Chilean Adventures

A native band greeted cruisers on the pier at Antofagasta, Chile.

A native band greeted cruisers on the pier at Antofagasta, Chile.

It has been a month since we first boarded the Regent Seven Seas Mariner. It’s a great ship with 650 passengers and a crew of 450. We are circling South America from Miami to Miami. Chile, on the western coast of South America, is more than 2,700 miles long from north to south, and only 150 miles at its widest point. So far we have stopped at six of seven ports in Chile, and then we’ll have three days “at sea” in Chilean waters. We woke up one morning in Antofagasta, Chile. Never heard of it before? Me neither.

Our first stop off the ship was to walk around the town square where we saw a statue of Bernardo O’Higgins, one of the South American heroic liberators. I know, who ever heard of a liberator in South America named O’Higgins? He is Irish, handsome, and his name is all over the place!

Antofagasta exports lots of copper and lapis lazuli. The town is not bad. We checked out the marine museum and came back to the ship in time for a late lunch on the top deck. We sailed shortly after lunch for Coquimbo, Chile. That night we had dinner in Prime 7, one of the ship’s specialty restaurants that features enormous lobsters and steaks. We had a “sharing” reservation, which means we didn’t know who we would be having dinner with until we got there. It is always fun and a great way to meet new people.

We were in Coquimbo the next morning. You can’t miss it – there is an enormous cross on a high hill as you approach. It is the Cross of the Third Millennium with an observatory near the top. It is not particularly attractive. We took a bus tour and visited the Archaeological Museum, which took about five minutes. Then it was on to the La Recova Market, which took a great deal longer!

Then we drove out in the valley to the Ica Wineries to taste their pisco and see how it is made. They produce both wine and pisco, which is a slightly yellow grape brandy. Yum! One could get used to drinking those Pisco Sours. We seem to be drinking earlier in the day and then napping in the bus on the way back to the ship.

The next day we docked in Valparaiso, also in Chile, and drove to the capital city of Santiago. It took two hours to drive there. It is big, sprawling and the largest building in South America is under construction. It is also an area that has lots of earthquakes. The presidential palace located in the center of the city is handsome. You would never guess that in 1973 a plane flew over the palace with the dictator at the time, Salvador Allende, inside, and dropped a bomb on it! That is one way to get rid of a dictator! Lunch was in a local restaurant that features seafood. Brad was thrilled to have abalone.

Carla Sue and a new “friend” in Coyhaiquet.

Carla Sue and a new “friend” in Coyhaiquet.

Some of our group drove out to the Casablanca Valley to visit the wineries and sample the product. Others went out to Puro Caballo for a horse show. The city is quite attractive with tall apartment buildings, lovely outdoor restaurants and the obligatory jewelry and craft shop stops.

Back on the ship our friend Priya, who is from India and lives in Florida with her husband, Steve, and family, invited us to an Indian dinner in the Compass Rose, the main dining room. There were 10 of us and the captain graciously gave up his large table to the group. Priya told one of the Indian chefs what she wanted, and the evening turned out to be a wonderful dinner with really good company.

An earlier pleasant surprise when we boarded was to find guest lecturer, Mark Elovitz. He is a geo-political expert who lectures around the world. He and his wife, Martha, are old acquaintances. He is dynamic and well versed in history, politics and current world situations. He feels that water, more than oil, is and will be the major issue of the future. His talks on the Middle East and the leadership of South America have been fascinating.

The next day we docked at Puerto Montt, Chile and set out to visit Feria Artesanal Angelmo, the handicraft market, before returning to the mother ship. If there is a handicraft market you can rest assured we will be there. It is not much as a town, but oh, my – the backdrop of the snow-covered Andes mountains is beautiful.

The town was settled by German immigrants and it shows it in the Bavarian-style architecture.

At this point, enough time had passed that we had enjoyed two of Priya’s Indian dinners. We plan on asking the captain to let us have his big table anytime he is not using it. He is a darling, blond, 36-year-old Scandanavian bachelor and would rather sail than entertain, so we may be in luck.

We sailed from Puerto Montt, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth and the end of the Pan American Highway. The Andes cause you to hold your breath, they are so beautiful and so close to the water. There are six volcanoes. To the east there are four passes that lead across the Andes to Argentina. The fjords are very deep and the mountains come right down to the sea with no coastline.

The next day we were in Puerto Chacabuco, Chile. It was a dreary, rainy day, but still interesting. We drove up through the Andes, some still snow-covered. The roadways are paved with stone in many places because the ice glazes over the road in winter and the stone allows for traction.

Through the Simpson River valley we went to the quaint town of Coyhaique, which means “place where there is water” for 30 minutes of shopping (and were successful!) and local viewing. Then, before returning to the ship we stopped at a roadside restaurant for empanadas, meat skewers, cheeses and Chilean wines. This group definitely travels on its stomach.

Still in Chile, today we anchored in a lagoon – Laguna San Rafael. We boarded a catamaran to see our first glacier, which is located in a place not accessible to the Mariner. We were told by our on-board naturalist that the lagoon was formed by the retreat of the San Rafael Glacier and its famous “Blue Wall” of ice. The glacier is nearly 200 feet tall and in the direct evening sun reflected a blue beauty that was wonderful. Armed with cameras, every one of us was on deck for the moment when the face of the glacier “calved,” or cracked, and sent tons of ice crashing into the blue-green water. When it happened many were so astounded, we forgot to take the picture, me included. After an hour or so, it was time to head back to the ship for another Pisco sour. Great for the attitude, but hard on the hips.