I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Thursday
Feb112016

All at sea

 

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We are watching our progress as we sail south, listening to the Captain’s updates regarding the weather and how it might affect our plans.  Yesterday, we were glad to leave the open ocean behind and sail in the relative shelter of the islands.  We hoped for some lovely scenery, a bit of wildlife to snap and perhaps an unexpected surprise?

 

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These narrow, steep sided glacial fjords don’t make for good internet communications but I managed to post yesterday’s blog before lunch and enjoyed being up and about, even if the weather did take a turn for the worse later in the day.

 

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We did a bit of penguin spotting, but didn’t quite manage to catch it in time!  As we sat enjoying a spot of lunch, we watched the water spouts from whales swimming a few miles off but again, the pictures remain in our heads.

 

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Last evening, we sailed back out into the open ocean again for three hours, negotiating the last headland which obstructs our passage south.  The Captain had warned everyone that between 8 and 11, there could be a little movement and advised to hang on and hold the handrails.  Sure enough, just as we finished our Italian supper we turned that corner and – wow – all hands on deck to secure the outdoor furniture!  By 11, all was calm again as we sailed into another sheltered fjord.  This is quite a journey.

 

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This morning, we are sailing in the Smyth channel and the plan was to visit the Amalia glacier at 6.30am – weather permitting.  Well, the weather didn’t permit, sadly and having taken advice from the Chilean Navy, the Captain decided it was too risky to take his ship through a narrow channel in high winds.  We continue on our way of course, the next point of interest being the wreck of the Santa Leonor this afternoon, but again we will be at the mercy of the weather.

Are we disappointed?  Of course.  Are we downhearted?  Of course not!

One thing is sure.  We will not be doing any laundry.  The ship is sailing under the highest health precautions following reports of a few GI cases.  As a result, every surface, handrail, carpet and piece of furniture is constantly being cleaned.  Every member of staff is working to contain the situation and their action seems to be proving effective, thank goodness.  One of the more surprising effects of the raised precautions is the closure of the self-serve laundries, so we don’t even feel any pressure to do the washing and ironing today.  What a shame Winking smile

Anyway, with a full programme of things we want to do today, it might be a challenge to squeeze in some reading time to begin my new book group title – A God in Ruins.  I wonder how many pages I’ll manage before I fall asleep?

 

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I’m still on wildlife watch but not doing very well so far, unless this is a particularly rare breed of seagull?

Wednesday
Feb102016

Into Patagonia

 

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We woke to a misty scene outside, but kept our fingers crossed that, as the day warmed up, some of that mist would clear and we’d see some of the magnificent scenery.

 

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Not much life here, apart from the occasional salmon farming enterprise.

 

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Sometime in the late morning, the weather started to improve.  We headed outside onto the top deck to take photographs but really to simply take in these amazing surroundings and enjoy the fresh, clear air.  As we sailed further into the fjord, Terry Breen’s commentary pointed out the classic features of glacial landscapes – a geography teacher’s dream resource!

 

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Hanging valley, anyone?

 

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Even though we knew we were almost at our destination we still couldn’t see where that might be.  There really was nowhere in sight.

 

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But as we approached this split in the fjord, we began to turn the corner.

 

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We came quite close to the side of the fjord too, seeing clearly why this is such an uninhabited area; one which Charles Darwin described as a green desert.

 

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Sure enough, as we turned right, there was Puerto Chacabuco.

 

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Look what was there already: Ocean Princess.

 

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We quickly scooted downstairs to get our things and prepare for our adventure, described as “Full Day Patagonia Nature in Depth”.  I took the opportunity to have a chat with the local guide who was already on board.  She gave me a couple of maps and we chatted as I admired her hat – a kind of beret called a boina.  It was actually rather reminiscent of a Basque beret of the same name, but this had gaucho heritage and a most important little tag which added a particular Patagonian flavour.

 

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Soon, it was time to tender again.

 

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The port of Chacabuco has been very carefully developed by a private company which owns and controls the nature reserve, an hotel and it seems, this whole operation. 

 

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We got an idea of the scale of this landscape once we were onshore.  This “small” fjord turned out to be perfectly capable of accommodating two enormous ships both of which looked pretty tiny relative to their surroundings.  Oh yes, this is big stuff.

 

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Marta, our guide, gave us a bit of information about Puerto Chacabuco during the short drive to the nature reserve.  There’s a general population of around 3000 people here, though some are seasonal residents.  They are served by one school, one hospital, one church and one ATM.  They enjoy 3000ml of rain a year and most are employed in either salmon farming or tourism.

 

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It all felt very remote indeed.

 

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We were divided into two smaller groups, ours being the “purple chucaos”.  The chucao is a small, wren-like bird with a loud call.  Marta said she fully expected us to see one or two along the way.

 

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We warmed to her lively spirit and delightful accent!  “Come on, purple chucaos!”

 

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Into the rainforest we went. 

 

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Every so often, she’s stop and point out something of interest, including this huge gunnera-like plant.  Local people use it to cook, sandwiching meat and vegetables between two of these enormous leaves for cooking  - the leaves are discarded rather than eaten though.  The stems are also used in a salad, so I guess it’s not gunnera…

 

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There was a clear route through the forest and a couple of dry days meant that the pathway was easy to walk along.

 

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Most of it was fairly densely planted, with an even mix of bamboos and other shrubby plants.  Not so many tall trees here.

 

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There was a small river, too, with bright, clear water.

 

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Sadly, not so many flowers and not much variation in the planting, though I spotted some tiny blossoms on a bush by the river.  Though some were lucky to see the little chucao bird, the fact that another couple of groups had gone this way only a short time before meant there was little to see beyond yet another species of bamboo or small shrub.

 

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Thankfully there were, however, two stand-out stars of the forest for me and perhaps that’s enough?  The first was this curiosity.

 

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Known locally as “poor man’s wool”, this lichen-type plant isn’t attached to the ground at all but grows in small clumps.  It’s quite soft and was used as an insulating layer as the name suggests.  I imagine when it gets wet, it goes a bit soggy though!

 

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About an hour and a half from the start of the walk, we came upon the waterfall, called the Old Man’s Beard.

 

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Here, one of the other guides introduced me to my second star of the day.  Hypoterygium arbusculans or the little umbrella moss.  Why is it special?  It’s the tallest moss in the world: all of 2 inches!

 

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A short distance from the waterfall was the Quincho, a typical Chilean venue for barbeque and entertainment.  The view over the lake was stunning and now the clouds had cleared, the air was fresh and clean.

 

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Inside wasn’t quite so clear – the barbecue was set up in the middle with lambs roasting in the traditional style and the resultant smoke was lending a bit of atmosphere, shall we say?

 

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The carving was rustic in style, but having enjoyed a pisco sour aperitif as we arrived and now, here at the table, freely flowing Cabernet Sauvignon, we were happy.

 

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We were still more happy to see the view on our return to the port.  By now, it was around 7.30pm and the changing light made it all the more interesting.

 

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So, we hopped up top on the tender and sat on the roof for the return journey to Mariner.

 

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Well, how could we resist the opportunity to sit up high in this wonderful place?

 

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The little town of Puerto Chacabuco returned to its usual state of peace and quiet, until another ship, tomorrow, will bring some more lucky people.

 

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For now, though, we just keep on taking photographs and feeling very thankful indeed to be here.

Our connection is so slow today, I’ve given up trying to include some links  When it improves I’ll add a few

Tuesday
Feb092016

Puerto Montt today

We had fond memories of Puerto Montt.  We were last here twelve years ago with my parents and remembered walking through the town and a craft market.  I looked forward to revisiting the small town and to seeing if it was as I recalled.

 

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I couldn’t wait to open the curtains this morning and take a look – are we there yet?

 

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I quickly called my hero to come and see the volcano on the horizon.  Wow!

 

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As we ate breakfast, the skies changed and the shafts of light over the mountains were simply gorgeous.  The volcano disappeared into the clouds and didn’t put in another appearance all day.

 

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It was another tender ride into the port and once again, I spotted something of interest on the journey.  Heaven help us if we ever need to make use of the tools and other emergency equipment on board – but it’s good to know that it’s there, I suppose.

 

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The usual security checks awaited us accompanied by broad smiles and this attractive mural on the warehouse wall.

 

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We were heading out of town first, along the last bit of the Pan American Highway in Chile towards Puerto Varas and then along the lakeside and into the National Park to see some waterfalls.

 

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The small towns here are mostly built of wooden shingle homes and were settled by mostly German immigrants.

 

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There’s an outdoorsy feel to the area and plenty of activities on offer, like fly fishing, sailing and horseback riding.

 

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(Sorry about the reflection!)

Lake Llanquihue is huge – the second largest lake in Chile – and is surrounded by volcanoes such as the one we’d seen first thing this morning.

 

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A little further along, we were to see evidence of that too, because Calbuco, the volcano just to the east of here had erupted last April, showering the whole of the area with ash, much of which had simply been swept to the side of the road.

 

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Once into the National Park, the rocks were clearly of volcanic origin too with rounded shapes and soft curves.  Interesting!

 

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We walked down to the falls at Petrohue along a dusty volcanic ash pathway.

 

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Here, the river squeezed through several narrow channels.

 

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Having squeezed through the narrow channels, the bright blue-green oxygenated water looked stunning against the black rock .

 

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We walked around the area, noticing that water was squeezing through every gap.

 

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This was my favourite, where a large expanse of water “folded” itself into a small channel.  As you know, I find water like this mesmerising.

 

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At this point, someone muttered that they felt cheated; that this wasn’t a waterfall at all but just a few rapids.  Oh. Dear. Me.

 

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What was interesting is that this volcanic rock was totally different in character from the earlier “bubbly” area we’d walked through.  This was darker in colour and almost like fused slate.

 

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I thought it a really beautiful area in which to spend an hour, especially since that volcano, Osorno, was brooding there in the distance.  It’s the same volcano as we’d seen this morning and the top third is covered in snow, as we’d seen for ourselves but others simply had to take Andrea’s word for it.

 

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As we walked back to the coach, I spotted a sign.  My Spanish is very limited indeed, but I can sniff out a good thing when I see it and this little heap of home made manjar needed to be sampled, for sure.  $2000 - £2 – and the deal was done.

 

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We drove back along the same lakeside road as we’d come, past potato fields enriched by the volcanic ash.

 

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We passed the German school as we entered the town of Puerto Varas

 

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and parked up for an hour underneath a tangle of overhead cables.

 

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We set out to explore this little town, enjoying the faintly frontier-town vibe.

 

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We noticed further evidence of the German heritage here and there

 

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and bought a bottle of shampoo in the drugstore!

 

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The little grocery store had a wonderful selection of empanadas, all looking delicious and very tempting indeed.  But we had a reservation for fine dining tonight and must resist!

 

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We wandered down to the lakeside where a few hardy souls were swimming in the glacial water.

 

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Two small boys were giggling and throwing a fish around – was it a real fish or a rubber toy?  Who knows – but it was fun and they were in good spirits!

 

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Not known for my love of birds (!), I was nevertheless interested in this rather pretty one, wading in a rock pool there.  I have no idea what it is but always enjoy the different sights and sounds of another continent.

 

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The craft goods on sale were very much of this place and though they looked fine on a hanger here, would not really fit in anywhere else.

 

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An uneventful ride back into Puerto Montt left us with a couple of hours to take a look at the market there and to take a walk down memory lane.

 

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Yes, it was just as we remembered it but twelve years on does not entice us to make any more purchases than we did on that occasion.  Actually, by this time it was starting to rain (or, as Andrea said, beginning to apply a little moisture to the complexion).  The craft market crowd was mooching along very slowly and someone was getting a little fed up with it all.  We upped our pace and hot footed it to the fish market, a bit further along.

 

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This was all undercover, so the moisture was merely underfoot.  Just like the fish markets I remember from my childhood in Hull, such fresh fish wasn’t at all smelly and it was fascinating to see the large salmon there on sale at bargain prices.

 

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$3000 a pound – that’s £3.  My goodness, we could have a feast.

 

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There was plenty of choice when it came to smoked fish and shellfish too.

 

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But peering outside, the rain was coming down harder and even though we were equipped for wet weather, we were ready for home.  As we stepped onto the tender, the seaman pulled up the gangway and we were off, back across the harbour to our sleek, white ship.

This morning, we are sailing down another fjord, towards Puerto Chacabuco where we will arrive around lunchtime.  In a few minutes, we’ll enjoy a commentary from Terry Breen, our on board expert, who will point out anything of interest as we make our way into Patagonia.

I’ll tell you all about it later!

 

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Monday
Feb082016

Superbowl Sunday

 

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A scheduled day at sea today.  We are still sailing down the west coast of Chile, heading towards the lakes and fjords of the southern tip and aiming to be in Puerto Montt tomorrow morning.  There is still a heavy swell, there’s a head wind and the current is against us too.  But the Captain has put his foot down and we are sailing full steam ahead to be there as near on time as possible.  But in his announcement today, the Captain did warn us that we might be a little late in arriving.  Like fifteen or twenty minutes…

 

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We are having a happy time on board though.  We’re relaxed, we are in excellent company and being very well looked after.  We have all the entertainment we could wish for and spent the day listening to interesting speakers, sitting gossiping over coffee, enjoying a good Italian lunch and trivia this afternoon.  We didn’t do so well, but hey, what did it matter?

 

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This evening, whilst balloons were being inflated in preparation for the Superbowl party, we headed for the bar and enjoyed an apertif whilst we decided what we might do for dinner when the football fans were watching the match.  Though we thought the restaurants would be so empty we’d take our pick, in fact there were still quite a few folks around.

 

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Occasionally, though, it helps to ask the right question at the right time, of the right person…and sure enough, we got the right answer.

Yes, there was a table for us in Signatures, the French restaurant.  Perfect.

 

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Cheers!

 

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First problem, what to choose?  I started with the asparagus salad, perfumed with truffle.

 

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It was delicious and thankfully, not a huge portion.

 

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Next, I chose the veal medaillons.

 

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Again, not too huge a plateful, but perfectly cooked and beautifully served.

 

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We decided the house (included) wines would do very nicely thank you.  No need to splash out on the $815 a bottle alternative!

 

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By the time the petits fours arrived with the dessert menu, we were beginning to falter.  Still, that little strawberry macaron can’t do any harm, can it?

 

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My hero decided to dive right in with creme brulee whilst I decided I couldn’t manage a full dessert at all and chose to have a simple scoop of the white chocolate and mascarpone ice cream.

 

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I did wonder if I ought to have ordered the creme brulee too, though Winking smile

We sat and chatted to some friends as we left, feeling utterly spoiled and totally stuffed.  All was quiet on the Superbowl front; in fact, all was quiet on the ship, full stop.  Who knows if the “right” team are winning?  Will we hear evidence of the outcome when the game ends later on?  We have no idea!  But as we have a fairly early start tomorrow morning, we decided to call it a day and turn in for the night.

 

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Looks like some bears have been having fun whilst we were out, doesn’t it?

 

Sunday
Feb072016

Valparaiso

 

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Well, our suspicions that Coquimbo, our next scheduled port of call might be in question were confirmed when the Captain announced that not only it but all other ocean-facing ports along this coast were closed to all sea traffic on account of the swell.  As a result, we’d sail right on by and though we were disappointed to miss our tour of the Elqui valley and the pisco distillery, there wasn’t anything we could do.  The Captain, bless him, had tried all possibilities including early arrival into Valaparaiso, but sea conditions were just making his life pretty challenging all round.  As a result, we were relieved to open the curtains this morning and see this view!

 

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Even so, it wasn’t a given that we’d be able to dock here and even though we made it, it appears that other services such as refuelling and loading provisions were in question, too.

 

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None of that was worrying us this morning, though.  We were happy to be here and spent a few minutes remembering our last visit, with my parents twelve years ago.  These steep hillsides with the funiculars were what I remembered best of all and those hadn’t changed one bit.

 

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Our table with a view was waiting for us when we went for breakfast and we watched as the ship in front of us was off loaded of a cargo of steel rods.  It was moving even more than we were and seemed very insecure.

 

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The seamen from Mariner were putting more ropes in place than I’ve ever seen and when we’d finished our breakfast and were ready to go, they were still adding more.

 

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We headed down to the theatre and collected our tickets for today’s tour.  The destinations service has been particularly efficient so far this cruise and there has been an air of calm and cooperation at every departure.  We like that!

 

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We were soon on our coach and heading off with Veronika, who spoke excellent English and gave us a great background to Chile and its inhabitants.

 

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First stop, Vina del Mar, the smart, upscale beachside neighbourhood to the north of Valparaiso. 

 

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Now this stop was an added bonus really, for we hadn’t paid much attention to our programme for the day.  The small Fonck Museum had begun as a private collection but the main focus of our visit was to learn a little more about Easter Island.  It was a bit of a mental leap – we’ve never been there, had not expected this at all so hadn’t given it any thought whatsoever, but the local guide was interesting and it was good to find out some more about this mysterious island dependency of Chile.

 

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There were other exhibits which interested me such as the silver jewellery and so on, but one small item in a case piqued my interest in particular and I need to find out more.

 

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Polynesian maps.

I am fascinated by non-verbal representations of information, such as the quipu in Peru and, here, this map.  Horizontal pieces are the currents, vertical pieces represent the tides, the large shells the islands and the small shells the stars.  By such simple means did Polynesian sailors chart their knowledge of the area in which they lived and travelled.  How clever is that?

 

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Anyway, determining to learn more about them, I left that idea percolating through the grey matter and whilst my hero dashed down the street to the ATM, I contented myself with a few cute bowls and a mummy.

 

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Another mummy from the Atacama desert. 

 

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On our way back towards Vaparaiso and crossing this bridge in Vina del Mar, I was struck how much it reminded me of San Sebastian, except the Chileans had dammed up the river at the seaward end to stop the waves crashing up into town.

 

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We were heading up into the hills to the Casablanca valley, one of several valleys where the main wine growing areas are situated.  We drove mostly along modern motorways, but stopped at the tollbooth and felt sad about the litter which is to be seen all over the place here.

 

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Our destination was Vina Idomita, set high on a hillside above vineyards.

 

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Veronika introduced us to another guide whose commentary needed every bit of concentration to follow.  She gave us a good introduction to the business before taking us inside to see the nitty gritty.

 

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Except there wasn’t really anything to see. 

 

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Never mind, there were some interesting silhouettes through the window!

 

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A little further on, we were taken into the cellar where the better quality wines are aged.  I was finding it especially difficult to hear the commentary, so contented myself with taking photos.

 

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This was an interesting shelf.  I did wonder if they’d miss a bottle, but then thought the dust would be a giveaway.

 

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From there, we went outside for the fun bit.  First, a Sauvignon Blanc

 

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Then a pinot noir

 

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finally a Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere blend.

Yummy.  All three.  But now, we were feeling peckish!

 

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Lunch was mentioned, so we lost no time in getting back on the road through the vineyards to our next stop.

 

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Estancia El Cuadro was a fine estate set in beautiful scenery and we learned that it’s a favourite place for weddings and similar events.

 

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We learned that we were going to have an aperitif and watch a demonstration by some Chilean cowboys – or Huasos – before lunch, though.

 

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Our fourth glass of wine awaited us…

 

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and a rather enormous empanada, the size of a Cornish Pasty.  Very tasty, but very hot too.

 

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Meanwhile, the huaso got dressed, explaining every piece of his costume.  Look at those spurs!

 

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Once suitably attired, he climbed on board his patient horse and gave a demonstration of his riding skills.

 

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At one point, a couple of his colleagues joined him and they showed us how two huasos could corral a cow in a rodeo situation.  The cow was compliant and had clearly done all of this a few times before!

 

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All ended happily, we watched a couple of dances before moving along to the Estancia proper and enjoying lunch at last.  It must have been 3pm by then.

 

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On the wall of the Estancia was this remarkable piece of creative macrame.  I just had to post it for my crafty chums to admire, too.

 

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With a last look at those beautiful vineyards, it was time to head back to the port.  There might have been the quiet sound of a siesta on the way back…

 

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Bernardo, our driver, took us on a small tour of the centre of Valparaiso on the way back.  It being Saturday afternoon, it was buzzing.

 

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But once we got there, it was ever so good to be home.

 

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We could watch the party from the comfort of our own verandah as we got ready to meet friends for dinner tonight.  What a great day we had!