South America

Lila and Alan Letow


            Well, we are home from our trip to South America...the towels are continuing to pile up on the bathroom floor and we are both still sitting down for lunch and dinner but now nothing happens.   It is a rude awakening, but every facet of our trip was nonetheless excellent.   We planned this trip to South America to learn more about this continent and to experience the culture…it is a continent that we had learned about briefly during our school years.  

Most people travel to other countries as we have in the past, forgoing visits to South America until maybe sometime in the future.   I do not know why, but it seems we travel to locations that we are familiar with or just comfortable with because we know about its landmarks or are intimately knowledgeable about its history…e.g. France because of its long history with the United States or possibly India because we want to see the Taj Mahal.    While we had briefly visited Buenos Aires in the past, our knowledge of South America remained quite limited.

            And so we booked passage on the cruise ship, Amsterdam from the Holland America Lines because the sixteen day itinerary would take us from Brazil down the east cost of South America and around Cape Horn and then north along the west coast of South America to Chile.   Our trip consisted of a pre cruise visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Iguassu Falls which we viewed from both Brazil and Argentina.   And, we also planned for a stay in Santiago, Chile after the cruise was completed. 

             I recommend that the reader "click" on the highlighted linked pages for additional information and more pictures.



           South America is an intriguing setting for a trip.   It was discovered about the same time in history as was North America, but their economic paths changed almost immediately.   North America reached unparalleled economic growth and wealth, while South America remained mired in poverty and economic stagnation.   Why did that happen… (Click here for..) there are some factors that point to the reasons that left that imprint on both continents!

We were fortunate…we did not have any problems with security, but then we understood the rules and we adhered to those rules.   No jewelry, no shiny cameras, no bulging pockets, no fanny packs or pocket books hanging loosely, no carrying valuables or passports, making sure that we used only legal taxis and no walking in suspect areas during late evenings or night time.  But there were instances on this trip that we learned of after the fact…yes, it can and does happen as it is part of the economic fact that where there is not prospect for a future, those in need have to make due with what is available today and the future is always far off.  

With that introduction, let us take you through our trip and identify some of the more interesting sights and experiences.   Where possible we provided an expanded discussion of specific aspects of the trip, so click on the link to open the appropriate page.


Our Journey Begins

            We arrived in Rio de Janeiro after a rather long plane trip …about a nine hour overnight flight so we arrived not too refreshed and somewhat tired.  But we were finally in Brazil and we wanted to just enjoy each moment.   We arranged for a pick up at the airport, because we were concerned about security, but our fears soon subsided.   (Click here for..)Rio de Janeiro is absolutely beautiful …we saw the well-known  (Click here for..)Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado Hill and we also visited  (Click here for..)Sugarloaf Mountain via the trams, in addition to Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach.   The restaurants were all excellent…especially enjoyed the Argentinean barbecue...the churrascarias

            We then flew to (Click here for..) Iguassu Falls …a most awe-inspiring natural sight that extends for two miles along the Iguassu River which separates Brazil from Argentina.    We had the awesome opportunity to view these magical falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinean sides, crossing the border via a bridge down river and then traveling back up river approximately fifteen miles. 

We did stay on the Brazilian side of the falls for three days in the Hotel Tropicale das Cataratas located in Iguassu Falls National Park.   The hotel is not only a resort facility with many activities, but it has character and beauty and is ideally located in the National Park within easy viewing distance of the falls.   The only problem I had to deal with was the heat and humidity….a sub-tropical environment, which made it impossible to not sweat profusely when hiking the trails along the both sides of the river.   

            We returned back to Rio de Janeiro for an overnight stay.  The next day we had a city tour of Rio de Janeiro before embarking on the cruise ship Amsterdam and beginning our adventure around South America.  Getting on board was a relatively easy experience and arriving at our stateroom was a pleasant encounter …a very large suite with living area, sleeping area, dressing room and a large verandah.   The shipboard amenities for our stateroom were a special lounge close by with hors d’oeuvres, cappuccino, cakes and deserts as well as a concierge to meet our every demand.


Cruising Around the South American Continent

            The first two days after boarding the ship consisted of cruising, which was both a restful and desirable interlude enabling us to get to know the ship, while we rested from the arduous schedule that was part of our Rio de Janeiro and Iguassu Falls experience.   The (Click here for..) Amsterdam, which is not the newest of Holland America’s “Dam Ships”, was built in the year 2000 and is well cared for by a staff that consists of a predominantly Indonesian and Filipino crew with a Dutch officer corps.   There are also other nationalities that are represented on the staff as well.

            We had the good fortune to meet two couples, Essie and George and Rita and Norbert, when we arrived in Rio de Janeiro and with whom we then journeyed to Iguassu Falls and enjoyed all meals and events together on the ship.  Their companionship and friendship unquestionably added to the success of our journey around South America.

 Our first port of call after leaving Rio de Janeiro was (Click here for..) Montevideo, Uruguay for a day of sightseeing, a fantastic lunch at the old market and a walk around the old town section of the city.   A new President was inaugurated that day, a Socialist Party candidate who was definitely supported by the local Communist Party, so our visit to the city was somewhat limited. 

Since Montevideo is essentially just across the River Plate from Argentina, (Click here for..) Buenos Aires was our second port of call.  And in Buenos Aires the ship remained in port overnight giving us more time to tour the city and interact with the people,   In Buenos Aires, we attended the very touristy, but very enjoyable tango dance show as well as riding a river boat on the river Tigre in a Buenos Aries suburb.  

Back at sea for a couple of days of rest and eating and lectures and eating and exercise and eating, as well as some snacking…we were informed by the Captain that weather in the harbor of (Click here for..) Port Stanley, Falkland Islands was quite bad and for the safety of the passengers we would not be stopping at that port.   During a prior cruise, there was a major problem at Port Stanley in bringing passengers back from shore, so I am sure that may have influenced the captain’s decision.  

Certainly a disappointment, but being the good sailors we are, the ship headed to Cape Horn for the distinctive experience of passing the most southern tip of this hemisphere as we cruised from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean.   And it was quite interesting to view the monument at Cape Horn and appreciate its significance.   We then turned back into the Atlantic Ocean crossed over and entered the Beagle Channel for our transit through the Patagonia region of the continent on our way to Ushuaia, Argentina, for a port visit.   We stayed in Ushuaia overnight, had dinner there and visited the Tiero del Fuego National Park…did a little shopping as well, of course. 

The ship left Ushuaia and headed back to the Beagle Channel for a port visit to Punta Arenas, Chile.    After leaving Punta Arenas, we cruised through the Straights of Magellan along “Glacier Alley” and the following two days through the spectacular Chilean fiords.   Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and as we transited the fiords making it more difficult to be outside and even to collect very good pictures.    I have included additional detail of the fiords in my discussion of (Click here for..) Patagonia

We continued cruising through the night and having traveled through a stretch of bad weather the night before, we arrived late for our last port visit to Puerto Montt.   Puerto Montt is situated further north in Chile, outside the region of Patagonia and in what is know as the Lake District.  There are twelve glacially carved lakes in this region with Puerto Montt being situated near the third largest lake in South America, the Llanquihue (“Yankeeway”).    

We also visited two towns on the Lake Llanquihue , Fruitilla and Puerto Varas.  Both are resort areas that entertain people from Chile, Argentina and Brazil.   These towns had been settled by Germans in the 1850s and the residents continue that heritage and culture with most of the children going to private German schools for their education.    The lake is surrounded by at least four snow covered volcanoes that can be seen as reflections in the lake during favorable weather conditions.   Puerto Montt is not a wealthy town relying mainly on agriculture, cattle, forestry, salmon harvesting and tourism for their economy.    

Leaving Puerto Montt, we cruised in the Pacific Ocean about twenty miles off shore heading toward the port city of Valparaiso, Chile where we disembarked and went to our hotel in Santiago, Chile.  


The Final Phase

Arriving at the Sheraton hotel Santiago, we checked in and went for a walk in the downtown area.   I could not believe the severity of the traffic but with six million people, a third of the country’s population in this city…well, I guess there would be traffic.   (Click here for..) Santiago does not have the roads to control the traffic to move the thousands of vehicles where they need to go…they are building one highway in the city to move traffic to and from the airport, but more highways are necessary.