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Home > Virtual Cruises > South America: Around Cape Horn on Regal Princess
South America: Around Cape Horn on Regal Princess
Day 1: Pre-Cruise Stay in Buenos Aires
Day 2: Embarkation, Cruising the Rio de la Plata to Montevideo
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Valentine's Day in Puerto Madryn
Day 5: Port Stanley
Day 6: Rounding Cape Horn
Day 7: Ushuaia
Day 8: Punta Arenas
Day 9: At Sea/Amalia Glacier
Day 10: Puerto Montt
Day 11: Disembarkation in Valparaiso, Post-Cruise Stay in Santiago
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Day 8: Thursday, Punta Arenas
Punta ArenasChile's Punta Arenas has an interesting enough history: While Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, Punta Arenas is the southernmost city on the South American continent proper (Ushuaia is actually on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago); it is the capital of the Magallenas Province, named for the explorer whose ship was blown through here by fierce winds in 1520.

But in our pre-trip research I didn't get a real "feel" for Punta Arenas through guidebooks and literature supplied by the ship's tour office the way I did with other towns we explored on foot like Stanley and even Ushuaia. The view from our window revealed little more. The area where the ships dock is about four miles from the center of town, and very commercial with shipping containers stacked as far as the eye can see just before a long stretch of boring road. It was also gray and rainy today -- the first not-nice weather we've encountered, really -- which didn't help my mood. Perhaps today we were feeling, quite understandably, a bit burned out by sightseeing.

Princess offers a shuttle bus for $5 one way into the center of town, which is a great deal for folks who aren't getting around by way of shore excursions -- taxis did not seem plentiful. The first thing we noticed on the 20-minute ride into town (shuttle buses come and go every hour on the 15 and 45 respectively) was how quiet the town was. It was Sunday, and just as we'd discovered a week ago today in Montevideo, banks, shops and even money exchange places were closed. I began to regret not booking an excursion to Otway Bay, Punta Arenas' "pinguineria" (penguin colony), or Fuerte Bulnes, a re-creation of the first Chilean settlement in Patagonia dating back to 1842. (Though they weren't offered on our voyage due to time restrictions, Punta Arenas is also a jumping-off point for expeditions by plane to Antarctica; for a mere $1,699, you can take the three-hour flight by prop-jet to the Villa Las Estrellas Research Station, and trek for wildlife and glacier viewing.)

We were dropped off right along the western edge of Plaza Munoz Gamero, Punta Arenas' main square. The square was actually a lovely surprise that eased our concerns. Mike had read somewhere that Chileans take excellent care of their parks as a matter of civic pride, and that was apparent here; the grounds were as green and as clean as could be. A lovely fountain (that wasn't turned on -- even that has off on Sundays?) was designed to look like a compass and the directionals painted along the low walls are accurate -- a great tool for the self-explorer. It's hard to get lost when north and south are clearly marked right here in the main square!

The focal point of Plaza Munoz Gamero is a huge bronze statue of Magellan perched haphazardly on a cannon. At his feet are mermaids and a pair of Indians; legend has it that if you kiss the big toe of one of the Indians you are sure to return to Punta Arenas. My fellow shipmates were choosing to rub the toe instead, which I must admit seemed much more sanitary. I joined the queue of people waiting to pose for a photo with a massive toe, maybe about the width of a computer's mouse. The color was different than that on the rest of the monument, more shiny and golden, perhaps from much rubbing over the years! I touched the bronze expecting it to be cool, but it was a little bit like sitting on a toilet someone's just stood up from. (And after I described it so colorfully, Mike passed on the experience.) I smiled, said cheese and that was it. Not the most exciting part of the day, but hey, when in Rome (or in Punta Arenas)....

Local merchants were starting to set up a flea market on card tables surrounding Magellan and his bare-footed friends. Items included Chilean stones, handwoven hats and scarves, and sellers seemed happy to take U.S. dollars -- many had boxes and envelopes stuffed with dollar bills for giving change in American currency. Even with the rain, business was booming; whenever the drizzle would turn into full-out drops, sellers would pull a large sheet of plastic over their wares and shoppers would pull large plastic parkas or ponchos over their heads.

All shopped out from Ushuaia, we made our first stop the tourist information booth, which cannot be missed -- it is in a charming gazebo of wood and wrought iron right in the square. We grabbed a map and set off. Our biggest mistake was not to have asked the guy behind the desk for advice. The maritime museum was closed (the Sunday curse strikes again). Luckily the nearby Historical Museum of Magellenas, also known as the Braun-Menendez Museum, was open.

There are two parts to this museum, which is actually a mansion built in 1904 during Punta Arenas' golden years (at that time, the port city was a major world supplier of wool, though its heyday ended abruptly in 1914 when the Panama Canal opened and ships were no longer required to round the horn). The first few rooms are open for viewing and decorated with original furnishings for a glimpse into the lifestyle of Punta Arenas' wealthiest past residents. The other rooms, toward the back of the property, are devoted to the history of the region. I didn't get as much out of the "museum" part of the museum as I could have -- the exhibits are all described in Spanish, but you can pick up a written guide in English when you walk in, which I didn't realize until we were on the way out!

Still, the mansion itself is gorgeous, and worth a walk-through. It was built by one of Patagonia's pioneers, Mauricio Braun. Frescos on the ceiling in the main foyer gives the space the impression of being under a skylight. A gaming room for the family and their rich friends features a billiards table set under a crystal chandelier. A bedroom next door contains a four-poster bed and is attached to a bathroom larger than my entire cruise cabin with a dressing table and old-fashioned ceramic tub. It is fun to take a few moments to imagine yourself living in this French Neo-Renaissance mansion, carousing with the elite in rooms decorated with Italian leather, Belgian furniture and French wallpaper ... very worldly.

Another Punta Arenas landmark that is open without fail on Sundays is a large cathedral on the other side of the square. A statue of Mother Theresa guards the entrance on the left, with colorful flowers placed at her feet (a handmade sign above her reads in Spanish, loosely translated, "candles are dangerous"). Just behind are a series of dark wooden confessional booths, in the classic, claustrophobic style that instills the fear of God into small Catholic children. I inched away, admiring the stained glass windows, each crafted in the likeness of a different saint.

There are actually several churches in this area, well frequented at this hour on a Sunday. Just five blocks north of the cathedral is La Cruz hill, an observation point popular with tourists that promises a birds-eye view of the city. On the short walk there, organ music grew louder and louder until we finally reached the source about halfway between the square and the hill -- a rickety Methodist ("Metodista") church. It was not as grand or as classic as the cathedral at the square with its bell and clock tower soaring high, but the soundtrack it provided to our walk was lovely: "Jesus Loves His Little Children," "Go Tell It on the Mountain," and some other, equally beautiful hymns I did not recognize. It reminded me of walking to church on Sunday mornings as a young girl, not needing to ask my mother "are we there yet?" because I could judge for myself by the volume of the music.

We were alone on our stroll except for a few citizens who croaked out "buenos dias" and some stray dogs (most of the visitors to the hill arrive on tour buses en route to other attractions). At the base, we faced a steep flight of stairs that we ascended a little bit at a time, stopping at natural resting points (small ledges) along the way to snap pictures of the scenery -- this was turning out to be more exercise than our hike in Ushuaia! As the scope of the landscape grew, the roofs shrank along with the landmarks we recognized, such as the cathedral and the Hotel Cabo de Hornos, which dominates the skyline. When we reached the top, our climb was rewarded two-fold. Not only did we have the amazing view but the sun also came out almost as if we'd stepped on a secret "good weather" button, splashing light on the sparkling blue Straits of Magellan that were now visible from our vantage point. It wouldn't last though: Within a few minutes we saw all there was to see -- including an ominous rain cloud moving toward the city (wish the weather would make up its mind!). We decided to head back to the square for lunch, in the hopes that the rain would pass and we could pick up our sightseeing afterward.

It began to pour as we arrived back at the square, so we ducked into the first restaurant we saw -- a Spanish eatery offering paella and tapas. La Tasca is an unexpected oasis on the second floor of an otherwise bland-looking concrete building. The tables are dressed in cheerful yellow tablecloths, surrounded by iron chairs with plush cushions; yellow and red fabric hangs from the ceilings along with funky Starbucks-esque lamps. We started our meal with a traditional Chilean cocktail -- the Pisco Sour, and Mike's new favorite drink, made with Pisco (a brandy distilled from white muscat grapes grown in central Chile), lemon juice, sugar and bitters. It tastes a bit like a margarita but without the headache-inducing tequila. We split a delicious appetizer of grilled garlic shrimp; a huge hot skillet of paella, creamy rice with chicken, pork, sausage, shrimp, scallops and mussels; and a decadent caramel-y flan.

Sure enough, the sun was back out after lunch and we headed due east on a 15-minute walk toward the settlers' cemetery; along the way we saw plenty of shops that would have been open on any other day of the week (a few Internet cafes were open, though, as well as the "hipermercado" or supermarket). The cemetery reminded me a little bit of Recoleta Cemetary, but if we're to compare them to towns, Recoleta is a sterile urban metropolis and this one more of a sprawling suburb with identical manicured trees towering tall above the cemetery's aged white walls. The trees actually create a maze around the ornate sepulchers like the Queen of Hearts' in "Alice in Wonderland," and it's easy to lose your bearings; thankfully the rows or "streets" are marked with named signs. Because of many shipwrecks in these parts, sea explorers from nearly every part of the world are buried here alongside some of Punta Arenas' early settlers; surnames as night and day as Liebermann and Perez sit side by side.

Even if this wasn't our favorite port, what turned out to be a pleasant day ashore flew by quickly, and we returned to the square to board the second to last shuttle back to the ship (JJ the cruise director was on our shuttle, dressed down in jeans; Mike had actually noticed a lot of Regal crewmembers out and about, including one of our favorite poolside bartenders at La Tasca).

A quick nap onboard prepared us for a busy evening. Back at our table tonight in the Palm Court, all six of us ordered the veal scallopini and ate nearly every last bite. Diane really enjoyed the flea market and bought a few pieces of jewelry. Dinner was odd, though, with Paulo seeming like he was on speed. When my dinner plate was cleared and I was handed my dessert menu all in one fell swoop, I started to get really annoyed -- until I found out that our tablemates had told Paulo before we were seated that they wanted to get out faster than usual to snag good seats for the show. I don't particularly like being rushed at dinner, but at least I knew there was a reason for it. Oh, and the mushrooms were perfect.

Indeed, we were done with our meal in plenty of time to get a seat for the production show, "Shake, Rattle and Roll," which showcased music from decades past -- from the Big Bopper to Sonny and Cher. The singing and dancing was entertaining enough (Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock" was lively with dancers scantily dressed in black and white prison outfits zooming around the stage carrying prop cellblock bars) but the orchestra was especially fantastic -- they didn't miss a beat on a medley of fun and familiar Beatles songs.
Day 7: Ushuaia red arrow Day 9: At Sea/Amalia Glacier

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