THE END OF THE WORLD

An exciting way to begin the New Year is with a fiery tango show at a nightclub in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Last New Year’s Eve, Don and I flew in to begin a two-week South American cruise around Cape Horn to the “end of the world,” ending up in Santiago, Chili.

Before boarding the Norwegian Crown with our Vantage Travel group, we had a few days in Buenos Aires. We lunched at one of the many restaurants in the renovated warehouse district by the widest river in the world – the 120-mile wide River Plate. It looked like the ocean since you couldn’t see the other side. My Argentine son-in-law’s aunt and uncle joined us. It was questionable whether Tia Marta knew more English or I knew more Spanish but Tio Enrique and Don played “charades” and we translated in between.

Called the “Paris” of South America, Buenos Aires also claims to have the widest avenue in the world, 9 de Julio. New Year’s day it was covered with confetti. The tradition is that employees shred their old calendars and throw all the bits out the window. Our guide’s opinion: “The government employees don’t do anything anyway so all the pages are blank.”

The Great Outdoors

Where’s the beef? It’s in Argentina. You can’t go there without a visit to an estancia (ranch) to have a barbeque and see gauchos. They are similar to our cowboys of the west but their lassos are handmade rawhide ropes with three iron balls or stones to be thrown at the legs of an animal to entwine and immobilize it. Indians before them used the “lasso” to entrap wild horses and cattle. I loved the gauchos’ classy outfits – flat brimmed hat, pleated trousers, high leather boots and a wide belt of silver girding the waist. The ranch we visited breeds polo ponies that sell for $50,000. The owners knew some of the polo players who come from Argentina each year to play at our Santa Barbara Polo Club in Carpinteria.

We only had time in Montevideo, Uruguay (second smallest country in South America) to head to the Don Pascual winery and taste their many red wines, including Tannat. The winemaker was so generous with his pours that we tippled back to the ship.

Patagonia isn’t just a sporting goods store in the U.S., but a region that extends across 1,200 miles of the most southerly sectors of Argentina and Chile. We stopped at Puerto Madryn in Patagonia for a nature walk and tea at a Welsh colony village teahouse before sailing to our next destination.

Our ship anchored out at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands so we took tenders to shore. Three thousand mostly English people live here along with 600,000 sheep. It’s a windswept treeless rocky landscape covered with sage scrub. Our guide who had retired here 20 years ago from England told us, “You’re not allowed to shoot geese. They ‘know’ they’re safe so they all waddle to town.” There are no flies, mosquitoes or bees but there are nearly half a million penguins of different varieties. There is no crime today – only one murder on record. The school classes are a ratio of six students to every teacher and the Falkland government picks up the tab for college. Fishing licenses raise about $23 million each year. A council of eight passes their laws. You can worship in Christ Church Cathedral – the most southern Anglican Cathedral in the world. Everyone knows everyone and if there’s not much to do the locals are known to have parties that last two days. Whoopee!

If the weather gets too bad and the tenders can’t get back to the ship, Port Stanley hosts the guests. Recently, families took in to their homes 1,000 tourists who had been stranded. The wind came up and I was looking forward to a night ashore for a cultural exchange but we made it back to the ship in spite of very rough seas.

In the winter of 1914 it took the vessel Edward Sewall 67 days to transit Cape Horn from the South Atlantic to the Pacific. In the summer of 2006 it took our ship just a day – no seasick pills required. The Cape belongs to Chile and is the southernmost point of land in the world, outside of Antarctica.

Next stop Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city on the planet whose slogan is “End of the World, Beginning of Everything.” It is squeezed between dramatic mountain peaks and the blue Beagle Channel – home to about 50,000 inhabitants. In the summer there are 18 hours of light, seven in the winter. We rode the steam engine-driven train with cars modeled after earlier prison trains into Tierra del Fuego National Park. The trains were used to transport wood the prisoners had cut from the forest for heating and building. Many cruises to Antarctica leave from this town. Some liken it to a Swiss village because of the gingerbread decorations on its wooden houses and all the purple, yellow and lavender lupine flowers.

In 1832, Charles Darwin sailed as an unpaid naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle through the Strait of Magellan (350 miles long). Magellan and his five ships sailed through in 1520 and because the ocean looked so calm he named it the Pacific. Then hard times came with lack of water, scurvy and sailors so desperate they ate the leather fittings of the ship. Finally, they arrived in the Philippine Islands where Magellan was killed in a fracas with natives.

Our passage concluded with better fortune. Sailing the Beagle Channel (130-mile inland fjord passage) reminds one of a cruise to Alaska with photo ops of glaciers along the way. The Captain took our ship so close to one, we wondered when he would stop. We sailed on to Chili, which really means “chilly,” named by the Indians from Peru who were used to warmer weather. The country is nearly 2,700 miles long, only 10 miles wide at its narrowest point, and it averages 109 miles in width. At the north is the world’s driest desert, Atacama, where in some spots not a drop of rain has ever been recorded. At the south are glaciers and in between are parts that are just like Southern California. The Andes are the longest chain of mountains in the world running from Cape Horn to Panama and Venezuela with only the Himalayan peaks being taller. There are no poisonous snakes, no bears, no spiders – the most dangerous creature is probably the human being. Chilean wines are some of South America’s best. Chili “borrowed” its national drink, Pisco sours, from Peru. That’s a grape brandy made with lemon juice, egg white and powdered sugar. This can easily get you “piscoed,” a nice thing to be when you’re halfway home.

More on this later…