Here is our tail of our dream cruise around part of South America. It’s our greatest vacation… since the last one. Truly, it’s one that we had very much been looking forward to for a very long time. As with all our travels, the anticipation has been every bit as enjoyable as the trip itself. And also as with all travel, the joy is in the journey.
In the case of the Oceania Marina 17-day cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile, the entire itinerary is, of course, the journey.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires is a huge and wonderful city, but the port area where we're parked is awful. It's all big-time stacks of shipping containers being loaded, unloaded and moved around. It's impossible to simply get off the boat and walk anywhere; one must take a bus about a mile through the maze of shipping stuff, over to the terminal. Once we did that, we walked five miles and saw lots of neat stuff.
Plaza San Martin was a very pretty and well-shaded park. The shade was appreciated in the summer-solstice heat (it was December 20). The Retiro area was extremely busy and bustling, with buses and people everywhere. Plaza de Mayo was the coolest, and most historical, square of all. There is always something political going on there, and we saw some people getting ready to protest something or other.
Calle Florida is the main shopping district; it’s about a mile and a half of shop after shop with no traffic except for a few cross streets. It was great for people watching, and a great cultural experience. Cultural experiences are only just starting.
If you want tourists to think well of your country or region, you can’t do much better than to take them to a winery. Yes, the Lady Adventurer and I were duly impressed with Uruguay. Actually, from what the local tour guide said and showed us of the capital city, Montevideo and it’s surrounding area, we were already experiencing positive vibes. But the wine helped as well.
Montevideo is a much toned-down version of Buenos Aires. It’s still a big city, with 1.3 million personas, but it’s not what you’d call huge. The word, ‘Manageable’, comes to mind.
After stopping at the main square and some monuments in Montevideo, we went to the Juanico Winery, where we spent most of the day. The Uruguayan food (barbecued meat, of course) and wine were excellent. Happy thoughts. And Happy Summer Solstice!!
Punto del Este, Uruguay
You say you would like to go to the southernmost point in Uruguay? Uruguay’s garden spot? The place where the rich and famous Uruguayans (not to mention Brazilians and Argentinians) go and spend their holidays? The Miami/Vegas (rolled into one) of Uruguay? You’re talking about Punto del Este. It is truly a pleasant resort beach town, with more than its share of casinos and beaches. They seem proud that President-elect Donald Trump is building a tower. The Lady Adventurer and I were able to experience some of the sights and attractions as we walked a couple miles back to the ship after “experiencing nature.”
The Experience Nature excursion was better than expected. After seeing some of the highlights of the city, we drove about an hour to Indegina, a private nature reserve. Our guides led us through the woodlands, pampas and wetlands to view the rheas, capybaras and other wildlife. Afterwards they treated us to empanadas, kuchen and local herbal tea.
|A capybara up close|
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
The main reason to travel to Puerto Madryn is to use it as a base for the wildlife viewing areas of Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo. We chose to spend the day at Peninsula Valdes.
It was a long two-plus hour bus ride, about half of which was on bumpy, dusty dirt roads. And the scenery was as unremarkable as it could be. I’ll try to make a remark anyway. It was flat, dry and very boring. The vegetation was entirely scrub. There were almost no homes or habitation of any kind. We were informed that the land was mostly used for sheep ranching.
But the goal was to view the wildlife, and view it we did. We spotted several guanacos, some with little ones, as we approached the sea. Then we got to see the sea lions and elephant seals on the beach. Only the male sea lions were around; we got to see a couple of them fighting over some turf. The elephant seals co-mingled with them, but those animals were of the younger variety.
A few hairy armadillos, hares and lizards later, we came to the penguin beach. These were Magellanic penguins, and there were tens of thousands of them on the beach and a little inland. We could walk right up to them, even touch them, if we wanted. The walking trail weaved in and out of their nests, and they often walked right in front of us to get across. They were every bit as cute and friendly as advertised especially the chicks.
Six days of our 17-day voyage are at sea. they’re nicely scattered between the various ports of call, and they included Christmas Day and New Year’s eve. Spending Christmas Day on a cruise ship, away from home and family was surreal. Everyone, crew and passengers alike, was super nice, wishing everybody they bumped into a Merry Christmas. We had the Grand Brunch Buffet in the Grand Dining Room, and later went to Jacques’, the specialty restaurant dedicated/devoted to Jacques Pepin, where we dined for three hours with some newly made friends, all from Canada. The enrichment lecture was about the 1982 Falkland Islands war. We saw Santa handing out gifts to the few boys and girls onboard. And were able to stay up, for the first time, for the show – the string quartet playing Christmas music.
Yes, life onboard the Oceania Marina is pretty darn good. The food and service are outstanding, even for a premium ocean cruise. Of course we pick our cruises based on the itinerary first. But such world class luxury at a decent price is nice as well. We will keep coming back to Oceania.
Port Stanley, Falkland Islands
Do you remember the 1982 Falkland Islands war? Neither did I, at least until I was reminded about it from our enrichment speaker, Terry Bishop. It came back to me how Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher would not accept Argentina’s attempt to take over the Islands. The Argentinians felt that the Islands (they call them the Malvinas) belonged to them based on their location, but the British had claimed them first, and also had a small settlement there. The war was limited to the Islands’ vicinity, and the British prevailed.
The settlement is larger now, but it’s still quite small. The windswept Islands are beautiful in a stark sort of way. Most of the visitors are interested in the history or the Islands’ penguin colonies. The Lady Adventurer and I decided not to venture far, since we’d recently gotten cozy with several thousand of the short tuxedo waddlers. On a cold, blustery day, we saw the old cemetery, the Anglican church (southernmost in the world), and walked to a couple war memorials (the Islands played a part in World Wars I and II as well). Our greatest impression, however, is that the British want you to be completely sure to understand to whom the Islands belong. Period.
Sailing out and then west of the Falklands turned out to be interesting. The swells were as swell as swells can be, and we were rocked to sleep forthwith.
|Ushuaia, Argentina at 4:00 AM. It's the southernmost city in the world.|
I began the day at 5:00 AM with a run through the city – the southernmost in the world – to try to find Glacier Martial. The city isn’t that big, but I didn’t know where I was going, so it took a while to avoid the wild dogs and eventually get my bearings. But by the time I got close to the glacier, it was time to head back. It was okay; I’d seen glaciers before. Besides, we had a hike to do.
The Lady Adventurer got her fall out of the way very early on during the hike. Luckily, it was on a peat bog, so it was like falling down onto a sponge. In fact, a decent portion of the hike was through this bog. It was quite bouncy and fun. We later climbed several hundred feet, ascending the foothills of the nearby mountains. We returned through a forest that hadn’t yet been destroyed by the invasive beavers that we stupidly introduced several decades ago.
Our guide was very good at pointing out the terrain and general geography of Tierra del Fuego. But he set the pace a bit too speedy for the majority of us hikers. Lady Adventurer and I (barely) managed to keep up, but many did not. I enjoyed the hike, but it would have been better for all, had we moved slower and occasionally stopped to smell the peat bog.
Sailing out of Ushuaia, back through the Beagle Channel, and then up into the Strait of Magellan was pretty amazing. We saw glaciers, snow-capped peaks and waterfalls.
Punta Arenas, Chile
Although Punta Arenas appears to be just around the corner from Ushuaia, it took quite a while to get there. There were plenty of islands, channels and straits to go around and through.
Today’s adventure would be … wait for it … another hike! From Punta Arenas, they drove us up to a ski resort, where we got on a rickety chair lift to the top. Then we hiked back down the mountain. It was cold, windy and sleeting at first, but we warmed up as we got moving. The sun helped by coming out as well. We could often catch views of far-off scenery, like Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan in the distance.
Even though it was downhill, it was still technical, muddy and difficult. But not as difficult as yesterday’s hike.
Chilean Fjords, Chile
For the next two days, we cruised in and out of the fjords of Chile. There were at least two very spectacular scenes: (spectacular scene one) – The Amalla Glacier was really cool. It looked like the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska. (spectacular scene two) – THE most intense rainbow anyone has ever seen. It was right after the glacier, and the weather was gloomy… except for a seemingly small area that was lit by some rare rays of sun. That’s where the double rainbow was. Every time we thought it was done, it changed its mind and became more intense again. It looked almost solid.
Puerto Chacabuco, Chile
These Chilean fjords are not to be trifled with. Puerto Chacabuco is in the middle of one, and it’s a spectacular setting. What? You’ve never heard of Puerto Chacabuco? It’s near Puerto Aysen. So now you know. We hadn’t heard of it either (it sounds like a Star Wars character), but we will remember it now.
Lady Adventurer and I went on a Patagonia Nature in Depth tour. It certainly was. We walked a couple miles in a couple hours on a wooded trail alongside a river, until we came to a good-sized waterfall.
|Nature Hike and Falls|
|BBQ in Chacabuko|
|Flowers by the lake|
After the hike, we had a ‘typical Patagonian barbeque’ (lamb, and a lot of it), along with some typical Pategonian dancing. The appetizer was empenadas. Empenadas are pastry dough pockets filled with meat, cheese, spinach, etc., and then deep-fried. These particular ones, however, appeared to be filled with air. Debbie said she detected a small amount of cheese, but that was hardly noticeable. Everyone at our table laughed when I called them ‘empty-nadas’.
It was all great, but I couldn’t help thinking that they make some of this ‘typical’ stuff up. This part of the world is extremely sparsely populated, and the indigenous people were wiped out entirely. I wonder whether the European settlers even have any ‘typical’ dancing, but for the occasional bunch of cruise ship passengers that come through.
Okay, I’ll turn the cynicism back off. At least for a while.
Puerto Montt, Chile
It wasn’t one of the smartest things Lady Adventurer and I have done. In fact, and I don’t say this lightly, it was downright stupid.
Debbie and I were halfway up Vulcan Osorno, a quarter-mile or so along the lava path that curved up and around the side of the mountain, when we discovered that we wouldn’t be able to get back. We almost couldn’t even stand up.
|It didn't seem so bad going up the mountain with the wind at our back|
|Trying (very hard) to turn around and come back down|
But Lady Adventurer held onto me, and we did eventually get back. Somehow. Otherwise, as you may surmise, this account would not have gotten written.
This was part of an all-day excursion from Puerto Montt. We also saw Petrohue Falls and walked around normally scenic Puerto Varas during a deluge. Vulcan Osorno itself looks a little like Mount Fuji. We’d caught a glimpse of it from the falls, but clouds were moving in. Those clouds should have been another clue that walking up there wouldn’t be totally smart.
Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile
Our flight was the next day. But wait a minute. They were booting us off the boat at 8:00 AM, but our flight wasn’t until 11:30 PM. To fill the time we booked … wait for it … another tour! This one would take us to see more of Valparaiso, nearby Vina del Mar, and some of the same parts of Santiago as the previous day. More smog, and more cultural experiences.
And that’s it. For an account of my running during this vacation, please see my running blog post, Running and Cruise Ships Don’t Mix.
Also check out this link to even more of our photos.
Also check out this link to even more of our photos.