Wednesday, April 13, 2016

March 2016: South America

Can I make it?

 This trip is planned as an easy-paced month getting a small taste of South America.

A cruise from Santiago around Cape Horn to the Falklands and Buenos Aires, where I will celebrate Easter.

 Then to the Iguazzo Falls, and on to Rio. Across the continent next to have 5 days in Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu if I can survive altitude sickness.

A month away will probably test my limits these days. As usual I will try to keep you posted!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

All booked

Paperwork all completed -- visa for Brazil has arrived -- good supply of insect repellent purchased to thwart mossies carrying yellow fever and zika virus.

I have been assigned stateroom 0207 with balcony on the 10th deck, forward starboard side (marked x in photo) for the cruise.  Small supply of local currencies in hand to see me over immediate needs on arrival is each country.  Just need to try and get a bit excited now!!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Day 1 -- Getting there

The longest Thursday ever.  It started at 5am Brisbane time, and ends at 9pm Santiago time -- on the go for 29 hours non-stop.  Left Brisbane on time for the 3 hours to Auckland on Qantas 738 aircraft.  Fruit and pancakes for breakfast:  pretty ordinary.  In Auckland at 2.30pm local time, and had to wait until 6.30pm for the next leg.  Got to know the duty free area pretty well, doing laps to get a little exercise.

The 12.5 hour flight to Santiago was with LAN on the latest Boeing aircraft, the B787-800 Dreamliner.  Had never seen on before, and it offers a very comfortable journey.  The food service (dinner and breakfast) was excellent.  Arrival into Santiago quite spectacular.  The cabin had been kept dark to allow maximum sleep time (to those who can manage it).  We hit the South American coast well south of Santiago.  At 1pm local, the crew opened the windows to display a stunning sunlit scenery of the snow-capped Andes not far inland.  Santiago lies in a valley between the Andes and quite steep coastal hills, so the final approach down the valley to the airport is very scenic.  Caught between the hills, the city's pollution tends to hang trapped.  It was 35C today.

The first sign one sees on entering the terminal is a direction to Australian, Mexican and US citizens to line up and pay a reciprocity fee before proceeding further.  $US117 for Aussies.  That apparently s what we charge Chileans to enter Australia.  Tit for tat.  Cleared immigration and customs speedily and was met by Chilean Tourist agent who delivered me to hotel and checked out my ongoing travel details.  He told me that Santiago is 6 million people, very safe city, but notorious for purse snatchers.  "Try not to look like a tourist" he advised me -- a bit difficult with a camera around your neck!

The Hotel Panamericano is right in the centre of downtown, surrounded by dozens of eating places and near most of the key sights.  It is an old building, struggling to earn its 3 star rating:  but is clean and comfortable which is all that matters -- and has free wifi!  An early night planned tonight, and tomorrow I will probably join the Walk-for-tips English walking tour of the central city (4 hours).

So the adventure has begun.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Day 2 -- Santiago, Chile.

Today was planned as a rest day to recover from the flight.  Well, I did sleep in till 9.30 am and just made it to breakfast before the dining room closed.  The late start meant revising my plans for the day. t was a sunny and hot day, 35C at lunch.  By 10 am the city was shrouded in smog, reducing visibility markedly and making photography difficult.  (I've posted the best of what I took.).

Decided to take the Turistik "hop on, hop off bus" to get a quick look at city and hear some of its history.  Tourist tip:  avoid the "hop on, hop off bus".  At 22000 pesos (about $45) it is overpriced, and the 2 hour round trip takes 3 hours, a victim of the incredible traffic congestion here.  Could have walked most of the route much faster than the bus.  I reckon Santiago would give Beijing a run for its money on wall to wall traffic.   But I did get a feel for the place.  Originally it comprised a number of quite distinctive districts, and even still they maintain their own unique character.  Now they have been absorbed into the urban sprawl that is Santiago.  Lots of parks with beautifully kept flower gardens.  And a very leafy city, with overhanging trees constantly scraping the bus roof.  Hard to get good photos because of so many trees.

I got off the bus at Bellavista (most had abandoned it a couple of stops earlier at the mammoth shopping plaza Parque Arauco).  Took the ancient funicular up San Cristobel, the largest of the hills in the city.  Wonderful views of the city from the top, although today could only see the nearer suburbs and downtown because of smog.  A large 14m statue of the Virgin Mary crowns the hill.  It is set in beautiful gardens with prayer stations and lots of pious music.  Also on the hill is a lovely little Marian chapel, modelled on a 4th century Roman church.  The inside walls have been carved by a German sculptor with scenes from the life of Mary, and give it a quite unusual appearance.  Today the secularist city authorities have allowed large trees and phone towers to somewhat overshadow the statue so that it is no longer clearly seen from all over the city.  Mind you, they haven't been able to eradicate the Catholic flavour of the place:  I shopped in the "Minimarket della Santa Rosa di Lima" today for Kleenex.

Having completed the bus circuit, I walked back to check out the Metropolitan Cathedral.  In the square opposite I noticed a commotion going on, so wandered over for a sticky beak.  There was a lady, just in her underwear, giving her best to 2, then 4, then 6 Caribenieri who were telling her she couldn't wash her clothes or herself in the fountain.  She jumped right in, and the cops strategically withdrew to the applause of the very large crowd that had gathered to watch.

The cathedral dates from 1790, and is a massive lump of masonry in the Spanish baroque style of the day.  It is quite dark inside, with only the sanctuary area well lit.  Lots of side altars with sundry saints bodies lying in glass enclosures.  Every little shrine is well patronised, with fresh flowers placed there by devotees.  I was impressed by the silence and devotion of the place, where even tourists are very discreet and respectful -- unusual!  Of course there is an altar to St Santiago (St James the Greater) who is patron saint of Chile ( a relic of the Spanish colonial days).  

I haven't been too adventurous with food here.  Last night I ate at a local restaurant and has a rich tomato soup and a beef dish with a beer, 39000 pesos.  Tonight I settled on a Chinese menu in Spanish (it turned out to be chicken and mushrooms with spring rolls and Coke, 19000 pesos. Also, I noted that when I booked in at Brisbane airport my suitcase only weighed 18.5 kg.  I knew I must have left something behind and today I discovered what:  the small toilet roll I carry in backpack when out and about.  Kleenex will have to substitute!

I had forgotten what it is like to be on the go all day in a strange city, and by late afternoon I was footsore and quite weary.  I trust I will get back into the swing of things as I travel on.

Today's photographic offering can be found Here

Friday, April 8, 2016

Day 3 -- Valparaiso & Norwegian Sun

Valparaiso is an 80 minute drive northwest of Santiago, and is its port city.  The drive is along a toll road mostly 120kph, through the coastal mountains (tunnels) down to the Pacific.  Chile Travel Service sent me a people-mover for the transfer: an unforgettable experience.  Once we hit the freeway, the driver attached flashing lights to his windscreen: and whenever a driver ahead was too slow, on went the lights and a siren.  People moved out of the way quickly!  "Weekend drivers" was his only explanation to me in his limited English.

Checkin at the port reminded me of Brisbane at Fisherman's Island.  We started in a huge barn-like shed where our luggage was tagged and trucked away.  Then we had to fill out a health report and line up to have our papers checked.  Given a bus number, it was then a sit and wait for about half an hour until my number came up.  The ship was berthed at the container wharf, and we drove between mountains of shipping containers lined up on the wharf awaiting removal.  Once on board, another queue to hand over our passports and credit cards for a ship card that acts as door key, ID and credit card for the journey.  

The stateroom (not called cabins here) is very comfortable. I have a Filipino steward who is anxious to please.  All unpacked and did a quick reconnoiter of the ship.  Has a full passenger list this trip, nearly 2000 with 900 crew.  I reckon I am about median age.  Lots of walking sticks and crutches and even a couple of those scooters.  A few young families with little kids, and a sprinkling of teenagers.  I never cease to marvel at the perversity of people.  During the emergency drill a half hour before sailing it was noticeable just how many people object to following instructions and hold everyone else up while they do their own thing.  I congratulated our lifeboat supervisor on her patience.  My own patience wears thin with the public announcements which are given in five languages -- there is no way to switch the speaker system off!

We were about half an hour late in sailing due to delays in getting all the food supplies etc aboard.  Tonight I settled for the Garden Cafe on the aft upper deck for dinner:  it is buffet style.  Very nice meat loaf with veg and side salad.  (Of course that was just my choice -- there was rib roast, cold meats, stir fries, crepes and various other offerings, not to mention the dessert bar and ice cream parlour. )

Had a restless night last night - not got my body clock back into sync yet.  Hopefully tonight will see that all put right.  Tomorrow is all day at sea, so will fit in a couple of brisk walks around the walking track for exercise.

Again a very smoggy day, but not much to photograph in any case.  Just a few pics  Here

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Day 4 -- At sea

A dull, overcast day, temperature 14C, but with a southerly wind gusting to 30 knots it is much colder on the deck.  Needless to say the sun deck and pool area are empty today.  Too unpleasant to use my balcony too, but the full view out to sea compensates for that.  Today the Pacific has been living up to its name, with just a very small swell making for comfortable sailing.

I think my body clock had adjsted at last.  I slept through till 8 am, then had a light breakfast at the buffet.  The buffet demands much self-discipline, because it is so easy to heap up one's plate even with very small serves of the so many enticing dishes on offer.  And very many do just that!  I enjoyed the chef's antics at the omelet bar as he flipped my mushroom and onion serve from his pan and caught it again with a flourish.  Like most of the staff he is a Filipino, and quite a showman.

Am getting to find my way around the ship.  Not as easy as the previous ones I have been on, as you can't walk right through on the lower amenities decks.  One has to learn which set of lifts land you where.  As all the eating areas are in the aft area, and my stateroom is near the bow, I have quite a hike to do along the corridors several times a day.  Good exercise.  Speaking of which, I changed into gym gear to do laps of the top deck this afternoon:  but it was so cold and windy that I retreated to the gym instead and did 20 minutes on the treadmill at 3.5mph.  Enough to get my heartrate up, but only showed a disgustingly low number of calories burnt for the effort.  No credits for a big dinner tonight!

Among today's onboard activities was the first of the art auctions.  One of the big art houses has several hundred pieces on display, and it seems that people come on these cruises with cheque books at the ready.  Another discovery is that they charge you for all sorts of things free on other cruises.  For example, and afternoon cuppa at one of the bars cost me $2.30 (which includes an 18% gratuity).  I guess it is way of making up for their cheaper fares.  But the main dining areas are all free -- just pay a premium for the specialty ones, which is normal.

The passengers are a much more polyglot mix than I have previously experienced - a real United Nations of languages.  I don't know why I was surprised, but the number of Asians is notable.  At breakfast I was joined by an Iranian lady travelling on her own.  I didn't dare ask where her burqa was.  

Out of sight of land all day today, but passed a surpising number of small fishing boats:  they seemed to be working in teams.  And I watched a seagull shadowing the ship for nearly an hour this morning, flying just above the waves.  Where it got its energy from, and why so far from land were unanswered questions.  

This leg of the journey from Valparaiso to Puerto Montt is 640 nm:  the equivalent in latitude of the trip from Sydney to Hobart.  The entire voyage is 4104 nm.

A few snaps from around the ship to be found Here.