The Final Quarter – Ending up in Valparaiso


Published: January 21st 2024

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The last few days of the cruise were relatively uneventful – as we headed north among the fjords on the Chilean coast, the weather steadily warmed to a comfortable 20C which allowed everyone to lounge outside in the sun and fresh air. The sea conditions were somewhat rough with some large swells but by now we were used to it. The one change due to the higher than usual waves was that we could not port at San Antonio and, instead, headed for Valparaiso. I will start with a short review of the cruise itself. The boat itself, the Sapphire Princess, is a large and fairly modern ship. The rooms were relatively large compared to other cruise ships and comfortable. We did not have a balcony, however, it was really not necessary. We were only one floor above the walkway that circled the ship and there were many lounges and bars that offered numerous window seats. And, of course, there was little need or want to be outside while looking at the ice bergs and penguins. The room service and restaurant service was excellent – the use of the medallion is a brilliant innovation. The medallion can either be worn as a necklace or, for a small fee, made into a wrist band. It is your piece of identity. One can make purchases, order food and drinks, and even find each other through an app on your phone. The medallion identifies where one is located so that a food or drink order can be done over the phone and the servers can find you. It also acts as a key to one’s room. The food, Monica and I agree, was excellent. Our servers were friendly and polite – in fact, Daniel from Brazil is visiting Vancouver in the spring and we have made plans to connect with him. He is in the midst of doing a 6 month gig on the Sapphire Princess without a day off. The majority of people aboard are experienced cruisers – Antarctica and the Cape Horn is not the usual choice for one’s first cruise – and so they tended to know what was expected and displayed a minimum amount of discomfort when the seas got rough. All in all, a very good trip. Our last full day we spent sitting in the Skywalker lounge on the 16th deck, frantically trying to obtain campsites at the Green Point campground in Tofino. January 19th, is the first day one can secure campsites at Federal parks in Canada and Green Point is the only federal park on Vancouver Island – the rest are provincial. Using computers, phones and iPads, we all queued up into a countdown, waiting for our chance to secure sites. Of course, by the time one is allowed to make a choice, 95% of the sites are gone and the whole event is one giant exercise in patience and frustration. We did get sites in mid June and September so the rest of the summer will be spent camping in the numerous provincial parks and ‘rec’ sites (free) that dot the island. We arrived in Valparaiso early on the 20th, disembarked at ten in the morning and hailed a taxi to our hotel. All of us were surprised at how steady our legs were on land after 16 days at sea. We arrived at our guesthouse, Casa California, and began to settle into our new home for the next 3 nights. We laugh at the hilly nature of our home, Gabriola Island, where nothing is flat. However, it is a Saskatchewan wheat field compared to Valparaiso. Described as a hillside city, Valparaiso rises abruptly from a narrow strip of coast to cover over 45 steep hills, each a dense jumble of winding streets lined with colourful houses. The city has been designated as a World Heritage Site which preserves much of its rich architecture, bursting with trendy restaurants and boutique hotels. Our hotel, Casa California, is run and owned by a young couple who live on the second floor. She is Chilean, but moved to the States when a government change here made things uncomfortable for her family. She met her husband while attending Notre Dame, they moved to California and eventually back to Chile. She was a teacher and he has done a magnificent job of remodelling this building into a cozy and attractive structure. They now have a toddler who occasionally sneaks a peek at us. We had a wonderful lunch of paella and sangria sitting atop the El Terrod restaurant and getting a great view of the city below. The first thing Monica noticed was the vibe here – everyone seems much more relaxed here than in Argentina. Maybe it is in their history – although Chile gained their independence from Spain around 1820, the same time as Argentina, they have had a much stronger socialist movement. Valparaiso was South America’s greatest port during the 19th century, with much of their trade concentrated on the mining of copper and silver. Things changed with the turn of the century as American interests took over the mines and the Panama Canal made shipping routes around the Cape obsolete. As a country, Chile suddenly became isolated and Valparaiso and the surrounding area fell into decline. Jobs and working conditions deteriorated and worker revolts began. The military and police killed hundreds of workers while others left the mines and moved to Santiago where they became part of an increasingly militant working class. Change began when Salvador Allende was elected president in 1970. A true socialist, he nationalized the copper industry and confiscated over 20,000 sq km of farm land for redistribution. Wages were increased and a gradual movement towards stability lasted until 1973 when the commander in chief of the army, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, staged a brutal coup. As the army attacked the presidential palace, Allende committed suicide and the armed forces locked down the country. Curfews were established and political parties were banned. Political dissidents were either executed or imprisoned – over 3,000 died or disappeared during what was called the ‘Caravan of Death’. A true right wing capitalist, he oversaw a total transformation of the economy, encouraging foreign investment and selling off state enterprises. Pinochet’s dictatorial regime lasted until 1989 when all the other political parties joined forces to topple him. It was not until 1998 that he was arrested in London and much of the brutality he had displayed was exposed. Never convicted, he was exorcised from public life and died in 2006. However, it was his constitution that is the country’s bane to this day. Changes and amendments have been recommended and voted upon a number of times, but an agreement has not been found. Power between the government and the people continues to be a tug of war.


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