Fred Olsen logo
My South America cruise
5 January - 3 April 2012
with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
on the Balmoral.

Chaplaincies on Fred. Olsen and P&O ships are organised through the Mission to Seafarers in Southampton.
Mission to Seafarers logo
The MS Balmoral
Here's the whole cruise as originally planned. There were four legs, ending (or beginning) in the places marked in red. However, we had to miss out Ocho Rios, Puerto Chacabuco and Buenos Aires for various reasons, explained of whole cruise
Revd. Andrew Huckett is the Mission to Seafarers chaplain in Southampton, and also has the title Chaplain to the Church on the High Seas. This means he is responsible for finding chaplains for cruise ships. Andrew and I met while I was chaplain in the Port of Dover and he kindly came on board to see us off. It was Andrew who suggested cruise chaplaincy as a worthwhile activity for my retirement. Thanks, Andrew!Revd. Andrew Huckett
Revd. Kristiane Charlton is a United Church of Canada minister serving as Lead Minister at Trinity United Church, Cobourg, Ontario. Kris and I met at the Stuttgart Kirchentag in 1999, and this year we managed to arrange for her sabbatical to coincide with the cruise. We shared the leading of worship during the cruise, and it was a joy to have her company on board and on the tours. Revd. Kristiane Charlton
Kristiane and I shared the leading of worship on board, with a Sunday Communion service and a shorter worship service with Communion on sailing days. Services were held in the main Neptune Lounge. We used PowerPoint for much of the worship on board, which saved time and trees, and also allowed us to create liturgies as we went. Services were better attended than this picture suggests - this was setting-up time!the Neptune lounge
So, on to the first leg, Southampton to Montego Bay. map of whole cruise
Santa Cruz, capital of Tenerife, is a large and vibrant city on the north corner of the island, with a long attractive shoreside, quiet side-roads and imposing buildings. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary islands
However, the other side of the island is rugged, stark and bare, a real volcanic wilderness dominated by Mount Teide (pronounced "tidy"), the world's third largest volcano measuring from seabed to peak.
Then six days at sea. Apart from deck games, quizzes, concerts, lectures, worship and four (even five!) meals a day, time does tend to drag a little. There's quite a lot of time spent looking at the sea - there's so much of it! the sea
At last, land! St Maarten, warm Caribbean weather and a welcome chance to stretch the legs. Blue sea, blue skies - what could be nicer? looking out to sea
Well, a couple of things. One would be a plate of ribs and a cold beer (well, two cold beers), sitting in a beach restaurant; and the other was half-an-hour on a segway, an advance birthday present from Kris. An amazing machine, so easy to operate and I want one!local cook and me on a segway
Away from the tourist parts you get a glimpse of life as it's lived on the cutting up fish
Actually, the best part of the afternoon was spent sitting in a beach bar, sharing time with folks from the ship. So many people from the ship seemed to walk past our table. It's a very relaxing way to spend a hot afternoon.beach bar, St Maarten
And then on to Tortola, another beautiful island with views to die for. Its volcanic origins are clear, and there are several islands in the same region - all part of the British Virgin Islands - which have the same sort of profile: lots of forest, one or two high peaks, a major town, stunning beaches - and tourism!views of Tortola
One of the attractions of Tortola is Pussers Outlet, a bar with a shop behind. Rum is the drink of choice in the Caribbean, and Pussers (the name is derived from the Purser who used to hand out rum after a successful battle) sell a drink known as the Stress-Buster. I've known it to take at least three before any noticeable relief is felt.
We enjoyed a good meal on the verandah after escorting tours around the island.
Pussers Outlet
Grand Turk was a revelation. Brilliant blue sky, warm blue sea, and only 200 yards from the ship as the fish swim (although you had to pass through a smart shopping mall first!). Being a non-swimmer I just waded out into the warm water, trying not to trip over rocks. It's a new experience finding oneself being nudged by fish that want to swim just where you're standing!beach and sea, Grand Turk
Some islands seem to be moving into the tourism market while others have a well-resourced tourism industry. There's not a great deal yet to attract tourists except the fantastic beaches. However, we found their museum, which has a very interesting display focused on the earliest recorded wreck of a European sailing ship in the Americas - a caravelle from the 1500s which ended up on the Moroccan Reef off Grand Turk. Grand Turk National Museum
Grand Turk used to be an exporter of salt, but that market dried up. There are several former salt beds still visible in this rather flat island. Incidentally, the name Grand Turk comes from a cactus found on the island, the Turk's Cap Cactus, whose cap is not unlike a Turkish fez.slat bed in Grand Turk
Next we had three visits to ports in the southern United States. Key West (when at long last the US immigration officials let us leave the ship) is a great change from Caribbean islands. It's the most southerly city in the US with strong links with Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. It is full of visitors from the US and absolutely geared towards the tourist industry. Key West from the ship
However, we spent a pleasant time here, including a very good meal in a street restaurant, sharing table space with hens and in Key West
The ship tied up at the quayside which is only yards from the town. We had to leave, though, by 5pm to comply with local regulations which state that ships must not obscure the sunset. Rather a shame to leave so early after such a late start, but as sunsets go, this was a good one.sunset over the sea
And on to New Orleans (pronounced Norleens) but only for a day. This was one visit that many people wished could have been an overnight stop since the music only comes alive in the evenings. Bourbon Street is one of the hubs of the French Quarter where traditional live jazz in many styles is everywhere. But music is part of the ethos of the French Quarter, no matter what time of in the road
Balconies are a feature of the French Quarter, complete wth pot plants. The architecture is a wonderful mix of ancient and modern.balconies and pot plants
Then we arrived in Galveston, but no-one really knew why. It's a huge city with a significant port and (it seemed) not a lot more. One tour destination was the Houston Space Centre but apart from the lovely Moody Gardens and a sudden downpour, it was not a memorable visit.a Galveston street
However, Galveston has strong links with the Texas oil industry, as these "resting" platforms indicate. Derelict silos show that the once buoyant grain industry has declined here as well.oil platforms
Montego Bay is a whole new ball game. From the commercial port and river at Galveston we arived in this Jamaican island paradise - but in some ways not exactly a paradise. The taxi dropped us in the Hip Strip, the area to which all taxi drivers think they should take tourists. It's a street where you may not want to walk alone, certainly after dusk, and where I have in the past been offered drugs quite openly in the street. But choose your drinking hole, and this is the view you get!view across the bay
And so ended the first leg, on Sunday 29th January. The second leg took us down into Chile, a fascinating of the second leg
Colon, Panama. Not the most interesting town, and some warnings of street muggings. But it's the place which sits by Gatun Lake, which is the rain forest lake that feeds the locks of the Panama Canal. As we arrived on station, there were dozens of ships waiting their turn through the Canal.ships awaiting clearance
In town there are no traffic lights and few white lines, so it's a bit of a free-for-all where everyone knows how to play. There seemed to be very few dented cars and a surprising (by UK standards) level of give and take. view of Colon
The Canal requires enormous quantities of water, so the Chargres River was dammed to form the Gatun Lake which, being rain forest, is home to a wide range of animals and birds.the Gatun Lake
Passing through the Canal involves a series of locks and a slow transit of the Gatun Lake. We left our station in the Atlantic at mid-morning and emerged in the Pacific at tea-time. A long, hot and fascinating day.
Incidentally, the electric "mules" that accompany the ships through the Canal do not pull the ships; they only act to centralise the ship in the locks, and sometimes there's barely a foot either side of the larger ships - hence the current construction of a second set of locks to the left of the picture.
passing through the Canal
I succombed to the Balmoral Bug and was confined to the cabin for two days, so I missed Puntarenas (Costa Rica), Corinto (Nicaragua), and didn't leave the port in Acajutla (El Salvador). By all accounts I didn't miss much, although people on tours said they enjoyed the visits. But common to several ports in South America, the area around the port often displays severe poverty. Use your imagination about how people there try to make a living.Advice to Patients booklet
Manta is a fishing port, with a number of ships tied up unloading fish. This one was unloading almost all day, with a succession of lorries taking the catch away for processing. Ships can be away at sea for months on end.unloading fish
We also visited a button factory where the fruit of the Tagua (pronounced "tawa") tree is cut up on automatic machines. The ones used for demonstrating the process to visitors would bring tears to the eyes of any Health & Safety officer!
Montecristi is a neighbouring town, renowned for the manufacture of Panama hats and also the birthplace of Eloy Alfaro Delgado, leader of the Ecuadorian Liberal Revolution at the end of the 19th century and a former President. His image is everywhere. Delgado and the Montecristi market
So now we're in Callao (pronounced, it seems, "kalyow"), the commercial port near Lima, Peru. We were there two nights, partly to take on supplies but also because a coachload of folk, including Kristiane, left the ship at Manta on Wednesday to spend four days visiting Machu Picchu, returning on the Sunday. Callao, like many ports to come, carried a ship's security warning against wandering outside the port gates. Needless to say, some people took no notice, and two were quite badly bruised when they were mugged just 300 yards outside the port. port view at Callao
One tour included a visit to the Museo Larco, a private museum of artefacts taken from ancient burial sites by one Rafael Larco Hoyle (1901-1966), whose collection numbers several thousand pieces. The museum is housed in his private house, a beautiful property near the centre of Lima. It also houses a separate collection of erotic pottery. Goodness, what the ancients got up to!
It's not hard to imagine that some of these port towns are just beginning to realise the power of the tourist dollar, and Arica might be one. It's a fairly attractive small town, but there's not much to see apart from the shopping streets, the Church of St Mark and the Gibralter-like rock - the Morro de Arica - to one side. In the area, however, are several car manufacturers, attracted to Arica by Government financial incentives.Arica
There is a large open area with some stalls selling hats (it was over 30°C in the shade!) leading up to the church. plaza in front of the church
Today we set out from Coquimbo to visit the small town of Vicuña (and wondered why!) before arriving at the Pisco distillery in the Elqui Valley. Pisco is the national drink of Chile, and is usually served as Pisco Sour : using Pisco as the base, you add lime or lemon juice, sugar and egg white, and serve with ice. Very tasty, very moreish! The recipe depends on whether you are making Peruvian or Chilean Pisco Sour! Apparently there's a dispute between Peru and Chile as to which country it truly belongs. But besides all that, the setting for the distillery is just perfect. the distillery amid the hills
In the coach it seemed very arid country for miles inland from the port, but suddenly everything became green. It's obviously the right region to produce those wonderful Chilean wines. The atmosphere here is reputed to be the clearest in the world, especially for astronomical purposes.vines growing
Valparaiso, and the end of the second leg. 500 people got off the ship and 500 got on. For those of us who'd rather get out of the way, the tour coaches were waiting to take some of us to - goodness! another winery! tour coaches lined up
We first went through Viña del Mar ("Vineyard by the Sea"), a very well-known resort and Chile's fourth largest city. Its beaches are renowned, as are its gardens - it's known as the Garden City. We called in at a local museum. It's interesting how the different tour organisations handle visitors: some obviously train their guides very well, so that we get a clear picture of life in that place - its history, economics, politics, schooling and so on. Others don't! Here the guide was excellent.Viña del Mar
At the Casa del Bosque, most of the party had seen the wine-making process elsewhere, so the highlight was this young man with a weekend job, who understood that offering samples of the wines meant refilling glasses when empty, over and over and... No-one felt keen to dissuade him!wine sampling
Valparaiso appears a huge city, but it is only Chile's sixth largest with a population of around a quarter of a million.

And so ended our second leg, on Sunday 19th February.
Valparaiso from the ship
Here's the route of leg 3, which didn't go according to plan. Anyone reading the news at this time might be able to guess what happened, though the map gives it away!map of leg 3
There was a dock strike in Puerto Chacabuco, so we put Castro back a day and called at Puerto Montt. However, we first visited Frutillar, a town originally populated by German colonist who settled by Lake Llanquihue during the 19th century. The buildings of Frutillar have a distinctly German feel - a small Hospedaje offers Kuchen, there's the Hotel Am See, and one restaurant describes itself as a Bauernhaus (farmhouse). Frutillar
From Frutillar, which sits on Lake Llanquihue, there is a breathtaking view of Osorno Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes of the southern Chilean Andes. The lake is deep blue, and of course the day was perfect.looking towards the volcano
Back in Puerto Montt we found a restaurant overlooking one of the inlets from the Reloncavi Sound, and decided that my birthday should be celebrated over lunch. So with Kris are William, from the Tours team (talking to our waitress with no Spanish and lots of laughter), and Luc, the Entertainment team's DJ. Not surprisngly, we ate fish, some of which I'd never heard of! my birthday lunch
Castro was one port where we had to be landed by tender, using several of the lifeboats. It is a small town with a thriving fishing (especially salmon) industry and the ubiquitous handicrafts market. the harbour at Castro
The hill to the town centre is remarkably steep, and crosses the Pan-American Highway. Believe it or not, this road can take you to the north of Alaska, crossing the Panama Canal by way of the Bridge of the Americas (the photo is looking the wrong way!). Pan-American Highway in the town
One of the features of this region of Chile is the Palafito, houses built on stilts. This one was a large restaurant, but family homes on stilts are now part of the Chilean architectural built on stilts
We spent two days cruising what are known as the Chilean Fjords. The region is a mass of waterways and channels between islands, with the temperature growing colder by the hour and civilisation becoming ever more sparse. Snow-capped mountains and large chunks of floating ice are all around. Spectacular! The Amalia (aka. Skua) glacier is stunning in early morning light.the Skua glacier at 7am
Some more! Notice how calm the sea is in these sheltered waters.snow-capped mountains
Punta Arenas is the southernmost city of Chile, and the largest city south of the 46th parallel. welcome sign, Punta Arenas
It was a Sunday so there were not many people about. But it is a quite large city nonetheless, with a population just over 150,000.looking over the town
The Cemetery is one of the highlights of a visit here, and one of the sights there is the "Indio Desconocido". An unknown Indian died in 1930 on the island of Diego de Almagro and was buried in this cemetery. Over the years, a legend grew up that the Indian was helping people with their problems, with papers fixed to the grave expressing gratitude. The present grave was built to honour this unknown Indian; his left hand is polished by the people who touch it.tomb of the unknown Indian
Cape Horn is notorious for bad weather - strong winds, high waves, strong currents and icebergs. In the event, our transit through the northern boundary of Drake's Passage (the usual route for sailors) was relatively calm but rather cold. Cape Horn itself is (apparently) in the background of this photo, with the Cathedral Rocks in the foreground.Cape Horn
After Cape Horn we sailed across the southern Atlantic to Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. The islands have a population of about 3,500. The day we visited was a blue sky day and relatively warm. The day before, we were told, two cruise ships were unable to stay because of high winds.
Actually our luck held for most of the cruise. We had only three really wet days in three months, and the seas were at most a heavy swell.
welcome sign, Falkland Islands
Jubilee Villas (1887) (top left) is not typical of houses here. Nearly all the buildings are wooden structures with corrugated iron roofs, and most are brightly painted. Most seem well looked after, but there's not much evidence of gardens for growing food. Maybe the climate has a lot to do with that, and we gathered that the weather that day was unusually warm.houses on the island
We visited the cathedral, not any bigger than an English parish church. The Bishop of the Falklands is Bishop Stephen Venner, who was formerly Bishop of Dover and my bishop in Canterbury Diocese.Christ Church Cathedral
Not surprisingly, there is a memorial to the British forces who fought the Argentinian forces in 1982. There are more Union Jacks flying here on houses than you'd ever find in the UK, and a great determination to stay British. There is more commercial contact between the islands and the UK than most of us had to the British forces
Apart from missing Puerto Chacabuco, there was another not unexpected surprise. Having visited Port Stanley, Argentina refused us permission to enter their waters. OK, we'll stay overnight in Montevideo. No, that didn't happen either, because there was a fishing boat on fire in the harbour and we had to leave the berth at 4am for Punta del Este. Something of a nightmare for officers and especially the tours staff on board, having to rearrange things overnight.
Punta del Este was a mile from the ship by tender, and since the temperature was in the early 30s and the ship was almost deserted, we stayed and had a restful day on board.
burning fishing boat
Montevideo is the capital city of Uruguay with a population of about 1.3 million people (about half the country's population). living there. Independence Plaza is a splendid square in the centre. central square, Montevideo
The Fortaleza Del Cerro is the last Spanish fort built by the Spanish in Uruguay, and from it you can see most of the city of Montevideo. the Fortaleza Del Cerro
I escorted one of tours that told the story of the Graf Spee, a German "pocket battleship" during WW2, which took refuge in the port of Montevideo after the Battle of the River Plate in 1939. It was eventually scuttled in open water outside the port, off to the right of the picture. view across the bay
We entered Brazil by calling at Santos, but the immigration process was so long-winded that the ship was not cleared until 3.30pm but by that time I had lost interest in doing anything in Santos. It was the usual commercial port, and you can get an impression of the city in this picture. I went to the Passenger Terminal to see if (a) I could get some local currency and (b) to see if there was a free Wi-Fi connection there. I could and did and there wasn't. Santos from the ship
Somehow I always find this sort of view disturbing. Maybe my concern is more for some of the islands we visit on cruise ships, where the local economy is boosted by tourism - indeed, for many it is the main industry. But I can't help feeling that in the hinterland of those places, away from the glitz and the glamour, the economy is not so buoyant and wealth not equitably shared out. I hope I'm wrong, but...
Ilhabela. This is what cruising is for! An idyllic island in perfect weather, just right for doing very little and enjoying it. After the morning tours, we stayed on the island. view of Ilhabela
We met up with Karla and Terry who are part of the Blue Diamond Band, had lunch together and then took a taxi along the coast. It is one of those islands which cannot be anything less than exotic and welcoming, with friendly people and lots of beaches each with several bars.Kris with Karla and Terry
Rio de Janeiro. A wonderful setting, around a bay with golden sands (Ipanema and Copacabana beaches to name but two). But so much concrete, so many buildings. view of Rio de Janeiro
Rio is an extensive city surrounded by hills, on the top of one of which Christ the Redeemer watches over the city and its people. This iconic statue was built in 1930 to face the city of Rio, but development since then has extended Rio as far behind as in front of the statue. A wonderful image for 'God in the midst'.Christ the Redeemer
That was the end of the third leg, and the last leg took us where so many people wanted to go - the mighty River of the fourth leg
I've not shown many (if any) churches, but many of the tours included a visit to a notable church building. So here's the Cathedral of St Francisco in Salvador, which doesn't look much on the outside. It was the first Jesuit seminary on the South American continent.outside Salvador cathedral
But inside it's a different story. It's spectacular, if such opulence is what helps you worship God.inside Salvador cathedral
Salvador is built on two levels, with this ancient lift to connect the two. At sea level there's an excellent market which afforded us some interesting browsing.the lift at Salvador
Recife is another large city but our tour took us first to Olinda, a small and pretty town a few miles out of Recife. This was a pleasant UNESCO World Historical Monument town, with a small centre of narrow streets and the Sé Cathedral, and several superb viewpoints. View of Olinda
The city of Recife is like most others, busy and noisy and not very memorable. The Golden Chapel was worth a look, extremely OTT, but is now a museum and no longer a centre for worship. We looked for lunch after the tour, and crossed the bridge into the older part of town. But all we found was a huge flea market taking up several streets, selling almost everything but food! We ended up in a small sandwich bar, hardly the most interesting venue even for a sandwich.river at Recife
Next we visited Fortaleza, yet another city with golden sands and sea-front hotels by the dozen. Somehow "sea-front" back home doesn't quite convey the same image as it does here! Again it was sizzlingly hot with not much movement of air. But who's complaining? sea-front at Fortaleza
In contrast to so many over-opulent churches, this cathedral was delightfully simple. The white and largely undecorated walls gave the place a brightness and an openness that was quite refreshing. cathedral at Fortaleza
The Theatro José de Alencar was opened in 1910 after nearly fifteen years in construction, with the cast iron framework being imported from Glasgow. The art nouveau building houses art galleries, study rooms, workshops, the College of Dance of Ceará and much more. the Theatro José de Alencar
And the interior simply takes us back to a previous era. Remarkably well preserved. Inside the theatre
So we came, at long last, to the reason so many passengers - sorry, guests! - had chosen this cruise. The River Amazon is breathtaking. It was impossible to gauge the width of the river as we entered it; the mouth of the estuary is around 150 miles wide and for about 50 miles the river is wider than the horizon. About one fifth of the world's fresh water entering the oceans is from the Amazon.
But for me, the most fascinating aspect of this enormous river is its colour: it's the colour of a strong cup of tea! Apparently the river has such a strong flow that it can carry its silt directly into the Atlantic, rather than depositing it along the banks or creating a delta.
the Amazon river
At Santarém, at the end of two days' cruising the river, we were at the junction of the river Tapajós (named after the Indian tribe who once lived there) and the Amazon. Santarém is a significant centre in Lower Amazonia for agriculture, cattle and mining. I was quite surprised by the size of the city, having rather expected a small town given the density of the forest on either side of the Amazon.Santarém
The "Meeting of the Waters" is where the Amazon meets the Tapajós. For a long distance the blue waters of the Tapajós remain distinct from the muddy brown of the Amazon, and this phenomenon occurs at several points along the Amazon, notably at Manaus; the River Negro meets the River Amazon but the two remain separate for 6Km. The cause is to do with current rate, temperature and water density.The Meeting of the Waters
From this point on, many folk were thinking of home, since there were only two more stops before Southampton. After five days at sea the first was at Mindelo, on the Cape Verde Islands. I was almost persuaded by this view that this would be an interesting place to see. view of Mindelo
There was a fair-sized town and harbour, but once away from Mindelo the island was mostly bare rock and scree with occasional buildings but neither people nor animals. In the end, there was some puzzlement around as to why we'd stopped there, even if it was only for a very few hours. The tour was to Catfish Bay on the other side of the island, but it didn't change my overall impression. Maybe there are hidden delights elsewhere! rocks and scree
Funchal (Madeira), however, is well worth a visit, a friendly and busy city in a very pretty island. There's a lot to see and do here, including the famous toboggan ride from the Monte down to Funchal. Look this up on YouTube!a Funchal street
We found a small downstairs restaurant in a side street, obviously well-known to local folk, and enjoyed a relaxing lunch. lunch
Then a very calm Bay of Biscay, though with a helicopter evacuation in the early hours of April 2nd which made our return into Southampton a few hours later than planned. We've seen places we'd never have seen, met some memorable people and made good friends. Much to reflect on in days to come.

If you've made the journey thus far, well done! I might well tweak this in months to come, so do call again.

Comments welcome at
shot of the ship's wake