Palmer Archipelago

One of the main reasons we booked this cruise was to travel where few people have been . . . the frozen continent. Though we weren’t up to witness it, sunrise sixty-four degrees south of the equator, was four-thirty-two a.m. Sunset at ten-sixteen p.m. is more to our liking. We arrived at Dallman Bay into Gerlache Straight at eight a.m., and we were up soon thereafter. The scene from every point on the ship was stunning! It’s really hard to gauge how high the mountains reach above the surface of the ocean just by looking. Some are jagged peaks not entirely covered by snow, some smoothly rounded. Icebergs as large as cruise ships sat motionless in the water as we drifted by.

We bundled up in our jackets and ventured on deck to snap photos. The predicted high was thirty-four degrees and with the wind chill we didn’t want to stay outside very long! The Crow’s Nest was packed with passengers and it was difficult to see out the windows that kept fogging up. After a couple of forays on deck for more photos, we retreated to the Lido for hot coffee and an unobstructed view.

Just before one p.m. two zodiac boats, with eight passengers in one and seven in the other, sped toward our ship from Palmer Station.  Two females and five males boarded to present a program and answer questions about their life working in the Antarctic and research they are conducting. It was also a nice break for them to enjoy the abundant food onboard, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. And, Liz had time to enjoy the luxury of a haircut.

We were duly fascinated by the information they shared. Liz, a research associate, delivered some of the statistics. During the summer population is about one hundred fifty and drops to fifty during the winter. Life is much easier than in the early days. Though their internet service isn’t fast enough to stream videos, they can at least stay in touch with loved ones back home. Research includes marine biology for potential medical uses.

They did address the topic of climate change, and the threat of the Larsen B Ice Shelf. This area, which is about the size of the state of Delaware, has almost completely broken off from the rest of the peninsula.

The book, Antarctic Cruising Guide, written by Peter Carey and Craig Franklin, includes a treasure of information. With more than one-hundred ten trips to Antarctic between them, they know their subject!

Did you know . . . the continent covers 4.59 MILLION square miles; the highest mountain is Vinson Massif at 16, 066 feet; average rainfall is a mere 6 inches per year; the average thickness of ice is 7,546 feet; in the year 2014, there were 81 scientific bases. These could all be Jeopardy answers one day! The website: has up to date information.

The doctor practiced at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland and the electrician, aka “Hot Mike”, was from Medford, Oregon area. We chatted with Hot Mike for a few minutes after their program and he very sweetly gave me a patch that says 2013-2014 Antarctica. He shared that he’d met someone from Murdo Station while he was hiking in New Zealand. After hearing more about the Antarctic, he applied online for a job and now he’s living quite the adventure.

Their very popular program had two seatings to accommodate everyone. Finally about nine-thirty p.m. two zodiacs returned to retrieve the crew and return them to Palmer Station.

We were content to turn into to our comfortable bed.

Tonight’s quote, “But in science the credit goes to the man who conceives the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs.”~~Sir Francis Darwin. Can you begin to imagine what he would think having seen the wonders we have for the past few days?

Ushuaia, Argentina



Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, is considered the southernmost city in the world. Ushuaia means bay that penetrates to the west. “Aia” means bay.

I was off the ship a little before eight a.m. to meet up with the rest of our group for the penguin tour. We were afraid it would involve too much walking for Larry, so he opted out of this one. We made our way to the tour office and then to the catamaran that took us to the island on which the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse warns ships, while cormorants and South American fur seals lounged around seemingly oblivious to tourists. After the photo opportunity, we continued to Harberton, about forty nautical miles away.

We booked this tour through, Mary Anne, whom we “met” on the Cruise Critic page. About twenty of the passengers were from our ship. Other tourists were on board as well. I greatly enjoyed chatting with Sabine and Pascal, from Switzerland. They had just spent four days hiking fifty kilometers and camping out. It turned out that Sabine has friends in Bend, Oregon that she plans to visit in the fall. I hope it will work out to meet up midway between our town and there!

Harberton was built in eighteen-eighty-six by Thomas Bridges, who named it for his wife’s birthplace in England. It’s the oldest estancia (farm) in the Argentine sector of Tierra del Fuego (TF).  Mr. Bridges was an orphan found on a bridge somewhere in England and later adopted by an Anglican missionary, the Rev. G.P. Despard.  In 1856, at the age of 13, he was taken with his adoptive family to Keppel (Vigía) Island in the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, where an agricultural mission station was being established.  There he learned Yaghan, the language of the Yámana canoe people from TF, who were taken there for training.  By his first trip to Tierra del Fuego, in 1863, he was able to speak with the Fuegians and explain what the mission wanted to do.  He established the permanent Anglican Mission at Ushuaia in 1870, with his wife, Mary Ann Varder, and their small daughter Mary, in 1871. The history is fascinating and more can be read on their website:

Upon arrival at Harberton, half of the passengers transferred to a small zodiac for a ten minute ride to Penguin Island. There we were able to walk amongst the Emperor, Magellanic, and Gentoo penguins for an hour before returning to the zodiac and back to Harberton for lunch.

The walk up the hill to the restaurant took us past a lush garden and blooming lupines. Following lunch we went to the Acatushún Museum, Museo Acatushún de Aves y Mamíferos Marinos Australes. This is a working museum/laboratory for the study of the basic biology of the marine mammals (mainly dolphins) and birds of the southern tip of South America. The result of over 34 years of scientific research by its founder, Natalie Goodall, the wife of Harberton’s manager, the collection contains the skeletons of over twenty-seven hundred marine mammals and twenty-three hundred birds.

Our tour was led by Alexandre, a university-level vet student who was interning for a month. Interns collect and study animals found dead and stranded on the beaches. They perform necropsies, obtain samples, clean skeletons for the collection and explain their work to visitors. Their work includes researching genetics and testing for pollution in the animals.

Our return to Ushuaia was by bus. We passed through sub-Antarctic forest area and stopped for photos with the Árbol Bandera (Flag Tree) which is shaped by the prevailing wind. We saw Cerro Castro, a huge ski resort, and a nearby breeding facility for huskies that go to the Antarctic. Part of the movie, The Revenant, was filmed in the area we drove through.

At 10:38 p.m. there was still a little light in the sky, which makes Larry a happy cruiser.

Tonight’s quote, “When you are at sea you know you must reach harbor, to restock and hope, rest in a warm caress. You need ports and often can’t wait to get to the next. Then when you are in port, you can’t wait to get back to the sea again. . . You need mother earth, but you love the sea.” ~~ Steven Callahan b. 1952


Cape Horn—Gung hoy fat choy!

The classical guitarist, Michael Christian Durrant, who entertained us last night performed again in an afternoon concert. He was well worth hearing and seeing again. I especially appreciated how he introduced each song with a bit of history on the composer. He also provided a bit of education on the difference between classical guitar and acoustic guitar. It was good to hear that cat gut is no longer used to make the strings! His love for his instrument was evident in the way he stroked and caressed it, gently placing his palm over the strings at the end of each number as the soothing sound quietly faded.

Many of the songs he played were originally composed for piano. His renditions were peaceful, mesmerizing and nearly hypnotic. His music would be perfect for relaxing. In fact, after one number he told us he was surprised we were still awake.

Today’s cruising was scenic all the way. The morning began as we passed Glacier Alley and the Romanche, Alemania, Francia, Italia and Holanda glaciers. We then sailed through Paso Goree and Paso de Mar and approached Cape Horn at about five p.m. Along the way, we passed the wreckage of the former USS Riverside. This U.S. Navy ship built in nineteen forty-four, carried troops to Pearl Harbor and then patients from Pearl Harbor. It carried troops again for “Operation Magic Carpet,” and was decommissioned in nineteen forty-six. Later renamed the Santa Leanora, it sank on March 31, 1968, while carrying commercial freight. Thankfully there were no casualties.

The southernmost “point” of the Americas, Cape Horn, or the Horn as it is often called, actually comprises a group of islands that form the Parque Nacional Cabo de Hornos. Cape Horn was discovered by Europeans during a Dutch sailing expedition in the 1616 and named for the town of Hoorn in the Netherlands. From the 18th century until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, it served as an important trade route for cargo ships.

We had heard stories about how treacherous the waters around Cape Horn Islands are due to choppy swells, rogue waves, strong currents, notorious gales, and, in particular, the williwaws, blasts of wind that appear out of nowhere. Inhospitable sailing conditions make it difficult to reach the very tip, and Isla Hornos, to its northwest, is usually as far as people can go. The moss-covered Isla Hornos is home to a naval station, a lighthouse, and a chapel. Shaped to resemble an albatross, the Monumento al Navegante Solitario honors sailors who died while sailing around the Horn.

We were incredibly blessed to have smooth sailing throughout the day. The captain stopped our ship long enough for a small launch to deliver fresh produce to the people stationed at the lighthouse. As the boat made its way to the island, we continued around the island for the scenic tour.

We finally went to dinner as the boat returned to the ship. In honor of Chinese New Year . . . the year of the Rooster . . . several Asian dishes were on the menu.

Considering it took Magellan thirty-eight days to sail through the area we traversed in two, we were very happy for modern technology. It’s difficult to imagine how boring it must have been for them. Though, I’m pretty sure they had duties to tend to that kept them fairly busy.

In honor of Australia Day, Paul C McD, the piano bar entertainer, led rousing revelry in the Crow’s Nest. It was heaps of fun (heaps is an Aussie adjective) singing humorous tunes, such as, “Happy Little Vegemite’s,” “Home Amongst the Gumtrees,” and, “A Pub With No Beer.”   Just one of the many things we enjoy about Aussie’s is their lively sense of humour.

Tonight’s quote: “The earth belongs to anyone who stops for a moment, gazes and goes on his way . . . “ ~~Colette (1873-1954)

Punta Arenas, Chile—Patagonia

Patagonia is more than a clothing brand. This region spans the southern third of Chile and Argentina and stretches between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The southern edge is the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel and Drake Passage. Comprising about a third of the land area of Argentina and Chile, it is breathtakingly diverse. On the Chilean side are the soaring Andes, inland fjords, rich forests and small towns. In stark contrast, the Argentine side is comprised of immense distances of barren expanses.

The Strait of Magellan takes its name from the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered it in 1520. The hardy people who live here consider themselves first Magellanicos and second as Chileans. With a population of 110,000, Punta Arenas attracts fishing vessels from the South Atlantic as well as Antarctic research and cruise ships.

Our ship arrived into the Punta Arenas harbor at seven a.m., but thankfully we didn’t have to meet our tour quite that early! We tendered to shore, and had a short walk to the cruise terminal where there were plenty of shopping opportunities for postcards, a variety of tee shirts, jewelry, and miscellaneous souvenirs of the usual sort.

After fun photos in front of the billboard sporting a whale’s tale and certificate acknowledging our crossing of the Magellan Strait, we exited the terminal and headed for our Costco booked tour. While we get a great price on tours booked through their shore excursions feature, we’ve found that the descriptions aren’t always complete as far as stating whether they are private or group. This one was a group, but at least it was on a smaller bus and not the forty passenger variety.

We set off with our tour guide, Gabby. First stop was the Plaza Muñoz Gamero, which has free Wi-Fi, a pan flute player with a container for donations, a street evangelist, and the resident feral dog, all set amongst the conifers and shade trees.   Gabby explained that there are many homeless dogs around the city and people put out food and water for them.

The memorial in the center, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Magellan’s voyage, was donated in 1920 by a wool baron. On one side, a statue represents the native Yaghan people. According to legend, if you kiss the foot you’ll return. Apparently many people believe this, as evidenced by the polished appearance in comparison to the rest of the weathered statue. As much as I’d like to spend more time in Punta Arenas, I didn’t kiss the foot.

The tour continued past opulent mansions, neatly sculpted trees and stopped at an overcrowded view point. With two cruise ships in port, the town was bustling. The overstuffed booths of opportunistic vendors lined the street as they peddled their tee shirts, sweaters, refrigerator magnets, and other souvenirs.

Our next stop was the Museo Regional Salesiano, or as the sign proclaimed, “Museo Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello.” No photos were allowed inside. This museum is not ADA friendly, so rather than wear his knees out further navigating four levels of stairs, Larry stayed on the first floor and enjoyed the exhibits as the crowd moved on. With exhibits of the flora, fauna, and displays of native inhabitants and early settlers, it was worth the visit to gain more understanding of the history and progress of this region.

Along the rambla (waterfront avenue) we saw mounted police and a statue depicting the arrival of the explorers. Sculptors’ renditions of historical events are always fascinating.

On the way back to the port, we passed several “duty free” shops or “zona franca” where certain products can be imported into the country under a reduced-tax regimen.

Punta Arenas (which means Sandy Point) is the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes and Antartica Chilena. It is the largest city below the 46th parallel south. Punta Arenas was originally established by the Chilean government in 1848 as a tiny penal colony to proclaim sovereignty over the Strait.

Until the Panama Canal was completed, Punta Arenas flourished with ships stopping on their journey to the west coast of North America. Waves of European immigrants, mainly from Croatia and Russia attracted to the gold rush and sheep farming boom in the 1880s and early 1900s, settled. The largest sheep company, controlling 10,000 square kilometers in Chile and Argentina, was based in Punta Arenas, and its owners lived there.

Our location guide, Brett, provided scenic commentary as we sailed toward Cape Horn, through the Strait of Magellan, named for the explorer Ferdinand Magellan who discovered it in 1520. Can you imagine it took Magellan thirty-eight days to sail the route we took?

Tonight’s entertainment was Michael Christian Durrant, whose enchanting performance on classical guitar was almost sensuous as his fingers carried forth timeless refrains. He took us on an international journey to Japan with the Cherry Blossom Folk Song. We were transported back in time with Pachelbel’s Canon and Clair de Lune. His entire performance was mesmerizing. We were ready for peaceful sleep!

Castro, Isla de Chiloe, Chile

January 24, 2017

Chiloé’s history began with the arrival of its first human inhabitants more than 7,000 years ago. Spread along the coast of Chiloé are a number of middens (ancient dumps for domestic waste,) containing mollusk shells, stone tools and bonfire remains. All of these remains indicate the presence of nomadic groups dedicated to the collection of marine creatures (clams and mussels) and to hunting and fishing.

Spanish conquistadores arrived on Chiloé Island in the 16th Century, and found the island was inhabited by the Chono, Hullliche, and Cunco peoples. The natives were skilled at navigating the treacherous waters of the Chiloé archipelago in boats they called dalcas.

Captain Francisco de Ulloa is considered the first discoverer of Chiloe in 1553, even though it had been previously sighted by Alonso de Camargo in 1540. As with most of South America, it was claimed by the Spanish crown in 1558.

The city of Castro was founded in 1567, and is Chile’s third oldest city in continued existence. The island was originally called New Galicia, but was changed to Chiloé, meaning “place of seagulls.”

Jesuit missionaries arrived on Chiloé at the turn of the 17th Century and built a number of chapels throughout the archipelago. By 1767 there were already 79 and today more than 150 wooden churches built in traditional style can be found on the islands. Many are UNESCO world heritage sites. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the Franciscans assumed responsibility for the religious mission to Chiloé from 1771.

Chiloé became part of the Chilean republic in 1826, eight years after independence and following the two failed campaigns for independence in 1820 and 1824. Castro was destroyed by an earthquake in 1837, and by 1907, population had dwindled to twelve-hundred forty-three. Many migrated to Punta Arenas in search of work.

In the 19th century, Chiloé was a center for foreign whalers, particularly French whalers. From the middle of the 19th century and until the beginning of the 20th century, Chiloé was the main producer of railroad ties for the whole continent.

Life in Castro today revolves around the water. We walked through the waterfront market where seafood was abundant in several forms . . . fresh, dried, and ready to eat. Huge bags of potatoes were unloaded from trucks and stacked up for sale in various quantities.   Garlic bulbs as large as my hand were for sale, as well as enormous individual cloves of garlic, dried seaweed, and other types of produce.

Many booths had knit sweaters, ponchos, hats, and socks for sale. Others had magnets, rustic handcrafted wooden items, and souvenirs that appeared to have been manufactured in China.

A few shore excursions were available, but since they involved walking on very steep streets, a ninety minute drive, or horseback riding we opted out.

Sailing out of port, we viewed verdant hillsides and large homes facing miles of what appeared to be oyster and fish farming operations.

Our view from the Canelleto (specialty restaurant) was perfect as we savored bruschetta, salad, meatballs, rigatoni, and Veal Milanese. We enjoyed the entrees so much I forgot to take photos. It was a delight to have such an enjoyable dining experience after hearing less than favorable reviews on other ships.

Tonight’s quote: “Curiosity is, in great minds, the first passion and the last.” ~~ Samuel Johnson (1709-84)



Isla Robinson Crusoe

January 22, 2017—Isla Robinson Crusoe

Did you know there are two Robinson Crusoe Islands? One is in Chile and the other in Fiji.  The island here is just over eighteen square miles and lies four hundred-sixteen miles off the mainland of Chile. The majority of the eight hundred inhabitants live on the north coast in the town of San Juan de Bautista.

Originally named Más a Tierra (Closer to Land), it was renamed Isla de Robinson Crusoe in 1966, to attract tourists and capitalize on the literary lore associated with the marooned sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who lived here in solitude from 1704-1709. Selkirk actually asked to be left on the island during a restocking stop. His captain, Thomas Stradling, obliged his wish after tiring of his dissent. All Selkirk had left with him was a musket, gunpowder, carpenter’s tools, a knife, a Bible, and some clothing. Selkirk was said to be the inspiration for Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe. According to my friend, Scotty, Selkirk was from Scotland.

Pirates landed here in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was a stopover for the Commodore Anson expedition to the South Pacific in the 1740’s, as well as Swedish Antarctic expeditions in the early twentieth century. The island also served as a penal colony for many years. Fur traders nearly hunted the Juan Fernandez fur seal to extinction.

During World War I, Germans and British battled each other off shore. The German ship, Dresden, was scuttled by the crew after being fired upon by a British squadron. The wreckage now entices scuba divers and has increased tourism. In 2005, a huge stash of Spanish treasure was found just offshore.

Rebuilding is still taking place, following the 8.8 earthquake and tsunami, of February 2010, that caused sixteen deaths. Most of the coastal village was washed away. Many lives were spared, thanks to the warning by a twelve-year old girl, who noticed the ocean drawback preceding the tsunami.

No ship excursions were offered here. There really isn’t a lot to do on the island unless you’re a fisherman, hiker, or birdwatcher. The entire island is a national park and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. There are sixty-one times more native plant species than the Galapagos and thirteen times more birds.

We were there on a Sunday, so the lone shop that was open stayed busy as passengers bought postcards, black coral jewelry, guidebooks, and a few T shirts. Spiny lobster, and several species of fish are dietary staples. A half a lobster was twenty-three U.S. dollars in the only open restaurant. The Archipiélago beer was pretty decent and a bargain (compared to the ship) at $4 U.S. each.

Unless you arrive by cruise ship, it’s nearly a three hour flight from Santiago to the airstrip on the southwestern peninsula. Then a ferry ride to the “town.” Our time in this rustic serenity was limited, but very relaxing.

After tendering back to the ship, Larry enjoyed football time with the Packers vs Falcons and Steelers vs Patriots. It’s hard to get excited about these games when teams we don’t ordinarily follow are playing.

We can definitely tell its summer in this hemisphere! Sunset isn’t until 9:26 p.m. Thank goodness for room darkening drapes. As we get closer to Antarctica the days will be even longer.

Valparaiso, Chile

January 20, 2017— Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a huge cargo port and the free shuttle transfers passengers to the cruise terminal for all shore excursions. This is another port where pedestrian traffic is prohibited. The cruise terminal had a small café and a handful of vendor booths. With a latitude of 33.03° South, it wasn’t surprising that the terrain reminded us so much of San Diego, California, which lies 32.71° North of the equator.  Fondly referred to as “Valpo,” it’s also known as “the jewel of the Pacific.”

Greater Valparaíso is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. Discovered in 1536, by Spanish explorers, it was first inhabited by the Picunche natives, known for their agriculture, or the Chango people, who were nomads dedicated to fishing, and traveling between modern-day Caldera and Concepcion. Chile gained independence from Spain in 1818, and Valparaíso became the main harbor for the emerging Chilean navy, and opened international trade opportunities that had been formerly limited to Spain and its other colonies.

Valparaíso soon became an international city with immigrants from Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy. New residents founded and published newspapers in their native languages. Valpo was a desired stopover for ships rounding South America via the Straits of Magellan and Cape Horn. It gained particular importance supporting and supplying the California Gold Rush (1848–1858). Buildings reflected a variety of European styles, making Valparaíso more varied than some other Chilean cities.

Opening the Panama Canal in 1914, devastated Valpo’s economy. Wealthy families moved to bustling Santiago or nearby Viña del Mar.  In the mid-1990s, a grass roots preservation movement blossomed in Valparaíso. In 1996, the World Monuments Fund declared their unusual system of funicular lifts (steeply inclined carriages) one of the world’s 100 most endangered historical treasures. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

We arrived at eight a.m. and had to be off the ship by eight-thirty to meet our tour guide, Sebastian at nine. We’d booked a private tour and were happy to have our driver, Leonardo, and tour guide all to ourselves. There are many sights to see in Valparaiso and we hope to return one day to see more of them. But, for this trip we opted to visit their wine country.

Since it was Saturday, traffic was at a minimum at that time of morning. We left the city and were soon in an area that reminded us so much of Southern California’s Temecula area, that if someone blindfolded us and dropped us in we could have sworn we were there.

The “Ruta del Vino Casablanca” brochure offered this charming translation: “With a privileged location only 80 km from Valparaiso, the Casablanca Valley offers over 6000 hectares of wineries and is known as one of the premium cold weather regions for wine production in Chile.”

After nearly two weeks of seeing a lot of ocean, and crowded cities, our souls were soothed while viewing gentle hills with vineyards dotting the landscape. Our first stop was Emiliano Vineyards, an organic winery. There was time to visit the alpacas before a couple of other groups arrived. Our sommelier led us through a small portion of the vineyard and explained how they are truly utilizing organic practices. Though it seemed a bit early in the morning to sample wines, we suffered through. The cruise ships have become very stingy about allowing wine to be brought onboard, so we’ll visit their website when we return home. Several companies are importing their reasonably priced products to the U.S.

Our second stop was at Bodegas Re, where the samples were interesting blends, such as a pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. Yummy olives, bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar was provided to clear our palates. Downstairs, they had the most unusual terracotta vessels for fermenting the wine. When larger containers were needed, they began to use concrete, coated with clay, because no kilns were large enough to fire the pure clay ones. The temperature they maintain seems to work perfectly!

We continued on to Viñamar de Casablanca, a Moorish-style winery used for special events, such as weddings. Our tour guide had reserved a table with a divine view of the vineyards. We started with an appetizer of grilled octopus. On the menu the translation read, “Northern sealed octopus on a potato tortilla, served with a fresh salad, finished with crispy onions.” We both agreed it was the best octopus we’ve ever tasted!

Larry ordered the Pescado del Dia con salsa de Locos de Quintay, which was fresh fish named, “vidriola.” The menu description said, “Fresh fish with seasonal vegetables and wheat mote (wheat boiled with lye) casserole, served with abalone sauce.” The side dish looked like pearl barley with a green sauce. I’ll have to research this one a bit more when we get home. The fish was very tasty and had pieces of “abalone” that could have been calamari.

I ordered the Diamintinos de Cordero de San Jerónimo, described as “Pasta shells stuffed with San Jerónimos lamb, finished with fresh tomato sauce and out of the garden vegetables.” Mine, too, was delicious!

The Viñamar Demi Sec Sauvignon Blanc sparkling wine was a perfect accompaniment.

After our leisurely lunch, it was time to head twenty-five miles back to the ship. Leonardo and Sebastian happily posed with us. Probably because of the nice tips! Seriously, Sebastian was a great tour guide and his English was excellent. I have his card so we can contact him if and when we return.

All aboard was not until 10:30 p.m., so we were content to relax the rest of the day.





La Serena (Coquimbo,) Chile

January 19, 2017— La Serena (Coquimbo,) Chile

We docked at the civilized time of ten a.m., in La Serena, which shares the same bay with Coquimbo. Their combined population is four-hundred thousand. Our first view was of a huge cloud-shrouded, concrete cross, perched on a hill. It overlooked ramshackle houses clinging precariously to the rocky ground. Our tour guide told us it is called “The Millennium Cross,” and sits even higher than the famous “Christ the Redeemer” that overlooks Rio de Janeiro.

Visited by Europeans as early as 1535, the area was settled by Spanish explorer, Pedro de Valdivia, in 1550. In pre-Columbian times this region, known as the “Norte Chico” region of Chile, was inhabited by the Diaguita who crossed the Andes from Argentina and settled. The name Coquimbo means “place of calm waters,” in their language. They grew maize, potatoes and a few other crops. And, were one of the first civilizations to herd and domesticate llamas.

The gold and copper industry in the region led to the city’s importance as a port around 1840 and many Europeans, especially from England, settled in Coquimbo. In 1879 it was recognized as a town.

The semi-arid region has a Mediterranean climate and attracts a lot of visitors to its beaches, discos, and nightclubs. The Pan-American Highway has greatly increased traffic from Argentina.

We had a ship’s tour to see the highlights. Our first stop was a lovely palm fringed beach, with a fishing pier that jutted into the crystal clear, shimmering blue water. There appeared to be a lot of vacation rentals in the area. The bus driver was a master at negotiating the narrow streets.

Our tour guide, Karla, filled us in on details as we headed toward Coquimbo for a stop at El Faro Lighthouse. We were a bit surprised to see a mosque (Mezquito Centro Mohammed VI,) in this still predominantly Catholic country. The wide, white-sand beach invited families and a few surfers. Vendors offered ice cream and beach items for sale. The Miami-esque condominiums could have been in just about any beach town. The graffiti covered canon was a reminder of less peaceful times.

The bus crept through heavy traffic enroute to the University for a panoramic view of the city. We passed a several block long, open-air museum of statues received as gifts from Italy. Street entrepreneurs took advantage of the long wait at traffic lights to perform for tips or sell water and a few food items.

From the overlook at the University, we could indeed see the entire city.  Our ship was far off in the distance.  A lot of the plants were familiar from when we lived in Southern California. Agapanthus, hydrangea, and hibiscus bloomed profusely. Jacarandas were beginning to flower. Trees included magnolia, Brazilian pepper, Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, and fruitless mulberry.

Immigrants formed the first volunteer fire-fighting units (still a volunteer activity in Chile). We inched past a Japanese garden in the Friday afternoon traffic. Our tour guide said it is the largest park in all of South America. Along the way we passed the main square, “Plaza de Armas,” government buildings, and the usual . . . Mc Donald’s, Chuck E. Cheese, and Starbucks. Pop-up canopy flea markets, with wares on folding tables, reminded us of every Latin American town we’ve visited.

Seafood restaurants overflowed with patrons near the port, while portable fish markets sold the days catch.  The port sustained catastrophic damage in the 2014 tsunami and is undergoing a nearly four million dollar renovation.

Did you know? One of the churches, Iglesia de Guayacan, was designed and built by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel! It could be a Jeopardy answer one day!

Though we didn’t need a tourist visa for Chile, we are required to carry our “Chilean Agricultural Declaration” (sworn statement) with us in each port. No fruits or vegetables can be carried ashore and their authorities either have x-ray machines or conduct inspections of bags and backpacks.

Once we were back onboard, we met up with Juliane and Brian in the Crow’s Nest, to catch up with their activities. They shared about going to the cruise terminal and accessing the free, but slow Wi-Fi. Although it’s nice when a port had free internet service, there are usually so many people trying to get caught up with their email, that it’s like the old days of using dial up. Internet on the ship is expensive. The best package is one-thousand minutes for two-hundred fifty-dollars.  At least, so far, the ships service has been a little faster than previous experiences.

Tonight’s show was an encore performance of a pianist, Naomi, and Paraguayan harpist, Francisco Yglesia. We saw Francisco perform the other night and he was amazing! I’d never heard of Paraguayan harp, but was very impressed with his mastery of the instrument. Besides familiar songs, such as Guantanamera, Bese me Mucho, Don’t Cry for me Argentina, Begin the Beguine, and O Solo Mio, he played one song simulating a steam train from Paraguay!

Tomorrow is an early wake up for Valparaiso!


We reached a new milestone!

January 16, 2017— We reached a new milestone!

I mentioned a few days ago that we’re four star Mariner’s. This is a status that is worth achieving because besides the fifty-percent discount on wine packages, specialty restaurants, mini-bar purchases, and beverages in the Explorations Café (picture Starbucks here,) the best perk is free laundry. This is especially important on a long cruise. The smaller ships have self-service laundromats, and we spent our share of time in them before we got smart and took advantage of the package offered by the ship. It was money well spent. Now we can turn in laundry everyday if we want and receive it back, neatly folded, or pressed and on hangers.

Once you’ve completed a cruise with Holland America (HAL), you’re a one star Mariner. With thirty cruise day credits you become two star Mariner; seventy-five days equals three star status, and then a big jump to two hundred days for four star Mariner, and another big jump to five-hundred days for five star status. Actual sailing days and every three-hundred dollars you spend on board (of eligible purchases) count as cruise days. Booking a suite doubles your cruise day credits . . . as it should for what you spend. There are a few other perks as well, such as priority check-in, priority tendering, and disembarkation.

Today was the Mariner Recognition Ceremony and luncheon.   Those recognized today received ribbons adorned with medals indicating they’ve actually sailed one-hundred, three-hundred, five-hundred, or seven-hundred days on HAL.   Thirty-one were recognized as having completed one-hundred days and received bronze medals. Forty-six were recognized as having completed three-hundred actual days and received silver medals. We were in this category! This status doesn’t come with any perks besides champagne, the captain placing the medal around your neck, posing for a photo with him and the hotel director, and a nice luncheon in the dining room with more champagne. At least the ship gives you the photo with the captain for free to add to your collection.

We also receive lovely ceramic tiles with certificates stating their authenticity as being created by master craftsmen of Royal Goedewaagen, Holland, producers of genuine Delftware since 1610. As you can imagine, we’ve accumulated a few over the years and are still trying to decide what to do with them.

Those with five-hundred and seven-hundred days receive gold and platinum medals, respectively. The next level is one-thousand days and those achieving this level are inducted into the President’s Club. I hope to learn what that includes one day! Only seven hundred days to go.

Following the ceremony, we had lunch with two couples. One was from Alabama, and one from Colorado. It turned out they were also on last year’s world cruise and we hadn’t met during that one hundred and fifteen days.

Did you know . . . HAL is owned by Carnival Corporation? As the largest cruise company in the world, they also own Carnival, Princess, Cunard, Costa and Seabourn Cruise lines. Owning stock in Carnival Corporation has its own incentive. By purchasing one-hundred shares of Carnival Corporation Stock, you can receive ship board credits that vary by cruise line and number of days you’re sailing. Our stock has more than paid for itself with shipboard credit and dividends. For a two week or longer cruise, we receive two-hundred fifty dollars shipboard credit. That, coupled with points turned into shipboard credit, from using our Holland America credit card, adds up nicely.

As we caught up with Juliane and Brian at Happy Hour, dolphins frolicked and entertained us off the port side. After dinner we skipped tonight’s show. We’ve seen the Fly Right’s, who were performing again, three times already. They are fantastic, energetic entertainers. Performing hits by the Temptations, Four Tops, Nat King Cole, Lionel Richie, James Brown, the Drifters, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and more, you can really get your toes tapping.

Upon return to our cabin we discovered new gifts! Had we known we were going to be gifted with warm scarves, hats and gloves we would have packed a bit lighter. Hopefully we won’t need them . . . but at least we’re prepared!

Tonight’s quote: “What I admire in Columbus is not his having discovered a world, but his having gone to search for it on the faith of an opinion.” ~~Turgot.





Ahhhhh . . . a day to recover

January 14, 2017— Ahhhhhhhh . . . a day to recover

We were tuckered out after a very full day and relished the opportunity to sleep in. Larry’s poor knees needed a day to recover, so we took it easy.   Our ideal cruise would be two days in port and two days at sea. Since they’re not scheduled that way, we try to make the best of it. I’m still learning that we really don’t have to do and see it all.

The ship was fairly quiet with about one hundred passengers off on multi-day excursions. As much as I wanted to go to Machu Picchu, I didn’t want to do it without Larry. And, he would have suffered terribly if he tried to do that much walking. So, we’ve agreed to book a trip there when he has new knees.

Some time was spent watching the very busy port. Activity seems to go on twenty-four hours a day with so many containers coming in and going out on ships from Singapore, Germany and other countries.

We enjoyed “American Night” with lively decorations and our Indonesian crew decked out in Uncle Sam outfits. There was even “beer can chicken.”

Our favorite Lido staff member, Noor, chatted with us for quite a while. He beamed while describing his son’s mastery of English, even though he corrects his Dad. Having grown up as a Navy brat, I have some appreciation of how difficult it is to be separated for long periods of time. Back then we relied on letters that could take weeks to arrive. At least now communication is much easier.

One of our room service stewards radiated as he shared having Skyped with his wife who showed him her blossoming belly.

A local troupe “Peru Por Todos,” (Peru for All) performed at one 9:30 p.m. show. Five band members and ten performers, wearing elaborate costumes, provided a taste of their culture though music and dance, and several costume changes.

Each night our cabin steward leaves a card with a quote, along with our chocolates, tomorrow’s schedule, and a room service order form. Here is tonight’s: “Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is wisdom.” ~~Unknown