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Santiago to Buenos Aires on the Sun in March 2016.

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Apr 11th, 2016, 08:17 PM
  #1
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Santiago to Buenos Aires on the Sun in March 2016.

I promised I'd write a little trip report so here goes.

As I was starting to research what to do for this year's travel, I decided to check Vacations to Go for last minute cruise discounts. I was shocked to see the March 12 departure of Norwegian Sun's 15-day Cape Horn Cruise listed for something like $360 per person. I don't know if there were a few last minute cancellations due to zika (which isn't an issue in this area) or just the normal cruise line practice of hoping to basically give away the final cabins, hoping you will pay for drinks, internet, and cruise excursions. Lucky for me I'm fine with drinking water, coffee and tea and cutting off the internet on board.

Anyways, Including having the cabin to myself, port taxes and gratuities it was still less than $100 per night, and I had enough miles to be able to get to Santiago and return from Buenos Aires. It was a go with barely two weeks until departure! I did have to pay $75 extra for my AA flight for the short notice. Also I was just a month shy of Argentina suspending their reciprocity fee for US citizens...bah humbug! Good news for future travelers, though.

A few comments on the Sun and timing. March into April is the end of the South America cruise season. The ship was going to turnaround in Buenos Aires, and then continue on up to San Francisco...if I'd been a little smarter, I probably should have booked the repositioning cruise instead!
The cabins were pretty nice, and someone mentioned that the beds had already been replaced. The carpet definitely needed to go, though. It appears that NCL is famous for discounting the base price, and charging above average for gratuities, corkage (even if consumed in the room, apparently), and room service (not free except for a skimpy continental).

The wines listed for those with a beverage package were pretty low end, and the food got repetitive pretty quickly in the free restaurants, especially at lunch. Although it wasn't bad, there seemed to be a very limited list of ingredients that they used in various combinations. I thought the service was mostly very good to excellent, especially in the dining rooms, and I liked that there were many, many two-tops so that window seats were available for everyone, not just large tables. I had a wonderful cabin attendant. Overall, I was pretty happy with the total package. I'm not into entertainment too much, but the tango dancers were great as was the lecturer. It was interesting how international the passengers were..Chinese, South Americans, Euros, Americans. We apparently didn't have a norovirus outbreak, as there was no extra sanitation, but toward the end of the cruise you could hear the coughing increasing. I tried to avoid elevators and sit in the back of the lecture hall.
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Apr 11th, 2016, 09:05 PM
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Days 1-2 Travel to Valparaiso

My AA flight was scheduled to leave LAX at noon, transferring through DFW with a longish layover, arriving in Santiago at 10:15 am the following day. The international flight was on the 787 Dreamliner, a comfortable plane where I can sleep even in economy (and we had an empty seat in the middle). Due to the weather front that blew across California and the west, there were some flight delays (less than an hour).

Some research ahead of time revealed it was easy and cheap to take public transport between Santiago Airport and Valparaiso. There are ATMs at the airport (max 150,000 CLP and a hefty fee). I wound up withdrawing the max, which turned out to be too much even with 4 nights in Valparaiso pre-cruise. There is an airport shuttle (1700 CLP) to a station called Pajaritos, from which long distance buses run (2700 CLP). The shuttles run every 20 minutes, and they can break a large note. You get a ticket for luggage, and there is no issue with comfort or security. A little Spanish might be helpful, as English isn't that widely spoken. There will probably be other tourists around to help, though. At the Pajaritos station, there are ticket windows for the long distance buses. I used Turbus and made a connection to the 11:50 am bus, arriving at the Valparaiso station about 1:30-ish. A taxi from just outside the bus station to my hotel was 4500 CLP, using a meter. The drive from Santiago isn't particularly interesting, lots of graffiti near the city, then dusty dry hills, giving way to irrigated orchards and vineyards. Being from California I didn't feel an urgent need to do a vineyard tour.

In "Valpo" I stayed at the Ibis, which is on the waterfront. On a few occasions there was some late night port noise (and I saw the Sun sail by at 2am) but mostly it was just fine for my purposes. It was reasonable, a bit less than $60 a night for a modern room the usual limited Accor/Ibis amenities. If you pay with USD or a credit card there is no 21% tax. The buffet breakfast was a few $$ extra and was popular with nearby workers (although the coffee wasn't great). Location was very convenient to the green trolley line, Plaza Justicia which is the starting point for Tours4Tips, and the Ascensor Concepcion.

I was checked in by 2 pm, grabbed a chicken leg for lunch, and made it to the 3pm Tours4Tips tour on arrival day (Day 2).
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Apr 11th, 2016, 09:21 PM
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Interested to hear about the Ibis, they were finishing it when I was in Valpo. It would have been more convenient that where I stayed.
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Apr 11th, 2016, 09:36 PM
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Tours4tips has two regular tours daily, at 10 am and at 3 pm.

They aren't really "free", but rather tip-based (10,000 CLP is the minimum request). The 3pm tour is a great introduction, a quick stop at the waterfront, riding the Ascensor Reina Victoria up to Cerro Concepcion and walking over to Alegre, a good sample of street art, stopping for an alfajor (included) and a chance to buy some great empanadas. We also rode the historic green trolley or Trolebus and ended at the Tours 4 Tips offices in the old port district. Highly recommended, with the caution that you need pretty good knees and ankles to walk back down since the Ascensor El Peral from Paseo Yugoslavia is under repair. The guide also pointed out some recommendations for dinner and answered questions on how to get around.

The 10 am tour was also interesting, billed as the "culture tour". Starting in the old Port District with a discussion about 'pan batido', ie French bread. We stopped just outside the Bar Liberty, and then boarded the "O" but to the Culture park Ex-Carcel, where the guide spoke about graffiti, Pinochet, Allende and Neruda. The tour continued with a downhill stroll down Cummings to Plaza Anabal Pinto (where I broke off) and then back to their offices.

More details and itineraries on their website
http://www.tours4tips.com/

After I broke off, I walked to catch the Ascensor Espiritu Santu and walked up Cerro Bellavista to visit Neruda's La Sebastiana. I think I enjoyed the views and street art on Cerro Bellavista as much as the house. Lunch was at a seafood place near the house, with a nice view. Other than the Pisco Sour, the food was mediocre so I won't recommend it. La Sebastiana also has a Cultural Center and I enjoyed the art exhibit there by Berta Guerra Aredal, born in Chile but now living in Sweden.
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Apr 11th, 2016, 10:10 PM
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The following day I did an excursion to Isla Negra, the third of Neruda's homes and for most people the favorite (and now I've been to all three, too). Took the trolley from the Ibis to the bus station. Tripped on the sidewalk, just outside, trying to walk with determination..could have been disastrous but nothing hurt more severely than my pride! I bought a bag of ice at a nearby grocery to put on the one slightly sprained ankle and it lasted all day.

The bus line is the orange Pullman Bus (Lago Penuelas) to San Antonio, and takes slightly under two hours, turning off the highway and going through some of the coastal town. The house opens at 10 am, and there will undoubtedly be a line. You go in groups, with a recorded tape, but you are not really herded along, and can lag a bit if you wish. Linger and look at the collections and the quirky decor. I think I took 2 hours at a relaxed pace.

Entry fee is 6000 CLP. Can't recall how much the bus was, but not much.

Had an excellent fish lunch in town, picking the restaurant with all the people outside on the main drag (corvina on a bed of veggies and palm hearts). Lingered just long enough to see a return bus speeding off from the stop across the street (near the market).

However buses come about every half hour or less. No reason why you couldn't hop off and back on if you wanted to. Some of the towns eg Algarobbo have sandy beachfronts. I'm sure it is very crowded in season.

Neruda Foundation website
http://www.fundacionneruda.org/en
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Apr 12th, 2016, 10:05 AM
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thanx for sharing
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Apr 12th, 2016, 01:59 PM
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Thanks for following.

My final day I went to Viña del Mar, did some pre-cruise shopping and checked out the beach. Let's just say I'm glad I decided to stay on the Valparaiso side. Viña del Mar is like all the other high rise beach resorts around the world. Nothing unique. I'm sure it's a welcome respite from Santiago's summer heat and cold places up north.

For final dinner I returned to Saborcolor in Cerro Concepcion. Excellent congrio and wine list. Recommended. https://www.facebook.com/saborcolor.cl

At about 2 am the Sun sailed into the harbor, visible from my port-side room at the Ibis, all lit up.

The following day, a number of us cruisers decided to use the Metro rapid transit from station Puerto (a block away from the Ibis) to Baron across from the cruise terminal. The Metro uses the Tap card system, so you must buy the card plus add fare, but it was quite a bit less than a taxi for one person. I had carry-on luggage which was easy to manage on the walk. At the passenger terminal, check-in was fairly efficient, other than bussing us back across town, to where the ship was docked near the Ibis!

I had arranged to share some guided birding trips and was pleased to see my partner in crime arrive at the terminal. He had risked flying in the same morning as the cruise.
Sail away under clear skies with views of the coastline and city of Valparaiso.

A few photos of Valparaiso and Isla Negra
https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink

https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
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Apr 13th, 2016, 11:48 AM
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The next part of the cruise included a sea day on Day 2, Day 3 Puerto Montt from 8am to 5:30 pm, Day 4 Puerto Chacabuco from 10 am to 4:30 pm, the Chilean Fiords, out into the Pacific and then through the Strait of Magellan to end in Punta Arenas on "Day 7" at 6 am. All three ports are tender ports. Since I normally get up early anyways, I was the designated party to stand in line for tender tickets for Days 3 and 7. The system was fairly organized, both with tickets and with the tenders themselves. The Sun uses their own tenders for this routing, they seem well designed for easy loading and unloading.

We had amazing weather in both Montt and Chacabuco. In fact, Montt was suffering from a drought with virtually no snow on the surrounding mountains. Our bird guide there was excellent (Raffaelle from Birds Chile) and we were delighted by a curious Magellanic Tapaculo who danced in a complete circle around us, as well as a family group of Magellanic Woodpeckers.

Chacabuco was the one port where we used ship's excursion, which was a walk through a wonderful forest in Park Aiken del Sur, and a lamb bbq. We even found the Black-throated Huet Huet, which we had missed the prior day. I was impressed with the lead guide, who really knew her natural history, plant uses, and wildlife. The lamb feast was good, and included a pisco sour, and plenty of Chilean cabernet. The sail away was magnificent, during sunset through the fiords passing forested hillsides and salmon farms.

Sea days (5 and 6) were mostly spent looking for wildlife from Deck 6 and Deck 12. I went to the excellent morning lectures. We had whales, Peal's Dolphin, sea lions and assorted albatross, including royals and wandering. Turned out the lecturer has taken this cruise 45 times, and knows the wildlife as well as any guide! We ran into him a number of times on deck, and later in the cruise he joined us for dinner in the MDR (apparently policy is that staff is allowed there only with passengers). One day we had a rainbow, and hail/sleet, at the same time! Day 6 evening went to the Pampas Diablos tango show in the comfortable theater.

In Punta Arenas, the wind was howling, and we had the most horrible bird guide ever (through Far South Expeditions). It started with a 3-hour 'death march' into the wind, then driving along Route 9 beside the Magellan Strait, looking at waterfowl. Virtually no time was spent looking for forest birds (where a guide is useful). We did randomly see some good birds, including a condor and Aplomado Falcon, although mostly they were spotted by us, or the driver, not the guide.

Just to get a few more things off my chest about the miserable bird guide, in case anyone from FSE ever gets wind of this. It was interesting that the company did not tell us the name of the guide when we booked, perhaps he doesn't have the best reputation.

1) He was 15 minutes late. And the tour ended early. No excuse for being late, sorry.

2) He would not discuss what to expect at a stop, how long we might be out of the car, what we would be looking for, or even where we were.

3) We had to ask him to bring (and use) his scope.

4) There was virtually no conversation, mostly he spoke (in Spanish) to the driver. No discussion of habitat, natural history, the life history of the species we had seen.

5) He could identify birds that we saw, but we often had to ask for an ID of birds (that we spotted first)!

6) We walked first 3 hours into the wind on cobblestone, then he suggested another downwind walk on similar habitat. Might have been wiser to switch up the order.

Anyways, it would be easy enough to rent a car in Punta Arenas, drive up and down Route 9, rather than hiring a guide from Far South Expeditions, unless you can get a firm commitment on your guide before you pay.

The saving grace was after the tour ended early, I had time for a delicious crab and cheese fried empanada from one of the stalls at the market near the port.


Photos
Puerto Montt https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
Puerto Chacabuco https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...CNHU567v3JKkew
Strait of Magellan
https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
Punta Arenas https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
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Apr 14th, 2016, 06:20 PM
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mlgb - We just came back from a tour to Patagonia. A great group of 24 people.

Flew into Buenos Aires. Spent 4 days there then took a flight to Ushuaia and onto a ship: The 170 passenger Stella Australis, for 3 days.

There were two landings a day. We were lucky to have great weather and were able to make all the landings. One of the landings was at Cape Horn - on the island at the tip of S.A., and one was my favorite: Isla Magdalena where 1000s of penguins were. What a treat!

Then landed in Punta Arenas and onward to Tierra del Fuego and Torres del Paine for a few days each. Spectacular.

Finally a flight to Santiago, Chile where we stayed for 2 days. Entire trip was 18 days.

We found our local guides were excellent. We went with Odysseys (a tour company).

Glad you got to see the Magellenic Woodpecker too!
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Apr 14th, 2016, 08:54 PM
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Hi Dianedancer, I wonder if we overlapped.

There were some people on our cruise who did the excursion to Magdalena..and got to stay 4 extra hours, because the pilot wasn't paying attention to the tide and they were beached! So we left port late, but it didn't affect our schedule for the next day.

The following day, we cruised the Beagle Channel reaching Glacier Alley just at sunrise (7:30 am). It was overcast but calm and mostly dry, and the glaciers were showing their blue. Not quite as spectacular as Glacier Bay in Alaska. But not bad.

https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink

We arrived in Ushuaia on time at noon on March 19. We saw the excursion boats to Antarctica etc. in the harbor, maybe your ship was in port? The weather was rainy at first, but cleared by the time we got to the park (after a visit to the town dump for a special caracara). The guide was excellent, although he started out a bit cranky. We weren't sure if there was an anti-American bias, or machismo, or just being tired of a season of birding tours. Eventually he warmed up to us and put a lot of effort into finding Austral Pygmy Owl and Magellanic Snipe. There was even a bonus second sighting of Magellanic Woodpecker, and unexpected Dark-faced ground tyrants down from the higher elevations. The scenery was spectacular, with a dusting of snow and the trees starting to turn red and orange. Ushuaia also looked beautiful from the ship, with Olivia and the Five Sisters in the background.

https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
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Apr 15th, 2016, 10:05 AM
  #11
 
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I'm enjoying your report. I did this trip on Holland America, and then repeated it in the reverse direction a couple of years later (another last-minute bargain, which included the Antarctic Peninsular).

A few items for when you, too, repeat the trip.

Viña del Mar may be a high-rise beach resort, but the Musee Fonck is the best museum for Easter Island and its moai outside the island itself. It has an authentic moai standing outside and most tours just stop to photograph that and move on, but the museum itself is excellent. As a bonus, they have some shrunken heads upstairs.

We docked (rather than tendered) in Punta Arenas. About a mile north is a boatyard where they have constructed accurate full size replicas of Magellan's Nao Victoria, Darwin's Beagle (which was under construction when I was there but I believe it is now finished), Shackleton's James Caird, and the Ancud (which claimed this region for Chile). In town, there's a good cemetery (like Recoleta in BsAs) and an excellent museum. The museum has some material on the indigenous Yaghan/Yamana people, who went naked (for entirely practical reasons) in this freezing climate; there's also a tiny museum dedicated to them in Ushuaia.

An excellent book on this region (including a lot on the Yaghan people) is "Rounding the Horn" by Dallas Murphy.

I think you have the glaciers mislabelled in your photos; in particular, the one with the waterfall is the Romanche Glacier.

Great report. Keep it coming.
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Apr 15th, 2016, 04:04 PM
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The one with the big waterfall? Maybe I'll email my new friend the lecturer and ask him which ones I got wrong, he's only done the route 45 times! I was trying to ID them afterwards from other photos on the internet, since I didn't take notes during the narration, LOL.

I had been in Punta Arenas previously when I visited Torres del Paine. Did not go to the cemetery, but I did go to what I believe is commonly called Salesian Museum, I agree excellent. Some of their famous photo postcards of the Selk'Nam (Ona) I still have framed. Did you know they were asked to put those costumes on for the photographer, they were already wearing Western dress by then.

I double checked my notes and Punta Arenas is a tender port for the Sun. We anchored early but didn't get off the ship right away since sunrise wasn't til after 7:30 am.

I'll post more entries later on, we did make it to view the leeward side of Cape Horn, close enough to see the lighthouse. The captain decided it was too windy to try to go "round" outside. Not sure I needed to land in those conditions!

Lucky you being able to go to Antarctica from the cruise. It wasn't an option with the Sun.

I checked the pricing on using an excursion boat from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia..and the Odyssey tour..yeeikes!! I thi
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Apr 15th, 2016, 04:15 PM
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I was going say before my finger slipped, I think you can go to Antarctica for the price of that Odyssey tour!

I haven't added up everything precisely but I think I was at about $3K for everything, including the excursions, the extra 4 nights in Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, and cash that I spent on meals and gifts. Fortunately I was able to use miles for the flights.
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Apr 18th, 2016, 10:43 AM
  #14
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I need to wrap this up!

So as mentioned after leaving Ushuaia the next goal was hopefully to go out to Cape Horn. We were unable to go "outside" to the windward side of the Horn, but stayed on the north (leeward) side of Isla Hornos. Only a small deck in front of the Observation Lounge, was kept open so people could take their photos in front of the Cape. It was a funny scene with people trying to hold onto hats and take photos, and it took several people to open the doors to get back inside. We were close enough to see the Navy lighthouse and the albatross memorial to lost sailors.

https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
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Apr 18th, 2016, 12:48 PM
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After reaching beyond 55 degrees south, we turned north and with fingers crossed, headed toward Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. The weather forecast looked a bit grim. There was an incident years back when the cruise ship was blown out to sea, stranding thousands of passengers in Stanley. Most of the day at sea was spent catching up reading "Voyage of the Beagle", going to the lecture, doing a bit of laundry, eating, walking laps on the deck, etc. Prayers were offered up to the "good weather fairy".

Next morning the captain advised that we would be able to land a half hour early! Everyone was surprised. I imagine he wanted to take advantage of an early morning break in the winds. I could see there was a weather front (same cloud formation I've been caught by in New Zealand, the southern buster). By the time I was back on board the winds and waves were up and the last tender was held at the dock for a break in conditions.

My excursion was to see the King/Gentoo Penguin colony at Volunteer Point with Estancia Excursions. Four of us who booked as individuals and couples were assigned one of the first vehicles. Great driver, 12 years old during the invasion, entertained us with stories along the way. Still lots of resentment toward the "Argies". Part of the drive is on gravel roads, passing some interesting geologic features including "stone runs". The last part is across informal tracks on the sheep farm's boggy fields. Hence the need to recruit locals with 4x4's to transport the tourists, and probably why the ship doesn't offer this excursion. I may

The trip to the penguins was undoubtedly the cruise highlight. My young birding pal said it was the best day of his life. You can walk down to the beach, and as long as you stay a few feet away from the birds, wander fairly freely, except inside the colonies which are marked off with ropes and stones.We had no rain, until seconds after the tires hit the gravel road on the return trip. Thank you good weather fairy!

No details necessary, beyond the hundred + photos there, which I still haven't sorted. I did ask a family member of the farm's owner if he ever got tired of them, and he just chuckled.

https://picasaweb.google.com/1053023...eat=directlink
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Oct 25th, 2016, 04:18 PM
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So much good information here. Don't you just love getting a good deal on a cruise?
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Oct 26th, 2016, 10:03 AM
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It was an unbelievable deal! I would go again if I found something similar.
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Oct 27th, 2016, 06:10 AM
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Following along and enjoying your report so far, although unfortunately the links for the photos don't work for me (may be my computer settings). I'm making some notes for my own trip down south next year. Did you spend any time in Santiago? Did you have a chance to walk around Port Stanley? If so what did you think?
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Oct 27th, 2016, 08:59 PM
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tripplanner001, you might try signing into Google or gmail to see if that helps view the links. Let me know.

I stayed in Valparaiso, I had previously been to Santiago and didn't like it enough to return. Didn't have much time to spend in Port Stanley. MY friend popped into one of the pubs and I went to the local conservation store and bought a few things for souvenirs..bird pins and a mug. it's on the corner opposite the red phone booth. On the Estancia tour you drive through town on the way back. It looks like a British town. Some people we met onbboard walked east along the coast and got hammered by stinging horizontal rain in the afternoon.
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Oct 28th, 2016, 05:39 AM
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Thanks mlgb. Photos still don't load even with the signing into Google, but I will try it on a different computer. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the written portion of your report.

Did you find the sea to be rough sailing to and from the Falklands?
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