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San Clemente Journal

Rounding the Horn - A South American Dream Trip

Feb 01, 2008 09:26PM ● By Don Kindred
by Bill Thomas

Cape Horn.In planning our three-week South American touring and cruising adventure, we anticipated visits to parts of the world we’d never experienced, stimulating shipboard educational sessions, elegant meals, plenty of reading time, daily physical fitness workouts, relaxing on deck chairs - all of which were delightfully fulfilled. 

What we didn’t foresee were delightful dinner partners, Chilean cruise passengers who became our tour guides, cities that looked more European than the third world we expected, incomparable weather, unbelievable landscapes and seascapes, consistently friendly natives, and the most enjoyable cruise mates we could imagine. 

Arriving in Buenos Aires, Diane and I were lodged comfortably at the Pan-American Hotel for three days of wonderful, fun-filled daily tours by bus, subway, car and foot with our native guide, a family friend, Martin. We even spent an entertaining evening at the Almacen Theater featuring Argentina’s national dance, the tango. Buenos Aires’ physical structure is a mosaic as varied and diverse as its culture. Its many neighborhoods (barrios) are composed of many different cultural origins and intimate details, each with a slightly different shade and character. 

Bill Thomas outside former prison in Ushauai, the furthermost southern city in the world, with statue of former inmate. Shortly after cast off on our first day cruising, we had the customary fire drill and then dinner in the lavish 1170-seat Trellis Restaurant where we met our second sitting tablemates, John and Roz Clarke from England, and Gus and Greta Gutman from Texas, dinner partners for the next 13 nights. 

In Montevideo (“City of Roses”), we began our usual port city visitation routine. We’d take the shuttle bus, cab, tender, or walk to the port, depending on the harbor and distance from the ship. Then, we’d tour the city and nearby sites by hired van or cab. Diane liked the tours and excursions organized by Celebrity Cruises more than I did, so she saw penguin sanctuaries, examples of South American ranches, and historical and architectural structures. I preferred to nose around each new town, taking photos, inhaling the atmosphere, watching the people, and taking notes. 
During the seven days spent at sea, we had ample time for rest and relaxation, meeting many of the 2,000 other Infinity passengers on deck and at breakfasts and lunches. It was surprisingly how many countries were represented. However, we quickly identified similar values, political views, educational experiences, appreciation of life, and common adventuresome souls despite our many different countries of origin. 

Tango dancing in the streets of Buenos Aires.Movies were shown day and night. After dinner, there were always two showings of a brand new musical or variety production in the 900-seat Celebrity Theater. Besides our own books, we checked out newspapers and magazines and attended book club meetings in the ship’s library. We worked out at the fitness center every afternoon, fighting desperately against the weight gain threatened by the delicious and plentiful food. We walked the deck, swam, attended digital photography classes, and browsed the art gallery and ship stores. Others also played bingo and gambled in the casino. There was much to do.

On alternate mornings and afternoons when we were at sea, we especially enjoyed the excellent presentations by naturalist Kate Spencer and adventurer and explorer Colonel James Reid. Kate covered wild sea life, glaciers, and fjords. Colonel Reid, who had written a book about places we would visit, aptly provided his insights on South American geography, history, and sociology. 

Besides Buenos Aires and Montivideo, we visited Puerto Madryn and Ushuaia, Argentina; and Punta Arenas, Puerto Montt, and Valparaiso, Chile. Santiago was on our own. We missed Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, because of rough seas. Each city had its unique characteristics and colorful history. In Montevideo, we noticed a picturesque blend of colonial Spanish, Italian, and Art Deco styles reflected in the historical design of the old town. Puerto Madryn boasted several museums, all unique in size and collection.

Waterfall in Alerle National Park, Puerto Montt, Chile.Eight days into our cruise, despite fearing the renowned fierce ocean, we rounded Cape Horn in calm waters and tranquil skies. Arriving at Tierra del Fuego (land of fire), which extends into Drake Passage, the Antarctic strait connecting the South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans, there was a sense of being on the waterway of a frontier, surrounded by wilderness.

Ushuaia, the “Southernmost city in the world,” has a busy, multi-shopped downtown and historical center. The major attraction here was the enticing Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia, a former penitentiary with the histories and waxed statues of famous prisoners in many cells, an art gallery, restaurant and many historical paintings and mementoes of the Tierra del Fuego ship trade. It’s great for shopping, as it’s a tax free zone with imported goods along with regional products. At Punta Arenas, Chile, we rode a tender to Punta Arenas, a city of over 110,000, the oldest and largest in Patagonia. Though the Panama Canal changed its fate as a major shipping center, it’s still a vibrant and modern city. 

For two days, we sailed through the picturesque 330-mile Strait of Magellan and the Chilean Fjords, viewing the beautiful scenery, glaciers and ice flows running down commanding snow-caped mountains, waterfalls, small barren islands and forest-filled hillsides – all sights for searching eyes. Kate helped us spot the sea lions, dolphins, penguins and other sea birds. 

Location sign in Cape Horn.At Puerto Montt, Chile, with our new American friends and new Chilean friends serving as translators and guides, we rented a van and toured the city, a relatively modern town with a subtle German architectural influence. We visited a lovely, ornate Catholic church, checked our email at a small village by Lake Chapo, a gorgeous volcanic lake surrounded by high mountains, had great meal in a German restaurant where llamas wandered outside, and tromped around the trails at Alerle National Park to view the impressive waterfalls. 

We left our seaboard home in the city that ‘goes to Paradise’ (“Va al paraiso”). Charming funiculars connect the historic downtown popular and the picturesque beachside area with colorful hillside houses and new condo developments. I was reminded of Laguna Beach but with high European buildings in its middle. 

Via one of Chile’s most modern transportation infrastructures, a toll-based highway system, we arrived in Santiago and dropped our own anchor at the convenient-to-everywhere Crowne Plaza Hotel. Two decades of uninterrupted economic growth have transformed Santiago into one of Latin America’s most modern metropolitan areas. It’s a sophisticated city, with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping malls, and impressive high-rise architecture. The city’s European heritage is evident in the Parque Metropolitano, Santiago’s magnificent, huge playground overlooking the city with a cultural center, observatory, swimming pools, a funicular, tree-lined paths, small squares, picnic areas and a zoo We took in the sights, shopped, had a farewell dinner with our “magnificent seven” new friends and took the long flight home. b
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