Sunday, 27 January 2019

2019 Lexus ES350 in Moonbeam Metallic


When I took my car into Lexus for routine maintenance Abdul Ramadan saw me and, after his generous and warm greeting whenever we meet, he asked me to drop by and see him. This was in mid October 2018 and I visited with him after the servicing was complete. After several minutes of chatting about life which I thoroughly enjoy (Abdul is an accomplished gentleman) we begin talking about another car. That car was a 2019 model and either a ES350 or a LS model. But I said: "There is still almost two years remaining on my current ES350." 
Armed with pen, computer and markers Abdul begins his presentation.
Let me add that Abdul almost never forgets a detail. Once I told him that when I reach 65 years I wanted to have an SC450, the one with the entire roof fitting into the trunk with a flick of a button. It was a silver convertible. And guess what, just before the birthdate Abdul called and asked me to come over and see my new car. Yes, I bought it, and enjoyed it for two years.
This time he thinks I might be ready for the top-of-the-line LS, but if not, another ES that has many of the LS attributes now installed in the current luxury ES for just a few dollars more. What did I do? I bought it. There was not one single vehicle in Moonbeam Metallic in any North American Lexus Dealerships. It was ordered and would start being made in Japan on December 12, 2018 and delivered to Erin Park Lexus on January 15, 2019. I took delivery on January 25, 2019 and here it is:




It's close to a month that I've been driving this little beauty and it's living up to its expectations. I'm wild about the colour: Moonbeam Beige is its name. The lane guidance beeps (instead of a steering wheel shake) whenever one crosses a white line lane divider without signalling the same. The speedometer reading through the windshield (as low or high as you like it) is a delight. The GPS and the new methodology of its use is a marvel as well as a breeze to use. (Voice commands are a very big thing now.) The colour looks good when a trifle dirty which is an enormous plus. This time, I read the entire manual; this time I've played with the instruments (all of them) until they became familiar, and this time, unlike the 2017 model, the learning curve was a minor adjustment. 

Monday, 7 January 2019

Antarctica January 1–24, 2019

J Class to Buenos Aires on New Year’s Eve is a good way to start our journey. We arrived right on schedule at 8:05AM after a nine hour flight, went through customs quite easily, and grabbed a cab to the El Conquistador Hotel in Le Centro district of Buenos Aires.
We were eager to see the city and made an inquiry of 'Martin' who checked us in and gave us a fun destination by the water. We were amazed at the number of wine, champagne and wiskey bottles strewn about the rest of the garbage indicating one hell of a New Year's Eve party that we had missed by about 12 hours. There were plenty of restaurants, not many of them open early in the afternoon, (the hangover took over) and we settled for a nicely appointed 'Puerto Crystal' and a Rib Eye steak that ranked around a 7 to Toronto's Le Castille at a solid 10.
We enjoyed our five days in BA, the Hotel and the sites including a National treasure 'Museum' which had a special John Turner display and many beautiful objects of art including Van Gogh, Monet, Dali and Picasso to name just a few.

On January 9 at 15:10 we are in The Living Room on the 10th floor forward of the Pursuit. The sea is lively today, perhaps more of the same to come, as we head south to the tip of South America ever closer to our beloved Penguins.
We are in the lap of luxury on board with waiters everywhere asking us if we wished for all manner of food and drink.
We listened to lectures on History, Geography, Politics, and Photographic techniques that will be employed during our on shore experiences. We may win a ship wide contest for the best photograph in 7 different categories. I’ll put an example or two right here.

This colour saturation and mysterious look in his eyes as well as slightly out of focus caught the Judges eyes and rated a selection for viewing at the awards ceremony.










This one of the sun framed by the ship's hardware was also selected for various reasons I'm not totally sure of; however, I did submit it as one of my best, and they agreed.







January 10 at 11:50 after a fabulous brunch complete with orchestral ambience and calm seas we  continue with the final day at sea prior to reaching Ushuaia, Argentina. The shipboard experience has been nothing short of luxury in decor, comfort and sumptuous foods from around the world. Again, we have settled in The Living Room on deck 10 staring into the south and our destination to the bottom of the world.
I can't help acknowledging my absolute joy at this time...however, the Internet is a tad slow...I wonder why? Perhaps it's because we are hundreds of nautical miles from any urban structures and will be for several days to come. Patience is the key. Now I'll try to upload a picture right here:



Well, well; here's one of the singers on board the Pursuit.

Additionally, I am well into Harari's book 'Sapiens' and enjoying it immensely. Thank you Greg McDonald and Yuval Noah Harari.
January 11, 2019 and we have arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina at the southernmost tip of South America. The temperature is 11 degrees Celsius and mostly everyone is dressed for -11 C. It is summertime at the end of the Earth. Who knew?
Our bus awaits and we leave for their National Park along a dusty, at times rutted road to meet our old time mini-diesel-engined mini-train running on two foot wide tracks that meander through wooded areas once harvested by Argentinian Prisoners at the end of the 19th Century. The story goes that the worst as well as minor criminals were sentenced to this area. Along with their guards, a trek into this wooded forest to cut trees for building and warmth requirements was a daily occurrence. They were chained at the ankles and if it was winter there may have been three feet of snow on the ground. Picture this: with snow at three feet the chopping started there; and in the summer it started at ground level: the stumps vary from minimal to may be three feet as far as the eye can see.
This picture is from The End of the World. It's in Ushuaia, and looks out over the inlet with the southern most Post Office in the world. I did not select this one for the contest.

January 12 to 15 traveling through Antarctic Sound, Paradise Bay and many inlets with incredible views of landscapes, whales, sea lions and penguins. At this point my sea and landscapes are magnificent but the smartphone, while a wonderful camera with many features, does not do it when one requires a telescoping lens. Our ship's passengers have more camera equipment than I've ever seen. The ship also employs a lovely young photographer who has held several workshops assisting these would-be photographers, including me. Cruising on Azamara (with the absence of a casino and the never ending request to have a photograph taken by the staff  at almost every turn by every other cruise line we've been on since 2009) is very special. We will have a contested photography prize given to the winner of seven different photo journalistic challenges. It stands to reason that this cruise will attract amateur photographers and Azamara will make the best of this hobby for its passengers.
To describe the beauty of this part of the world would require the artistry of a Tennyson or Whitman which I have not yet earned the privilege to claim. Only pictures can speak those words and my ability to transport photos from the Smartphone to the MacBook Air is not available at the time of writing. These will be added when both devices can WiFi simultaneously. I hope they will be worthy of the wait.


On January 16 we cruise Elephant Island in the Antarctica where Shackleton was shipwrecked for four months. At any time of the year desolation is prominent. Of course there are fish to eat, but how does one stay warm, dry and comfortable enough to sleep while battling to survive. But sure enough they did and lived to tell their story.
The ice shelves and Icebergs are everywhere. Our five Captains on board navigate us through these monsters with stealth and up to this point with success. A Tubular Iceberg is one that is totally flat  and does not protrude above the water as much as the others; they, however, can be very large. We encountered one that has been named by the scientists as Alpha Zebra Four that is 12 miles long and 4 miles wide. Has it been floating right along with all the others for thousands of years? 
Twenty-eight Nations have research facilities in the Antarctica. From our ship we could see one of these men wearing a red coat doing his work. So far the wild life has been too far away from us to see without binoculars. Additionally, it is not safe for the passengers to disembark.
On board there are amateur photographers everywhere--many are inside shooting through the windows. I took all of mine standing on the decks and will add them as soon as my system will allow. 

It's now; I'm at home and the internet is incredibly fast.


January 17 is a sea day as we head north and dock for the first time (since leaving Ushuaia) at Port Stanley in The Falklands.
I have thought about Shackleton the explorer and navigator many times on this journey especially as we enjoy the warmth and incredibly delicious meals on board our vessel Azamara Pursuit.

On January 18 we anchor off the coast of Port Stanley about a twenty minute's Tender ride to The Falklands and our appointment with the Penguins. We are met by a woman carrying a sign with the number 11 on it; she directs us to a van and 16 of us pile aboard. A mannered and learned citizen drives the ten miles to our next vehicle, a four by four that takes 4 of us to the Rookery. Both drivers are seventh generation Islanders. They mention the word Colony but don't really mean it; they mention the war of 1982 between the Brits and the Argentines as "The Conflict" while sliding through the facts decorated with a few myths to add to the inspection of the Penguins. This endeavour is a huge well-oiled campaign for these and many others employed to take care of their visitors. They do it well and enjoy their work. Tourism is the third most important industry they have.
The birds that never fly are respected and are given their territory marked by circulating white flags that we (must) never cross. When I first approached them I noticed that a large percentage of Penguins faced in the same direction and hardly moved. So after studying the backsides I walked around to see and photograph their fronts. There was no fuss or muss between the birds; from time to time they might skirmish ever so slightly and then stare straight upward to the sky. Birds of prey will attempt to dive down and abduct their young ones, which is probably why they stare into the sky many times in the day.



The Mother and her Young

These flightless birds are ignoring us.




On January 20, after a day of GI for Terryl, she feels fine and ready to travel on our excursion into Puerto Madryn Patagonia. Our bus winds through the beachside town passing a few shops, smallish hotels, and on the left their beach, where there are many swimmers enjoying the hot weather and warm water. This is their summer vacation time: the kids are off school and the town is reasonably busy. The tide is out and when it's in, there is a five meter surge on to the shore. An interesting green shade formed by seaweed occupies the top of the shore slowly vanishing into a brownish shade just under the water and then finally a nice, but not brilliant blue colour as the water goes deeper and deeper.
Our bus, complete with a full capacity of Azamara guests continues out of town and on to dirt roads. This is the country where their annual rainfall (that's annual!) is never greater than 2 centimetres. The dust fills the air along the roadside as we pass by bushes of green with the odd sprinkling of yellow and purple. We are told that this countryside had been fire-burned-out only a few years ago, and now, through nature alone, it's back to normal with bushes reaching for moisture with extended roots deep into the soil. For most of us this is a desert. But for the Patagonians this is a beach and farmland suitable for farming sheep and harvesting their wool.
Our first stop is one that looks from high over a cove and down from a wire fence overlooking a settlement of Sea Lions. These incredible animals stretch, roll over and honk (if that is the correct word) seemingly at us Sapiens gawking at them. We are told that the females are pregnant for 12 months, have the babies, rest for 4 months, and get pregnant again. That's their life. The males do their part and impregnated the females on cue. After the young have 4 months on their lives, the entire lot travel out in the big ocean and try to avoid the all consuming whales on their way to their winter homes.
Our next stop is deep into the brush over rutted roads and dust and the same flora and fauna to San Guillermo sheep ranch. We are guided by one lama and one sheep and one dog and one tour guide into, of all things, a gift shop. The goods are mostly made of wool (thanks for that) and are very attractive. After a little of that, they guide us into the sheering station complete with gallery seating on both sides. A hardy looking Gaucho, with black pants, black shirt, hat and knee high boots with appropriate leathers comes along with the owner of the ranch and they introduce themselves through our tour guide interpreter. After the intro complete with a little humour they ask for ten volunteers to bring two sheep to the station. I didn't volunteer, I should have.
They come in carrying two very large animals upside down and a third Gaucho dressed in ordinary jeans and shirt enters with sheers in hand attaches his equipment to the power source. The record for sheering a sheep in a speed contest is 1 minute. Our guy takes ten minutes and then he does another in ten minutes. He is soaked with perspiration and accepts our applause. The wool comes off the sheep in one full piece covering an entire large picnic table. They have 5 different grades of wool from every sheering and the wool is collected accordingly.
This was a very interesting guide through an area of nature that provides very few opportunities for mankind to survive but the Indigenous as well as the Welsh settlers have found a way to survive through mating and becoming one.
Sea Lions

Sheep, Sheering, Sea Lions and cliffs of Patagonia.


It's January 21 and another seaday on Azamara Pursuit. Last night we experienced a White Night buffet and dance on the Pool Deck with live dance music and a walk-on parade by the staff carrying flags and dancing with a smile and well wishes for all of us. We were impressed and happy. Around 22:30 we retired and set the alarm for 01:30 to see the full Lunar Eclipse which in itself was incredible along side the night stars shining more brightly than I have seen for years. The sight of which reminded me of nights in Thurstonia Park, Ontario where the Cccottage boys met during summers in the late 60's and early 70's many years ago.
I'm writing this in the Library on the 10th deck over looking a jogging track (every one walks) and a beautiful sea of 2 metre swells and bright skys. The Eclipse was a wonderful sight to see. (I needed a telescopic lens.)

[When we are in Toronto and my system and WiFi connections are in full swing, I have many, but not too many, photos to include. Meanwhile I meander, think a little, and sometimes write just for myself.]

It's January 22. Today is the last day at sea and the photo submissions will be revealed at 14:00 hours. We have a special meal and dining room planned for 18:30 at Prime C and if we make it in time, a final Cabaret event at 20:15 followed by packing up our gear for the trip into Buenos Aires and the El Conquistador hotel in the morning. We'll do a little shopping and one last meal before hitting the sack for an early departure to the airport on January 24 and our flight to Toronto ending this wonderful cruise and informative vacation. There will be a string of photos added in several places in this post asap. Please leave any appropriate comments that you may wish to make in the space below. As they say in most surveys you see, "In order to improve our service we request..." But before you go I am thrilled to tell you that I won the contest that included 2,000 photographs submitted by 129 photographers vying for seven different categories and one Grand Prize.


I received honourable mention in three of these categories. And the Grand Prize was won by yours truly. Here is the picture: a selfie of me. And that's the end of the story.

Six months later, July 23, 2019 I run into a fascinating article on The Falklands. And I said to myself why not simply add a portion of it to my earlier post (which you have read many times I'm sure.) Here it is my friends:


The 52 Places Traveler was one of four tourists on the remote Falkland Islands, also known as Las Islas Malvinas. But there were thousands of penguins. (By Sebastian Modak)

More than a thousand breeding pairs of king penguins make their home on East Falkland Island.

For an archipelago just 350 miles off the southeastern coast of Argentina, the Falkland Islands, also known as Las Islas Malvinas, are maddeningly difficult to get to. There’s just one commercial flight a week from Santiago, via Punta Arenas, Chile, along with a twice-weekly, 18-hour trip on a British Royal Air Force plane from an air base outside Oxford. In the winter months, when I visited, the islands’ position on the southern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, only 850 miles from the Antarctic Circle, adds more problems: dense fog, low clouds and turbulence-inducing rotor winds that shut down the airport at Mount Pleasant, a British military base, for days at a time.

Because of one missed flight connection in Brazil, it took me two weeks to get to the Falklands — and two extra days of successive cancellations to get out.

The Bodie Bridge is the southernmost suspension bridge in the world, but it may not last much longer.
The relatively few visitors who come to the Falklands tend to arrive in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, when the islands are teeming with wildlife — five species of penguins, elephant seals and dense colonies of albatross. On some cruise days, when ships stop by the most developed island, East Falkland, on their way to Antarctica, the population of the island’s capital, Stanley, about 2,500, more than doubles.




Dubai people, camels and things December 13, 2019

UAE was nothing but rolling sand dunes.  "Forty-seven years after its establishment in 1972, the UAE has become a shining country...