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Exploring South America’s “Other” Coast
A Silver Spirit Voyage

Silver SpiritBy Georgina Cruz

Of South America’s two spectacularly long coasts, the east, Atlantic Ocean coast, generally gets the lion’s share of attention from travelers. After all, it has such fabulous cities as Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, opportunities to visit its Caribbean ports like Cartagena and to seek adventure on the Amazonto name just a few of its golden attributes. But the west coast of South America offers treasure as well.

We set sail from Valparaiso, Chile to explore South America’s Pacific Coast aboard Silversea’s new 36,000-ton, 540-guest Silver Spirit, an ideal base from which to visit exotic parts of the planet what with the amenities featured including gourmet cuisine, outdoor/indoor spa, and all-suite accommodations all with butler service.

Valparaiso had suffered only minor damage from the recent earthquakes and after-shocks when we got there on March 8, 2010, so since the ship did not leave port until evening, we made use of our limited time in this city that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda described as “a lot, a bunch of crazy houses.” Its setting, in a natural amphitheater made up of multiple hills, with colorful houses that seem to spill down from the top, makes it truly memorable. We took one of the many funiculars that take to the top of the hills and were rewarded with gorgeous views of the multi-colored houses, blue sea and the lower town.

We enjoyed a walk in El Plan (the flat area of the city) to take in the shops and bars in the harbor area, and too soon it was time to head back to the ship to set sail, just as the city’s lights started to shine brightly.

During our two-week voyage, we made stops at a variety of ports including Pisco and Callao in Peru, with many opportunities for shore excursions to legendary sites. Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, was unfortunately closed due to damages from mudslides and flooding earlier this year (it is slated to re-open in April) but we had plenty of other choices in Peru including a flight-seeing excursion on light aircraft to the Nazca Lines from Pisco. These enigmatic linear drawings believed to date from 200 B.C. to 600 A.D., have been studied by experts for decades, with resulting theories including even that they are the work of extra-terrestrials as they are oriented to the sky and best seen from the air. The figures depicted include a monkey, spider, tree, birds (a hummingbird etching has a 100-foot long beak), and many more. One of our on-board lecturers, Hugh Thomson, a British author who has led expeditions to Peru and is a member of the Royal Geographic Society, holds his own theory: that the lines were used for “processionals,” as ancient musical instruments made from bones have been found along some of the lines.

The flight-seeing excursion also included the Palpa Lines, in a similar vein, as well as the new discoveries in Pisco, Ocucaje and Cahuachi, including “El Candelabro,” a depiction of a chandelier near the top of a hill facing the Bay of Paracas.

“Simply incredible!” a tourist from Chicago exclaimed upon returning from the excursion. “I first learned about these drawings in high school and to be able to see them in person now and know they’re still an enigma is very special.”

Another “must” was a walk in colonial Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour, led by a local historian, Dr. Jose Ignacio Peteta, included the beautiful Plaza San Martin (named in honor of liberator Jose de San Martin) and the main plaza, Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas, with visits to the government palace, city hall, 16th century Cathedral (where conquistador Francisco Pizarro is buried) and the archbishop’s palace. Other stops included the Monastery of St. Peter in Peruvian baroque style and the 16th century Casa Aliaga, built by Geronimo de Aliaga, Pizarro’s lieutenant, and occupied continuously by the Aliaga family since the 16th century.

Yet another Peruvian option we enjoyed was a visit to Pachacamac, an Inca pilgrimage center dating from 700 A.D. in the Rimac Valley of Peru. About an hour and a quarter from Callao, the center had a temple believed to have been for the worship of the sun god and other temples, including one that housed a miraculous wooden statue of Pachacamac, creator of the earth and controller of earthquakes who was worshipped along with the sun god. Along with a local guide, we toured the Temples of the Moon with the characteristic Incan trapezoid-shaped windows and doors and the Convent of the Virgins of the Sun, and we climbed to the top of the Temple of the Sun (with panoramic views of the Pacific). We also visited the small museum on the site, exhibiting textiles, ceramics and a reproduction of the totem-like statue of Pachacamac. In 1535, Pizarro sent his brother Hernando to get Pachacamac’s treasure, but was disappointed by the spoils that consisted of the wooden idol.

After exploring the Pachacamac ruins, we went to the nearby Mamacona Hacienda for a Peruvian Paso Horse Show, folkloric presentation and typical lunch with such specialties as lomo salteado (a beef dish), tamales, Inka Cola (a cream soda) and the famous Pisco Sours (Pisco liqueur, lime juice and egg whites).

Nothing compares to returning tired from explorations of exotic places like Pachacamac, the Nazca Lines and Lima and finding the ship, our floating home, therethe staff, welcoming us warmly. “Mr. and Mrs. Cruz, hi! Welcome back!” our steward and butler greeted us, smiling broadly. Our butler, Florina, from Romania, always spoiled us with fresh fruits, tea service, hors d’oeuvres, and the occasional glass of wine or champagne in-suite. “Everything you want, you shall have!” Florina exclaimed, and she kept our Bvlgari and Salvatore Ferragamo toiletries well stocked.

All the comforting amenities of the vessel were at our disposal upon our return from each portand always during the voyage: swimming pool and whirlpools, spa, six restaurants including a supper club (a wonderful selection for dining, considering the ship accommodates only 540 passengers), entertainment in lounges, and our attractive suite with veranda and such comforts as tub and separate shower, walk-in closet, mini-fridge, flat screen television with complimentary on-demand movies. Florina served us dinner in-suite one evening when we returned tired from an all-day tour. In a word, we had all that is needed to relax, renew and be ready to continue exploring the next day.

In Ecuador, passengers had an opportunity to visit Quito via an optional program that also included the archipelago of the Galapagos, 600 miles from the coast of Ecuador. Among the highlights were the center of the Charles Darwin Foundation (named for Darwin, who studied the Galapagos’ animals in developing his theory of evolution), the reserve with giant tortoises on Santa Cruz, and of course, the fabulous fauna of the island including blue-footed boobies, sea lions, marine iguanas, dolphins, whales, and more. In Quito, among the attractions the program covered was the historic section with more than 300 streets with colonial houses and the Plaza Grande, the heart of the city –lively day and night.

Another option in Ecuador was a tour from the port of Manta to Montecristi, a small town founded in the 17th century, known for the quality of the hats woven by the locals, the so-called Panama hats that originated here. During the excursion participants could watch craftsmen working, visit the town’s picturesque church and the tagua factory, where an ivory-colored nut is fashioned into jewelry and figurines.

Information: For details on the Silver Spirit and her worldwide itineraries as well as those of the rest of the Silversea fleet, visit

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