Starting Down the Coast of Chile
Monday, February 1, 2016At sea
After breakfast on the Lido deck, we went at 8:30 to listen to Michael Wilcox talk about the earliest Antarctic explorers. It was a fascinating presentation. He is a master teacher and an excellent storyteller.
We had lunch, and this afternoon we walked three or four laps around the outside deck on deck 3. Four laps is a mile. After that we attended a series of presentations on Antarctica sponsored by the Holland America people.
And then at 4:00 we heard Michael Wilcox tell us the inspiring efforts of Ernest Shackleton, a British explorer, trying to be the first to reach the South Pole and later trying to be the first to travel across the continent of Antarctica. He did not accomplish either objective. He got within 80 miles of the pole but turned back out of concern for the safety of those with him. The account of Shackleton’s effort to cross the continent, which turned into a heroic effort to save his men, is captured in the book Endurance, which was also the name of his ship that was crushed in the ice. My reading of that inspiring story some years ago is what led to our being on this trip.
Tonight’s dinner was the first of three or four formal dinners during the cruise. We ate alone at our table because the previous night Otto and Janice told us they do not do formal.
We went this evening to a movie, Sky and Ice, the story of a French scientist who over the course of his lifetime observed from ice samples drilled in Antarctica that climate change was occurring.
Tuesday, February 2In Chile at Puerto Montt and Frutillar
Today was a good day. We awoke to our 5:45 alarm and went to breakfast about 7:15. I said to Claudia as we awoke, “Can you feel that?”
“What?” she asked.
“The boat is not rocking back and forth.”
At 8:15 we met on the Lido deck with our fellow travelers from Fun for Less Tours to prepare to go ashore. A tender—the boat that transports us from ship to shore—took us to the dock at Puerto Montt. There we boarded our color-coded busses for today’s tour. Puerto Montt, with a population of 219,000, is a port city in the Llanquique Province in the Lakes Region of southern Chile, some 1,055 km (655 miles) south of Santiago. It was founded in 1853 as a part of the German colonization of southern Chile.
We drove through part of Puerto Montt and north toward Lake Llanquihue (pronounced something like “Yankee Who?”). It is a large lake, big enough to make it difficult to see the opposite shore. A large snow-capped conical volcano stands at 8,703 feet above the southeastern shore of the lake. In appearance, the Osorno volcano appears similar to Mount Fuji in Japan.
Our bus traveled along the bank of the lake for some miles until we came to Vicente Pérez National Park, where we took a much-needed bathroom break before hiking an easy trail to Petrohué Falls on the Petrohué River. A word about public restrooms in Chile: You have to supply your own toilet paper, which we had been warned about, so fortunately we were prepared. This one at the national park actually had paper, just not in the individual stalls. You had to guess how much you might need and take that with you into the stall.
The bus then took us to the town of Frutillar, one of several German settlements dating from the mid-1800s in this lakes region. It was a beautiful place, and today’s temperatures were absolutely perfect, probably around 70º, perhaps into the low 70s.
The tenders took us from the shore back to the ship. We filled our water bottles for tomorrow’s shore trip and took short naps. Soon after it was time for dinner. We both had salmon. Our tablemates did not join us again tonight, but we found out why later. After dinner we walked half a mile on the Lower Promenade Deck and ran into Janice Edwards, and she told us Otto was not feeling well.
In addition to walking around the deck a couple of times, we also went this evening to listen to a couple different singers on the Upper Promenade Deck.
Wednesday, February 3In Chile at Castro on Chiloe Island
We awoke and made ready for the day. We were to meet today at 8:00. We’ve learned that 8:00 really means at least 15 minutes before that. We arrived at 7:50, and within a minute we were headed toward the tenders to take us ashore at Castro, the capital and principal city of Chiloé Island. The town has around 40,000 inhabitants and is Chile’s third oldest city in continuous existence, having been founded in February 1576, although it only became a part of the Chilean Republic in 1826.
Chiloé Island is the largest island of the Chile Archipelago off the southern coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. The island has a population of 155,000 people.
We boarded our busses and were off exploring. We drove through verdant countryside that was both beautiful and peaceful. We drove to a couple of small villages—one north, one south of Castro. As with Frutillar yesterday, German emigrants settled these villages in the mid 1800s. That fact was reflected in the architecture of many of the houses and businesses. The villages had local handicraft markets, a rich heritage of fishing, and many churches. In fact, our native guide, who spoke rudimentary English, seemed to have a fixation on the many churches and on telling us over and over that we were “in Chiloé Island.” Every sentence, it seemed, included some reference to the fact that we were “in Chiloé Island.” It became increasingly comical as the tour continued, and almost a little annoying.
Castro is famous for its colorful wooden stilt houses that sit in a bay on the end of the town, and as our bus drove past them near the end of our tour I captured some nice pictures of the houses with their reflections in the water.
We returned to the ship a little earlier today. The day was overcast, and it rained a little, looked threatening at other times, but temperatures were ideal again. At 5:45 we had dinner. Our tablemates have not returned, so we were alone once again. After dinner we went to the theater, where three successive National Geographic films were shown. We saw the first two but decided to skip the final one, the longest of the three, so we could turn in at a reasonable hour.
Thursday, February 4In Chile at Puerto Chacabuco
Today was another shore excursion—our best thus far. Our guide was a German emigrant who came to Chile six years ago to raise his family of nine children here in Patagonia. The government was giving free land to anyone who wanted to homestead. He and his wife home school their children, which was against the law in Germany. They live on a farm, where they are trying to be self-sufficient. Grandpa Lange would have loved them. They have no electricity except what a generator can produce. Even though they are homesteaders, he picks up odd jobs, such as serving as a tour guide, to provide for their minimal cash needs. Unlike yesterday’s guide, he was fluent in English and delightful to listen to.
The ship docked at Puerto Chacabuco (a town of only 1,300 people), where we took busses on a scenic drive through some stunningly impressive countryside. Our road ran close to the Andes and through lands cleared by settlers dating from the late 1800s. We went through the River Simpson National Reserve and over a summit down into the town of Coyhaique (a larger town with 54,000 people), where we walked around the main square and down a street of shops. Claudia bought two carved wooden penguins for US$3.00 each. Coyhaique is the capital of the Aysén Region of sparsely-settled southern Chile, a relatively young city that was founded in 1929.
On our drive back toward Puerto Chacabuco we stopped at a waterfall, Velo de la Noiva (the Virgin Waterfalls), and at the natural history museum of the River Simpson Natural Reserve.
It was supposed to have been raining today, but it did not until we were boarding the tenders to return to the ship. I cannot begin to capture the beauty of what we saw today.
At dinner tonight Otto and Janice Edwards still did not join us, but another couple from our group, Stu and Marnie Boyd, came over and sat with us from the neighboring table. We had a delightful visit.