Thursday, November 19, 2015


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Retrospective On One Of Our Best Ever Adventures

When our ship reached Ushuaia, Argentina, all of us who were leaving that day were met by a bus, driven to a parking area near the city and given an hour to explore on our own before going to the airport for our charter flight to Buenos Aires. Having been there several times, Lisa and I looked out the bus at a windy, cold and drizzling day and decided we would just stay on the warm bus and talk. As we did, we both realized that we had just been party to a truly incredible experience, and that leaving my final blog as a "Whoops" simply would not be sufficient. So, please permit me to finish the end of our trip, and then share a perspective that was easy to lose until we looked in the rearview mirror--so to speak.

After our exciting day at Torres Del Paine National Park, we left from Puerto Natales and headed south winding through the Chilean fjords. We once again had to traverse the extremely narrow White Narrows, but this time was even more of a challenge for the Captain since the winds were quite strong. The only way in which he could guarantee sufficient control of the ship was to make the transit at a rather high speed which simply was incredible. The fjords continued to offer one amazing sight after another until I reached the point of being too tired to take another picture. I did, however, go up on deck as our ship sailed past the ruins of a cargo ship which had run high aground in the late 80's in order to see something that you normally don't get to witness. We spent all day of the 11th of November in the fjords with the exception of a two hour window when we had to venture out to the open water. Let me tell you that was a rough two hours, but thanks to warnings from the crew, we got everything secured in the cabin beforehand. Even so, sleeping was nearly impossible.

The next day, we docked at Punta Arenas which is the southernmost city in Chile. While the ship offered an all day tour to a local estancia, or ranch, Lisa and I opted to have a private three hour tour of the city itself. Once again, we both continued to be impressed with southern Chile. The city was beautiful, mostly clean, and appeared to have just about anything you might find at home. It was a typical day in Patagonia, meaning that you can have four seasons of weather within one day. We began the day with a beautiful rainbow, but along the way, we had cloudy overcast skies with ferocious winds. In fact, in the downtown square, the city had actually strung ropes between lampposts and trash bins in order for people to have something to hold onto. In our three hours, we visited a beautiful old Cemetery(yes, a cemetery of all places), an outdoor nautical museum with replicas of old sailing ships, a Cathedral, and an old historic home that is now a municipal museum. In the process, we walked around the main square, and literally got blown off our feet before returning "home" to the warm comfort of our ship.

Our final day was about as picturesque as it can get. While we were spending time trying to cram everything back into our suitcases, not to mention figuring out how to bring home all the items Lisa purchased, (remember the Panama Hat?), we kept the curtains to our room wide open to enjoy the spectacle of the Chilean fjords which seemed to parade by in an endless procession of glaciers and snowcapped mountains. In late afternoon, the ship traveled up a dead end fjord in order to approach yet another glacier, and to provide us with a surprise opportunity to once again enjoy a 90 minute zodiac ride up close and personal with the beast. For several reasons we opted to play hooky, and instead took a nap. For one thing, we were just about all packed which included all our warm arctic type gear, and for another, it was cold, and of course windy with a little drizzle, sleet, and snow thrown in. No, for the tired old intrepid travelers, it was a time to pass this one by.

While we tried to take a nap, it was obvious that because of the strong winds, the ship was having some difficulty holding position with simply an anchor, so the engines and thrusters were constantly coming to life. Additionally, I kept having dreams that ice was hitting our hull, but when I awoke I found that it was no dream. Chucks of the glacier were being driven down the fjord and striking our ship on the way. What a way to end the voyage.

In the end, Lisa and I found ourselves huddled in our bus, having departed the ship with tears in our eyes. There were so many of the crew who wanted to give us hugs and well wishes as we left that it was in many ways a sad occasion. That little ship and its really fine crew had been our home for over a month, and in retrospect, what a month it had been. Lisa says that this was her BEST cruise ever. So, let me pause for just a minute to pull together an incredible adventure.

Thirty six days earlier we got to drive the length of the Panama Canal in a car in order to join our new home, the Silver Explorer in Colon, Panama. Let us not forget the pure drama of Lisa trying to find a bra on a Sunday in a country in which English is not widely spoken, and the gracious services, so to speak, which she received from our driver. Our day-long cruise through the Canal itself was as always hot, humid, and full of mosquitoes.

With not so much as a day to catch our breath, we were riding in the little zodiacs on the rising tide for 14 miles into the Panamanian rainforest to visit a native village that rarely sees outside visitors. It was like a warp in time. Getting back to the ship, we barely had time to get ready for "recap and briefing" before attending the Captain's welcome dinner. But, no rest for the weary because the very next day we are off to visit a small town, or village really, in Columbia. Still it is hot, humid, and we found ourselves going through our light microfiber clothes and insect repellent. Don't forget it was in that town that I was kidnapped! Well, in a way I was.

Next thing you knew we are off to Isla Gorgona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that I had never even heard of, but was previously home to an infamous prison in Columbia, which is now a National Natural Reservation Park complete with gigantic Boa Constrictors - hence the need for the required rubber boots. Now you can't get this exotic stuff on a traditional cruise, that's for sure!

We then crossed the equator which required the traditional visit by King Neptune, followed the next day by a visit to Manta, Ecuador. Here our entire environment changed. Gone were the moist tropical rainforests, to be replaced by a very dry terrain, combined with moderate temperatures, and no humidity. We were now under the influence of the giant Humboldt Current. And, who can forget "The Mad Hatter" escapade because it was here, that against all my pleadings, Lisa just had to buy a beautiful Panama Hat. Now how in the hell she was supposed to get that home was beyond me, but while it was a real pain, it is now safely home in Kansas City. By the way, remember that Panama Hats actually are made in Ecuador - go figure?

Our first cruise thus ended in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, home to the giant iguanas which dominated the town square. Imagine, we have cute little squirrels, and they have big ugly iguanas - I'll take the squirrels any day.

So, our second cruise started with our ship being held for ransom by a bunch of "guano miners" on the tiny island of Lobos de Tierra. Recall that it took four hours of negotiations and a free lunch before they finally relented and we were allowed to go ashore to visit the nesting colonies of the Blue-footed Booby. Let's get real here!

Finally reaching Peru proper, our ship docked at the city of Salaverry, and then we drove into the historic city of Trujillo, where in my opinion I had never set foot. Well, I was mistaken, but in all honesty, what we came to visit this day was not even known when I was there around 1975. We came to visit the ancient ruins of an Incan city named El Brujo, a complex of structures which rival anything that can be seen in ancient Egypt. The nearby ruins of Chan-Chan that I had come to see way back when, was hardly worth a mention today. Our next stop was at the port city of Lima where we spent an afternoon in a museum, but one of the highlights of this cruise was our flight over the famous Nazca Lines in the desert of southern Peru near the town of Paracas. This is one experience which I have had on my bucket list since I first learned about the famous geoglyphs when in High School. I was not disappointed, although my pictures of the drawings leaves a lot to be desired, the image in my mind is priceless. But as they say, there is no rest for the weary, because barely had we recovered before we were subjected to two grueling days of overland travel and adventure, back to back.

Our first big outing lasted only 10 hours, and had us driving into the Peruvian mountains to visit the UNESCO Historical Center of Arequipa. How can I ever forget Arequipa - for it is here that I became locked into the bathroom of our bus, and barely missed spending lunch sitting in the smelly little room fuming. My best memories of the town included our visit to a monastery which dated from 1579, and that today offers a rare glimpse into the monastic life of days' gone by.

And how can I ever forget our 16.5 hour bus ride to the top of the world the following day! We found ourselves literally on top of the world at the Atacama Desert, which is the driest place on earth. The landscape is unlike any I have ever seen before. Surrounded by snow capped mountains on all sides, it is said that the terrain here is the most like that of Mars of any place on earth. I'll leave it to my pictures to try and convey the awesome beauty of the valley, but I will never forget ending our day high atop an overlook of the Valley of the Moon while the sun set. I mean, it just does not get any better, really.

If you can believe it, that basically ended our second cruise - we were only 2/3 of the way through our incredible journey. Having been to Valparaiso, Chile before, recall that Lisa and I could not make up our minds about going ashore during turnaround day - so we started, then stopped, then started again, and in the end, went to take a nap.

At this point, I am thinking there can't be much more to see on our cruise down the coast of Chile, but as usual, I was wrong. What followed was four days of non-stop adventure that left Lisa and I exhausted. We stopped at Niebla, which was the gateway to the interior of Chile and a lovely community called Valdivia which was founded by Germans. As we were to learn, this was our first real welcome to the charm of southern Chile. It was followed by our visit to Puerto Montt, and a really long day driving into the Lakes District to see the breathtaking vistas created by magnificent lakes which were surrounded by snow capped volcanoes, one of which had erupted just months before and which was still smoking. We drove up the side of a volcano nearby, and Lisa and I rode the chair lift half way up, which was all the time we had. We made it back to the ship tired and weary only to learn the next day would be a 7am departure because we were going to take a local ferry over to the island of Chiloe. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is home to over 150 wooden churches some dating back to 1743. To say the island was "quaint" would be an understatement, and here again, I had never even heard of it.

Finally we get a day to catch our breath before the following day coming up to the face of the Pio XI Glacier, which is enormous. The face of the glacier runs for over two miles. Because the winds were howling, the water rough, and it was sleeting, I decided to just stay on the ship and forego a 90 minute ride along the glacier in a little zodiac. You think Lisa would listen to reason - hell no! So, I had no choice but to get all dressed up to go with her. Well, once again she was right. I got to witness several new things including a giant piece of the glacial wall collapsing right in front of us, preceded by a front of "Rolling Thunder." Indeed our little group with but a single clap brought down a massive chunk of ice with a resounding thunderous roar and a small tsunami afterwards. Well, maybe it was not exactly our clap, but it looked that way.

At this point, I figured that there was nothing left south in Chile, but as usual I was wrong. We visited what Lisa calls "the most beautiful place on Earth" the Torres Del Paine National Park. Frankly, she is pretty much right as my pictures will show. Once again, I had never heard of this place so the majesty of the place took me completely by surprise. After our long day, the ship entered the Chilean fjords, which is pretty much where this blog started. Glaciers, beautiful mountains, and finally the southern-most city on the planet, Ushuaia, Argentina. To go south is to go to Antarctica.

I think you can see why sitting in that bus in Ushuaia over 7,000 miles from home, we felt that looking back and pulling the entire incredible experience together was worth yet another blog.

We are now home, and that was not really a bad experience except for the fact that security was tighter than I have ever seen it at every point. We flew on LAN from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires on a Charter arranged by Silversea. We landed at the domestic terminal and needed a transfer to the International Terminal which was about an hour away. From there we caught a late departing Delta flight directly into Atlanta arriving early on Sunday. There we cleared Customs and Immigration, grabbed a bite to eat, and got on a flight directly to Kansas City. Let me tell you, it feels good to be home. But, we are both a little sad at leaving behind so many friends and great adventures; it still is good to come home!

I do hope everyone has enjoyed this trip, and that you will stay tuned for the next adventure of The Globe-Trotters.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile

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The ship successfully navigated the incredibly narrow and winding passage known as “the white narrows” after which we were to dock at Port Natales in the early evening, spend the evening there, and the following day and evening. Well, our arrival into the port was filled with the usual bureaucratic mish-mash that has become all too familiar on this voyage; originally our ship had been promised the main dock that was right at the center of town. The evening prior to our arrival however, we were denied access to that pier because a ferry would be docked there, and instead we were diverted to an auxiliary dock five miles from town. This meant that the ship had to scramble to arrange a shuttle operation for that evening and the next day for those guests wishing to explore the quaint little port.

That was all accomplished and ready, however, when we did arrive into the little harbor, the auxiliary dock was occupied! Now what? We could see that the there was a ferry in town, and it was staying overnight. Just before dark, the officials cleared the auxiliary pier, and we pulled anchor to finally get to dock, but just as we did so the famous Patagonian winds blew up, and before we knew it, the ship now had a direct 40 mph side wind pushing it towards the pier. Before we could even try to dock, the port officials closed the pier. So, we had to drop anchor, again, and spend the night in the harbor, and because of the late hour, no zodiac service could be established. This also meant that the next morning all of the passengers going on tours now had to be transported to shore first in the zodiacs. Grrr!!

Thus, the next morning’s schedules were adjusted for earlier than normal departure times to account for the hassle of the zodiac ride, and a complete zodiac operation was mounted. There were two tours being offered, both to the National Park, one longer than the other to allow for hiking. We were on the shorter of the two. The first group departed as scheduled, and we were told to get ready to be called--that meant wet bags for cameras, and life vests. After the first group had successfully departed suddenly the ship’s engines roared to life, and we were told to standby. Once again, we were all dressed up with no place to go. We hear the anchor coming up, and before we know it the ship is preparing to dock. It seems that even though the crew had been given multiple times as to when the ferry would depart, it suddenly, and without notice, pulled up its ramp and steamed off, leaving the main pier open at last. So, off come the life vests, cameras are pulled out of wet bags, and we prepare for a normal departure for our tour.

The drive to the Park, while long at 2.5 hours, was at least incredibly scenic. After an hour of driving north on a paved highway, we stopped at an intersection in the road at what could best be described as a small town – well, maybe a village, or a hamlet – well, maybe just a spot in the road named Cerro Castillo. There was a very quaint little wooden cafĂ© with restrooms. The coffee smelled good and the pastries called, but we were on a mission and alas had no time to dawdle. At this stop, we encountered for the first time the highly unpredictable and at times fierce winds for which Patagonia is famous. On leaving the bus, we were caught by surprise at the strong winds which quite literally threatened to push us over. Walking was difficult and talking was out of the question. As a pilot, I would estimate that the winds were blowing a steady 50 mph with occasional higher gusts. Once back onboard, our local guide warned us to be very careful about the winds, which at one moment can be calm and the next overwhelming. He related how last year in the Park winds had been clocked at over 135 mph and had in fact quite literally blown two tourist busses off the winding dirt roads. So, we took this pretty seriously, I can tell you.

This intersection of roads was interesting. For one thing all of the roads with the exception of the one we had come by now, turned to dirt. If you continued north, the road eventually came to a dead end somewhere in the mountains in front of us. If you travelled east, you quickly came to the border station, since 7 miles down that way was Argentina. Thus, the only logical option for us was to head west which would then leave us on small and at times treacherous dirt roads. In spite of the roads, the scenery was awesome and at times, simply breathtaking. Even before we reached the National Park, we started seeing wild guanacos; this beautiful animal is related to the Llama and the Alpaca. It is native to the arid mountainous regions of South America. We kept wanting to stop for pictures, but the guide said to have patience. Soon there were herds of guanacos some even blocking the roadway. We did stop, and we took plenty of photographs.

Finally, we reached the entrance to Torres Del Paine National Park, one of the oldest National Parks in South America which in 1959, was designated a Biosphere Reserve. It is hard to describe the beauty of what we witnessed in the next several hours. It was at times breathtaking! As we had been warned about the fierce winds, at times they were calm, then suddenly they would roar down the mountains threatening to topple anyone who was not prepared. I really encourage you to look at my pictures of this incredible area.

Besides guanacos, we saw one puma, numerous Chilean condors, black necked swans, and the biggest surprise was when a large armadillo bolted from the bush and ran right along the group. That was the first armadillo I have ever seen outside a zoo, or as roadkill on a Texas highway. By the time we left the Park and headed to a luxury hotel just outside the entrance, we were all tired but pumped up by what we had seen. The lunch, as with every meal we have had in Chile, was really wonderful. Directly outside a large wall of windows which looked over the nearby mountains, was a horse pasture. While we were having lunch, a mare gave birth to a foal, and the entire room erupted into applause.

It took 3 hours to drive back to our ship at Puerto Natales, where we spent the night again at the dock. Many of our guests went into town for dinner, but after a 10 hour day, Lisa and I were just glad to have a great dinner and fall into bed.

This morning we awoke to the most beautiful rainbow which stretched from horizon to horizon and stayed visible for over an hour – must be a good omen for what is to come. Today, the 11th, we are cruising the fjords on our way to Puerto Arenas in beautiful weather. Although at times the winds are so strong that they push the ship over to the point that things start falling, but then again, this is what adventure cruising is all about.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Rolling Thunder!

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Rolling Thunder!

At this moment, and actually for the prior two days, our ship has been cruising deep within the Chilean fjords. If you look at a map or satellite view of this part of the Chilean coast, it appears as a highly fractured landscape, literally crisscrossed with deep fissures and channels. At first glance, I would have assumed that our ship would be going along this part of the coast out in open water, but boy was I mistaken. Because of our small size, we are actually able to spend most of our time cruising deep within this mysterious and beautiful landscape surrounded by deep valleys and towering snowcapped mountains. That was how we spent all day Saturday, November 7th.

On Sunday morning, we continued our journey arriving in the afternoon at the face of Pio XI Glacier. This glacier was named in honor of Pope Pius XI, and it is the largest outflow of glacial ice in all of Patagonia. The massive face of the glacier stretches for over two miles in length.

Now I must in all fairness tell a story on myself. When we arrived at the glacier, weather conditions were far from ideal. The outside temperature was 7 C, or 44 F. The winds were blowing down from the glacier at 35 mph, and just to liven things up a bit, we had a constant drizzle with occasional sleet in our faces, and the water was choppy and full of spray. So, wise old traveler that I am, I announce that this is crazy, and I am not going out for an hour and a half ride along the glacier in a little zodiac-so there! I mean after all, I’ve been there and done that, so what’s to be learned?

All the while I am pontificating, Lisa is busy going about getting dressed in all the gear we bought to handle this weather. Let’s see, first the silk underwear, top and bottom. The heavy socks, over our regular socks. Next we have the waterproof pants, followed by the heavy rubber and insulated boots. At this point, I help her into the incredibly warm and heavy red parkas given to each of us – and this takes some time to do right. Next we have the silk glove liners, the heavy gloves, and oh yes, the synthetic wool caps. Now all that is left is the life vest on top of everything else, and at this point Lisa is red-faced and overheating in our cabin. She looks like a little girl who has been dressed up by her mother to go play in the snow.

Ah, the hell with it, she will not listen to reason, so not to be outdone, I start my own process in order to join her. My one concession to the weather was that I did not take my camera. It is a shame because as I’ll explain later I saw some incredible sights, but the camera would have been ruined by the rain.

Conditions on the zodiac were exactly as I expected, in a word, “miserable!” Luckily, Lisa and I were dressed correctly, but I felt sorry for a number of “first timers” who had no clue and were just plain miserable.

Forgetting my pride for a moment, I will admit to seeing three things which I had never before witnessed. First, we got to watch the spectacle of a sea lion catching an unsuspecting cormorant, and then thrashing about in the water as it tried to tear it apart for food; this went on for the longest time. Second, at the very edge of the glacier, I saw where the ice flow was actually moving over the TOP of nearby trees; a very unusual phenomena. Finally, there was the rolling thunder.

As a glacier slowly advances towards the water, chunks of ice will eventually fall into the sea. This is called “calving.” I have been in front of glaciers many times when chunks of ice would fall off, but what happened yesterday was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. As we cruised along the glacier front, from time to time the sound of loud thunder could be heard, but nothing was happening. I kept thinking perhaps a storm, but at one point it was so loud that I looked up to see if a jet was overhead somehow. The thunder would go on at times for a long while and would literally roll across the water. Suddenly, large chunks of ice would fall into the sea, and the thunder would stop. Ah, ha! So the thunder is actually the sound of the ice cracking apart from the glacier until it eventually falls off. Once I made the connection, every time there was thunder. If I waited patiently, there would eventually be a calving event. Amazing, and yet another first for me.

To end this little adventure, I must relate an amazing story. Our zodiacs were being recalled to the ship when the thunder started up again, and our driver said, “Let’s wait a moment, and see what happens.” Even though you hear the thunder, you could not know where along the two mile face an event would occur, but on this occasion the first person on our zodiac pointed to a spot on the glacier where he said the sound was coming from, and with all of us looking at that spot a giant event did indeed occur, even causing a small tsunami event. But, the ice that had fallen off had removed the base from a gigantic piece of blue ice which looked as if it would fall into the sea at any moment. Our intrepid guest suggested that if we clapped our hands, perhaps it would be enough to dislodge it, and so we clapped, and by golly that absolutely, huge chuck of ice came crashing down right in front of our eyes! This time creating an even more significant wave! Who would have believed in the power of clapping?

On a final note, allow me to point out something absolutely absurd. Before coming on this trip, Silversea advised guests to prepare with proper clothing, and even provided a “supplier” who would be sure we were properly outfitted. Since we left all of our expensive Artic gear on the North West Passage cruise when I had to leave unexpectedly with a broken shoulder, we literally had to start from scratch. So, for this cruise, we were advised essentially that we needed to be outfitted pretty much as if we were going to Antarctica. Acquiring all that gear was a rather expensive proposition, and of course, for our 90 minutes yesterday, it was essential. Now get this – that’s it! That is the one and only time we needed that gear! When that hit me, I was dumbfounded! Yet, to come are two days on bus tours ashore, and another sea day before the cruise comes to an end. So not only did we spend all that money, pack, and carry all that “stuff,” in the end, it was for 90 minutes. If you ask me, that was a damn expensive zodiac ride!

Today is another sea day as we make our way towards Puerto Natales, a place where I have never been. This afternoon promises to be exciting because the ship will transit a very narrow winding passage. In fact, during our trip down the coast we have been followed by a French vessel, Le Boreal. She will not be able to make this course for the simple reason that the vessel is just that much longer and the narrow turns are too much for her to follow. I understand that as we approach the narrows, we will put a zodiac to go in front of us in order to monitor tidal flow, and to insure we will be able to transit safely.

Hope you are enjoying this trip with us.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Another Side of Chile

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When I last had a chance to write, the ship was docked at the port city of Valparaiso, the gateway to the Capital of Chile, Santiago. That was a turnaround day, and it also marked the beginning of our last voyage segment to the southern reaches of Chile, We had been to this part of the world on more than one occasion and thus expected little in the way of surprises, but boy was I wrong. I had never cruised here on an expedition ship, and that has opened up new vistas.

Anyway, Valparaiso was four days ago. Since then we have been on an almost non-stop adventure that has left us exhausted, but also in wonder. So, it will be impossible for me to write about every day in detail, but I can present an overview.

Our first port of call was to the small city of Niebla which I had never even heard of much less visited. However, it was only the starting point for a drive deeper into Chile to visit the city of Valdivia which was founded in 1552, by the Spanish and which today is home to around 127,000 people……………………………….

“Sorry, had to take a quick break. A large pod of dolphins and killer whales was in a feeding frenzy just off the side of the ship, but by the time we turned back there was not much left to see. Pooh! So back to Niebla.”

At Niebla, we visited one of the old Spanish forts, and then drove along the river to Valdivia. Unlike what we had seen of Chile so far, this was a quaint little town with strong German influences and architecture. Even today the German private schools are among the best in the country, and graduates are permitted at no cost to obtain higher education by travelling to the Universities in Germany itself. Apparently the German government funds this little community in an effort to retain its German heritage. Thus, our first stop was the Historical Museum, basically the restored home of one of the German founding families, and now a museum. From there we drove to the city center and stopped at the fish market. The city lies up the river from where we anchored at Niebla, but the river is too shallow to allow our ship to navigate directly here, hence the 10 mile drive. At the market, we had basically an hour to look around, and Lisa and I made our way to the town square, near the McDonalds I might add. We engaged in “people watching” while sitting on a bench, and immediately found this town to be quite alive. It is home to a number of Colleges and Universities, and overall is quite alive. After a stop at a local restaurant to sample some local food, we headed back to our ship. Since we had a very early departure that morning, our arrival back at the ship around 1:30 pm concluded a six hour outing, and we were tired. But not to worry, the next day would have us departing at a more civil hour of 8 am, but then it would turn out to be only a 10 hour day!!

So day two saw us arriving into Puerto Montt, where we had visited before. However, on the previous visits we never saw anything approaching the beauty of what this visit would bring. This was now our second day of bright sunshine in a part of the world where that is a rarity; Puerto Montt was no exception. The city is the gateway to the Lakes Region of Chile, and home to a ring of Volcanos capped year round with snow and literally hundreds of lakes. On previous trips, there was low clouds and drizzle, and so we never saw the real beauty of this region. On this trip we finally got to see the real beauty which we had heard so much about.

We drove inland to the town of Ensenada, and then along the huge Llanquihue Lake which is dominated by the Osorno volcano. Just six months ago, the nearby volcano of Calbuco had erupted and covered Ensenada and the surrounding areas in a thick layer of fine volcanic ash and small pebbles. Even though authorities had done an incredible job of clearing the main roads still at times the dust was so thick that we could not even see the bus in front of us. Numerous times traffic came to a standstill where road construction and repairs were underway. Still once out of that area, the weather was simply beautiful with perfectly clear sunny skies. We entered the Rosales National Park and proceeded to an absolutely beautiful lake called Emerald Lake. Here we boarded a very nice catamaran for almost an hour cruise around the lake and surrounding volcanoes. Let me just say, the pictures were awesome. But then, once back on our buses, we proceeded to climb the side of the Osorno volcano. We climbed above the tree line and to the base of the snow cover at an altitude of approximately 4,000 ft. The top of the volcano is at around 8,500 feet. Lisa and I immediately jumped onto the chair lift which would take us halfway up the volcano, but because of time, we were not able to take a connecting chair lift to the top. They made us walk all around the building to get back on to come down, and while that sounds easy it was definitely not. The little building sat atop a knoll, which required that we climb down a steep hill in loose sandy soil, circle the knoll, and then climb up the other side. As our guide would later say, “this is Chile.” As I am riding down in my little chair, I look across the valley to the nearby volcano that erupted only a few months earlier, and I can still clearly see plumes of steam still spewing from the top. It suddenly dawns on me that sitting on top of another volcano in the same area where one had just erupted may not be the smartest place to be!!

Once back on the bus, we visited on our way back to Ensenada a series of waterfalls which had been cut through the volcanic rock. Now this was comical to the extreme; we now have over 100 of us dutifully climbing a very uneven and sandy surface to reach these magnificent vistas, along the way we were watched over by gun toting police (not uncommon in Chile), but in a National Park – give me a break. Anyway as is usual, I am the last to reach the top of the trail which then makes a sharp left to a narrow little bridge leading to one viewpoint. Almost everyone going down the other side was laughing and shaking their heads and I quickly saw why. This narrow, and short little walkway went out for about 10 ft. and then it was blocked off to further traffic. From the end of the walk, the falls are barely visible and what view there is, is marred by the trees in the way – in short, there was nothing to see. The little walkway did go on, and had we been blocked another 10 ft. down, we would have had a good view, but alas, “this is Chile.”

We drove back to Ensenada for a late lunch (it was now around 3pm), and while late, it was absolutely wonderful. Then back onto the bus to drive to our ship, but wait – they drop us off in Puerto Montt at a handicraft market, and gave us 45 minutes to look around. We were all tired and ready to get back to the ship, but first there was one more blockage. When we arrived at the port, everyone had to get off the busses at the gate and proceed through a “security check.” It was a long walk to the security hut, and once there, they “glanced” at any backpacks, and had us walk through metal detectors that were turned off. “Why?” we asked our guide, and of course you already know the answer, “this is Chile.” We finally did arrive around 6 pm. Just in time to be dressed and ready for the “recap and briefing” at 7 pm. Another, very long day. Perhaps the next day would be better!

But, it was not to be. Because of local ferry schedules, the next morning we had to be ready to get off the ship by 7 am. If there was any good news, it was in the fact that this was to be a half day outing, and we should all be back on board by noon, (Good Luck). We were anchored in the harbor at Castro, Chile, a port I had never even heard of. It is not on the coast, but rather buried among the many islands of southern Chile. Our final destination was yet another island, that of Chiloe. Chiloe Island is famous as being the home to over 150 wooden churches, many of which are designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

We began our day by a quick zodiac ride to shore where as usual, we all had to undergo a check by agriculture officials before boarding our busses. From there, we made a bee line to the local ferry for the short transfer over to the island of Chiloe. The ferry boarding was a hoot. There was no formal pier, but rather a simple sloping concrete ramp to which the ferry pulled up and dropped a ramp. Our group was in three busses, but all three could not fit on one ferry. They got the first two on, and then squeezed on as many cars as they could before setting off for the crossing. When the next ferry arrived, I was amazed that several of the cars and trucks had to come off backwards, and then turn around on the small sloping ramp. It was comical to watch, until our guide said that sometimes even the busses must get on backwards: whoops! Our ride was short, and soon we were passing some rich farmland and beautiful homes while driving on narrow winding roads.

Our first stop was in the shore side village of Curaco de Velez. We drove through the quaint town passing our first wooden church, then stopped along the shore to stretch our legs and to admire the large tidal flats stretch before us. Here they experience a tidal change every 6 hours of over 8 ft. After a quick look around, we again boarded the busses for a drive to the town of Achao, which was founded as a city by the Jesuits in 1743, and is now home to 2,500 people. Here we visited our first UNESCO church, the Achao Church, which is the oldest wooden structure on the island of Chiloe. It was constructed in 1730. It rests on immense rocks, and in spite of all the earthquakes, it has endured over the centuries. It was so well constructed that today it stands as a unique monument. Inside is a beautiful baroque style building still very much in use today.

Departing Achao, we headed off along a country road and stopped along the roadside at what from the outside looked to be a typical Chilean farm home. We were invited into an annex where tables had been set for all of us to enjoy a pisco sour and some local food, while a little man played the accordion, accompanied by a guitarist; locals demonstrated the local dances. It was all quite lively, and many of our guests got into the act. It turns out that the little man on the accordion was indeed world famous, so we had a special treat.

We departed the little island of Chiloe by the same ferry as before, however, this time our bus had to turnaround on the little boat ramp and then back onto the ferry. The ferry, meanwhile, is trying to stay stable in the current causing the ramp to move back and forth along the slick ramp. We scrapped the bottom as we climbed up the steep angle of the ramp, and somehow ended up where they wanted us, and they jammed cars all around us. It was really quite an experience.

After the crossing, we were once again in the city of Dalachue, but this time we went into town and stopped at a craft mall, and from there we walked to the town square to see another of the UNESCO wooden churches. Unfortunately, we could only see the outside because the church had just been renovated. Actually the renovation was completed in July, and every day they expect the church to re-open. So when we asked the obvious question, why is it closed, we got the standard answer, “well, this is Chile after all.” At this point, I think most of us noticed a little problem: our ship was scheduled to sail at noon, and by my watch it was noon already. The tour operator seemed not to notice, but we did set off to return to the city of Castro where our ship was at anchor. All of us assumed that we would go directly to the ship, but no, we went into the town center to see yet another church, a garishly painted tin covered Cathedral, which closed at 12:30. Our guide rushed to get inside as we pulled up exactly at 12:30, and she did convince the custodian to let us have a quick peek. It was well worth the visit, but when we came back outside, our busses were nowhere to be seen. They could not park in front of the church so their only option was to drive around, and the mid-day traffic on this beautiful Friday afternoon was bumper to bumper. They finally made the return circuit, and we all were prepared to literally jump-on, since the bus was blocking traffic.

Now off to the dock we went to get our zodiacs back to the ship, but wait – there were the authorities for another security check. What a waste. Once again we walked through metal detectors which were turned off and thus of no use, but “this is Chile, after all.” The ship was finally able to sail by 1:45 pm, which did not make the Captain very happy.

Today we are heading south, ducking in and out of the little islands. At times we are sheltered and cruising through narrow channels between the islands, and at other times, such as now, we are in the open sea. It is starting to get cold, and by tomorrow we should be at anchor deep in the Chilean fjords for a zodiac visit to the Pio XI Glacier.

Because of where we are, satellite coverage is becoming very sporadic. I hope to get this out today, Saturday the 7th, but it might well be delayed.

Hope everyone is well, and if I can get some time I’ll try to get caught up on three days of photographs.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Dressed Up, But No Place to Go


Map picture

After our exhausting day on the bus, Lisa and I were dead tired, so when the next afternoon came around and the ship anchored off the small Isla Pan de Azucar in order that we could spend 90 minutes in a zodiac cruising around looking for penguins, we pulled the sheets up. As it turned out, we are very early into their breeding season; those who went said there was not much to be seen.

The ship sailed all night and into the next morning to arrive at the Isla Chanaral, home to the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. This sounded exciting, and would once again involve sailing around the small islands. However, during the evening, we encountered ever increasing swells to where the bow of the ship was coming up out of the water and afterwards coming down with a resounding thud. Not only passengers, but also many of the crew were under the weather. Our captain made a valiant effort to find enough shelter to allow safe operation of the zodiacs, but in the end, we gave up and headed for our next port, Coquimbo, Chile. Since we had canceled the afternoon and because it was so miserable, the ship sailed at full speed to enter the port in the early evening. Because of this, we spent the night in port getting a good night’s rest rather than being miserable another night.

While in Coquimbo the following morning, the ship offered a bus tour into the Elqui Valley, eventually spending some time in the sleepy and colorful little town of Vicuna which was known for its handicrafts. It turned out that there were several problems ahead. First and foremost, the Captain moved up the ship’s departure, which cut an hour out of a 4 hour tour. Next, it was a Sunday in a very Catholic country so nothing was happening, and just to make matter it worse, it was also a public holiday. So when we arrived in Vicuna, it was as quiet as tomb. In the end, we had done a three plus hour bus ride for essentially no reason.

If there is one inviolate rule in cruising, it is that the ship must be at the port on a turnaround day on time--no exceptions! Too many people have flights, and schedules to meet for that not to happen. Given the poor conditions on the ocean, our Captain was concerned about arriving into Valparaiso on time. As it turned out, he was right to worry. The seas were rough, we had a terrible current against us, and the winds were strong and blowing right at us. At times our speed forward was only 9kts, which is a crawl. In fact, we actually did arrive this morning a little late, but not too much.

Arriving into Valparaiso involved the usual mad rush of activity. People have to leave, rooms must be turned, and luggage off loaded, and then on again, and today is also a major resupply stop. While all this is going on, we were offered an optional half-day tour into the wine country, but decided instead to stay on board.

We watched as local authorities made it very difficult to depart the ship. Coaches were not allowed up to the vessel, but instead everyone and all the bags had to be transported two miles away to the main terminal even though there was an exit gate within an easy walk behind our ship. We debated going ashore on our own since the ship provided a 15 minute shuttle to the main gate, and finally decided to go for it. So we got out our money and jackets, camera at the ready, and all dressed up we exited the gangway when half way down the long flight of stairs we realized that it was raining. Turning around we checked back into the ship and told ourselves at least we tried, then promptly fell asleep until lunch.

During lunch, we spoke to a couple who had gone out earlier before the rain and this once again got our interest up, and so we returned to the room and prepared once again for an outing. Just before we walked out the cabin door we made a quick check to see when we were due back on the ship and found that we had only two hours. From what the other couple had said, it could take up to an hour just to go to the gate and back; if you missed the bus, which worse case would leave us one hour – not worth it. So for the second time today, we were all dressed up with no place to go.

Tomorrow is a day at sea, thus it will be awhile before I have more to share. I have been working on the pictures, but cannot upload them because of some computer problem impacting guests who have stayed on. We are promised they are working on it, but alas, we’ll see.