I have mentioned a few times about going on shore excursions. This means that I sign up in advance to escort guest tour groups, helping the local guide with head counts and communication or whatever else is needed. This allows me the marvelous opportunity to travel outside the port area to surrounding attractions for FREE! It is a wonderful benefit that us crewmembers get to take advantage of. It is, however, a “double-edged sword.” Yes we see amazing things for the best price ever, but we are doing it with our passengers instead of our peers. I would so value sharing these experiences with friends instead but the problem is that I have no income at the moment so I’m gonna do as many free things as possible!
Yesterday, I headed out of the port town of Valparaiso, Chile bright and early to escort a tour group all the way to Santiago, nearly a two-hour bus ride away. I have actually been to Santiago before – in February 2011, I flew into the city only to be hauled to a hotel in Valparaiso to join a ship the next day. I had a very unfortunate poor impression of the city as I had just left my boyfriend for the two-month contract and only really seen the airport that charged me a surprise fee of over a hundred dollars to go through customs. Revisiting Santiago is one of the best decisions I’ve made this last month aboard.
So now that I’ve explained shore excursions and my Chilean backstory, let the tale continue…
A beautiful city, Santiago is a standout among all the places I’ve traveled. As we reached the capital, the fog dissipated, allowing the sun to break through to greet us with vitamin D and warmed cheeks. Only two and a half years after the notorious and devastating earthquake rocked Chilean soil, evidence of its magnitude is still visible through the cracked outer layers of some of the historical architecture – a sad reality for a city along the “Ring of Fire.”
I found myself surprised by the amount of green space and parks throughout the concrete jungle as well as the extreme cleanliness, owing to the city’s dedicated workers who make Santiago a place they can be proud of. Conflicting with the sparkle of the spotless city, works of graffiti art peer out from many surfaces – bulkheads, buildings, and barriers – showing off the locals’ talents whether permission was granted or not.
We made two short stops downtown to check out Constitution Square and the Plaza de Armas, however one of the highlights of my day was having lunch in the Parque Metropolitano where atop the massive hill lies the Camino Real restaurant, provided sweeping views of the metropolis below and the faint hazy outline of the Andes Mountains behind. I had flown over the mountain range my first time in the area but one can’t appreciate their magnitude in the same way until he or she looks up at the massive peaks. That paired with Chilean cabernet sauvignon provided me with a memory I hope to hold on to for a very long time.
I also hold our final stop in high regard. The Mercado Artesano de Dominico (I think that’s what it’s called) held dozens of local craft shops hosted by the artists in a maze of jewelry, carvings, and canned delicacies. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to browse, as I was too preoccupied mingling with the animals that lived there – cats, ducks, dogs, rabbits, and even a peacock. I am such an animal lover that I was way to distracted to be a consumer which is fine by me. I miss my animal interactions while at sea for months!
We returned to Valparaiso quite late, arriving at the ship 20 minutes after all-aboard time. That’s another benefit to shore excursions – the ship can’t leave without the guests that book tours with the ship so we were safe from being left behind, although I definitely would not have minded more time in the stunning city of Santiago.