A Travellerspoint blog

Happy Birthday from the Horn!

semi-overcast 12 °C

Pretty cool to ring in my next 365-day journey around the sun by an early morning landing on Cape Horn. Turns out we don’t head to Ushuaia today but tomorrow.

Yesterday was pretty spectacular; we headed out in the afternoon to hike up a viewpoint of Pia Glacier. The Glacier is magnificent and hard to describe, imagine Lake Louise but it flows all the way down to the ocean. It was 11 degrees or so pieces were constantly falling off with loud bangs and filled the bay with bergy bits. The zodiacs had to work to navigate the ice, which added to the excitement and uniqueness of the adventure. Once ashore we wasted no time heading up to the viewpoints. The hike we chose was “challenging” and offered fabulous views of the area. Well worth enduring the mud and at times unstable rock falls.

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We returned to the boat to get our hot chocolate and whiskey (really the only way I will drink scotch) before heading to the bar to grab a table for our passage through Beagle Channel and Glacier Alley. Living up to its name the passage features several glaciers flowing down from the Darwin Mountain Range with most of them named after European Countries (Germany, France, Italy and Holland). The ship served a local drink and snack to represent each country, beer for Germany, Champagne for France, red wine for Italy (I am not sure what Holland was). The glaciers were impressive and the viewpoint from the ship was fantastic.

After an afternoon of drinking and dinner we received our brief instructions on today’s hopeful disembarkment on Cape Horn (Hoorn actually or Cabo de Hornos). As you can tell from the opening sentence we were able to land (often the seas are to rough) and I can now say I have stood on most southerly tip of South America next stop would be Antarctica. We were one of the first zodiacs to arrive to the island so were able to wander around at our own pace before the birds started “chirping” (the term coined for when the ladies in the group start to get hungry, happens pretty regularly) and returned to tIMG_1372.jpghe ship for breakfast.

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The remainder of the morning consisted of napping (another “rock and roll” night getting to the Horn) and a great documentary on Shackleton’s expedition and attempt to the first to cross the land surface of Antarctica. Traveling with a Shackleton fan has made this adventure even more special. Ernest Shackleton was truly a leader and for those of you who may have never heard of him, he is worth googling. Shackleton’s 1914 expedition is a fascinating story of triumph against all odds from pure human perseverance and positive attitude. I could learn a thing or two from him (we all could).

The afternoon consisted of a fantastic hike in Wulaia Bay which historically home the Yamana people. Was a great way to get some exercise and see some incredible views. Once back aboard the ship (after our hot chocolate and whiskey) we headed to dinner where the ship presented the 3 of February 21 babies with cakes, complete with candles. 20 nationalities sang Happy Birthday, it was a pretty surreal experience and likely will be hard to top.

We concluded the evening with the auctioning off of the navigation map used to chart our course (90% of the people's cruise ends in Ushuaia ours continues back the different route to Punta Arenas) it fantastic fun. The crew had put together photos from the first half of journey and we celebrated my birthday in style. Tomorrow we have a free day Ushuaia (and wifi!).

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 07:04 Archived in Chile

Feb 20th "Alluvial Plain"

semi-overcast 10 °C

The evening consisted of an introduction to Glaciers and in particular the Pia Glacier as part of our briefing for tomorrow’s excursion. The guides aboard are very knowledgeable and the presentation on glaciers and climate change was fascinating. This is what they have coined an “Expedition Cruise” so there are lectures and documentaries to feed the search of knowledge.

I wish I could get a copy of the presentation on Glaciers. Scientists have cored the glaciers similar to that of an oil or gas well. The various layers of ice give incredible data on environment during the period on which the ice was formed. Chris (same guy that told us to wait for today’s challenging hike) walked us through the Milankovitch theory that as the Earth rotates around the sun it shifts every so slightly on axis causing average temperature change over thousands of years. He also presented data that indicated that the last large (second largest in recorded history) earthquake center here in Chile altered the Earth’s tilt by 3 inches. Fascinating stuff.

I am not trying to argue the cause of climate change with anyone but I do think it is important that we consider all the facts and data before we jump to the conclusion that we (humans) can stop it (for example, how do we stop the Earth’s natural gravitational forces?). I am firm believer that most of what is presented in mainstream media is one-sided and often (wow, I am going to agree with Trump on principle on this) not always factual. I advocate and challenge people to continue to learn and expose your self to opposing opinions. Challenge your beliefs rather than ignore other people’s theories and ideas, it will make for a far better solution.

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After another stop at the trough and more delicious Chile wine (Cab Sav tonight was the Vino Tinto) we headed upstairs to the Darwin Lounge to watch the National Geographic Documentary, “Patagonia”. The film walked through the region, its flora and fauna (much of which we have seen on our excursions) and the animals the inhibit the area (penguin, sea lion, orca whales, birds (many birds), dolphins, a deer like animal the Guanaco, (related to the camel) and a puma (cat that looks like a lion crossed with a cougar (the cat cougar not the middle aged woman wearing inappropriate clothes at stampede variety). The film was a great way to conclude a pretty spectacular day.

During the night we sailed around the western end of Tierra del Fuego and out into the exposed ocean (and a bit of a “rock and roll” sleep). Today we sail the Ballenero (Whaleboat) Channel, named for Capitan FitzRoy in honour of his whaling boat that was stolen by the indigenous people and never returned. We are heading towards the Pia Fjord with a hike to the Pia Glacier. There are 16,000 glaciers in this area and as we sail along they appear one after another (note: the numbers are added by the fact anything bigger than 2 acres is a glacier).

This morning included a presentation by the one of the guides (who as we learn, are researchers as well and publish scientific papers in conjunction with Australis) on the Tierra del Fuego or “Land of Fire”. I think (if I heard him correctly) this comes from the fog (akin to smoke) that is common (the temperature here is actually pretty comfortable, 7-9 degrees as a high during the summer but a low of minus 2, so not much oscillation but very much like Calgary, you can have all 4 seasons in 20 minutes).

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We learned that Andes run north to south through Chile and turn at the bottom heading west to east. He also spent considerable time walking through the Native populations that lived in this region, today there are 3 villages/towns in this area of Patagonia, Chile has one with about 7k people, and Argentina two, Rio Grande (30k people) and Ushuaia (60K people). He was quite passionate about the original habitants and listed a shocking statistic that as these indigenous people pass we stand to lose over 150 traditional languages over the next two decades. I guess though we could say we are just evolving as we develop a language through emojis and acronyms (or is the wrong way, back to cave paintings and hieroglyphics?) Regardless I absolutely love the knowledge he shared with us.

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We are now sitting back and enjoying the scenery as we sail by, Ger and I managed to do a band workout in the room which was fun and tough (thank you Ryan at Mojo for giving me a plethora of ideas). This afternoon will include our hike to the Pia Glacier, navigation through Glacier Alley and our presentation of Cape Horn and our hopeful disembarkment tomorrow.

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I am finding writing these without Google challenging and the fact that I keep learning makes me want to go back and change earlier entries (a luxury I don’t have when I am regularly posting them). I am trying to refrain from making the entries a novel with all my newly acquired information (which I will forget if I don’t write it down) it will be interesting to see if I can get these posted when we arrive In Ushuaia tomorrow.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 07:02 Archived in Chile

First Full Day at Sea!

semi-overcast 10 °C

After an active evening (mainly drinking at the bar) of socializing and meeting other Canadians aboard the morning came quickly. Breakfast is served from 8-9 and immediately following we had our first excursion, a leisurely nature walk at Ainsworth Bay. I would like to say we hopped in the zodiacs and zipped off but it was a bit more tedious, logistical undertaking as we were split into several groups. About half an hour later we carefully loaded and were on our way.

We were in the Admiralty Sound, an offshoot of the Strait of Magellan that stretches halfway across the Tierra del Fuego. The area looks very much like our part of the world with the mountains and greenery (minus the snow). We landed with our groups (we are with the other English speaking random travelers that are not traveling as part of a larger tour and collectively selected the name “Beaver Bashers” (the Brits in the group came up with the name).

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It turns out the Canadian Beaver was a gift to Argentina, brought in to ignite trade (for their pelts) but Mother Nature had a different idea. The beaver adapted to the more tepid climate here which changed the weight of their coats making the pelts worthless. Winter’s are closer to 0 to -5 degrees C vs the Canadian deep freeze. So instead of starting trade, the fang toothed creatures crossed into Chile (completely disregarding the line in Tierra del Fuego divides the Argentina and Chile) and caused ecosystem havoc. They chewed down the trees and their dams caused flooding that wiped out many of the slow growth forests. The buggers have also managed to cross the channel and expand into mainland Chile.

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We sauntered past the bergy bits (that’s the real technical term, traveling with a geologist has its perks) of the nearby glacier and into the forest. It is extremely dense and has ground cover but is not lush with grass and is restricted to shrubs and plants that do not require rich soil to grow (very much like Newfoundland). After a couple hours we returned to the trailhead for a cup of hot chocolate and whiskey (shockingly very good…like Baileys with a bit more punch!!).

Back on the boat and back to the trough for lunch with time after for a quick siesta (why has North America not embraced the afternoon siesta?!). We once again loaded in the zodiacs (this time was much faster) and we were off to observe the Magellan Penguin Colony on Tuckers Islets. More than 4,000 penguins use Tucker as a place to nest, give birth and nurture their chicks. Penguins are the funniest little creatures, cute as a button all dressed up in their tuxedo looking coats as they waddle along the shore (Ger and I are beginning to waddle like a penguin due to the extreme caloric intake we have going). The males arrive to the colony first in September to locate and spruce up the nest to court a female mate. Mother Nature is truly amazing when you get to witness animals such as these and what guides their return to the same place, year after year. They also generally find the same mate (not always but they will try). It truly is incredible. The penguins lay their eggs after a 6 week gestation period and 2 months later the chicks hatch. By April/May the chicks have matured to self-sufficient birds and are called to the sea to move to warmer locales. And thus, the cycle begins again.

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The area also hosts a huge Cormorant colony, birds that nest on the side of the cliffs (literally). The afternoon was a magical experience (sounds corny I know) but three or four dolphins led our zodiacs back to the ship. They jumped and circled our little boats and appeared to be playing as we zipped along. It was a surreal and fantastic moment.

We are literally at the end of the world, surrounded by untouched nature zipping along the South Atlantic Ocean. Pinch me. I am now sitting in the Darwin Bar (with the Darwin mountain range in the distance), enjoying a Bloody Mary (why has the rest of the world not embraced Clamato?) and getting ready to put my feet up and read my book.

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 07:00 Archived in Chile

“Mistakes are made at the end of the earth”

Musings from the Canadians in Chile.

semi-overcast 12 °C

We closed off the night in Punta Arenas with a sampling of local faire (lamb, King Crab and salmon) followed by a nightcap at Shackleton’s Bar. We were the only patrons and the bartender gave us a bunch of pamphlets, maps etc on Shackleton’s expeditions. It was fantastic fun. We is also discovered that there may actually be a Shackleton Exhibit in town, we made note of its location and stumbled to bed. IMG_0949.jpg

The day of boarding Stella Australis was basically a free day in Punta Arenas. Ger and I woke decently. At some point we need to stop having so much damn fun and get to bed earlier (so much for a restful vacation). We walked down to the gym we saw the night before but unfortunately it was closed. It seems the locals aren’t into workout early on Sunday morning. Shifting to Plan B, I went on for a short run down the Magellan Strait (note: stray dogs are harmless during the day when one is walking around but they love to chase and bark at runners).

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Once reunited with our traveling mates we set out to find the Shackleton exhibit only to locate where it had been (and closed weeks early!). The rest of the afternoon was a bit of hurry up and wait as we checked in to the boat only to learn they would not let us board until 6 pm. My afternoon nap was replaced by another bottle of wine and a chance to reflect.

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Here are our random observations on Chile from our first week:
- Stray dogs are everywhere, mostly napping in the sun they become active at night or when tempted by motion (cars, runners…)
- When approaching a cross walk, people in cars not only stop for (it appears pedestrians have the right of way) but also put on their 4-way blinkers to indicate they are slowing and stopping.
- There are no face cloths (not in any hotels) only hand and bath towels.
- Chileans love sandwiches.
- Avocado goes on everything!
- Wine is cheaper than beer.
- Chileans really don’t drink the wine…most is consumed by tourists ☺ or exported
- The people are very kind, polite and we feel quite welcome here.

Boarding the boat, required some logistics, everyone was eager to get on almost like little kids at Christmas. Finally aboard we were led to our cabin and it was off to the Welcome Cocktail. This trip is the 200th sailing for the Stella Australis , a specially designed vessel that has the size and shallow displacement to navigate the narrow channels in Patigonia With an impressive 20 countries represented by the 190 passengers it should be a very interesting voyage (ship announcements are a bit like being at the UN). The intro to the boat consisted of a tour and orientation (pretty standard stuff). Our cabin is lovely, large and a massive window where I can lie in bed and watch as we sail by.

Our itinerary is the Fjords of Tierra del Fuego, the Island at the tip of South America, split between Chile and Argentina, at the end of the World (literally). One of the most remote corners of the Earth we will sail through the labyrinth of channels in the southern extreme of Patagonia.

We had a great dinner. Our waiter, Jose, is awesome at helping us with Spanish phrases and ensuring our wine glass is never empty. No wonder we were the last table to leave. After a quick stop at the bar for a nightcap (was there any doubt those words were coming) we were off to bed. The first excursion in the zodiacs is tomorrow morning for a leisurely hike on a gravel plain created by a retreating glacier. We were going to do the longer “more challenging” hike but one of the guides, Chris, steered us clear as far too many people had signed up and he figured we would be frustrated with the pace. He strongly suggested we wait until those individuals discover on this hike what their real fitness level is, and they will drop off for the remainder of the challenging hikes. A kind of Darwin process….how appropriate!

Until next time,
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 06:52 Archived in Chile

Día de Viaje

Travel Day

overcast 9 °C

Today we started early, very early, 6:30 am pick-up to head back towards Santiago and catch our 10:30 am flight to Punta Arenas. Doesn't sound that bad but given last night we stumbled across the best little pizza place and returned to our cute little hotel on Happy Hill (that was the name of the neighbourhood we stayed in) to finish "just one more glass of wine" it seemed very, very early. The hotel we stayed at was a darling boutique establishment that once had been a house, now a lodge with only a handful of rooms it had tons of character but very creaky, noisy floors. Add to the sounds of an old house the sounds of stray dogs (who sleep all day and talk to each other all night) and the result is a pretty restless evening with very little actual sleep.

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Fortunately I am one of those people that can sleep on planes, so after a couple hours of shut eye during our 3+ hour flight I felt quasi human again. Punta Arenas (Sandy Point in English) is near the tip of Chile's southernmost Patagonia region. Located on the Strait of Magellan, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it is used as a base for those exploring Patagonia or Antartica. Historically it was an important stop for explorers and has a memorial to explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and the Museo Nao Victoria features a replica of one of his galleons. Today tourists and trekking enthusiasts have replaced sailors.

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We arrived at 2 pm and headed straight to our hotel the Jose Nigeria, which once was a mansion occupied by Joe Nigeria and Sara Braun. Both individuals were prominent figures in Punta Arenas's history. The town is far more developed (common theme for Chile, it feels very much like North America) and while quaint the town doesn't have the small tourist feel I thought it would (it is not a Banff or Jasper).

We immediately dropped our bags and headed to the bar downstairs in our hotel, named for Ernest Shackleton. It was here in Punta Arenas he planned two bids to retrieve his trapped men. We have the pleasure of traveling with a bit of a history buff with respect to Shackleton so it was a must do to have lunch and a drink in the Shackleton Bar.

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After a snack we headed out and wandered around the small town to the famous cementery,, ranked by CNN as one of the most beautiful in the world (odd and useless fact) before heading back to the hotel to put our feet before finding dinner. It should be noted it is a drying out day, it is almost 7 pm and we are yet to have a glass of wine! The weather here is noticeably cooler than where we have been around 9 degrees and I am pleased with my packing of a toque, rain coat and hoodie.

Hoping for some sleep tonight tomorrow we have the morning at leisure (where I am hoping to get a run along the Strait of Magellan in) and then board our boat at 3 pm for our week off the grid sailing around some of the southern most parts of the world. My goal is to blog as I normally do (which may be challenging without being able to google questions that arise) and load them when I return to the land of wifi.

So until next time (and I have no idea when that will be),
G^2

Posted by imalazyj 13:15 Archived in Chile

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