We flew from Quito, capital of Ecuador, directly to Santiago, Chile and had about three days wandering that city with friends Jeanne Romano, Tony Scofield and Terri Luchsinger, all from the Bay Area and buddies for decades.
While we found Santiago to be an attractive and modern city, it was Valparaiso, about 80 miles to the west, which really drew us. For centuries it has been Chile’s principal port, and is still the center of that activity, but somewhat diminished now. The cruise ships have shifted to a new port at San Antonio to the south as their port of embarkation for trips to Antarctica and around Cape Horn to the Atlantic side of South America. But Valparaiso still has appeal, climbing up the hillsides as it does,
and sprinkled with some of the most stunning street art we have seen anywhere.
Mind you, this is but a beginning. For a thorough look at Valparaiso’s street art, see Harold Hall’s wonderful blog on the subject, perhaps the best explanation of street art we know of and full of flawless photos of Valparaiso’s best: http://www.haroldhallphotography.com/graffiti-in-valparaiso-chile/
In the end, we weren’t here in Chile to look at street art. Our intention was to join the MS Zaandam of the Holland American Line in San Antonio and sail away! She is a beauty, 775 feet of elegance, and capable of carrying over 1400 passengers with a crew of 615.
She has ten passenger decks, large balconies on most outside cabins,
and a two storied dining room where wonderful food seemed to appear from nowhere.
Our favorite indoor spot was ‘The Crow’s Nest,’ high above the ship’s bow.
There were two swimming pools, one indoors with a retractable roof, and one outside for the real maniacs while the rest of us stood around in heavy overcoats with our hands in gloves or pockets.
Each night we returned to our rooms after dinner and a show or lecture to find one towel animal or another sitting on our bed or, in the case of the last night aboard, hanging from a light fixture. They were never the same and always a wonder of intricate twists and knots.
Now as you might have surmised from the photo of the Tempanos Glacier at the top of this post, or from the background snow covered mountains in several of the other photos above, we were headed south, down the coast of Chile, and then around Cape Horn and out to Antarctica. From there we would cross east to the Falkland Islands, then into the coast of Argentina, north to Montevideo, Uruguay, and finally disembark in Buenos Aires. We would be aboard for a total of twenty-two days. Since Antarctica and the Patagonian region of Chile had long fascinated us, this was our chance to see them both, and with wonderful days at sea with Jeanne, Tony, and Terri as a bonus.
The coast of Chile is a long nest of inlets, islands and narrow passages where the ship sometimes seemed to just barely squeeze between opposing shorelines. In some ways it is similar to western Canada’s Inland Passage, but in this case the profusion of islands was much greater and the passages generally narrower. And it was Patagonia, Chile!
We made a number of stops down the coast and in each case could disembark to walk the towns or hop onto tours to the interesting sites nearby. After a day at sea, we stopped in Puerto Montt and went out to see the Petrohue Falls, which also provided a magnificent view of Mount Osorno, one of the most famous and majestic of those volcanoes which seem to litter the entire length of the Andes.
Just a short overnight further, we came to Castro, part of which rests on pilings above the water,
and is home as well to some interesting wooden churches. They are rather typical on the outside and could well reside in New England, but on the inside they exhibit something rare and distinctive: roofs and thus ceilings built just like the hulls of wooden ships, but inverted upside down.
There were several displays of how this was achieved and Dave, for one, found them fascinating.
Only a couple of times were we able to come in and actually tie up to a dock as we worked our way south, and in most cases we anchored out and were ferried into port in what were really lifeboats from the ship. They were relatively comfortable and warm, but there was a sign which said that maximum passengers as a water taxi was 74, but as a lifeboat it could hold 153. Packed in like that, comfort would immediately disappear.
Our next port was Chacabuco, about as frontier-like as the name seems to imply. The towns this far south are truly isolated and barely connected by road, so that most of the commerce comes and goes by sea. Fortunately for us, we went out to a lovely ranch in the countryside, Los Torreones Lodge, and had an afternoon exploring the ranch on horseback.
Dave insisted on wearing chaps, which he had to be helped into,
but they turned out to be a nice compliment to his pink helmet and earned him that infamous nickname “El Chapo” for the afternoon. The ranch house was warm and lovely, the owner, above on horseback, and his sons were all handsome devils, and several of the women discussed signing on as ranch hands for at least the Autumn roundup.
Most of the rest of our time in Chile was spent in those rather narrow passages among fjords, forests and glaciers, and the beauty was staggering. Here is another photo of the Tempanos Glacier, this one as it ‘calved’ ice into the sea below.
Our final port before leaving Chile was at Punta Arena in the famed Strait of Magellan, a narrow passage through islands which cuts off the Cape Horn and the worst of the ‘Roaring 4o’s and their monstrous winds and seas. From Punta Arena Bonnie took a speedboat across to Magdalena Island, where there is a huge national preserve for Megellenic Penguins.
While not as large as King or Emperor Penguins, they are still particularly cute when babies,
and when with their mothers in the burrows where they nest.
The preserve is huge, and the penguins are tame and everywhere,
usually just hanging out, or dancing and singing as with the two in the foreground.
From here we headed for Cape Horn and on to ‘the unknown continent’ of Antarctica. As much as we enjoyed the coast of Chile, there was still so much to see!