Thursday Feb 21, 2013

Believe it or not, the fun has begun! I can’t quite get my head around the extra day we’ve gained, but according to our itinerary we’ve now been in South America for 48 hours – and we’re currently sailing south down the western coast of Chile.

But I’m getting ahead of myself …

There’s not a lot I can say about our Lan Airlines flight that left Auckland on Tuesday afternoon, so I won’t say it. Except that few of us managed to get much sleep, and most of us looked hung-over when we landed in Santiago 12½ hours later.

Chile’s impressive capital enjoys one of the most spectacular settings of any city in the world. Framed by a mighty circle of mountains – the snowcapped Andean peaks to the east, and a smaller coastal range to the west – it features wide avenues, expansive plazas, exotic parks, fine museums and ornate Spanish architecture.

We climbed into a smallish bus and were driven to our downtown hotel, the Crowne Plaza, for a freshen-up and some free time. Wayne and I went wandering, got mildly lost, bought two coffees for 3700 pesos, and ate a leisurely lunch in a (don’t ask me where) breezy cafe.

Day 1 ended with a yummy Midlife Madness Welcome Dinner and an even more welcome bed. Then it was goodnight from me and goodnight from him … until 2am, when our body-clocks got us wide-awake again. (Oh, the joys of travelling!)

Day 2 began with brekky, followed by a closer squizz at this grand South American city of seven million – which included a bit of Chilean pomp-&-ceremony: the Changing-of-the-Guard at La Moneda (the presidential) Palace.

After a seafood lunch at the central fish market, we headed 90 minutes down the motorway to the coastal city of Valparaiso. This enchanting port is a mad jigsaw puzzle of rumpty, brightly-coloured houses clinging to impossibly steep cliffs. But we were distracted by an even more enchanting event: our arrival at the cruise terminal where the elegant ms Veendam was parked!

We were welcomed on board, and the pampering began: our first-of-many four-course dinners in the Rotterdam dining room … followed by the ship’s dramatic departure (with the help of tugboats and some frolicking sealions … followed by a lively song-and-dance routine in the Showroom-At-Sea … followed by some overdue shut-eye as the Veendam motored out to sea.

The ship is oh-so-lovely, and today we’re cruising on white-capped seas under clear blue skies. A stiff southerly is blasting us head-on with 48 knots out on deck, but inside we couldn’t care less.

If you’ve never been on a luxury cruise ship, it’s probably hard to imagine. But living on the Veendam is very much like being in a floating hotel/town-centre/mall — with lounges, bars, restaurants, cafes, casino, shops, theatres, pools, and glittering lights everywhere you look. Oh, and with your very own bedroom and ensuite just down the corridor. Plus, you don’t have to do ANY housework, cooking or clean-up! And instead of carparks out the window, you’ve got a never-ending video of ocean and sky. 

It’s entirely your choice what you get up to and when you get up to it – travel-talks on our upcoming stopovers … art/computer/cooking … trivia quizzes, bingo, Pilates and a fully-equipped gym … massages and facials in the Greenhouse Spa … cappuccinos in the coffee shop, high-tea in the restaurant, and food-glorious-food. And in the evening you can tap your feet in the Ocean Bar, dance the night away in the Crow’s Nest, or sing and shout at the spectacular Broadway Show.

In short, if you get bored on board, it’s entirely your own fault! But that, I assure you, is definitely not happening to any of our mad midlife Kiwis – they’re having a BALL!

We’ve got 13 more days of this in South America, and I tell you: it’s gonna be tough! Will we survive – or will we cave in under the pressure? Time will tell, and you’ll be the first to know …

PEOPLE NEWS: Nominations for our hotly-sought-after Midlife Madness Awards are being received … and one of these quacky yellow ducks has already been claimed:

  • Marian received the ‘Man’s Best Friend’ Award – for attracting the undying love and loyalty of a huge brown dog on the streets of Santiago yesterday. This canine monster attached itself to our group (and Marian in particular) during our walking tour of the city centre, moving when we moved, stopping when we stopped, lying protectively at Marian’s feet, and leaping up to bark loudly at all newcomers.  

TOMORROW: We’re venturing ashore in Puerto Montt for a taste of icy lakes, forested mountains, snowy peaks, active volcanoes and charming Bavarian hamlets … so don’t change channels! 

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.