SouthAmerica.travel clients Terry & Sue recently explored the Southern Cone of South America on a trip that included a Patagonia cruise and time spent in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Please enjoy the daily accounts of their adventures, as chronicled by Sue, who also took many lovely pictures. A huge thanks to Sue from her Travel Consultant Jennifer and all of us here at SouthAmerica.travel.
Santiago, Chile – We went on a 3-hour city tour. Our guide was great. Santiago is a beautiful city with old and new architecture mixed in together. There are 16 million people living in Chile and 6 million of them live in Santiago. There is a huge super mall on the bottom 6 floors of the 80-story building (Gran Torre) — the tallest skyscraper in South America. The people in Santiago seem successful and prosperous.
Valparaiso and Viña del Mar – We drove to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar today. Along the way were vineyards galore. Of course we stopped at one for some wine tasting. We are enjoying Chilean wines! We hear that Chile is the land of earthquakes. Supposedly they have them daily but so small you can’t always feel them. Glad they warned us. They are due for a big one in about 20 years. The highways are every bit as modern as the ones in the US but they are not under construction.
Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper and has only been a democratic government for about 15 years. They have a female president and they love her. Cool. Everywhere you look seems to be very prosperous, clean and friendly. It’s a happy country and friendly to Americans, though not many speak English. We order our food by pointing out the pictures. We had empanadas for lunch. Delicious!
Valparaiso is an artist community. Every building is painted bright colors and many of them are painted in beautiful graffiti. It is everywhere. Viña del Mar is a community built on the beach. Reminds me of Laguna Beach in California with palm trees, bougainvillea and wonderful walkways to view the ocean. Very windy though. Saw a cool red and white lighthouse. I do like lighthouses.
Patagonia – After a few hours of driving we heard mooing. Cows of all shapes and sizes covered the road. It was amazing to watch the cowboys and dogs keep them all together and moving.
We saw lots of wildlife on the way to the ranch–pink flamingos, Eagles, Chilean ducks, ostriches, and Guanacos (looks like a llama). So cute to watch the babies playing and running around. There were hundreds of them like herds of deer.
The whole way to the ranch we noticed that it was terribly windy but didn’t know how bad it really was until we started to get out of the car and the driver asked us to wait so that he could hold the door from being torn off. I guess it was like 80 mile an hour gusts.
Torres del Paine – It’s very windy here. They say it’s like that everyday but not the gusts we had yesterday and all night. The weather changes from minute to minute here. We had raindrops, sunshine and coolness throughout the day. We saw 4 Condors flying above a Guanaco carcass. There are many Pumas here as well.
There are many activities to choose from like backpacking, camping, rock climbing, walking trails, horseback riding (they have 250 horses that they let graze freely on the ranch in the afternoon when they get back from their rides). They are beauties too. We are going for a half-day ride tomorrow followed by a massage.
We woke to a beautiful sunrise this morning at 5:15. We left the ranch for a photo excursion at 9:00. The Blue Lagoon is one of the many bright blue lakes in the park. Behind the lake is Paine Massif and some granite spires. They came out of the clouds near the end of our excursion — really beautiful.
Trail Ride in Patagonia – We woke to cold foggy rain. By the time we began our trail ride it had stopped raining. My horse was not comfortable going through some of the streams and rivers and had to be coaxed in. I don’t really blame him since it was very rocky, slippery and nearly up to his belly. I had to lift my feet so they wouldn’t get wet. It was glacier water. It is not windy today but still glad I had my scarf and gloves. Our young Gaucho would scout ahead and choose the best places for river crossings, etc. the rivers had white water rapids and it made me a bit wary as well.
I have so many beautiful horse pictures. It was absolutely gorgeous and very different landscapes like we have never seen before. We might try another ride tomorrow after we take our hike. All our pictures were taken while riding.
I spotted a red fox last night near the dining hall when I went out to watch them turn out the horses for the night. Someone from the kitchen was feeding him roasted lamb through the kitchen window. He hung around for quite a while and wasn’t worried about us getting close. Funny since there are signs everywhere that say not to feed the wildlife.
Last Day at the Ranch – Our 3 hour hike turned into 4 1/2. Our guide was great — from Canada but her parents from Chile. She moved here after graduation and loves it here. We were the only two that signed up for this trip so it was nice to have a guide who speaks really good English all to ourselves.
This ranch is big — thousands of acres and it connects to a national park so it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. It is sunny, not warm but not windy. We saw lots of destruction from a fire. All fires here are man made. They have no thunder and lightening. A camper knocked over his stove. The destruction was massive and will take many years to recover. It has been 5 years now and there seems no growth on the trees yet. The day is warm and sunny but conditions change rapidly here. This is early summer and the wild flowers are just beginning to bloom. Our guide pointed out tiny orchids growing near the path in many colors. Such different beauty everywhere you look. Each trail, excursion and hike has such a variety of plants and landscape.
Travel to Punta Arenas – We left the ranch early this morning for a long 5 hour drive, but stopped a few times for photos. We passed the same cattle herd that we passed 4 days ago. They were going to the ranch we just left. The older gauchos sure looked weather beaten but I have to say that the wind in Patagonia is brutal.
We saw a group of about 15 Condors flying in the sky. People got out of their tour bus and walked across a field to get a shot of it. They were really far away and only specs in the sky. Still, to see so many is pretty unusual. Their wingspan is about 10 feet.
We also saw a lot of Rheas. They look like a small ostrich and there were more than 15 of them. They are the second favorite food of Pumas. Their favorite is the Guanaco and we saw many remains to prove it. We were told that Pumas usually kill baby horses because they are always out in the open field, even in the winter.
We arrived in Punta Arenas after lunch today. It is a very colorful town. We checked into the hotel and then had a tour of the town. Every house that you see with a red roof is owned by a Croatian. There is a big population of Croatians here. It sounds kinda weird, but our driver suggested we visit the local cemetery and it was really pretty interesting. Really haven’t seen a cemetery like it. There were many large family tombs and every gravesite was filled with colorful flowers. It is a place of laughter and celebration of those lost by their family members.
We board the ship Stella Australis tomorrow for 5 days of travel through the passages Magellan discovered way back when. There will be penguins and glaciers and probably lots of wind.
The Stella Australis – Punta Arenas is certainly a windy place. We are having gale winds. Kinda difficult on contact lens wearers. We checked out of our hotel at noon and checked in for our boat ride and left our suitcases there. We walked to the town square to see a demonstration of teachers asking for higher wages. Guess it’s the same anywhere. We missed most of the demo but got there in time to see all the national guard soldiers there. That was a bit shocking. Don’t know if they made them leave or what. We are hanging out at the local casino waiting for 5 o’clock boarding time. Would have loved to have just walked around town but the wind is miserable. Bus stations and other waiting areas have wind tubes. Very strange looking.
We boarded the ship at 6 and was supposed to have a 6:30 depart but the harbor closed down because of the strong winds. We set sail a few hours later. We aren’t going great distances so should still get there in plenty of time.
The Strait of Magellan – Very interesting day today. We learned that sometimes it’s not so good to travel light. We knew there might be some rain but not what we had today. Guess we missed the memo to bring rain pants and boots. The good news is that we don’t have the terrible winds here that we had in Punta Arenas.
We had two excursions off the ship by Zodiac into nesting areas of penguins and Cormorants — both very cute. The weather wasn’t too bad then except for some light rain. However, the excursion this afternoon was pretty miserable with almost constant sleeting rain and lots of slippery mud. I was very surprised that we tromped through the tender Spring vegetation in front of the Glacier Martinelli.
There are about 150 people on this trip from 17 different countries. It’s pretty amazing how many languages the crew speaks. Many of them are scientists or ecologists and seem very knowledgeable about glaciers and the fauna. We have daily presentations as well as talks during the excursions.
At the end of our walk today on the beach, they served us hot chocolate and sodas with scotch. That warmed us up for the ride back to the boat. A group of Dolphins have been following us. They sure are fun to watch swim.
The Beagle Channel – We had a nice surprise last night when we went back to our room after dinner. There was a big bottle of Champaign and snacks left in our room from the captain. We found out this morning that we were suggested as recipients from the head tour guide, Mauricio. We met Mauricio the first day on the ship. It turns out that he spent the last two years of high school in Bellevue, Washington and has very fond memories of Washington.
We will be visiting the Pia Glacier today. Mauricio gave a historical talk this morning on the area we are visiting today. We are following Magellan and Darwin’s travels. The channel is named for Darwin’s ship (not his dog). The average rainfall here is about 30 inches. Pleasantly, it is not raining now and hopefully will be a dry outing this afternoon. We haven’t seen another ship or people outside our ship since we sailed.
We traveled through Glacier Alley this evening. Pretty amazing. There are so many glaciers it was hard to keep them straight, partly because the crew made it a party and served food and drinks for each Glacier. I think there were six of them. The first one, Pia Glacier we actually got to hike up close. It was stunning!
Cape Horn – We were warned that getting off the boat might not be possible because of the wind and waves but our luck held and it was a bright sunny day –for a short while. There is a lighthouse here and every year Chile has a contest for a family to live here for a year and work at the lighthouse. I was hoping to talk to the family to get their impressions but we only saw a teenage girl and she didn’t speak any English. I can tell you that I would not want to spend a year here. I also can’t imagine any teenager wanting to stay here either — no television, wi-fi internet, cell service, shopping, friends or school. Hope they like to read. Our ship visits two times a week during the summer season, which is about December through June.
Cape Horn is the gateway to Antarctica and the southern-most point in South America, at the extreme tip of Chile. We saw lots of seals but from the Zodiac. They didn’t look very friendly and, whew, the smell was not so good. This is the last day for our cruise. We have nothing but compliments for the ship and crew but will be glad to get back to land.
We docked in Ushuaia last night around midnight. After farewells to our ship friends this morning after breakfast, we were picked up by our guide. Ushuaia is an island that seemed to be a perfect location for a prison as it was thought to be inescapable much like Alcatraz. There was really no place for them to escape to. They brought in the prisoners and had them build a railroad and the prison itself. They chopped down hundreds of trees leaving none for reseeding, so they haven’t come back. They call it a tree cemetery. There are just stumps everywhere. The prison is in the middle of downtown and now a museum.
The best part of Ushuaia is the national park. We took a train ride through the park that was pretty cool and walked several of the trails. The train tracks were also built by the prisoners. On the ride we noticed over 100 wild horses. When ranch horses wandered onto the park land, the government claimed them for the park. They are beautiful horses but completely wild.
The climate is a difficult one. There are only three species of trees that will grow in this climate. It has constant wind and always cold. Our guide told us that if you don’t like the climate here, wait 5 minutes and it will change. It’s true. We had wind, rain, and sunshine. He said it rains 300 days a year and had snow last week.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – It is a beautiful sunny day today. We were able to get rid of our coats, gloves and scarves and switch to t-shirts. The Pink House is the equivalent to our White House. I think that is so funny. It’s a beautiful building at the end of their main town square. It has a fence around it but the fence is very close to the building. Doesn’t seem very secure for their president. There is scaffolding all around it today because this weekend is a big celebration of their democratic independence.
The colorful buildings used to be a community of Italian immigrants that worked on the docks. They had nothing to build their houses with and used leftover metal and wood from the ships that came in as well as leftover paint. I think it turned out pretty neat. It is now a community of artists and craftsmen selling their handiwork. Very fun to see.
The cemetery is very famous here and is where Eva Peron is buried. Her picture and memorials are all around the city. She is responsible for women getting to vote in this country as well as human rights for the common people, schools for poor children and hospitals for the poor. She was the wife of the president and is still considered the First Lady of Argentina.
Just got back from the tango show and it was fabulous. Seriously, I don’t know how they keep from kicking each other. Their feet were moving so fast. It almost made Terry want to get out his dancing shoes and give it a try; however, I doubt that his feet will have the kind of precision they had.
Colonia, Uruguay – We are in Colonia, Uruguay. It is a quaint little town. We are staying in the old part of the town at one of the old missions turned into a hotel. The weather is all of a sudden tropical. We are a little more than an hour from Buenos Aires yet it feels like 80+ degrees. Our room is pleasantly cool because the walls are more than a foot thick. I have never seen bigger hydrangeas in my life. The leaves are enormous.
We arrived in Colonia by a huge hydrofoil. It was really old and more like a floating shopping mall than a ship. Colonia is across the Rio Del Platt. It is more than 40 miles wide in some areas making it the widest river in the world.
Our guide told us that there are no homeless people in Uruguay. The unemployment is 2%. Education is free for all including college and graduate school. Parents only have to prove they have a job. Medical is also free to everyone and not just residents. Anyone from the U.S. could come here and go to school or college for free. First graders through high school students get a free laptop to bring home and keep while they go to school. Each home also has free Internet.
This town has no traffic lights or streetlights, no crime and only 2 police officers. There is one problem though. There are so many parakeets nesting in the palm trees that it’s hard to hold a conversation at dinner. There are many street dogs here. They all seem to get along and go from restaurant to restaurant for leftovers and seem to be happy dogs.
Punta del Este – Yesterday our guide and driver picked us up and drove with us to Punta del Este. You might have thought we were driving through Ohio. It was all farmland, very flat and green. It is sunny here and pleasantly warm but not hot. Punta del Este is a much bigger city than we thought. In fact there are high rises along the beach like there are in Miami. Punta del Este is on a peninsula with the river on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side.