Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Gone, But Not Forgotten


Map picture

It has been four long days since I last wrote that we were boarding our ship in Valparaiso, Chile; and while we have been gone and quiet these several days, I have not forgotten about finding time to bring you along on our journey southward along the coast of Chile.

After our departure, we had a full day at sea before reaching our first port of call, Puerto Montt. During that period of time, we experienced a very definite change in our climactic conditions. While in Santiago, it had been very warm, in fact almost hot; as we sailed south, we came under the influence of what is known as “The Humboldt Current.” This is a massive outflow of water from the Antarctic region that flows northward along the coast bringing cold nutrient, rich waters far up the South American coastline. Even so, Puerto Montt was experiencing an unusually warm sunny day, but still much cooler than we had experienced further north.

Puerto Montt clearly shows its German heritage, but at the same time, it has become the provincial city that serves as the hub for local fishing, textile, and tourist activities. Today the city is the fastest growing one in Chile! While we did stop at the main square to take pictures of the historic church with a copper dome, our journey was not so much to visit the city itself, but rather to use it as our Gateway to the second largest lake in Chile, Lianquihue Lake. If you have a particularly good memory, you may recall that we drove to this Lake on a previous trip. Upon reaching the southern shore, we turned east and drove up the side of Calbuco volcano. From there, I was actually able to take a chair lift off the side of the volcano for a magnificent view over the entire Lake. Directly across from me was the Osorno Volcano, which had erupted only weeks before our arrival. I distinctly remember how the roads were covered in ash at that time.

Our drive today was not to the volcano, but instead we drove northward along the western side of the lake to the large city of Frutillar. We were all given tickets to enter the Settlers Museum which appeared to be a large area in which old buildings had been placed as a monument to the early people who settled this region. Lisa and I instead skipped the Museum and walked out to the lake’s edge to take photographs of the lake and the volcanoes clearly visible on the other side. It was a Sunday, and the lakefront was filled with family traffic. People were coming out of church, and then they could be seen going out to the beach for a picnic in the unusually warm and sunny weather. Like virtually every place I’ve seen in Chile, the town was clean, peaceful and very welcoming. After our hour-long visit, we reported back to the bus, and rather than taking the Panamanian Highway back south, we drove instead on the small roads around the lake itself. In the process, we passed several communities and many vacation homes until finally 45 minutes later, we stopped at Puerto Varas. This time we were let off in front of the town’s casino and were told that we had 45 minutes to explore. This community was home to several large and expensive hotels and once again the beaches were full of the locals enjoying their sunny Sunday afternoon. I got some magnificent photos along the lake before we boarded our bus and drove back to our ship. While I say that we drove back to our ship, I need to add a slight addendum for you to appreciate the entire experience. Since we are now on a larger ship than our previous visit, it was necessary for us to anchor and then to travel ashore on one of the ship’s shuttles. While that does not sound too bad, from the time that we gathered in the theater with our tickets to await the call to our shuttle, until the time that we were actually able to board the bus on shore took approximately one hour. So when they advertise a shore excursion of 3 ½ hours, you probably have to add at least 90 minutes simply to go to and from the shore.

I will tell you a little side story – when we were at Valparaiso directly across from our small ship was the Silver Princess. While we can travel with roughly 550 guests, I am guessing that the Princess ship carried closer to 2000 guests. When we arrived in Puerto Montt, we found the princess ship already there. That means on that sunny Sunday afternoon, there were approximately 2500 tourists trying to visit the small towns around the Lake at the same time. As if traffic in these little towns was not bad enough on a Sunday afternoon holiday, it was a snarl with all of the tour buses.

clip_image002After a night at sea, we pulled into a small port that I have never visited, Puerto Chacabuco. From the brochure, this promised to be a most interesting day. It was billed as being a 5 ½ hour excursion during which we would make the picturesque drive across the lower part of the Andes to the town of Coyhaique. Imagine my surprise and disappointment, when we arrived into this picturesque little port only to find that the Sea Princess was already there and had offloaded her passengers. This of course produced the shortage in suitable busses so we were switched around to a later departure of 2 PM. Once again, we had to go through the shuttle routine to reach the bus, and there we apparently drew the short straw. They always warn you that in small communities you cannot always rely on the quality of the equipment being used, and in this case, we got exactly that! We were assigned to an old bus that did not even have a ventilating fan to provide circulation. It was an exceptionally warm day, and the bright sunlight was heating the bus as if it were a solarium. As we started our drive up the steep hill from the parking lot, our little bus groaned and shrugged to the point that I actually did not think it had enough power to reach the top of the drive. Slowly we crested the hill and began our drive which was pretty uncomfortable and at times just downright hilarious. Our tour guide was trying to carry on a constant babble when shortly after leaving the pier the PA system shutdown. So true to his profession he spent the remaining time on tour screaming and walking up and down the aisle in an attempt to carry on his duties.

Now even though our tour had been delayed until 2 PM, by the time we gathered and went ashore on tenders, it was not until 3 PM that we were finally pulling out of the small port for our projected 90 minute drive. I must admit that the drive took us through some absolutely stunning scenery. We left behind the small port surrounded by snowcapped mountains and slowly, but ever so slowly, climb the hills of the lower Andes. There were dozens of waterfalls and rivers along our way as well as charming and rustic lodges which were home to herds of sheep and cattle grazing on the vibrant fields of green. Our little bus, according to my trusty iPhone, was traveling anywhere from 25 to 30 mph. On the winding mountain roads we became an instant impediment to traffic. There were not many places where traffic could pass so a long line began to form behind us. We finally pulled over at a ranger station so that we could use the restroom. After stopping, we could watch a long line of traffic finally moving on. While stopped, we were able to visit a nearby river where a big picture or two was available before we moved on to the town of Coyhaique. Before dropping down into the town, the bus pulled over by the viewpoint which allowed us to take a magnificent picture of the little town nestled in the Valley down below.

When we finally arrived, we were all offered a small snack and a drink even though it was already 6 PM. Then we had some free time to walk around. Because of the beautiful sunny day, the central Park was alive with people. In the center, various groups took turns in providing entertainment; there was a group playing pan flutes, some acrobatics, a juggler, and a wonderful program of native dance. Each of the groups took their turn, which started by putting a hat on the ground so that people could contribute. I was amazed how after each performance the groups did amass what appeared to be a significant amount of contributions from the appreciative crowd.

The drive home at the end of a long day seemed to take forever. We finally arrived back at our little tender and to reach the ship around 8:30 that evening. We had long since lost our dinner reservation, and because the evening dress code required that men wear jackets, we had to go to our room and completely change clothes before chowing down to a late dinner.

After a short overnight cruise, the ship dropped anchor at the entrance to Laguna San Raphael. At the end of this rather large lake, there are several magnificent glaciers. From reading the material in advance, I assumed that as we had done on previous occasions, the ship would be sailing up to the glacier front for us to see. However, the entrance into the lake was extremely shallow, and therefore, the ship could not go through into the lake itself. In order to see the glaciers, first it was necessary to take a three hour catamaran ride. We were so exhausted from the late evening before that when we realized we were scheduled on the first catamaran at 8 AM that morning, we both agreed to take a day at leisure. After all, given the number of times that we have cruised up along the front of glaciers in small zodiacs, going on a catamaran with 125 people didn’t seem all that exciting. Unfortunately for them, the weather was overcast and cold, and during the day we had intermittent rain which at times was quite heavy.

So that brings everyone up to date on our adventures. At this point, the ship is cruising South. It is important for this next phase of our trip, that people understand the nature of the coast along this part of South America. Unlike cruising up the coast of California where a large ship like ours would of necessity travel well off shore, the coast of South America is highly fragmented with multiple channels, lagoons, fjords, and islands such that it is possible to go from Puerto Montt all the way south to the bottom of Chile without ever having to go in the ocean except for the few places where a short ocean excursion is necessary. Cruising among these islands and channels is an experience not to be missed. On the one hand, there are the snow covered towering Andes Mountains, there are many fjords with glaciers at the end, and usually a low mist hangs over it all creating a moody atmosphere. Today and tomorrow were designated as days that we would cruise the Chilean fjords. I cannot explain, and so far no one else seems to know the explanation for why we are sailing along the coast. We even spoke to some of the ship’s officers, and they too were baffled as to why we were not cruising among the fjords. So stay tuned and we’ll see what happens. At this point, there is actually nothing unique to photograph, so I guess I’ll go back to reading a good book. I do hope to finish and update my photographs this afternoon, and if you would like to see what we’ve done so far you can direct your browser to the following: I don’t think we have any really great pictures yet, but at least you can see what we’re saying.

I hope everyone is doing well. Our hope that people would be fighting on our front lawn to buy our house have been dashed. So at this point, if you know anyone who wants a good used home in Overland Park Kansas send them our way.



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