Tokyo

Cleanliness is everywhere!  Despite no trash cans in sight, there was a rare bit of paper on the ground.  How do they do that?  Smoking is only in designated areas both indoors and outdoors.  A minimal number of people wear face masks to prevent illness or share theirs.  Due to such a fantastic public transportation system there is little car traffic nor pollution.  Sidewalks and public buildings such as train stations have ridges in the floors to guide the blind.  There are also raised dots at intersections and turns.  People are friendly, helpful, and humble.

The Sky Tower is an very expensive tourist site providing aerial views of the city.  Without the distant haze perhaps the twenty-five dollars each would have added to the experience as Mt. Fuji and the rest would have been visible.  Crowds are herded along and put into elevators by attending staff which goes surprisingly quickly.

The Imperial Gardens were immaculate with yoshino cherry blossoms in full bloom while other were just beginning to put forth their beauty.  The few rhododendron bushes were blooming and some oranges seemed ready for harvest.  How do they grow in such a cold time when it is barely spring?  The large grassy area was filled with picnickers though the ground was not showing a bit of green.  Cute children were well-behaved, one toddler showing great intimidation of a very slightly sloping descent to his gently encouraging father waiting at the bottom.  We barely got a glimpse of the Imperial Palace but the old unused guard towers were an interesting juxtaposition to the modern city architecture.

After posting some photos on FB, my cousin Claudia emailed a photograph of a drawing Uncle Buzz had done during the war long ago.  It was essentially the same view in one of my photos!

The two mornings we were there we breakfasted at an Italian restaurant near the hotel where guests are sent.  For nine dollars each we enjoyed a buffet with mostly Japanese foods along with American cereal, salad fixings, bacon, eggs, juice, fruit, tea, and coffee.  Soups and pasta were part of the fare.  The second morning I had steamed eggs which were like a custard with a paper thin taste of fish on top and a few soybeans inside.  It was different but enjoyable.  There was so much available we filled our bellies and then didn’t need to eat again until supper.  Due to the convenience and tastiness we returned for more ramen noodles.  That time we acted like experienced tourists!

Bill wanted to visit the Nikon Museum near Shinagawa Station.  We found our way there and the women behind the reception desk in the hall indicated we would have to wait a bit for it to open.  During that time we noticed a group of four men having a chat and when they were done they all bowed to each other.  Not just once to all, each apparently has to bow to each individual!  The bowing seemed to last several minutes!  Soon we were perplexed as we saw some people going in the museum but the closed sign was still hanging.  Suddenly one of the receptionists hurried over to indicate, using a brochure with opening times, that today was a holiday and therefore closed.  Bill decided it must be due to the one-hundredth anniversary of the museum.  While deciding what to do instead the woman returned and told us there is a Canon store and display in the next building.  How kind!  We did find it and looked around a bit.  A clerk came over and wanted to take our picture and print it for us as a souvenir.

As we made our way back to the train station we decided to find the post office where Bill was to return the Walker Wifi on the last day of the excursion.  As I needed a rest I waited for him to do that.  We also decided that since we would have to return to that area  we could visit the museum before heading to the airport for the flight back to LAX.

We bought some expensive goodies for lunch from Dean and Deluca and then made our way to the train to head to Kyoto.

When we returned to Tokyo almost three weeks later we did indeed get to tour the Nikon Museum.  Lovely greeters showed us the lockers we could use for our backpack and umbrella stand.  The display of cameras over the decades and the medical equipment were well displayed and lit.  They even make lenses for spectacles, which we didn’t know.  Some cameras were split in half so the internal workings were visible.

Arrival in Japan

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Having arrived at Haneda airport outside Tokyo, Bill snagged the photo above.  We made our way through hundreds of people at immigration pretty quickly, retrieved our bag, breezed through customs, and began our three errands before leaving.  The first was to pickup our Japan Rail Passes which was another long line but went pretty quickly.  There was an ATM nearby so got necessary yen.  The last was to retrieve our mobile wifi Bill had ordered.  He was told there were two offices which could be right.  The first had an extremely long line which was moving at a snail’s pace.  The kind young clerk monitoring the crowd told me it was the right office, but then Bill went up to him with the info he had been sent and the young man then sent us upstairs.  That was a blessing as there was only one other person in line.  Bill quickly met me back downstairs where we fired up our cell phones and then proceeded to the monorail.  The ride was included in the train pass.

With impeccable timing the next ride to the train station we needed came within two minutes and was an express.  The clean quiet ride took about fifteen minutes.  The next station was a bit more confusing as we needed to be sure we were headed in the right direction on the green line.  A train quickly arrived and three stops later we descended.  Where to go next was confusing as we needed the correct exit to get to the hotel.  We also were confused as to how to get through the turnstiles to exit as everyone was using a single fare ticket which we didn’t have.  Finally we just walked through while it was open from a different passenger though the two flaps slapped our thighs as we slipped through.  The app we were using seemed lost as well.  A sign indicated which exit for the hotel but the app was having us go differently.  We walked errantly until we asked a local for assistance.  He spoke English and very kindly took us out of his way to guide us in a different direction.

The hotel is attached to another building where we took an elevator to floor four where the front desk is.  The very humble clerks checked us in using some English.  We were offered a choice of bathroom extras and chose only some bath sponges.  Bill also took a coffee pack.  Upstairs in the eighth floor we found our clean modern room.  Having to pee I immediately went to the bathroom and sat down unexpectedly on a very warm toilet seat!  Nice!  There are also options to run water over the nether regions, spray the butt, and regulate water pressure.

The bathroom also had wrapped toothbrushes and toothpaste, q-tips, razors, and folding plastic brushes.  On the bed were cotton “bathrobes” which buttoned down the front and I used as a nightgown.  It really looked like an extra long man’s pajama top.  Slippers were right inside the door.

Then it was dinner time!  Back in the next building are several restaurants.  We found one with ramen noodles and entered, though not at all sure what to do or how to order.  I just pointed at what the woman in front of me had, fresh thick noodles in a broth, and then the server asked in English what size.  We were given a small bowl of soy broth on the side and opted for a large fried onion, carrot, and mystery ingredient ball.  After paying we added some scallions and what might have been leftover fried batter.  I sprinkled some on noodles and went to sit down.  Bill had two tickets for something and decided they must be drinks.  He tried to get a stein of beer but a local woman explained in Japanese that we could have a glass of water which she then filled for us.  Once we sat back down she suddenly reappeared and explained that the scallions and bit of fried batter were to be put on top of the sauce in the small bowl.  She removed the ones from my noodles using my chopsticks and relocated them properly.  Thirty seconds later she returned with a small bowl of more and set them on my tray.  So kind!

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The noodles are extremely long and difficult to manage with chopsticks.  I noticed an elderly man not far away who had the same dinner as I, so I watched him for guidance.  He seemed tickled that I did so and quickly his wife turned to look at me.  I managed to wrap a wad of sloppy noodles around the chopsticks enough to dip them into the sauce and take a bite letting the remainder slide back into the broth.

Everyone is so kind, humble, and seem to feel honored to assist.  The most striking moment was when the elevator stopped and the doors opened right across from the front desk and all three clerks looked up, bowed slightly, and mumbled something.  As no one entered or exited the doors shut and we continued upwards.  It was as though we stopped just so they could show us respect.

Surgery in Costa Rica

This entry won’t be for everyone, but I want to preserve my observations and reactions to having surgery in a country where I am a resident but not a citizen.  It centers around female problems so decide now if you want to read on.

During my annual exam with a gynecologist new to me, I had a transvaginal ultrasound, though I don’t know why she chose to do so; perhaps she was just being thorough as I was a new patient.  She asked me if I had blood in my vagina; “No”.  Well, she saw my uterus was full of blood.  Yikes!  That really scared me as my mother and her mother had both died from cancer, though not uterine.  I was to return for a biopsy which was two weeks later.

Thirty minutes beforehand I took the prescribed painkillers.  When she finally called me into her office two hours later she told me I needed to hold really still and that it was going to hurt A LOT.  Ohhhh.  It sure did, and that was before she even did anything!  Being sixty-four, my cervix was closed tight as a drum.  There was no way she was going to be able to execute the procedure.

Before she tried she had done another ultrasound and took more measurements.  I had more fluid by then which increased the size of the uterus by about three mm.  Scared me to death.  She didn’t think it was cancer as my endometrium was only 1.5 mm more than it should be.

Another week later I was admitting myself to the hospital to be put under anesthesia so she could open my cervix and do the biopsy.  Twenty minutes after I was registered, given a bill for the hospital expenses, and signed three copies of contract that I would not sue them if there was a problem, a nurse, who speaks English, came to take me upstairs to get ready.  Dorita had me change into the gown and “boots” and lay down on the bed.  She recorded some information, took the results of the EKG and hemogram I had to have done so she could make copies, and then inserted the IV.  Interesting to me, she didn’t put it in the inside elbow but lower on my forearm.  “You have thin veins,” she remarked.  Hmmm.  That was a new one.  I’ve been told they were tough before; maybe it was a language thing.  She also put on an oxygen monitor on a finger and placed electrodes on my chest.  A phone call from the doctor’s assistant came through asking someone to come pay the bill.

I was left alone for forty-five minutes while saline slowly dripped.  Bill went to pay the bill, about $1200, and move the car as the parking was going to close before I would be ready to leave.

Just before the appointed hour of 7 o’clock, Dorita returned to put me in a wheelchair and transported me to the OR.  Bill had to wait outside on a sofa and went out to get some dinner as well.  After transferring to a bed, I mentioned to a young man dressed in surgical gear that I was cold.  He immediately covered me with another sheet and then rolled a heater to the foot of my bed.  He took the long flexible tube, such as one might see on a dryer, and placed it between my legs and on top of my pelvis so it would blow warm air all over me.  That was kind of nice!   Never experienced that before!

As I waited I suddenly heard a baby cry…..a newborn.  I’ve never witnessed the first cries of a baby before.  Very healthy sounding!

My doctor appeared in the hallway across the room, smiled, and said we would be getting started soon.  Another ten minutes I saw her again, on her phone, and she repeated we would get started soon.  Maybe another ten minutes, making it forty minutes past the start time, I was taken into my operating room and prepped for my adventure.

I scooted over to a narrower bed, and then two men took hold of the sheet under me to hoist me further down towards those awful stirrups.  The anesthesiologist introduced himself, asked me the same questions about having had previous surgery and for what, and then the assistants did something else new to me.  The bed has boards that come out at arm level, perpendicular to the bed.  They placed my arms on them making me feel as though I were being crucified.  One was for the blood pressure monitor and the other for the IV, I think.

I remember feeling the room swim a bit and then I was gone.  About ten-thirty Bill thinks, I was awakened to see the faces of the anesthesiologist and gynecologist looking down at me.  The first thing I was told was they took out my uterus because she had made a hole in it.  That was fine with me.  The pain, though, the pain!  I have never felt such pain.  I had been given morphine about ten minutes before that and it would take another twenty for it to kick in.  I told them morphine doesn’t do anything for me.  In the ER for severe stomach pains in January 2013 I had to be given laudunum to be made comfortable.  He didn’t seem to know what that was so they ended up giving me something else.

Meanwhile, they were concerned about my level of pain and were afraid I was bleeding somewhere.  I was then taken down for an ultrasound with several people in attendance.  She was concerned she couldn’t find my bladder but finally gave up saying it was just empty.  No bleeding was evident so I was taken back to recovery where I was given something to make me sleep.  I remember just before that a nurse, I’m not sure which one, told me I had a large fibroid on the outside of my uterus.  I asked if it had hair and nails.  She laughed and told me it wasn’t that kind.  I remember my calves being wrapped in compression bandages and being told a catheter was being inserted to be sure my bladder wasn’t bleeding.  Then I was off to sleep.

I woke up about 6:30 in the morning to sounds of laughter out at the nurses’ station.  A nurse soon came in and provided me with a breakfast of rice milk, which was actually pretty good, apple juice, and chamomille tea.  I skipped the juice as sometimes it gives me gas.  Bill arrived while I was dosing, about 7:45.  He had left after midnight and gotten about three hours sleep before Jack, our cat, woke him to be fed breakfast.  Wanting to check on me he ate breakfast, dressed, and drove on over.

He filled me in on some more details.   Dr. Gazel was looking around my very retroverted uterus and nicked it making a hole.  To stop the bleeding she had to cut me open.  Once things were under control she went to ask Bill if she should just go ahead and take everything out – uterus, cervix, and ovaries.  He hemmed and hawed but since I didn’t need them any more and knowing I was terrified of cancer, he said to proceed.  I’m so glad he did!!  I think his concern about his decision propelled him to see me as soon as possible to explain everything.  He told me Dr. Gazel hadn’t seen any signs of cancer and that the anesthesiologist explained the need for the ultrasound.  Also, there was a very large fibroid tumor on the outside of my uterus, about the size of her fist or a tennis ball.  It hadn’t shown up on the ultrasounds in her office.

Bill drank my juice and made my tea.  It was tepid by then, but wet.  I remember several times the night before asking for some ice chips or something as my mouth was incredibly dry.  A cloth dipped in water was squeezed allowing drops of water to replenish the moisture in my dessicated mouth.  It was enough to ease the discomfort.

After a while the nurse, Rosa, returned to help me wash.  I didn’t feel dirty having taken a shower shortly before leaving the house the previous day, so she just removed my bandage and washed my incision.  She also made me get out of bed so she could change the sheets which had some brownish blood stains.  Oh, my, getting up the first time was not fun, which she told me it would be “fea”, or ugly.  When she was done she and Bill helped me get back into bed.  Rosa took my legs while Bill supported my back.  I was given oral pain meds, another bag of painkiller through the IV and a shot in the arm to help move my bowels along.  Apparently, anesthesia creates constipation.  At some point I was also given my own bottle of morphine mix with a button to push whenever I felt a need for relief.  I only used it twice that day.

Then the two of us dosed on and off for about three hours.  I was visited by a nutritionist who gave me lunch choices.  I opted for soup which turned out to be watery and lacking flavor.  The zucchini and carrots seemed fresh with bites of chicken.  I added salt which helped.  There was also a bowl of dry rice and a bowl of banana slices.

At that point I needed to pee.  Rosa was so happy as Dr. Gazel had already called twice to see if I had been able to urinate.  She took me into the bathroom and helped set me on the toilet.  She was right that the second time getting up was less “fea” than the first time, though not much.

At some point my friend Jeanne called to see how I was doing.  So kind of her.

Then we dosed off again.  Bill had a built-in bed which could accommodate two adults, for those people who wanted to spend the night.

Around three I was awakened by more talking and laughing.  I thought I recognized my doctor’s voice.  Yes, she came in shortly thereafter.  She was so happy and relieved I was feeling so much better than the last time she saw me.  She gave the run down of the OR experience, told me what I can’t do for sometime, and prescribed medications.  I had to call her assistant to make an appointment for the following Tuesday so she could see how I was healing and give me the biopsy results.

She also gave me the choice of spending another night or going home.  The cost would have been another $350, about a sixth of the average cost in the States!  She was concerned about me riding in the car for a half hour or so but agreed to sign the release.  We planned to leave about six, skipping dinner.

We asked about the additional cost as she performed considerably more than a biopsy.  Since we don’t have private insurance, she said she wouldn’t increase her fees.  Wow!  That wouldn’t happen in the States!   What should have taken just a few minutes took about three-and-a-half hours.  Because the biopsy turned into major surgery, another gynecologist was called in to assist.  That added another $600 t0 the bill.

I had to walk so Rosa and Bill escorted me around the second floor.  Tentative but steady steps were taken so I was feeling pretty good about leaving.  Rosa took out my IV’s and removed my personal bottle of painkillers.  Later Bill took me for another walk around the floor and helped me get dressed.

Just before six a nurse came in with a wheelchair and away we went to check out.  The bill was about ready, being requested some time before by Rosa.  As we belong to a group of doctors who work with Hospital Metropolitano, we were given a 32% discount for the hospital services and materials.  The anesthesiologist was separate and charged another $600.  The total for everything – medicines, three doctors, materials, room, lab, etc. was just over $5000.  Amazing!!  That would likely have just been the c0-pay in the States!

I didn’t know how well I would wait for the week to pass to get the biopsy results.  I was aftraid I had cancer as I had had spotting a few days before the and had cramps all weekend.  Last night, three days after surgery, Dr. Gazel called me to say everything was fine!!  I cried with relief!  I had hyperplasia, an increase of cells of the endometrium.  The treatment was to remove the uterus, but that had already been done.  The fibroid was indeed just that, measuring 5.7 cm, which she said was quite large.   No cancer!!!!!

Now I just need to keep walking gently, not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, and do only light housework.  I have two narrow bandage strips over my incision, I have colorful bruises down there, and the discomfort is not bad on meds.  I have learned how to get up and down with assistance, though letting myself relax to the point of being a rag doll took some effort.  Now I can even get up and down by myself, including getting into bed.  Every once in a while I get a tickle on the right side of my throat.  Coughing is ghastly as it hurts my bruises so much.  I try to be gentle and sip some water.

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Santiago

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Parts of the capital city seem European with the grand architecture reminiscent of Paris.  Our first night was diagonally across from the Fine Arts Museum and a small park.  Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes is a minimalist efficient place to stay.  Large rooms, lovely varied breakfast buffet, and professional desk clerks made for a comfortable stay.  Of interest, the bedroom was open, spacious, with a sink and bathtub out in the open.  Behind a door is the toilet tucked into a corner with a open shower area at the other end.  Really cool was the large square rain shower head which I only noticed while looking up as I washed my hair.  I pulled a knob to activate it and was blanketed in a warm comforting rain enveloping my entire back.  Heavenly.

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After a large repast in the morning we walked around a few blocks to take in the sun and sights.

We were back at the hotel just before nine to complete paperwork on the car rental, a luxurious, to us, BMW series 1 delivered personally by Christopher.  Then it was time to try to find a SIM card and actually get some data time that would last longer than a few minutes.  Oh, my gosh, what an inefficient system.  One can buy a card but to get more data one has to go to stores, only certain grocery stores we found out later, to add money.  One only hopes that the internet data are sufficient to get you by for what you need….such as using Waze to get out of the city and on to the next one.  150mb seemed rather meager.  It did get us on the road and to the BnB fortunately.

I was really interested and frustrated in dealing with locals in that their Spanish, which I was later assured by a bilingual young woman is truly Spanish, has very different sounds which made me think of Portuguese.  Strange.  Google enlightened me with all the clipped endings and an exchange of the sound of ch and sh with later of a lower class if replacing the former.  Saying “shocolate” would horrify an upper crust person.  http://www.spanish.cl/chilean-spanish-pronunciation.htm

Upon returning from the coast two days later we nighted in the Eurotel Providencia, very much a residential/commercial area.  It reminded me of the expensive parts of Lima.  For my sixty-fourth birthday we enjoyed a dinner at a French restaurant, Le Bistrot, and yes, there is a final t!  My onion tart and green salad were pretty good.  To celebrate my cumpleaños we each ordered a chocolate volcano with caramel lava, cream with a dab of raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream.  Although not as intense as Phillipe Capel’s it was still a tasty choice.

Traffic is thick there though drivers are courteous and give the right of way to pedestrians.  It was a bit tricky to get back to the autopista to make our way to the airport and we never did find a gas station to refill the tank before returning the car.

Upon the return from Patagonia we spent one more night in Santiago.  The owner of Patio Yungay took us on a quick tour to show us the available restaurants and give us a bit of history.  Even a high catwalk was included!  The neighborhood was older than the others with many building from the earlier 20’s being renovated for residences.  There is more graffiti here and funky restaurants in old houses and a retro barbershop.

Patagonia – Final days

Rain woke me early.  Since we were not meeting for breakfast until 9 we lounged in bed catching up on the internet and editing our plethora of photographs.

When our guide finally appeared we decided to leave at ten and just drive around hoping to find something of interest.  By then the refreshing air was drying.  We took off in the opposite direction of the ferry we were to board before two o’clock.  A mirador provided a lookout of the colorful town of Porvenir.

Then we drove on down the gravel road and came across some shanties where fishermen lived and were working on boats.  This was the highlight of the day!  Bastian gained their permission for us to take photographs.  At first the group of men were trying to get a motor working.  The youngest man, Raul, fetched a king crab from his shack to show us its size.  It was enormous!  One kilo of crab yields 300 grams of meat, and this one was more than a kilo.  Littered on the shore were dead starfish, tossed aside as they eat everything and came in with the haul.  Cut an arm off and a new one will regenerate.  The cut off arm will grow an entire starfish!  They are not seen positively.  A few bivalve shells, a cow’s head, and a couple of cats added to the scenery.  The men also put a boat into the water using logs and bright yellow tubes to push it from sand to sea.  It took all of them, drunk or not, to be suceessful.

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After picking up our box lunches we drove to the ferry dock and detoured to another mirador.  This provided a view of the mainland in the far distance across the Magellan Straits.  The buffeting wind was brisk.  Being on one the small fishing boats must be downright bone chilling!

While Bastian and Jorge did paperwork for the ferry, Bill and I meandered around the pier area looking at well-used boats, gulls, and ducks.  A two hour ferry ride back to Punta Arenas gave us ample time to edit photos.  We checked into the hotel, bade good-bye to Bastian, and good night to Jorge who would transfer us to the airport at the next day.

As it was not time for dinner we walked around town to the Plaza de las Armas where we purchased gifts for the neighbor girls who played with Jack while we travelled.  I also bought a lightweight long sleeved purple Sherpa pullover shirt at half price from the outdoors store on the way back to the hotel.

King crab cannelloni was the dish for which they are famous so we each enjoyed that, a glass of wine, and dessert.  Bailey’s Creme Brûlée was Bill’s choice, and I had rhubarb ice cream with calafateé sauce.  It is made from a local berry, often in Pisco sours, and looks like a blueberry.  It is more acidic and has lots of hard seeds.

In the morning we ambled about again and found ourselves on a high mirador with a wide view of the harbor.  It turns out Jorge lives s block from there!  When we parted ways at the airport I realized I would miss him most of all.  He has two kids, the three year old with Down’s syndrome, and he is just a kind kind man.  With his rapid paced Spanish I was hesitant to talk with him but would have loved to have done so more.  It was good to have him share meals with us.

Patagonia Day 5 – Puerto Natales to Penguins

This was a very very very long driving day as we were due to view the King penguins at the far end of Tierra del Fuego.  The road stretched on endlessly with no trees, lots of sheep, as well as some guanacos and rheas.  We finally had to ask for a pit stop.  My privacy zone, as it was, came behind a bit of a dirt pile where some excavation had taken place.  It did the job.  The wind was powerful so I got a free blow dry as my Kleenex was grabbed out of my hand and whisked around the curve of the dirt.

Sadly, we saw a dead grey fox by the side the of the road, and later fleetingly spied a live one.

We began to wonder about our goal of ever getting to see the penguins before it was too late.  Along the way we took a bit of a detour to see some flamingos in a salt lake.  The fierce wind made it challenging to hold still enough for long range photos.  They were lunching on shrimp so most heads were in the water.

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Then it was on to see ancient crater remains where lizards are sometimes found; however, it was too cloudy for them to come out.  The lichen covered walls looked creepy, and a very large cave must have the source of envy for the have-nots.  The area was great for humans due to the quantity of food available and the comforting protection from the brutal winds.

After a quick lunch in the van we got back on the road for a few more hours.  After some driving, a twenty minute ferry ride, and more driving we finally, about 5:15, reached the private penguin reserve.  We had just forty-five minutes until they closed, but kindly she gave us an hour.   These imperial looking large birds were just across a narrow river with the ocean in the distance.  We were to stand behind a wooden blind with a row of shelves at various heights from which we could shoot photographs.  A few were in the process of molting, and one brown chick, rather tall, kept preening itself.  There was little movement though a few waddled about, and one lone penguin wandered back to the dunes and perhaps, the ocean.  The intense wind came right through the viewing space and rattled the structure and me.  It was really cool to see the King Penguins which are quite similar to the Emperor Penguins with the yellow orange graduated neck decoration.  Their means of moving about is humorous.  When they hold their heads down they appear sad; when they hold their head upright they appear proud and smug. 

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After purchasing a t-shirt and being given pins we boarded the van for another two hours to get to our hotel.  It was almost nine o’clock by the time we had dinner.

Patagonia Day 4- Caves

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Since we were leaving the park for good and not in a particular hurry we were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then wandered down to the river.  Besides the obligatory goose family, southern Lapwings were walking about and talking.  As they are ground nesters perhaps they were scouting out the area.  These duck sized birds were still enough to photograph and get a pretty good result.

After checking out we retraced our steps and made our way to the Mylodon Cave Nature Reserve where years ago a small piece of the extinct mylodon, related to the sloth, was found.  Perched on the railing of the gift shop was a wild eagle, a chimango caracara, who seemed tame.  It didn’t care if people stood right next to it.  A scavenger, all it cares about is what we humans might give them, either directly or indirectly.  The main cave of conglomerate rock was carved by waves of an ancient lake.  It was used as shelter by a large array of Pleistocene mammals, including this giant sloth.  We also visited three other smaller caves which pre-Colombians used several thousand years ago.  We hiked the flat trails connecting each of the caves giving us a good workout of a few kilometers, especially as we had to walk back to the parking area in the middle.  The picnic lunch was then enjoyed by the enormous rock formation called Devil’s Chair.

We then drove on to Puerto Natales where we spent the night in an unusual contemporary hotel near the fiord.  Each room was $484!! I sure hope that included our dinner!

Patagonia Day 3 – Out and About

Not being in a rush we were able to enjoy the generous breakfast buffet before driving off to the east side of the park.  We passed several lookouts we enjoyed earlier and then turned off to a road new to us.  The day was spent at lookouts with stunning vistas all with the gorgeous glacial and even non-glacial waters.  I would never tire of seeing such beauty.

Throughout the day we passed herds of guanacos, and even saw a male trying to mate but the female wasn’t interested.  Male rheas, ñandús, were seen with their chicks.  They will adopt so one might see various ages.  The mother lays the eggs and takes off!    How strange she has no interested rearing her young and leaves it to the father.  A goose family was also near a visitor center.  Mama is brown while Dad is white.  Along the way back a large herd of sheep was crossing the road forcing us to almost stop so they could get out of the way.

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One different spot which involved a bit of a walk was to a non-glacial water hole, Sarmiento Lake,  with a coral like rock formation, called Trombolite made of cianobacteria.  As it is very sharp we had to be especially cautious not to fall on it. The water was unbelievably clear and aquamarine near shore yet cobalt blue in the depths.  Pumas are sometimes seen resting there at mid-day but not this day.

I spied sudden movement next to the path, and there was a Sarmiento Lizard!  While trying to get photos, Bastian carefully moved some stones where they might be living.  In doing so we found a second one.  They were difficult to photograph but the red spots on its underside did appear.

Our picnic was in an open field with guanacos lounging in the warm sunshine and towering peaks in the distance creating an amazing backdrop.

Later in the day we visited another aquamarine waterfall which sent up a fine spray pretty high in the air.

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Patagonia Day 2 – Glacier and Icebergs

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After a quick breakfast at which I stuffed as much food in my mouth as I could, we loaded ourselves in the van and drove into Torres Del Paine Park and then on to Grey Glacier Hotel, about an hour away.  From there were walked about a half hour through woods, crossed a wobbly hanging bridge, and traipsed across a gravel spit to arrive at the Catamaran which would take us out to see Glacier Grey.  The views of the mountains as we walked were incredible.  We could even see small blue icebergs in the distance.

As we made our way across the water, well dressed in layers for protection against the brisk wind due to boat movement, larger impressive icebergs foreshadowed the vast blue Glacier we were approaching.  I was quite surprised with intensity of the blue in the cracks and one particular chunk of ice.  The first section continued the bitter cold wind which about froze my gloved fingers.  Fortunately, we were given a free drink.  Even though I had to settle for black tea, at least it was weak and HOT.  It was a great chance to thaw my nipped digits on the warming glass mug.  The next section was decidedly warmer due to little breeze, with the third being quite pleasant.

The captain was rather good about giving everyone time to take dozens and dozens of photos.  Bill and Bastian, our guide, opted for a Pisco sour made with glacial ice captured and picked to bits by the crew.  Supposedly they imbibed ancient water!  I saw two little calvings in the distance but no large chunks broke off as we saw in Alaska.

Back inside we previewed our takings as the captain steered us back to the landing point.  The whole time on the water was about three hours.  I was surprised when I viewed my photos on the iPad later that there was more blue in the Glacier than I had noticed with my eyes.

Upon returning  to the van we gathered our lunches and found some picnic tables where we fortified ourselves with enormous bag lunches from the hotel.  Two sandwiches, a juice box, a bottle of water, a cereal bar, and a small candy bar was way too much food!

Next stop was Lake Pehoe where we stepped up several times along a boardwalk with simply amazing views of the mountains with their reflections in the lake.  Pictures speak louder than words.

 

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We also saw a few guanaco.  Over the years they have been selectively bred for their fur, etc. to become the well known popular llamas.

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The last area was a short but wide waterfall of the aguamarine glacial water that just amazes me.  I will never tire of that Caribbean water color.  By then the sun was high and beating down strongly.  We all got really hot despite shedding a layer or two from the boat.  With few short trees shade is basically non-existent.  Our one fellow passenger takes forever to photograph anything.  One would think with all his big fancy equipment he would know more about what he is doing.  We stood around a lot waiting for him.  There was a trail but after following it for a bit I had to return to the van as I was just too sun beaten from being outside all day, even with sunscreen.  Bastian and Jan continued on but even they didn’t make it to the end.  The distant mountains are compelling and call to some.

Upon returning to the hotel we showered and rested before overeating another bountiful dinner buffet with several desserts!  The best was the chocolate créme broulee….so wonderful we each had two!  They were small!

Patagonia Day 1 – Penguins to Park

fullsizerender-192We were picked up at 6:35 and whisked away to the boat which would take us to see Magellan penguins, about forty-five minutes across the Magellan Straits.  Many other tourists were on board with other agencies.

About forty-five mintues later we disembarked in slight drizzle and immediately saw black and white Magellan penguins in the water and on shore.   Shallow burrows were everywhere and in a few we were rewarded with seeing grey fuzzy young nestled against their parent.  Penguins mate for life and both parents take turns nurturing their offspring.  In one nest I am pretty sure I saw two babies!  Conferences were taking place around the island, some singles were calling for their mate sounding a bit distressed, others were frolicking in the shallow water near the shore, and some were just hanging out.  Seagulls were also plentiful. One lone sea lion was swimming close to shore, and a semi-flightless duck was perched on a rock in the water.

In a few of the underground burrows we could glimpse a baby, and I think one of them had twins!

We meandered along the trail up to the lighthouse where there are displays giving information about the penguins and sea lions.  As we only had an hour I just used the bathroom and headed on down the trail taking many more photos and videos of these cool creatures.  This is a good year as more returned and did so earlier, thus nesting sooner than normal.

As conditions were favorable the captain decided to take us by Marta Island to glimpse a sea lion colony.  We had to go out on top of the boat but due to the tossing of the vessel, the drizzle, and too many people wanting to see I joined Bill back inside.  Just before leaving we noticed the sea lions swimming nearby, but by the time I got back outside the captain was taking off.

Once back on land we began the long five and a half hour drive drive to Torres del Paine National Park where we were to spend the next three nights at Hotel Rio  Sorreno.  Not long after starting we glimpsed rhea in the distance, which we could see again another day to photograpy, and a random few flamingos in a distant watering hole.  Our guide, Bastion, was surprised to see them there.

After stopping for gas in Puerto Natales we gandered at the Black Neck Swans where one couple had a passel of cygnets foraging for algae.

Talk about a room with a view!  Wow!  No wonder the rate is well over $300 per night.  It includes breakfast which is an enormous array of hot and cold food, including cookies!  Despite filling our tummies beyond capacity I would still be hungry by lunch! During dinner Bastian suddenly noticed the horses were being let loose in the yard out back.  I dashed over to see them soooo excited to be able to run free.  They quickly set to munching on the grass keeping it nicely trimmed and depositing fertilizer!

The sunset happened about ten o’clock and was interesting but not special.  My photos show more pink than I saw with my naked eye.  Darkness then descended pretty quickly.