Travel: Patagonia

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Patagonia Dec. 2014

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Day 1: Buenos Aires

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On our first night in Buenos Aires, we made our way to the famous Café Tortoni for coffee and dessert. Founded in 1858, this is considered one of the 10 best coffee places in the world. It was certainly elegant, and uncrowded on a Friday night. Our waiter, resplendent in bow tie and moustache, served us a spectacular ice cream – perhaps the best we’ve ever tasted.

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I also had a local Quilmes beer, possibly not understanding that “Liebe” meant alcohol-free. According to Wikipedia, “Over the years the café has been visited by many renowned people … like Albert Einstein, Federico García Lorca, Hillary Clinton, Robert Duvall and Juan Carlos de Borbón.”

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We wandered back happy thru the throngs of Friday night shoppers on Florida St., the main pedestrian drag, to the constant entreaties of “cambio, cambio” while dodging potholes and flying scooters.


Day 2: Plaza de Mayo

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With 2 full days in Buenos Aires, we took to the streets to get a flavor of the town. Our first stop was Plaza de Mayo, the heart of Argentine political life, in front of the Presidential palace (aka the Pink House). By luck, we stumbled into the Fiesta Patria Popular, the 31st anniversary of the restoration of democracy, when the dictatorship collapsed in the wake of the Falklands debacle.

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The Plaza was not large (2 blocks) but brimming with all of Argentina’s political life (communists to Peronistas) setting up for the celebration. Later that night, while we were eating, the whole square exploded in celebratory fireworks. It was heartening to see such vibrant political life; even though Argentina has plenty of other evident problems, they are deeply engaged with their country. We heard plenty of horror stories of the days of the generals, including their leader who was popularly known as “The Drunk.”

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Day 3: La Boca

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On our third day in Buenos Aires, we visited some of Buenos Aires’ many neighborhoods. The most interesting was La Boca, one of the city’s 48 barrios. It was settled by Italians from Genoa, who built their homes in corrugated iron, painted in surplus paint from the ships. In the late 50s, Argentine artist Benito Quinquela Martín transformed the houses along the Caminito (the main street) with a vivid array of pastel colors, and the area has since become quite well-known.

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There are lots of random pieces of art and strange memorials, including one to firemen. The area is quite safe during the day, but we were advised to get out once nightfall fell, as there was little for the locals to do but lift the wallets of visitors.

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Day 4: The Necropolis of La Recoleta

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After visiting La Boca, a place full of life and energy, we moved on to a Buenos Aires neighborhood that stood in utter contrast. This was a city of the dead: La Recoleta, a vast necropolis of 4700 above-ground tombs that has served the families of BA since 1832. It has been declared one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. It is perhaps best known as the resting place of Eva Perón, as well as Presidents, caudillos, Nobel winners, writers, wrestlers, journalists, poets, and many ordinary people.  The tombs are owned by the families, and each generation eventually finds a spot in the tomb (nowadays more often in an urn rather than a coffin).

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The mausoleums  are remarkable for their elaborate architecture in styles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Neo-Gothic. Although many of the tombs are protected by the state, others are the responsibility  of local families, and have gradually collapsed, depending I suppose on the eventual fortunes of their descendants.  Others are like small apartments: plants, chairs, and steps leading down into the basement.

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The whole is laid out like a small city, with boulevards and trees; I half expected a neighborhood bodega for a quiet coffee.  Around this City of the Dead, the regular city goes about its business, with office blocks and ritzy apartments of Palermo barrio on the hills around the cemetery. We had a fine day there, and all the portenos seemed to appreciate the quiet, the architecture, and the stories behind each tomb.

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Day 5: El Calafate

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We now leave behind the brawling, bustling megacity of Buenos Aires (16 million people – a third of Argentina’s population) in search of the real purpose of our odyssey – Patagonia.  Yes, Patagonia, the “cone” of South America, spanning two coasts, two countries, and over a thousand miles from north to south, and the way to our final destination: Tierra del Fuego.

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Today we are flying 3 hours from Buenos Aires to the Argentine province of Santa Cruz and its second significant town, El Calafate. This is our jumping off point to the glaciers, fjords and wildlife of further south, but it is an interesting town in its own right.  It is a new town; in 1910 it was a windbreak where wool traders took a mate break, but the Argentine government were determined to open this vast arid region.

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El Calafate is a long way from anywhere. BA is 1700 miles away, and the provincial capital is 200 miles away on the Atlantic coast.

We spent a day in this little town, which had a surprisingly cosmopolitan feel to it.  It caters mainly to backpackers and other tourists venturing further south.  It reminded me of towns in Colorado and even New Zealand.  It is a booming wee place, and many Argentineans are moving in from the big cities for a chance of a quieter life.  It has the feel of a mountain town, but it is only Eugene altitude – 600′ or so. For those who know Oregon, think Sisters.

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The building material of choice was corrugated tin, even for walls, which reminded me immensely of New Zealand.  Little restaurants were scattered around town, and we got our first taste of Patagonian lamb and Patagonia beer. Like all small Patagonian towns, we noticed for the first time the ubiquitous stray dogs, who according to our source are fed & well cared for by the locals.  They were certainly amiable, snuffling around shop doorways and sleeping outside restaurants.  Bird life was raucous – ungainly ibises roosting in the trees, and flamingos in the lagoons.  So, enjoy a glimpse into small town Argentina….

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Day 6: Patagonia

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After our stay in the town of El Calafate, we finally headed out into the vast remote stretches of Patagonia.  El Calafate was a little oasis of civilization in the middle of 500 miles of nothing. Now we got to look at that nothing.

A word on the setting:  El Calafate is tucked into a valley hard up against the Andes mountains, which loom to the west.  It is right on the Argentina-Chile border. Because it is so close to the Andes, it is in a rain shadow; not really a desert, but what the Argentines call “la estepa” or steppe.  They do not use the term “pampas” by the way – to them, that is the name of a province further north.  Although the estepa gets little rain (5″ a year), it supports herds of guanacos, as well as domestic sheep. Guanacos are a wild relative of the llama, but unlike those critters, they cannot be domesticated. We glimpsed our first off in the distance, and many more later in the trip.

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There are no towns, and very few signs of human life:  the occasional estancia headquarters, and the lonely huts of the shepherds. You have to plan carefully for food and gas. Our first trip into the estepa took us towards the Andes, along the shores of Lago Argentino, the biggest freshwater lake in Argentina. The lake got its name to make sure that the Chileans understood exactly who owned it; as recently as 1981, Chile and Argentina were close to war over who owned this little chunk of Patagonia. We actually passed minefields fenced off along the border. That war was postponed by the Falklands war, and fortunately was never resumed.

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The lake is just gorgeous, a deep turquoise from suspended glacial flour. The Andes loom over the lake to the west, and dozens of glaciers feed into it from the mountains. We drove along the southern shore of the lake, heading deeper into the Andes.  As we headed west, the landscape got gradually more lush, and we began to see beech forests along the lakeshore. At one point, we stopped to see our first condors, who were circling over a carcass below.  We were told it was unusual to see such a large flock. I found this fascinating as we are gradually bringing condors back to Oregon, along the Columbia River.

Our final destination: Perito Moreno glacier, of which more next time…

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Day 7: Perito Moreno Glacier

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We have taken a short break from our Patagonian adventures, but today we leap right back in, and it’s a good one.  It’s glaciers…  Specifically, we visit the Perito Moreno Glacier; for my money the most spectacular glacier I’ve ever seen. Much as the patriot in me hates to admit it, but this one beats out the glaciers of New Zealand and Alaska by a long shot.  We are at this point still in Argentina, on the very edge of the Andes, and close to the Chilean border.

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The glacier grinds down from the vast Patagonian icefield, the world’s third largest (after Antarctica and Greenland).  It’s one of the few glaciers in the world still advancing – about 5′ a day.  We see the front snout, 240′, or about 20 stories high, and 3 miles wide. As it grinds forward, huge chunks cleave off and crash into the river.  For that reason, they keep visitors well back on a facing hillside that has been outfitted with catwalks.

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While we were there, we could hear the cracking and thump as 10 stories hit the water, and I saw one big geyser shoot up. Nobody is sure why the glacier is advancing, but every so often it dams the river, leading to a huge pileup of water behind the ice wall.  When it eventually breaks, a vast torrent bursts downstream, and everybody gets the hell out of there.  The last time this took place was 19 Jan. 2013, and they think the next will be around 2018.

We spent about 2 hours there, wandering back and forth among the network of paths.  It was freezing cold and a great blast of icy air swept down from the glacier surface.  But it was tremendously exhilerating.  After a while, we hiked away from the glacier and got some gorgeous vistas of Lago Argentino and the surrounding peaks, with icebergs clustered in the bay.

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Day 8: Torres del Paine, Chile

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On our last stop in Argentina, we visited the most spectacular glacier we had ever seen; but now it’s time to bid farewell to Argentina, and take a long road trip through the steppes to cross the Andes into Chile.  This was a day of travel on mainly dirt roads.  On the map, we took a huge loop to the east on Highway 40 in Argentina, and eventually closed in on the Chilean border; I’m not sure where, but probably where the “9” road shield appears on the map.  The crossing was a dirt track leading to a disconsolate, semi-desolate Argentine border post, where we lined up while a surly border guard (aren’t they all?) studied our papers for signs of social deviation, international skullduggery, or whatever. Eventually we got a grudging stamp on our papers, and crossed into Chile, where they searched our luggage for forbidden fruits (literally).  But we noticed an immediate improvement in the infrastructure on the Chilean side, an impression that remained for the rest of the trip.

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As an aside, I got the distinct impression that Chile and Argentina were not the best of neighbors. Chileans seemed to find Argentinians arrogant, and in the Falklands contretemps Chile actually sided with the UK.  Nowadays, they seem to ignore each other. They may share a border, but it’s actually hard to get across the Andes (as we discovered) and so they are quite isolated from each other.  Other Latin Americans do make it into Argentina.  When we were in Buenos Aires, we saw a barrio made up of Paraguayan and Bolivian Indians who lived in their own makeshift houses made of rough brick and corrugated iron.

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But back to Patagonia: my God, this was lonely, empty country!  We passed thru only one village on the Argentine side, hopefully named La Esperanza, and it was definitely a forlorn hope.  On the Chilean side, the country got wilder, darker, and deeper as we penetrated further into the Andes.  Our destination was Torres del Paine National Park, of which more next installment.  But the slow winding drive past lakes, waterfalls, and distant looming peaks of the Andes was stunning in itself.  Occasionally there would be a neat cluster of buildings for a local estancia, and there was growing excitement as wildlife began to proliferate – our first guanaco, having a lonely meal on a hillside, and a rhea scuffling in the vegetation. Next stop – the heart of Torres del Paine.

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Day 9: Lake Grey, Torres del Paine, Chile

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One of our first hikes in Torres del Paine National Park was through a primeval forest of Southern Beech to a long glacial moraine at Grey Lake (Lago Grey).  The hike was interesting, and I was quite taken with the dense, twisted low forest of windswept beech. I heard that scientists have been cloning this strain of beech for replanting treeless northern islands such as Iceland, because they are so incredibly hardy.  We saw them even further south than this, as far as Cape Horn.  

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As we emerged from the forest, we looked up Lake Grey towards the distant glacier, then hiked along the moraine that dammed the lake. At that point, the ubiquitous Patagonian icy gale slashed at us, tho we were well bundled; but it was admittedly a bit of a struggle.

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Day 10: Rio Serrano, Torres del Paine, Chile

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We are now deep into the Chilean Andes, in the heart of the Torres del Paine National Park

There are not that many places to stay, but we luckily had a new hotel built by the Chilean government out in one of the most remote areas, the Rio Serrano valley. The hotel is only open a few months in summer, and forms the center of a little community that winds along gravel roads in this isolated floodplain. I couldn’t really get my head around the geography of this place – and I’m somebody who knows geography!  

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When we arrived, somebody mentioned that we were at sea-level, and this little river connected to the Pacific.  But we were east of the Andes, on the wrong (Atlantic) side.  Only by close study of a map could I figure out that the Andes were broken up by a maze of narrow channels and fjords that eventually lead to the Pacific.  If you didn’t have a map, you could be lost for weeks in the labyrinth, and that is what happened to some early explorers. Some of the sea channels look like they are about 100′ wide. As best as I can figure, there are only 2 tiny channels out, to the west of Puerto Natales and Golfo Almirante Montt. If you got stuck in there, pray for lots of good books and plenty of beer, because it might take a while…

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Anyway, we spent our first day getting acquainted with this lovely little valley.  The hotel was amazing, but we immediately got out into the wetlands and hills in the vicinity, where little tin-roofed houses, horses, and wildlife made the landscape home.  We saw Patagonian hares (too fast to photograph), the Magellan (upland) sheldgoose, condors overhead, and a wonderful array of wetland vegetation. As we got out into the hinterland, we came across flower-studded hillsides that were bursting back into life after backpackers set the park on fire in 2005 and 2011-12.

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The Israeli and Czech governments kicked in on restoration costs.  The backpackers got a swift kick out of the country. The fire left behind a starkly beautiful ghost forest of beech trees, but it will be many years before the forests return. The regenerating cushion plants Mulinum spinosum are a wonder, as are the evergreen Embothrium coccineum, which produces vivid red flowers grouped in corymbs. So says Wikipedia, and I believe it.


Day 11: The Blue Massif

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Today’s Patagonian sojourn is epic on every scale: it’s mountains, mountains, mountains, all the way down.

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I love landscape photography, mainly because landscape sits still and doesn’t talk back; until I photographed the Blue Massif in Southern Chile. This landscape changed every minute, but we were utterly dumbfounded by its beauty.  This massif (also known as the Cuernos del Paine) is a series of massive granite spires, an eastern spur of the Andes, rising dramatically above the Patagonian steppe. The colossal walls of Cerro Cota 2000 and Cerro Catedral punctuate the western region of the Valley. To the north stands the granite arête called Aleta de Tiburón (Shark’s Fin). To the east, from north to south, lie the peaks Fortaleza (Fortress), La Espada (The Sword), La Hoja (The Blade), La Máscara (The Mummer), Cuerno Norte (North Horn), and Cuerno Principal (Main Horn).

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We roamed around the base of the Massif for a couple of days, and photographed it from every angle.  We never grew tired of its ever-changing moods.  We’d go inside for a quick snack and coffee, and 10 minutes later the peaks would be clothed in swirling clouds, or lit up by brilliant sun. The lakes below would change as well, from slate grey to the most garish torquoise.  I don’t think I’ve seen a more magnificent landscape, and I’m glad I brought along a high-res camera to capture every nuance.

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Do yourself a favor and view on a good-size screen with high resolution – this album will not work on a smart phone!


Day 12: Guanacos

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After a memorable stay in the Chilean Andes, we headed back out into the steppes on our way south to the only towns of any size in Southern Chile – Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas.  As we left the chilly alps, we passed a couple of scattered villages with a very distinctive architecture:  red tin roofs, mustard-colored pressed tin walls, and little white picket fences.  

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But the main excitement along this remote road was our sudden encounter with a herd of guanacos.  We rounded a curve on a gravel road, and there they were, grazing along the hillside.  We were told that we could approach very cautiously, and they probably wouldn’t bolt.  Sure enough, they kept up their gustatory duties and paid us no mind.

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But in the distance I heard this panicked bellowing; up on the far hillside was the guard guanaco, the bull in the herd who has the instinct to guard the rest. He was running back and forth, bleating frantically.  None of the herd below paid the slightest attention, which meant he was basically useless (like many males).

I was told recently by a rancher that the same trait is found in domestic llamas in the US, and these animals are valued as guards for sheep – they will instinctively drive off coyotes and even pumas.  The latter are the biggest predators in this area; there are about 60 in the surrounding forests and they take about half the chulengos (the calves) every year.  The guanacos are hunted by people only in Tierra del Fuego, where they are abundant; formerly, they were the main game animal for the local Indians. Guanacos are wild and untameable, but the llama is a domesticated descendant.

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After we left the guanacos behind, we we hit the road, for Puerto Natales – a 2 hour trip thru vast, empty farming country.  It was gorgeous.


Day 13: Puerto Natales

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I’m resuming my Patagonia travelogue after a bit of a gap. When we left off, we were travelling south, with the ultimate destination of Cape Horn, at the very tip of South America. Along the way, we stayed in several small towns. The first, Puerto Natales, is an isolated little place of about 17,000 people. It is the only settlement in 19,000 sq. miles of the province Última Esperanza (Last Hope). It used to be a port for the sheep industry, and was originally settled by Germans, British, Croats, Greeks, Italians and Spaniards. Nowadays, most of the town caters to backpackers. It is a bustling place, full of shops and restaurants, with a harbor and streets of tin houses.

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We enjoyed our day there, and even found a little brewpub serving Natales beer. At the table next to us were 2 motorcyclists from New York who worked in the movies; and along the bar a young woman from Portland who graduated from University of Oregon. We had a lot ot talk about. Later, I found my only purchase from the entire trip in an art shop – a Tehuelche Indian figurine.


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Day 14: Punta Arenas

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Leaving Puerto Natales, we travelled through remote country populated by sheep, guanacos, and the very occasional settlement. Along the way, we encountered a very strange roadside shrine – a series of little sheds surrounded by a vast field of empty plastic bottles. But why? Turns out this was a folk shrine to Difunta Correa.

She is an object of devotion by the local people; the water bottles are to “quench her eternal thirst.”

I don’t pretend to understand Folk Catholicism, but according to our guide Chile and Argentina have 2 religions: first, Catholicism, and second “just in case.” A similar saint is Gauchito Gil, whose shrines are also found all over the region 

Most of this faith was spread by the itinerant gauchos, and later by truck drivers. We ran across a gaucho (in Chile called huaso) along the road. Luis and his horse Amiga had been three days on the road moving cattle with the help of his faithful mutts. Formerly these guys were very shy, but lately they’ve been happy to stop and chat, perhaps to relieve the long lonely days along empty roads. He was a pleasant cheerful bloke. His beret is a concession to the constant wind: a broad-brimmed hat would quickly disappear towards Argentina.

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We finally made it to Punta Arenas, a city of 116,000.

It’s the largest city in southern Patagonia. Oddly enough, it is a largely Croatian city. These people make up 50% of the population, and their last names are sprinkled throughout the city’s businesses and streets. It relies on fishing, sheep farming, and tourism to the southern islands and Antarctica. The surrounding country is practically uninhabited – the city exists as an island in a wilderness, with only 3000 people scattered over the countryside of the Brunswick Peninsula.


Day 15: Ainsworth Bay, Straits of Magellan

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On this day, we hiked into the estuary of Ainsworth Bay, which is fed by the Marinelli Glacier. It is an inlet of Admiralty Sound. We spent several hours hiking through this lovely estuary, along streams and amongst beautiful riparian forests and mossy ground cover.


Day 15: Tuckers Islets

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A visit to the Tuckers Islets to view cormorants, seals, skuas, and Magellanic penguins.


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Our main trip on Dec. 22 2014 was to the Pía Glacier along the Beagle Channel. Our ship anchored offshore and we hiked to a bluff above the glacier. The track was steep and slippery, but there was a rope along the trail to keep us from tumbling down the mountainside. A fun tradition at the end of the hike was a wee dram of Scotch to revive our spirits.


Day 15: Glacier Alley

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On the evening of 22 Dec. 2014, our ship began its passage along Glacier Alley, a narrow passage of the Beagle Channel where six great glaciers cascade off the Patagonian icefield to the north. As we proceeded along the Alley, we passed each of the glaciers in succession on the port side. Gordon Island was on our starboard side. Each of the glaciers was named after one of the nations of Europe: Espana, Romanche, Alemania, Francia, Italia, and Holanda. As we passed each glacier, the crew brought out a dish from that nation, accompanied by an alcoholic drink from that country – French and Italian wine, German beer, Dutch gin, etc. By the time we got to Holanda at the end of the traverse, the passengers were well into it! The evening was grey and stormy, but the glaciers were nevertheless spectacular through the sweeping black clouds and rain.


Day 16: Cape Horn, Tierra del Fuego

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The finale of our voyage through the archipelagos of Tierra del Fuego, and in many ways the highlight of the trip…after 4 days sailing, we made it to Cape Horn, the farthest point south on earth before the icy wastelands of Antarctica. Cape Horn is actually on Isla Hornos, a small island, at 55°58′ South, the last gasp of South America before it fades away into the vast Southern Ocean.

It was by no means assured that we could land – the M/V Stella Australis is stout enough to moor offshore, but getting the Zodiacs ashore is a dicey proposition at the best of times, and is decided in the moment. The captain sends out a crew to test the waters, then decides if it safe to proceed. About half the time, the trip is cancelled. But Neptune was in a good mood that day, and we sallied effortlessly ashore, bundled up in our life jackets.

Now this is where I made my first mistake. I don’t like woolly bundles around my head – I don’t feel like I can experience the environment. So I wore a baseball cap, while all around me everybody wore balaclavas and woolly hats. Silly wombats, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? And this was summer, right? Well I have never actually been HURT by hailstones before, and I got thoroughly lashed around the head by a hailstorm on the peak of the Cape, so there was that… If you view the little movie I made, this was 15 seconds filmed right at the end of the Cape. I was shouting a commentary, but all you can hear is the banshee shriek of the wind. Amazing…

The human landscape of the Cape itself is a series of battered memorials to the thousands who have died trying to get around the Cape, from the 16th century to the opening of the Panama Canal. First around was Sir Francis Drake who just barely made it in 1578. For the following 3 centuries, “rounding the Horn” was the only way from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and it retained a disastrous reputation for all mariners. The problem was not just the weather. A ship could avoid that by wending through the Straits of Magellan or the Beagle Channel to the north, but in the days of sail that was dangerous too – the channels are sometimes only a few hundred feet wide, and one errant gust – treacherous williwaw winds, which can strike a vessel with little or no warning – could send a ship onto the rocks. The alternative was to swing well south of the Horn, and enter the raging winds of the Roaring 40s. A good captain, a steady hand, and lots of luck were needed, and for many that ran out.

In the words of “A Salty Dog“…

“All hands on deck, we’ve run afloat,

I heard the Captain cry.

Explore the ship, replace the cook,

Let no one leave alive.

Across the Straits, around the Horn,

How far can sailors fly?

A twisted path, our tortured course,

And no one left alive.

We sailed for parts unknown to man,

Where ships come home to die.

No lofty peak, nor fortress bold,

Could match our captain’s eye.

Upon the seventh seasick day,

We made our port of call.

A sand so white, and sea so blue,

No mortal place at all.

We fired the guns, and burned the mast,

And rowed from ship to shore.

The captain cried, we sailors wept,

Our tears were tears of joy!

Now many moons and many Junes,

Have passed since we made land.

A Salty Dog, the seaman’s log,

Your witness, my own hand.”

The natural landscape of the Cape was also extraordinary – a steep path though wet forest on the north flank, passing a little Marian grotto left by a former keeper, and emerging onto a barren gale-lashed plateau. At the end of the path is the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, where the Chilean Navy Lieutenant and his family (plus little dog!) spend their one-year service. In winter, they are on their own, enduring 18-hour nights, snow and ice, and incredible storms. If anything goes wrong, they just have to figure it out.

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In summer, they are visited once a week by the Stella Australis and her sister vessel, the only ships permitted by the Chilean Navy to bring larger groups through here. Throughout the summer, sailboats stop by and leave their nautical flags as memorials in the lighthouse, as well as to sign the guestbook. For many, it is the ultimate feat of seamanship, a crowning achievement. Once they’ve made it, they can “apply for membership of the exclusive International Association of Cape Horners; a redoubtable organisation whose origins lie amongst those who rounded the Horn as professional seamen serving upon the tall ships of the Clipper era. There are no exceptions to the strict joining criteria whose membership now includes members of crews from several notable Round the World Yacht races and others who have shared the same unique experience – the ‘Mount Everest’ of ocean sailing.”

We signed our names, spent a happy hour on the Cape, and it felt to me like a crowning achievement of sorts, even though we didn’t have to brave the Roaring 40s in a bucking sailboat. To look out over the final Ocean from the Southern point was a singular moment, made all the more pointed by the raging of the elements.

Charles Darwin, in The Voyage of the Beagle, described his encounter in 1832, on the very date, and in the same conditions, that we saw the Cape:

“… we closed in with the Barnevelts, and running past Cape Deceit with its stony peaks, about three o’clock doubled the weather-beaten Cape Horn. The evening was calm and bright, and we enjoyed a fine view of the surrounding isles. Cape Horn, however, demanded his tribute, and before night sent us a gale of wind directly in our teeth. We stood out to sea, and on the second day again made the land, when we saw on our weather-bow this notorious promontory in its proper form — veiled in a mist, and its dim outline surrounded by a storm of wind and water. Great black clouds were rolling across the heavens, and squalls of rain, with hail, swept by us with such extreme violence, that the Captain determined to run into Wigwam Cove. This is a snug little harbour, not far from Cape Horn; and here, at Christmas-eve, we anchored in smooth water.”


Day 17: Wulaia Bay

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Our ship, the plucky MV Stella Australis, navigated through the night to Wulaia Bay, a remote uninhabited spot on the west coast of Navarino Island, in Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Deployed again on speedy Zodiacs, we put ashore at this location where the only structure was a lonely farmhouse, built for a sheep station in the early 20th century, and eventually abandoned. I climbed the mountain overlooking the farmhouse, passing thru a Magellanic Forest of southern beech, ferns, and riotous rhodies, to reach a panoramic viewpoint. This was a tough but invigorating climb. We sustained ourselves along the way by snacking on the Darwins Fungus, an edible golf ball-like fungus. It was astonishingly tasteless. It harbors the yeast Saccharomyces eubayanus, the source of the cold-tolerant lager yeast. So you can thank this humble fungus for the delicious tang of a fine German kolsch. And also Bud Lite, so no good deed goes unpunished.