Buenos Aires to the Falklands

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February 22nd 2020
Published: February 23rd 2020
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Buenos Aires, Montevideo & the Falklands 28 January–7 February 2020

There are 3 blogs coming in quick succession as we did not have good enough wifi while travelling. The penguins on the Falklands are at the end of the pictures so click through all pages to see them.

Arriving in B. Aires three days before we were due to embark on the Zaandam for our cruise down to Antarctica gave us plenty of time to visit the city. After purchasing our Subte card for the underground we set off to visit the Eva Peron museum and the Recoleta cemetery. It may seem unusual to visit a cemetery but Recoleta is the top tourist attraction in B A and city residents are very proud of it.

The cemetery is fascinating, a true city of the dead, streets of highly decorative, sometimes huge and mostly marble mausoleums, where the rich and powerful of Buenos Aires have been buried. Presidents, military heroes, politicians and of course the fabulously wealthy of the city (and in its heyday there were plenty of those) were laid to rest here. The layout is identical to a town, streets follow a grid plan with small plazas and seating areas to rest under the trees. Each mausoleum, usually family owned, is individually designed and decorated to choice, with anything ranging from serious and sombre plaques naming the deceased to highly elaborate and flamboyant statues, angels, metal and stone wreaths and stained glass. It is overcrowded so the tombs are so close together they give the appearance of terraced houses, many of them larger than the dwellings used today by people living in the shanty areas of town.

Although the cemetery is full we were told that occasionally a plot will come on the market and then be auctioned for very high prices. It seems it is still the place to be laid to rest!

From there we went to the Eva Peron Museum. On display were photographs, newsreels of the time and seven outfits which represented the different stages of the life of Maria Eva Duarte, who was born in 1919 and died in 1952 of cancer at the early age of 33. Although she is described as being born in poverty the photographs suggested a more 'middle class' family than
Remebrance plaqueRemebrance plaqueRemebrance plaque

Eva did not always rest here, her remains were moved to Europe but finally returned here.
I had expected. I want to read more details when we have wifi again. What is clear is that she was a strong character and clearly set out to make her name in B A.

She started by working in radio, progressed to become a stage and film actress and finally (but in a very short time) became the second wife of Juan Domingo Peron. Immmediately she took on a role never seen before in the country. Wives of presidents had always stayed in the background but Eva developed a high profile in her own right, carrying out public duties, meeting with workers representatives, families and women's groups. She set up a foundation to help the poor, trying to reduce poverty and improve worker's rights. She is even shown attempting to kick a football in high heels and straight skirt when she met with a football team. Football has always been an obsession in Argentina so it made for a good photograph opportunity! I want to understand how a right wing government under Peron pursued these policies and how much Evita influenced her husband. She certainly gained popular support.

Evita, the musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, is one of my favourites so I was interested to see how their interpretation of events coincided with the facts given at the museum. Surprisingly perhaps, they seemed to have kept close to the history apart from the extent to which she used her sexuality to manoeuvre herself into power. That was definitely not evident in the museum but perhaps respect for Eva means that is to be expected?

Certainly the newsreels showed the huge crowds who came out to see her when she and the president appeared on the balcony of the Casa Rosada and that the ordinary people even supported the proposal for her to become Vice President. However the powerful, status conscious, elite of Argentina strongly opposed her so instead, shortly before her death, she was given the title of 'Spiritual Leader of the People'. She was given a State Funeral usually reserved for Presidents. When I first saw the crowd reactions in the play and film I thought they were exaggerating the turnout and the desolation people felt at their loss for dramatic effect. Having seen the newsreels I now know that if anything it was even greater than portrayed in Evita.

We wandered around the Casa Rosado and the Catedral Metropolitana, where we saw the guarded mausoleum of General Jose de San Martin, who led the country to independence in 1816 after defeating the Spanish.

Eating a picnic lunch in a park near the Botanical Gardens I saw two dark shapes in the grass. I went across to investigate and saw two animals, Patagonian hares I think. They were perfectly still, not even blinking, even when I went up close and stood watching for five minutes. Being next to a children's play area I assumed they were statues placed there to entertain the kids. Half an hour later as we left they had both started nibbling away at the grass. Then I saw many more sheltering under the trees.

Needing to relax and have some exercise away from the busy roads we spent the next day in the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, a 350 hectare swampy nature reserve situated alongside the Rio de la Plata and the new neighbourhood of Puerto Madero which is full of luxurious high rise buildings, both residential and commercial. There are paths criss-crossing the area with lakes dotted about. Unfortunately most of the lakes are concealed behind trees but it is a lovely area to wander through. We saw a pair of large raptors which grunted loudly! (Still to be identified, not having wifi is a pain). Plus numerous Cardinal birds.

On Friday the 31 January we went aboard the Zaandam but were not scheduled to sail until the evening of the 1st February, allowing us another day for exploration. We set off, trusty Subte cards in hand, to visit La Boca, a neighbourhood established largely by Italian immigrants. It should have been an easy journey as we only had to walk from the ship for ten minutes to reach a Subte (underground) station, take a train, change once and we would be in La Boca. Unfortunately when we reached the Subte entrance it was closed so we walked on to the main railway station to find another entrance. That too was closed with a sign saying the whole line was out of action for the day.

We had no more pesos as we had assumed we could use up the trips on the Subte card and we could not buy any more as you need a passport to purchase pesos. The ship retains passports for the duration of your stay onboard so we did not have them with us. We stood dithering for a couple of minutes, trying to gather information on alternative routes and how we might pay when an elderly woman approached us and offered to help. She said she had been a guide but was now retired and she suggested a taxi was the best option.

On learning of our lack of pesos she exchanged some money for us, (illegal I believe), and marched us off to find a taxi saying that it is important to look at the face of the driver to see if he is trustworthy before getting in the vehicle and she would do that for us. She found a cab and stared intently at the driver finally declaring him acceptable. The poor man took it well. She had also told us that La Boca was far too dangerous to visit and recommended going to San Telmo which had been our second planned destination of the day.

Once we set off I asked the driver if it was too risky to visit La Boca but he reassured us that it was fine for tourists during the day with plenty of police around and he was happy to take us as it was a longer journey.

We were pleased that we took his advice as La Boca was full of character. El Caminito is the main street, and although touristy, is fun, full of brightly painted houses, market stalls, bars, tango dancers and with figures of icons Juan & Eva Peron, Diego Maradona, Che Guevara and the even more popular Pope Francis standing on the streets and on balconies. The original shanty town used sheets of corrugated iron to construct homes and traditionally they were painted bright colours as a way of improving their appearance. We arrived early before too many visitors were around and left eventually when it became crowded. On the way back we passed through San Telmo which is pretty but has nothing like the vibrancy of La Boca.

That night the Zaandam sailed across the Rio de la Plata to visit Montevideo in Uruguay. As it was Sunday some of the museums were closed and the Gaucho Museum, which I was keen to visit and was difficult to find so we had a sense of achievement when we arrived until we saw the sign saying it was closed for renovations. We did manage to find wifi in the Tourist centre, we walked around town and spotted the parakeets in a small plaza where we sat for a while. Then we wandered into quite a grand building, the wrought iron old port market, which we thought was an ordinary indoor market but it turned out to be something very Uruguan, an indoor parrilla (steak restaurant) hall. Despite the heat outside, the hall was full of restaurants preparing for lunch with mammoth fires burning fiercely surrounded by huge grill plates with meat, fish and vegetables sizzling away. The aromas were tempting despite it not being long since our breakfast.

On our way back to the ship we stopped in the dockyard to look at the memorial to the German battleship, the Graf Spee which comprises one of its anchors, and other relics displayed in a simple patch of garden. The ship had been used to sink shipping in the South Atlantic from the start of the War so the British sent our ships to locate it. It was badly damaged in the ensueing battle so her Captain limped into the neutral port of Montevideo but because of their neutrality he understood that he could not stay there for long. As the British knew his location he believed they would lie in wait for him to leave the port and then take the ship. So to prevent it from falling into the hands of the British he instructed a small crew to sail eight miles into the estuary of the Rio de la Plata where they used explosives to scuttle the ship. This action of Captain Langsdorf saved the lives of his crew but he decided it was necessary to take his own life, presumably aware of how his actions would be viewed by the German command. This was the first naval battle of the war and the only one to occur in South American waters.

We returned to the Zaandam for the evening trivia quiz where we met Joyce, a lady from Kentucky who was travelling alone and in her late 70s. The next day, our first sea day as we sailed from Montevideo towards Puerto Madryn, was to be eventful.

At one of the lectures in the Mainstage Theatre someone walked down the steps to the front of the balcony where we were sitting, tripped and fell forward with such a crack that everyone thought the person had hit their head. Although only a couple of seats away from the casualty there were two very large people between her and me so I did not realise until later in the day that it was Joyce who had fallen and the crack was the sound of her clavicle breaking. She was taken to the Medical Centre for X-Rays and eventually her shoulder was put into a restraint until she could attend the clinic in Puerto Madryn the following day.

That evening Jim & I went to watch the film, Downton Abbey. We didn't think much of it but that may have been influenced firstly by the fact that the sound was not synchronised so it was disturbing to watch and secondly there was an alarm sounded. We had all attended the mandatory safety drill so knew the difference between the two main signals, seven short and one long beeps means prepare to abandon ship, but this was the other one which signalled the call for the First Responder Team to go into action.

Then the Captain made an announcement, an incident had been reported, the F.R. team would check it out and he would update us as soon as possible. In the meantime we need take no action. Clearly attention strayed from the screen but no-one said anything.

Five minutes later he announced that smoke had been detected in service spaces, the team were trying to find the source and he would come back to us when he had more information.

Fifteen minutes later he updated us again. The team had identifed the source and were attempting to resolve the situation. By this time there was a sense of tension in the auditorium. Although they stopped and started the film between announcements, other activities such as the performance on the main stage, and the musicians in various locations were stopped completely. Although not realising it then as we were absorbed in Downton Abbey, our end of the corridor on Dolphin Deck ( Deck 1) was evacuated and the fire doors closed. There were another three announcements before some thirty minutes later he reported hesitantly that the incident had been dealt with. I say hesitantly deliberately as obviously it was concerning but for me much more scary had been the Captain's tone of voice and delivery throughout his messages. The usually cheerful and articulate messages delivered by the Captain had become hesitant, nervous offerings. That frightened me. If the Captain sounds scared the situation can't be good! Other people did not seem to notice it. It certainly made me aware of how far from land we were and the coldness of the water. It also showed the potential for situations to develop quickly at sea.

The next day we docked in Puerto Madryn. The ship's doctor had arranged an appointment for Joyce to visit the clinic ashore and have a second opinion about her shoulder and for the Port Agent to accompany her. As she was travelling alone she felt she would like company so I went along. At least she could chat while we waited to see the doctor and then for another X-Ray. The young doctor spoke simple but very clear English and he was lovely and reassuring. He explained that she could leave the ship and arrange for surgery here or in the U.S., or carry on strapped up until she returned home and then he said if she were his mother he would recommend that she enjoy the cruise and continue onboard. The appointment took about 90 minutes in total away from the ship.

So then we headed off to the Falklands. Shore time was for one day only so we had booked a trip to visit Volunteer Point to see the King Penguin colony there. As the crow flies it is a short distance north of Stanley but there is a bay and inlet in the way so the journey takes 2 ½ hours, the first part on a good road which is travelled quickly, then the rest over rough ground where the going is very slow in order to arrive in one piece without too many bruises. I have to say our driver, Toni, did everything she could to minimise the bumps. She was an amazing driver. Even better as she drove she told us about life on the island. She is a sixth generation 'Kelper' as the local islanders are called. Her son and daughter went to university in Brighton and have stayed in Sussex so she has even visited Eastbourne.

Before the 1982 Falklands War the islands were in decline with young people leaving, few jobs and an aging population. Despite all the deaths and horrendous injuries caused in the conflict as well as the planting of thousands of landmines by the Argentinians, one positive effect of the War is that more money has been put into the islands, more jobs have been created and increased tourism, although only having a short season, has improved the economy. After the War the large farms were subdivided and sold to islanders so increasing their independence and investment in the land.

The land is used mainly for sheep farming with the sheep wandering off and looking after themselves most of the year, including when they lamb, and they are brought in only for shearing, wool being the main crop, followed by mutton. Toni, who has 5,000 sheep, was explaining that the wool and mutton is high quality as they are free from fertilisers and other chemicals – totally natural products although the marketing does not emphasis this, much to her annoyance. As a large proportion of their exports go to the EU they are waiting to see what impact Britain's withdrawal will have.

Toni also explained that they still have a problem with some visitors from Argentina. It appears they like to find a hilltop, put up the Argentine flag then post the photo of it on social media to stir up unrest there. Last week someone managed to take a photograph of their flag right in the centre of town without being spotted. We noticed a policeman walking up and down the street and in front of the Governor's residence, I think in an attempt to stop this.

When we reached Volunteer point it was worth the bumpy ride, the King penguins are magnificent. There is still an odd egg here and there, as their laying season stretches over a few months, plenty of chicks around, an odd bird moulting and some juveniles who are covered in brown down. They are unaffected by visitors who wander aound the outside of the group and wardens (including our driver Toni) ensure that visitors do not disturb the birds. King penguins feed in local waters when they are rearing their chick but once the chick is fledged they have to go further afield to find food, even hundreds of miles and they dive up to 300metres to catch their prey. They only breed every second year. The colony has around 2,000 pairs and each year between 650-850 chicks are hatched depending upon weather and the food supply.

There is also a Gentoo penguin 'creche' where the young are waiting for their parents to return with food. We watched a few cross the beach as they came home. It is a beach of fine white sand covered with sea cabbage, flowering at present with clusters of bright yellow flowers. Gentoos (3,500 pairs) breed annually with two chicks and they stay close to the shores of the Falklands. They leave their chicks in a creche whilst they go off to catch food. They are known for their practise of the 'chick chase'. The chicks are made to race after the parents to obtain food for them. Experts think it is to develop independence and help prepare the chicks to follow parents into the sea.

The third species of penguin at Volunteer Point is the Magellanic which lives in burrows. There are around 2,500 pairs and they seem to be increasing in number annually unless there is a lot of rain which can flood the burrows and drown the chicks.

Another interesting feature we stopped to photograph on our return to Stanley are the 'stone runs', areas that from a distance look like greyish glaciers coming down the valleys but in fact they are very jagged quartz stones brought down by glaciers.

It is a close knit community and many people seem to have more than one job. Toni is a farmer, driver for tourists during the season and warden at Volunteer Point, her husband is farmer/driver, her brother runs a guest house and farms and her sister in law makes the lunches.

So after the Falklands our next day was a sea day where we settled into the rhythm of the ship and started to think ahead to our visit to Antarctica. But more about that in the next blog.

Additional photos below
Photos: 71, Displayed: 35


An eggAn egg
An egg

Kings breed once every 2 years and not all at the same time so it is possible to see eggs, chicks, juveniles and moulting adults.

23rd February 2020

Glad you made it
Enjoyed your blog Sue and Jim and so glad you also made it to the Falklands - have many fond memories of our 'just one day' on the islands. S&P

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