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Our South America / Antarctica Adventure

We are presently on our South America/Antarctica adventure. I hope some of this information might help others who are headed this way.

January 12 - We’re still a few days away from our Antarctic adventure, but I decided since we were already in South America, I would start recording info about our adventures pre-cruise. Originally, we had signed up for the Viking pre-excursion to Easter Island, but Viking canceled that back in September. Since we had purchased our own air, we decided to keep our outbound trip to Santiago in place and do our pre-excursion on our own. We flew down on Tuesday night. The overnight flight on Latam was nice since were were in business class, but I’m not a fan of overnight flights, so I was still a bit groggy when we arrived after the 10 hour flight. Navigating the Santiago airport was fairly easy, but we did have to download a form on our phones officially confirming that we did not have any plant or animal products with us. We decided to call an Uber, which was also fast, but we had to go up to the departures area to be picked up - not the arrivals area. Our hotel room was not ready since it was still early in the morning, so we dropped off our luggage and went for a long walk, which included a coffee shop break, walks through several parks, and ultimately a mall that was back near our hotel. One of the restaurants there had been recommended by the hotel for typical Chilean food. Of course, Mike had a local beer and I had a pisco sour. We were off to a good start, but that pisco sour and the fact that I’d recorded 22,000 steps on my fitbit reminded me that our room might be ready by now, so we headed back to the hotel. The Santiago area where our hotel is located is called Vitacura and it is an upscale residential area with lots of restaurants and shopping. My first impression of this area is that it is so clean. As we walked this morning, I was amazed at the lack of trash anywhere on the streets or sidewalks. We were told that shopkeepers and homeowners can be fined for not tending to trash or debris. After we settled into our room, we went out for one more early evening walk as the temperatures had started to cool.

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January 12. Santiago, Chile

This morning, we had a city tour planned at 10:00 am. Our guide took us to San Cristóbal Hill first where we took a gondola to the top of the hill for beautiful views of the city and the surrounding mountains. The Andes to the East are very imposing - the mountains close to the city are 9,000 to 10,000 feet. The snow-capped mountains further from the city are 12,000 to 16,000 feet.Tomorrow, we’ll be even closer to them because we are taking a tour to two wineries in “the shadows of the Andes.” Today, however, we descended San Cristóbal Hill and completed a panoramic drive to see the major historic and cultural sights of the city. Our guide gave us a very interesting overview of the early history and period of independence as well as the political history of the last 60 years. Our next stop was in the Eastern part of the city at Pueblo de Los Dominicos Artisan Center. We opted to spend some time having lunch here, but our quick walk around the artisan shops here revealed very high quality artisanal work. If you are a shopper, this is the place to come for beautiful gifts to take home. But our focus wasn’t on shopping, it was on our last tour stop - Cousino-Macul winery. It is in the Maipo Valley, but still very close to Santiago. This winery is a historic winery, started in the mid-19th century and still run by the original family owners. It was a lovely spot, and the wine tasting took place at various locations as we walked through the historic wine barrels, libraries, cellars, and into the vines. This area is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and its Carminere wines, and of course we tasted those as well as one of their dry Roses and a Riesling. After the winery, it was back to the hotel. Since we had a rather substantial lunch, we decided to take a walk, get some snacks for the room (to enjoy in front of our windows that open towards the Andes), and settle in for a restful evening before our tour tomorrow into the countryside.

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January 13, 2023. The Aconcaqua Valkey, Chile

Another great day in Chile. Today we had a late morning to sleep in, joining our tour guide at 11:00 am. We headed out of Santiago toward the Aconcaqua Valley. Along the way we were able to view the 22,000 ft Mt. Aconcaqua, the highest peak in the Western hemisphere. We also saw the monument commemorating the Battle of Chacabuco where the forces of San Martin jointed with the forces of Bernardo O’Higgins in the war for independence against the Spanish, a battle that was the turning point in the war of independence. Our first winery stop was at the In Situ Winery (formerly known as San Estaban Wines). The setting was stunning with the snow capped mountains in the background. We had a wonderful informative tour followed by a very relaxing wine tasting, including a Chardonnay/Viognier blend, a Carminere, and a Cabernet blend. We were also provided with a wonderful selection of nuts, locally sources cheeses, and dried fruits. The setting for the wine tasting was on an outside vine-covered patio with wonderful view of the mountains and vines. Our next stop was about 30 minutes away at the Errazuriz Winery. It was if we had traveled several hundred miles away because the terrain seemed so different. Here, we had a private tour. We were able to see the barrel caves, the historic building from the 19th century and the modern production building just opened in 2010. After a relaxing walk through the vines, we enjoyed a lovely wine tasting in a private dining room - we tasted a Chardonnay (unpacked), a Carminere, a Malbec and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, we were provided with nuts, cheese, and crackers. Another lovely presentation. After leaving Errazuriz, we went to a restaurant in the countryside, called Juan y Media for more typical Chilean dishes (empanaditas, pastel de chochos, and porción de humitas). I had another Pisco Sour and Mike had another Chilean beer. After our early dinner, we headed back to Santiago. Tomorrow, we’re heading to Valparaiso (with a late afternoon stop in at a Casablanca Valley winery). Yes, we love wine!

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January 14 - Santiago to Valparaiso and back

We took another private tour today, this time to Valparaiso. Our tour guide drove us to the Northern edge of the bay (ConCon), then we worked our way along the nice beaches and rocky coves toward Vina del Mar, and finally reached Valparaiso. We stopped several times along the coastline to take photos, see the sea lions, and in Vina del Mar we went by the outside of the art museum to view the Moai that was a gift from the people of Rapa Nui. Since we weren’t going to be able to make it to Easter Island this trip, it was nice to see an artifact from that island. Once we made it to Valparaiso proper, we took one of the funiculars up where we began our walking tour. There was vibrant street art, colorful flowers, and unique architecture around every corner! Even the stairs leading from one level to another were colorful. Our guide had reserved a wonderful view table at a great seafood restaurant for our lunch. We shared their appetizer specialty - razor clams topped with Parmesan, then I had a local fish with a butter and caper sauce and roasted potatoes with rosemary and Mike had a seafood risotto. Mike had another Chilean beer and I had a pisco sour. After our relaxing lunch, we headed back toward Santiago with a stop in the Casablanca Valley for a wine tour and tasting at Casas del Bosque Winery. They specialized more in white wines since this valley has cooler temperatures than the Maipo Valley near Santiago or the Aconcaqua Valley we visited yesterday. It was fun to experience yet another collection of wines with a different style tasting presentation. Then it was back to Santiago where we decided to get in one more long neighborhood walk before the evening ended.

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Great report. Than you for sharing.

Your mention regarding how clean the streets were, lack of trash or garbage to be found.

Was the VERY same in Havana and everywhere in Cuba which was eye opening.

Enjoying your report. Hope to “ hear “ more!

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We have been to the places you reported on and enjoyed reading your report! Traveling along with you.

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Hi great report we are heading to Santiago in 2 weeks, Can you pm me the info about your private tour to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar please. Also did you so the Cousino vinery on your own?
Thanks

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When I went to Chile, I stayed in Vino del Mar and took a day trip to Valparaiso and rode the same funicular. I also took a taxi to Pablo Neruda’s house on a lake that I enjoyed. I have a question, what are the condiments that appear on every restaurant table?

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Mary Pat - I looked back at my photos just now and didn’t see anything except salt and pepper. Other condiments were brought to the table depending on what we ordered, but perhaps things have changed post-covid and fewer items are left on the tables.

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Thank you for checking bcerulo. Of course, I was there pre-COVID but it was a nice treat. Looking forward to reading about the days ahead.

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January 15 - Goodbye, Chile - Hello, Argentina!

This morning, we decided to enjoy brunch at a spot not too far from our hotel. Our late afternoon flight to Buenos Aires meant we could take our time to pack up and have a late check-out. We had checked out a small bakery-cafe in a residential area near our hotel on one of our evening walks. It was a perfect spot to enjoy the cool morning breeze have a little something to eat since we knew we would probably skip lunch. After our brunch stop, we loaded up and we were headed to the airport about 1:00 pm. Since we had taken three private day tours while we were in the Santiago area or we walked throughout the Vitacura and Las Condes area, we hadn’t needed much public transportation. There is a modern Metro in Santiago, however, we didn’t end up using it. For our trip from the airport and to the airport, we used UBER. If I’d needed to go somewhere else, I definitely would have used UBER again because both times we did use it, a car was there within 2 or 3 minutes and the transaction was seamless. They knew where we needed to go and we knew the cost going in. Tonight, when we arrived in Buenos Aires at EZE, we also used UBER. Again, super simple and fast!

Our flight on Latam from Santiago to Buenos Aires was good, too. I had purchased premium economy (the highest class on the aircraft). It’s similar to most European business class with the three seat row with the empty seat between. Even though it was a flight of less than 2 hours, they served sandwiches, chips, dessert and drinks. I had purchased the premium economy since I’m not a fan of planes with three and three seats. This solved that problem, even though the rows were still quite narrow.

We booked two extra nights at the Buenos Aires Hilton - Viking already booked our night before the charter flight on Wednesday morning. Our surprise was at check-in when we were given a double upgrade to a corner suite. While the suite is a bit retro with a design circa 1980s-1990s, the space is unbelievable. Plus, it includes Executive Lounge privileges for breakfast and happy hour. And they said we didn’t need to change rooms for our Viking night - NICE!

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January 16 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

I am so glad that we have a couple of days in Buenos Aires before we head out on the charter flight. I can’t imagine flying in tomorrow exhausted and having to wake up before dawn to make a charter. I loved the lazy day we had today. Up at 8:00 am, breakfast, then out to sightsee on our own by 11:00. This is a nostalgia visit for me. 50 years ago this month, I spent a month in Argentina. I stayed with a family in LaPlata. They took me around LaPlata, Buenos Aires, their family estancia in Puan, Argentina (in the Pampas), to the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, and to the Andes to camp near Bariloche. It was a dream trip staying with a wonderful family. Somehow, over the years, I lost touch with them. I am still trying my best to reach any of the family members, but alas, my efforts have failed to date. Today, as we walked to the Casa Rosada, the Cathedral, and to Cafe Tortoni, I remembered my visits, having my husband take photos of me at the same iconic spots. I especially enjoyed our lunch at Cafe Tortoni, although I must admit, the cafe doble seemed better in 1973, Maybe my tastebuds have deadened a bit. I loved being back in the city today with my husband (I was engaged to him when I visited last), but it is bittersweet to not be able to connect with the wonderful family I stayed with back then.

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January 17 - Buenos Aires

Another lovely day in Buenos Aires. We had breakfast in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton, then headed downstairs to check in with the Viking Desk. We are on the third bus tomorrow morning so we don’t have to be downstairs for breakfast until 4:15 am. Thank heavens we're not on the first bus! We walked down to meet our Iconic Buenos Aires walking food tour at 12:30. It was a wonderful food tour. Our guide took us around the neighborhood to visit some of the historic buildings in San Telmo. Then we went to the Public Market area. Our first stop was at the El Horneros shop for empanadas and local beer. After this delicious tasting, we went outside of the market to a wonderful wine shop where we were introduced to three Argentinian wines - a Mastaba Torrentes from Stone Winery in Salta, a Malbec from Mendoza and a Cabernet Franc from Mendoza. Each was excellent. The tastings were accompanied by a selection of regional cheese. Following this relaxing tasting, we returned to the market to enjoy choripán, a wonderful chorizo sandwich with a nice salsa mayo. I had a glass of Malbec, Mike had another local beer. Following this, we headed over to another market stall for steak, fries, and grilled provoleta (grilled provolone with oregano and olive oil). With this, I had another glass of Malbec and Mike had another local beer. We were stuffed, but it was time to go to another stall for yerba mate and alfajor, a lovely cookie filled with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate. Our guide prepared the yerba mate in a ceremonial way - it was delicious and relaxing. Our last stop was at an ice cream shop that was outside the market. I had a dulce de leche ice cream and Mike had dulce de leche and chocolate negro. It was the perfect sweet ending to our Argentinean food tour. I highly recommend this excellent walking food tour if you find yourself in Buenos Aires!

After stuffing ourselves all afternoon, we headed back to the hotel about 5:30. We went to the happy hour at the executive lounge, but found that we were too stuffed to have more than a sip of wine.

We put our large bag out to be collected by Viking and decided to watch a bit of TV before we turn in for our early morning charter flight to our expedition ship.

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January 18 - Buenos Aires to Ushuaia

This was our day to start our trip to the South. I am not a morning person, but the schedule required us to show up in the Hilton lobby at 4:15 am for breakfast and check-out. The bus to the airport was called at 4:50 am. The transfer to the airport was very quick - about 15-20 minutes. We were at our gate within about 20 minutes. The only initial glitch was that Mike was seated in row 30F and I was in 31A. We mentioned that to the airline escort and she was able to fix it so that Mike was now in 31B. It’s been a long, long time since we sat in the back of an airplane. Oh well. As it turned out, no one was sitting in 31C. We were literally the back of the plane and that had its benefits. Since the plane had tight seats, we could spread out. They also served from the front and the back of the plane so we were served quickly. I really needed that coffee!

The 3 hour flight went fast and we were in Ushuaia. It was a beautiful day - quite warm. Everyone was shedding their jackets. It was a quick transfer to the ship and a quick check in. Mike and I unpacked and quickly headed to Explorers for our traditional first Viking drink - a Viking Royal. We attended one Aula briefing and later in the evening, we had dinner at the World Cafe - something we never do on the Ocean ships. Here, the World Cafe has a great Grill where the steak selection is quite special and lobster is available with the steaks every night. Later, we headed back to Explorers where we reconnected with some bar staff who remembered us from previous cruising. Not only that, we found out that one of our all-time favorite wine stewards from our first Viking cruise (Cuba 2019) was now the Beverage Manager on Octantis. One of the Explorers’ staff called in to tell him we were asking about him. Viking staff is super!

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Internet has been sporadic so I’m sorry to be behind. I’ll try to catch up with a brief summary of the last few days.

January 19 - The Drake Passage

The winds were strong with larger swells. I don’t have the statistics since I wasn’t feeling very well. Mike didn’t seem to be bothered by the conditions. We attended all of our mandatory briefings and the kayak test, but other than that I stayed in the room prone - ordered some room service but just had a few bites. By evening, I felt well enough to go the the World Cafe for some cheese and crackers, but after eating, we headed back to the room to watch some movies

January 20 - Fournier Bay, Antarctica

We arrived at Fournier Bay about 1:00 pm. While primarily cloudy, the mountains surrounding the bay were beautiful. We attended the Daily Briefing in the Aula, but hurried out to the bow as soon when it was announced that they had Irish coffee, Baileys and coffee, and mulled wine. We’ve been on several cruises where these “Bow Events” were held and they are always fun. At 2:00, we went out on our zodiac cruise of the bay. Our guide was very entertaining and informative. We saw a couple of Weddell seals and one leopard seal. They were very interesting to watch as they lounged on the ice. Later, back on the ship, we had cocktails and dinner, then visited the Hide, the small bar/gathering place in the front of the ship. There were two Expedition staff members who were quite interesting to chat with. It’s a very secluded area of the ship that we really like!

January 21 - Wiencke Island - Damoy Point

Rainy, snowy morning. It snowed about 3 or 4 inches on the decks last night. It was blustery, but operations began. Unfortunately, we were scheduled for the afternoon for our zodiac landing. While the conditions outside were not ideal, at least the morning zodiacs got out and landed. It does not look like we will get out. Our landing was scheduled for 2:00 pm, moved to 3:00 pm, and now moved to 4:00 pm. The winds are increasing so I don’t think we’ll get to land today. We did arrange to get a wait list spot on the Special Operations Boat. Our guide mentioned that there had not been any animal sightings except for birds on earlier trips, but we lucked out and saw multiple gentoo penguins and a lovely Adélie penguin standing all alone on a beautiful chunk of ice. So we didn’t lose out totally. I decided to catch up with writing this afternoon since our landing was postponed/cancelled?? I’ll update later.

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January 21 - Damoy Point, Continued:

The bad news - operations were not restarted so there were no more landings at Damoy Point. All the afternoon departure groups were so bummed. We went to the bar to drown our sorrows!

We were happy that at least we did get out on the Special Operations Boat in the morning and we did see our Adélie penguin, which is more difficult to see in this area.

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Bcerulo, so glad to hear the Drake Passage was bearable and you weren't miserable for 48 hours. Did you take anything to prevent motion sickness?

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January 22 - Wilhelmina Bay in the morning and Cuverville Island in the afternoon

So today, the big question was would we be able to make a landing today. But first, we would spend the morning in Wilhelmina Bay whale hunting. We were successful with this task almost immediately after entering the area. The bridge announced that there were Orcas chasing a couple of Humpbacks. I could barely make out the specks that were identified as the Orcas, but the Humpbacks were rushing from one side of the ship to the other.

January 22 - Cuverville Island

This afternoon, operations began at Cuverville Island. We were so psyched! We got all our gear on and headed down to Deck A where the zodiacs were loading. It seemed like the operation was moving more slowly than the day before. We finally got to the head of the line and the dreaded announcement from the expedition leader from the bridge that operations were being suspended because of ice at the landing site. They would announce later if a new site could be found. We headed to Explorers for a whisky. We were so disappointed. However, within about 30 minutes, the call came that they had found another site so operations would resume. We headed down and reclaimed out first in line spot and boarded. Since our zodiac was the first, it was trying to chart a path through the large and small ice through the waterway. We finally got to our landing spot - it was great with penguins (mainly gentoo, but I did see one chinstrap). We climbed to an overlook to see some nesting penguins. Then we headed over another path with penguins all around. We had about an hour at the site, then headed back since the ice was starting to close in on this side of the island too. When we went to The Restaurant for dinner in the evening, we got glasses of champagne to toast our first steps in Antarctica!

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January 23 - Lemaire Channel and Hidden Bay

We started the morning with an early call from the captain that we were entering the Lemaire Channel. Mike chose to stay in bed and just look from our stateroom window, but I rushed to dress and head out to the bow to view our entry into the channel. Of course, Viking was there serving us coffee with Baileys and hot chocolate. There were a couple of whales to entertain as we entered the channel as well as a seal lying on an ice floe. The narrow channel made the mountains surrounding quite imposing. It was a lovely start to the morning.

Later in the morning, we arrived in Hidden Bay. It would not be a landing site, but we would be able to take zodiac cruises and the SOBs would run. It was far too choppy for the submersible or the kayaks today. In our briefing for this area, we had seen a photo of the Una Peaks which form the main identifying site of the area. Of course, with the low lying clouds, we had to really search to the Una Peaks. We took our very wet zodiac cruise first. We saw some leopard seals on a very high chunk of ice, but honestly, it was easier to see them from the ship (as they drifted by later in the afternoon. Our zodiac guide took us for close up views of some of the glaciers that looked like they could calve at any moment (of course, he kept us a safe distance away, but the ice is so gigantic, it seemed like we were right underneath). After lunch, we had our SOB ride for the day. Our guide for this excursion was an expert in icebergs and geology. He gave us a completely different take on this bay. The water was getting choppier by the time we headed back to the ship, and Mike was pretty wet by the time we got off the SOB (his side of the boat was really take the spray as we hit the swells). Luckily, the jackets and waterproof pants that Viking provides are really waterproof so once we got back to the room and hung our jackets in our “drying closet,” a special warming closet in each room, we could warm up pretty quickly. Although it wasn’t a landing day, we got to see another aspect of Antarctica. By the way, perhaps I missed reading carefully, but I was under the impression that we would have an attempted landing each of the six full days in Antarctica. Once we got on the ship, it was already noted that we would have four attempted landings and two cruise days. It turned out ok, but it wasn’t really what I initially expected.

After a wonderful dinner in The Restaurant, we attended a cocktail demonstration in the Hide. I Made from Bali entertained us by demonstrating how to make a Negroni and two cocktails that he had created. The best part - we all got to partake in the results!

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January 24 - Portal Point

Yes! The day we had been waiting for - a landing on the mainland peninsula of Antarctica! Portal Point has a rocky/icy approach. The team had identified a path for us to take that had us climbing up a snow-covered hill that provided beautiful vistas on two sides. We could look back toward the ship once we reached the top or we could look off the other side of the point. It was nice to really expend some energy on this landing. We only saw two penguins, but one in particular, decided it wanted to entertain us, so it came over to cross our path and proceeded to slide all the way down the hill. Then, jumped up and waddled off. That penguin had quite the group of admiring passengers. There were two skuas nearby keeping a watchful eye on things. Someone from the ship had brought a banner reading 7th Continent - Antarctica 2023, so we asked to have our picture taken with it too. After about an hour of roaming around the site and taking lots of photos and videos, we headed back to the ship. Part way back, another zodiac hailed us - we approached and they asked for a doctor since they had a sick man aboard. After a few worried looks, the “sick” man suddenly jumped up and started serving us champagne. It was Omega and I Made, we should have known it was a ruse, Champagne glasses were passed and macrons were served. What a fun surprise on our way back to the ship!!

That evening, we went to Manfredi’s with the bottle of excellent French Bordeaux that had been gifted to us by Omega. It was a nice way to celebrate a landing on the continent!

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January 25 - Enterprise Island

Today was just a zodiac cruise day, but we were very excited to get the message that we would have the opportunity to go out in the sub. We suited up, went down to the debarkation area, got our seat numbers and our booties, and patiently waited in line. The zodiac with the earlier riders were just started to come on to the ship. Than the dreaded news. The sub needed to change locations. Immediately, we were told that our sub adventure was cancelled. We said that we were happy to wait until they found their new position, but we were told that would not be possible. The thing that upset us the most was that the other groups got to go out that day. We were the only group that didn’t get to go. So many times, the expedition leader would call over the public address system that they were halting operations for zodiacs, then just tell everyone to come an hour or half hour later, but that didn’t seem to be possible for this activity. Needless to say, the six of us involved were very disappointed. Mike and I headed off to have lunch, but suiting up and going back out to see if we could take a delayed zodiac cruise just didn’t seem worth it. Mike took an afternoon nap, and I went to the spa. Later in the evening, we went to a whiskey tasting in The Hide. They accompanied three different whiskeys with three types of truffles, made on the ship. Very entertaining and tasty.

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January 26 - Mikkelsen Harbour/D’Hainaut Island

Today was the last possible day to have a landing. It looked a bit doubtful. As a matter of fact, the Expedition Leader said that we would delay for about an hour to see if conditions might improve. As passengers began to talk with one another, we all just assumed that it wouldn’t happen. But, lo and behold, the announcement came about 30 minutes later that we could commence landings. We went down a bit early for our ride over to the island. We were worried that they might have to stop landings and didn’t want to miss out. Due to ice conditions and rock formations, we had to swing in quite an arc to reach the landing spot. On the way, we saw a leopard seal on an ice floe (we’d seen leopard seals like this several times - they must love riding that ice!). Our guide, radioed to ask permission to get a bit closer to the seal and was.granted permission so we got a pretty good look at it. Then it was on to the island. Mikkelsen Harbour is lined with ice cliffs and D’Hainaut Island has an Argentine refuge hut, but it best known for its Gentoo Penguins colony. There are also some relics from the earlier whaling era - particularly, the remnants of a whaler’s waterboat. This is a boat that was taken to shore and filled with snow, melted, and used in the processing of the whale-meat and blubber. There were lots of whale bones at the site as well. Skuas were flying overhead and perched on nearby rocks waiting for an opportunity to steal some of the penguin eggs. Many penguins were nesting on the hillside. We were told that the nesting is taking place much later this season. While there were some chicks already, most were still at the nesting stage. I did see an Arctic Sheathbill flying nearby, too. While I was thrilled to have another landing, this site was less impressive, mainly because there was such a small area for us to walk so it felt like it was more like being at a zoo. I liked the other landing areas more because we had the chance to hike more, which seemed more like an Antarctic experience. Perhaps, they gave us a smaller area to walk so they could get us on and off the island faster, but it didnt feel very “expeditionary.”

Back to ship for lunch. Then I headed to the Calderium (hot tub) on the back of the ship. I had spied this area when I first boarded and decided I’d love to sit there in the cold with a beautiful view while still feeling warm. I couldn’t talk Mike into my great idea, but I wasn’t deterred. I loved it! It was after lunch so no one was in the Acquavit Bar except Ardel, the bartender, and he made me a coffee with Tia Maria and Jamaican Rum to help keep me warm. I was all by myself on the back of the ship, soaking in the warm water, and soaking in the marvelous views! After spending about 45 minutes in the Calderium, hitting the cold air to dry off made me decide to head to the Nordic spa to enjoy the thermal beds. It was a great afternoon.

In the evening it was off to Manfredi’s to enjoy yet one more bottle of wine gifted by our friend, the Beverage Manager, Omega. This time it was a South African Cabernet from Stellenbosch.

We usually ended each evening of the cruise in the Explorers Bar with new friends and expedition staff members. Several of the expedition staff would come to relax, but also answer a lot of the questions that we had from the day. One of the Viking staff who had helped to create the expedition concept for Viking was on this cruise and he gave us lots of insight into the challenges of Antarctic expeditions. Of course, all of these people were just fun to generally chat with, too

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We've been back for several days now so I want to finish my trip report. Sorry that it has taken me so long.

January 27 - Crossing the Drake Passage

I had prepared to spend the day watching movies, lying on my bed. No need - the Drake was a lake coming back. Blue skies everywhere! We ate, visited with friends, went to a few lectures, and played backgammon on the electronic game tables. I hadn’t made a dinner reservation because I assumed that I would be uncomfortable on the way back. We stopped by the Restaurant and there was no problem adding a 7:30 reservation. Overall, the Restaurant had nice menus, but there was never a memorable meal. We just like sitting at a nice table being served.

January 28 - Re-entering the Beagle Channel on our way to Ushuaia

We continued with the smooth seas and blue skies today. Once we re-entered the Beagle Channel, we had lots of beautiful scenery to admire. One of the naturalists called us out in the afternoon to see Emperor penguins as we passed one of the islands they inhabited. It was a bit far away to see them very well, even with binoculars, but it was apparent that there were hundreds of them scattered on the shore. We arrived in Ushuaia late in the afternoon. We stayed on the ship in the evening, but went out to have a quick walk around town after 10:00. Lots of the crew were heading in to restaurants and bars since this is the only stop where they have the opportunity to get off the ship on this itinerary. The town was very busy this late in the evening since Argentineans don’t eat until after 9:00 pm. it was interesting to see the restaurants all full at this hour.

January 29 - Off the ship and back to Buenos Aires

We had to vacate our rooms by 8:00 am, and we were off the ship by 9:00. Our flight to BA left at 11:30. We flew home on a small regional jet - with 1 seat/ 2 seats arrangement. We actually had more legroom than we had on Jet Smart going to Ushuaia. The interesting thing is we had to stop in Treslew to refuel. We didnt have to get off the plane, but it added about 45 minutes to our flight time. We arrived in Buenos Aires AEP by 4:00 pm and arrived at our hotel in Palermo by 5:00. Our hotel Jardin Escondido was a former residence of Francis Ford Coppola. It only has 7 rooms, each named after a famous Argentinean writer. Our room was the Cortázar room with a small balcony looking onto Calle Gorriti. It was like staying at your rich uncle’s vacation house. The young man who was managing the property in the evenings was fun to talk with - Argentinean art, history, politics. We got a good recommendation from him for a nice nearby restaurant where we could get small plates to share and, of course, a bottle of Malbec. The food was delicious and not a full restaurant meal at 9:30 pm. Exactly what we wanted!

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Monday, January 30 - Buenos Aires

As mentioned in my previous post, we stayed at the Coppola Jardin Escondido. We started the morning with a beautiful breakfast on the upper terrace. We had the upper terrace all to ourselves. Then it was off for a full day tour of the city. I had booked this originally since Mike had never been to Buenos Aires before our short stay prior to the cruise. We had spent almost all of our time in San Telmo so this would provide an expanded view of the city. We drove by many of the French style palaces in Palermo Chico, most now are embassies, admiring the magnificent parks along the way. Then it was on to Recoleta Cemetery, the resting place of Eva Perón and other notable former citizens. Our guide gave us a complete history of this famous cemetery that dates back to the colonial era.

After this, we headed for a brief stop at the Casa Rosada, the Cabildo, and the National Cathedral. Our guide today pointed out the white kerchiefs that formed part of the cobblestone walkways throughout the plaza. These kerchiefs mark the place where the mothers of the young people who disappeared during the military regime of the early 1980s still gather to protest today. They are known for wearing white kerchiefs as they protest.

We followed that up with another visit to the San Telmo antique stores and public market. After San Telmo, we headed to La Boca, the working class neighborhood, shaped by primarily Italian immigrants who came to Argentina during the last quarter of the 19th century. The streets here are filled with color and street art. We went to a local bodegón style restaurant just off Calle Caminito for empanadas, salad, and of course, grilled steak.

Following lunch, we drove through Puerto Madero, where the Hilton was located. This area of warehouses and silos were remodeled and redesigned to create this new residential and tourist district. I wish I had taken the time when we were staying at the Hilton earlier in the trip to walk in the opposite direction of downtown since within two blocks of the hotel, there are beautiful bike/hike paths along the river - so peaceful within this urban environment. After we left Puerto Madero, we visited a few more iconic Buenos Aires parks and headed back to the hotel. We went out for a long walk through the neighborhood, had snacks for dinner since our late lunch had been so huge and called it a night since we had an early morning flight the next day.

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Tuesday, January 31 - Iguazu National Park (Argentina)

Even though our flight was delayed by about 2 hours, it still seemed like an early morning departure for us. We flew from the domestic airport in Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu Cataratas Del Iguazu International Airport. We were met there by a guide who took us immediately to the hotel to leave our bags before heading into the park on the Argentinean side. We stayed at the Gran Melia, right on the edge of the park. It’s a beautiful hotel - our room had a wonderful terrace with distant views of the Devil’s Throat.

We spent the next three or four hours exploring all the open trails, getting soaked twice by brief downpours (hey, we are in a rainforest!), and getting acquainted with the toucans that seemed to be everywhere!

Then it was back to the hotel to shower and enjoy the rooftop bar before we headed into town to take part in what is termed “The Argentine Experience.” This is a 3 hour culinary experience with meal and wine. It is hosted by a delightful group who met us with cocktails, taught us to make our own Malbec based cocktail, served with delicious appetizers. Then it was on to learning how to crimp our own empanadas. They provided the rolled dough, filling and instructions and we crimped away. They took our empanadas to the kitchen then and baked them. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, no meal in Argentina seems to be complete without their famous grilled steak accompanied this time with a variety of roasted vegetables. For dessert, we made our own alfajores, then learned how to properly prepare mate. By the way, during the meal we could drink as much Torrentes, Bonarda, and Malbec (Argentina’s iconic wines) as we wanted. What a fun evening! We shared this experience with a couple from Australia who had been hiking in Chile and had just arrived in Argentina, and with two young women from London who were traveling through Central and South America.

When we headed back to the hotel, we headed straight out to the terrace and were amazed by the sound of the falls and the star-filled skies.

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Wednesday, February 1 - Iguaçu Falls, Brazilian Side

After a nice buffet breakfast at the Gran Melia, it was time to head across the border to Brazil. We met our guide from yesterday who drove us across the border, dropped off our bags at the Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas, and started us off on the walkway along the Brazilian side of the falls. I think starting with the Argentinean side is a good way to do it. That side is beautiful, but the views from the Brazilian side never stop. As we walked further down the walkway, I just couldn’t stop snapping photos and yet none of my photos do the falls justice because you just can’t show the entirety of the experience. After yesterday’s drenching, we decided to bring our rain jackets along. While it was misty on the lower walkway that leads into the river, it was never all that wet. After spending about 3 hours exploring the falls, we headed back to our hotel for lunch. I just can’t say enough about the casual elegance of the Belmond. We were pampered beyond belief. And the grounds are stunning. The hotel is right inside the National Park so in the evening when the visitors leave at 6:00 pm, the area is ours alone until 9:00 am the next morning. Of course, one has to be careful since jaguars and pumas are present in the park. The hotel grounds are carefully monitored, but going off the hotel grounds is discouraged after dark. No problem there. We didn’t want to come face to face with a jaguar and the hotel had too many ways to keep us occupied! We had a falls view room (although to be honest, with 275 waterfalls at Iguaçu, we only had a great view of one of them). Their turndown service in the evening made us feel like royalty!

Thursday, February 2 - Iguaçu Falls, Brazil

Another great day at the Belmond Hotel Das Cataratas. We had a lovely breakfast by the pool, then headed outside the park to take our helicopter ride of the falls. It is definitely one of the shorter helicopter rides we’ve ever taken, but it was exhilarating! It finally gave us a sense of the big picture of the whole falls, although to be honest, I still couldn’t get a photo to show it. It was so much fun. We went on the ride with a woman from Australia who had just finished an Antarctic expedition. I can’t remember the name of the expedition group, but she was about our age. Her expedition also went to South Georgia Island and the Falklands then to Antarctica. She said they were able to make 2 “landings” a day besides additional zodiac cruises. She said the ship only had about 150 passengers. We were jealous!

After the helicopter ride, we took along walk along the falls walkways, this time spending more time watching for birds, butterflies, spiders, and other animals. At the end of the walkways, where you take a scenic elevator up to the top of the falls, we headed to a park restaurant that had been suggested by one of our guides. It was a buffet, but it concentrated on Brazilian foods so we just sampled away. After that, we walked back to the hotel, even though we could have hopped on one of the park buses. We needed to work off a bit of that food. I’m not much of a lounger at hotel pools, but I couldn’t resist the Belmond pool. They heat it just enough so that it is not super cold to enter, but cool enough to feel great after seating in the afternoon heat. Of course, we had to enjoy another caipirinha.

That evening, we went to the beautiful Bar Taroba and had a “Devil’s Throat” cocktail. As the sun began to set, we headed to the Itaipu Restaurant, the hotel’s main restaurant. I had a wonderful grilled Amazonia fish that was delicious. A perfect end to the day!

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Friday, February 3 - On to Rio de Janeiro

It was sad to leave the Belmond Hotel this morning. Can’t wait to return. Since the Devil’s Throat walkway is still being rebuilt, we have a reason to return. We headed to the airport in Fox do Iguaçu and took a Latam flight to Rio, via São Paulo. When we arrived in São Paulo to change planes, we learned that our Rio flight had been cancelled. No problem. We were able to get in the priority line (since Latam now has a partnership with Delta our tickets were automatically marked Sky Priority) and since there are hourly shuttles to Rio from São Paulo, we only had a little over an hour wait and Latam even gave us vouchers for lunch while we waited. When we arrived in Rio, we went directly to our hotel, the Miramar Hotel on Copacabana Beach. It had been a busy travel day, so we headed to the rooftop bar that had great views of the beach and Sugar Loaf.

Saturday, February 4 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

We had a great breakfast at the Miramar before our guide picked us up for our half day Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain half day tour. We started the tour driving along Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches to the base of Morro do Corcovado to catch the cog-wheel train up to view the Christ the Redeemer statue more closely. We were definitely glad we had the guide who moved us to special lines for tour guides and special lines for priority (Brazil is serious about giving priority to anyone over 60 years of age whether they have mobility problems or not). Even with the long lines, we quickly visited both of these iconic locations. After taking the tram rides up to Sugar Loaf, we had planned to see the National Cathedral, which has very unusual architecture and stained glass, but a Saturday downtown concert had all the streets blocked. Our guide quickly suggested a visit to an unusual street art stairway in an area of downtown which he could access. The ceramic artist was Jorge Selaron, who began decorating 215 steps leading up to the Convent of Santa Teresa with ceramic tiles in 1990. Lots of people from around the world began to send him tiles from their regions. The stairs were amazing, and actually a nice bookend to the beginning of our trip in Valparaiso, Chile with all of its street art.

After we returned to the hotel to retrieve our luggage, it was time to call an old college friend to come pick us up. He went to engineering university with Mike, but has worked in South America his whole career. He married a Brazilian woman in 1976. We hadn’t seen our friend since 1996 when we were visiting our foreign exchange student’s family in São Paulo. At that time, he took the Rio to São Paulo shuttle to come see us for an evening. It’s been almost 30 years since we’ve been together, but as it usually is with friends made in young adulthood, it seemed like we picked up as though no time had passed. We spent the next two days with him and his wife in their retirement condo, which is also right on the beach. While our friends’ condo faced the beach, the side terrace looked out at a distance on one of the largest favelas (slums) in Rio. At night it looked like diamonds covering the mountainside, but one knows that is just an illusion of the reality that life in the favela really is.

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Sunday, February 5 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This morning, we had a wonderful breakfast filled with my favorite items, pao de queijo, papaya and mango. Great Brazilian coffee didn't hurt either. Then it was off to the Museum of Tomorrow, where we viewed a temporary photographic exhibit on the aboriginal groups of the Amazon, then headed upstairs for the permanent exhibits that focused on exploration, reflection, and planning of possibilities for the future. The museum examines the past, considers current trends, and explores what might happen in the next 50 years. After a couple of hours here, we headed to Aqua Rio, the city’s aquarium. Both structures are located in the revitalized port area.

After our morning and early afternoon touring, we headed to our friends’ golf club for a fantastic buffet (and yes, a couple more caipirinhas.

Monday, February 6 - Rio de Janeiro

Today was our last full day in Rio. We slept late, had another fabulous breakfast, then headed to the beach in front of their condo to walk and watch the hang gliders and paragliders landing.

By late afternoon, our friends said that we just couldn’t leave Brazil without having some grilled meats at their favorite Churrascaría. We had been to one back in 1996, but we were definitely ready to go again. After choosing salads from a self-service salad bar, a parade of grilled meats are brought table side. You control when you are ready for more by turning up a two-sided coin to green (sim) when you’re ready for more or red (no) when you need a break. It was a great final dining experience in Brazil.

Tuesday, February 7 - Time to head home

We flew from Rio, nonstop, to Atlanta on Delta, then on to Newark. We got in about 9:30 pm so just headed to. Newark hotel since we didn’t want to navigate to our son’s house to retrieve our car until morning.

Last thoughts - I don’t think I would change much about our trip. I loved the varied experiences we had. I was a bit disappointed with the amount of time we had for Antarctic “landings” versus just zodiac cruising. I wish Viking had been more transparent about that. I really loved our Chilean winery experiences and know that we will return there (perhaps a Santiago to Buenos Aires cruise where we can see the Chilean fjords). I know that I’d like to see Iguaçu Falls again once the Devil’s Throat walkways are rebuilt and we’ll spring for the more expensive helicopter ride that takes you over the dam and power plant.

I'd be happy to answer any questions that anyone might have about the areas we visited on the trip.

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Mary Pat - I just noticed that I didn't reply to your earlier question about seasickness and the Drake Passage. I had gotten some of the prescription patches from my doctor prior to travel. Once we were on the cruise, the medical office onboard said that if you'd never used the patch before that now was not the time to try it out because they had lots of people who had had major problems with it (hallucinations, worse nausea, etc). They had generic Dramamine in the Medical Center that they provided for free. I took advantage of that. I did feel uncomfortable on the way over, but our Drake Passage back was just fine. I actually took the generic Dramamine everyday just in case we encountered choppy water, which we did on a couple of occasions, but nothing bad and I never had any further symptoms. So if you plan to do this trip, it might be a good idea to use a patch prior to going to make sure you don't have problems.

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This would be a dream destination for us, thank you for sharing. While I hope to take a Viking ocean cruise in the future, I’m not sure I would have chosen them for an expeditionary cruise to Antarctica. There are several cruise lines that have much more experience there and just curious why you chose Viking and wonder if you had gone with Hurtigruten, Quark or Linblad, if you would have had more “land” time on Antarctica.

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WOW! Just WOW! What a wonderful trip report; what a wonderful trip. You captured me from the first paragraph and I so appreciate you taking the time to share your experiences with all of us. You made me feel as if I was right there with you. Thank you.

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Your latest additions are perfect timing since I just booked all my hotels for my summer trip to S America only yesterday - the only thing is to figure out the hotels in Foz de iguacu/Puerto Iguazu.

Some context for my questions - I am an independent traveler and tend to do complex trips. This trip is mainly centered around Bolivia (La Paz, Tupiza, Salar circuit, Potosi, Sucre, Santa Cruz, Amboro NP/Samaipata) - will then fly to Foz du Iguacu and from there make our way into Paraguay and fly home from Asuncion. I know there is another forum poster (Daniel?) who lives in Asuncion so will tap into his knowledge for that area.

My questions about the hotels and activities:
1) Is the boardwalk to the Devil's throat closed (assuming this is on the Brazilian side)? Any idea when it will be opened (my trip is in mid-July)
2) Belmond - is this inside the park and are you able to wander to any of the sights on your own? i.e. what are the key advantages of staying at this hotel - are you restricted to the opening times of the park?
3) Gran Melia - same question as the Belmond - can you get a head start if staying here? Are you able to do any of the hiking trails during daylight hours? How is the wildlife and birdlife around the hotel - if you noticed? Did you do the lower and upper circuit hiking trails?

Other questions - did you do a boat ride into the falls? If so, from which side?
Thanks.

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diveloonie -- Yes, one of the other operators you mentioned would have given us more "land" time in theory. I actually contemplated them. but I think I was swayed by the staterooms on Viking, with the windows that opened, etc. We've sailed on Viking Ocean quite a few times and knew their service was excellent. I did know going in that our landing opportunities would be limited (I knew 6 was the number, although in reality they didn't even attempt 6 because 2 of those days were designated as "cruise" days from the moment we got on board, so nothing related to weather. I think one of the main problems using Viking was that they are new to the game and don't have the "pecking order" status to get the good landing sites in advance. I should have considered that more seriously. That said, I'm still happy that we had the opportunity to land and hike in Antarctica three times, and have 3 additional days to cruise around icebergs, view wildlife up close and experience this unique part of the world.

One thing I was shocked about was the number of ships in Antarctica. I was under the impression that we'd never see another ship around once we were in Antarctic waters due to polar rules. That was not true. We often saw 4 ships, some were just cruising (like the large Holland America ship), but they were all there in close proximity at at least 3 sites.

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andi - Thanks for the kind comments.

Arnold --

Your questions about the hotels and activities:
1) Is the boardwalk to the Devil's throat closed (assuming this is on the Brazilian side)? Any idea when it will be opened (my trip is in mid-July)
-- I'm not sure when the Devil's throat boardwalk will be reopened (they are totally rebuilding the whole thing), however it is on the Argentinean side of the falls.

2) Belmond - is this inside the park and are you able to wander to any of the sights on your own? i.e. what are the key advantages of staying at this hotel - are you restricted to the opening times of the park?
-- Yes, you can wander to any of the sites inside the park while staying at the hotel. All visitors to the park must be "bussed in" on National Park busses, or come with a private guide who has permission to enter the park. The busses start coming in at 9:00 am and stop at 6:00 pm. I saw several hotel guests walking the main trail after daybreak ("saw" them from our room that faced the main trail because that was too early for me) and we walked part of the trail after 6:00 pm since it didn't get dark until around 8:00 pm (we were their in Brazilian summer). As I mentioned before, there were warnings not to walk off hotel property after dark due to the jaguars, etc.

3) Gran Melia - same question as the Belmond - can you get a head start if staying here? Are you able to do any of the hiking trails during daylight hours? How is the wildlife and birdlife around the hotel - if you noticed? Did you do the lower and upper circuit hiking trails?
-- My understanding is that we were not allowed to walk into the park walkways until the park was officially open on the Argentinean side (according to our guide - we were moving to the Brazilian side and didn't test that). The trails begin just a short distance from the hotel (you can see where the trails begin from the hotel). Lots of wildlife around the hotel. We watched toucans flying about as we were having a cocktail on their rooftop bar. We were warned to keep our terrace doors locked at night because the monkeys could be a problem (we locked our doors, and when out on the terrace late at night never saw a monkey). Since we only stayed here one night, I think we would have seen more wildlife from the hotel - just weren't there long enough.
Yes, we did the upper and lower hiking trails, although, of course, the Devil's Throat is closed and there is a part of the lower circuit closed due to problems created by the storm last fall. The trails open still kept us busy for about three hours that afternoon.

Other questions - did you do a boat ride into the falls? If so, from which side?
-- Didn't do the boat ride so I can't answer this. It does go from both sides.

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Very nice report! Viking is a good fit for us too and we’ve done several cruises on the river and ocean ships. We did the Antarctic Expedition cruise on Viking Octantis February 20-March 3 and then the post extension to Patagonia. We were lucky to have good weather and sunny skies almost every day with temperatures in the 30s. The Drake Passage was a bit rough but no worse than what we’ve experienced in the North or Tasman Seas.

We saw lots of penguins, seals, whales, and many different species of birds. The only ship we saw the entire time sailing to and from Antarctica was a small research ship as we were returning to Ushuaia.

We took tons of photos but it’s impossible to capture the vastness and beauty of Antarctica. We feel very fortunate to have had this experience.