(or - following the wake of CAPT FitzRoy & a bloke called Darwin)
On our previous cruise (Copenhagen to New York), part of the 2015 JoC RtW Tour, we liked the look of an early 2017 cruise from Buenos Aires to Santiago (Valparaiso) that included a visit to the Falkland Islands and cruising along the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel… and Cape Horn. Naturally, we signed up straight away.
Seventeen months later we made our way via Qantas from CBR-SYD-SCL, arriving at Santiago International Airport mid-morning that same day after a reasonably comfortable 11 or so hours direct flight from Sydney. Speaking of Sydney. Hasn’t the Customs area for international travellers made a vast improvement over the last 5 or so years? ePassports are the bee’s knees. Seems the folks in Chile are still using “older” Sydney as a Customs/Immigration template however. The less said the better, but for a while there I thought my Passport was going to be filled up with stamps just getting past the Entry Fee booth. Unlike Argentina, Chile does not use an on-line entry fee payment system, so you have to line up before Customs/Immigration and pay via credit card or crisp US$ bills.
Anyhoo, after 2 or so hours, we finally emerge and find our driver awaiting to whisk us away to our hotel for the next 5 nights. Expecting a bit of a wait before our room was ready, we were pleasantly surprised to find it ready and waiting. First things first once getting into our room (a rather large 2 room suite), check out the wi-fi and taste the tap water.
I can report that the wi-fi/internet put our home www connection to shame and the tap water tasted, well... not good. Time to go for a pleasant Sunday afternoon walk and check out the neighbourhood and find a local store to purchase some bottled water. We didn't get to far, just far enough to find the nearest Metro station and purchase water at a 24?/7 store around the corner. By the way, a 1.6lt bottle of water (sin gas, or still) was about $A1.40.
The next day we made our way into the city centre via the Metro system, after purchasing 1x BIP card, to check out some of the museums. Being a Monday, they were closed, so we just wandered around trying not to look touristy (that was a fail) and had a look at the local Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago de Chile).
Before I go any further, I should mention our limited Spanish speaking skills. Actually, Karen had a better grasp of the spoken Spanish word, whereas I could read signs/notices and newspaper headlines, which in the end worked out, as we never lost our way, went hungry or couldn't find a local WC... so a belated thanks to our Spanish teacher, Marcos from Spanish Easy here in Canberra.
Next day we head back into the city centre and had a walk through the Museo Historico Nacional and the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. while the National Historical Museum's displays were all written up in Spanish (which I could at least partially read), Karen opted for wearing the English language headset (cost $CLP1000). Entry to this museum is free.
We then headed over to the Pre-Columbian Chilean Art Museum. An entry fee of $CLP4500 applies here. Simply put, it is money well spent with a wonderful display (with a photographer friendly environment) showcasing just how advanced the folks were in these parts in days long gone. We followed up our 2 or so hours here with lunch in the museum courtyard and a raid on their gift shop before heading back to the hotel before going out for a Valentines Day dinner at a local restaurant (Cocina Brava).
Our next two days were spent on a couple of day tours, the first one across to the World Heritage port city of Valparaiso where we enjoyed an interesting morning wandering about the colourful crazy architecture along Valparaiso’s narrow streets and endless staircases. We even went on two of the city's funicular elevators and had a short trolley car ride, while working up a thirst before lunch at the Calfulafquen Restaurant. With our local guide Valentina (not forgetting Francisco our driver) from Ecochile Travel, we headed back towards Santiago for a detour to the Emiliana Organic Vineyard for a demonstration on organic wine making and a taste of a small selection of their wines.
The next tour was out to the El Yeso Reservoir, via the Maipo Canyon, with Viktor and Tomas (from EcoChile Travel). This was the day were we encountered Santiago's peak-hour commuter traffic. Certainly more intense than humble Canberra, but not quite as busy as Sydney or Melbourne... but traffic lights! Things are everywhere. Not to mention speed humps for every pedestrian crossing. All this made for a slow exit of the city before we entered the Maipo Canyon for a break for a morning snack. Once we were underway and heading towards the Reservoir, to say the scenery was impressive would be an understatement. And we were only into the foothills of the Andes. More food was involved before we left this area and then we headed back to Santiago, stopping at small town for a late "lunch" and a cold beer.
*for info - you will need a European power adaptor in Chile, $CLP1000 is approx $A2 and a litre of fuel (depending on type) is on average $CLP750 or $1.48/ltr.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
After our intro to Chilean Customs/Immigration on entry, you’d have thought we would have expected what was headed our way once we’d checked into our flight with LATAM across to Buenos Aires. Okay, I should say right now that I do not like lines of people, especially when I’m at the end of a l.o.n.g. snaking one heading towards a couple of Customs booths. While we had heaps of time to play with, a 60+ minute shuffle really tested my endurance. Fortunately, we had a French couple behind us who’s flight was due to depart 5 minutes ago doing enough stress for everyone in the room and a pair of blokes in front who continued to take selfies (which I continued to photo bomb) to keep us both entertained.
The flight across the Andes was somewhat bumpy, so probably good practice for the upcoming cruise, otherwise a straight forward flight into BA, with the Argentinean Customs/Immigration a very smooth experience before exiting to meet our transport for the drive into the city to our hotel for the next 4 nights.
During the drive to the hotel, we also arranged a night out at one of those Tango shows and a day river cruise up the Tigre River. As we had arrived on a Friday afternoon, we had a chance to experience the traffic during rush hour. For a city with a population that is less than Sydney, it was an eye opener on just how chaotic this place could be… mind you, the South American use of indicators was amplified by most drivers putting their hazards on, regardless of whether they turned left or right and with more vehicles squeezing into a numerically inferior lane count didn’t help things much either. Still, didn’t notice any kind of road rage, as most drivers just seem to shrug it off. Was pretty amazing seeing how close vehicles (cars/buses) got to each other without touching.
Our hotel was located in the suburb of Recoleta and once again we had been upgraded to a full suite so we had plenty of room to spread out and make ourselves comfy over the next couple of days.
Saturday was to be a full on day, with a walk around the Recoleta Cemetery, followed by a visit to the National Art Museum (both recommended), then back to the hotel to pick up the big camera and head out to watch the FormulaE race in the afternoon, then back to the hotel and get ready for the Tango show at Cafe de los Angelitos later that night. Will put it out there and say tango is not my thing (flamenco is), but as it was payback for the FormulaE, I just sucked it up, enjoyed the food and got entertained by the piano player, who reminded me of the Muppet’s “Animal”.
As Sunday was a “rest” day, we decided to go for a bit of a walk down towards the Casa Rosada (the Pink House) and check out whatever we stumbled across along the way. Being a Sunday, it was fairly quiet early on although the heat of the day certainly did it’s thing later on where even the local pigeons weren’t flying and looking for shady spots.
*for info - $ARS100 is approx $A8, a normal Aussie power plug fits power outlets and on average a litre of fuel (depending on type) is around $A1.68/ltr
I will attempt to make the remainder of these ramblings short, mentioning only some of the cruise’s destinations and day tours as the photos, via the links above left, will be able to convey more than I can put down in words.
Port Stanley. While Karen was off visiting the local penguins, I managed to walk a small part of the Falklands while on a Battlefield Tour, where British troops made their move to retake Port Stanley and where the survivors of the Sir Galahad and Tristram made shore after their ships were hit and sunk by the Argentinean Airforce.
Was interesting to actually see the ground the troops traversed, as I'd met some Falkland Vets not long after the conflict where they attempted to describe the terrain that my mind couldn't quite picture, until nearly 35 years later and I was there seeing it first hand.
One of the photos shows the memorial to LCPL Thomas with the hill that the killing mortar round came from (which is a lot closer than the image suggests).
HMS Beagle. Located at the Museo Nao Victoria Punta Arenas, this is a full sized replica, causing me to have a bit of a moment, similar to the first time I heard the Grey Nurse spitfire at the Temora Aviation Museum, before we headed into town to a small museum where I was very surprised to see this weather beaten cross which is the only reason why Charles Darwin is who he is today. Karen meanwhile was checking out the local penguins located nearby.
Glaciers. There appears to be a constant when the Jones family is looking at glaciers (no matter where on the planet), as it will be either raining, snowing or there will be plain old miserable weather. Mind you, some of the sights were simply breathtaking.
Cape Horn. We arrived early on the morning of 2 March, after a somewhat bouncy (or whatever the naval term for pitch and roll all at the same time is called…) night before, to a relatively calm sea. Relatively "calm" being - I had to sit down on a chair on our veranda, for fear of being pitched over the top of the guard rail when taking photos.
Wildlife. Everywhere. Unfortunately the whales, seals and birdlife spent most of the time well away from the ship for any worthwhile close up photos, although, I did manage to jag a photo of a Condor just as it took flight... Karen got some neat close ups of penguins on both of her penguin tours to make up for my poor attempts.
Petrohué Waterfalls. Spectacular. See “Glaciers” above re the weather. Well worth a re-visit to the Puerto Varas (aka City of Roses) area sometime in the future and might even get to see the top of the Osorno Volcano while up there next time.
*errors of grammer/spelling are of my doing. facts were correct at the time of our visit, February/March 2017.
Karen & Wayne
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