El Condor Pasa

One of the most majestic sights you could imagine is that of a mighty Andean Condor riding the strong thermal air currents through the Andes Mountains. With wing spans of up to 3.2 metres or nearly 10.5 feet it has the largest wing area of any flying bird on earth.

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We were fortunate enough to witness this spectacle during our recent trip to Santiago, Chile.

Montana Nativa offer day trips into the Andes. They are mountaineers, not just tour guides and have inside knowledge of the native fauna and flora which made our experience far more engaging than we had expected.

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We left the road and followed a dirt track across a farmers field, through paddocks of grazing cattle to a place where more than 27 Condor where continually landing and taking off. They were participating in a luncheon banquet and we were there to witness the spectacle. _MG_2303-001

We went on the excursion hoping to see a Condor or two and were rewarded by this amazing display.

Click here to watch a video.

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After we departed the Banquet table we continued to one of the ski resorts. Uninhabited during the summer session, we discovered a group of Condor using the high roofs as launching pads to catch the strong thermal currents over the valley.

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One group had a little Ménage à trois going on, or at least the male had high hopes of getting it on. I happened to catch it all on video and here it is (almost as it happened): Ménage à trois (turn on your speakers for this one)

Okay so maybe I edited it a bit….call it poetic licence.

Awe and Wonder

I have seen many splendid things in my life but nothing yet that can compare to the awe and wonder of Iguazu Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. After seeing Antarctica earlier this month, I didn’t think there would be anything else that could take my my breath away; then we flew to Iguazu. 275 falls over 2.7 km, Iguazu Falls reach a height of 82 m (269 feet). Here is a video of the Devil’s Throat

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We were blessed to have perfect weather for most of our day at the falls and spent 7.5 hours taking in all the sights. These images can not really convey the immense volumes of water that flow over the falls each and every minute of the day. We were hot and sweaty and our calf muscles felt like they were turning to steel, but we were too exhilarated to care. A good way to cool off is to to take a jet boat to the base of the falls. No matter what rain coat you wear, you’ll still get drenched as the boat hovers beneath a curtain of water from the cascading falls. A pure adrenaline rush. A video of our ride is available here.

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The National Park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife. Butterflies proliferate, fluttering from one person to the next.

Crazy Ring-tailed Coati try to rob any unsuspecting tourists of their lunch.

And cheeky monkeys entertain the crowds with their cute antics.

All in all, we were totally awestruck by our day at Iguazu Falls and encourage everyone to include it in their bucket list.

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

We waddled off the cruise ship a week ago and have landed in Paradise, and her name is Argentina. Buenos Aires is the little Paris of South America, with gorgeous architecture, stunning tree-lined boulevards, beautiful parks and great restaurants.

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The city is a vibrant hub of activity with sidewalk cafes and colourful street art, museums and theatres. The quaint, old immigrant suburb of La Boca is a Photographers delight. We have enjoyed brilliant weather and taking advantage of it, we clocked up so many kilometres walking all over the city that my feet feel like little more than bloodied stumps on the ends of my legs.

But the thing I love best about Argentina is the food. When I was about 5 years old I declared I would be a meatarian, in response to my 7 year old sister’s intentions to be a vegetarian. Well Argentina is a Carnivore’s Paradise. Meat, meat and more meat, barbecued to perfection, and portions that would rival Fred Flintstone’s Brontosaurus ribs. And then, just when I had decided to reduce my calorie intake after having slightly over indulging on my culinary desires on the cruise, I discovered heaven on earth; Dulce de Leche. This gooey, sweet, temptation is like the desert my late mother used to prepare by boiling the bejeezus out a tin of Condensed Milk until it was pushed out as a solid mass of caramel by opening both ends of the tin. Here they have turned it into a national dish and you can get everything infused with Dulce de Leche; breakfast cereal, ice cream, danish pastries, sandwiched between two chocolate biscuits all coated in chocolate, yogurt, flavoured milk, you can even buy it in the supermarket in two litre tubs, this really is La Dulce Vita, the sweet life!

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Baby, it’s cold outside.

I could wax lyrical and spout forth endless superlatives about our recent sojourn in Antarctica however, it would really be better to see it for yourself, but in the mean time I will titillate your travel taste buds with a few images and some timely tips.

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Timely Tips:
1. It will be really cold; wear as many layers of clothing as you can, and if you are a female, always allow more time for potty stops. It takes forever to peel these layers off with frozen fingers in a tiny cubicle. (Do remember to remove your gloves first, it is virtually impossible to pull all those layers back up in the correct sequence with gloves on.)

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I'm under there, somewhere.

2. Make sure your gloves don’t have any holes as I discovered a patch of frost bite on my pinky due to a few stitches coming unstuck on my outer pair of gloves. Yes, I was wearing two pair, though the inside pair were inadequately thin.

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Hubby, incognito.

3. Smart phones do not work when wearing ordinary gloves, DO NOT REMOVE YOU GLOVES! If you do, your fingers will snap freeze like popsicles and may remain in your gloves next time you remove them. I have discovered, albeit too late for this trip, that you can buy touch screen compatible gloves. But, as I didn’t have any of these high-tech gloves, I discovered the next best thing; my nose! Although it was a bit awkward entering my password screen pattern, (my nose is slightly fatter than my already too fat fingers), I did manage to operate the camera.

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4. Do not even think about trying to take a selfie using the above mentioned method, trust me, all you’ll get is an extreme close up of your left ear hole.

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5. If you want to get used to the smell of a colony of Gentoo penguins before embarking on a trip to the Antarctic, buy 20 kilo of prawns, stick them in your freezer, unplug the freezer from the wall socket and wait about 3 weeks and then open the freezer.

Okay, so enough tips for now. Here are some more photos.

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This was the biggest iceberg we saw, 600m long, 100m above the sea & 700m below.

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Same iceberg, different angle & me well wrapped.

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Penguins flying through the sea.

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Hold your nose around these guys.

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Snow slugs, AKA, seals.

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Addendum.
Falkland Islands, King penguin colony (thankfully not as smelly as the Gentoos)
Technically not Antarctica but here are the photos anyway.

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I’ll endeavour to blog again from Buenos Aires. Till then, hasta luego.

Just Cruisin’

Two years ago, we took our very first cruise and at the time we vowed it would be our last. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy the “all-you-can-eat” buffet, in fact we enjoyed it a little too much, but we just didn’t feel that cruising was the way we liked to travel. For us, it is more about the destination. We like to spend time in one country and explore it more thoroughly than time permits on a cruise. And so, how is it that we find ourselves, yet again, on a cruise?

Since the last one, I’ve been bombarded with daily emails offering us one cruise after another and I would routinely hit the “delete” button even before I opened them, but mid last year another “Take a cruise” email appeared in my in-box and just as my pinky hovered over the delete button a word popped out and took my breath away….”Antarctica”. Well, suffice it to say I opened that email as it had peaked my interest.
And now here we are sailing down the West coast of Chile heading towards Antarctica.

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As we joined the conga line of passengers waiting to board the ship in Valparaiso, Chile, we discovered that unlike our other cruise, which was aimed at the Newly Wed and Nearly Dead, none of the former were on this cruise, that just leaves the latter. I think the median age is close to 85. Here we would be classified as the youngsters. Perhaps this cruise is more for the Newly Retired and Nearly Expired.

I’ve heard it said that on any given cruise, at least 3 people will pass away. As the line snaked its way towards the check-in desk we pondered who among us, those three might be, and started taking bets amongst ourselves. The obvious were the morbidly obese (it would appear that they too enjoy the buffet dinners) and the infirmed, who shuffled in, pushing walkers, or in wheel chairs. Unfortunately we may never know who wins the bet because unlike everything else on this cruise those statistics are not published in the daily news sheet. We never see, wedged between LGBT get together (it’s an inclusive cruise) at 2pm in the Explorer Lounge and Friends of Bill W meet up at 3pm in the Hudson Room, a notice to farewell Joe Bloggs at 2:30pm on the Lido Deck as we send him to his watery grave. No, I think they just squirrel them away in a cool room somewhere, hopefully no where near the smoked salmon that I like to have on my bagels for breakfast.

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Since joining this cruise 6 days ago I’ve been thinking that this Bill W fellow must have a lot of friends that they get to meet up every afternoon. I mean to say, I have about 300 friends on Facebook but they won’t give me a venue, nor a free plug in the daily news sheet, for the Friends of Susan S meet up. Call me naive, but I really only just found out today who Bill W is and why he has so many friends. Bill W founded Alcoholics Anonamous and Friends of Bill W is a euphemism for an AA meeting.

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Upon discovering that our cabin on the Zaandam was on the Lower Promenade Deck we vowed to adhere to a strict fitness regime of several laps of the deck each day. Well, yesterday was day 5 of our cruise and we finally got around to doing a few laps, though it took us a couple of laps before we realised that it wasn’t just that we were following the wrong protocol of which side to walk on, (we being Aussies, we walk as we drive, on the left hand side), but we also discovered we were like salmon swimming up stream, everyone else was walking in a clockwise direction while we were heading counter clockwise.

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So far the cruise has exceeded our expectations. We have enjoyed sunny days with spectacular vistas as we cruise by snow capped mountains, icy glaciers and through narrow channels and small fishing villages in protected bays. We have taken land excursions through forests, along picturesque rapids and up volcanoes.

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Today we passed through the Summer Passage which, at high tide, left only a 1.2 metre clearance between the ships hull and the ragged bottom of the channel in a gap just two metres wider than the ship itself. We’ve passed penguins and seals swimming and watched Petrels swooping and gliding over the mirror surface of the passage.

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Tomorrow we land in Puerto Arenas, our last port in Chile, from there we have only one more port, Ushuaia. Argentina, before we head to Antarctica. We are already wrapped up in coats, scarves, gloves and beanies each time we venture out on deck, looks like we are really going to need those long-johns by the time we reach Antarctica.

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8 Days a Week

It’s not every day you get a second chance, but flying across the pacific from Australia to Chile we had a second chance at Friday. As the sun set at 30,000 feet, through the window of our flight AF27 from Sydney we watched as Friday finished and Friday started. In the average week Saturday follows Friday and I pondered the ramifications of Friday following Friday, a bit like Ground Hog Day. Make note to self; ask the Rabbi if we are allowed to fly on a Friday night when, at sunset Friday, instead of it heralding the entrance of the Sabbath, it heralds yet another Friday.

Anyway, as the sun set we had bigger problems to ponder, such as how are we going to continue reading when our overhead light were not functioning and as the on-board entertainment system was kaput in our row of seating, there was little else to do for the next 6 hours until the sun rose again. We accosted the flight steward and managed to wrangle a couple of tiny LED flash lights that helped to a degree. Qantas really needs to up its anti if it wants to attract more passengers.

Eventually we landed safely in Santiago and queued to pay what is called a reciprocal fee to enter the country, or as I like to call it “the tit for tat tax” as only Australia and Mexico charge Chileans to apply for a visa, we are charged to enter their country, while holding their right hand thumb up to their noses and wiggling their remaining 4 fingers and declaring “nah, na, na, nah-nah”. Although we were $116 dollars US each poorer we were still overjoyed to discover that all our suitcases made it to Santiago on the same flight. An uncommon occurrence for the seasoned travellers among us.

We found transportation to take us the 150 km to the coast where we had pre-booked accommodation at Vina Del Mar, a coastal beach resort on par with the Surfers Paradise in the 1980’s.

After waking from a short nap we still had not phone reception. I spent the next two hours wrangling with Telstra via WIFI. No one could tell me why we had not phone connection, I duly turned them on and off as requested; still nothing. Another wait in queue of 45 minutes to talk to yet another online assistant with names like Peter Daniel or Richard Gideon, probably really Raj Gajrup. Eventually they discovered that Chile does not support pre-paid roaming. Great! Now we need a Chilean sim card. At this point I was very tired and sorry to have received a second Friday, it was not an improvement on the first.

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Next day our 10:30 am tour eventually picked us up after 11:30 after ringing them to remind them we were booked (they had forgotten us completely). Turns out Chilean time is a bit like Jewish Mean Time, at least an hour late.

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We met up with the rest of our tour group part way along the route and spent 7 hours schlepping around the slopes of Valparaiso, a quaint conglomerate of colourful, rustic dwellings, many decorated with artistic graffiti, clinging precariously to the sides of a cluster of hills sloping up from the port.

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The hills are accessible by means of a hodge-podge of antiquated funicular railway called Ascensors, many of which are over 100 years old. They rattle up and down the steep hillsides in pairs, aided means of a counterweight system. The one at the top descends, pulling the one at the bottom up.

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Before returning to our accommodation we managed to secure a Chilean Sim card, +56958475745, and now have access to telecommunications again, you can recall the courier pigeons.