SOUTH AMERICAN JOURNEY III - February/March 2017


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South America » Chile
March 28th 2017
Published: April 5th 2017
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STRAIT OF MAGELLAN



We set sail leaving the Falkland Islands behind - we had so enjoyed our time there with the penguins but it was time to move on.



We headed South again cruising along the southern edges of the South American continent before entering the Strait of Magellan. This once vital passageway is named after the Portuguese adventurer, Ferdinand Magellan, the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe.



Magellan's route around the foot of South America in 1520 took him a total of 38 days, many of those days were spent scouting and discounting alternative paths through the maze of channels and islands that cover the area. He was rewarded though with all those wasted days as in the end he found a 350 mile route between mainland Patagonia and the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.



Today the Strait is still difficult to navigate being very narrow in places and honeycombed with labyrinthine fiords leaving little room for a ship to manoeuvre. However at the time of Magellan's journey it proved to be the fastest connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.



The other sea route around the bottom of South America is the Drake Passage which most sailing ships prefer as this is a 500 mile wide passage so more room to manoeuvre but again it has its risks as it goes around Cape Horn itself, more on this route later in our blog.





PUNTA ARENAS - CHILE



Our next port of call along this historic route was Punta Arenas - a city near the tip of Chile's southernmost Patagonia region. In order to come and go to this region you have to either travel for long days by bus across the Argentine Patagonia, fly direct, or like us take a lengthly cruise through the southern seas.





Originally established as a Penal Colony it grew rapidly during the US gold rush era and later from the exports of wool and mutton because of its ideal location between the coasts of South and North America.





It remained an important supply stop for mariners of the day until the Panama Canal was opened in 1914 which then had a dramatic affect on the city which went into a rapid decline. The 48 mile Panama Canal greatly reduced the time it took for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as enabling them to avoid the hazardous Cape Horn route. The Canal actually saved a total of nearly 8000 miles on a sea trip if you were travelling from New York to San Francisco!





Punta Arenas today has a population of about 120,000 and attracts fishing vessels from the South Atlantic as well as Antarctic research vessels and of course cruise ships. Recently a duty free zone has promoted commerce and encouraged some immigration again which hopefully may revitalise the area once more.







Once docked we walked across a bridge where taxis and buses were waiting to take passengers safely through the container port and into the city. We took a taxi which was cheaper than the bus for the four of us and a while later were stepping out on the Plaza Muñoz Gamero. Dominating the centre of this plaza was a large memorial to explorer Ferdinand Magellan. He is depicted standing astride a canon with sword at his side, staring into the far distance out to the sea. Around the column there were several sculptures of native men and woman. One of the feet on the statue is kissed and touched as it is considered a source of good luck and so it has been gradually polished and the foot shines brightly making it a focal point of the sculpture. Punta Arenas was at one time re-named Magellanes after this great explorer but was changed back in 1938, not sure why the reversion.



Behind the statue a tourist office was located in a little gazebo style building and a helpful guide highlighted places for us visit during our short time here. There was free Wifi and we managed to download our emails and send messages to our family - totally amazed at the speed of the Wifi once one managed to get on line. This now taken for granted service is so hit and miss around the world. Recently noticed a report that all railways station in India now offer free Wifi to their millions of customers - where is the rest of the world on this!





Armed with our map we set off
Palacio Sara BraunPalacio Sara BraunPalacio Sara Braun

Sara's wedding gift from her husband ... ...
to explore the city on foot visiting the catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral built in 1892 and passing by several elegant mansions including the Palacio Sara Braun. This once grand home, but now a museum belonged to Sara Braun and contains original furnishings and provides an insight into elegant living in a Chilean frontier town. The Braun family emigrated from Russia and became one of many wealthy families who benefited from the city’s boom days making their fortune in the wool business. Sara then married a wealthy Portuguese businessman who was one of the first pioneers in sheep and cattle in the area and he built this mansion for her as a wedding gift. On her husband’s death she went on to develop his businesses in the city and is now largely credited with bringing a sense of culture and style to Patagonia.







Although there were many buildings depicting the cities’ prosperous past around the main plaza the rest of the city was quite downtrodden. We stopped for coffee in a small cafe before walking around the city’s streets, pausing a while at the Cemetery of Punta Arenas with its many memorials to those past pioneers and immigrants, now long forgotten but many had left their mark in this isolated part of the world. The cemetery has been ranked as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world and has been designated a National Monument of Chile.





A large painting of Sara Braun peered down at us as we walked through the gateway, she had donated a huge sum of money for building the ornate entrance to the cemetery and asked to be the last person to go through its main door when she died. This seems to have happened as after her death the central door of the cemetery was closed forever. Nowadays, that door is still closed and has not been opened since Sara Braun's death. She in turn had her own walled off patch of turf inside the cemetery with an elegant mausoleum with a garden full of trees. Those trees were not alone though as huge tree-laced avenues of manicured old cypress trees spread out in long green lines almost like the tombstones in long straight lines. Birds were chirping merrily amongst the leaves making the cemetery seem alive and although some people find
Mirador Cerro la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)Mirador Cerro la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)Mirador Cerro la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)

Overlooking the Strait of Magellan
this sad and difficult to visit others find it tranquil and a place for reflection.



Outside the cemetery walls between a dual carriageway on a small green was a sculpture known as the Shepherd Monument. The bronze sculpture contained 12 life-sized figures of a shepherd with his horse and dog and his flock of sheep, many locals were keen to pose amongst the statues, the monument being another tribute to the infamous explorer of the area, Magellan.





Time was running out for us as we had to get back on board so we quickly made our way up a series of steps to the Mirador Cerro la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), which gave us a panoramic view out over the city and the water. It was a real shame that the skies were so overcast but you could still make out the the city's wide streets and tall buildings, with the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego in the distance - just awesome.







TIERRA DEL FUEGO - THE END OF THE WORLD



The wind was blowing a ‘gale’ and the seas were rough as we were joined by a pilot ship to lead us into Ushuaia our next port of call, their boat kept disappearing under the swell as it neared our ship. We wanted to see it arrive but it was so very cold and windy on deck and we had to keep diving inside to keep warm but could still see the pilot boat through the windows battling in the high seas - we were so glad we were on a much larger ship!



We had arrived in Tierra del Fuego archipelago the southernmost tip of South America - the archipelago consists of the main island, Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego and a group of many smaller islands including Hornos Island the location of the 'Horn'. I had thought that Cape Horn was actually on the mainland and not on an island - its amazing what you learn when you are travelling ... ...





HISTORY OF THE AREA



The final scrap of civilisation before the Antarctic, Magellan named this frigid land Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) because of the fires of the tribes he saw burning on the shores of the straits. Patagonia (Big Feet) he named after the unusually tall tribe of people he encountered there.





The indigenous peoples of this area lived successfully in this freezing cold and wet terrain for over 10,000 years. The southernmost of the groups, the Yamana, generally wore no clothes believing that their skin was better protection than the wearing of anything, even the furs that the traders brought into the region, since animal skins would always be wet from the rain and snow. Instead they would smear their bodies with sea lion fat. Fish was their main diet and they would dive for crabs and other bottom dwelling species as well - very hardy folk.





It was in 1525 that the Spanish sailor Francisco de Hoces was the first to think that the archipelago was one or more islands rather than part of what was then called Terra Australis. In 1578 the English circumnavigator, Sir Frances Drake after having passed through the Strait of Magellan in a speedy 17 days exiting into the Pacific where his fleet of ships met fierce winds. These winds pushed his ships
Fjords GlacierFjords GlacierFjords Glacier

One of many we saw
South where they were astonished to find open water ... ... later this 'chance' discovery was named the Drake Passage and offered the possibility of a more southern route around South America.





History moves on and in 1830 on his first voyage with HMS Beagle, Robert Fitzroy picked up four native hostage Fuegians, including Jemmy Button and brought them to England. Jemmy was paid for with a mother of pearl button hence his name and it was never clear if his family willingly accepted the sale or not. FitzRoy believed that they would be useful as interpreters and be the means of establishing a friendly disposition between countries. He did show great concern for the four, feeding them before his own officers and crew and intending them to be educated and Christianised so that they could improve the conditions of their kin back home. The four were renamed by the crew, Jemmy Button, York Minster, Fuegia Basket (the only girl) and Boat Memory, sadly the latter died of smallpox shortly after his arrival in Plymouth, England. News spread of their arrival and they became celebrities of the time. In London they met King William IV & Queen Adelaide who presented Fuegia with a bonnet.



One cannot comprehend how they must have felt being taken from their homelands to such a strange new world. A year later, Captain Fitzroy returned the three surviving Fuegans home, at great expense to himself. He took with him a young naturalist, Charles Darwin in what was the second voyage of HMS Beagle. After initial difficulty recalling his language and customs, Jemmy soon shed his European clothes and habits. A few months after his arrival, he was seen emaciated, naked save for a loincloth, and long-haired. Nevertheless, he declined the offer to return to England, which Darwin conjectured was due to the presence of his ‘young and nice looking wife’, but who knows what went on - all these years later we only have the historical references and not everyone's own true stories .... ....



It was nearly another half century before the first Europeans settlers arrived in Tierra del Fuego, British missionaries who arrived from the Falkland Islands in 1870. Many local people died as Boat Memory had done years before of the diseases that these foreigners brought with them. Later many more died being slaughtered by miners seeking gold, hunters after sea lion pelts and ranchers usurping indigenous land for sheep. Sadly today, the Yamana and other native tribes are extinct, with only a few mixed blood decedents left … … …





TIERRA DEL FUEGO - ARGENTINA AND CHILE



Back to present day and Tierra del Fuego is now divided between Chile and Argentina, the latter controlling the eastern half of the main island, whilst Chile controls the western half as well as the islands south of the Beagle Channel. The geography of the region is quite complex with its multitude of islands and we seemed to be darting in and out of both Chile and Argentina over the past few days.



We had not seen any signs of life since we left Punta Arenas, apart from seabirds of course so were surprised when we seemed to be cruising right past a large town which we thought must be Ushuaia our next destination! Through the thick sea mist we could see a grey sliver of steep streets stretching upwards into the snowy Martial Mountain range far behind the town. It is here
Ushuaia - fin del mundoUshuaia - fin del mundoUshuaia - fin del mundo

End of the World
that the mighty Andes end and the Pan American highway comes to an abrupt halt, both meeting the Southern Ocean - there are no roads anywhere from now on, only a vast sea hence its nickname the ‘End of the World’. We cruised on right past the town and then turned sharply left into a even narrower channel and headed back towards the town itself.





USHUAIA - ARGENTINA



The frontier town of Ushuaia has a large port with the closest access to Antarctica and therefore the jumping off point for vessels sailing back and forth to this icy wilderness. We did not pass any ships ourselves as we navigated the ever narrowing channel which was a good thing as the sea was quite rough. We passed really close to many small islets so were glad the pilot boat was leading us and finally we neared the town and could see a number of ships safely anchored in front of us.



Our pilot boat had safely escorted us along the Beagle Channel where we smoothly docked and before long we could disembark ourselves. Back on dry land we walked
Our Lady of Mercy Church - UshuaiaOur Lady of Mercy Church - UshuaiaOur Lady of Mercy Church - Ushuaia

Overlooked by the Martial Mountain range
along the pier, dwarfed by several other cruise ships that were also docked alongside us. At a nearby Visitor Centre we tried to get Wifi to download messages, alas after numerous attempts we gave up - too many people trying to get on with limited bandwidth but we are at the 'end of the world' so decided we would revert to ‘old way’ and send postcards home instead!!



Armed with information on what to do and a street map we explored the small town. We walked along the waterfront for a while and then headed inland along the main thoroughfare that ran parallel with the waterfront passing a large naval base. The long straight street had numerous souvenir shops as well as clothing shops geared towards hiking and walking as well as cafes, restaurants and hotels, many enjoying scenic views out over the Beagle Channel.



We stopped at a Church which you could not miss as it was painted an unusual bright orange colour and had a high bell tower that stood out on the Ushuaia skyline. During the 1800s, in the absence of a church, Catholic chaplains made sporadic visits to Ushuaia to
Downtown Ushuaia Downtown Ushuaia Downtown Ushuaia

Southernmost city in the world
attend to the spiritual needs of the Catholics who lived there but it was not until 1894 that government funds enabled the building of Our Lady of Mercy Church.



We walked back along the seafront where a large ship had been marooned and was now rusting into the sand and sea, a reminder of how cruel the sea can be. We soon arrived back at the dock and passed through the usual checks of our hand luggage etc and were soon back on board the Zaandam getting warm again.





BEAGLE CHANNEL





We left Ushuaia early evening with a pilot boat guiding us out through the narrow channel, luckily the seas were not as rough as they had been when we arrived. Apparently Ushuaia’s position as the world’s southernmost town is disputed as we passed close to Puerto Williams (not named after us) which was further east and on the southern side of the Beagle Channel, on the Chilean side. Puerto Williams is much smaller than Ushuaia, but definitely looks a little bit further south!



Cruising back along the Beagle Channel, named as mentioned above
Cape Horn - we made it ... ...Cape Horn - we made it ... ...Cape Horn - we made it ... ...

We were lucky to circle this iconic spot twice
after HMS Beagle the ship that carried naturalist Charles Darwin here all though years ago we saw numerous isolated islands covered with birds nesting on the ground and contentious sea lions fighting around their edges. A few solitary lighthouses and beacons flashed, guiding the way for any passing ships. As we continued our journey we watched the vast empty waters when all of a sudden the surface became alive with flocks of Black-browed Albatross (Mollymawk). We have never seen so many all together in one place We also saw Artic Terns, Kelp Gulls, Petrels, Shearwaters, Skuas as well as Black-eyed Shag sometimes called Imperial Cormorant and sometimes called King Cormorant.



As we sailed on it was getting much colder and the sea was definitely getting rougher again. The Captain announced in the evening that we should arrive at Cape Horn around 7am in the morning … … Well we awoke at 2am slipping and sliding down our bunks with each crashing wave and items were being thrown around the cabin with glasses crashing but luckily no breakages and we wedged things in as best we could .… On checking the time we though ‘oh no’ we still have five hours to go before we reach the ‘Horn’ it could not get much worse than this could it? … ….







CAPE HORN - CHILE



Sleep was impossible and it seemed an eternity but we stayed ‘fixed’ to our bunks looking out of our window and we spotted this huge horn shaped cliff faced island and realised we had arrived at Cape Horn itself. The Captain announced that as the seas were ‘quite’ rough he would not be able to stop the ship. … …do not think we were expecting him to anyway! So thank goodness was our first thought - he said however that we were going to circle the island of Cape Horn twice - something he had not done before - we just hoped he knew what he was doing!



The waters around the Cape are particularly hazardous, owing to fierce winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs so we were lucky it was only ‘slightly rough’! These waters are notorious as a sailors’ graveyard. Many stories are told of hazardous journeys ‘around the Horn’, most describing fierce weather. Charles Darwin wrote, ‘One sight of such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death’ … … …



Thankfully the wind eased and the ship stopped rocking so we ventured out on deck with lots of layers and making sure we held on though! The seas calmed down with the easement of the wind and we were lucky to get some great views of Cape Horn, the station and lighthouse as the captain circled close to the island. A short distance from the main station is a memorial, including a large sculpture made by Chilean, Jose Balcells featuring the silhouette of an Albatross. It was erected in 1922 through the initiative of the Chilean Section of the Cape Horn Captains Brotherhood. A plaque at the base of the sculpture displays the poem by the Chilean writer Sara Vial, in honour of the sailors who died while attempting to ‘Round the Horn’.



I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world

I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost

that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world,

But die they did not in the fierce waves,

for today towards eternity in my wings

they soar in the last crevice of the Antarctic winds.



We had spotted many Albatross on the waters around Cape Horn and many flew in really close to our ship - what magnificent birds they are and what a memorable poem placed in this unique part of the world……



Cape Horn was actually discovered by the two sons of Dutch explorer, Issac LaMaire and the Schouten brothers. This quartet organised the expedition that consisted of two ships that searched for a sea route to the Pacific, south of the Magellan Straits. On the evening of January 29, 1616, the group sighted land in 'the shape of a crouching lion' and it was proclaimed 'Cape Horn', named after the city of Hoorn in the Neverland's. Located on Hornos Island in the Hermite Islands group at the southern end of Tierra del Fuego it marks the north edge of Drake Passage.



Sailing around the Horn is widely regarded as one of the major challenges in yachting and recreational sailors continue to sail right around it to replicate a rounding of this historic point. We have watched several prominent ocean yacht races sail around the world via the Horn and we felt so lucky to cruise around it twice ourselves, something we had hoped we would do but never imaged being so lucky but so glad that we were not under sail!!





Once we rounded the Horn for the second time the Captain set course North, heading towards the Chilean Fjords and I think we were all grateful that we had made it this far but were also very glad that we were moving on from this wild place at the end of the world but would indeed remember our journey here for a very long time ... ...







HEADING NORTH AT LAST



We had three days at sea as the ship made its journey north following the Chilean coastline. This southern coast is dotted with a large number of fjords and fjord-like channels it was amazing just to sit on deck and watch the scenery as well as more wildlife and it was great to have calm seas again ..… We could also
On Board ZaandamOn Board ZaandamOn Board Zaandam

Another delicious dinner
sit in comfort in the 9th floor Crow’s Nest where we had amazing clear 180 degree views of the mostly treeless islands and glacial fjords, mountains and constant scenic waterfalls cascading down. It was also here that we would sit most nights for ‘happy hour’ but it was always quite busy then! We enjoyed many musical quiz evenings here as well with fellow passengers but we never got first prize we always seem to come second or third!



Bob was a little more adventurous and attended Spanish lessons - although they did not help too much with our journeys ashore Bob! Elaine and him also had Tango classes but I could not persuade Paul to join me in this but our dear friends did become experts and I have sent them the photo to prove it … …





It was disappointing that there were not any more interesting on-board lectures during these long sea days in particular on more detailed information of the floral and fauna of the areas we were visiting, or the history and geography etc. Although the library had a great selection of interesting books including some useful maps.
Brujo Glacier Brujo Glacier Brujo Glacier

Asia Fjord - Chile
The ships television screen location map was good also as we always knew where we were, what speed we were doing and where we were heading and what weather to expect.



I could not persuade Paul but Bob and Elaine joined me on a tour of the Ship’s Kitchen which was informative and it was great to see that they had plenty of space to cook up our delicious meals. It was amazing to learn that over a week the consumption of Ice Cream alone was 200 gallons - I think Paul and Bob helped with this as they kept disappearing to the deck where the ice-cream counter was … ….



It was interesting to find out about waste disposal and that all biodegradable waste is turned into mulch and then dehydrated before being burned in an incinerator. The ash, plastics and all other non burnable garbage is collected in compactor boxes, kept in cold storage and landed ashore when the ship is in port. Glass is crushed and tins cans are turned into bricks for recycling purposes etc.





The crew had to watch the tides particularly in this
Brujo Glacier Brujo Glacier Brujo Glacier

It was really cold but so worth it
area and sometimes the banks of the fjords were within touching distance of our ship - good navigation skills were defiantly needed as we cruised up several of the smaller arms. Branching off from the Sarmiento Channel we cruised up Peel Fjord before heading along Asia Fjord and it was not long before we noticed several small icebergs floating down the channel towards us and then the Captain stopped the ship right up next to the Brujo Glacier - it was just awesome.





This glacier originates in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and comes to an abrupt halt here in the water - we have seen a number of glaciers on our travels and this one has been up there amongst the best. The glacier was huge at about two miles across at the base and it was raining which enhanced the bright blue colour. The Captain turned our big ship 360 degrees so that everyone could get a good view and whilst we watched we saw some calving taking place when a large chunk of ice broke off and fell into the channel far below. It was so cold though and we were quite wet from the constant rain so finally had to take shelter inside.



After three days at sea we were looking forward to getting back on ‘terra firma' again with our next port of call beckoning.





PUERTO MONTT - CHILE



Puerto Montt is a port city in southern Chile’s Lake District tucked into the side of a mountain. It isn't a big city but is known as a gateway to the Andes mountains and the Patagonian fjords.



It was with dark grey skies that we approached and we could not appreciate its location or see its scenic volcanos viewable behind the city.



Founded in 1852 and named for Manuel Montt, the president of Chile at that time, Puerto Montt was populated by German immigrants who brought with them their architecture, customs and culture and these are still very visible - you could have been in a small corner of European Bavaria.



With no docking facility we had to leave the ship again by the Tenders but there was not the rush that we had had in the Falkland Islands so we
Puerto VarasPuerto VarasPuerto Varas

Known as the City of Roses
had a leisurely breakfast and disembarked at ease.



As mentioned before the ship’s journey’s ashore tours were expensive so again we decided to do our own thing and thought it would be good to be able to view one of the Volcanos and see a little bit of ‘Bavaria’ if the weather cleared! As we disembarked we were approached by a local tour operator who offered tours at half the ships price but we thought that this was still a little high for what we wanted to do so we continued through the port gates. Here we were approached by a group of local taxi drivers willing to take us anywhere we wanted to go at a quarter of the ships costs.



We chose Sergio Leal and we were so glad we did - we had a great time with him, he was charming and polite and his English, which he had picked up from taking tourist around the area was first class. He drove us the 12 miles to Puerto Varas, one of the nearby places famous for its German traditions. The area was colonised when 212 German families immigrated here in 1853
Sergio Leal - Osorno Volcano on a clear daySergio Leal - Osorno Volcano on a clear daySergio Leal - Osorno Volcano on a clear day

Photo curtesy of our awesome guide
in what would later become the city of Puerto Varas.



It enjoys a scenic location close to mountains, lakes, forests and national parks and sits beside the shore of LLanquihue Lake, the second largest lake in Chile. Why most people visit though is to glimpse the conical Osorno Volcano and the snowcapped peaks of nearby mountains across the lake. In good visibility this is a scenic view but sadly the grey skies did not clear for us and so we were unlucky.



Sergio ensured that we enjoyed our day though, he was not just a taxi driver as he parked up he became our very own tour guide, walking us around the town, pointing out points of interest before stopping for coffee in a little street cafe and telling us about his family. He had a son and a daughter and he was really proud that they were doing well at school. He informed us that if they got top grades then further education would be free easing a huge pressure from him and his wife. His father and grandfather had been miners but he said that that life was not for him and
Arriving in ValparaisoArriving in ValparaisoArriving in Valparaiso

View from our cabin after we docked
although there was not much choice of other work he managed to save some money and buy a car to taxi people around. When he was not waiting at the port he was a taxi driver at the local supermarket but obviously when the cruise boats were in he made a little more money from this. We were glad that his children were doing well at school which would hopefully start to ease life for him and his family.



After another look over the lake, which sadly was still overcast he drove us back to the port dropping us off at a street market alongside the port. Before we said goodbye he showed us photographs he had taken of Osorno Volcano as it would have looked had the weather been fair and told us to pretend that his photos were ours! It truly is a scenic volcano with strong similarities to the largest mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji. We walked along the market and Bob managed to get a ‘made to measure’ leather belt made on the spot before we got back on board for our final journey north.





LAST DAY AT SEA



We had one more day at sea and the weather was improving all the time so we chilled on deck and Elaine and I enjoyed some ‘quiet time’ in the hot tub, but the swimming pool was still a little too cold for us although Paul had taken a dip a few days ago - however after seeing this very same pool turn into a giant wave machine when we hit rough weather a few days ago it definitely put me off taking a dip!



….. and so we had come to the end of our cruise which had taken us 4111 nautical miles around the coast of South America but now we were heading into our final port of call.







VALPARAISO - CHILE



Valparaíso is a port city on Chile’s coast and is known for its steep funiculars and colourful clifftop homes. We had pre-arranged a two day tour of the city and transfer to Santiago for our flights back to the UK with a local company a few months before and it turned out to be a really memorable end to
Funicular - near the port areaFunicular - near the port areaFunicular - near the port area

These cabs ferry residents and tourists up the steep sided streets.
our South American adventure.



Packed and ready to depart we had a leisurely breakfast and said goodbye to some of the brilliant staff on board before disembarking for the final time. We had no formalities to go through as we had been in Chile for several days now and the cruise boat had carried out the necessary documentation for us. Made a nice change not to have to go through the usual long border crossing processes and before we knew it we were back on ‘terra firma' and being welcomed by an enthusiastic and colourful Cristian from Ruto Valparaiso, bouncing with life and making us feel so welcome right from the start.





VINA DEL MAR (VINA)



We started with a tour of Vina meaning ‘Vineyard by the Sea’ the adjoining sister city to Valparaiso (Valpo). Often referred to as the Garden City with its colourful manicured boulevards we stopped at a giant Floral Clock that spells out the city’s name and faces the ocean greeting all those coming by sea. We drove along the coast before stopping to watch some fishermen with a boat in a small bay
 Easter Island Moai Easter Island Moai Easter Island Moai

Fock Museum - Valparaiso
- one was gutting a large shark, whilst others were clearing their nets of all shapes and sizes of fish as well as hundreds of crabs. Cristian said that the shark was destined for a local restaurant and whilst we waiting someone came to collect it all final prepared for the oven.



The sun was shining and we stopped at a long sandy stretch of beach where surfers were riding the waves and a few local dogs were trying to join them. It was nice to wander along the beach and have a paddle but the sea was too cold so we did not stay long….





Cristian said that Vina began as a resort suburb of Valparaiso but after the 1906 earthquake badly damaged the latter, Vina expanded with new architecture transforming its seaside cliffs. We passed many old and new structures, one Castillo Wulff was a large Germanic turreted granite castle balanced on a rocky headland. We passed through the centre of town with its modern shops and tower block offices stopping at the Fonck Museum - the museum exhibits an impressive collection of pre-Columbian artefacts including an Easter Island Moai, one of only six sculptures found outside the island. We had always wanted to visit Easter Island to see these giants so were pleased that at least we had managed to see one even though it was not in its original location, the isolated Chilean island in the Pacific Ocean.





VALPARAISO (VALPA)



We headed back into Valpa stopping at various viewpoints as well as a large Fish Market which ran along the shoreline. Hundreds of Seagulls and Pelicans were hovering over large fishing boats looking for free morsels whilst a group of hungry Seals were swimming in the shallows getting in on the act as well … … It was a hive of activity with fishermen and their families mending nets and selling their catch from stalls of all shapes and sizes the whole area was interesting to walk through and watch the local people going about their everyday business. One fisherman passed by us with a supermarket trolley filled to the brim with just crabs - not sure where he was heading! We met some friendly happy people at this market and it was a good place to wonder around. We
What a great guy he was ....What a great guy he was ....What a great guy he was ....

Happy to share and would not take any money
also saw a few fruits that we had not seen before including lúcuma, a subtropical fruit native to the Andean valleys. The fruit has bright yellow flesh, which has a coconut caramel flavour and can be used to sweeten cakes and desserts, Cristian said it was particularly good added to ice cream which is more popular flavour than chocolate and vanilla in many South American countries. The fruit has a rich history in Peru, where it’s also known as 'Gold of the Inca', so important that it was even found carved on ceramics discovered in archeological excavations of ancient burial sites in coastal Peru.



In stark contrast to its sister city, Valpa is a multicoloured clusters of houses that defy gravity and vertigo climbing into the foothills. A secret labyrinth of alleyways and finding ones way around is looked nearly impossible and we were so glad we had Cristian with us. The only way to get around in some parts as there are hardly any roads or streets is by using the funiculars that go up and down the hills, intruding into any house yards that are crossed in its path!! There are 15 of these ‘lifts’ that are still active, some of them really ancient and many others you can see stopped years ago and have not moved since. These funiculars take the port residents to their homes and neighbourhoods, many of which travel over long distance and have a beautiful view that almost always looks towards the sea.



Many houses here look derelict, just old walls, odd doors or windows and rusted corrugated tin everywhere but having said this most of them have some beautiful paintings on any standing wall. In amongst these there are ornate churches and also some really splendid houses that are well cared for with brilliant reproductions of paintings by Chilean artists or any colourful design that takes the artist eye. It is a photographers dream and I would have liked to spend a few more days here wandering its steep alleyways.



We were all wary of the large number of dogs we had seen wandering the streets even though most of them looked very well fed. Cristian said that the dogs usually had several owners and even whole neighbourhoods looked after them. As most of these vertical houses do not have any outside space
Painted Street of ValparaisoPainted Street of ValparaisoPainted Street of Valparaiso

One of my favourites just outside our hotel
the dogs’ home is anywhere they can wander and they live well, being fed and watered by all - like one communal dog’s home really.



We finally arrived exhausted at our hotel after a little hiccup with our car breaking down on a one way street away. We all got out and the driver managed to squeeze it up close to a nearby building so that the traffic could flow - breaking down in these narrow streets is a real nightmare for everyone concerned - the lady in the house was quite annoyed as she could not get out of her house but that must be a regular occurrence around here! - we had to back up one way streets due to a breakdown only moment before ours … …





Luckily we were only one street away from our hotel but we still did not fancy carrying our luggage anywhere along these vertical roads. We all walked around to our hotel and Cristian, the hotel owner and our driver carried all our luggage for us and we were soon settled into a great little hotel. The Hotel Casa Galos had good rooms with a kitchenette and a stunning roof top terrace giving a wonderful view over the Valparaiso skyline and harbour which we had just walked around. Located right in the heart of the city there were numerous eating places nearby, we ate in the Fauna Restaurant which also had great city views and had a delicious meal and sampled some great local red wine called Carménère, and draught local beer for the boys.



We had a great first day, Cristian and our driver were superb and we had enjoyed travelling around these two diverse cities. Being able to leave all our bags and luggage with the driver all day completely secure was an added bonus.









ISLA NEGRA (BLACK ISLAND)





The next morning we were picked up by Cristian with a new driver and car (they had managed to fix the other one quickly though) and driven to Isla Negra on the coast and had a great tour of the iconic home of Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet and diplomat who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1971.



Neruda, a lover of
Isla Negra - ChileIsla Negra - ChileIsla Negra - Chile

Home of Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet and diplomat
the sea and all things maritime, built the home to resemble a ship with low ceilings, creaking wood floors, and narrow passageways and large windows which looked out onto the Pacific Ocean. His bed also faced the sea, what a lovely room to fall asleep in and wake up in the morning to the roar of the waves below. The surrounding gardens meandered down to the sea as well - you could not wish for a more idyllic spot. Neruda and his wife Matilde are buried here overlooking the ocean in such an idyllic spot. He had requested in his will, ‘companions, bury me in Isla Negra, in front of the sea I know, to each wrinkled area of stones and to waves that my eyes won’t see again….’



We enjoyed our visit to Neruda’s home and garden now a unique museum. A passionate collector every room was crammed with his furniture and memorabilia which including a large collection of bottles, huge ship figureheads, maps, ships in bottles as well as an amazing collection of seashells, the likes of which we had never seen before artfully displayed alongside the giant tusk of a Narwhale.

Casas Del BosqueCasas Del BosqueCasas Del Bosque

Our new favourite place overlooking the Casablanca Valley with a couple of bottles of Chilean wine ... ...




CASABLANCA VALLEY



We headed towards our next stop the Casablanca Valley when all of a sudden we were shrouded with mist. Cristian said this unique environment where early morning mist gets trapped in a corridor between the sea and the mountains that later gives way to clear sunny days makes ideal conditions for the production of wine. The Casablanca Valley being situated on the coastal plain between Santiago and Valparaiso and is Chile’s fastest growing wine region. Relatively new to the wine industry with wine production only beginning in the mid 1980s.



We visited two local vineyards, the Casas del Bosque Vineyard as well as the Kingston Family Vineyard, both were excellent and we were able to sample many of their wines. We had a delightful picnic and sampled some more wine in the most beautiful spot situated in between the rows and rows of grapes overlooking the fields of vines clinging to the hillsides. The Casablanca's vineyards are situated in the most perfect place, bordering the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Andes mountains to the East.



We came away slightly lightheaded but had picked up some useful information on the wine process here in Chile. We also sampled the wine that we had tried the night before in Valparaiso and had enjoyed. Carménère which is a is medium-bodied red wine originated in Bordeaux, France but was wiped out when disease devastated the grape in the late 1800’s. However it had been transported to Chile by immigrants but had been mistaken by growers for Merlot - this mistaken identity probably saved it from extinction! In 1994 a researcher realised that it was in fact Carménère and not Merlot and it has since been re-discovered thriving in several areas in the country. Now grown almost only in Chile, the Chilean Department of Agriculture officially recognised it as a distinct variety in 1998.



Sadly we had to leave this delightful valley behind and continue on to our final destination but we had really enjoyed our short time here.





SANTIAGO



Crossing the Andes Mountains, Cristian safely delivered us to our hotel which was great ready for our flight back to the UK the next day. The cost of our two days with him has not been much more
A magical placeA magical placeA magical place

You love it or hate it - we loved it
than what it would have cost us just for a city transfer so well worth every penny and slight headaches!



I would highly recommend Cristian, his enthusiasm and energy and knowledge not only of the area but of anything one would wish to know about Chile was superb. We wish him well for the future and thank him for making our two days with him so magical. It was a lovely surprise later to receive by email some brilliant photographs he had taken as a reminder of our days with him in his beloved Chile.



Unfortunately we only had one night at the CasaSur Charming Hotel but our first impressions were excellent and Eduardo and Sara great hosts - it was indeed a ‘charming’ hotel. Our flight home had been brought forward so we did not get to see much of Santiago which was a shame but who knows the opportunity to come here again may arise in the future



For now this is our last blog from South America but we have plans to travel some more in the not too distant future - hopefully we will see you there … … …


Additional photos below
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10th April 2017
Chilling on deck!

Love it!
Braving the elements. Great trip.
10th April 2017
Chilling on deck!

Thanks
Hopefully somewhere a little warmer next time ... ...
12th April 2017
Our Lady of Mercy Church - Ushuaia

Nice read
Nice to read about you experience in South America. I pick this photo out of the many good ones in this blog. I like the colors against the mountain background. /Ake
12th April 2017
Our Lady of Mercy Church - Ushuaia

Thanks for you comment
Thank you so much for your comments and glad you enjoyed our blog - we love the photo as well but it was difficult getting the right angle with the cars in front but as you say the colour of the church etc stand out against the backdrop.

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