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Wine, Wonders and Whimsy

Chile is an amazing place offering a banquet for the senses and provender a plenty for stimulating conversation. A lengthy ribbon of mountains, abrupt shorelines, magnificent plants and cultures with roots deep in a mysterious past describe Chile. As a North American I must admit that my understanding of Chile and its history was not strong and upon visiting the country this fact was underscored. Naturally I knew of Llamas from my zoo visits, great regional wines and what little I could glean from cultural displays and festivals in my home city. To my total delight Chile, from the Pacific coast vantage was unbelievably beautiful day after day getting even more outstanding. To put our voyage into perspective, from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia on the Argentine border in Tierra del Fuego took over a week; somehow our north American maps are a little shall we say, biased? Perhaps my most wondrous and indeed thought provoking find was in a tiny museum in Iquique, Chile, several well preserved human mummies. Mummified human remains, nine to ten thousand years old, are still be unearthed with incredible regularity from the Atacama Desert regions. These remains of this civilization pre-date the Inca Empire by some six thousand years. The most famous of these finds are the Chinchorro Mummies first unearthed by workers near Arica, Chile on the harsh desert coastline. The overall look of Northern Chile and Peru for that matter, was stark and desert-like. Abrupt landscapes jutting out of the Pacific with very little evidence of plants, in particular grapes. Chile is known for its wine industry and I was totally primed to sample; apparently my sad little face told it all when we looked at this rather bleak scenery of the northern portions. When in doubt, check with the excursion desk or in my case, the senior sommelier onboard. The bustling coastal city of Valparaiso offered great hope as we ventured ashore with directions and a shopping list from the sommelier. The landscape had changed dramatically offering now a “Vancouver-like” feel. Our map and directions took us to the very popular city region of Viña del Mar, even the name showed promise. As implied, there was Viña or better yet, vino and a whole lot of Mar. Robust reds abound with Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignons leading the pack according to my taste buds. Oceania is known for its extensive wine list and as we travelled the wine country, the list expanded to adopt several unusual vintages. I have a female vintner who plies her skills in the much publicized regions of Southern France, she told me once in a hushed whisper once that her best reds come from her vineyards in Chile! Chilean wines are very affordable and if you tipple a bit, they are not to be missed.

Sailing further south the weather suited our latitude in mid-February, cool with steady winds laden with salt mist. Al fresco dining, always an option aboard, clearly not a popular choice, even with the hardy Canadian stock who braved the hot tubs, scuttling to and fro in abundant terry cloth, however, there was no snow! The fiord lands started for us in the tiny city of Puerto Montt, continued to Punta Arenas and then on to the spectacularly region of Patagonia. Just saying the name “Patagonia” brought excitement to my voice, who would have thought that this corner of the globe was so outstanding? Ushuaia is a city reminiscent of Jasper, Alberta, straddling the Argentine border it boasts to be the most southern city. Charles Darwin sailed these very waters on the famous Beagle of which the channel bears the name. He and his crew actually sailed and charted along most our itinerary, journaling the diversity of flora and fauna of this great southern continent. This was just another thrill for me to sense that I was on a journey that one of my champions travelled almost two centuries ago. The great Southern Beech forests must have impressed him as well the bizarre Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees. Many of the plants in the furthest points south exhibit unusual floral structures and have unique adaptations to ensure pollination and survival under adverse climatic conditions. Fuchsia abound as do Barberry and a vast array of mosses and ferns, many which bear the names of explores such as Magellan and Darwin. Fascinating, breathtaking and awe inspiring are descriptors that I use frequently when asked to describe the area and my experience.

Once again Oceania offered top notch service and one of the most enticing itineraries that I have ever taken. Chocked full to overflowing with excellent excursion choices, interesting ports that many ships can’t navigate and the hallmark “family” crew who spoil us time and time again. Gracias mi amigos!


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