Shore to Ship – A Seagoing South American Adventure


Notice the fake grin and the bad hair day. I was facing 12 hours mashed into a hard pleather seat in a throbbing flying bus packed with several hundred other souls.I was trying to put on a happy face and fortifying myself with a generous bloody Mary before marching down that crowded narrow gangway to the plane, my carry-on bumping behind me. The libation was my sweet Tim’s brilliant idea. He knows how to treat a girl!

The flight to Santiago, Chile wasn’t nearly as debilitating as I had feared. Once again, my smart partner saved the day by booking the bulkhead seat in coach. This made the difference between arriving crippled and exhausted and just exhausted! Believe me, it’s worth the extra charge. So was the car and driver who awaited us. Who needs to figure out transportation when her brains are on hold?

We staggered after the man with the “Martin” sign and gulped fresh air all the way to Valparaiso, the port of Santiago. The graffiti and colorful houses were gorgeous! It seemed to be an approachable city, full of life and color.

The hotel was tragically hip, with concrete walls, door-less bathrooms, and poetry displayed on every wall. From our tiny balcony, we were able to witness a little street life while we waited to go to dinner.  We saw aproned housewives chatting with their neighbors as they sent their dogs out to play in the park across the street. Animals of all sizes had arranged their social ranking, and they played, fought, made up and played again without intercession from humans. When their mommies called to them, they obediently trotted home. Here was our room:

I’m the lump on the bed five minutes after we got there – dead to the world. Clearly, I couldn’t  be bothered to put away my tennies. Notice the Neruda poem stenciled on the wall. His home was nearby.

Best of all, there was a swanky rooftop terrace, which allowed us to get a feel for the city, have a nice meal, and shake off the airplane fog

A wild ride down the hill the next morning brought us to our ship. Little prickles of fear were traveling up my spine about every five minutes as we waited. We have made four Atlantic crossings by ship, sometimes in unsettled weather, but this was different. This was CAPE HORN, the very tip of South America where the Atlantic and Pacific bang up against each other – literally. Let me share what Wikipedia has to say about it:

         For decades, Cape Horn was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. The waters around Cape Horn are particularly hazardous, owing to        strong winds, large waves, strong currents, and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors’ graveyard.

I do NOT particularly like the word graveyard in any context, but a wet, icy cemetery seems particularly repellant. Of course, I didn’t voice these worries because I like to foster my façade of relentless optimism, even with my adoring spouse. So I suffered in silence.

This is the Holland America ship Zaandam, the behemoth which would carry us all the way around the dreaded Horn, through Glacier Alley, the Straits of Magellan, to the Falklands Islands, and finally to Buenos Aires. At least I hoped so. It looked sturdy enough to me, but that little voice was whispering, “Get outta here while there’s still time.”


In five minutes, my trepidation was temporarily silenced by the elation of being on board a huge liner. I LOVE the sea, and harbors.  The noise, equipment, and commotion are  fascinating and there’s always a feeling of anticipation in a harbor. When these magnificent floating hotels begin to rev their powerful engines and slowly glide away from the berth, my heart sings.

And once we were underway we took our initial tour of what would be our home for fourteen days.

I was thrilled with the bathtub and all of the cozy places on the ship to read, write, have a drink, chat with a new friend and simply watch the water and scenery slide by, but what we both loved best was – you know this – the FOOD!  For once, I enjoyed the lunchtime buffet. Self-serve dining has never been a favorite of mine. It’s something about strangers dipping into the same kettle that puts me off. But on this ship, there were  pleasant people behind each station whose job it was to ladle up the vittles. It made the nice food taste even better when I knew whose gloved hands were touching the serving pieces!

The dining room was very elegant, but we became devotees of one of the specialty restaurants. Not only was the food terrific, (they had me after my first taste of their foie gras mousse) but our waiter and his boss were the most entertaining people on the ship.

For the first day or two, my fears were allayed. The weather was still pleasant and the sea tame and exquisite. The worried little voice in my brain was lulled into a peaceful slumber as the waves rocked us gently to sleep. But THEN – on about the third morning, I said rather sharply to Tim, “Could you kindly knock it off?”

“What are you talking about?” he mumbled.

“You’re shaking the bed, dear, and I was having such a nice dream about Paris.”

“I haven’t moved in hours,” he chuckled. “We’ve hit the swells and the wind, sweetie.”

I slid across that cozy mattress to him in a hurry, and after a few minutes I finally got up the courage to peek out the porthole. All hell was breaking loose – there were whitecaps on top of white caps and the ship was pitching like a steer in a cowboy bar. And that’s the moment I realized that I was in for the ride of my life. I plunged back under the covers and said, “Wow! This is going to be one wild trip, honey, but I’ve decided to relax and enjoy it. If the captain is half as smart as the chef, I think we’ll survive.” He gave me a squeeze and said, “Welcome aboard!”

Stay tuned for more about wind, rain, waves, glaciers, penquins. We sailed around Cape Horn and the Magellan Straits and are still here to tell the tale!

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