Cruising Through the Chilean Fjords
For two weeks in January and February 2009, I went on an Antarctica cruise with my friend Amanda. Since I started blogging (and not very regularly at first) at the end of 2009, I’ve realized I have quite a few trips I haven’t written much about. I have two older posts about Antarctica here and here, but I never wrote about the rest of the cruise. While most Antarctica cruises start from Ushuaia, Argentina, ours started from Valparaiso, Chile, which is west of Santiago. We then spent the next week or so sailing south along the coast admiring the changing landscape.
I’m not actually a big fan of cruises, but it’s almost the only way to get to Antarctica. Luckily they worked in a few stops along the way to break up the long days at sea. Our first stop was in Puerto Montt. To be honest, we didn’t find much to do there, but I did enjoy the view of the mountain.
We also did a little shopping at an outdoor market that mostly sold locally made goods. Each of us purchased a handmade cardigan, which made for a nice addition to our limited wardrobes on the ship.
I’m sure we would have found more in the city if we had more time. But the short stops are one of the reasons I don’t like cruises, not enough time to really see a city.
From tank tops to sweaters
It was summer, so we started out with hot weather in Valparaiso, but logically as we traveled closer and closer to Antarctica, the weather grew colder. Over the next few days after leaving Puerto Montt, we enjoyed as much warmth as possible while watching the coast change from lush green trees to rocky with snow capped mountains and less plant life.
Eventually we were able to see glaciers. I had never seen anything like it. These huge sheets of ice and snow had cut through valleys, dragging bits of earth along with them. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t expect them to be so dirty looking. Regardless, it was still an awesome thing to see.
Our second stop before continuing on to Antarctica was Punta Arenas at the southern tip of Chile. We had the morning free, and with the equivalent of US$16 left in Chilean pesos, our main goal was spending it. Amanda got a haircut for $8, and then we discovered the Hypermercado. It was basically a supermarket, but with the word “hyper” in the name, we had to check it out.
It was a two level store playing the best dance mix of 80s music ever. They would play 30 seconds to a minute of a song that was remixed as if for a club, and then it would switch to the next song. It was peppy and fun, and we spent as much time in there as possible just to listen to the music. In the end, we spent the rest of our money on several packages of cookies and chocolates, a bottle of premixed pisco sour, and a few pairs of underwear for Amanda. All for just $8.
In Punta Arenas we decided to join an excursion to see penguins. We knew we would see more once we arrived in Antarctica, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to see them sooner.
The clouds that gather on the coast made for some really spectacular sunsets. Being a huge fan of sunsets, I tried to be outside often when the sun was going down. These are just a few of my favorites from the Chilean coast.
The end of the world
Finally we reached the bottom end of South America. We were at dinner when they announced that we were approaching Cape Horn, the southernmost point of the continent and the final piece of land before entering the rough waters of the Drake Passage. Amanda and I ran upstairs and out onto the deck to make sure we didn’t miss this moment. We were finally heading straight to Antarctica.
November 29, 2012 @ 9:22 AM
I really loved reading this post as it’s about something cold, Antartica whereas it isn’t even summer here until next week and I have the portable air conditioner plugged into the window and have been running it at full bore since 10am. The weather here was forecast to reach 36 degrees celcius but it peaked at around 34 a couple of hours ago and now that it’s evening, its decided to hover there until the cool change comes sometime overnight.
All that said, I’m really interested in the cruise you did. If I was going to Antarctica and I hadn’t seen much of Chile I would definitely take this cruise and get two continents out of the way in one trip. It would be a really good option for me as the LAN Chile flights from Australia all end at Santiago, I could just either go overland or hop on another flight to Valpraiso and then take the cruise from there.
Another thing I wanted to ask you about is how hard is it to learn Spanish? I’m currently in the process of figuring out what university units I’d like to do in 2013 and I can take Spanish units as electives and still get them credited to my Professional Writing and Publishing Degree that I’m doing through Open Universities Australia. They have two introductory and two intermediate units that they offer and it would take me about two years to get through them as they’re only offered every six months and are 13 weeks in duration. Any advice you could give me here? I would be immensely grateful.
November 29, 2012 @ 4:06 PM
Thanks Matthew, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Though I have to say, I’m a little jealous you have warm weather right now as it’s rather cold here in Germany. They’re predicting snow for tonight or tomorrow!
The cruise was great, and if you ever decide you want to do this, let me know. The company I went with doesn’t do the Antarctica cruises anymore, but there are a bunch of good ones. A lot of things factored into our decision to pick this one, and getting to see more of Chile was a nice bonus. Santiago to Valparaiso is only about an hour or two on a bus, so that part was really simple.
I love Spanish, although I’m starting to forget a lot of it since I’m sitting in a German class 4 hours a day. I think Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn because it has a lot of similarities with English. English has a lot of Latin in it, which is what Spanish evolved from, so the grammar is similar and a decent amount of the words are similar. I wonder if there is a language school (not associated with the University) near you where you could test out a beginner Spanish class for a couple weeks to see how you like it? Have you ever taken a foreign language before?
November 30, 2012 @ 1:18 AM
There isn’t a language school in my small country town of Morwell of about 10,000 people but in Melbourne which is a two hour train ride away where I go to for medical appointments regularly, the Council of Adult Education right in the CBD do classes in tonnes of languages including Spanish from introductory right through to advanced level. Originally I wanted to do Spanish through them but if I go through the university system I don’t have to pay upfront and the repayments would come later if I earned more than close to $50,000 a year which won’t happen for a long time if at all due to my health which has prevented me from working since 2008. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve studied a foreign language. I studied both German and Japanese in high school but I barely remember any of both. I think learning Spanish is going to be a lot easier for me as my doctor and therapist both speak Spanish alongside English and are native speakers as they come from Chile and Uruguay respectively. They both service the Spanish speaking community of Melbourne and in both cases I am one of their few Australian English-speaking-native clients. So it means I can practice my Spanish while I’m there and learn a lot quicker than would be the case.
Weather wise, don’t be jealous. It is 11 am in the morning as I write this reply to you and it’s a really muggy 30 degrees already with the forecast of thunderstorms being a risk in the afternoon. We were supposed to get a cool change during the night but it looks like it simply didn’t come through. I’m happy to trade you your snow for my heat if you like though! 🙂
As for the cruise. Knowing now that Valpraiso is only an hour or two by bus makes the cruise really really tempting. When the time comes to do the planning for my trip to South America, I’m definitely going look into the Antarctic cruise alongside a stopover in Chile. It would be a good break from the southern hemisphere summer.
November 30, 2012 @ 5:03 PM
I think if you took Japanese and German, you can handle Spanish. It’s definitely an easier language to learn than either of those. And if you have people you can practice your Spanish with, even better. And you probably won’t be going at a lightening fast pace like I am with German, so you’ll have a little more time to really absorb what you’re learning.
The Antarctica cruise wasn’t cheap, but it was well worth it. Just make sure you get on one where you actually get off the ship and onto land in Antarctica. Some of the bigger ships just sail by so you get to see it but you don’t get off the ship. It’s not the same experience at all.
November 29, 2012 @ 4:15 PM
Love the penguins! What a gorgeous cruise to go on!!!
November 29, 2012 @ 7:21 PM
Thanks Andi! It was a really great trip!
Emily in Chile
November 29, 2012 @ 4:36 PM
We do get some amazing sunsets!
November 29, 2012 @ 7:22 PM
Definitely! I’d love to come back and spend more time in Chile, if only for those sunsets!
November 30, 2012 @ 9:13 AM
Reading a post about going to Antarctica while being cold just isn’t a good idea. I’ll read it again later 😀
November 30, 2012 @ 5:04 PM
HA! I know what you mean!
December 1, 2012 @ 3:47 AM
I felt a chill reading about Antartica! Dont think I can ever make it there!
December 2, 2012 @ 10:27 PM
I can understand that, Arti! It’s actually not as cold as you’d think since you can only take one of those cruises when it’s summer down there. It was right around 32F/0C when I was there, so cold, but not torturous.
December 2, 2012 @ 3:43 PM
Love the photos of the penguins! I am just dying to see them in the wild and hoping Antarctica is in my future sooner rather than later.
December 2, 2012 @ 10:35 PM
Thanks Jennifer! Antarctica really was an amazing trip. I’m sure you’ll make it there!
December 4, 2012 @ 4:46 AM
Hi Ali, I also could not get over how dirty glaciers are! Your shots capture the trip well.
December 4, 2012 @ 4:00 PM
Thanks Jan! It makes sense for them to be dirty, but for some reason you just don’t expect it.