2011- Chile

19th – 24th February

After being home from just before Christmas and for the whole of January, we were left Heathrow on 18th February to fly to Santiago de Chile, via Madrid.  We had not enjoyed the weather of our a-typical winter in the UK but we had marvelled at the arrival of two grandchildren within 8 days – Zachary Elliot on 28th January and Ava Sofia on 5th February.  We were so glad that both were safe and healthy and had obligingly arrived (in Ava’s case) before we were to head off for our month on Discovery, joining the ship in Chile.

We got to know several folk on our journey who were also travelling to join "Discovery" - including the photographers, Philip and Janet.  We landed in Santiago de Chile at approximately 9.00 a.m. after our 13˝ hour flight and then had the experience of a two hour coach journey through the hills and valleys leading to the coast and the port of Valparaiso where we were to board Discovery.  We passed through extremely dry countryside but also valleys where a multitude of fruits and vegetables are grown and from where many are exported.  We also went by a couple of small copper mines and some vineyards.

It was good to be welcomed back on board by many of the staff and crew who remembered us.

We decided not to go out into the town on the Saturday afternoon but rather to settle into our cabin and take time to chat to new acquaintances.

We shared our dinner table with a Canadian couple (George and Jutta) and another couple from Wales (Dorothy and Malcolm).  Learning that the Canadians had been mugged the previous day in Valparaiso and had sustained minor injuries, we were not sorry that we had not ventured forth alone.


Sunday 20th February

We took our pre-booked city tour of Valparaiso and the neighbouring prosperous seaside resort of Vina del Mar.

Valparaiso is the principal port of Chile and a service city.  European immigrants brought technology, railways and banking and the city prospered until the opening of the Panama Canal and the great depression.

The overall impression is one of a Spanish Baroque city which has been severely neglected and the situation worsened by a bad earthquake in 1985.  Unlike its neighbour, Vina del Mar, Valparaiso is now mainly occupied by the poorer and middle classes.  A considerable number of buildings remain as just four walls with no roof or interior. Some have been taken over by companies and entirely refurbished.

It being a Sunday morning, the city was comparatively quiet – although it seems to have livened up more in the afternoon with shops opening after 11.00 a.m.

We drove up to wooden buildings on the hillside, similar to those of San Francisco.  Again, many of these were quite dilapidated.

We then were driven to the Plaza Soto Mayor where we had some time to wander around and take photographs of the naval buildings and memorial there.

Vina del Mar is in complete contrast to Valparaiso.  It has been developed from the 1930s to a town of half a million  and acts as a seaside resort for richer and subsequently for middle class visitors. 

We were given background information on Chile by our local guide, Eduardo.  They have tried many different political systems and have varied from Left to Right in their politics.  Since 1990, democracy has been restored and a market economy pursued.  A previous flirtation with extreme socialism lead to 99% nationalisation but with nothing to buy in the shops.

Apparently education is not free, but fees are geared to some extent to income.  12 years of education is compulsory.

Much of the wealth of the country comes from minerals, especially copper but previously coal and nitrates.

Our tour ended with a visit to the Fonck Museum in Vina del Mar.  There we saw some prehistory but also information on the Easter Island culture.  This even extended to girl doing a demonstration of an Easter Island dance.



Monday 21st February

This was a sea day as we made our way up towards Arica.  We attended the Port Lecture on Arica and then refreshed our memories of what Philip Lawson and Janet Edwards have to share regarding photography.  Jill found it useful to annotate the typed lecture notes that she had taken when on the Iceland/Greenland cruise in August 2010.


Tuesday 22nd February

was our second day at sea with a number of interesting lectures.  We also went to the Yacht Club in the evening.  After our Italian meal at the Yacht Club, we went to the Discovery Theatre to watch “Missing” – Based on the real-life experiences of Ed Horman, this is the story of an American father of conservative background who comes to a South American country to search for his missing son, a journalist. Ed joins with his daughter-in-law Beth, who like her husband is politically polarized from the father, in prying through the bureaucracy and dangerous political intrigue in search of their son and husband. Little by little, the father comes to realize that his own beloved government is not telling him the truth.


Wednesday 23rd February

We arrived at Arica, the northern most city of Chile,  whilst it was still dark.  It is a major port for the area and for Peru and Bolivia.  The latter had become landlocked as a result of the War of the Pacific in the late 19th century. 
Now they are permitted to export their goods tax free from here.

At 8.15 a.m. we took a half day tour.  This included a visit to the market place and to the metal Cathedral of St. Marco where a service was taking place.  The noticeable thing about this area was the abundance of birds.  Most prominent were the Cormorant Ducks which have become so common that they have moved inland and taken over many of the trees.  Unfortunately their acid droppings tend to kill the trees.  They had been introduced to control the number of fish, we were told.  They are now so abundant as to be a nuisance in themselves.

We saw also some  red headed “Turkey Vultures”, which are of the condor family.

The rest of the town was less attractive than the port area and has grown to a size of 120,000 people.  This is despite the low rainfall and the poor quality of the water which, untreated, contains lead and arsenic.

We moved out of town, and up into the lower hills – to see some geoglyphs.  These date from 500 A.D. (in the case of a hill covered with lama pictograms) to 4000 years ago.  They are mainly composed of dark stones which pick out the subject against the lighter soil background.  In the case of the oldest ones, a reverse process is used with the light soil forming the picture.

The hills are extremely barren but there is a ribbon of development along the valley floor.  In town, this takes the form of shanty dwellings where the squatters are hoping to get permission to develop permanent dwellings.  Further inland the soil is beginning to be used for agriculture.

We took the Pan American Highway (which extends right up to Alaska) up into the desert hills that border Arica.  Our destination was to see recently created large sculptures.  We were given refreshments and also watched a brief traditional entertainment.   The sculptures were probably some thirty feet high and were very dramatic against the barren surface of the hills.  The area had a lot of salt on the surface of the ground which had been drawn out by extremely heavy rainfall over the past weeks.  We were told that the annual rainfall is normally 0.05 mm in Arica but that this year there had been two weeks of very heavy rain which had caused many problems.  The main evidence to us was the swollen brown waters of the rivers which is highly unusual, but other features that we did not see included jelly fish and sharks in the coastal waters.

On the way back from the sculptures we visited an Arica museum that majored on the history of the area and described the various civilisations.  Of particular interest to us were the 310 Chinchorro mummies dating from 3150 BC to 395 AD.

We were driven back to the Market place in the centre of Arica and opted to leave the tour there – as did many others.  We revisited the Cathedral and also bought some local garments for Zac and Ava, taking a photograph of the lady who sold them to us.

We did not climb the large morro (though perhaps we should have done) but instead found our way to the harbour and spent some time photographing the many pelicans and seal lions there. 

In the evening, we started to watch a Colin Firth film “The Single Man” but didn’t think very much of it and therefore left part way through.


Thursday 24th February

This was another day at sea as we progressed up the Chilean coast and entered Peruvian waters.  We attended lectures on “Callao” which is the port for Lima; a photography lecture focusing on taking pictures of flora and fauna; and a talk on the disgraced former president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori.

At lunch time people crowded over to the starboard side of the ship to see several pods of dolphins passing close to the ship.  Unfortunately our cameras were safely locked away!  We later heard that a hump backed whale had been spotted but we did not see this.