Penguins at Punto Arenas

by Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry 17. September 2009 20:43

Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry are owners of Islands in the Sun Cruises and Tours. You can find the original blog from their 2008 cruise around South American here, or visit the company's website at www.crus-sun.com.

 

Dec. 12 — We joined most passengers and many crew members in rising early to enjoy a day ashore in Punta Arenas, (Sandy Point) Chile. This port city had a quite busy past as a key port of call for ships sailing around South America before the opening of the Panama Canal. Large sheep ranches (estancias) were also developed in the 1800’s and some are still operating today. In fact on our drive to Ottway Bay to see the Magellenic Penguins we were able to witness some gauchos on horseback with their dogs herding their sheep. And yes, a visit to the Penguin colony about 40 miles from Punta Arenas was one of the most popular shore excursion choices. We got to see many of these very ‘social’ penguins coming and going from their burrows, and gathering on the beach and frolicking in the ocean. Another treat was seeing South American Condors flying in the wild.

After returning to the city center we then found a restaurant by the harbor for Russ to sample several variations of the local King Crab – ‘centolla’ – it passed his quality control with high marks. We also enjoyed seeing many of the historic Victorian style buildings and a lovely town square where many local craftsmen were selling their wares.

Dec. 13 — The fantastic scenery of the Chilean and Argentinian Fjords has been non-stop. Daylight (before 6:00 a.m.) brought a continuation of the beautiful snow-capped mountain scenery as our ship threaded through the fjords and then entered the famous Beagle Channel. ‘Beagle’ was the name of the ship that Charles Darwin sailed on for several years during his South America explorations. Numerous alpine hanging glaciers were seen and many tidewater and melting glaciers as well as waterfalls. Most of these glaciers are named after various countries.

We then arrived at Ushuaia, Argentina around noon. This small city is nestled on a large harbor and sheltered by the mountains and glaciers. Many tour opportunities were offered and we chose to take a three hour tour to ‘Tierra Del Fuego National Park’ where we were treated to splendid views across the Beagle Channel, the scenic and wave-crested Roco Lake and other areas of interest. We then enjoyed time for shopping, sightseeing and dining in this town which claims to be at the ‘end of the world – where life begins’. Russ again was happy to sample the local ‘Centolla’ – King Crab and Susan enjoyed the famed Argentian beef steak and local Malbec wine.

Ushuaia also has a fairly large airport and is the ‘jumping off point’ for many tourist and scientific expeditions to Antarctica, and to the southern regions of wild Patagonia. The buildings and houses are quite an eclectic mix of many styles — some reminiscent of the Swiss Alps — although many built from corrugated iron in many colors, complete with ‘gingerbread’ type decorations.


Dec. 14 — Although not a port day, this morning was certainly one of the highlights of the cruise, and another ‘world class geographic landmark’ – sailing around ‘Cape Horn’. Cape Horn is the southern most point of South America and originally named after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands by Dutch sailors. (All passengers and crew are now ‘mossbacks’ after making this passage.) It’s the northern most point of the Drake Passage and just a few hundred miles from Antarctica.

At certain times of year these waters can be rough and hazardous, but on a late Spring morning like this the waters were very calm and only a light breeze was blowing. The partial cloudiness also broke into bright sunshine and it was a great morning to take photos from your balcony or the upper decks. Our port lecturer gave pertinent commentary for about an hour and a half during our circumnavigation of the Cape Horn island. The rocky island is partially covered by grasses and mosses and some amazing rock formations are situated at the island’s edges. On such a clear day the ‘Albatross’ monument erected to the memory of sailors who have lost their lives was also very visible. After this glorious morning, we began sailing in a northeasternly direction toward the Falkland Islands.

Chilean Fjords

by Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry 17. September 2009 20:37

Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry are owners of Islands in the Sun Cruises and Tours. You can find the original blog from their 2008 cruise around South American here, or visit the company's website at www.crus-sun.com.

 

Dec. 9 & 10 – Two sea days traveling south off the Chilean coast, most of the time not in sight of land until the latter part of the second day, allowed time for relaxation and getting to know the comforts of the ship. We enjoyed visits to the health club, attending port and naturalist lectures, meeting an interesting mix of other ‘international’ passengers, and of course the delicious and bountiful food – available 24 hours a day.

On a two-week voyage like this it is such a treat to get fully unpacked and settle in to your ‘home away from home’ and find your favorite places on the ship. Our ship, the Star Princess, features three swimming pools, multiple hot tubs, a variety of theatres and lounges, several dining rooms and restaurants, library, internet café, a health club and spa, the innovative ‘Skywalkers Lounge’ (set like a ‘spoiler on the back of Deck 17 reached via a glass enclosed moving sidewalk), and the new ‘movies under the stars’, and so on. As we journeyed south our sunny and clear days grew increasingly longer with daylight lasting until about 11:00 pm. The temperatures also started to decline and winds picked up at times too, but the seas remained relatively calm.

Dec. 11, 2009 – We took the captain’s advice and set our wake-up call for 7:30 a.m. to view the entrance into the Chilean fjords, the Straits of Magellan and the beginning of glacier country. It turns out that we even woke up before our ‘call’ at 6:00 am and enjoyed the journey through balding mountains, some still topped with snow and others with some minor vegetation. Our major destination was the majestic Amalia Glacier in the Southern Patagonia Ice Fields. It reaches the sea at approximately half a mile wide, and 100 feet high. It is a tidewater glacier and at this time of year has lots of calving action and deposits many iceflows and mini icebergs on its march to the sea. In the surrounding mountains a myriad of other hanging glaciers can be seen. Sailing up to a thrilling glacier like this is a special ‘once in a lifetime experience’. It’s somewhat similar to Alaskan glaciers, but nestled in the beautiful Chilean Fjords with ample sea life and bird watching opportunities, it takes on another dimension. Viewing the sights from your balcony with warm clothing, a blanket and hot beverage creates memories that cannot be erased. Scenic sailing and smooth seas were the order of the day.

A Chile reception

by Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry 17. September 2009 19:33

Guest bloggers Russ and Susan Rosenberry are owners of Islands in the Sun Cruises and Tours. You can find the original blog from their 2008 cruise around South American here, or visit the company's website at www.crus-sun.com.


Dec. 6 — Flights on Copa Airlines from Miami to Santiago (via Panama City) were punctual and smooth, and with decent service. Chile’s time zone is 2 hours ahead of Eastern Standard time, and at this time of year daylight lasts until after 9:00 pm. Santiago is located in the ‘Central Valley’ in central Chile and views of the (often snowcapped) Andes Mountains provide a picturesque backdrop and easy directional landmark. After clearing customs and immigration our transfer to our Santiago hotel took about 20 minutes. We quickly settled in, and then took a taxi to a nearby restaurant noted for its ‘seafood’ – Porto Fuy – Russ had the best Sea Bass and Mushroom Soup ever, and we enjoyed a crisp Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley. US dollars are widely accepted for tips and taxis, and of course credit cards at other establishments. Most Chileans have very limited English skills, except for those directly involved in tourism or other selected industries.

Dec. 7 — In late spring sunrise in Santiago is also early, so after a breakfast buffet at the hotel, our tour guide and driver were ready to show us the highlights of their capital city. Santiago is a collection of many neighborhoods, each with their own government and mayor. It is also a mixture of many historical buildings in various states of renewal or decay, as well as many very modern buildings brought forth during the last decade or so of a fairly robust and stable economy. We first concentrated on the central part of the city, which was founded by Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. Plaza de Armas was the site of the original development and it is still a busy meeting point for locals and visitors. It now contains many trees, including the stately Chilean Palm, fountains, sidewalks and seating areas as well as an imposing statue of the mounted Valdivia. The square is now surrounded by many historical buildings such as the 1747 version of the Santiago Cathedral, the National Historical Museum inaugurated in 1808, and a beautifully restored ‘turn of the century’ Correo Central (1902) which still serves as a post office. Another key landmark nearby is the Presidential Palace, ‘La Moneda’ originally built in 1788. The President of Chile no longer lives in the Palace, but the executive offices are housed there. Every other day a formal ‘changing of the guard’ ceremony takes place here, complete with military marching band, horses, and intricate colorguard formations. The Palace has been restored from being severely destroyed during the military coup of 1973 when the Chilean Airforce actually bombed the Palace to end the leftist government of Salvadore Allende, who then alledgedly committed suicide. Chilean politics has had many other colorful leaders throughout its history, and currently has a woman President (despite Chilean women only having the right to vote since 1949). Many other restored historical buildings in Santiago are now used as buildings for Santiago’s many universities.

Other neighborhoods of interest to tourists highlight include the Mercado Central (Central Market) filled with restaurants and shops, the ‘Bohemian’ neighborhood of Bellavista, and the artisan market in Las Domenicas, and many, many more. And on a sunny and clear day, a visit to the top of Cerro San Cristobal via road, cable car or funicular awards you a beautiful panoramic view of Santiago and the thriving central valley. An imposing statue of the Shrine of the Virgin Mary, built in 1908 reigns over the hillside and is lit up at night. The Catholic Church still plays a strong role in the life of Chile.

Dec. 8 —  A scenic journey from Santiago to the coastal towns of Vino del Mar and Valparaiso is made easy by Chile’s great highway system. Vino del Mar is an upscale beach resort town that is currently booming with many new hotels and condominiums sprouting up. Luxury shopping centers and casinos abound as well. The climate and terrain are very reminiscent of southern California. About 20 minutes south on the coast is the port city of Valparaiso – where cruise ships, container ships, and the Chilean Navy are based. In the 19th century it was named ‘little San Francisco’ and was a thriving port where most ships that rounded Cape Horn made a port call. Then after the Panama Canal was opened in 1914 this business greatly dwindled and the city went into decline. In recent years the tourism industry has begun to help this charmingly situated city regain some of its former stature.

It is a secure and easy port to access, and provides great views for an amazing ‘sailaway’.


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