HOLLAND AMERICA: TAKING THE PISCO? I’ll keep this short I promise. It’s not often that I advertise any company more than once (or twice maybe) in my blog. BUT. (Oh! Here we go again with another BUT…) Here’s the rub. We are currently in Peru. Yesterday, before cruising overnight to Lima, we had a day…


I’ll keep this short I promise. It’s not often that I advertise any company more than once (or twice maybe) in my blog. BUT. (Oh! Here we go again with another BUT…)
Here’s the rub. We are currently in Peru. Yesterday, before cruising overnight to Lima, we had a day at another port. The Daily Navigator, the information paper about what is going on and where we are going, was delivered the day before and it said we were going to a place called PISCO.
Come the morning, the first shuttle bus arrived, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, fifth and sixth. People were heading ashore from as early as 8am. We tend to be late wanderers. Being independent travellers we tend to wait until the markets and cafes are open, so it was about about 10.30am when we sauntered into the Ocean Lounge to get our shuttle tickets.
We sat waiting patiently and quietly until an American lady came to the counter and asked why we were being told we were heading for El Chaco, a twenty five minute drive away over stunning desert scenery. Then a second person, an Australian said “Look, you advertise that we are going to Pisco, and we are going to somewhere else. What’s the score?”
Fascinated, we watched the interchange and the increasing ire of the passengers, who mostly believed that they would be ferried by bus to Pisco. “Oh..” Said one of the girls, with a blithe wave of her arm. “We are going to El Chaco. If you want to go to Pisco, you will have to take a taxi from El Chaco. It’s about another thirty five minutes. It costs about twenty five dollars.” (US.)
OK, hey, that’s not right! I stood for the American and the Australian. “You advertise Pisco. You’ve said nothing to all those people who have already gone ashore, and now you say, when you are questioned about it that you are not going to Pisco. Not on!”
Things got a bit restless. Passengers began to drop their shuttle tickets on the counter in anger and decide not to go ashore.
Eventually a small mutiny was beginning, and the word quickly got around that no, we were not going to go to Pisco, but only to El Chaco. To be told that we would have to negotiate a taxi ride to Pisco was salt in the wound.
Some people (me included) were not going to let this little piece of misrepresentation go away easily.
Down came Ryan the location guide who tried to placate the muttering crowd, and doing a bad job of it. Our number, 27 was going to be another 40 minutes or so and the American lady with number 20 offered up her ticket and refused to go ashore. She had her heart set on Pisco, and already her day was ruined.
Ryan, glib as usual tried cover up. Holland America do a lot of covering up apparently. “Our shuttle schedule was changed this morning without us being informed.” He said. I laughed a little sarcastically. This cruise is booked many months ahead. The shuttle should have been locked in. But no, they made it even worse. Over the PA system dear little Mario the cruise director, his over happy Canadian DJ voice booming decided to make things worse. “ There is a need to provide some clarification.” He prattled. “Our shuttle bus will only be going to El Chaco today. This is because of Palm Sunday being a very busy day….” (It was Saturday, not Sunday.)
Oh dear, things went from bad to worse. There was much grumbling and many folk walked away from their expected run ashore. It seemed a bit late to be telling people now that the destination was being changed. Several hundred people had already been ferried ashore with nothing said! It took a multi-national mini mutiny to get any information from Holland America, and when they were questioned about the printed material being quite different from the destination, they were not very good at thinking on their feet.
Why do people lie and obfuscate? I don’t know the answer. Let me know in your comments. All Holland America staff needed to do was to say that there had been an error in the printing of the Daily Navigator and that the destination would in fact be a lovely little place called El Chaco. Simples!

El Chaco main street

People would have easily accepted that. The fact that they had hoped to just get away with it is a typical Holland America ruse. They did it on the MS Zuiderdam, and they did it on the MS Zaandam. It’s in their DNA to obfuscate and mislead and expect to get away with it.
OK. Let’s leave that. It’s over and done. The bus ride into El Chaco was over the most beautiful and desolate landscape, the desert changing hue, the massive dunes and ridges. Lots of adventurous cyclists riding the bumpy road.
The thing about deserts is that many folk would think that there is nothing there. Wrong! Not only is it hurtingly beautiful, but there is an abundance of life.El Chaco candleabra2 But so little time for us. We had to be back on board before 5pm, and it would have been nice to get into the desert and take some photographs. It was positively stunning.
As we came into the town it was a delightful surprise. Full of backpackers and visitors, the many cafes and bars were overflowing along the sea shore, and the fishing fleet a blaze of colour.El Chaco1 Pelicans,El Chaco solo Pelican Inca terns and masses of birdlife buzzing the silky seals. Boys and girls swimming. And every place connected to wifi!
El Chaco is reminiscent of an old style gold town. Higgldy Piggeldy buildings made from adobe bricks and sticks and rushes. Stalls full of fantastic fossils and rocks and crystals brought in from the desert. For anyone interested in collecting such things, there is a magnificent variety of geological and biological fossils and stone. Giant sharks teeth millions of years old, turquoise, iron pyritees, quartz of all colours and shapes. Big pieces of beautiful pink quartz, all this taken from that magnificent arid desert.
Anyone who has not yet discovered El Chaco should put this on their ‘to do’ list. Already thousands of backpackers and casual tourists have discovered this amazing little town, that seems to have grown and spread from the seashore into the arid land.El Chaco backpacker2
It was one of the jewels we will never forget. Thanks to the lady who gave us her number 20 and got us on an early bus!
Eating is cheap, and the local Cristal beer comes in a big bottle. It’s a deceptively strong beer and two bottles will be enough to give any casual drinker the wobbles.
We wandered the markets, took pictures, and simply marvelled at the gorgeous ‘Hippiness’ of the place. The only difference between the hippies of my day and the new-age backpacking hippies is the fact that they are connected! Everywhere has wifi! And it’s cheap! Very cheap. We sat for an hour or two in a strange and ramshackle but busy little eatery on the shore. Two bottles of beer, a large plate of mixed seafood, and a sparkling mineral water later, we got change from twenty USD. A number of people, like us, wandered around El Chaco and sampled the famous Pisco Sour, a drink famous in the area. They ended up walking as if they were still on a rocking vessel!
Put El Chaco on your list before it gets too commercial. (Like Lima!)
And a little message to Holland America. We came on this cruise for the destinations. They have been well worth the problems caused by the shipping line. Under-crewed, obfuscating and misleading, but you can’t fault the destinations on this South American cruise. If only they would serve hot food, keep an eye out for the huge amount of chipped crocery, and just stop telling porkies to the passengers! People are basically very understanding of things. They don’t need to be treated like mushrooms… and if you don’t know the reference it is about being kept in the dark and fed bullshit!
El Chaco may not have been the expected destination, but if the company had been honest early in the morning and corrected their stuff up, there would be a lot more happy campers and a lot less mumbling and grumbling about being shafted!
Oh and just one more thing. If you are thinking of coming on a cruise with Holland America be prepared to suffer the indignity of being ‘sold to’ every minute of every day you spend on board. NO opportunity to sell you something at inflated prices, from art work to shore excursions is missed. It’s really annoying to pay twenty six dollars for a ten dollar bottle of wine and then a three dollar service charge on top. But (there is that big BUT again) that’s another blog.


Author: grahamwhittaker
What do I call myself? A novelist? A journalist? Writer on demand? Copywriter? Ghostwriter? Poet? Is there a single word to describe all these things? if anyone knows one please tell me. I started out life as a journalist after my service time in the RN. I was 22. My love then was music writing, contributing articles to most of the pop/rock magazines of the time. As time went by I ghostwrote biographies for celebs, wrote novels, and made a general living from writing everything from love letters to translating menus in China to acceptable English. I have written greetings cards, manuals, How to books on so many subjects I forget. My living has been as a writer on demand. So, my blog is an eclectic collection of HOW MY BRAIN WORKS. Recently I started writing blogs for company blogs. In my retirement I find myself writing more, about more subjects than I ever covered as a roving journalist. I ask myself why having reached the age of leisure why I am now busier than ever before! If you have a blog, or a job to offer, I'm an obsessive researcher and turnaround time is fast. Yes, I know, I'm a HACK. A writer for money. A gun for hire. But hey... we all have our failings. Thanks for calling in. Feel free to chat and comment. I'll even get back to you with a thank you note!

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