1
Port of Southampton

Day 1 💨 8°C

🇬🇧 Southampton

The day has finally arrived. After some frantic last minute packing, we arrived in Southampton last night, choosing to stay in a hotel overnight rather than make a very early trip down from the midlands today. My parents are travelling in style in the penthouse suite in this boat, so they managed to get on board three hours before me, still, that was expected. After the usual security checks, I boarded the ship that will be home for the next 2½ months. Cases were delivered directly to the rooms, and after the usual muster drill, the ship set sail just after 6pm GMT. Going to be at sea for a few days now as we make our way down to Madeira. Rough seas are forecast, so let’s see how this goes!

B100 - The Library Suite on Aurora

This is where my parents are staying. My room is a little more basic 🤣

Plenty of reading material. It’s not called the library suite for nothing 📚

Dinner was just as good as I remember from the last time I was on a P&O cruise. Plenty of choice, and the staff are very accommodating to fussy eaters (like us!)

Pan fried chicken breast with roasted root vegetables

Sticky toffee pudding

Post dinner, the ship is hitting some really choppy waters, so I’m going straight to bed in an effort to head-off my motion sickness. Hopefully by tomorrow we’ll have outrun the storm.

My cabin, F157

2
Bay of Biscay

Day 3 💨🌊 11°C

At sea - Bay of Biscay

Oh dear, not off to the best of starts. Turns out sailing into the back end of a major storm means very rough seas. Yesterday was a total write-off for me, didn’t manage to leave my cabin at all. Sea sickness has hit me hard. Was unable to eat anything at all yesterday 🤮😭

Today, the sea is a little calmer then yesterday, but as I’ve noticed on previous cruises, that doesn’t mean my sea sickness goes away - the swell wouldn’t be enough to make me sick, but it’s certainly enough to keep me sick once I’m already feeling ill.

Bloody big waves!

The downside to 24hr lying down yesterday is that my back is now ruined. Tried to get up this morning and was in awful pain. Struggled down to breakfast, still feeling queasy, managed to force down some toast before the smell of Dad’s kedgeree sent me running back to my room. Just made it back in time before throwing up.

Looks like today will be another day of bed-rest 🤢

By 2pm, and having managed to keep 2 little bread rolls down, I decided it was about time I tried to get up and start moving around, as the boat seemed to have stopped moving sharply. Made my way feebly up to the promenade deck. Felt temporarily better up there for a while, but then the sicky feelings started to come back. Made it back to my room without a disaster, but I think my 15:15 massage isn’t going to happen. I kinda need the world to stop moving just for a bit to let me reset myself.

Off the coast of Portugal

Right, enough is enough. Been to the medical centre and had an anti-nausea injection at a cost of £72, although that means I’m now on 24hr isolation as a precaution against Norovirus. Anyway, hopefully things will now improve 💉

Just heard from reception that tomorrow is bringing rough seas with 10m waves. Omg 🤣

3
Atlantic Ocean

Day 4 💨🌊 11°C

At sea - Prisoner, Cell Block F, continued

Today started a lot better than yesterday, even though I’m still on medical isolation in my cabin. Ordered breakfast from room service and managed to keep it down. All in all, not feeling bad, so I just need to wait for the medical centre to call me and release me from my cabin: hopefully it won’t be too long, I’m starting to go a little demented in here.

Room without a view: the lower deck has had the storm guards fitted to the windows to protect against the 10m storm waves, so I’m now basically in an inside cabin. Not the best time to be confined to it for 24 hrs!

Finally released at 10:30 to take my first tentative steps around the ship. Walking isn’t easy as the waves are still significant and my back is frankly buggered from constant lying down, but still - a vast improvement on the previous 48 hours. Made it back up to mum and dad’s suite on the 10th floor, and despite the ship’s continued rocking, I’m feeling quite good. I have a massage treatment booked for 14:15, so hopefully that’ll help my back.

This is more like what I had in mind 🤣. Massage treatment was good, although I wasn’t able to move directly after it, so I though she’s done me a mischief. But after a few minutes of excruciating pain, I’m on my feet again and my back actually feels better.

We’re currently racing towards Madeira slightly ahead of another storm, hoping to reach land before it hits, so with any luck we’ll be arriving before bedtime, which should result in a much smoother night’s sleep for all concerned. The captain has promised that the storm covers can come off the windows tomorrow, so that’ll make a big difference - it was starting to feel like solitary confinement down there!

First view of Funchal, Madeira

4
Funchal

Day 5 🌦 16°C

🇵🇹 Funchal, Madeira

Arrived into Madeira last night, so had a blissful motion-free sleep, ready to go exploring Funchal this morning. Funchal looks quite pretty, although we’ve been warned it’s mostly closed today (it’s Sunday).

Mum and Dad are booked onto a jeep tour this morning. I was supposed to be doing that too, but three days of bed rest have left me with such a bad back that a morning in a 4x4 may well finish me off entirely, so I’ve swapped my ticket for a more leisurely bus tour in the afternoon. So in the morning I took the shuttle bus into the town centre (only a 5 minute drive as it happened, I could’ve walked it). Most shops are closed, but some of the restaurants are open for business, so I slide neatly into the nearest that is serving pastels de nata 😋

Portuguese egg custards - utterly delicious. Managed to restrict myself to just one 🤣

After a walk around the town centre, I wander back to the ship to relax a little and have lunch before my tour leaves at 1pm.

Overlooking Funchal

The bus tour is due to take us up into the hills over Funchal for a view over the bay, then up to a spa resort where we would be served some local wine and have the opportunity to have our wallets lightened with all the usual tat and trinkets in the vast gift shop. The road trip up to said resort is not for the faint-hearted, with sheer drops of hundreds of feet on one side of the bus as we wind our way up the mountains.

Quite windy up here, but the view is impressive.

From here, we reboard the bus and travel back down the mountain to Funchal, stopping this time at a little fishing village where Winston Churchill once painted a picture, or something. Our local tour guide is hilarious (sounding like a cross between Noël Coward and Frank Pickle from Vicar of Dibley) , but is frankly working with some fairly dull historical information.

Last stop on the tour is the cliffs (apparently the second highest in the world) which stand over Funchal. The view from here is truly spectacular, although the glass-floored walkway requires a little nerve to cross.

Glass walkway over a 2000ft sheer drop

After that, we make our way back to the bus for the 17:30 sailaway. Next stop is Cape Verde in two day’s time, although our next chance for internet will be in Salvador, Brazil.

Ready for dinner

A flight of gin 🍸

5
Atlantic Ocean

Day 6 🌤 19°C

At sea

The next two days will be spent at sea as we travel the thousand miles or so from Madeira down to Cape Verde. Sea days can be as relaxing or as busy as you like - there’s a full programme of entertainment onboard, although given the demographic of the boat, there’s not much on offer that interests me. Still, that’s not a problem - I brought 3TB of movies with me, and now the sea has stopped treating us like a washing machine on a fast spin cycle, I can actually stomach watching them.

A major issue for the wide of girth on these boats is exercising self control with the food - there’s an embarrassment of riches on offer throughout most of the day, and its exceptionally easy to overindulge. As a (partial) remedy to this, we’ve decided to meet at regular intervals to walk a mile along the promenade deck - no mean feat at certain times of the day when everyone else has had the same idea. Just over 3 laps of the ship is equal to one mile, so fitbits at the ready and off we go.

This evening is a black tie event on board, and we have been invited to a drinks reception in the other penthouse cabin - turns out the residents of the Piano Suite were on the same world cruise as my parents a few years ago, so they invited us along with around 20 others for drinks and canapés before dinner. I must say, being dressed in a tuxedo in 20+°C heat is not comfortable, and as the temperature in Brazil is supposed to be up to around 30°C, it’s only gonna get worse 😥🤣

Drinks were lovely, and the couple hosting are really nice.

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Following the drinks reception, we had booked to have dinner in the Indian restaurant onboard. The food was phenomenal, so good even that I forgot to take any pictures, except of the dessert 🤣

😋 all in all, a very enjoyable evening.

6
Atlantic Ocean

Day 7 🌤 20°C

At sea

Last sea day before arriving at Cape Verde. The ship’s clocks were put back by one hour last night, although given that I woke up resolutely at 06:30, I didn’t benefit much from the extra hour in bed. Walked five laps of the boat and then went for breakfast in the Glasshouse restaurant.

The weather is warming up nicely, so the sunloungers are filling up with pasty flesh in search of a tan. I shan’t be joining them; we’ve still got a long way to go on this cruise, and I don’t want to spend most of it burned to a crisp. So a day of films and reading beckons.

This afternoon we are summoned to an information session for those of us who are doing the overland tour to the Iguazú Falls (seems there will be 40 of us going). The itinerary looks great; 5 days off the ship, leaving Brazil for Angentina and then rejoining the boat in Uruguay.

As the sun goes down, I’m curled up in a corner of the suite reading Jane Eyre (made pitiful progress with it the last time I picked it up in December!)

Harry Potter at sea

An early night beckons, as we’ve a prompt 7:30am appointment for breakfast in the morning before heading out on our excursion.

7
Mindelo

Day 8 🌤 22°C

🇨🇻 Mindelo, Cape Verde

Woke up early to do my laps around the boat, just in time to watch our arrival into Cape Verde. As the boat travels towards the island of São Vicente, passing the neighbouring island of Santo Antão, we get our first look at the craggy, volcanic landscape.

São Vicente, our destination for today

Santo Antão in the distance

Our excursion today is an island panorama tour, one of the few things on offer here as the island is very small and seemingly quite underdeveloped for tourism. Our guide, James, welcomes us on board the minibus in a thick Boston accent - turns out his family are from Cabo Verde, but he was born and raised in Massachusetts. Still, his knowledge and commentary on the island are exemplary. Our first stop is a local African market, which is barely open and trades mainly in handicrafts shipped over from Senegal.

Unbeknownst to us, our second destination is the pinnacle of the highest mountain on the island - certainly as the minibus climbs higher and higher up the single-track cobbled road, we have an incredible (if alarming) view of the rugged terrain. From the top, we can see far past the town of Mindelo to the neighbouring island beyond. I probably should have read the itinerary more closely - it is quite chilly at that altitude, and I‘m poorly attired for the temperature drop.

After a brief photo-stop, we descend the mountain to make our way around to the east of the island, where sand from the Saharra has settled on the black volcanic rock to form extensive dunes.

This is the final stop on the two-hour trip, after which we drive westwards on the circular road that loops the northern half of the island. Apparently 60% of the island’s income comes from tourism, and our ship is one of 35 that will visit during the holiday season. That said, it seems that Mindelo itself isn’t quite ready for the hordes of tourists that these ships regurgitate onto its shores - there is little sign of any of the more traditional trappings of tourist ports, where normally vendors stretch as far as the eye can see selling souvenirs, t-shirts and trinkets. The result is a boat-load of people with Euros burning holes in their pockets, but with effectively nowhere to spend them. Presumably in a few years time some enterprising locals will have plugged this gaping hole in the market.

Sail away is at 5pm, and as we pull out of Mindelo harbour we settle in for the 2000 mile, four-day journey across the Atlantic to Salvador, Brazil.

Cheers 🥂

8
Atlantic Ocean

Day 9 🌤 24°C

At sea

Laundry day today - what excitement 🤣

There seems to be a secret launderette on my floor that isn’t marked on the deck plans, so only those near it know about it. Very handy, as cruise folklore is ripe with tales of vicious fights breaking out in laundrettes on ships, particularly when people leave their finished laundry in machines for ages, but then object to others removing it. Elderly people are not famed for their patience, and given the average age of passengers on this boat is certainly north of 70, I’m expecting a few fireworks. Especially when the washing powder runs out.

Today’s highlight has been watching the scores of flying fish leaping out of the way of the boat. The distance they can cover is quite surprising - up to about 100m, looking for all the world like a flock of birds before they crash headlong into a wave and disappear.

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Tonight we are eschewing the restaurant in favour of having dinner in the suite. Same food, just without the prospect of having to make small talk with someone objectionable.

9
Atlantic Ocean

Day 10 🌤 28°C

At sea

Started the day off with our customary 5 laps around the boat. The temperature is already soaring, so getting some exercise in early is probably a good move. The food is constant onboard, which - when you have a food addiction problem like me - is fairly lethal, so any opportunity for exercise should probably be taken to mitigate the damage. I ventured to the gym yesterday (only for a browse 🙄), and every piece of equipment was in use. It’s probably the smallest gym I’ve seen on a cruise ship of this size, so I’m not sure when it would be possible to go and find it not busy - especially as it’s only open from 8am-8pm.

I’m spending the morning wandering around the ship and chatting with Dassaev, the cashier in the onboard shop. Sadly he won’t be around for long - he tendered his resignation yesterday and will be getting off the boat in Montevideo. Kind of a shame, he’s the first friend I’ve made onboard so far.

Dinner is booked for the Sindhu restaurant tonight, with Jan and Terry - the couple who invited us to the party last week. But before that I’m treating myself to a massage. Then I’m on hairdressing duties at 5:30pm - turns out I’m not just a source of company and entertainment, I’m also now my mother’s live-in hairdresser 💇🏼‍♀️

Dinner is amazing, as ever, but I’ve yet again overindulged. Soon my clothes won’t fit if I don’t get a handle on things. The prospect of a nude Caribbean awaits unless I stop filling my face, as I have no larger clothes as a safety net 🐷🐷

10
Atlantic Ocean

Day 11 🌤 27°C

At sea

Today, our passage is flanked by flocks of Masked Boobies and Frigate Birds, sailing along in the ships’s wake diving for fish. The flying fish of yesterday are unsurprisingly now absent 🤣

Masked Booby

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Frigate Bird

Diving for fish

Onboard, each evening has a dress code for dinner, which usually alternates between smart/casual and formal/black tie. Tonight is a casual night, but with the added option of 60s/70s fancy dress. We found out about this just before leaving, and decided to show willing by grabbing some fancy dress gear from Amazon. I’m confidently expecting it to be only a minority of people who bother dressing up, especially as there are some faces walking round this boat that don’t look as if they’ve cracked a smile in decades. Anyway, there’s a special tasting menu taking place in the Sindhu restaurant, so for the second time in 24 hours, we’re off to the curry house again.

Dad thinks he looks like Samuel L. Jackson In 51st State. I reckon he looks more like an 80s scouser.

As expected, we are the only ones in the restaurant who have bothered to dress up, and although the staff appreciate it and make a fuss of us, a remarkable number of people just look at us don’t bat an eyelid 🤣 Problem is, although mum’s wig does make her look like she’s from the 1960s, it doesn’t particularly single her out amongst some of the actual hairdos walking round this boat... our waiter just thinks she’s put her hair up for the evening 😳

Less hippie, more hippo

11
Atlantic Ocean

Day 12 🌤 28°C

At sea

Today is our last full day at sea before arrival in Brazil, and I must say I’m ready for a change to the daily routine. As relaxing as it is onboard, the days start to melt into one in sea crossings of more than 3 days.

The seabirds from yesterday seem to have vanished, but they’ve left their calling cards all over the boat 💩 so some poor beggar is going to be hosing the ship down when we get to Salvador. The birds’ disappearance means that the flying fish are now back in force.

I really must start reading the daily programme more carefully. I’d pretty much dismissed it out of hand as being just an itinerary of card games, shuffleboard and knitting meetings, but today there was a talk from TV presenter Nigel Marven about South American hummingbirds, which I all but missed - managed to just catch the last 10 minutes of it. Dammit. Hopefully they’ll run it again.

Tonight we’re dining in the beach house restaurant (which is actually just a section of the buffet restaurant that they tart up for the evening and make you pay extra for). Even though this boat is all-inclusive as far as food goes, they’re still keen to give you the hard sell by offering ‘select’ dining in places like this and the Sindhu restaurant that we’ve been eating in recently. Some people object to this, and I guess I can see why - the cruise itself is so expensive, it seems a bit cheeky to expect people to pay even more when there’s already so much food available. Still, the menu in the main restaurant is starting to get a little repetitive to my fussy tastes, so I’m happy to give it a go.

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Damn, the food is good, but that burger defeated me - it’s the size of a child’s head!

Arriving in Salvador, Brazil tomorrow for our first taste of South America 😊

12
Salvador

Day 13 ☀️ 30°C

🇧🇷 Salvador, Brazil

I have internet again! Praise be! 🤣

And so we have arrived properly in South America! We pulled into Salvador around 7am this morning, and we’re now liberally slathered in sun cream and ready to be mugged 🙌🏼 I probably shouldn’t joke, as we’ve not left the boat yet, but the excursion staff have really been hammering home how dangerous this place is for tourists. I’m sure it can’t be as bad as they’re making out, or why the hell bring us here?.I mean, you’re likely to get robbed in Trafalgar Square if you’re walking around dripping in jewellery and flashing cash around. I’m sure simple standard precautions will suffice.

Salvador’s port area

As expected, this place seems perfectly fine, despite the dire warnings. The city of Salvador is split into two halves - the newer area is at sea level, whereas the old town is mounted on a cliff overlooking the port. Local residents travel between the two areas using either the funicular rail carriages, or using the large elevator constructed against the hillside. Unfortunately, both options have been deemed too unsafe for us delicate tourists, so instead we’re being ferried up the hill in a series of coaches. The air con is welcome, but I can’t help feeling cheated of an experience.

The old town has a high concentration of churches dating back to the 18th Century, and many of the buildings are painted with pastel colours, which are being shown off to their best in the bright sunlight today. The area is bustling, with small groups performing capoeira to the sounds of drums and whistles, giving the place a distinctly carnival vibe.

Vendors with carts loaded with coconuts and tropical fruits line the streets, providing welcome refreshment in the midday heat.

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Looking out across the shoreline, Salvador seems to be a crazy mixture of old and new, with derelict buildings left anchored in place next to new construction. The effect is quite dizzying.

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Looking up at the old town, from the port

As our first taste of Brazil, Salvador has been great. Warm weather, warm people, and lots to see. Looking forward to the beaches of Armação dos Buzios next.

13
South Atlantic Ocean

Day 14 ⛅️ 24°C

At sea

We are spending the whole day at sea today as we track the Brazilian coastline down from Salvador to Armação dos Búzios. We’re about 30 miles off the coast, so too far away for a mobile connection, dammit, so will have to make my own entertainment again today.

Some friends won a £50 discount voucher for the onboard spa, but they don’t like having treatments, so have given it to me 😊

I’ve booked a bamboo massage for this afternoon. Can’t say as I’ve ever had one before - images are springing to mind of being lightly prodded with chopsticks. Should pass the time at least. My masseuse today is Yanique, the same therapist who has done my previous two massages on the boat. I must say, for a lady of her diminutive stature, she gives one of the strongest massages I’ve ever had. Last time she nearly had me in tears! Proof if ever it were needed that size is not necessarily an indicator of strength.

Turns out it’s not a chopstick-based beating at all, but rather a scenario involving lengths of hot bamboo rod being slowly pressed against oiled skin along the length of the muscle. As hard a pressure as with a deep tissue massage, but the feeling is quite different, and despite the intensity it’s quite relaxing. But as they say, the proof of the massage is how well you’re walking the next day, so let’s see what tomorrow brings. I’ll have spent a small fortune in the spa by the time I get off this ship, but I do enjoy it 💸

Post-massage, I’m sitting on the cabin’s balcony sipping chilled Sauvignon blanc, listening to the roar from the bow of the ship as we cut through the water, as a lazy warm breeze wafts by (haters to the left, please).

Staring out into the distance, I’ve come to the sobering realisation that if I were to get in a boat and sail straight for that horizon, the next land I’d meet would be South Africa, some 3,000 miles away. Sometimes the world seems quite small, especially as we tend to fly over most of it in a matter of hours. Travelling like this is good for readjusting that perspective.

This evening, by virtue of my parents having one of the two penthouse suites on the boat, we are all invited to a dinner with the hotel manager (the man in charge of 600 of the 850 staff on board), along with the couple from the other penthouse. Formal nights are uncomfortable for me owing to my shape - when you’re this fat you don’t wear a suit, it wears you - but nevertheless, tonight we must be suited and booted. On arrival at the dinner, it seems we’re to be joined by the captain of the ship too. Our very own private captain’s dinner 😬

The food is amazing, although I do feel for the poor staff who are having to wait on two of the top ranking guys on the ship... one small slip-up and they’ll sure as hell know about it tomorrow. It must have been very stressful for them!

14
Armação dos Búzios

Day 15 ☀️ 29°C

🇧🇷 Armação dos Búzios, Brazil

Today is a new port for us, and also for the captain, as we discovered in conversation last night. This is the first time he’s brought the boat here. Armação dos Búzios is a small beachy peninsula on the approach to Rio. It’s not a port, exactly, and there’s certainly nowhere big enough for us to dock, so the ship basically anchors out in the bay and we’re then shuttled ashore in the lifeboats. So today should involve a little more drama than usual 🤣

We’re booked onto a morning tour today, involving a trip around the bay in a schooner followed by a swimming opportunity. Unfortunately my recent overindulgence on the food means that my swimming shorts are now packed to full capacity, with absolutely no room for an encore, so god help me by the Caribbean. Here’s hoping the water is warm!

It isn’t.

That said, by the third time we ge in the water, it feels quite warm. However, I’m not sure how much the alcohol helps with that 🤣

This place is stunningly beautiful

The pace of life looks very leisurely here. Although, someone mentioned that Brazil is on national holiday at the moment, so maybe I’m getting the wrong impression.

After the schooner cruise, we find a little bar in town for lunch and pray they’ll have a bathroom in which we can change out of our wet clothes. It does have a toilet, but it’s the smallest space imaginable, so changing anything at all is challenging!

After lunch we head back to the boat to clean up and cool down. We’ll be leaving at 5pm tonight to make the short trip to Rio de Janeiro

15
Rio de Janeiro

Day 16 ☀️ 37°C

🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

So today is the biggie - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s largest city, home to the golden sands of Copacabana and Ipanema, and the imposing natural geography of Sugarloaf Mountain and the Corcovado, upon which sits the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer. There has certainly been a buzz around the ship in anticipation of our arrival, not least of all from the staff, many of whom are looking forward to the opportunity to get off the boat during our two-day stay here. The ship is due to sail into Guanabara Bay at 5:30am, and we were advised that, for those who could stomach such an early rising, we would be rewarded with an impressive view.

We have an evening water tour booked, leaving the day free, so we decide to take the shuttle bus across Rio to the beach. So, liberally covered in sun-cream (I caught the sun yesterday) and with The Girl From Ipanema playing fixedly in my head, I’m heading out to fry in the 35°C heat (edit: the temperature gauge is now showing 37 and rising!).

As we exit the ship a kind of wild chaos greets us. There are several cruise ships docked along side us, so it’s quite a challenge to work out where we need to go to catch the bus. But as soon as we’re boarded and out of the bus terminal, a fresh kind of chaos is there to greet us - Rio’s traffic 🤣

Threading the coach through some tiny side streets, we make our way onto a much more freely moving highway, just as the shoreline opens up before us and grants us a stunning view across the bay towards Sugarloaf Mountain

Apologies, photos taken through bus windows are rarely worthy of much!

The name Copacabana is famous worldwide, primarily I suspect because of the song, although in that case it refers to a nightclub in New York rather than the district of Rio. Copacabana Beach is 2½ miles of sprawling white sands, where people of all shapes and sizes strip off and cook under the midday sun

Copacabana Beach

It is definitely worthy of \240its reputation as one of the worlds most famous beaches. It’s quite stunning, and although quite crowded in places, it’s a very relaxing place. Today there was a merciful cool breeze drifting in from the ocean, as the heat from the sun was ferocious to my pasty British skin - although clearly not a problem for the majority of the deeply tanned bodies on display. Swimming costumes here seem to consist of two strips of Elastoplast held on with dental floss for the women and budgie-smugglers for the men - and that’s for people of all sizes - so my own selfconscousness at my massive girth is perpaps unbecoming here.

Feeling my Baywatch fantasy

After an hour or so I’ve had all the sun I can stand at this time of day, so it’s back to the ship for lunch and a change of clothes!

Back on board, I’m having my lunch on the top deck. They have a habit of playing a piano arrangement of My Heart Will Go On in the restaurant. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t think of a more inappropriate soundtrack to be listening to on a bloody great ship 🤣

The docks are located on the south west corner of Guanabara Bay. From here, we have a decent view across Santa Teresa towards Corcovado.

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To the other side of the ship, the huge Rio-Niterói Bridge spans the bay:

This evening’s entertainment comes in the form of a sunset schooner cruise around Guanabara Bay. Three full bus-loads are directed towards a single boat, so the atmosphere is certainly friendly. The caipirinhas are flowing, as is the beer, as we wind our way around the bay as the sun drops behind Corcovado to a bossa nova beat. .

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16
Christ the Redeemer

Day 17 🌤 38°C

🇧🇷 Rio de Janeiro to Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

Today, we’re leaving the ship for 5 days in order to visit the Iguazú Falls on the boarder with Argentina and Paraguay, then to Buenos Aires, before rejoining the ship in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Started well - we board the coach with all our luggage for the 5 day trip, only to be driven just 600m before being told to disembark to go through the terminal building. Rather an overkill. Except the driver has brought us to the wrong building - the one we want is the one right next to the ship, so that was an exercise in futility. Apparently as we’re leaving Brazil we need to clear customs, and that’s in a different building 🤣

The tour starts with some sightseeing in Rio, before heading to the airport this afternoon for our flight to Foz do Iguaçu.

The principal stop for the morning is Cristo Redentor, the huge statue of Christ which overlooks the city from the top of Corcadavo Hill. To get to the top, you can drive, walk, or take the cog-wheel train which will drag you all the way up the 2,300ft lump of rock. The train comprises two carriages, which depart every 20 minutes. Word to the wise, if you’d like a view on the way up, sit on the right-hand side of the train, where the seats face backwards. Otherwise you’ll just see the side of the hill, like I did 😒

The view from the top is quite extraordinary.

From here, you can see right at cross the city.

There’s absolutely no breeze up here, surprisingly. Even though there are some clouds in the sky, it feels even hotter than yesterday. Maybe it’s just more humid.

Heading down the mountain again on the train, we’ve ended up with a bunch of very rowdy Brazilians. I’ve never known adults make so much noise without music, football or terror being involved. The track consists of a single cog rail, with two passing places to let the trains - which run up and down simultaneously - go past each other. It seems they don’t often get to the passing place at the same time, resulting in a short wait, which has allowed a little cottage industry to sprout up - through the jungle appears a man with an icebox selling much-needed bottled water for R$3 🤣

At the bottom we assemble for the coach ride to the restaurant, lingering just long enough under a shady tree for a pigeon to crap all down my left shoulder. An omen of good fortune, one must assume. Thankfully one of the other passengers has wet wipes.

Lunch is in a traditional Brazilian steak house. Just like Tropiero back home, except a bit nicer.

🤤

The restaurant sits right on the coast in the Botafogo area, overlooking Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Uncomfortably stuffed, we board the coach for the half-hour trip to the airport for our late afternoon flight.

We’ve arrived at the airport with plenty of time to kill, so it’s straight to the food court to rehydrate and rid ourselves of my remaining réals (not sure why, as the next place is still in Brazil). There are 40 of us on the tour, so I think we’re going to take up half the plane 🤣

As we descend into Foz do Iguaçu, we can see the Iguazú river snaking beneath us, which marks the border between Brazil and Argentina. Our flight path takes us briefly over the Paraguayan boarder (Foz do Iguaçu lies at the intersection of all three countries), and before long we’re landing at the tiny airport

The weather seems cooler here, although still very humid.

We’re met in arrivals by our tour director Juan Pablo, and our local guides Luís and Rodrigo, and whisked off to the Belmont Cataratas del Iguazú in the Iguazú National Park, our home for the next two nights.

After another buffet dinner (Jesus, I’m gonna need a crane to get me off the boat in March), it’s time for a quick bath and then bed. We have a very early start in the morning.

17
Iguazu Falls

Day 18 ⛅️ 29°C

🇧🇷 Iguazú Falls 🇦🇷

This morning promises an early start, although I seem to have woken up at 4:30am, which is somewhat beyond the pale. Breakfast is at 06:30 today, so that we can be away by 07:30. The reasoning for this is so that we can be amongst the first to be let into the National Park, which would mean a far less crowded photo stop on the Argentinian side of the falls.

This is the view from the front of the hotel.

A Toco Toucan on the tree outside the hotel (iPhone photo through binoculars, so apologies for the quality 🤣)

All gathered at 07:30, we board the bus and head off to Argentina.

The river marks the border between Brazil to the north, Argentina to the south and Paraguay to the west - the bridge is pained in the colours of the Brazilian flag 🇧🇷, changing to the colours of the Argentinian flag 🇦🇷 as we cross over the middle point.

On the other side of the bridge, we have to pass through passport control. Despite our early start, there’s already a long queue and quite a wait for our bus to be processed. Once through, we make the 20 minute drive to the entrance to the National Park.

The threatened rain seems quite absent today, and despite the noticeably cooler temperature, it seems absurdly humid. A quick check of the weather gauge reveals why:

Humidity is at 99% 😓

Once in the park, we make our way on foot to the train station, for the 12 minute ride which will bring us to the ominously titled Devil’s Throat, where a man-made walking platform extends 1km out across the river to the mouth of the cascade:

The recent rains have swollen the river, and we’re promised that the increase in water volume will make the falls all the more spectacular.

Along the walkway, nature is abundant: our procession is flanked by multicoloured butterflies and birds of all varieties. We’ve been told to look out for caymans and turtles in the water too.

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We can hear the start of the falls before we see it; the roar of the water is growing and a steady cloud of mist is rising on the horizon. We’re advised to break out the waterproofs if we don’t want to get wet, and to be careful with our camera equipment. Seeing the drowned souls walking back along the walkway makes me thankful my iPhone is waterproof 🤣

We got soaked ☔️

From the Devil’s Throat, we head back towards the upper station to take the train to the upper trail. Back at the station, we find some new friends:

Our guides had warned us about these creatures, as despite their cute appearance they are quite fearless and have a nasty bite. Called Coati, these relatives of the raccoon have a reputation for stealing food from tourists - a reputation that is justly deserved from our observations of them today. We also find several of these Plush-Crested Jays flitting around the station:

Our tour guide says these are known locally as ‘sugar addicts”, for their habit of stealing packets of sugar from the outside tables of cafés. Birds after my own heart 🍭

Our next stop is the upper trail, a 2km hike across mainly elevated walkways which will bring us out at the side of the main cascade. By now, we’re all soaked to the skin and quite thirsty, but we have the promise of lunch waiting for us at the other end of the track.

As soon as we start the walking trail, we come across a cayman basking in the sun.

The trail leads us through the sweltering heat to the front of the falls. I’m beginning to feel like I’ll never be dry again, but the hike is worth it once we see the view

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The walk back to the meeting place felt like a lot longer than the promised kilometre, but an added treat was a close encounter with some monkeys:

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By this time I’m exhausted and drenched, both with river spray and my own perspiration:

Finally made it to lunch, where the water is infinitely more welcome than the food. Another buffet, for the love of god...

Leaving the Argentinian side of the park behind, we make our way back round to Brazil for our afternoon activities - a choice of a helicopter ride over the Falls, or a boat ride up the river to see the Falls from the bottom. Or both, if you’re feeling extravagant. I plump for the boat ride, having been warned that it’s likely that we’ll get wet (we’re pretty soaked anyway), but that we’d be heading straight back to the hotel afterwards.

It start well, with a ride through the jungle towards the boat landings

Once at the river, we are given a locker for valuables and told that we will definitely be getting wet, so maybe take shoes off. Still we are not deterred...

The boat dances over the rapids, throwing us around, before arriving at the basin of the main falls:

Then, ladies and gentlemen, we descend into farce, as the boat driver accelerates toward the cascade and parks under it. Under the bloody waterfall.

To say that we got wet was a dire understatement. My cagoul proves utterly useless against the deluge - instead of protecting me from the watery onslaught, it merely acts as a funnel, channeling the water down my back and directly into my waiting bum-crack.

We’d scarcely have been wetter had we dived in and swam back. My hood also acts as a handy receptacle, as do my sleeves, all of which give me a fresh shower upon disembarkation.

I can confirm that the iPhone is indeed water resistant 🙌🏼

All in all, a supremely wet - although quite envigourating - day. Tomorrow we will have an early morning tour of the Brazilian side of the falls before leaving for the airport for our afternoon flight to Buenos Aires.

18
Puerto IguazΓΊ

Day 19 ☁️ 24°C

🇧🇷 Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina 🇦🇷

Today we’re leaving Brazil to make our way down to the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. But before we check out of the hotel, we have one final sightseeing tour to do. Yesterday we were on the Argentinian side of the Iguazú Falls, however, this morning were going to walk the trail on the Brazilian side - and, as 80% of the falls are in Argentina, the Brazilian side actually offers the better view. The weather feels much cooler today, and although still extremely humid, it should make for a more comfortable walk than yesterday.

The power of the water is phenomenal, as we experienced first hand yesterday in that bloody boat!

The roar of the falling water is quite something

Following this brief tour, it’s back to the hotel to pack up the remainder of our soggy things and head to the airport. We’re flying from a different airport this time, the one just over the border in Puerto Iguazú, so this will be an internal flight down to Buenos Aires.

We arrive at the airport, which somewhat disconcertingly looks like a rundown hospital...

In all my days I don’t think I’ve seen an airport that looks worse from the outside 🤣

But inside it’s not bad - it’s definitely ‘bijou’, but there’s a nice café at least ☕️

The flight is somewhat choppy 90 mins in the air, during which the cabin stewardesses only manage to dash down the plane serving drinks during the last 20 mins. I’m seated away from the rest of our group, but I still have company to talk to in the form of an agreeable German couple, who were also part of a land tour from cruise ship. The guy had been to China on a business trip too, so we have plenty to talk about.

On arrival at the domestic airport, we’re met by our new tour guide Vanessa, and swiftly whisked off to our hotel for the evening, The Alvear Palace.

It’s no misnomer - dear lord, this place looks plush.

The lobby

As per usual when travelling with my parents, I seem to have won the draw for the rooms, as mine is significantly bigger than theirs 🤣

They are not amused... though frankly it’s quite ridiculous for one person:

Why would I need this? I’m here for one night 🤣

No wonder this land tour was so damn expensive 💸💸💸

I have gold taps, a shower for six, and Hermès bath crap, for goodness sake 🤣

We’re now left to our own devices for a couple of hours, before being taken at 20:15 to a dinner and tango show at the Café de los Angelinos. Hopefully enough time for a nap and a bath.

As the evening arrives, we head off to the café. Along the way, our guide explains that a café in Argentina is more than just a place for drinking coffee - it’s a meeting place of politics, art and music. In the case of Café de los Angelinos, the shop front is indeed a café...

...but as we are led into the back, a whole theatre appears before our eyes.

This really is dinner and a show. The food was amazing (again, was too quick to start scoffing to bother with any pictures!), and once all the plates had been cleared, the tango show begins:

The dancing is impressive, but to my mind not more so than the amazing musicians, who are each true virtuosos on their respective instruments:

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This is truly a show worth seeing, especially in this setting. I’ve no idea what the singers are saying (because no hablo Spanish), but it’s sending chills down my spine nonetheless.

Yet again stuffed to the gills, this time with music and dance as well as food, we make our weary way back to the hotel for a (hopefully) good nights rest. Tomorrow brings more sightseeing in Buenos Aires, then a flight across the estuary to Montevideo.

19
Buenos Aires

Day 20 🌦 28°C

🇦🇷 Buenos Aires, Argentina to Montevideo, Uruguay 🇺🇾

These early starts have got to me. Despite the fact we don’t have to leave until 10:30 today, I’ve been wide awake since 5am 😞

On the itinerary for today is a 3 hour tour of the city, with lunch at an Argentinian steak house, before being taken to the airport for the short flight over to Uruguay.

We start at the Metropolitan Cathedral, located in the Plaza de Mayo.

The neoclassical exterior belies it’s neo-renaissance and neo-baroque interior.

The cathedral is located in a square which celebrates the Argentinian revolution, across the road from the Casa Rosada, the office of the President. Across the street, there are still ongoing protests from veterans of the Falkland’s War over pensions.

We leave the Plaza de Mayo and make our way towards the La Boca area...

... passing graffitied walls...

... and a Russian orthodox church on the way.

When we arrive in Caminito, an explosion of colour meets our eyes. The buildings here in this artsy district are painted in vibrant shades of yellows, blues and reds:

I finally manage to browse some souvenir shops and buy some enamel pins to add to my collection (for those who don’t know, I’m an avid pin collector, with over 500 collected from different destinations around the globe). It’s strange how much of a regional thing they are - in Brazil, I couldn’t find any for love nor money, but in Argentina they seem to be much more of a thing.

Plenty to explore down little alleyways.

Proof that you don’t get anything in life for free - 5 seconds after this picture was taken, she was asking for $10 and complaining that she’d laddered her fishnets on my dad’s belt 🤣 Thankfully, her partner in crime was trying much the same thing with someone else, so we were able to slip away during the kerfuffle.

Lunch is hilarious. I honestly think they’re trying to put us in food-induced comas by the end of this trip. We are presented with a menu - which after days of all-you-can-stand buffet meals seemed to come as a welcome relief. A selection of starters would be brought to the table, and we are then to choose one main dish and a dessert. I dutifully select a steak (I’m going to look like a bull soon) and a flan for afters. What we had misunderstood was that the selection of appetisers would be brought individually to the table, and we would each get one of everything. So that’s one sizeable empanada, one slice of mozzarella with tomato, one portion of grilled cheese, one large chorizo and one blood sausage. So basically 5 courses. And we weren’t even at the main course yet 🐷🐷

After dinner, we roll back onto the bus to make the short drive to the Cementerio de la Recoleta, where stands the mausoleum of Eva Perón, the famed First Lady of Argentina.

Her family name was Duarte, which coincidentally is my ex’s surname - must ask him if there’s a family connection! The doors to the crypt are still regularly adorned with flowers, and a steady stream of visitors file past every day.

The weather has turned a little for the worse while we were in the restaurant, and although it’s still warm it’s now raining. So yet again, I’m getting wet. That’s certainly been the theme of this mini-trip!

The trip to the cemetery brings our time in Buenos Airesto a close, and so we reboard the bus and head back to the airport. Unfortunately, the next hour needs striking from memory, as the airport was utter chaos. It takes us ages to check in, and then when we get up to passport control, a huge Disney-style line snakes its way across a vast room. At this point it is17:05, and the flight was due to take off at 18:00. What follows ate many tense minutes of inching forward in the queue whilst wondering if we’ll get through in time to make our flight - with the added problem of the group now being liberally spread out throughout the queue because of the delays in checking in. Finally, we make it through passport control at 17:50, only to discover that our flight is delayed by an estimated 25 minutes and everyone is just sat waiting at the gate. Never have we been so glad of a flight delay!

As it turns out, we take off nearly an hour behind schedule. But our flight time is comically short - literally 30 mins from start to finish. No time for drinks or anything. Probably the shortest flight of my life.

Unfortunately we are further delayed on arrival at the airport in Montevideo because one of the party has had their case lost in transit, so the poor fellow is going to be wearing the same clothes for the foreseeable. Hopefully they’ll locate it soon, as we’re setting sail for the Falkland’s tomorrow, so I’ve no idea how they’d get it to him.

So, two hours behind schedule, we finally make it to the Hayatt Cittic Hotel. Another comically large room awaits my arrival, and I shall get to enjoy this one just as little as the last, as we will be checking out at 09:30 to begin our tour of Montevideo.

I expect little in the way of pity, but I’m honestly knackered 😴

20
Montevideo

Day 21 ☀️ 30°C

🇺🇾 Montevideo, Uruguay

Wide awake at 06:00 again. This is becoming a habit.

Today is the last day of our land tour, as tonight we’ll rejoin Aurora and sail south towards the Falkland Islands. Our itinerary today includes a coach tour of Montevideo, followed by a lunch and wine tasting session at one of Uruguay’s most famous wineries, Varela Zarranz (http://www.varelazarranz.com).

This is what 6am me looks like 💀

Our tour starts off with a short drive along the coast, before turning inland to visit Parque Batlle, where Monumento La Carreta stands:

This is a national monument, constructed in 1934 by José Belloni, which depicts early settlers in Uruguay, with their belongings being pulled along by a fleet of oxen. They’ve clearly had a problem with people climbing on it, as it’s now surrounded by a laser alarm system, backed up by two security guards 😳

From here, we head south back to the coastal road, passing stretches of sandy beach, towards the Carrasco area.

Plaza Virgilio

Believe it or not, that’s not the ocean stretching out for hundred of miles in front of the city, but rather the Plata River. The river doesn’t meet the ocean for another 100 miles 😱

The next order of business is the winery located about 30km to the north of Montevideo, where we’re booked in for a guided tour and then lunch/wine tasing in the gardens. The grounds are beautiful, with grape vines as far as the eye can see, and trees full of chattering green parakeets overhead. this setting reminds me so much of the wineries in Perth, Australia that we visited with my aunt many years ago:

We’re given a potted history of the company and led around the facilities, which was actually quite interesting.

Harvest will be in March

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At the back of the cellar, they have around 40 giant barrels for aging the wine. And when I say giant, I mean giant:

Each one holds nearly 17,000 litres of wine! They’re really old too, as we were told that the original founder of the vineyard transported these barrels over to Uruguay from France in the 19th century.

Lunch is, yet again, brilliant - although we thought we were off to a false start when we were given a platter of roast beef and potatoes to share between 6 when others had the same platter between 2. Our fears are quickly allayed though, as after requesting and rapidly clearing another platter between the 6 of us, they just keep bringing more platters. I think in the end we ended up with one platter each, and given that each tray contained around 10 thick slices of beef, and sliced potatoes and sweet potatoes, this was a gargantuan lunch by anyone’s standards. And alll washed down with several litres of wine. By the end, even I had to admit defeat.

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Over-wined and distinctly over-fed, we waddled back into the bus for our 16:00 appointment with Aurora. I suspect a nap will happen whether I want it to or not 🤣

As we drive back to Montevideo, I’m reminded yet again of how this style of travelling gives you but a tiny taste of what a place has to offer, and of how much I need to come back and spend some proper time in some of these places. Rio and Buenos Aires in particular are amazingly fascinating cities, and to only spend 24 hours in either one is to do them a great disservice.

Arriving back to the ship brings to an end this mini-holiday-within-a-holiday, and despite the added expense that doing a land tour involves, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Our next stop will be the Falklands, where I won’t have any roaming data, so my next opportunity to update this will probably be once we arrive into Punta Arenas, Chile, in one week‘s time.

Aurora, moored up in the distance across the bay.

21
South Atlantic Ocean

Day 22 ☀️ 15°C

At sea

Today, we continue sailing south towards the Falkland Islands, having travelled a distance of 285 nautical miles (328 statutory miles) by midday since leaving port last night. Following our Iguazú trip, our first order of business will be to fight our way to the front of the laundry queue, as every single item of clothing that I took with me is still damp and stinking to high heaven.

Next order of business, as a direct consequence of the preceding 5 days of gourging ourselves on food and wine, will be for Mum to try to unpick the seams of my formal shirts and attempt to insert some elastic down the sides, as there is zero chance of me being able to sit down while wearing them, and it’s formal night tomorrow. Thin people, I’m sure, don’t appreciate the effort that goes into wearing fitted clothes when you’re a person of increased size, nor understand the mechanics of what goes where when you change posture. For instance, a garment that might fit me OK when I’m standing up will complain vociferously when I sit down, as my stomach is compressed upwards by my legs, thus drastically increasing my circumference. Imagine what happens when you sit on a space hopper and you’ll get the idea. This is why I generally wear elasticated or loose clothing, and why I complain so vocally about formal wear - it’s not that I don’t want to look smart, it’s just I don’t want to be in physical pain for most of the evening. I’m not looking for sympathy, you understand - I’m well aware of the self-inflicted nature of my problem - but I don’t like people thinking I’m just a slob.

Oh, did I mention the rough seas are back?

This is on deck 7. My room is on deck 5. the poor staff sleep on deck 3. So my ocean-view cabin is now exactly that:

Mercifully, this time the tablets are working, and despite the ship’s dramatic pitching, I’m not feeling sick. The temperature has dropped by a considerable 15°C since yesterday; presumably these are Antarctic winds that are currently blasting the ship. Lunch on the lido desk is a brisk affair, as the howling winds ensure that more of my food than usual ends up slopped down my front.

There’s an offer on in the spa, so I’ve booked another 5 massages 💸💸💸

I should be like jelly by the time I get off this boat. To be fair though, the spa is one of the only things that I enjoy during the many sea days. As I’ve said before, there’s a full programme of entertainment throughout the day, but little of it holds much appeal for me.

We’re dining in the Beach House restaurant again tonight, which is actually the area shown in the photo above, where I had lunch. Hopefully the winds will have abated by then, as it’s a bugger trying to keep your nachos from flying away in a force 8 gale.

By 8pm the winds have dropped a little, but it’s a triffle too nesh outside to be dining alfresco, so we’re eating indoors. The food is just as good as last time, although I did throw a mini-strop when the waiter refused to serve me any of the desserts - as they couldn’t guarantee they didn’t contain nuts - and offered me fruit instead. Fruit. Instead of cheesecake?! The very verve of the man! He’s on my list 😡

22
South Atlantic Ocean

Day 23 ☀️ 14°C

At sea 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Burns’ Night 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

The seas are calm again 🙌🏼

I suspect this will be a brief entry, as there’s nothing much exciting planned for today. Although this evening may possibly offer some interest - it’s Burns’ Night tonight, so those of a Gaelic persuasion will be decked out in their finest tartan, I’m sure. I’m reliably informed that someone will be ’addressing a haggis’. Not sure what that involves, but addressing one is surely preferable to eating one.

I have another massage booked today for 15:30. Hopefully Yanique can sort out my back. I’m walking around like an old man - though to be fair that puts me in good company on here.

This lady has magic hands. I feel fine now.

And so the time of reckoning has arrived. The first formal dinner since our 5-day eating extravaganza ashore, and with it, a requirement to force my vast bulk into my suit. The damn thing was like Lycra before, so now it’s going to be like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube. Wish me luck.

Suited and booted. Scrubbed up nicely 🎩

So, ’adressing the haggis’ seems to mean that a Scottishman wearing a kilt (actually it‘s Gordon, the hotel manager, who we had dinner with last week) carries a haggis on a tray around the dining room, accompanied by a lady holding two whisky bottles like crossed swords...

... which is then followed by a recital of Burns’ poem...

... which in turn ends with us all raising a toast to the haggis. All good fun, but they’ve written the dinner menu in Scots too, with little in the way of translation for the 99.9% of people on the boat who don’t speak it. So I’m faced with the prospect of placing my order for a roastit stirk wi Balmoral sauce cascading from a tatti stovie to an equally bemused Indian waiter, whilst silently praying I’ve not just ordered entrails in their own goo.

Thankfully, it was just roast beef and potatoes 😝

By 21:30, if had more than enough of being worn by my suit, so we retire to the suite to watch a film. Tomorrow is bringing yet another early start, as we need to meet early to catch a lifeboat tender for our excursion in the Falkland Islands.

23
Falkland Islands

Day 24 ⛅️ 14°C

🇫🇰 The Falkland Islands

Today marks another important stop on our tour, although for very different reasons. For people of my generation, the name Falkland is synonymous with conflict: these are the islands over which Britain went to war with Argentina in 1982. Indeed, for several passengers on this ship, this port of call is not a holiday, it’s a pilgrimage. Several people have brought wreaths to lay in tribute to fallen family members.

Our ship is far too big to dock in the port, so we will be transferred to the mainland by tender boat.

Actually, just getting onto the lifeboats today is proving challenging, as there’s quite a lot of swell, and there are many people trying to go ashore who are none too steady on their feet. Once the tender leaves the ship, we make a very choppy 30-minute journey across the bay towards Port Stanley. There’s a general muttering of concern that if the weather worsens at all then we might not be able to get back to the ship. Let’s see!

We’ve split up today - Dad wanted to go the battlefields tour, whereas Mum and I preferred to go visit some penguin colonies. So we’re off the boat first while dad has a leisurely breakfast, as it’s a 2-3 hour drive to reach them.

Once ashore, we are met by the tour staff and directed in groups of four towards the waiting 4X4s for our drive across gravel tracks to Volunteer Point.

Ok scrub that - they aren’t gravel roads, they aren’t roads at all!! Twelve miles over very uneven heath and moorland, all at around 4mph. It takes us 2½ hours over this ridiculous terrain to reach the penguins, by which time I’m feeling like a pair of knickers on a fast spin cycle 🤢

I shall never complain about seasickness again!

But once we reach the penguins, all is forgiven 😍

A King Penguin

I presumed we might see a few dozen penguins, but I wasn’t expecting the colony to number in the thousands! This grassy peninsula in the north-east of East Falkland Island is home to King Penguins (the ones featured on the eponymous chocolate biscuit wrapper), Magellanic Penguins, and Gentoo Penguins. They are clearly completely unphased by human presence, and even though there are wardens around to make sure we don’t stray into nesting areas, the penguins are quite happy to stroll right past us.

Watching these birds in their natural habitat is an amazing experience. Although it’s summer in the Falklands, the temperature isn’t especially high here, and a biting wind blows in off the ocean. It’s easy to see how well adapted these birds are for this environment, with their dense coat of waterproof feathers. As they waddle across the beach, they look for all the world like tiny men in wetsuits. When one needs to move quicker than it can waddle, it simply drops onto its belly and ‘swims’ across the sand or grass, propelling itself forwards with its very powerful back legs.

A baby Gentoo penguin

Magellanic Penguins

This video clip will give you an idea of the sound, but it won’t offer any indication of the smell - Jesus, it stinks 🐟💩

The trip back was just as rough as the trip there:

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After another 2½ hour ‘ride’, during which we’re bodyslammed into the car doors every 10 seconds and the last of my fillings rattle out of my head, we arrive back at Port Stanley. On our return, our driver is clearly eager to give us value for money, and offers to give us a tour of Port Stanley itself, which is actually rather quaint, and looks especially lovely now that the sun has come out properly.

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Our guide is a 5th generation Falklander, and is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the island. There are only just over 3,000 people living here, the vast majority of whom fiercely identify as British. As a result, the feeling you get here is a distinctly odd one: I’m standing only 300 miles off the coast of South America, yet I’m unmistakably in Britain. Or, at least, a nostalgic vision of a Britain I’m not sure ever existed. There are red phone boxes, union jacks, fish and chips, and garden gnomes:

There’s a young lad murdering the bagpipes for our auditory ‘pleasure’ by the quayside:

Even the Iron Lady is here, gazing proudly over her subjects, all of whom hold her in very high esteem for her actions in protecting what they see as the Falklands’ right to freedom of \240allegiance.

The weather itself seems reminiscent of a British summer - changeable at best (we’ve both frozen and fried today), but prone to beautiful clear skies when the mood suits.

Tired, bruised, yet very satisfied, we make our way to one of the last tenders back to the ship, noticing with relief how much calmer the seas are now.

We sail away at 7pm, taking with us some very fond memories of an amazing day here in the Falkland Islands. The next few days will be spent at sea as we make the crossing towards the Cape, through the Beagle Channel and up to Punta Arenas.

24
South Atlantic Ocean

Day 25 ☁️ 9°C

At sea

The penguin-based excitement of yesterday has died down a little now, as we settle into another three days at sea until we reach Punta Arenas in Chile. However, I’m hopeful that as of tomorrow these will be a little different to the standard sea days, where all there is to gaze upon is an endless expanse of water. We’re scheduled to cruise near to Cabo de Hornos in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, then through the Beagle Channel and the Straights of Magellan, as we make our way through the Alberto di Agostini National Park, so we should hopefully be in for some scenic cruising over the next few days.

Sadly my mum has a migraine today, so she’ll have to miss this morning’s champagne tasting event.

I’ve never been to a champagne tasting before. To be fair, this is less tasting and more drinking, but there’s a lot of interesting information being shared around nonetheless (e.g. the pressure inside a bottle of champagne is twice that of an average car tyre!). The event is clearly sponsored, or else there’s some corporate affiliation, as our sample champagnes are Lanson Black, Lanson White and Lanson Rosé. Unfortunately my appreciation of champagne is greatly hindered by its innate capacity to invoke cardialgia. But still, I manage to quaff my three allotted glasses before the burning sensation begins 🥂

A little unsteady in my pins after three glasses of champagne, I make my way up to the lido deck for lunch, thinking that food might be a good option to soak up some of the alcohol. The open rear deck of the boat is entirely deserted - clearly the drop down to 9 degrees means it’s far too cold for anyone else to eat alfresco (pfff, have they never been to a British barbecue?). However, I’m soon joined by a handful of Giant Petrels and a Black-Browed Albatross, gliding along behind the ship, occasionally dipping down to the waves and then soaring up across the boat (although said albatross is remaining a disobliging distance from the ship to allow me a good view). These are some magnificent birds, effortlessly skimming through the air with scarcely a beat of the wing.

Spot the albatross... 🤣

Yes, in case you’d somehow failed to notice, I’m a closet bird-watcher 🐧🐦🐤🐥 Sod off 🤓

The sun has come out now, and there are a few more people on deck. The couple sat a few tables away from me are having a row. It’s a very middle-class, British row, so it’s conducted entirely in harsh whispers and filthy looks. But it’s starting to make me wonder what would happen if you came on a long trip like this and properly fell out with your partner. I mean, we’re on this ship for 9 weeks... you literally can’t get away from someone, you can’t really get off without having to fly home, and sleeping on the sofa is certainly not an option. It must happen, I’m sure... 🙄

Mum is feeling much better now, thankfully. They’ve just been for their orientation meeting for the Machu Picchu overland trip next month. As things stand, I’m not going on that - I had the option to book that trip when it was released, but as I’ve had problems with altitude sickness before, I wanted to wait to speak to my doctor, as there’s no acclimatisation time on this short 4 day trip (it’s straight from sea level to 13,000 feet). Unfortunately, in the time it took to speak to him and be issued with some medication, the trip sold out entirely. I’m on a waitlist in case someone drops out, but it’s highly unlikely at this stage, I think. We’ll see 🤞🏼

We’ve booked into the Indian restaurant again tomorrow, so Vani has come up to take our order (they’re trying their best not to kill me with nuts!) Vani manages the Sindhu restaurant and also runs the breakfast shift in the Glasshouse restaurant. She’s wonderfully funny, absolutely great at her job, and has taken to calling me Sir Gareth - it still feels odd when people address me as Dr Shaw, but jumping up to Sir Gareth is something else entirely 🤣 She’s also itching to see the penthouse cabin, as she’s never managed to get up to look at the place between cruises, which she said would be her only opportunity otherwise.

We finish the day with dinner in the main restaurant. As we’re so far south now, it doesn’t go dark until after 10pm - although we’re pretty much as far south as we’re going to go, as tomorrow we’ll be rounding the Cape at around 9am, then moving northwards towards the Beagle Channel.

🔹🔷🔹

25
Cape Horn

Day 26 🌦 8°C

At sea - 🇨🇱 Cape Horn, Chile

This morning at 08:00 we arrive at the Cape Horn National Park. The Wollaston Islands, which together make up this protected area, are the southern-most tip of South America.

The islands are imposing and weather-beaten. Save for a few lighthouses, there’s little evidence of human impact here. Yet there is still plenty of life - the lone albatross from yesterday has been joined by a whole host - more than 20 are now circling the boat and resting on the sea surface. Imperial Shags (stop laughing) are a frequent sight too, along with a host of other seabirds. A pod of whales have been spotted, but sadly we’re not quick enough to see them.

Managed to get a picture of the albatross today 🤘🏼

The weather changes very quickly here. Sun one minute, pounding rain the next. Even so, the captain informs us that our crossing here has been unusually calm, so one can only imagine how bad it gets.

Our route this morning was an odd one, mainly for the purpose of giving us all a view of Cape Horn:

We approached around the north coast of Horn Island, then headed south, before performing a figure of eight movement, then headed north-east. The red line shows our route until now, and from here we will head north (the green line), passing between the islands of Lennox and Nueva, then we will enter the Beagle Channel later this evening for the west-bound transit back out to the Pacific Ocean.

This evening we’re booked into the Sindhu restaurant for the tasting menu again. Which I suspect will be much like the last one, except this time we won’t be dressed like idiots.

At 18:07 (Dad was late) we are seated for the 5-course tasting menu. It promises to be just as good as the last one, and this time maybe I’ll get round to taking some pictures 🤣

We begin with hot and spicy prawns, garlic and ginger chicken served with Vietnamese pork satay and a stir-fried pepper and asparagus salad. Mine is served without the satay, as a slow death would put quite a crimp in the evening.

It’s absolutely delicious, very delicate flavours from south-east Asia, all rounded off with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce.

Next up is a spiced chicken and coconut laksa soup. We had this last time, and it’s highly anticipated tonight too.

The flavours in this soup are staggering. When they say spiced they mean it: it’s a very fiery soup. But it’s simultaneously creamy, with a sour note that gives it a strong aroma, yet which is entirely absent in the flavour.

By now our mouths are ablaze. Mum is a red wine drinker, and has been recommended to try an Indian red wine from their selection. Now, maybe we’re uncultured in the world of wine, but we weren’t aware that India has much of a reputation in winemaking. However, this particular variety, made from Zinfandel grapes, marries very well with the spicy flavours we’re getting tonight (well, so I’m told - I hate red wine)

Dad’s so taken with it that he’s planning to order a case of it when we get home 🤣

Our third course is seafood: lobster tail and scallops, served with peppers, onions and a black bean sauce.

I’m no huge fan of seafood, especially if the damn thing still has a face on it, but even I have to admit that this is delicious 😋

After a requested 15 minute pause for Mum to retrieve her wrap from the cabin (she’s gone cold, lord knows how, as my mouth and body are presently on fire), we get to the main event: slow cooked lamb rendang

It’s all phenomenal. It was better presented than my photo would suggest, but I was halfway through it before I came up for air and remembered to take a picture 🤣

And then to close the meal, look at the state of this 😍😍

A dark chocolate sphere, containing white chocolate mouse, covered in a warm chocolate sauce.

This, dear reader, is why I’m fat. And why I am likely to lose a foot to diabetes 🤣

As I retire to my cabin, the bridge announces that there’s a pod of dolphins following the ship, so I drag my curry-infused bulk up to the top deck as fast as my overburdened legs will carry me.

Not the best pic, as they were quite far off the port side of the ship, but I’m still delighted to have seen them.

Sunset down here is late, as it’s summer, and the scenery is just as spectacular by twilight.

All in all, a pretty much perfect rounding of Cape Horn. Tonight we continue westwards, before entering the Pacific Ocean briefly, then turning north-east into the Strait of Magellan.

Goodnight from the Beagle Channel 😴

26
Parque Nacional Alberto de Agostini

Day 27 ⛅️ 8°C

At sea - 🇨🇱 Beagle Channel, Chile

Today we continue our journey through the Beagle Channel, heading out to meet the Pacific Ocean. The weather continues to be mercurial, although consistently windy.

Our morning walk around the boat this morning is rather more scenic than usual. So scenic, in fact, that walking is soon abandoned in favour of standing still and taking photographs.

As we make our way down the fjord, we pass snow-topped, cloud-shrouded mountains, frigid \240waterfalls and ancient glaciers...

🔹🔷🔹

By midday, the wind is blowing at force 9 down the channel - that’s a severe gale. Opening the balcony door takes considerable effort, and the pressure differential when doing so pops our ear drums. Perhaps we’ll just enjoy the vista from indoors for the moment!

The penthouse at the front of the boat isn’t without its issues - particularly when the winds are storm force, the cabin is very noisy as the bow of the ship bears the brunt of the oncoming gale, yet when cruising fjords, the many windows make being frontside definitely beneficial.

I suspect from the look of those clouds that this afternoon is to be spent reading and having out at the scenery from the comfort of a warm cabin.

Sorry to harp on about the weather, but frankly there’s not much happening today 🤣

Look at this - we have two very different weather conditions on each side of the ship.

On the port side, it’s raining heavily. To starboard, glorious sun 😳

The temperature is holding steady at 8°C. The good thing about days like this is that you pretty much get the back of the boat to yourself - the fragile old dears don’t venture out in such frigid conditions, preferring to say around the central pool, where there’s a retractable glass roof which remains resolutely shut until the temperature outside reaches 20°C or so.

Our route today has taken us along the Channel and to the north of Gordon Island, before arriving into the Pacific Ocean.

As soon as we round the last of the islands, the sheltering effect of the channel - notwithstanding the gale force winds today - becomes apparent, as the ship begins to pitch considerably in the swell of the Pacific Ocean. We’re informed that this will last for around an hour, until we turn back inland (following the route indicated in green above) and make for the Strait of Magellan.

Tonight is a formal night onboard again, which means ballgowns and tuxedos. Normally on these types of cruise, the captain holds a gala dinner once per sector, where everyone dresses up in the very finest of their finery. My mum usually chooses to wear her saree on these gala evenings. Now, before I hear mutterings from hardline liberals about cultural appropriation, I want to point out that the saree was a special gift from her daughter-in-law (my sister-in-law), whose family are originally from India, and the catering staff on P&O ships - the majority of whom hail from the Indian subcontinent, are very vocal about how they genuinely appreciate people wearing sarees on special nights.

Anyway, the gala dinner for this cruise took place on day 3 of the cruise, during which we were all throwing up over the Bay of Biscay, and when I was in solitary confinement. Even though this cruise is divided up into three sectors for administrational purposes, it’s technically just one sector from start to finish. So the only gala dinner for the whole cruise has been and gone. Many have found this surprising and quite disappointing, especially as so many people missed it, and most were expecting there to be at least one more. Mum was waiting for the second gala night to wear her saree, but it now seems that there won’t be any such occasion. So, never one to be dissuaded, she’s decided to wear it tonight.

I, on the other hand, shall be wearing whatever the hell still fits. Probably a muu-muu.

I manage to get away with wearing my tux jacket (which I can wear open) with my normal black trousers (which are packed fuller than Wembley Stadium at a Spice Girls reunion, but which are still slightly more forgiving than the tux trousers). Thankfully, walking into the restaurant with a lady in a saree ensures that no eyes are on me 😎

27
Punta Arenas

Day 28 🌤 9°C

🇨🇱 Punta Arenas, Chile

Today we are arriving at Punta Arenas, and setting foot for the first time in Chile. Punta Arenas is famed as being the largest city in the world to lie below the 46th parallel south line of latitude, with 127,000 people calling this place home. It’s a long way south - we’re about 800 miles away from the Antarctic coastline.

This is going to be another tender port for us, as Aurora is slightly too large to dock here. So it’s out with the lifeboats again. I’m less keen on these kind of ports, as it slows down the whole process of getting people ashore and back again, primarily because there are so many people aboard with mobility issues. I’m certainly not blaming them for this, in fact it seems almost cruel to come to places like this for wheelchair users - in order to take the boat to go ashore you have to have enough independed mobility to be able to step unaided from the pontoon into the boat. That’s enough of a challenge for many of the elderly people on the boat, but for the numerous passengers in wheelchairs, this is generally impossible. So they can’t go ashore, end of story. I understand that this is for safety reasons, blah blah blah, but this is the third tender port out of 8 ports we’ve visited so far, the last one being our previous stop in the Falklands. The last time wheelchair users could reasonably get ashore was therefore in Montevideo, last Tuesday. The next port where we can actually berth is San Antonio, which is 4 days sail away from here. So that’ll be 11 consecutive days on the boat for them. I wonder if they’re told this when they book...

Anyway... my first view of Punta Arenas.

At 10:30 we’re led down to the tender embarkation platform by the butler - my parents qualify for priority disembarkation with their suite, and as we’re travelling as a group they’ve extended that privilege to me too. So we’re taken down the service lift, bypassing the huge queue to get off the boat, and are hastily ushered onto the departing lifeboat 👍🏼

On arrival at the pier, we file through the port exit, which - much like a Disney rollercoaster - takes you through a gift shop on the way out. There’s free WiFi here, so we’re suddenly knee-deep in people with iPads desperate for an internet fix. We’ve decided to eschew the fray and head a little further afield, having located a steet lined with restaurants and cafés. So we set off in search of an early lunch and hopefully some free WiFi for my dad (Mum and I have mobile data here).

We arrive in a quaint little café just off the main strip. Mum orders a cappuccino, which she informs us is ”quite nice if you pretend it’s not coffee” I think that means she’s not impressed 😒

Sadly, contrary to advice online, this place does not have free WiFi, so we quickly down our drinks and move on.

OK, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Having faffed around for a bit, we decide we’d better head back to the port to get WiFi for Dad, although this leads to the realisation that we’re walking away unfed from all the restaurants - \240our afternoon tour won’t get us back until after 5pm, so we call into a supermarket in the hope of picking up a sandwich. Hollow laughter. No such thing available, nor apparently are the ingredients to make one, but we do find a cafeteria of sorts on the second floor. It’s definitely not a salubrious venue - better judgement would have us running for the door, but time is running out and needs must. So I tuck into a hearty portion of roast chicken and cold vegetable rice, with a side order of e-coli.

On a better note, my pin quest went phenomenally well, and I managed to get another 5 for my collection:

At 13:30 we are greated by our enthusiastic local guides Felipe and Oscar and jump aboard the bus for the Andino ski resort, about a 20 minute drive outside of Punta Arenas into the edge of the Magellan National Park. We’ve been reliably informed that this is the only ski resort in the world from which you can see the ocean. Our tour is entitled the Andean Park Trek, and includes a ride by cable car up to the top of the mountain and then a hike back down through the forest to the resort centre. Felipe cheerfully tells us that rain is forecast, so we’ll probably get wet. I’ve brought a pac-a-mac, although it’s last outing was the fateful Iguazú waterfall boat ride where it was as much use as a chocolate fire guard, so I’m not hopeful of remaining dry.

We disembark at the ski resort, which is devoid of snow as it mid-summer here. It now dawns on me that by ’cable car’, they didn’t mean some large enclosed gondola-type vehicle, but rather a bloody ski lift. I have never travelled by ski lift, preferring instead to use vehicles which neither look like they’re made of paper clips nor could jettison me to my death at any moment.

To add insult to certain injury, the damn thing doesn’t stop to let you board - instead you stand on a raised wooden palette and wait for some floating bench to hopefully scoop you up and away. They’re built for two people, but I don’t fancy my chances, so I insist upon travelling solo. I manage embarkation with my dignity roughly intact, until it occurs to me that I’m now sailing many feet above the earth with nothing but a thin metal bar to keep me in place. I’m not good with heights, especially open-air ones, and I’m not amused.

Of course, as soon as we clear the shelter of the tree canopy, the wind begins to rock the cart from side to side 😱

The 10-minute ride is probably 9 minutes too long for me, but as I get to within about 20 yards of the exit platform and the potential of salvation, the guide shouts for me to lift the safety bar up over my head to prepare for disembarkation. So I’m now sat on a moving, aerial park bench, some 30 feet off the ground, with absolutely nothing to stop me falling out. I’m not remotely happy.

As the bench arrives at the top platform, a burly Chilean man helps me off the still-moving seat and then pulls me out of the way so it doesn’t flatten me. Hardly an elegant dismount, but I’m relatively unscathed 🙌🏼

Mum and dad are a few chairs behind me, so I ready my camera in case they fair worse than me:

They don’t disappoint. The idea with these things is to exit towards the side you’re sitting on, to quickly get out of the way of the advancing chair - so if you’re on the right, you step to the right, and vice versa. Mum coped admirably, stepping deftly to the left. Dad, however, instead of going right, also tried to go left, resulting in the burly Chilean having to physically push the chairlift around him to prevent a wipe-out. Bravo Dad 🤣

Still, they faired better than this plum, who bottled it completely and failed on the dismount, resulting in a swift go-around and a temporary stoppage of the cable to extract him.

Once we are all safely on the ground, our guide takes us over to a viewing platform where we can see out across the Strait of Magellan, and also points out the rapidly advancing band of rain that’s barrelling in from the west, and suggests that we might like to don our waterproofs.

🔹🔷🔹

The time interval between the above photo and video is about 30 seconds. Weather changes very fast here!

As soon as it hits, we realise it’s not rain, it’s hail:

Prior to getting on the chairlift, Felipe and Oscar had warned us of the potential for injury on the descent for those who don’t pay attention to where they’re treading. Apparently a few years ago a lady did this trip, and had managed to go arse-over-tit near the top just minutes into the trek, breaking her leg in three places and ending her cruise. As I look around at the assembled company of septuagenarians in suspect footwear, I set off in certain expectation that at least one old dear will slide off the mountain to a grim demise.

Sunny again.

The initial descent is challenging, and yet again I’m thinking the tour company have illl-advised us of the requisite fitness requirements. We make slow progress, with our guides painstakingly pointing out every protential trip-hazard. Turns out this is the last trip of the season, and they’re anxious to complete it without issue.

As we get lower down the mountain, the trees offer dappled shade, and the place seems quite idyllic. Imagine, dear reader: the babble of the small mountain brook... the gentle sigh of the wind-riffled canopy... the shrill cry of a tripping pensioner...

Before long, the path opens out and we find ourselves roughly halfway to our destination, with an exquisite view over the coast to where our ship lies at anchor.

By now, my quads are singing like a church choir, but onwards we march, with the promise of hot chocolate and a slice of cake awaiting us back at base. The recent rain has made everything more slippery, so progress remains slow. Well, slow for us at least - the two guides are dashing between the front and the back of the line, skipping past us like mountain goats.

After an hour and a half of negotiating tree roots, rocks, mud and water, and with over 12,000 steps clocked up on the Fitbit, we make it back to the base camp restaurant for some light refreshment (light indeed - turns out the cake could only have been sliced finer with a surgeon’s scalpel). Then it’s back on the bus and back to port for a hasty tender back to the ship.

Thus concludes a lovely few hours spent in Punta Arenas. We have trekked in the Andes (sort of), so that’s that ticked off the list. And the best news of all is waiting for me at the quayside - a lady from the onboard tour team pulls me to one side and tells me that a place has become available on the Machu Picchu trip, and it’s mine if I want it!!!! I’d almost given up hope that a place would become available! I missed out on booking it when it was released last year because I’ve had problems with altitude sickness before and wanted to speak to my GP about it, and in the time it took me to speak to him and get the all-clear, the tour completely sold out. Anyway, it’s a packed itinerary - four days off the boat, starting in Callao in Peru, flying up to Cucso, then the trip to Machu Picchu, then flying to Lima for one night, flying to Guayaquil in Ecuador the next morning, before driving back to meet the boat as it arrives in Manta. 😍

Tonight we’re dining in the Beach House again, so more delicious steaks, indulgent nachos and burgers the size of a baby’s head 😋

28
Strait of Magellan

Day 29 (Part 1) ☁️ 10°C

At sea - 🇨🇱 Strait of Magellan

Our ship entered the Pacific Ocean again at around 04:00, and since then we’ve been subject to quite a lot of rolling. Thankfully the captain advised us that this was likely to happen, so I dosed myself up on the sea sickness tablets. Others failed to heed his advice, however, and there are now several usual faces absent from the breakfast table.

I’m falling asleep in my food here. I don’t know if it’s the the rocking motion of the boat, the sea sickness tablets making me drowsy, or just fatigue from the hike yesterday (possibly all three), but I can barely keep my eyes open, and I slept for about 11 hours last night. Very odd.

By 10:30, we’ve entered the shelter of the archipelago once more, and the rocking has died away.

I’m splitting today’s journal into two entries, as we’re effectively sailing in a semi-circular route around the islands down here, which will make the map that this journal produces look rather odd if I don’t, owing to the way it plots straight lines between the co-ordinates. I probably should’ve done that all along, especially for the Iguazú trip 🤦🏻‍♂️

Oh well, I can’t change it now, but I’ll do that in future.

29
Amalia Glacier

Day 29 (Part 2) 🌨 11°C

At sea - 🇨🇱 Amalia Glacier

We are scheduled to arrive at the Amalia Glacier at around 16:00 this afternoon. Before that, however, we have a meeting for the Iguazú group to display our photographs. I do have a big fancy DSLR camera, but I don’t really know how to use it, and the pictures I took with it at Iguazú were average at best. I take the majority of my photographs with exactly the same device that I’m writing all this on (my trusty iPhone 7 Plus), and I use a certain degree of digital post-production in my pictures that I’m sure photography purists would consider cheating. I like my pictures to have vibrant colours, so I often use in-built filters or increase the colour saturation, which I feel is obvious from things like skin tone and white balance. But that’s my style, I’m not after all a trained photographer. So I’ve not submitted any photos, but I’ll go along to see everyone, provided I’ve not fallen asleep 😴

Our arrival into the channel where the glacier is located seems unfortunately ill-timed. It’s raining heavily, and visibility is poor. So my photos may have a very moody look about them today 😕

Even so, I guess I shouldn’t complain - on the whole we’ve been very lucky with the weather so far.

Despite the weather, standing in front of this natural phenomenon is awe-inspiring. This is not the first glacier I’ve seen, as I’ve spent time in Alaska and Iceland before, but this one is no less impressive. Some of the ice that I’m looking at first fell as snow tens of thousands of years ago. So it’s quite sobering to hear an announcement from the bridge that this glacier has retreated 7km over the past 40 years, and at that rate, it will have vanished entirely by 2050. And still people question global warming and the impact we’re having on the environment.

Up close, the face of the glacier looks other-worldly, and the frigid turquoise crags look like they’ve been violently hewn by giant claws.

🔹🔷🔹

That’s a giant frozen river of ice coming down the mountain, still flowing - albeit at a rate of just millimetres per year - carving out the earth as it goes.

We stay in front of the glacier for about 40 minutes, as the ship turns on the anchor to give both sides a decent view. It’s gently sleeting now, and although the wind has dropped, there’s no sign of an impending improvement in the viewing conditions. As we sail away, the bridge suggests we look out for dolphins on our way out of the fjord, although we’re booked into the Sindhu restaurant for 18:30 tonight, so we’re likely to miss them again.

Tomorrow, we’re due to arrive at the Pío XI glacier at around 08:00, so we all have our fingers crossed for better viewing conditions 🤞🏼

30
PIO XI Glacier

Day 30 ☁️ 12°C

At sea - 🇨🇱 Brüggen (Pío XI) Glacier

At 07:30 this morning, I turn to the bridge cam on the TV and see that we were approaching the Pío XI glacier, a little ahead of schedule. So I rapidly throw my clothes on and head for the top deck. Viewing condidtions are much better than yesterday, although the sun remains elusive.

The thermometer is showing 12°C, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it - it’s freezing out here. There’s an icy wind coming off the glacier and straight up my left sleeve. the ship begins to turn to starboard, meaning my parents’ balcony (on the front port side) will soon be in full view of the glacier, so I head down there in search of warmth.

The Pío XI is one of only two glaciers in Patagonia that is still advancing - the vast majority are retreating. The other advancing one is the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina.

The boat manages to get about 800m from the shelf face. The water here is very heavy with sediment brought down by the glacier, giving the whole fjord a chocolate brown colour. Nevertheless, there are dolphins in the water, although yet again a good photo of them seems to be beyond my capabilities.

The crags in the glacier are stunning, and seem to emit a brilliant blue colour. This, apparently, is owing to the refraction of light through the tightly compressed the ice, with the less densely packed ice on the top looking whiter. Again, we’re reminded that some of the ice were looking at is over 12,000 years old.

🔹🔷🔹

After an hour of glacier-gazing, the captain rotates the ship again and begin our transit back up the fjord. The landscape here is stunning, but very unforgiving.

So I’m standing on the promenade deck, casually minding my own business, when a killer whale pops up just beneath me to say hi...

Again, hardly the best picture, as it has passed the ship by the time I get my camera working, but I‘m somewhat overcome with excitement. I’ve never seen one of these in the wild before, and to have one of them surface just meters from you is quite an exhilarating feeling.

We’ll be retracing our steps for a while, heading around the Isla Suamarez, before tracking back to the Pacific Ocean later tonight. We have another two full days at sea before we reach San Antonio.

By 16:00, we’ve entered the Pacific Ocean and the swell is significant. I’ve managed to get hold of some Scopoderm patches, which are supposed to offer 72 hours of relief from motion sickness, so I slap one on behind my ear and hope for the best. Each time we’ve hit the Pacific Ocean in the last three days it’s been quite rough, so as we’re now going to be working our way up the coastline of Chile we could be in for a choppy ride.

This evening, Mum and Dad have invited some friends to come round to the cabin for pre-dinner drinks - mostly people who we went to Iguazú with, plus Jan and Terry from the other penthouse. The rum punch is in full flow, which when added to the movement of the boat means we are all a little unsteady on our pins! It is lovely to see them again, especially as many of them will be coming to Machu Picchu too - they are all delighted to hear that I’ve got a place on the trip 😊

A little worse for wear, we stagger off to dinner in the main restaurant. Tomorrow is a formal night, which I’d already decided to abandon in favour of dining in my cabin, but Mum and Dad have decided that they’re not going to bother either, so we can have an informal dinner together in their suite instead. Hopefully by then the seas will be a little calmer.

31
South Pacific Ocean

Day 31 🌫🌦 14°C

At sea

Today we are continuing our journey north, passing Isla Rivero at 09:30. The temperature has increased a little since yesterday, and it’s due to be around 26°C by the time we get to San Antonio on Sunday. That said, it’s currently very misty outside today, but it does look like the sun is trying to break through.

On my way past the photography gallery after breakfast, I call in to try to arrange a one-to-one lesson with one of the onboard photographers for tomorrow, so I can finally make some use of my big DSLR camera. After I give her my name, the photographer looks at me and says “hey, are you the guy that got the photo of the killer whale yesterday?” 😳 Seems I was the only person on the boat to get a photo of it yesterday, and word has reached the photography desk 🤣 I really wish I’d managed a better picture of it now!

It’s going to be quite a lazy day today, I expect. I’ve got a massage booked for 2pm, and although it’s a formal night onboard tonight, we’ve decided to have dinner by ourselves up in the suite instead, so there’s no need to dress up either.

Anyway, for now I shall drift into my usual sea-day routine of a post-breakfast film and an ice-cold can of Diet Tango 🥤

By lunchtime, it’s started drizzling again outside. The upper deck is pretty much deserted, and they’ve closed the open air pool.

On murky days like these, everyone congregates around the crystal pool in the centre of the boat, as it has a retractable glass roof. People can therefore relax on the sun loungers in all weathers, and thanks to the heated pool, the whole enclosed area stays warm and humid.

After lunch and the remainder of my film, it’s spa time again.

I’m up in the Oasis Spa’s relaxation room, waiting for Yanique to call me through for my massage. Thankfully the seas are much calmer now - if I’d had this treatment yesterday I think I might have rolled right off the table 🤣

It was cruises that got me into massages in the first place - I don’t remember ever having one until my family spent the better part of two weeks on a Princess cruise ship travelling up the west coast of Canada to Alaska back in 2007, but since then I’m a semi-regular. Seeing as how Dad and I have booked so many massages throughout the cruise, Mum has decided to join in too, but she came back from her first massage yesterday quite lukewarm to the whole experience. I guess it’s not for everyone.

I’m drifting back to my cabin half asleep after my massage. It was so relaxing. An obligatory nap will follow 😴

By late afternoon, the mist has finally cleared, leaving beautiful blue skies in its wake.

The albatrosses are back - except this time it’s their larger cousins, the Wandering Albatross. These creatures are famed as having the largest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to 3.7 meters across - that’s a span of over 12 feet. I suspect these are juveniles, as they don’t seem to be quite that large yet, but they’re still bloody impressive, gliding around the ship, barely moving their wings at all.

Oh, the sky has clouded over again btw. Sunshine didn’t last for long 😕

It’s a fairly early dinner tonight, as we’re having it in the cabin and Sayed, the suite’s butler, goes off duty at 9pm. It’s the same food as is served in the restaurant downstairs, it just means that I won’t have to force myself into my tuxedo for the evening.

On return to my cabin, I bump into the two guys in the cabin next door to mine - apparently they’ve had noise complaints from their other neighbour and were worried that they might be bothering me too. They aren’t at all, although the cabin walls are paper-thin - I can hear the old lady in the next cabin farting every night. They also asked if the blonde lady who they often see me with is my sister... 🤦🏻‍♂️

Mum will be delighted with the compliment, although the frequency with which people seem to think we are of a similar age (usually they think I’m her husband) is doing little for my own self-confidence. After all, although my mum does look good for her age, I’m sure even she wouldn’t suppose she looks as if in her late thirties. Therefore it’s really only a compliment to one of us...

Post-dinner, we continue with our Harry Potter marathon, although I doubt I’m gonna make it through the whole film 😴

32
South Pacific Ocean

Day 32 🌫 17°C

At sea

Today is our 32nd day aboard MV Aurora, so we’re pretty much midway through our trip, with another 33 nights to go before our return to Southampton. So far, it’s been wonderful, and most of the places that we’ve visited I would definitely return to in the future. My travel map is filling up slowly, and by the time we’ve finished this voyage I will have ticked off most countries in South America that have a sea coast, except for the four in the north of the continent.

But that just means I’ll have to come back one day to visit those, along with Bolivia and Paraguay - as, even though we saw Paraguay across the bridge at Foz do Iguaçu and flew over it, we never actually set foot there. And to say I’ve ‘done’ somewhere like Brazil, having visited just 3 cities in short order, does the place a huge disservice - it’s a massive country, and I’ve seen nothing of the Amazon basin or the northern coastline. It has an energy that you can scarcely appreciate from such meagre snapshots.

Looking at the bigger picture, I’ll also clearly have to do something about those vast grey areas in Africa and the Middle East...

...although the presently war-torn parts can wait a while.

Today is extremely foggy. Visibility is down to less than 200m, meaning that the ship is blasting its fog-horn every few minutes, as a precaution. We’re about 30 miles off the Chilean coast at present, but I guess there’s always a chance there may be other smaller vessels out here without radar.

What a view 🤣

I’ve booked a photography lesson for 1pm, but with visibility so poor I guess we’ll be taking pictures indoors!

I‘m potentially more confused than I was when I started! F-stops and ISO numbers are making my brain hurt. Seems frightfully like maths to me, but I’m determined to get to grips with it and stop leaving the camera on automatic.

The longer we spend onboard, the more people I’m becoming friendly with, and a circuit of the promenade deck mid-afternoon soon becomes a leisurely waltz from conversation to conversation. That said, I’m still encountering so many seemingly unfamiliar faces that I do wonder if I’ll ever stop seeing new people on here. I mean, they’re not new - there are 1,800 passengers onboard, and this is a single sector voyage, so except for unforeseen incidents, everyone who got on in Southampton will be remaining onboard until we get back to the UK, and we don’t take on any passengers along the route. I bet I’ll still be seeing strange faces on the last day though.

The temperature is doing strange things. All the thermometers are saying it’s 17°C, but I really don’t believe them. Seventeen degrees would be a fairly warm day back home, but here, it feels distinctly chilly. Perhaps that’s because of the enduring fog, which is remaining with us as we sail northwards. As early evening approaches, we sail past several groups of basking sea lions, lying upside down on the surface of the water, flippers aloft. We’re 30 miles from the coast, so I wasn’t expecting to see them out here, and they seem supremely unconcerned by the appearance of our massive ship, continuing to loll in the water just a few meters from the vast hull as we sail by.

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Looks a bit sisnister, that face poking out of the water 😱

Every evening, we get an itinerary/newsletter delivered to our cabin for the following day. There’s sometimes some quirky stuff in there, but today’s takes some beating:

😳 What? Why?

Tonight we continue our post-dinner HP marathon ⚡️ We’re on Order of the Phoenix now.

There’s a show on in the theatre at 10:30pm that Mum wants to go watch, but I think she’ll be going on her own at this rate. I’m ready for my bed 💤

33
San Antonio

Day 33 ☁️ 21°C

🇨🇱 San Antonio, Casablanca, Valparaíso & Viña del Mar, Chile

We pull into a dark and gloomy-looking San Antonio at 6am, and my phone springs into life once more. My battery lasts for days at sea, and is drained in minutes when we get signal again 🤭

You remember that buzz I said was running around the ship in anticipation of Rio? Well, kinda the opposite has been happening for San Antonio. It’s a commercial port, and even the excursions team have been saying that there’s is literally nothing to do here for tourists, you have to go further afield to the bigger cities, or into the wine land. It’s basically a gateway port for Santiago (2 hours away) and Valparaíso (1½ hours away). It’s the Port Klang to Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, if that means anything to you 😉

See what I mean? Valparaíso has a port, but I guess docking here is cheaper. A quick chat with the security officer in the lift reveals that this is actually the first time the ship has docked in San Antonio.

(Update: our local tour guide has just told us that ships are docking here because of dock handling issues in Valparaíso, where recently they didn’t let cruise ship passengers ashore)

So, we’re booked onto the Casablanca winery tour today (can you spot a theme? 🍷🤪), which will apparently include a sightseeing tour of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso too. So the view should improve soon.

We set off on our tour about 30 minutes late, although part of the delay is caused because we can’t walk straight off the boat, because it’s a working port with lots of heavy plant moving around, so we have to take a shuttle bus around the port to the embarkation terminal - a distance of about 100m in a straight line, but which takes 5 mins on the bus. We find our correct tour bus and we’re off. Our guide for the day is Cristian, who does his best to whip up some enthusiasm in a very dull and sleepy crowd (although the couple that are wide awake could frankly do with a sleeping pill, as they keep asking dumb-ass questions, and are demanding the guide narrate everything we’re passing 😒)

After an hour, we arrive at Casas del Bosque winery. The cloud that was hanging over the port has vanished now, and I’m feeling distinctly overdressed 😥

The vineyard is set in beautiful grounds, with agapanthuses lining every walkway.

Our guide around the winery, Manu, is exceptionally knowledgeable and speaks flawless English. The tour itself is interesting, but having just had a vineyard tour recently, there’s quite an overlap, and if you’re not passionate about growing grapes then it’s a little repetitive.

The main event for most people is the wine tasting itself, held in the vast cool cellar.

We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, which sits ill with my heartburn ♥️🔥

The next two glasses are red, so I hastily empty my glass into Mum’s (I still hate red wine - a drink that looks like fruit juice yet tastes like bitterness and regret)

I don’t think I’m cut out for wine tasting. Our guide asks us what our wine smells of. I suspect ‘wine’ wouldn’t be an acceptable answer...

As the tour comes to an end, we’re ushered through the shop (surprise!), and then back onto the coach for our scenic tour.

Santuario de Lo Vasquez. This is a site of pilgrimage every December 8th, when over a million people come to this church to celebrate the immaculate conception.

Our tour takes us next to Valparaíso, a coastal city of 284,000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, it seems that we’re to appreciate the sights exclusively though a bus window, which I wasn’t expecting. Thankfully, I’m sat next to the only window that doesn’t have a dark film on it, so at least my pictures won’t be as bad as everyone else’s.

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Valparaíso is certainly a very colourful place, if rather frayed around the edges. It’s known for its street art, and many of the buildings on the surrounding hills are painted in vibrant colours. It’s really annoying that we don’t get chance to get off the bus 😡 Looks like there might be lots of interesting sidestreets to explore.

That’s a lot of wires!

Much like Salvador in Brazil, the city is split into a lower part, around the port, and the residential districts up on the hills. Locals here must have very good leg muscles. For those that don’t, there are two working funiculars:

After meandering through the streets of Valparaíso, we leave the city to head a very short distance to its sister city, Viña del Mar.

Here they actually do stop the bus for 10 minutes to give us a chance to take a picture of the famous flower clock. Well, bugger that - I’ve gone from 08:30 until mid afternoon on a sip of dry white wine and I’m feeling quite dehydrated. So I leg it across the 6-lane road to the beach, as I can see a café in the distance for a much-needed bottle of something chilled. Turns out to be a totally fruitless endeavour though, as on arrival, I ask in my best Spanish if I can pay with US dollars (as we’d been assured on the ship that you can use them everywhere in South America, except for Brazil), only to be told no, Chilean pesos only. I try again and ask if I can pay by card? No. so no cards, no dollars. So there I am, gazing at a fridge full of deliciously refreshing drinks, with no way of getting hold or one. Dejected, thirsty and very sweaty from my dash, I head stony-faced back to the bus.

At least I got a photo of the beach for my troubles.

OK, now I’m fuming. Fifteen minutes after the clock stop, we are dumped next to a casino in Viña del Mar for a 40 min lunch break, for which the tour guide recommends we go into the casino to eat, but warns us that pretty much nowhere will take US dollars here. So, into the casino we go. Well, we try. We go through security (!), and weave our way through the slot machines, with absolutely no visible clue as to where this restaurant might be. Finally manage to ask someone, who points us into a dead-end corridor. Very helpful. When we finally do find the ‘restaurant’, it’s actually a tiny little bar serving burgers. Now this is where being able to speak - rather than just sort of understand - Spanish would be helpful. We try to order at the bar, but they direct us back to the seats and tell us the waiter will come over. Thing is, he doesn’t. He smiles at us and walks off. After 10 mins, we abandon hope, as we’ve now only got 20 mins left to eat and get back to the bus.

I’d noticed a McDonald across the square, so in desperation we head over there. Big mistake. The queue (as I’m British I’m inclined to call it a queue, but it was more of a rugby scrum) stretches right back to the entrance. We join the nearest line, a little bemused as to why so many people in the queue already seem to have receipts... I can’t see any obvious distinction between the counter and a cash desk, so we persevere. Typically, when we finally get near the front of the queue, the woman in front of us is placing a massive order, and takes a bloody age. And then, just as she’s about to pay, the till crashes and reboots itself. So she’s now got to order all over again...

With 3 minutes left before the bus leaves, we have no choice but to abandon our efforts and leave empty handed. So no lunch for us. There’s a McCafé opposite, where I manage to swipe a bottle of mineral water, so at least I’ve quenched my thirst. But I don’t like being McTeased, and I’m hangry as f#%k. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry 👹

I may well eat our tour guide before we finish the 1½ hour drive back to the boat. The excursions desk will be getting a sternly worded letter about time management and misinformation 😡

Looking over Valparaíso.

As we drive back down the littler-strewn highway, I must confess myself to be feeling a little dejected by the latter half of this excursion, and sadly quite underwhelmed by this part of Chile. Punta Arenas was beautiful. But one must take the rough with the smooth, I suppose. I can’t expect picture-postcard views at every port. And San Antonio is, regrettably, the very definition of a run-down, one-horse town. And we’re here for another day tomorrow 😔

Maybe Coquimbo will redress the balance.

Back on the ship, and straight into the Glasshouse:

Much better mood now 😋

Mid afternoon nap is followed by dinner in the Indian restaurant. Excellent food as always in here.

34
San Antonio

Day 34 ☁️ 19°C

🇨🇱 San Antonio

We spent last night docked up in San Antonio, and will be remaining here until 5pm this evening.

We’re at a bit of a loss as to what to do today. For once, I’m not exaggerating - there is nothing to do in San Antonio. I’ve found out a little more about the place actuallly - it was hit by a massive earthquake in 1985, and 80% of the buildings and infrastructure were destroyed, and it was further damaged by another earthquake in 2010. So perhaps my one-horse town comments from yesterday were a little insensitive 😬

Still, those facts notwithstanding, it does seem like an odd place to bring a large cruise ship. Sadly, we don’t have any trips further afield planned today either (bit of a cock-up there - we didn’t initially realise we were here for 2 days, and by the time we realised that we’d booked nothing for the second day, all the trips had sold out). Dad keeps trying to float out the idea of going back to yesterday’s winery for lunch, but that might not be all that practical - it‘d be an hour in a taxi from here, and then we’d have to hope we could get back again before the ship leaves.

So, at least for now, I’m staying in the ship to make use of the fact that at least I have mobile data while we’re docked 🤓

Often, while we’re in port, the staff use the time to rehearse the emergency drills. We are usually none the wiser, because we’re generally off on a trip somewhere. So it’s quite a sight to see what’s going on this morning. Today, they’re rehearsing a big one - a fire in the engine room. I was just leaving my room as the drill started, and next thing I know I’m looking at a swift yet sleek procession of the full ship’s company, bedecked in life jackets, sweeping down the stairs. There are 850 staff on board, so I quickly hurry to the lift to get out of their way. Entering the lift at the same time as me is the ship’s HR manager, who tells me that this is one of the worst scenarios they can plan for, and as such, this hour-long drill is rehearsed every two weeks.

Just before 1pm, we decide to take a stroll ashore. There’s a mall of sorts a little way along the coastline, so more for some exercise than a great desire to shop, we head off.

It’s a 20 minute walk along the dockside to reach the mall. It’s a fragrant promenade, to say the least 🐟

The mall is quite modern, and there’s even a bureau de change, so we can finally swap our seemingly useless dollars for some Chilean pesos 🙌🏼

We hot-foot it to the nearest café, as Dad is gagging for a glass of wine (it’s 1:30pm, after all 🤣), and Mum is keen as mustard to try the local pisco sour.

By 3:15pm we’ve had our fill of the mall, and so make our way back to the ship, passing little blanket stalls along the promenade...

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... before catching the hopper bus to the ship, for a late lunch.

At 7pm, we pull out of port, and put San Antonio to our rudder. Not before time.

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We now have an evening at sea, before arriving at our next port, Coquimbo, early tomorrow morning.

35
Coquimbo

Day 35 🌤 28°C

🇨🇱 Coquimbo, Chile

We pull into Coquimbo at 8am. Our shore excursion is leaving at 8:20, so we eat a hasty breakfast in the cabin and ready ourselves for the day. Today, we’re visiting some petroglyphs about and hour and a half’s drive from Coquimbo, and then are going to (surprise, surprise) a winery on the way back.

Our first view of Coquimbo seems certainly an improvement on the last place - for starters we’re looking at a little pirate ship now instead of a giant container ship ☠️🤣

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The hills surrounding the port are festooned with a crazy collection of brightly-coloured houses, huts and shacks. The skyline is dominated by the Cruz del Tercer Milenio, an 83-meter high crucifix erected in celebration of the Catholic Church’s jubilee in 2000.

Our guide for today is Cristobal, whose enthusiasm is entirely lost on this dreary crowd. Sadly, the PA system on the bus doesn’t seem to be working at the rear of the coach, so I’ve no idea what he’s saying 🙉

Our trip today will take us south, to the Tabali region, famous for its wine production. We take Route 5, which is the Chilean part of the Pan-American highway, which stretches almost uninterrupted from Alaska down to the south of Chile - a distance of some 19,000 miles.

The bus takes us up over the hills, though a dry landscape of yellow grass and cactuses, with the foothills of the Andes on our left, and the Pacific Ocean to the right. Our guide tells us that Chile is in the grips of a 7-year drought, and it certainly shows.

As we continue our journey south, the landscape begins to change, becoming slightly greener, with vast groves of cultivated olives appearing on both sides of the road. Before long, we leave the highway and begin to climb up a windy road into the hills.

We arrive at the entrance to Enchantment Valley, and the bus begins a slow descent to the valley floor. Despite the dryness, the valley is lush with green trees and cactuses, and birds and butterflies abound.

This is where wel find the petroglyphs: ancient carvings in the rocks left by tribes who used to inhabit the valley. Owing to the exposed nature of the landscape, the glyphs are very worn, but are still clearly visible in the rocks.

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Unfortunately our group gets quite split up as we’re moving around the site, so we manage to miss the guide’s explanation as to what each of these images symbolises. Still, Mum and I are infinitely more interested in the natural history of the place, and our attention is drawn by a small bush-tailed mouse that is flitting around the rocks.

We spend around an hour on the valley floor, walking between the petroglyphs and stopping every few minutes to gaze at the bird life through our binoculars. It’s a beautiful place.

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Once we’re all assembled back on the bus, we take a short 10 minute drive to the Tabali Winery, which is nestled in the next valley. I must confess myself a little wine-tour weary at this point - this is our third vineyard tour, and our second in three days. There’s only so many ways one can crush a grape...

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Wine-tasting is another matter entirely 😋

Or maybe not... They’re only providing red wind for the tasting! The horror 😱

I try a ‘when in Rome’ approach and take a sip of a Cabernet Sauvignon, only for it to inflame my dormant heartburn at the first drop. I honestly don’t see how drinking his stuff can be a pleasure 😖

Ah manna from heaven! After some sharp words from one of my fellow guests, \240our tour guide managed to procure one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for those of us who don’t drink red (travelling with complaining pensioners works in our favour occasionally). Of course, many lying buggers observe no such distinction and queue up regardless with their red wine-stained glasses, but I’m front of the queue, so at least I get a glass.

After a 10 minute break to buy wine - which of course lasts 40 minutes because there are 30 people trying to make purchases with dollars and credit cards in a tiny shop staffed by one vacant-looking shop assistant, we’re back off to Coquimbo to rejoin the ship.

Mezquita de Coquimbo, built as a cultural centre in 2004. The minaret is a copy of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh.

We’re sailing away at 5pm, and will spend tomorrow at sea before arriving in Arica, our final Chilean port, on Thursday. Tonight’s festivities include a drinks party round at Jan and Terry’s in the adjacent penthouse, then dinner in the Beach House 🍔😋

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Oh, I keep forgetting to mention this - on our boat we have an elderly pair of identical twins. Perhaps not so exceptional, were it not for the fact that these guys dress identically too. Every day for the past 35 days, we’ve seen these guys walking around the boat, and every day, they’re dressed in exactly the same clothes as each other - right down to the shoes. In fact, today is the first day I’ve seen any difference between them - they have different backpacks \240🙂

36
South Pacific Ocean

Day 36 ☀️ 23°C

At sea

It’s a very lazy day today. The sun is out as we track our way northwards up the Chilean coast. By noon, we’ve travelled 397 miles from Coquimbo.

This afternoon it seems the Oasis Spa is getting the full Shaw experience. I’m booked in at 13:45, Mum is going at 14:00, and Dad is in for a massage at 15:00 🧖🏻‍♂️🧖🏼‍♀️🧖🏻‍♂️

Our plans for Arica tomorrow have already been somewhat scuppered. We’d originally booked onto a trekking tour along a rocky coastal path, but I’m having problems with my left ankle (I fractured it a few years ago, it didn’t heal well, and now I have achilles tendinosis in the ligament). It normally doesn’t stop me doing much, but after the valley walk yesterday my ankle is very sore, and with the Machu Picchu trip starting in just 3 days, I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and not do anything that might make it worse, especially as the overland tour will involve walking at altitude.

At this point, please allow me to introduce you to Aunty Martha. She’s a middle-aged, fussy spinster, who doesn’t travel well, is prone to fits of sweltering and fatigue, can’t cope with the local food, and is overly prone to accidents. I’m sure you can picture such a character, probably clutching a hand-fan and smelling vaguely of lavender. Well, Aunty Martha is me - it’s a charming sobriquet that my beloved Juanito has bestowed upon me, owing to my propensity to complain and be rather dramatic, especially when outside of the comfort of my own four walls. And the awful thing is he’s quite right - there is ample historical evidence to suggest I’m not the easiest of travellers. Nota bene, dear reader, as I’m sure this leitmotiv will recur as the temperature (and the altitude) increases 🤣

Anyway, unfortunately the remaining tours in Arica look rather dull - I dislike museums, and the other excursions all involve significant amounts of walking. So I think my only option will be to cancel the one I’m booked on and just stay around the port. It seems that the dock isn’t far from the town centre, so I guess I can just take a leisurely stroll into town with my ankle strapped up. Mum and Dad are still going to do the coastal walk. So Aunty Martha will just have to find a local café and sit and watch the world go by 👵🏻☕️

Speaking of drama, on my way back from my massage I bump into a couple who came with us to Iguazú, and they tell me that one of our fellow Iguazú overlanders had a dreadful accident yesterday in Coquimbo, breaking her leg really badly 😱 Apparently they’ve got her back onboard now, but the break is so bad that they’ll be taking her off at Lima, either for surgery there, or to be flown back to the UK. Either way, her cruise is over. I can’t honestly say I remember the woman they were talking about, as she and her husband were on the other tour bus, but what an awful thing to happen! I still don’t know exactly what occurred, but I’m sure the rumours will make their way around the ship quick enough.

Tonight is a formal evening onboard, in which I have absolutely no interest in participating. For me, the issue with formal evenings is twofold - the discomfort of formalwear (upon which I have lamented to death in this journal, apologies), and also the change in menu. I’m a man of fairly simple tastes (🍔🍟) and on formal evenings the galley seem to zhoosh-up the menu to the point of inedibility for me, as it seems to just mean more fish, offal and game - none of which I eat. So, I’ve instructed Mum and Dad to go to the restaurant as normal, as Mum really does enjoy getting dressed up, and I shall be having an evening of room service pizza and movies curled up by myself in my cabin. Mum seems to think that this is a hardship...

... I most vehemently beg to differ 😍

37
Arica, Chile

Day 37 ☀️ 25°C

🇨🇱 Arica, Chile

We dock in Arica at just after 8am. This is the most northerly coastal city in Chile, with a population of 197,000. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m not going on the coastal walk today, so I pull on the ankle strap and head into town, on a mission for my mother to track down some pisco liquour and, if possible, a manicure set.

On my way through reception I see the lady with the broken leg - I do remember her, just not from the description I was given yesterday. She looks in a bad way, her whole leg is thickly bandaged, although she tells me it’s not been set, they’ve just stabilised it until she can have the operation. She was on an organised tour, was just walking over some uneven shale, and her ankle went under her and she fell. They were booked on the Machu Picchu tour too. Poor woman 😞

This is another busy working port, so we have to take a shuttle bus to get to the main entrance. Immediately obvious is the Morro de Arica, a 139m mound of rock topped with a giant Chilean flag.

Apparently there’s a great view from the top of that, but to get to it you have to climb a steep road, and my ankle is not up for that.

I’ve located a supermarket (thank you Google Maps) and so I head up the hill following San Marcos street, then making a left back towards the central area. Unhelpfully, the supermarket is underground, so I spend a good few minutes scratching my head and staring at the map 🤣

Mission semi-accomplished (I got the pisco), I head back down the long pedestrian street, dipping into shops in the hopes of finding a manicure set armed with no Spanish and picture off the Internet. Surprisingly good results!

By now the thirst is setting in, so I make my way into the nearest food establishment (McDonald’s, don’t...) and then swiftly walk out again on seeing the size of the queue. It seems that you can place your order using a mobile app here in Chile, but rather than simplify matters, it just seems to cause chaos, with a whole mass of people around the till waiting for food while others are trying to order.

Defeated, I wander on, knowing how strongly certain people would chastise me anyway for coming all the way to Chile and then eating in McDonald’s. Halfway down the road, there’s a little bar that looks interesting, even more so when I venture inside it’s capacious depths, as the room stretches a long way back into the building. I order a basket of empanaditas, little stuffed pastries containing ham and cheese.

They’re absolutely delicious. I sit back and chew my way through these, watching the world go by outside 🙂

I probably should’ve planned my activities a little better, as my sightseeing will now be encumbered by my shopping. Oh well.

I’m back on the pedestrian street, and I can feel my scalp burning (hola, Aunty Martha, ¿qué tal?), so I duck into a Chilean version of Burton’s and find a cap. It doesn’t really suit me, but that’s hardly the point. Having made my purchase, I manage to set the alarms off on the way out - turns out there’s a security tag on the deodorant I bought in the supermarket. Does beg the question as to why it didn’t set the alarm off on the way in though...

The Catedral de San Marcos de Arica, designed by Gustave Eiffel and constructed in the 1870s.

On the whole, I’d have to say Arica is a vast improvement on the last two ports, aesthetically-speaking. I head back to the ship, passing through the main square again, and stop for a chat with some of the Iguazú overlanders. At this point, I was just planning on going back onboard, but I remember that there’s a beach supposedly just round the headland, so I take a slow walk round, with a view to sitting on the sand for a while.

El Laucho beach in the distance.

Unfortunately my map-reading skills are crap, and the area I’m heading for isn’t a beach at all, it’s a bay lined with concrete breakwaters. There is a beach further round, but that’s a lot further than my gammy ankle wants to carry me, so I turn around and head back to the ship.

The harbour at Isla Alacran

It appears our 6pm sailaway is to be slightly more festive than usual - a carnival has turned up to see us off!

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Extreme zoom, I’m afraid, but I couldn’t get any nearer, owing to the dense crowd of selfish old buggers who were lining the promenade deck and not letting any others come to the front for a look. I don’t know why I’m remotely surprised. But I shall remember that if we ever need to man the lifeboats... 🖕🏼👋🏼

38
South Pacific Ocean

Day 38 ☀️ 26°C

At sea

Today will be another full day spent at sea as we travel along the Peruvian coast towards our next port, Callao. Although, I suspect it won’t be as lazy as the last sea day - once we reach Callao we’re disembarking for 4 days to visit Cuzco and Machu Picchu in Peru and then Guayaquil in Equador, before rejoining the ship once it arrives in Manta, so today will be occupied with laundry and packing.

But first there is the mandatory muster drill to complete. On long cruises such as this, it’s a legal requirement that they give us a refresher on where to go in an emergency, and to make sure we know how to put on a lifejacket etc. To be honest, that’s the least of our worries - having just witnessed the squabble to get into the lift, half of these old buggers will have drowned long before they make it into a boat 😒

Duly assembled, we sit and listen to the captain’s safety announcements. There’s also a change in itinerary mentioned - to an initial collective groan until they realise it’s something good - as it now seems we’re going to be arriving in Martinique a day early and having an overnight stay there. Excellent news for me, especially as that’s the only place in the Caribbean where I get free mobile data 🤣🤓

On the way back from the muster drill I’m cornered by one of the ladies who was on the petroglyphs tour with us in Coquimbo. She and her husband have made a complaint to the tour desk about the facilities on the excursion, and for what they see as the poor value for money of the wine tasting, and are demanding a refund. Apparently they’ve offered her £15 back, but she doesn’t consider this in any way adequate and is planning to take the matter higher, and is thus clearly looking for support from other similarly-enraged passengers. It’s a rather awkward exchange, as I’m not going to give her what she’s looking for - I thought the tour was perfectly enjoyable. Personally, I’m not the kind of person who signs up for a tour to a desert valley and expects to find 5-star toilet facilities magically waiting for me, and the wine at the vineyard might not have been to my tastes, but that’s hardly anyone else’s fault. I’m yet again left to marvel at the patience and resolve of the staff who work on this ship, having to deal with issues like this all day every day, whilst maintaining a smile on their faces.

Speaking of the staff, let me tell you, they are the ships greatest asset. I’ve heard several people over the years say that they come back year after year not especially for the ship, but rather for the crew. They are a phenomenally hard working bunch. I’m also staggered by what an incredible memory for names some of them have - bear in mind there are 1,850 passengers on here, yet I’m still addressed as Dr Shaw by staff I’ve only infrequently met. I’m generally good with names and faces, and I know 43 of the crew by name now, but that pales into insignificance next to some of these guys.

The majority of the housekeeping and catering staff come from India and the Philippines. I spend a lot of time speaking to the ones I know throughout the day (after all, most of them are far nearer to my age than my fellow passengers), and they tell me that the company looks after them very well, and they are very happy to be working aboard Aroura, despite the many months away from home that it involves. Take my cabin steward, Michael, as an example. He’s 27, from the Philippines, and has told me on several occasions that this is his dream job - to be working aboard a cruise ship, getting the chance to see new parts of the world, whilst earning money to send home to support his mother and siblings, for whom he’s the primary wage-earner. He’s a fairly new recruit to P&O - just 7 months into his first contract, but prior to this he worked for two years in hotels in the Philippines in order to get the necessary experience to apply for this job, and he tells me he feels lucky every day to be here.

Tonight, by virtue of the fact that Mum and Dad have booked another three cruises while we’ve been on this boat, we’ve been invited to a special dinner event by the loyalty and future cruises department. We, along with 8 other guests, are hosted by three of the loyalty team, and it’s very interesting to spend time with them, hearing about their backgrounds and about how they came to work for the company. Thankfully the dress code is casual for tonight’s dinner, but true to form, my meal still looks like it was ordered by a 7-year-old 🤣

🔹🔷🔹

At 10:30pm, we graciously excuse ourselves, as my suitcase remains unpacked on my bed, and we’re meeting at 07:45 tomorrow morning to leave for the airport. Frantic packing will ensue, as I’m determined to get a good night’s rest tonight.

39
Callao District

Day 39 (part 1) ☁️ 22°C

🇵🇪 Callao to Lima, Peru

Today is the day! We’re all packed up and ready to leave the ship at 07:45, and promptly dispatched into buses for the 30 minute drive to Lima airport.

Callao is the commercial port of Lima, as we work our way towards the city, we pass brightly coloured dwellings nestled in amongst industrial buildings, as little tuk-tuks fly past in every direction.

As we move further inland, picking our way through the early morning traffic, the area becomes more densely urban. Most of the buildings seem unfinished on the upper floors - I remember being told in Cape Verde that it was common practice among families there to buy a plot of land, start building, move into the ground floor, and then add stories as and when finances permit. Perhaps that’s the same approach here.

Our guide on the bus is hilarious, though not intentionally. The PA system is atrocious, but he keeps putting the microphone practically in his mouth, so the distortion is awful. We keep asking him to move the mic further away, but he remembers for 3 seconds then goes back to what he was doing before. No idea what he’s saying. Sounds like he’s talking underwater.

The airport is the usual chaos, but before too long we’re through security and waiting for our flight.

There are several flights a day from here to Cusco, but so far all are delayed. Our new guide, Juan Manuel (Manny), tells us that the weather in Cusco last night was awful, raining all night, and now the clouds are really thick, so it’s delaying the planes. Apparently this is a regular occurrence, so we take a pew and wait our turn.

Just before 11am, we board the plane for our 90 minute flight to Cusco, a city of 435,000 people perched high up in the Andes at 11,200 feet above sea level. So I guess the plane just takes off then parks. 🛫⛰🤣

Btw, the lady in the seat in front of me has a cat in her lap 🐈🤷🏻‍♂️

We’ll soon find out soon how Aunty Martha copes with the altitude 😉

Continued in part 2.

40
Cusco

Day 39 (part 2) 🌦 14°C

🇵🇪 Cusco, Peru

Arrived into Cucso after a fairly uneventful flight. The landing was rather exciting, with mountains on either side and some last minute banking before touching down on a very short runway.

Walking around here is a supreme effort, and I’m not the only one feeling it. Several of our company are struggling with the altitude, my Dad included. Thankfully this is a one-way trip though, as the buses have driven round to meet us at the other end of the citadel.

From here we make a short drive to the Cristo Blanco statue, Cusco’s answer to Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, which overlooks the city.

This is the entrance to our hotel 😧 We’re staying in a former monastery 👼🏼

We’re provided with a welcome drink of cocoa tea, which a local remedy for altitude sickness. It smells like sweaty underwear, and tastes little better, but when in Rome...

We’re given a whole 5 minutes to dump our bags before heading out for lunch (told you this was a punishing itinerary). We’re heading to a local restaurant for a three-course meal of typical Peruvian food. Sounds good!

And indeed it is! We start with a chicken, vegetable and quinoa broth...

...followed by Aji de Gallina, a chicken stew made with yellow peppers...

...all followed by a delectable warm chocolate tart.

Yet again stuffed to the gunwales, we take a very slow walk back to the bus, passing through the Plaza de Armas, the main square where the cathedral is located.

The bus takes us up the windy hills over the city, to Saqsaywaman. These are the remains of a citadel built by the Killke culture in 1100AD and expanded upon by the Inca empire in the 13th Century. They’re mostly ruined now, but there are sections of the complex that are still intact.

🔹🔷🔹

The way the chunks of stone have been fitted together is incredible, as there is no mortar of any kind used in the construction.

Walking around here is a supreme effort, and I’m not the only one feeling it. Several of our company are struggling with the altitude, my Dad included. Thankfully this is a one-way trip though, as the buses have driven round to meet us at the other end of the citadel.

From here we make a short drive to the Cristo Blanco statue, Cusco’s answer to Rio’s Christ the Redeemer, which overlooks the city.

The statue has a fantastic view over Cucso.

The name Cusco derives from the Aymara language, and comes from the phrase qusqu wanka (stop it, it means ‘Rock of the owl').

That central square is where we had lunch.

After this stop, we head back into the buses and drive back to the hotel, where we now have a few hours of free time. I make use of the time to take a bath and then walk back down into the square in search of pins. Walking down isn’t a problem, but the steps on the way back up took me a full 10 minutes!

Plaza de Armas

Dinner was to be served at the hotel. We ventured down at 8:15. Thankfully I’d put my jeans and a nice top on - despite assurances that there were no formal dress requirements on this overland tour, this place is very posh, and they even have live music playing.

🔹🔷🔹

For dinner, I had a warm vegetable salad, monasterio-style rolled chicken with potatoes, and a perforated eardrum.

Now there’s no denying this lady has talent. But I personally think that a weapon instrument like that needs a much bigger performance space 🙉

On several occasions she hit notes of such pitch and volume that we were forced to hold our wine glasses still.

It’s a very weary group that’s making their way to bed now. Our alarm call is 6am tomorrow, and we must be ready, breakfasted, and on the bus by 7:30 for our bus transfer to Ollantaytambo.

41
Ollantaytambo

Day 40 (part 1) 🌧 8°C

🇵🇪 Cusco to Ollantaytambo, Peru

It’s pissing down outside. After a rotten night’s sleep (2 hours max), I’m up and ready to go to Machu Picchu. We’re travelling there by train, and we’ll arrive there this afternoon, but this morning we’re visiting Ollantaytambo, an Inca archaeological site 45 miles to the northwest of Cusco.

Our minibus weaves through the mountain road, reaching a height of 12,000 feet (oh Aunty Martha, how will you cope?) before descending down into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. To say this place is atmospheric would be an understatement.

So far we’ve passed at least 10 old ladies wrapped in traditional shawls with the big cowboy hats on, but never when my camera has been at the ready. \240I’m determined to get a picture today.

As we pass through the modern town, we pass vast fruit markets, and old ladies carrying huge cloth-covered baskets on their backs. Our destination is the old Inca settlement, with cobble-lain streets and narrow roads.

A Quechua girl sings a traditional song for us, provided of course we cross her palm with silver afterwards 🎶💸

We’re taken into one of the old Inca dwellings, which is still occupied by the local people, although the present inhabitants are under legal order not to make any changes to the structure, as this is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Our first surprise is the guinea pigs. I used to have three myself in my youth, but they were never allowed free run of the sitting room. However, these are not beloved family pets. See that pot in the corner... This here’s guinea pig eatin’ territory 🍖

The family that live here maintain many traditions, including keeping great grandma on a shelf to ward off evil spirits.

Our final stop in Ollantaytambo is the far end of the complex, where terraced rows are set into the hillside. This is the area where the Incan royalty would have lived

🔹🔷🔹

Finishing our tour of of the Inca settlement, we board the bus for the short trip to the train station for the Machu Picchu railway.

We’re travelling on a private train today, the Inca Rail, which promises first class service in panoramic coaches.

How fancy.

Problem is, I feel we’re attempting to make this trip in a style that nature (and the relatively primitive narrow-gauge rail tracks) will just not allow. As soon as we start moving, it becomes very apparent that this isn’t going to be a smooth ride. Within 5 minutes, my (thankfully empty) water glass rattles onto the floor, and my knife has hit the deck no less than 4 times.

As predicted, it’s about 30 minutes into the trip when the driver takes an aggressive turn and several full glasses of red wine smash all over the guy in black in the next cubicle. He takes it in good part, although he tells us all his wife’s previously pristine white knickers are now a soggy pink. Somewhat of an overshare.

There’s a bar with an open balcony in the next carriage, with two chaps playing Peruvian music. Standing on the balcony while flying through this landscape, with the river roaring beneath us, is quite an experience.

🔹🔷🔹

🔹🔷🔹

Before long, we’re arriving in Aguas Calientes, the train stop for Machu Picchu. From here, it’s a 30 minute bus ride to the ancient complex.

Continued in part 2.

42
Machu Picchu

Day 40 (part 2) 🌦 20°C

🇵🇪 Machu Picchu, Peru

And so we’re here! Well, almost.. We’ve made it through the train station exit, which appears to lead out through the back of a market, and dodged a crowd of 30 very exuberant children having a water and foam fight, and now we just have a 25 minute bus ride before our pilgrimage is complete. Of course, it’s starting to sink in that every journey we’ve made so far will have to be repeated in reverse order in a few hours, when it will be pitch black and we‘ll all be totally knackered. The train should be especially interesting when we can’t see the bends in the track coming, so a good few more of us are likely to have a wine bath, I think. But still. Onwards!

The approach road is a hairpin nightmare. But when we get to the top, all is forgotten.

Walking into this place is a surreal experience. I’ve been to the Great Wall, I’ve climbed the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico, and I’ve stood before giant Alaskan glaciers, but nowhere have I felt as excited as seeing this place for the first time with my own eyes. I must have fired off 300 photos within the first 5 minutes. After giving us time to gather our thoughts, our 3 hour tour of the site begins. I must confess I’m in such a state of wonder that I’m scarsely listening to the guide’s spiel, so I can’t actually tell you what anything is that I’m photograping, but no matter. We have Google for that.

🔹🔷🔹

🔹🔷🔹

🔹🔷🔹

I even manage to get my shot of a little old Peruvian lady in the traditional outfit:

I’m taking most of my pictures today on my DSLR camera, so I can’t post any of those pics until I get back to the ship (didn’t bring my laptop).

This place is everything I was expecting it to be, and more. To be honest, the hoardes of tourists that I anticipated to be clumping all over everything aren’t really here - of course, there are plenty of people, but it isn’t spoiling anyone’s enjoyment.

🔹🔷🔹

On return to the citadel entrance, utterly exhausted and desperate for some rehydration, I slink off to a tiny café in search of a Coke Zero, while a futile conversation ensues amongst the rest of the group as to who wants to continue up to the top of the complex - they stopped letting people in at 4pm, and it’s now quarter past. So we board the bus and zigzag our precarious way down the mountain back towards the river and the train station.

Look at this hot mess 😱

Aguas Calientes, also known as Machupicchu Pueblo, sits at the confluence of the Urubamba River and one of its tributaries.

The Urubamba River is a swollen mass, carrying sediment downstream.

We now have and hour and a half to kill before our train departs, so we swiftly find an accommodating-looking bar and place a drinks order. As my meal on the way here was a bit of a bust (I don’t eat fish and the main course was salmon), we order a plate of nachos and chips so at least I’ve got a buffer in the event of another inedible meal on the way back, as it’ll be far too late to find food by the time we arrive at the hotel. I’m getting better with my Spanish - managed quite well with the waitress, and she didn’t try to diddle us like she did with the other British group, so we did well there 🤣

Getting back on the train, we forego our standard British manners and try to elbow our way aboard first, so we can get a table for all three of us (we had to split up on the way). Mission accomplished.

After a dinner of mushrooms and mashed potatoes (actually quite nice), the band fires up in the bar carriage, so we make our way back on the promise of a party. And lo and behold, one breaks out.

Having washed down my altitude sickness medication with two Pisco Sours (not a great idea), we’re having a whale of a time. So good, in fact, we totally fail to notice we’ve arrived at the station.

A very tired - but exhilarated - group makes its way back to the buses for the 2 hour drive back up through the hills to Cusco. We’ve been given a reprieve from the boot-camp schedule for tomorrow, as we don’t have to meet until 10am. I’m delighted to hear that, as I really didn’t sleep much last night, so another 6am breakfast would’ve been ill-received.

43
Cusco

Day 41 (part 1) 🌦 14°C

🇵🇪 Cusco, Peru

Woke up this morning from a blissful - if only brief - sleep, having been so exhausted yesterday I fell straight into bed. Woke up really early, but I have the dubious honour of still being late for breakfast at 9am.

We’ve got a brief city tour planned for this morning, which following discussions seems to be a guided tour of the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, and then of the cathedal in the main square. Now, I’m not great with churches - I generally dislike being in them, so an intricate guided tour of two of them is not much of a treat to me. But the lunch stop is at the end, so if I want feeding, then I have to go.

Driving round Cusco for the past two days, I’ve noticed lots of rainbow flags and rainbow murals around the place. I didn’t expect Cusco to be a Mecca for gay culture 🏳️‍🌈

🔹🔷🔹

🔹🔷🔹

But a quick google search reveals my error - these are not pride flags (for starters, these have 7 colours, ours have only 6). This is actually the flag of Cusco 🤦🏻‍♂️

Our first stop is the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo. I commit a cardinal sin straight away, as photography is forbidden...

I take issue here - I can understand places forbidding flash photography, as the flash bulbs could over time damage the paintings. Or a gallery not wanting photographs taken for copyright reasons. But what harm, pray tell, am I going to do with my iPhone?

Case in point - we’re told explicitly we can’t photograph these oil paintings because of the risk of damage. Oops 🖕🏼

Yes, you’re seeing correctly. These paintings are hanging outside. In the sunlight. But taking flash-free photographs will damage them irreparably? Give me strength.

Listening to a detailed commentary is sapping my will to live today, so I excuse myself to find a bathroom. They’re somewhat unhelpfully located in another building, but to get there you have to walk through the gardens, which are infinitely more interesting to me than what’s going on inside.

🔹🔷🔹

Somewhat reluctantly I rejoin my group, who is thankfully near the end of the tour. After running the gauntlet of street vendors trying to flog us painted gourds and ‘genuine’ ancient coins that look like they were minted yesterday, we get back on the bus and make our way round to the cathedral.

The Catedral del Cuzco is locaed in the main square, and here again photography is forbidden. We can, however, buy photographs in the gift shop 🤔💸

Inside, it’s the usual show of material oppulence dressed up as piety, and the mystery of what happened to all the Inca gold and silver is soon solved: it’s all in here. Like most of the other churches in the area, this cathedral was build on top of existing indigenous temples, so as to figuratively and physically squash the old religions out. Sorry for my negativity and probable insensitivity, but organised religion (as opposed to spirituality) doesn’t bring out my best side.

Our tour ends just as the heavens open, so it’s a swift dash across the plaza to the restaurant, where another delicious three course meal is presented to us. This one was beef with double carbs.

Stuffed again, we pile back into the bus and take the 10 minute drive to the airport. Our time in Cusco has come to an end, and it’s safe to say that this has been an experience I shall hopefully remember for a very long time ☺️

Continued in part 2.

44
Lima

Day 41 (part 2) 🌤 26°C

🇵🇪 Lima, Peru

Arrived safely in Lima, although take-off in Cusco was just as sporty as Saturday’s landing. Also, I’m not au fait with modern parenting, but since when has it been acceptable to allow kids to watch iPads with no headphones and with the volume on full blast for the whole duration of a flight? It’s all the rage here in Peru, clearly.

Our hotel is 40 minutes away, although given the state of Lima traffic (almost as bad as Nottingham’s), that’s probably only a distance of a few miles. We have been met by the same guide who brought us to the airport on Saturday, but thankfully they seem to have fixed the PA system 🤣

We’re staying at the Swissôtel Lima, a 5-star hotel located in the San Isidro district. There have been muttered questions from some of our company as to why we’re staying so far away from the airport, as tomorrow we’ll have to get up at 5:30. The answer, it seems, is that this is actually the nearest 5* hotel to the airport. Some people are not happy, as we’re staying in a lovely hotel but have no time really to enjoy it. It does make me feel sorry for the tour guides - you can guarantee that if they’d checked us into a 2* Ibis at the airport there’s have been complaints about that too! Some people are never happy.

My room

My view

So its a quick dinner for me and then off to bed. Although I’m not sure I can stomach breakfast at 5:30 tomorrow, I might just leave it until we get to the airport.

45
Jorge Chavez International Airport

Day 42 (part 1) 🌤 26°C

🇵🇪 Lima, Peru

My 05:30 alarm call was not well received 😴

I skip breakfast, partly because it’s too damn early, but mostly because it’s Juanny’s birthday today, and I wanted to have plenty of time to call him.

Not sure how exciting today is going to be - it’s pretty much a full day of travel and/or waiting in airports. We’ll arrive into Guayaquil around noon, and then have a long northward drive through eastern Ecuador to meet up with the ship in Manta. I’ve no idea if this is going to be a scenic tour, or the equivalent of 4 hours on the M25. Let’s see.

Either we’ve taken a wrong turn, or there’s a rip-off merchant around here 🤣

Even at this hour, the traffic is dense.

On arrival at the airport, check-in goes smoothly. However, when we arrive at immigration, it becomes clear that something isn’t right. I’m first in the queue. The inspector flicks through my passport, sees the cruise stamp from Callao, and makes some grumbling noises. I’m then ushered over to a different queue, and I hear her telling the other agent that we’re not registered properly because we’ve come in through a cruise ship, rather than an airport. At this point I break the bad news to him that I’m the first of 50 passengers arriving in the same situation 🤣

The extra processing means it takes me nearly 10 minutes to get through immigration, so all complaints about the early start need be forgotten, as it’s going to take a bloody long time to get everyone through.

Having skipped breakfast at the hotel, I hot-foot it to the nearest restaurant for some food. Prices here seem ridiculously high - even by airport standards. Scrambled eggs and bread for US$12? Are Peruvians made of money? At these prices, I bite the bullet and opt for a hamburger, especially as I’ve no idea what’s gonna be in that lunchbox that’s waiting for us in Guayaquil.

This was £17. Don’t be fooled by the picture, it wasn’t even nice.

I’m whatsapping Mum. They’re still in the immigration queue. That’s 40 minutes now since I got through, and counting.

We’re finally all reunited after an hour, just in time for them to announce a change to the boarding gate 🤣

My god, a free airline meal on short-haul! Not seen that since China!

It contained precisely two small chunks of chicken in a tomato sauce, plus some boiled rice, but still, I’m not complaining!

Continued in part 2

46
Guayaquil

Day 42 (part 2) 🌦 28°C

🇪🇨 Guayaquil, Ecuador

Landed in Guayaquil after a very comfortable flight and headed to the immigration queue. We’d been warned that last year there were loads of immigration documents and landing cards to fill out, but all that seems to have gone now, and we sail through. Although, given what just happened in Peru, I’m a little concerned now we’ve been checked into Ecuador, we might not be checked as leaving when the ship sails tonight. I’d hate to be barred from future entry for overstaying my 90-day visa waiver 🤣

So barely 5 minutes after clearing immigration I commit my first faux pas, although I don’t realise it until later. I head to a shop to stock up on Diet Coke for the 4-hour journey, but I don’t have any local currency, so I ask the guy behind the till in my best Spanish if I can pay in US dollars. He laughs and says ”yes of course”. I immediately panic as to why he’s laughing and think I must’ve mispronounced something, but the transaction proceeds without issue. It’s only half an hour later - as our bus tour guide tells us of how massive inflation and subsequent currency devaluation in the early 2000s led to the country abandoning the Ecuadorian Sucre and adopting the US dollar instead - that I realise why he was laughing at me. I literally couldn’t have paid with anything else 🤦🏻‍♂️

Leaving the airport we’re instantly reminded of how much nearer to the equator we now are - the humidity is very high. There’s also a lovely big pond full of coy carp having a feeding frenzy 🎏

Outside, we’re ushered onto our buses. Our new guide is called Walter, and for once Jesus really has taken the wheel, as his Ecuadorian namesake will be driving us to Manta.

We are given a packed lunch for the trip, with those of us who are food-fussy being called forward to collect our specially prepared bags. Strangely, Mum’s name is called out, and even more strangely, she’s handed her special pre-ordered vegan lunchbox. Mum is not a vegan. She’s not even a vegetarian - she’s never met a slice of lettuce she didn’t give a withering look to. So we’re somewhat confused as to what’s happened there. I fare little better - I can’t eat fish, so rather than being given the ham sandwich that everyone else has received, I’m given a meat-free pack containing a cold cheese sandwich 🤮

As soon as we leave the urban sprawl of Guayaquil, the verdant landscape hits us square in the face. The countryside is lush, and is clearly in receipt of a good daily soaking.

We’re are driving through an agrarian landscape. \240People in this area live off the land. We drive past several spots where people are bathing in the river.

Even from the bus window, it’s clear that Ecuador is a haven for bird life. Black vultures circle in flocks over the road, and large hawks sit like sparrows on telephone lines, scouring the grass verges for prey. White herons stand sentry in the rice paddies. And it’s not just bird life that abounds - Dad has seen a 3ft long iguana sat by the roadside too.

Ninety minutes into our journey, we stop for a toilet break at a petrol station. Unfortunately, so has half of Ecuador (it’s the end of a national holiday here). To the side of the toilet, there’s a grotty little shop selling empanadas. Never one to shy away from potential food poisoning, I swiftly gobble one down.

Delicioso. This one was grey meat flavoured. We’re two hours from the next bathroom. What could go wrong?

As we make our way through the mountains, our guide passes round a collection of the discontinued sucre banknotes for us all to see.

The total value of all of these notes at the time they were discontinued was around $3.50 😮

The back of the bus has turned into a talent show - it seems our guide, Manny, is a skilled origami expert. He’s made a Yoda...

... and a dragon...

At 4:30pm, we drive through the town of Monte Cristi, home presumably to the eponumous count. It’s also the home of a large statue, La Tejedora, which is dedicated to traditional Panama hat making (Panama hats, of course, originated from Ecuador). Apparently the dip in the top of a Panama hat is moulded there by a giant pair of tits. Who knew?

From a hat in two tits...

...to one tit in a hat.

We’ll be arriving in Manta imminently.

Continued in part 3

47
Manta, Ecuador

Day 42 (part 3) 🌤 28°C

🇪🇨 Manta, Ecuador

It‘s nearly 5pm by the time we arrive at the busy port of Manta, where Aurora is sat at berth across the bay.

As expected, this brief passage through part of Ecuador has left me with more questions than answers. A friend from home, who spent 6 months travelling around South America with his partner, told me that Ecuador was one of their favourite places, but I’ve seen so little of it on this trip that I’ll have to come back to find out why. I suppose I should be grateful - we’ve seen more of the country than our fellow passengers on the ship, who are left to make an assessment of a whole country from an 8-hour stop in a single coastal town. But still, that’s often what cruises involve, and in their defence, most people look at a cruise holiday as a whole package, rather than judging it by the sum of its parts.

Here we must leave our awesome tour guide, Manny, who has been with us since we left the ship a few days ago (or was it a month ago? It certainly feels like it!) Much like Juan, our guide for the overland tour of Iguazú (sidebar: what are the chances of getting two guides with the same names as the two guys I live with? 🤣), Manny has been an absolute legend - so funny, supremely organised, and very adept at dealing with even the whingiest of the whinging poms. It takes a special kind of person to do this job, and he’s done it perfectly.

Juan Manuel, or Manny to us 🤩

Back on the ship, I head straight upstairs to get a view of the city:

It’s not worth the effort. There’s a bloody great barge in the way 🤔

But never mind. We sail away an hour later to a beautiful sunset.

That brings to a close our second (and final) overland tour, which was every bit as exhilarating and exhausting as the first. Several people, especially those who only did one overland tour, have asked me which one was the best - that’s almost impossible to answer, as they were so different. The falls were absolutely beautiful, of course, but until this trip I’d never actually heard of them. Machu Picchu, however, is world famous, and is so loaded with mysticism and intrigue that walking into the complex actually did take my breath away. The Iguazú trip was a day longer than this one, and gave us the chance to go to Argentina, but even the shorter Machu Picchu trip allowed us to see more of Ecuador than we would’ve done had we stayed on the ship. I can’t chose between them, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss either trip, personally.

I shall be spending our sea day tomorrow mostly in bed recovering before our transit through the Panama Canal on Thursday 😴

48
South Pacific Ocean

Day 43 🌤 25°C

At sea

As I wake up this morning, the ship is about 100 miles off the east coast of Colombia, as we continue our way up to the Panama Canal. Transit is scheduled for tomorrow, at which point we will leave the Pacific Ocean behind and get our first taste (well, my first taste, at least) of the Caribbean Sea.

Today - as I’m being constantly reminded - is Valentine’s Day. This holds little joy for me, as that smug little shit Cupid has left me high and dry on Valentine’s Day for the past 11 years, and certainly I’m not expecting him to find me floating out here with no WiFi. I’ve insisted Mum and Dad go for a romantic dinner tonight by themselves, as I can think of nothing sadder than of them taking their (nearly) 40-year-old single son along as a gooseberry. No, instead my valentine’s date will be a room service pizza. It may not be marriage material, but it’s packing 10 inches and will definitely leave me with a smile on my face (don’t read that bit, Grandma).

Dad has pulled out all the stops. Valentine’s Day roses for my Mum in the middle of the bloody ocean. What a good boy.

He’ll be on a promise tonight. I’d better give their cabin a wide berth... 💋🙄

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Massage time 💆🏻‍♂️

And by god do I need it. I’ve fallen asleep twice already today, and my legs are aching like mad. I’ve booked for a hot stones massage today, I think, but it’s been so long since I booked it I can’t remember what I’m having. So I may be about to be rubbed up and down with warm rocks, or maybe not.

Actually not. It was a deep tissue massage I had booked. Rather more painful than a hot stones massage, but nevertheless much needed after Machu Picchu. And let‘s face it, a 75-minute oily rub-down from a Jamaican woman is the most physical contact I’ve had on Valentine’s Day in living memory.

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So, after an afternoon of light snoozing and straightening my mum’s hair, by the evening I’m settled into my cabin for my anti-Valentine’s bitter party of one.

💔Pizza... ☑️

💔First Wives’ Club... ☑️

And then there’s a knock at the door...

Dammit. It’s hard to be bitter with a stupid grin on your face... ❤️

49
Panama Canal

Day 44 🌤 30°C

🇵🇦 Panamá - Canal Transit

Woke up at 6am this morning to beautiful blue skies and the skyline of Panama City in the distance.

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We’ve been given a list of times that we’re supposed to reach certain points on the transit, but it seems we’re already ahead of schedule, we were not supposed to reach this bridge (Bridge of Americas) for another 30 mins.

Passing under this bridge brings us into the Panama Canal. This feat of engineering was completed in 1914, which means it’s been in operation for 104 years this year, and since it was opened, more than a million ships have made the passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. Transit is not cheap - taking a ship of this size on a one way passage through the canal costs $399,000. So that means each passenger on board Aurora is paying $216 to travel these 48 miles between the oceans 💸💸💸

Dad is insistent on making it into the first lock before we go to breakfast. I’m starving, but the view by the canal side take my mind off it. For such an industrial route, the banks are teeming with wildlife.

Frigate bird

Hawk of some kind 🤷🏻‍♂️

No idea (geddit?) 👐🏼

Pelican

We slowly approach the first lock gates, the Miraflores locks, which has two chambers, each with its own set of locks. These are the heaviest and highest gates on the canal system, weighing 730 tons and standing 82feet high. This lock will take us up 54 feet to the man-made Miraflores lake.

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Vulture perched on the locks

There are inches to spare on either side, as the ship is guided into the lock by a set of ‘mules’, which are basically high powered engines on train tracks. Each one weighs 55 tons, and they cost $2.2 million a piece! There are pairs on each side of the lock channel, which keep the ship located dead centre so that it can move in under its own steam.

This will be our route through the canal today:

From the Miraflores Locks, we travel just one more mile before arriving at the Pedro Miguel lock, which lifts us 31 feet up to the level of the Gatun Lake, which we will approach brought the Gaillard Cut, a 9-mile canal which slices through the continental divide.

We’re essentially doing this, but in reverse order:

(Can you tell they gave us an information sheet?) 🤣

By 3pm we enter the final part of our transit, the three-level Gatun Locks, which drop us 85 feet down to sea level...

... and then we’re out into the Caribbean!

It looks like my first taste of the Caribbean is going to be a bumpy one. As we round the breakwater north east of Colón, the captain comes on the tannoy to say that he’s expecting strong winds, and therefore a bit more movement this evening than we’ve been used to recently. And he’s not wrong, within 30 minutes of leaving the shelter of the channel, the ship is riding 4m waves.

We’re meant to be dining in on the terrace on deck 8 tonight - the Glasshouse are doing one of their ‘dining under the stars’ nights. At this rate, whatever food doesn’t blow off our plates is gonna slide straight into our laps.

Unsurprisingly, dining under the stars was cancelled, so we just ate in the Glasshouse. In anticipation of the rough seas, I’ve taken a travel sickness pill - but an unfortunate side effect is extreme drowsiness. I’m literally falling asleep in my food, so straight to bed for me 💤

50
Cartagena

Day 45 🌤 33°C

🇨🇴 Cartagena, Colombia

Today is our last destination on the South American mainland, and is a day I’ve been looking forward to on this trip. I’ve lived with a Colombian guy for 4 years now, and having heard so much about Colombia I’m eager to see it at least some of it with my own eyes. Although, true to form, I’m not going to be seeing very much of it, as we’re on a organised tour to an aviary, but I’m hoping that once we’re back I’ll have enough time to go into Cartagena and look around.

Our tour departs a little late, and either I’ve not read the blurb properly or there’s already an alteration to the schedule - we’re stopping at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas first. This is a fortress built in 1536 on the hill of San Lázaro.

We’re dumped for 10 minutes into a crowd of vendors, ostensibly to take photos, but I’m not sure there’s not some collusion going on here. The street vendors are very forceful, determined for us to buy something. I take a few snaps then get back on the bus to get out of the fray, and once we’re all back onboard we drive off to the Colombian National Aviary. Colombia is famous for its diverse bird life, so we thought this tour would give us the change to see some of them, whilst leaving enough time for us to go into the town and mooch around when we get back at 1pm.

The aviary is located about an hours drive away from the port. We drive out through local markets...

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... through the industrial area, passing pertrol refineries, before the landscape becomes more rural as we cross over the bridge onto Barú island.

Once at the aviary, our guide leads us through the enclosures - some open air, some covered, with all manner of tropical birds on show.

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The heat is ferocious, with the temperature dial hitting 34°C while we’re walking around. Having set off late, we’re now even later, as it’s already 1pm (the time we were supposed to be back at the ship). Once the aviary tour comes to a close, we head back to the bus for our 1 hour return journey to the port.

However, our tour guide has a ’treat’ for us. Today, instead of going straight back to the port, they’re going to take us on a tour of the old town, which is announced to collective appreciation. I was planning to go into the old town anyway, so this should save me having to take the hopper bus.

Unfortunately, it soon transpires that what he actually means is that we’ll be driving around the old town, with a 10 minute stop at a carefully selected shop (presumably his mate’s), then back to the boat. There are no photostops. So that means by the time I actually get back to the pier, it’ll be 3:30pm, and therefore too late to go back to the town under my own steam. To say I’m pissed off about this is an understatement, and yet again I’m going to have to try to appreciate a city from behind the grubby window of a moving bus. At the shop, I attempt to make a break for it up onto the ramparts, only to be told by the tour guide that there’s no time for me to go to take pictures 😡

This is the best I could do through the windows. Enjoy:

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Back at the ship and I’m still seething. Cartagena is pretty - far prettier in fact than any of the ports they’ve taken us to so far, and as much as I love birdlife, this was definitely the wrong tour to take today, as I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot. Juan definitely agrees with me:

Lesson definitely learned 😒

At 5:30pm, we sail away from Cartagena, heading for Aruba. The next destination where I get mobile data is Martinique, more than a week away. Although I dare say I won’t manage that long offline and will pay for the WiFi after Bonaire 😜.

51
Caribbean Sea

Day 46 ☀️ 28°C

At sea

Our present position locates us some 40 miles off Colombia’s northern coastline, on a north-easterly heading towards Aruba in the Caribbean Sea. Despite the captain’s warnings last night of 3-4m swells, the sea is pretty much flat calm. As soon as he made the announcement as we left Cartagena yesterday evening, I rushed to take one of my travel sickness pills, as they only work if you start taking them before you start moving. A noted side-effect of them, however, is extreme drowsiness - so much so that Aunty Martha is planning on taking a few boxes home for use as sleeping tablets, as they’re far more effective than Nytol - so whether I just slept through the rough seas I’ve no idea. I’ll have to ask.

This will be my first time in the Caribbean, although it shouldn’t have been. Back in April 2008, we did a cruise holiday with Carnival (I don’t recommend it, incidentally) which was supposed to take us from St Petersburg, Florida, to Grand Cayman Isles, then to Cozumél in Mexico, and back. But it was not to be. Barely an hour after departing, there was an incident which damaged the engine (the ‘incident’ was later seen being thrown bodily into a coastguard vessel, bound in handcuffs and screaming blue murder) which meant that the boat had to limp its way to Mexico and back, bypassing the Caribbean entirely. To add insult to injury, we’d unknowingly booked for Spring Break week, so the whole boat was full to busting with college students fleeing the States’ draconian drinking laws for international waters, where they could legally drink themselves stupid.

A curious thing is happening today. The clocks are going forward one hour at noon. Obviously on trips like this the clock is changing frequently as we pass from one time zone to the next, but the change usually happens at 2am, when (most) people are sleeping. This is my 10th cruise, and I can honestly say I don’t remember the clock ever being changed in the middle of the day. As we’re going straight from 11:59 to 13:00 today, it should make the daily noon bridge announcement a little different at least. If nothing else, it should confuse the hell out of the old dears 🤣

I’ve spent the part few hours putting together a video presentation of photos from the Machu Picchu overland tour - after the Iguazú trip we all met for a photo showing session, which I poopooed a little at the time, but then majorly regretted not participating during the event. There’s talk of another happening, especially as the primary instigators of that event came on the Machu Picchu trip too, so should it happen I want to be ready this time. And to be honest, even if it doesn’t, I’ve had a lot of fun putting it together on what would otherwise have been a rather dull day at sea.

At 3:30pm, I make my way up to the spa for my massage, passing row upon row of sun worshipers, basking like overfed leathery lizards. Some of these are in desperate need of some sunblock. They’re gonna get off this boat in three weeks time looking like racist cariacatures at this rate.

Massage was great. I think that’s my 8th in two months with Yanique now, which by my standards constitutes a long term relationship.

At mother’s behest we’re dining in the main restaurant tonight. I’m disinclined, because... well look at it:

Bear in mind I don’t eat crab or fish, and I hate coriander. It’s basically soft food for those with few teeth or troublesome dentures. Personally I’m far happier with the room service menu, but that unfortunately comes with a side order of dirty looks from mother.

We’ll be docked in Aruba for the whole day tomorrow, so after our snorkelling trip we should definitely have time to walk around and explore. I’m not doing a Cartagena again.

52
Oranjestad, Aruba

Day 47 🌦 28°C

🇦🇼 Oranjestad, Aruba

We’ve arrived into Aruba to find some inclement weather waiting for us 😩 Typical.

We’re off on a snorkelling excursion this morning 🐟🐡🐠

I’m not sure why I booked this, as I can’t actually snorkel. For one, I’m blind as a bat without my glasses, and for two, I can’t wear a diving mask, as I have facial hair (the mask can’t make a seal against my skin, and thus rapidly fills up with water), so booking this may have been a fools endeavour. Alas. Still, I can still hopefully enjoy a swim. Provided of course my swimming shorts still fit...

So, this place is stunning. The rain soon passes and beautiful sunshine takes its place. Our snorkelling trip involves two stops, one at a reef and one at a shipwreck. Mum and I take the plunge as soon as we get the go ahead. Helpfully, there’s a little water slide off the back of the boat, so that makes for a quick entry into the cool waters.

Sadly, I don’t have an underwater camera with me, but the fish were amazing. I even managed to see them, despite my poor eyesight, and by virtue of holding the mask tightly onto the lower part of my face, I managed to not get an eyeful of seawater either.

After the swimming stops, they break out the rum punch, and the party gets in full flow.

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This is Carlos. He’s from Colombia, and he runs the boat. Enough said 😏

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By now, mum and I have had 7 rum punches each, and we’re not sure if the boat is rocking or if it’s just us.

Heading back to the ship, we’re definitely in need of some food to soak up the alcohol 🤪

After a much-needed curry, Mum and I head out into Oranjestad for a walk around, while Dad relaxes in the cabin. Not sure why he’s so tired, he didn’t even swim.

We walk around the town, through the tourist markets, although we find that most actual shops are shut today (it’s Sunday). Along the Main Street we run into someone off the boat that Mum knows, and they tell us that there’s a fancy hotel just around the corner with a Starbucks with free WiFi, so we head there in search of refreshment.

The Starbucks is actually closed, but the hotel WiFi is password free. All is well until we’re politely moved along by a security guard 🤭

From here, we wander down towards the beach area, but must have taken a wrong turn, because we’ve ended up in a private resort. I manage to take a pic before another security guard starts shuffling over, and we decide to head back the way we came.

It’s a beautiful day now, although it’s still very windy

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