Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cruising the Chilean Coast

Cruising along the Pacific coast of South America is a very different experience than cruising through the Caribbean. Most ports get only fifteen to twenty ships per year, so they have not developed the support structures that Caribbean ports have. They also have not developed the ubiquitous cookie-cutter shopping areas near the more heavily trafficked ports.

One aspect of many of the stops in South America is that our ship docked in several commercial ports, that is, ports usually servicing commercial ships. This was true when we boarded the Norwegian Sun in Valparaíso, Chile. Valparaíso is the second busiest port in Chile, and the active waterfront stretches for over mile. The passenger terminal is at the north end, and after checking in we had to take a bus through the containers and cranes to the southern end where our ship awaited us. This gave us an up close look at the workings of the port.

Buses approaching the Sun at Valparaíso

Our docking neighbor

Dock worker taking a photo of our cruise ship

Coquimbo Chile

Tribute to Neruda and Mistral
Our first stop was in Coquimbo, Chile. Coquimbo is a city of about 165,000 residents, although you would never have known this on the Sunday morning we were there. The streets in the downtown area were mostly deserted. One reason was that the town is still recovering from being hit by a 15 foot tsunami on Sept. 16, 2015. The fifteen foot wave had a devastating effect on the downtown and waterfront area, as you can see from these photos:

By Sfs90 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sfs90 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Because of the damage to the port we had to take a tender into the port instead of docking, something I try to avoid. I hate waiting on line for the tender, and I the boat ride is usually really bumpy. When I got to shore the effects from the tidal wave was still obvious. The area around the dock was still torn up. As I was taking pictures a couple approached me and asked where I was from. After introductions Pedro Asnudillo and Susana Galleguillos gave me a brief description of the damage caused by the tidal wave. They also expressed how happy they were that tourists were returning to Coquimbo.

The tender is a small boat from our balcony

Inside the tender

This statue contains a children's slide

Pedro and Susana
Downtown Coquimbo was pretty empty. There is a nice little plaza with a stage and a tribute to Chile’s two Nobel Laureates – Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. There is also a quaint church just off of the plaza. I walked around the empty Barrio Ingles. This neighborhood is filled with buildings dating back to the 1870’s when a significant population of British immigrants came to support the mining, banking and shipping industries. Unfortunately, the museums that were listed on the tourist map were not open. I gathered that they had not yet recovered from the tsunami. One thing that I really like were the stairways that led from the center of town to the residential areas. They have been given painted themes such as landscapes or funny scenes.

Plaza Mayor

Parroquia San Pedro de Coquimbo

Casa Bauza built in 1889

Casa Vicens,  built in 1846

Casa Chesney-Cosgrove, replica of the original house


El Morro de Arica

After a day at sea we next docked at the town of Arica, near the Peruvian border. My first observation, before we even got off of the boat, was that the climate at Arica is very arid. The town is dominated by large hill called El Morro De Arica. The hill is barren and topped with the largest Chilean flag I saw during the entire trip.

Arica played an important role in Chile’s history. Prior to 1879, the area around Arica was part of Peru and Bolivia, but was a major port for shipping out ore from Chilean mines. When Bolivia tried to increase the export taxes on the Chilean copper, silver and gold ore, contrary to a treaty, Chile went to war with Bolivia and Peru. The War of the Pacific lasted four years, but was effectively over when Chile captured Arica in 1880, cutting Bolivia off from the Pacific Ocean and forcing it out of the war. The final borders were not set until 1924, and to this day Bolivia is land locked, and uses the port of Arica to ship its goods, with a Chilean guarantee of free transit.

File:Map of the War of the Pacific.en2.svg
By Keysanger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Today the city of Arica is home to almost 200,000 people. It has several industries, including the processing of fish meal, transportation of goods and the port to support it. Leaving the port area we first entered Plaza Colón. This airy, large plaza hosts a small artisan’s marketplace and is adjacent to the main shopping area of the city. From the plaza it is an easy walk to most of the city’s main tourist attractions. There is a tourist information office just off the plaza and they have a very nice walking tour available in several languages. You might want to take a taxi up to the top of Morro de Arica as it is a climb of 139 meters. This fort was at the center of 1880’s battle.

Plaza Vicuña McKenna

The Amazing Ms D. being interviewed by local tv

These cousins make and sell beautiful beaded jewelry under the name Nómade

Another interesting site is the Museo de Sitio Colón 10. This museum sits over the burial site of the Chinchorro people dating back 10,000 years. The site was discovered while renovations were being carried out on a house at this address, and after it was determined that the site was not stable, they built the museum around it. An interesting, if not eerie feature is that the Chinchorro mummies have been left in situ with a clear Plexiglas floor protecting the remains. Visitors are encouraged to walk over the bodies and examine their burial up close. 

Diagram of the Chinchorro burial site

View of the city of Arica

Two other interesting sites to me are the San Marcos Cathedral and the Aduana (customs) building. These buildings are particularly interesting because they were designed by Gustav Eiffel of the French tower fame. He had developed a business of designing prefabricated buildings, creating the pieces in France and then shipping them to other places where they were assembled. Unfortunately the San Marcos Cathedral was undergoing major renovations when we visited.

The Train Station

Old Aduana designed by Eiffel

Cathedral San Marcos By Heretiq (Self-published work by Heretiq) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The neighborhood just north of the plaza is a very active shopping area. This is the center of commercial life for Aricaños. Calle 21 de Mayo has been turned in to a pedestrian mall and it was alive with people out shopping and eating. There are many good restaurants along this stretch. One place I went to was a store that sold school and office supplies to replenish a few things for keeping our journals, so in I went. Shopping there involved a different process than I was used to. I entered the store and everything was either on shelves of under a glass counter. Taking a number, I waited my turn. Meanwhile I looked around the store to figure out what I wanted. When it was my turn a very nice young lady helped me with my order, and then gave my total to a gentleman behind the counter. He rang up my bill and took my money. I then gave my receipt to the person who helped me and she gave me my supplies.

Visiting Arica gives you a feel for life in Chile. They have been able to build up a tourist industry without losing their identity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cruising the Norwegian Sun

The Norwegian Sun Docked in Trujillo ,Peru

Last month The Amazing Ms D. and I took a three week cruise on the Norwegian Sun from Valparaíso Chile to San Francisco. While we have taken several cruises but this was by far the longest cruise we have ever taken. There were many good points to this cruise and several issues that took away from our enjoyment. I will be blogging about the places we visited, but here are my thoughts on the cruise itself.

The Norwegian Sun

Rating  ⬧⬧⬧♢♢

The Norwegian Sun is one of the smaller boats in the Norwegian fleet. Built in 2001, it holds about 2000 passengers. Along with the Norwegian Star it was Norwegian’s first “Freestyle Cruising” ship. While it is still a big ship, everything was much more convenient than on some of the larger boats. The staff on the Sun was excellent. Friendly and helpful, they worked hard to meet our needs, even giving me scores on European soccer matches that were not covered on their tv channels.


This was a special trip for us and when we booked it we decided to upgrade to a mini-suite, a choice that really made our time on board special. Our room was on Deck 11, which put us on the same deck as the spa, gym, pools and Garden Café – the buffet. This made our life very easy in the morning, since the Garden Café was the only place to get breakfast. Out room was a little over 300 square feet, and had separate sitting area that could curtained off so I could watch TV without bothering The Amazing Ms D. if she was asleep. It also came with a full bathroom and changing area. All of this space meant that when we wanted someplace quiet, which can be hard to find on board any cruise ship, we had a spacious and comfortable place to go.

The Amazing Ms D. enjoying our sitting area

Your author


Let’s start with the best – dinner. Norwegian Cruises operate under the title of “freestyle dining.” That means that there are no fixed seating times for dinner. There are 2 main dining rooms open for dinner and you just show up when you are ready to eat. You also have the choice of whether or not to eat with other guests. The food in the dining room was very good. There were two sections of the menu.  One was a set menu that did not change from day to day. The other was a changing selection of appetizers and 5-6 main courses. Over the course of three weeks the menus did repeat, but not so that we got tired of them. The portions were reasonable, and this being a cruise, you could always order a second choice if you were really hungry. Dinner service was excellent, with several wait-staff taking care of each table.

Breakfast was only available in the Garden Café Buffet. It was plentiful with an omelet station, a waffle station and lots of good baked goods, breakfast meat and fresh fruit. Unfortunately with 1500 guests, the Café filled up quickly, especially on the at port days. My biggest complaint about breakfast was that the coffee was awful.

Now for lunch. Most people ate lunch in the Garden Café. We did not. The food there was not very good, and the lunch choices were very limited. The food was not seasoned well, if at all. Lunch was also served in of the restaurants. This was a much better choice. Even though the lunch menu did not change during the three weeks, the choices were much better. The only thing was that the lunch crew did not deal very well with special orders, like changing the veggies on a particular dish. Out best lunches were on the days we docked, because the food we got on shore was much better than the lunches that were on board the ship.

Specialty Dining – The Sun also has six or seven “specialty dining” restaurants. For $20/person or more, you could eat dinner in a restaurant that offered a premium choice that was not available in the main dining room. We did not indulge, as we felt that for what we were paying for our suite, we did not want to pay extra for food.

Amenities and Entertainment

The ship was very comfortable with a lot to do. This was the first cruise I’ve been on where there were actually enough deck chairs in the sun so that people did not fight over them, although things did get crowded on the shady side. There were 2 decent sized pools and 4 hot tubs. There were a few places that we were comfortable just sitting and talking with people, especially in the outdoor area at the aft section of the ship and in the Atrium on deck 5, which was also where the coffee bar was. The library was well stocked and quiet, although most of its chairs were taken to be used by a large group of bridge players on board. There was an excellent string trio- Amber Strings – that performed most evenings in the Atrium before and after dinner. And the Sun Show Band had great jazz chops. The stage performances were hard to watch for someone who frequents Broadway, the efforts were earnest and heartfelt.

Looking down to the Atrium

The Pool Deck

Eating poolside
Looking across the Atrium

One note – We found how important it is to have travel insurance. Two trips to the ships doctor cost us $1600. Most of this will hopefully be covered by the travel insurance, but it will not be covered by Medicare.

Issues – Not all was great

As I said, the food in the Garden Café was not very good. There was also a feeling of being nickeled and dimed. Everything had an extra charge. We have already come to expect the charge for soda, the upselling at every spa visit and the specialty restaurants, but the only decent coffee was at the Coffee Bar - $2.95 for espresso/cappuccino. Also the alcoholic drinks were expensive.

One of the more annoying things that happened was that when not enough (read no) people were attending the “health seminar” in the spa, they moved them to the Atrium, where everyone there had to hear them whether they want to or not.

Finally, and most importantly, there was a major problem with the ventilation system in the rear of the boat. There was an odor of sewage that permeated that part of the boat for the last half of the trip. It was so bad that that crew finally turned off the air conditioning as the only way to control it.

Overall, we enjoyed our time on the Norwegian Sun, but that was due as much to our choice of room before we boarded, it gave us a place to be that was ours and comfortable. If we had been in a smaller, interior room, which would have necessitated us using more of the ship, it would probably not have been as good a trip, and my rating would definitely have been lower.