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Trip Report Cruise Around the Horn: Buenos Aires, Vina del Mar, and Many Ports

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This is a very detailed trip report of our visit to South America from 12/30/09 -1/20/10. We are an older couple with an almost 21 year old son, who came along on this trip with us. Feel free to skip around and ask questions.

South America Trip Report

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 En Route to Buenos Aires

This was supposed to have been our first day in Buenos Aires, but thanks to a 12 hour delay due to mechanical difficulties in Houston (we started at Newark and flew on Continental, which is usually reliable, but was horrible on this occasion), we lost our first day (and slept on the floor at the airport instead of on the plane). Instead of arriving in the morning and having a great first dinner, we didn’t get in until late in the evening. Our remis driver, Nico, was waiting – thanks to our B and B owner and Nico, who checked the airline information all day and knew when to expect us. After an uneventful ride into the city, we were hugged by Nico (now our friend) and were warmly greeted by Rachel, a wonderful New Zealander with unique accommodations in Buenos Aires. We will call the Casa Rosa home for the next few days and live in this lovely apartment on the top floor of a building with two very well behaved cats. We are sharing two bedrooms, a bathroom, and living room, kitchen, and charming plant-filled terrace with Los Gatos.

Thursday, December 31 – We had a leisurely morning, getting used to being in the Casa Rosa and eating our first breakfast chez Rachel. On the table were various Yogurts, Pastries, Cereals, and Honeydew Melon along with Milk and Tea. After breakfast I went out to the ATM and a supermarket to pick up some provisions. It was funny to be at the Deli counter, trying to order slices of ham and cheese in Spanish. I knew what the words for “ham” and “cheese” were, but had no idea how to say slice or which kind of cheese would be closest to Swiss… my first adventure!

Then we all ventured out on a walk to Recoleta, where we wandered through the cemetery taking photographs and stopped for the obligatory view of the Duarte tomb where Evita was finally laid to rest. At lunchtime, we went in search of the street called Posadas and the El Sanjuanino restaurant where people seem to love the empanadas. There was a small line outside, so we joined it and were quickly seated at a table in the main room (there is an additional seating area in the basement). Our waiter turned out to a quite entertaining (yes, a singing waiter!) and our lunch was delicious. We sampled three beef and three chicken empanadas and shared a beef tamale and a mixed salad. With four sodas, mineral water and two beers, the tab was AR$110 (at approximately four Argentinian Pesos to one US Dollar). Then we wandered over to the outskirts of Palermo, where we discovered that the Botanical Garden was closed for the New Years holiday. We decided to walk back to our casa. Note: The city was quite dirty because there is no garbage pick-up over the holiday and the businesses in B.A. toss paper confetti out of their windows on December 30, their last business day of the year. In addition, the sidewalks were treacherous – filled with broken pavement, which can easily trip you up. En route to lunch, I banged my knee while trying to walk and read a map at the same time (not recommended!)

One reason I stopped at the supermarcado and stocked up on ham, cheese, bread, and Diet Coke was in case we couldn’t find a place to eat for New Years Eve. I didn’t want to pay for an exorbitant meal to celebrate the New Years and hoped that, as in NY, there would be some cheap places open for a meal earlier in the evening. Forget it! Everything really was closed as Rachel predicted, so we had our sandwiches for dinner and then enjoyed a fabulous fireworks display from our terrace – major displays from several directions and local fireworks going on for several hours. It seems that in B.A. private fireworks are quite common and many people seemed to have laid in a supply for the holiday.

Friday, Jan. 1, 2010 – Most businesses were closed in BA. today. We decided to walk down to Rivadavia and toward town. Along the way we saw Congresso, Obelisco, Catedral, and Casa Rosada. Then we walked over to Defensa and explored San Telmo down as far as Plaza Dorrego, where we sat down at an outdoor café called La Pergola del San Telmo complete with tango dancers, horrible service and worse food. Then we walked home. Later we went to the Palacio de Papa Frita for Brochette of Chicken and Steak served with a huge mound of their special fries – puffed with air and quite tasty. DS had the cutlet Milanesa and plus salad and drinks the meal came to AR$155. PPF is a chain and in the course of our meanderings, we saw the three other branches of this restaurant. I chose to eat here because it was close to our evening entertainment and some travelers have raved about it, but I wouldn’t second their opinion. It’s an okay restaurant that is reasonable with good service. For great food, I would advise going elsewhere.

After dinner we went to Tango Porteno. I had reserved on their website and spent AR$240 for the three of us to sit upstairs without drink or dinner. (US$20 pp) I enjoyed the show which featured a talented troupe of dancers, two singers and twelve musicians (including four playing bandoneón or the Argentinian version of the accordian) and various film snippets of Argentina in the 30’s and 40’s in a lovely art deco theater located right next to the Teatro Colon. I would recommend Tango Porteno.

Saturday, Jan. 2 - Buenos Aires

We originally planned to eat our first dinner in B.A. at La Cabrera, but because of the twelve hour plane delay, we missed that meal, and we ended up going for lunch on Saturday. It was fabulous! Our son, ever the curious one, decided a taste test was in order when he discovered Kobe beef on the Specials Board. He ordered the Kobe and we ordered the Argentinian Lomo with pepper on the side so we could compare them (not an opportunity to be missed in his opinion). We all agreed that the Lomo was fantastic and the Kobe Steak tasted even better (for double the price, but still very cheap.) Both steaks came with more little sides than I could count (little artichoke hearts, endive, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, apple sauce, olives in several guises, creamed potato, mashed yellow squash, and more – all delicious). With several kinds of bread and bread sticks and olive tapenade and artichoke dip (I think it was artichoke), we had plenty to eat. Also whoever recommended the Degustacion de Postres should be thanked. It wasn’t on the menu, but proved to be an excellent idea and a perfect way to end our meal. I asked our terrific waiter, Marcelo, the price, and in so doing learned that there was a choice of half a selection or a whole platter. We chose half, which was plenty for the three of us and included Chocolate and Strawberry Ice Cream, Flan, Tiramisu, and Dulce de Leche. With a bottle of mineral water and three sodas the total bill came to AR$286.82 (pretty terrific for what we ate including 500 grams of Kobe beef and 400 grams of Lomo!) The rave reviews for La Cabrera are, in my opinion, well deserved and we all thoroughly enjoyed our lunch there. When we exited, there were crowds on the sidewalk, waiting to get in to both the main restaurant and the annex down the street.

We wandered around Palermo Soho and Palermo Viejo, stopping in shops and at stalls. My two guys worked on wooden puzzles they found at a game stall and we stopped in several men’s shops (where the prices were very high) before we headed for the shady Botanical gardens. En route we stopped off at the Botanical Café (across the street from the Gardens) for a cold drink and a perfect restroom stop. Then we took a cab back to the apartment for a rest.

Still full from lunch we decided to have a smaller dinner and our son chose to try the pizza place recommended by our cab driver from the previous night (who mentioned as we passed it that Pizzeria Guerrin on Corrientes near the Obelisco, had the best pizza in the world). We are New Yorkers who ate pizza in Rome in November, so we doubted it was that good, but with a recommendation like that it was worth a try. Sure enough, at 9 o’clock on Saturday night the restaurant was crowded. We ordered the Pizza a la Casa Grande, which came with Mozzerella, Ham, Tomatoes, Olives and Red Peppers. While it couldn’t measure up to great pizza, it was quite tasty and we all enjoyed it. With a beer, two sodas and a mineral water, the bill came to AR$78.

An easy stroll on this hot and muggy evening brought us back to our casa and after repacking and putting the cruise tags on the bags, we called it a night. The next day we would board the NCL Sun for a two-week cruise around the Horn…a trip which promised to be a real adventure. I wish we had been able to sample more of Buenos Aires and try other restaurants, but since the late arrival and the holiday contributed to the limitations of our visit, I’ll just have to make a return trip.

Sunday Jan 3 – Buenos Aires

This morning we got up, had breakfast, and took a taxi to the pier for 18 pesos. I wasn’t quite sure where the pier was located since our NCL ticket merely had the name of the pier and no address, but after some Googling I hoped I had enough information. As it turned out, the driver said he knew where it was, and after a short cab ride around the Plaza San Martin and past several hotels including the Marriott and the Sheraton, he pulled into the terminal area. The porters immediately took our bags and we went into the terminal, where we found people on line at 10:55. After about 20 minutes, the line began to move and we stopped at an NCL desk and then an immigration desk before taking the shuttle onto the ship. We were on the ship by 11:30. Because of limited space in the Terminal, NCL does the card distribution in the Four Seasons Dining Room on board, where they also collect your passport for the duration of the cruise.

While waiting for our cabin to be ready, we ate lunch in the buffet and relaxed in lounge area. At lunch we met an Argentinian couple and were joined at our table by a couple from England. The cabins were not going to be ready until 3 so went up to East Meets West where it was nice and cool (it was too hot to sit out at the pool today – about 88 degrees in B.A.)

While waiting, we read the notice that came with our Freestyle Daily. It said that on the last cruise two percent of the cruisers got sick. That was apparently a much smaller number than the number who were sick on the cruise prior to that. They squirted our hands three times between the cruise terminal and the buffet, and were doing an extra level of cabin cleaning which is why cabin availability was delayed until 3.

Buenos Aires departure was on time. The Buenos Aires skyline presented some surprises from the water -- modern skyscrapers we had not previously seen and a huge green eco-center next to the river. We met some of our Cruise Critics friends at the pool bar where Marianne was kind enough to give us all very nice name tags, which always come in very handy as you’re trying to memorize dozens of new names. We watched the ship sail down the Rio Plata from the upper decks and chatted with several friendly fellow cruisers we met including a family of Brazilians with three daughters in the age vicinity of our DS. I was on a mission to try to help him meet people his age since there were so few of them on the ship.

We chose to eat dinner in the Seven Seas Restaurant at 7 and walked right in. This evening the food was very good and the service was excellent. With few exceptions, this was the norm for the entire cruise. Although not gourmet, the cuisine was tasty and varied and the servers were extremely good at serving so many diners in a freestyle format.

Tonight we had to move the clocks forward one hour because although Uruguay is on daylight savings time (not sure how they say it in Spanish), Argentina is not. Since we had a tour guide booked for the next day, we needed to get up early and eat breakfast before we met him.

Monday, January 4, 2010 – Montevideo, Uruguay

We ate breakfast in the Seven Seas Restaurant. On the Sun, due to the tiny size of the buffet, we tend to eat in the MDR most of the time, and since our cabin was quite close to the Seven Seas, it was very convenient to get there for breakfast.

We met our tour companions at the gangway and then debarked and walked over to the parking lot where we met Jaime Gutierrez, with whom we had set up this tour on line. He explained that we would start in his small cab, since he isn’t allowed to bring his other car into the port parking lot. Then we drove out and transferred to a more comfortable car while his driver picked up the cab. He began the tour in the city center, stopping for photographs of several significant equestrian statues of the key figures in Uruguayan history. We also looked at what remains of the original city wall and the Congreso before heading out to Pocitos and Carrasco, two very different neighborhoods, or barrios, of the city. As we drove around town, it began to pour so we elected to remain in the cab while viewing the sights. Later when it was still raining hard, we stopped at the Punta Carretas Mall in the Biarritz neighborhood (very upscale and pricey but beautifully decorated for Christmas) for a cortado (espresso coffee with a little warm milk and since we were in Uruguay, lots of sugar!).

After touring Carrasco and Pocitos, we drove back into town and had lunch in the Mercado del Puerto at La Posada Don Tiburon. We ordered a Brochette, an Ojo de Buey and a Milanesa de Tenderloin along with a chorizo (which we all tasted) and a caprese (here served as hot tomato and cheese sort of like a pizza without the crust) for Jaime. We also had two bottles of water and a bottle of Don Julio Cabernet for a total bill of so many Chilean pesos I’ve forgotten how many but it was a fairly pricey meal (for this part of the world) which when translated into dollars, was about $55 a couple. After lunch the sun came out and we were happy to take a short stroll around the market area before returning to the ship. Jaime is a very good guide who really watches out for his clients and seems to know everyone in Montevideo. He loves his country and is very proud of all the sights on his tour. His English is very good and we spent the day giving each other lessons in each other’s language since he strives to know more. I would highly recommend him if you are in Montevideo.

After sailing, we went for a hot tub session. We shared the hot tub with a Brazilian woman and an Argentine man, neither of whom spoke English. I spoke Spanish to both of them and had a comprehensible conversation with the gentleman and understood about 50% of the conversation with the lady, which did not deter her from continuing to chat with me.

On the NCL Sun there was a show every night in the Stardust Theater followed by additional entertainment in various venues around the ship. On this night we went to see the show, described in the program as a high energy instrumental show with Radim Zenkle. Radim’s primary instrument is the mandolin, which he used for most of the show. Mixing it up, he added an Irish flute, and several exotic instruments (one was a cow’s horn and the other was a very long wind instrument (sorry I forgot the name). He also provided a running commentary on their provenance. We enjoyed the music and learned about some instruments we’d neither seen nor heard before.

We skipped Monte Carlo night in the Casino and were happy to retrieve the extra hour of sleep we lost on the previous evening. We remained on this time for the rest of our trip.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 – At Sea

We had a good night’s sleep and awoke to brilliant sunshine and a blue sky. For breakfast we headed to the Seven Seas, which quickly became our favorite eating venue. On this occasion we had a treat in the dining room. We met a Colombian family with adorable twin boys who were just one and eager to wave and make new friends. The parents brought along the Abuela and the Abuela Tia (Grandma’s sister) to make sure they could have a vacation, too.
After breakfast we headed up to the card room which was the location for our Cruise Critics party. We had a good crowd with most of those online showing up. Jeffrey took lots of photographs, so we’ll look forward to seeing those when they are posted. Norm and Marianne hosted and made sure that all of the tour groups got sorted out… very helpful since we got to meet everyone with whom we will tour later on in the cruise. Also in attendance were several ship’s officers including the very friendly C.D., Jill Tasker. She has been handling the hostessing in multiple languages and seems quite proficient. Also there were Errol Bailey, the F and B Director, the Head and Assistant Heads of Housekeeping, and Jahaira Fernandez, group services manager who said she would try to get my Punta Arenas tour group tender tickets so we can be together and meet our tour on the dock at 9 a.m.

Christopher Nicholas, Head Housekeeper, asked me about cabin service and assured me that it was his goal to make everything as perfect as possible. I asked him about the procedure to obtain the water pitcher and ice we usually have in the cabin. As I understand it, in order to prevent illness, they are providing these on request, but he said we could have ours delivered at whatever time we preferred. I asked for ice as well as a water pitcher and will see if they arrive at 6, as requested. Our cabin has been serviced twice daily, so there have been no issues as far as that is concerned and we now have enough pillows and glasses (okay that was a little hassle to get sorted out), so we are finally well provided for in that area. It has been my experience on NCL that although everything may not be perfect, the supervisory staff is usually very helpful and the staff will try hard to please you. After chatting with Mr. Norman, I felt very confident that we would be well taken care of and he would strive to make sure we had a good cruise.

We chatted with new CC friends for a while and then went down to have lunch before the art lecture at 1:30. Our lunch companions at the shared table were delightful – two Australians who have been traveling around South America for some months now, and a couple from Trinidad, who also do quite a bit of traveling. After lunch, which lasted a little longer than planned, we went up to the Art Lecture where the Park West guy (David) was providing some background on the art works he will auction off this week. We just missed one of the raffle prizes by a digit, but got a chance to reunite with our Brazilian friends from the first day.

This was the second cruise on which I posted Trip Report installments on Cruise Critics while we sailed. Although this necessitated lots of time and ended up creating a much more detailed Trip Report, I enjoyed posting the reports and reading the responses of my audience. This afternoon I made my first visit to the Internet Café on ship and kudos to Simon, who handles passenger internet service on the ship, and who proved to be both helpful and competent on this occasion and every other time we spoke throughout the cruise.

The CC group made plans to meet at 7:30 at the Seven Seas so we could eat together. Eighteen of us showed up and were seated at adjoining tables – a perfect arrangement. We shared a lovely dinner with new friends from Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Sydney, Australia.
The production show, “Que Noche,” with the Jean Ann Ryan dancers and singers was excellent. We enjoyed the music and the energy of the performers, all of whom were quite good. After a stroll around the ship, we were ready for bed and our port day tomorrow in Puerto Madryn.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 – Puerto Mardryn, Argentina

We had conflicting weather reports for today. The Freestyle Daily said we would have rain, but the group bulletin board indicated sunny and 71 degrees. When we awoke, the sun was shining and it remained quite sunny out. We had no plans for this port and since it was sunny, we decided to walk into town and see what was to be found here. We had chosen to skip the long bus ride to Punta Tombo to see penguins… a must for penguin lovers, but we’ll see penguins in the Falklands and at Otway Sound later in the trip.

The ship was docked at the end of a long pier, so we took the shuttle bus from the ship and then walked to the Tourist Office (as others have indicated about three blocks to the left along the street parallel to the water called Roca). I asked about the shuttle from the T.O. to the EcoCentre at the Tourist kiosk on the pier near the ship, but the woman there (no doubt paid by taxi companies and tour companies) assured me that we needed a taxi since there was no shuttle. When we got to the T.O., there was an EcoCentre shuttle outside, but we decided to just walk around town instead. I was surprised by the modernity of the town and the wide streets in every direction with nice looking shops. We walked around and along the seafront and then headed back to the ship for a lazy afternoon. On the way back we decided to continue our walk along the pier instead of taking the bus, and were glad we did. Shortly before we arrived back, we were motioned over to the edge by some nice people from Chile who had spotted a colony of sea lions sleeping on the steps leading up to the pier from the water in a quiet sunny spot. We took some photographs and then returned to the Sun, feeling we had seen some local sea life without a tour.

After lunch, I went up to the pool to enjoy the warm air and sunshine. At 4 p.m. there was a folkloric presentation in the theater with folk dancers and a pair performing the tango, which we both enjoyed. Then we went up to the hot tub to finish off the afternoon. First we chatted with a pair of South Africans and then, after they left, we were joined in the hot tub by a pair of Chileans and another couple from Tokyo. I found it quite fascinating that we all ended up discussing penguins in Spanish! Such encounters are one of the reasons I love to cruise.

After dinner, we attended the show, which featured a Cuban pianist and showman named Juan Pablo Subiriana who performed a program of Latin American and American music including Malaguena, a wonderful Gershwin melody, Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” and a medley with “Brazil” as its centerpiece.

Thursday, January 7 – At Sea

After breakfast I went to the internet area to do some work. While sitting there, I met a friendly family of five women from Cordoba, Argentina (I wished I had a map so I could see where all of these hometowns are located!). Then it was a rush to eat lunch before the Latitudes party at 1. We met a Peruvian musician on a busman’s holiday (he starts work on an RCCL ship in two weeks) and his Canadian companion. She said they performed in Las Ramblas last night with the keyboardist but they don’t know when they will perform again since they aren’t on any schedule.

The Latitudes party was held in the Stardust Theater. Waiters circulated with the usual drinks (fruit punch, yellow birds, beer, champagne and some non-alcoholic beverages) and there were little canapes, too. The Captain spoke well and provided us with a little history lesson on Magellan’s voyage – something I would have liked more of on this voyage. Some folks were lucky enough to win door prizes and then we were off to the next activity – the art auction, which interested my DH for reasons unrelated to buying art (anyone who knows him would be shocked to know that he turned up at an art auction in any venue let along a cruise ship, but it was all in the interests of one of his clients so I went along, too.)

They had a presentation in the theater at 3 that was listed in the Freestyle Daily as “South America.” Not sure what it would be, we turned up with a large audience to find a slide lecture on the geographic and geologic features of the continent. Then I went out on deck where the temperature had turned cooler, but was still pleasant (just a sweater or light sweatshirt is necessary). It has been a little cloudy today, but there has been plenty of sunshine and considering where we are, headed South in the Atlantic, it’s still mild.

Friday, January 08 - Stanley, The Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas)

This morning we woke to cloudy skies. The forecast was supposed to be 59F and partly cloudy, but this morning it was entirely cloudy. The good news was that it wasn’t raining and the seas were calm, so tendering got underway around 9 a.m. We were told to pick up tender tickets 20 minutes before we wanted to go ashore. We sent DS up to get them when we finished breakfast and discovered we had tickets for the 13th tender. It wasn’t 20 minutes; it was an hour and a half before we got on the tender and headed for town.

The tender ride was completely smooth, but the ship was docked a good distance from shore, so it took a while to get to Stanley Town. When we arrived, we looked around the parking lot, but didn’t see any taxis, so we decided to walk around town a bit first. DS decided he needed to price souvenirs, so we stopped at several shops, walked up the hill, took a look at the Cathedral, some pubs, and then back to the dock, where we spoke with a taxi driver and the shuttle company, which is actually a tour company called Penguin Travel. As reported, they charge US $20 to the Gypsy Cove and back. We rode over with a Chilean driver named Marcel, who indicated that he makes more money in the Falklands than he did in Chile and that he likes living and working there. He showed us the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, the area where the oil drilling works were being built, the floating dock for the fishermen, and the boat salvage area. I was surprised at how white the sand was when we reached the beach area. He said they tried shipping some of the sand to one of the South American countries, but it was too expensive.

We were dropped off at the Gypsy Cove parking area and from there we set off up the path. Almost immediately we came upon a female (we think) penguin and her chick, which was partially covered by its burrow. The path got steeper and more rugged (big gravel pieces and stones), but the view was wonderful and well worth the trek. There were several observation decks with information on the local flora and fauna and terrific views of the gorse, tussock and cinnamon grass, and beautiful dwarf shrub heath with little diddle-dee berries and some small birds. Along the beach, a colony of penguins were lined up across the sand. Around to the other side of the hill, we came upon more penguins and another beautiful vista.

Returning to the parking area, we encountered some crew members from the Sun, enjoying their day off. We went in to an old bus fitted up as a café by an enterprising Filipina to buy a soda for DS and ran into our crew friends again. After a wait of almost half an hour, our van returned and brought us back to town. The driver on this leg was a local, who loaned me his Falklands newspaper when I asked about other ships coming to town. Like the Shipping News (set in Newfoundland) there was an article listing which ships would be in port for the week. We also spoke about a new oil rig which was being towed down to Stanley and was expected to arrive in a few weeks. There were plans for more workers and some offices also, which should impact the local economy. DS got some great penguin socks for his friends and best of all, a penguin hat complete with earflaps. I spent my Falklands coins (given as change in the café) on some postcards and we headed back to the dock, the tender, and then the ship.

Once back on the ship, we went up to the buffet and grabbed a late lunch. The gray day gave way to a sunny afternoon and the views from the ship were gorgeous. I took some photographs before settling down in the sunshine on deck for a little reading. Later it was the usual routine – shower, dinner, show.

The show was the Gaucho La Plata (lots of flying ropes and balls)… I’ve seen this before and it’s pretty limited as an entertainment form. To make up for that, after the show, we went up to Las Ramblas with some new friends and listened to the Nova Scotia singer, Kim Doolittle. Tonight she sang Canadian songs and was very good.

The next day was to be another sea day, but not just any sea day since we were scheduled to round Cape Horn late in the day. I loved this itinerary of ports and sea days scattered across the week… very relaxing. I also loved the fact that the days are getting longer as we traveled farther South.

Saturday, January 9 – Sailing Around Cape Horn

It was a cloudy and overcast day when we awoke with lots of fog. We got up a little earlier than usual in order to finish breakfast before heading up the theater for the second lecture… this time on Magellan’s voyage.
The lecture was disappointing. Once again, it started on a positive note, with some information on Magellan sources and some data on his early life. Then after a couple of slides demonstrating the state of cartography and the incomplete knowledge of the world before his voyage, the lecturer jumped to the Strait of Magellan with no transition, then moved to our voyage (presented in a way that was confusing), then went back to Magellan and his “formation” years (instead of formative years), The list of English errors was long and it was hard for English speakers to understand everything he said. I was sitting with an Italian couple and they had an especially hard time following the lecture, which didn’t surprise me at all.

We went to lunch with two very nice couples and sat at the “sharing” table. Later I met with Radim Zenkle in the hallway and told him how much I enjoyed his concert a few nights ago. Another aspect of cruise life is that the entertainment staff cruises with you. You run into them all over the ship and sometimes when on shore, too. He encouraged me to come to his 3 o’clock show that afternoon, which I did. Today he continued his theme of music around the world, using his mandolin, a Czech Whistle and a travel version of a Didgerido. I enjoyed the tunes he played and the information given to us about the instruments and the music. Later I asked him how to spell “Didgerido” (so if it’s incorrect, it’s his fault), and when he looked at me with a questioning expression, I explained that I was writing a review. He asked if it was for The New York Times… good sense of humor!

Then it was time to go up on deck for the “baptism” of passengers going around the Horn for the first time, by the Captain. In the interests of truth, I must admit that I skipped getting a huge ladle of water dumped over my head in the chilly wind up on deck, but I did go up and take some photographs. It was noticeably colder outside today. Some people were wearing winter jackets, but I had three layers on (a cotton shirt, a fleece sweater, and a sweatshirt) and was okay without a heavy jacket. DH came up and we wandered into the Sports Bar where we enjoyed the scenery while munching on popcorn and chatting with a lovely couple from New Hampshire.

I went down to the cabin to get ready for dinner in advance of our arrival at Cape Horn, scheduled for 6:30. As we neared the Cape, land came into view on the Starboard side and lots of rocks jutted out of the water. At first we watched from the cabin, but with the Cape getting closer, I went up two decks to the Promenade Deck. There I took photographs of the haunting and beautiful vista as we slowly moved along, The sea was incredibly calm, and we had a flawless and close-up view of the Cape. As we passed by, blue sky was visible, peeking out from the clouds and mist. A dolphin performed for us off the side of the ship, and I tried to take its picture (I ended up with one dolphin shot and lots of water in the others!) The waters around Cape Horn are usually rough. We were incredibly fortunate to have such smooth seas. When we sailed around the Cape, I thought it was magical. Even DS was interested and chose to spend some time looking out the window instead of at his Nintendo. After viewing the photographs I took, I felt even more delighted that we had this opportunity and were able to get such a clear view of such an incredible spot.



On this evening the dancers, Andre and Francine performed their “Steps in Time,” show which included dances and film clips from the dancing couples of old-time movies to illustrate their theme. I liked it, but heard others say they didn’t. It’s impossible to please every cruiser, every night. It stayed light until almost 10:30 because we were so far South.

Sunday, January 10 – Ushuaia

We awoke to a cloudy morning with occasional patches of blue. We got up an hour earlier than usual so we could see something of this port before our 1:30 p.m. “all on board.”

We decided to walk around town, had a cup of tea at Tante Sara, picked up a free gift at a jewelry store (a nice flourite bird), and enjoyed the views in what turned out to be sunny weather. When we first exited the ship, there was a taxi driver who asked us if we’d like to go to the Tierra del Fuego Park, but he asked for $30 per person. We told him that was too much and he didn’t counter with a lower price. Neither DH nor DS was interested in going, so we decided to pass on the taxi and finish up our Argentine pesos on whatever caught our fancy. Earlier in the morning, there were more taxis and more competition and the prices were better, but we took our time getting out there. The town was lovely with great views in every direction, so we enjoyed our visit.

We left Ushuaia early in order to enjoy the Beagle Channel in gorgeous sunshine. Looking a lot like the Canadian Rockies, the views on both sides of the ship were stunning. We had green islands, rocky outcrops, and snow-capped mountains in all directions. I enjoyed the three -hour cruise sitting up on the aft deck outside the buffet chatting with fellow cruisers. I had on a wool sweater and a cotton hoodie. As it got cooler, I added a windbreaker and a scarf. By the time we got to the glaciers, I was ready to add fleece gloves and was glad I brought them. For the Glacier viewing, I went up one more deck (deck 12) and watched from the starboard side aft where there was no glass to get in the way of my photographs. As promised, this was spectacular viewing. Five glaciers, all different came rapidly into view as we sailed past the Holanda, Italia, Francia, the Alemania and the Romanchi between 5 and 6 p.m. While watching I met a lovely young woman from Germany and we both enjoyed the fabulous views.

The show tonight was the second production show, called Cirque Pan. It was filled with dancing and aerial acrobatics and was performed very well. Since we had an early morning tender to catch, we went to bed right after the show.

Monday, January 11 – Punta Arenas

I had received a set of nine tender tickets for the first tender from Group Services Manager, Yahaira Fernandez. In consultation with the helpful staff at the Reception Desk, we decided to meet our group of nine there at 8 a.m. As a result, we went to breakfast when the Seven Seas opened at 7 a.m. Then we took the tender over to Punta Arenas. It was pouring and I made the mistake of sitting near the tender door. Fortunately my windbreaker is waterproof and I had so many layers on (wool sweater, lightweight fleece sweater, cotton hoody, and nylon windbreaker) that I didn’t get wet.

When we arrived at the port building, we met Scarlett Cordova with a sign for our group and we got into her van and drove to Seno Otway to see the penguinas. Part of the trip, which takes about an hour, was on paved road and the last part was on a dirt and gravel road that was fairly slick in spots due to rain puddles. When we arrived at the farm, we each paid US$10 admission and walked along the wooden boardwalk. We soon arrived at the first of many penguin viewing opportunities and the pairs put on quite a show. The walkway was separated from the penguins by a low wooden fence, but many of the burrows were quite close to the walkway and we were able to spend lots of time watching them and taking photographs. A number of penguins made all sorts of noises and parried with each other, rubbing beaks or doing some sort of penguin behavior with which we were not familiar. Scarlett walked with us as far as the first viewing platform, where we had a choice of heading back to the warmth of the van or completing the circuit. We chose to continue on the path.

It was cold and wet out at Otway and I used every layer of clothing I brought including my scarf and gloves. I brought my earmuffs, but used my double hood and didn’t need them. When we returned to the van, Scarlett had set out cookies, chocolates and coffee from a big thermos… very nice! Then we started to drive back, but stopped along the road when she spotted a Ria, which is a type of local bird. A short while later we came upon some guanacos and a llama, and stopped to take their photographs, too.

Then it was on to the Cemetario. This is a very interesting spot in Punta Arenas. There are large and beautiful mausoleums of wealthy families, marble sarcophagi, and small boxes for poor citizens. Throughout the cemetery there were all sorts of flowers, some real and some made of silk. I especially liked the tomb built for the family of Sarah Brown’s husband in the shape of a Russian church complete with a gold onion dome.

We drove through the downtown area of Punta Arenas, where several of us stopped at a bank ATM to get some Chilean Pesos, and then went on to the Magellan National Forest. This is a wooded area used for picnicking and hiking, located about five kilometres from downtown, Scarlett showed us many of the local trees including the lengua tree and a tree with yellow fungus that we ate. It was almost tasteless and had a strange texture similar to that of a mushroom. We walked out to the viewpoint, where we had a panoramic view of the sea, our ship, and Punta Arenas. From here we returned to the Main Square where some people in our group chose to remain to shop and eat, and others opted to return to the ship for a late lunch.


Since we got up very early for the tender this morning, we ended up taking a nap after lunch and then, before we knew it, it was time for dinner, followed by a reprise of the first-night comedian and magician, Jean Pierre Parent. Although I don’t like his insipid sex (and often sexist) jokes (you can tell he’s a Canadian guy by the sophomoric rather immature style of humor), his magic tricks and many of his other jokes were much better tonight than on the first night.

Later we sampled the Dance Music of the Stingrays in Dazzles and the International Festival in the Centrum before heading off to bed.


Tuesday, January, 12 – Strait of Magellan and the Chilean Fjords

It was very cloudy and raining when we got up this morning (close to 9 am, but in time to get to the Seven Seas Restaurant before their 9:30 closing time.) This was a very lazy day. The scenery was gorgeous, but the weather has ranged from gray to very gray, the air outside was cold and the wind was blowing so it wasn’t a day you’d want to spend outside taking photographs. I went out a few times to take something especially nice, but for the most part I stayed inside, watching the passing scene. One problem with the Sun is the lack of nice places to sit inside the ship. There are three decks of Centrum (all crowded on this day due to the weather) and the buffet and restaurants on Deck 11. The best place is the Observation Lounge, but that’s so far removed from where we usually were, that we rarely got up there.

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly with a long visit with friends in the Observation Lounge, where I first went to examine the big map of our journey so I could see where we were today. The scenery was beautiful all day, but the clouds and late fog made viewing less than stellar and the cold and wind kept most people indoors. I saw a few hardy souls taking some turns on the deck, but I only went out for brief moments to take photographs and transit the pool deck.

Tonight was a “dress up or not” night since the Sun is Freestyle, and many of those in the dining room chose to dress. The show featured “Hilby, The Skinny German Juggle Boy.” I have never been to show with a worse title, but Hilby turned out to be one of the funniest guys I have ever seen on a ship. He juggled a little and joked a lot and the result was a very entertaining show. I wish the Chocaholic buffet had been as good as Hilby… it was a limited display (done four times so the line could be broken up) but nowhere near as fancy as chocaholic buffets used to be. I ended up eating a couple of chocolate covered strawberries and a cookie. I assure you that I would have eaten a lot more if anything else had appealed to me. Oh well, on the positive side, I didn’t gain as many pounds today as I could have so that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, January 13 – Cruising the Chilean Fjords (Again)

It was another very foggy day, but the glimpses we saw of islands and mountains indicated that we were in a very scenic area. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see much of anything, and the fog and quite a bit of rain stayed with us all day, so although it was a very restful day, the scenery was wasted. We had the most motion we’ve experienced on the cruise today. This was because we were out on the Pacific, in transit from one set of fjords to another, Several people reported that there was a lot of motion about 2 a.m. which woke them up and caused some people to feel sick. We slept through it, snug in our little cabin on Deck 4.

After breakfast we went back to the cabin to regroup and the temptation to take a nap was too much to resist. We ended up sleeping until it was almost lunch time.

We met two lovely women at lunch and one of them joined us for the 2 p.m. lecture on magic by the resident magician, J.P. Parent. He did a great job of demonstrating several card tricks in the public domain and answering the questions, both personal and professional, posed by the audience. This was in Dazzles and I suggested to him afterwards that it would be better if we could see his hands. Either a raised platform, a different venue, or a camera would have helped. He said there is only one camera on the ship and sometimes it isn’t available.

After the lecture, I went online to post another installment of this review and to check email. Then I chatted with a woman who was selling oil paintings she had made of the various ports we had visited. I took her card and enjoyed looking at her work. She suggested I look at her website, but at $.40 a minute, I decided to wait until I got home to take a look at her other paintings.

On the way back to the cabin, I walked through Dazzles and discovered that the 5 p.m. movie was actually a two-part documentary on ocean liners called “The Only Way to Cross.” It was filmed on the NCL Norway, and I enjoyed looking at the many venues we enjoyed on an 11 day cruise on that ship ten years ago. I also found the story of the White Star, Cunard, and German liners of the early 20th Century as fascinating as I did the first time I watched this documentary.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 – Puerto Chacabuco

We had an early morning again since we were only in port from 7 until 2 today. After breakfast in the dining room, we met our two traveling partners for the day (from CC) and took the tender over to the pier to try to find the guy who said he would meet us – Patricio. Unfortunately, several other people on our Roll Call contacted him and he put them all in taxis and drove away before we got there. We asked everyone in the area when we arrived at 8:15 about Patricio, but three people told me he had gone up to Coiyohue and was no longer around. As a result, the four of us decided to go with Anne Hedderman, an American woman who came to Aysen as an English tutor and has been living there for three years. She had a van and driver (both good) and offered to take us to the surrounding countryside for $35 a person. We enjoyed her tour, which included lots of information about the towns surrounding Puerto Chacabuco, a nice tour of the Simpson River Valley, a turn around Aysen, stops at two waterfalls, and a Nature Reserve stop where we walked down to the river and took advantage of the clean facilities. We were lucky to have excellent visibility and even a few moments of sunshine. Best of all, we had no rain and it was noticeably warmer than our last port day. Two cotton layers were enough today and we definitely needed good walking shoes for the muddy paths we trod to the river and to the waterfalls. Later we checked with the folks who had gone in Patricio’s cab convoy. They were cramped in the cabs and the drivers didn’t speak English or provide much information.

Back on board by 12:45, we went to lunch and, as usual, ate too much. Then I went up on deck and watched the passing scenery until it grew too cold. We retreated to the indoor viewing area at the Centrum, enjoyed the view of thickly forested islands, snow-capped mountains, and Chilean fjords. Now it’s “get ready for dinner time” to be followed by dinner and the show.

At the show, Juan Pablo Subirana did his usual act with different music. The piano playing is excellent… as usual my recommendation is that he stop doing the “over the top dancing and silly stuff (like jokes about his girlfriend, Conchita, a plastic (or perhaps rubber) puppet that he told the audience is having an affair with the Captain – who likes this stuff?)

Friday, January 15 – Puerto Montt

After breakfast, we headed out for our last port day. The weather forecast for today was 71F and Sunny, and what a day we had! We started off with some cloud cover, but by the time we got to Lake Llanquihue, the sun was shining and the gorgeous vista across the lake to the Osorno Volcano was visible. Our CC group of nine had been met at the pier by Jaime Liebrecht and his driver, Ercilia with a new and comfortable van. En route to Osorno, we made a stop at a little farm, where we walked among some emus and llamas and took lots of pictures as they posed for us. We drove first to the Volcano, bypassing the large tour buses headed for the Petrohue Falls. Once we reached the ski lift, the seven people in our group who were going to Zip Line down the Volcano Face headed up on the lift, while the two of us who chose to stay below, relaxed on the terrace and enjoyed the fabulous views in every direction. In addition to Osorno, there are two other volcanoes visible in the area and the lake, and the snow-capped volcanoes and the lush landscape of the valley below make for a truly gorgeous sight.

We went up to the last platform to film the zip liners as they cruised in. They all had a great time, including Jaime. Next we drove to the Petrohue Falls, which is another fabulous site. You walk out to where the waters from the Volcano surge over some rocks and then continue on with rapids in several directions. On a sunny day like ours, the blue water against the forested sides of the bottom of the volcano is beautiful and we took many photographs.

Then it was on to Puerto Varas for lunch. Since we were all very hungry by this time, this was much anticipated and we were all pleased with Jaime’s pick, a little restaurant called El Patio de Mi Casa. We ordered off the menu with Jaime providing translations and ate Salmon a la Plancha (served with a sauce and little dumplings), Tortellini Stuffed with Chicken for DS (very good pasta drenched in a delicious cheese sauce), and a Crab Au Gratin dish (Pastel de Jaiba), which was very delicious. For the three of us, with one Crab dish, one Salmon dish, the Tortellini, a beer, Mineral Water, two glasses of White Wine (also terrific), and a Pisco Sour (for DS, of course!) the total was US $43.

We took a few minutes to shop in Puerto Varas before heading back to the ship, where the line for tenders was extremely long and slow. Hot and tired, we were happy to get back on board, but too exhausted and too late to fix up for dinner. We just “went as we were” and still full from lunch, had a smaller than usual dinner.

This was the night for the last Production Show, and their program, called “Encore,” was excellent. A selection of Broadway Show songs along with dancing and a final thank you to the crew rounded off the evening. I really liked the Jean Ann Ryan performers on this ship – they are all good on stage and the ones I met off the stage seemed very friendly and nice.

There was a White Hot Party after the show, but we were happy to have an early night and headed for our cabin. Tomorrow we need to pack. I always have mixed feelings at the end of a cruise – I love to cruise, but after two weeks on board, I’m happy to stop overeating and move on to the next phase of our vacation.

Saturday, January 16 – At Sea

The sun was shining when we got up this morning. Feeling energetic, I started packing before breakfast and then headed to the Seven Seas, where we had a sharing table with two other friendly couples, one from Salt Lake City and the other from New Jersey.

Although it was a nice day, the wind made it just a little too cool to sit out on deck. I walked around for a while and enjoyed the sea breeze, but then headed for the comfort of indoors. After a long internet session, I went back downstairs and collected DH for our last lunch in the Seven Seas. In the process of packing, I’ve lost my notes on what I ate, but I couldn’t forget this lunch. We asked for sharing and along with us came a Brazilian couple with no English who spoke only Portuguese and a little Spanish. Forced to converse in Spanish, I labored to understand his version of Spanish (no doubt with some Portuguese mixed in) as he worked to understand my Spanish. It was one of those strange shipboard conversations – a little about the ship, the ports, the weather, the food, and our hometowns. Somehow we kept on chatting and at the end, as sometimes happens, we had made a connection. He asked to take our photographs and we exchanged cards so perhaps someday we’ll continue the conversation.

After lunch DS and DH went to a juggling class with Hilby while I went to the final bingo session. The experience confirmed my wisdom in skipping all the other sessions. I wish NCL had not ruined bingo by offering the bingo machines. Anyway, very few people were there for the final Bingo so I guess I’m not alone in my thinking. The prize was only slightly more than $1000 (I have been on ships where the final prize was over $8,000, so very paltry pickings.) The guys enjoyed their juggling class and had a good time, so the afternoon was not a total loss.

We finished packing and set off for the final CC party in the Observation Lounge. Much of the group turned up and had a drink while taking photographs and exchanging email addresses. I took all the addresses and will make up a directory to send out to everyone who was present. Then it was time for dinner and the three of us went to the Seven Seas where we enjoyed our dinner.

The last show was a combination of the Gaucho de la Plata and Hilby. The Gaucho did his boleadoras act (two ropes with a hard plastic ball on the end) and drumming and then Hilby did another very funny routine. At one point he juggled two swords over the head of a “senior citizen,” who happened to be DH (Hilby should probably try to avoid attorneys when he does this portion of his act, but how was he to know?) Later DS bought Hilby’s CD (all the performers relentlessly sell CD’s) and got it autographed. He’s a really nice guy with a very funny act.

Then it was time for the last packing before we put the bags in the hall. DS went out to party until around 4 in the morning. One of his friends ended up breaking her ankle on the dance floor and went home in a wheelchair the next morning, but he emerged sleepy, but unscathed from a last night of fun with his shipboard friends from various countries including Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, and the U.S.

We planned to get up around 8 n the last morning and breakfast about 8:45 before our scheduled departure about 9:45 (according to the Disembarkation Sheet).

Sunday, January 17, 2010 – Valparaiso, Chile

The ship was in port early (definitely by 6 when I woke up and checked), but we didn’t get up until our scheduled time. As always, even on this last morning it was quiet in the cabin and in the corridor. We got our hand baggage and headed for the Seven Seas by 8:55, one of the last parties to enter the dining room. It was pretty empty so most people left early or ate upstairs. We had a big breakfast with all our favorites and then headed up to Deck 6 to wait for our luggage tag color to be called. Ours was white, and although they were running about 20 minutes behind on the color code schedule, they caught up and we were called within five minutes of the time indicated. We chatted with some of our new friends while waiting and were quickly off the ship and on to shuttle buses. In the terminal, we were lined up and asked to put all hand baggage out on a carpet for inspection. We also had to produce our Chilean Agricultural forms. A dog went down the carpet and sniffed all the bags, taking no interest in ours, but becoming fascinated by one of the bags put down by the guy behind me (who had not managed to bring his form with him and needed to fill out a new one). When last seen, he was being led somewhere for a bag search. We then walked towards exit doors wondering where the luggage was. It turned out that NCL trucks it from the ship to the area outside the terminal. I don’t know what they do on a rainy day.

We quickly found our bags and started looking for taxicab. I asked one of the people working there and he pointed to a parking area. We started walking there and at the entrance a guy asked if we needed a cab. He quoted a price for Vina which was too much, but I told him we needed a metered cab and that is what we got. The cab driver himself, was very nice and drove us without a problem to Vina. He called the B and B to figure out where it was located and missed the street (necessitating a ride around the block), but was otherwise fine.

Our B and B owner, Brian Genross, was outside to welcome us to his home, which he assured us would be our home for the next three days. The Hotel Genross is a lovely house, which is over 100 years old. It is charmingly decorated with a comfortable living area, a reception area, and a dining room set up for breakfast. We were shown to our bedrooms on the second floor, each equipped with a dresser, bed, night tables, chair, and private bathroom. The décor is simple and a bit old fashioned, but the beds are confortable with good sheets, extra pillows and duvets. The bathroom could use an update, but the plumbing worked fine and the shower was perfectly adequate. We asked for and received some extra towels and each day the rooms were made up and everything was kept very clean and neat.

Continental breakfast is available almost all morning (until 11) and consists of a lovely fruit plate (we had melon, banana, two strawberries, nectarines and peaches), tea or coffee, and a basket of waffles, rolls, and muffins with raspberry jam and marmalade along with butter set out on the table. Extras are available and both tea and coffee are served, according to preference.

We quickly found Brian, who is Canadian, and his lovely Chilean wife, Lya, to be kind and congenial hosts, eager to be helpful and ensure that our visit would be a good one. Throughout our stay Brian was very helpful in making restaurant suggestions and booking our remis back to the airport. We enjoyed chatting with both Brian and Lya about our trip, politics, and a wide range of topics… great hosts.

After some unpacking, we took a long walk over to the seafront and around to San Martin, which is the major avenue parallel to the sea. We saw the flower clock and the lovely park area and then walked above the sea. The seafront in Vina is wonderful. The surf crashes into the rocks and the beach area is sand. Because the water is cold, only a few hardy souls were in the ocean during our time in Vina, but others hung out on or near the water and picnicked on the sand. The weather during our stay was perfect – warm and sunny with a nice sea breeze to keep the air from getting too hot.

DH and I strolled along, enjoying the sunshine and the ocean, looking for a place to lunch. I had the restaurant called Enjoy in mind, and although it looked very nice when we found it, it was closed for the National Election Day. We then walked to a place Brian had recommended, an Italian restaurant several of his clients had frequented and recommended to him earlier in the week. On the way, as we checked various possible places (either closed or packed with people), an older woman (older that is than I which means quite old) asked me if I needed help (in Spanish). I explained what we were doing, and she recommended another Italian restaurant she likes. We stopped to check at the one Brian had mentioned only to find they had a long wait … something about the kitchen being backed up. We then walked with her to her favorite, only to find that it, too, was closed for the day. I thanked her profusely for her assistance, and we started to walk back, looking for a likely place. Eventually we got to a coffee café with cold coffee drinks. Having gotten beyond hunger, and booked for an 8:30 dinner, I decided a cold drink would suffice and DH decided to have a pastry, which we also purchased for DS along with some snacks picked up at a bodega, back at the B and B taking a nap.

Returning to the Hotel Genross, after our longer than expected walk, and exhausted from our trudge back up the hill, we all took a nap before dinner.(N.B. I knew Valparaiso was set on a hillside, but somehow didn’t realize that Vina del Mar is, too. The downtown area is flat, but the most of the residential area is uphill. In the case of our B and B, this necessitated a one-block climb up a fairly steep hill.)

Later we set out for the Cap Ducal, which Brian thought would be the ideal venue for a first night dinner in Vina – seafood on the oceanfront. When we arrived, the view was stunning and we were seated at a window table. A few minutes later two friends from the ship came over to inform us that they had been waiting for half an hour and had just been told that they wouldn’t take orders until 9 p.m. or serve until 10. We had been told they wouldn’t be open until 8:30 for dinner, so the fact that they had gone at 8 made us think there was some miscommunication somewhere. Soon after, they left without eating. We stuck it out. Candles were lit on the table as the sun set, and soon after they took our order. They brought out delicious warm rolls and we were served cokes. We knew there could be no alcohol sales until after 10 p.m. because of the election and quickly discovered that the fish options were limited (perhaps because it was Sunday, but more likely because of the Election). We ordered three appetizers and three entrees in order to try a variety of dishes. For the starters, we had Machas Parmesana, Parmesan Marisco and a Congrio and Calamari Brochette Fritti. For the entrees we shared A Reineta y Corvina Prima Pasto, Corvina Vasco, and Congrio Erisa.

Dinner was disappointing. Cap Ducal has a great location and apparently the owner doesn’t feel the need to serve anything more than average food. The seafood was fresh and tasted good, but there was nothing exceptional about it, and every fish dish on the table was drowned in sauce. The bill came to 43,700 Pesos (at almost 500 Pesos to the Dollar, this dinner cost over $90). We walked back to the hotel and were happy to go to bed early since we had another big day planned for Monday.

Monday, January 18 – Valparaiso

Michael Arnold, alias the German Pirate, had arranged to pick us up at our B and B at 9:30 this morning. He was on time and while driving us over to Valparaiso, he told us that he was expecting a group of German travelers from either the Sun or the Infinity plus two people from Luxembourg and a woman from Melbourne to be with us. That was way more people than I expected since when he and I had arranged the day he told me there was a possibility of another couple, not a crowd. Also, he did not reduce the cost even though there were so many more people (We paid $30 apiece because he picked us up in his car.) He had also invited a German couple who were staying at our B and B (and had been on the Sun) to join us and they, too, met us at the first Ascensor of the tour. As a result, the group consisted of a total of fourteen tourists plus Michael and three assistants, whose primary job was to help keep the group together and make sure he didn’t lose anyone. One of the assistants, Luis, brought his guitar and sang songs to us at various points during the day. All three of them were working on learning English. DS spoke French with Luis. Michael did the tour in both English and German, but since there were more Germans, he tended to say a lot more in German than in English.

We started at a viewing area in front of the Military Museum on top of a hill at the Paseo 21 de Mayo. This is a beautiful old building and was once the Naval Academy. We didn’t go in, but it looked interesting. Along the walkway there were vendors setting out all sorts of small and well priced souvenir items. I bought some pretty magnets showing Valparaiso scenes while waiting for the group to assemble. When everyone was there, Luis sang a song. I wished Michael had taken a few moments to have the group introduce themselves to one another and did my best to learn the names of our fellow tourists. I learned that one of the German couples was staying at a well known B and B (on the tour in fact) which is the extraordinary yellow house called The Brighton, which they didn’t like very much. The couple from Luxemburg were staying at the Hotel Harrington (which we also passed on our walk), and they liked this place very much, especially the modern bathroom. We made friends with a lovely woman from Australia and spent much of the day chatting with her.

We began the walk with a descent on the first of three or four (I admit I lost count) Ascensores, called Artilleria. Throughout the day we descended and ascended by both ascensore and foot from the hills with their fabulous views and charming and delightful restored homes and inns, to the squares below where people were busy working and going about their daily lives. Along the way we stopped at the German Club, the German Firehouse, the English Firehouse, the old stock exchange, a pub where we heard a song and used the facilities, another pub where we had a $6 lunch (there were a couple of choices - I had chicken with mashed potatoes and everyone had fruit salad for dessert), a magician’s home (he did some tricks which we couldn’t figure out even though we attended a lecture on magic tricks a few days ago on the ship and even though he was inches away from us). We were asked to tip him for his services, which we did.) Several of the climbs were quite steep and I would be wary of going on this walk if your legs aren’t in shape. Later Lya asked me about Neruda’s house. Although this was Monday and it was closed, I didn’t hear Michael talk about Neruda or show us the house. Perhaps that part was in German or he was standing too far away for me to hear… Maybe it’s one of the houses in my photographs… I have no idea. Although I found the tour interesting, it was disappointing for the reasons specified.

After the tour we all paid up and the five of us from the Hotel Genross took one of the electric trolleybuses back to Victoria Square, in search of a pub recommended to our hotel-mates by their friend, the Director of the German School in Vina. After some strolling around the square and viewing the entertainment on offer (a Punch and Judy show for children and a mime who was pretty funny), we found the pub and were surprised to see an offer for $3000 Pesos (about US$6) for Chorianna, four Pisco Sours and a Litre of wine. This didn’t seem possible, but we ordered the special and later learned someone had erased the “1” so it was actually $13,000 pesos, which was only about $23 and still a bargain. The Chorianna arrived on a large platter – strips of fried meat, onions, egg, and French Fries. In addition, we ordered Fried Fish (and more French Fries), our friends ordered Ceviche and the three guys also had some beer. Everything tasted good, but certainly not great. After getting acquainted and fairly soused on all that alcohol, we found the bus for Vina and embarked on one of the funniest (and scariest) experiences of our trip. The bus driver seemed to be competing in the Indy 500 (or more appropriately the Dakar Rally). Foot to the floor, he careened through Valparaiso, barely stopping to pick up passengers (who were quick to find a seat), and barely missing pedestrians and other vehicular traffic. Once on the highway between the two cities, he really took off and I didn’t know whether it was better to close my eyes or watch as we wove among three lanes of traffic, around cars, trucks and other buses. At one point I heard DS say, “We’re all going to die!” It did seem possible for the five minutes it took to get to our stop at Agua Santa. Needless to say, we were all happy to get off the bus. (N.B.When I told this story to a friend of mine who is from Colombia, he said that was typical South American bus driver behavior and all his childhood bus rides were of the same breathtaking variety.)

Exhausted after our day in Valparaiso, we were happy to go to bed and leave the plans for our last day in Chile open.

Tuesday, January 19 – Vina del Mar

We said good-bye to our new friends at breakfast since they were headed for a final meal in Valparaiso at the Fish Market (they reported later that the Ceviche there was great and much better than at the Pub) and had a late flight to Paris. I went out to the garden in back of the B and B to update my report. Worried I would get too much sun, Brian brought out a sunhat and fussed over whether or not I had enough cushions. It was lovely in the garden – sunny and warm, but cooled by a nice breeze. Lya came out and the two of us started a long chat which ended only when it was time for lunch. We set off down the hill to eat at “Enjoy,” which had re-opened. Brian recommended the barbecue/parilla and the idea of one last parilla appealed a great deal to all of us. As a result, we sat at a table on the terrace – gorgeous view of the sea and protected from the sun and ordered a Parilla de Carne (for two) and a Parilla del Marisco (for one). We ended up with Ribs, Steak, Sausage, Roast Potatoes, Salmon, Scallops, and Shrimp along with some excellent Chilean white wine – a lovely although fairly pricey meal. Taking care of business, we stopped off at an internet place where DS and I checked our email and DS made a call to his college – all very cheap, and then strolled back to the B and B, deciding that a relaxing day was a good idea.

Brian and Lya invited us to join them in the garden for a glass of wine and some more conversation. They had been out to winery for lunch and told us about their day while we shared stories of our travels and experiences. In the end, this is the main reason I love to travel – connections like these with people who live far away. Sitting in the garden, drinking wine, eating olives, and conversing about our lives was a perfect finish to our trip.

After our huge lunch, we didn’t want another big meal, so we went down the hill one final time to try a restaurant I had on my list called “Entre Masas.” I thought this place would be limited to empanadas since that is what my notes indicated, but it turned out that in addition to some 30 empanada combinations, they have a full menu. Part of a chain, the restaurant was decorated in a modern and comfortable style, and the service was excellent. I had to put my Spanish skills to the test in deciphering the empanada fillings, and ended up ordering one with crab, one with meat and olives and cheese, and a third empanada with ham and cheese. All were deep fried, very large, and delicious with the meat, olives, and cheese the winner of the taste test.

Wednesday, January 20 – En Route to New York

Brian volunteered to fix us breakfast at a very early hour. He had encouraged us to take the bus to the airport because it’s so cheap and convenient, but with the bags from the cruise, we opted for a car and driver. He arranged a remis to pick us up at 7:30 a.m., thinking we should allow two hours to get to the airport. (As it turned out, we were there in an hour and 20 minutes with no traffic… our driver, Fabian, who was excellent, said everyone was still sleeping.) We enjoyed our breakfast, said our goodbyes to Brian, and left with Fabian, who had arrived early. The drive from Vina to the airport took us through the lovely vineyards of the Casablanca Valley and we wished we had more time to explore this area. Above us towered the Andes… a very scenic and pleasant drive.

Both Copa flights (the first was from Santiago to Panama City and the second from Panama to JFK) were on time with lots of food and frequent beverage service. Arriving back in NYC at 1:35 a.m., we were very happy to be met by our Car Service driver, who swiftly and efficiently got us home. I’m always happy to go away, and happy to come home and start planning the next trip. I loved this trip and would highly recommend a journey to South America. The food, the scenery, and the people were all wonderful, and being in the Southern Hemisphere while it’s winter at home in the Northern Hemisphere greatly added to our enjoyment. Those long, (mostly) sunny days were a perfect antidote to the snow and cold we left behind.

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