Thursday, February 15, 2018

Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest - Part XI (Reflections + Puerto Montt and Heading Home)

It is hard to express the emotional and learning journeys I encountered over my 21 day Antarctica and Patagonia Adventure on the Seabourn Quest. 

Seabourn Quest in Neko Harbor, Antarctica
What I do know is that after:
  • The anticipation
  • Gathering up my Seabourn parka and being briefed by the Seabourn Expedition Team 
  • Seeing that first penguin in the Falklands (and King Penguins)
  • Crossing the Drake Passage
  • Watching the fog lift and Antarctica instantly appearing
  • Making the first landing and smell of a Gentoo penguin colony
  • Seeing the ice
  • Losing perspective of size and distance due to the magnitude of Antarctica and purity of the air
  • Sitting on a rock and just taking it all in
  • Seeing icebergs
  • Taking a short hike on the snow actually in Antarctica
  • Crossing the Southern Polar Circle
  • Leaving Antarctica
  • Being hit in the face with "civilization"
  • Craving to see something "big" again
  • Needing to again embrace pure nature
I was very happy to awaken at 5:00 a.m. so that I could meet my guide in Puerto Montt, Chile to go on a hike (a real hike); just the two of us.  I made sure I was on the first tender at 6:00 a.m., anxious to meet my guide and head off to hike a slope of a huge volcano.

The drive to the Osorno Volcano was breathtaking.  To the left of me was a spectacular sunrise

Sunrise -Puerto Montt, Chile
and to the right and left of me were but a few of the many volcanoes in Chile.  

And then we came upon Osorno Volcano which sits on the edge of the enormous Llanquihue Lake

Osorno Volcano
We arrived at the national park and drove up to a viewpoint which only partially gave some scale to the vastness of the area.  The guide took me over to one of dozens of dormant vents from the volcano and offered for me to walk out onto a narrow rail-less "bridge" to look down and take a photo.  My immediate thought was, "Uh, NO!  I am not going to join the other hikers who died falling into the vent that travels to the middle of the earth and were never seen again."

We then headed over the the "El Solitario" Trail on the slopes of Osorno Volcano.  It started out as a cool morning a very narrow trail through dense forest; not what I was expecting.  The trail was composed of lava sand, so it was essentially one step up and then slide back half a step.  But then the views started to peak through and it was beautiful...and also just what I needed!

One of my favorite "sightings" was what looked to me like a small Japanese garden with the morning dew still sitting on the lava sand.  I took a moment there.

A natural Japanese Garden on the Osorno Volcano, Chile
The trail then headed down and opened up into a field with a spectacular view; something photography just can't capture.  (Not quite Antarctica, but most certainly a Wow.)

As I walked towards a lava field, the black compacted ash-laden soil transformed into a river of black lava sand

that then transformed into a stream of black and gray volcanic ash and stones

and then into a river of volcanic boulders

Continuing on the hike went through a river bed carved out of a flow of hot mud and ash from a prior eruption.  Where is Geologist Jennifer Fought, of the Seabourn Expedition Team, when I need her?!


Sadly, the hike portion of my day came to a more than sudden end, but I did visit some waterfalls and then a few moments at Llanquihue Lake.  The blue color of the rushing water was quite picturesque, but overall I found the Petrohue Waterfalls less than impressive; probably due to the vastness of Antarctica and the Chilean fjords.

Finishing off my day was a visit to the local market in Puerto Montt.  It was kind of a full circle thing as I wandered.  While the gigantic vegetables (grown in the volcanic soil) were impressive, and the fresh fish and blocks of kelp and seaweed interesting and colorful...

Fresh Salmon...Look at its eyes!

Interesting display of salmon fillets
Blocks of dried kelp and seaweed
Huge barnacles. I so wanted to try them.
Smoked Mussels.  Yum!

running into Jennifer and Meredith, from Seabourn Expedition Team, and sharing some ceviche with abalone with them was even better.  Over a three week cruise it does get a bit more personal; and that makes this Seabourn Antarctica and Patagonia cruise even more compelling.

Ceviche with Abalone...and The Works!
In a rather surprising and ironic end to the Patagonia portion of my journey, as we wandered out back behind the market...after scouring the seas for sea lions for days on impressively huge bull sea lion with his harem were patiently waiting in the water to be fed salmon scraps.

Bull sea lion with his harem

A seriously huge bull sea lion 
The last day at sea included what should not be a controversial lecture, but is one: 

Climate Change

Without getting too far into it, the Seabourn Expedition Team does a Q&A after the lecture hosted by the true scientists (not "mere" naturalists) to answer questions.  It was amazing and frustrating to me to listen to people who honestly believe climate change is not real or not a crisis based upon what politicians assert rather than what scientists know and present.  I cannot understand the devoted and emotional need not to accept climate change is real and threatening; especially by people who just spent weeks traveling to some of the most fragile and affected areas of the world, were presented lectures not so subtlely discussing the effects of climate change.

I also cannot understand what interest they are so vested in that they reject science and what is happening around the world.  If there are ways to do something without polluting the oceans and air that is even less expensive than the more polluting options, regardless of if there is climate change, why are they against it?  I felt like I was back in the 1970's with my long hair (or, should I just say "hair") and love beads.  The difference now is I more lean toward the, "I would rather have a good result than be right. Right only makes you feel good for a moment."

Taking a breath...It was then time to pack and my last real challenge:  Closing my suitcases!  I did not buy much in the way of souvenirs, but did have the Seabourn parka, jacket, cap and backpack to take home.  And, although I wore almost everything I brought, next time I would leave the tuxedo and accessories behind.  But I did get it done!

After disembarking in San Antonio, rather than a boring two hour drive to Santiago, I took two of my clients on a wine tour, a Chilean beef lunch and a short tour of Santiago. 

But it was then time to head to the airport and my 20 hours of travel back to Lake Tahoe.  Normally when I drive up the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains from Reno, Nevada to my home I take a moment and go "Wow!"  This time: Not so much. 

Seabourn, the Seabourn Quest as well as her officers, staff and crew, plus the Seabourn Expedition Team, put together an incredible experience.  An  uncompromised luxury cruise experience combined with an expedition cruise that guests well into the 80's enjoyed without much compromise for those of us that are a bit more active and nimble.  As you can tell from my eleven articles on this Antarctic and Patagonia Adventure, it was truly a life-changing experience for so many of Seabourn's guests.

I shall end with this:

Leaving Antarctica was like reading the introduction to the world's greatest book...and then leaving the book behind.

I will be back.  And I will be able to appreciate it even more because I know so much more. 

Interested in your own Antarctic Experience? Please call, email or message me!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Antarctica and Patagonia: An Adventure on the Seabourn Quest - Part X (El Brujo Glacier, Galley Market Lunch and Castro, Chile)

My adventure through Antarctica and Patagonia on the Seabourn Quest continued with two days at sea after departing Punta Arenas.

We were, as usual, followed by a number of birds that were just so beautiful to watch fly behind, beside, and in front of the Seabourn Quest.  For me, the most majestic and mesmerizing were the various species of albatross.

Black-Browed Albatross
But there is also a sort of show of power from the Sooty Shearwater that I also found captivating.  Days at sea where you can slow down and just watch for hours lets your mind wander in such simple things that during our normal days we just can't or don't take the time to observe.

Sooty Shearwater
Mid-afternoon, Brent Houston, the Seabourn Expedition Team's resident penguin expert gave an afternoon talk reflecting back on his time in Antarctica, but also on the different penguins we had encountered.  It was really enjoyable to have another opportunity to reflect back on what we had observed and how fortunate we were.

Late in the afternoon, with a soft rain falling, we reached El Brujo Glacier; known for its deep blue color (resulting from its ice being so compressed that most of the air bubbles have been squeezed out).  The blues and the textures were just amazing.  But I have to admit, after Antarctica, it kind of fell flat no matter how much I tried to be inspired.

El Brujo Glacier

El Brujo Glacier
A little bit of calving of the El Brujo Glacier
It seemed a bit strange with the Antarctic's constant daylight turning into dark evenings, made even darker by the ship's lights being dimmed and our suites' curtains drawn so that the petrels would not be attracted to the ship and land; for these water birds are not physically equipped to take off from land.

Our second day at sea was, in addition to some limited Conversations, more of a traditional Day at Sea; this one featuring the newly returned Seabourn Galley Market Lunch.  While it was obvious that United States health regulations required changes from the "old days", including a full page letter in everyone's suite setting out concerns, warnings and requests, Seabourn put on quite a show (while clearly working to reduce the previous huge amount of waste).  To be sure, there was no shortage of culinary options, though I noticed no caviar and for me, more importantly, no fried chicken (though, as you will read, I did find a solution later).

A Pisco Sour station stood ready just outside the Restaurant
(After my day in Punta Arenas, I opted out!)

Not shown were covered chafing dish after chafing dish with hot items ranging from Fish & Chips, to curries to vegetarian to steaks.

I am not sure why some have complained that the Seabourn Galley Market Lunch is not as it should be.  Maybe it is the lack of a display in the dining area of all kinds of desserts, cakes and croquembouche.  You know me and if there was something amiss I would say so. The photographs paint a pretty rosy picture from suckling pig, to salmon to pasta to shellfish and so much more.

As if that wasn't enough to satiate my culinary desires, due to some scheduling changes, later that afternoon Chef Gerard put on a fantastic Private Cooking Demonstration for Goldring Travel's guests.  The Chef made three dishes for us.  He started with Gravlox (cured salmon), but as he was preparing it he bit his tongue a bit and said, "You can add orange juice" and he ran back into the galley to find some.  "You can add ___" and he was off again.  Chef Gerard was not only giving a Cooking Demonstration, he was giving a French Chef Demonstration...and this was just the start!

Chef Gerard beginning his preparation of Gravlox
Gravlox presented Seabourn-style
Next up was a delicious Hake with Spinach and Eggplant Puree in a pastry.  Again, Chef Gerard took joy in showing us techniques that we could (and I will) use at home to prepare this dish for a causal dinner.

Chef Gerard makes it all look so simple:
Place pieces of hake layered with spinach and eggplant puree
in a mold

Make eight cuts into the pastry below and close with an egg wash

Have David, the Food & Beverage Manager from Barcelona,
oversee them being sauteed

and there you go!
Last up was an Apple Tartin.
David, the F&B Manager, was allowed to melt butter and sugar

The phyllo goes on top of the sauteed apples
Good luck flipping the tartin over.
Apple Tartin Seabourn-style

Needless to say, dinner - once again - was not an option for me!

But, alas, it felt strange to be going into nature and then out and then in and then out.  As much as I truly enjoyed the culinary extravaganzas I needed to be back on land and exploring...and fortunately this would be the last night that I had to sleep with, and awaken to, drawn curtains.

The next morning I drew back the curtains and at least I had a bit of a taste of it.  As we approached Castro in Chiloe, Chile the countryside was beautiful,oyster farms were everywhere and cormorants were swimming and flying about.

Chiloe, Chile

Castro, itself, is a fairly poor, non-descript town with a small waterfront which leads to a steep street up to the town itself.  Unfortunately this was the first time we had to share space with another cruise..and boy was the both culture-shock after Antarctica and, selfishly, brought out some emotional resentment.

Castro, Chile
Palafitos, or stilt houses, are Castro's claim to fame.  After wandering a bit out of the town square to escape the crowds


I came to the run-down palafitos.  Yes, they are colorful, but if you look closely it underscores that this part of Chile is struggling.

What I enjoyed more was watching the Black-Headed Swans and how the colors of the palafitos created a palette which once again showed me that nature's beauty is just awe-inspiring.  It did make me feel a bit better.

Black-Headed Swans with a Grey-Headed Gull
It was then off for more of a wander, looking for some place to sample the local oysters.  With most places being rundown and not having menus with any inspiration, I came across what appeared to be a more upscale restaurant in the back of the town: Magnolias.  I sat down and asked to see a menu.  Silly me!  The menu was fried chicken.  Remembering that I missed the fried chicken at the Seabourn Galley Market Lunch I figured, "Why not?"

Continuing my walk and finding nothing I finally turned my tourist brain on...remembering I was no longer in Antarctica...and searched Google.  Close to the pier was a restaurant that apparently had the best oysters, so off I went while still trying to find something inspirational in Castro, Chile. 

Mercandito Restaurant, Castro, Chile
Unsuccessful in my plight, but successful in find the restaurant, Mercandito, I was greeted by some other Seabourn guests who asked me to have lunch with them.  As we walked up the curious steps I saw a table filled with members of the Seabourn Expedition Team. So I figured this had to actually be 'The Place".

My order was simple:  Pisco sour and 18 oysters!

OK, I had two pisco sours.

Anyway, it was then time to head back to the Seabourn Quest for an afternoon hot tub soaking with a view!

It was an early dinner at the Grill by Thomas Keller accompanied by a Super Moon

Dining in The Grill by Thomas Keller by the light of
a Super Moon
and then off to bed because I needed to be up at 5:00 AM for my long awaited hike in Puerto Montt, Chile; just me and a guide.

Interested? Please call, email or message me!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232