VALPARAISO, Chile –This historic coastal town is about an hour’s bus ride from the capital of Santiago, and you know you’re there when you begin seeing houses fastened cheek-by-jowl on the sides of some steep hills. Ancient funicular railroads still operate in some neighborhoods.
The city was often called “Little San Francisco” when it was a major port of call for ships headed for the gold country of California. Valparaiso prospered until 1914, the opening date of the Panama Canal, and ships no longer had to take the difficult route around the bottom of South America.Not all the residences today are so elegant, but some older ones have been saved. A fellow passenger told me he explored one five-story, single-family mansion that had been turned into a museum.Holland-America’s Veendam waited for us at the pier. Cruisers who have been on the ship from as far away as Miami and who were continuing on the voyage were offered shore excursions in Valparaiso. It was not an option for those of us who were only now joining the cruise.
Check-in was fast and efficient, and my stateroom was ready. It is an unusual design in one important respect. This is because the ship was originally launched in the 20th century, before the current popularity of individual balconies.
During a recent refurbishment it was not possible to create private balconies on the Veendam so Holland-America took a unique back-door approach, replacing windows for cabins along the Lower Promenade Deck with special sliding glass doors. The doors are actually one-way mirrors so that folks walking or jogging around the deck cannot see inside – at least not during the day. (Night-time, with the interior lights on, is more problematic.)
The technique has proven to be controversial with some passengers, partly because the deck chairs adjacent to these revamped residences are reserved for use of the neighbors. And, of course, some cruisers still prefer the coveted private verandahs today seen on many other ships, including newer ones in HAL’s own fleet.
Personally I found them a convenience, since I like to spend some time in the morning completely circumnavigating the ship on foot. Four times around is one good, challenging mile. And since I cannot work out by climbing the steep hills of Valparaiso, this will have to do.
Photos by Robert W. Bone
November 7, 2012