Category Archives: South America

A sunny Sunday in Santiago




The long drive from the port of Valparaiso to the capital city of Chile took us through countryside which was lush, green and filled with vineyards. These were interspersed with orange and lemon groves and with the high, snow capped Andes towering in the distance, the two hour drive was a visual delight.



Not so delightful was the entry into Santiago. I have never seen so much graffiti anywhere! There were political slogans, anti-police slogans, some dubious art work and then the hideous scrawls of kids just wanting to leave their mark. And these marks were everywhere. Statues, buildings, pavements…none were immune and it was difficult to look past and focus on something else.

It didn’t help that, in common with most cities in Catholic countries, everything was closed. Even the ubiquitous Mcdonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC were resolutely shut. Not a coffee to be found anywhere. Therefore a visit to Constitution Square in the blazing sun and a long talk from our guide on the political and constitutional make-up of Chile could not be assuaged by the simple pleasure of ‘an Americano to go’. But at least the guards protecting the President’s formal residence (even though he only goes there on official occasions), smiled benignly as they indicated we should step no further forward.




So, onwards. We couldn’t go to the main square because there was a ‘demonstration’…no details given, but at least this was unlikely to have an anti-British flavour. However, the drive through the new part of Santiago, with its fabulous modern architecture (free from the graffiti which adorned places like the Opera House), was fascinating. So were the open spaces and lovely parks throughout the city.


2FAF7253-D325-4521-BB32-AD6E016C2359.jpegI have to mention lunch at the partially open air restaurant. A traditional drink in Chile is ‘pisco sour’. This is made from distilled grapes and is ‘soured’ by lemon. Delightful! We were given this in Puerto Montt as an aperitif and it was definitely not strong. However….. Santiago wanted to leave a lasting impression. Bigger glasses and a punch like a swinging sledgehammer caused general noise levels to rise and loud laughter joined in when copious amounts of the local wine were added to the mix. I had visions of people sliding gently under the tables for an early siesta but fortunately everyone arrived back at the bus.

Those who were then sleeping (!) missed the joke about our next stop. The coach driver navigated his way through cyclists and walkers to take us up ‘Conception Hill’ for a panoramic view of the city. This is a local name given because it is a favourite place for young couples who cycle or walk to the top, watch the sunset and, eventually, come down again. Great views from a myriad of private viewing spots on this densely wooded hillside.

What day in Chile would be complete without a visit to a vineyard and a chance to simple the local wines? But it’s a great way to sell the products and people came away laden with cases of wine. Sadly, my baggage allowance is already tight and ‘getting tight’ on board by drinking in my room is not an ambition.

Next stop Easter Island.


Back in Valparaiso we were in time to catch the local ‘flea market’. Stalls sold the usual goods that few people wanted or stopped to buy. I was amazed to see a huge number of second hand stalls (a bit like an English car boot sale) which attracted a lot of attention. I was even offered “nice relaxing smoke”. Time to sail off into the sunset! Next stop Easter Island.






Flying high in the Chilean clouds


Early morning in Puerto Montt was anything but promising with clouds so low we appeared to be surrounded by fog. Perhaps not the best day to be taking a trip up a volcano, scrambling around waterfalls and visiting a lake. Fortunately, the forecast promised better things by mid morning.

On the basis that we were probably going to get wet around water falls anyway, this was the first stop. I couldn’t work out whether it really was raining or whether it was the spray from the cascading water.

Whatever…it was wet! Huge volumes of icy water hit rocks and boulders all around us and fell into deep green pools. Power boats took those who wanted to get seriously wet right up to the cascades, and whilst it looked fun it is slightly less fun sitting in wet clothes for the rest of the day.





Whatever…it was wet!

Although the falls were not necessarily high, they were impressive and spray was everywhere so, when the sun shines, there are rainbows all over the place – but only one today.

8469AA7A-8DA9-4CBD-99D3-7890E50D5D4E.jpegThen it was off up the Osorno Volcano. Where’s the volcano? It’s that huge glacier topped mountain which is tucked behind the clouds. The coach suddenly lurched steeply upwards and continued to climb through lush vegetation.


There was a huge lake at the bottom, allegedly, and snow and ice at the top. All I knew was that we had now come out of the forested area onto rocky slopes and were negotiating 42 hairpin bends along the incessant climb. The coach had to stop for 10 minutes to cool the engine whilst we were shown a crater on the side of the mountain.

08585402-5EBF-4556-823D-E542B6960785.jpegThis crater looked like a big hole to me but there was no way of seeing how deep it went. The coach set off again and chugged reluctantly upwards. The only coaches that can make it up there are the ones with engines in the front. Rear engines weight down the back ends and are too dangerous. And this wasn’t?

0D634BC7-05E8-4A24-B0BF-51EE36D84E42.jpegFinally at the top we found how true it was that it would be cold and windy. But suddenly the wind began to move the clouds to reveal the snow and ice capped volcano in all its majesty. Wow. We were up above the clouds and immediately in bright, bright sunlight which glared off the snow capped peak. This was really special and we were promised excellent photo opportunities on the way down. The 42 hairpin bends going down the mountain became 42 very hairy hairpin bends and it was obvious why the trip was not suitable for anyone troubled by heights or motion sickness. I just couldn’t get ‘The Italian Job’ out of my mind and was thankful to be sitting towards the front!!



Down, down to the lake and the views were indeed stunning as the clouds parted for us. The lake appeared to reveal wonderful lakeside farms. We had lunch at one and were visited by llamas, emus and various animals who were keen to see such strange creatures walk amongst them. Having had my head pecked by an emu in New Zealand, I was giving them a wide berth. Then it was on to one of the small lakeside towns (this one a German town created by original German settlers).

It was strangely reminiscent of Bowness in the Lake District but…


It was strangely reminiscent of Bowness in the Lake District but here the children paddled in the water from strange, black volcanic sand. We were back in time for the final tender to the ship and after only being on board for about 15 minutes we are already on our way.

It’s a sea day tomorrow and time to catch our breath after a very long day out. Then its Valparaiso and Santiago on Sunday, where it promises to be even warmer than today’s very pleasant 20C.

Trekking in Patagonia



imageWhatever was I thinking about when, back in November, it felt like a good idea to go on a guided hike through a forest? I was clearly guilty of failing to read the small print and when I saw some of my fellow ‘trekkers’ kitted out with stout boots, walking poles and every conceivable bit of walking kit you could wish for, I thought my own waterproof jacket and trainers were a little under stated! However….

Our arrival in Punta Arenas had been peaceful and in an area famous for its summer winds of wild proportions, that was a relief. (They have purpose built hand-rails throughout the town as there are days when you cannot stand safely and walking is incredibly difficult – sounds like a windy day in Blackpool). I also learned that they don’t have sunny days in this part of the world. Sometimes the sun shines for a little while but you can experience four seasons in the space of 10 minutes. Today’s high cloud was considered ‘beautiful’ by the locals. The port itself is too small to take a cruise ship of this size and so we had to tender ashore. Therefore, with no rain, little wind and the temperature almost reaching a magnificent 10C, it felt like a good day for a walk. That was before I realised we were being taken to a chair lift.

A2C73FE8-FC05-4437-B357-A3EB3902D3A3.jpegThe plan was to go to the top of the mountain via chair lift and walk all the way back down through the dense forest. Right…..that was the bit I missed in the write-up! The gentle breeze at the bottom of the mountain soon gave way to something a little stronger which had the chairs swinging and our guide cheerfully told us that the temperature at the top of the mountain was about 10 degrees colder than below. As we had a very long walk ahead we would soon be warm.



AE427005-FAE8-4B50-A94F-C007529D7723.jpegTaking in the different types of trees and plant life was only possible when your eyes were not glued to the floor as you were stepping across tree roots, wading around bogs, jumping over streams, clambering through dense undergrowth and negotiating scree and rocks. The two guides were good and helped people across the really awful bits but there were a few ‘bottom slides’, trips and stumbles along the way. Not, I might add, from me, although I did find myself giving the odd tree a hug to avoid planting my bottom on a steep slide which would have carried me into a stream. All along the trail there was evidence of animals, some of them very large, but the guide was dismissive about the numbers of wild animals. “Lots of rabbits”, she said. If the rabbits round here leave that amount of mess, they either have exceptional appetites or Harvey, the giant white rabbit, is here on holiday!

It took almost 3 hours to reach the promised hot chocolate at the bottom. But by then I was warm. My knees felt as though they may not function for some time and my toes, which had been firmly welded against the fronts of my shoes, were complaining loudly. Climbing the steep steps onto the coach was hard but getting back down them pure torture.


I just know I am going to be stiff later and probably worse tomorrow but I have two days in the fiords visiting glaciers and a day at sea to recover before my next Chilean experience of waterfalls and a volcano from Puerto Montt.





I climbed a path…

“I climbed a path and from the top looked up-stream towards Chile. I could see the river, glinting and sliding through the bone-white cliffs with strips of emerald cultivation either side. Away from the cliffs was the desert. There was no sound but the wind, whirring through thorns and whistling through dead grass, and no other sign of life but a hawk, and a black beetle easing over white stones.”
― Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Rainbows in Patagonia

As we docked in Ushuaia (Ush-why-a) early this morning, there was an eager air of anticipation.  It is high summer here…but stepping out on deck provided a necessary reality check.  Granted it was above freezing (just) but the wind chill was something else.  The mountain ranges (the Andes, no less) surrounding the Beagle Channel revealed fresh snow on the tops and most people scurried off to find some extra layers.
My chosen trip was a scenic route up into the mountains to find a hidden lake.  What I didn’t know was that it remains hidden for a large part of the year because it is so high up and the clouds are often very low.  Today, the sun shone, the clouds lifted and the lake was revealed.  Thermal underwear would have helped when getting off the bus to take the photographs because the wind took no prisoners as it whipped its way through several layers of clothing. Just then, caught between the sun and a flurry of rain, appeared a rainbow.  How very appropriate!

Ushuaia is also part of Tierra del Fuego, two thirds of which belong to Chile and the rest to the Argentine.  Our guide told us that they only have two winters here and no summer.  One of the winters is cold and the other one is colder still.

Today, the sun shone, the clouds lifted and the lake was revealed.

They are building ski resorts, and can offer some unusual outdoor winter pursuits such as sledging with huskies.  Why do people live here and what brings them to what they claim to be the most southerly place in the world?  The reasons were complex at first but now it is simple – money.  The Argentinian government recognises that the conditions here are very hard and, when they wanted people to come here, they accepted they would have to pay them more… much more. Originally workers here were paid up to 5 times as much as those in other parts of the Argentine.  Young people flocked to make money and take their savings home after a couple of years.  Many stayed, however, and the city is now over-full.  Currently they are paid a little less than the original 5 times more, but still more than double the wages in any other city in the country.

We also heard that this is the end of the Pacific Highway, which begins in Canada, carves its way through North America and right down through South America.  Now that could be a trip for the future!  I wouldn’t like to do it following in the footsteps of a Canadian we heard about.  He literally walked it!!  It took him two years and on reaching here he became an overnight celebrity.
As we slip our lines this afternoon we continue our transit of the Beagle Channel towards our next port of call, Punta Arenas.  It will still be cold!!

Last thoughts on Cape Horn

image image

 I, the albatross that awaits for you at the end of the world…

I, the forgotten soul of the sailors lost that crossed Cape Horn from all the seas of the world.

But die they did not
in the fierce waves,
for today towards eternity
in my wings they soar
in the last crevice
of the Antarctic winds

Sara Vial
Dec – 1992

Round the Horn



I thought this morning that we were going to be in for some stormy weather but, as the day progressed, calm descended on the seas and we approached “The End of the World’ in totally flat waters.


The cold was biting as the wind blew straight off the Antarctic unimpeded by land, but what an amazing experience.  The commentator told us about the thousands of lives that had been lost where the oceans meet and seas of up to 100 ft have swept ships onto rocks or simply swallowed them.  I thought about the single-handed round the world yachtsmen and women who have gone through these waters in dire conditions whilst we stood out on deck fearing no threat whatsoever.


The most southerly lighthouse on Horn Island had no role to play today.  We launched a tender and crew members took our papers to the island to record our passage.
An interesting piece of information was also broadcast… any sailor rounding Cape Horn was entitled to put one foot on the table at dinner time.  If he had also rounded the Cape of Good Hope, he could put two feet on the table! I wonder how many people we will see with a foot on the table tonight?!




Whilst I am very grateful not to be sailing into the teeth of the Furious Fifties, in many ways I am sorry not to have seen the storm lashed seas predicted for me.  My photos are rather tame.  There are vicious rocks to be seen and you can imagine the wicked currents which can pull ships towards them, but this calm millpond with a gentle wake must be the Captain’s dream.  We have sailed right around Horn Island and done a ‘Cook’s Tour’ to see if we could see the puffins, penguins, sea lions and whales (which make their way to the Antarctic at this time of year).  We didn’t see any but neither did we see any icebergs, which can be an additional hazard.


I am still left feeling, “Wow, what an experience” and am so privileged to have had the opportunity.  Now heading North for Ushuaia and the currents have caught up with us causing the ship to rock and judder.  Perhaps a night of heavy seas after all or merely rock ‘n’ roll?

First (and last?) Tango in Buenos Aires

Where were the rain jackets, the umbrellas and wet weather gear? Why, back in the cabin!


“Don’t cry for me, Argentina” but this morning Buenos Aires wept buckets.  The forecast was for an occasional shower but between waiting at the ship’s muster point and setting off on a trip which involved quite a lot of walking around BA, the heavens had opened.  Where were the rain jackets, the umbrellas and wet weather gear… why, back in the cabins?!!

It became more and more farcical and laughing was all you could do.  We got off the bus during a slight lull in the deluge at the cemetery to ‘visit’ Eva Peron.


However, by the time we had paid our respects, marvelled at a cemetery with nothing but extravagant mausoleums and made a dive into the shelter of the entrance, we were in the middle of a tropical storm of monumental proportions.  The path became a river and steps down to the road provided a cascading waterfall.  Hilarious.  Outside stood a young man selling umbrellas.  He named his price, I named mine.  He went lower and so did I, but in the end $3 bought me some shelter and I was fractionally less of a drowned rat after the 100 yard dash to the coach.
We got off the bus again to look at the artists’ area with the brightly coloured shops and houses.  I got as far as a coffee shop and enjoyed the strongest espresso coffee I have ever drunk anywhere.  Hours later, I am still flying!  It certainly helped with the tango.
DSCN3859 DSCN3858This is such a beautiful city with fabulous buildings, monuments and parks and I would have loved to soak it up, as opposed to getting a real soaking.  I did have to peer hard through the rain drenched windows to see anything.
Fortunately, I am blessed with a sense of the ridiculous and whilst being in awe of the driver as he negotiated the by now flooded avenues, I found myself laughing at the sight of a tiny rowing boat coming towards us being washed quickly from a side street.  It was a young boy having fun.  At about the same point, a woman had taken off her shoes, hitched up her dress and was wading thigh deep along the pavement.  The water must have been over the axles of our coach but the driver kept on going and we made it to a less flooded area.
Then it was time for a few of us who had booked a tango demonstration and private lessons to get to grips (!) with our allocated partners.  “The tango is very sexy… relax, give me your body and I will make it sing”.  Blimey!!  What fun though.  I am not going to go into detail here… ask me when I am home… I am still laughing (and blushing)!!!  If you have ever watched ‘Benidorm’, think about Mateo, the Spanish barman, making you wrap your leg around him as he gets up close and very personal.
And what do you think had happened by the time we left the dance floor and were just a short ride to the ship?  The sun had come out and was cracking the pavements.  A look to the heavens, “Thanks, Pal, you got me this time”.  It was different (very), the Argentinian tango was a new experience (hmmm!) and what’s a bit of rain to a northern lass?!

Down in Uruguay: football and…

B472291C-B0AE-40DF-B552-FAF9402F9CE6.jpegThe rough seas of yesterday were all forgotten as we came face to face this morning with this very small South American country. Uruguay is the size of England and Wales and apparently the total population of the country is only 3m – but half of the people live in Montevideo. Montevideo means “I see a mountain” but I had to chuckle because the highest hill in the country is only about 400m high! The country is famous for…football and the tour guide could list every single player exported to play for other countries. Impressive. Amongst the facts and figures coming our way were all the usual historical and geographical ones and, of course, like much of South America, the country has been fought over and conquered numerous times. I laughed when I heard that the English also came and conquered in the 16th century but only stayed one year. However, we left a legacy… newspapers!

The traffic pouring into Montevideo was chaotic and, in the circumstances, it was probably a wise move to opt for a tour to the very upper class Punto del Este, which turned out to be 85 miles away. I confess to having the horrors when it was announced we would go to two museums along the way but they turned out to be the highlight of the tour for me.

They were actually art galleries and were exhibiting some of the most wonderful pieces of modern art I have seen. You were encouraged to explore and get up close, take photographs, etc. Not quite like ours then!!








There were statues by Salvador Dali held in a private collection and works of art from both the famous and the not so famous. One of the collections was in a beautiful, white, quirky building high up on the cliffs, with quiet terraces to drink in the natural beauty as well as that created and collected. The other “museum” was one of the now quite well known Ralli Museums and that was also truly fabulous. Alright, I wouldn’t want to hang the paintings at home but they were incredible. Various parts of various anatomies seem to appear in strange places.

I noticed an unusually titled shop on the way home and wonder if the locals have a bit of a fixation!!


Punta del Este is a beautiful beach resort where the country’s rich and famous have summer homes/holiday apartments. There is an active move to “sell” the benefits of Uruguay to Europeans and North Americans as it is currently reasonably priced, has a stable government and is expected to boom. Allegedly… a high percentage of all who visit Uruguay take a tour on a bus. 20% return to take a holiday in a hotel or rent an apartment. 80% of that last group will buy a house here. I can see the potential… a beautiful climate (today was 29C), lovely houses/apartments, great beaches which are nowhere near as crowded as in Brazil, rather interestingly attractive gauchos who ride their horses across the Pampas and through the lush green countryside. But… no direct flights from the UK and a very long way for a summer break. A great day out but doubt I will come back.


The return to the ship proved a little tricky. Members of the group wanted to buy fridge magnets (!) and instead of arriving back at 5, it was 5.30. That was the time the ship was due to leave… our Captain will not be happy! Thank heavens for organised tours when the ship is guaranteed not to leave without you. On the other hand, Buenos Aires is not far away.

“We are sailing…”




There are all sorts of benefits to cruising but one that stands out is the luxury of saying goodbye to your luggage at your hotel and the next time you see it is in your cabin. Sadly, the service does not include unpacking!! Nevertheless, coaches brought, direct from the hotel, as many of the 500 people due to embark Queen Victoria as were staying there. Having left at 11, I had made the 1 hour transfer to the other side of Rio, checked in, met Dennis, my room steward, had lunch and unpacked by 2.30.

First impressions of the ship…it is “proper posh” and a definite step up from my previous experiences. However, looks can deceive and the passengers seem just the same sort of mix, if slightly more cosmopolitan. I have already been invited to “come and visit with us” by a couple from Kansas City, been told a slightly off-colour joke by a Cockney guy (whose wife promptly hit him with ‘Hello” – ouch), and had a cup of tea on deck with some Australian people I met at the hotel.




image.pngThere is a bottle of champagne on ice in my room, as a welcome from Cunard, but that is bothering me and I may ask Dennis to pop it into my fridge. There is something a bit sad about sitting on your own in your room getting quietly wasted on champagne. But given the price of drinks on board, I may be quite glad of it at some point!!

I have only met two of my dinner companions, a very pleasant couple, but the others were apparently living it up in Rio, as sailing is not until 10.30. One discovery I did make was the fact that the Captain is a woman. I wouldn’t mind betting that she took some stick about ‘parking’ the ship! Later tonight we set sail for Montevideo and tomorrow night there is a big celebratory ‘Burns Night’. Special offers on whisky available, one of which is $125…for a glass!!! Good job I don’t like it!!!