With a horticultural career spanning four decades, Dr. Ken Beattie has become one of Canada’s most notable and approachable resources in the plant world. He has developed award-winning television programs including the documentary series, “The Earth’s Garden,” and also served as host of the live, Canadian television series, “Get Growing.” Below Ken shares a glimpse of the unique Chilean landscape, brimming with surprises.
Chile is an amazing place, offering a banquet for the senses and provender aplenty for stimulating conversation. How would I describe this country? A lengthy ribbon of mountains, abrupt shorelines, magnificent plants and cultures with roots deep in a mysterious past.
Our stunning one-week voyage took us from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia on the Argentine border of Tierra del Fuego. To my delight, from the Pacific coast vantage, Chile was unbelievably beautiful and became more outstanding each day. Perhaps my most wondrous and thought-provoking find was in a tiny museum in Iquique, Chile: several well-preserved human mummies. Ten-thousand-year-old mummified human remains are still unearthed with incredible regularity from the Atacama Desert regions. These remains pre-date the Inca Empire by 6,000 years. The most famous of these finds were the Chinchorro mummies first unearthed by workers near Arica, Chile on the harsh desert coastline.
Meanwhile, the overall look of northern Chile was stark and desert-like, including abrupt landscapes jutting out of the Pacific with very little evidence of plants — in particular, grapes. Chile is known for its wine industry, which I was primed to sample. When in doubt, check with the excursion desk, or in my case, the senior sommelier onboard. The bustling coastal city of Valparaiso offered great hope as we ventured ashore with directions and a shopping list from the sommelier.
The landscape had changed dramatically, offering a “Vancouver-like” feel. Our map and directions took us to the very popular city region of Viña del Mar. As implied there was viña — or better yet, vino and a whole lot of mar. Robust reds abound with Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignons leading the pack – according to my taste buds. Oceania Cruises is known for its extensive wine list and as we travelled the wine country, the list expanded to feature several unusual vintages. I have a female vintner who plies her skills in the much publicized regions of southern France, and she once told me in a hushed whisper her best reds come from her vineyards in Chile! Chilean wines are not to be missed.
Sailing further south, the weather suited our latitude in mid-February, cool with steady winds laden with salt mist. The magnificent fjord lands started for us in the tiny city of Puerto Montt, continued to Punta Arenas and then on to the spectacular region of Patagonia. Just saying the name “Patagonia” brought excitement to my voice.
Onward, Ushuaia is a city reminiscent of Jasper, Alberta. Straddling the Argentine border, it boasts the status of the most southern city. Charles Darwin sailed these waters on the famous Beagle of which the channel bears the name. He and his crew actually charted most of our itinerary, journaling the diversity of flora and fauna of this great southern continent. This was another thrill to sense – I was on a journey that one of my champions travelled almost two centuries ago.
The great Southern Beech forests must have impressed Darwin, along with the bizarre Araucaria, or Monkey Puzzle, trees. Many of the plants in the furthest points south exhibit unusual floral structures and have unique adaptations to ensure pollination and survival under adverse climatic conditions.
Fuchsia abounded, as did Barberry and a vast array of mosses and ferns, many which bear the names of explorers such as Magellan and Darwin. Fascinating, breathtaking and awe-inspiring are descriptors I use when asked to describe the area and my experience.
Once again, Oceania Cruises offered top-notch service and one of the most enticing itineraries I have ever taken. It was overflowing with excellent excursion choices, interesting ports that many ships can’t navigate and the hallmark “family” crew who spoil us time and time again. Gracias, mi amigos!