Port of Call Ushuaia

Ushuaia, Argentina, Gateway to Antarctica

Introduction
Ushuaia under the Martial mountain range
Sea lions in the Beagle Channel

Ushuaia is often referred to as the end of the world and is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. It is recognized as the southernmost city in the world. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range, and on the south by the Beagle Channel. It is a popular port of departure for ships and expeditions headed to Antarctica. A little over a decade ago the cities population was less than 10,000 while today it is approaching 100,000. This is partly due to the growing popularity of Antarctic tourism but equally because the Argentinian government has encouraged manufacturing with special tax breaks as well as subsidies for people living here.

The Beagle Channel is the most northern natural channel connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific and has been a popular shipping lane. South of the Beagle Channel is Tierra del Fuego which means land of fire. Because the area was often shrouded in fog early explorers called it the land of smoke which was exaggerated in Europe for advertising purposes into land of fire. A large part of Tierra del Fuego is an Argentine national park.

Where You Dock
Expedition boat getting ready

Ushuaia has a large pier right at the cities waterfront capable of handling most ships. It is usually busy in season with expedition boats getting ready for Antarctic tours along with large cruise ships rounding the Horn or setting out for Antarctic waters. Right at the end of the pier is the cities visitor center with facilities and information on tours and the city. Also along the waterfront are a number of tour booking offices.

Transportation
Puppy love 😉

While the city has a population of almost 100,000 it is geographically compact with most restaurants, cafes and shops located within a ten by six block area. While the Pan-American Highway passes through the city it is also isolated with no other towns or cities nearby. The big attraction for a visitor is the national park and the animal life on island is the Beagle Channel which are best visited on a tour.

Currency

At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. In the city many shops will accept Euros and American Dollars but it is advisable to exchange some currency for convenience.

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego
Attractions

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (Tierra del Fuego National Park) is probably one of the major attractions in the area. It is also the terminus of the Pan-American Highway that ends in a narrow dirt road inside the park. There are also a number of islands near the city in the Beagle Channel that are popular with penguins, seals, sea lions, cormorants along with whales depending on the season. There are a number of tour boats along the waterfront to book.

Cormorant island

In town there are a number of excellent restaurants, cafes, and chocolate shops along with gift shops. The city also can boast that they are home to a Hard Rock Cafe

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Port of Call Madryn, Argentina

Porta Madryn, Argentina – the Heart of Patagonia

Introduction

Puerto Madryn is an amazing city that is very popular with cruise itineraries in South America. While Mydryn itself is a modern and thriving city with much to offer, the big attraction in the area is the national parks. The park of Mirador Elefantes Marinos has become famous for colonies of penguins, sea lions and seals along with pods of orcas. The orcas have gained a lot of notoriety in recent years for coming up to the beach to grab seals in the surf.

Where You Dock

Puerto Madryn has a large marine pier right in the center of the city capable of handling large cruise ships. A walk down the pier puts you right in the middle of the CBD with good restaurants, cafes and shops along with a large selection of tour operators. All along the waterfront is a wide beach with a walking promenade.

Transportation

Madryn is a port city boasting a large deep-water port and is also a major industrial city, mainly focused on aluminum production and fishing. Puerto Madryn is also in an isolated area of Patagonia with the biggest attractions in the area being the national parks. Trips out to the parks can take between one and a half to two hours each way and the best way to visit is to book a tour. Other than walking the best way to get around the city itself is by taxi.

Currency

At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. Because of the high number of visiting tourists, in the CBD many shops will accept Euros and American Dollars. It is still advisable to exchange some currency for convenience.

Attractions

It is one of the most vibrant cities in Patagonia, with a beautiful coastal avenue overlooking Nuevo Gulf. As noted the focus of the tourist business is visiting the parks to see the penguins, seals and orcas. In town there are a number of shops and cafes  with over a dozen good restaurants within a block of the waterfront. One of the local favorite pastimes is drinking coffee with chocolates in the many chocolate shops along the waterfront.

Port of Call New Orleans

Cruise Port New Orleans, The Big Easy

The French Quarter

To begin with New Orleans is a destination virtually in a class by itself. The city is famous for its history having been settled first by French trappers in the seventeenth century, than ceded to the Spanish in 1762 by Treaty. Following a number of fires in the late eighteenth century the Spanish rebuilt the French Quarter using mostly fired brick, including the most impressive structure in New Orleans, St. Louis Cathedral. The architectural character of the French Quarter, including multi-storied buildings with inner courtyards, arched doorways, and the extensive use of decorative wrought iron, were actually characteristic of the Spanish colonies

Beginning in 1800 Spain and France signed a series of treaties stipulating that Spain give Louisiana back to France, these confirmed and finalized the retrocession of Spanish Louisiana to France. In April 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana which then included portions of more than a dozen present-day states along with New Orleans to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase.

Involved in a war with England, in 1814 New Orleans defended itself against a large English force sent to take the city. Marshaling forces (regular, militia, and naval) and recruiting pirates led by Jean Lafitte, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson routed the British in a decisive battle in the early morning of January 8, 1815.

Anchored by the famous French Quarter with its iconic architecture the downtown area wasn’t big enough to hold all that was going on so it’s spread out into the adjacent neighborhoods and the warehouse district with famous eateries, clubs and trendy galleries.

night on Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street at night

Famous for throwing one of America’s biggest parties each year called Mardi Grau, the truth is the party virtually never stops in this city. The sidewalks of Bourbon Street are packed at night and some of its bars and restaurants virtually never close. Home to a musical tradition second to none and a restaurant scene famous around the world New Orleans isn’t just a cruise port it’s a destination.

Where You Dock

The Mississippi waterfront runs along the French Quarter and the growing Warehouse District and in the middle of it all is the Riverwalk Mall where the cruise ships tie up. Virtually in the heart of everything the cruise terminal is attached to the outlet shops of the Riverwalk Shopping Mall and only blocks from Canal Street and The French Quarter.

Transportation

If you are flying into New Orleans to catch a cruise expect to pay a little over $50 for a taxi ride to the cruise terminal. There is a public bus route that will take you into downtown from the airport for less that $4 but the trip takes about forty minutes. We have found an advertised shuttle to be unreliable but the airport has a very convenient ride share pick-up area. A recent Lyft ride cost us $32.

In downtown New Orleans there are numerous good hotels and if you aren’t up to walking there are pedicabs, street cars and easy to catch taxis.

Currency

Being the United States the currency is the Dollar and if you are visiting from out of the country you will find a number of conveniently located currency exchange outlets along with ATM machines.

Attractions

New Orleans is an attraction in itself. Just walking the French Quarter, listening to street music, eating Creole food, visiting Jackson Square and window shopping is a true experience but there are some other things to consider:

St. Louis Cathedral

St. Louis Cathedral built in 1789 is the oldest cathedral in the United States.

Saint Louis Cemetery is a famous New Orleans cemetery (actually 3) where most of the graves are above-ground vaults constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Preservation Hall is a jazz venue in the French Quarter. The building is famous for a house band, a record label, and a music foundation.

The National WWII Museum, formerly The National D-Day Museum, a military history museum located in the Central Business District. NewOrleans was the manufacturing center for the landing craft used for WWII beach assaults. The museum focuses on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II.

The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas located on the waterfront is run by the Audubon Institute, which also operates the New Orleans Audubon Zoo and the Insectarium on Canal Street.

 

Food

When it comes to food New Orleans has more than its share of famous chefs including Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, John Besh, John Folse,, Donald Link, and on and on. With restaurants like Emeril’s New Orleans, K. Paul, Commanders Palace, Brennen’s, and Emeril’s Delmonico you’ll run out of time before you run out of great restaurants.

A Day In Antarctica

A Trip To The End Of The Earth

Occupying a land area about the size of the United States and Mexico combined, Antarctica is the highest, driest, coldest, windiest and brightest place on Earth. It is completely covered by a layer of ice that averages more than one mile thick, but is nearly three miles thick in some places. It is without question the loneliest place on the planet.

Over the past decade the frozen continent has hosted only about forty-two thousand researchers and visitors per year. To protect this incredible place the requirements that define and manage how visitors travel in Antarctica is controlled by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. One of the rules is that any vessel holding more than five hundred people is not allowed to put anyone ashore while visiting.

Just imagine that we live at a time when there is actually something called the Antarctica Tour Association that sets the rules for vacations to this continent. Never in our wildest dreams would we have thought something like this possible.

 

An expedition boat prepares to sail to Antarctica

Today there are a number of options for visiting. If you would like to visit and go ashore there are a number of expedition boats that travel to Antarctica that carry about one hundred passengers and land using Zodiac rubber boats. We talked to several people while making our way south that were taking advantage of that option and indicated that the fare runs between $10,000 and $20,000 per person for a week-long trip. Luxurious accommodations can also be booked on modern cruise ships starting at about $3,000 for a two week cruise.

Expedition boats dock next to the Celebrity Eclipse in Ushuaia

On of the reasons that Antarctica is so isolated and harsh is that it is ringed by the Southern Ocean with a circular current that races around the continent. Some of the worst weather on Earth is in Drake Passage, that is the gap between Cape Horn in South America and Antarctica. Often the passage is afflicted with high winds and heavy seas.

Approaching Antarctica
Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel

 

Many of the expedition trips to Antarctica start from up the Beagle Channel at the city of Ushuaia at Terra Del Fuego. This city has grown to a population of almost 100,000 with much encouragement and funding from the Argentine government. It is also usually a last port stop for cruise ships heading south to round Cape Horn or sail into Antarctic waters.

 

 

We chose to travel with a bit more luxury and a lot more stability and cruised with the Celebrity Eclipse out of Buenos Aries. Each year the number of choices in cruise ships grows larger. After our port stop in Ushuaia, visiting the park at Terra Del Fuego, we headed out for our first destination in Antarctica, Paradise Bay. Passing the “light house at the end of the world” we entered Drake Passage facing high winds and twenty foot plus seas for a rocky afternoon and evening. The next morning the Sun broke out as we approached Antarctica cruising by icebergs the size of Manhattan. The seas calmed the sky turned blue and the temperature soared to 35° as our ship, the Eclipse became the largest ship to ever enter Antarctica.

Stark, snow drifted mountains towered above the horizon and ice floated everywhere with many icebergs being as big as our ship. We sailed for hours up the channel toward Paradise Bay. We were told the area had the most snow covering the shoreline for this time of year that’s been seen in a long time. The water around us was full of whales and penguins that shot by like little black torpedoes. Albatros and other sea birds where everywhere. The professionals that were with us said they hadn’t seen such a beautiful day in over six years and we couldn’t imagine how it could have been any better.

Albatros sunset at the end of a perfect day

When I was in the military I served with a couple of people who had volunteered to do a “winter-over” in Antarctica and used to talk about how incredible the place was. Just a decade ago a visit to Antarctica was something I never considered even possible. Who would have thought that this incredible, isolated, frozen continent could become a tourist destination? There is really no way to describe this experience in words so I’ll close by simply suggesting that this should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Port Of Call Buenos Aries

Cruise Port Buenos Aries Argentina Gateway To Cape Horn And Antarctica

One of South America’s busiest cruise ports, Buenos Aries is one of the largest cities in South America with a lot to see and do. Famous for the Tango and great steaks it is also a treasure trove of history and packed full of interesting sights. Most cruises are using Buenos Aries as a embarkation or disembarkation port but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked as a destination in its own right. You will discover that hotels are moderately priced and good restaurants are plentiful and inexpensive.

Where the Ship Docks
View of the port area

Buenos Aries does not have a very convenient port facility and it has been that way for a number of years. It doesn’t look as if they are in any hurry to upgrade. While it does have a cruise terminal it is located so far from most piers that they use buses to get passengers to the ships after check-in. Be aware that you are boarding the ship from the pier and they us an erector set structure of steep ramps to access the ship. It is very unfriendly for people traveling in wheel chairs. You also cannot walk in or out of the port from the ships. The terminal facility is located only a couple of miles from the downtown area but it is not easy to reach on foot and the only easily available transportation are taxis (more on taxi under transportation).

Cruise port boarding ramps
Transportation

If you are going to or coming from the cruise terminal you are pretty much going to be getting a taxi. While you can walk out from the terminal it is almost a mile walk to the nearest metro station located near the Sheraton hotel and that’s along heavily trafficked roads. It’s an additional half mile to the nearest shopping mall.

Taxis are supposed to be metered in Buenos Aries but there are a number of exceptions and add-on fees which we often have trouble understanding. Because of that taxis can be very inexpensive but also be prepared to be often surprised. For us a taxi from the Obalisque area to the in-town airport was 400 pesos while a ride the other way the next evening cost 700 pesos.

Buenos Aries has an excellent and modern subway system (Subte) with two hurdles to overcome for foreign visitors. First, like much of the city there is very little signage in anything but Spanish and few locals speak anything but Spanish. Second you need a SUBE card to ride which is available at subte stations, or at our eight Tourist Assistance Centers. We did not see any information regarding a one or two day visitor card either. OFFICIAL METRO SITE IN ENGLISH

Taking a taxi to the port is pretty straight forward but we would recommend flagging a cab on the street and traveling on the meter. Several times we paid much higher fares after having our hotel call a taxi for us. Traveling from the Odalisque to the port on a meter should run 300 to 350 Pesos (tipping is not customary).

Leaving the port is another story. There seems to be a system in place to extract significantly higher fares from passengers. Upon exiting we were told that all taxis are on a fixed fare (no meters) from the port and a ride to the Obalisque would be US$15 or 600 Pesos (that conversion rate made the dollar quote much cheaper?). We had similar experiences using taxis to and from the in-town and international airport.

The International Airport is a good distance out of town with a taxi ride from the port recently quoted at US$40. We took a metered taxi from our hotel near the Odalisque for less than US$25 in Pesos. Many taxis actually prefer US$ at this time.

Currency

At this writing the exchange rate is about 38 Argentine Pesos to one US Dollar. Because of inflation rates over the past several years buying Pesos before leaving the United States is almost impossible. It is also very difficult to use American Dollars in Argentina except in high tourist locations. Money Exchange locations are sparse and at high traffic places, like the airport, the rates aren’t very good. In town you can get better rates buying Pesos mostly because there is speculation among changers against the Peso. We eventually used a shop advertising Western Union and got more than fair rate.

The Presidential Palace
Attractions

Buenos Aries is a large metropolitan area and like most it covers a wide range of environments. You will find everything from grand residences, and upscale neighborhoods to large slums. It is home to the Tango and there are stage shows, small clubs and barrios (neighborhoods) where you can see this remarkable tradition. There are great restaurants and cafes and numerous historic buildings. Do yourself a favor and spend a few days seeing this lively and interesting city. One suggestion we offer is try and plan a trip out to Iguassu Falls. It requires a plane ride and probably two days to see but it is one of the world’s natural wonders.

IguazĂș Falls, Elephant Island Antarctica, The Faulklands, Patagonia…

Going Off-Grid for 3 to 4 Weeks

Visiting IguazĂș Falls in Argentina, Elephant Island Antarctica, The Faulklands, Patagonia and a couple of big cities along the way. See you on the other side.

Courtesy Argentina Tourist Agency

In researching this trip we have every reason to believe that other than a few days in Buenus Aries and Montoviedo we will have very little access to the Internet and aren’t expecting to post or upload much. We look forward to sharing this adventure when we get back…