Around the Horn and Argentina, Uruguay and Chile
We had a great three weeks in the southernmost of South America, which included a two week cruise on the Celebrity Infinity. Our last trip to South America was via Infinity in December 2011 on a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, through the Panama Canal and down the West Coast of South America to Valparaiso, Chile. On that earlier trip, we had found that the countries that we visited were more different from each other than we had anticipated. As in this trip, we found similarities, but each was different in some way.
The three southern most countries of South America, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile are all countries with predominately people of European origin, as opposed to countries like Peru, Ecuador and Columbia, which have a significant Native American or mestizo population. All three had large number of immigration from Spain, Italy, Britain and Germany, with a heavy influence by the first two countries. Further, Argentina has a large Jewish population. All three countries remind you of Europe far more than Peru or Mexico. All the countries have a high level of education, with a literacy rate comparable to Europe or the USA.
All three countries, as most of the former Spanish colonies achieved their independence about two hundred years ago, when Spain’s grip on its colonies was loosened by Napoleon Bonaparte’s takeover of Spain. All three have republics that are similar in structure to the government of the USA. However, each has experienced military takeovers from time to time since their independence.
In planning for this trip and cruise, we decided to take the cruise from Buenos
Aires to Valparaiso, so we could spend some days pre-cruise in Buenos Aires. We had already been to Valparaiso and Santiago on the 2011 trip. Delta had a relatively good rate for the open-jaw flights and that is our preferred airline. After researching what to see in Buenos Aires and hotels, we elected to go with a bed and breakfast in an excellent location. We arrived on January 1 and stayed in El Jardin del Tango, a bed and breakfast. It is just a couple of blocks from two Metro stations and walking distance from Ricoleta and the central district.
Our Bed and Breakfast, El Jardin Del Tango
El Jardin Del Tango has to locations, close to each other. We booked Casa Jasmin and took the option not to share the sole bathroom for the apartment. We had the apartment to ourselves. It had a kitchen, bathroom, living room, two full bedrooms and another small bedroom. Price was excellent. Location was great with easy access to the Metro or walking to many areas in the city. The apartment is located on the sixth floor of an apartment building. It was like staying in a middle class Buenos Aires apartment, which gave us a sense of living there. The refrigerator was stocked with juices, milk, yogurt, melon, eggs and more. There were cereals, coffee, tea and bread. Rachael brought us bananas, since I mentioned that I liked bananas.
We made friends with the owner, Rachael. She was great company. Also, she gave us many tips on getting around the city as well as booking our tango show. She spent much time just enjoying our company and pointing out free walking tours, as well as places to see in the city. She showed us bus 29 which cost 35 cents each to go to la Boca. We felt like we made a friend in Rachel as well as had a more authentic Argentine experience. There were inexpensive restaurants in the neighborhood as well as markets. I purchased two bottles of wine for six dollars.
Rachel introduced us to Mate, a kind of herbal South American drink that reduces appetite. We tried it and Ginny liked it more than I did. It is expensive in the USA, but relatively inexpensive in South America.
I would recommend El Jardin del Tango for a family. We had the entire apartment for $80 per night that would have slept at least 5 persons. It was not a luxury hotel, but it was spacious, comfortable with a great location. Also, Rachel was our friend in Buenos Aires.
The B&B was walking distance from the center of the city, which included the Casa Rosada (The pink house- Argentina’s White House); the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral; the Obelisk of Buenos Aires on 9 de Julio Avenue, which was once the widest avenue in the World; the Congress building and other historical and important buildings. Also, we walked to Ricoleta the afternoon of the first day.
Other areas of the city were La Boca, which the original port area of the city and has many colorful houses and a pedestrian street. The Caminito is where tango artists perform and tango is performed in the street. Between La Boca and the city center is San Telmo. San Telmo is another area where tango dancing takes place. It is also the site of a famous antiques market. Another area of the city is Palermo, an upscale residential area with many parks, the zoo and botanical gardens. Palermo is not very close to the city center. Retiro is an area between Ricoleta and the Puerto Madero Waterfront. Streets in Retiro include Santa Fe, Córdoba, and Libertador Avenues, pedestrian Florida Street (the shops are a big draw for tourists). The Plaza San Martín is located in Retiro, as well as many top hotels and some embassies. Also, Galerías Pacífico, a fancy modern mall in a 19th Century building remolded in the 1940s is in Retiro. The Puerto Madero Waterfront is next to Retiro and not far from the city center. It is composed of a renovated waterfront area with many restaurants.
Our first day in Buenos Aires was January 1. I am not sure when January 1 arrived on our flight, since the pilot did not announce the New Year (no champagne either). Buenos Aires is two hours ahead of Eastern time, so we had little jet lag, but since we didn’t sleep much on our flight, we were a bit tired, so we took a nap after checking in El Jardin del Tango before walking to Ricoleta, probably about a mile away. On the way to Ricoleta, we saw trees planted along the street with names in memorial. We learned later than we had passed by the site of the terror bombing of a Jewish Community Center in 1994. The bombing has been attributed to Iran or Hezbollah. Some in Buenos Aires think the bombing may be related to the center’s investigations on former NAZI’s in South America. We were told that Argentina has about a million Jewish people of its 35 million people. Ricoleta was clearly a cemetery for important people. There were many elaborate and stately tombs. Eva Peron’s tomb was a modest tomb for the Duarte family.
After visiting the cemetery, we walked toward the Puerto Madero Waterfront (through the Retiro district). It was filled with expensive hotels and other important buildings. It was hot and we finally found a gas station were we could find some water. Rachel had advised us of many nice restaurants in the Waterfront area, but it took a while to arrive there. We finally found the area and it was a nice area with a canal, boats docked there and restaurants on both sides of the canal. We were hungry and stopped at Il Gatto, which is a chain restaurant in Argentina with Italian style food. The food was reasonably good, although more expensive, probably due to the location of the restaurant. We used my credit card, since I needed to acquire the local pesos. That fact made it more expensive in itself.
The Argentine Peso is suffering from 25% or more inflation, per year and the government has currency controls that have created a huge blue (black) market in the country for US dollars. The official rate for one dollar is 5.6 Argentine Pesos. The blue market rate is almost one to ten. Restaurants and businesses will routinely take dollars at close to or at ten pesos to the dollar (probably not reporting the exchange). There are currency exchanges that operate both openly and somewhat openly. The somewhat open ones are called cuervas and located in areas that can be risky to enter. The open exchanges seem to operate with impunity, but they are raided by the police occasionally. The Argentines tell you that the raids are a joke and for show, since the police are likely bribed to allow the exchanges to operate. In any event, we managed to exchange a fair amount of dollars which save us mucho dinero. If you plan to visit Argentina, use your credit card as little as possible. Take cash and go to some effort to find an exchange and get the blue rate. The currencies of Uruguay and Chile are stable and not a problem, so we used our credit cards there.
We returned to our B&B by taking the Metro. We slept through the night, since we had air conditioning. Rachel told us that temperatures had exceeded 100 degrees for some days prior to our arrival. Sections of the city had lost power (brown outs), some areas for several days at a time. Apparently, brown outs are a routing problem in the city.
Buenos Aires is a beautify city (so called Paris of South America). The city has some beautiful bones, with many magnificent homes with late 19th-early 20th Century architecture. It will remind you of Paris or Barcelona; however it is rough around the edges. We walked extensively in the city in all the areas mentioned before. Most of the city seems to need infrastructure improvements. We saw many sidewalks and streets that appeared to be torn up for the likely placement or repair of subsurface power, cable or water lines, yet filled with dirt or potholes that were safety issues. It wasn’t third world level, but it wasn’t pretty. Also, some of the areas that we walked through during the daytime were not advisable for nighttime. One area that we discovered that was almost scary was the area past the soccer stadium between La Boca and choripan. We started to walk there and decided out of caution to hail a taxi.
Don’t get me wrong, we very much enjoyed Buenos Aires, but the city of 13 million people has a million homeless people. Many live in abandoned buildings. We were shown one abandoned building, with great architecture across the street from the Argentine Congress building that is full of squatters.
The second day, we had planned to 11am free walking tour, but it rained until about Noon, so we stayed until after lunch and then took Bus 29 (near our B&B) for 35 cents apiece to La Boca. Rachel had advised us about this bus (public transportation). The bus was packed with locals, so we had to stand most of the trip, but it was good exposure to local conditions. The people of Buenos Aires are great. We loved the people. They were friendly and while most couldn’t speak English, they worked with my poor Spanish and sign language to be patient and assist us.
La Boca was interesting. It had many colorful buildings, some painted concrete, some with tin painted many bright colors. We enjoyed waking around the area, browsing in shops, watching tango dancers. We had a nice lunch in La Vieja Rotiseria at Magallanes 869 in La Boca. The food was very good and the restaurant had live tango dancing. We each had a fresh salad and a chorizo sandwich, referred to as choripan. After departing from La Boca, we decided to walk to San Telmo, but the area was extremely squalid and we started to be concerned for our safety, so we hailed a taxi and went to Palermo. Palermo is an upscale residential area with parks. It is on the other side of the city center. Taxis are inexpensive in Buenos Aires and we paid about $15 for the ride. We had the taxi driver drop us off near the Botanical Gardens, which we wanted to see. Unfortunately the gardens were closed, due to the rain in the morning. Also, the Japanese Gardens and Zoo were closed due to the rain in the morning. We didn’t understand why the facilities were closed, since the rain did not seem that hard and had stopped hours before. We did see the Botanical Gardens through the wrought iron fence. It included many unusual plants and a lot of cats. We had not seen a lot of cats in Buenos Aires, but had seen many stray dogs lingering in the city. After visiting Istanbul, Ukraine and Greece a few months ago, where we saw cats all over the city, we concluded that Argentines tend to be dog people, not cat people like the Greeks, Turks and Ukrainians.
We took the subway from Palermo (green line-Plaza Italia Station) to the Plaza de Mayo, at the city center and saw the Cathedral, the tomb of Jose San Martin (the George Washington of Southern South America), the Casa Rosada, the building which was the Spanish colonial capitol as well as first Argentine capitol building. We then walked up Avenue de Mayo toward the Plaza of the Republic, were we encountered the wide Avenue 9 of July, the widest in the World (except for a new one in Brazil). We continued walking toward Pasteur Street and our B&B. We ate dinner at a pizza restaurant in the neighborhood for a modest amount.
The third day, we took the Buenos Aires Free Tour (www.bafreetour.com/english-home), which started at 11am at the Plaza del Congreso. The tour was popular and over 50 persons were there. We met several persons that were going on our Infinity cruise. Our guide was Maggie and she was an excellent guide. She provided in-depth background on the history and cultural points of the places we visited. We walked over some of the same places that we had seen the previous day, but provided an in detail history or background of important buildings. She did very well, especially considering the number of people on the tour. She explained important background on Argentine historical events, including the background on the protestors called the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of the 300. These groups seek to find about 300 missing children who were generally adopted soon after being born to mothers in prison or camps that were later disappeared during the military dictatorship of the 1976 and 1983 period. The Grandmothers protest every Thursday afternoon in the square in front of the Casa Rosada. A bit of humor, Maggie informed us while on the wide avenue looking at a building that had the image of Eva Peron holding a microphone, that it was not a man eating a hamburger. Apparently, a foreign tourist mistook Eva’s image as that. The tour lasted about 2.5 hours. The walking tour was excellent and free, but I did leave Maggie a nice tip. We had a nice late lunch (great and inexpensive meals are available if you can use the blue market pesos).
During the tour, close to Plaza de Mayo, we saw another demonstration by a union. I think we saw such demonstrations every day we were in the city. Maggie told us they were common and she had seen six demonstrations in one day. Apparently, the unions are seeking to flex their political influence. Maggie said that the government wants to avoid anything that reminds people of the military takeover, when such demonstrations were routinely crushed.
That evening we attended the Tango Porteno show located next to the Teatro Colon (beautiful opera house). Link at http://tangoporteno.com.ar
We had Rachel book us dinner at platea level (seats were excellent, although not as good as the executive seats). The dinner was excellent. Service and food were excellent. Further, our waiter kept filling up our wine glasses before we could empty them. The show did not start until 10:15pm, but that allowed us to enjoy our meal. The show was very professional. The singing, dancing, production and set were superb. I highly recommend Tango Porteno. After the show we walked back to the B&B. Rachel had advised us that the streets were safe, but to use the main street of Avenue Corrientes. It was about midnight and many people were out on the street, visiting clubs, restaurants and enjoying themselves. Argentines are very much night people.
The fourth day, we visited the Retiro area, but walking there from our B&B. We did a lot of walking in Buenos Aires since our B&B was at a good location. We were in search of the El Ateneo bookstore, which is a famous bookstore and coffee shop located in a former theatre called “Teatro Gran Splendid.” The first level seating was removed and in its place book shelves were installed, however the boxes on the higher levels are still intact. We found cook books there for local cusine, as well as more paperbacks to read on our trip. We then walked to the Galerías Pacífico, an upscale shopping mall in an old building with beautiful frescoes on the inside of the central cupola. We found more cookbooks and had a beer. From there we took a taxi to our empanada making experience. It was located in Palermo-Hollywood. We booked the event through viator (see link below), but the event was conducted by “The Argentine Experience.” Our hosts were from Britain and Argentina. The evening was quite a treat for us. We enjoyed making our own empanadas as well as eating them. Also, we had a fantastic steak dinner that was one of the best steaks that I have every eaten. During the event, we had discussions of local customs as well as tips on cooking. We enjoyed meeting and socializing with our table mates. It was a great way to spend the evening in Buenos Aires.
On January 5, our ship, Celebrity Infinity was in port and we were scheduled to board that afternoon. We generally try to board the ship around noon, but Celebrity had emailed to us a message that boarding would not start until 3pm. I was skeptical about this, since on earlier cruises, we had received a similar message and still checked in about noon. Still, we decided to arrive a little early, which turned out to be 2:15. Upon arrival, it was difficult to see where we needed to go. We did find a Celebrity sign, but still had to ask where to drop the luggage. In most cruise ports, there are usually porters right there to take your luggage. However, we did find the baggage drop off, do so and the baggage handler would not take my tip. He was not insulted by the tip, just didn’t feel entitled to it. From there, we still had no idea where to go. Others waiting for Celebrity Infinity were in the same state. We finally made our way into the seating area, which was jammed with people. Apparently, there were three ships boarding that day. Infinity was the last one leaving (we departed the next day), so the other two ship’s passengers were given priority to check-in. We found a seat in about 10 minutes and waited for something good to happen. I did wander up to the check-in entrance when I saw someone with a Celebrity paddle. I was told that we would be checking in at 3pm. Yes, it appears that Celebrity’s email was correct after all. No reason to get angry, my fault for getting there early. Slowly, we noticed that other passengers were clearing out of the waiting area checking in with the other to cruises. Finally, I noticed at about 3pm the Celebrity paddle moving and people moving through to check-in. We moved out smartly and went upstairs to find people in line to check-in. We were elite and the elite line was a bit shorter, which was nice. We checked in within 45 minutes were on the ship around 4pm. We heard later from other passengers that some took two or three hours to check-in. The main problems seemed to be the small size of the facility and a lack of direction for people entering the port drop off area. Our check-in was not so bad, but I had to ask for guidance several times. I still do not understand why it took some people three hours to check-in if they arrived after 3pm? Celebrity apologized for the delays and gave every passenger $20 of on board credit for the inconvenience.
We had cabin 7171, which is an angled balcony was the same cabin we had on the Panama Canal cruise in 2011. Celebrity had replaced the small crack in the light cover in our bathroom since 2011. The ship appeared to still be in good condition, with a little bit of rust on the ship’s exterior here and there. Our luggage was delivered fairly quickly and we unpacked in preparation for our 6pm dinner. Our assigned table was a table for twelve with only two other persons in attendance. Over an hour later four more persons showed up (they were very late every night we were at that table). The other couple there was asked to move to another table with friends. The apologized for moving, but we didn’t blame them. Apparently four persons never showed up at the table and four more persons were constantly late. We decided to ask to move and the maître-de asked us to wait one more night, telling us that there were 12 persons booked for that table. The next night, no one but us was at the table at 6:15, so we were moved to table 102. That proved to be great for us, since we dined with four wonderful people. Dave and Judy from Buffalo and Lars and Birte from Denmark were our dinner companions. We became friends and hope to see each other again in the future. The table conversation frequently erupted in laughter. We looked forward to dinner and the great companionship of table 102.
The next day, we were still in Buenos Aires. We had booked a Celebrity excursion to Tigre. Tigre is about 60 miles north of Buenos Aires in a region with a delta and people living on one of the many channel of that river delta.
The tour was described, as follows:
Tigre Delta & River Cruise BA03
Buenos Aires, Argentina
OVERVIEW: Depart from Pier and coach travelling to the northern part of the city en route to San Isidro. Visit the Cathedral before arriving at the town of Tigre. Board a motor launch for a private guided cruise through the green labyrinth of channels and streams. HIGHLIGHTS: - Main Plaza at San Isidro- Private guided motor launch tour of Tigre Delta and its islands - Great photo opportunities NOTES: - Shorts or short skirts are not permitted in the Cathedral.
The boat tour was with Sturia. We learned that about 3000 persons live in the delta with more than 5000 waterways. After the boat ride, we visited San Isidro, a small city north of Buenos Aires. The city is full of upscale homes and a Cathedral, which we visited. This tour was a pleasant change from our first four days in Buenos Aires, which involved a lot of walking. It would probably not be ideal for someone with only one or two days in the city, but for us it was a nice tour.
In planning for this cruise, I set out months ago to organize good private tours, when they seemed to be a better value than Celebrity’s excursions. I consulted someone on cruise critic that I knew had done the same cruise. That person recommended a tour company named Patagonia Shorex hereafter PS. I usually research prices with more than one tour company, but PS came highly recommended. I set out to organize tours on the cruise critic roll call. It finally became apparent to me that PS’s prices were significantly out of line with other tour groups. I eventually dropped PS, due to their pricing and the fact that I did not have enough persons signing up for their tours. I have learned from some that took PS’s tours that they were excellent. I am sure they are a quality firm. However, their prices were just not competitive. We joined a tour group known at Herbanrenewal. Kathy from Maryland had organized these tours. Kathy and her friend Dani became our friends and we enjoyed their company very much. We were on tours at Montevideo, Puerto Madryn, Punta Arenas and Puerto Montt. The Puerto Madryn tour was with Nievemar Tours, organized by Eric and Paula (also in our group in these tours). The other three tours were with SouthExcursions. We also had a private tour at the end of our cruise with SouthExcursions for Valparaiso, Casablanca and Santiago.
The links for SouthExcursions and Nievemar are below:
Our first port after leaving Buenos Aires was Montevideo, the capitol of Uruguay. Our tour was with SouthExcursions and included a visit to a winery:
Montevideo Highlights and Vineyard 6.5 hrs
Montevideo is a charming city with pleasant 19th and early 20th century buildings, beautiful parks and historic monuments. Your highlights tour includes the Old City and waterfront area where you will see the German battleship the Graff Spee that was held here during World War II, Constitution Square, the Cathedral and Colonial Town Hall, and Independence Square - at the center of which stands a monument dedicated to national hero José Gervasio Artigas.
Visit the Government House and the Congress Building constructed between 1908 and 1925 with local marble and 12 different types of wood. Drive through the Prado neighborhood – where you’ll find one of the oldest parks in the city that features the famous sculpture La Diligencia, Monument to the last Charruas Indians, and the Rose Garden.
Continue to the Vineyard. Stimulated by the love of the countryside and its products, Uruguay boasts an impressive wine making tradition. At the vineyard you will enjoy a wine making tour that includes sampling.
From the vineyard you’ll drive back to Montevideo and through the Batlle and Ordonez Parks, passing by the Obelisk, La Carreta Monument (Covered Wagon) and the Soccer Stadium - site of the first World Soccer Cup organized by FIFA. Continue travelling through the Carrasco residential area with its magnificent private residences and the Hotel Casino Carrasco - an imposing building overlooking the coast and filled with tradition and history. The return drive will be along the coast to see the long stretches of world-class beaches.
Tour concludes at the Pier.
The cost of the tour was $80 per person. There was a little rain early in the tour, while we were walking through downtown Montevideo, but didn’t bother us much, since I can hold an umbrella in one hand and take photos in the other. The visit to the covered wagon monument was a depiction of a large ox drawn bronze covered wagon. Uruguay was similar to Argentina, but we never saw the signs of massive homelessness. Also, the currency was stable. Uruguay’s ethnic mix was heavy on Spanish and Italian, probably more Spanish than Italian. Uruguay is a small country of about 4 million people between Brazil and Argentina. Its territory was once more dominated by the Portuguese, but the Spanish moved in and gradually took over at the dominant colonial power. After independence, Uruguay was caught between the two larger countries for a while, but emerged as an independent country. When planning this trip, I considered visiting Colonia de Sacramento, which was an Old Portuguese fort city and is a world heritage site. The lengthy travel from Montevideo to Colonia just seems a bit much. Also, we considered taking the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, but didn’t want to get up early to take the 8:30 ferry. Also, the cost of the ferry was a factor. We decided to take the city tour with a visit to the winery. We enjoyed the tour and the winery visit was fun. They served empanadas with the wine, so we didn’t need to buy lunch.
Returning to the ship, we were able to enjoy the elite happy hour for those who have taken enough Celebrity cruises. The happy hour is from 5-7pm at deck 11, the Constellation Room. We usually met Kathy and Dani there for a few glasses of wine. This benefit is nice and saves us from spending more on alcohol during the cruise. Also, we get to socialize with friends.
PUNTA DEL ESTE
The next day our port of call was Punta Del Este. That port was a tender port, but we managed to get to shore despite some waves. We arrived to catch our tender early and no one was waiting for a tender. That had never happened on any of our prior Celebrity cruises. However, the ship had a lot of South Americans and Europeans that dined late and perhaps decided to sleep in that morning. Punta Del Este a one of the prime toni resort locations in South America. It was definitely an upscale resort with lots of expensive homes. We took a bike tour with biketoursurguay, the link is:
We did a bike tour of about 7 miles around the peninsula encompassing the prime real estate of the city. The tour was $35 per person and about 10 of us look the tour with two guides, one at the front of our group and the other at the rear, making sure no one lagged behind. We took the Peninsula Tour, described below:
Going along and stopping in the most emblematic and cultural areas of Punta Del Este.
Time to hydrate, enjoy and contemplate:
Monument: La Mano
El Emir Beach
Great Britain Square - Battle of Rio de la Plata - Graf Spee
Punta del Este Lighthouse - First school in Punta del Este
Rosa de los Vientos
Punta del Este Port - Sea Lions
Boardwalk 'La Pastora'
The tour was very scenic. We saw the site of the sinking of the Graf Spee by the Royal Navy in WWII, the quaint Lighthouse and nearby church. We saw the famous hand sticking up in the sand. The beaches were beautiful, and the tour allowed us to easily see the city. It was a good option for this port, plus we got a little exercise.
After a sea day, our next port was Puerto Madryn, Argentina. Our tour was to the Peninsula Valdes with Nievemar Tours, which was arranged by Eric and Paula. The tour was a full day tour and cost $100 per person. We traveled extensively over gravel roads to see much wildlife. We probably spent about half our time traveling. However, if you want to see the animals that is what you need to do. There are basically two options at Puerto Madryn. Peninsula Valdes or Punta Tombo. Punta Tombo has a colony of Magellanic Penguins, but we had plans to see the same penguins at Punta Arenas, so we elected to go with Peninsula Valdes. The Peninsula is actually a large ranch, which included some mining; however there are animal preserves which protect the animals. Our group included Eric and Paula, Mike and Pam, Wing and her Mom, Kathy and Dani, Kathy and Lloyd as well as Ginny and I. It was great company. On the drive to the first preserve, we saw herds of guanaco, an animal that is from the camel family, but about the size of an alpaca. We saw a bird that is in the roadrunner family, but larger. The first preserve was to see Magellan Penguins. We were able to get very close to some of the penguins. There were about a hundred of them that we could see. You could see how they burrow into the earth to create a nest. There were a few chicks, or young penguins, but the chicks were closer to being full grown, however, you could still see they did not have the adult coloration. Next, we visited another area overlooking a beach where we could see elephant seals. We were told by our guide that these seals are able to dive hundreds of feet in the ocean, far deeper than a nuclear submarine. Apparently, scientists have attached sensors and GPS devices that have proven the animals can dive over a thousand meters deep in the ocean. Our reviewing stands were not as close as with the penguins, but with our telephoto lenses, we were able to take great photos. The last animal preserve was one filled with hundreds of sea lions. It was mating season, we were told, and it was noisy out there with the sea lions. After visiting all these preserves, we stopped at a former whaling town on the peninsula that now specializes in eco-tourism, with boat tours to see the whales. We had a late lunch of fish and fries, which was good. All the seafood we had in South America was excellent, especially in Chile.
Our mini-bus made its way back to the port and had about 40 minutes to get to the ship when we stopped at the entrance to the port. Apparently our driver was not in the union and could not drive through the port security gate. We had to wait for another bus to come by from the same company with a union driver. Our guide vented about how corrupt the country was, mentioning that when Juan Person took over he nationalized the railroads and quadrupled the employment within three years, consequently bleeding the rail roads of funds, with the consequences that the current state of the railroads in Argentina is very poor.
We learned that Puerto Madryn was originally settled about 150 years ago by Welsh settlers. Apparently, many still speak the ancient language as spoken in the 19th Century. There is a Welsh festival scheduled for next year in the city.
After another day at sea, we had a big event; our ship circumnavigated Cape Horn, which is in Chile. Cape Horn is a group of islands, some of which appear to be quite large. The weather for this event at about 4pm was excellent. We rounded the horn and saw the Chilean light house and monument, which are not on the Cape Horn island, but over a mile from the cape. Cape Horn is less than 400 miles from Antarctica. Temperatures were in the 40s and the wind was very strong, probably 40 mph. Transiting Cape Horn is no big deal these days, with steel hulled ships and modern power, but I remember reading sea faring books in my youth when sailing ships would round the horn in stormy weather at some risk.
The next day we docked at Ushuaia, Argentina. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in Argentina, located on the island of Terra Del Fuego (land of fire). Magellan called the island that when came through on his circumnavigation of the World. Apparently, the natives had signal fires burning. I had read a fascinating book by Thomas Bridges called “The Uttermost part of the Earth.” It describes an English family that settles near Ushuaia and builds their very large ranch. It describes the local Indian tribes and how they interacted with them. Few Indians remain in that area. Most died from disease and the remainder assimilated with the largely European immigrants.
Our ship was able to dock at Ushuaia, instead of having to tender, which made it much easier for us to leave the ship. We took a Celebrity tour that included a ride on one of the local large catamarans. We cruised up the Beagle Channel and visited some islands (did not go on the islands). These islands were loaded with many seabirds, sea lions and other wildlife. Our catamaran was able to move to within 20 feet of some of the islands. One island had a small lighthouse on top. The channel is back dropped by beautiful snow/ice capped mountains. We did not make it to the Estancia Harberton, home of Thomas Bridges, author of The Uttermost Part of the Earth. There is one tour company that goes there, pira tours. We elected to take the Celebrity excursion that included the catamaran cruise and visit to the Terra Del Fuego National Park. The catamaran proceeded to take us to the National Park, where we were picked up by busses and taken to see a small museum, lakes with swans and other birds, then to the Ensenada, on the Beagle Channel. There, we saw the End of the World Post Office. I mailed a post card to our home address, but it still has not arrived. This was a great tour and I would advise taking this or a similar tour, or the pira tour.
That evening leaving Ushuaia, our ship proceeded toward Punta Arenas, Chile, by going west, past some very scenic mountains. Many of the mountains had glaciers and you could see some melting with the runoff flowing down the mountainside. We stayed up until 10pm (it was still light) taking photos with friends. It was great.
Our next port was Punta Arenas, where we tendered. This was the most problematic tender port. Lines were long and it seemed to take longer to make it to shore. Our tour was with SouthExcursions and only a half day tour, so we were not apprehensive about having time to return to the ship on time. The tour was described, as follows:
Otway Sound Penguin Colony
Half Day Activity (This tour can begin at 09:00 or 13:30)
Leaving Punta Arenas, you’ll head north on to the Brunswick Peninsula, along the Straits of Magellan. From there, you’ll take a detour to Otway Sound, a beautiful landscape of plains, bays and fjords.
Next, the tour will take you to the Picket Mine, an important open-pit mineral deposit in the region’s gigantic coal mantles.
Finally, you’ll arrive at the pingüinera, the nesting ground of the Magellan penguin (Spheniscus magallanicus). Thousands of birds, which are called “jackass penguins” due to the donkey-like braying sounds they make, come ashore in the spring, to breed, and lay eggs here.
Our tour included most of the same people on our Puerto Madryn tour. Cost was $67 per person, which was a good savings over the Celebrity tour. The Otway colony was larger than the group of penguins that we saw at the Peninsula Valdez. The drive to the colony was not a long as in Puerto Madryn. We passed the mine on the way to the colony. We walked some distance over a boardwalk with some bridges that allowed penguins to move under the boardwalk. The boardwalk took us to first to a viewing stand close to the beach were we watched the birds on the beach, some swimming. Then the boardwalk took us in a kind of triangle, walking closer to some of the penguin nests with more viewing stands. The viewing stands were small and only allowed three persons at a time to use. It took over an hour to make the circuit. We learned that Punta Arenas had a population of about 130,000, about twice the size of Ushuaia. The city looked prosperous, but then we felt that Chile generally looked more prosperous than Argentina.
We returned to Punta Arenas and spent some time in and around the town square. There was a festival type atmosphere with a local band and lively music. Also, there were stall were souvenirs were on sale.
In route to Puerto Montt, our ship passed through the Chilean Fjords, which included more scenic mountains and hills on both sides of the ship.
The next day was another sea day, as we moved north to warmer temperatures. The temperatures in Punta Arenas, Ushuaia and Cape Horn were in the 40s and 50s. Our next port was Puerto Montt. Temperatures were warmer but not quite warm enough for most people to wear shorts. Puerto Montt was another tender port, but the lines to exit the ship were not long, our tender boat was not full and the ship was anchored close to shore, so tendering was not a lengthy process. We had a full day tour and were glad to make it to land early. We had another tour with SouthExcursions, which was described as follows:
Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas and Petrohue falls
Full Day Activity (7 Hrs)
This tour is ideal for passengers who want to get the best of Puerto Montt and its marvelous surroundings.
Enjoy of a trip that takes you from the ship to the city center of Puerto Montt, with its picturesque fishing wharf and seafood market, as well as a visit to the main square of Puerto Varas, “City of Roses,” known for its alpine and traditional German-style architecture.
After this, a lakeside drive leads you to the impressive Petrohue River Falls, a gleaming succession of azure blue rapids, against a back drop of mountains and the emerald green “Todos Los Santos” Lake. Here, a breathtaking view of the snowcapped “Volcan Osorno” can be admired. A lunch stop will allow for you to get a feel of the local cuisine.
Upon your return to Puerto Montt (if time allows), a stop will be made at the Angelmo market before returning to the pier.
Our tour managed to arrive at Petrohue falls (rapids) before the many Celebrity bus tours. We passed through landscape that reminded us of southern Germany (many German, Swiss and Croat settlers there), with snowcapped mountains (volcanoes), tidy fields with cattle and homes with German type architecture. It was a modest walk on paths, then boardwalks and bridges to see the rapids and falls. Scenery was magnificent with the backdrop of the snowcapped volcanoes. The volcanic rock in the falls area, with rushing water was well worth the trip. On the way back, we stopped at another park with had a green colored lake due to the algae (I called it pond scum lake). That name did not give it due credit. The lake was beautiful in the woods, an inlet next to the large lake. This is the Chilean Lake district and there are bugs that are attracted to dark clothing. I wore light colored clothing. The bugs were not that bad, but did bother us from time to time.
Returning to Puerto Montt, we stopped for two hours at Puerto Varas, a beautiful city on the huge lake. Many of the buildings had architecture reminding us of Germany. Also, across the lake you could see the two large snowcapped volcanoes as well as a smaller more distant mountain. We ate lunch at a restaurant recommended by our guide, and each had a huge empanada and local beer. After lunch we walked around the city. It was busy with a market like in Punta Arenas, as well as music and folk dancing. The tour was $75 per person and well worth the price.
The cruise was approaching an end, and I want to mention the ship’s service, entertainment and other matters.
The entertainment on the ship was typical of what celebrity offers. There the big production shows with dancers, singers and an aerial act. The young singers and dancers performed very well, we again enjoyed Celebrate the World, with its music and dancing from many countries in the World. We have seen that show before on every celebrity cruise, but still enjoy it. The Voyage to Remember on the last night was good, however we didn’t go to iBroadway or Boggietown again, we had seen those shows enough. Craig Dahn, a pianist was superb and performed music from Jerry Lee Lewis, Liberace and more. Neil Lockwood, another pianist, did a great Elton John show. Elvy Rose, a Cuban-American gave us a couple of shows. We enjoyed here energy and music. We enjoyed the Pampas Devils, an Argentine group that did tango and routines of gauchos. Hypnotist Ed Fernandez was interesting, but not the best. Steve Carte, a juggler and humorist, was entertaining as well as Hector with a magic show. I went to the Michael Jackson imitator show with Ginny, Judy and Dave, but didn’t really want to, since I am not a fan of Jackson. The audience seemed to enjoy the performance. By ICE.
FOOD AND SERVICE
We found the food and service to be excellent on Infinity, consistent with our earlier six celebrity cruises. Our waiters at table 102 were always there when we needed them. On one occasion, my red snapper dish seemed to include a small portion of fish, and Jose took little time to bring me another serving, even though I didn’t ask for it. Our wine seward, George was excellent. Service at the Captain’s Club elite happy hour was amazing. Frequently, you would be provided with another glass of wine before you would finish your glass. The buffet food was excellent, with some variety, offering Indian, Mexican, and other foods as well as my favorite breakfast, eggs benedict. Our cabin attendants were there when we needed them.
MULTIPLE SMOKING VIOLATIONS
For the first time on celebrity, we had a serious problem with people in adjacent cabins smoking on their balconies. We complained many times to our room steward and guest relations. Ginny and I spotted two of our neighbors smoking on the adjacent cabin, as well as the one next to that one. Of course, both were up wind from our cabin. Celebrity was very responsive to our complaints, and by the middle of the cruise, the smoking had stopped and we still received calls from guest relations asking if everything was ok. However, toward the end of the cruise, the smoking resumed. The officer in charge of the cabin stewards got to know us well. He was nice, explaining that proof was required in order to punish offenders. I expect that due process is necessary, but apparently, or word was not enough. He explained that investigations were performs, possible offenders confronted. We were told that one yelled at him. We were still frustrated at celebrity’s inability to stop the smoking. Still, taken in context, this was the only real negative issue we had on the cruise. It was a great cruise, great itinerary and we would cruise on Infinity again.
After another sea day, we arrived in Valparaiso, Chile. Ginny and I had been there before, when our cruise through the Panama Canal ended there in December 2011. Again, I had arranged for a tour with SouthExcursions. We had a special tour, tailored to our needs, since we had done the standard Valparaiso, Vin Del Mar, Casablanca, Santiago tour in 2011. The tour was described as follows:
Full day Casablanca Valley and Neruda’s house
Wine tasting in a well-known vineyard plus Neruda’s house in Isla Negra.
Casablanca valley is well known for top quality wines, many of which you will enjoy during this great excursion. You will travel out of Valparaiso and into the Casablanca Valley, the youngest Chilean viticulture area which boasts a perfect trilogy: climate, soil and vine. After the wine tasting and tour you’ll travel to the village Isla Negra, located on the coast between Valparaiso and Santiago. Neruda enjoyed a great fortune and spent it mainly on the very human pursuits of travelling, collecting and entertaining. Overlooking the sea, Isla Negra was an escape from the bustle of Santiago and a writing retreat. The house today contains many of his personal belongings, antiques, and his eclectic collections of nautical items - most notably ship mastheads, indigenous masks, and antique glassware.
Includes wine tasting in Indómita Vineyard and ticket to Neruda's museum, but not lunch.
From your destination in Valparaíso to your destination in Santiago.
Los Dominicos + Cathedral + San Cristobal Hill (7 hours)
First, you'll visit the finest residential neighborhood until we reach El Pueblito de Los Dominicos, a lovely craft workers village where you will be able to walk around its narrow streets and buy typical Chilean crafts.
Then, you'll be taken to see the Cathedral on the inside.
Finally, we will take you to San Cristobal hill
After disembarkation, we met Dixiana from SouthExcursions that had arranged our tours. She introduced us to Yvonne, our guide for the next two days. Our tour was tailored for us to visit placed we had not seen in 2011. Because our tour included only Ginny and I the first day and four persons on the second (Jim and Mary joined us on day 2),
Yvonne turned out to be an excellent guide. She took us back to Valparaiso, where we had visited before, and we did revisit some of the places we saw in 2011, but then visited other interesting places. Then, she took us to Isla Negra, a seaside town where we visited one of the homes of Pablo Neruda, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I had never heard of the poet, who is famous in South America for his romantic writings. The home overlooked the beach and ocean and Neruda’s collections showed his interests. He collected sea shells (many beautiful), ships inside bottles, butterflies and insects as well as figure heads from ships. We enjoyed seeing the home and it gave us much local color. There probably wasn’t and American within 25 miles of this city. On the way to the museum, we saw a city filled with Chilean families enjoying their beach vacations. It was off the beaten path for a foreign tourist. The museum had audio guides in English that facilitated our understanding of the museum.
After the museum, we had lunch at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the beach and ocean. The restaurant, Kaleuche (firstname.lastname@example.org) specialized in seafood. We had the most fantastic empanadas filled with crab, as well as a serving of Chilean sea bass as big as a T-bone steak. Also, Yvonne gave us a taste of her shrimp empanada that was fantastic. We very much enjoyed our meal. The seafood in Chile is just unbelievable.
Next, we visited the Indomita winery in Casablanca. It is a huge winery, with a building that sits at the top of a hill, overlooking its vineyards. Unfortunately, our group of two arrived after bus and car loads of people had already arrive. Once we were seated for our winetasting, if felt like an assembly line. We had three glasses of excellent wine, but because of the overload of visitors, it was too rushed. We did get a tour of the huge wine making facility, which was the largest we had ever seen, with many huge vats and many barrels in production. In 2011, our guide had taken us to the Casas Del Bosque vineyards and we had a far more pleasing experience there. After the winery visit, we proceeded to our hotel at Santiago. We had SouthExcursions book the hotel for us, since they acquired a good price for the one night stay.
Upon arrival at the hotel, the hotel manager was not aware of our reservation. Yvonne contacted the company and found out that we had been booked at another hotel, El Bosque San Sebastian, which was close by. The 20 minutes of uncertainty was not comforting. The issue was resolved, but I don’t understand why our hotel was switched. Apparently, Dixiana had sent me an email three days before, but I was not checking my email every day, since the internet on the ship was slow or not available. The same thing had happened two years before with SouthExcursions. My advice is that SouthExcursions will provide you will excellent tours and guides for a fair price, but make your own hotel reservations.
Our hotel rooms were nice; we had a suite with living area, kitchen, and bedroom and of course bathroom. The concierge was helpful in pointing us to a nice area with restaurants. We declined to eat at Applebee’s which had the same food it has in the USA. We had a light dinner with empanadas and other appetizers with beers.
The next day, we were picked up by Yvonne at 11am. She had already picked up Jim and Mary from the Marriott. Yvonne was from Santiago and she showed us around her city. We saw many more sites than was listed in the expected tour. First, we went back to the Santa Lucia park with its hill with a view of the city. We had done this in 2011, but Jim and Mary had not. It was enjoyable going up the hill and we were present when the noon cannon went off. My ears were ringing for five minutes. After Santa Lucia, we went to Plaza De Armas, the main square of the city and visited the Metropolitan Cathedral. There was beautiful art work in the Cathedral, but services started during our visit and photography was curtail somewhat.
Yvonne took us to see the racetrack, attractive old homes. Many of the stately older homes have been taken over by the University. We then had lunch, which took place at El Galeon restaurant. We had eaten there two years ago, and the food was still great. Of course, we had seafood. Again, the empanadas and main course were super. After lunch, we drove up to San Cristobal hill. We could have taken the funicular, but drove instead. The view from the hill was even better than from Santa Lucia, since we were much higher. We had a stop at a shop that specialized in lapis jewelry, but declined to purchase anything. Our last stop was an old hacienda that was converted into a multitude of shops. We then left for the airport to check-in for our flight home. Yvonne helped us to find the Delta check-in. We enjoyed our day in Santiago and Yvonne was an excellent guide.
Checking in for our flight was not taking place for over an hour after we had arrived at the airport. There were kiosks available for us to check-in except for our luggage. The problem was that many other people had arrived early and it took some maneuvering to use the kiosks. After checking-in at the kiosks we attempted to form a queue outside the baggage check-in area, but others came up and cut in line. Still, we made it through and after a 9.5 hour flight arrived in Atlanta. We were reminded that it was winter in North America.
It was a wonderful trip. South America is a very enjoyable destination. The around the horn cruise is a great way to see the remote sites, with fantastic scenery and wildlife.