It is now exactly 40 days on the Silver Spirit and I am beginning to miss Indian food. In my mind, I thank Chennai’s Asha Murthi, who left me her stash of theplas, pickles and snacks when she disembarked at Valparaíso. In the ship’s kitchen, chef Hari Kumar satisfies my Indian food urges with a perfect batata-vada. Chef Antonio Gomes from Goa moonlights from his bakery kitchen to dish out a splendid vindaloo. How grateful am I each day to see our smiling butler, Veera Murugesan from Chennai.
India and Indians are everywhere in the world, sometimes in the most unlikely places. In Santiago, Chile, for instance, Giro restaurant has hijacked Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s lovely face to sell a plastic garbage bin placed in the loo.
Stop gaps: (clockwise from above) A Valparaíso evening, it has South of France-style boulevards, a Pisco Sour cocktail, the coastal city of Viña del Mar. Photographs by Nat Green / Silversea
At Valparaíso, the port city of Santiago, I see damage caused by the earthquake for the first time. Buildings with cracks and shattered glass are cordoned off. But in pretty Viña del Mar, wealthy Chileans walk easily down the South of France-style boulevards. The museum in the city is closed but I plead to see three rooms displaying treasures of Easter Island. We ask for a restaurante típico (a typical restaurant) and everyone directs us to La Flor de Chile. Within the quaint interiors, midway through a huge seafood platter, an aftershock makes the room shudder. Lamps swing. Photo frames rustle. Chileans pause between their local matt teacups with silver straws and peer around. But the tremor stops as quickly as it began. A few days after we have shopped for elderflower honey, vicuna shawls and silver pins, Santiago and Valparaíso are hit by another 7.2 quake.
Back at sea, a disturbing swell prevents the ship from docking at Antofagasta. Instead we are directed to Melchior to clear Chilean formalities. Melchior is like Oman. Tall rugged mountains dwarf the sandy desert. At the poolside, passengers exchange knowledge, gossip and jokes. There are serious Bingo and Trivia teams who battle each day for points (100 points gets them a Silversea T-shirt). At night, there are small crowds at the Japanese restaurant Sheshin (the caviar sorbet is to die for) or Stars (a tapas eatery where the super talented Alfreda stuns diners into silence with her fabulous rendition of Summertime, the best I have ever heard). Culinary director Rudy Scholdis invites us to a memorable meal one night. He even arranges to make ice cream with the elderflower honey we bought at Viña del Mar.
Also Read | The first six ports
The best part about this trip is how much I am learning. Each day I sit in the library and soak in the history of these wondrous lands “discovered” by the Portuguese Magellan and “rediscovered” by Darwin. Some people do a Galapagos trip overland. Each day the ship’s chronicle provides information on the oceans, Sir Francis Drake or how to make a Pisco Sour cocktail.
Prior to landing in Pisco, our first port in Peru, a passenger who suffered a stroke is taken to hospital in a Chilean navy vessel. The ship is like a village. Everyone knows everything…including the minute detail that I was dancing with actor Karen Allen till early morning on the Panorama deck.
At Pisco, we head to the tiny airport and board a Cessna aircraft to Nazca to see an amazing sight from the sky. Almost 3,000 years ago, locals drew lines in the desert. In the clear light it is like a maze of lines. Were these used as astronomical calendars? Or were they supposed to attract aliens to land? As the plane descends for a closer view, I gasp at a bird—something akin to a flamingo—over 300m long. A few air swoops away is a gigantic hummingbird. As the plane swirls dangerously low, a spider, dog, parrot and monkey stand out in sharp focus in the red-brown sands. On a mountain face is an astronaut. The bubble-headed man appears to wave hello. It is incredible.
That night I dream of the Nazca Lines. They seem to speak to an inner soul. It is indeed a blessing to see these mystical creations in a very real world.
This is the seventh of an eight-part series.
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