A bite of Chile

A bite of Chile
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First Published: Sun, Apr 11 2010. 12 30 AM IST

 Postcard-perfect: (from top) Torres del Paine; The tiny train modelled on the original prisoner trains; Rodricks (right) and his partner Jeremy; and the port city of Ushuaia. Photographs by Nat Green
Postcard-perfect: (from top) Torres del Paine; The tiny train modelled on the original prisoner trains; Rodricks (right) and his partner Jeremy; and the port city of Ushuaia. Photographs by Nat Green
Updated: Mon, Apr 12 2010. 05 29 PM IST
As the ship sails into Ushuaia, the last Argentine port city at the end of the world, we hear in horror the breaking news of Chile’s 8.8 disastrous quake. It is still early morning and no one seems to have proper information about the extent of devastation. Considering we are a few hundred miles from Chile, it is not good news.
Postcard-perfect: (from top) Torres del Paine; The tiny train modelled on the original prisoner trains; Rodricks (right) and his partner Jeremy; and the port city of Ushuaia. Photographs by Nat Green / Silversea, Wendell Rodricks and Nat Green / Silversea.
In Ushuaia, the sheer beauty of the Andes and the snow-capped peaks helps paper over our sorrows and worries. On a catamaran ride through the chilly islets of the Beagle Channel, we see cormorants cling to sheer rock surfaces, hear sea lions roar in unison and watch seals play on the waves. It is magical and magnificent. On shore, we take a coach through Tierra del Fuego National Park and on to the breathtaking Patagonian landscape. A tiny train, modelled on the lines of the original prisoner trains, billows clouds of steam on a voyage to “the end of the world”. The city of Ushuaia boasts of many restaurants which serve the famed spiny king crab.
Back on the Silver Spirit, we learn about the tsunamis that threaten to hit Hawaii, Japan and Australia in the wake of the earthquake. But mercifully, none of that happens, though the sea is a choppy roller-coaster ride, even at 10 knots. The beauty of the fjords is quite literally under a cloud.
Our first day in Chile, however, dawns bright with sunshine. Punta Arenas is a modest city on the Straits of Magellan, with a bustling central square. After sampling the food at La Luna and visiting the Maritime Museum, like all serious travellers we head to Torres del Paine. After checking into the Altiplanico boutique hotel—an eco-statement with chic rooms, good food and built into the hillside in such a way that all the roofs are grass—we visit Torres del Paine. A Unesco heritage site, it rates among my best 10 destinations. With grey rivers, curaçao-blue icebergs, towering mountains, amazing glaciers, hundreds of guanaco llamas, rhea ostriches, pink flamingos and a perfect blue sky, what more can one ask for? Apparently, a God-blessed sunset. It is so incredibly golden that I feel we are swimming in a Glenmorangie bottle. In Torres del Paine, one experiences the hand of God. It is simply divine.
A sea-day away, past towering fjords, is a lagoon called Laguna San Rafael. There we watch the 10-storey-high, ice-blue San Rafael glacier calve into the laguna. The deafening sound and the water spray make for an unforgettable vista. The catamaran floats up to the wall of glacier ice amid hundreds of ice floes. This experience comes complete with caviar canapés, smoked salmon sandwiches and foie gras drizzled with champagne. The captain of the catamaran procures a chunk of glacier ice, which we shatter later in the ship’s bar. We sip vodka with million-year-old glacier ice.
If you have a million dollars to spare, go to Puerto Chacabuco and ask for Deer Island. A short boat ride away is the 330ha. island, with 217 deer roaming the forest and a single chalet. The trekking trail offers grand panoramas with mountains veiled in clouds. The 5km-long, 1.5km-wide island is truly on sale for a million dollars. Puerto Chacabuco also offers splendid horse rides in the wild and many trekking trails.
At Puerto Montt, the adventurous traveller can go on a canopy ride over the forest and the Osorno Volcano. Not for the overweight or the faint-hearted, the zip ride is guaranteed to thrill athletic youth.
It is time now to sail at sea for a day and enjoy the captain’s formal evening before the Silver Spirit enters the Valparaiso port near the Chilean capital of Santiago. Sections of the capital’s airport have been affected by the quake and all arrivals and departures are done in tents near the runway. Valparaiso is where many passengers disembark. We bid fond farewells and look forward to new friends arriving on board.
This is the sixth of an eight-part series.
Fashion designer Wendell Rodricks writes a cruise column exclusively for Lounge from on board the ‘Silver Spirit’ ( www.silversea.com ).
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Apr 11 2010. 12 30 AM IST