I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Saturday
Feb132016

A great story

 

You know, I spend some of my working life evaluating and assessing teachers and tutors.  It’s a mixed blessing, because I find that I can’t stop working even when I’m on holiday.  So every guide, presenter and speaker is, unbeknownst to them, under scrutiny!  I can’t help it.  Sometimes, I’d love to give them a few performance notes, offer a little support and maybe give them some praise for a job well done – well, of course, that last one is easy but the others, not so.

 

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Today, we met Julio.  He was our guide in Punta Arenas, Chile, and in my opinion, did a first class job!  What I especially liked was the way he linked all the information he had to share to a broader story.  That story was one which intrigued me and led me to want to find out more.

 

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I’d had a little startling awakening by finding a tug right outside our verandah, shining a light straight into our suite at 5 am this morning.  There had been a few thuds and clunks which suggested we’d arrived and eventually, I struggled from our oh-so-comfy bed to peer through the curtains.

 

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Once it was light, we discovered we had company.  It was a lovely morning and we had an early start, so no hanging about!

 

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We met Julio and the other members of our group and made for our first stop shortly after 8am.  The open air museum was a collection of donated buildings and machinery without much of a focus but which nevertheless gave a good idea of what life was like for the early settlers here.

 

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We started in a house built by a Swiss family and discovered a medical themed collection inside.  Joseph Baeriswyl had been a pharmacist and some of the exhibits had been donated by his family.

 

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What I liked especially was the colour palette of the buildings and the machinery dotted about the place.  Not a single garish colour in sight, but soft reds, ochres and greens.  It doesn’t take much to keep me happy!

But it was here that Julio began his story.  One of the families represented here in the outdoor museum was the Menendez family, in particular Jose Menendez, who was quite a key player in the early days of Punta Arenas.  Here, we could see a model of one of his ships and Julio gave us a brief outline of his life.  In passing, he referred to Sarah Braun, adding the teaser “we’ll learn more about her in the next place we visit”

 

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The next place was the cemetery!  As we stood in front of the (locked) main gate, Julio told us the story of Sara Braun, the founder of this place.  Sad to say, that though Sara gets a mention on other websites, there doesn’t appear to be one dedicated to her in her own right.  So, bear with me and I’ll try to share what we learned.

 

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Sara had been an immigrant with her family arriving from Russia in the 1870s or thereabouts.  She seemed to have a good head for business and soon spotted an opportunity to supply some of the ships passing through the Magellan Straits with fresh water and meat.  After all, before the Panama Canal was built, these waters were a very busy shipping route indeed.

 

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In entering the cemetery through the side door, we were following one of Sara’s last wishes – that her cortege should be the one and only time that main entrance was used.  But before progressing to her death, we learned a little about her life too, and how the Menendez and Braun fortunes would be combined to result in them owning land in Patagonia the equivalent of the whole of the Netherlands and Belgium combined!

 

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As we strolled around the cemetery, Julio continued the story.  Sara married a successful Portuguese settler and businessman, José Nogueira, who sadly died at the age of 48, leaving Sara as a young widow but also his fortune.  Meanwhile, Sara’s brother, Mauricio had managed to create a niche for himself in the company, working with Jose to import sheep from the Falkland Islands and even better, marry Jose Menendez’ daughter.

 

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Walking around the cemetery was a good way to learn of these families and their influence on the development of Punta Arenas.  Nice work, Julio!

 

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Sara’s mausoleum is set in its own fenced off area and is in character with her Russian heritage.  She went on to marry again (twice), to divorce (twice) and then to settle for some “close friendships” for the remainder of her life. 

 

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I was rather glad to spot a portrait of her in the entrance to the cemetery, for having heard so much, I wanted a picture in my mind of what she looked like.

 

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Our next stop was the museum of the settlers where there were still more references to Sara, to Mauricio and to Jose Menendez.  Julio could continue his story as told here

 

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There were some other interesting exhibits including this memorial to one of the men on board the HMS Beagle.  Such touching and surprisingly sentimental words, I thought.

 

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And there was this pressed flower collection which defies description really.

 

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Last stop of the morning though, was the Plaza de Armas, where Julio could put the final piece of his story into place.  Here was Sara Braun’s Palace.  There, on the corner, was where she set up home, bang slap in the middle of the action.  Very grand it was – is – too.

 

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Somewhere too, in the middle of all the “craft market” was a memorial to Jose Menendez as well.  Hardly the most dignified setting, but then he was a businessman and would surely have delighted to see some lively trading going on around him.

 

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As we’d driven along, I’d spotted some yarn bombing along the street, so nipped back to take a quick photo.

 

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But actually, what my hero and I both were most eager to do was to touch the toe of one of the figures on the plinth beneath Magellan in the centre of the square, following the old tradition of “touch his toe and you’ll come back to Punta Arenas”.

 

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Well, twelve years ago, we’d done exactly that and sure enough, here we were.  We had, hadn’t we?

And then we looked at one another and both had one of those moments, because four of us had touched that toe and sadly, only two of us returned.  A tear trickled down my cheek and my hero went quiet before we both composed ourselves and felt thankful that we had all been there at all.  We gave ourselves a stern talking to and remembered how thrilled Edna and Gordon had been to travel to this, of all places – who’d have thought it, eh?  That we had come back again would have pleased them no end – let’s celebrate that, instead.

 

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Actually, I think Ferdinand Magellan himself looked pretty pleased too.

Our day didn’t end there – I’ll continue the story in the next post.

Friday
Feb122016

Five hours of Patagonian weather

 

Yesterday afternoon, having missed the glacier viewing, we kept our fingers crossed for “the wreck”.  As the time approached, we headed upstairs to get a good view (it was on the port side and we are sailing starboard).  I’ll let my photos tell the story of the approach, the wreck itself and the continuing weather as the evening progressed.

 

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Magical.

Thursday
Feb112016

All at sea

 

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We are watching our progress as we sail south, listening to the Captain’s updates regarding the weather and how it might affect our plans.  Yesterday, we were glad to leave the open ocean behind and sail in the relative shelter of the islands.  We hoped for some lovely scenery, a bit of wildlife to snap and perhaps an unexpected surprise?

 

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These narrow, steep sided glacial fjords don’t make for good internet communications but I managed to post yesterday’s blog before lunch and enjoyed being up and about, even if the weather did take a turn for the worse later in the day.

 

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We did a bit of penguin spotting, but didn’t quite manage to catch it in time!  As we sat enjoying a spot of lunch, we watched the water spouts from whales swimming a few miles off but again, the pictures remain in our heads.

 

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Last evening, we sailed back out into the open ocean again for three hours, negotiating the last headland which obstructs our passage south.  The Captain had warned everyone that between 8 and 11, there could be a little movement and advised to hang on and hold the handrails.  Sure enough, just as we finished our Italian supper we turned that corner and – wow – all hands on deck to secure the outdoor furniture!  By 11, all was calm again as we sailed into another sheltered fjord.  This is quite a journey.

 

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This morning, we are sailing in the Smyth channel and the plan was to visit the Amalia glacier at 6.30am – weather permitting.  Well, the weather didn’t permit, sadly and having taken advice from the Chilean Navy, the Captain decided it was too risky to take his ship through a narrow channel in high winds.  We continue on our way of course, the next point of interest being the wreck of the Santa Leonor this afternoon, but again we will be at the mercy of the weather.

Are we disappointed?  Of course.  Are we downhearted?  Of course not!

One thing is sure.  We will not be doing any laundry.  The ship is sailing under the highest health precautions following reports of a few GI cases.  As a result, every surface, handrail, carpet and piece of furniture is constantly being cleaned.  Every member of staff is working to contain the situation and their action seems to be proving effective, thank goodness.  One of the more surprising effects of the raised precautions is the closure of the self-serve laundries, so we don’t even feel any pressure to do the washing and ironing today.  What a shame Winking smile

Anyway, with a full programme of things we want to do today, it might be a challenge to squeeze in some reading time to begin my new book group title – A God in Ruins.  I wonder how many pages I’ll manage before I fall asleep?

 

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I’m still on wildlife watch but not doing very well so far, unless this is a particularly rare breed of seagull?

Wednesday
Feb102016

Into Patagonia

 

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We woke to a misty scene outside, but kept our fingers crossed that, as the day warmed up, some of that mist would clear and we’d see some of the magnificent scenery.

 

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Not much life here, apart from the occasional salmon farming enterprise.

 

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Sometime in the late morning, the weather started to improve.  We headed outside onto the top deck to take photographs but really to simply take in these amazing surroundings and enjoy the fresh, clear air.  As we sailed further into the fjord, Terry Breen’s commentary pointed out the classic features of glacial landscapes – a geography teacher’s dream resource!

 

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Hanging valley, anyone?

 

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Even though we knew we were almost at our destination we still couldn’t see where that might be.  There really was nowhere in sight.

 

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But as we approached this split in the fjord, we began to turn the corner.

 

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We came quite close to the side of the fjord too, seeing clearly why this is such an uninhabited area; one which Charles Darwin described as a green desert.

 

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Sure enough, as we turned right, there was Puerto Chacabuco.

 

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Look what was there already: Ocean Princess.

 

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We quickly scooted downstairs to get our things and prepare for our adventure, described as “Full Day Patagonia Nature in Depth”.  I took the opportunity to have a chat with the local guide who was already on board.  She gave me a couple of maps and we chatted as I admired her hat – a kind of beret called a boina.  It was actually rather reminiscent of a Basque beret of the same name, but this had gaucho heritage and a most important little tag which added a particular Patagonian flavour.

 

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Soon, it was time to tender again.

 

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The port of Chacabuco has been very carefully developed by a private company which owns and controls the nature reserve, an hotel and it seems, this whole operation. 

 

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We got an idea of the scale of this landscape once we were onshore.  This “small” fjord turned out to be perfectly capable of accommodating two enormous ships both of which looked pretty tiny relative to their surroundings.  Oh yes, this is big stuff.

 

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Marta, our guide, gave us a bit of information about Puerto Chacabuco during the short drive to the nature reserve.  There’s a general population of around 3000 people here, though some are seasonal residents.  They are served by one school, one hospital, one church and one ATM.  They enjoy 3000ml of rain a year and most are employed in either salmon farming or tourism.

 

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It all felt very remote indeed.

 

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We were divided into two smaller groups, ours being the “purple chucaos”.  The chucao is a small, wren-like bird with a loud call.  Marta said she fully expected us to see one or two along the way.

 

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We warmed to her lively spirit and delightful accent!  “Come on, purple chucaos!”

 

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Into the rainforest we went. 

 

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Every so often, she’s stop and point out something of interest, including this huge gunnera-like plant.  Local people use it to cook, sandwiching meat and vegetables between two of these enormous leaves for cooking  - the leaves are discarded rather than eaten though.  The stems are also used in a salad, so I guess it’s not gunnera…

 

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There was a clear route through the forest and a couple of dry days meant that the pathway was easy to walk along.

 

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Most of it was fairly densely planted, with an even mix of bamboos and other shrubby plants.  Not so many tall trees here.

 

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There was a small river, too, with bright, clear water.

 

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Sadly, not so many flowers and not much variation in the planting, though I spotted some tiny blossoms on a bush by the river.  Though some were lucky to see the little chucao bird, the fact that another couple of groups had gone this way only a short time before meant there was little to see beyond yet another species of bamboo or small shrub.

 

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Thankfully there were, however, two stand-out stars of the forest for me and perhaps that’s enough?  The first was this curiosity.

 

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Known locally as “poor man’s wool”, this lichen-type plant isn’t attached to the ground at all but grows in small clumps.  It’s quite soft and was used as an insulating layer as the name suggests.  I imagine when it gets wet, it goes a bit soggy though!

 

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About an hour and a half from the start of the walk, we came upon the waterfall, called the Old Man’s Beard.

 

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Here, one of the other guides introduced me to my second star of the day.  Hypoterygium arbusculans or the little umbrella moss.  Why is it special?  It’s the tallest moss in the world: all of 2 inches!

 

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A short distance from the waterfall was the Quincho, a typical Chilean venue for barbeque and entertainment.  The view over the lake was stunning and now the clouds had cleared, the air was fresh and clean.

 

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Inside wasn’t quite so clear – the barbecue was set up in the middle with lambs roasting in the traditional style and the resultant smoke was lending a bit of atmosphere, shall we say?

 

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The carving was rustic in style, but having enjoyed a pisco sour aperitif as we arrived and now, here at the table, freely flowing Cabernet Sauvignon, we were happy.

 

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We were still more happy to see the view on our return to the port.  By now, it was around 7.30pm and the changing light made it all the more interesting.

 

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So, we hopped up top on the tender and sat on the roof for the return journey to Mariner.

 

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Well, how could we resist the opportunity to sit up high in this wonderful place?

 

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The little town of Puerto Chacabuco returned to its usual state of peace and quiet, until another ship, tomorrow, will bring some more lucky people.

 

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For now, though, we just keep on taking photographs and feeling very thankful indeed to be here.

Our connection is so slow today, I’ve given up trying to include some links  When it improves I’ll add a few

Tuesday
Feb092016

Puerto Montt today

We had fond memories of Puerto Montt.  We were last here twelve years ago with my parents and remembered walking through the town and a craft market.  I looked forward to revisiting the small town and to seeing if it was as I recalled.

 

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I couldn’t wait to open the curtains this morning and take a look – are we there yet?

 

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I quickly called my hero to come and see the volcano on the horizon.  Wow!

 

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As we ate breakfast, the skies changed and the shafts of light over the mountains were simply gorgeous.  The volcano disappeared into the clouds and didn’t put in another appearance all day.

 

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It was another tender ride into the port and once again, I spotted something of interest on the journey.  Heaven help us if we ever need to make use of the tools and other emergency equipment on board – but it’s good to know that it’s there, I suppose.

 

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The usual security checks awaited us accompanied by broad smiles and this attractive mural on the warehouse wall.

 

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We were heading out of town first, along the last bit of the Pan American Highway in Chile towards Puerto Varas and then along the lakeside and into the National Park to see some waterfalls.

 

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The small towns here are mostly built of wooden shingle homes and were settled by mostly German immigrants.

 

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There’s an outdoorsy feel to the area and plenty of activities on offer, like fly fishing, sailing and horseback riding.

 

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Lake Llanquihue is huge – the second largest lake in Chile – and is surrounded by volcanoes such as the one we’d seen first thing this morning.

 

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A little further along, we were to see evidence of that too, because Calbuco, the volcano just to the east of here had erupted last April, showering the whole of the area with ash, much of which had simply been swept to the side of the road.

 

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Once into the National Park, the rocks were clearly of volcanic origin too with rounded shapes and soft curves.  Interesting!

 

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We walked down to the falls at Petrohue along a dusty volcanic ash pathway.

 

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Here, the river squeezed through several narrow channels.

 

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Having squeezed through the narrow channels, the bright blue-green oxygenated water looked stunning against the black rock .

 

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We walked around the area, noticing that water was squeezing through every gap.

 

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This was my favourite, where a large expanse of water “folded” itself into a small channel.  As you know, I find water like this mesmerising.

 

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At this point, someone muttered that they felt cheated; that this wasn’t a waterfall at all but just a few rapids.  Oh. Dear. Me.

 

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What was interesting is that this volcanic rock was totally different in character from the earlier “bubbly” area we’d walked through.  This was darker in colour and almost like fused slate.

 

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I thought it a really beautiful area in which to spend an hour, especially since that volcano, Osorno, was brooding there in the distance.  It’s the same volcano as we’d seen this morning and the top third is covered in snow, as we’d seen for ourselves but others simply had to take Andrea’s word for it.

 

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As we walked back to the coach, I spotted a sign.  My Spanish is very limited indeed, but I can sniff out a good thing when I see it and this little heap of home made manjar needed to be sampled, for sure.  $2000 - £2 – and the deal was done.

 

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We drove back along the same lakeside road as we’d come, past potato fields enriched by the volcanic ash.

 

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We passed the German school as we entered the town of Puerto Varas

 

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and parked up for an hour underneath a tangle of overhead cables.

 

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We set out to explore this little town, enjoying the faintly frontier-town vibe.

 

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We noticed further evidence of the German heritage here and there

 

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and bought a bottle of shampoo in the drugstore!

 

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The little grocery store had a wonderful selection of empanadas, all looking delicious and very tempting indeed.  But we had a reservation for fine dining tonight and must resist!

 

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We wandered down to the lakeside where a few hardy souls were swimming in the glacial water.

 

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Two small boys were giggling and throwing a fish around – was it a real fish or a rubber toy?  Who knows – but it was fun and they were in good spirits!

 

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Not known for my love of birds (!), I was nevertheless interested in this rather pretty one, wading in a rock pool there.  I have no idea what it is but always enjoy the different sights and sounds of another continent.

 

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The craft goods on sale were very much of this place and though they looked fine on a hanger here, would not really fit in anywhere else.

 

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An uneventful ride back into Puerto Montt left us with a couple of hours to take a look at the market there and to take a walk down memory lane.

 

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Yes, it was just as we remembered it but twelve years on does not entice us to make any more purchases than we did on that occasion.  Actually, by this time it was starting to rain (or, as Andrea said, beginning to apply a little moisture to the complexion).  The craft market crowd was mooching along very slowly and someone was getting a little fed up with it all.  We upped our pace and hot footed it to the fish market, a bit further along.

 

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This was all undercover, so the moisture was merely underfoot.  Just like the fish markets I remember from my childhood in Hull, such fresh fish wasn’t at all smelly and it was fascinating to see the large salmon there on sale at bargain prices.

 

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$3000 a pound – that’s £3.  My goodness, we could have a feast.

 

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There was plenty of choice when it came to smoked fish and shellfish too.

 

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But peering outside, the rain was coming down harder and even though we were equipped for wet weather, we were ready for home.  As we stepped onto the tender, the seaman pulled up the gangway and we were off, back across the harbour to our sleek, white ship.

This morning, we are sailing down another fjord, towards Puerto Chacabuco where we will arrive around lunchtime.  In a few minutes, we’ll enjoy a commentary from Terry Breen, our on board expert, who will point out anything of interest as we make our way into Patagonia.

I’ll tell you all about it later!

 

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