Boats Valdivia River – Charles Brooks
Before this trip to South America I didn’t have an appreciation of Chile’s five major regions and its incredibly diverse ecosystem. The geography includes a lengthy Pacific Ocean coastline, the Andes Mountains, islands, archipelagos, volcanoes, glaciers, deserts, rivers, and lakes. Having travelled about half way down the country, it continues to amaze and teaches something new every day.
Yesterday I joined a group for a river tour. Our boat, Reina Sofia, departed from Schuster Pier near the Riverside Market at about 2:00 p.m. We passed small islands and navigated through portions of eight rivers that surround Valdivia in Chile’s Region de los Rios. The strikingly beautiful area is densely forested and at times the rivers seemed more like lakes. We saw black swans and many other birds. At certain points different rivers crossed paths creating a change in the color of the water. In one area salt and fresh waters joined together.
The rivers we cruised included:
Fishing Boats Valdivia River
The Islands are:
- Del Rey
Our group of about 50 people was mostly Chilean, Argentinian, and Bolivian. I’ve been feeling lackluster for the past few days and the tour was an upbeat experience. Our Mapuche guide spoke mostly in Spanish and he covered a vast amount of information in a short period of time. I asked for English commentary and he obliged by giving me an abbreviated version. He was very knowledgeable about local history, folk tales, and superstitions.
Houses along the Calle-Calle River
Valdivia is about 550 miles south of Santiago, near the mouth of the Valdivia River and the port of Corral, on the Pacific Ocean. Valdivia is at the confluence of the Calle-Calle and Cruces Rivers. German immigrants settled in Valdivia in the 1850s, bringing their culture and customs. The cruise reminded me of an afternoon on the Rhine in Germany years ago. Except for the absence of German Castles along the hillsides, it could have been the Rhine. Even the music played on the boat was more German and Italian than Spanish.
Ruinas del Fuerte Español
Along the way we stopped for hikes around two islands and saw the remains of several Spanish fortifications designed to protect major locations from colonial invasion. With its strategic location, Valdivia was the most heavily fortified port in the Spanish colonies.
Cannons Corral Fort
Much of the commentary was about how severely the 1960 earthquake affected the area. I missed parts of our guide’s rapid Spanish explanation of the roles indigenous people played in rebuilding and restoring the ecosystem. Descriptions of how the earthquake and resulting tidal wave wiped out almost everything in sight were chilling. One large ship was literally carried from the bay into the rivers and almost a thousand people on board died. There is a marker of the wreck along the river.
Cannon Islas del Fuerte Español
Our first stop was Isla de Mancera and the Ruins del Fuerte Español known as El Castillo San Pedro. The fort’s chapel was one of the most beautiful in Chile but the earthquake left nothing but rubble. It was interesting to see the fort’s layout and organization.
The next stop, the sea port of Corral, is best known for the forts of Corral Bay. It was headquarters for a system of Spanish fortifications and defensive batteries built to protect Valdivia during colonial times. We spent about an hour touring the fortress. It was beautiful and the history is fascinating.
Boats Isla de Mancera
We passed by Niebla on Isla Del Rey, a resort city in the area. During colonial times Isla Del Rey was an important fortification that protected the estuary of what was then Spanish America.
House Isla de Mancera
The trip was relaxing with warm, sunny weather. We had lunch on board, tea and coffee on the way back to Valdivia, and arrived at Schuster Pier at about 7:00 p.m. I chatted with the other passengers, including a Chilean family and a fun couple from Santiago. Valdivia is a popular weekend getaway for people who live in Santiago.
Everyone was aware of the news of heavy rain and flooding in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Apparently a storm is on the way south, and this morning Valdivia’s clear blue skies were overcast.
On Sunday, I leave for Frutillar in Chile’s Lake District. Frutillar is surrounded by Lake Llanquihue and Osorno Volcano. I met a classical musician at a café in Valdivia who told me about concerts at Teatro del Lago (Theater of the Lake) in Frutillar. It sounds like a fantastic place and I hope to attend a few concerts while there. The next post will be from Frutillar.
Smelly Sea Lion
Reina Sophia Passengers
With Chilean Friend
Spanish Fort at Corral
Arrived this morning in Valdivia, a beautiful and historic city in southern Chile. It’s also known as the Region de Los Rios. Valdivia’s culture is influenced by a mixture of Mapuche, Spanish, and German heritage.
There are many fascinating things about the Mapuche, from their music to their legends. Strong German influence is apparent in Valdivia’s architecture, cuisine, and beer brewing industry. Many compare Chile’s Calle-Calle River to Germany’s Rhine.
The bus from Valparaiso arrived ahead of schedule. While my B&B lodging was being prepared I explored central Valdivia. Sunday mornings are quiet but things picked up with the opening of the Mercado Fluvial along the river bank. The market has a variety of fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, and crafts made by local artists.
Sea lions invaded Valdivia’s fish market some time ago when they discovered it was a great place for a free lunch. The HUGE animals – some weighing up to 2,000 pounds – became an amusement and tourist attraction. In the past, they caused havoc by taking walking tours of downtown Valdivia. Locals built a barrier to keep them off the streets.
A series of earthquakes and tsunamis destroyed Valdivia in the 1960s. Called the “Great Chilean Earthquake,” the tremors occurred in May 1960, lasted about 10 minutes, and rated 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale – the most powerful earthquake ever recorded! Approximately 6,000 people died and the tsunami affected southern Chile, Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, eastern New Zealand, southeast Australia, and the Aleutian Islands.
Fruit and Vegetables
Valdivia is known for Austral University, one of Chile’s top schools. The university lures students from Santiago’s Universities to its outstanding science program. Another local attraction is a large marshland nature reserve on the outskirts of the city at the confluence of several rivers that flow from the Andes.
Valdivia Sea Lions
German influence promoted development of Valbier, a microbrewery that produces a popular amber ale. Another favorite local beer is Kuntsmann.
Food in Valdivia is a mix of Spanish, German, and other European influences together with cuisine found only in Southern Chile. It’s a beautiful place and I will stay here for a week or so before moving further south.
Hiking and river tours are on the agenda. I noticed several rowers on the river today. There are three rowing clubs in Valdivia with world and Pan American titles and continuous representation in the Olympics.
While waiting for the bus in Valparaiso I met some German tourists who were on their way to Pucon near the active Villarrica volcano. Villarrica began erupting about two weeks ago spewing fiery plumes of lava and forcing evacuation of people from nearby towns about 500 miles south of Santiago. Pucon is on my list of places to visit in Chile. The area has great hiking. The volcanic eruption calmed and with no more visible signs of activity the area is clear for travel again.
Two more days in Valparaiso and then it’s on to Valdivia in southern Chile. Today I accomplished the mundane tasks – bus ticket, banking, etc., and then rode a trolley car to explore new parts of the city. The overwhelming conclusion was that the back streets and artsy areas of the city – Miraflores, Concepcion, Alegre – are by far the most appealing. To me, the center of the city is not that interesting.
Armada de Chile
Since traveling in South America, I’ve had trouble finding the right food. I keep trying new places and am disappointed more often than not. Today stopped for lunch at a restaurant near the financial hub – Prat Street – and shortly after ordering realized it was the wrong place for food and company.
La Rotonda reminded me of San Francisco’s old style seafood grills with wood paneling, antique bars, and secretive and private curtained back stalls. They were popular in the Financial District during the 70s and 80s – places where bankers and brokers met to mull over deals during lunch.
View from B&B
Except for one other woman who was with a group of male colleagues, I was the only female. No one was rude to me – they simply pretended I wasn’t there. The waiters were Carson types (Downton Abbey butler) and stood around with stern, stuffy looks on their faces. It was awkward at first and then amusing. When the waiter brought the tab, he reminded me that la cuenta (the bill) did not include a tip. I reciprocated by not including one either :o).
Pub Almirante Montt Street
Later I found the place on Trip Advisor and wished I’d checked it out in advance. Several others had come to the same conclusion – at least about the food.
The weather in Valparaiso is much like San Francisco with early morning fog that usually clears before noon, revealing flawless blue skies. The days are heavenly in the high 70s with soft sea breezes. The port is busy with 10 to 20 container ships in the harbor at one time. My B&B has great views of the water – photo attached. Perched high above the rest of the city, just about every building in Miraflores district has a great view. Next stop, Valdivia, is nine miles from the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by the Cau Cau and Calle Calle Rivers. Valdivia is known as the city of rivers and it’s one of the most historic cities in southern Chile. It’s a 12 hour bus ride from Valparaiso. More later….
Street Art Utopia Photo
Valparaiso is known for its street art and honestly it’s spectacular! I’ve been taking photos but this article has some really good shots and snippets about the artists. If you like street art, check out Street Art Utopia’s website and Facebook page.
I arrived in Valparaiso last night and am settling in to see if it’s a place to stay for a few weeks. Chile is such a long and narrow country and Valparaiso is about in the middle. The plan is to work my way down to the Lake and River Districts and eventually Patagonia in the far south. Valparaiso is steep and hilly. MY B&B is high in the hills in the Miraflores District and there’s a fantastic view of the port. Some of the other main districts to explore include:
- Santa Domingo
Valparaiso is Chile’s third largest city with a population of about two million. In the 19th century, before the Panama Canal was built, Valparaiso was a stop-off point for ships traveling between Europe and the west coast of the United States. It’s the country’s main port and home to its naval headquarters and National Congress. Because of its historical importance, beauty, architecture, and layout, Valparaiso was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. A few of the city’s unique popular and attractions include:
- Funiculars (ascensores) that carry locals to and from neighborhoods in the hillside
- Muelle Prat (Prat Wharf) at the foot of Plaza Sotomayor, Valparaíso’s main square
- Plaza Echaurren and the Iglesia La Matriz del Salvador church built in 1559
- The Aduana (Old Customs House) and Ascensor Artillería
- Paseo 21 de Mayo walkway where artists sell their handicrafts and there’s a magnificent view of Valparaiso
- Museo Marítimo Nacional (National Maritime Museum)
- Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Valparaiso – Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971
Iglesia Matriz Del Salvador
Parroquia las Carmelitas
Valparaiso is the only city in Chile where you can still travel by Trolleybus. The trolley route is about 5 miles long and moves between Avenue Argentina and the Aduana (Customs House). The oldest working Trolleybus in the world, #814, is still in its original condition.
Museo Palacio Baburizza
In April 2014 a wind-driven wildfire burned entire neighborhoods in Valparaiso. Twelve people died and 2,000 hillside homes burned to the ground. Over 10,000 people evacuated their homes during the “worst fire in the city’s history”
Feeling slightly overwhelmed at learning yet another new place :o) so I plan to take it slow. It’s great not having any strict deadlines.
Elqui River Valley is nicknamed “Enchantment Valley” and after a visit yesterday that seems appropriate. It’s in the Coquimbo Region that forms the narrowest part of Chile where the Andes range runs closer to the South Pacific Ocean than anywhere else in the country.
Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the beautiful Napa and Willamette Valleys of California and Oregon and visited other spectacular wine-growing regions, the uniqueness of Elqui Valley surprised me. It truly has its own peaceful yet mystical and powerful presence. The vibrations make you want to stay, especially in the tiny town of Pisco Elqui.
Many say “magic becomes reality” in the Valley not only because of the beauty, weather, and clear skies but also because it’s home to many “esoteric and extraterrestrial phenomena”. Its skies are the clearest in the southern hemisphere, which is why international organizations established astronomical observatories on the summits of Tololo and Pachón Hills. Considered a “power pole” the valley is associated with the UFO phenomena.
In the Elqui Valley
During our tour we visited a papaya plantation, ABA Pisquera, Puclaro Dam on the Elqui River, the city of Vicuña, and several small villages, including Paihuano, Montegrande, and Pisco Elqui. The valley’s climate is sunny almost 300 days a year making it a great location to recover from illness and stress. Our group of 15 was quiet and reserved. At lunch I sat with an Indian couple involved in the Chilean mining industry and an interesting, fun gay couple. Both couples were from Santiago.
Pisco Elqui Church
For those who don’t know Pisco, it’s a brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. Pisco production is an art and involves distilling grape wine into a high-proof spirit. The Chilean government regulates the process to ensure quality Pisco. Chileans consume most of the Pisco they produce. In addition to grapes and raisins, other crops in the Elqui Valley include papaya, mandarin, and avocado.
Spanish settlers developed Pisco in the 16th century as an alternative to brandy imported from Spain. Grapes cultivated in the Elqui Valley produce the best Pisco. Surrounded by vineyards and the Andes, the small village of Pisco Elqui is situated at about 4,300 ft. above sea level. It’s known for its craft Pisco distilleries. There is something very special about the village and it’s sought out by many. So far, the beautiful natural surroundings remain relatively unchanged by tourism.
The main city in Elqui Valley is Vicuña, birthplace of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. Mistral was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945 and the National Prize for Literature in 1951.
Elqui Valley attractions include the Gabriela Mistral Museum, the Mamalluca Observatory, Cavas del Valle vineyard – considered the highest in Chile, and the Cerro Tololo Observatory. You must book observatory visits far in advance, so it was a disappointment not being able to view the sky through high-powered telescopes.
I didn’t know that Chile is the astronomy capital of the world and home to 42% of the world’s astronomy infrastructure of telescopes. By 2018 it’s estimated to contain 70% of the global telescopic infrastructure.
“One global scientific endeavor called the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) is a revolutionary instrument in its scientific concept, engineering design, and organization. It’s composed of 66 high-precision antennas working together at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths, with a possible extension in the future.” Our guide told us that Bill Gates is involved in developing a new observatory and super astronomical project in the Elqui Valley to be completed sometime between 2015 and 2016.
It was a fascinating day!
The tour of Humboldt Penguin Reserve yesterday was amazing. The coast was overcast but we saw so many animals it was almost unbelievable. Our group of 15 was eclectic with seven Germans, a woman from the Netherlands, a Peruvian couple, a Colombian, four Chileans, and me. Our Chilean guide, Jorge, was a former teacher and his commentary was excellent.
The drive from La Serena north to the isolated fishing village of Punta de Chotos took two hours each way. Half of the drive was through the desert on rough, rocky back roads where four-wheel drive was essential.
Three small islands – Chañaral, Damas, and Choro – form the natural complex known as Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. The location is stunning with white-sand beaches, caves, unusual rock formations, a variety of animals and birds, and turquoise water. We were fortunate to see gray whales, sea lions, sea otters, bottle-nosed dolphins, penguins, pelicans, albatross, cormorant, and many other exotic sea and shore birds I’ve never seen before. We didn’t see many penguins. It’s the beginning of their breeding season and they’re busy preparing nests.
Cactus Damas Island
The day started with a surprise gray whale citing that lasted about 30 minutes. I was either on the wrong side of the boat, too slow, or blocked and got no photos. Later there were so many dolphins – maybe close to 100 – that I couldn’t keep track. They enjoyed racing in the wake of our engine and the boat captain knew what to do to get them to play.
Punta de Chotos Fisherman
The dolphins were fast and graceful and made the sweetest sounds as they came close to our boat. Their most magnificent antics were when two or three of them jumped in the air together in tandem. We literally squealed with delight as they kept coming back and doing it all over again! I have new appreciation for animal photographers, as getting a photo of the dolphins in action was difficult. My reflexes weren’t fast enough and frankly I was a bit awe-struck to see so many dolphins in their natural environment.
On the way back to the harbor, we stopped at Isla Damas, the only island that allows tourists. We hiked around the island, enjoyed the beaches and views, and admired the unique vegetation.
Chile’s National Forest Service manages admissions and protects the reserve. The number of tours are limited and only permitted at certain times of the day to protect the island’s ecosystem. Before heading back to Las Serena, we stopped at a local restaurant for a late lunch along the coast. To add to the day’s incredible animal sightings, we spotted a few guanacos and a family of foxes in the coastal bush. It was a very satisfying day!