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South America Cruise on the Silver Whisper

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Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas, Chile

Groups of tourists armed with cell phones or e-tablets could be seen loitering outside the gates of the City Hall or sitting across the street in the plaza. These tourists were not fascinated with the local government; they were using the free WiFi!

Punta Arenas (c) Linda Garrison
The Falklands were supposed to be our next port of call, but we missed them due to high winds. And, we were so close! However, the Captain did not want to risk injuries to any of the passengers or damage to the ship in the windy weather. So, the Silver Whisper continued onto Punta Arenas, Chile, sailing 1182 nautical miles from Puerto Madryn after taking the long scenic route past the Falklands.

The Silver Whisper reached the Strait of Magellan a little before noon, and we spent the rest of the day sailing through it, arriving in Punta Arenas, Chile, about 9 pm. The entire Strait is about 350 miles long, and it took Magellan's expedition about three weeks to navigate the narrow channel the first time. We would do it in less than a day. I loved the long December days in the southern hemisphere. It is daylight about 4 am, and the sun doesn't set until about 9:30 or so. Of course, it was cool, with temperatures usually in the 50's and very windy.

The land along the Strait was very desolate, with high sandy bluffs and many twists and turns. No wonder it took Magellan so long to navigate it the first time! We saw many unmanned gas rigs dotting the channel.

Punta Arenas advertises itself as being at the "end of the world", and I guess it is since it's the southernmost "city" in the world. Ushuaia, Argentina is further south, but is a much smaller "town", so I guess both "settlements" can claim they are at the end of the occupied world (since no one actually resides full-time on Antarctica).

After being on the ship for a week, it was odd to sleep at the dock in Punta Arenas. This busy city of about 100,000 had several freighters at the dock, and mom and I enjoyed watching them load/unload freight. One large ship loaded dozens of huge sacks of wool, which isn't surprising since wool is still the largest money-maker in this part of "the end of the world".

Punta Arenas sits on a hillside that slopes down to the Magellan Strait. Many of the homes and their roofs are brightly colored, probably because it is often dreary. It is very windy here and cool/cold year-round. The temperature got up into the 50's for us, but was windy so we wore our heavy jackets and hats when we walked into town about 10 am the next morning. The walk to the main square was only about 6 blocks, and we passed by several late 19th/early 20th century mini-mansions owned by the sheep barons. One large home is right on the picturesque town square and was built by Sara Braun, the widow of one of the richest men in Patagonia, Jose Nogueira. She imported everything from Europe at great expense. According to our guide, her husband was one of the most hated and most beloved men of the area. He paid for many of the cultural improvements to the town like artwork, the large theater, and a statue of Magellan that graces the town square/park. However, he also paid a bounty for the head of each indigenous tribe member who was killed, which wiped out the last of the local Indians.

Mom and I walked around town and did some shopping at the many craft shops set up in kiosks that looked like gypsy wagons--very cute. Many wool products and those with a penguin theme. We got back to the ship for a late lunch and ate outside by the pool. It was quite comfortable out of the wind. I had my first hamburger in over a week, and mom had a delicious, freshly-baked pizza. After lunch, we napped and read until time for my team trivia game. Many from the ship had flown on a full-day or overnight tour to Torres del Paine National Park, so participation at trivia was down. My team won.

We had dinner with the cruise director, Colin, who is from the UK but who now lives in France. He also had invited two women from my trivia team, one from Australia and the other from England. They are both solo travelers and quite nice. They and Colin have traveled much more than we have, so we loved to hear their stories.

The show was a liar's club with four of the singers as the "liars". Mom and I were on a team with two men from England. We didn't do too well, but it was fun anyway. It was especially nice to see the different offstage personalities of the singers. We were all impressed with how outgoing they were with everyone (and with their terrific singing.)

The Silver Whisper spent the next day and night in Punta Arenas. Two nights docked in a port is very unusual on a cruise (except for places like St. Petersburg, Russia). Anyway, mom and I walked into town after breakfast on Tuesday, doing a little more shopping. Many people had morning tours to see Magellanic penguins, but our penguin experience in Puerto Madryn was so good, we decided to just wander around town.

The Punta Arenas area is home to many penguins, and the Silver Whisper had two local tours to see the penguins. The first tour was a boat ride to Magdalena Island, and the second was a bus ride to Otway Sound. Those who saw the penguins at the Otway Sound Penguin Rookery Reserve were pleasantly surprised by the addition of wooden walkways over the "grassy, uneven ground" listed in the shore excursion brochure. The new trail to see the penguins was also much less than the two miles described in the brochure.

We returned in time for lunch and ate by the pool again. Mom and I split the fresh guacamole/salsa/chips appetizer, and then I tried to be good and ordered a freshly-grilled salmon filet topped with peppers and black olives. But, when the waiter brought my lunch he said, "are you sure you don't want any French fries?" So, of course I said "sure". No will power.

After lunch, I went on an organized hike (good excuse for the French fries) up in the mountains overlooking the city. About 30 of us rode on a bus on a gravel road up to the Club Andino ski resort. The ski season had closed in October, but we were able to use the ski lift to ride up to the top of a mountain. Then, after admiring the views of the city far below us, we trekked down a trail that snaked through forests and along small streams. Very fun, and we walked about 1.5 hours. We also saw some abandoned mine shafts. Sure felt good to get some exercise (even though it was mostly downhill). We also crossed some of the grassy ski runs, and I couldn't help but check both ways before crossing. The afternoon was warm, and I quickly shed my jacket and hiked in my t-shirt/jeans/boots.

Back at the ship by a little before 5 pm, it was time for trivia. How quickly you can develop a routine on a ship! Our small team did "okay", but as usual we lost to the two much larger teams.

Drinks in the bar were followed by our first dinner at La Terrazza, the alternative Italian restaurant (no extra cost). Delicious (as always), and the maitre'd let us add a couple we had drinks with to our reservation. Silversea is an Italian-owned company, and they really know how to do Italian food. I had an antipasti sampler that was delivered in a dish that looked like a tic-tac-toe board, with nine little bites of food. Mom's appetizer was the best--a hot Parmesan cheese flan. The Italian pasta chef makes fresh pasta every morning, and it does taste better than the dried stuff we serve at home. I had a spicy tomato shrimp dish for my pasta course, but mom (who had been having freshly-made to order pasta almost every day for lunch), had the potato and chick pea soup. Mom and I both got the grilled fresh Chilean sea bass for dinner. I ate all of mine and most of mom's, it was so good. Ice cream for dessert (for me). Mom (as usual) had a cappuccino.

The cabaret show was one of the young soprano singers accompanied by Colin the cruise director on the piano. She has a lovely voice, and sang a mixture of songs, many from Broadway/off Broadway musicals unfamiliar to me. Still a nice show.

The Silver Whisper had sailed from Punta Arenas about 6 pm, heading on through the Strait of Magellan into the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, we were more comfortable than Magellan's sailors were! The next three days we would be at sea on the ship and glacier-watching in the Laguna San Rafael.

South America Ports of Call on the Silver Whisper

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