Friday, February 06, 2009

Today is our last sea day before we arrive in Arica, Chile which gives me a little time to compose a blog update. Our 2 day stay in Valparaiso was interesting and active, so we have been in recovery mode while at sea. This was where the second leg of the cruise ended, and we picked up the passengers for the 3rd leg. Apparently there are about 2400 cruisers on board now and the ship holds about 3500, so we are 2/3 full.
As we pulled into Valparaiso, it was easy to see that the city is spread out over many hills which form a kind of half bowl, with the seafront being at the bottom of the bowl. The city was spread out in front of us like a picture and the houses are painted many bright and pastel colors. There is also quite a mix of old and new buildings because of the many earthquakes they have had there.
There are about a dozen elevator/funicular type devices, called “ascensors” which carry people between the lower part of the city and the upper levels. I’m sure most of them are very old; we rode on one that was built in 1893. They work on a balancing system, with one car going up at the same time as the other car goes down, and they pass in the middle. You can tell that they are for the convenience of the local people because they are cheap to ride. When you get to the top there is often a plaza where you can look out over the city and the harbor and admire the stupendous views. A resort town called Vina del Mar is about 5 miles away and we could see it from the overlooks because we had such clear and sunny days.
There are also lots and lots of buses, several trolley lines, and a train/metro system, all offering inexpensive transportation. Of course, we took advantage of this to do quite a bit of exploring with Joe & Carla on the first day, and then we 4 were joined by new friends David & Diane Wilson on the second day. We walked about 8 miles each day in addition to using the buses and the ascensors. The first day we walked through the lower part of the city and visited a large department store complex, a local produce market, several plazas full of sculptures, trees, flowers, and people, one church, and just took in the ambience of everything. Then we took an ascensor up to an old neighborhood and just wandered all over admiring the architecture and the art. Because not only are the houses painted many colors, but the walls, stairwells, etc. are mostly all covered in very artistic graffiti. I’m sure we took a hundred pictures. We found a restaurant patio with great views overlooking the harbor and the city and we had a local beer called Del Puerto, which was an amber ale and so full of flavor. Then we took a bus to another ascensor and repeated the experience.
The second day we took a bus to the neighboring resort city, Vina del Mar. Immediately we could see that this was very upscale compared to Valparaiso. After a bit of exploring, we found the museum which features the history and implements of the people of Easter Island and which has one of the large volcanic stone sculptures they made there called moai by the Rapa Nui. Because we 6 were the only ones there at the time, the curator took us on our own guided tour and really made everything come alive for us. Easter Island is about 2000 miles away but is owned by Chile. It is also on a very rapidly moving techtonic plate so at some time in the far distant future, it will be located closer. After the museum, we went to an artesians market where the others bought a few gift items. If any of you readers were hoping that we bought some gifts, you are out of luck! Although things are fairly inexpensive here, we don’t want to haul a bunch of stuff back!
Of course, one can’t go to Vina del Mar, without going to the seafront, so we walked there next. There are some nice beaches, especially near the expensive hotels, and also some areas where there are rugged rocks with crashing waves. We had a stop at a restaurant with a patio overlooking the beach, for another try at some more local beers; this time we tried Cristal and Escudo – both were excellent. And then we walked along the seafront to the flower clock, which is exactly what the name implies and which has beautiful flowers and is one of the things Vina del Mar is known for.
Another very fast bus ride took us back to Valparaiso and a third ride up an ascensor. This time our goal was to visit the home of a very famous Chilean poet named Pablo Neruda. Besides being famous in Chile and apparently much appreciated monetarily because he had 4 fabulous homes, he also won the Nobel prize. His home in Valparaiso is located way up on a hill and we walked 2.5 kms to get there. The home was very eclectic and artsy and was on 4 levels, with incredible views. It was easy to see that he could be inspired while writing in such an environment. Then we walked all over the nearby neighborhoods on our way back down looking for the 20 murals which Carla’s guidebook said were there. We found a bunch of colorful paintings on the sides of buildings and on walls but weren’t sure these were the murals the book described. There was also a small park with lampposts and cement benches all covered in bits of colored ceramic glass which really reminded us of Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona.
So, although other friends on this ship were somewhat turned off by Valparaiso because of the poverty and unclean areas, we thought it was interesting and fun. On a more somber note, we were warned by locals not to walk in certain areas and to go in a group, which we did. Later we learned that 2 of our friends had to come to the aid of one of the ship’s ice skaters after she was attacked by 2 guys who threw her on the ground and ripped her backpack off, which she had been wearing on her front and holding onto tightly. Then they dumped out the contents and took off with her camera and her cash ($28), leaving her pack and other stuff, and her, lying on the pavement. She had been walking by herself, something we try never to do when we are in places we don’t know well.
Elaine is recovering slowly from her fall against the coffee table which was caused when the ship lurched the other night. The fact that most of her residual pain is located several inches above the bruise indicates that she probably has cracked a rib. At least she has been able to resume some physical activity and today did about 7 miles between walking on the deck and using the treadmill and elliptical in the gym. Such a pleasure to walk outside today because it is sunny and warm and there is lots of activity by the pool, including a good musical group playing bouncy numbers. We also saw lots of dolphins while we were working out in the gym earlier and looking through the front windows. Then we saw several whales while walking on the upper deck. Those are REAL whales I am talking about, not the obese people who look like beached whales who lay around on deck chairs up there….
Again, I will be unable to post pictures with this blog so please be patient and I will try to add some later on.

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