We first touched land in northern Chile in the port of Arica which calls itself “the land of the eternal spring”, and for good reason. With its temperate climate and terrific beaches, it was an inviting way to begin our eight days in Chile.
[Arica is a real, working port just south of the border between Peru and Chile. There is no cruise terminal just like everywhere else we traveled along the western coast of South America!]
Leaving the port and driving inland toward the Atacama Desert, we found ourselves in a new world. On the edge of the desert, 17 kilometers outside Arica, we come upon the Presencias Tutelares sculptures, emerging from the desert landscape.
Funded by the state arts council, the behemoths are the work of Arica sculptor Juan Diaz Fleming, and evoke a sense of the region’s pre-Columbian civilizations. Then we head inland.
Like a moonscape, the sand stretched out for miles as we made our way into the Codpa Valley. As we drove further inland, cacti began to dot the landscape and deep in valleys we could see small villages clinging to the river. We were making our way toward one of these villages: Codpa where we discovered a tiny, isolated community deep in a valley where time seems to have stood still.
A local shaman introduced us to a local ceremony and we wandered the streets wondering what life must really be like living in such an remote spot.
The local shaman
Patty thumbing out of Codpa
Art thumbing out of Codpa
But our Chilean adventure was just beginning. The next day we visited the Elqui Valley farther south, then it was on to the magnificent, cosmopolitan city of Santiago. But that’s a whole story on its own!
We’re not sure exactly what we expected, but a desert to the ocean’s edge wasn’t it. Peru is a fascinating place…both geographically and culturally. After five days in Peru, we’ve come to appreciate the extent to which a cruise ship is, indeed, a great way to learn about a country new to us.
First, we’ve been taking in every port lecture available. Aboard this little ship, the Silver Muse, we are privileged to have on board a former journalist-turned-cruise-lecturer (who we’ll introduce in more detail when we move past live blogging to story-telling) who has been providing us with the history and culture of each place along the way before we land.
We spent several days touring Incan and pre-Incan ruins, and spent two terrific days in Lima. Our first introduction to this cosmopolitanism city was with a private tour guide we hired rough Tours-by-Locals, a Vancouver-based company we’ve used before. Aaron walked us through his city then took us home where his mother prepared lunch for us. What an incredible privilege to be welcomed with open arms into a Peruvian kitchen. This day was in contrast to our group tour the next day which took us outside the city, introducing us to Peruvian Paso horses.
Yesterday we toured the Tambor Colorado Incan city site which took us from ocean-front desert into the Pisco River valley with lunch at the San Jose hacienda. This is a privately-owned hacienda in the heart of the Peruvian black populace where descendants of the slaves who toiled at the hacienda in years gone by live and work. The music presentation was loud and headache-inducing, but the experience was interesting.
Today we’re at sea cruising to our last Peruvian experience. Tomorrow we head into the Andes to the city of Arequipa which is known as the “white city.” Looking forward to that, 7700 feet above sea level!
As we cruise from Florida toward Chile aboard the beautiful, new Silver Muse, you might well observe that we seem to have gotten ourselves from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific without further detail. Well, we navigated through the Panama Canal. However, that was such a singular experience, that we’ll wait until we get home to tell you a story. That said, we spent the day in Ecuador.
We arrived in Manta, an industrial fishing port on Ecuador’s coast to be greeted by a cadre of modern-looking coaches at the ready to take passengers to various expeditions. We traveled inland and then back along the coast to visit an archaeological site in a place called Aqua Blanca, White Water. A remote commune of pure indigenous people, the village is home to a small dig evidently led by a Canadian archeologist. Sadly, he was nowhere to be found…we would have loved to have had his commentary. But our guide did his best.
We then hiked 3 km through the well-worn, back woods trails of this village stopping (a few too many times it has to be said) to observe this or that bird.
One of the striking things about this part of Ecuador is the changing vistas: one minute you’re driving through a dry forest, then the next the greenery tells you that you’ve arrived in the cloud forest. But the best vistas of all are the long views of endless beaches, most of which have far too dangerous tides and surf to venture into. But the one beach we did visit was clearly one where you could enjoy the water. Well, the fact that we had to sit in the sand to eat our lunch was a story for another day!
Now it’s on to Peru…
Neither of us can remember exactly how many years ago we spent a wonderful two-week holiday touring Costa Rica, but today, courtesy of our cruise ship, we spent the day in the Puerto Limon area on the Caribbean coast.
That original trip saw us spend most of our time on the Pacific coast, central valley including San Jose the capital and the area around the Arenal volcano. The two sides seem very different to us.
We spent this morning on a ship-organized excursion called the “Eco-river cruise.” We took a bus through the truly unprepossessing port town of Limon to a canal/river through a mangrove stand to see if we could spot some flora and fauna. We saw a few birds, the rear end of a sloth and some monkeys high up in the trees, but there were no crocodiles in sight. We saw so many the last time we were here. Evidently they are indeed much more common on the west coast.
Overall, it was a bit dull, but it’s always nice to visit a port. We were struck by the fact that if this experience were to be the only introduction that many of these passengers would get to an otherwise wonderful country, they might pass on the chance to return.
The weather is as usual very hot and humid. According to the report this morning, the humidity currently stands at 97% and we have a feel-like temperature of 38 C. Then it rained.
Our recommendations: fly into San Jose and head directly to the Pacific coast to Manuel Antonio Park. The Costa Rica you’ll find there is the Costa Rica you’ll long to return to! Panama Canal transit tomorrow. Cannot wait! (PS having a lot of trouble uploading photos on the satellite feed…more with stories when we get home!)