Monthly Archives: January 2012

WHERE WE’VE BEEN SO FAR…… FT. LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA TO USHUAIA, ARGENTINA, AROUND CAPE HORN AND THE TIP OF SOUTH AMERICA

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WHERE WE’VE BEEN SO FAR……

FT. LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA TO USHUAIA, ARGENTINA,

AROUND CAPE HORN AND THE TIP OF SOUTH AMERICA

You can follow our travels from point to point on these navigation maps that show just where we have been sailing..

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And from here, into Drake’s Passage and Antarctica…..

STRAITS OF MAGELLAN, USHUAIA (ARGENTINA) AND BEAGLE CHANNEL

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STRAITS OF MAGELLAN, USHUAIA (ARGENTINA) AND BEAGLE CHANNEL

A couple of quick historical notes: The Straits of Magellan were named in honor of Ferdinand Magellan, the great Spanish or Portuguese explorer who made his way down to South America and rounded the tip of South America, called Cape Horn. He’s a big guy in these parts, considering he discovered the place.  Here’s a picture of his statue that stands in the Plaza de Armas, the town square, in Punta Arenas, Chile:

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with the inscription at the bottom of the statue:

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The Beagle Channel is named in honor of the HMS Beagle, the ship on which  Charles Darwin sailed when he made his voyage to these parts and through these waters, and from here up the West Coast of South America and eventually to the Galapagos Islands. His observations down here and in the Galapagos formed the basis for his writings The Origins of the Species.

The waters of the Pacific are not so peaceful down at the tip of South America because of the cold sea currents from Antarctica. The straits are a series of “inside passages” of bodies of water that weave in between small islets that form land barriers between these inside waters and the Pacific Ocean, so sailing in them means sailing in calm waters. Combined with sailing through the Beagle Channel, this route provides a kind of calm waters shortcut between the east and west coasts of the bottom tip of South America.

Last year we did essentially the identical trip going around South America by leaving Fort Lauderdale and sailing down the east coast of South America, to the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, then around Cape Horn and up the west coast of South America, through the Panama Canal and back to Florida. This year we are taking more or less the same voyage, only in reverse order, going from the west coast of South America first and ending after a cruise down the Amazon. This year we arrived in Ushuaia about 2 weeks earlier than last year.  Because the seasons here are reversed, it’s summertime here now, and apparently coming here a couple of weeks earlier in summer mattered. 

In a number of places throughout this trip so far, the weather this year has not been nearly as good for us as it was last year. Such was to be the case today as we sailed to Ushuaia.

Having left Punta Arenas, Chile last night, our day cruising through the Straits of Magellan and the Chilean fjords to Ushuaia Channel started off overcast and drizzly rainy.

Here’s what Ushuaia port looked like today as we approached:

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The waters were rough, as you can tell by the whitecaps in the photo, which was taken from at least 10 stories above the water.  The waves were between 3 and 4 meters high – that’s ROUGH WATER !!!. 

By comparison, last year the weather was beautiful, the skies clear, with the only clouds in the sky placed there, it seemed, for photographic effect.

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Still, we had high hopes of stopping in Ushuaia, even though this year it was cold, windy, with drizzling rain on and off, overcast, very low cloud cover – in other words, a cup-of-hot-chocolate kind of day.  In fact, we had planned on making one of our first stops this Chocolateria  we saw but didn’t go into last year, for just that cup of hot chocolate:

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In spite of the fact that Ushuaia is at the “Fin del Mundo” (the end of the world), two of the most charming things about it are the beautiful flowers that bloom here in summer, as seen here by the sign at the entrance to the Port of Ushuaia, 

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and at this garden in memory of Evita Peron  – that’s a bust of her in the center (don’t forget, this IS Argentina!)

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and at yet another public garden:

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The other cool thing in Ushuaia is PENGUINS – there are lots of penguin colonies outside the town, and tour companies do a big business taking people there, but the penguin is also found throughout the town in various forms of display and advertising such as the following:

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or this

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or this:

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And sometimes, they’ll even look you right in the eye:

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Last year we found a namesake restaurant here

and went looking, like Diogenes, for an honest Argentinian fisherman:

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But alas, when we arrived at Ushuaia port this year, the Argentinian Coast Guard would not allow the ship to dock because of the water conditions.  Casting anchor in the port and tendering in passengers to the dock was not possible because the waters were just too rough to lower the tenders and load passengers into them.  Perhaps that’s what happens when, as the welcome sign says, you arrive at the “Culo del Mundo.” 

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And who should know better than the Argentines?

And so, with great regret, we had to cancel our visit to Ushuaia and continue on our way.  The captain tells us he will be racing to get out of the Beagle Channel and hang a left into the Southern Ocean (the name of the ocean between the  tip of South America and Antarctica) and into Drake’s Passage in order to try to get out of the storm’s way.  Tomorrow we’ll know if he succeeded.

ON THE WAY TO THE CHILEAN FJORDS

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ON THE WAY TO THE CHILEAN FJORDS

Today was a cruising day, which is always laid back.  The Chilean fjords are at the southern and southwest tips of South America are actually quite remote and almost completely inaccessible except by boat, so cruising the fjords means sitting on the ship’s deck and watching the lovely scenery as we sail through these pristine waters.  It also means chatting with friends and catching up on little “projects” you might have undertaken while on board.

Ever buy, from Costco, for example, “Farm-Raised Salmon” that came from Chile? Well, here’s where it comes from….salmon farms in the cold south Chilean waters.  The hoops are a kind of submerged tank in which the salmon swim and the white things floating on the water are actually styrofoam-type buoys that support fishing nets.

 

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Southern Chile is quite picturesque, especially as you slowly float along a river channel

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More salmon nets…..

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Here’s Nina and our friend Susan from Boston, the on-board water color instructor

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Both girls are knitting (what else is new?) and Nina is studying up on a new pattern……

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for socks……

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Meet our friends Rev. Dick and Pat Buzby from North Carolina….Dick is a retired Army chaplain and the Protestant minister on board ship.  We sailed with them a couple of years ago to Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

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And here is the back of the head of Father John Vetere, the Roman Catholic priest on board…the coolest Catholic priest we have ever met….Kal took this photo because it reminded him of pictures of Dominican monks who shaved the center part of their heads in medieval times….anyone know why?. 

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Father John has spent his career as a teacher rather than as a parish priest.  Nobody on board has ever seen him wearing a collar.  At Mass he puts on vestments but never a collar…..he bounces around the ship in T-shirts and running pants….a great conversationalist and story-teller with a terrific sense of humor.  Very down-to-earth….our kinda guy….

Of course food plays a big role on cruise ships.  But unlike short cruises, when you cruise for months at a time you aren’t thinking to “earn back” the fare you paid for the cruise by eating it. By an large, the food on this cruise has been good but uninspired.  This concerns Nina deeply, and here she is, sitting in the Lido Dining Room between meals, contemplating what to do about it……

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Aha !!  Some ideas !  Nina decides to discuss them with one Rainier, one of the chefs, who lives in Davie, Florida…… 

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Rainier really likes Nina and Susan.  He prepares special meals-to-order for each of them nearly every day…..IMG_1625 (2) (1023x1024)

One of the lovely things on ship that all too often goes unnoticed is the lovely floral arranging that takes place.  The floral arrangements on board are always lovely, but sometimes they are absolutely outstanding, creative and inspired.  This one uses tropical leaves at the bottom of the arrangement, folded over for bulking effect, along with multi-colored daffodils (?)…….

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Cruising…….it’s a dirty job, but SOMEBODY has to do it……

So we cruise for much of the day, passing by beautiful scenery,

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until we come to a part of the fjords known as Glacier Alley

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and the Amalia Glacier

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And as the sun sets in the sky late in the evening,

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around 9:30 PM because we are so far south of the equator and it’s summer here,

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we know that tomorrow

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is going to be another great day.

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Puerto Chacabuco, Chile and Patagonia

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PUERTO CHACACBUCO, CHILE AND PATAGONIA

Today we went our separate ways:  Kal escorted a tour, Nina went out on a trip with friends from the ship. The day began overcast and drizzly at sea level, by the port on the Pacific of Puerto Chacabuco.  There is nothing that resembles a city within 50 miles; the nearest settlement, Aysen, more like a village, is about 15 miles away.  However, our guide told us that as we go up in elevation the weather will clear and become sunny.  We all hoped so…….

This area is in northern Patagonia, supposedly among the most verdant and dramatic areas of southern South America.  Driving through, it reminded me somewhat of the Colorado Rockies, although the mountains here were not as high. As many of these photos were taken through the tour bus window, you may see rain drops in the photos.  Now you know why….

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We passed through a mountain tunnel, which you can see here if you look carefully between the two light poles.  After we passed through here the weather DID get much sunnier and warmer..

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The mountains of Patagonia were formed by volcanic action. Here you can see the volcanic dark-colored rock that is unstable and slides down  the hillsides, necessitating constant road repairs in this part of Chile.

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We next passed a flat area where hay was grown.  The hay is baled in round rolls and then covered in white plastic to keep moisture out.  Note the 3 wind turbines in the distance.  Chile experimented with wind turbines in this area, but not enough wind was generated, so the idea died.

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The large green, flat area in the center of this photo is what is known here as an “estancia” or estate.  This one is about 14,000 acres and consists mainly of cattle ranching.  These estancias date from the time that the country needed populating, and people who settled the land were given large tracts to work. 

If you look closely at the foot of the mountains, you will see a city.  It has about 50,000 people and is the largest city in the area. It’s name is Coyhaique (pronounced coy-ah-kay)  That’s where we’re headed…..

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As you enter the center of Coyhaique you come to the Plaza of the Pioneers, a monument plaza to the early settlers of the area. Typical wagons and other effects used by them are on public display, as well as several scenes in cast cement portraying activities in the lives of early settlers in the area:

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In the Plaza de Armas of Coyhaique is a bust of General Bernardo O’Higgins (for some reason I can’t help chuckling when I read or hear that name), the first president of Chile who worked with Simon Bolivar to liberate Chile.  The inscription on the bust reads, “Life with honor or death with glory.”.

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After spending some time in the Plaza de Armas and surrounding crafts shops, we got back into the bus and headed out to the Rio Simpson Reserve. On the way we passed the Mate Monument.  Mate (pronounced “mah-tay”) is a national drink in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina

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and tastes (IMHO) simply awful – think of something like brewed sawdust shavings in hot water with the aftertaste of tobacco.  Mate is drunk in a round gourd-like vessel, which is often ornately decorated, and sipped through a silver or alpaca metal straw with a built-in filter to keep out the solid “stuff”. Last year in Uruguay we even saw mate holders made out of cow’s hooves : UGH! 

Picture this:  A guy in a hurry walks into a mate bar and says:  “Give me a mate and step on it!”

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But hey – we’re gringos, so we’re not going to pass judgment….so on to the Rio Simpson Reserve area.

The Rio Simpson in this area of Chile is considered by fly fishermen, we are told, to be the 4th best place in the world for fly fishing.  There must be some truth to this as there appeared to be a lot of English spoken in Coyhaique and a lot of American guys there, some of them with fishing gear.

As we near the Rio Simpson Reserve we pass a shrine 

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that’s located right next to a lovely double waterfall

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and then on to the Rio Simpson Nature Reserve.

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Of course the reserve exists to protect the flora and fauna and to educate visitors about the history and wildlife in the area.  Walking along the Rio Simpson awakened boyhood memories of walking with my father early in the morning along the Merced River at Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite National Park nearly 60 years ago. In that day and age Yosemite was nearly as pristine as Rio Simpson appears to be today, and the topography was strikingly similar.

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The rock in the photo is known to locals as Cheesecake rock because from another view the shape of the rock is supposed to resemble a cheesecake….whatever….

Here’s a view from earlier today of that same rock from a different angle.

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If you look at the first photo of this mountain you can see a portrait of a face on the right side .  See the hair, eyebrow, nose, lips and chin?  Meet the Man in  the Mountain.

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After taking leave of the Rio Simpson Reserve we retraced our steps as we headed back to Puerto Chacabuco and our ship at the port.  The following photos were taken from a moving bus, but you’ll get an idea of the landscape:

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Here’s a swamp we passed,

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a snapshot of the village of Aysen, where most of the workers at Puerto Chacabuco live,

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and, as we are about to cross the Rio Aysen (Aysen River)

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we come to Chile’s Golden Gate Bridge,

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the second largest suspension bridge in Chile.

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And with the snow-capped peaks of the Patagonian Alps in the background,

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we return to our ship

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at the end of another lovely day.

Tomorrow we being cruising the Chilean fjords and then —– on to Antarctica!

 

 

 

OK so here is my version of the day:

We spent it driving thru Patagonia and saw many of the same things Kal saw (the waterfall and shrine, the city of Aysen, which was how the local Spanish speakers pronounced the English words ICE END.  ICE ENDS was how this area, where the Northern Ice Sheet ends, was originally described by English explorers.. And we went to the Rio Simpson). We also spent time at a Hacienda, where we were treated to a BBQ and dancing!

At the Rio Simpson, we got to see fly fishermen! So since Kal runs off at the mouth and tells you tons of info about the place (just kidding, love the guy for doing this too!!!) Here is my version of Chacabuco, Chile in Pix.

Susan, the watercolorist and avid birdwatcher!!!!

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Typical home in Patagonia

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Fly fishing on the Rio Simpson

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Walking to the Hacienda

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As Susan (Bitsey) would say! The adult beverage of the day!!! Pisco Sours!!! Yum!

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The Lamb was alive in the AM and now it’s LUNCH!!!!

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The Dancers!

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THE FAMILY!!

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The Snow Covered Andes!

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Castro, Isla Chiloe, Chile

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CASTRO, ISLA CHILOE, CHILE

 

Our next stop after Valparaiso is the city of Castro on the island of Chiloe.  Being an island, Castro’s port is a shallow water port, so our ship had to anchor off-shore and use the lifeboats to tender passengers ashore.  Here is our first view of Castro from the water, before we even got ashore.

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The difference in tidewater lines between high and low tides is huge here, so all the buildings along the waterfront are built on wooden stilts. At high tide you can only see 1-2 feet of stilt.

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We tendered to the dock in the right of the above photo. 

Here you can see the effects of the changing tidewater line on the cement gangway:

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Here, too, the city of Castro is built onto the side of a hill, with longs sets of stairs in several places providing the only way from the port to the top if you don’t want to take a taxi.

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The houses here are rather quaint – they don’t look like much from the outside, but inside they are warm and roomy.  You get a sense of the Old World here just by looking at the crocheted curtains in their windows:

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Most of the houses in Castro have exteriors made of wood shingle siding.  they come in different shapes and colors.

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Today was another serendipitous day for us.  As we were walking along the coastal road (nearly all these photos are of homes either on stilts on the beach or on the other side of the coastal road) we met Eduardo, an architect who moved from Santiago to Castro in order to help preserve the architectural character of this picturesque and delightful island town that tourism has not yet discovered. We met him as we were photographing a cow in someone’s front yard, and the house and cow happened to be his:

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Eduardo told us that houses lying on stilts – properties on the waterfront – are actually LESS expensive than those not on stilts because the ones on stilts don’t include any land, and the homeowners do no pay a land lease to the Government, who owns all beachfront. To us this was counter-intuitive as waterfront property everywhere else that we know of, commands premium prices:

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Eduardo loves to work in wood, and we happened to be accompanied by a couple from our ship.  The husband has been an avid woodworker for nearly 50 years, and he and Eduardo had a lot to talk about, and it was fascinating listening to the two of them.  Eduardo and his wife have a naturopathic medicines shop located on the right hand side of the first floor (his woodshop is on the left side and they live upstairs). In addition to naturopathic meds he also sells books about Chile and Patagonia, boutique jams and marmalades made from local berries, some wood-working pieces Eduardo has made and hand-knit shawls and other things made from natural dyed Chilean wool.

People in this part of the world seem to be highly attuned to “green” living and to recycling. Eduardo recycled some old shingle siding to use as décor in his shop, which is completely paneled and floored in wood:

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Eduardo told us that there is a lot of wood down here because ships traveling down here used to use the wood as ballast and would empty it out when their ships arrived.  One of the places in town he suggested we visit is the cathedral on the Plaza de Armas in town.  Why?  It was designed in the last century by an Italian architect who did not visit the place and did not know there was no stone to quarry here. So the plans he drew called for building the cathedral from stone.  Since there was no stone but lots of wood, the locals built the entire cathedral from wood, using the stone cathedral blueprints. 

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So you actually end up with Greek columns inside the church that are made from wood. 

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The outside of the church is also made of wood that is covered in beaten tin for water- and weather-proofing:

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There was  the usual statuary one finds in Latin American and European Catholic churches, but two here kind of tickled our fancy.  The first was the dragon in the statue of St. George slaying the dragon.  We thought it looked more like a gargoyle that Gaudi would have designed for his famous church in Barcelona:

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The second was an ordinary statue with a twist:  St. Francis holding the baby Jesus, who just happens to be dressed in a knitted baby blue wool outfit !  Well, both of us thought it was so cute……

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In the Plaza de Armas of virtually every South American city you can find statues of the heroes of every country.  The hero that is found in virtually every country is “The Creat Liberator”, Simon Bolivar, who led South America’s various countries to independence from Spain in the 1820’s.  In Chile the # 2 hero is someone named …………Bernardo O’Higgins – a Chilean born to an Irish immigrant who became the first President of Chile.  Here are photos of the busts of Simon (left) and Bernardo (right) that stand – with a couple others – in Castro’s Plaza de Armas:

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After walking extensively around the town, visiting an art crafts fair, with one talented lady! Look at the felted stuff!

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Get the swift!!!

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and pausing for a great view of the bay where our ship is anchored, it was time to return to the ship.

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Anchors aweigh !

Valparaiso, Chile

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VALPARAISO, CHILE

 

Valparaiso is the Port city to Santiago, Chile.  Santiago is a 2-hour ride inland from Valparaiso, and we are only here for a total of 8 hours.  Last year we had an overnight in in Valparaiso, which gave us two full days and the opportunity to explore both this city and a lovely resort town not far from here called Vina del Mar.

The port provides Internet connections, so we were happy to just sit in the terminal and do our internet stuff, including posting the last bunch of blog posts (especially since we were already here last year and walked miles around town).

The port authorities do something very strange. This port is a commercial port, just like most of the ports we have been visiting, but instead of having us dock near the terminal we were docked so far away that it was impossible to walk to it, so they provide a shuttle to the terminal. The funny thing is that we docked directly across from the City Square, which you can see in this photo that was shot from the shuttle bus (and which has the obligatory statues and blue-colored Governor’s Palace behind it),

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but we had to drive in the shuttle to the terminal, which is about a mile or so.. and if we wanted to go back to the square we would have to walk the mile or so back from the terminal to the square….very strange.

But we took all these pictures from the ship once we were done with the internet..

Valparaiso (“Valpo” to her inhabitants) lives as a city built in 2 parts, the lower town and the upper town. The city consists of something like 13 different neighborhoods or “barrios”.

To get to the upper elevations the city has a series of these funky funicular cable cars called “ascensors”,  which take people up and down between the port area downtown and the barrios. The one in the photo below is in a neighborhood located right next to the port area.  The big blue equipment in the lower right is a container unloader used to unload shipping containers from ships onto railroad cars or 18-wheelers. 

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In the terminal there were a couple of shops and I thought that some of the designs were really cool. All done with bulky yarn and giant beads.

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So this is a small post since we basically did nothing!!!

Coquimbo and La Serena, Chile

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COQUIMBO AND LA SERENA, CHILE

Some of our best and most wonderful travel experiences are completely unplanned – they happen by serendipity – by accident. Our day in Coquimbo and La Serena was just such a day.

Coquimbo is a Chilean port city that exports a lot of Chilean copper, among other products.  We docked in the commercial port area and, not having had anything planned, we decided first to look around the commercial area outside the port and then to go to the small resort town called La Serena, located on the other side of the bay.

Since we have come on board we have made friends with the water colorist instructor on board and with her husband, and so the four of us decided to go out exploring together.

Coquimbo, like most other South American cities we have visited, loves its statues and displays of public art.  Coquimbo is built on the side of a big, steep hill that runs down to the sea,

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and people go up and down by using either buses or taxis or – if they are brave and strong enough – by climbing up and down hundreds of stairs that reach from the top of the hill to the bottom near the port (and also from bottom to top!).

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An art sculpture commemorates what are apparently iconic steps in Coquimbo – only these are steps to nowhere:

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One of the charming aspects of Coquimbo’s public art is that sculpted people seem to appear on balconies and rooftops from out of nowhere, and you have to look carefully to find them.

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After walking around Coquimbo for a while we decided that rather than take a taxi to La Serena for $20, the four of us would catch the adventure and ride a city bus there for the equivalent of a buck apiece.  So we got on the bus

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and off we went ….

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La Serena is a resort town, and it’s summer now in Chile.  The bus driver let us off in the center of the city at the Plaza de Armas which, like all the sidewalks in La Serena, are made of a sort of brick.

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But here I saw something I had never seen before anywhere else:

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See those black bars running down the center of the sidewalk?  They are there to help the blind get around with their canes.  What a wonderful civic idea!

The obligatory civic building on the Plaza de Armas was a courthouse with a representation of  the Ten Commandments on its top

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and, of course, no Plaza de Armas worth its name would be without a church.  La Serena’s had huge, beautifully carved wooden doors that must have been over 25 feet high:

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Around the park of the Plaza de Armas were signs put up by the Future Foundation of Chile. They described the roles and contributions of various groups and communities to the Chilean nation. Included among the signs was one for the Chilean Jewish community.

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We  then walked into the commercial area of La Serena, which has a crafts market and small shops, nothing much different from elsewhere in Chile.

After walking around for an hour or so, we decided to cool off by stopping in for drinks at a small corner café across the street from the Plaza de Armas:

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And it was here we bumped right in to serendipity….

As we walked by the window facing the street Nina noticed a young man sitting in the window cleaning his water color brushes.  

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Remember who we were with in La Serena? The ship’s water color instructor? Well, she starts talking with him (he speaks some English), then the rest of us join in the conversation, and we find that he is an architect by profession and teaches at the University of La Serena but that his passion is painting in water color. He invites us to visit his studio, which is in his home, a short walk from the café. It’s an offer we can’t refuse……

Francisco takes us to his home, where we first meet his wife Francesca and daughter Montserrat,

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 and then he takes us to his studio, where he shows us some of his work:

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As we are talking, he is drawing and painting in watercolor.

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Francisco finishes the watercolor he is presently working on

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and gives it to us as a gift, with another watercolor as a gift to the water colorist and her husband!

After spending a couple of amazing hours with Eduardo and his family, we take our leave as we have to catch a bus back to Coquimbo and back to the ship before departing.

Just to let you know, Francisco’s paintings are for sale, so if you are interested, let me (Nina) know.

Some of the colorful things and characters we saw on the way back to Coquimbo were:

Balloon street vendors

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A Chilean chorus line

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A Cabbage Patch Baby model

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and a few others we didn’t capture in photos.  And then we were back on the bus and back to the ship…….Tomorrow is Valparaiso, the port city to Santiago, Chile.