Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Logbook: Valparaiso

Valparaiso1Arriving in Valparaiso yesterday had a very different “feel” to it from our other recent port calls. For one thing, we were pretty far south into higher latitudes so the temperature was more moderate -- you know how much I appreciate that! Second, as major ports go, Valparaiso -- unlike Callao -- is a pretty, colorful place. Third, being in Chile means being in a relatively well developed country with all of the advantages that has to offer. So, I was once again ready to go ashore as early as possible. My first funny experience had to do with getting out of the port. Although I could see the “center” of town right outside the port gate, I was not allowed to actually use that gate. Instead, I had to take a shuttle bus to the “terminal” about 2 km down the shore road. Once there, I cleared security -- they’re pretty strict about agricultural quarantine down here -- then made a short walk across the street to the rail station. Here’s the deal: The rail system uses only electronic cards, so you have to by an “empty” one -- cost 500 pesos, about $1. Then you buy your fare which, to the center and back, is 400 pesos. The system keeps track of “usage” and off you go. Compared to the last rail system I was on in Mexico City, this was totally hi-tech. It wound up about 10 times as expensive to go a much shorter distance, of course, but the trains were clean, cool, etc. and I enjoyed the ride.

Valparaiso2Arriving back at the center -- standing not 100 meters from my ship -- I looked for and found the “Seamen’s Center” which was recommended to me as a top quality internet cafe. Sadly, it was not yet open so I walked around until I found a center that was open. The connection there was painfully slow, so I did the minimum and left to explore. Valparaiso is famous for its many “asensors” -- or funiculars -- so I rode one. It costs 100 pesos -- about $.20 -- to make the one minute ride up or down. While the old age of the machinery makes it a novel and somewhat interesting trip, there’s really not much to recommend it. Besides, there’s little to see or do at the top so it really is a tourist thing. I spent another hour walking around and generally enjoyed the sights before stopping back at the “Seamen’s Center” and finding it open. What a pleasure! Owned and operated by a guy named Jamie who is a former cruise audio-video operator, the place has a nice cafe upstairs and a huge internet center downstairs. He caters to ship crews -- and passengers like me, of course -- and has just about everything they could want: Beer, food, games, phones and internet. With a megabit connection speed, I was able to finally download a bunch of podcasts and TV shows as well as update this site and call some folks. Skype was working so well, in fact, that I let a few of the crew from my ship who were there call their family and friends in the Philippines. After their first Skype experience, they’ll never be the same again!

At about 4 o’clock it was time to head back to the ship via the circuitous route I had used to get to the center. Don’t ask me why, but I ended up having to kick in another 100 pesos back at the terminal station. Either I was charged the wrong rate up front or it was some kind of “rush hour” premium. Who knows, maybe it was just a petty Gringo tax. Anyway, I got on board and was treated to quite a show: The crew had been loading stores onto the ship all day but were still a long way from being finished by the time we were to due sail. Apparently, some of the conveyor machinery had broken down and the Chilean dock workers were either unable or not in a hurry to fix it. By the time that was sorted out, it was obvious the loading would not be finished on time so the port agent hired a bunch of guys off the street to help hand haul boxes on board. Like an army of ants they made trip after trip on several gangways. The problem, of course, is that there was no way to get all the stuff properly stowed so it was just heaped into piles in every open area of the ship. The climax was when “haste made waste” and a bag of rice broke open on the conveyor then a skid of goods broke open and tipped over on the pier.

We finally sailed about an hour later and one of the young officers with whom I have become friendly confirmed that the captain was “to be steered clear of at the moment.” We left port and returned to our southerly course, heading to higher latitudes still. Today has been another lovely day at sea and we are due to arrive in Puerto Montt in the morning. All in all, Valparaiso is a nice port and an interesting, well developed place to visit. Another recommendation from The Voyage of Macgellan!

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