Position: 39(52.6íS, 73(24.7íW.
Overcast and raining.
Breakfast began at 7am and fortified by this, we started our first Zodiac landing of the trip at 8am. Getting into the Zodiacs proved quite challenging, especially for first-timers; there was a significant swell and the Captain had to reposition the ship between groups, in order to gain sufficient shelter to continue the operation safely. By 9.15am all were ashore and on one of the five buses awaiting us at Niebla dock.
After a 20-minute bus ride, we reached our first stop on the outskirts of Valdivia – the museum of history and anthropology, where we saw a number of interesting Native, Spanish and Chilean artifacts. We then proceeded on to the Botanical Gardens, established in 1945 by the Universidad Austral de Chile, who have tended them ever since. Here we took a walk through a beautiful landscape featuring northern hemisphere plant species on our left and southern hemisphere plant species on our right! It rains regularly the whole year round in Valdivia, yet the temperature rarely falls below freezing, which enables an enormous range of botanical specimens (native and introduced) to thrive. Since we were fortunate enough to visit during the spring, there were flowers coming into bloom and we also saw a number of black-faced ibises.
We rejoined our respective buses for the short and scenic ride across the river into town. Our first stop there was at the bustling fish and vegetable market, where we feasted our eyes on local fresh produce. As the market backed onto the river into which fish scraps were being thrown, an added bonus was close-up sightings of cormorants, gulls and huge sea lions hoping for a free meal. After a short walk to Valdiviaís main plaza, we had some free time for sightseeing and shopping for Chilean handicrafts. Our guides also filled us in on some background information about the founding of Valdivia in the early 1550s and the horrendous earthquake and tsunami of 1960 that devastated the town.
Our lunch stop introduced many of us to pisco sour as an aperitif for the first time; it was agreed that it tasted pleasant, but packed quite a punch! After lunch we bade farewell to Valdivia and were driven back to the fort at Niebla, near our landing site. We were impressed by the array of cannons facing out to sea from the fort, half of them original. Once inside the museum, our guides told us of how the Chileans (led by the mercenary British Lord Cochrayne) had managed to capture a large group of forts, including Fort Niebla, from the Spanish in 1820. The site of Valdivia was vital in those days for mariners sailing around Cape Horn, as it provided a much-needed source of fresh drinking water, allowing them to continue safely on up the coast of Chile. Valdiviaís importance declined rapidly from 1914 after the Panama Canal opened, by which traders were able to avoid the treacherous Cape Horn route all together.
Having completed our tour of the area, we reboarded the Zodiacs and headed back to the Prince Albert II. Once again, this was quite a wet ride due to wind and spray, certainly giving us all a sample of real expedition cruising! We were welcomed back onboard with a warming hot drink and headed to our suites for showers and a change into dry clothes. The next few hours gave us a chance to relax and unwind.
Shortly before dinner we got together in The Theatre for a recap and briefing. This was an opportunity for the lecture staff to provide additional knowledge and understanding of what we had seen today and answer questions. I spoke about the life of Pedro de Valdivia; Toby (botanist) identified many of the plants in the Botanical Gardens; Chris (ornithologist) spoke about the birds we had seen today and Robin (marine biologist) taught us to recognize the difference between sea lions and seals.
After a delicious dinner, most of us retired early to bed in order to prepare ourselves for an early start to tomorrow’s day of expedition cruising!