Monday, March 31, 2014

Travel - Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile,  March 20, 2014

Spanish explorers arrived in 1536, aboard the Santiaguillo, a supply ship sent by Diego de Almagro, who is considered the first European explorer, or discoverer, of Chile. The Santiaguillo carried men and supplies for Almagro’s expedition, under the command of Juan de Saavedra, who named the town after his native village of Valpara√≠so de Arriba in Cuenca, Spain.

However, for us, we stopped here to jump on a bus and move about two hours inland to Santiago, for some reconnaissance for what we hope will be an extended visit here in a couple of years.

Founded in 1541, Santiago has been the capital city since colonial times. The city has a downtown core of 19th century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets, dotted by art deco, neo-gothic, and other styles. Santiago's cityscape is shaped by several stand-alone hills and the fast-flowing Mapocho River, lined by parks. Mountains of the Andes chain can be seen from most points in the city. These mountains contribute to a 

smoggy Santiago

considerable smog problem, particularly during winter. The city outskirts are surrounded by vineyards, and Santiago is within a few hours of both the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.

Initially John and I thought we had signed up for transport to Santiago so that we could just ride the bus for the two hour ride to Santiago and then walk around the downtown area. However, once we boarded the bus and begin our journey it becomes apparent that we were actually on an all-day organized bus tour of Santiago. So much for walking around Santiago on our own. Something we love to do. It is the best way to really get the feel of a place.

The ride to Santiago takes us through Valparaiso, which is a fairly large, fairly poor port town. I've never seen shanty town buildings built on top of each other four and five story high leaning against steep hills. The city itself reminds me allot of Daly City, California, except that the 

ticky tacky boxes on a hill side

“tacky boxes” on the hillside were “really tacky boxes” I can’t imagine how terrible it will be when an earth quake strikes. Just looking at the buildings, you hold your breath for fear they will all come falling down. I’ve included pictures, because otherwise you wouldn’t believe me.

Once out of Valparaiso we travel through dry rolling hills and slowly increase in elevation. A welcome potty stop half way there let us all stretch are legs. We didn’t know that would be one of the rare times we would get off the bus. Once in Santiago the tour guide points out the government buildings, parks, bankrupt train station (this seems to be a trend in South America). 

There is a lot of construction going on in Santiago. Currently they have a female president, (the tour guide was not too thrilled about). However, there does seem to be some progressive things going on. There is a new highway and rapid transit system being built in to the downtown area of Santiago and this has provided many new jobs. We also passed a fairly large protest of independent miners who do not want to be regulated or taxed. These independent miners are a large part of Chile’s water pollution problem high in the Andes.  

This construction and the protest in town did create some problems for our tour bus and slowed the traffic down. There were cars, police and people everywhere. We stop at two old churches for a while and take some pictures, 

Presidents office

Visit a government square where the president has an office and where President Salvador Allende “killed” himself as President Pinochet was taking over Chile. Interesting history! We also passed by the building where most of Pinochet’s prisoners were tortured.

Place of torture

The tour guide came around and asked if we had any questions. John asked when we were going to have a chance to go shopping. The tour guild just gave him a blank stare. Later the guide points out the shopping mall that all  

the tourists go to and we wiz on by. Obviously that was not on our agenda. There would be no money spent in Santiago or Valparaiso by this tour bus today. How strange that this was not part of the tour. Usually the guide are hooked up with a shop or mall and usually get some type of a kickback. 

We visit another church, the bus climbs one of the larger hills in Santiago to get a better view of the city then we all climb back into the bus. We are whisked off to a place for lunch …with the other ten tour buses on the same tour from the cruise ship. Yes, I feel like one of the herd…MOO… After an efficiently served lunch we all piled onto the bus again and head by to Valparaiso and the ship.

Comparing notes with some of the passengers who took other tours, there is wine country outside Santiago and those trips sounded enjoyable. Santiago was a large, smoggy, hectic city. We really didn't have the opportunity to enjoy any of the things that might make it unique. We might as well have been visiting  Los Angles. I’m not sure I’d put this on my must return list, then again, maybe I’m selling it short. Lots of poverty and lots of rich people with no one in between. My pictures may give you some insight on Santiago, then again, you may need to go visit it yourself to develop a fair opinion. One bus ride is not enough.

The adventure has many more stops.  My only problem at this point is the availability of the internet.  Please be patient.  As I have access the journey will continue.
Bye for now!!!

Travel - Puerto Montt, Chile, March 17, 2014

Lonely Planet’s description of Puerto Montt was enlightening… “Say what you will about Puerto Montt (locals certainly don't hold back, with Muerto Montt, meaning 'Dead Montt,' topping the list), but if you choose to visit southern Chile's ominous volcanoes, its celestial glacial lakes and its mountainous national parks, you will most likely be visiting the capital of the Lakes District and the region's commercial and transportation hub.”

Puerto Montt's most redeeming quality is that of its plethora of exit points (my emphasis added): be it by plane, ferry, bus or rental car, you can make a quick and virtually painless getaway to a near-endless inventory of memorable locales. Otherwise, travelers have occasionally become endeared of the unpolished working- class Chilean atmosphere here. Many of the building and culture have their basis in their German heritage.

It would appear that the ships tour planners took this exit strategy to heart as once we loaded onto the bus we were off to see other sites outside Puerto Montt. I got the feeling that there was something in Puerto Montt they didn't want us to see, but Lonely Planet explains it all. I guess there really wasn't much to see. It is a stopping off place to somewhere else.

Our bus took us through a small town (Puerto Montt) and then on into beautiful country side until we arrived at a beautiful fresh water lake. 

The morning has started out foggy and rainy, but by noon time on our boat ride on the lake the fog is lifting and we begin to see beautiful volcanoes ringing the lake. The water is crystal clear, the clouds are puffy and the volcanoes are majestic. 

 We are following the ring of fire from the bottom of Argentina all the way up the west coast of South America. These snow-capped jewels are beautiful. One further down the chain still has a little steam rising from its center. We all know the circle of fire is alive and well. I hope my pictures help you see just a bit of how beautiful this place is. It is well worth a return visit.

We have lunch in a local hotel: Chilean farm raised salmon and Pisco Sour to drink. Both were good, although I am spoiled with the wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest.  A bus ride through the same volcano valley area, (no fog this time) and we are back on the ship.

We are tired, but have had a lovely time.  There is still more to this journey.  Stay tuned....Bye for now!!

Travel – March 14 & 15, Punta Arenas and Amalia Glacier, Chile

Think of our last cruise stop and my encouragement to consult a map. Do that again! Punta Arenas is north of Tierra del Fuego and on the north shore of the Strait of Magellan.

Punta Arenas is the southernmost (large) city on Earth. Situated astride one of the world's historic trade routes, its prosperity has risen and fallen with that trade. Punta Arenas enjoyed its first great boom during the California Gold Rush, when it served as a haven for great clipper ships. Although the port's importance diminished after the opening of the Panama Canal, the city reached even greater prosperity early in this century as the center of Chile's international wool trade. In the 1940’s oil was discovered and has helped to bring back some of the region’s prosperity.

Today, Punto Arenas reflects a great mix of cultures, from English sheep ranchers to Portuguese sailors, and it remains an utterly fascinating testament to Chile's rich history. Punta Arenas is also the starting point for excursions to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. And this is one of the reasons we stopped here!

This morning as we arrive the sky is grey and the seas are choppy. The ship is anchored off shore and the life boat tenders have been dropped to take tours into town. Once the scheduled tours are shuttled off the ship then those without specific plans are free to shuttle over to town.

Interestingly, Punta Arenas is the capital city of Magellan Province, named for Ferdinand Magellan, whose ship was literally blown through the strait that also bears his name by a series of gales in 1520. Magellan was so happy to see the quite waters around the horn that he called them peaceful, hence this body of water was given its name, the Pacific Ocean.

This day, however, it was anything but peaceful. There were reports of many people getting sea sick on the way to shore. By two o’clock the captain stopped all tenders going ashore. John and I woke up late this morning as we did not have a tour. We had a leisurely breakfast and watched the waves and the bouncing tenders. It didn't take us long to decide that we would stay on board today. Punta Arenas would remain unexplored by us. Pictures were taken from the ship rail using a telephoto lens.

The next day the waters smoothed out considerably, the sky was gray and the temperature outside was freezing. Remember… we are pretty far south. I’m wearing my goose down coat, knit hat and gloves. It is an “at sea” day as we will not get off the ship, but there are beautiful sites to see.

The Amalia Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field that covered the entirety of southern Chile just 10,000 years ago and helped form the fjords of Southern Chile’s Pacific coast. This really remote and spectacular field of ice is located in the Torres del Paine National Park about 100 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and buried among hyper-fantasy fjords and thousands of mostly uninhabited islands. The area is universally regarded as one of the most beautiful on Earth. In this case words cannot describe the beauty of the region so I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

The internet is intermittent and my blogs may not be very timely. There are 3,000 paying passengers on this ship. When we all try to communicate via the internet at once it can be very slow and costly. My tales of adventure and discovery continue, although it will be at an internet snail pace. More ports of call are to come. Hope you are enjoying the journey. 

Bye for now!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Travel - Ushuaia, Argentina (Tierra del Fuego)  March 13, 2014

If there was ever a need to consult a map, this is the place! Ushuaia, situated on the Isla Grande Tierra del Fuego, “The Great Island of the Land of Fire,” with the island divided as it is between Argentina and Chile, is the southernmost (small) city in the world. To the north of this island is the Strait of Magellan. The city itself sits on the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego, on a bay just off the Beagle Channel, and farther to the south over a number of desolate islands is land’s end at Cape Horn. Confused? Look at a map.

Ushuaia city scape

view of ship in harbor

Ushuaia was founded in October 12, 1884, when an Argentine expedition arrived to establish a sub-prefecture. However, some 300 Anglican missionaries of the South American Missionary Society already populated the area. They built the first houses and took care to evangelize the natives. For Argentinean people, Ushuaia began to be known in the early twentieth century when it was decided to build there a prison. The prison of Ushuaia is part of the city’s history and the prisoners were, more or less, the “first settlers.”

Ushuaia mountain scape

Coming up from our inside cabin into the light was a complete surprise. It is cold, white and foggy. As we climb off the ship fairly early in the morning in a semi-dazed sleep we are greeted with the most charming little town, nestled at the foot of the snowcapped Martial Mountains. It feels like we have been transported to a small town like Sitka in Alaska. The mountains are snow covered, unusually shaped and gorgeous. Ushuaia is a little sea port fishing village with tourist growing pains. 

This place is a special place and should definitely be on your bucket list. It is literally at the end of the earth.  Ushuaia is the end of the road or the end of the Pan-American Highway that starts in Alaska. It is the jumping off point for some going to Antarctica, and it is one of the most expensive cities to live in Argentina.

Inside End of the Earth Post office

End of the Earth Post office

 Once off the boat we loaded into a small van and headed for a nice ride through town and up the mountain side, eventually reaching the “El Tren Del Fin Del Mundo” or “The End of the World Train”. It took us through some beautiful mountain territory and into a National Park. During the train and van ride we see a hidden lake and beautiful landscapes, flowers, woodlands, and animals.
Red Fox
Train end of line
Wild horse
We even saw a number of wild horses and red foxes. Before our trip is finished we stop at a rock and gem store to check out Argentinian stones to see what I might use for some of my creations. OH….what fun!! I’d go back to Ushuaia tomorrow, or could have jumped ship, if they didn’t keep such good track of us onboard the ship.

Next stop Punta Arenas, Chile. Stay tuned…..we have just gone around the bottom, but could not see Cape Horn due to the rough weather. Now we have gone over to the other side! We should have smoother sailing now that we are in the Peaceful Ocean, better known as the Pacific.

Tall Ship

King Crab

Happy John
Group of tall ships coming in for a festival

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Travel - Port Stanley, Falkland Islands March 11, 2014

Before the Falklands war, 1982, sheep-farming was the Falkland Islands' only industry. Off-shore oil development is planned for 2016. Tourism is the second-largest part of the economy. Nonetheless, the remoteness of the archipelago, and the lack of direct flights to major cities, have made the islands an expensive holiday destination, and as a result mass tourism has not really begun.

The islands are nothing like I expected. They are glacier 
scared and fairly low rolling hills. The surface is a light color granite with fields covered with large areas of peat bog. There are few, if any trees, low growing grasses with sparse plots of pampas grass along some fence lines. The remnants of the last war are still present with areas marked “Do not enter” where many land mines remain. Acres and acres of land remain unusable as it is too expensive to remove these mines. Sheep, cattle and horses are seen grazing on safe land. The inhabitants are centered in a few towns and spotted along the roads in large ranches. The sheep seem to roam with few fences, except for where there are landmines.

Our tour today is a trip to Volunteer Point via a 4 X 4 vehicle to see the Gentoo, King, Rock Hopper and Magellanic penguins. It is a five hour tour, and four of it is spent going across bog covered fields where non-existent trails exist. Each vehicle driver is on his/her own to choose the best path. Those that choose the wrong one have to call out for friends to pull them out of the bog. I now understand the term “bogged down”. Once you call for help you get teased the entire length of the trip. Glad we always came to the rescue; our driver was great!!

This trip is best described via pictures. Rough trails and the beautiful penguins at the end of the trail made it all worthwhile! Enjoy the journey….there is more to come.

Baby molting

Fair well Penguins

It was a beautiful visit!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Travel - Montevideo, Uruguay, 

March 7 & 8, 2014


Montevideo is the largest city, the capital, and the chief port of Uruguay. The settlement was established in 1724 by the Spanish soldier Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, as a strategic move amidst a Spanish-Portuguese regional dispute. According to the census of 2011, Montevideo has a population of 1,319,108. The city was under brief British rule in 1807. It is also the place where the Montevideo convention was signed, in 1933, by nineteen nations of the Americas.

Montevideo has a rich architectural and cultural heritage, and is reported to have the highest quality of life in Latin America. The architecture of Montevideo reflects its history, ranging from colonial to Art Deco, and influenced by Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and British immigrants.

MV highest building
Although I read the above narrative and other information before arriving in Montevideo I am still pleasantly surprised by what I see. It is a bustling, thriving city. Everything is clean and nicely organized downtown. We met our guide Diego just off the ship. He is an A-1 ambassador for Uruguay. He attended college in the US and speaks English well. He is a dual citizen, but you can tell his heart belongs to Uruguay.

Apparently one of Uruguay’s business activities is banking, no questions asked. This is obviously very lucrative. Their schools, thru college, hospitals, and many social services are all free. Uruguay appears to be quite a liberal country. Diego paints a picture of utopia. The cost of a condo on the water is about $300K US.

We first take a bus ride tour through the city, seeing all the historic and government sites. We stop at Independence
Independence Square
Square and Constitution Square. Both are great shopping spots and we take some time to shop for trinkets. Leather, T-shirts and jewelry are at the top of the list, along with beautiful dried gourd cups rimed with silver, and with silver straws. During the day locals sip a relaxing tea called Mate from these types of gourds. They were hot sellers on the souvenir market.

Train Station

Diego’s sales pitch is so good, most of us on the bus were ready to move to Montevideo. After completion of the city tour we head out of the city to a ranch for a barbeque lunch. It is at this point that we begin to see the other side of Montevideo. We pass the train station, which is a skeleton of its former self. Apparently it went bankrupt a number of years back. But, they don’t need it anyway because they have buses, according to Diego. Their national airline also went bankrupt. It is apparently difficult to fly in and out of Uruguay as there are few airlines that service Montevideo. Your best bet is to fly into Buenos Aires and take a bus and ferry.
The last port!

As we drive out of town we begin to see smaller and smaller houses and then block like shacks, and then hovels. Diego says that the unemployment rate is under 2%, but all these people living in the shacks just don’t want to work. It seems that they enjoy living this way. Hmmm…I must put tongue in cheek and go on.

sheep eating a bike
Meanwhile out at the ranch we are greeted by the owner and his lovely wife and staff. Multiple trays with many drink choices are offered. My favorite is the mixed smoothie passion fruit drink. There’s no alcohol in this drink, it is just yummy. The drinks just keep on coming. We tour the ranch, which use to be a chicken ranch. A few years ago the family remodeled the big house and some out building so they could cater to the public. They host weddings, big parties and an occasional tourist bus. They have kept just enough animals to make the tour interesting. I've included a few pictures so you will see what I’m talking about.
Smiling goat

Appetizers on the front porch came first. If you have never had barbecued Provolone cheese I would highly recommend it. Wow, what a flavor! Along with sausages and grilled veggies we ate a feast before dinner started. Both Uruguay and Argentina are well known for their cattle and beef. Barbeque is the cooking style of the day: Beef, lamb, chicken, and pork are all offered pulled right off the skewers. With all this meat they served veggies and a delicious all-purpose meat sauce that was great on everything. What a feast!!!! I would highly recommend a visit to Granja San Francisco Ranch just 20 miles outside Montevideo.

Given Diego’s rave reviews and our overall impression, barring a small political commentary I would highly recommend a visit to Montevideo and even a longer stay in Uruguay. I really feel like we just barely scratched the surface and the costs for touring in the area are quite reasonable. Two thumbs up for Uruguay and an interest in a return visit.

Many more adventures are just around the corner. Get your sea legs on…. It is time to head toward rougher water. We are going south!!!