On Tuesday, January 24, we arrived in Valparaiso, Chile’s third largest city with close to a million people (we think). We were on a bus tour to Santiago, Chile’s capitol, which was to leave at 7:15 AM (!), so we got these pictures of Valparaiso harbor just before sunrise.
Valparaiso is built on a number of steep hills (heard that before?). It has cliffs not far back from the harbor and a whole series of funiculars to carry people to the upper city. We were told that only 4 of them are currently in working order.
Santiago de Chile, the capital, is in a valley in the Andes mountains about 100 miles east of Valparaiso. It was an early Spanish outpost & now has some 7.5 million people spread out for many miles. They told us it never rains there in summer & never snows there in winter, although the surrounding mountains get plenty of snow. Most of our tour was, sadly, spent on the bus. On the way there we saw vineyards in several mountain valleys (Chileans are very proud of their wine, which is supposed to be first-rate).
Now for some pictures as we drove around Santiago. The train station with, if you look very closely behind the pole at the right, a carousel (not great, but the bus was moving). Then an unusual red church, a wall with graffiti (we have seen a lot of graffiti in Chile), a clock tower near the central plaza (where we couldn’t get out because someone was robbed there on our guide’s last trip, which she blamed on Peruvians who hang out there), and the Palace of Justice (which I assume is like a Supreme Court).
We did get out to see the Presidential Palace. We were pleased & surprised to see a statue of Salvador Allende there. Our guide’s favorite word was “nice”; everything was “nice” except two things: the earthquake two years ago & Augusto Pinochet (she pronounced the “t” at the end). She said he took away all freedoms & passed laws to benefit himself & his supporters. This was a welcome change from our ship, where we heard two lecturers (one British & one American) praise Pinochet for saving the country from communism & establishing a strong capitalist economy (although the British guy acknowledged that “some people disappeared”). I guess a bloodthirsty police state is OK for some (who don’t live there) so long as free enterprise is protected. There is no statue of General Pinochet at the Presidential Palace.
Before lunch we went up to a scenic overlook on the side of a hill that had great views of the Andes & Santiago in the valley below. Unfortunately there was a blanket of smog that interfered with what would have been quite a picture.
After visiting a disappointingly overpriced artisan place in Santiago the bus took us back. We slept most of the way back but our guide detoured us at the end through a resort town next to Valparaiso called Vina del Mar. Apparently, there is a beach house there for the President and government officials & rich folks from Santiago go there to swim. Tough to get pictures from a moving bus (& we were sitting on the wrong side for pictures).
Finally, some views of Valparaiso as we sailed away, the harbor pilot leaving the ship, and yet another towel animal.
I guess that’s all for now. We are headed south to Patagonia right now & it has been a very bumpy ride since yesterday, almost like a roller coaster. And we haven’t even gotten to the really wild water yet! To make it just a little scarier, the ship creaks a lot (it’s pretty old for a cruise ship; built in the early 80’s,). But so far we are holding up pretty well. We have 2 port days in a row, so it will probably be a few days until we post here again.
Long time, no see. Before getting into today’s subject, I wanted to correct my description of Mollendo, which I derided the other day as an ordinary Peruvian town. I have since learned that it is a seaport (once an important one) & one of the top resort towns in southern Peru. Rich folks from Arequipa have beach homes here and there is a castle, which is now apparently owned by the Catholic Church. We (obviously) didn’t see any of that, but then we didn’t stay very long because I was still feeling pretty sick then (much better now, thank you).
Anyway, on Saturday, January 21, we docked at Antofagasta, our first stop in Chile.
As you can see from the mountains this is still on the edge of the Atacama desert. There is a town not too far away called Calama that has never recorded a drop of rain. In the late 19th century Chile fought a war with Peru & Bolivia over this area, with the result that Chile has sovereignty here but Bolivia (which has no coast) is guaranteed a trading outlet at ports in northern Chile, including Antofagasta & Arica. Chileans & Peruvians don’t like each other very much to this day.
This is important because in this area of Bolivia is a place called Potosi, which was basically a volcanic mountain of silver. While most silver ore has less than 5% silver, the ore at Potosi had more than 50%. Nearby was another mountain full of mercury, which is used to extract silver from ore. The Spaniards, true to form, basically enslaved the local Indians & forced them to labor in the mines, most of them dying quite quickly. We were told that in some of the Indian graves from that era, when the bodies decomposed what was left was a pool of Mercury beneath the skeleton. Anyway, Potosi accounted for about half of all the Spanish silver exported from America in the 16th & 17th centuries, which basically doubled the money supply in Europe (and also, incidentally, in China where the Spaniards traded it in Manila for porcelain & silk) & apparently also paid for the Hundred Years War.
After the wonders of Peru, Antofagasta was really not a very interesting city. Here is Mary in the Plaza Colon (Spanish for Columbus) with the dome of the Regional Library in the background. There was also a fountain and a clock tower. The clock tower was contributed by the British community here & is said to be a miniature copy of Big Ben in London, but really looks nothing like it (it does have 4 clock faces).
We noticed quite a lot of dogs lying around the streets, some with collars some not, some looking mangy and some not. Also, I think this is a statue of Ferdinand & Isabella, although it wasn’t labeled. It is at the edge of Plaza Colon, on Avenida Jorge Washington.
Here we are leaving Antofagasta where a small lighthouse sits at the harbor entry, occupied by lots of birds, mostly pelicans.
After a sea day we docked in Coquimbo, Chile, on Monday, January 23. Coquimbo & its sister city La Serena are resort towns on a beautiful bay.
Coquimbo is built on the steep hills surrounding its harbor. On top of the hill where the ship was docked is a huge & very ugly building called the Millennial Cross. Built in 2000, as the name indicates, it memorializes the Pope’s visit to South America. You can go up & look out the windows (we didn’t). The other major landmark in town is, weirdly, a mosque on a hill. We are told that this does not represent a Muslim community in Coquimbo, but was built primarily as a tourist attraction. We’re not sure whether this is true but speaking as tourists it doesn’t do much for us.
The hills are so steep that the sidewalks look like Lombard Street in San Francisco.
They must not get many cruise ships in Coquimbo; they sent out a band to greet us in the morning (way too early) & to send us off in the evening. Not the world’s greatest band, but it was a nice gesture.
We took a van with a few other people for a personal tour. He took us to a spot called Drake’s Castle, where Sir Francis Drake supposedly built an encampment while pirating Spanish ships along the west coast of the Americas. We believe he camped here, but we don’t necessarily believe he built the castle-like structures. However, its a lovely spot, with rock formations, beautiful flowers & bay views, & a rock full of sea lions. I guess in some circumstances people will pay just about anything for a bathroom (it’s really about $.50).
We then drove around the bay to La Serena, a beach resort. We stopped at a wimpy lighthouse on the beach then drove up a hill to visit an old fort (still run by the army) built, we were told, by Italians. We were told that a lot of Italians emigrated to this part of Chile at the end of WWII (while the Germans were going to Argentina, I guess), but this fort is a lot older than that. There was a pool with a marble sculpture brought from Italy & some nice Italian marble benches as well.
We went on from there to a shopping square,with artisans, souvenirs, barbers, hat stores, etc. We stopped at a grocery store, mainly to use the bathrooms. Here is Mary in the van with our friends Bing & Barb & a sign for parking for expectant mothers.
The shopping stop was a nice little square with a fountain in which kids played.
Lots of colorful items for sale, some artistic & some not so much.
And finally, for you towel animal fans, here are a couple more: