among pristine Atlantic Forest and virtually deserted beaches. We lunched at a wonderful restaurant where we feasted on a sizzling platter of fresh shrimp, calamari, fish and grilled hearts of palm. We enjoyed ourselves so much we were the last ones back on the ship. (Thank you Isabel!) Santos as a port is a necessary evil if you want to see São Paulo; the port - one of the largest in the world - may be of interest to those who follow Brazil’s growing economy however, for those who do not… I would do as the locals do and head for Guarajá! Right outside the port gates is the ferry that will take you to the island where a delightful escape from the city awaits. Because of this insider’s tip Santos is a “qualified hit.”
The following day we stopped in Paratí. I am not a beach person and normally beach stops are not my thing but Paratí truly is different. This little town — little town in the North American sense of the word not the Brazilian where a little town has less than 1 million people — this little town tucked into a secluded bay surrounded by lush green mountains seems to have not changed since it was first enjoyed as the retreat of Brazil’s king and emperors from the 19th century. Colorful boats line the wooden pier into town; when not out fishing they can be hired to take visitors to nearby beaches. The colonial church on the open square surrounded by palm-trees and white washed buildings is the quintessential Brazilian scene; bougainvillea cascades over the stone walls of the narrow streets. You can walk the entire town in less than an hour; but why rush, there is so much to see. A lot of money has gone into the preservation of the buildings which house very nice shops, galleries and restaurants. One restaurant Banana da Terra, is known throughout Brazil - their specialty of the house is a fish dinner served on a hand-painted commemorative plate - very cool! I have to say it is the most charming place I have ever visited in Brazil - clean, relaxed and delightful. I liked it so much I looked into some of the many small hotels in town - all beautifully appointed and reasonably priced - this is a place I would like to visit again and spend more time. The setting and town itself is inspirational - I almost filled my sketchbook with drawings. It would make a great romantic retreat. For me, Paratí was a “home run!”Put the coast within the same broad bay where Paratí is located is Ilha Grande - the Big Island. With no infrastructure within the island the only buildings are along the coast; there are only a handful of vehicles on the island, everything comes and goes by sea. The town of Abraão is even smaller than Paratí and it lacks the romantic feel that I found appealing. There are shops and restaurants along the maze of tree covered alleys. There is a nature trail around the island which would be very nice for an early morning or late afternoon hike - I would not recommend midday. The stop is great for those who enjoy the beach or want to have fresh fish and a beer (or caipirinha). As that’s not me, my vote would be “miss” - though it is very pretty.
Final addition is Buzios; made famous by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960’s this resort area is really a series of crescent shaped beaches many of which are now lined with expensive homes, pricey shops and restaurants. The streets in town are narrow; they wind through an eclectic combination of old and new, funky beach-bungalow and high-tech modern. If you are there on a slow day Buzios is fun; lots of window shopping, great restaurants, plenty of bars and cafe for people watching - and as this is one of the haunts of the rich and famous you never know who will appear! In many ways it reminds me of St. Barts - very cosmopolitan, very wealthy. But if you arrive when several cruise ships are in at one time, it can be crowded and uncomfortable. My vote, “okay, maybe.”
Please keep in mind that with the exception of Rio Grande all the “new” ports are tender ports; in Paratí there is a very long wooden pier with boards spaced about one inch apart. These towns have cobble stones streets; not suitable for high heels. May be hard to navigate with a wheelchair.
This was a bitter-sweet year for the cruise industry, effective August 2011 ships that burn heavy-fuel will no longer to allowed in Antarctic waters; that restriction applies to the Seven Seas Mariner. After a less than fulfilling attempt last year, we were very anxious and hopeful at the same time that this year would be better. We had stormy seas leaving Valparaiso, Chile. We slipped into the shelter of Gulf of Ancud for a beautiful day in Puerto Montt where we were docked - first time in many years. In port with us was The World; many friends now work there and I was told they, with only 250 passengers on-board, were allowed to lower zodiacs which gave them the chance to float among pods of killer whales and go ashore to see the penguins and seals. Not only that they stayed in Antarctica for one full month! We had a great day in Laguna San Rafael where even I was awed by a huge serac that calved off the glacier and nearly swamped our catamaran with it’s wave. Continuing through Chile, we entered the southern portion of the Inside Passage via the Gulf of Penas where we saw the Tempanos Glacier in Iceberg Sound and Skua Glacier in Amalia Sound the following day. Skua Glacier was fascinating; a large portion of the right flank of the glacier was gone. A small cove has been created where the sea flooded in leaving only a crescent shaped ridge of ice along the perimeter. One of our guests Mike Gittings, took a look online and saw that Google Earth still showed the glacier extending far out into the water, so this event happened recently. Just goes to show you never know what you are going to see when it comes to Mother Nature. In Punta Arenas, Chile we picked-up our Ice Captain Goran Blumqvist. Next day we cruised past the Avenue of the Glacier in Chile before crossing into the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia. We had a meeting to look at the weather forecasts and discuss our options. Given how temperamental the weather is in Antarctica it is hard to make any predictions but as of that morning things looked good. When we sailed that evening it was under clear skies and calm seas. Crossing the Drake Passage we experienced Drake’s Lake! Not bad at all. Day One, we arrived at Deception Island in the South Shetlands; we had perfect visibility at Neptune’s Bellows, the entrance to Port Foster, the bay that sits atop the caldera of an active volcano. Given we were not going to go in as recently another ship went aground on a heretofore uncharted rock (it is an active volcanic area after all…) the Captain chose to take advantage of the good weather and head south for Paradise Bay. No sooner did we leave we sailed into dense fog and we were required to reduce our speed. However, every so often the fog would clear and the ice covered islands around the Antarctic Peninsula would show through. At one point we did see an Antarctic fur seal, gentoo and chinstrap penguins, skuas and some petrels resting together on the ledge of an old worn down iceberg - the perfect Antarctic photo for those fast enough to capture it. We made it to Paradise Bay at dusk. We were greeted on the radio by the Chilean research base, not knowing we were too big to land boats, they invited us over for supper! Can you believe it? We slipped slowly through the bergs in the bay as the ice on the mountaintops turned pink and lilac with the setting sun. Our intention was to stay the night in the bay. Day Two, as it does, the weather turned and we were forced to wait outside on the Gerlache Strait. Next morning we awoke to 4 inches of snow on deck and high winds. That morning was particularly chilly for me - several days earlier the glass in the sliding door of a guest cabin broke - my cabin was one of the few that matched the needed glass. So my glass door was used to replace their door and in place of my door a single-ply piece of plywood was installed. I don’t think anyone was thinking about it getting cold in Antarctica when they gave me the uninsulated plywood. Well, that morning I awoke and not only could I see my breath in my cabin (with the heat on full blast!) there was frost on my plywood door. All I could think about was how on earth the early explorers stayed down in Antarctica in ill-fitted, drafty, wooden boats or thin tents without Gortex and all the other modern conveniences. We headed for were on our Half-moon Island which we reached by late afternoon. The island in known for its huge colony of chinstrap penguins which normally are clearly visible from ship. The wind raged on and the penguins were no where to be seen; with binoculars you could find a few but not many. The bright red-orange Argentine navy base was about the only thing seen well on the rocky little island. Happy for the company the ten men stationed there invited us over for a visit but we had to respectfully decline. Captain then said we would set-off full speed for Elephant Island adding four destinations to our otherwise three-destination itinerary. Day Three, we awoke in front of imposing Elephant Island which was covered by substantially move ice and snow than we had experienced last year. After viewing from afar the narrow, rocky beach front that could have been one of the many landing sites assessed by the Shackleton Expedition, we left by late morning for the The Falkland Islands. Last year our cruise was dogged by high winds, rough seas and huge — HUGE! — tabular icebergs. This year the seas were relatively calm, the skies opened several times to reveal the breathtaking landscape, we saw whales, seals, penguins and sea birds. Though we saw ice, we did not see any magnificent tabular icebergs this time - for so, the only disappointment. All in all, the weather did cooperate and we were able to take full advantage squeezing in more than we had hoped to see. For those whose appetite for Antarctica has just been whet and you now want more, or for those who have not yet been and dream of the day, I wholeheartedly encourage to look into one of the small expeditionary ships that will still operate. Companies include National Geographic/Linblad, Quark Expeditions, Orion Expeditions and Polar Cruises. I have even heard that Azamara is retrofitting a ship to comply with the new environmental regulations. There is no place like Antarctica. You’ve gotta go!
Brazil has 4,650 miles of beautiful white sand beaches. It is no wonder that 80% of the 201 million people in Brazil live along the coast! For years the beaches of well-known cities like Rio de Janeiro have attracted international travelers to popular spots like Ipanema and Copacabana. But beyond those areas lie thousands of miles of beaches in cities, towns and sexy little villages that have been, up until now, the secret haunts of Europe and South America’s, “beautiful people.” You may recall that actress Brigitte Bardot fell in love with the beauty of Buzios where she enjoyed freedom in her anonymity - until she was discovered by the paparazzi! Buzio is still lovely, filled with chic shops and trendy boutique resorts now catering to visitors from all over the world.
Most of these out-of-the-way destinations have had limited access; some only by road, others by private plane or yacht. Now more and more cruise lines are stopping in what is being called, “The Brazilian Riviera.” Costa Cruises devotes several ships exclusively to Brazil’s coast; though most of the passenegrs are Brazilians and Argentines you will see people from all over the world from Japan to Great Britian. Other companies like Pullmantur and Fred Olsen also have ships in Brazil; some starting in Bridgetown, Barbados others in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janiero. The cruise terminal in Rio has recentlyy been expanded to accommodate the growing domestic market.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises is also now including more ports in Brazil; this month the Mariner had inaugural calls in Vitoria, Buzios and Recife. In February, she will return for the last segment of the South America cruise with stops planned in Rio Grande, Santos (for São Paulo), Parati, Ilha Grande as well as Buzios, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador da Bahia, and Fortaleza before making her way up the Amazon to Manaus.
If you are a beach person you will find plenty of sea and sand to delight you in every port - you just need to know where to look. Remember that in Brazil, cities are enormous and sometimes require a taxi to get to away from the port to a beach. The most popular urban beaches are usually crowded; in Rio de Janiero there can literally be a million people on the various beaches at one time. If you are looking for quaint, the small crescent shaped bays that scallop the bay of Buzios will be your cup of tea. It is something out of a movie.
For those of you, who like me, are not beach goers many of these “new ports” offer a chance to experience cities that are perhaps more authentic than those that have been catering for years to tourists. I enjoyed Vitoria very much and was charmed by the examples of beautifully restored Portuguese colonial architecture not too far from the port. People were very friendly and still curious about the cruise ship in town.
The long awaited decision has been made, starting August 2011 ships burning heavy fuel will no longer be allowed in Antarctic waters. This ban will affect most cruise ships in Antarctica; and all cruise ship carrying more than 500 passengers.
Heavy fuel is the sludgy dregs that remain after diesel is refined. It burns less efficiently than pure diesel or gasoline and produces pollutants harmful to the fragile Antarctic ecosystem. Large cruise ships are built to use heavy fuel as it is less expensive than pure diesel or gasoline. Investment in conversion to lighter fuels would be prohibitive due to the high cost and the limited season – some ships call on Antarctica only once a year. The decision to ban ships carrying heavy fuel was made by the International Maritime Organization citing environmental factors. The decision will affect Princess, Holland-America, and Regent. Small expeditionary ships that burn a mixture of diesel, gasoline and oil will still operate. Steve Wellmeier, Executive Director of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators said in a statement to the press, “Largely, it will be the large cruise-only vessels that are affected, rather than the smaller expedition ships that most people think of as Antarctic cruising.”
Though the ban will reduce the numbers of visitors arriving by cruise ship from over 15,000 to 6,000, environmentalists are not convinced the White Continent is sufficiently protected. Small ships do burn cleaner fuel but their smaller passenger load requires more departures to move the same amount of people that would arrive on one large ship thereby contributing more pollutants to the environment albeit cleaner pollutants. The other factor of small ships is a double-edged sword — landings. Ships carrying more than 400 passengers have never been allowed to lower boats of any kind, no guests ever went ashore. Small ships do lower landing craft; trips by zodiac including shore landings where guests can walk among thousands of penguins or bath in beach-side thermal pools are a major selling point of these cruises. Biologists do not know what affect this human contact is having on the wildlife and the fragile ecology.
In the end, this ban is all about safety. Were a large ship to spill heavy fuel in Antarctica the effects would be catastrophic. Isolation and climatic extremes would make clean-up equipment hard to find and clean-up efforts even harder to implement. The fact is large cruise ships are more vulnerable, their hulls have been built for the Caribbean not Antarctica. Unlike small ships, they are not ice hardened nor do they carry survival suits, those bright red-orange, insulated and weatherproof jacket/suits seen in photos of Antarctic expeditions. Survival suits are warm and easily detected in case of emergency. As someone who has sailed around South America 37 times, I know that every cruise has passengers who come unprepared for the cold weather including Antarctica.
The Antarctic experience is like no other in the world and I hope everyone who wants to go will get the chance. It looks like the best way to keep that option available will be smaller ships with better prepared guests on ice hardened ships, burning more environmentally friendly fuel while visiting more regulated regions.
The excitement mounted as we made our way into the port of Ushuaia. The wind blew a cold, stiff breeze from the south that put everyone in the Antarctic mood; everyone but the passengers on the Celebrity Infinity that was back in port after an aborted attempt at the same itinerary as ours. They said they hit bad weather and had to turn back. This was not their only missed port and the passengers were “mutinous” as one person put it. They were going to follow us out that afternoon and try again.
Those guests that did not bring adequate clothing shopped for hats, gloves and yes, long underwear. I can see now why the economy in Ushuaia is booming.
In Ushuaia, Capt. Goran Blomqvist joined the ship as the official Ice Pilot. He was captain aboard the Marco Polo for many years and knows the area intimately. A no-nonsense Swede, he was an imposing figure on the bridge.
Day One – Drake Passage
Ah, the Drake Passage lived up to its reputation – it was awful. The moment we left the Beagle Channel we were hit by a wall of wind. Though there was momentary hope that we would have been able to do Cape Horn en route to the Antarctica Peninsula, it was obvious that was not going to happen as the seas were against us. We tossed about all night and day in gales that reached 75 mph (Category 1 - hurricane strength.) The open decks were closed and the outside doors were barred shut. It certainly made us appreciate the fortitude of the early explorers who ventured into similar conditions in small, wooden sailing ships.
As part of our requirements by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) and the Antarctic Treaty, I gave the guests their briefing on the official Visitor’s Guidelines along with an explanation of our intended itinerary. As this was our first time in Antarctic waters the officers on the bridge contacted all others vessels in the area to let them know our proposed course and ask for any relevant information on conditions.
Day Two – Our first proposed stop was Deception Island, a circular island that is the remnant of a volcanic caldera. We had hoped to enter into Port Foster, the sheltered bay in the middle of the island where you can see thousands of chinstrap penguins on the rocks and beaches steaming from geothermal springs. Unfortunately, the clouds were low and the wind was still very high; huge growlers (pieces of ice bergs) were bobbing up and down in the tumultuous sea like socks in a washer. I was on the bridge trying to find something to say, visibility was very bad. I could see growlers hurtling toward us at very high speed. Looming on the horizon we saw our first tabular icebergs – the huge, flat bergs that can be up to 180 miles long! Captain Blomqvist estimated that these were about two miles long. In the high seas waves crashed against their 200 foot walls forming arching waves of spray. Some waves were so high they crested over the top of these immense bergs. It was impressive. Unfortunately, the wind and waves kept us far from Deception Island. Though we were in the shelter of the Antarctic Peninsula to the east and the South Shetlands, including Deception Island, to the west, we were still being bounced around. I used the lack of visibility as a good time to invite everyone into the theater for a talk on the geologic make-up of Antarctica.
By late morning the decision was made to head north and motor until the afternoon when we would try Deception Island again. The weather in Antarctica changes by the hour. It was not inconceivable that by afternoon it would change in our favor, but it didn’t. With nothing to see and nowhere to go, the Captain Felice Patruno chose to wait out the evening outside of the South Shetlands where there was less threat of ice and see what the weather would be like in the morning.
Day Two – The weather did not improve. There was a low pressure right above us that Captain Blomqvist described as “unusually stubborn.” Normally it would have moved on by now, but it did not. We motored up and down the west coast of Livingston Island while Captain Patruno communicated with other ships in the area. The Star Princess went south to Paradise Bay, our next intended stop. She reported that she was going sideways more than straight ahead due to the wind and that she encountered a lot of ice. The decision was made that it would not be wise to attempt Paradise Bay or Half Moon Island, so we moved on to our designated alternative in the event no other destination could be reached – Elephant Island.
To appreciate our visit to Elephant Island it is important to know the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men. Elephant Island is the rocky outcrop that was where Shackleton and his 27 men made landfall after their ship The Endurance was crushed by pack ice. Though the men were happy to set foot on land after 497 days on the ice, Elephant Island was no paradise. Its steep hillsides are covered by glaciers that produce bitterly cold winds that rip across the narrow, rocky beaches. Twenty-two men stayed on the island for five months while Shackleton took the remaining five to seek help by sailing the 22 ½ foot lifeboat The James Caird across the north Weddell Sea to South Georgia Island, some 800 miles away! I wanted everyone to hear this story so we announced an impromptu lecture in the theater.
We passed Outlook Point, it was raining and snowing. We approached closer into the shelter of the bay and sat among towering tabular bergs. True to form, within minutes of being there strong winds blew in snow and sleet and just as quickly blew out the clouds to reveal magnificent, ice covered mountains. Snow swirled badly around the tops of the peaks like ghosts flying out of a haunted house. The clouds opened up to the east and Clarence Island miraculously appeared. Though it is twice as tall as Elephant Island it was completely hidden by the clouds. As the sun sank lower it cast an ever-changing palette of color on the ice covered mountains. It was so beautiful (and calm) the captain decided to stay the night in the shelter of Elephant, Cornwallis and Clarence Islands. It was beautiful.
Day three – The hope was that if the weather was good we could see the north side of Elephant Island, the place where Shackleton’s men made their five month camp. But, the weather predictably changed, this time for the worse. Our obstinate low pressure was joined by two other low pressures that guaranteed more of the same.
Since the low pressures would also bring rough seas, we used the time to proceed slowly toward The Falkland’s minimizing any onboard discomfort, as we had had enough, thank you very much. Our reduced speed allowed us to see a pod of humpback whales lunge feeding and four very curious fin whales. Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world next to blue whale and we estimated these guys were about 70 feet. One whale came us and looked at us, turned around and came back to look at us and them turned around to join his pod. It was the first time in all my years of whale watching that I have ever seen a whale look at us – that was pretty cool.
We had an easy crossing to The Falkland’s where we had a perfect day. Though I can understand the disappointment of not seeing all that we had hoped to see, our time near Elephant Island did give us a chance to have a real “Antarctic Experience.” We were able to stay long enough in one place to see the landscape is transformed morning till night by snow, wind, clouds and even an occasional burst of bright sunshine. For me those few hours transfixed on those islands was worth the trip.
Antarctica is not a country and therefore has no government to enforce laws. The continent contains the most pristine environment in the world making it the one place that would benefit most from enforceable regulation. In many ways it is similar to the Amazon, rich in resources scattered over thousands of miles of inhospitable land with no means of policing its vast area. Antarctica has only its Treaty to protect it, a continent larger than Australia.
Cruise ship arrivals to Antarctica have more than doubled in the past five years. The increase comes not just from more small expeditionary vessels but large cruise ships which account for the vast increase in annual visitors. Proponents of the big ships argue that they have less environmental impact because they carry more people per sailing thereby reducing the amount of pollution generated compared to the number of sailings required by a small ship to carry a similar number of people. Ships over 500 passengers are also prohibited from making landings.
Members of the Consultative Nations of the Antarctic Treaty are not convinced. They have grave concerns about larger ships in Antarctica. They say traditional cruise ships are not ice hardened, nor do they carry survival suits or gear onboard appropriate for the extreme weather were the ship to experience an emergency, and ships with external propulsion systems (azipods) are also more vulnerable to ice increasing the possibility of an accident. Were such an accident to happen the potential loss of life and environmental damage would be monumental.
This May, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) will meet to decide whether or not to prohibit cruise ships that burn heavy fuel from entering into Antarctic waters. That would eliminate all big ships and even some smaller ships as the burning of cleaner gas and diesel mixture would be too expensive. By approaching the issue this way, not only are heavy fuel pollutants eliminated but also the vessels that produce them along with all their inherent issues.
Going back to the opening remark, Antarctica is not a country and has no government to enforce laws. Participating member countries of the Antarctic Treaty uphold its guidelines; but they are only guidelines. Forty-seven countries have signed the treaty, but what about the rest of the non-member countries? Antarctica is like no other place on the planet and requires the cooperation of every country for its conservation and protection; I hope the international cruise industry agrees and will support whatever decision the IAATO makes in May.
If it’s been more than two years since you last visited the southernmost cities in the world, Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina, you are in for a big surprise. Due to the increase in the number of ships both cities have experienced an economic boom.
The sleepy city of Punta Arenas, Chile, located on the Strait of Magellan is becoming a destination unto itself. In addition to the new shopping mall and the established Zona Franca (Free Zone), the city is rapidly developing its port area. A new cruise terminal is planned on the site of the existing downtown pier; across the street in front of what will be the new port gates old brownstone warehouses are being transformed into new shopping arcades. The tree-lined, double-lane Avenida de la Independencia is being broadened and repaved; many of the streets around the Plaza de Armas have been turned into pedestrian only thoroughfares. And most surprising is the Dreams Hotel, a chic five-star hotel and casino on the waterfront. This 80 room hotel has a deluxe spa and pool, elegant restaurants, roof top bar and convention and meetings facilities. There is a five dollar charge to enter the casino; I did not ask if that applied to hotel guests as well. I asked who comes to this hotel and I was told that people from all over the world are booking the hotel as their base for exploring Patagonia; Chileans from places like Santiago were also taking advantage of off-season prices for an exotic, weekend getaway.
Over on the island of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, Argentina is also benefiting from the increase in cruise traffic. The port area is expanding with a maze of new shops and stalls for excursion vendors. In town the construction is complete on new sidewalks and wheelchair ramps. Many of the old tried and true mainstays of the town have succumbed to progress; the charming “café on the corner” with its swinging leaded glass doors is gone. In its place is another superstore of outdoor wear and extreme sports gear. Hotel space has always been lacking in Ushuaia, and now that many of the smaller expeditionary ships use the city as a turn-around hub, more rooms for incoming/outgoing passengers are needed. In response, construction of new hotels is also is the planning.
Well the Cruiser Friendly Guide to Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula is a reality. The book is available online at shophollandamerica.com, amazon.com and cruiserfriendly.com. I am also very happy to report that it is now available on Kindle.