Tag Archives: Chile

Surprise-o Valparaiso

30th March 2018

The next major segment of our wanderings around the left-hand side of South America will be a trip to Ecuador and (of course) the Galapagos Islands, which will challenge the abilities of my brain to accept and retain an even greater density of information than was on offer in two days on Easter Island. A return to Santiago with a day of conventional tourism (wandering round taking photos of stuff) seemed a fairly restful way of bridging between the two. First of all, we had to get off Easter Island. Malena got us to the airport nearly three hours before the departure, which on the surface of it seems a bit excessive, given that the airport, small as it is, only has to deal with a maximum of two flights a day. As it turned out, it was no bad thing, as it gave us the chance to claim a reasonable place in, you guessed it, a queue.

This wasn’t the check-in queue, though; it was the queue to get into the check-in queue as your bags went through the X-ray scanner. Then we could join the check-in queue. Then we could go and sit outside whilst waiting for the chance to board. Serendipity gave us the chance to chat to a(nother) nice Australian couple with whom we’d actually exchanged a few words en route to Easter Island. They were on the last segment of a two-month trip and really looking forward to getting home; it made me wonder what my threshold will be. But we got some useful tips about Galapagos and Machu Picchu, because of course they’d already been there and done that.

The flight back to Santiago gave Jane the opportunity to watch “Thor – Ragnarok” for the third time on this holiday alone, which shows true dedication to watching whatever it is that Chris Hemsworth has to offer. Nope, still don’t get it. I watched “Kingsman and the Golden Circle”, because I like classy entertainment, me.

Anyhoo…the break in Santiago was scheduled to include a tour of Valparaiso (a major port) and ViƱa del Mar (its neighbouring holiday resort), which meant we had another chance to meet our charming guide with the unusual portfolio career, Ronald. (Apparently, we were his last tour of the season, and he’s going to spend the winter concentrating on finishing and rehearsing a musical he’s writing).

Valparaiso is some 65 miles from Santiago, and lies on the other side of the coastal mountains. So the journey there takes you westwards through a 4km tunnel into the first of a couple of fertile valleys, and then another into the second. The first valley is where a large amount of fruit and vegetables are grown; the second is lined with vineyards, growing mainly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes. As we went along, Ronald explained that Valparaiso was Chile’s capital city in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, capitalising on its significantly important location as a Pacific coast port. However, starting in the 19th century,the important and influential families left the city and the Panama canal damaged its standing as a major international transport route. Its standing has been damaged even further by a recent development which saw another (neighbouring?) Chilean port, San Antonio, win the cruise liner business after Valparaiso’s port workers staged a strike. It has strong French, German and English communities (the local football team is called Valparaiso Wanderers, and ViƱa del Mar’s is called Everton) and this is reflected in the architecture and the naming of places.

After something over an hour we got to Valparaiso, which was completely different from the completely erroneous picture I had allowed to build in my mind of a relatively dull industrial port. For a start, it is enormously hilly,

The hillside neighbourhoods of Valparaiso

with separate neighbourhoods on separate hills, and it makes San Francisco seem merely slightly lumpy by comparison;

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

it is ramshackle and graffiti-covered;

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

the wiring has a distinctly South American character;

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

and parts of it are reportedly very dangerous.

On the other hand, it has considerable charm: lots of the buildings are very colourful;

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

(above – the Hotel Brighton) many of them are unusual, like the Palacio Baburizza, built by a Croat and gifted to the city in his will;

Palacio Baburizza

street art of all sorts abounds;

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

with innovative use of resources such as drinks bottles

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

and bathroom furniture;

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

and the various hillside neighbourhoods are served by funicular railways (some working, some in disrepair).

;

Yes, it is an industrial port, but on a sunny Good Friday, with the holiday crowds out

The colourful streets of Valparaiso

and the entertainers plying their trade

Valparaiso shows that it is unique, vibrant and appealing. (The puppet master shown above had his Pavarotti wander over to the money tin after the last aria, peer in and shake his head in disappointment; a lovely touch.)

Ronald made the visit even more individual by performing some of his pieces in a local cafĆ© called Columbina for us, on an appallingly out-of-tune piano, which is why I’m not providing the video.

So by the time we’d seen that and got to ViƱa del Mar, there was really only time for a nice lunch at a decent, busy, buzzy restaurant called Los Pomairinos, where we were served by Ian McShane, or possibly Robbie Coltrane

(actually much more genial than he looks in this photo), and then it was time to go back to base, as we decided that there wasn’t much to ViƱa del Mar beyond beaches, proms, apartment blocks, sunshine and general seasidery. We had an engaging detour to say hello to Ronald’s sister, which you don’t get on your average private guided tour, and then we were back at our hotel, to prepare for a 5am start to our journey to Ecuador. We will report in on that in due course, but will likely be off-grid for a week whilst filling memory cards with photos and videos of all the Galapagos Islands have to offer.

Laters!

In transit 2 – Bariloche to Puerto Varas

24th March 2018

Our time at the very swanky Llao Llao Hotel was all too short, and so we embarked on the next stage of a transit which would eventually take us to our next major segment of our South American odyssey, a couple of days in Easter Island. But Tierra del Fuego to Easter Island is a major schlepp, and so we did in sections, taking in some popular tourist sights en route, as described in part 1. Some more sights awaited us in the second part of the transit, as we travelled from Barioche to Puerto Varas. This is a well-established tourist route, having first been undertaken in 1913 and, notably, by Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 (it was apparently Roosevelt who, basing his knowledge on the recently-established Yellowstone National Park, suggested that the areas surrounding this route be set up as a national park before modern life could damage it too much; and so it came to be, in around 1927). We had catamarans and buses instead of sailing boats and wagons, but essentially the route we travelled was the same; and we had a guide called Eduardo to explain to us what was going on, which was occasionally reassuring.

We started in Puerto PaƱuelo, which is conveniently located a few hundred yards from the Llao Llao Hotel.

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The boat took us to Puerto Blest, which is very scenic, but not very photogenic (WALP Factor 8, but all rocks and forests), so people spend a lot of time feeding seagulls.

where we joined a very short bus ride to go to Lago Frias, a volcanic lake. At the end of Lago Frias is the Argentinian end of the border, where passports are checked and you have a chance to see a replica of the motorbike that Che Guevara rode across the Andes back in the days before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a national hero.

The border crossing is a multi-stage process. At the far end of Lago Frias, the Argentinian border staff leave the boat before anyone else is allowed to, so that they can set up their computers and so forth in a hut beside the above bike and another small hut selling snacks. They check passports and then get back on the boat to go back home, as did our Argentinian guide, to be replaced by a Chilean guide called Victoria. She and the ongoing passengers then board a bus, which grinds its way up a rough and winding track to the actual border. A few hundred metres further on, there’s a photo stop to see a local volcano named “Tronador”, or “Thunderer”, so-called because of the noise that the glaciers make as they break up.

Mount Tronador

We were very lucky with the weather, as we could actually see something. Given that this area receives on average three metres of rain (yes, ten FEET) every year, and that it rains some 228 days a year on average, I think we got privileged access.

After this, the bus grinds on to the Chilean border, at a small village called Peulla, where everyone has to get out and open their luggage so that Chilean border guards can check that you haven’t brought anything illicit in. Once again, I had an agony of indecision as to whether to declare all four of the cameras I had with me, but decided not to; and the customs officer couldn’t have shown less interest in my luggage, which made this a good decision.

Peulla is a lunch stop with a choice of two local hostlelries, one of them being a hotel where we had grilled fish with vegetables (Jane) and fried fish and chips (me). We ate in the hotel’s conservatory, which featured a rather novel idea – a sprinkler (arguably a length of hose with holes in it) cascaded water on the transparent roof, and the sunshine through this made rather lovely patterns in the room itself.

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There’s one more boat trip after lunch, which takes the journey on to PetrohuĆ©. This is the longest ride, but features nice views of another volcano, called Puntiagudo.

Volcano Puntiagudo

(translated: pointy tip) which looks a little like a local version of the Matterhorn, and another volcano, called Osorno, which I would think that many people would think was Mount Fuji, if they didn’t know better.

Volcano Osorno

After this final boat ride, you take the last bus journey, 50km journey into Puerto Varas. However, the excitement doesn’t dim, even at this late stage, as there’s one final tourist attraction to visit, and time presses. In fact we cut things so fine that we had to sneak round the side of the visitors’ centre to get in to see the PetrohuĆ© waterfalls. I’m very glad we made it, as this is a splendid sight.

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And our vulcanological insight was further enhanced on the last kilometres into Puerto Varas, with views of Calbuco, an active volcano which has erupted, and violently, as recently as 2015.

Volcano Calbuco

Puerto Varas is a pleasant town. We stayed at the Hotel Cumbres, which styles itself as the best hotel in Puerto Varas, and I see no reason to gainsay this. We had only one day there, and so, since the sun was shining, we decided to go for a wander around. Before we did this, though, we saw an astonishing morning mist on the lake (Llanquihue).

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There’s little to make Puerto Varas out as exceptional (the hotel receptionist couldn’t when pressed, suggest a single thing worth visiting), but it’s a nice town, with the colourful buildings that we’ve seen elsewhere in Chile and Argentina.

and the same rather alarming approach to electrical wiring.

It’s called the city of roses, for good reason

and has, at one end, a hill which has been pressed into service as a park, named after a significant founder of the city, a German called Bernardo Philippi. One can climb the 500 feet to the top, where there is a giant cross, which is illuminated at night.

So, this was our transit, from Bariloche to Puerto Varas via PetrohuƩ

Tomorrow we’re off to Puerto Montt, to fly to Easter Island via Santiago. I’ll report in from there in due course – stay tuned!

Tierra del Fuego – 3: All hail Cape Horn. And sun. And rain. And WIND!

19th March 2018

Every excursion from Australis ships is carefully explained to its potential participants, to make sure that safety instructions are well understood and that, if there’s a choice of arduousness of hike, you can choose correctly. The briefing about Cape Horn left me feeling really excited about the prospect of visiting a unique and historic site – all we needed was decent enough weather to be able to make landfall. And it was clear from the briefing that this is by no means a given…

We were lucky. Mostly.

In a relative way, the weather was kind. So, it was only raining at 45Ā°, rather than horizontally, and the temperature was above freezing – a positively balmy 5Ā°C. Getting into the landing craft was a bit more scary than usual, but getting out of them on to Cape Horn island gave us a real insight into the hard work that the expedition leaders on the ship do to ensure that we tourists – sorry, travellers – get the selfies we so desperately need. There were five people, including a couple waist deep in the freezing ocean (who, by the way, had day jobs as the two chief barmen on board), to catch an incoming rib, hold it steady and assist people to disembark on to a ramp. Absolutely sterling work, and these guys deserve all the applause (and tips) that they get. I took a little movie footage of our subsequent departure, to give some idea of what they go through for us:

The Ventus Australis expedition team working in pretty rough conditions on Cape Horn Island to prepare a ramp so that they can take visitors to the island back to the ship on the waiting RIBs

Ah, did I mention the hail? As we approached land, the rain turned solid, and we were lashed with hailstones. Small ones, to be sure, but they didn’t half sting.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we got ashore and started the journey to see the sights. There aren’t many of these, but they’re certainly worth climbing 438 steps to see, and that’s before breakfast. On the island, there’s a monument and a lighthouse. In the lighthouse live the lighthouse keeper, a Chilean Navy officer, and his family. They run a small souvenir shop, with painted rocks being the staple, and live there for a tour of duty during which their only other human contact consists of one supply ship every three months and the odd bunch of tourists, sorry, travellers. There is, we’re told, a waiting list for the job.

The rest of the expedition is spent trudging up and down steps, which are definitely wet and sometimes slippery.

Everyone has to keep their life jackets on, which makes for a striking sight as people ascend and descend the steps.

And the monument is a thing of joy, with two pieces giving shape to an albatross in negative space.

The only other things of note on the island, apart from a weather station and radio masts, are the lighthouse

and a small chapel.

But at least the weather improved and we had some sunshine. And every so often the wind dropped a couple of notches to make it possible to take some photos.

The rain returned as we embarked to go back to the ship, but it couldn’t dampen our enjoyment of what was a very special part of our South American odyssey.