Travel Reminiscing - 2020 South American Cruise Part 1
A year ago, we embarked on a long-anticipated vacation trip, a Viking Ocean Cruise called, “South America & the Chilean Fjords”. This cruise would be 18-days of cruising from Valparaiso Chile, through the Magellan Straits, then around Cape Horn into the South Atlantic, finishing in Buenos Aires Argentina. We opted for a 4-day cruise extension where we flew to Mendoza Argentina for wine tours and a visit to the Andes. After this Viking portion of our trip, we stayed another 5-days on our own exploring Uruguay and finishing back in Buenos Aires. At 30-days, this would be our longest vacation trip to date.
When we got home in late February 2020, the news was beginning to report on the Corona Virus pandemic in China and spreading to Italy and beyond. Little did we know at that time, within a month, the world would pretty much shutdown, and any hopes for additional travel faded. We were so fortunate to have made this trip when we did and it gives us a lot of memories to share here.
Arriving in Chile
We left home on January 22nd departing Boston to Houston where we connected with an overnight flight to Santiago Chile. Our airline of choice was United since we have elite status and were able to upgrade to “Polaris” Business class. The amenities of Polaris are great, they have a special Polaris Lounge at Houston which had hot food, free drinks and very comfortable surroundings. The lay-flat seats onboard the Boeing 767 allowed us to get some sleep on the 9 hour overnight flight, arriving about 10AM local time on Jan 23rd.
Our cruise scheduled arrival date was Jan 24th, but we chose to arrive one day early, so we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Hotel right outside the arrival terminal of Santiago Int’l Airport. The hotel had a comfortable bar and lounge and we relaxed with some Malbec and Empanadas before retiring for the night.
We chose to arrive one day early as a contingency. Since we live in New England we must expect that winter storms could screw up travel itineraries, so adding a “safety day” gives us some piece of mind. As it turned out, the same United flight the following day, with about 70 Viking passengers onboard, had to return to Houston after several hours because of mechanical problems. Those folks had to sleep in the airport and the flight finally departed after more than 14 hours delay. Those folks didn’t get to Chile and onboard the ship until after midnight, missing the first days activities.
The morning of the 24th we checked out of the Holiday Inn after a good night’s sleep, walked across the street to the terminal and met the Viking greeters who got us on our bus for the ride to the ship in the Port of Valparaiso.
Lunch with Old Friend
Arriving on our ship, the Viking Jupiter, around Noon, our room wouldn’t be ready until 2pm.
This free time was an opportunity to meet up with an old friend and work colleague Lucho. I have known Lucho since my days at Raytheon in the early 1980’s when his company did service work on our radar and navigation systems. Several trips to Chile in those old days where I got to know Lucho. In recent years we reconnected on Facebook. Lucho invited me for lunch at the Club Naval (Chilean Navy Officers Club). In addition to his past service business, he is a retired Naval Officer. We had a great time reminiscing. The Club Naval is a beautiful 100 year old facility, the bar is full of old nautical memorabilia.
Checking into our Stateroom
We checked into our stateroom by late afternoon on the 24th. This day was Rick’s birthday, and waiting in our stateroom was a chocolate cake smothered in fresh strawberries and blueberries along with a bottle of champagne and happy birthday card courtesy of Viking. Nice touch Viking Cruises!
The staterooms on these new Viking Ocean Cruise ships are spacious and very comfortable. All rooms have verandas, no inside cabins. The bathrooms are roomy with a large shower. Also plenty of storage. There are several AC outlets, both US and Europe style along with quite a few USB charging ports on each bed-stand and the desk. A mini- frig has soft drinks, Toberlone chocolate bars and assorted nut mixes, all free and restocked everyday. There is free WiFi throughout the ship, albeit, not super high speed, but adequate for email, web and social media.
January 25, 2020
The ship remained docked overnight and the next day, the 25th, there were various shore excursions available. We opted for the city tour of Valparaiso as well as a visit to a local winery for a tour and wine tasting.
Back in mid to late 2019 Chile went through a rough period of public protests against economic and political issues. Many of these protests turned into full blown riots and violence. We saw the results first hand during the city tour. Most downtown shops were still boarded up, some burnt out and destroyed. Lots of political graffiti covered once beautiful architecture and public monuments. It was a shame to see all this damage.
We drove about 45 minutes outside Valparaiso to the Casablanca Valley wine district. There we toured the Casas del Busque vineyards, a local boutique winery.
Our tour guide, a very knowledgeable young woman, walked us around one of the Pinot Noir vineyards, then into the production area and finally an aging cellar where we tasted several wines.
We tasted 3 wines; a white (Chardonnay) which was very good and 2 reds. One red, I believe was a Merlot and the second a Carménère. The Carménère was excellent and our guide explained that this grape was an old variety originally introduced into France’s Bordeaux region by the Romans in ancient times. Spanish missionaries brought the plants to Chile in the 16th Century where they have flourished since. The Carménère was all but wiped out in France by phylloxera plague in the mid-19th Century, but Chile’s climate and soil are resistant to phylloxera, so this dark red grape and wine is still produced. We enjoyed this variety so much, we bought a bottle to take back to the ship.
Sailing out of Valparaiso
The Viking Jupiter got underway late in the afternoon of the 25th to begin our long and exciting journey. As we sailed out of Valparaiso harbor leaving the busy port behind, we passed the Chilean Navy Base with their majestic tall ship, the Esmeralda, proudly tied up alongside the dock. The Pilot Boat picked up the harbor pilot as we made the turn toward the open ocean. As we sailed south on the Pacific a beautiful sunset ended our first cruise day.
We would spend the next week exploring Chile's coast with port stops, cruising the inner fjords passing views of mountains, volcanoes, glaciers and experiencing the power of the sea.
Sunset view from our stateroom veranda on our first night at sea.