Monday, February 1, 2010


We took a public bus from Santiago to Valparaiso and that went very well. Not like in Peru where the goats were on the roof and the standing people pushing their butts against sitting faces but a “super class,” four star, air conditioned Pullman Bus that really was quiet and smooth.

The receptionist at the Hotel Orly gave us a note stating that we wished to buy 2 tickets to Valparaiso on the next bus. If he hadn’t there is no telling where we might be now. There’s not a lot of English in Chile.

We got to the bus station by taxi with an English speaking driver who will be going to the beach on February 20 when the prices are lower and he can take time off. He insisted we try the Late Harvest wine during our stay. Late harvest the wine made from grapes that stay on the vine for a long while and dry some and become very sweet making a sweet wine for desserts. At any rate he left us at the station and Rick managed to get us tickets with the note.

Valparaiso is a port town built on 42 hills so many of the sidewalks are like those in Alaska – steps – endless steps. Walking 5 blocks might mean 2 blocks up, 2 down and another up. Driving is circuitous because of having to wend around the hills.

The houses are wonderfully painted. They are coral and turquoise; sunburst yellow and aquamarine; and some are simply the canvas for cats, cows, flowers, boats and portraits. To say that the city is colorful is inadequate. The many retaining walls, the garage doors and the house walls are decorated. The sidewalks are decorated. The doors burst with imagination. The steps are yellow brick roads into a dazzling city.

We stayed at the Hostel Morgan where Maria was wonderful. She and her daughter run the hostel and she shares her knowledge of the city. She had an adaptor that we borrowed to charge the laptop and the camera batteries. She prepared breakfast and visited with us. She accepted our post cards and money for stamps and would post them for us later. If you ever go to Valparaiso, stay at the Hostel Morgan and wear comfy shoes because every step is either uphill or downhill.

Also staying at the Hostel were Fran and Franja. While they are interesting on their own I realized that we had sat next to them at the Atlanta Airport and then we learned that they were going on the Veedam for the cruise. Fran works at Alyison Orchards and Franja does all kinds of stuff including restoration of antique dolls and toys.

We went from the Hostel to the cruise ship terminal where we had an interesting experience. Boarding for the ship was delayed. The reason for the delay was not well defined. Apparently high winds delayed the entry to the port by 3 hours. They sailed against 90 knot winds which are gale force winds of over 100 mph. They also experienced really rough seas. Many people on the ship were sea sick but many more suffered by gastrointestinal problems so the ship had to be sanitized before anyone could enter it.

We have no idea what happened to the passengers who were sick. Did they have the flu? Which flu? Are they now quarantined somewhere? How many were sick? How much of the sickness was due to the rough seas and how much to bacteria and how much to viruses? What bacteria and what viruses? How worried should we be?

Holland America said that anyone who was not willing to board the ship could have a full refund. They never give a full refund. Holland America sent us by bus to the beach resort town just down the road where they set up food at the Sheraton Hotel. They set up a corded area where we could leave our backpacks and carry-on luggage but then nobody watched the bags and slowly they disappeared. One man had his backpack taken from the back of his chair but hopefully the rest of the backpacks were taken by their owners. We kept ours in our hands the whole time.

Also by means of apology HA gave everyone $15 ship credit. That adds up to a lot times 1300 people but not much when divided by the 6 hours we sat around the Sheraton and waited. We were told that the buses would take us to the ship at 3:30 so we went for a walk and then returned to the Sheraton where nobody knew anything and we didn’t leave until 6:30. On board there are some stringent modifications. HA had told us that the authorities are impressed with their response to the situation. We kinda wonder what the authorities know but nobody’s talking.

Our cabin steward looked exhausted when we were finally allowed to come into the area to see him. He said that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 5:30 that morning. An extra crew had come in to help sanitize the ship with a special solution but in addition to all the normal cleaning, every common surface had to be sanitized. Some kind of powder was put on carpets and an oily solution went on the furniture and all hand rails and tables. Even now, when using a public restroom, one uses a sanitized wipe to open the door.

There is no self service. There are no salt or pepper shakers on the table. There is no bread basket but the server delivers bread and butter to each person. There is no self service for at the buffet or at the water, tea, coffee areas so that means considerable delays. Even the daily Sudok puzzle has to be handed to people rather than be put out in a tray. There are extra hand sanitizer dispensers – everywhere – and people use them. All the books are locked closed and I don’t know that I’d want to read any of them.

No handshakes are allowed. People are to bump elbows – the Holland American Bump. The captain asked everyone to refrain from ever touching their faces just after telling us that there is nothing to worry about.

“The authorities” – the people so impressed with the response to the situation - will assess the situation in 2 or 3 days and decide if any self service may be reinstated. We were wondering if this illness on the ship was enough to make the news out there is the wider world where uninvolved people may know more than those rocking on the sea.

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