A Travellerspoint blog


Rounding the Horn: Chilean Patagonia

The waters around the cape are particularly hazardous, due to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs - making it notorious as a sailors' gravgard. Sailing around the Horn is widely regarded as one of the major challenges in boating.

We awoke this morning to find that we had crossed the Drake Passage and Cape Horn — the southern most point of South America — was in sight.
The joy of having completed the journey was tempered with the news that the sea was much too rough to attempt a landing on Cape Horn itself. As a consolation, the captain cruised around the Horn east¬to-west (from the Atlantic to the Pacific) and then back again (Pacific to Atlantic)...so we can all say that we've "rounded the Horn" twice!
Since our next scheduled stop was at 5:30 pm, we spent most of the day relaxing and watching the islands of Chilean Patagonia glide past our windows. During the mid¬morning, we watched a movie "Navigating Cape Horn"; it was filmed by an American sailor in 1928 when he sailed around Cape Horn on a huge 4-masted windjammer sailing ship. Despite the fact that it was a grainy, old black-and-white film, the narration that had been added in 1980 by the sailor (then a retired captain) was light-hearted and entertaining. Seeing men dangling from timbers and rigging 17 stories up while huge waves rolled over the decks below put our return across the Drake Passage into perspective!
By early afternoon, we were turning west into the Beagle Channel, steaming toward Puerto Williams, Chile. Puerto Williams boasts that it is the southern-most town in the world. Now if you think back a week or so, you may recall that we began our cruise at Ushuaia, Argentina, which bills itself as the world's southern-most city. Argentina and Chile have had a long- lived rivalry over many things down here and this is one of them. Geographically, Puerto Williams is farther south, as it sits on the south bank of the Beagle Channel while Ushuaia is on the north bank; but Ushuaia has a population of 60,000 while Puerto Williams is a small naval base town... so they each maintain their claim to fame! One attraction in town is the prow of the ship Yelco that rescued the Shackleton crew from Elephant Island after being stranded in Antarctica for nearly two years, 1914 - 1916.
As our ship docked at Puerto Williams, the sun was shining; by the time we disembarked, it was snowing; and as we finished our trek through the town square, the snow had turned to rain. We found a warm spot at the Yacht Club (which is located inside a rusty old ship) and enjoyed a pisco sour (the national drink). By the time we were finished, the sun was out again to dry us off on our walk back to the ship. It was good to feel the solid earth beneath our feet!
Back on board, we ate dinner and retired to our cabin to watch some DVDs on the laptop and then retire.

  • Cape Horn, situated at almost 56 degrees south, is often said to be the southernmost point of South America. It is located in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. The southernmost point on the mainland is Cape Froward. The region is of great significance due to its location, history, discovery, and commercial sailing.
  • The Cape was first rounded by a European on January 26, 1616, by the Dutch expedition of Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire. They named it Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn, Schouten's birthplace. The Spanish name of the place is derived from the Dutch: Cabo de Hornos.
  • The Cape lies within Chilean territorial waters, and Chile supports a lighthouse keeper and his family. The government station consists of a residence, utility building, chapel, and lighthouse. A short distance from the main station is a large sculpture featuring the silhouette of an albatross. The terrain is entirely treeless, although quite lush due to the frequent precipitation.

Posted by jeburns55 01:09 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Relax and Watch the World Go By: Chilean Patagonia

The indigenous Fuegians belonged to several tribes including the Ona, Haush, Yahgan, and Alacaluf. In this cold climate, the Yahgan wore few clothes. Their bodies were covered with grease from the sea animals they caught.

This was another day spent entirely on the ship.

We had removed our motion sickness patches from behind our ears yesterday afternoon, thinking we were now in the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan. . . sheltered channels of water the lie between many small islands. However, we woke up to find the ship heaving to and fro; we had slipped out into the Pacific just west of the islands and the sea was as rough as it had been a couple days ago! On went the new patches.
After lunch we attended a lecture on the indigenous people who once lived in this area. Of the four tribes that once inhabited this area, nearly all of them are gone since the early 1900's due to disease, changes in theirlifestyles due to over hunting of seals by Americans and Europeans, and because at one point they were hunted for bounty — much like animals. A 90 year old woman is the sole survivor of one tribe; about a dozen individuals of one other tribe still survive. Soon all of them will be gone.
By mid-afternoon, we were moving through the islands again. The water was calming and we began cruising some beautiful sounds — Agostini, Hyatt and Serrano Sounds. The ship was surrounded by huge granite walls rising out of the water, covered with green trees and shrubs...laced with long strings of waterfalls ...capped with snow that slides down the mountain-sides as blue-tinged glaciers.
The captain brought us into a "dead end" at the Darwin Cordillera where a matched pair of glaciers slide into the water at the end of the sound. One glacier demonstrated calving by dropping some relatively small faces of ice into the water; the cracking sounds, like huge gunshots, were quite impressive.

After spending an hour or so on deck, everyone came in to warm up and prepare for dinner. We attended a couple of orientations to update us on our itinerary for the next few days.

The evening was topped off with a "show" hosted by the crew at 10 pm; there was singing and comedy. The two of us only caught the first half hour, though. By 10:30, we were yawning and ready for bedtime.

  • Beagle Channel is a strait separating islands of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. It separates Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego from several smaller islands to the south. Its eastern portion is part of the border between Chile and Argentina, but the western part is completely within Chile. Beagle Channel is about 150 miles long and is about three miles wide at its narrowest point. To the west the Darwin Sound connects it to the Pacific Ocean.
  • The channel is named after the ship HMS Beagle which was involved in two hydrographic surveys of the coasts of the southern part of South America in the early 19th century. During the first, under the overall command of the Australian Commander Philip Parker King, the Beagle's captain Pringle Stokes committed suicide and was replaced by captain Robert FitzRoy. The second is better known as the voyage of the Beagle and is famous because captain FitzRoy took Charles Darwin along as a gentleman's companion, giving him opportunities as an amateur naturalist.

Posted by jeburns55 02:10 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

A Night On Shore: Chilean Patagonia

Puerto Natales has a population of about 20,000. Much like Queens¬town, New Zealand, this city is full of tweno-something back¬packers, youth hostels, and outdoor gear stores.

This was a quiet day. Most of the day was spent on the ship cruising through the upper Magellan Strait and then into the patchwork of islands that dot the southwest coast of Chile.
The one excitement of the day was passing through the Kirke Narrows, a space of water lying between two islands that only allow a few feet of space between shore and shipon each side. The ship can only pass through at slack tide — the mid-point between low and high tides. It was done with relative ease.
The next point of excitement was docking in Puerto Natales. This is a small city with a busy little port that faces some beautiful snow-capped mountains. Many internet cafes, restaurants, and trekking outfitters line the streets; this is a backpacker's paradise because the Torres del Paines National Park in just down the road.
We walked into town, visited a few shops, and ate a nice dinner off the ship for a change. Then we returned to our cabin and retired early...big day tomorrow at the park!

Posted by jeburns55 03:11 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Quite the Day in Patagonia: Chilean Patagonia

Guanacos are related to llamas and alpacas; their coloring hair and site is what distinguishes one species from another. Nandus, also known as the lesser rheas, are the Americas' ostrich.

Well, if yesterday was rather calm and uneventful, today certainly made up for it.
We were up very early — 5 a.m. — in order to eat breakfast and get on the bus that would take us to Torres del Paines National Park. (Actually, there were seven separate buses from our ship that went to the park.) This park was established in 1959 and covers over half a million acres of some of the most unique geology in the world. The crowning point of the park are the huge snow-capped spires that rise up in the middle of the surrounding bluffs, plateaus, and plains. Although it would seem that they are just more of the Andes Mountains that lie off in the distance, they are not. The Andes were formed about 60 million years ago; the peaks of the Torres del Paines are only 12 million years old. They were formed when hot magma pushed up a relatively small section of granite and sedimentary rock through a "soft spot" in the earth's crust creating a separate little mountain range.
The drive to the park took nearly an hour and a half. We had several stops at scenic lookouts where wecould view aqua blue lakes, wild flowers, and mountain vistas. One small hitch: the weather here changes by the minute and the frequent driving rain and low clouds hid the very tops of the majestic peaks.
Around 11 a.m. we stopped for a very nice four course lunch at a restaurant in the park...our choice of salmon, chicken or steak. Very nice.
Then we were back on the bus to visit some spectacular waterfalls. This is where the day got extremely ("extreme" being the operative word) interesting. On our way to the falls, our Chilean guide told us that there was a 10 minute walk from the parking lot to the falls, and once there, we would have one hour to walk and take pictures. He cautioned us that it can be very windy. When our bus arrived at the parking lot for the falls, one of the expedition guides from the ship came on our bus and told us that two people from another bus had just been injured walking to the falls because they had literally been blown off of their feet by the wind! (They were taken back to the ship to be treated by the ship's doctor; one person hadseveral stitches in his face.) Well, we had come all this way, so we weren't going to sit on the bus...we headed out. It wasn't too bad at the start, but about halfway there we walked onto a rise and the wind hit us like a train. We crouched down so we wouldn't blow over; at one point a Chilean guide made her way over to us and said, "You can't stay here! You have to move! You must go forward!" It sounded like something out of a war movie. Once we got down off the rise, it was better (some) and and the view of the waterfall was worth it. The price: soaked shoes and socks (once again, thank goodness for rain pants and parkas).
More excitement ensued when a couple from Australia didn't return to our bus. For over an hour we all worried and fretted and contacted the park rangers for fear they had blown into the falls; as it turned out, they had walked down a trail that they thought was a short loop — but it wasn't. That delay cost us some sightseeing, but we still managed to see lots of wildlife: guanacos, nandus, gray fox, upland geese, and an Andean condor.
Another memorable day!

Posted by jeburns55 04:12 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

A Quiet Day in the Strait: Chilean Patagonia

Although we saw a whale today, it was too far away to be identified. Earlier in the trip, we saw a pod of killer whales and a pod of dolphins.

Today was a quiet day cruising up the Strait of Magellan from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas where we will disembark from the ship tomorrow.

We spent some time doing "administrative" tasks, like finding out what bus we leave on tomorrow, what time our plane will fly out, when we can get our passports, and what is the total of our final on-board bill. Aside from that, we spent time sitting in the seventh deck lounge just reading or
cross-stitching, playing cards, and visiting with other folks we've come to know over the past three weeks.
Occasionally, we stepped outside to snap some pictures of the mountains that line the shore. There was one exciting moment in the afternoon when we sailed past a shipwreck (from the 1960's) and a whale was sighted at the same time. We saw it break the surface and watched it's tail rise and then slide below the surface — but too fast for a photo!
This evening was the "captain's dinner". Champagne was provided for all; the captain and some crew members said a few words. There was plenty of applause for all. Our dinner features medallions of red deer.

By 10:30 p.m., our bags were packed and set outside of our cabin door to be picked up and sent to the airport. We turned in early, because we have one last Patagonian field trip tomorrow, so we'll be up at 5 a.m.

Posted by jeburns55 08:15 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]