December 19, 2021 to January 6, 2022
Mike and Judy Henderson
I'm going to leave this map at the front of the web page so you can visualize where we are.
12/18/2021 (Saturday, one day before departure) Our friend, Janet Brittle, is traveling with us. Janet is a retired violist. She and Judy played many concerts and recording jobs together during their careers. She flew in from Portland today and will stay with us tonight.
Preparing for this cruise was a challenge. You can see on the first page of this blog what we had to go through to prepare to enter Chile. Getting our PCR test results was a nail-biter. We had the samples taken early on Friday, the 17th, and didn't get the results until after 5pm today. If they hadn't shown up, we would not have been able to take the flight. Next tour/cruise I'm going to look for a same-day PCR test. That's what Janet did.
This allowed me to do the "C19 Entrance to the country" requirement for Judy and me. In response we each received an email with the C19 document which includes a QR code. I had done Janet's C19 earlier.
12/19/2021 (Sunday) We were constrained in our travel arrangements. Judy played a concert last night (Saturday) which meant that we couldn't leave until today. And we have to be in Santiago early enough on the 20th to clear the complex Chilean customs process, and in preparation for the departure to Punta Arenas early on the 21st. There weren't a lot of flight options to meet those requirements - no direct flights from LAX to Santiago on the 19th, maybe because it's a Sunday.
LATAM, an airline we've flown a number of times and which does a good job, had flights that met our needs. We fly (5 hours) from LAX to JFK on a Delta/LATAM codeshare with lie-flat seats. Then, after a three hour layover, we take a LATAM flight (ten hours) from JFK to Santiago (SCL), arriving there about 6am on the 20th - a long day of twenty plus hours from the time the limo picked us up. Our return will be non-stop (eleven hours) from Santiago to LAX on LATAM.
The limo pickup was at 4am this morning - our flight to JFK departs at 7:15 so we were up early. We'll appreciate those lie-flat seats to JFK.
Here we are getting ready to depart.
The limo arrived a bit early and there was very little traffic at that time of morning - we arrived at the airport about 4:40am. But when we got to the airport, it was crazy. I don't think I've ever seen it that busy. The lines to check baggage were extremely long, even in the "premium" line which we needed for flying business class. A very nice agent came along and directed us to the Delta One check-in which was empty, and they checked us in quickly.
But then we had to clear security, and the line for that stretched out the door and along the front of the terminal. We have TSA-Pre check, but that didn't help. The people who had "Clear" got through quickly - I'm going to have to look into that. [Update: Clear is $179/year for the first person in a family and $60/year for additional family members. Think of it as insurance against missing your flight due to crowds. I signed up for it.]
Eventually, we got through it all and arrived at the gate about 6:00am. After that, things were normal and the flight left almost on time. The plane was a 767-300.
They served us breakfast and then we went to sleep. I think Judy was exhausted because she was falling asleep at breakfast. She had been so focused on the concert and getting everything ready for our departure that when we got on the plane she just let go.
We arrived in New York on time, about 3:30pm (Eastern time) and went to the Delta/LATAM lounge. While there, I took this shot of a plane taking off from JFK, against the sunset.
Our flight to Santiago leaves about 6:30pm but we went to the gate early because we had to present our PCR test, C19 form and health insurance. It took a little while, but eventually we got on board. It's a 787-9, which is a very nice plane. The business class seats are a bit better than the 767 that we had going to JFK.
Judy was talking with the flight attendants before we took off, and told them how pleased we've been with LATAM and how many flights we've done with them. For example, on our Peru and Galapagos tour, we took nine flights on LATAM, and five before that on a tour of South America.
One of the flight attendants came to Judy and asked us to follow him. He took us to the flight deck and allowed us to sit in the Captain's seat. Here we are. Judy looks like a pilot, doesn't she?
It's an all-glass cockpit. I didn't see any mechanical gauges at all. They would have never allowed us on the flight deck on an US airline.
Here's the captain and the first officer.
After we took off they served us dinner and we tried to sleep. It was a nice ten-hour, overnight flight - LATAM does a good job. The Dreamliner lived up to its name.
12/20/2021 (Monday) We arrived in Santiago on time, about 6:30am, just as it was getting light. As you fly into Santiago from the north there are mountains on each side of the flight path, the Andes on the left and the Chilean Coast Range on the right. Sunrise behind the Andes was quite a sight.
Chile is on a plate boundary between the Nazca plate and the South American plate. The subduction of the Nazca plate under the South American plate has produced the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range.
Clearing Chilean Customs and Immigration was a challenge. When you arrive, you're directed to one of a row of people who check your COVID related documents: PCR test, C19 form, medical insurance, and vaccination card.
After that, you go to another location where you enter your passport number on a terminal and then are assigned to a collection station (see picture below). We were told that we could collect the results on-line and were given the URL. In the meanwhile, we have to quarantine in our hotel rooms - not leave the room for any reason until we received a negative test result.
After a long walk in the airport, we came to a group of Silversea representatives, one of whom went with the three of us to clear the Chilean passport control and to collect our luggage. It was a good thing she took us through all of that because we would have had a hard time on our own, even to just find our way.
There were quite a few Silversea representatives there greeting guests as they arrived. Silversea did a good job of helping us through the process.
After we got our passports stamped, collected our baggage, and had it X-rayed, we were taken to the bus which took us to the hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, where we received our room assignments and tickets for the flight to Punta Arenas.
The hotel is a very nice, modern hotel. This is our room before we messed it up :-)
By this time, we were exhausted, but we had to take an antigen test for boarding the charter flight to Punta Arenas tomorrow. Here's Judy getting tested. You never get accustomed to having that swab stuck up your nose. This test seemed redundant to me. We had just had a PCR test a few hours earlier and the PCR test is more accurate than the antigen test.
After that we took a nap until about 2pm. I checked the status of our PCR tests that were taken at the airport. Janet and I had negative results. Judy's results were not reported yet and didn't show up until almost 5pm. She did test negative, but was really stressed until we received her results.
Later that night we received word that all of the guests had tested negative on the antigen test.
Having all those tests come back negative, after all that anxious waiting, was a real relief. We'll actually be able to board the cruise ship!
These test requirements really make traveling stressful and nerve-wracking. The results of both our 72 hour PCR test and the Chilean customs PCR test were delayed beyond what we expected. Not having a negative test in Chile would have had serious consequences - we would not have been allowed to board the cruise ship and would be stuck in Santiago for a quarantine period.
But, luckily, all three of us eventually received a negative test result which released us from in-room quarantine. In the meantime we had room service bring lunch.
Judy and Janet celebrated passing all the COVID tests with a Pisco sour and a glass of wine at the pool.
Bag pull is at 9pm this evening, and breakfast is at 6am, with departure for the airport at 7:30. We have our boarding passes and seat assignments. The charter flight is scheduled to leave at 8:30am.
12/21/2021 (Tuesday) This morning we fly to Punta Arenas, on the Strait of Magellan, which is in Chile. We don't have to clear customs again. If we went to Ushuaia - which is on the Argentine side of the Beagle Channel - we'd have to clear Argentinian customs and have more COVID screening. The Beagle Channel is closer to Antarctica than the Strait of Magellan, which gives a shorter sailing time to Antarctica. Silversea uses Puerto Williams on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel for their smaller Antarctic ship, the Silver Explorer (144 guests). However, the airport at Puerto Williams (WPU - 4,724 foot runway) can only take smaller aircraft so it's not practical to fly the 200 guests that the Silver Cloud can carry (for expedition cruises) to that location. Punta Arenas has an airport (PUQ - 9,154 foot runway) that can handle large aircraft. [Note: I'm told that we have 180 guests on this cruise.]
There are three ways by ship around South America . The Strait of Magellan was discovered in 1520 by Ferdinand Magellan - Punta Arenas is located on the Strait of Magellan.
Just as a side note, all of the land south of the Strait of Magellan is known as Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). The name was given by Magellan because he saw many fires of the indigenous Yaghan people on the shore.
The second path is the Beagle Channel which was discovered in 1833 by the HMS Beagle - on which Charles Darwin was a passenger. The channel is named after the ship. Argentina is on the north side of the Beagle Channel and Chile is on the south side. The third path is around the cape (Cape Horn) and is the Drake Passage, the wide expanse of ocean between the tip of South America and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. It is named after Sir Francis Drake who discovered the passage in 1577.
However, the passage was probably discovered earlier by Francisco de Hoces in 1526. His ship, the San Lesmes, was part of the Loaisa Expedition. As they approached the Strait of Magellan, his ship was blown southward by a storm and he and his crew reported that they saw the end of land. That's why the passage is called the Mar de Hoces (Hoces Sea) on many Spanish maps. However, it's clear that Francisco de Hoces did not sail through the Drake Passage (neither did Drake) - he returned to the Strait of Magellan and crossed to the Pacific Ocean there. He and his ship were lost a few months later.
No matter what name you give it, it's a treacherous body of water, so we expect some rough seas going down to Antarctica. There's a current that flows around Antarctica, clockwise, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The Drake Passage is relatively narrow so there's a strong easterly current in the passage.
Sailors talk about the "Roaring Forties", the "Furious Fifties" and the "Screaming Sixties". Note that we will be sailing in the Furious Fifties and Screaming Sixties on this cruise.
We were up at 5am this morning for breakfast at 6am. The plan was for us to depart for the airport at 7:30am with our flight to Punta Arenas at 8:30am. However, weather conditions at Punta Arenas delayed our flight, so the group is waiting in the lobby. The weather problem, apparently, is not for our flight to Punta Arenas, but wind that is keeping the ship from docking.
[Update: Based on what we saw when we completed the cruise, I've come to believe that a departure from Santiago to Punta Arenas about noon is standard. The reason for my belief is that the crew on the ship needs to prepare the ship to receive the guests for the next cruise. If the guests arrive too early, there's no reasonable place for them to wait until it's time to board.
When we returned to Santiago from Punta Arenas, the ship had been docked since 3am and we exited our cabins at 8am. Then we just waited for the charter flight from Santiago to arrive at Punta Arenas, which it did about 3pm. There certainly was no reason for delaying the flight to Punta Arenas on the Punta Arenas side of the flight, except that the ship needed to be prepared. If that's true, it would be better for Silversea to tell everyone the real schedule, and the reason for it, instead of making us wait, without any information, on both ends of the flight.]
Here we are waiting in the hotel lobby.
Finally, we were called to the buses about 9:45. There wasn't much traffic going to the airport, and when we got there we were taken around to the other side of airport to the charter flight area. We had to go through a security screening which was a bit less strict than the usual screening, but still included baggage x-ray and metal detectors. [Update: I didn't make a note of the time when we took off, but it must have been between 11 and 12. I think it was about 40 minutes to the airport, then screening and loading.]
Then we boarded the aircraft, an Airbus A-321 which has a 3 and 3 seat layout - all economy, a real cattle-car.
Judy had a window seat and I was stuck in the middle. It was a miserable flight. I'm quite sure that if I'm sent to hell when I die, my punishment will be to be to sit in a middle seat in economy for eternity.
The flight was a bit over three hours. As we approached Punta Arenas, the captain informed us that the wind was blowing at 55MPH. We could see white caps on the water as we approached the airport, and the plane was buffeted by the wind. But the captain and first officer made an excellent landing, to everyone's relief. There was a lot of applause after we touched down.
Since the flight was in-country, we did not have to go through any customs, or COVID checking. We walked out directly to the bus. Silversea was managing our "checked" bags and took them to the ship. They'll be delivered to our cabins.
It was about 20km to the port - we drove on the highway along the Strait and through the town of Punta Arenas. Along the way, we passed a monument to Magellan by Francisco Gazitúa. It was commissioned to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Magellan's discovery of the strait that now bears his name (he entered the strait in 1520). Inside the globe is a representation of Magellan's ship, Trinidad, that he commanded as they sailed through the strait. [Picture taken from the web.] Magellan had four other ships in his fleet, the San Antonio, the Conceptión, the Victoria and the Santiago. The Victoria was the only ship to complete the circumnavigation and Magellan was not on it. He died during the voyage. Only 35 men of the original 270 survived to return to Spain - only 18 were on the Victoria when it first arrived in 1522.
Eventually, we could see the Silver Cloud at the dock.
The bus stopped at a building at the foot of the pier, and there we began our actual ship check-in. The first order of business was to present our documents: Passport, vaccination cards, and PCR test. Silversea requires that you be "fully" vaccinated to go aboard the ship. Here's Judy presenting our documents to one of the medical people.
Then we went through a security check but it was perfunctory - Judy didn't even set off the metal detector with her two metal hips.
From security, we went to the Silversea desk and received the card keys to our cabin, number 542.
After the usual "meet and greet" with the Captain and a few others of his staff, we went to our cabin. It's a nice cabin - maybe not as nice as the one we had on the Silver Origin but the Silver Cloud is quite a bit older. We have a veranda, which we probably won't use. A "drop window" like our cabin on the Silver Origin would be nicer - it would allow us to get the outside air while using the veranda space as cabin space. [Update: I'm told that the Silver Origin window is called a "Horizon Window."]
The bathroom is small, but that's to be expected on a cruise ship. The cabin has a walk-in closet, which is really appreciated. The cabin doesn't have as much storage space (drawers) as the Silver Origin. It took us a little while, but we got everything unpacked and into the closet and drawers - and put our suitcases under the bed.
In the picture below, you can see the complementary parkas and backpacks on the bed. I tried to find out who made the backpacks but couldn't get a good answer. They're very good backpacks - well designed with lots of zippered pockets and a hip belt. We now have four of them - two from the Galapagos and two from this trip. [Update: When putting things away at home, I noticed that the backpacks from the Galapagos trip are different than the ones we received on this trip. The ones from this trip are better than the ones from the Galapagos trip.] The parkas are made by Haglöfs, which is a good name in outdoor wear. The parkas turned out to be a bit too large but we will be able to exchange them tomorrow. [Update: The parkas turned out to be very warm. Some have "Silversea" across the back and some don't. Luckily, ours didn't have that branding - just a discreet name on the left side.] Still to be delivered are our boots that we rented. [Update: The boots were delivered and worked very well. They're insulated and with a good pair of socks, your feet are quite warm. The boots are a bit heavy but never caused us any problems.]
The location of the cabin has proven to be very good. We're about midship (bow to stern) so it's not a long walk to anything.
Just to personalize our cabin, we put this sign on our cabin door.
Silversea offers free "standard" Internet access to all guests, so I connected as soon as we got in the cabin. The program I use, Filezilla, to update the blog simply would not connect. I connected to their "premium" Internet access (which is an extra charge) and I was able to update. My thanks to Karl Kannstadter and Mark Conroy of Silversea for their help with the Internet access. The premium access comes with four connections so I have my and Judy's iPhones, and this computer, connected. Since I had one access left, I connected Janet's iPad.
If Silversea did not have this "premium" access I'd be in real trouble as far as the blog goes.
Our Butler (that's the new name for "cabin attendant") is Flynn Rebello, and he's done a good job helping us get settled.
We had the usual muster shortly after we settled, and then a presentation in the theatre about the expeditions and the weather. Then dinner, and now to bed. The ship sailed at 9pm, while we were at dinner.
Today is the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere so we have light outside until after 10pm.
It's a real relief to be on the ship. The process to get here has been challenging, and several times I thought we were in trouble, especially in getting results from the COVID testing.
Tomorrow we'll be sailing towards the Drake Passage and the South Shetland Islands.
12/22/2021 (Wednesday) At Sea. We exited the Strait of Magellan last night and are sailing along the coast of South America. At 8am we were approximately at 53˚23'S, 67˚54'W, temperature 55˚. The sea is relatively calm - very little swell here.
We go through all the mandatory briefings today. At 9 we had the IAATO briefing which included how to make sure we did not bring any seeds, virus, or other foreign materials to Antarctica. With climate changes and global warming there is an increased chance of importing non-native things into the environment. Also, how to do a wet landing from a zodiac.
Later, we had the opportunity to exchange boots, if needed, and our parkas. The parkas provided were too large for both of us. I had ordered a large and Judy had ordered a medium, chosen according to Silversea's size charts. So I took the medium and Judy traded the large for a small.
I suppose it's a challenge for Silversea to find things for the guests to do when we're just sailing along. One thing they offered was a "Napkin Folding Presentation" by the Dining Room Staff. The staff demonstrated quite a number of ways to fold a napkin, some practical and some humorous.
Here's Janet, demonstrating one of the humorous foldings, "The Little Dutch Girl". They also called this "The Mickey Mouse".
In the evening, Judy and I attended a presentation on the new ship that Silversea has under construction, the Nova, scheduled for its maiden voyage in summer 2023. Overall, I didn't find it that exciting. On the "nice" side, they have outdoor dining at one (or more) restaurants. I think many people enjoy al fresco dining.
On the negative side, the middle range suites were about the same as always. It would have been exciting if they had taken the design of the Deluxe Veranda suites from the Silver Origin to this new ship. Specifically, get rid of the useless space of the veranda and go to the horizon window. Most people don't sit out there, they just want to let in fresh air and check the outside temperature. By expanding the cabin size and installing a huge wall window, you get the advantage of fresh air and a significant amount of extra space in the cabin.
[Update: Since this cruise, we took a cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Splendor. One thing the Splendor had in the suite was a large bathroom - it had both a tub and a shower and TWO sinks. We don't care about the tub, but having two sinks was a real advantage. I would recommend that for the new Silversea ship. End of update.]
Another improvement would be the placement of the bathroom as they did on the Silver Origin, so that the shower is on the outside wall with an electrically opaque window. Those two things were new and nice, and I'd have preferred to see them on this new ship.
A suite, like politics, is local. I'm much more interested in features of the suite than in features of the ship. Most of the time you're out on an excursion during the day and only come back to the ship for dinner and to sleep. So dining and suite features are the most important things about a ship (other than itinerary).
That was about it for today. After dinner it was to bed
12/23/2021 (Thursday) At sea in the Drake Passage, location at 6am, 57˚33'S, 64˚56'W, temperature 34˚F, 1˚C, heading about 180˚. The sea is not bad, long period swells with a peak height of a couple of meters. The ship is rolling gently, but overall, it's pretty mild. Walking on the ship requires some concentration and maybe using the handrail - I'm sure we all look like drunks walking down the corridor:-)
We still have a long way to go to get to the South Shetland Islands.
I've been told that it can be the "Drake Lake" or the "Drake Shake". So far, it's been closer to Drake Lake than Drake Shake.
Here's a video of the sea this morning, taken from the restaurant on deck 5. It's really not bad.
After breakfast I went to a presentation on "Discovering the White Continent" - early voyages in the area of Antarctica. The presentation covered activities up to about 1900 - very interesting.
Side comment: The premium Internet access has been great. The only issue is that the system seems to disconnect your device if you don't use it for a while, forcing you to go back to www.gosilversea.com and "Start" your service. My guess is that they do this to reduce the amount of unattended traffic, such as iPhones uploading pictures to iCloud. Given that we're this far south, it's sort of amazing that we can communicate with the world from here.
Judy and I decided to test our clothing before we use it on an expedition. So we dressed up and went to the top deck to sit for a while. We both agreed that we needed another layer on our legs. Here we are. You'd never be able to recognize us. The parkas are good. They have lots of pockets in the right places and they're warm. I had three layers under my parka.
Taking pictures is going to require removing my gloves - just no way around it.
This evening we had the Captain's Welcome Presentation where the captain introduced his staff and proposed a toast to a successful and enjoyable cruise.
After that, we went to dinner and then to bed. Tomorrow we arrive at the South Shetland Islands, to Livingston Island in the morning and then to Deception Island in the afternoon.
Our adventure continues here