La Nouba, or Let’s Party!

Monday, March 27, 2017

We are spending a few days in Orlando for a business meeting.  Today, we segwayed through Celebration, Disney’s planned community developed in the 1990’s. It really is a lovely area, and the weather was perfect for such an activity. I managed to get through most of the ride without mishap, I collided with a cement bench just a block or two from the end. Cement benches do not give way to segways Oh well, just a few scrapes and bruises, not to mention my damaged pride.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

With some time to kill, we headed to Disney Springs, Disney World’s downtown, is full of shopping and dining opportunities. You can find any Disney branded item you need, or don’t need, at Disney Springs. Mark and I managed to resist most of these. We didn’t realize that Disney owns Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm. We enjoyed walking through the area on this gorgeous day.

When we neared the Cirque du Soleil theater, we were approached by one of their employees offering us the opportunity to watch a rehearsal later in the afternoon. We are major Cirque fans, so jumped at the opportunity. Mark and I did kill some time at The Boathouse restaurant, quenching our thirst with a lemon drop martini and blueberry lemonade respectively.

The rehearsal for La Nouba was about 30 minutes long. La Nouba is French for “let’s party,” and the show was created to appeal to children. The theater here was designed and built for Cirque du Soleil, and La Nouba has been playing there since December, 1998. It is scheduled to close in December this year.

It was fascinating to see the performers without costumes, and performing on surfaces that weren’t lit or covered for the performance. The stage has four retractable power track floors, each with the capability of moving up to 2 feet per second. The trampoline bed uses a second generation of springs, which allows the performers to jump higher and faster down the track.

We watched the performers tumble, turn aerial somersaults, and “run” up the sides of a building on stage. I apologize for the quality of the photos, but the performers just wouldn’t hold still! It looks like an amazing show. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t be in town long enough to take in a performance. Maybe we can come back before December.

At the end of the rehearsal, two performers and another Cirque member answered questions. Many of the performers are former Olympians, all trained for decades before becoming qualified to work for Cirque du Soleil. They range in age from mid-20’s to upper 50’s. Young children are also used for some roles in the performance. It’s a career that keeps a person in shape.

 

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Let There be Light

Friday, March 24, 2017

We learned of  the “Bruce Monro: Winter Light at the Arboretum” exhibit at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum a few months ago, and knew right away that we wanted to see it. It’s been at the Arboretum since mid-November, but we’ve been too busy until now. It will be ending in mid-April, so we needed to make it a priority. Good decision!

Bruce Munro is a British artist who has been producing large light-based installations for several decades. He has had numerous exhibits in the US, the UK and Australia. Among the materials he uses are CD’s (a good way to recycle a dying technology,) acrylic, hay bales, fiber optic and water bottles.

There are seven installations at this site, two indoors and the others outdoors.  Over 2,700 hours were spent to design and construct them in the UK, then another 3,200 hours to install them here in Minnesota. They include over 70 miles of fiber optic cable.

We were first greeted by “The Good Seed,” inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia. It includes 19 lampposts that branch out like a seed head (reminded me of a dandelion.)

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Inside the Arboretum’s lobby were hanging three “Chindi,” inspired by dust devils that Munro had seen while living in Australia. They are built of acrylic rods suspended in a helix form and lit using optical fiber.

The other indoor exhibit, “Reflections,” projected light onto five smooth surfaces, displaying changing colors and sound. Each had a different pattern.

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“Oreum,” one of the outdoor exhibits is truly a Field of Light. Thousands of stems are topped with bulbs that constantly change color. The stems sway with the wind, adding another dimension to the show.

Ten (if if counted correctly) “Water Towers,” each include 252 bottles of water with light filaments that change colors. Inside each tower are speakers that broadcast music. They are intended to represent Earth’s natural pulse. It was very moving.

“Rhadamanthine Club” is a delightful take on a parliament of owls. Munro uses round hay bales, sides covered with black plastic, fronts covered with white plastic and a center black pupil. Colored spotlights blink on and off for each pair of bales, creating the owl’s eyes. We had seen them from the road as we drove up to the Arboretum, but we really couldn’t get the full effect until darkness fell.

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The last installation, “Minnesota Gathering,” was created specifically for the arboretum. It is set in the sugar maple grove, where tubes run from the trees to the collection tubs. The sap started running early this year, in late February, and was still being collected today. Munro uses these tubes as perches for noisy birds. Tropical birds are represented by colorful clothes pins and a cacophony of sound.
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Fair Winds

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The original name for Buenos Aires was Real de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre (Our Royal Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds is my best guess. The city of Buenos Aires was founded in 1536 by Pedro de Mendoza, a Spanish explorer. It is the fourth largest city in the Americas, with a population of 3 million people.

Our hotel, the Hilton, is located near the old harbor. There is a canal that was used for shipping in the past, but now is used mainly for recreation. Many of the former warehouse buildings have been converted to shops and restaurants, and the area is now a promenade, with many citizens enjoying the beautiful day. There is a beautiful walking bridge cross the canal, Puenta de la Mujer (Women’s Bridge.) The design is supposed to represent a man leaning over a woman, doing the tango.

We spent the early part of the day at a Sunday market near our hotel. There are numerous such markets throughout the city, and they can stretch for blocks. You can purchase leather goods, trinkets, antiques, clothing, and on and on. Mark and I snagged some leather fedoras, and we look quite snazzy as we enjoy our last lunch in Argentina.

We also took a city tour, to see some of the highlights. Our first stop was at the square outside of Casa Rosada (Government House.) It was at this building that Madonna was filmed singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” in the movie, “Evita.” 

Between 1976 and 1983, many young people were “disappeared” during a corrupt military regime. Some of these young people were pregnant at the time. Once the baby was born, the mother was murdered and the child “adopted” by a military family. The group, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, was founded to try to find out what happened to their children and grandchildren. They protested at the Plaza de Mayo, across from Government House, trying to get some resolution. It’s estimated that 500 babies were stolen, and only about 1/4 have been reunited with their families to date. The street around the plaza is painted with “white scarves” as symbols of the grandmothers who marched here.

The Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis served as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is located across from the square. The citizens are proud of their connection to the Vatican, and the pope’s image is displayed everywhere.

We spent a little time in the La Boca (the mouth) neighborhood, which sits at the mouth of the Matanza-Riachuelo River. Unfortunately, the river is contaminated by arsenic and lead from centuries of pollution. It’s a very poor neighborhood, overall. The area was settled by people from Genoa, many of whom worked at the old port here. Tango originated in this neighborhood, originally danced by men together while they waited to visit a prostitute. After the tango became popular overseas, men and women began dancing it together. 

This is a colorful neighborhood. The immigrants who settled here couldn’t afford traditional building materials, so they used metal and wood from shipping containers at the dock. They also used the remaining paint after a ship was repainted, and that was rarely enough to paint the entire house, so many are multi-hued.

We walked Caminito Street, home to many artists.

Our final stop was at La Recoleta Cemetery, the final resting place of many famous and/or wealthy people, including Eva Peron. Eva was hated by the military, and after she died, they stole her embalmed body and attempted to hide it from the public. However, the people always found the location, and came to visit and leave flowers. For almost 20 years, it was moved from place to place, then, with the assistance of the Vatican, to Milan, Italy. She was finally returned to Argentina, and is buried in her sister’s family mausoleum, the Duarte family.

Mausoleums here can sell for as much as $150,000, although many are only $50,000. They can be very elaborate or quite simple, and can be as deep as almost 50 feet. It belongs to the family in perpetuity. They can be bought and sold just like houses. We noticed some that appear to be abandoned. If that’s the case, the cemetery tries to locate any remaining family members, who may not even be aware of the existence of the mausoleum. If no family members can be located, the cemetery waits another 20 years, then puts it up for resale. 

After a bit more touring, we returned to the hotel in time to catch our ride to the airport. An overnight trip brings us home on Monday morning, March 6.

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Iguazu Falls 

Friday, March 2, 2017

Our cruise ended today in Buenos Aires. We checked into our hotel, then headed to the airport for a quick trip to Iguazú National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the northeastern tip of Argentina. We had heard about the falls during a presentation on the ship, and made a last-minute decision to go there. The Iguazú River (Iguaçu in Brazil) flows between Argentina and Brazil, and spreads almost two miles in width, and drops over 150 feet from 275 waterfalls. Over 2,000 species of plants are represented in the park, as are over 200 species of birds, plus black capuchin monkeys, coatis, jaguars, puma, possum and many more animals. We even saw a few toucans on the way from the airport to our hotel.


Our hotel, the Sheraton Iguazú, is actually inside the park, and our room afforded us some amazing views of the falls, with the mist rising above them, and the roar in our ears. The grounds were beautiful as well. We were warned when we checked in that we needed to be sure to lock our balcony door to keep the monkeys out. 

 

We enjoyed the pool as well as a beautiful sunset and view of the moon tonight as well.


Saturday, March 3

The park opens at 8 am, and we were up early to make the most of our day here. After checking the map, we headed out on the Paseo Superior (upper loop.) There is also a Circular Inferior (lower loop,) which we also walked. We foolish Americans thought Superior meant the better route, so we took it first. Actually, both loops were fabulous. Each one was about 1 mile long, and took 1.5 – 2 hours each to do them justice. This a rainforest, so very humid. That, plus a light rain at times, caused us to look like drowned rats by the end of our visit. 

It’s hard to explain how stunning this park is. We were presented with OMG moments every few feet. The falls were uncountable, and ranged in size from a few feet to hundreds of feet across. 



We almost forgot to look out for the flowers and wildlife. However, we didn’t miss the coatis and the black capuchin monkeys. 



We flew back to Buenos Aires late this afternoon, tired but so very, very happy with this delightful diversion. 

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I See a Hill

That’s one explanation for the name of Montevideo, Uruguay. The other is “sixth mountain from east to west.” Neither one is very romantic, is it?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Another sea day on Ash Wednesday this year. This is the first day of Lent in the Roman Catholic tradition. The origin is actually non-Christian, as is common for many Christian holy days. The Church often incorporated traditions from the local non-Christians to make their religion more familiar to their converts. In the old Nordic religion, it was believed that putting ashes on the forehead would assure the protection of Odin. Wednesday is named for Odin – Odin’s Day. The Norse practice actually came from the Vedic Indian religion. Ashes were believed to be the seed of the Indian fire god, Agni. It may also be an abbreviated form of “sackcloth and ashes.” All religions and cultures seem to borrow from each other.

Lent, itself, has changed over the centuries. In the early days of Christianity, there was discussion of a period of time for self-examination and repentance, it was only a few days. In the year 325, there was discussion of a 40-day period, but it may have been only for people preparing for baptism. It originally started on a Sunday, but was changed to Wednesday in the 600’s to reflect the 40 day period leading up to Easter.

We also had a shuffleboard rematch today, and unfortunately, the men won. We went for best two out of three, but again, they prevailed. I think the ship was listing in their favor.

Following the games, we enjoyed a short presentation by magician Jonathan Levit, called Magic Castle at Sea. Levit has a long resume as an actor, television host and producer as well, appearing on such shows as “The X-Files,” “Paranormal USA,” and “Miracle Hunters.” He performed a few tricks, but was primarily promoting  Magic Castle, which bills itself as “The Academy of Magical Arts.” Located in Hollywood, California, admittance is restricted to members and their guests. We received tickets that allow us to enter if we are ever in the neighborhood. Maybe we will.

Tonight’s after dinner show was “That’s Opera!” starring tenor Stefan Mullen and soprano Marianna Prizzon. They were accompanied by several vocalist, and the Serenity dancers and orchestra. We had heard them rehearsing the other day, and were excited to see them perform. No disappointments. They performed songs from “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Pagliacci,” and others that I admit I was not familiar with. It was a wonderful program, one that made my heart swell. I could have listened for much longer.

Thursday, March 2

Montevideo, Uruguay


Uruguay’s population is 3.4 million, and about half live in Montevideo, the capital city. We were told that it is the least corrupt country in South America. José Mujica was president of Uruguay between 2010 and 2015. He had been a fighter in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the Tupamaros, a left-wing urban guerilla group. Mujica was imprisoned for 13 years. Following that, he entered politics. He donated 80% of his salary to charity, believing that the president should not live better than the people he governed. He is beloved by many Uruguayans, who affectionately call him “Pepe.”

We were also told that more beef is consumed per person than anywhere else in the world. Mate Tea is ubiquitous, made from the dried leaves of the Yerba Mate plant. You can find thermoses, mugs and straws for mate on every corner of the city. The Yerba Mate plant is a member of the holly family. Apparently, it gives the same energy that coffee gives, without the jitters that some of us experience.


Uruguay is nestled between Argentina and Brazil, and both countries have tried to claim the area at one time or another. Of course, they had to get in line behind Spain and Portugal, and even Britain. The city of Montevideo was established in 1724 by Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, a Spanish soldier. The country finally achieved its independence in 1830, after several turnovers. General José Artigas led the fight for Uruguyan independence, and is sometimes called the “father of Uruguayan nationhood.” We located his statue at Independence Plaza.


It was hot, hot, hot today – the temperature reached 97 degrees Fahrenheit – made my Minnesota blood boil. These beautiful, sunny days area getting boring – NOT!!! Speaking of hot, they love tango here, maybe even more than in Argentina!

Rather than take a tour, we decided to just walk around this lovely city, and enjoy the fresh air. It’s a lively town, with plenty of steakhouse, cafes, and shopping, of course.


We stopped at an outdoor cafe for wine (me) and beer (Mark,) accompanied by french fries. We thought we were getting normal servings, but for about $15 US, Mark had a quart of beer, I had half a bottle of wine, and we both shared a good sized plate of fries. We then staggered back to the ship to enjoy some ice cream, take a nap, and finish packing. Sadly, we are disembarking tomorrow, but we will spend a few more days in Buenos Aires before returning to the frigid zone of Minnesota.

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More Penguins!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Today was a sea day, so there isn’t much to report, except I played my very first game of Shuffleboard today. Yes, I know that’s an old people’s game, but, face it, I’m getting older every day. I was pretty pathetic at first, until one of my teammates gave me some pointers. I did get better, but still was the worst member of the team, although I did manage to score 7 of the necessary points to win. And my team won! Four couples, men vs women (they thought it would be a shoo-in for them,) and we wiped up the floor (or the board) with them. I might just be willing to play this game again.

Tuesday, February 28

We arrived in Puerto Madryn, Argentina early this morning, and got up really, really early this morning to get on a bus for a 2.5 hour ride to Punta Tombo, a peninsula about 130 miles south of the city. It was totally worth it.

This part of Argentina is desert, receiving less than a foot of rain per year. It’s somewhat flat, but not completely – the terrain is defined as steppes or plateaus. There is no fresh groundwater here – all of it must be brought in. The only trees we saw were planted. The only things that grow naturally are scrub brush and grass. Homes in the city have freshwater cisterns on the roofs. As you get farther from the city, there is no electricity either. The farmers use windmills to generate power. We didn’t see any crops, but did see sheep. There are also reas (similar to the emu) and guanacos (small camels) that share the land with the sheep.



Argentinosaurus, the largest known dinosaur to walk the earth, was discovered in this region in 2014. It’s estimated to have been about 110 feet long, and to have weighed about 70 tons. The Argentines are understandably proud of this find, and they recently (just last week) installed a life-size statue along the highway.


This area was settled by Welsh immigrants between 1865 and 1914. Each received 247 acres of land from the Argentine government in return for farming the land. Many of these settlers had been miners in Wales, but they learned how to farm and many became successful sheep ranchers. One of those successful ranching families donated about .8 square mile of land to the government, and that land now comprises the Punta Tombo Nature Preserve.

Punta Tombo is home to 210,000 pairs of breeding Magellanic penguins. These penguins burrow holes in the ground, often under shrubs, for their nests. They winter in the waters near Brazil, and swim 3,700 miles to Punta Tombo every year to lay their eggs. Each nesting pair lays two eggs, which, if all goes well, will hatch in November. The incubation period is 40 – 42 days, and both parents share the task. The chicks grow very quickly, they need to be independent within 2 – 2.5 months. At the end of summer, they return to Brazil. The juveniles are grey and white, while the adults are black and white. It’s believed that the Magellanic penguins may live for 30 -35 years.

We were treated immediately upon entry to the park by the sight of a darling penguin walking toward us on the boardwalk, as if coming to welcome us. We made way for it to get to wherever it was going. The Magellanic are much smaller than the King and Gentoos that we saw earlier on this trip. These ones barely come up to my knee. They move about freely in the preserve, so we were treated to many “up close and personal” views. It was simply delightful. Many of the juveniles were molting – down everywhere.


There were several groups of guanaco in the park as well, again, not far away at all.


We returned to the ship after a long day, only to experience another delight. As we were boarding, we saw a sea lion resting on one of the ship’s fenders, between the ship and the dock.


This was the end of a four-day weekend, and we saw lots of people enjoying the beaches in Puerto Madryn, or sailing or kayaking in the sea.

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Penguins, penguins!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

After arriving early this morning at Port Stanley in the Falklands, we tendered to shore for an excursion to Bluff Cove Lagoon, a family farm owned by Hattie and Kevin Kilmartin. It can be a difficult tender ride to shore, anywhere from 25 – 45 minutes depending on the weather. Today, the weather was in our favor, with partly sunny skies and calm seas. We were told that there was rain and strong wind yesterday, and had we arrived then, we wouldn’t have been able to go to shore.

Stanley is the only town in the Falklands. There are about 2,200 people who live year round in Stanley, with another 600 plus outside of the town. In addition, there are about 2,000 military and contract personnel on the islands. Most of the land outside of town, aside from the military base, is farm land. There don’t appear to be many crops grown here, except for use as animal feed, but there are over one million sheep and about 5,000 cattle. Fruits and vegetables have to be imported.

But we were here to see penguins, not cows and sheep, so we boarded a van for a short ride out of Fort Stanley, on Darwin Road, which was built in 1985 after the Falkland War. Prior to the war, there were no roads outside of Stanley, but the British beefed up their operations there, building an airforce base and this road to get there. We passed a “shoe shrine” on what is known locally as Boot Hill. Nobody knows for sure how or why it exists, although our guide believes that the military personnel and families keep it up to date.

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We then got on a Land Rover for a cross country trek to the farm. We were richly rewarded, with a small colony of King Penguins and a few of their young, plus a much larger colony of Gentoo Penguins.

The King chicks were still brown and very fuzzy looking.


The Gentoos breed earlier in the year, so their chicks are mostly full-grown, but still somewhat downy. The ground around them was covered with down that the chicks have been shedding.

Did you know that there was an annular eclipse today, at least in this part of the world? We didn’t know ahead of time, so didn’t bring the proper eyewear to observe the eclipse. Mark is very resourceful, and he created a pinhole projector so we could see it vicariously. He’s so clever!

We spent a little time in the lovely downtown area, visiting the Falklands War Memorial as well as a few shops. We walked by both the Catholic and the Anglican churches, and couldn’t help but notice that, as usual, the Anglicans appear to have more money.


Fishing (especially squid) is the biggest industry in the Falklands, with sufficient revenue from commercial fishing licenses to provide health care to all of the residents, and cover university education in England for every student who can pass the exams to qualify. Most of the students do return to the Falklands after completing their education. Tourism is the second largest industry, and sheep farming is probably third.

Temperatures in the winter range from 40 – 54 degrees in winter, and 50 – 61 degrees in summer. The temperatures are modulated by the ocean year round. The Falklands can, however, experience gale force winds, as was the case yesterday.

There was an early Mardi Gras celebration on board the ship tonight, with great Dixie Land music and dancing.

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