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!

Days 3 and 4 – At Sea – The Joy of Meeting New People

Ship at sea...

Ship at sea…

You may not like cruising. There are days when the ship is making way from one port city to another and you spend the whole day (or a number in a row) at sea.  Some people feel constrained, bored, or even listless on these days.  Of course, the cruise lines know this, and so they plan activities of all kinds to fill the hours.  We took dance lessons, exercised, read, and did much writing on our days “at sea.” But, the most enjoyable experience was meeting people from all over the world.  For example, we met Sandy and Fiona from a little town outside Edinburgh, Scotland.  (I wanted them to take me back home with them after the cruise because I love Scotland in general and Edinburgh in particular!)  Sandy retired from a lifetime of service with an Edinburgh Bank, and they now together operate a small bed and breakfast.  They were a delightful couple and they shared with us the drama of the recent Scottish vote for independence and how it had affected them and their country.  Then there was Jim and Sherry from the U.S. midwest.  Jim spent his life as a methodist pastor.  He had ministry scars, but joys as well.  We had stories to share, a connection that comes from knowing we have lived some of the same experiences.  Now they are active in campus ministry at a university in their city.

We also kept bumping into Frank and Nina from Toronto, Canada. They immigrated to Canada from Asia and Frank has an active practice as a doctor.  They love to travel. Frank is into heavy metal bands and action movies, and Nina balances him out with her mild manner and gentle spirit.  (I was grateful when I saw Frank and Nina appear on the dance floor because Frank makes me look like a good dancer!) They became fast friends as did the others that we met. Along the way, we asked them to tell us their stories, and listening to them was like opening window to new worlds. We talked politics and faith; we learned about the people of countries we have never visited, and we listen to dreams and tragedies.

rico milagros

Together with Rico and Milagros

One thing we love to do when cruising is to dine at the same time and place each evening.  That way we can get to know our waiter and servers.  We can slowly learn their stories and connect with them.  Our waiter, Rico was from the Philippines, and each night we asked him to teach us a new word from his native language, Tegali.   He started us off easy.  “Thank you.” “Please.” “Good evening.”  These lessons opened the door for him to tell us a little about his country and his people.  His assistant, Milagros, is from Peru.  She got her name, which means “miracle” in Spanish, because her parents wanted a daughter desperately after they had their first child, a boy.  More than ten years later, she showed up. She was their little miracle, hence the name.  Milagros was soft spoken and a perfect complement to Rico.  Together they made each evening a time of joy.

We are told that life is made up of people, places, and things.  I believe that the three are listed in the order of their importance.  Life is about people.  We met people who shared the good news of what God is doing in their part of the world, people who opened the door and allowed us into their lives, if even for a moment. Perhaps, these moments at sea were some of the best of our moments…because of the people God swept into our lives.  On board the ship, on the first sea day, it made me wonder who we might be missing when we are home!

Day 3 – The Surprises of Montevideo

Montevideo Riviera

Montevideo Riviera

When thinking about this trip, we were not especially looking forward to visiting Uruguay.  After all, it is a very small country. The population of the entire country is about the same as the combined population of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.  Wednesday morning, the ship docked in Montevideo, the capital city.  We had arranged a city tour for the morning and once we left the ship we found our guide and got started. Montevideo surprised us.  We loved the beaches along the Rio de la Plata where some of the nicest neighborhoods were located.  Montevideo was the last of the major cities established by the Spanish just before the period of colonizing ended. The result? The city looks much more modern than the other capitals of Latin America.  The beauty of the beaches combined with the historical signature of the center city left us saying, “We would love to live here.”

Taranco Palace

Taranco Palace

There are many reasons to love this city.  First, the people were warm and inviting.  We found people helpful and interested in us. (Keep reading and you will hear how we discovered this!)  Many people who live in the large cities become weary of visitors. We did not find this to be the case in Montevideo.  Second, we pace of life and the vibe. No one was in a hurry. People were enjoying each other and the beauty around them.  Third, we were enchanted by the history.  In the city center, you could see the buildings of each generation of people who have lived there since the city was first established. For example, when walking in the old city, we stumbled upon Museo de Artes Decorativas also known as Palacio Taranco. The entrance was free into this renovated and restored mansion that briefly served as a hotel.  Beautifully restored, it was brimming with history of Montevideo along with decor and art from the late 19th century. This visit was such a treat for us giving us a feeling of what the city was like at that time as well as the awareness that the people want to keep their history alive.  Of course, the mention of Uruguay and history would be incomplete without a visit to the stadium where the first World Cup was hosted.   Centennial Stadium is holy ground for the sport.  Uruguay hosted and won the first World Cup competition in 1930, but you would think it was yesterday.

Centenial stadiumFootball pride continues just as strong today as ever.

Following the city tour we were deposited in Independence Plaza so that we could walk down the pedestrian street Sarandi.  There we found a glorious bookstore filling a glorious historic building.  Sandy had a hard time dragging me out of there for the walk back to the ship.  As we walked Columbus Street toward the dock, we passed through a neighborhood filled with late 19th century buildings.  The street fronts were long abandoned, but as we looked up, the facades remained, giving us a hint of the beauty of the street before it was abandoned.  People had given up on this neighborhood two generations before.  It struck us how culture and history in all its beauty can be easily lost. It takes only a generation to let it go…and it is gone forever.

gate at old cityAs we gazed upward at the facades, a man came and tapped me on the shoulder.  His name was Jesper, and he had noticed our interest in the buildings.  He had walked away from his desk to come and speak with us. He could tell we were tourists, and he explained that he and his wife had begun an urban restoration project.  They had purchased an abandoned building, renovated it and were now renting the upper floor apartments.  They also created a store front downstairs.  Jesper and his wife showed us some of the buildings they were brokering and then they gave us a tour of the building they had restored.  The apartments were beautiful.  We were so grateful for their dedication to this neighborhood and to injecting life into the community through their work.  Of course, Sandy and I were more than surprised that they approached us (and didn’t want to sell us anything!), and that they shared their story with us! When we keep history and culture alive, it means more than honoring the past.  It means giving a gift to the future, a gift of rootedness and meaning. We thank God for this experience and for the lessons learned in Montevideo.

2nd Day – Buenos Aires

ba hotel breakfastWe awakened on day two to a nice breakfast in our hotel. The meal was set in the dance studio downstairs; the artwork added to the ambiance of the whole place.  We hated to say goodbye to this beautiful place and to the staff. Soon Eduardo and Martin arrived at the hotel to take us out for the day.  Eduardo is a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and the cousin of Gaby Viggiani, my assistant.  Martin is a member of Eduardo’s church who had the day off and wanted to spend it with us.  Though they live a hour from the city center, they came into town and gave us the day to show us around.  They were great tour guides.

Our first stop was in the leather district.  Most of the shops were closed but we managed to find a few that were not. Leather goods are extremely inexpensive in Argentina, and the craftsmanship is excellent.  We weren’t exciting about shopping, but Sandy managed to find a nice leather coat.

eduardo martin rosedel

Martin and Eduardo at Rosedel

Much of the rest of our time we spent exploring Bosques de Palermo.  This is a large green space close to the center of town.  It hosts everything from museums to the zoo and the botanical gardens.  It is teeming with life–people running or biking for exercise, riding paddle boats, or simply taking a stroll. We especially enjoyed our visit to Rosedel, Argentina’s national rose garden. There were varieties from all over the world, and the whole spectrum of colors were represented–such a beautiful place and so very well kept.

It would be easy to spend the whole day in the park, and enjoy each of the different venues. Soon Eduardo and Martin were hungry.  Eduardo suggested taking us for Argentinian BBQ! It is called “asado.” In short, it is a feast with all kinds of meat cooked on the grill and served with salad, dessert, drinks… You get the idea. Sirloin steak. Strip steak. Skirt steaks. Pork. Chicken. Sweet breads—yes, we actually gave that a try! In Miami, if you come to visit, we want to take you to the beach. In Argentina, they will invite you for barbecue!

mealYou have to love people who want to spend the day sharing their lives with each other over such a meal as this!  When we sat down, Eduardo asked that we wait until we start eating.  He wanted to share about his church, his ministry, and some missions work his church has gotten involved in.  This took an hour.  Eduardo is a trained veterinarian who spent most of his life working with large animals.  God called him into ministry later in life.  He has been pastoring his current church for only a few years. In the last year, his church has begun serving a very poor and isolated community in the northern part of Argentina, in the small town of Chumbicha.  They discovered that the people living there had never heard the gospel before.  It seemed the community was influenced by a form of animism that has led the people astray and brought many ills on the people and the community.  When the church first began visiting these people, they were surprised at how quickly the people responded to the message of the gospel and the love of Christ.  Eduardo shared that doing this ministry has been transformative for him and his church.  After an hour talking, Eduardo said:

Let’s eat!

AsadoI was relieved since my stomach had been growling in the presence of some many delicious smells!  Plates were filled with salads, pasta, bread. Wine was served. Yes, plates of meat. We ate until we were pretty stuffed and Eduardo said,

That was a good start. Let’s talk and then we can go back for more.

We spent three hours together. He was sharing his life with us and inviting us to do the same with him. I won’t tell you how many trips we made for food! But, this is what ancient meals were like. They were not simply refueling opportunities. This is where life took place. Where community was built. In Spanish, the word friend is:

Compañero = con (with) pan (bread)

Yes, friends are those who share table fellowship and break bread together.  Having Martin with us was an immense help.  He added color to the conversation, shared about his family and the city, and provided translation for Eduardo when help was needed.  Of course, we enjoyed this special time with these men, and we were grateful that they invited us into their lives.  We also marveled to hear what God is doing in other places in the world, and how the gospel is growing. Before we finished lunch, we had a rich time of prayer.  Eduardo asked that we pray for them, their families, and their church and also for the community of Chumbicha!

Following lunch, Martin drove us past the regional airport and to the port where our ship was docked.  We left wishing for more time to see this beautiful city.  I certainly hope we will be able to return!

Meeting the ship in Buenos Aires

Meeting the ship in Buenos Aires

Evening of the First Day

We remember Mauro like this! (With our son Andrew and Matt Hedinger)

We remember Mauro like this! (With our son Andrew and Matt Hedinger)

The evening of our first day in Buenos Aires allowed us the opportunity to catch up with an old friend.  We made contact with Mauro Zaltron before arriving in Argentina with the hope we would be able to visit with him and perhaps other members of his family.  Mauro’s dad, Omar Zaltron, began Spanish ministry at Granada.  It was such a privilege to know the Zaltron’s and to share time together at Granada.  It just so happened that though the family lives miles from the center of town, Mauro and his brother Julian worked nearby.  We arranged to meet at our hotel to visit for a few minutes. Mauro is about the same age as our son Andrew, and he is doing IT work in the city.  We were so pleased to see him thriving and to get news about his family.  Meeting together reminded us of the connection we have with our spiritual family and our church family. I am grateful for the work Omar did laying the foundation for the new Spanish ministry at Granada.  As you can see from the pictures, Mauro has grown up!

mauro2

Our visit with Mauro.

He was able to catch us up on the news of his family and also to share with us about his work and life in Buenos Aires.  We were so thankful to be able to visit with him.  He travels well over an hour each way going to and from work so it was a sacrifice for him to come and see us!

After our time with Mauro, we took a taxi to a restaurant in San Telmo that combines a steak dinner with a traditional Tango Show. The food was excellent and the show was a treat.  There were three components to the show.  First, the tango dancers were accompanied by a band that included piano, violin, two accordions, and percussion. They were terrific and provided additional music between the dances and before and after the show.  Second, there was the tango dancers.  They performed a number of traditional dances and reminded me why I will never be able to do the tango!  We loved watching the dancers glide across the dancer floor intertwined, enjoying their craft.

Tango dancers

Tango dancers in San Telmo

Finally, there was a native musical group with guitar, panpipe, percussion, and mandolin.  This group was clearly the star of the show.  Two members of this band looked like they had walked out of the woods that day.  The other two looked like they had just changed from their business suits! The whole evening was great fun.  We retired to the hotel at about 11pm ready for a good night’s sleep.

The day was exhilarating because of the people we met, the culture we enjoyed and the art.  It made us long for a growth of the arts in our city, and to thank God that he has woven the arts into who we are.

The Trip of a Lifetime

Recently, we returned from the trip you (our Granada Church family) sent us on to South America. What an adventure this was! Sandy and I traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina on January 5th, stayed two days in the city. Then we boarded a ship with stops in Uruguay, the Falkland Islands (Malvinas); the ship rounded Cape Horn, and then made two stops in Tierra del Fuego before traveling to Valparaiso, Chile. We also spent two days in Santiago before returning to Miami. This was the trip of a lifetime for us! We enjoyed the experience tremendously. It broadened our perspective of South America, gave us a chance to connect with churches there, and provided a time of renewal and refreshment. We are grateful beyond words for you, our church family, and for thinking of us and planning this special time away. What an amazing adventure!

benWhat you have before you is an invitation to go with Sandy and me on this journey.  We are not inviting you just to see where we have gone, but in a sense, we are inviting you to share it with us.  You can do this by following the blog posts and by posting comments of your own that can be added. During our trip, I journaled about our experiences.  This is what I want to share with you.  Prior to our departure in Miami, Sandy and I were in St. Louis visiting with our daughter Rachel and her husband Joseph. Our mission was to hold our first grandbaby, “Ben.”  This little guy was born in the early morning hours of December 14th, and we were eager to welcome him into the family.

I flew out late Christmas day with our sons Andrew and Nathan to meet Sandy, and we celebrated Christmas together a day late. What a special time it was to share with them. Ben looks a lot like his dad. We took turns holding this little boy and becoming acquainted. They were doing so well adjusting to their new life with Ben.  We are proud of them.

We flew back to Miami on January 1st and shared worship and the Lord’s Super on January 4th at Granada.  This was the first week in our series on experiencing God with all our senses called:  Taste and See.  In the late afternoon we caught an overnight flight to Buenos Aires. The flight is about 9 hours and Buenos Aires is two time zones ahead of Miami.  We arrived to a busy airport in a city larger than New York.   The international airport is quite a distance from the center of town so we arranged in advance for transportation into the city center.  This was Monday morning at the height of rush hour traffic.  Our taxi driver knew almost no English.  Here was our opportunity to use our survival Spanish.  We had great fun learning about the city, getting to know our taxi driver, and getting his impression of a great many things.  His name was Rubens. He explained that he is married with a young daughter. (At this point, he was turning his head for so long to talk with us, I wondered if he was watching the road!)

Day 1 – Buenos Aires

San Telmo Corner

San Telmo Corner

We had met his wife since she was the dispatcher of taxis at the airport.  He explained that he could maintain peace in his home by forbidding the discussion of three topics:  Religion, politics and football (soccer)! Nonetheless, we talked about all three on the way into the city. First, religion.  Rubens told us that he did not have time for church, and that pastors are not respected in Argentina. (Note to self: keep a low profile!)  He explained that almost everyone will claim to be Catholic, but that few participate in church life.  Second, politics.  Rubens grumbled about the state of the economy and the political leadership of Argentina.  Here he was most guarded with his comments.  He did tell us that inflation is quite high and that the Argentinian peso has lost a lot of value in the last few years.  We found this to be true during our staff.  The official exchange rate was about 8.5 pesos to the dollar, but on the street the rate was over 13 pesos to the dollar! They have seen inflation of 40% in the last few years.  Rubens got us to our hotel before he got started about football and his team!

We stayed in the barrio called San Telmo.  This is an older section of town going through revitalization. We saw many buildings we loved…so much character, and we tried to imagine life in San Telmo “in the day.” Our hotel was a completely restored mansion with beautiful wood and marble throughout.  The basement level doubles as a dance studio and dance hall.  The theme of Argentinian Tango is carried through the hotel.  The rooms were nice, the street was quiet, and the staff were very helpful.  Having gotten little sleep on the plane, Sandy napped, and I read and journaled.  Then we took a walk through the streets of San Telmo.   Our favorite part of this barrio was along Defensa, a section of the city lined with antique stores and quaint shops.

San Telmo along Defensa - Antiques

San Telmo along Defensa – Antiques

Palermo street

Palermo street