Saturday, March 12, 2011

Last day at Sea

We didn't participate much in ship activities today. No lectures, no watercolor class. It was a day for housekeeping: settling up accounts, packing, tasting dishes we'd seen all week at the buffet but never tried.... We read, listened to music, and got ready to leave the ship behind tomorrow.
The evening show was a wonderful variety of music, dance and acrobatics and dinner was bittersweet, knowing that we will no longer have six choices for our evening meal, nor a waiter, assistant waiter and sommolier to attend to our every whim.
We bade farewell to José, Christian and Conrad, put our suitcases out in the hallway and slept our last night asea.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Puerto Montt

We awoke to the news of the earthquake in Japan and the chance of a tsunami, heading towards Hawaii and possibly towards us. ?? We watched the president of Chile on TV telling everyone to go to work and to school normally, and the captain didn’t seem worried, so we had breakfast and left the ship in one of the first tenders (thanks to Irunu who got us priority tickets). The day seemed rainy and grey as we approached the port, but we were destined to see the sun as we progressed.  We had arranged for a tour with a local agency to take us to Puerto Varas, to the falls of the Petrohue river and then back to Puerto Montt, with a stop for lunch.
Puerto Varas, and Puerto Montt itself, were first colonized by German settlers brought in by the Chilean government to populate the southern regions of the country. They were given land and initial amounts of food, money and seeds. It was up to them to clear the temperate rain forest which covered the land with vegetation and plant the land made fertile by local volcanic activity. The town of Puerto Varas is lovely. The German influence is still quite obvious. Many of the older buildings have been well preserved and there are many sidewalk cafes and shops for the tourist population.
We drove out of town past green fields and beautiful mountain scenes to visit the Petrohue river in a National Park. The vegetation is lush green all around. The riverbed was formed from lava which quickly solidified when it hit the cold water – black and grey waves of solid rock through which the water rushes and falls. The water usually has a transparent emerald green color to it (which we could appreciate in a video), but today it was dark grey like the rock due to a heavy rain early this morning which filled it with volcanic ash. 
The sun very nicely came out for us and cleared the clouds away from the tip of the nearest volcano, so we were quite suitably impressed with tne scenery. 
We drove back to Puerto Varas for a delicious lunch in a local seafood restaurant with gardens full of roses and hydrangeas and lilies. Next to the restaurant was an intriguing design shop that we wanted to explore, but although the sign indicated that they would re-open at 3:00 by 3:20 there was still no sign of activity and we had to leave to be back on board by 4:30. Irunu left a note for the manager, informing him/her of the tremendous sale they had missed by not opening on time. 
We stopped once at a lookout point from which we could view the harbor and the city of Puerto Montt, then back to the ship. We certainly could have spent much more time here. We’ll just have to come back and stay in Puerto Varas someday.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Two Days at Sea

Between Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt we spent two days at sea. On Wednesday we left the Straits of Magellan and entered the Pacific ocean. Never was a body of water so ill named. We ran into swells 6 meters high and winds up to 70 km /hour. At breakfast my chair slid right away from the table at one point and trays of silverware crashed to the floor.  I went on a tour of the galleys in the morning and trays were falling out of their racks as we danced back and forth trying to manage a dignified march through the kitchen. Fortunately I do not suffer from seasickness, so after the galley tour I went on to a watercolor class. Ralph attended a lecture, then we met and had lunch, amid dwindling numbers of people who were up and about.  Things seemed to calm down a bit in the afternoon, but by dinner time we were rocking and rolling again and we were the only two at our table who felt like eating.  We slept well, but others in our group had a very uncomfortable night. 
By the next morning the world was calmer and we were in a protected channel instead of on the open seas. Our revived group met for an elegant brunch at 10:00am, even though navigating the dining room, between tables laden with trays of food and ice sculptures with a china plate in hand was still quite a balancing act. In the afternoon we attended a classical piano concert, snacked on finger sandwiches at the Cova Café, then read and rested before preparing for our last formal dinner – lobster for all. After dinner there was a very nice musical variety show in the theater. Everyone seems to be back to normal, ready for our visit to Puerto Montt tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Punta Arenas

We are now in Chile. After a leisurely breakfast we took the tender in to the port. Irunu collared a local woman in the terminal and got the low down on what to see and do. 
On her recommendation we walked the few blocks to the main square, where there is a permanent crafts market, then on to a handicrafts shop, Ramas. Ralph and Jim waited next door at an internet café. Punta Arenas is a sheep ranching area, so many of the crafts were woolen – woven or handknit. There are many older buildings with intricate, European style architecture, legacy of the wealthy families of the 19th century. 
Then we backtracked to the Municipal market near the psort where we had a wonderful seafood lunch. King crab and conger are two of the most popular local catches that we sampled in the restaurant up on the third level. Fresh seafood is much more popular in Chile than in Argentina, at least as far as we can tell from the menus we've seen. The market is amazingly clean and well cared for. On the first level fresh fish, fruits and other foods are sold. Level 2 has several handicraft/gift shops and several small eating establishments. It was a pleasant place to visit, as the weather was not as sunny as we had enjoyed in Ushuaia, raining a bit on and off.

Monday, March 7, 2011


We debarked early in Ushuaia to get our tickets for the Train at the End of the World. A bus took us to the train station where we squeezed into our “First Class” seats – which entitled us to a glass of wine and airplane-style ham and cheese sandwiches. Argentina built a prison in Ushuaia in the early years of the 20th century as a way to maintain a presence in the inhospitable southern reaches of their territory. The prisoners (the worst repeat offenders) provided the labor to construct the prison and the train was built to carry them out into the mountain side where they cut down enough timber to leave behind what is still called the “tree cemetery”. 
We made a stop to see a small water fall, then another to turn around – detaching the engine from the front of the train and hooking it up to the rear for the return trip.
The bus was waiting to carry us back to town where we went straight to La Estancia for “all-you-can-eat” lamb cooked Patagonian style over an open fire. Delicious, but we probably overdid it a bit.
As it was Monday of Carnival not all the stores in town were open, but most of the tourist shops seemed to be. We walked up and down the main street and bought chocolates, cheeses, marmalades, mustards and other goodies, then headed back to the ship. We were most fortunate with the weather which was sunny all day – without the unpredictable changes which everyone had warned us about.
That night at dinner they offered – lamb – which we couldn’t really face again, so flounder was a much more popular choice.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rounding the Horn

The days at sea are acquiring a certain rhythm. A lecture at 10:00 – today about explorations of Cape Horn and Antarctica – then some other activity before watercolor class at 1:00.
Later, lunch on deck 10. Today lunch extended as we held a table with a view for the rounding of Cape Horn. We went through a bit of confusion. Rod Jury had said that if the weather was good the captain planned to circle the island counter clockwise, so we held down a table on the port side. But everyone else seemed to be on the starboard side. So we moved over and found a place over there. When we came to Cape Horn we went up on deck anyway to take pictures and see the island. We started into the channel, then the ship made a 360° clockwise turn. We first thought we were turning back because of fog, but the skies cleared as fast as they had closed in. Then we went through the channel as originally planned and made the counter clockwise run around Cape Horn. It was clear enough so that we could appreciate why it is said that Cape Horn looks like a reclining lion.
We ended up back at our original table for the rest of the passage. We snacked on Indian food and sailed around Cape Horn – so easy for us, but almost inconceivable in a small wooden sailing ship. We were fortunate to have sunny, calm weather, but they kept reminding us that over 1,000 ships ( and many times that many lives) have been lost in the attempt to sail around the southern tip of the continent.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday at Sea

We had a relaxing day at sea. The weather was beautiful and the seas were calm.
We started out with another lecture in the Beyond the Podium series, by Rod Jury. Today he spoke about Cape Horn. Then we scurried across to the dining room for the grand brunch buffet. There was such quantity and variety that it was difficult to decide what to eat. But we did our best.
Later I went to another watercolor class and Ralph and Jim and Irunu went to a lecture on whales. We had an informal lunch in the grill area, then rested and read the afternoon away. (Ralph did go up on deck to walk – I read).
Before dinner Ralph and I sat out on the aft deck with some wine and sushi. The sunset was perfect, leaving behind a pink sky to promise good weather tomorrow. Then all of a sudden we were socked in by fog, with no visibility, and the ship was sounding its fog horn. Later, at night, the skies cleared up again to permit star gazing. Which all goes to show that what we have been told is true. They say that in these parts you can experience all four seasons in one day – and the only thing certain about the weather is that it is unpredictable.
A nice dinner, a musical recap of the ´70s for our after dinner show, and to bed. Tomorrow, Cape Horn.