Sailing around South America

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We took a 55-day voyage around South America, February-April ’03. We’d taken a similar trip 10 years before on an old, slow, former Matson ship, but we were ready to do it again.

This voyage was on the Olympia Explorer of Royal Olympia (New York, NY; phone 800/872-6400 or visit www.royalolympiacruises.com). We left Los Angeles Feb. 7 and arrived at Fort Lauderdale 55 days later, on April 3, after a counterclockwise circuit of South America. Twenty-two ports were on the schedule, many for two or more days and each with several optional shore trips.

Looking down into the tomb of the Lord of Sipan (pre-Inca). These are reproductions; the real artifacts are in a nearby museum. Photos: Nelson

We paid $21,695 total for the cruise, including a one-way flight back to Los Angeles and all the shore excursions we took. The cruise alone cost $14,469.

The Explorer is a fast ship; she cruises at 27 knots with a fine rooster tail, but she can do 32! She’s 590 feet in length and on our voyage had about 650 passengers. She looked very small when docked near those 2,000- to 3,000-passenger behemoths.

The ship became our home. She was beautifully decorated in a subtle manner, not over-the-top. There was an extensive “enrichment program” of lectures, music, stargazing, etc. On days at sea there often were three lectures a day. The presenters included university professors of various disciplines as well as a State Department ambassador to countries in the Arab world; his talks were excellent and timely. Former astronaut Scott Carpenter was also aboard for the last segment of the cruise and his presentations were fascinating.

There were TVs in our cabins with CNN, movies and videos on countries we were to visit. We even enjoyed the 4-page newspapers printed daily.

We enjoyed our days at sea, with time for the gym and a variety of other activities, including getting to know new friends. On one of these days we visited the bridge, where we were lucky to spot a big pod of dolphins traveling very fast toward us. It split in two as it encountered our bow and was gone in seconds.

Our first ports were Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco, Mexico. In Guatemala, the ship docked at Puerto Quetzal, where we spent a day at Lake Atitlan — big and beautiful with volcanoes all around.

On Valentine’s Day we were in Balboa, Panama. We went to the center of the isthmus for a ride on a jungle tram through the lush canopy and up a hill to a tower. From there we could see the entire length of the Chilbre Cut with a couple of big freighters coming through.

Next was Manta, Ecuador, where we flew to Quito at about 9,000 feet in the Andes. We had an overnight at a Hilton and a tour of this huge city of two million spread out over deep valleys and high peaks.

In Peru we took a long bus trip to the recently discovered tomb of the Lord of Sipan. This Moche civilization was pre-Inca, and the site yielded an unbelievable array of gorgeous work in gold, copper, silver, tin and turquoise, now housed in a lovely museum. If you’re ever near, don’t miss it.

Our next port call was Lima for four days, from where we flew up to Cuzco at 12,000 feet for a 2-night stay. We took a 3-hour train trip through spectacular scenery to the base of Machu Picchu on the Urubamba River. A bus took us up a snake-like mud road to the amazing ruins on top. It’s hard to comprehend how this city was built and also how it was not discovered and sacked by the Spaniards, as were so many Incan sites. We’ve all seen pictures of it, but actually being there was a highlight of our trip.

Antofagasta and Coquimbo, Chile, were the next ports south, then Valparaiso, the port serving Chile’s capital of Santiago, which lies about 60 miles inland. We toured the city and visited several large wineries in the countryside.

On March 2 we docked at Puerto Montt, one of our favorite places. Osorno is a perfect volcano, snowcapped, and the rivers and lakes in this area are so pristine that driving through the countryside is a delight.

Indian girls selling beautiful scarves near our bus in Quito, Ecuador.

Farther south, the ship entered the Patagonian Channel, sailing among many islands and up fiords to the faces of glaciers. Then we went through the fabled Straits of Magellan and on to Punta Arenas, where we hired a taxi for a tour on our own.

At Ushuaia, Argentina, a very strong wind made docking difficult, but soon we were ashore and off on a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park. The next day began with a beautiful sunrise, a calm sea and Cape Horn in the distance. We couldn’t have had a better day to ’round the Horn, given its reputation. Almost everyone was on deck with a camera.

Heading farther into the Atlantic to Stanley in the Falkland Islands, we were accompanied by many albatrosses and petrels, which kept up with us by riding air currents, almost never flapping their wings.

On our way back to the coast of Argentina for Puerto Madryn, we had our first bit of rain. This didn’t interfere with our seeing the Punta Tombo penguin colony in their thousands as well as guanacos, sea lions and rheas along the coast.

On March 13 we entered the Río de la Plata estuary and sailed up the long, dredged channel to Montevideo. Buenos Aires is farther up this same estuary. From here we flew to Iguassu Falls and spent two nights at a Sheraton overlooking part of the falls. And falls it is — plural! We walked a mile on a catwalk to a most spectacular spot. Here, multiple falls roared, there were lots of rainbows and we got really wet. Then we jet-boated upriver to the face of some of the falls where we got drenched again. Views from the park roads were especially lovely.

When we returned to the Atlantic, we sailed on to Punta del Este, Uruguay. This resort town made us think of both Cancun and Waikiki.

Two days later we cruised past Sugarloaf into the harbor at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This, of course, is one of South America’s jewels and we knew it from previous visits, but the great contrasts still stun: awful slums near gorgeous mansions; dense buildings and houses right up to the edges of the largest jungle park within a city’s limits anywhere, and beaches strung like jewels with steep peaks looming nearby (especially Sugarloaf and Corcovado with its statue of Christ the Redeemer).

Farther up the Brazilian coast we had a day each at Salvador de Bahia and Fortaleza, then entered the Amazon and went upriver a hundred miles to Belém. We were astounded to learn Belém is a city of a million! There are many lovely buildings in the city center, including the old opera house built by rubber barons. While waiting for the tender back to the ship, we were suddenly pelted with huge raindrops — no time to don ponchos.

The last segment of the cruise was island hopping. We’d been to most of these islands before but enjoyed this slower pace. The ship dropped anchor off Devil’s Island and we watched monkeys in the trees. In Barbados we stayed in port to explore again its many shops and bars. On Martinique we learned about the eruption of Pelée in 1902 which killed everyone on the island except a prisoner in a dungeon.

We sailed and snorkeled off Antigua, then in Charlotte Amalie we went through Customs before going to Megan’s Bay for a final swim in saltwater. (The ship’s pool was salt, of course, but only useable the first and fourth quarters of the cruise when the ocean was warm enough.)

During our days afloat, we joined other passengers for two-for-one drinks in a lovely panoramic lounge, for both formal and informal meals and for the many parties, including Greek nights, deck picnics and the captain’s formal cocktail parties. Best of all, we sat alone or with others in deck chairs just looking at the sea.

After our last two days aboard, we docked at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, said good-bye to new friends and disembarked. The midmorning check-in for our flight took two hours, but we made our flight to Los Angeles, picked up our car and, after a night nearby, made tracks for home, looking back on a wonderful trip.

In all, the trip took 65 days. We traveled 15,987 nautical miles aboard ship and took 21 of the 90 tours offered, including three overnight flights inland. Add to that the 2,900 miles we flew across the U.S. and the 1,899 miles we drove to and from L.A. and the total was almost equivalent to going around the world at the equator!

JANET & LARRY NELSON
Ashland, OR

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

We took a 55-day voyage around South America, February-April ’03. We’d taken a similar trip 10 years before on an old, slow, former Matson ship, but we were ready to do it again.

This voyage was on the Olympia Explorer of Royal Olympia (New York, NY; phone 800/872-6400 or visit www.royalolympiacruises.com). We left Los Angeles Feb. 7 and arrived at Fort Lauderdale 55 days later, on April 3, after a counterclockwise circuit of South America. Twenty-two ports were on the schedule, many for two or more days and each with several optional shore trips.

Looking down into the tomb of the Lord of Sipan (pre-Inca). These are reproductions; the real artifacts are in a nearby museum. Photos: Nelson

We paid $21,695 total for the cruise, including a one-way flight back to Los Angeles and all the shore excursions we took. The cruise alone cost $14,469.

The Explorer is a fast ship; she cruises at 27 knots with a fine rooster tail, but she can do 32! She’s 590 feet in length and on our voyage had about 650 passengers. She looked very small when docked near those 2,000- to 3,000-passenger behemoths.

The ship became our home. She was beautifully decorated in a subtle manner, not over-the-top. There was an extensive “enrichment program” of lectures, music, stargazing, etc. On days at sea there often were three lectures a day. The presenters included university professors of various disciplines as well as a State Department ambassador to countries in the Arab world; his talks were excellent and timely. Former astronaut Scott Carpenter was also aboard for the last segment of the cruise and his presentations were fascinating.

There were TVs in our cabins with CNN, movies and videos on countries we were to visit. We even enjoyed the 4-page newspapers printed daily.

We enjoyed our days at sea, with time for the gym and a variety of other activities, including getting to know new friends. On one of these days we visited the bridge, where we were lucky to spot a big pod of dolphins traveling very fast toward us. It split in two as it encountered our bow and was gone in seconds.

Our first ports were Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco, Mexico. In Guatemala, the ship docked at Puerto Quetzal, where we spent a day at Lake Atitlan — big and beautiful with volcanoes all around.

On Valentine’s Day we were in Balboa, Panama. We went to the center of the isthmus for a ride on a jungle tram through the lush canopy and up a hill to a tower. From there we could see the entire length of the Chilbre Cut with a couple of big freighters coming through.

Next was Manta, Ecuador, where we flew to Quito at about 9,000 feet in the Andes. We had an overnight at a Hilton and a tour of this huge city of two million spread out over deep valleys and high peaks.

In Peru we took a long bus trip to the recently discovered tomb of the Lord of Sipan. This Moche civilization was pre-Inca, and the site yielded an unbelievable array of gorgeous work in gold, copper, silver, tin and turquoise, now housed in a lovely museum. If you’re ever near, don’t miss it.

Our next port call was Lima for four days, from where we flew up to Cuzco at 12,000 feet for a 2-night stay. We took a 3-hour train trip through spectacular scenery to the base of Machu Picchu on the Urubamba River. A bus took us up a snake-like mud road to the amazing ruins on top. It’s hard to comprehend how this city was built and also how it was not discovered and sacked by the Spaniards, as were so many Incan sites. We’ve all seen pictures of it, but actually being there was a highlight of our trip.

Antofagasta and Coquimbo, Chile, were the next ports south, then Valparaiso, the port serving Chile’s capital of Santiago, which lies about 60 miles inland. We toured the city and visited several large wineries in the countryside.

On March 2 we docked at Puerto Montt, one of our favorite places. Osorno is a perfect volcano, snowcapped, and the rivers and lakes in this area are so pristine that driving through the countryside is a delight.

Indian girls selling beautiful scarves near our bus in Quito, Ecuador.

Farther south, the ship entered the Patagonian Channel, sailing among many islands and up fiords to the faces of glaciers. Then we went through the fabled Straits of Magellan and on to Punta Arenas, where we hired a taxi for a tour on our own.

At Ushuaia, Argentina, a very strong wind made docking difficult, but soon we were ashore and off on a tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park. The next day began with a beautiful sunrise, a calm sea and Cape Horn in the distance. We couldn’t have had a better day to ’round the Horn, given its reputation. Almost everyone was on deck with a camera.

Heading farther into the Atlantic to Stanley in the Falkland Islands, we were accompanied by many albatrosses and petrels, which kept up with us by riding air currents, almost never flapping their wings.

On our way back to the coast of Argentina for Puerto Madryn, we had our first bit of rain. This didn’t interfere with our seeing the Punta Tombo penguin colony in their thousands as well as guanacos, sea lions and rheas along the coast.

On March 13 we entered the Río de la Plata estuary and sailed up the long, dredged channel to Montevideo. Buenos Aires is farther up this same estuary. From here we flew to Iguassu Falls and spent two nights at a Sheraton overlooking part of the falls. And falls it is — plural! We walked a mile on a catwalk to a most spectacular spot. Here, multiple falls roared, there were lots of rainbows and we got really wet. Then we jet-boated upriver to the face of some of the falls where we got drenched again. Views from the park roads were especially lovely.

When we returned to the Atlantic, we sailed on to Punta del Este, Uruguay. This resort town made us think of both Cancun and Waikiki.

Two days later we cruised past Sugarloaf into the harbor at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This, of course, is one of South America’s jewels and we knew it from previous visits, but the great contrasts still stun: awful slums near gorgeous mansions; dense buildings and houses right up to the edges of the largest jungle park within a city’s limits anywhere, and beaches strung like jewels with steep peaks looming nearby (especially Sugarloaf and Corcovado with its statue of Christ the Redeemer).

Farther up the Brazilian coast we had a day each at Salvador de Bahia and Fortaleza, then entered the Amazon and went upriver a hundred miles to Belém. We were astounded to learn Belém is a city of a million! There are many lovely buildings in the city center, including the old opera house built by rubber barons. While waiting for the tender back to the ship, we were suddenly pelted with huge raindrops — no time to don ponchos.

The last segment of the cruise was island hopping. We’d been to most of these islands before but enjoyed this slower pace. The ship dropped anchor off Devil’s Island and we watched monkeys in the trees. In Barbados we stayed in port to explore again its many shops and bars. On Martinique we learned about the eruption of Pelée in 1902 which killed everyone on the island except a prisoner in a dungeon.

We sailed and snorkeled off Antigua, then in Charlotte Amalie we went through Customs before going to Megan’s Bay for a final swim in saltwater. (The ship’s pool was salt, of course, but only useable the first and fourth quarters of the cruise when the ocean was warm enough.)

During our days afloat, we joined other passengers for two-for-one drinks in a lovely panoramic lounge, for both formal and informal meals and for the many parties, including Greek nights, deck picnics and the captain’s formal cocktail parties. Best of all, we sat alone or with others in deck chairs just looking at the sea.

After our last two days aboard, we docked at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, said good-bye to new friends and disembarked. The midmorning check-in for our flight took two hours, but we made our flight to Los Angeles, picked up our car and, after a night nearby, made tracks for home, looking back on a wonderful trip.

In all, the trip took 65 days. We traveled 15,987 nautical miles aboard ship and took 21 of the 90 tours offered, including three overnight flights inland. Add to that the 2,900 miles we flew across the U.S. and the 1,899 miles we drove to and from L.A. and the total was almost equivalent to going around the world at the equator!

JANET & LARRY NELSON
Ashland, OR