What a trip this was! Embarking in Lima, Peru through the Chilean Fjords and disembarking in Buenos Aires, Argentina! A Packing nightmare…… warm weather, cold weather with high winds, and then warm weather again! At the furthest southern point of the cruise, we would be within a few hundred miles of Antarctica. The trip had “adventure” written all over it from the beginning to the end. I’m here to give you the details, so grab a Falkland Islands Warmer and cozy up to a tale of awesome adventure that even features a couple of unexpected stowaways!
THE FIRST STOWAWAY:
There is a bit of a background story here which I must tell you so you can connect with the full impact of this all went down. My kids and I had a habit of “harmless” pranks. As they got older, those pranks began to involve friends and sometimes our community. One morning, I woke up and as I looked out the window, I saw no less than 100-yard gnomes in the front yard! It seems, my newly licensed son and his friends had made their way through the streets “collecting” yard gnomes from other people’s yards, and what better place to display their stash- our front yard! I was convinced we would all be arrested but the boys returned all gnomes to their rightful owners and everyone had a good laugh!
Now you have the background…… So, the morning I left to go to the airport for this amazing trip, I stole the gnome from my son’s yard. “Gnome Boy” as the stowaway became to be known, was everywhere! He rode the belt for TSA, was buckled into a seat on the plane, and accompanied me throughout the trip. He made friends with flight attendants, hotel clerks, and staff on the ship, and even had a special spot in the smokers’ lounge area on board.
THE FURTHER SOUTH WE SAILED:
I’m originally a Midwest gal, so although I don’t like cold weather, I can tolerate it. The weather would change rapidly sometimes throughout the day until we were “south enough”, that it just stayed cold and windy. As if by magic, once we passed through the Strait of Magellan and headed north, the weather changed to warm again.
That being said, this part of the trip was my favorite part.
AN AMAZING DAY IN PUERTO CHACABUCO:
As we made our way south along the western coast of South America heading for the Chilean Fjords, our port call was in Puerto Chacabuco. It was a delightful day of hiking in the Tierra Del Fuego (named by Ferdinand Magellan and means Land of Fire) National park on Chiloe Island also known as Deer Lake Island. The island is known for its indigenous deer, the Pudu. These deer are the 2nd smallest deer in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any deer that day but the scenery was absolutely spectacular!
HIKING IN PATAGONIA
It was here that the hiking guide told us that it is not unusual to experience all four seasons in one day! The day was beautiful and stayed spring-like for our entire experience. Getting to the island was an adventure of its own. We were picked up at the ship with a wooden boat that seemed less than sea-worthy. As we chugged our way to the make-shift dock, I wondered if I would make it back for dinner.
Climbing steps once on land, we arrived in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. Did you know that the Andes are claimed by both Chile and Argentina? This area is commonly known as the beginning of Patagonia. Because of the subpolar oceanic climate, there are only 6 species of trees there. My research tells me that only 30% of the islands in that area have trees. Many of the trees have grown into twisted shapes because of the frequently occurring strong winds. Sometime in the 1940s, North American Beavers were brought in. These guys have wreaked so much havoc on many of the trees and other fauna, that there are trap programs to kill the beavers.
SETTING SAIL FOR BEAGLE CHANNEL AND THE CHILEAN FJORDS:
Sailing through Beagle Channel and the Fjords promised to be exciting. On so many levels, I had no idea what I was in for! Starting out with this beautiful sunset, adventure was waiting!
GLACIER ALLEY in the Chilean Fjords:
Let’s get the proverbial stats out of the way and then on to the adventure! There are five glaciers in this ice field which is named Darwin Corridor. (yes, after Charles Darwin). The glacier names are as follows: Romanch, Alamanya, Francia, Italy, and Hollanda. You’ll notice in some of the pictures below the deep blue colors. This deep blue is because the glaciers are so old and thick that light can no longer penetrate.
We were fortunate to have a National Geographic representative aboard who narrated as we passed through Glacier Alley. This experience was awesome yet at the same time a little spooky- a bit Titanic-icky! It was cold, very cold. The ship staff was passing through handing out blankets, cups of hot broth, and assorted other adult beverages. I think at some point, I was so cold, that I didn’t care if the beverages were hot or not!
THE NEXT STOWAWAYS in the Chilean Fjords:
I’ve had a great day! I was exhausted from all the excitement and newfound knowledge. The next day was going to be equally fabulous and I went to sleep, listening to the sound of the water with the veranda open. But….. Out of a dead sleep, I was awakened! I Hear, “Open the Door Please, Security! It’s Security, Please Open the Door!” What the hell! I stumbled to the door, flipped on the light, and OH MY GOD! The suite was full of birds, real birds, that were alive!
Apparently, my travel companion had awakened, saw the birds, and left the suite to summon help, leaving me in there by myself! From what the ship staff said, this is a common phenomenon in this area. The birds are cold. They know the ships are warm and they fly on board.
On the pool deck, they had bird warming stations set up. They would warm the birds and then set them free to fly away (and wait for the next ship?).
PUNTA ARENAS: Still in the Chilean Fjords
Another exciting day ahead as we disembarked in Punta Arenas (in English- Sandy Park)! Yes, It was Cold! Bundled up, we visited the newly restructured city of Punta Arenas- they re-did the entire city to modernize it! Wow!
Over the years the city name has been changed a few times. in 1927, the city was officially named Magallanes. In 1938, the name reverted back to Punta Arenas.
Punta Arenas is the southernmost city on Earth. It is home to the Magellan Straits Park and also home to the first settlement after the discovery of the Strait of Magellan. The settlement, Nombre de Jesus, was built and fortified to protect the Strait in 1584. It quickly failed due to the harsh weather, the inability to get fresh water and food, and the distance from other Spanish Ports. Because of the rather quick failure, it has become known as the Port of Starvation!
HISTORY OF PUNTA ARENAS:
Since its original establishment, the city has grown in size and importance. Originally after the Strait was founded, it saw an influx of immigrants from Europe wanting to cash in on the California Gold Rush. Geographically, it gained importance because it is the southernmost free port. There is a zone away from the main port referred to as zona Franca where items can be imported/exported under a reduced tax program. The other port in Chile with the same tax setup is Iquique, which is in the northernmost part of the country.
Punta Arenas is often a starting point for expeditions to Antarctica as the distance is about 1430 km. Its economy is based on expedition tourism, sheep, and cattle. Quite an interesting and diverse city!
Over the next few days, I will publish additional articles on my journey through South America.
Until next time, friends, remember: “To Travel is To Live!”