Since last we met I’ve seen both penguins and glaciers, everything I paid my money for so I suppose the trip is pretty much complete…and yet we’ve only just begun!
Tuesday we sailed through Canal Sarmiento and Torres del Paine National Park (all still in Chile) which are waterways between the many small islands and fjords just off the main coast. I haven’t seen a detailed enough map but I would venture to say that there are thousands of islands sprinkled throughout the sea here. The weather was typical of the area at this time of year; highly changeable. In the space of a few minutes you could see a blue sky become covered with gray clouds, get rained on and then watch the sun come out again. In fact, while we were eating dinner we had windows on 3 sides of us; out the starboard window the sky was blue, out the port window the sky was gray and out the stern window it was raining…all at the same time! But the weather was much calmer than what we’d experienced the night before.
The fjords and islands (when you could see them through the mist) were amazing though. It was as if someone had lopped the tops off the mountains in Ogden/Weber canyon (they’ve always seemed a bit rounder and smoother to me than the Cottonwoods) and plopped them into the ocean. Lush green hillsides are sprinkled with rocky crags and beribboned with lacy white waterfalls. Don’t you worry, I have pictures! But the photos don’t begin to do justice to the scope or the colors; every shade of green and blue imaginable is blended together to create new hues and tints splashed with shadow and light as the sun hides or deigns to show itself.
Early afternoon we meandered up through Amalia Bay to the Skua Glacier and got our first taste of what was to come. Bits of glacial ice bobbed cheerily in the water like shards of broken clouds shaped like horses, dragons, fish, beckoning us onward. The glacier itself is approximately 73 square miles flowing from the mountainside into the ocean but retreating rapidly, no thanks to global warming. The deep, unearthly blue color is a result of the ice being so compacted that the oxygen is squeezed out, changing its reflective nature. It’s a magnificent sight.
Wednesday we docked in Punta Arenas after sailing through the Strait of Magellan. Our first stop (once we got on the oh so lovely tour buses) was the Otway Sound Penguin Preserve. The terrain is a bit different than one expects with penguins, sea grass and gorse bushes growing along the hill sides with a slightly rocky area leading to a narrow strip of beach. It was really beautiful and reminded me of a bit of Great Britain. The penguins themselves (Magellanic Penguins) build burrows in the dirt where they lay their eggs and shelter during breeding season. The chicks are currently about 2 months old, still sporting a bit of their brown downy feathers not yet appropriate for swimming and relying on mom and dad to hunt for them. We walked along boardwalks watching the little birds waddle up and down the hills, through the grasses and in and out of their burrows. Some put on some displays with squawking and wing flapping but most just quietly kept to their business. I could have stayed there all day. It was magical!
Afterwards we drove an hour and a half or so back to the port and town of Punta Arenas viewing Andean condors, Patagonian geese, ibis, rhea and alpaca wandering the countryside along the way.
This morning (Thursday, January 12) should have seen us in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. But last night we got word that a major storm system was in our path and we had to divert in order to avoid 50 foot waves and hurricane force winds. So, we ditched Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn and the Drake Passage and are on our way to Antarctica 2 days early. I’m a bit disappointed, though I’m glad we’ll not have to skip the Antarctica portion, as I had planned to send home a slew of postcards from Ushuaia and make the historic journey around the Horn. So sorry to those of you who will now not be getting postcards. I’ve had a devil of a time finding souvenirs for people and that had seemed like the perfect solution. Oh well!
Earlier today the Captain gave us a brief lecture on the change in itinerary. Rather than rounding the Horn and then back tracking to the west through the Drake Passage to get to Antarctica we are cutting straight down through the Passage (approx. 500 miles across) to beat the worst of the storm and will be arriving in the area a day and a half early. We’ll have a bit of extra time in the Antarctic Sea and will still cross the Passage and round the Horn, just not within sight of land. So, it will be a bit of an adventure and make for some good stories but not as much as if we’d have to travel through the eye of the storm! (Last December the ship got caught in a storm in the Passage coming from East to West, the opposite of our itinerary, and they had to cut their trip early. Several passengers were injured, everyone had to be confined to their beds for safety, and when they reached dock the front of the ship had to be cut away to be repaired costing in excess of $3 million.) He was quick to point out for anyone who is superstitious, that we would have been crossing through the worst of it on Friday the 13th!
Those of you who are following the itinerary, we should be back on track by the 18th, landing in the Falkland Islands. I figured I’d take advantage of todays’ unscheduled day at sea to post this as I intend to be busy taking photos of icebergs for the next few days. I’ll catch you on the other side of the Horn!