San Antonio, ChileFebruary 4, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C
We pull into a dark and gloomy-looking San Antonio at 6am, and my phone springs into life once more. My battery lasts for days at sea, yet is drained in minutes when we get signal again.
You remember that buzz I said was running around the ship in anticipation of Rio? Well, the opposite has been happening for San Antonio. It’s a commercial port, and even the excursions team have been saying that there’s is literally nothing to do here for tourists, you have to go further afield to the bigger cities, or into the wine land. It’s basically a gateway port for Santiago (2 hours away) and Valparaíso (1½ hours away). It’s the Port Klang to Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, if that means anything to you.
It’s not picturesque. Valparaíso has a port, but I guess docking here is cheaper. A quick chat with the security officer in the lift reveals that this is actually the first time the ship has docked in San Antonio. (Update: our local tour guide has just told us that ships are docking here because of dock handling issues in Valparaíso, where recently they didn’t let cruise ship passengers ashore, so I guess we shouldn’t complain!) Today, we’re booked onto the Casablanca winery tour today (can you spot a theme?), which will apparently include a sightseeing tour of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso too. So, the view should improve soon.
We set off on our tour about 30 minutes late, although part of the delay is caused because we can’t walk straight off the boat, because it’s a working port with lots of heavy plant moving around, so we have to take a shuttle bus around the port to the embarkation terminal—a distance of about 100 metres in a straight line, but which takes 5 minutes on the bus. We locate our correct tour bus and we’re off. Our guide for the day is Cristian, who does his best to whip up some enthusiasm in a very dull and sleepy crowd (although the couple that are wide awake could frankly do with a sleeping pill, as they keep asking dumb-ass questions, and are demanding the guide narrate everything we’re passing)
After an hour, we arrive at Casas del Bosque winery. The cloud that was hanging over the port has vanished now, and I’m feeling distinctly overdressed. The vineyard is set in beautiful grounds, with agapanthuses lining every walkway. Our guide around the winery, Manu, is exceptionally knowledgeable and speaks flawless English. The tour itself is interesting, but having just had a vineyard tour recently, there’s quite an overlap, and if you’re not passionate about growing grapes, then it’s a little repetitive.
The main event for most people is the wine tasting itself, held in the vast cool cellar. We start with a Sauvignon Blanc, which sits ill with my heartburn. The next two glasses are red, so I hastily empty my glass into Mum’s (I still hate red wine - a drink that looks like fruit juice yet tastes like bitterness and regret). I don’t think I’m cut out for wine tasting. Our guide asks us what our wine smells of. I suspect ‘wine’ wouldn’t be an acceptable answer...
As the tour comes to an end, we’re ushered through the shop (surprise!), and then back onto the coach for our scenic tour.
Our tour takes us next to Valparaíso, a coastal city of 284,000 inhabitants. Unfortunately, it seems that we’re to appreciate the sights exclusively through a bus window, which I wasn’t expecting. Thankfully, I’m sat next to the only window that doesn’t have a dark film on it, so at least my pictures won’t be as bad as everyone else’s.
Valparaíso is certainly a very colourful place, if rather frayed around the edges. It’s known for its street art, and many of the buildings on the surrounding hills are painted in vibrant colours. It’s really annoying that we don’t get chance to get off the bus! Looks like there might be lots of interesting side streets to explore. Much like Salvador in Brazil, the city is split into a lower part, around the port, and the residential districts up on the hills. Locals here must have very good leg muscles. For those that don’t, there are two working funiculars.
After meandering through the streets of Valparaíso, we leave the city to head a very short distance to its sister city, Viña del Mar. Here they actually do stop the bus for 10 minutes to give us a chance to take a picture of the famous flower clock. Well, bugger that—I’ve gone from 08:30 until mid-afternoon on a sip of dry white wine and I’m feeling quite dehydrated. So, I leg it across the 6-lane road to the beach, as I can see a café in the distance for a much-needed bottle of something chilled. Turns out to be a totally fruitless endeavour though, as on arrival, I ask in my best Spanish if I can pay with US dollars (as we’d been assured on the ship that you can use them everywhere in South America, except for Brazil), only to be told no, Chilean pesos only. I try again and ask if I can pay by card? No. No cards, and no dollars. So, there I am, gazing at a fridge full of deliciously refreshing drinks, with no way of getting hold or one. Dejected, thirsty and very sweaty from my dash, I head stony-faced back to the bus.
OK, now I’m fuming. Fifteen minutes after the clock stop, we are dumped next to a casino in Viña del Mar for a 40-minute lunch break, for which the tour guide recommends we go into the casino to eat, but warns us that pretty much nowhere around here will take US dollars. So, into the casino we go, or at least we try. We go through security (!), and weave our way through the slot machines, with absolutely no visible clue as to where this restaurant might be. Finally manage to ask someone, who points us into a dead-end corridor. Very helpful. When we finally do find the ‘restaurant’, it’s actually a tiny little bar serving burgers. Now this is where being able to speak—rather than just sort of understand—Spanish would be helpful. We try to order at the bar, but they direct us back to the seats and tell us the waiter will come over. Thing is, he doesn’t. He smiles at us and walks off. After 10 minutes, we abandon hope, as we’ve now only got 20 minutes left to eat and get back to the bus.
I’d noticed a McDonald across the square, so in desperation we head over there. Big mistake. The queue (as I’m British I’m inclined to call it a queue, but it was more of a rugby scrum) stretches right back to the entrance. We join the nearest line, a little bemused as to why so many people in the queue already seem to have receipts... I can’t see any obvious distinction between the counter and a cash desk, so we persevere. Typically, when we finally get near the front of the queue, the woman in front of us is placing a massive order and is taking a bloody age. And then, just as she’s about to pay, the till crashes and reboots itself. So, she’s now got to order all over again...
With 3 minutes left before the bus leaves, we have no choice but to abandon our efforts and leave empty handed. No lunch for us. There’s a McCafé opposite, where I manage to swipe a bottle of mineral water, so at least I’ve quenched my thirst. But I don’t like being McTeased, and I’m hangry as f#%k. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hangry!
I may well eat our tour guide before we finish the 1½ hour drive back to the boat. The excursions desk will be getting a sternly worded letter about time management and misinformation!
As we drive back down the littler-strewn highway, I must confess myself to be feeling a little dejected by the latter half of this excursion, and sadly quite underwhelmed by this part of Chile. Punta Arenas was beautiful. This certainly isn’t. But one must take the rough with the smooth, I suppose. I can’t expect picture-postcard views at every port. And San Antonio is, regrettably, the very definition of a run-down, one-horse town. And we’re here for another day tomorrow. Maybe Coquimbo will redress the balance.
Back on the ship, and straight into the Glasshouse for some food, which renders me in a much better mood.
An afternoon nap is followed by dinner in the Indian restaurant. Excellent food as always in here.Read more