Friday 13 December 2019
Our trip began with meeting the bus at Bemboka and travelling to Canberra; the TrainLink buses are fairly new and well sprung with comfortable seats. Jillian met us when the bus arrived to help us across to the Jolimont Centre to catch the Murray’s Bus to Sydney Airport. Murray’s buses are older giving a ride that took some time to recover.
When we arrived at the International Terminal it was short walk across the road to Rydges for the night. Some drinks and good steak helped and then a blissful night in a really comfortable bed.
Saturday 14 December
LATAM Check-in did not take long and then waited for a wheelchair; walking that distance was not on the agenda today. The staff-member took us all the way to the Departure Gate as she misunderstood the message that we were going to the Lounge – all the way back to the QANTAS Lounge to wait for our flight to be called. The return journey was made to the Departure Gate where we were delayed for a few minutes and then boarded.
The Boeing 789 airplane is probably one of the more comfortable planes to date which made for a reasonably comfortable trip. The food was rather ordinary and the service OK, but the staff did not seem to enjoy their work. According to the airline information, LATAM is noted for punctuality and that was achieved. John managed to sleep really well while I watched three movies and read for quite some time.
There was a wheelchair waiting for me when we arrived at Santiago to take us to the Lounge – once again it was via the Departure Gate because the staff member misunderstood. The LATAM Lounge was fairly basic and rather in need of an update. There is considerable construction happening at the airport and perhaps there is a new lounge somewhere in their future. The six-hour wait passed slowly sitting in uncomfortable chairs that necessitated a regular walk to keep the circulation going in my derrière.
The second leg of our journey was only two hours; we had hoped to see the Andes from the plane, but the cloud decided otherwise. Once in Buenos Aires, it was a simple process to clear customs (any required information went into their system, rather than us filling in a form), collect our luggage and meet the car taking us to our hotel. Once we checked in, I unpacked while John went to find an auto-teller as well as some milk for a cup of tea. The tea was all we needed before sleeping – 10pm local time.
Monday 15 December
We slept-in until 9am and after breakfast (fairly ordinary) we had a lazy morning while the rain kept us indoors. Mid-afternoon the rain stopped so we ventured out for a walk around the area. Having no more luck finding a supermarket for supplies, we stopped in a local café for lunch / dinner of meat and vegetables, so we didn’t have to go out again to eat. John headed out for a walk while I read.
The evenings are quite drawn out here similar to home with the bright sunlight gently fading until darkness descends.
Tuesday 16 December
We awoke earlier today and headed out to catch the first bus of the Buenos Aires Bus Tours and spent until mid-afternoon covering the three different loops of their tour. The Tour commentary was quite difficult to understand – the presenter had such a strong accent and rather strange phraseology that we gave up and just watched the scenery go by.
The traffic was moving at a snail’s pace most of the time; I am not sure if there are no road rules or everyone just ignores them. The three buses we were on were not the new version shown in the brochures, but just about ex-Red Buses from elsewhere. Climbing into and out of the busses was rather difficult – if my legs were a little longer, I am sure I would not find it such a challenge.
Buenos Aires Bus Tours
La Boca is a working-class area with a cluster of attractions near the Riachuelo River. Steakhouses and street artists surround Caminito, a narrow alley flanked by brightly painted zinc shacks that evoke the district’s early immigrant days. A cauldron of noise on match days, La Bombonera is the home ground of Boca Juniors soccer team. Modern art museum Fundación Proa has temporary exhibits and views of the old docks
The Plaza de Mayo is a city square and main foundational site of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was formed in 1884 after the demolition of the Recova building, unifying the city’s Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Armas, by that time known as Plaza de la Victoria and Plaza 25 de Mayo respectively.
The Casa Rosada is the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina. The palatial mansion is known officially as Casa de Gobierno. Normally, the President lives at the Quinta de Olivos, the official residence of the President of Argentina, which is located in Olivos, Greater Buenos
Plaza del Congresso
Usina del Arte
Monumento a los Espanoles
The Monument to the Carta Magna and Four Regions of Argentina is commonly referred to as the “Monument of the Spanish”
The monument was a donation from the Spanish community in celebration of the centenary of the Revolución de Mayo of 1810 (which marked the formal beginning of Argentina’s independence from Spain). It was built entirely in bronze and Carrara marble. The sculpture was finalized in 1927.
Parque Tres de Febrero
Monumento a los Espanoles
An upmarket shopping centre down town.
Some times you need a strong man to hold up the Fig Tree limb.
I walked over to the other side of town to view the grave of Eva Peron with the church attached to the cemetery.
On the way home I spotted this unusual Police Vehicle
Wednesday 18 December
The morning was spent packing or should I say trying to repack; it should have been an easier task because I had removed the big coats and some shoes into a spare duffel bag, but it was still a challenge. At 12md our taxi arrived to take us to the cruise ship terminal – a hair-raising ride among other crazy drivers who all drove at top speed and then stood on the brakes and all I could do was hold on tight and hope to make it safely to the harbour.
When we arrived at the terminal, it was total chaos – two ships were boarding at the same time which resulted in some 3000 people all trying to enter the check-in hall within a similar timeframe. There was a wheelchair available for me as we arrived and that made our check-in processes so much easier; I doubt I could have made it through the long lines for check-in, screening and customs before the walk to the ship itself.
Once on board, we were shown to our stateroom; after a short rest we headed up for lunch before returning to our cabin and the unpacking. As well as cases being delivered to our room, we received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Jillian and Thomas – such a lovely surprise. I had a quiet afternoon while John went exploring. We shared dinner with a couple from Glasgow (they had visited 78 countries in the last 6 years) and two sisters from Alaska – a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.
Thursday 19 December
John had booked a Gaucho Tour for today and being woken at 6am with the alarm was rather a shock to the system. I spent the day sitting on the verandah and watching the world go by – mainly ships coming and going in the harbour and containers being loaded onto or unloaded from several vessels. There were thousands of shipping containers coming and going with an endless succession of container trucks arriving and leaving – hopefully the same vehicles were providing the transport.
My tour was for 8 hours starting at 8.15am and was called “Gaucho Life On The Pampas”.
It took quite some time to reach the outskirts of the city and then in no time we seemed to be at the Farm. I was disappointed not to see more of the farming community. We were greeted with a traditional wine and sausage roll type pastry and then invited to watch the Gaucho (local cowboys) demonstrate their horsemanship skills.
I then went to the front of the property to inspect their personal chapel and farmhouse, presented as it would have been in the 1800’s. It would have been tough times then and it is always good to be reminded how our for-fathers battled the elements.
Lunch was almost ready & I watched one of the hands cook on the BBQ the Chilean way.
A big slab of beef cooked to perfection, followed by chicken & pork with vegetables & salad under a huge roof that four bus loads only half filled.
We watched a folkloric show presented by the local owner and staff.
We returned to our ship via a local highway which present another aspect of the city.
John returned at 5pm and there was a mandatory fire-drill at 5.15pm. We were instructed to remain in our rooms until the correct signal was given – that many people trying to use the stairs at the same time followed by trying to squeeze past life-boat stations, already packed with people, until we reached ours, proved challenging – thank heavens the drill was without life vests! We stood while room keys were scanned and a demonstration of donning a life vest were completed.
A drink and dinner followed the drill and then back to our cabin to watch sailing out of the harbour. We were third in line to go out through the breakwater and begin this wonderful cruise to Antarctica.
Friday 20 December
Overnight we sailed the 150 miles across the bay to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The Bay is the mouth of the Rio De La Plata, said to be the “widest river in the world”.
The ship was in port until 4pm so I decided I would go ashore and walk around the city to get a feel for Montevideo. As the city is on a peninsular I decided to walk across town to the bay on the other side. Not much sand where I was but up north and around the bay it look quite good and a lot fly in the season.
Walked up town to the main park and on the edge was a large residential property which must have been built 100 years ago and dominated the skyline. Found some interesting metal sculptures on the walkway of the building.
Continued up the main street with all their shopfronts either side containing the usual clothing, shoes and household goods as well as the normal mobile phone shops. Movistar seem to be the major carrier in this area. On my return I visited several parks and noted some beautiful old building along the way. Had some difficulty in find the original town gate as it had been shored up with concrete blocks on the park side.
The church with twin towers faced the park, the original church on the site dates back to around 1724 with a town map dated 1748 displayed at the front entrance. Once again the interior was very well maintained and shone in all its glory.
I had a quiet day sitting on the verandah watching the world go by and spent quite some time watching shipping coming and going. I was rather impressed as I watched a cruise liner being reverse parked; I am sure for a professional sailor this was a fairly routine task, but I was fascinated. I watched as the liner came in through the break-water, turned 1800 with the aid of a tug and then, unaided, expertly manoeuvred between us and the cargo vessel berthed at 600 to us and gently docked directly behind the Zaandam – all the while being watched closely by two tugs who were ready to assist if needed.
We listened to the Adagio Duo (piano and viola) play their baroque set and then stayed to listen to the collection of Broadway Musical hits, including Phantom, Les Mis and Cats. This was followed by dinner with a couple from Norway and a couple from Melbourne.
Saturday 21 December
Our first Sea Day. Following breakfast, we went to the Auditorium for the first of the talks by the Expedition Team; Dr Bryan Storey – “Antarctica: A frozen Continent, lots of great information accompanied by a fascinating PowerPoint presentation.
Lunch today was at the Pinnacle Grill by Invitation – a steakhouse; an enjoyable meal in pleasant surroundings.
After dinner we went to the Mainstage for the Captain’s Welcome and then the Stage Show presented by the Zaandam Singers and Dancers – we had hoped to see Tango but were disappointed
Sunday 22 December 2019
Today we arrived in Port Madryn and rather than a tour here, we spent a couple of hours on paperwork we caught the bus to the end of the pier for a walk along the waterfront. There were lots of people on the beach (sand a grey colour) with grassed areas between the beach and the roadway. The combination of high temperature and humidity had us soon looking for air conditioning; after wandering through the shopping mall we stopped for morning tea and WIFI. I decided to return to the ship; after seeing me safely back to our room, John went off to explore further afield.
I went onshore looking for the Pujol Chalet (Natural Science and Oceanographic Museum) built by Agustin Chalet in 1915. As it was a Sunday all the streets were quiet and of course the Museum was closed.
I wandered back down town and through the local park before returning to the seafront to observe the locals swimming in a rather dirty surf.
We shared dinner with 3 Americans and one Canadian – a lovely meal to go with the wide-ranging discussions – cruising, tours, living on a yacht in Los Angeles as well as living and travelling in various parts of the world.
Monday 23 December
A sea day spent on rest and relaxation as well as Exec Team Lectures on the Geology of Antarctica by Dr Bryan Story followed by Professor Torre Stockard’s presentation on the Penguins of the World – both fascinating in their own way.
On our way to dinner, we listened to Adagio – Grant on his own as Brandon was ill; we treated to 40minutes of wonderful piano playing of music from movies and stage shows.
Dinner this evening was shared with a couple from Seattle and discussion centred around travel in America
Tuesday 24 December
In Port Stanley, Falkland Islands for the day. Our Bluff Cove Lagoon Tour started with collecting in the Auditorium, transferring to the dock by a 30minute tender ride in reasonably smooth conditions and being met by our tour host and organised into buses.
The first part of the drive was on paved roads and then onto dirt roads in good condition with our driver sharing lots of information about Port Stanley as well as the Falkland Islands. We then transferred to 4wheel drive vehicles for the remainder of the journey to Bluff Cove – our driver Keith gave us insights to living in Port Stanley while driving us through the rough peat bogs – I was rather pleased when that drive finished.
We then spent an amazing couple of hours walking around looking at the penguin colonies – we saw both Gentoo and King Penguins standing in groups with predominantly two chicks of various sizes tucked in under their parent while the other parent was off fishing to feed their chicks. We watched as the chicks were fed, penguins had noisy discussions or waddled to and from the water.
There was a Gift Shop and Tea Rooms on the shore (tucked under the hill) where we wandered while waiting for Keith to return to take us back to the bus.
We were the first of 15 tours for the day and 17 tours were planned for tomorrow. The return journey in the 4X4 was just as bone-jarring with the drivers being under pressure because by this time they were an hour behind where they had planned. Our driver for the ride back into town gave quite a detailed description of the April2 to June14 1982 72Day Falkland’s War, pointing out the remnants of fortifications and the actions on each peak as we passed as well as recalling the various UK Forces involved and the commendations awarded.
John went for a walk along the main street while I waited at the dock; while I was seated there, the Security Team were required to conduct searches of passengers as well as bags. Several passengers were less than impressed about being searched and one American lady challenged their authority to do so – invoked a rapid response for reinforcements and that soon had her backing down and agreeing to the search.
A quite afternoon followed our excursion. At dinner we were joined by 5 Americans and 1 Canadian with the conversations again exploring diverse topics.
Wednesday 25 December
After our Christmas Breakfast we attended a lecture by Dr Craig Cormick on Ernest Shackleton Antarctic Explorer that was well detailed with some great photographs and his son’s jokes entertained the crowd.
A quiet afternoon while we watched “Love Actually” – must be Christmas.
Our Special Christmas Dinner was shared with 6 Americans from various States, although most of them had other origins. After dinner we went to the Mainstage for a performance by Elliott Finkel, a gifted and entertaining pianist, accompanied by the Zaandam Orchestra – a great show
Thursday 26, Friday 27, Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 December
These four days were listed as Antarctic Experience and what an experience! I do not have sufficient vocabulary to adequately describe the scenery, atmosphere nor the emotions evoked by being in this magical place. The temperatures were much more to my liking – usually around 00C – quite delightful. I will leave the photos to portray the grandeur that is Antarctica. We had perfect weather during the whole experience, reported to be unusual. If you have the opportunity to visit, please don’t miss this trip, you could not be disappointed.
Watching penguins porpoising through the water, jumping up onto and then waddling across the ice is both elegant as well as amusing. Humpback whale pods were often seen within 10metres of the ship; we watched them breeching, blowing and then with a flick of their mighty tail, gliding back into the deep. One fascinating activity was watching the whales creating a whirlpool to collect and concentrate the krill so the pod could all feed.
The wide range of Exec Team lectures gave a lot of information about what to expect; in addition, the team members provided commentary during each day, but experiencing these phenomena is so much more than their words could convey and my words can recount.
Eight members of the US Palmer Base came on board for 24 hours to give us an account of life in the Antarctica. (Word has it that they did enjoy our dining choices)
Monday 30 December
Today we traversed the Drake Passage to Cape Horn – a smooth day’s sailing that could have been much different. The temperature was now up to 40C with winds up to 30mph resulting in a 5metre swell which made walking a bit more of a challenge.
Today was the Mariner Luncheon; once again a pleasant meal with interesting company. The HAL ceramic coasters were once again shared. The Captain’s speech included that there were 1000 Mariners on this cruise – given 1450 passengers, that is an amazing statistic.
By late afternoon, the temperature was up to 60C, I guess that comes with heading north again. As the day progressed, the swell increased and that decimated the number of people who made it to the dining room this evening. Later that night the swell had risen to 8metres, with the ship rolling quite markedly; I guess that is expected in this part of the world. The Captain assured us the waters would calm once we entered the continental shelf.
Tuesday 31 December
Calmer conditions this morning with fewer clouds and patches of blue and no sea mist. We spent an hour just sitting off Cape Horn to savour the experience while the Cruise Director described the history of the area as well as the significance of what we were seeing: the lighthouse, flagpole, memorial cairn as well as Albatross Monument and plaque. As we passed the Horn tradition dictated the Captain sound the horn three times – which he did.
After the visit to Cape Horn, we entered the Beagle Channel on our way to Puerto William to complete Chilean Customs and Immigration requirements; this took longer than expected but we were still able to reach Ushuaia by 7pm.
Being New Year’s Eve, Holland America had supplied all the passengers with hats and whistles for the occasion – it made for a certain amount of amusement during dinner.
We were finally able to ring Jillian and catch up on all the news from the NSW, the Bega Valley and Buckajo in particular. The news was all challenging to hear, but so much worse for those who have been directly affected. There is some news available through BBC News but that is quite patchy.
Wednesday 1 January 2020
This morning we docked in Ushuaia at 7.30; a bright sunny morning with remnants of snow on the peaks. Amazing landscape – sheer cliffs into the water with steeps mountains behind.
At 10am we left the dock by bus for our trip to the railway station; our trip took us through parts of Ushuaia with a guide who was keen to give us as much information as he could. One piece of information “uaia” on the end of a word means “cove”. Our train for our trip to “The End of the World” was in a tourist train of smaller carriages opening directly onto the platform with four people to a carriage.
The train stopped part way for us to purchase souvenirs, photos as well as walk to the waterfall. The second half of the journey was through the Tierra del Fuego National Park – being New Year’s Day, there were lots of people in the park camping or picnicking, most of whom waved to the train as we passed.
Tierra del Fuego means “land of smoke and fire”, so named by Magellan all those years ago because of the smoke seen during the day and fires at night used by the native tribes of the area.
Patagonia is an archipelago as well as the southern part of Argentina and separated from Chile by the Beagle Channel.
On the return bus trip, we stopped at a popular swimming area; only one hardy sole in the water today. The park looked out over the Beagle Channel and the starting point for hiking or boating.
We entered Glacier Alley at 7pm and spent the hours until dark marvelling at the scenery – very steep terrain and amazing glaciers, both large and small in profusion. In Glacier Alley we were gliding through smooth waters, sometimes in wide channels or narrow waterways that brought us close to the banks and shallower waters
Thursday 2 January
Weak sunshine today with 100C. The port was fairly basic – a concrete wharf parallel with the land and a short deck joining the two. There was room for some of the busses near the ship with the remainder on land near the smaller buses as well as the taxis. We docked in Puerto Arenas, Chile at 8am and tours began soon after.
I spent a quiet day onboard and occasionally watching the comings and goings around the port. Containers were loaded all day; however, there was no overhead equipment, each container was loaded using an overgrown forklift right where the traffic drove to and from the wharf. The traffic management system consisted on a white rope to indicate when the road was opened or closed.
John had wanted to take a tour to the Puerto Arenas National Park that included a light aircraft flight onto one of the islands to visit a volcano; unfortunately, it was booked out. Turned out that that tour, as well as the flight to Antarctica, were cancelled – insurance and risk being cited. John joined a tour “Puerto Arenas Sights & Fitzroy Farm”
Up at 6am and ready for my tour at 8am. The bus took us about 50 miles into the country and across to the Isla Riesco via a 15minute ferry journey.
It was raining when we arrived, so we hurried inside for the usual greeting wine & pastry. We were then invited to the old shearing for a hand sheep-shearing demonstration. On the way I took lots of photos of all the machinery, tractors, cars, aircraft and what ever else was used on the farm. I even found the Alice Charmers WD40 which dad had & I now have in my back shed.
We all gathered around in the Shearing shed for the farm hand to demonstrate the art of hand shearing, dad had an old set at home, but I had never witnessed them being used. One of the farm ladies gave the commentary & it was all very enlightening. The owner had every tool that was ever used on the farm arranged on different boards and benches around the shed.
We returned to the house where a sheep was been BBQ’d and they demonstrated the method of chopping it into bite size pieces. While having lunch one of the stockmen drove about a dozen sheep into the yard and had his dog round them up.
Back to town and to the Patagonia Institute Museum of Memories to inspect old wares from all over the area. The exhibits in general required some TLC however others were exceptional.
Into the town centre to visit the Maggiorino Borgatello Museum kept by the Salesian Friars, with exhibits of the magnificent flora & fauna of the region, and relics of the folklore and handicrafts of Native tribes such as the Yaganes, Onas and Alacalufes.
We also stopped at the city cemetery to look at the splendid mausoleums of pioneer families and the gravestone marking where the last Ona (Selk’nam), extinct Fireland Natives, are buried.
We then drove to the La Cruz Hill observation point for a panoramic view over tierra del Fuego and the Strait of Megellan and then down to the city park to view the Monument of Hernando de Magallan. (by this time my phone had exhausted the battery, hence no photos)
We were texting with Jil about the fire situation; with high temperatures and strong winds forecast is does not bode well for anyone.
Friday 3 January
Another glorious day for cruising the Chilean Fjords. We sailed past the SS Leonor Wreck at 8.30am then the whole day was watching the dramatic scenery.
Saturday 4 January
We passed the Tempanos Glacier at 7.30am and after recent days it was rather smaller and a lot dirtier than what we had seen over the previous days, I guess it is time to leave the ice and snow behind. John found the ATP Cup on ESPN so that kept him occupied for some time.
The weather closed in with light rain and mist all day. The swell increased to cause noticeable movement of the ship; as we sat on the deck having lunch we watched the pool become an amazing wave pool. There were four people in the pool, (one adult and three young children) and rather than leaving pool, they stayed and were washed back and forth in the increasing movement; the children were washed off their feet and pulled underwater more than once. Some of the staff suggested they should leave the pool, but dad decided they were safe enough; we left before it all turned to disaster.
Even though there was mist around, the scenery remained spectacular; the volcanic formations so dramatic and rather different from the landscape at home.
Later in the afternoon we went to a lecture on “The Volcanoes of Chile”; knowing that Chile has more than 600 volcanoes (206 are still active) helps makes sense of the topography.
The information on the Australian fires is now scant and much harder to find now that Mr Trump’s action in Iraq has pushed everything else off the news channels
Sunday 5 January
We awoke to totally different scenery this morning in Puerta Chacabuco, a quiet inlet with grassy slopes and wooded areas down to the water with several houses dotted around. There were several cordoned off areas on both sides of the ship that were reported to be fish pens and there were small vessels working around them during the day.
A long chat with Jillian this morning; it was good to hear her voice as well as catch up on the news from home; some light rain had fallen, but the forecast was for further high temperatures and hot, dry winds – the gods are not being very kind at the moment.
We were also able to download emails; one of which was from Peter Rheinberger who had called by our place to check and sent a video of his walk around the house, it was good to see everything still intac
The “Fires near us” App has been a great help to understand the serious nature of conditions in NSW.
John took the tour – Northern Patagonia & Coyhaique City – 6hrs
After a short tender ride our bus left the pier at around 9am and headed upstream for 50 miles on the Carretera Austral through scenic landscape to the Simpson River Reserve. We had an hour stop here to view two section of the river and a small display area, in my opinion too long.
We travelled for another 30 minutes to reach Coyhaique and stop in the town square for 15 minutes. I took a walk through the gardens and into the town Mall, which was rather depressing to see the boarded-up shops and lack of attention to the paving. There is no university in the city so the students go off to Santiago to further their education and never return. Depression is a big problem with only a little agricultural industry and not much else. The city sits on a little Plato between high peaks that go back to the glacier times.
We were taken to a view point overlooking the river and then crossed the river to a restaurant for glass of wine and a few nibbles. With four bus loads it was a little cramped but the view of the mountain was great.
We stopped at a waterfall on the return journey and were pleased to see the ship. Not all tours are breath taking but everywhere is an experience.
Monday 6 January
We awoke at anchor in Castro Harbour; another sheltered waterway up the coast of Chile. The tenders were in action again today to take passengers to and from the dock.
I took the UNESCO Churches of Chiloe Tour at 8.15am and headed north to the small village of Nercon to see our first wooden church originally built in 1890.The columns were surrounded by timber and painted to look like marble pillars. In the quire upstairs at the back of the church there was an entrance into the roof area which showed that the ceiling of the church was made like an upside-down boat with all the joints fixed with wooden pins.
On the return to the city we stopped by an inlet to inspect the pole houses built over the water with special timber which could withstand the constant tidal movement of up to seven metres. There were a number of black neck swans to be seen in the inlet.
We than proceeded to the island of Quinchao, which necessitated crossing via ferry, two busses & four cars looked a full load to me.
The next church was in the small seaside village of Achao and fronted the town square, built around 1730 with shingles covering the outside of the church. Once again a church constructed using shipping techniques with plans on the walls of the building. I noted that the floor boards were not sawn but chipped with an adz. The recent addition of the “Stations of the Cross” were carved from a single plank of timber.
We were treated to some local cultural dancing before dining with local wine and meat pies made from potato bread.
After our return journey via the ferry we visited the local market before walking a block to visit our third church overlooking the town square. An impressive white façade incorporating the bell tower on the front, but the interior domed ceiling was rather plain. The main and side alters were all carved timber of high quality.
Back to Castro to visit the Cathedral which was designed by an Italian Architect who intended the building to be constructed of stone, however with Chile’s earthquake history the locals used timber as their building material. With two bell towers and painted yellow the building stood out in the town centre. The central dome displayed great use of the timber over several levels. The nativity scene was made of paper, rocks, straw with wood figures.
Back to the tenders for boarding by 4pm.
Tuesday 7 January
Instead of us awaking in Puerto Montt today we were well off the coast. Because of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the Captain made the decision to cancel our day as planned and sail north to stay in front of the storm; this would enable us to sail into San Antonio harbour before the bad weather arrived there and we were not permitted to dock.
Wednesday 8 January
We awoke to smooth seas and a clear, sunny day which made very smooth sailing to San Antonio. I made the most of the last day by having a facial and my hair done; after this I will have to do it myself.
Because we were docking early, HAL organised tours around San Antonio for the afternoon and we joined a tour to Valparaiso district and the seaside town Playa el Quisco. The time was spent driving along the coast looking at resorts – or what passes as such in Chile. The first stop was at a small church containing a relic of significance – it was difficult to understand our guide.
Interesting use of timber in this church.
Our next stop was at The Yacht Club (Club De Yates el Quisco) for a display of a Chilean Folk Dance followed by an array of local food and drinks for us to enjoy; perhaps enjoy is too strong a word – the food was scarce and less than appealing while the drinks consisted of two local wines (one white, one red) of suspect quality or water. At least we were able to stand on the verandah and watch the holiday makers in the water or sitting on the beach under their colourful umbrellas.
The roads we travelled on were in suspect condition and rather narrow; the countryside has been in drought for some 10 years with soil so poor that all that grew were pine trees (looking rather sad) and introduced eucalypts described as weeds.
We were back to the ship at 7pm, had dinner and then packed our cases to have them outside the door by 12mn – just made it.
Thursday 9 January
We left the ship at 7.45am ready to collect our luggage to put it on the bus that was to drop some of us in Santiago before taking the remainder to the airport. Our luggage had been sent to the airport and we were told we would have to take a different tour. Rather than loose our luggage, we decided to stay with the original tour, collect our luggage at the airport and then catch a taxi to our hotel.
“Valparaíso is a major city, seaport and educational centre. “Greater Valparaíso” is the third largest metropolitan area in the country, located 120 kilometres northwest of Santiago and is one of the South Pacific’s most important seaports. Valparaíso is the capital of Chile’s second most populated administrative region and has been the headquarters for the Chilean National Congress since 1990. Valparaíso has seven universities.
Valparaíso played an important geopolitical role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan. Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, as a magnet for European immigrants, when the city was known by international sailors as “Little San Francisco” and “The Jewel of the Pacific“. In 2003, the historic quarter of Valparaíso was declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site.
Notable features include Latin America‘s oldest stock exchange, the continent’s first volunteer fire department, Chile’s first public library and the oldest Spanish language newspaper in continuous publication in the world, El Mercurio de Valparaíso.
The second half of the twentieth century was unfavourable to Valparaíso, as many wealthy families abandoned the city. The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a serious blow to Valparaíso’s port-based economy; they went from 500 ships in the harbour to just 15. Over the first 15 years of the twenty-first century the city began recovery, attracting artists and cultural entrepreneurs who set up in the city’s hillside historic districts.
Today, many thousands of tourists visit Valparaíso from around the world to enjoy the city’s labyrinth of cobbled alleys and colourful buildings. The port of Valparaíso continues to be a major distribution centre for container traffic, copper and fruit exports. Valparaíso also receives growing attention from cruise ships that visit during the South American summer.
Most significantly, Valparaíso has transformed itself into a major educational centre with four large traditional universities and several large vocational colleges. The city exemplifies Chilean culture, with festivals every year as well as street artists and musicians.
The Valparaiso Tour guide, Christo, was a great guide; his history of the area as well as current information was informative as well as entertaining. He kept us laughing all day while ensuring that we were comfortable, well fed and hydrated with frequent toilet stops. Small buses were organised for the areas our bus was too big to fit through narrow streets.
Our first stop for the day was to visit “Villa Victoria”, a family owned and developed social history museum of Valparaiso – a remarkable collection of memorabilia, researched and collected by the family. The video they produced was a re-enactment of life in the early years as well as insights to family life over time.
“Gain an informative insight into Valparaiso’s colonial and genteel history at Villa Victoria, an old mansion with World Heritage recognition. Timelines, artefacts, and exhibits illuminate the history of the area as well the building. You can take an informative and interactive guided tour, where you’ll be regaled with stories of Valparaiso that bring the city to life. After the tour, enjoy a nice cup of Victorian-style tea with an artisanal pastry in the ornately decorated cafe and bakery.” Villa Victoria
Our next stop was the Art Museum followed by a walk across the square and down some very steep steps for lunch in a local restaurant. We had a couple in group who had a flight at 6pm and because our lunch was late starting, Christo organised a car to take them directly to the airport rather than continuing to travel on the bus and perhaps run late for their plane.
After lunch we had a ride back up the hill to meet our bus to be driven to the airport. During the hour and a half drive Christo continued his insights to life and living in Chile as well as his views on the economy, tourism and the landscape for those who remained awake to listen – he was very excited to point out and name the highest three peaks of the Andes Mountains as we approached Santiago.
When we arrived at the airport, Christo ensured everyone had their luggage, took those catching flights to the check-in and then to the waiting area before organising John and I into a hire vehicle to take us to our hotel.
Once at the hotel, we unpacked and then walked out into the pedestrian mall to find an ATM and then some dinner before calling it quits for the day.
Friday 10 and Saturday 11 January
Our hotel was supposedly a four-star establishment – not sure who gave that rating, but it was overpriced, poor quality, a bed that made the floor look comfortable and less than wonderful customer service. I spent the days in Santiago in our room, not well enough to venture out, but John was able to cover quite some distance.
Our room was on the 10th floor and the breakfast room overlooked the main mall and the buildings opposite with all their air conditions and wall bangers. Around 9am I saw one guy in office cloths & backpack come from one of the control rooms and make his way through the air conditions and down the steel ladders to the next floor and off to work. Two others were working in the fibro addition on the top floor, but they did have a wallbanger.
I headed out to get my bearings and see if I could track down the Red Bus tour of the city.
As I walked around the city, I noted that all the banks had tin sheeting over their windows & entrances with a single door to get into the building. All other shopfronts have the regular metal roller shutter which is pulled down and locked with sizable padlock at the close of business around 8pm. Lots of spray paint covering public buildings from the riots that have occurred in Chile over the past two months.
This is very much a two-class country and those feeling left behind are asking the government for a “fair go”; University education is pay as you go and only the rich can afford to send their children there, or dad & mum struggle with two, three & four jobs to give their children a university education.
Health is for those who can afford it, I saw Bupa & other insurers there to cover the cost of the church run hospital and the public system is poorly run in the city. In the country there are no private hospitals and the public system seem to work ok.
Banks are also in the firing line; you pay to have money in the bank and when you want a loan you pay 1.5% per month cumulative which works out to be 18% per annuum. The economy is strong at about 3% growth with exports of copper, quality paper products and food exports however all the population if not benefiting from the wealth.
I walked back across town to the railway station and on to the fruit market which was about to close. The fruit appeared to be of good quality and is produced on the flat plains near the city; between the Andes Mountains and the next range near the sea some 120 kms away.
On the way back to the hotel I came across a general park which had public buildings & the Post Office as well as a large retail building that would date back to the late 1800’s early 1900’s fronting onto the park. As it was a summer afternoon and shops close at 8pm there were many people just sitting around and enjoying the quite life. I did note a small van in the park which had at least eight video cameras pointing in all direction and one person inside watching the video screens and no doubt it was relayed to the local police station. There were some serious riot control vehicles with water cannons parked in other areas of the city.
I bought a little take-away which I consumed in the park and off home at 8:30 after walking for 6 kms.
About 9am Saturday, I looked out our window to see what the noise was; it turned out to be a protest march down below; about 50 citizens with signs and chanting but no TV cameras or police in sight. Nothing new was happening, so the TV stations had abandoned their coverage.
I went out to see if I could find the Red Bus, you could book on-line and go to one of their two offices in town to have a wrist band fitted to be allowed on the bus. No tickets or money at the stops, like elsewhere, because of the security risk. I found one street stand with the red bus sign outside, but he said there were no buses coming by as the street was closed off with cranes operating. I then decided to walk the streets instead of the red bus and came across a McDonalds with a street-side ice cream service thought I would shell out 40 Pesos for a regular cone. One person receiving the funds & issuing a ticket for the other person to serve. I stood in line with my four coins and was waved away and could not work out why until I realised everyone was paying with card to prevent a security risk. I lost interest and walked up the street until I noticed a very old church on the other side of the three-lane road and decided to wander in there for a look.
The San Francisco Church is a Franciscan church and is one of the oldest colonial-era buildings in the country. The church was consecrated in 1622. The bell tower was destroyed by an earthquake in 1647, while the rest of the building successfully resisted it. In 1730 another earthquake badly damaged the rebuilt tower, which was demolished in 1751. The current bell tower is of Victorian architecture and was constructed in the mid 1800’s. There was a courtyard to the side of the church with several buildings containing very old paintings. I paid a whole 100 pesos (20c) to enter.
Continued along the street in search of the other tourist bus organisation and came across a park with a steep hill in the middle, a chapel near the top and a lookout at the very top which gave me views all around town and over to the Andes Mountains.
Spent about an hour in the park and then exited to Merced Street and headed home. Came across a grocery store so decided to get a bread rolls and banana for a late lunch. I did note that the guard inside the front door had full bullet proof vest on.
Sunday for lunch, I returned to the grocery store for some fresh bread rolls and passed a church on Merced Street. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful and artistic churches on downtown Santiago which gave the name of the colonial Merced Street is the Basilica de la Merced church. The Friars have preserved most of the ancient artistic pieces collected for years to embellish the temple.
Sunday 12 and Monday 13 January
Our flight was not until 8pm, so we organised a late check-out and spent the day packing and resting. At 4pm we caught a taxi to the airport; I must admit to wondering if we would make it there alive. Our driver spoke no English but did understand “airport”; he proceeded to drive a top speed and his “control” of the vehicle consisted of his left fist resting on this thigh with his left thumb hooked over the steering wheel adjacent to his fat belly while his right hand was resting on the centre console – all the while, the car was shaking as though it was in need of a wheel alignment; you can understand stress levels being a little elevated.
When we arrived at the airport, John went to the Information Desk and was directed to the other end of the building but that was the departure gate and we didn’t have a boarding pass; we were then directed to Desk62 – back past the Information Desk; at Desk62 we were sent to the other end of the building again, only this time, upstairs. The last direction was the correct one; we found the LATAM check-in counter where we had an “animated discussion” with the staff member about over-weight luggage; she finally accepted that we had extra baggage allowance and agreed to bring a wheelchair as I had reached my limit. We finally boarded and left half an hour later than planned.
The flight was 12.5 hours and “uneventful”, but please do not ever fly LATAM – their only positive review of always being on time is not quite right and it goes downhill from there, including: dreadful food, tea that even John couldn’t drink, hard seats that converted to a hard bed, floors that made the people walking past feel like elephant footsteps and nothing worth watching on the TV. Just as well I had plenty of reading material with me and John slept soundly. I should mention that we had fantastic views of the Andes as we left Santiago, so I exaggerated when I said there was nothing good about the flight.
Once we landed in Madrid, we were taken by minivan to the Customs and Immigration area; once we had our luggage and cleared all the requirements, John found an ATM for Euros and we caught a taxi to our unit.
This is the end of our Antarctica travels and I will open a new section for Spain-Portugal.