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Review of Odysseys Unlimited Patagonian Frontiers trip with Stella Australis


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Introduction

 

This is a blog of the Jazzbeaux Patagonian Frontiers trip with Odysseys Unlimited, including a four night cruise on Stella Australis, from January 23 to February 11, 2023.  [Both Odysseys Unlimited and Australis were new to us, as was Patagonia.]

 

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We arrived at our snowbird winter retreat on January 13 [Friday the 13th, if anybody is keeping track…], with an exciting finish to our overwise smooth 1,250 mile drive when at the last fill-up I tripped over the gas hose and sliced open my forehead (and nicked an arterial) just above my right eye.  That necessitated an exciting drive by Parnelli-DW to the local hospital where I got scans of the head and neck and x-rays of both wrists and both knees [I don’t always fall, but when I do I’m thorough!] and a total of 15 stitches.  All the scans and x-rays were clear, no concussion [I never lost consciousness], so I was cleared to continue the trip as planned.

 

Ten days later we drove to Atlanta (325 miles) to avoid changing planes and possibly missing our connection or losing our luggage, and flew out the next day from ATL to Buenos Aires, then to Iguazú Falls, back to Buenos Aires for a proper visit, flew to Ushuaia and boarded Stella Australis to cruise to Cape Horn and among the Chilean Fjords and Glaciers, drove up to Torres del Paine National Park, and finally flew to Santiago, Chile to visit Valparaiso and Santiago before flying back to ATL (and driving back without incident to Alabama).

 

During the trip, Jazzbelle kept detailed notes and I [Jazzbeau] took lots of pictures.  After returning home, I revised the notes to remove names [to protect the guilty, as we say…] and put it in my voice to avoid confusion.  Jazzbelle became ‘DW’ in internet parlance [‘Dear Wife’].

 

Planning for this trip was both easy and complicated.  Easy because Odysseys Unlimited took care of everything from Buenos Aires to Santiago.  Complicated because I had planned this several times with different providers, all of which were cancelled by Covid or the cruise line deciding not to visit South America (at the last minute).  Thankfully Odysseys Unlimited had space left, and since they were part of my prior planning it was fairly easy to finalize the final plans.  [As General Eisenhower famously said about going into battle, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”]

 

My mainstay Rick Steves doesn’t do South America, so for this trip I relied on Fodor’s Essential Argentina (2023), Fodor’s Essential Chile (2022), and Moon Patagonia (2017); as well as Trip Advisor [www.tripadvisor.com], Restaurant Guru [restaurantguru.com] and, of course, Cruise Critic [www.cruisecritic.com].

 

What follows is a day-by-day account of the trip, with a selection of pictures, followed by a Conclusion with our review of Stella Australis and Odysseys Unlimited.

 

Enjoy!

 

And if you found this blog directly, here’s a link to all our other travel blogs: jazzbeauxblogs.wordpress.com

 

 

 

[Note:  there are 14 movies throughout this thread.  I originally uploaded them in .mov format, but that didn't work in all browsers – so I was advised to convert them to .mp4 format.  They should all work now in any browser, but they may take a long time to load the first time you view this.  Please let me know if you have any problems.]

 

[Tip:  expand the video to full-screen before hitting 'play' to make sure you see the very beginning (especially important on the two Glacier Calving videos).  When the video finishes playing, hit 'escape' or the shrink icon to return to the post.]

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Mon–Tue January 23–24, 2023 – On the Road Again

 

We drove from Fairhope, AL to Atlanta, GA on Monday, staying in the Hilton Garden Inn Airport North hotel.  Having paid for one night and a day room (and parking for the duration), we didn’t leave for the airport until 5:30 pm, via Uber.

 

Since our flight was international, we had been advised to check in through the International Terminal, as that concourse is only one stop on the Plane Train and check-in there is usually quicker and easier than at the Domestic Terminal.  And it was.

 

[Tip: we confirmed that you can check in for domestic flights at the International Terminal too, and get the same quick and friendly service.  Once you’re on the Plane Train, a few extra stops take hardly any time.]

 

We had lounge access through Priority Pass at The Club ATL, but it was awful!  Unfriendly hostess behind the check in counter.  A crowded room awaited us.  Shabby, worn furniture.  Minimal food selection and little of it!  And staff with attitude!  So very different from the young woman who had checked our bags a short time before!

 

After the disappointing lunch, I looked for dessert.  At the Amex Centurion Lounge in JFK, I always end with one (or three) lovely, soft oatmeal raisin cookies.  This lounge only had chocolate chip cookies and they didn’t look soft, but I stupidly took one anyway – and on the first bite one of the chips cracked a cusp off one of my upper molars [tooth #3 if you are following along on a chart…].  No pain, but a rough patch that my tongue wanted to explore at every opportunity!

 

Nothing to do about it now, so we headed to the gate and boarded our Delta Premium Select seats for the flight from ATL to EZE.  There were 18 of us in this section and we were permitted to use the toilets at the back of Business Class.  The flight took off 15 minutes late but it arrived early in Buenos Aires, taking only 9 hours 20 minutes.  Delta food still needs work, but the flight was smooth and there were no confrontations between passengers – unlike our previous flight home from Athens, see that blog at 

https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2903466-review-of-azamara-journey-adriatic-wonders-cruise-october-6-2022/

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Wed January 25, 2023 – Buenos Aires visit to Dentist

 

We arrived at 8:45 am in Buenos Aires.  We got through Immigration quickly but had a long wait for our two checked bags.  [The priority tags didn’t seem to mean anything…]  There was some confusion finding the driver arranged for us by our hotel, but we connected shortly.  Standing outside the terminal, we knew we were no longer in chilly New York or balmy Atlanta.  It was summer in Argentina!  But our 45 minute ride was air conditioned and comfortable.

 

We checked into the Emperador Hotel and the desk clerk spoke English very well and was very helpful.  I asked him about finding a Dentist nearby, and he recommended the German Hospital [official name Hospital Alemán, aka Deutsches Hospital].  [Just don’t mention the war!]

 

We went up to our beautiful, spacious corner room [a small upcharge, and worth it!]  I called Allianz about our travel insurance coverage for dentists and their recommendations for Buenos Aires; a helpful representative assured me I was covered [our medical coverage was $25,000 but only $750 of that can be for dental care] and that she would call me back once she had researched dentists near us.

 

I also contacted the dental clinic at Hospital Alemán, and was told to come right over.  We took Uber there and proceeded upstairs to the clinic where we were able to walk right up to the check-in window in an empty waiting room.  [I later figured out that they were actually closed at this time, but accommodated me because of the emergency.  Kudos!]  Downstairs to pay in advance for a consultation, then taken immediately and introduced to Dr. Hernandez, an oral surgeon who became my personal translator throughout the time we spent there, and Dr. Cabeda, a general dentist who doesn’t speak English.  [But I’ll bet her ‘non-English’ is still better than my ‘non-Spanish’…]  Dr. Cabeda filed down the rough exposed part of the old filling and said she saw nothing else out of the ordinary but recommended a panoramic X-ray.

 

We had to go back downstairs a second time to pay in advance for the x-ray, and when we got back the window was closed and there was no activity [are we in the wrong place? – we finally figured out that they had closed for lunch].  Just before they opened at 1 pm, the waiting room filled up and a long line developed at the window.  Finally I decided to get on the end of the line, but everyone had seen us sitting there so they insisted that I move up to the front!  [¡Muchas Gracias!  Can you see that happening in NYC???]

 

I was given a number to check on the electronic notice board and went to the x-ray room once it appeared.  Dr. Hernandez was waiting, to interpret again.  While the equipment in the other part of the clinic was somewhat dated, this was a very modern panoramic x-ray machine.  They took me into the control room next door and showed the results on a computer screen: no fractures!

 

I was given the okay to continue our trip, and advised to avoid chocolate chip cookies [but I was specifically allowed to have our planned steak dinner that evening – this is Argentina, the home of the world’s best beef, after all!]  The total cost was 15,000 pesos, but that translates to just $41.65!  Not sure it’s even worth submitting the claim…

 

We walked the two miles back to the hotel, stopping only at Sasha Pasteles to buy the patient a strawberry custard pastry [to keep body and soul together, after this ordeal…]  A really good French pastry shop, and frankly the best pastry we had on this entire trip throughout Argentina and Chile – they do steak and wine really well; pastry not so much…

 

We both took well deserved naps (as very little sleep was had on the flight down) [DW rarely sleeps on planes, and maybe worries about my dental issue kept me awake.]

 

Once more we called Uber and were taken to our 7:30 reservation at Fervor in the Recoleta neighborhood, where we had a leisurely meal sharing one order of bife de chorizo (incredibly flavorful and tender NY strip steak) with French fries and grilled vegetables, and I enjoyed a really good Malbec.  [Total cost: 12,400 pesos, or $37.18.  This was typical of how cheap everything is in Argentina – if you are paying with US dollars.]

 

We walked the 1/2 mile back to the hotel and slept well in our very quiet room.

 

[I still had a mild headache from my fall in Alabama 12 days before, but my wounds were healing exceptionally well, bruising and swelling were greatly reduced, and the stitches already seemed less prominent.  And that is the end of my medical travails on this trip.  ¡Vámonos!]

 

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Sasha Pasteles, Buenos Aires

 

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Thu January 26, 2023 – Buenos Aires to Iguazú Falls

 

Breakfast at the Emperador was included.  There was a large buffet, which turned out to be the pattern on this trip – and soppy steam-table scrambled eggs were always the main offering.  But they had very nice fresh fruit.

 

We checked out of our room at 12:15 pm and left our two large suitcases with bellman Agustin, who gave us receipts and secured them in a room behind the desk.  How freeing not to have to drag them along for our two night stay at Iguazú Falls!  [OK, I get why some people are so high about traveling just with carry-ons.  But it isn't going to happen again...]

 

An Uber driver in a rental car took us to the BA domestic airport (AEP).  We were surprised that Security let the woman ahead of us through with a bottle of Pepsi and a bottle of water, but we later learned than for domestic flights in Argentina and Chile you can take any liquids, creams… – just no sharp objects in carry-ons.

 

As we had a bit of a wait, I settled into a seat at the gate and DW took off looking for possible food purchases for a small lunch.  Eventually she got us a ham/cheese croissant to share, along with a Pepsi [“No coke, Pepsi!”] for me at El Patio.

 

After lunch, I got up to stretch my legs and met our six companions for this pre-tour extension to Iguazú Falls.  They had flown down with the Odysseys Unlimited included air package, and had already met our BA local guide when they arrived earlier this morning at EZE.  Her exuberance and scattered thought processes had left them disconcerted, but thankfully she was not coming with us to Iguazú.

 

The 90 minute Aerolíneas Argentinas flight was somewhat delayed, but we seemed to land on time.  Our new local guide, Valmor (Val) met us, he and driver Luis got our luggage onboard the minibus.  Since the others had just flown in from the States overnight, they had bags galore – and they were wiped!  [This is why we took the air credit and flew down early on our own.]

 

On the border of Argentina and Brazil, Iguazú is a display of nature unlike any other, where some 275 separate waterfalls cascade 250 feet onto the rocks below, creating a constant mist and dazzling rainbows – and an unimaginably dense jungle.

 

As we drove to the resort, Val gave us a good introduction to the area.  The river feeding the falls is the Iguazú, an important tributary of the Paraná River. The water spills in Paraná State in Brazil and Misiones Province in Argentina, where two national parks are located.  The larger portion falls in Argentina.  Three countries surround Iguazú Falls—Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

 

In this area we encounter semi-deciduous rainforests.  Wildlife in the area includes puma, cheetahs, ocelots, capibara, Capuchin monkeys, snakes (mostly non venomous), birds, insects (some mosquitoes, but not disease-bearing) – but can rarely be seen.  [Even the nuisance animals are much reduced since the Covid shutdown took away their human food sources.]

 

Paraguay in the only official bilingual country in South America, where Spanish and the indigenous Guaraní language are spoken.

 

After about 30-40 minutes, we arrived at Loi Suites and Spa, a spread-out resort with wooden suspension bridges, at least three infinity pools, rock walkways, tiki bar, indoor and outdoor dining, and its own self-operating funicular/elevator which takes one down to river level.

 

We checked into our rooms and there they were: separate beds.  This was the drill for all seven places we stayed on this trip.  It was like being in a 40s movie or Ozzie and Harriet.  [I wasn’t sure whether to skip the undershirt, like Clark Gable in It Happened One Night – or to wear it, like Clark Gable in his next movie after he had caused a crash in the undershirt business…  I ended up following Clark’s pattern – off then on – because it was 98 degrees in Iguazú Falls but only in the 30s in Patagonia!]

 

The eight of us met around 7:30 pm in the hotel restaurant and sat together for dinner.  We had a limited menu: Caesar salad with chicken, sirloin steak (tasty but chewy) with grilled vegetables, chocolate mousse.

 

DW walked before bedtime.

 

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Loi Suites – Iguazú Falls

 

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Loi Suites – Iguazú Falls

 

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Fri January 27, 2023 – Iguazú Falls

 

Breakfast buffet on our own in the hotel restaurant.  There were those soppy scrambled eggs!

 

We met Val at 8:30 am in the lobby and boarded Julio’s bus.  After a brief police check point, we arrived at Iguazú National Park around 9.  It was crowded.  Temperature was 98 and it was humid.  No breeze!  No mist from the falls to cool us off.  Halfway through we found an overhead sprinkler system to help us cool down.  [When we visited Victoria Falls, the mist was so thick you could barely see the falls.  Here, the Argentine viewing areas are so far away from the falls that the mist doesn’t come close…  We later learned that the viewpoint on the Brazilian side is misty, but this trip didn’t cross the border.]

 

We walked five miles and took two mini-train rides.  We did all the lower/inferior trails (Sendero Verde/Green, Circuito Inferior, Sendero Macieco) past the tower.  We took a break around 11:30 for lunch on our own and a rest.  DW and I each had a club roll with ham and cheese.  From then on it was fairly level on the upper trail (Circuito Superior).  [The pedestrian bridge had been hit by a storm in October which took sections of it out, so we didn’t get to go all the way to the topmost viewpoint.]

 

The falls were beautiful but we only saw them from the Argentinian side.  We felt it would have been worth staying one more day to view them from the Brazilian side.  But we have now seen all three major waterfalls in the world.  Niagara has the most water, Victoria is the highest, and Iguazu is the widest.

 

We did not get to see any exotic animals but we heard cicadas, and saw lizards, caiman, vultures, catfish and butterflies.  We were immersed in plant life: orchids and begonias were abundant as were the invasive Wandering Jew plants [Argentina’s version of the dreaded kudzu in the South].

 

We returned to Loi Suites by 3:00.  Nap time.  Cooling off!  DW then went out to explore and poke around.  She found the Snake Path and the River Path with its elevator/funicular.

 

It was just the two of us for dinner in the hotel restaurant.  One couple ate in the Tiki Bar and the others sat outdoors, which most diners preferred.  [We prefer bug-free, hot food.]  We each got salmon with beets, papaya, hearts of palm and shared an order of Rio Sorrentino ravioli.  I had orange crème brûlée for dessert.

 

[Loi Suites is a beautiful resort in a beautiful nature area, but it is far from the town of Iguazú so you are basically stuck there for breakfast and dinner.]

 

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Iguazú Falls

 

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Jazzbeaux at Iguazú Falls

 

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Iguazú Falls

 

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Iguazú Falls

 

 Iguazú Falls (.mp4)

 

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Sat January 28, 2023 – Back to Buenos Aires

 

Breakfast buffet.  We met Val at 9:45 am [one of the few ‘late’ meeting times!] in the lobby and headed for the airport which was an easy check-in.  We carried our water through security [now we know!]  The flight took off around 12:30 and we landed in Buenos Aires at the main airport (EZE) around 2:10.  It was a smooth flight on a larger two-aisle plane.  But there was no jetway so we walked down to awaiting buses.

 

Our local tour guide, Sylvia, met us at EZE and we boarded our bus to the Emperador Hotel where we were greeted by our tour director, Ivan Bustamente (from Chile).  He was friendly, capable and spoke English fluently.

 

DW and I retrieved our checked luggage from the desk and went to our new room for the next three nights.  This one was not a quiet corner room but faced the street traffic.

 

At 5:30 pm we met Ivan and all of our travel mates (17 of us all together as two had dropped out just before the trip was to start – always get Trip Insurance!) in a conference room where we first went around the seating area to introduce ourselves and then listened to Ivan tell us what to expect that night and in the days ahead.

 

At 7:30 pm our bus took us to Estilo Campo (meaning “Country Style”) for steak dinner: meat empanadas, salad, sausage, provolone cheese, steak, fries, cookies and dulce & cream gelato.

 

[We had hoped to get to Mass, since there are two active churches near the hotel – but the tour schedule conflicted with all the scheduled Mass times.]

 

Today was sunny and mid 80s in BA.  [After 98 in Iguazú, it was delightful!]

 

[no photos]

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Sun January 29, 2023 – Buenos Aires

 

We had buffet breakfast in the lobby dining room.  I left laundry on the bed for the hotel service, and at 9 am we all met in the lobby and boarded the bus for a city tour with Sylvia (& Ivan).

 

First stop was Recoleta, the famous cemetery with over 6000 mausoleums.  It was considered very prestigious to be buried there.  All nationalities/religions are represented.  Mausoleums range from small ones that resemble elevators [but since there is no second floor only a basement, it didn’t bode well for the occupants!] to other multi-tiered ornate structures.  Some were in a state of decay, others well maintained, some repainted, redecorated, or brand new.  Some held 20-60 bodies.

 

Despite some publicity to the contrary, the Perons are not buried at Recoleta.  Juan is handless (Mafia) in Spain and Evita is in Italy.  [The rich and middle class hated the Perons although the poor loved them.]  But her family’s mausoleum (Duarte) has plaques commemorating Evita.

 

La Boca was our next stop.  The neighborhood may derive its name from its location at the ‘mouth’ (boca) of the Riochuelo/Mantanza River.  It is on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and is famed for its colorful houses, tango and the local soccer stadium.  We were not favorably impressed.  It had a crappy market, street vendors, tango ‘dancers’ who would pose for money, people with dogs dressed in jeans (poor canines) for photos, graffiti, murals (art?), papier mâché figures/statues on balconies.  Very touristy.

 

Back on the bus, we passed the Beneto Martin Museum and Puerto Madero where rows of brick buildings that were once factories are now expensive shops, restaurants and banks.

 

We arrived at San Telmo, one of the oldest and most traditional neighborhoods.  As it was the weekend, the market/mercado was crowded!  Weekdays would not be so bad.  There were antiques and craft stalls in the parks and streets (but only on weekends).

 

Ivan led six of us to a restaurant off the main drag where they served tapas.  [The rest went to other restaurants of their own choosing.]  You pay by the number of tapas you select from a buffet or roving servers.  I had three: one smashed tuna wrapped in pimento and two shrimp with chopped relish.  DW had a chopped crab on a slice of a baguette and a jamon/queso on a sweet croissant.

 

After lunch we walked around the vendors’ stalls and watched buskers tango.  At 2:00 we all regrouped in front of Starbucks [it’s everywhere, and a good landmark even if we would never go inside…]

 

Back on the bus to visit Plaza de Mayo, the central square.  We saw Casa Rosado, the presidential palace (it is not his residence – it contains administrative offices) with ‘Evita’s balcony.’  [I will pause while you sing Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina…]

 

Next was a visit to the Metropolitan Cathedral which contains the mausoleum of General José de San Martín.  [He is the national hero of Argentina and was a devout Catholic, but his burial was delayed for many years because of rumors that he was a Freemason.  Our guide told us the common story that permission was only given if he was buried with his head pointing down – but he had been cremated so this has to be false…]

 

In the Plaza de la Republica we saw the Obelisco, a national historic monument and icon that was erected in 1936 to commemorate the quadricentennial of the foundation of Buenos Aires.

 

We drove through Palermo, a big neighborhood with elegant mansions, lovely parks, and embassies.

 

We returned to the Emperador.  Our clean laundry was back; beautifully taken care of and at a reasonable price.

 

We and two others in our group walked five minutes to the nearby Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Socorro for the children’s 6:00 pm Sunday Mass which was listed in the message board on the fence.  Once inside we discovered no one had updated that listing and there was no Mass till later in the evening, when our group would be at dinner.  We tried!

 

Back to the hotel and the bus took us to Aljibe Tango for dinner and a tango show.  I had pumpkin soup, hake and custard.  DW had the soup, chicken Milanese and an ice cream sundae.  The dinner was very good, and the show was even better.  Once considered the “vulgar” dance of Argentina’s lower classes, today the tango is the country’s national dance, an evocative and fiery expression of passion and pain.  In addition to several pairs of tango dancers, we even had a pair of gauchos demonstrating the boleadoras (or bolas), a device made of leather cords and three iron balls or stones that was thrown at the legs of an animal to entwine and immobilize it, and later doing a paso doble.  ¡Olé!

 

Tonight there was less noise and we slept well.

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires [the only way is down...]

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires [Eva Peron memorial]

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

 

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Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires [handyman special, available?]

 

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

 

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

 

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

 

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

 

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

 

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

 

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San Telmo, Buenos Aires

 

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San Telmo, Buenos Aires [Tango buskers]

 

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San Telmo, Buenos Aires [Tango buskers]

 

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Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

 

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Evita's Balcony, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

 

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Protest Scarf, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

 

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Protest Stones, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

 

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Pirámide de Mayo, Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

 

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Cathedral, Buenos Aires

 

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Cathedral, Buenos Aires

 

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Cathedral, Buenos Aires

 

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Cathedral, Buenos Aires

 

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Cathedral, Buenos Aires

 

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Av. 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires

 

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La Trastienda Club, Buenos Aires

 

 

Aljibe Tango, Buenos Aires (.mp4)

 

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Mon January 30, 2023 – Buenos Aires

 

Weather in BA was sunny, hot with temps in low to mid 80s.

 

This was a day on our own, but the tour the day before was very comprehensive and tomorrow would be very busy, so we decided to take it easy.  I slept in and DW had breakfast with one of the single gals from our group.

 

After calling for another laundry pickup, DW walked a couple blocks uphill from the hotel to the 10:00 am Mass at the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Socorro [now that we had found the current schedule…]

 

Then she retraced some of her steps heading back down to a side street to visit and take iPhone pictures in the neighborhood church Parroquia Madre Admirable.  (Across the street once stood the Jewish Community Center which was destroyed by a suicide bomber, taking the lives of 85 people including the parish priest.  The explosion also took out major sections of the church including the stained glass windows.)

 

We both returned to Madre Admirable a little later so I could take more photos.  Then we headed around the corner to the Museo (Fernández) Blanco [“Silver Museum”], where no one asked for the entrance fee, and explored two floors of the former mansion and the tranquil enclosed garden.  There were not only silver pieces on display but a collection of old violins, as the owner/donor played the instrument himself.

 

Returning to the hotel, admired the hotel’s garden then had the sandwiches DW had made at the breakfast buffet.  We then walked down to the nearby park, Plaza de las Naciones, to see the Floralis Genérica, a huge sculpture made of stainless steel and aluminum created by Eduardo Catalano in 2002.  “It is a synthesis of all the flowers, and at the same time, a hope reborn every day at opening.”  It is 20 meters high and weighs 18 tons.  It was designed to move, closing its petals in the evening and opening them in the morning.  Check out:  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floralis_Genérica

 

We returned to the Emperador  after viewing a colorful bridge and some monuments, and the welcome AC in the Patio Bullrich shopping mall.

 

I headed out to 7:30 pm Mass at Madre Admirable, where I had a friendly escapade with the woman who was organizing the lectors [she asked me to read, until it became clear that I speak non-Spanish!] – after Mass she showed me an exhibit about the destruction and reconstruction of the church and we examined the new stained glass windows together [as she said, “I never look up!”]  So in the end, DW and I both managed to attend Mass this weekend, if you stretch the boundaries a little…  God be praised!

 

Then (at Ivan’s recommendation) we walked to Piegari Ristorante for dinner, sharing a huge rocket/shredded Parmesan salad, one portion of spinach ravioli with a pink sauce, and one strawberry dessert.  [And more Malbec – I have never liked Malbec in the US, but I found that the wines served in Argentina are good to very good so I only drank Malbec there.]

 

[Argentina is home to many emigres from Italy, as well as Germany and France.  I noted before the German Hospital; there is also an Italian Hospital and a French Hospital – at one time it was important for immigrants to be able to communicate with the doctors and nurses, but no one speaks German or Italian or French there now.  And we found that the Italian food is very good!]

 

We checked out that evening to avoid lines in the morning when time would be precious, and then we packed.

 

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Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Socorro, Buenos Aires

 

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Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Socorro, Buenos Aires

 

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Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Socorro, Buenos Aires

 

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Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Socorro, Buenos Aires

 

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Parroquia Madre Admirable, Buenos Aires

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Parroquia Madre Admirable, Buenos Aires

 

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Parroquia Madre Admirable, Buenos Aires

 

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Parroquia Madre Admirable, Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Museo Blanco [Silver Museum], Buenos Aires

 

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Hotel Emperador Garden, Buenos Aires

 

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Florales Genérica, Buenos Aires

 

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Florales Genérica, Buenos Aires

 

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Florales Genérica, Buenos Aires

 

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Puente peatonal Dr. Alfredo Roque Vítolo, Buenos Aires

 

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Puente peatonal Dr. Alfredo Roque Vítolo, Buenos Aires

 

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Iglesia de la Recoleta, Buenos Aires

 

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Carlos María de Alvear, Buenos Aires

 

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Patio Bullrich shopping mall, Buenos Aires

 

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Piegari Ristorante menu, Buenos Aires

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Tue January 31, 2023 – Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Embark Ship

 

We were up at 4:45 am!  [I still can’t believe it…]  Beverages and sandwiches and brownies were on the lobby bar.  Our bags had to be out in the hall by 6 am and we were on the bus and on our way at 6:15 to the close-in domestic airport (AEP).  Ivan ushered us to the front of the line to check our luggage. Several of us got caught exceeding the 33 lb limit, but Ivan paid the charges (as he had promised) – so I’m glad that my efforts to upgrade our seats were unsuccessful.  We bid farewell to our local tour guide, Sylvia.

 

Our flight was slightly delayed.  We were cramped in our seats for the 3.5 hour flight.  At the last minute we received a non-alcoholic beverage, a bag of peanuts and a super sweet breakfast bar.  We had a very young, attractive flight crew and the women were wise enough to all wear support hose.  [DW noticed this; I was looking at their faces, like men are advised to do!]  The pilot made the smoothest landing ever!

 

We retrieved our bags from the carousel and met our new local tour guide for Ushuaia.  Her name was Iris.  And was there a difference in climate!  Gone were the humid 80s of BA.  50s and partly cloudy weather here!

 

The bus driver took all our bags to the Stella Australis, our ship home for the next four nights, and we got a look at Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city and the capital of Tierra del Fuego, the storied archipelago separated from the southern tip of South America by the Strait of Magellan, the important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Originally centered around a penal colony, Ushuaia now attracts travelers from around the world for its abundance of winter sports and its prime position as a jumping-off point for cruises to Antarctica and to the Patagonian ice fields.  We would now get a taste of the ferocity of the winds down here.

 

We were dropped at the town center and given about 90 minutes to eat lunch on our own and walk around the congested area.  We lunched with another couple at La Cantina Fueguina (aka Freddy’s).  Everyone got their orders except for DW.  Eventually it became clear that our waiter (the owner) hadn’t written her order down, so he grudgingly went back to the kitchen and made her mussels (which were good).

 

We all gathered at the bus at the appointed time [this was a very punctual group – thanks guys!] and rode to Tierra del Fuego National Park for a hike.  We were hardly on the trail when a male member of our group fell, cutting his hand and hurting his side.  Simultaneously, about 25’ ahead, the woman with whom we had eaten lunch fell backwards, hitting her head on a large rock.  She lost consciousness momentarily, and was bleeding profusely.  After some basic first aid and bandaging we took her and her husband to the hospital in Ushuaia where they met Ivan, who stayed with them to translate and make sure she got the proper care.

 

Of course that was the end of our hike, so Iris and the driver improvised and took us to several sights in Ushuaia where we could get out, walk and take pictures – including an air school which posted a big sign “NO PEEING.”

The birders among us were delighted to spot Patagonia crested ducks and other fowl.  [I could tell they weren’t robins or owls, but that was about it…]

 

[Ironically, the original description of this trip had not included a visit to Tierra del Fuego National Park – I was pleased when it was added, but we ended up getting the originally described agenda for the day and that was good too.]

 

We went back into town.  DW and I headed down the street to pop into Iglesia de la Merced, the yellow church that sticks out in this otherwise gray town.  Then we found a pharmacy and bought small packs of tissues.  [We knew to pack face cloths, as many hotels around the world don’t provide them.  But this was the first trip when the hotels and the ship didn’t provide tissues.]  We poked around and eventually wound up at the Tourist Information office, which had a few exhibits and free WCs.

 

Back on the bus, we were at the ship in minutes.  We boarded, handed in our passports and were escorted to our cabin (#414) by 6:30 pm.

 

As there were no check-in formalities, we had little difficulty going one flight up to the Darwin Lounge at 7:15 pm for the Captain’s welcome cocktail reception and a talk about our upcoming morning excursion to Cape Horn.

 

At 8:15 we all walked down the stairs to the Patagonia Dining Room.  [No elevator!]  Our tour group was assigned three long tables in the corner, with Diego as our waiter.  Everyone at the table had salmon with crab sauce except for DW who opted for pot roast with creamed corn.  We all had rhubarb pie and ice cream.  DW noted that salad is hard to come by.  [I was happy about that…]  As usual, we closed the dining room chatting with our new friends.

 

Meanwhile, we set sail for our nautical exploration of Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago that author E. Lucas Bridges aptly called the “uttermost part of the earth.”

 

We slept well.

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Stella Australis in Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia

 

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Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia

 

Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia (.mp4)

 

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Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia

 

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Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Stella Australis in Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Iglesia de la Merced, Ushuaia

 

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Iglesia de la Merced, Ushuaia

 

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Don Bosco School, Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Monumento Antiguos Pobladores de Ushuaia

 

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Monumento Antiguos Pobladores de Ushuaia

 

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Monumento Antiguos Pobladores de Ushuaia

 

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Monumento Antiguos Pobladores de Ushuaia

 

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Ushuaia

 

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Wed February 1, 2023 – Cape Horn & Wulaia Bay

 

From the Odysseys Unlimited brochure:  “Today we pass through one of the world’s last unspoiled frontiers as we sail through Murray Channel and Nassau Bay.  We may glimpse sea lions and Antarctic fur seals along the way to Cape Horn National Park, where we disembark to go ashore (weather permitting).  This is the spot where the Atlantic and Pacific meet: a sheer promontory that rises some 1,400 feet from the roiling waters.  A fabled sailing icon, Cape Horn marks the southernmost point of the South American continent.”

 

[As it turned out, weather was permitting – barely!  Most cruise ships trying to land passengers at Cape Horn have a dismal success record; Australis claims that they make it 70% of the time – after having seen what they consider possible weather conditions, I can see why!]

 

Up by 6:00 am and up in the Darwin Lounge in our full rain gear and life jacket by 6:40 for our trip in the zodiac to the Cape Horn National Park.  Our group was the last called to the zodiacs.  [This sailing included some other groups, e.g. Road Scholar, and some independent Spanish-speaking passengers.]

 

It was not a pleasant ride.  We were assaulted by heavy rain and strong winds.  DW and I were the last to disembark from the zodiac and we were all warned we only had 20-25 minutes to climb the 160 wooden stairs, traverse a wooden boardwalk with more stairs to the Albatross Monument and return to the zodiac.  DW held onto the railing whenever possible so as not to blow away.  When we finally reached the monument, I didn’t even attempt to take my camera out of its waterproof case – but thankfully another couple asked me to take their photo with their phone, and in return they took our photo and sent it to me later.

 

We headed back to the long staircase and in this direction we were totally exposed to the elements.  The winds became even stronger, and the rain was coming horizontally and stinging my face so that I’m sure it was not just rain and also sleet.  On the way down, a woman from another group fell but seemed unharmed.  Getting into the zodiac, a wave washed over our feet and our hiking shoes were wet inside and out.  Despite proper attire, we were all like drowned rats.

 

Upon our return, we each found it challenging to hang up all the wet clothes and life vests and attempt to dry our footwear before going to the dining room for a breakfast buffet.  More soppy eggs and now bacon one could not cut or chew.  However, the pastries were better than in BA and the fruit was good.

 

[Everybody adopted the practice of draping their life vests over the hand rails along the corridors leading to the cabins.  I’m not sure if this complies with maritime safety regulations, but it worked to get them dry before the next excursion.]

 

Back to the Darwin Lounge at 10:15 for a talk about the upcoming afternoon hikes.  The ship was in transit back through the Murray Channel to sheltered Nassau Bay, so we were moving out of the storm.

 

They showed us a movie about the explorer Ernest Shackleton and how his ship got caught in the Antarctic ice which eventually crushed and sank it.  He and his crew had to rescue as much as they could and set up camp.  He and a small contingent finally had to leave them and row for help in an open lifeboat.  After an amazingly treacherous trek across South Georgia island to the whaling station, he did finally return and amazingly no men died.  They all made it out.

 

[We kidded that they showed us this film so we would appreciate our sparse accommodations and sometimes unappetizing food – compared to what Shackleton and his crew went through, runny eggs and sparse salads are nothing to complain about, and actually the ship and its food were quite good, especially considering the conditions and provisioning challenges in this part of the world.]

 

We then had some time for ourselves that we used for drying shoes and taking a nap.  [Tip: if you stick a hair dryer in your shoes, make sure there is enough gap to let the hot air exhaust – or the hair dryer will overheat and shut down.  No harm done, but it did delay the process a bit…]

 

Lunch was at 1 pm and we started playing “musical tables.”  Never knew who we’d be sitting with but it gave us an opportunity to get to know one another better.  We both had curried Conger (white fish) but it wasn’t spicy.  I had rice and chopped vegetables.  DW had no rice but lots of asparagus and fennel.  Everyone started with seafood ceviche and ended with pavlova with berries and dark chocolate ganache.  Much better than breakfast!  Diego was a wonderful waiter!

 

Back to our cabin, which had little storage space.  So we pretty much lived out of our suitcases for this whole trip.  More shoe drying before the next hike.

 

DW was looking out our big picture window and caught sight of five dolphins.  As we continued sailing, they swam closer to the ship so we had a nice view for about ten minutes.  Turns out they were Peale’s dolphins.

 

At 4 pm we took off in zodiacs for Wulaia Bay, which has sub-Antarctic forests, beautiful hills, multitude of land birds,and was where Charles Darwin put to shore during his renowned expedition in 1833.

 

We had a choice of three different hikes depending on how much activity/challenge we wanted.  Most of our group took the medium one.  We lucked out as it was now sunny and warmer than expected.  Before we began ascending, our guide Roger (actually the head guide on the ship) suggested we take off as much clothing as possible and leave it together on a grassy area.  We were happy to.

 

We learned that Wulaia Bay was one of the largest settlements of native Yaghan people in the region.  An Englishman named Fitzroy, traveling with Darwin on the Beagle, adopted four of the young people, dressed them, and took them back to England to show them off.  One was called Jemmy Button.

 

[The Yaghan had adapted to the harsh climate by developing a high metabolism and high body temperatures, so they not only thrived but did so naked even in winter!  Wearing clothes brought their metabolism back down and they became much less healthy and eventually died out.  Good intentions…]

 

We learned that Canadian beavers have become a devastating pest and continue to out-breed any efforts to eradicate them.  They are now heading up to Torres del Paine National Park.

 

We heard a woodpecker and other bird calls, saw whale blows in the distance, mushrooms on tree knots, held onto railings and ropes to steady ourselves on our ascent/descent, spotted King Scott Mountain from our final lookout, and visited the Darwin house/museum/visitor center before being offered hot chocolate with Johnny Walker Red as we awaited our zodiacs.

 

We retrieved our clothing on the hike down.  All there.  Untouched.

[DW’s video taken from the lookout was entered in the finale slide show.]

 

We returned to the ship after 7 pm, and met at 7:45 to hear about the next days’ excursions to Pia and Porter glaciers.

 

Down to dinner.  We all started with mini Caesar salads with chicken, then potato/leek soup, butterflied filet mignon (perfectly cooked) on yummy ratatouille, and lemon dessert.

 

Up to this point, we had been out of cell and internet service areas.  But back in our cabin very late that night we had some spotty access.  And we could see the lights of Ushuaia.

 

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Cape Horn

 

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Jazzbeaux at Cape Horn [We made it Mom, bottom of the world!]

 

 Peale's Dolphins (.mp4)

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

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Stella Australis in Wulaia Bay

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

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Wulaia Bay

 

 Wulaia Bay (.mp4)

 

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Whales in Wulaia Bay

 

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Tree Knots

 

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Tree Knots with Mushrooms

 

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Darwin House, Wulaia Bay

 

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Darwin House, Wulaia Bay

 

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Thu February 2, 2023 – Pía Glacier & Porter Glacier

 

We awakened to sun, blue skies, minimal wind and 40 degree temps.  Breakfast buffet began promptly at 8 am.

 

Overnight we had cruised around the western end of Tierra del Fuego and entered Pia Fjord, home of the spectacular Pia Glacier, a tumbling wall of ice that extends from the mountaintops down to sea level.

 

At 9 am we were boarding zodiacs to see Pia Glacier.  The water was calm, glacial blue-green but filled with mini ice floes.  As we got closer to our disembarkation spot, we saw ice lock pushed to the shore from calving Pia Glacier across from the inlet.  We were told that just a few days earlier this ice lock did not exist.  The zodiacs proceeded ever so slowly, cautiously with fewer passengers than usual.  We were asked to slide forward on the rubber walls to keep the front down as it cut a channel through the ice.  The motorman used oars to push the ice away from the propeller.  We were able to use the gangway for a dry landing.

 

All of us were in awe of the calving Pia Glacier across the narrow inlet.  Most (like me) opted to stay sitting on a comfortable rock ‘bench’ at the first lookout.

 

Six of us (including DW) forged on to lookout #2 with Ivan.  Slippery!  Another fall but no injury!  It was a different vantage point from higher up.  One of the ship’s guides, Claudia, led them back down to where I was waiting.  [Since I couldn’t see DW, I was beginning to worry that she had gone off-trail and gotten lost!]

 

We all boarded zodiacs and carefully retreated from the icy log jam.  We were back to the ship by 11.  Lunch at 12:30.  Tuna tartare with soy sauce, pork ribs and ratatouille, panna cotta.

 

Then we went up to the top deck to take photos as the ship sailed to its next destination, Porter Glacier.  [We were originally scheduled to visit Garibaldi Glacier at this time, one of only three glaciers in Patagonia gaining mass – but the ship’s crew decided that Porter was a better choice for the current conditions.]  There was an early call for the afternoon zodiac ride.  We remained onboard the boat to view calving.  A wet, bouncy ride back.

 

The sun was so strong our cabin became unbearably hot so DW escaped to the 4th deck lounge to read.  Once we closed the black-out drapes it gradually cooled down.

 

We had an early meeting in the Darwin Lounge at 6:45 pm about the two glaciers coming up tomorrow: Aguila and Condor, plus a long talk about the explorer Magellan.

Dinner at 8 pm.  I had salmon (little flavor) and DW pork tenderloin with mushy peas.  As an appetizer, we all had delicious, tender beef Carpaccio, then carrot soup, and Dulce de Leche with chocolate.  As we once again were last to leave, we put our dirty glasses on Diego’s bussing tray.

 

DW went to the lounge on 4 for a nature film on Patagonia.

 

We then secured everything for rough seas expected on the overnight sailing [a technique we had learned on Noble Caledonia when rounding Gibraltar into strong Mediterranean winds]

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

Pia Glacier (.mp4)

 

 

Pia Glacier (.mp4)

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Jazzbelle at Pia Glacier

 

Pia Glacier Calving (.mp4)

 

 

Pia Glacier Calving (.mp4)

 

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Pia Glacier

 

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Ventus Australis (sister ship) at Pia Glacier

 

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Porter Glacier

 

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Porter Glacier

 

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Jazzbeaux at Porter Glacier

 

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Claudia & Ivan at Porter Glacier

 

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Fri February 3, 2023 – Agostini Sound & Águila Glacier

 

Breakfast buffet.

 

This morning we cruised through the Brecknock, Ocasión, Cockburn, and Magdalena channels to visually arresting Agostini Sound.  Nestled in the heart of Tierra del Fuego’s Darwin Cordillera mountain range, this fjord rewarded us with vistas of glaciers descending mountainsides into the sea.

 

We all met with Ivan in the Deck 4 lounge where he returned our passports, gave us our green luggage tags for disembarkation, went over necessary paperwork, discussed tipping…  He reminded us that his email and phone number were on our original schedule.

 

Because of heavy rain, we and one other couple opted not to take the morning zodiac excursion to view Condor Glacier[a bonus that hadn’t been on the original schedule]  Those who went got soaked!

 

At 12:30, all were back onboard and we gathered to hear Esteban talk about the Magellanic Penguins.

 

At 1 pm we had lunch.  I chose the hake and DW the chicken corn pie (with hard-boiled egg).  Our starters were vegetables and smoked salmon and dessert was chocolate cake.

 

The weather cleared and at 3 pm we were on the zodiacs heading to walk the beach to an inlet to view Águila (Eagle) Glacier.  It was a bouncy ride to shore and our hike [described as an “easy walk”] was challenging at times on mud, sand, seaweed.  We walked along the shores of a lagoon to the glacier’s base [but because the walk was harder than described some of us stopped after getting to a good viewpoint and headed back slowly]  Once again, Roger led the way.  And it rained lightly on and off.  It was worth it.  Aguila was a beautiful blue glacier and we saw birds on the way: Andean condors swooping overhead, heron at water’s edge and two Ashy-headed Geese [a picture that I entered into the final slide show].  Upon our return we saw a rainbow and were offered hot chocolate (once more with Johnny Walker Red).

 

I charged our main tips at reception and we went up to the Darwin Lounge for scenic viewing.  We saw tall glaciers and their waterfalls.

 

At 7:15 pm everyone gathered in the Darwin Lounge for our farewell meeting.  It was difficult to find a seat.  First there was the raffle of the ship jack (aka flag), followed by a live auction of the nautical chart for Cape Horn that was used by the Captain and navigational crew.  It went to an American who was in a bidding war with an expat American from Bermuda.  More than $500, but we understood that was chickenfeed compared to previous times.

 

I noticed that the bar had one of my favorite wines, Grey Carménère, and the bartender let me take a bottle down to dinner, which I shared with our tablemates.  On our way out of the dining room, the maître d’ Jose gave me and another couple new bottles of the Grey.  [That was worth an extra tip the next day!]

 

Dinner was at 8:00 pm and we started with a ramekin of crab meat and melted cheese.  We both had lamb shank, and coffee cream profiterole for dessert.  A rich meal!  [I tipped Diego for his great service throughout the cruise.]

 

[A note about tipping: we prefer cruise lines that include gratuities in the fare, but if tipping is not included we tip through the general pool so that all the behind-the-scenes workers get a share.  If certain crew members go out of their way to help up, like the maître d’ and our waiter did, we tip them a little extra as a show of gratitude.]

 

We headed to our cabin to pack and take advantage of some internet service, as we were near a town again.

 

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Stella Australis at Águila Glacier

 

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Águila Glacier

 

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Águila Glacier

 

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Águila Glacier

 

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Águila Glacier

 

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Ashy-headed Geese at Águila Glacier

 

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Sat February 4, 2023 – Magdalena Island to Torres del Paine

 

Early this morning we sailed through the strait of Magellan to Magdalena Island, home to an immense colony of more than 120,000 Magellanic penguins that coexist peacefully with cormorants, sea lions, and other species [and less peacefully with Skuas, who like to eat their eggs…]

 

We had to be in the Darwin Lounge by 6:45 am for random boarding of the zodiacs.  There were hundreds if not thousands of penguins, and their chicks at this point were as big as the adults but fuzzy, not sleek.  The chicks didn’t seem to fear us and waddled up very close to us or out into our path.  Adult Magellanic Penguins are very noisy, sounding like braying donkeys.

 

There was one national park ranger assigned to live on and guard the island for the four months the birds are there.  Once they take to the water/ocean, he goes to another island to watch over the elephant seals.

 

Back on the ship, we went to breakfast from 8:30 to 9:30 am.

 

We had to have our bags packed and out in the hallway by 10 am so our cabin steward could take them away promptly.

 

At 11 am we met our group in the Sky Lounge.  We had to be masked, because there were three cases of Covid onboard.

 

Our pleasant weather changed to rain as we docked in Punta Arenas.  We disembarked at noon.  We’d had dire warnings about going through the agriculture control point but none of us ran afoul of authorities.  [We could see baskets on top of the scanners containing confiscated fruit.]

 

We collected our luggage and dragged it in the rain to our awaiting bus.  Our new driver Patto (Patricio) and local guide Pancho (which seems to be the universal nickname for Francisco) from Punta Arenas helped load our bags into the storage compartments.

 

We were on the road to Torres del Paine National Park and by 1 pm were at a restaurant for lunch.  We had a small green salad, a big bowl of hearty soup with corn, barley, green beans, carrots, chicken thighs, plus rolls and butter, and vanilla ice cream atop red berries in syrup.

 

We thought we were on our way, but Ivan had left his phone there so Patto turned around so he could retrieve it.  Then we made a stop at an ATM to get local currency [I passed on this, since we had made it through Argentina without ever getting a peso – this turned out to be a mistake, but only a small one.]

 

Finally on the road for the six-hour drive across the wild Patagonian landscape to Torres del Paine National Park.  Turned out that Patto and Pancho had already done the reverse trip this morning!

 

Pancho made a few remarks but then napped along with the rest of us until around 4 pm.  Shortly thereafter we made our one potty/snack stop.  [We did have a rest room onboard, but didn’t need to use it.]

 

We really felt for Patto as he had no nap time and had to drive in constant rain on some terrible unpaved roads the final hour.  The rain was much needed as there had been drought.

 

Ivan described the choices for our upcoming dinner and tomorrow’s lunch.  Then he went around and took our orders.

 

At 7:00 pm we arrived at Rio Serrano Hotel + Spa.  The two of us were the only ones (except for Ivan) with a larger room on the main floor.  All the others were up on the third floor.  Because of its location, our room did not afford as good a view of the mountains in the distance.  It was spacious but like the others lacked a TV set [which we never use], smoke detector and sprinkler.  Being on the first floor also meant other guests could look in our window.

 

We sort of threw ourselves together and went up to the second floor dining room for dinner at 7:15.  [No one ever glams up for dinner.]  The back lawn had lots of caracara, a bird that looks like a hawk, behaves like a vulture but is technically a falcon.

 

I had chicken Caesar salad, beef (like pot roast), chocolate cake/mousse with caramel kisses.  DW had green terrine (chopped apples, nuts…), fish/seafood chowder, fresh fruit which was tasteless.

 

Then we went to see a movie about sailing around Cape Horn [which is much worse than our little dart out of the Murray Channel to the Cape and then back into sheltered waters…]

 

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Magdalena Island

 

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Magdalena Island

 

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Magdalena Island

 

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Magdalena Island

 

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Molting Chick at Magdalena Island

 

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Magdalena Island

 

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Stella Australis at Magdalena Island

 

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Jazzbelle with Cute Baby, Magdalena Island

 

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Cute Baby, Magdalena Island

 

 

Cute Baby, Magdalena Island (.mp4)

 

 

Housekeeping, Magdalena Island (.mp4)

 

 

Who You Callin' a Donkey? (.mp4)

 

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Sacred Heart Cathedral, Punta Arenas

 

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Sacred Heart Cathedral, Punta Arenas

 

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Rio Serrano Hotel, Torres del Paine

 

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Sun February 5, 2023 – Torres del Paine National Park

 

Today we began two full days in Torres del Paine National Park, a breathtaking 700-square-mile UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve of ancient glaciers, jagged granite mountain peaks, exquisite turquoise lakes, rushing rivers, thunderous waterfalls, and distinctive flora and fauna.

 

The park’s name means “towers of blue,” (paine is the word for blue in the local native language) referring to the three spectacular peaks at the center of the park.  Beautiful, unspoiled, and remote, Torres del Paine ranks among the most stunning swaths of nature in South America, and indeed, in the world.

 

Today’s weather was in the 50s with occasional light rain and strong gusty WIND.

 

The hotel breakfast buffet ran from 7-9 am and the scrambled eggs and bacon were better than those on the ship.  We watched as wild horses came out onto the lawn.

 

At 9 am we all got on the bus.  Pancho got us through the national park entrance without our getting off, then drove us to the Lago Grey cafeteria enclave where we headed to the bathrooms.  The women’s side was locked except for the single handicapped one but it had NO toilet paper or paper towels.

 

Lago Grey, 350’ deep, is the site of the colossal Grey Glacier.  The color of the water is due to glaciers and algae.  More beautiful than the Caribbean.

 

The hike goes along the shore of the lake then crosses a berm of gravel that was deposited across the middle of the lake, before ascending to a viewpoint on the other side of the lake.  We all started the hike but several dropped out even before we reached the berm.  We had to come downhill and do a little rock scrambling before crossing the long (large-gravel and sand) berm.  As the rest of forged ahead across the wide open area of the berm, strong winds were challenging!  It was a long walk and ended at a moored boat the size of a zodiac.

 

Pancho gave us more information and then invited us to climb the small hill of the peninsula.  More defected [including me, heading back across the berm to the WCs] leaving only seven [including intrepid DW!] to proceed with Pancho and Ivan.  DW was surprised at how challenging it was for her, but she made it with the others to a great lookout to Grey Glacier.  They saw juvenile Andean condors with wing spans of 9’.

 

As they retraced their steps and started the return across the berm, DW found it almost impossible.  The wind was so fierce and she had no partner, so it became a real struggle.  “Just put one foot in front of the other.”  The walk back seemed interminable but finally they were across the berm and out of the wind.  The rest seemed like a piece of cake.

 

Pancho had warned us about the wind.  He has experienced it regularly for about 20 years.  (And he’s from Punta Arenas, where there are ropes and handrails on street corners to grab onto when the wind is very strong.)

 

We regrouped and boarded the bus which took us to a park hotel restaurant for lunch.  [I was surprised that the shop at the cafeteria was a well-stocked general store/pharmacy.]  We all started off with carrot soup.  I had cannelloni stuffed with spinach [too much spinach and not enough cheese and sauce].  DW had sea bass topped with mussel cream sauce over rice.  Dessert was flan.

 

Back to the hotel by 3 pm.  On the final approach, Patto dropped off some of our group to walk the final steps and do a little bird watching with Ivan’s accompaniment.

 

Time for naps and showers.  My laundry that was sent out in the morning was returned by 5 pm.

 

At 6 pm we met in the bar for “drinks and belly dancing at Ivan’s invitation.  It turned out to be a solo saxophone performance by Pancho in the lounge.  He played a lot of old, familiar favorites so of course some of us sang along.  [I got a great video of It’s a Wonderful World as I panned across the windows with beautiful views of the mountains.]  DW’s feet [not belly] were itching to dance, but she and others refrained.  A young couple (not part of our group) got up to cha cha.  A waiter brought out trays of antipasto but we didn’t have much time as we needed to go up to dinner.  A nice extra, courtesy of Odysseys Unlimited!

 

We both had zucchini carpaccio, chicken curry (not enough curry), and Calafate cream dessert.  (Calafate is a local berry that looks like blueberries.)

 

At 9:00, DW went to see the movie on the dugout natives, but the hotel staff experienced technical difficulties so she walked around the main floor finding the spa location, etc.

 

Unfortunately, because of our being in such a remote location, we were unable to get to Mass.

 

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Torres del Paine

 

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Torres del Paine

 

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Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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'The Berm,' Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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'The Berm' & Trail, Lago Grey, Torres del Paine

 

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Returning across 'The Berm,' Lago Grey

 

What a Wonderful World (.mp4)

 

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view from Rio Serrano Hotel

 

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view from Rio Serrano Hotel

 

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Mon February 6, 2023 – Torres del Paine National Park

 

What a difference in weather!  Today was sunny and the temps ranged from 50s to 75.  What didn’t change, of course, was the WIND!

 

Nice surprise on the breakfast buffet was a bowl of fresh peach slices.  Ripe.  Sweet.

 

And outside was a rainbow!  And today we could see some of the mountains.  Torres del Paine has a mountain range that is 12 million years old.

 

At 8:30 am we reported to the bus, and standing next to it were about a dozen of the horses we had seen yesterday.  [They are available to hotel guests as an extra cost excursion.  Our trip didn’t include it, but we wouldn’t have done it anyway.]

 

At first there were only 12 of us on the bus.  It turned out that one of the single women had now tested positive for Covid and her roommate (now in a separate room) did not want to abandon her; and one of the men had ‘cold symptoms.’  Finally the last couple and the guides arrived.  Ten minutes late, but we were off.

 

Pancho told us that Chile is the longest country in the world, that Torres del Paine has 600,000 acres with more than 100 species of birds including the condor, ostrich, owl, harrier…, plus guanacos, pumas.

 

Drought and fire have caused changes in the ecosystem.  Lakes have dried up.  Recent fires have all been caused by backpackers’ campfires or cigarette butts, and devastated almost 500 square kilometers [120,000 acres], but paleoenvironmental studies performed within the Park indicate that fires have been frequent phenomena at least during the last 12,800 years.

 

We saw many sheep which are used for wool and meat, but not cheese.  For that, they use goats.  There were few cows to be seen.

 

Once again, Pancho went into the NP office to get us admitted to the park grounds.  [We were visiting during high season, but we didn’t see many crowds.  The high security is because of all those backpacker fires.]

 

Patto stopped at a campground called Camping Pehoé.  We all got out and walked a mild climb to a lookout.

 

We then stopped at another lookout for a waterfall where we were to hike – but the wind gusts were approaching 60 mph so the park ranger had closed the trail.  So at 10:45 am we made a rest stop, and continuing on we saw a female older-juvenile condor with a white back.

 

We then stopped for a photo op which required a short hike uphill.  From there we had a clear view of the unusual sharp mountains of the Paine Massif, including Grand Paine, the Cuernos del Paine or 'Paine Horns,' and Admiral Nieto mountain.  [We needed to get a different perspective to see the famous Towers.]

 

Suddenly there was a fierce wind gust and DW held onto one of the other women.  We looked at the rock formations at our feet and could see the weathering that had taken place.  It was uniformly in triangular shapes.  Smooth.  There was also pink rock.

 

At 11:45, Pancho announced we were approaching the ‘Elvis’ rest area: “It’s Now or Never…”

 

Then we exited the park boundary.  We headed to the Cascada del Río Paine [actually rapids, not a waterfall] where Ivan suggested we picnic.  We didn’t really mutiny but firmly said we’d rather eat the box lunches (provided by the hotel) inside the shelter of the bus.  He started off by pouring Pisco sours for all who wanted them.  [Probably everyone but DW.]  The lunch was generous with a hearty sandwich, fresh fruit, snacks and dessert.  It was still windy but we all got out for the photo op at the rapids.  Patto then backed the bus out of a tight space and up the incline to the road.  Bravo Patto!

 

We passed herds of guanaco including pregnant females (it lasts 11 months).  Babies are called chulengo.  Pumas are their predators and attack at night.

 

Later on we stopped for photos at Laguna Amarga, the region’s only body of saltwater, with white salt buildups, black sand, and pink flamingos.  We saw 28 flamingos along the shore, eating brine shrimp.  We also saw cinereous (grey) harriers in flight, and we observed geological formations called consolidations aka dikes.

 

Because we couldn’t hike in the morning, we now had the opportunity to follow Pancho as Ivan brought up the rear for a 2+ mile hike to see the Paine Massif from a different vantage point and to admire the three massive granite Paine Towers from which the park gets its name.  We noticed bleached animal bones along the way.

 

At one point, Pancho brought us to a halt and asked if we’d be willing to stay still for a few minutes in silence, close our eyes and listen to nature.  A different experience!

 

With our group, what is a hike without a fall?  Not far from the end, one of the group tripped, fell face down into brambles and bashed her knee.  Pancho whipped out his first aid kit and began to use pincers to pull thorns from her forehead.  Ouch!  She wanted no fuss.

 

Back on the bus and Ivan went over our schedule for the next morning.

 

We returned to Rio Serrano by 5 pm and regrouped at 6:30 to experience BBQ lamb done outside on an open fire.  [Another special treat from Odysseys Unlimited.]

 

At 7:30 pm we gathered for dinner.  DW and I had guanaco tartare to start.  Then I had steelhead trout and DW garbanzos, mushrooms with vegetables.  We both had apple strudel.  We stayed and chatted with two of the couples.

 

Then we settled our bill at the desk and packed.

 

Around midnight we discovered that we had no running water.  DW called the desk and was told a big pipe had broken and it would take several hours to fix.  It came back around 1 am.

 

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view from Rio Serrano Hotel

 

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horses at Rio Serrano Hotel

 

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Torres del Paine

 

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Cuernos del Paine

 

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Cuernos del Paine

 

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Cuernos del Paine

 

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Cuernos del Paine

 

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Cuernos del Paine

 

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Cuernos del Paine

 

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Cascada Paine

 

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Cascada Paine

 

Cascada Paine (.mp4)

 

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Guanaco, Torres del Paine

 

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Guanaco, Torres del Paine

 

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Guanaco, Torres del Paine

 

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Guanaco, Torres del Paine

 

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Guanaco, Torres del Paine

 

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Torres del Paine [Paine Towers] from Laguna Amarga

 

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Flamingos at Laguna Amarga

 

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Torres del Paine [Paine Towers] from Laguna Amarga

 

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Laguna Amarga

 

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Torres del Paine [Paine Towers] from Laguna Amarga

 

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Torres del Paine [Paine Towers] from Laguna Amarga

 

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Glacier in the Torres del Paine [Paine Towers]

 

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Torres del Paine

 

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Torres del Paine

 

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Torres del Paine

 

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Tue February 7, 2023 – Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas

 

It was in the 50s and rained lightly most of the day.

 

We had to eat breakfast very early (around 7:15 am) because of the long bus ride ahead.  Looking out at the mountains we could see lots of blue sky but few birds and no horses this morning.  But there was a hint of a rainbow.

 

We were not happy to hear that two more of our companions had now tested positive for Covid and would have to travel by special transport to Punta Arenas.  Their wives stayed with the rest of us for the time being.  DW gargled and we consumed Zicam rapid melts as a precaution.

 

We were all relieved to learn that Chile’s new Covid policy was that anyone who has documentation of four vaccine shots/boosters can simply mask up and go about their business – which meant that we wouldn’t be quarantined in South America if we tested positive.

 

However, Odysseys Unlimited had a different rulebook so the Covidians had to be kept away from the rest of us.  In fact, when one more spouse tested positive they all headed back to the States early.

 

At 9:00 we took off for Punta Arenas.  We made a final stop at the Mirador Rio Serrano lookout high above the hotel and then another at Lago Toro,  which is 192 sq. mi. and 1000’ deep.

 

90 minutes south of Rio Serrano is a large cave once inhabited by paleo-Indians 10,000 years ago.  Human remains and a very thick animal skin (almost like armor) were found.  The creature was like a giant sloth/bear now extinct but lived 8,000 years ago and was over 10’ tall.  It was part of the Indian diet.  Mega fauna!  It was called Mylodon.  Rock paintings were also found.

 

Our first big stop today was Puerto Natales, founded in 1911.  The citizens were big sheep farmers.  And the city had its own slaughterhouses which are now hotels.

 

We were all dropped off at Plaza de Armas in the center of town and given time to explore on our own.  DW and I visited the Cathedral.  Very simple!  Pancho’s grandfather helped build it.  We walked around the square and poked around in the corner store, Ñandú, using their baños.  Someone knocked into a life-size mannequin, which almost hit me as it fell – but apparently our group had had enough injuries so I was spared!  There is also a life-size [10 feet tall] replica of a Mylodon [named Ñandú] outside the store.

 

The rain picked up so we didn’t walk to our lunch spot.  Good thing as it was quite a distance.  The restaurant was on the water and owned by a youngish woman who was the cook.  She had one other helping her serve.  We all had carrot soup, salmon on barley/mushroom risotto, followed by chocolate walnut cake with cream.  [Everyone got one glass of wine; when I asked for a refill Ivan graciously paid – although it should have been included as DW’s portion.]

 

At 2 pm we were back on the bus heading south.  Much napping by everyone.  We passed waterfowl (ducks, black neck swans, black faced ibis) that were fishing.  Pancho filled us in on his Croatian ancestry and his visit there.  [There are lots of immigrants from all over Europe in Argentina and Chile.]

 

Around 3 pm we made a technical stop at Rio Rubens restaurant, where we saw a sheep carrier on the way to the slaughterhouse.  Local lamb is an organic product.

 

We saw two Darwin’s rheas [aka lesser rhea, endemic to Patagonia].  We passed large private estancias (ranches) where many people live and work; they include houses, a church…  There were fields of sheep and cows.  Some wind turbines as we got closer to Punta Arenas.  We learned that 98% of Chileans are literate.

 

It was after 5:30 pm when we arrived in Punta Arenas at the Hotel Cabo de Hornos.  While I took a shower, DW walked to the Corazon (Sacred Heart) Cathedral with a huge mosaic of the Sacred Heart over the sanctuary.  Otherwise, the cathedral was simply decorated.  The chairs in the sanctuary were on different levels (according to rank?) up to the highest for the bishop.  There were four men waiting for the 7:00 pm Mass to begin.

 

DW walked through the Plaza de Armas [every Spanish town has one – it’s where the militia practiced marching] and saw a statue of Magellan looking out to sea with an indigenous man sitting to his rear.  Passersby kiss or rub that man’s toe.

 

At 8 pm we met in the lobby to walk about two blocks to Jekus Restobar for dinner.  Maga was our head waitress.  Each group of four got a salad platter to share and individual bowls of a hearty chicken consommé.  Then a tower of meat was presented to each group.  It was actually a pedestal bowl of grilled meat and potatoes.  The meat was too well done and very chewy.  Not very flavorful – we had trouble figuring out if the different pieces were beef or lamb…  The potatoes were the best part.  [That’s not something you’ll hear DW say very often!]  Dessert was a cross between crème brulée and flan.

 

Back to the hotel to pack for Santiago and a return to hot weather.

 

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view from Mirador Rio Serrano, Torres del Paine

 

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Paroquia Maria Auxiliadora, Puerto Natales

 

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Paroquia Maria Auxiliadora, Puerto Natales

 

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Paroquia Maria Auxiliadora, Puerto Natales

 

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Plaza de Armas, Puerto Natales

 

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Plaza de Armas, Puerto Natales

 

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Plaza de Armas, Puerto Natales

 

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Ñandú, Puerto Natales

 

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Darwin’s rheas

 

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Darwin’s rheas

 

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'Tower of Meat' at Jekus Restobar, Punta Arenas

 

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Hotel Cabo de Hornos, Punta Arenas

 

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Hotel Cabo de Hornos, Punta Arenas

 

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Wed February 8, 2023 – Punta Arenas to Santiago

 

Weather was in the 50s in Punta Arenas but 83-93 with sun and haze (wildfires) in Santiago.

 

Up at 5:15/5:30 am.  [It even hurts me to write this!]  We saw sunrise which is very unusual for us.  Out of our room and in lobby with our bags for light breakfast at 6:10.

 

By now a 4th had tested positive.  All were in the dining room but stayed away from our table and could not come on our bus.  [Odysseys Unlimited absorbed a lot of extra costs with separate rooms and separate transportation for all the Covid couples.]

 

By 6:45 am the bus was loaded with us and our luggage, and we were off to the airport and arrived by 7:15.  Checking in was a bit confusing as one of the clerks kept running back and forth from her place at the counter to speak to us and print out luggage ID stickers.  Once we got through there, we headed upstairs to wait at Gate 2.

 

Our personal bid to upgrade to Premium Economy @ $50 each was accepted and we sat comfortably in Row 1 bulkhead [same seats as in Coach, but with a more legroom and the center seat was blocked off.  With all the Covid going around our group, this was comforting.]

 

The flight took off on time.  We could see our two bags actually being loaded at the last minute.  Phew!  Flight attendants came around at 9:30 am with pork sandwiches, oatmeal cookies [for me to chip my remaining teeth, haha] and non-alcoholic beverages.

 

We then took naps.  Upon awakening, DW had cloud blindness.  It was a smooth flight and we landed by noon.  The bags came out quickly.  Ivan worked with the Covid kids – one couple had opted to fly back tonight and the others tomorrow, since they were not allowed to rejoin our group.

 

The remaining 11 of us met Reginald, our local guide, a chef who used to host dinners for Odysseys Unlimited with his wife and was then persuaded to do tours.  A different Francisco was our driver on a coach for today only.  Tomorrow we few survivors would easily fit on a smaller bus.

 

Reginald told us that Santiago was founded in 1551 by a Spaniard in search of gold, not knowing the Incas already had it all.  The only Indian actually known as INCA was the Emperor who was in charge of the Inca Empire.  [Maybe it meant ‘In charge of all’ …]

 

Santiago is the capital of Chile and incorporates 33 townships each with its own government, e.g., sanitation, mayor, etc.  But there is only one police corps for all of Chile.  Today the population of Santiago is between 7.5 and 9 million and the unemployment rate is 8-15%.

 

Chile’s national government has been like a seesaw.   Each president is very powerful, usually rich and well educated but one is left and the next is right.  And the President cannot serve consecutive terms.

 

In October 2019, there was a peaceful, political social uprising backed by students of all ages.  The current President is a young man/student activist who is very much a leftist but hasn’t done anything outrageous.  He has sought advice from the previous Presidents and seems to be trying to avoid excesses and mistakes.

 

As we rode along, the homeless became more obvious, often living in lean-tos.  Many are immigrants.  In the past they have come from Venezuela and Colombia.  Many were professionals and are now in practice.  Of late they come from Peru and Haiti.  All but the Haitians have been fairly well assimilated – they don’t speak Spanish and probably don’t have the education or skills that the other nationals do.

 

We passed the Central Market at 1 pm and it was very crowded and deemed unsafe.  We were advised to visit it in the morning.  Instead we were taken to Patio Bellevista, an upscale mall with mostly eateries and a few craft/trinket shops.  Here we were left on our own.  DW and I had double portions of gelato at Il Maestrale Gelateria Italiana for lunch. Delicious and filling!

 

Then we discovered that since our gelato counter had no restroom we had to use the public baño, which required 500 pesos each.  That required me to break my ‘no cash’ approach and find an ATM [quickly!] and pay an outrageous service charge [more than the cash I took!]  But we got to the baño in time, and Schwab refunded the fees at the end of the month.

 

The bus took us around Santiago for more sightseeing [which didn’t make an impression, as we were tired and post-prandial…] and then finally to the Pullman Santiago Vitacura Hotel.  We had 2 queen beds [not singles!], smoke detector and sprinkler and our own thermostat – back in civilization!

 

We were given free time till 7:30 pm.  So we took naps.

 

At 7:30 we went to the lobby restaurant, Ofelia’s.  We had a salad plate: a fan of red leaf lettuce, half a hard-boiled egg, 1 sliced grape tomato, a slice of avocado, mashed Yukon potato with a bit of mayo.  Main course: quinoa with tomato and cream topped with seafood.  Dessert: small round cake topped with a cream and tasteless fan.  We dined with one of the couples and remained there chatting when Ivan returned from his airport run.  He joined us for a drink.  [Interesting tidbit: our waitress had ‘Ophelia’ embroidered on her uniform, so that’s what we called her.  It was only later that we realized that Ophelia is the name of the restaurant…]

 

And so to bed.

 

[no photos]

 

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Thu February 9, 2023 – Valparaiso

 

We travel today to the old port town of Valparaiso.  Colorful wooden houses and an absence of high-rise buildings mark this one-time fishing village, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Since its founding in 1536, this city has weathered natural disasters, fires, and pirate raids to become Chile’s main port – a dynamic hub that draws many visitors.  In addition to exploring the narrow, winding streets of Chile’s third largest city on foot and by wooden funicular, we will enjoy lunch on our own at one of Valparaiso’s local restaurants.

 

On the way back, we stop at a winery in Casablanca for a visit and tasting.  The Spanish conquistadors introduced wine in the 16th century, planting vines from the Old World, and Chile’s climate and soil have proven ideal for viticulture.  Foreign investment and improved technology in the 1980s transformed Chile from a chiefly domestic winemaker into one of the world’s leading wine exporters.  A number of Chilean vineyards now enjoy international acclaim, producing Chile’s celebrated cabernet sauvignon and other award-winning reds.

 

Up at 7 am for the breakfast buffet and on the new smaller bus (Robert was our new driver) by 8:30 for a daytrip to Valparaiso, on the coast where it was cooler than Santiago (60s and low 70s.)  The ride was 2 and a half hours including one “to pee or not to pee” stop.

 

We arrived in Valparaiso around 11 am.  Robert drove us around the city until around 11:30.  Then we walked from the hilly top down through what had been the German section to the Italian one.  Valparaiso (Va al pariso=go to Paradise) is very hilly like San Francisco.  Because of this some of the houses built on the cliffs/hillsides are upside down with living quarters up top and sleeping ones down below.

 

This coastal city is the home of the national Congress.  Its population, which includes the close suburbs, is around 1.7 to 1.8 million.  There are lots of street vendors.  One only finds trolley buses in Valparaiso.  And their very efficient firefighters are all volunteers – from them, others like Santiago started.

 

Street walls are covered with art, some with rubbish art.  Unlike Buenos Aires, flowers are abundant—blue plumbago, bougainvillea, hibiscus, roses, cactus, palm…  Stray dogs (harmless) are also numerous as is dog poop on the sidewalk so we had to watch our step.

 

There is a mix of immigrants.  German Avenue is a main drag and we walked past Bismarck Square.  Nearby is a public school that was once a German hospital.  [Reminded me of Buenos Aires, but this time my teeth were fine!]  In the same neighborhood, one finds St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and the German Lutheran Church.  Eateries, cafes are the main storefronts.

At 1 pm we were set free for 90 minutes to get lunch.  We opted for Italian and the two of us shared a very tasty lasagna, scraping the bowl for every last bite.  $20.  We walked around and popped into a knit goods shop where the saleswoman was welcoming and informative.

 

At 2:30 everyone gathered at the funicular station and we all took cars down to sea level.  The Ascensor Concepcionfunicular was built in 1883.  It is an historical monument.  At the bottom, Robert met us with the bus.

 

Off we went to Casablanca, about halfway between Valparaiso and Santiago, to the Viñedos Veramonte winery, where it was sunny and 90.

 

Their vineyards in this location grow Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.  They have other vineyards in Colchagua where they make Carménère and Cabernet.  All are organic.

 

Our guide Julio was very informative, showing us the vineyards from the balcony and then taking us down to the stainless steel vats and wooden barrels and clay amphorae on the ground floor [combined to give each wine the optimum complexity and balance].

 

We returned to the main level for the wine tasting.  Our group had a private room and were offered four different wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon (smooth like Sonoma Cabs), and a Carménère.

 

Chile has an excellent climate and good soil to grow organic grapes.  Chile has never had phylloxera – so the vines here are the original genetic varieties, unlike in Europe where the vines had to be grafted onto American rootstock that is phylloxera-resistant but which changes the DNA of the grapes.

 

A few notes re Santiago and Chile in general:

They have constructed earthquake-proof buildings.

The rainy season is April to September.

This summer has been extremely dry, so there are bush fires south of Santiago contributing to the hazy skies.

Because of the lack of rain, the number of avocado orchards has severely dwindled.  Very few remain even for domestic consumption.  Others have been replaced by citrus groves.

Santiago is 2000 feet above sea level and we could see/feel the descent as we made our way to Valparaiso.

All these big cities have Starbucks and McDonald’s.

There was a street performer with multicolored Slinkies at a traffic light.

Chilean Spanish is different from Argentinean – and both are very different from Spain.

Easter Island now called by the native name Rapa Nui (read Thor Heyerdahl’s Aku Aku).

 

We returned to the hotel in Santiago after our visit to the winery.

 

At 8:00 the bus took us to Cuerovaca restaurant on Via Vitac for our Farewell Dinner.  We had excellent food and service.  Huge quantities of food!  We were all served bruschetta on toasted Italian bread, empanadas with ground beef, tenderloins of beef perfectly cooked, a big bowl of salad and one of pureed cream of corn.  Dessert was flan [delicious] and a nut-covered brownie [not for me!]

 

Most of us walked back to the Pullman.  [We needed to walk off all that food!]

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Jazzbelle in Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Lutheran Church in Valparaiso

 

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Cemetery, Valparaiso

 

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Cemetery, Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Paseo Atkinson, Valparaiso

 

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Paseo Atkinson, Valparaiso

 

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Paseo Atkinson, Valparaiso

 

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Café Asteroide B612, Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Valparaiso

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Wine Tasting at Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Wines Tasted at Viñedos Veramonte,Casablanca

 

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Fri–Sat February 10–11, 2023 – Santiago & Flyin’ Home

 

Hot day in Santiago! 90!

 

We took a bus tour into downtown Santiago.  We disembarked across from Santa Lucia Park which is up on a hill where years ago a gunshot was fired every noon to mark the time.

 

We began walking.  First building of note on our left was La Merced, a large red church in French neo-classical style run by the Order of Holy Mercy.  It was covered in graffiti (as were other churches).  At noon the bells play Gounod’s Ave Maria (used to be just after the gunshot in the park).

 

Next up was the Red House aka Casa Colorado.  It is a colonial house built in 1769 by Joseph de la Vega and currently is the Museo de Santiago.  It explores Santiago’s history from the Pre-Columbian era to contemporary times.

 

We made it to the Plaza de Armas which surrounded by City Hall, the National Historical Museum, the main post office, and the Metropolitan Cathedral.  On the right corner of the plaza is the statue of St. Rose of Lima, who is the patron saint of all of South America.  In the center of the square is the statue of Captain Pedro de Valdivia, the conquistador and founder of Santiago and the first royal governor of Chile.  The former National Congress Building is behind the square.  (Remember that the current one is in Valparaiso.)

 

We visited the Cathedral, which was built in the late 1700s in the Italian architectural style.

 

We saw the outside of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals building.

 

We visited the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, housed in the former Royal Customs House and dedicated to the study and display of pre-Columbian artworks and artifacts representing more than 100 different groups of people.  The museum was originally founded by Sergio Larrain Garcia-Moreno, a Chilean architect and antiquities collector, who sought to have his private collection – acquired over fifty years – preserved.  The highlight is the ground floor, with wood carved statues and colorful textiles.  

 

Our final stop was Constitution Square, dominated by the majestic Palacio de la Moneda [former mint], built during 18th century with several interior courtyards, which now houses the Presidential offices at the front and the Ministry of Internal Affairs at the back.  The square also features several other government ministry buildings and the Banco Central.  All those serving as bodyguards, drivers, security are members of the national police.

 

We sat in the shade in the square while Reginald spoke of Chile’s history.  He said that the U.S. was the first country to achieve its independence in the Americas.  Then Haiti.  Chile did so in 1818.  Allende ruled from March 1970 to 1973.  Pinochet from 1978-1988 (he died in 2007).  In 1989 there was a new democratic election of Dr. Patricio Aylwin Azócar.  The current president, Gabriel Boric, 36 – is a former student progressive activist, as are a number of the cabinet members who include many women.

 

We were back to the Pullman by 2 pm.  [Ivan had arranged for checkout to been extended to 3 pm, and a further extension to 6 pm if we paid an additional $40 – just about everyone opted to pay the late checkout fee.]  The two of us ate sandwiches we had put together at breakfast.  Then DW walked slowly in the heat up to Immaculate Conception Church only to find it locked, but she was able to take a few photos through the plate glass front.

 

When DW returned to the hotel, it was time for showers and final packing.

 

The Odysseys Unlimited tour package ended with a transfer to the airport.  [As ‘land only’ customers we weren’t entitled to the transfer, but could be accommodated on a space available basis.  Ivan let me know that he was going to get us there no matter what – that is indicative of the ‘above and beyond’ service he gave us all throughout the tour.]

 

We got down to the lobby before 6 pm and we all boarded the bus for the final leg of our journey within South America.  Reginald checked with us before leaving to make sure everyone had emptied their safe…  He suggested in the future that we put a shoe in the safe and then we wouldn’t forget to open it and take the contents.

 

Upon arriving at the airport, the 11 of us split into two groups.  Six were flying American and five of us were on Delta.  Reggie and Ivan waited until all of us were checked in and heading for passport control and security.  No hitches but it did take time [no TSA Pre…]  Four of us went to the Delta lounge where we had soup, sandwiches, etc. [but no chocolate cookies for me!]  Then we headed to the gate.  We were surprised to be greeted by security on the jetway who went through our carry-ons.

 

The two of us sat in the last row of Business Class.  [I got chosen these seats because SeatGuru reviews said it was a quiet location, and it was.]  We got settled in and pulled back from the jetway a few minutes early and began to taxi when the pilot announced that a maintenance light had come on.  We returned to the terminal and sat onboard for three hours until the issue was resolved.  We took off at 2:30 am and had dinner at 3:30 [good thing we had eaten in the lounge!]  We were served duck breast confit and soup.  DW had a chocolate ganache dessert and I had ice cream.

 

It was a smooth flight and the pilot seemed to make good time.  We had very attentive flight attendants.  I slept a lot; DW a little over two hours.  She watched one movie and some of another.  We received snacks, drinks.  And we were given a hot breakfast: potato/cheese pie, croissant with butter, fresh fruit, juice, coffee/tea…

 

We landed in Atlanta at 8:45 am.  And were greeted in baggage claim by a food-sniffing beagle who detected an apple in another passenger’s bag.  That certainly delayed her!

 

We took Uber to the Hilton Garden Inn and thanked the desk clerk for keeping an eye on our van for the past two and a half weeks.  And we headed off!

 

It was a hard five hour drive back to Fairhope, AL.  We were tired and it rained constantly.  DW did most of the driving and I gave her a short rest a bit in the middle.  We made one major stop at a Sam’s Club to get gas and use their facilities.

 

[It was the last week of a free Sam’s Club membership we got through T-Mobile.  Sam’s Clubs do tend to have the cheapest gas in most areas, but we didn’t use them enough to earn back the membership fee and there isn’t one near back home.  We save enough on gas at the local Costco to more than pay for that membership, and that gives us a Citi Costco Visa card that pays 3% back on all travel expenses.  Sweet!]

 

Once back in Baldwin County, we stopped at our favorite Honda dealer (Tameron in Daphne) and bought new wiper blades.  [We bought them in the Parts Dept., then someone came out and put them on for us.  No labor charge!  Not like NY!]

 

We topped off at the nearby Sam’s Club, and then stopped at The Fresh Market for Prime strip steaks and chateaubriand, crab cakes and shrimp.  [We normally space these purchases out to catch the weekly sales, but we were heading to an empty freezer so cost be [quote Admiral Farragut…]!]

 

We were glad to pull into our Fairhope rental house 20 minutes later.  Now to remember where we hid the house key!

 

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La Merced church, Santiago

 

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Plaza de Armas, Santiago

 

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Plaza de Armas, Santiago

 

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Cathedral, Santiago

 

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Cathedral, Santiago

 

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Cathedral, Santiago

 

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Cathedral, Santiago

 

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Cathedral, Santiago

 

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Camera de Diputados, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, Santiago

 

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Parroquia de la Inmaculada Concepción, Santiago

 

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Parroquia de la Inmaculada Concepción, Santiago

 

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Sunset, Santiago

 

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Conclusion

 

Odysseys Unlimited promised that on this trip we would “enjoy the rare privilege of face-to-face encounters with two of the world’s last great frontiers: the majestic fjords and glaciers of Southern Patagonia, on a small-ship cruise; and the dramatic scenery of Torres del Paine on a three-night stay at the park.  Along with visits to Buenos Aires and Santiago, we will discover the remarkable diversity of South America” [plus the two night pre-extension to Iguazú Falls].  And it delivered!

 

This was our first trip with Odysseys Unlimited (and our first land tour except for walking the Camino de Santiago with Fresco Tours).  But it won’t be our last!

 

We were very impressed with how well Fresco Tours had served our group on the Camino – and equally impressed with Odysseys Unlimited on this tour.  Everything was exactly as described in the brochure (weather permitting) – or better. And whenever a glitch happened, Ivan was empowered to spent money to make it right.  I can’t stress enough how big a deal that is – extra hotel rooms for Covid isolation, private transfers for Covid patients, overweight luggage charges, extra glasses of wine.  Basically anything that anybody needed to relieve a stressful situation or take an experience from good to great.  ¡Muchas Gracias!

 

All the accommodations were the best available, every day was filled with well-planned activities, little surprises kept popping up, and personal requests were filled whenever possible.  It was also great that we had one tour director (Ivan) throughout the trip plus a local guide in each city (and the ship’s excursion guides) – that gave us real ‘boots on the ground’ knowledge and also gave Ivan enough free time to handle last-minute arrangements and unexpected issues.

 

We have sworn off renting cars on trips, as DW does all the driving and can’t see the sights and I do all the navigating and also can’t see everything I would like – it’s much better to let a professional do the driving.  And I don’t have to keep my head in a Rick Steves book if a professional guide is describing what we’re seeing.  So we will be doing more land trips for places that cruises can’t reach – and Odysseys Unlimited will be on the short list of vendors to consider in the future.  [In fact, I’m already looking at their Canadian Rockies and Glacier National Park Explorer trip.]

 

You can also do the Australis 4-night cruise on your own, but you would have to get to Ushuaia and from Punta Arenasand it’s a long way there for only 5 days – much better to include this wonderful cruise as part of a larger land tour that includes these other outstanding sights in South America, especially Iguazú Falls and Torres del Paine National Park.  And I can heartily recommend doing it with Odysseys Unlimited.

 

If you have any questions, please reply to this thread – or email me at jazzbeauster@gmail.com

 

And if you found this blog helpful, here’s a link to all our other travel blogs: jazzbeauxblogs.wordpress.com

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[Note:  there are 14 movies throughout this thread.  I originally uploaded them in .mov format, but that didn't work in all browsers – so I was advised to convert them to .mp4 format.  They should all work now in any browser, but they may take a long time to load the first time you view this.  Please let me know if you have any problems.]

 

[Tip:  expand the video to full-screen before hitting 'play' to make sure you see the very beginning (especially important on the two Glacier Calving videos).  When the video finishes playing, hit 'escape' or the shrink icon to return to the post.]

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Thanks for posting your experience with Odysseys Unlimited. Friends we met on an Oceania cruise also have recommended it for its fair pricing and limits on group size.
 

It was fascinating to read what you were doing at the same time spouse and I took our first plane flight out of the USA since you-know-what for an intensive one-week art tour to Madrid (and Toledo) organized by our tireless art friend who prefers winter travel to avoid crowds followed by a week on our own at about 1/3 of the pace in London staying in Covent Garden and going to theater every day.

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21 minutes ago, CintiPam said:

Thanks for posting your experience with Odysseys Unlimited. Friends we met on an Oceania cruise also have recommended it for its fair pricing and limits on group size.

Thanks Pam.  Good to hear from you again!  2016 seems like a century ago after what we've all been through since!

 

As we are nearing the end of our 'bucket list,' and finding that cruises have allowed us to visit most of the world that is close to the ocean – we are looking increasingly toward land tours.  But many highly-rated 'small group' tours have groups that we consider too big [e.g. Collette is 32-44].  Of course, too small a group can make it hard to find new friends to bond with, especially if the group is dominated by a family or existing friendships.  So we look for groups guaranteed to be in the range of 12-24 and that put Odysseys Unlimited on the short list.

 

As we age, we are also dropping tour companies that have too-active a focus [e.g. Backroads was a stretch in Iceland in 2019 and we couldn't do it now, any more than we could walk 100 miles on the Camino de Santiago today – they are trying to stay relevant to our age cohort with their new Dolce Tempo itineraries that dial back the activity level!].

 

This Odysseys trip was at our limit, but the options to turn back at any point kept it doable for us.  And as I noted in the conclusion we will keep Odysseys on our short list if other itineraries appeal.

 

Next year we are trying Classic Journeys in the Italian Lakes, and we may try Country Walkers in the English Lake District.  Another approach we will be trying later this year is MyDayTrip, which provides private transfers from city A to city B with your choice of stops at one or more interesting sites along the way – then we would stay 2 nights in city B and see that city on our own.  We gave them a test run for the transfer from Padua to Ravenna last fall, and we'll be using them for several days from Lisbon to Porto (and back) before and after a Duero River cruise on Scenic – they are much more flexible than any package tour we could find.

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