Lima (Callao), Peru

Today, 19 March, we’re spending overnight in Lima because one of the excursions leaving this morning is going to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas, and not returning to the ship until tomorrow morning.  Would be nice to do, but due to the level of activity and issues with the high elevation, we’ve decided that this excursion is not for us.

Yesterday, we got some info about security issues in Lima, with reports of armed robbery and other street crimes against foreign tourists and have been advised to use the shuttle buses rather than local taxis.  Unfortunately, we made a bit of an error and thought that the shuttle bus we took would take us to a market.  Instead we were dropped off at a shopping mall, very similar to what we have at home.  So nothing much to do there.

We were also advised to only visit the popular tourist areas in large groups and to minimize the amount of jewellery worn and that the area next to the pier was not safe.  In view of this, we were quite happy to get back on board.  Not a place we would go out of our way to visit again, so Lima was a bit of a non-event for us and our general impression of the city was gained in our 40-minute bus trip to the mall and back.

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Pisco (San Martin), Peru

We’ve just had two more sea days – which we enjoy so much.  There are a lot of activities going on around the ship and the weather is getting warmer, so many passengers are taking advantage of the sun to swim and lounge around the spas and three swimming pools.

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This morning, Sunday 18 March, we headed off to see some of Peru.  One of the few counties where the desert goes right down to the ocean.  Once again, quite a long coach ride of about 90-minutes each way to reach our destination of Tambo Colorado, to explore one of Peru’s best-preserved examples of Inca coastal architecture, dating back to 1470.  Once home to about 200 special women, who may have been sold or sacrificed, there was much still intact, even down to faded bands of red, still visible on the outer walls.  We walked through several living areas on different levels, bed chambers, bathrooms etc while the guide told us how the Incas came to reign over such a vast empire.  Very interesting history.

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We passed through the town of Pisco, where the very poor live in shanty town, with no electricity or water connected; others in small square houses, flat roofed with unfinished upper floors to avoid paying taxes.  The result is depressing, with lots of rubble on top of the houses.  Some buildings are collapsing and left as is.

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Even though we had driven through sand dunes near the ship, there were green areas further along where farmers have utilized bore water to grow fields of corn, asparagus, cotton and grapes, using centuries-old irrigation techniques.  We also saw nomads with their goat herds who eke out a living by selling goats cheese.

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Something of interest was our guide’s mention of Pisco Sour.  We told him we’d tried it several times already, to which he laughed and said that this drink is really the national drink of Peru, not Chile!  Who knows?  We did pass through the town of Pisco, after all!  It sounds like a bit of rivalry between the two countries about this special brandy.  When we got back to the ship, there was a market set up outside and, on his recommendation, I found someone giving out sample shots and tried it straight, without the lemon – it had quite a kick.

La Serena (Coquimbo), Chile

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Thursday, 15 March:  When I wrote up Santiago yesterday, I thought we were leaving Chile –  but no, here we are in the Coquimbo region, approximately 295 miles north of Santiago.

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With a population of roughly 160,000, La Serena was discovered in 1544 and is located between the Atacama Desert and the country’s fertile central valley, a journey of approximately 30 minutes from the port.

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We were given a few hours to explore the central Plaza de Armas, however that didn’t take very long.  There were the usual buildings, cathedral, library, small museum and some other public buildings surrounding a park.  We managed to find the market but there were few souvenirs and it took us a while to find a small keepsake.

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Back to the park and sat around until the bus arrived to take us back to the port.  Only a few photos as we didn’t find much of interest there.  Not particularly set up for tourists, in our opinion.

Santiago (San Antonio), Chile

Wednesday, 14 March:  Another day at sea yesterday, which was good as we had to be ready to leave at 6.30am this morning for a full day’s excursion to Chile’s capital, Santiago and the seaside villages of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.  It was a busy day on board as well, as today was the end of the cruise for many passengers who were leaving the ship today and for others taking their places for the second leg.

It was a 90-minute trip each way to the 477-year-old city, which sits at the foot of the Andes.  Very interesting, lots of history with modern as well as historic areas, but we have seen lots of trash, especially plastic bags, strewn around the countryside and there’s hardly a building that hasn’t been defaced with ugly graffiti.  Such a shame.

I’ve noticed (with some concern) dogs on the streets, sometimes singly but mostly in pairs.  None of them looked undernourished but our guide explained that people are a bit lax with ownership.  However, they seem to be well fed by shop owners who like to use them as guard dogs.  I was pleased to find out that there is now a new law which says that dogs must have an owner and be micro chipped, so that’s a step in the right direction, although I imagine it will take a while to enforce.

Lunch was salmon once again, although we weren’t complaining as we love it.  It has a lovely flavor, different to what we have in Australia.  I think I’ll be all “salmoned out” though, by the time we get home!  Pisco Sour once again, I’m getting to like that drink a lot.  The restaurant was large and modern, with floor to ceiling windows.  We had a very nice time.

The seaside towns we visited were nice, but nothing much to say about them, just typical holiday spots with beaches, apartments and restaurants, much the same the world over.  We enjoyed the day though, and by the time we got back at 5.30pm feeling very tired, it was time to leave Chile for the last time and head for Peru

Puerto Montt, Chile

Following a day at sea, today, Monday 12 March, we arrived in Puerto Montt and headed to the Lake District to board a catamaran for a leisurely 45-minute cruise to take in the beautiful scenery around Lake Esmeralda. On the way to the lake we couldn’t help but notice the lack of trees.  Sadly, they were chopped down and set on fire by the German immigrants who wanted farmland and so the redwoods have all but disappeared from the area.  They must have been huge trees, as the locals are still digging up the roots and using them for construction.

It was a little rainy at times, but we managed to get some photos along the way of the rolling hills and snow-capped volcanoes.

Next stop was the Petrohue Falls, a popular spot for fishing, kayaking and white-water rafting. Unfortunately, there were many people all crammed in to a small area to take some photos, reached by a narrow, central concrete path.  It felt a bit unsafe as a lot of impatient tourists were taking shortcuts by climbing over rocks on each side.  I was afraid that someone would fall but luckily, we all got out of there without anyone getting hurt.

Next was lunch at a local restaurant.  Local salmon which was delicious followed by kuchen, a German tart with strawberries and the national drink, a pisco sour, not sure about the ingredients except for the special liquor and lemon, but it tasted very good.

Last stop was to Puerto Varas.  Nice little town, very similar to others we had visited but it had one different feature, lots of roses along the pavements.  They were getting a bit past their best but still very pretty.