Journey – 2012
Diary of a Journey to South America – Part One
A Journey to... Where???
Monday, December 3, 2012
Ask me anything about Great Britain, or Europe, or North America, or the lands and peoples of the Bible, and I could probably answer you immediately, and with a fair degree of accuracy. But South America? Not so much.
Sad to say, my knowledge of that entire continent could be summarized as: “It’s a big place... deep rainforests and the Amazon river... mountains along the Pacific coast... pre-contact civilizations of Mayan, Inca, Aztec... bunch of Spanish and Portuguese people there now...”
...which would pretty much exhaust the sum of my knowledge about the place.
Not only am I uninformed, the idea of actually going there has never once crossed my mind.
So how is it that Heather and I have set out on a journey that will last more than a month, to a place with which I have so little connection? What’s going on?
I can probably blame my friend, Werner Schulz. It was he, a couple of years ago, who got us going on our first-ever cruise – the one to the Caribbean. On an April evening in 2010 he had said, “Guess what!? I just signed up for a Caribbean cruise! You should come, too!” And Heather looked at me and I looked at her... and the result was the trip of a lifetime (that I faithfully recorded on these pages).
We became “cruisers.” Not long afterwards we were sailing once more – this time in the Mediterranean, visiting Turkey, Greece and Rome.
Our second trip was done without the company of Werner and his wife Mary. But Werner was hatching another plan: a full thirty day cruise around South America. He tells me that the destination was not as important as the length: thirty days in a luxury cruise ship! What could be better? “Why not join us?” he said.
“I’ll tell you why not: because it’s going to cost an enormous amount of money, and besides, I don’t know a thing about the place!”
“C’mon! It’ll be fun!” Werner is not one to be dissuaded.
The brochures promised wild places: uninhabited fjords, glaciers, a chance to see some penguins, and sailing around the legendary Cape Horn.
Cape Horn? Suddenly I was back in familiar territory. I’ve read dozens of books about ships in the days of sail, and Cape Horn, as one of the world’s most forbidding and dangerous places for such vessels, was something that I had read about many times. Seeing it would be really interesting.
And penguins? Who doesn’t think penguins are among the most wonderful and magical of all God’s creatures? The literature said that we could even go on an expedition, if we chose, to a remote beach in the Falkland Islands where hundreds of them nest and raise their chicks.
And the Falkland Islands...? I knew something about them, too! I well remember Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England, facing down Argentina in 1982 in a deadly shooting war over those islands.
In short, I was getting interested. And a long voyage in a luxury stateroom? Well, I’ve developed quite a taste for that!
So, after much discussion with Heather, it was decided. We’re going. And, after I had signed on with the cruise line, we had a session with Werner and Mary in their livingroom, and decided that we would immediately book ourselves onto, and prepay, that expedition in the Falklands to see the penguins. I was hooked.
Oh yes, and then there is the little matter of Buenos Aires. I knew nothing about the city other than the name, and the fact that the thirty day cruise that we had just signed on for ends there. That’s right: the cruise starts in San Francisco and ends in Buenos Aires. It was up to us to get ourselves to San Francisco before the ship sets sail, and it will be up to us to find our way home from Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires is far away!
– 10,126 km. by direct flight (no such flight exists)
I looked Buenos Aires up on a map. Wow! It’s far away! Do planes even go there? Of course they do, but what about planes that can bring us back to Canada? Well, Air Canada’s website says that they have a flight from Buenos Aires to Toronto three or four times a week.
But Werner and Mary, who had already booked their entire trip, having learned that they couldn’t get a flight home immediately after the cruise, had decided to stay in Buenos Aires and enjoy themselves for more than a week. They said that the city was apparently a wonderful place to visit... indeed it is alleged to be “... the Paris of South America.”
So Heather said to me, “Maybe we could stay in Buenos Aires too? If we stayed until January 9th, we could fly to Toronto just in time for the meeting of Anglican chancellors 1 that I’m supposed to attend!”
Thus it was that, with a big chunk taken out of our savings, we’ve embarked on a trip that will cover more than 32,000 kilometres, and take us more than six weeks!
And, on a very personal level, we’ll be somewhere on the ocean blue over Christmas. What will that be like? For forty-six years I’ve had some kind of priestly duties at Christmas. True, I’m retired now, but I’m hard-wired to be celebrating the birth of my Saviour with other Christians in a church somewhere; can that happen on a cruise ship? And what about all those family-type traditions, will we miss those? Our two offspring who have spent Christmas with us in recent years, are now in new and wonderful relationships. 2 Their attention is elsewhere, so they’ll probably be alright. But will we be alright without a tree, and cards, and gifts, and family dinners, and visiting?
Combine the vast distances to be travelled, and the time of year that we’ll be doing it, and another problem swiftly emerges: how on earth do you pack for a trip like that?
Leaving Winnipeg just as winter sets in, we’ve found ourselves in temperate San Francisco. From there we sail to the tropics, but after a week or two in the blistering heat, things start to get cold again as we get surprisingly close to the South Pole. Then, moving back toward the equator, we find ourselves living for five days in Buenos Aires at the peak of their summer. And if that’s not enough, we then go to damp, slushy, and chilly Toronto and stay there for a while, finally ending up back in the deep freeze of Winnipeg.
Heather has spent the last several months trying to think through the problem of what clothes to pack. She knew that whatever she takes, it will all have to fit into bags that can be dragged around airports and in and out of taxis by two increasingly elderly people!
Well, she made her choices, and we have gear for cold and hot, winter and summer, swimming and hiking, formal and casual... and somehow it all fits into two small bags that can be suspended on back or shoulder, and four larger ones that can be pulled behind us, provided that each of us takes two.
San Francisco, December 3 - 5, 2012
Tony, Mary, & Heather discuss a map
...all the basic touristy things
photo: Werner Schulz
Still, we rode cable cars and walked around Chinatown, and ate at Fisherman’s Wharf – all of which are among the basic touristy things that anyone would want to do in San Francisco. And I took a lot of pictures. 4 That’s what tourists do, too, isn’t it?
And then the voyage began. A little late in the day, as it turns out (there was some confusion, apparently, about the loading of the ship’s supplies), so that we ended up sailing under the Golden Gate bridge after dark, in fog and mist and rain, so that the iconic bridge could scarcely be seen overhead....
Friday, December 7, 2012
on board the Star Princess, off the coast of Mexico
For the first two days of this cruise we have been at sea, which is one of the things that I enjoy the most about cruising. Some people think that the time spent at sea is a necessary and rather boring interval between ports (where the really good stuff – the sights and sounds of exotic lands – can be experienced). But I just love being on the ocean. The motion of the ship, the constantly moving waves, and the infinite sky and sea are all deeply satisfying to me, and I could do it for a very long time without complaint.
After we left San Francisco, the weather remained overcast and quite chilly for some time, but today the sun is beginning to come through the clouds, and the temperature gets warmer by the hour. We are, after all, heading straight south, to lands which know no cold.
Tomorrow we will be at the very tip of the Mexican Baja peninsula, at the town of Cabo San Lucas, and I have signed on to go snorkelling on a tropical reef!
But today, I’m in my floating hotel, just sitting in our stateroom, enjoying the view... and answering email.
Internet access is fiercely expensive on board, so I log on, collect my email, log off, read and type my answers to emails, then I log on once more in order to send the messages that I have written. Then I log off again.
At home I can be online for hours. I have built a website that gets a lot of traffic, 5 and I have extensive correspondence with people around the world. As well, I access FaceBook every day (I like to follow the doings of my friends and relations, and lately I’ve been playing online Scrabble with as many sixteen people). Yes, I’m on the web a lot.
But here on the ship, with the price of Internet access so very steep, I’ve had to wean myself of it... somewhat. Not entirely, of course, but I’ve managed to get it down to email, and posting our location on that Google Map that I made for this voyage.
You know about the map, don’t you? I made it before we left, and plan to leave it online after the trip is over (so that whenever you might be reading this you can check it out). Every day, just for fun, I hope to post our location on it.
Of course I’m also updating this blog from time to time. I write and format it offline, then log on, upload it to my website, and log off. Once I get back home I’ll refine it, and pretty it up.
And here’s a strange thing: now that our trip has finally begun, I find that we’re just a little bit more blasé about cruising than we were on our previous two voyages. Why is that? Perhaps human nature is such that even the most wonderful things can eventually be taken for granted.
2 Our son, Troy, who has spent the past ten years alone – as a divorcé – will be getting married June 8, 2013; and our daughter Rachael is very seriously dating a young man from California, and is with him whenever she gets the chance.
3 The Star Princess is the very same vessel that Heather and I were on when we cruised the Mediterranean in the fall of 2011. Same captain, too – Captain Edward Perrin. which is nice, because I really admired his handling of that cruise.
5 From December 3, 2012 to January 15, 2013, the very time that we were on this journey to South America, 4,571 unique visitors touched down on my website, opening various of my pages more than 12,000 times!