South America Cruise on the Celebrity Infinity

2/27/11 to 3/13/11

 

Page 1:  Ship; Buenos Aires, Argentina;

Page 2:  Montevideo, Uruguay; Punta Del Este, Uruguay; Puerto Madryn, Argentina; Cape Horn, Chile; Ushuaia, Argentina ; Punta Arenas, Chile; Strait Of Magellan; Chilean Fjords ; Puerto Montt, Chile; Valparaiso, Chile

 

Montevideo, Uruguay;

In Montevideo we had arranged a private tour with six of our friends we had met on Cruise Critic.  Since they all lived in the Fort Lauderdale area, we had been able to meet with them several times during the year before the cruise.  Four of them, Joe, Rose, Steve and Linda would be going on five of our tours with us.  Sergio and Geri would be going on this tour and our tour / transfer at the end of the cruise. 

I had arranged a tour with Marta Marquez’s company (msmtaiz@hotmail.com).   Marta herself wasn’t able to do the tour; but her older sister Noemi was.  We were very pleased with her, because her English was excellent and she was very knowledgeable about the area and history.

 

We were also thrilled with the roomy van that was used.  The day was going to be nice, and the weather was just perfect.  Montevideo looked like a lovely city to tour.

    

Our first stop was along the beach to get a panoramic view.  It was a very popular area, and the water was much prettier there than in Buenos Aires.  There were lots of condos along the beach.

    

Our next stop was to the Plaza de la Armada.   There was a monument to those who died in naval service.

    

We then stopped at a wagon monument.  I had read about a wagon monument that depicts a wagon that was stuck in the mud; but this wasn't it.  So there must have been another one here also.

 

   

Montevideo has some lovely monuments and statues, including one of Pope John Paul.

        

We then passed by the Parliament, where we had to stop to get photos of the lovely building.  It was quite ornate.

   

   

 Next we went to the other wagon monument.  They are both beautiful, and clearly depict the hardships faced by the early settlers.

    

   

Our last stop was the Military Museum, which is part of a fort on top of a hill.  There was a beautiful panoramic view of the area from there. 

    

One of the reasons for that particular stop was to find a restroom.  Unfortunately, the fort and museum were closed, so we were concerned.  Noemi talked to a guard and asked if we could be let in just to use the restrooms.  I guess that she was convincing because he cooperated.  It certainly made the girls happy.

 

When we returned to town, Carol decided to go back to the ship.  The other two couples wanted to stay in town to have lunch.  I decided to stay with them because I like to try local food and beer.  We found a restaurant and ordered the local specialty, chivitos.  It was a sandwich with a whole lot of things on it, including pork, bacon, eggs, etc.  It was quite good.

 

We then walked around the main square.  It was a lovely area with monuments and beautiful buildings.

   

We really enjoyed our visit to Montevideo.  We had great weather in a beautiful city with an excellent guide. 

 

Punta Del Este, Uruguay

We had planned a ship tour in the upscale resort town.  However, I had been mildly sick for the last couple of days and ran a fever the previous night, so I decided to pass on the tour and see the ship’s doctor instead.  It was the right thing to do.  Although I hated to miss a port, I knew I would not miss the 20 minute tender ride that it took to get to shore in Punta Del Este.  The only photos I could get were from the ship.  Very disappointing.

    

   

  

Puerto Madryn, Argentina

The next day was a sea day and I was able to rest up and recover.  By the time we arrived in Puerto Madryn, I was feeling good enough to go on our tour to the Punta Tombo penguin rookery.  I was pleased to see the blue sky, since many of the previous cruises this year had experienced rain while visiting Punta Tombo. 

For this tour we had booked with Forastero Tours (http://www.forasterotour.com.ar/).  Our guide for the day was another Noemi and her driver Carlos.  Punta Tombo is the most important Magellan Penguin colony in Patagonia.  Over a million penguins are there during the season starting in September and ending in March.  Since we were arriving at the first part of March, there would still be some penguins there for us to see.

 

It would be a long day, since it was a 2.5 hour drive each way.  Fortunately the van was comfortable for the trip.  Once again Joe, Rose, Steve and Linda joined us on the tour.  For the most part the drive was very boring with a flat terrain with not much to look at.  Noemi provided us with information about the area; but with a 2.5 hour drive we did get a little restless.  Carol was glad she had brought along her Kindle.

As we got closer to Punta Tombo, Carlos would stop the car and point out wildlife to us; and Noemi would translate.  He was a great spotter.  We saw rhea, mara, wanako, a snake, a grey fox and a furry armadillo. 

    

We were very happy when we finally arrived at Punta Tombo.  We were ready to see penguins.  Noemi told us not to spend a lot of time at the beginning of the almost mile long walk, since there were more penguins further down the trail.  It was hard to pass up the cute little guys; but we tried to comply.

    

It was a nice gravel path and there weren’t many people there yet.  It also wasn’t windy like it normally is. There were penguins all along the path and in their burrows.  It was humorous to hear the Magellan Penguins braying.  They have a very distinctive call and sound exactly like mules.

    

   

We were able to get very close to them, especially when crossing over the small bridges.  They also liked to share the bridges with us.

    

Since we were at the end of the season, we didn’t have a million penguins to look at, but there were quite a few.  There were even some youngsters that were still molting.

    

As we got closer to the deep blue water, we could see lots of penguins.  They were on the beach going into and coming out of the water.  It was really fun to watch them swimming and playing.

   

   

   

We then went down to a different section of beach, but the penguins were just standing around, thinking of going into the water I guess.  I caught a photo of Linda, Carol and Rose just standing around too, so I took it.

    

After we had spent about an hour and a quarter with the penguins, we decided it was time to head back to the van.  As we started walking back on the trail, I couldn’t believe how many people were now headed toward us.  Some tour busses had arrived and hundreds of people were descending on Punta Tombo.  The paths were crowded and people were stopping to take photos of each penguin at the beginning of the trail.  I guess their guides didn’t tell them not to waste their photo time at the first part of the trail, like Noemi had told us.

 

It really made a difference in our penguin experience to beat the crowds.  This is a major perk of having a private tour, rather than taking a ship tour.  In a city tour, it probably isn’t as important.  But when visiting nature, the less people the better.

On the way back to Puerto Madryn, we passed a race track that had trials in progress.  That was definitely a change of pace from watching the penguins waddling to their burrows.

    

We had a nice view of the Infinity as we came to the port.  We were most fortunate during this cruise that we had no other cruise ships in any of our ports other than Buenos Aires and Valparaiso.  It was nice not to have to share the ports with anyone else.

 

 

Cape Horn, Chile

After having an excellent talk by Graham Sunderlin about Cape Horn, we were ready to experience the harsh environment that had sunk many ships and made Cape Horn known as a ship graveyard.  We knew that cruising around the Cape can be very rough, since the wind is fierce and the waves very high most of the time.  I had hoped to be able to see the famous Albatross Monument to the sailors who lost their lives there; but the weather had kept most of this year’s cruises from being able to see it.

Earlier in the day, we were having some very strong winds, with gusts up to 60 knots.  But as we got closer to Cape Horn, we were having better conditions than I had expected.  It was windy and cold, due to the wind chill; but the seas were relatively calm.  While waiting on deck to get to the Cape, I took great pleasure in trying to take photos of Albatrosses.  This variety was much smaller than those we had seen in New Zealand; but they were still fascinating to watch as they glided through the air.

    

As we approached the Horn, I could understand why so many ships had been sunk while trying to round the tip of South America.  There were lots of areas where rocks came way out into the sea.  Many of them were very low and hard to see, particularly if the weather conditions were bad.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me to take photos of the some of the worst areas, but I could see why so many ships didn’t make it.

   

At last we could see the facility and flag pole on top of the island of Cape Horn.  I hadn’t realized that it was an actual island until we started researching for this cruise.

    

It was still pretty far away and I didn’t know where to look for the Albatross monument.  The winds were really blowing hard and making it difficult to hold the camera still.  At last I saw it when we were at the correct angle.  But the only way I could see it at first was to take a photo and blow it up on the camera display screen.  It was strange how it was so easy to see in one position, but invisible from another angle.  The closer we got to Cape Horn, the monument seemed to disappear due to the way it is positioned. 

    

   

I was thrilled when the sun actually came out.  Quite a special event at Cape Horn.  We had been blessed with very good weather.  Unfortunately, the forecast for Ushuaia was for rain.

 

Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia and Puerto Montt were the two ports that I had hoped we would have some luck with the weather, since they had the best mountain scenery.  We were really looking forward to seeing the South American Andes.  Living in South Florida makes visiting mountains a very special occurrence.   With the forecast for rain, I was hoping perhaps that it wouldn’t be for the whole day.  When I woke up and walked out on our veranda, it was still dark and the lights of Ushuaia and the port were shining brightly.  I could see the outline of mountains in the background.  I was also thrilled to see that we would be docking rather than tendering as the itinerary had stated.  The previous cruise had also docked, so I had hoped that we would have the same good fortune. 

    

As the sun rose, I could see that we were going to have a lovely sunrise.  This was particularly important, since the skies were only partly cloudy.  Maybe they would clear off.

 

At last we could see the beautiful town of Ushuaia with snow capped mountains in the background.  I had set up a private tour for just Carol and me with Gerardo Germain (gerardo_ush@hotmail.com).  Gerardo is a taxi driver who also gives tours.  We had rushed through breakfast so that we could get off the ship and beat the tour busses.  In my haste, I had not realized that I had forgotten a very important item.

   

We walked off the ship and started to look for signs with my name on it.  Most all the vehicles near the ship were for Celebrity excursions.  We started walking to the port entrance to see if Gerardo might be there.  It was a very long way to get to the port security building.  Once we got there, we didn’t see any signs either.  I told Carol to wait there and I would go all the way to the entrance to see if I could find Gerardo, since I didn’t know if perhaps he would drive to the ship rather than be at the security entrance.

I passed through a bunch of souvenir shops on the way to the entrance and knew that we would be coming back there later.  At last I got to the entrance and there were several signs including Gerardo holding one with my name on it.  I shook his hand and then for some reason it popped into my mind that I had left the money for the tour in the safe on board the ship.  I couldn’t believe it.  I would have to go all the way back to the cabin to get his envelope with the money and come all the way back.  I told Gerardo to please wait, but I had to go back to the ship. 

    

I speed walked back to the security building to tell Carol what I had done and that I would get back as fast as I could.  I was beating myself up for not doing my normal pre-tour check off list the previous night.  I got back to the room, got the money and turned around to make the long trek back to the terminal entrance.  By the time I picked up Carol and we got back to Gerardo, I had wasted over twenty minutes of valuable tour time and I was huffing and puffing from my morning exercise.  But at last we were ready to see the southernmost city in the world.

 

Like most of the taxis we saw, Gerardo’s was small.  We knew it would be and because of that, we did not share this tour with any of our friends.  The taxis would be OK for three people, but not four.  Having three people in the back seat wouldn’t work unless one had very short, skinny friends.

 

Gerardo seemed like a very nice person and spoke good English.  As we drove to Tierra Del Fuego National Park we knew we had picked a great guide.  We were already enjoying our tour.  He stopped at a lovely spot along a river with a beautiful view of mountains.  It was quite a peaceful place with horses grazing.

    

We then proceeded toward the park.  Gerardo stopped at several places along lakes for me to take lots of photos.  The combination of the blue lakes and snow capped mountains was so lovely; and we were all by ourselves at most of the places we stopped. 

    

   

At one spot, Gerardo asked me if I wanted to take a 10 minute walk through some woods.  He would pick me up on the other side of the trail.  I couldn’t pass it up.  He said that it was a lovely walk and it was.

    

He then stopped at another spot where Carol and I could walk to what is considered to be the end of the Pan American Highway.  It was also a very peaceful lovely spot and once again Carol and I were by ourselves. 

    

   

We were fascinated with one of the shrubs we saw with fuzzy looking seed pods.  We were having a really good time and enjoying nature.

    

Gerardo then stopped at another place where we could see a beaver dam.  Apparently there are lots of them in the area and the beavers have become a problem.  There was also another scenic view of the mountains near there.

    

We then headed up to the Garibaldi Pass and the Lake District.  What a beautiful drive going through the Andes.  We were just oohing and ahhing at every view. 

 

We stopped at a lovely spot that had a tower we could climb to get a better view of the valley.  It was spectacular.

   

   

While on the top of the tower, we saw a fellow selling various wooden objects.  We fell in love with the little penguins.  The vendor told us that he and his father make them by hand out of several kinds of wood.  We chatted for a little while he told us how he made them.  They were only $15, so we got one.  We assumed that we would be getting other souvenirs in town, so we didn’t want to buy too much then.  After we left, I was disappointed that we didn’t get some more, since they were great souvenirs.

    

As we were heading to the Pass, we went by some more lovely mountains and passed under a ski lift.  Skiing is popular in that part of the world.

    

We got stuck behind a truck that was having mechanical problems.  I was getting impatient, but just decided to look out the windows and enjoy the beauty.  With the winding roads we would not be able to safely pass him.  Fortunately, we weren’t that far from the pass.  When we got to Garibaldi Pass, we could see why it was such a popular spot.  Several busses had arrived before us, but we still enjoyed looking at the mountains and valley lakes. 

    

Gerardo took us to a place not far from the pass to show us one of his favorite panoramic views.  We were really enjoying seeing the beauty of the Chilean Andes. 

    

Gerardo then took us back down the mountain on the road to Ushuaia.  He asked if we wanted to stop at a local restaurant for lunch.  By then it was 1:00 PM, so we jumped at his recommendation.  He took us to the Las Cotorras Restaurant.  It was also a restaurant that the ship tours used; but they hadn’t arrived yet.  The setting was gorgeous with a jagged peaked snow capped mountain in the distance.  Gerardo knew the family that runs the restaurant, and he proceeded to show us around.  He took me inside the lamb smoking room.  It was quite impressive with about 16 lambs being cooked around the open fire.  It smelled so good.

    

We only wanted a quick lunch, since we were more interested in seeing the sites of that incredibly beautiful part of the world.  We felt that we had to try the Fuegan Lamb we had just seen cooking.  We asked Gerardo to see if we could just order a Fuegan Lamb sandwich.  That was fine with them and they quickly brought out two large sandwiches stuffed with Fuegan Lamb.  Condiments were available, but were not needed.  It smelled so good, but tasted even better.  I couldn’t believe how delicious a plain sandwich of just meat and bread tasted.  It didn’t take long to devour the tasty meal.  We thanked the owners and praised them for the delicious lunch.

    

We headed back to Ushuaia, stopping first at a scenic overlook of the town.  We had a lovely view of the Infinity at the dock.

    

Gerardo then took us up another mountain to the Martial Glacier that was only a few minutes away.  After a quick stop for photos, we headed back down to the city business district.   Since it was a short walk to the ship from town, we decided to just be dropped off there to be able to do some shopping.  After spending a very full and absolutely wonderful day with Gerardo, we were a bit sad to have to say good bye to our new friend.  Our tour had been very special, and Gerardo will be added to our personal list of favorite drivers.

    

There were lots of stores in Ushuaia, with many of them catering to the tourist trade.  Carol felt that we should contribute to the local economy.  She bought a penguin for herself made of Rhodochrosite, the national stone of Argentina.  She also bought another penguin that was made of Lapis for Mike, of course.

    

After we finished our shopping, we were walking back to the ship when we saw a street vendor selling some wooden penguins.  They looked just like the ones we had seen on the viewing platform earlier in the day.  He actually recognized us, and we realized it was the same craftsman.  We were both very happy to have found each other again, since we had spent a while talking earlier in the day.  He was a true craftsman and very proud of his work.  I was just thrilled to be able to buy a few more of his beautiful pieces.  He was so grateful that he also included a tiny little duck for Carol as a gift.

We walked down through the town just enjoying such an interesting and beautiful place.

    

When we got back to the port area, we were able to look around in the shops and see what we had missed earlier in the day as I was rushing around trying to hook up with Gerardo.  It was a really pretty area, especially with the craggy topped mountains in the background. 

    

It had been a touring day we will never forget.  Ushuaia will go down as one of our favorite ports. We had a very full day and were ready to get back on the Infinity.  As we left port, we looked back at the lovely most southern city in the world.

 

We had been told that we would be able to see glaciers along the Beagle Channel at 8:30 PM.  Since the sun was supposed to set at around 8:00 PM, it didn’t seem like there would be much to see.  Because this was the day we had booked the SS United States Restaurant, I was concerned that we might not be able to finish in time to see the glaciers.  Fortunately, after our wonderful meal, I was able to get back to our cabin just as we were passing the first glacier.

    

Since it wasn’t totally dark yet, I was able to get some photos of the impressive ice masses. 

   

By 9:00 PM, when we were almost through the glacier area, it was getting too dark to photograph them.  It was unfortunate that we couldn’t have seen the glaciers in the daytime; but in order to do that, we would have had to shorten our port stop in Ushuaia.  This timing worked out OK for me; but I wanted to see it all.

 

Punta Arenas, Chile

Once again we woke up to a lovely sunrise as we headed down the Strait of Magellan toward Punta Arenas.

 

It would be a tender port, so Joe and Rose went down early to pick up tender tickets for Steve, Linda, Carol and me.  With the ship to arrive in port at 9:00 AM coupled with the tendering, we were concerned about losing too much valuable touring time if we didn’t get a low number.  Joe was able to get #1 tender tickets, so we were in great shape.  Even with our being on the first tender, we still didn’t get to the terminal until almost 10:00 AM.

Punta Arenas was one of three tours we had booked with Patagonia Shore Excursions (www.patagoniashorex.com).  When trying to set up tours in the South American ports, I had been frustrated by some tour operators being very slow to respond to emails or not responding at all.  Jamie, the owner of Patagonia Shore Excursions, had responded very quickly to all of my emails, even while he was stuck in Europe by the Iceland volcano ash.  I was able to Skype with him before we booked, which was a great way to get to know a tour operator.  The guide that Jamie had for us in Punta Arenas was Armando.

 

Once again the weather forecast had called for possible showers and it was cloudy when we got into the van.  We had booked an excursion to Otway Sound to see one of the smaller penguin rookeries in Patagonia.  Whereas Punta Tombo has over a million penguins during a season, Otway only has about 20,000.  Plus since this was near the end of the season, we weren’t expecting to see a lot of penguins; but we still wanted to give it a try. 

It would be a 1.25 hour drive to Otway.  The port lecturer had told us that Punta Arenas is one of the windiest cities in the world.  At times, they actually have to put out ropes along the streets so that people can safely walk on the sidewalks.  Today seemed to be a fairly mild day in town, so hopefully it would be at Otway also.  Like in Punta Tombo, the terrain was very flat; but we could see the snow covered Andes in the background.  Half of the drive was on paved roads, but the other half was on a private dirt road.  It was a long dirt road and extremely bumpy.

   

Armando did a nice job of telling us about the area and that most of the penguins had already left Otway.  We saw some wildlife including rheas, hawks and even a couple of condors.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my telephoto lens on my camera at the time; but I did get a photo of the large bird.

    

   

When we finally arrived at Otway, we could see that it was a much smaller operation than Punta Tombo.  There were just a few trailers set up at the entrance.  Luckily, one of them was a much needed restroom after riding on the dirt roads for almost 40 minutes.  There was a self guided map; as well as some penguin facts. 

   

   

Once again we were almost by ourselves at Otway.  There were only a couple of other vans in the parking lot.  Like Punta Tombo, the walk to the penguins would be almost a mile.  About halfway into it, we found some penguins very close to the path.  While there weren’t large groups of penguins, there were more than I had expected to see. 

 

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The main viewing platform near the water was set up like a blind so tourists wouldn’t disturb the penguins.  It was close to the water and we had to step onto a bench to be able to look through the opening at the top of the blind.  Since we were pretty much by ourselves, there was plenty of room for us to look at them for as long as we wanted.  There were two other viewing stands set up around the area.

    

There weren’t a lot of penguins; but then again, since they all look alike, how many did we need to see?  At least in this location and with the aid of the blind, we were able to get much closer to the animals while they were in the water.

    

   

Armando told us that we were very fortunate today, since there was very little wind.  He said that normally it is very difficult to even walk on the path because of the very strong winds.  On the way back we found a penguin relaxing in her burrow along with others along the path.

    

We also saw that the tour busses had arrived.  The small blind was now crowded with people trying to get a view with more people coming down the path to join them.  Otway is not designed for a lot of people.  Once again we were fortunate to have beaten the crowd.

    

Otway was a very different experience from Punta Tombo, but I did enjoy it and I got some nice photos.    If we could have only done one rookery, it would be Punta Tombo for sure; but I am glad we had been able to see penguins at two different places.

On the ride back we saw a replica of the Ship that Magellan had used.  The port lecturer had told us that it was about the same size as one of our tenders; but until I saw this replica I couldn’t appreciate how small the vessel really was.  Plus it seemed like its shape would make the ship bob on the water like a cork.  The Infinity was a much better choice for sailing these waters.

 

Armando took us up to a panoramic viewing area that gave us a great view of the city of Punta Arenas with the Infinity in the background. 

 

Since the port is a popular tourist location, there were many vendors set up to sell their brightly colored woolen products.  Everyone in our group lives in South Florida, so woolens weren’t on the top of our shopping list; but they made for a lovely display. 

    

Armando then took us around the town showing us some of the points of interest.  At the end of the tour, we asked him if he could recommend a restaurant for a late lunch.  He recommended one that was on the way back to the ship named Sotitos.  He dropped us off at the main square.  It was a very popular spot with lots of vendors selling woolens and various crafts. 

    

At the center of the square was a large statue of Magellan.

    

Around the square were some lovely buildings that showed the European influence of the city’s founders.

    

Sotitos was a couple of blocks from the square.  From the outside, it looked pretty plain; but when we got inside it was a lovely restaurant.  I almost felt out of place in our touring clothes and cameras.  But not enough to pass on eating lunch there. 

    

King Crab is very popular in that part of Patagonia and we were anxious to try some.  Most of us ordered the King Crab appetizer.  The other popular fish in this area was Conger Eel.  The port lecturer had mentioned the fish and told the audience to try it if possible.  It was supposed to be quite delicious.  When the King Crab appetizer arrived, we were thrilled to see that it had been taken out of the shells and was a very large portion.  It was so good.  Combined with the local Astral Calafate Ale, I was in heaven. 

    

When the main course arrived, it was also quite delicious.  Armando had recommended a very good restaurant for us.

 

After we finished lunch, we did a little more shopping.  There were so many street lights along the street.  Thinking back on it, they probably have that many so that they have something to attach the ropes to when the winds are strong.

    

As we headed back to the ship, it started to rain.  It was the first time we had experienced rain on the cruise.  It was a very light rain and stopped before we got back to the ship.  We had been very lucky in this port with the weather.  I could also see the Infinity waiting for the tired tourists to return to her.

    

There were a few souvenir shops at the port as well as an interesting whale tail photo opp.

 

    

After I got back to the ship, I went to the upper deck to get a last photo of Punta Arenas.  It had been another nice day.  Later that evening after dinner, we had a nice relaxing sunset.  At the time we didn't realize that in just a few hours we would be in a major storm.

    

 

Strait of Magellan; Chilean Fjords

We left Punta Arenas on a Tuesday evening.  Next on our itinerary we were scheduled to be cruising in the Strait of Magellan on Wednesday.  This was somewhat misleading, as one would assume that since it was the only thing on the agenda for Wednesday, it would be all day long.  I envisioned enjoying a leisurely, scenic voyage down the historic waterway following Magellan’s path.  Not so, as the entire time we were in the Strait was during Tuesday night and before dawn on Wednesday.  According to the Celebrity Today bulletin, we would be in the Strait of Magellan after leaving Punta Arenas (around 7:00 PM) until 5:30 AM the next morning (Wednesday).  Since we were in the Strait only at night and we entered into the Pacific Ocean all day Wednesday, it should have been called a Sea Day, since we would be sleeping and not actually experiencing the Strait of Magellan.

Once we were in the Pacific Ocean, we encountered a very strong storm and the ship was moving around quite a bit.  The captain said that we were experiencing 50 knot winds with gusts up to 80 knots.  With a category one hurricane being around 60 knots, we were in a very strong storm.  We were also having 18 foot seas. 

    

It definitely wasn’t a relaxing  day at sea.  The captain changed his route from the one that was planned, so that he could get us into more protected waters.  That certainly made a big difference.  It actually turned out to provide us with some scenic cruising later in the day.

   

   

Thursday was listed as Scenic Cruising in the Chilean Fjords.  It was a cloudy day and pretty cool outside.  The Constellation Lounge in the front of the ship was a popular place for viewing the fjords; but I preferred to be outside to get photos.

 

The cruising was nice; but it didn’t compare to the Norwegian and New Zealand fjords we had previously sailed.

    

I still spent most of the day out on deck enjoying the experience.  It was also much more enjoyable than the previous day’s storms.

 

 

Puerto Montt, Chile

I was very disappointed when I had seen the weather forecast for our day in Puerto Montt.  Both my iPhone and the Celebrity Today showed rain for our visit to what was supposed to be one of the most beautiful ports we would see.  Upon our arrival into the port, the sky was very cloudy.  By the time we disembarked the tender, the clouds were breaking up some, so perhaps the day wouldn’t be a total rain out.

Once again we were using Patagonia Shore Excursions for the day’s excursion. (www.patagoniashorex.com)  After we got off the ship, we easily found our guide for the day Maria and our driver Pedro.  She took us over to meet the owner of the company Jamie, who was also in charge of the Celebrity excursions in Puerto Montt.  It was good to finally meet Jamie, since I had communicated quite a bit in setting up our three tours with his company.  He assured us that we would have a lovely day for touring.  I hoped he was right.

 

In driving through the town, it looked like a lovely place to visit and probably a nice place to live.  It was a very clean, nice sized town set in a beautiful environment.

Our first stop was to see the beautiful Mount Osorno across from Lake Llanquihue, South America’s third largest lake.  I had seen photos on line of the beautiful extinct volcano with its snow capped peak.  It closely resembles Japan’s Mount Fuji.  It is unusual to be able to see the full peak; and today was no different.  It was covered by clouds as usual; but it was still a lovely sight.

    

We were headed to Vincent Rosales National Park, where we were able to see the Petrohue Falls and get a different view of Mount Osorno.  The drive through the mountains was very enjoyable.

 

After seeing the magnificence of Iguazu Falls, I wasn’t expecting to be greatly impressed with the Petrohue Falls.  When we got to the park, busses from the ship tours had already arrived, so we would not be having the uncrowded experience we had been very fortunate to have in some of the other ports.  But that was OK, since there was enough room there for everyone.  The falls were quite different from any I had seen before.

They were more of a rapids that ran through narrow rocks, rather than what I think of as a waterfall.  Since they were different, they were interesting.  The walkways were nicely placed where we could get excellent views of the water rushing through the area.

    

What was really nice there was that we could see more of the top of Mount Osorno off in the distance.  The clouds had lifted a little, and part of the snow was showing.  We needed to have a photo of us with the lovely background, as did Joe and Rose.

    

The longer we were there, the clearer it was getting.  What a beautiful sight.

 

We returned to the van and Maria told us that we were now going to the ski lodge further up Mount Osorno.  That was where we could take a chairlift further up the mountain or even take a long zip-line ride.  We all passed on both the chairlift and the zip-line.  When we got to the top, the clouds floating on the mountain looked quite mysterious.

 

   

The parking area and the mountain were covered with black and red volcanic gravel.  Walking up to the shopping area, we saw our table mates Shirish and Gita who were on a ship excursion.  We were glad they were also getting to see this beautiful place.  We would run into them several more times during the day.

    

It had been pretty cloudy when we first arrived at Mount Osorno, but as we walked around it looked like the clouds were breaking up. Maria asked if anyone wanted to climb the hill to get a great photo of the valley down below.  I wasn’t too enthused about climbing the hill; but I couldn’t risk missing a great photo op.

 

It probably wasn’t the best decision I made during this cruise.  The mountain was much steeper than it appeared and the gravel was very loose, making it a bit treacherous.  The gravel did give way pretty easily and one person did slip down not far from me.  I just had to be very careful and pay close attention not to slip.

Halfway up, there was a nice break in the clouds that allowed me to get a partial view down into the valley.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the top of the hill, the clouds had covered the view and there was nothing to see.  Oh well, at least it was good exercise.  On the way back to the lodge, we saw that there were now six tour busses in the parking lot.  It was a popular spot.

   

The lodge was at an elevation of 4,300 feet on the 8,700 foot mountain.  Maria had told us that she came within 600 feet of the top a couple of weeks earlier when she was climbing it.  She must be in great physical shape and a lot braver than me, as she is also a member of the ski rescue team.  She told us that there are large crevices in the ice that climbers regularly fall into, if they don’t use a local guide to show them where to go.  Many climbers have died on the beautiful mountain trying to reach the summit.  I would just be happy to be able to see it.

The ride down the mountain provided us with a nice view of the green valley and the deep blue of Lake Llanquihue below.  The ride consisted of many curves and switchbacks to get down the hill.  We had to stop to take more photos.

    

As we continued down the mountain, we looked back up and to our delight saw that the clouds were moving away from the peak.  What an awesome sight!  With the clouds gone, we could see the wide crevices in the ice.

    

We were so excited to see an unobstructed view of the gorgeous mountain.  We knew that it must not happen very often, when even Maria took out her camera to take some photos.  I had to take one of Maria and our excellent driver Pedro.  They had been doing a wonderful job for us all day.

   

We stopped at a scenic overlook to take some more photos and the sky around the mountain was totally clear.  Unbelievable!  Everyone had to get their photos taken.

 

Continuing on our way back toward the ship, we stopped at another popular tourist site, Green Lake.  Once again we joined the crowds from the busses.  On the path to the lake, we saw a grey fox family. 

 

Green Lake definitely lived up to its name, but it seemed that the main reason the busses stopped there was for the restrooms and souvenir stands.

    

On the way back to the ship, we planned to stop in the very popular tourist town of Puerto Vargas on the shore of Lake Llanquihue.  That is the town where Maria lives.  We wanted to do a little shopping and possibly find something light to eat.  It was running late and we didn’t want to waste too much time. But I did have to slow down to admire a gorgeous rose in the Plaza de Armas

    

It was a very picturesque town and I am sure a nice place to live.  The new multi colored modern looking school really stood out.

From Puerto Vargas it was a short drive back to Puerto Montt.  As we got closer to Puerto Montt, Maria had Pedro stop at a panoramic overview, so we could take some photos of the city.

    

It had really turned into a gorgeous sunny day.  One thing we learned was that you can’t depend on the weather forecast in that part of the world.  We had been so lucky to have great weather for this beautiful port.  When we got back to the dock, we once again saw Jamie.  This time I was able to take a photo of him with Carol.  We thanked him for bringing us such a beautiful day and told him what a great tour we had been given; as well as how much we enjoyed Maria and Pedro.  He was very pleased. 

 

While on the tender, I was finally able to get a clean photo of the Infinity with the sun shining on it.  It was additionally special because Mount Osorno was in the background.

 

After we got back on the ship, I went to the upper deck to enjoy some last looks of Puerto Montt.  There was a large cross on one of the hills, which looked like it was probably lit up at night. Looking toward the East, I could see the Andes in the distance.  This was such a lovely town.

    

But there was no doubt what really dominated the Puerto Montt landscape.  Mount Osorno rose high above the city.  But as usual, the clouds had returned to hide its beautiful snow covered peak.  We had been blessed with a very special day in Puerto Montt.

    

After dinner, we were witness to another lovely sunset.  It was a special treat to cap off an awesome port day.

   

 

Disembarkation and Post-Cruise in Valparaiso, Chile

Fortunately, we had a sea day after Puerto Montt to be able to pack for our disembarkation the next day.  Joe had been able to get the eight of us a 7:00 AM disembarkation time.  This was very important, since we had a lot to see that day and also had to be able to get to the Santiago airport in time for our 7:50 PM flight.  LAN had recommended arriving three hours early, so we would have about nine hours to explore the area.

I had set the alarm on my iPhone to wake us up at 6:00 AM, so we could get off the ship around 7:00 AM.  Unfortunately, since Daylight Savings Time started a few hours earlier, the iPhone automatically move ahead one hour.  I had mistakenly figured that since we weren’t in the USA and since Chile doesn’t use Daylight Savings Time, that my iPhone wouldn’t change.   So we got up at 5:00 AM instead of 6:00 AM.  I guess it really didn’t matter, since the Valparaiso port was very loud with bright lights; and had awakened me at what I thought was 5:00 AM, but was really 4:00 AM.  Carol was not happy, and the morning was not starting out well.  At least we would be exhausted for our long flight home, so maybe we would sleep better on the plane.

 

Around 7:00 AM we all met and were quickly taken off the ship to a waiting bus.  Like Buenos Aires a bus is required to take passengers to the terminal, since it is a very active commercial port.

It was a very fast disembarkation process and we all easily found our luggage and loaded it onto the free carts that the port provided.  When we walked outside, we saw several people with signs for disembarking passengers; but not one with my name.  I walked around checking to see if I could find our van.  By the time I returned, our guide Vivian had already found the others and was taking us to the van and our driver Juan.  As with our tours in Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt, I used Jamie’s Patagonia Shore Excursion company (www.patagoniashorex.com) to set up this last excursion and airport transfer.  We had told Jamie that we had a lot of luggage.  Even with the very large van that we had, we just barely got it all in.  But barely was good enough.

    

Since this excursion was taking place early on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t much traffic.  Driving toward our first stop, we passed many lovely monuments.  We were surprised at the large amount of graffiti on so many buildings.  Some of them were real artwork; but most weren’t.

    

The first stop was at a government building.  Across from it was a monument to the Chilean military.

    

We got our first views of one of the twelve funiculars still in operation in Valparaiso.  Due to the very hilly conditions, there were once 28 in operation.  When we drove by an extremely steep stairway, I understood why the funiculars were quite popular.

   

The hilly environment makes driving conditions here similar to that of San Francisco.  Juan did not have an easy job.  We drove up one of the hills and got out of the van to walk around the area.  We went over to one of the funiculars and were able to step into it since it wasn’t being used.  It was an old vehicle.

         

Looking out the car’s front window, it really showed the steep incline of the tracks.

 

This area of the city has experienced a resurgence, and many people are buying up the older properties and fixing them up.  I can understand, since this is lovely part of the city.  It also stays significantly cooler than Santiago, since it is on the water.  While in this area, the three couples on the tour with us saw their cruise table mates walking around.  They had to have one last photo taken together.

    

The brightly colored buildings and numerous flowering plants made for a lovely walk.

    

This little restaurant built on the side of the hill had a great view of the city.

     

Our walk took us by some interesting photo ops.

   

After we joined back up with Juan and the van, we headed for the popular seaside community of Vin Del Mar.  It looked much like beach communities in Florida, except for the hills and mountains in the background.  Our first stop in the town was to a palace. 

    

   

Due to the earthquake that struck this area last year, we could not go into the palace.  They were still repairing the structural damage and it was unsafe to visit, but the grounds were lovely.  We were surprised at how little earthquake damage we saw during our tour.  They had recovered very quickly.

We also stopped to see the large amphitheater, where many international stars have performed.

    

After leaving amphitheater, we passed by a castle on a hill.  The next stop in Vin Del Mar came as a total surprise to me.  We were going to a museum to use their restroom facilities and right in front of the museum was an Easter Island Moai statue.  Since I don’t expect to ever take a trip there, I could not have been more excited to be able to see a real Moai from Easter Island.  What a special treat.

   

After doing a little shopping in the area, we got back in the van to drive to Santiago.  The drive was more interesting than the drives we had taken to the penguin colonies.  We were driving through the mountains, so we at least had something to see.

    

Vivian asked if we wanted to stop at a winery.  Why not?  She took us to the Casas del Bosque Vineyard.  It was a very nice facility.  We sat at a large table in the tasting room and were shown a short video on the vineyard and their wines.  The vineyard tour guide then took us around to show us some of the vines. She let us taste some Pinot Noir grapes that we picked ourselves.  I hadn’t expected them to be as sweet as they were.  They were delicious. 

    

   

She then took us into the plant and explained what the equipment was used for.  It was a big operation.  I was very impressed with the cleanliness of everything.

    

We were then taken into what they called “the cave”, which was used to store the barrels of aging wine.  We were shocked when she told us that each empty barrel, that holds 325 liters of wine, costs from 600 to 900 Euros each.  That is $840 to $1,260 for an empty barrel.  The barrels can only be used about 3 times each and there isn’t a market for the used barrels because the freight cost would be too much.

    

We were then brought back into the tasting room to try three of their wines.  Most of us liked two of them; but it was unanimous that the third one wasn’t to our taste.  Since I’m really not much of a wine drinker, I was surprised that I could tell one from the other.

After some wine was purchased, we got back in the van for the rest of our drive to Santiago.  The terrain in that part of Chile was very arid.  For some reason, I had expected it to be much greener.  As we approached Santiago, we could see that it has a serious pollution problem.  Since Santiago is in a valley surrounded by very large mountains, the pollution does not have a way to move away from the city.  It is really a shame, since I am sure that it must be breathtaking to see Santiago after a rain with all of the beautiful mountains in the background.

    

Vivian first took us to the Presidential Palace to take some photos. 

 

We then went to Santiago’s main square, Plaza de Armas.  It was a large square and a beehive of activity with tourists and locals.

    

The Metropolitan Cathedral, which was built in 1748, is the main building on the square.  Vivian warned us about pickpockets in the area and we walked to the cathedral tightly clutching our cameras and valuables.

    

The cathedral was a large one with an ornate baroque interior.  We were immediately drawn to their Pieta statue, a very lovely piece.

    

We didn’t stay long because it was 2:30 PM and we were very hungry and ready to have a late lunch.  We found a small local restaurant and got some of the local specialties and beer.

The only thing that I had wanted to make sure I saw in Santiago was the Virgin Mary statue on San Cristobal Hill.  In addition to seeing the statue, the views of the city were supposed to be awesome.  Since lunch was taking longer than expected, I was concerned that we might not have time to see it.  Juan assured us that we could do it and get to the airport on time. 

We had to wait a while to get into the park where the road going up the hill began, plus the traffic was very slow.  The higher we climbed the better the view, but I hadn’t seen a glimpse of the Virgin Mary statue since we first got near San Cristobal Hill.

Because I was so anxious to get to the top and worried about getting to the airport on time, it seemed to take forever to get there.  Looking back at the time stamp on my photos, it only took fifteen minutes.  The parking area, as to be expected, was very crowded.  Somehow Juan was able to drop us off, find a place and wait there for us to return.  I still could not see the statue, but after walking a little bit around the hill, I got my first glimpse of her.  She was a beautiful statue standing high above the tacky vendor booths. 

 

   

I had originally planned on climbing to the top of the hill to get a full view of the statue and the pedestal she was standing on; but since I was able to see the full statue and I was worried about getting to the airport on time, I decided to pass on it. I hadn’t realized that Steve and Linda had already started climbing to the top until it was too late for me to start up.  But I was just happy to be able to be up there seeing the statue and the wide panoramas of this large city in the mountains. 

    

Vivian told me to be sure to get a photo of Santiago Soccer Stadium.  It was a large stadium that holds over 80,000 people.

   

It was getting late and we needed to drop off Sergio and Geri at their downtown hotel and then get the rest of us to the airport.  Juan said we had plenty of time.  He was right.  The hotel was relatively close to the hill, and the road to the airport was a very nice fast moving highway.  After we got outside of the city I looked back to see if I could see the Virgin Mary statue on the hill.  She was there.  I took a photo out of the van window so that I could show how high up the statue was on the hill.

 

We arrived with five minutes to spare at the Santiago Airport.  We found out that the flight had been changed to an hour later, probably due to the USA Daylight Savings Time change.  The airport was fairly new and a very nice building, but there were very few places to sit down.  Since we now had four hours till we left, we had plenty of time, so we went to the restaurant to grab a bite and be able to sit down.  Our vacation was over and we had a long flight ahead of us.  We would arrive in Miami at 4:25 AM and I planned on going in to work a few hours later.  The vacation was definitely over and reality was settling in. 

Recap

We had heard people rave about their South American cruises for years.  Now that we have completed one, I understand the passion people have for this gorgeous area of the world.  Since it is a part of the world that most people never get to visit, we feel so very fortunate to have been able experience this area of such amazing natural beauty.  Once again we had been able to find some outstanding private guides to show us the sights.  And we were able to share them with new friends in almost perfect weather.  This was indeed another great vacation.

 

 

 

Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
Shutterfly Albums

 

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