It's now 1/31 - we cannot upload photos due to poor satellite transmission in the Antarctic - please check back soon.
Falkland Islands – Pre-Arrival: Today is Friday January 27, & we have been sailing since Wednesday evening when we left Montevideo, Uruguay. The Captain informed us earlier today that it appears we will be able to make it to Port Stanley tomorrow morning as scheduled, that since we now have an ice pilot on-board we can safely navigate the anticipated icebergs. The temperature has been steadily dropping since leaving Uruguay and it’s now much too cold to be sitting out on the deck. We’ve had gale force winds out of the northwest since early this morning with seas of 8 – 12 feet, and while we haven’t had any whitewater over the bow, the ship has been rolling all day. Courtesy “sickness bags” have been placed throughout the hallways and near the elevators for the convenience of those who suddenly develop upset stomachs. Fortunately, Cheryl and I actually enjoy rough seas so we’re OK. The GI illness has since contained itself and there have been no additional reported cases, so all of the restrictions previously mentioned have been lifted. The crew did an exceptional job sanitizing the ship and keeping the majority of us healthy – a big thanks & hat’s off to them! I mentioned that during one of our first stops 3 weeks ago, a female passenger had been run over by a tour bus – we now understand that the bus actually hit her once then backed over her again! Her leg was badly mangled and she was flown back to the US via special medevac – such a tragedy. On another note, one of the very first facilities we checked out when we boarded the ship on January 6th was the fitness center – we wanted to check out the exercise equipment and meet the trainer. We were both determined NOT to gain weight which so typically happens while on a cruise. The facility is quite nice with the equipment located on deck 9 forward – beautiful views, & the trainer exceptionally nice! We stopped by the facility on day two as well…& every day since…we WALK RIGHT BY on the way to the buffet!!! Both of us are afraid to get on the scale, but we DID start walking this morning – 7 laps around the ship = 2 miles. Cloths are starting to get tight – either we’re gaining weight or the laundry is shrinking them – it must be the laundry detergent! Quite honestly, the food on Holland America is just outstanding – every meal is an experience and they don’t skimp on quality or quantity – food of every imaginable variety is available 24 hours a day. Menus in the formal dining room have been tailored to the ports & countries visited, and if you don’t care for the local fare, entrees such as filets or lobster can be ordered at any time. One other nice touch quite noticeable is that when sunbathing or sitting in other public areas, the waiters walk around with water, tea, & lemonade – all complimentary – while on other cruises, they try to sell alcoholic beverages around the clock. This is a very nice change from what we’re accustomed to.
Falkland Islands – Post Arrival: We hit fog around 1:30am and as is customary, the ship started blasting the horn every 2 minutes to warn vessels not equipped with radar of our presence. Neither of us could get back to sleep, and the fog (and horn) persisted all the way to the Falkland Islands. Surprisingly, we arrived on time at 8:00 – and safely – so no complaints although we were both very tired. The Falkland Islands lie 280 miles to the east of South America – it consists of two large islands and 750 small islands & islets. You may recall the war of 1982 when Argentina staged a war with the British attempting to takeover the area. The British won, but even today, Argentina has Navy ships positioned off the coast (which we passed) and the residents here are very uncomfortable. Land mines still exist and there were several areas we passed that were roped off with large signs warning of active bombs. There were crews working with excavation equipment while we were there attempting to retrieve them! The population here, surprisingly, is only 2,000 – 2,000 residents, 400,000 sheep, and the main attraction (Penguins) approximately 120,000. We came to see the Penguins, but had no idea it would entail a road trip of incredible magnitude. These beautiful creatures made their home at a place known as Volunteer Point (named after a ship back in 1815) – the beach is only 2 miles long, bordered by high grassy banks leading down to rolling greens and as I mentioned, VERY difficult to reach. Once off the ship, we were paired with another couple (from Wisconsin) and the four of us were then assigned to a Land Rover. The vehicle was driven by a gal named Stacy – when she’s not driving tourists to see the Penguins, she works full time as a Physician’s Assistant at the local hospital – she has two young children (whom we met) and lives in a small bungalow (which we drove by). As an aside, it was her husband’s birthday and she was hosting a party that evening – the guest list totaled 120! Think about it – 2,000 residents and over 5% of the town was expected over that evening for a birthday party! We left the pier at 9:00…and the journey began. The first several miles on a gravel road riddled with potholes and large rocks – the dust was very thick and within minutes all of us were coated. After an hour, we came across two outhouses and Stacy advised us that if we had to go, NOW was the time because the trip to Volunteer Point was another 90 minutes and would only get worse! WORSE we thought?? No more gravel roads – we took off over an open field of peat bog!! There was really no predetermined route – the route was determined by Stacy and what she thought would be the least rough direction to go. Even at that and with all her experience, we were thrown around the vehicle like toy dolls – very deep, muddy troughs – through streams, trenches, over large boulders – this was all completely normal and the reason for the Land Rover! There were several other 4-wheel vehicles following us from the ship and when we all reached Volunteer Point at around 11:30, it was comical to exchange stories about the trip and who was bruised the most!! The trip was relentless – no opportunity to take photos on the way out because you had to hold on with both hands!! Just before we arrived, we went over what was to be the last grassy hill and there you could see the ocean again, crashing surf, and what appeared to be literally thousands of people on the beach – some standing still, some walking around, and some even chasing and playing games – they were PENGUINS – thousands of them!! There were three very distinct species: Gentoo, Magellanic, & King. Kings are the tallest, most majestic, & most colorful with patches of yellow & orange around their necks. The Gentoo & Magellanic are very similar in color (black & white) with the main difference that the Magellanic typically create & nest in burrows up to 6 feet deep. Our instructions were simple – stay out of the roped areas and if THEY approached us, no problem, but not to do anything which would otherwise impose on or disrupt their lifestyle routine. Luckily, they were all very curious and within minutes after we got out of the vehicle, we were surrounded! Keep in mind – there were feathers everywhere on the ground along with their waste – the area was rank with odor but quite honestly, it didn’t bother us at all. Cheryl’s camera was merely inches from their inquisitive faces – if only they could talk – what stories they would have. What an honor it was for them to allow us into their world, if for only a brief time – what a feeling. We spent nearly 2 hours at Volunteer Point – it was quite windy & cold, but well worth it. We loaded up and by 1:30 we were rocking & rolling again in the Land Rover. The trip back was just as brutal as the trip out but we LOVED it and would do it again! We arrived back in Port Stanley at 4:00 and Stacy was kind enough to show us the local school, hospital, church, & police station before dropping us at the pier. What a beautiful, clean city - & what wonderful people & inhabitants! The Falkland Islands should be on everyone’s bucket list. We’re now off to our first siting of Antarctica, 1100 miles south, scheduled to arrive sometime Monday morning. The bathing suits & suntan lotion are stowed and the sweatshirts & long underwear are ready!