South American Cruise 2012 Update #6 – The Final Update.

Tuesday, November 6th; Day 20 of 21 of the trip; Day 18 of 18 of the cruise; Coquimbo, Chile.

The ship was scheduled to arrive here around 8:30 but for reasons unknown it really did not get docked until about 9:15 which delayed all the shore excursions. The ships arrival here was a big occasion. Apparently we were the first ship of 19 expected to arrive here in this year’s summer season which is just starting due to the seasons being reversed in the southern hemisphere. There were bands, and speeches, and TV coverage. An additional added feature of this day was that this was the first time the Veendam had been to this port. There is usually a ceremony associated with a ships first visit to a port as well. Apparently when the Veendam repositions back to North America sometime in April 2013 it will be the last ship to visit this port this season as well.

The shore excursion scheduled for this port was called Cerro Tololo Observatory and Elqui Valley. This excursion was scheduled to leave at 9:00 but due to the delay(s) it did not really get started until sometime between 9:30 and 9:45. If this did not cause enough of a problem the P.A. system in the bus (one of two buses) would not work. The guide tried to use a portable one she had but it would not cooperate either. So she ended up standing about half way down the bus, which was only about two thirds full and speaking loudly. Considering the circumstances I think she handled it reasonably well. She was a British woman who was married to a Chilean man and had moved there some time prior. Her English had a British accent instead of a Spanish one like most of the other guides. It did help us to understand her under the rather difficult hearing circumstances.

The main stop here is the Cerro Tololo Observatory. You get the Elqui Valley kind of by default because it is necessary to drive up a good part of the valley to get to the observatory.  The weather when we left the ship was cloudy with temperatures in the mid-teens Celsius and a few speckles of rain. We were told that this would change as the drive progressed. The observatory gets approximately 300 days of cloudless sky a year and we should expect nothing less.

When one departs the ship one drives through Coquimbo which is the port for the larger city of La Serena which has some long history. One has to drive through La Serena to get to the Elqui Valley. Here are a few pictures taken as the excursion departed the ship and headed towards the Elqui Valley.


The ship (far right) and a monument on a hill nearby.

A monument in La Serena.

Some colourful houses we drove by.

Just outside the city.
This picture should probably
have been with the next group.

The Elqui Valley is mainly a wine growing area with a number of vineyards and farms and many little villages. Here are a few pictures as we travelled along the valley. You may note some patterns of various shapes and sharpness in these images. The bus windows were not very clean.

More vineyards and something on fire on the right. There was a fire truck pumping water to that spot farther up the road. Some of the patterns are on the bus window.

More of the fields.

More grape vines.

As we got farther up the valley the terrain changed as did the weather. This is just about the spot where that change in weather mentioned above occurred.

The other side of the dam. The water level was quite low. You can see the clouds on the other side of the mountains.

Quite a different terain now!

The river is still here. It is marked by the green vegetation.

Even though you probably cannot see it in this small picture, the observatory we are going to is on that mountain in the middle of the picture.

Near the mountain end of the valley we turned off the road and headed up the access road to the observatories. There are actually two major observatories located here which are accessed by the same road. One is the Tololo observatory that we were going to visit and the other is called Gemini South which is a duplicate of the Gemini North observatory which is located on Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii that I visited on another Holland America cruise a number of years ago. We stopped at the entrance gate to perform some necessary formalities before being allowed to enter. This took about 10 minutes and then we started up the common access road to the observatories.

It took about 40 minutes driving up this well maintained but still dirt road to get to the Tololo observatory. At one point we passed the spot where the road splits with one side going to Gemini and the other to Tololo. Here are some pictures taken as the bus passed along this road heading for the observatory. You can also see that the weather had improved as predicted from these pictures as well.

The entrance gate to the observatory.

This gives you a bit of an idea of what the terrain is like. One of the observatories is on that mountain in the middle.

More terrain and dirt/marks on the bus window. The dust cloud on the left was created by the bus I was on just having driven on the road you can see there.

A bit of an unusual picture. We are getting closer to the observatory though. I think you can now make it out on the top of the mountain just right of centre.

More of the terrain around the observatories. This huge area is owned by the observatories so they have some control of their “observing environment”.

The road weaving down the valley is the one the bus has driven on so far to get to this point. One of the most expensive things when building an observatory in a remote area like this is creating and maintaining the access, usually by road as in this case, to the mountain tops where the telescopes themselves are located.

We are not far away now!

One of the first views from the top.

There were several times along the way were the bus filled up with dust that was being stirred up as it drove along the road. It gradually dissipated. This occurred several times. We finally arrived at the observatory and here is what we saw….

This is the view looking in the direction we came from (west, I think).
The cloudy area on the horizon just to the right of centre is where La Serena and Coquimbo are located.

After observing the incredible view many of us used the washroom (yes there was one up there) and then were taken to one of the smaller telescopes and given a talk by one of the astronomers that works there about how it works, what it is used for, and a number of other basic astronomy related pieces of information. Most of the people (approximately 50) seemed quite impressed. Here are some pictures taken while we were inside this dome.

The smaller telescope.

The dome shutter was mostly closed when this was taken.

The people from the excursion group lining the railing on the walkway around the base of the dome.

Another shot of the group, the astronomer in the grey jacket with the blue arms on the floor below the telescope and the telescope.

The most complete view of the telescope and the group. The telescope was moved several times and the dome was rotated and the shutters opened and closed various amounts during the demonstration as well.

The mirror is located below the inverted “V” shaped pieces that you can see here. Those are closed to protect the mirror from damage.

These instruments, mounted on the bottom of the telescope are what the astronomers use to view the heavens. Most of what you see here is a spectrograph that is used to measure the colour of light. This is used to determine how far various stars are from the earth.

The mirror on this telescope is around a metre or maybe a metre and a half in size.

After leaving this dome we got to see the view looking in the other direction before visiting the biggest telescope at the site. Here is that view. This is likely looking mostly east. You may also note the cloudless weather that we were virtually guaranteed would be here when we left the ship earlier.

This view shows, if you look very carefully at the mountain in the centre, the other observatory here.

The next stop on the tour was in this dome.

We were then taken into the biggest telescope on the site (the Victor M. Blanco telescope) and shown the control room, and then the large telescope itself. A new extremely high quality camera has just been attached to this telescope and a member of the team that developed it, who was an astronomer from Harvard University, explained how it worked and showed us a test image that they had acquired within the last day or so. This camera will be here for at least five years and it is felt that this will give the telescope a new lease on life.

Here are several pictures taken in the control room.

The group gathered around the astronomer from Harvard, whose head you can just see near the centre of the picture, describing the camera he helped develop.

The image on the upper right monitor here shows the output of the camera. It is in the process of being calibrated before starting to take very wide and high resolution images of the night sky.

This is a combination of two images showing the entire control room area.

After the control room we were taken up to see the telescope itself. It was a 5 story elevator ride above the control room to see this. Here are some pictures of this.

Here is one view of the biggest telescope at this location.

Here is a bigger view of the telescope. This sits five stories above the ground. The large yellow support structure goes all the way down to the bedrock on the mountain so the telescope will be stable, something that is extremely important for getting high quality images.

The viewing area of the telescope. The astronomer, with his back to the camera, is explaining things.

The big camera we were shown in the control room is located somewhere in the black circular section at the top.

The astronomer spoke to us again here explaining things and after all was done we headed back down to the busses. Here are a few additional outside pictures taken while I was at the observatory.

These are the two domes I was in. The left one was first and the large silver one was last.

The two buses that the group used to get to the observatory.

Here the bus is just starting down. I do not know what this group of domes is for (I do not think they were mentioned at all) but they may be solar related.

The split in the road, with the other observatories this road supports, just visible on the mountain to the left.

Needless to say the trip back down the access road took a least as long, if not a bit longer, than the trip up. We then took a short drive away to lunch arriving there around 2:30 pm or thereabouts. The pictures below show were we had lunch.

Vineyards and more vineyards!

And even more vineyards!!!

Lamas I think. They may be alpacas too but I am not sure.

A rather impressive outdoor swimming pool at the place where we ate lunch.

Lunch took at least an hour which means we did not start back to the ship until around 3:45 to 4:00. There was no hope of arriving at the ship by the time it was to sail which was at 5:00. We finally arrived at about 5:30 and were the last bus back. We boarded the ship and within minutes of the last person boarding the gangway was raised and the ship sailed heading south toward the final stop on my portion of this cruise, Valparaiso, Chile with an expected arrival time of 6:00 am tomorrow.

The pier as the ship sailed away.

Coquimbo and La Serena as the ship departed.

After my final dinner in the dining room I spent most of the rest of the evening packing which I had hoped to start last night but did not get too due to the time it took to finish and send Update #5. The bag was placed outside the door of my stateroom around 10:30 pm and had been collected by 11:00.

Wednesday, November 7th; Day 21 of 21 of the trip; Disembarkation from the ship at Valparaiso, Chile and return home.

Today was disembarkation day. This, for me, was scheduled to occur around 8:45 am. Prior to this I had to get up, get dressed, and have breakfast. One part of this process was a bit different than I had done before. This was the first time that I can remember, that I had a flight home that was late in the day. To accommodate this, Holland America had provided several shore excursions to help fill in the time. The one I chose was called Coastal Cities and Chilean Valley Traditions. There were several versions of this each ending in a different place. One went back to the ship for those continuing on the cruise, another one ended at a hotel in Santiago, and the one I was on that ended at the airport. As any people who have cruised before will know the process of disembarkation requires your baggage to be put out in the hall outside you stateroom before 1:00 am this morning.  As you may have noted from yesterday’s description, this did happen. This luggage will not be seen again until when I arrive at Santiago Airport later this afternoon.

I was ready to go well before the appointed time. I went to the meeting point in the “Showroom at Sea” theatre at about 8:30 and waited there for the call to disembark. The call came a bit before the anticipated time and off the ship I went for the last time. In Valparaiso the passenger terminal is what is likely about a 10 minute drive from the pier where the ship docks. One gets off the ship, on to a bus, and then driven to the terminal.  At the terminal a check for any possible food that people may have brought from the ship is done. Here they use dogs to check for this. If any is found you can be charged and severely fined. The Chilean government is very strict about this.

The next step is on to the waiting busses, which is a bit more complicated without the ships staff there to assist. Eventually the correct bus was located and all was ok. The excursion started with a short drive around the local area eventually stopping at a viewpoint on one of the hills that make up Valparaiso. Here are some photos of the tour up to this point including the view from the viewpoint.

The ship in Valparaiso harbour from near the Passenger Terminal.

Arturo Pratt, I think a founder of Valparaiso but I am not sure about that.

One of Valparaiso’s famous funiculars (an inclined railway). At one time there were 36 of these in various locations around the city now there are only four still functioning. Apparently the Chilean Government has made a commitment to repair many of these as a heritage project.

Vendors at the viewpoint where the pictures below were taken from.

The view from what is apparently the best spot in Valparaiso. Vina Del Mar is just about straight ahead in the centre of this three picture panorama.

A closer view of the ship I had just disembarked. The cruise terminal here is that white area on the far shore right above the ships funnel. A bus drives through the containers near the ship and around the bay to that terminal to disembark or from that terminal to the ship to embark for that matter.

The Chilean Naval Academy.

An interestingly decorated building near the view point.

There are some interesting colours here but not as many as some places I have been.

Vina Del Mar from Valparaiso near the lookout point.

Another interesting building built on the side of one of the many hills.

This is the headquarters of the Chilean Navy.

A view of an average street in Valparaiso.

Another street view, this time looking up a side street.

The Chilean Parliament is located in this building in Valparaiso. It has something to do with decentralization. Most of the rest of the government is in Santiago.

This is a street market. The twisty monument in the background is to the importance of the metal copper to the Chilean economy. It is one of their main exports.

From here the excursion continued with a drive to the neighbouring city of Vina Del Mar. This is a much more modern city than Valparaiso which has a much longer history. When you drive between to two there is a rather sudden change in the buildings from fairly old and historical to fairly new and modern.

Apparently this floral clock is a symbol of the city of Vina Del Mar.

Here is a bit closer view.
You can see what time the bus drove by it.

The only stop here was at a place called the Francisco Fonck museum. This museum was a less than really interesting place that apparently has many artifacts from around the area including some items from Easter Island, that famous island with all the large stone heads one of which is in the front yard of the museum. Unfortunately almost everything was in Spanish which made things a bit difficult. There were some English speaking guides there but they were of only limited assistance because of their less than good English.  

This is an Easter Island head that was brought here many years ago.

One of the unusual things pointed out to us by the tour guide Robert were the utility poles covered with wires. Here are a couple of pictures demonstrating this.

The reason for these wiring nightmares is that the various companies that do the utilities do not remove any wiring that is no longer required. So there are years and years’ worth of telephone and other utilities wiring on the poles which are no longer used and the companies do not want to remove because it would cost a lot. I am sure this happens in other places as well but it seems especially bad here.

After a 45 minute stop (much too long for most of the 22 people on the excursion) we then headed off to the last stop on the trip (before the airport) and lunch. Here are a few pictures taken as the excursion left Vina Del Mar and on route to the next stop.

As the bus headed up the hill and out of the Vina Del Mar / Valparaiso area here was the last view we had of the ship.

Apparently there was a local clothes market going on here.

It took almost an hour to get to this place which is located in the Casablanca Valley about half way between Valparaiso and Santiago. It is one of the best wine regions in Chile due to the effects of the ocean not too far away. It is just the right distance inland to provide the optimum daytime heating and nighttime cooling for the growing of many types of grapes used to make wines.

This place we stopped at was not really a vineyard but more of a ranch that specializes in the training of Chilean horses. They offered one of the best meals that was not on the ship that I had during the entire trip. Here are some pictures showing what went on here.

The owner of this ranch where we were greeting us.

There was some local entertainment.

The restaurant where lunch was to shortly take place.

Lunch and more local entertainment.

After lunch a short horse show.

This horse was coming to a very sudden stop.

This is how bulls are herded by horses. It keeps the bull from damaging anyone or himself.

A famous Chilean dance usually done by people here being done by three horses and one person.

The participants in the show posing for photos with some of our group after the show.

A young lamb and a young cow.

This dog’s name is Pico. He was rather large as you can see and really craved attention.

He walked right up to this gentleman and pushed right in between his legs.

Apparently this dog doing this was not particulary unusual. 

About this time it was discovered that the other bus had someone on it who had gotten on the wrong bus in Vina Del Mar. He was wondering when we were going back to the ship, which we were not. Confussion ensued, cell phones were buring up as the guides tried to sort out the mess this created. In the end this gentleman, a really old fellow with a cane, had gotten somewhat mixed up, missed the bus he should have been on and got on one of ours. Finally the owner of the ranch drove him back to Valparaiso, at least an hours drive away, with the ship sailing in just 30 minutes. The guide on the other bus should have caught this and did not. Ok, so it is early in the cruise season here!

The stop here was from about 1:30 to approximately 4:00 and then we headed to the airport about an hour away.

I think we were still in the Casablanca Valley here.

Obviously grapes growing here.

Just heading out of the east side of the Casablanca Valley.

There is a very long tunnel through these mountains not too far from where this was taken. These are the mountains on the eastern side of the Casablanca Valley.

The arrival at the airport was around 5:00 which was somewhat earlier than the tour operators had planned and some four hours and fourty-five minutes before the departure of the flight. I mentioned above that the next time we would see the luggage that was put out last night would be at the airport. As the bus drove up to the arrivals area at the airport we could see something like 50 or 60 baggage trollies all lined up outside the terminal along the sidewalk. The baggage had been transported from the ship in Valparaiso to Santiago’s airport by truck sometime earlier in the day.  The tour company’s staff at the airport had unloaded the truck and had sorted all of the luggage by the Holland America luggage tags so that everyone’s bags were grouped together on the same baggage cart. Most of us on the bus could see our luggage just by looking out the window of the bus. I have never seen this before and it certainly was neat!

Airline check-in positions do not usually open until about three hours prior to departure so we had to wait for almost an hour and a half just to check in. I was the fourth person to check in for the flight. After that there was the Chilean Passport Control and then security both of which happened very quickly because there was no line (yet, one apparently developed as time went on). Air Canada flight 093 was at gate 10 which was the furthest one out on the international side of the airport.

Here are a couple of pictures of the airport terminal and the Boeing 777ER plane that I would be spending the next 10.5 hours on.

This is the main terminal building at Arturo Merino Benitez International Airport near Santiago, Chile. They seem to call it just SCL the three letter international code for this airport.

The Air Canada Boeing 777ER plane that flight AC-093 would depart on about 90 minutes after this picture was taken. This was the last photo taken on the trip.

According to Air Canada’s information there was no meal planned until near arrival which was a breakfast. So I thought I should have something so I had a hamburger at a restaurant near the gate. I think I got over charged in the currency conversion from Pesos to US dollars. Oh well!!! As it turned out a dinner meal was provided on the flight shortly after takeoff so I did not need the hamburger at all!!!

Boarding for the flight began at approximately 9:00 for the planned 9:45 departure. This all went well with about three checks of passports just to get on the plane. Seat 32A was a window seat just about right over the centre of the wing and one row behind the over wing emergency exit. The plane was not full so I had an empty seat beside me and somebody in the aisle seat. There was something like 20 people from the ship on this flight as far as I could tell.

The flight pushed back right on time and headed for runway 15 Left I think it was. The plane started down the runway for takeoff at almost exactly 10:00 (8:00 pm here) and was airborne shortly thereafter. The takeoff was to the south which meant that the plane had to make a turn to go north. The turn was to the west and right over the city of Santiago.

The route the plane took returning to Toronto was very similar to the route the ship took to get to Chile. Once heading north, the plane flew in which was almost a straight line to Lima, Peru and then on to Trujillo, Peru where I had left the ship on the Machu Picchu shore excursion almost a week before. It then made a slight jog to the east (or to the right) and then followed an almost straight line up towards Panama. The equator was crossed going northbound at around 12:25 am Brantford time.  The flight continued across Panama almost following the northerly route of the Panama Canal. There was a slight jog to the right again and then an almost straight line north across the centre of Cuba and then north over the Atlantic Ocean just off the east coast of Florida (between Florida and the Bahamas) and continued in almost a straight line up the US coast until just off the coast south of Wilmington, Delaware where the route turned to the northwest pointed directly at Buffalo, New York. We went just south of Wilmington. This happened just over an hour and a half before arrival in Toronto. There was a fairly major winter storm going on a bit farther north of where we made the turn but it had no effect on us. We flew directly over Buffalo and then approached Toronto for a several minute early landing on the runway at the back of the airport parallel to Derry Road. This required a rather lengthy taxi across the airport to Gate 73 on the 401 side of Terminal 1 were we arrived two minutes before the scheduled time of 6:10 am.

There was then the rather lengthy walk from the gate to passport control with a brief “pit stop” along the way. There were many officers and not that many people waiting so the passport and customs process took less than 10 minutes and then on to retrieve baggage. The baggage carousel they choose to use was way at one end of that cavernous international baggage claim area in Terminal 1 and a group of bags came out and then there was a long wait for more. Mine was in the next batch and I did the final customs clearance and off I went to the ground transportation desk one level down. I think the time I arrived there was at 6:48 am. It took some time for Airlink to show but once he did I was on my way home by just after 7:00.

The trip home was uneventful and arrival at home was at approximately 8:15 and thus ends this trip.

Originally sent as Update #6 by email from home: November 13th, 2012
Web Page Created: July 1st & 2nd, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 7:36 PM