Archive for January 26, 2012

Valparaiso & Santiago, Chile

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.

01 Valparaiso harbor at sunrise

06 Valparaiso bay with mountains at sunrise 03 Valparaiso at 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.

56 Funicular in Valparaiso 58 Funicular in Valparaiso 

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).

08 Vina Indomita vineyards near Valparaiso 10 Vineyard in valley near Santiago 11 Mountain & red flower bush near Santiago 12 Vineyard in mountain valley near Santiago

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).

13 Train station in Santiago (with carousel in lower right)   24 Red church in Santiago

15 Wall graffiti in Santiago  26 Church tower near Plaza des Armes23 Palace of Justice in Santiago

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.

17 Statue of Salvador Allende outside presidential palace 17 Statue of Salvador Allende outside presidential palace  21 Presidential Palace from across square 20 Toy soldiers - guards standing on platforms outside 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.

 43 Santiago panorama

40 Mary at Santiago overlook 46 Santiago from hillside overlook 50 Cactus & Santiago overlook near restaurant 80 Rick & Mary at hillside overlook of Santiago 48 Santiago from hillside 49 Cactus on hillside

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).

53 Vina del Mar (resort community near Valparaiso) 55 canal where ocean comes in at Vina Del Mar 54 Christmas tree-like fir in Vina del Mar 65 Vina del Mar from ship

Finally, some views of Valparaiso as we sailed away, the harbor pilot leaving the ship, and yet another towel animal.

64 Valparaiso at sailaway with multicolor bldgs 63 Valparaiso at sailaway

60 Pilot's boat alongside Prinsendam 66 Towel animal - seal

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.

Antofagasta & Coquimbo, Chile

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.

21 Antefagasto from departing ship 

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).

01 Mary in Plaza Colon in Antafagasto Chile 04 Fountain in Plaza Colon 02 Big Ben clocktower in Antefagasto 07 Clocktower with strange evergreen 

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.

05 Mary & dogs in pedestrian mall 09 Statue in Plaza Colon, possibly Ferdinand & Isabella

Here we are leaving Antofagasta where a small lighthouse sits at the harbor entry, occupied by lots of birds, mostly pelicans.

24 Mary looking at water as ship sails from Antefagasto22 lighthouse in Antefagasto harbor entrance 

23 Birds (mostly pelicans) near lighthouse

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.

08 Boat in Cocquimbo harbor  02 Cocquimbo harbor

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.

05 Cocquimbo 20 Cocquimbo from La Serena

48 Cross atop hill in Cocquimbo 53 Mosque in Cocquimbo

The hills are so steep that the sidewalks look like Lombard Street in San Francisco.

42 woven sidewalk on hill in Cocquimbo 46 Houses on hill in Cocquimbo 45 Houses on hilltop in Cocquimbo  42 woven sidewalk on hill in Cocquimbo

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.

43 Band to bid ship farewell in Cocquimbo

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).

17 harbor from drake castle  10 Sea Lions on rock at Drake castle

18 white flowers at drake castle15 Rick at Drake castle 

14 cactus at Drake castle12 Sign at Drake castle - Banos $250 

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.

56 Lighthouse in La Serena from ship 19 Lighthouse at La Serena 21 Cocquimbo from La Serena   55 Castle in La Serena from ship

32 Fort overlooking La Serena 30 Two beauties - Mary & Italian marble statute at pool at fort  27 Rick & Mary at fort, overlooking La Serena Chile29 Italian tile bench at fort

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.

23 Mary in van at La Serena with Bing & Barb Parking for expectant mothers

The shopping stop was a nice little square with a fountain in which kids played.

35 Market near La Serena, with fountain

Lots of colorful items for sale, some artistic & some not so much.

36 Indians vs. Conquistadors chess sets, market near La Serena 39 Needlework hangings at market near La Serena

38 Table of souveniers at market near La Serena  39 Needlework hangings at market near La Serena

 38 Table of souveniers at market near La Serena39 Needlework hangings at market near La Serena

And finally, for you towel animal fans, here are a couple more:

57 Towel Animal - Shrimp (we think) 25 towel squid