Zaandam cruise of South America

By Rosemary Stafford
This item appears on page 28 of the October 2018 issue.

Sailing along the Aysén Region of southern Chile. Photo by cruise passenger Forrest Smith
It was the morning of March 30, 2017, and our captain, referring to the cruise season, said, "This is our last cruise. Let's go all the way around."

Our ship proceeded to sail from the Atlantic Ocean along the north side of Hornos Island and then to the south, with the view of Cape Horn through the ship's port windows (and on my cabin's monitor). Then it made a U-turn and sailed back past the Horn again, with the view from my cabin's starboard windows, and on into the Pacific.

The "view" was of a dark-gray island appearing to be one big rock. Not too exciting. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have experienced the unexpected view of the "back of the Horn."

I was surprised to learn that Cape Horn is a headland on an island rather than the tip of the mainland. It's part of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago forming the southern tip of South America.

"Rounding" the Horn is notorious for bad weather, and many ships foundered there before the Panama Canal was opened. The evening before our arrival, the captain suggested everyone stay in their cabins during the rough passage along Cape Horn, as the ship would be bucking and bouncing most of the day. We also were told not to go on deck and that we could order meals from room service.

We had very good weather for our passage, relatively speaking. The southwest winds were only about 40 mph, with gusts up to 65. The clouds scudded along rapidly. The waves were probably around 15 to 20 feet high, and it was not raining.

I had refused to sail around the Cape in the past because of its reputation for bad weather and my mobility problem. I finally decided to do it for this cruise and just stay in my cabin if the ship's bouncing was too strong.

Magellanic penguins — Falkland Islands. Photo by cruise passenger Forrest Smith

The weather during our passage around the Cape was so good that I had no problem moving around my cabin during the morning. I was even able to go to the dining room for lunch, using my walker. By then, we were far enough north of the Cape that the ship's bouncing had almost smoothed out. The ship had also extended its stabilizers.

That was one of the few days we saw whitecaps. Most days were unexpectedly warm, with light winds and often with sunshine.

Rounding the Horn turned out to be interesting, and I'm glad I took the cruise.

I was on the ms Zaandam of Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 877/724-5425, www.hollandamerica.com), on its "South America & Inca Discovery" sailing, a repositioning cruise, as the ship was heading north to Alaska for the summer. I boarded at Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 21, 2017, and disembarked at San Diego, California, on April 22.

When I saw this itinerary, I knew immediately that I wanted to sign up. It held so many attractions for me: stops at two places I had never visited before, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas); a call at Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world; a visit to Machu Picchu, Peru, and the rounding of Cape Horn.

I came away with many highlight memories.

On Islas Malvinas there was an active mine field where birds nested, being too light to set off the mines.

We spotted a whale in Glacier Alley (Cockburn Channel), where they seldom swim.

A tour bus took us from Ushuaia to the southern end of the Pan-American Highway. (In past years, I've ridden along the northern end of the highway, in Alaska.)

Sailing up a Chilean fjord toward a glacier, for miles we passed icebergs as they became larger, with more and more fantastic superstructures, until they covered most of the water's surface.

The <i>Zaandam</i> as seen from Whalebone Cove, Stanley Harbour, Falkland Islands. Photo by cruise passenger Forrest Smith

Then there was Machu Picchu, a mountaintop with a whole city of deserted Incan ruins cascading down it. I had been told there was a spot from which I could see the ruins even with a walker. There was, with a bench under a roof!

My guide, Victor, persuaded me to go farther, to a flat grassy area. With his assistance up and down uneven steps, I reached it. I was glad I did, as a friend and I were able to admire even more of the impressive ruined city.

I was in the Gold group on this excursion. We went ashore at the Pisco grape region of Peru and, in addition to traveling by bus and van, were flown from Lima to Cuzco, where we stayed two nights in the Palacio del Inka Hotel (Plazoleta Santo Domingo 259, Cusco; www.palaciodelinkahotel.com).

I was the only single on this shore tour. I believe that's why I was allowed an upgrade to a suite at the hotel and had a private guide at the ruins.

The first evening, we attended a dinner with a folkloric show performed by dancers and musicians. One woman played two wooden pipes at the same time, one in each corner of her mouth.

The whole second day was spent traveling to and visiting the ruins at Machu Picchu.

Climbing up the mountain through the souvenir shops to our van, I told the young local guide I wanted to buy some postcards. He didn't know what postcards were. We had to ask at three shops before finding a few postcards of the ruins.

It was a long day, including a train ride, with an arrival back at the hotel at 10 p.m. Dinner was served after our return, but I was so tired I ate only a small amount and headed for bed.

The assistant local guide kept an eye on me, a senior citizen (87 at that time) with a mobility problem, so he could help me up and down stairs and to select food in the buffet lines. Other tour members lent me a hand whenever needed. Thanks to all the help, I was able to do this whole shore tour safely.

On the third day we flew back to Lima, where we had a tour before reboarding the ship.

The ship made other port calls in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico. I stayed on board for most of these, as I had been to them before, some several times.

As a single, I paid a cruise fare of $4,018, airfare was $613 (San Francisco-Buenos Aires on Delta, purchased through the cruise line), government taxes added $910, and package fees for a one-night hotel at Buenos Aires plus transfers cost $227.

Sailing along the Aysén Region of southern Chile.  Photo by cruise passenger Forrest Smith

Because I am a member of USAA (www.usaa.com) and booked through their in-house travel agency, Explore Cruise & Travel (800/571-4208, explorecruisetravel.com), my cruise fare was discounted about $300 from that quoted by Holland America.

In addition, the 3-day, 2-night "Cuzco & Machu Picchu Overland Adventure," which I booked on board, cost $4,199 as a Gold single. (A Silver single, with a lower-grade hotel and less fancy meals, would have cost $2,899.)

I didn't buy the cruise line's insurance, as I had an annual travel package with Divers Alert Network (800/446-2671, www.diversalertnetwork.org).

ROSEMARY STAFFORD
Pleasant Hill, CA


Vincent Pérez Rosales National Park near Lake Petrohué, southern Chile. Photo by cruise passenger Forrest Smith

Street in Puerto Montt, southern Chile. Photo by cruise passenger Forrest Smith