CHILE – December 2009

The Yellow House

High atop the escarpment, overlooking the crescent shaped Bay of Valparaiso, sits a square yellow house of just three storeys.

Within the Yellow House live some good people; Martin the amiable gentleman (formerly) of Sydney and his lovely Chilean bride, Lisette.

The Yellow House is well named. As you approach from a track which could barely be described as a road, the bright yellow walls of its exterior immerse the weary traveller with a healthy sense of reassurance that they have come to the right place.

As soon as we saw Martin, we knew he was an Aussie. There was something about the mischievous spring in his step and his cheeky turn of phrase which gave away his origins. Lisette’s genesis was also clear; she was Latina Spitfire to the core!

Martin soon made us feel at home, ushering us into our room for the next two nights and offering us a light snack and a bottle of wine before a well-deserved early night. We accepted the snack but declined the wine. We needed food and sleep.

However, before falling into bed and closing our eyes, Huckleberry B took the opportunity to reciprocate. She and Martin had been corresponding by email in the weeks and months leading up to our visit. It emerged that there were two things Martin needed from home. Firstly, map pins and, secondly, Vegemite! B throw in a calendar featuring iconic Australian images for good measure. Martin accepted the gifts with a laconic smile and told Huck B that she was “a champion”!

We discovered the purpose of the map pins the following morning. Adorning the wall of the dining room in the Yellow House is a large map of the world and a note inviting guests to place a pin in their city of origin. The pins used for the map, however, were in short supply. Thanks to B, Martin now has 1,000 map pins to offer his guests. By the time they are all used, we suspect he’ll need a new map!

Also at crisis level was Vegemite. Martin showed us the tiny bottle he retained. It was obvious that a breakfast knife had scraped all aspects of the jar in a vain attempt to extract every last skerrick of Vegemite from its surfaces. The situation was clearly desperate. Now we understand the look of delight on Martin’s face when Huckleberry B presented him with not one – but six – large bottles of Vegemite upon our arrival. Our greediest Cavalier would hardly have been more excited when presented with a juicy bone!

We enjoyed our two-night stay at the Yellow House; we felt very much at home. Our only complaint is its proximity to a nightclub, known as “the Vatican”, which sat at sea level and blasted music into the escarpment for much of the night. The music had such volume and clarity that we could have easily sung along (had we been minded to). We rolled over in bed and hoped the Vatican would join in the Christmas spirit and play “Silent Night”. However, this was not to be. Silence only came with the rising of the sun. And by that stage, the raucous unloading of the container ships in the adjacent port had begun…

The highlight of our time with Martin and Lisette, however, was a lovely dinner on the second night in a nearby seafood restaurant. The Chilean grilled fish – large enough to feed a small army of Chileans – was lovely. The company was even better. B and I liked Martin and Lisette very much. We hope to catch up the next time they visit Sydney, as we anticipate that our journeys to the Chilean port city of Valparaiso will be less than frequent.

Setting Sail for Antarctica

We were welcomed onboard M/S Veendam during the afternoon of 21 December 2009. Veendam is much smaller than Diamond Princess and closer in size to Rhapsody of the Seas.  However, in similar fashion to our last cruise, my beloved had chosen a stateroom running along the rear aspect of the vessel, so that we were overlooking the wake left behind as Veendam carved through the waters. Our itinerary promised days of scenic cruising though the Chilean fjords, the Magellan Straits and the Beagle Channel; not to mention along the coast of Antarctica itself. Being perched on the rear of the ship would afford us panoramic views of both sides. She’s a clever cookie, that wife of mine!

Our first days on board Veendam saw us endure some of the roughest seas we had yet experienced in our recent history of cruising. There was no risk of waves crashing onto our deck or of us being confined to our cabin – as can occur in the most extreme circumstances – however, Veendam certainly lurched up and down and heaved, sometimes violently, side to side as we headed south towards Puerto Montt. The rocking was even more vicious south of the Darwin Channel.

It seems I have been blessed with a robust stomach and can boast – until now – that I’ve never, ever been sick at sea. However, like the captain of HMS Pinafore, I must now add a softly spoken rider of “well, hardly ever” to that claim.

Indeed, the rough seas – together with some steady rain – resulted in us deciding to abandon our tour of Puerto Montt. We awoke with every intention of leaving the comfort of our stateroom and taking the tender boats to shore. However, the 15 to 20 knot winds and heavy swell rendered boarding the tender boats a glacial slow process. Readers may remember that winds of similar strength prevented us from visiting the Isle of Pines earlier in the year.

Whereas we planned to be on land by 8am, we were still waiting for our tender ticket number to be called two hours later, with further delay expected. Moreover, it had started to bucket down outside. And so we took the easier option; a lazy day onboard Veendam. The sight of returning pilgrims late in the afternoon – with soaked hair and sour faces – vindicated our indolent decision.

In the Path of Magellan

In 1520, a Portuguese sailor in the service of the Spanish King, searched for a passage from the Atlantic Ocean through to the Pacific, during his attempt to circumnavigate the globe. What he found was a navigable sea route immediately south of mainland South America and north of the island he named Tierra del Fuego. The passage now bears his name; the Strait of Magellan.

On Christmas Day 2009, Huckleberry B and I traversed the comparatively calm waters which Magellan navigated close to five centuries ago. Doubtless we do so in immeasurably greater comfort, and surety of successful return to home, than did Magellan and his brave crew.

The Strait of Magellan measures approximately 570 kilometres in length and are about 2 kilometres wide at its narrowest point. On each side of the passage rise a series of sharp hills and behind them brood snow-capped mountains. The scenery reminded Huck B and I so much of the Scottish Highlands that I was directed to choose bagpipe music from the selection of CDs saved on my laptop. We marvelled at the majestic scene as doublings and grace-notes resonated around our stateroom.

The highlight of Christmas Day, however, was the Amalia Glacier. Veendam drew adjacent to the Glacier at around 9am; a thoughtful Christmas present from the Captain to those onboard his vessel.

The Amalia Glacier commences on a mountain top, snakes either side of an impressive peak and flows gracefully to the sea. At the bottom, dozens and dozens of fingers dip into the water, as if to test the temperature. Whilst brilliant white at the summit, the glacier is tinged with blue in the plump expanse of its belly.

I suspect that the Amalia Glacier is but an entrée for the icebound feast that awaits us in Antarctica. However, it certainly did whet our appetite for the wonders we hope to see over the following days.


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