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Cunard Queen Victoria 2017 World Cruise
Sectors from Fort Lauderdale to New Zealand
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Valparaiso (for Santiago), Chile - Thursday 15 February

After four days at sea everyone looks forward to reaching port and after a calm overnight passage the Queen Victoria arrived outside the port of Valparaiso on schedule. Unfortunately a large freighter was still occupying our berth and there were rumours that there had been loading problems the previous day, perhaps a strike, and that was why it was still in port. The Chilean Navy was settled at its berths inside the port. We waited. Having expected to arrive at 0600 and with tours due to depart at 0800 it was with some disappointment that the eventual arrival at Terminal Pacifico Sur was delayed to 0900. Tours had prority for disembarkation, because there were full day tours to visit the capital city of Santiago which was 120kms to the southeast and those tours had to return before the departure time which was not changed from 1900. Then the disembarking passengers had priority, and many would have been worried by the delays if they had flight schedules departing in the morning. There was plenty of time to stare at the local area and plan our walking exploration.

Valparaiso is a difficult port because it is not allowed to walk within the container port. Everyone was obliged to catch the shuttle bus from the gangway to the Cruise Terminal Building which is about 2kms away, where all baggage was inspected, sniffed by the dogs and X-rayed in case of carrying prohibited goods, especially flowers, food and fruit. They are very keen on biosecurity and they are one of the few areas of the world where they have original phylloxera-free vines. There were long slow queues stretching out of the building with no fast track for in-transit guests. There is a useful money change in the terminal building as well as the usual souvenir and wine shops priced in US$. £40 was changed into 30,000 pesos, so the rate was 750 pesos. Cash is essential for buses and the ascensors although shops including a supermarket took credit cards with identification. Once beyond the baggage area those on tours walked to their coaches. Independent travellers had to wait for another shuttle bus, because it is not allowed to walk within the port area. This single little minibus only drove the short distance to the Baron Station, but so many people arrived queues quickly grew. It must have been difficult once general disembarkation was announced; we had got off early because for a short while there were shuttle buses waiting but no-one to use them. The taxis did good business for those in a hurry to get to the city.

It is always difficult to get bearings in a city never previously visited but the map from the Tourist Office helped. After crossing the tracks of the Merval train line at Baron station the Avenida Argentina is directly ahead. On the right is a solid grey building of the Catholic University of Valparaiso and there is a large shopping centre, mustard coloured when we visited, on the left. There are also lots of small shops, and our first close-up view of an ascensor - the Lecheros. After 300metres there is the recommended trolleybus service, only 270 pesos, which goes from the historic trolleybus station to the Plaza Aduana next to the ship, passing through the UNESCO Heritage Site. There are old and older trolleybuses (back to ~1947) and it is a frequent service. The trolleybus route goes the full length of the Avenida Argentina, passing some large sculptures in the central park including the twisted metal tubes and the arch before turning along the Avenida Colon. This road has a mixture of newly restored buildings and others which are less cared for and many are derelict. It is not a tourist area and the most significant building is the Carlos van Buren Hospital, about half way along the road. There are groups of poor people and others who are selling stuff laid out on cloths on the ground. At the end, near the Museo Cielo Abierto, the trolleybus passes some unexpected mosaic work, and then turns right towards the Plaza Victoria. The outward and return routes then separate but run parallel. The Avenida Brasil runs parallel to the ocean and the train line, passing the white Severin Library and then the Britannic Arch as well as other interesting buildings. The next important area is the Plaza Sotomayor which we return to later. Passing on the trolleybus there was a glimpse of the blue Naval Command Building dominating the square.

The next interesting trolleybus stop is at the Plaza Aduana where the trolleybus turns to go back to the Avenida Argentina. The wall of the building opposite had a beautiful mural and there are many parts of the city where such walls are decorated. We noted that we had left the ship at 1120 and after two shuttle buses and a trolleybus we were now back at the Dockgate at the side of the ship at 1304, waiting in a long queue to go up the Ascensor Artilleria (300 pesos each way). We waited 30 minutes in line, partly due to the arrival of a Cunard tour bus just ahead of us, and partly because local people wanted to see the views and the Queen Victoria. There are 15 Ascensores in Valparaiso, of which our map recommended 7 of them. From the Queen Victoria we had seen the Ascensor Artilleria with its red and cream cabins, and had also noted the Ascensor Villaseca nearby which appeared to be unused. The Ascensor Artilleria was built in 1893 and rattles up to the Paseo 21 de Mayo with the its row of neat souvenir and craft stalls, and its viewpoint down onto the Docks. It is also the easiest way to reach the Museo Naval and Maritimo which is just above.

The museum was built in 1915 and shows the history of the Chilean navy with numerous exhibits in over 17 showrooms. Admiral José Toribio Merino Castro (1915-1996) was commander in chief of the Chilean navy between 1973 and 1990, part of the ruling junta from the military coup and until the return of democracy following the elections of 1989. There are items from his 50 years of dedication to the navy and his statue is at the front entrance. On the ground floor there are 9 rooms that show a general overview of the most important aspects of the history of the Chilean navy since its founding in 1818 through to the War of the Pacific. On the second floor there 8 rooms with different themes including Famous sailors of the 20th Century, Cape Horn, a Model boats display and more. In 2017 there was major repair work to one side of the building and the roof had been removed. Only part of the second floor was accessible, and then only by a spiral staircase at the side of the reception desk. A description of the main parts of the museum, as seen in 2012, is at www.southamerica.cl/Chile/valparaiso/museo-maritimo-nacional.htm.

The first room is the Bernardo O'Higgins Room with a statue of Bernardo O'Higgins. At the base of his statue are inscribed the words "Esta batalla y cien más son insignificantes si no dominamos el mar". There are also copies of documents related to the creation of the navy as well as some of his belongings, including his sword. The second room honours the three main heroes from the history of the Chilean navy. In the middle is Arturo Prat Chacón who died in the Sea Battle of Iquique (21 May 1879), on the right is General Bernardo O'Higgins and to the left is Admiral Lord Thomas Alexander Cochrane from Britain who commanded the Chilean navy from 1818 to 1823. On the left side of the room is a list of all of those who fell in battle at Iquique. On the right side of the room are two windows based upon nautical maps from the 17th Century, and with cameos of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Nicolas Copernicus and Neil Armstrong.

Then the Cochrane room is dedicated to the life of Thomas Alexander Cochrane. He was born in Scotland and became an officer of the English navy during the war of Independence of the United States and also fought against Napoleon before heading to Chile where O'Higgins gave him command of the newly formed Chilean Navy. He captured the Spanish frigate Esmeralda during the Chilean War of Independence.

The next ship named Esmeralda was also famous. It was constructed in 1855 in England. Her hull was of wood, and coppered. She was 210 ft long with beam 32ft and depth 18 ft. Four coal-fired boilers powered two horizontal condensing steam engines which gave the ship a speed of up to 8 knots. The single propeller could be decoupled and raised when under sail. On 21 May 1879, during the War of the Pacific, Esmeralda engaged the Peruvian ironclad Huáscar in the Battle of Iquique. The captain of Esmeralda, Arturo Prat, was killed while leading an attempt to board the enemy vessel and Huáscar eventually sank Esmeralda. Portraits of the 27 heroes of the War of the Pacific, who mostly died at Iquique, are in a side display. There is also the crushed bugle from the Esmeralda. The Arturo Prat room has lots of documents about him including his grade reports as a cadet, photos of him at different ages, as well as personal items that belonged to him. There a cabinet that displays the original uniform he used when he was 15 years old up to items rescued from the bottom of the sea from the Esmeralda ship. In this room are two model ships of the Esmeralda and Huáscar.

There are more models of ships upstairs, including a large model of the Admiral La Torre. She had been constructed for Chile in the UK between 1911 and 1913 but was then bought by the Royal Navy and used in WWI. She re-joined the Chilean Navy in 1920 as their main ship until 1958.

In the central courtyard with its lawn and anchor motif there are small boats, figureheads, cannons and weaponry. There is also information about the coal mine disaster in 2010 when 33 miners were trapped for 69 days underground before all were safely rescued. The borehole tube used to connect the surface to the depths and transfer food and medications is on display. After admiring the views from the front lawn towards the city the next places to visit are in sight. There was not enough time to go to the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Palacio Baburizza, or the home of poet Pablo Neruda at La Sebastiana. These will wait for next time.

Although it is possible to walk down to the Plaza Aduana there were no queues and it was easier to catch the next ascensor. This is not the oldest of the ascensors. That honour goes to the Ascensor Conception (1883) which goes to Paseo Gervasone, near to the Casa Mirador de Lukas. Other useful ascensors are the Ascensor Cordillera for the Museo del Mar Lord Thomas Cochrane, the Ascensor El Perol (1902) for the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Palacio Baburizza, and the Ascensor Espiritu Santa for the Museo a Cielo Abierta. To travel all the ascensors would take a full day, and then there are all these interesting museums to visit. Valporaiso is an interesting place, and so much of the centre is a UNESCO Heritage site or a Heritage area.

From the Plaza Aduana it was an easy stroll along the Avenida Errazuriz to the Plaza Sotomayor with the blue Naval Command Building dominating the square, and the contrasting pink Hotel Reina Victoria on the north side. The monument to the Heroes de Iquique is the central focus, with the flame burning at the foot of the steps. Here are the tombs of Chilean naval heroes, most notably Arturo Prat who fell at the Battle of Iquique in 1879 during the War of the Pacific. As well as admiring the buildings around the square it is from the other side of the Puerto Station, by crossing the railway tracks, that tourists embark on the little boats which do harbour tours. It was a pity that we were so close to the Queen Victoria, but unable to access her.

The next trolleybus took us to the Plaza Victoria where we walked through the gardens and admired the Cathedral which was closed. There was a useful supermarket just along Independencia where we bought some Chilean wine. We started to walk back towards the shuttle bus but then decided it was easier to catch the next trolleybus. The stops often seem to be marked "BUS" in the road at junctions, or maybe they just stopped when someone flagged them down. At the Avenida Argentina there was time to go in search of the Cardonal Market Hall, which was in the Avenida Brasil and marked on our map, and also clearly visible in an aerial view on the computer. In the afternoon the stall holders were busy sweeping the floors and putting their produce away - it is a fruit and vegetable market. There were a few scrawny cats prowling hopefully, and some elderly large dogs already asleep in their cardboard boxes.

Queues for the short shuttle bus to the main shuttle bus were long and local taxi drivers were soon offering the trip for one or two US dollars. Some staff who had a deadline negotiated for a taxi, but everyone else stood and waited for the single minibus carrying twenty, many standing, to do successive trips. The system for transfer between the town and the berth was the worst we had seen, and we have been to many ports worldwide. In contrast, the cruise terminal building was pleasant and the people were friendly. Perhaps it is because Cunard are such a rare visitor, and that the impression is that the passengers are rich and American, that it was such a problem.

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Content revised: 17th July, 2020