Archive for March, 2015

Day 11 – Santiago, Chile

Valpo Port with Ship in the Background

Valpo Port with Ship in the Background

After three days at sea and nearly 1,500 miles, our ship arrived in Valparaiso, Chile, the closest port to Santiago.  We schlepped our bags off the ship and sadly said goodbye to the cruise part of our journey.  We were picked up by motor coach and given a tour of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.  Valparaiso is the largest port city of Chile and one of the largest on the Pacific. The ship traffic took a huge hit when the Panama Canal was completed in 1914.  Before that time, the port and the city flourished. The opening of the canal brought tough times that are evident even today.

Valparaiso sits along steep slopes at the waters edge. Because the city lies along a steep hill, there are funiculars or cog trains to make getting up and down easier.  On the Pacific side of the mountains, plants and flowers flourish.  As soon as you cross the mountains toward Santiago, you find yourself in the desert filled with tumbleweed and cactus.  The transition is startling.  Valparaiso is the location of the congress for Chile even though Santiago is the capital.  Today the city is a business, education and political center.

Flower Clock in Vina del Mar

Flower Clock in Vina del Mar

Just to the north along the coast lies Vina del Mar, a resort town that is a favorite for people from Santiago to escape the heat and the frenetic activity of the city.  It boasts nice parks and a scenic seascape to enjoy. The waters of the Pacific take the edge off the heat and there are some beautiful views along the water’s edge.  After passing through the resort and casino area we were taken for lunch to a huge estate about a half hour drive toward Santiago.  We were greeted by native dancers and also invited to share a sampling of local wines, other drinks, as well as empanadas and meats. We ate family style passing plates and enjoying the flavors of Chile.  We were introduced to Mote con huesillo.  This is a sweet drink enjoyed in the summer heat made from wheat and peaches and often sold in street stands or vendor carts.  We had never had anything like it.  We learned that the people of Chile like everything sweet!  If the drink is not sweet it does not originate in Chile.  Of course, the German brewers have had a tough time introducing beer because it simply is not sweet enough! Along the way, we learned that Chileans eat more ice cream per capita than anyone else in the west.  There were ice cream shops everywhere, and it seemed that most everyone took a break from work in the afternoon to eat a few scoops.  We encountered flavors we had never seen before and I doubt we will see again, for example, pepper flavored ice cream!  After our very large lunch, we were given an orientation tour of Santiago. Our bus stopped by the presidential palace and then on to Plaza de Armas.  We got off the bus before the tour ended at a place close to our hotel and walked the few blocks on Alameda, the main street of the city.

Ice cream in Santiago

Ice cream in Santiago

As it turned out, our hotel was in a perfect place to explore downtown.  After dropping our bags, we ventured across the street into Santa Lucia.  This hill has two forts that mark one of the earliest places of settlement in the city, dating 1541.  There is steep climb that leads above the lower fort to a vista where you can get a great view of the city.  We were surprised that as we entered the lower fort, we were asked to sign a guest register.  This is a beautiful spot and near the top of the hill there is a small chapel–very nice!  Below there are gardens that seemed to be perfect for photography sessions.

As we learned, Santiago was well defended by the Mapuche indians who claimed this land as their own. They were a fierce people, and for a time took possession of the valley where Santiago lies.  Plaza de Armas has on opposite ends a statue of Pedro de Valdivia, who founded Santiago, and a statue of a Mapuche indian.  Actually, the Mapuche killed de Valdivia in 1550.  The juxtaposition of these two statues tells much about the earliest years in Santiago.   The city gets its name from the patron saint of Spain, Saint James.  After walking Santa Lucia hill, we returned to look for dinner and found most everything closed downtown.  We did, however, stumble upon a small restaurant where we bumped into the Scottish couple we had met on our ship.  It turned out to be a nice time to share dinner.  Fiona and Sandy were headed to Peru the next day hoping to see Machu Picchu before returning home to Scotland.

View from top of Santa Lucia

View from top of Santa Lucia

When we returned to our room at the hotel, we were on a mission.  We knew we had a sister church in Santiago, but we did not know where it was.  We hoped we could track the church down and join them for Sunday worship. We discovered that San Marcos Church is an English-Speaking Presbyterian Church just a ten minute walk from the end of the subway line our hotel was next to.  We made plans to make the 9:30am service the next morning!  What a great day it had been, traveling from the ship into Santiago.  We fell in love with the city right way, and were looking forward to tomorrow!

 

Day 8 – Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

The morning after leaving Ushuaia, the ship arrived in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas.  This is the southernmost city of Chile. It lies on the mainland and is accessible by road from parts north.  Gone are the steep slopes of the glaciers replaced by rolling hills and large ranches. The city has a beauty that reflects the water and hills meeting in the primary colors of the buildings and roofs.  The colors radiate a joy that makes you happy to be there.  Soon after we disembarked we saw a sign with our name on it. An elderly man led us to his van. We boarded and he took us on a 1/2 hour drive out of the city to a ranch.  It seemed a bit strange, but I had arranged for us to spend the morning on a Chilean ranch horseback riding. As it turned out, Sandy and I were the only ones who booked this excursion!  This meant we had the place all to ourselves and lots of individual attention.

sa riding 2Upon arrival at the ranch, we were showed the lodge.  The woman of the ranch was third generation Polish.  Her grandfather arrived almost a hundred years earlier, and purchased a nice piece of land to settle and raise cattle.  Over time, he developed the property into a camp with cabins where families could come and vacation.  Visitors could enjoy horseback riding during the day, and time around the campfire at night.  The climate is very dry in this part of Chile and very few trees grow there.  This woman took pride in the trees her grandfather planted on the property.  He had to water them every day for them to survive.  Now they are mature, providing a rich canopy for the front of their lodge.

Following a brief orientation, her daughter saddled up two horses for us and her favorite horse for her to ride.  Then she coached us to follow her.  She had almost no English and while we know some Spanish, very little has to do with horses!  Sandy is a veteran rider so she found it very easy.  We rode from the lodge down along the shore into their fields along a beautiful hillside.  There we were greeted by other horses who clearly felt like they were being left out of the fun.  It was a peaceful and beautiful ride, and we saw a number of young foals that were recently born into the herd.

s riding beachOn the way back to the lodge we had the privilege of riding along the beach.   As we did, we noticed dolphins playing offshore nearby.  This reflected the richness of life in the area.  Though there are very few people, we were surrounded by birds, and sea mammals, and a beautiful array of flowers and shrubs.  Now I have to admit, my thoughts of horseback riding on the beach were nothing like this.  It was about 40 degrees and quite windy.  I’d always envisioned being able to ride right down into the water!

Upon our arrival at the lodge, a fire was glowing and fresh homemade pastries awaited.  We sat and enjoyed the delicious treats, and learned the history of the area from the owner.  She explained to us that much of this part of the country was divided into large ranches called estancias. Usually, estancias are 5,000 acres or more.  Her family owned only about 80 acres that were carved off a much larger piece of property.  The estancias were originally provided to people brave enough to settle this part of Chile during the early days.  This was the way the government could push back the wilderness. The reason they were so large is that with the extreme climate many acres of land were needed to pasture the sheep and cattle.  It made sense once we saw how dry everything was, and how little natural grazing food was available.  After having our fill of stories and snacks, we were deposited back in town at the main square.

punta arenas squareOf course, the monument in the city square pays homage to Magellan, the explorer  who always seems to be looking far afield as if he is looking for something new to discover.  Magellan passed through these waters on November 1st, All Saints Day, in the year 1520.  The passage he sailed, the one dividing Tierra del Fuego from the mainland of South America, is called the Strait of Magellan.  Punta Arenas lies on this straight.  It was on this passage that Magellan named the Pacific Ocean.  He gave it this name because on the day he emerged in this new ocean it looked calm. (Think of the word “pacify.”) The city continues to be characterized by Magellan’s spirit of adventure because so most of the Antarctic exploration parties set out from Punta Arenas.

The Magellan Square was ringed by a walkway filled with merchants.  This was an excellent place to buy handmade woolen items like sweaters and gloves.  You could purchase a nice sweater for less than $20US. From the square we visited two museums within walking distance of our ship.  First, the Museum of the Salesian Order has four floors of exhibits showing the history of Patagonia from ancient times to the present with information on the flora, fauna, and even the minerals of the region.  Of course, there are a number of exhibits on the religious history of the region.  The Salesian order of the Roman Catholic church dates back to the 19th century, and it began as a movement to serve the poor, especially children. The Salesians did much work in Patagonia in the early years of settlement, establishing schools and churches in the region.  The museum is free and quite well done.

museum punta arenasThe second museum, the Regional Museum of the Magellanes, we stumbled into on our way back to the ship.  We did not know the nature of the museum and when we walked in, the ticket sales man offered us free admittance when he heard where we were from!  The museum is housed in a mansion.  It has been beautifully restored showing the life of the wealthy in the late 1800s.  The sculpture and tapestries have been carefully preserved and the furniture is stunning.

The basement holds an exhibit of photos and and information about the last of the native peoples of Patagonia.  The photos capture the culture that has now disappeared from the region.  Following the photo collection and the stories you get the feeling that something precious has been lost to time and development.

museum billards roomThis little museum is well worth the visit, and the contrast of the old world and the new world, wealth and poverty is not to be missed.

When we arrived at the dock to catch the tender back to the ship, the conditions had changed from our morning disembarkation. The winds were blowing at about twenty knots.  Right away we could see that getting back to the ship was going to be an adventure.  The 3/4 mile tender ride was through harsh winds and six foot seas.  More than once waves swept over the bow of our little boat.  Yes, this was the most exciting ride of the day!  We were reminded of how quickly conditions can change and how vulnerable we are in the water.  The people cheered when the tender finally pulled up alongside the ship!  We were safely aboard!  No doubt navigating the Strait of Magellan was not so easy for the native peoples of Patagonia.  They must have been a sturdy bunch.

Day 7 – Tierra del Fuego

Town of Ushuaia

Town of Ushuaia

After rounding the cape, the ship docked in Ushuaia. This small city in Tierra del Fuego belongs to Argentina and is known as the city furthest south in the world. Ushuaia began as a penal colony.  The site was perfect for this use since Tierra del Fuego is an island and the extreme nature of the climate and its remote location made escape impossible.  No walls or fences were needed! Disembarking the ship, it feels raw and cut-off from civilization even though there is a significant population there now.  Originally, Tierra del Fuego was inhabited by the Yaghan people.  When Charles Darwin visited Tierra del Fuego and met the Yaghan, he said he had never see so primitive a people. None of them remain today because when the Europeans arrived, they were displaced by disease and encroachment.  These people are something of an enigma. Why? Photos nearly always show them without clothing or covered in simple animal skins. Let me tell you, Tierra del Fuego is a place you need clothing (think Alaska)!  No doubt they were hardy and sturdy folk.  Their language was simple.  They lived, as all native peoples, close to the land.  Or, in this case, close to the water!  They lived off fish, seals, sea birds and whales. We were told that the men refused to do the swimming necessary for collecting food.  Instead, they required the women to do this work!  (In their mythology, in ancient times, women ruled over men so they took the lead in many things.)

Outside Ushuaia

Outside Ushuaia

So how did they keep warm?  Fires were always lit. Actually, the name “Tierra del Fuego” (Land of Fire) was coined by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 during his rounding of Cape Horn.  He saw the light of many fires burning, and he believed that the native people were lying in wait for them to land so that they could attack his ship. The name stuck,.  The necessity for fires makes sense when you see the conditions.

The Beagle Channel passes by the city of Ushuaia.  This is the passage named after the ship Charles Darwin was on when he made passage there.  The wildlife of the channel is stunning: penguins, seals, a extraordinary variety of water birds, and numerous whales.  Many people from the ship took boats out on the channel to get a closer look.  Sandy and I opted for an alpine hike in the mountains outside of town. We disembarked the ship and were taken by bus into the mountains to a rustic cabin.  Upon arrival we were issued rubber boots not quite knowing why we would need them.  Soon enough we found out.  We were led by our guide from one ridge-line across an immense peat bog to a mountain range to our north.  The peat bog is a dense but spongy mass of plant material that has collected in the valley for millennia.  It is topped with a mixture of grass, moss and various types of ferns.  The valley was dissected by a number of tributaries, and we could see quite a few beaver dams blocking the streams that created lakes and sloughs.

Alpine Hike

Alpine Hike

The story of the beaver is an interesting one.  Land mammals are scarce in Tierra del Fuego. Some wise people got the idea of bringing mammals from North America to enrich the landscape and help with water management.  As is often the case, the experiment was a disaster.  Having no natural predators on the island, the beavers flourished building dams in all of the valleys like the one we were hiking.  The dams created so many lakes that many valleys are now flooded.  The result: many trees have been drowned and are dead.  Now, they would like to be rid of the beavers, but they are everywhere and it is too late for that.

The valley was about a mile and half wide where we crossed it.  The peat bog retains an untouched beauty.  It is filled with an array of flowers and ferns, grasses and many types of mosses with colors from across the range of the color spectrum–green, orange, red, purple, and even blue.  The sounds of birds filled the valley and the mountain we climbed afterward.  We did not see any land mammals on our hike. This gave a feeling that the land was empty.  Perhaps, this was part of the reasoning in bringing in beavers.

Alpine Valley

Alpine Valley

On our return from the hike, we were greeted at the cabin with coffee, hot tea, fruit and sandwiches.  Everyone had walked up an appetite and we had also gotten rather cold at times during the hike. Two squalls had passed through the valley.  Each time we were pelted by freezing rain and sleet!  But, the whole experience was one of beauty and feeling close to the diversity of life on the island. Very nice.

We were returned to Ushuaia early enough that we had time to walk the town.  The youth of the buildings makes it clear that the town is young and has been growing rapidly because of tourism and shipping. There is little to commend the town itself.

That evening when the ship pushed away from the dock we were in for two amazing treats.  First, entering the Beagle Channel brought us around a famous lighthouse on an island covered with seals and inhabited by many sea birds.  The island is stained white by their droppings, and we could hear the seals barking as we passed.  This little area was swimming with life and our presence didn’t seem to disturb the activity at all. The next destination along the channel is called Glacier Alley, named in part after Richard Alley who passed through this part of the channel and helped name the Glaciers.  A stretch of the land at this point is dotted by one glacier after another, all of which he named for European countries.  France, Germany, Italy, and so on.  Some of the glaciers are tidal, coming all the way to the water.  Others are alpine glaciers that appear to cling to the side of the mountains.

sandy glacierOur stateroom was on the starboard side of the ship so we sat on our balcony and watched as we passed each of the glaciers.  This was such a sweet time for us to enjoy (although quite cold at times!).  The presence of the fog shrouding the glaciers along the full distance of the route gave an eerie sort of feeling to the whole experience.  And, the run-off water bears silt that gives the channel a unique blue-green color.  The experience is extraordinary and part of the creation to be treasured as a rare sight for us Floridians.

What a day!  We were so grateful for our time together and this new place to see and enjoy.

Day 6 – Around the Cape

Heading South

Heading South

There are rites of passage. This is one for sailors. Cape Horn is the place where the Atlantic and Pacific oceans meet. The word “collision” does better justice to the confluence of these two mighty bodies of water.  Leaving the Falklands/Malvinas we noticed the seas increase.  The winds became more biting and quite cold. (The pool on board the ship was not longer being used!)  In the late afternoon, the ship rounded the Cape.  More often than not, it is too rough to go around. Winds can be over a hundred miles an hour and forty foot waves are not unusual. Faced with this, ship captains choose a channel further north to cross to the Pacific.  Our guide explained that in almost twenty times rounding the Cape, he had never seen the sea so calm.  Mind you, it looked rough to us.  The waves appeared to be 14ft and the winds were 25knots. But, the sun was out, and the day was beautiful.

capehorn1

Typical Cape Weather

It struck me how difficult moments of transition can be, the passages we must make where one phase of our lives collides into another. Years ago, when our family moved to Miami from New Jersey, we had no idea how disorienting and painful the passage would be. We knew we were making a big move, but the magnitude of the storm caught us off guard.  Our whole family was affected.

We learned during our trip around the Cape that often ships waited for weeks until the conditions were favorable.  We also heard of ships that went down. For the better part of a year, our family felt battered making the passage before us.  We thank God that we arrived safely on the other side.

Selfie rounding the Cape

Selfie rounding the Cape

That afternoon our ship passed another ship making passage at the same time.  Nearly everyone went on deck to send up cheers to those on board the other ship.  As we rounded the Cape, we were told that at the southernmost point there is a small naval station staffed by a few members of the Chilean navy.  We assumed that being stationed meant you were being punished for some serious infraction of navy policy!  We couldn’t imagine living so far away from kith and kin, and in such extreme conditions.

Many years ago, a group of Christians also erected a massive cross at the Cape.  I’m not sure how they got it there. But, what an encouragement to know that God is Lord of the storm, to see the cross from the height of a massive wave with the wind howling, and to know He can bring us through the passages of life.  In the end, God has given us even more confidence in his mighty power, and his great love for us.

Day 5 – Disputed Land

Malvinas (Falkland Islands)

Malvinas (Falkland Islands)

Day 5 was a shock.  The ship arrived in the Malvinas (the Falkland Islands), a group of windswept, barren islands over a thousand miles from Buenos Aires.  Nearly every passenger on board rushed to disembark to shake off two days at sea. That’s when the shock came.  Ashore in the little hamlet of Stanley, it was 38 degrees, the wind was blowing about 15knots, and there was a driving rain.  No sooner did the tenders (that’s what they call the little boats that ferry you from ship to shore and there is nothing “tender” about them!) reach land than the passengers decided that the ship was a much more hospitable place to spend the day!  They re-boarded as fast as they had gone ashore leaving the little town almost empty of visitors.

Sandy and I had decided to go into town a little later and so we watched this drama unfold.  Then we dressed in layers, remembering what the Alaskan’s taught us: There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.  Shirts, sweaters, coats, and rain gear, and of course, hats.  When we got into town we were reminded by the locals that this was their “summer.”  We could not envision winter here!

In front of Christ Church

In front of Christ Church

Once on land, we found the people to be typical of the English–polite, personable, and rather matter-of-fact about most everything.  The settlement of Stanley has a population of about 1,800 people (and our ship had over 3,000 people aboard!).  We walked and waded the streets of town until we found our way into Christ Church on Ross Road.  Out front a monument of whale bones stands as a reminder of the historic past of the town.  Christ Church is an anglican congregation, the largest in the islands.  The congregation provides a greeter at the church when ships are in port so that people feel welcomed.  Our greeter was an elderly member of the church council and also chairman of the board of the museum.  The church building inside looks to be fairly modern. Decorations on the side walls included memorials to people lost at sea over the last one hundred years or so.  The plaques were a sober reminder to the dangers of the sea and the extreme conditions in that part of the world. Each memorial was a story or hope and heartbreak, of life and loss.  It was very moving for us to consider this.

Once inside the church, we really did not want to leave since we knew what it was like outside.  But, the greeter strongly encouraged us to visit the museum down the street.  It was a six-block walk away from the ship, but well worth the trip. The old town museum had been replaced just a few months before our arrival with a new state-of-the-art facility.  The history of the islands was well represented.  It was broken into periods of settlement with a major exhibit on the Falklands War.  Both British Empire and Argentina claim these islands as their own.  We learned just how sensitive both claimants are about this dispute.  Argentina calls these islands the Malvinas, the British call them the Falklands. Argentina’s claim dates back to the transfer of land from Spain to them when they became an independent country in 1816. They believe that the British have illegally occupied them since 1833.  The British will tell you that they settled these islands when the people of Argentina didn’t really care about them, and that possession is nine-tenths of the law!  (Likely, you would visit and wonder why anyone would want to live here, but the fishing rights alone are worth a fortune.)  Beware: the name you use for the islands squarely places you with one side or the other!

warDuring 1982, Argentina briefly held the Falklands. As I understand it, the invasion of the Islands took place during a stressful time in Argentina.  There was a transition of power between two military dictators and the country groaned in economic stagnation.  What better way to unite the country behind a new dictator than to seize these long-disputed islands!?  The government did not expect the British to contest the action. It seemed to be certain victory for the military, a way to show leadership and strength to the people of Argentina and the world. Clearly, none of the military leaders had met Margaret Thatcher!  Yes, the United Kingdom surprised the world by dispatching their fleet to the South Sea over this small distant outpost. Once that decision was made, the outcome was all but certain.  The conflict ended in 1982. Well, not really. The conflict continues to this day.  Geography and history seems to be with the people of Argentina.  Possession remains with the UK.  Visiting this remote place reminded us of the intractable conflicts that we can have and the consequences that result.  When the Argentine Army occupied the islands, they planted thousands of land mines.  Many remain to this day as a reminder of the war that took place over 30 years ago.  During our visit, the island was hosting men from Africa who were hired to clear the fields of mines.  We were told the work would continue for years!

Range Rover - transport to penguin colony

Range Rover – transport to penguin colony

After our visit to the museum we walked back toward the center of town and found an English pub to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.  As it turns out, these storms can last for days or weeks.  The good news is that they had some nice British beers to sample and replayed rugby games to watch on the tele.  Not much later, we embarked on the real adventure of our time on the island.  We were collected by a small passenger van and taken about ten miles from town.  There we were greeted by range rovers sent to take us across the countryside of the island to a coastal penguin colony.  The ride itself qualified as an adventure that was a cross between Mr. Toad’s wild ride, and an African safari.  The terrain was extremely rugged, and with the rain very muddy and wet. More than once I was convinced that our vehicle would lose a tie rod or that we would become bogged down in the mud.  We held our breath against the bumps for about 30 minutes until we crested a hill and saw the coast. Though still rainy and windy and cold, we were enthralled by our experience.

penguinsBelow us lay a penguin colony made up mostly of gentoo penguins with a few king penguins in the mix.  We were asked to keep at least 15 feet from them, but they were curious and they came up to us for closer inspection.  Many of the gentoos were juvenile and had been born in November. But, they had grown so quickly that we could hardly tell them apart from their parents. The sound of the colony was soothing and constant–cooing and clicking noises they made as they constantly signaled to each other. The colony lay along a cove that gave them protection from predators but also easy access to the sea where they could forage for food.  They eat mostly squid and small fish and are amazing swimmers. And, yes, they waddle as depicted in the movies.  The gentoo and king penguins are some of the largest in the penguin world, only the emperors are larger.  While these islands have few human inhabitants, the biodiversity was amazing: seals, whales, sea lions, penguins and many birds were had never seen before, such as the albatross. We loved the experience of God’s creation with its beauty and purpose.  It certainly reflects God’s glory.

Gentoo posing

Gentoo posing

Along the way, some penguins seemed determined to pose for us.  This was such fun.  After maxing out our phone memory on pictures, there was one more surprise.  Around the hill alongside the water was a trailer with sliding glass doors set as a cafe with English tea, and coffee, scones and cookies.  How they got the trailer down to that spot, we could not figure, but it was a special treat to take refuge from the rain and cold for home-cooked sweets. Our hosts own the farm where the colony is located, and they were so gracious and inviting. I think this warmed our hearts every bit as much as the hot tea did.  The people were so proud of the place they call home and the opportunity to welcome and serve us.  It reminded us of the grace and beauty of hospitality and good will.

On the way back into town, our driver explained a little about his life. He farms year round working with cattle but mostly sheep.  The sheep are certainly much more fitted to life on the island.  As evening was coming, he remarked that it was his job to supply food to the men who were clearing mines on the island, and that they were eating a lot of meat.  He had to go home and slaughter six sheep before ending his work day.  I asked him how long that would take.  He told me he could finish the work in an hour.  It struck me how much closer people live to their food in places as remote as this.

This man explained that British families came to the island with the promise of land and a future.  He is the fifth generation of his family there.  Here, in a place where we saw not a single tree living, the people have taken deep root and they now have a unique story of their own…one we had the chance to be part of for the day!